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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 ...

Monday, January 28, 2013

one thing

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.  Philippians 3:7-9 (The Message)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  Luke 10:38-40 NIV

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”  Luke 10:41-42 (The Message)

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock. 

                                     ~Psalm 27:4-5

One thing.  It seems to be a recurring theme in Scripture for me these days.  First there is Philippians 3:7-9, where Paul says that all of the things he thought were so important in this life are actually just rubbish compared to the one thing, the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus.  And the word rubbish is definitely a tame version of what he really says.  In fact Curly (City Slickers)  and Eugene Peterson might be far more accurate.  The Greek word he uses here is skubalon, which means refuse or excrement, particularly of animals.  In other words, something really detestable.  Paul is saying that all things are just refuse, compared to the one thing; knowing Jesus.    

Then there is Luke 10, where Martha is worried and upset about many things, and Jesus reminds her that only one thing is needed.  In fact, he tells her that her sister Mary has chosen what is better (sitting at His feet and listening to what He had to say) and it will not be taken away from her

Then of course there's Matthew 6:33, that reminds us, amidst all of the cares and worries of this life, to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.  Jesus knew that it is far too easy to allow the other things of life to be what consumes our minds and our hearts in a way that leaves no room to seek the one thing.

And finally, there is Psalm 27; my Psalm for the week.  And another great reminder of how incredibly easy it is, in this busy and chaotic world, to lose track of the one thing because of the many things.  For only one thing really matters; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives; to gaze upon His beauty; to seek him in his temple.  If the one thing was the occupation, and preoccupation, of our souls, the way it was with Mary, what incredibly different lives we would lead. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

personality or paradigm

     On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
      “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
     Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
     Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
     Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
     “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
     And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”  When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
     When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
     When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
     “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
     Jesus wept.
     Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
     But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
     Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.
     “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
     Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
     So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
     When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
     Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:17-44)

I don't know why, but for some reason I always find myself trying to defend Martha whenever I read one of these familiar passages containing her and her sister Mary's story.  Maybe it is because I feel sorry for the criticism she endures from various religious circles.  Maybe it is because I believe (or hope) she is simply misunderstood.  Probably it is because I am really trying to defend (and feel okay about) my Martha-like tendencies.  Whatever the case, something always seems to rise up in me--and really rise up in the midst of the folks I talk to from time to time--whenever the Mary/Martha discussion rears its head.  It is understandable; we live in a Martha-like culture that values and applauds performance and productivity, busyness and getting things done.  I too, through the years, have fallen into the "well Martha can't really help it, that's just the way she's made...it's her personality" way of thinking.  But after reading and reading and rereading these stories...I'm not so sure that's the case.

For example, in this particular instance, if we look closely at the details of this interaction, it actually leaves me with a lot of questions.  On the surface, Mary and Martha's reaction to the death of their brother looks very similar, but the closer I look, the more and more different they seem to be.  For instance, as they hear of Jesus' arrival near Bethany, Martha immediately goes out to meet him, but Mary stays home.  Why is that?  And as they each approach him, Martha seems to march right up, while Mary falls at his feet.  And then there's the fact that Jesus asks Martha a question:  “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"  But for Mary he has no question...only his tears.  Instead of asking her about her belief (as he does Martha), He weeps for her.  Why are there no tears when Martha comes?  And even when He orders them to take away the stone, Mary is silent (I believe hopefully so) while Martha responds:  “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Is this the comment of one who truly believes that Jesus is indeed the resurrection and the life?  Could it be that as Martha spent her time worried and anxious about many things, and distracted by all the preparations that had to be made, and Mary was sitting at his feet listening to what He had to say, that something happened deep in the heart of Mary that convinced her to her core that Jesus was indeed worthy of her trust, regardless of the circumstances of life?  Mary had developed both a posture (at His feet...Luke 10:39, John 11:32, John 12:3) and a practice (listening to what He had to say) that  seem to allow her to trust Jesus in a way that Martha was not yet capable of.

Am I being too hard on Martha...maybe...probably.  But it has nothing to do with not being fully convinced of the fact that Jesus loved her deeply (see John 11:5) .  It has more to do with the quality--or lack thereof--of her relationship with Him.  I don't know about you, but I just want more than that.  There is so much depth and quality that Martha seems to be missing. I want so much more, and I'll bet you do too.  In contrast, Mary just seems to get it.  I mean, if you had to pick one of them to sit down with and talk deeply about Jesus, which one would you pick?  For me it's a no brainer.  I want the one who sat at his feet and listened to all he had to say; the one whose heart was totally and completely captured by Him.   

