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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, September 30, 2013

to be celebrated

I am the team chaplain (or whatever you call it) for our high school football team in our community.  It is a role I have held and cherished for the past eleven years or so.  During that time, I have been so blessed and privileged to be a part of the lives of so many wonderful people; folks that have cared for, marked, and communicated Christ to me in so many ways.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that what I have received from being a part of this wonderful community is so much greater than what I have actually given to it.  Which at times, if I'm brutally honest, makes me wonder if someone else in this role might be a better gift to them than I am.  I am often tempted to think, at age 53, that someone younger and more energetic, more winsome and outgoing, might have more of an impact on the lives of kids and coaches for the Kingdom than I do/have over the years.  More on this later.

This past Friday we had an away game at the home of a bitter rival.  Although their record was better, and they were ranked higher, we, in a valiant effort, pulled off the victory.  One of our players, Derric (not his real name), had an incredible night--both on offense and defense--and was one of the major reasons we were victorious.  Another one of my high school friends, Caleb (not his real name either) had a not so good night.  In fact, he didn't get to play at all.  And during the course of the game he just became sadder and sadder.  Every time I walked by I tried to encourage him, and get him to enjoy the fact that we were winning a huge game, but he continually refused to enter into "celebration mode." 

After the game was over, since it was a bitter rival with whom we have a history of animosity, all of the fans were held off of the field and not able to join the players in their post game celebration.  Therefore they all stood by the gate and waited for the players as they came off the field.  As the players walked off the field, the contrast was too much not to notice: even for me:)  First, here came Caleb and many of the other players who didn't get a chance to participate in the game.  As they walked out of the gate and past all of the fans they got a warm greeting, but no one specifically congratulated them, or patted them on the back, or cheered their names; which I'm sure sent Caleb further into the downward spiral.  Then the more veteran players (the ones who had contributed a little more directly and visibly to this specific victory) began to exit the field, and the cheers began to grow.  One of the last players off the field was Derric; and as he came through the gate there was a huge cheer from the adoring fans, a reward for his incredible effort.  In fact, they clapped, and cheered, and even chanted his name; and the smile on his face grew from ear to ear. 

There is simply something about being celebrated that strikes a chord deeply within us.  It is something that we all so desperately long for.  When we get it, whether we realize it or not, we get a taste of the eternity we were all created for.  And when we don't, it throws us into a pit of doubt, insecurity, sadness, and despair.  What a contrast the night was for me...Derric and Caleb...one celebrated, one unnoticed.  But obviously there was far more to the picture than meets the eye...like, how does this scene take on life within me?

20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:20-32)

This was my gospel reading a couple of days ago...before my experience at the football game.  But it wasn't until the realization at the game that I began to understand what God was trying to help me see and understand.  All of us have a deep longing to be celebrated; even the older brother--and maybe particularly the older brother.  He comes home and sees a party.  Immediately his insecurities rise to the surface.  "What is this celebration about?  My younger brother?  How is he worthy of a celebration?  I'm the one who never left; this celebration should be for me." 

The Father's words are priceless here.  "My son"...affirming His sonship as well as the Father's affection..."you are always with me."  Almost as if to say "I love you and celebrate you every single day, don't you know that?"  In fact. "Everything I have is yours."  If you knew my deep love for you (and knew it to the core of your being), if you were attentive enough each day to know how dear you are to me and how much love is in my heart for you.  If you were only aware of how crazy about you I am and how much I celebrate you every day; then you would be secure enough in my love to celebrate the homecoming of your wayward brother.  My celebration of him is not a threat to my celebration of you.  You are my Beloved!  Know that to the depths of your being.

We will have our need to be celebrated met somehow, somewhere.  If we refuse to enter in to the celebration God offers of us--either because it sounds too good to be true, or somehow not good enough--we will find a way and a crowd to celebrate us, or we will chase after it for our entire lives.  But the celebration we most deeply long for (in fact the celebration we were created for) lies only in His celebration of us.  And until we realize that, and live out of that, we will never find the rest and peace we most deeply long for.  So let us all turn the ear of our hearts toward God and listen to the words of celebration He most deeply wants us to hear.

