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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

stay in the struggle

But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (Genesis 32:26)

You’ve got to admire Jacob’s tenacity.  While most of us would probably have been saying, “Let me go, this is exhausting, painful, and incredibly uncomfortable,” Jacob was saying, “I will not let you go until you bless me."  The truth is that most of us probably do not stay in the struggle long enough to get the blessing.  We tap out.  But Jacob was determined.  He knew this wrestling would eventually bring a blessing, so he stayed in it.  And although he left with a limp, he also left with a new name.  From that moment on, Jacob’s life would be forever changed.

Where and how are you wrestling with God these days?  What is that struggle accomplishing in you?  Will you stay in the struggle long enough to receive the blessing it holds?

“Enable me to stay in the struggle until the blessing arrives.  I will allow myself to be vulnerable.  That very vulnerability is my limp, but it is also my blessing.  O Transforming One, you have wounded me, yet you have not disappointed me.  I am grateful for the blessing of all my new names.  Thank you for your presence in the beautiful struggle of daily life.” (Abide by Macrina Wiederkehr)

Monday, November 20, 2023

the depths of woe

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to my pleas for mercy! (Psalm 130:1-2)

In the Scriptures, I normally think of an invitation into the depths of God as a positive and inviting thing, but what about when he invites us—or ushers us—into the depths of woe?  What about when God leads us—or takes us—to a place of coming face to face with our own sinfulness, brokenness, and desperation?  What about when he invites us not just to take a look at his beauty, but to take a good long look at our own inner ugliness?  That’s a whole different story.  I guess that’s why most of us refuse to go there on our own, we have to be taken there.

Well, God has taken me there recently, and I have to say it is not a place I enjoy being.  To be taken to the depths of woe is to be taken to the depths of your own neediness, brokenness, and insecurity, which is painful, humiliating, and incredibly dark.  It involves wave after wave of sorrow, sadness, and shame, with absolutely nothing you can do about it except sit in it, cry out for mercy, and wait for God to show up.

But you know what I've found at the bottom of these depths of woe?  I've found Jesus.  I guess that’s why the words of the ancient prayer (Psalm 139:8) remind us that even if we "make our bed in the depths," he is still there.  God was right there with me in my descent into my inner darkness.  His goodness, his unfailing love, and his full redemption (Psalm 130:7-8) even reached to the bottom of the depths of my woe, and beyond.  In fact, it is impossible to know the true depths of the unfailing love of God apart from a journey into the depths of woe.  For these depths are meant not only to mark us deeply, but also to change us completely.  Jesus meets us there and makes us more into the people, and the lovers, he dreamt us to be.

So if you are currently in the depths, like me, don’t fight it but embrace it.  God is bigger than your sorrow and your sadness and your pain.  God is even bigger than your sin.  Trust him; he is doing a great work in you.  He wants to show you the depths of your sin, so that he can help you to better understand the enormity and extravagance of his unfailing love, as well as the beauty and power of his full redemption. 

“From the depths of woe I raise to Thee the voice of lamentation.  Lord, turn a gracious ear to me and hear my supplication.  If Thou iniquities dost mark, our secret sins and misdeeds dark, O who shall stand before Thee?

To wash away the crimson stain, grace, grace alone, availeth.  Our works, alas! are all in vain; in much the best life faileth.  No man can glory in thy sight, all must alike confess thy might, and live alone by mercy.” ~Martin Luther

Monday, October 30, 2023

advent is coming

 Advent is coming up.  It starts on Sunday, December 3.  If you are looking for a helpful companion/devotion for yourself, your staff, your small group, your volunteers, or your church, here are two options. 

Order My Steps: A Daily Journey Through Advent and Christmas

Watch and Wait: A Guide for Advent and Christmas

Saturday, October 21, 2023


“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.  I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1-3)

prayer involves
the movement from
trying to be something
to realizing we are nothing
so that God can be everything

Monday, September 18, 2023

through the sea

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though you footprints were not seen.” (Psalm 77:19) 

A very wise man once said that there are actually two exodus stories in the book of Exodus.  The first is God getting Israel out of slavery and the second is God getting slavery out of Israel.  The first happened one day, as God led his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.  The second took forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  It seems that the comfortable and familiar, no matter how hard and dysfunctional, don’t loosen their grip on us easily.  The problem is that following Jesus almost never involves what is easy, comfortable, or familiar.

I’m coming to realize more and more that God’s way always leads through the sea—and then through the wilderness—not around it.  It is only by going through the sea, and then the wilderness, that God gets slavery out of us.  It is a long and arduous journey.  The life of slavery runs deep.  Its roots have dug way down into us and it will take some time and effort to pull them out.

“Freedom cannot abide in a heart dominated by desire, in a slave’s heart,” wrote John of the Cross.  “It abides in a liberated heart, in a child’s heart.”  Going through, not around, is how God brings that liberation about.  “There is no way out, only through,” wrote Gerald May.  And he was so right.  There is something about going through, instead of around, that is transforming.      

But the bottom line is that until we love our liberation more than we love our captivity, we will always be slaves.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

rule #1

My heart is not lifted up, O Lord, my eyes are not raised too high.  I do not occupy myself with great matters, or thing too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)

Be still.  Be quiet.  Drop your list. Abandon your agenda.  Stop your anxious spinning.  Listen to God.  Let him guide you.  Wean yourself off of the need to be everything to everyone.  Still and quiet your soul and just see what happens.  This is the first lesson in the school of prayer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

functional atheism

Functional atheism.  What an interesting phrase.  It is the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me. Thus, it is not so much atheism in theological terms, but atheism in practical, functional terms.  Which makes it very subtle and hard to spot.  In fact, most functional atheists would probably not consider themselves atheists at all, they just live like they are.  The telltale signs of functional atheism are self-sufficiency, productivity, and performance—three things that are highly valued by the culture around us.  But three things that can also leave us spiritually dead and impoverished. 

Just look at the letter Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, for example. (Rev. 3:14-22) These were folks who professed that they both knew Jesus and sought to follow him, and yet the way they lived their lives said something much different.  In fact, Jesus described their love for him as tepid and lukewarm, which made him want to vomit.  There was no passion or zeal for God, only a falsely satisfied sense of self-sufficiency: “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”  So much so that they had left him out of their daily lives.  Jesus was on the outside looking in; knocking continually on the door of their hearts, longing for deep, vibrant, intimate relationship with them, and yet they left him outside.  Thus, the “believers” at the church of Laodicea were functional atheists.  They said they loved God, but they lived like he didn’t exist.

The admonition Jesus gave them was to stop relying on themselves and their own resources to manage life, to realize their poverty and their helplessness, and to turn to him to give them what they could not possibly provide for themselves: to be rich in spiritual treasure, to be clothed in his holiness and righteousness, and to be healed and made whole.  Only Jesus could give them those things, if only they would be willing to open the door.  The very life of their souls depended on it.