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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 ...

Saturday, September 29, 2012


     So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
     The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God
     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)

Too often it seems, that when dealing with these verses, I've had a tendency to see them from an outside-in point of view rather than the way I know true fruitfulness really occurs, inside-out.  I don't really know what makes me revert back to this old, broken way of seeing and thinking, I just know that somehow I always seem to find my way back to that default setting.  I start thinking that if I want fruitfulness in my life, then I have to somehow do it myself.  I need to eliminate the bad fruit and replace it with the good.  It's crazy when you really think about it.  It's almost as if I believe that what I really need to do is pick the rotten apples off the tree and then staple on some good apples.  Of course the problem is that when I do that, I have not dealt with the core issue, the source.  I'm just treating everything on a surface level, which, at best, can only last a short time.  The real issue, as Jesus tried so often to tell his friends and followers, is what's underneath the behavior.  And that is exactly what Paul is talking about here.  Good fruit always flows from a good source, it cannot be produced independently of that.  If I want to see the fruit of the Spirit grow in my life, then it can, and will, only happen when it originates from the Spirit of God's work within me.  It is far deeper than just trying to change my behavior. 
     It has more to do with living by the Spirit, as opposed to living out of the sinful nature.  I think it's a true self/false self sort of thing.  When I am living according to the Spirit, I am living according to my true self, that self that is the truest expression of what He created, and intended, and dreamt me to be.  When I am living by the Spirit I am listening to who God says that I am (those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, Romans 8:14 and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children, Romans 8:16) and living out of that place, which produces the fruit of the Spirit within me.  And conversely, when I am living out of my sinful nature, or false self, and listening to the lies it tells me about who I am, who God is, and where life can be found, the only "fruit" that can grow in my life will be rotten...jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, envy...and the like.  So the real question goes past the surface, all the way to the depths, "Am I living by the voice of the Spirit or am I living by the voice of my sinful, fearful, insecure self?"  The fruit that is on the tree of my life will tell me everything I need to know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the question

     When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
     “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
     Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15)

They are walking down the shoreline in the early morning sun.  It had been days, maybe weeks, since that fateful night.  It is just the two of them, with John following well behind.  Jesus had something he wanted to say to his friend, and he didn't want to put him on the spot by asking in front of the others.  It was an intimate question that He needed to ask, and it called for an intimate setting.  Peter could sense something was coming, but didn't quite know what.  There was still a good bit of shame and disappointment (in himself) lingering deep within his soul as he replayed that scene from the night Jesus was betrayed over and over and over again.  He had denied Him, his master, his teacher, and his best friend.  He had done the very thing he swore just hours before that he would never do.  It was still so fresh, so painful, so haunting, so humiliating. 
     As they walked, Jesus sensed that there was a lot below the surface of his friend's silence.  A deep wrestling was going on.  So He turned to Peter and asked His question...asked the question, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  In fact, three times he asked, and three times Peter was able to answer; each question and its answer such a sweet picture of grace and intention and restoration. 
     And it wasn't just the question for Peter, but it was/is the question for us all.  It is almost as if Jesus was saying, Peter, I love you more than life itself.  I dreamt you into being and knit you together in your mother's womb.  I formed your innermost parts with great care and intention, and I deeply love what I have made.  When I think of you it brings a smile to my lips and joy to my heart.  When I look at you my eyes light up and my heart leaps within me.  How I long for you to know and understand the depths and fullness of this love.  How I long for you to live your whole life from this reality.  Peter, you are my Beloved...am I yours?
     It is indeed the question.  It is the question because understanding His incredible love is the only thing that can give us the sense of identity and purpose we most deeply long for.  It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we able to be truly free; free of our deep need for acceptance, and affirmation, and significance.   It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we genuinely able to love anyone else.  It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we truly able to feed His lambs rather than feed on His lambs.
     Do you love truly love me more than these?  It is indeed the question.  And it is indeed my question as well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I've been feasting on this for several days now, thought you might enjoy it too...

     Breathing Under Water
          by Carol Bieleck, RSCJ
          (from an unpublished work)
I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.

And then one day,
--and I still don’t know how it happened—
the sea came.
Without warning.

Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.