Derric, my son, you are my Beloved.  I know it feels good to be celebrated by the people around you, but the celebration you feel from them is only a drop in the bucket compared to the celebration that is in my heart for you.  Remember those cheers, remember the applause, remember them shouting your name, because that is exactly how I feel about you...only much more so!  I rejoice in you every minute of every day.  When I even think about you it brings a smile to my lips and deep joy to my heart.  You make my heart leap within me; you make it skip a beat.  You cause me to jump up and down and cheer.  That's how much I delight in you.  Come to me and know yourself as my beloved.

Caleb, my son, you are my Beloved.  I know you are tempted to believe that you have no worth, no value, because you are not celebrated by those around you as much as you long to be.  But as long as you seek that kind of celebration you will be disappointed, discouraged, sad, and in despair; because people can never offer you what you most deeply long for--only I can.  You are a joy and a delight to me.  I created you uniquely and wonderfully when I dreamt you into being and you are mine; the work of my incredibly loving and wonderfully creative hands.  Do not let the voices and applause (or lack thereof) of this world define you, but be defined by my abundant and unfailing love for you.

Jim. my son, you are my Beloved.  I know how much insecurity and doubt fills your heart; and it makes me so sad.  It hurts me deeply to see you doubting your value, your worth, and your calling.  I know how much you compare yourself with others, and how much (in your mind anyway) you come up woefully short in that comparison.  I so much long for you to know your own beauty, value, and worth.  You have something to offer that no one else in all creation has ever had or ever will have.  You are a wonderfully unique expression of my love, care, and creativity, and it gives me such joy to see you be who I made you to be and give what I gave you to give.  You are incomparable; beyond compare.  You are of infinite worth.  Come to me and allow me to celebrate over you daily.  Allow me to convince you of my extravagant love for you.  Allow me to convince you that you are worthy of being celebrated.  And allow me to remind you that I celebrate you ever minute of every day.  You are mine!!!  And I love you!!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

disordered affections

Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

There is a created order to all things; an intentional design.  When that created order is followed, life is the result.  But whenever that created order is not adhered to, there is chaos.  That's why Jesus, when he was asked by "an expert in the law" in Matthew 22 which commandment was the greatest, immediately responds (from Deuteronomy 6:5): "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  For there is even (and most particularly) a created order to our "loves."  For unless we love God with all of our being first, we can never truly love anyone or anything else with the love that we were created to love them with.  As Henri Nouwen put it years ago, "The second love, can only be a reflection of the first."  Therefore when we love something or someone more than we love God, we have gone against the created order; which produces all kinds of disorder and chaos.  The saints and the poets knew this well, and have discussed it in detail through the ages.  In fact, centuries ago Ignatius spoke of this very phenomenon when he used the term disordered affections.  It is a phrase that has really had some life in me lately. 

I actually think that's what Jesus was getting at when he was talking to the rich young ruler.  He looked at him and loved him because He realized that the real issue was that this young man's affections were disordered.  And Jesus wanted so much more for him than that.  That's why He tells him that there's still one thing he lacks.  One thing.  It is the same one thing that Martha lacked (in Luke 10).  That one thing was making Jesus his one thing.  That one thing was having Jesus as his first and truest affection.  For if Jesus is our first and truest affection, then the other things (or the many things in the case of Luke 10:41) of this life seem to fall in order behind that.  Our lives become centered on and rooted in the love of Jesus.

Unfortunately disordered affections can be a very difficult thing to recognize.  Because the things that end up occupying most of our time and energy (which is a very good way to tell what's really in the center of our lives) are often very good things: jobwork, accomplishments, reputation, service, ministry, achievements, hobbies, exercise, even family activities.  But Jesus was pretty direct in saying that when anything takes precedence over our affection for him (one thing), we have made that thing the center of our lives--a spot that was designed only for Him to occupy.  So the questions I am left to answer regularly are: What occupies most of my time and energy and focus these days?  What is my one thing right now?  And what does it really look like to hold Jesus as my first and truest affection?  The answer to these questions can give me a pretty good idea about whether my life, and my affections, are properly ordered.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


 He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

So this was my reading for the day.  Well, not just this verse, but this verse plus a chunk of other verses around it.  In fact it's been my verse for the last couple of days; and maybe for a few days (or weeks) longer, who knows?  Anyway, today as I read from John 3, this was the only verse I saw.  And it came with a question from God: "How's this process going for you?"