So, I think there is something significant in all of this for me: that the difference between Martha and Mary is not simply one of personality, but something much bigger than that.  The difference is one of paradigm; the way the two of them see things.  It is a difference in the way they see themselves, and the way they see life, and the way they see Jesus.  When we begin to see with Mary's eyes; to see what the better part really is, and set our eyes and our hearts on that...on Him, then true transformation takes place.  Transformation that allows us to know God's heart so deeply that we are able to trust His heart, even when we can't see His hand. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013


He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;

                              ~Isaiah 40:11

Lately, there has been a whole lot of heartache and sadness, sickness and sorrow, struggle and pain going on in the lives of folks that are near and dear to me.  It is the kind of thing that makes you feel so helpless, as you stand by with a huge desire to offer help or relief or comfort or solution, when you know that none of those is really in your power to offer.  So you pray.  And it is the kind of prayer that is probably the most wonderfully raw, and delightfully true and pure prayer that you will ever pray.  It is the prayer of complete dependence and utter desperation.  The kind of prayer you think about when your think of the groans (Romans 8:26...read it, it is amazing) that the Spirit of God offers to the Father on our behalf.  It is the kind of prayer where all the thees and the thous are out of the way and it is just a heart on a heart; yours and God's.  It is a wonder, and a bit of a sadness, that it takes something this extreme and severe to get us to that place of vulnerability and prayer, but low and behold, we are there nonetheless.  We are face-to-face with the realization that only God can offer what is so desperately needed.  And the question we are left with is, "Will he?"  Do we really believe he can, and will, show up?  Do we really trust Him to be and to do all that He says He will be and will do?

This morning as I reflected on all of this, God showed up (in His Word, as He usually does) with this incredibly tender picture.  It is the picture of One who cares deeply and is involved intimately with His "little lambs."  One who tends them like a shepherd with his flock.  Actually the word used here for both shepherd and tend is the same word in the Hebrew and can mean a number of different things: to pasture, feed, keep, care for, tend, etc.  It is a word with broad meaning that includes all of the things necessary for the care and nurture of the flock.  In our despair and deepest pain, that is the word God offers us, His sheep.  It is a word filled with both assurance and relief; a source of deep encouragement and unwavering trust.  It is a word that says:  I am the One who cares for you above all others; and who is able to care for you above all others.  You are mine and I love you deeply.  I will not leave you alone, to fend for yourself.  I am with you always, caring for you tenderly, in all of the conditions and circumstances of this life...whether you can see me--and feel me--or not.

He is also One who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.  How many times in my 35 years of walking with Him have I experienced the intimacy of this vivid picture.  How many times, as I reflect back on my own journey, when something came crashing in, or down, on my perfect little world and left me sitting in the middle of the wreckage, stunned and hurt, lost and confused, has God, in his great care and mercy, gathered me into his wonderfully loving and incredibly tender arms and carried me close to his heart.  Notice that there are no question marks after those last two sentences; that is because they are not questions, but statements.  During those times of most extreme pain and intense heartache in my life and world--be it the loss of our first child, the loss of a dear friend, or the loss of a job I loved--God, in his great kindness, has always faithfully gathered me into his arms and carried me close to his heart.  This has been the place of some of the deepest healing and most genuine transformation that I could ever imagine. 

So the question becomes,"Will I be gathered, or will I be scattered?"  You see, there is a turning necessary...even for sheep.  In my pain and grief and struggle, will I turn toward Him and be gathered into His loving arms, or will I be scattered and turn away into anger, bitterness, or despair?  I guess that is the question for us all.  Knowing the heart of our Good Shepherd, will we turn to Him, in love and dependence and trust, even when it seems to the human eye that everything around us is falling apart; or will we turn away to our own devices; into a land that will eventually devour our very heart and soul?  Gathered or scattered?  I guess that choice is up to us.


Friday, January 11, 2013

good news

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15) NIV

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV)

It was after John’s arrest that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying, “The time has come at last—the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.” (JBP)

It's time!!!  The time for which you have been waiting for thousands of years.  The kingdom of God has arrived!  It's here!  At hand!  And that is such great news!  No more waiting, no more watching; no more hoping and dreaming and longing for Him to arrive.  No more waiting for Him to intervene, and to deliver us from the hand of our enemies.  The King has come!  He is in his kingdom!  Good news?  I should say so!  Therefore, repent (change your hearts and minds) and believe the Good News.