Sunday, September 9, 2012


It is a classic question, one that is asked often in numerous places and contexts.  And why not, it's fun.  If you could have any superpower what would it be?  From my experience, the hands down leader will always be to be able to fly.  I mean, who wouldn't want that one, right?  Or superhuman strength, or speed?  But every now and then you hear someone say, I'd like to be able to be invisible.  And when those words are said it starts all of our collective wheels turning, imagining what it would be like to go about, for a time at least, unseen.  Inevitably, however, when we are really pressed, we all have to admit that the reason for wanting to be invisible is so we can do things without getting caught.  But what if the reason for wanting to be invisible had to do with being able to do good things, even great things, without anyone ever knowing about it.  That would be impressive wouldn't it?  But it might be far too noble a quest for most of us, especially me.
     I do, however, have a growing suspicion that striving to be invisible has enormous value in the spiritual life.  Look no further than the life of Jesus for your body of evidence.  For thirty of his thirty-three years he was in utter obscurity, with almost no information given about the content or composition of his life during that time: slow, hidden, quiet, small...invisible.  Just the way you would expect God to enter the world, right?  Why in the world would he do that?  One thing you can be sure of, it was the thirty years of obscurity that prepared him for the three years of public ministry.  Never was one, it would seem, so reluctant to occupy the spotlight.  And something deep within me really likes that; something deep within me senses the rightness and goodness of that.  And when he does finally arrive on the scene, what is the first miracle he performs, and how does he do it?  He turns water into wine at the wedding of some dear friends, with only a couple of the people (and most likely not even the bride or groom) ever being aware of what really happened.  And how often did Jesus tell someone he had just healed not to tell anyone?  I mean, who does that?  Don't we all want everyone to know when do something  extraordinary or noble; or compassionate or heroic?   Many would say his secrecy was because of something called the Messianic Secret; he was trying to keep everything a secret so that his time wouldn't come faster than it was intended to.  And while there might be some truth to that theory, I have to believe it was much more about something that was lodged deeply within his soul and Spirit; the same thing that led him to empty himself and make himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7).  There seems to be something deep within the heart of God that loves the hidden, the small, the empty, the nothing, the invisible; something deep within Him that is actually drawn to it.  Therefore, if I am to grow in my likeness to Him, as my attitude becomes the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), the same should be becoming true of me.
     I have a conviction growing within me that the best ministry to be done, is that done in invisibility.  The fruitfulness of such a ministry just seems to be endless, both within the minster and the ministee.  When I am content with being invisible, or better yet even seeking it out, it seems to create the most fertile soil possible for the Spirit to do His work without me getting in the way trying to do mine.  Therefore, these days if someone were to ask what my deepest hopes for Core Leadership (or for Jim Branch) are, high on my list would be, "I hope that it is invisible."  I hope that we are going about (and deeply involved in) God's work, but that no one, other than God himself, is ever really fully aware of all that is going on.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (Trouble) a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
     “In that day,” declares the Lord,“you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.
     In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground.  Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.  I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.  I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:14-20)

What an incredibly interesting choice of words God uses as he speaks of His unfailing love for His beloved spouse--unfaithful Israel.  When other lovers might be tempted to wash their hands and walk away because of the hurt and the heartache she has caused by chasing after other lovers, this Lover chooses a much different path.  His heart simply will not let Him leave.  He is still deeply and hopelessly in love with His beloved Bride.  So much so that He decides to pursue her with all of His might rather than give up on her altogether; in order to completely capture her heart.  Therefore, I will allure her are the exact words He uses, and incredible words they are.  In fact the word for allure in the Hebrew means to open.  It is a profoundly intimate word that carries with it a profoundly intimate image; an image of the quality and intensity of the life God longs for with each of us.  God is going to lead her to the desert and speak tenderly to her, all in a passionate desire to open her...to (and for) Himself, that He might enter in and show her the depths of the love He has for her.  This is because God desires intimacy with us that is deeper and wilder, more tender and more passionate than any relationship we will ever have.  Intimacy so deep that it leads us to the place where we are able to call Him my husband rather than just my master, and be betrothed to Him forever.

So my question becomes, Where do I sense God is alluring me?  How is He opening me that He might enter in and show me the fullness and the delights of the love and intimacy He made me for?  How is He capturing my heart completely and making me all His own?  What does it look like for me to open to Him?

Monday, September 3, 2012


A little p.s. on the "chasing" post...

O My Soul

Rivers and stones and the trees of the field, they sing in the night
And a thousand tongues lay deep in your lungs to raise to the sky
Don't lie to yourself, o my soul—love your God.

Deep in your heart you feather and tar your folly and fear:
Expose them for the fools they are, and the world comes clear.
Don't lie to yourself, o my soul—love your God.

Your worries will never love you
They'll leave you all alone
But your God will not forsake you
O my soul.

 The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. Psalm 16:4
"Are you chasing lovers, or are you chasing Me?"

Saturday, September 1, 2012


She said, "I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water..."...She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them...So now I will expose her...no one will take her out of my hands...Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her...I will betroth you to me forever. (Hosea 2:5, 7, 10, 14,19)

Hosea 2 is such a challenging, convicting, and passionately tender chapter.  It calls me to recognize the ways I have left the Lover of My Soul, and have chased after lovers that can never even begin to satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.  It calls me to name them: affirmation, security, significance, recognition, esteem, etc., etc., etc., and to identify them as the cheap hookers that they really are.  It calls me to repent, to turn, to stop chasing after these sorry substitutes and turn back to the One who knows me like no other and loves me like no other.  It calls me to leave their flimsy, glittering arms and return the arms of Him who can hold me like no other, who made me uniquely and wonderfully for deep intimacy with Himself.  It calls me to Him who continually asks me the question, "Are you chasing lovers, or are you chasing Me?"

O Lord, my God, what false lovers do I continually chase after for my food and my water; for my security and my significance; for my value and my worth; for affirmation and identity?  Help me to recognize that when I chase after these "lovers," I have left you, my One True Love.  Allure me now, O Lover-God, betroth me to You, and You alone...forever.  Ravish me with your passionate love and capture my heart completely.  Make it wholly yours, that I may chase ever and always only after You.