I don't know about you, maybe it's the way I've heard the word, or the tone I've heard it uttered in, but repent and Good News do not, for some reason, seem to go hand-in-hand to me.  I guess somehow I always hear the word repent followed by the words you filthy sinner (which I know the truth of all too well).  Almost as if repenting was connected with bad news...i.e. repent, or else!!!  But here Jesus comes, proclaiming the Good News, and saying repent and believe in the Good News!!!  Almost as if he were saying, "You've believed in (and followed) the bad news for long enough.  Now turn (your hearts and your minds) in a new direction and believe the Good News.  The Good News being that I am crazy in love with you!  The Good News being that you are my joy and my delight!  The Good News being that I think about you all the time and can't get you off my mind!  The Good News being that I would rather die for you than live without you.  In fact, I died that you might not have to live lives that are held captive by sin and death and fear and lies any longer, but lives that are full and free and filled with my great affection for you.  Now that's Good News.  Turn toward it, live into it, believe it...even if it sounds too good to be true.  Because, in fact, it is too good...but it's also too true!"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

fill in the blank

     When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
     “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:47-48)

If these verses were written about you, how would you fill in the blanks?

When Jesus saw     (Your name)      approaching, he said of him (or her), "                                                                                                           ."
     "How do you know me?"     (Your Name)      asked.
Jesus answered, "I saw you_____________________________."

I spent a little time trying to do that this morning, and to tell you the truth I had a hard time getting past the negative--wading through the things I fear to be most true about myself--to actually be able to see the face of Jesus, the look in his eyes as I approach, and hear the words of tenderness, affection, and truth that He come from His lips.  The voices of my own insecurities and fears are really loud, and tend to make hearing God's voice almost impossible at times.  It takes a good bit of time, space, and silence to finally get those loud voices to subside, and begin to hear the gentle whisper of the Savior.  Try it yourself, maybe you will have an easier time than I did.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


The wise men listened to the king and then went on their way to Bethlehem. And now the star, which they had seen in the east, went in front of them as they travelled until at last it shone immediately above the place where the little child lay. The sight of the star filled them with indescribable joy.
     So they went into the house and saw the little child with his mother Mary. And they fell on their knees and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts—gold, incense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-12 JBP)

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany and, depending on your tradition, the season that follows.  The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphancia, which can be translated both as coming and as manifestation, or appearing.  While Christmas is the season that celebrates the event of Christ's coming in the incarnation, Epiphany celebrates the manifestation(s) of that coming.  Thus Epiphany is a feast and a season in which we see the Christ.  It is a season in which we must pay special attention; a season in which we must keep our eyes open for the ways and the times and the places Jesus is revealed both to us and in us.  It is a season of seeing and recognizing.

The scriptural focus for the Feast of the Epiphany is the coming of the wise men to see the newborn King (Matthew 2:1-12).  It is a passage about seeing...seeing a star, seeing the Child, seeing the glory of God.  The wise men saw the star, it is what guided them to the house.  Was it because they were told about it?  Was it because they most likely were astronomers and would've been trained to notice such a thing?  Or was it simply because they were paying attention?  I'm sure many others must've noticed it as well.  Or maybe they didn't.  Maybe they were so occupied, and preoccupied, with their own lives and problems and ambitions and worries, that this strange appearance in the night sky slipped by them completely.  Who knows?  All we do know is that these three men saw the star, and for some reason it filled them with indescribable joy.  Why?  Because they must've know that this great sight was indeed leading them to a great hope.  So they followed the moving star to the place where they would see their Savior.  During this season, it might do us good to pay attention to the things that seem oddly out of place; to people or conversations or circumstances that might be much more than they appear on the surface.  They might actually be things that are trying to lead us to (reveal to us) the Savior as well.

Once these wise men came to the house, they saw the Child.  And when they saw the Child they were overwhelmed; so much so that they fell on their knees and worshipped him.  Why?  Can you imagine, worshipping a newborn baby?  But this was no ordinary babe in swaddling clothes, it was the God of the universe come to earth; to a lowly stable, to an unknown young couple, in the most humble circumstances you could imagine.  What an entrance?  It is almost as if God was trying to slip into His world unnoticed, except by those who were watching and waiting and longing for His arrival.

And I love the last line, after they worshipped Him they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts.  It is funny that this is the response worship usually elicits.  When were are completely captured by the beauty and holiness, and awe and wonder of a person or an experience or a moment, we open our treasures to them.  It is woven into the very fabric of our being.  It is what we were created to do.  Unfortunately I can often open my treasures to people or experiences or moments that are not truly worthy of that offering; in fact only God is.  So, during this day and this season how will I open my treasures to the only One who is truly worthy of them?  What does that look like each day?  And how will I treasure Him...with my time and my energies and my affections and my efforts?

I pray that both this day and this season will be filled to overflowing with His presence, His peace, and His joy, as we keep our eyes open for the many ways He will be revealed to us and in us in the days ahead.