Well, in an effort to avoid the question, I immediately started reading the other verses around it, trying to see if there was any way of weaseling out of the question through the context.  Nope, no luck.  The context is that John's disciples come to him because many of the folks that had come out to the desert to see John had jumped ship, and were now going to Jesus instead.  "Everyone's going to him," they complain.  And John's answer is priceless.  "Good!  Let them.  Didn't I tell you that I wasn't The One, but only the one sent to bear witness to The One?  The bride belongs to the bridegroom, not to me.  I'm just a friend of the bridegroom.  My job is to attend to the groom; waiting for His arrival, listening for His voice.  And when He comes, my job is just to step out of His way.  The bride is for Him, not for me.

That's when I realized it.  I don't want to be just the friend.  I want to be more than that.  I want the attention and affection and recognition that the groom gets.  I want the bride to feel that way about me.  I want to matter.  I don't want to be an insignificant secondary character in this story, I want a bigger role.  I want to be the main attraction; or at least a main attraction.  I want to increase.   I want to be BIG in people's lives.  I need to be BIG in people's lives.  And there it was...the ugly truth.

So I guess my answer to His original question is, "Not very well, I suppose."  There is still plenty that needs to die in me, starting with my needy attitude.  There is still plenty of decreasing that needs to be done; and not just for decreasing's sake, but for His sake, so that He might increase.  So that He might be BIG in the lives of people.  So BIG that He is all they see, all they want.  So that He is their Beloved Groom; The One who loves them so deeply and passionately that He was willing to sacrifice  everything just so they might spend eternity with Him.  Pray that I will want nothing more than to help make that happen.  Pray that I will learn to step aside and make BIG room for Him.  Pray that I will not try to take up all the space myself.  Pray that I will learn to be a better friend of the Bridegroom, rather than being so full of myself.  Pray that I might embrace this wonderful life of decreasing.  And pray that the next time He asks me this question, I'll have a better answer.

Monday, September 9, 2013


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
     And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
     And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Don't you wish sometimes that you could've been a fly on the wall as these great stories of Scripture unfold?  Especially one like this.  I would have loved to see the faces of Mary and Gabriel as this exchange takes place.  I would have loved to hear the words; to hear how they were spoken, with what tone, and care, and volume.  And I would have loved to see how those words were received.  What did it look like that Mary was greatly troubled (disturbed) by the words, even in the midst of being filled with wonder about what they might mean and how they would be fulfilled.  I'm guessing that she was incredibly excited about the amazing thing God was getting ready to do, but troubled by what all it might mean for her life, her heart, and her family.  I get it.  I've felt like that before.  I've sensed God's invitation to do an incredibly intimate work deep within me and been so excited about it, but afraid of it all at the same time.  I mean the Holy Spirit was going to come upon her, the Most High God was going to overshadow her; and the result would be that God himself would somehow be conceived within her.

And you have to love Mary's response.  After all, God was asking something that was incredibly demanding of her...total openness.  She was to completely hold herself open to Him; totally vulnerable, totally willing, totally receptive to whatever He might choose to do.  It is a frightening posture to hold, unless the one that you hold it for is utterly loving and trustworthy.  Then, and only then, are we able to respond as she did: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

I have a suspicion that the Spirit of the Most High would like to do something unspeakably intimate within each of us as well; something that will fill us with joyful wonder and greatly disturb us all at the same time.  And if we have the courage to hold ourselves open to Him; vulnerable, receptive, and willing.  If we have the courage to answer Him with the words of Mary: "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."  Then He will come upon us, and overshadow us, and birth Himself in us in an indescribably intimate way--which, in fact, is the deepest desire of our hearts.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, September 6, 2013

selling God

I was having lunch with a couple of old friends a few weeks ago and doing what only old friends can do: telling old stories, recalling old memories, laughing at old antics, generally just enjoying each others company.  But when the conversation turned to the present and to the content of life these days, it was a little different story.  It seems that the story being written these days in the lives of these dear friends wasn't quite as enjoyable to talk about; they have both been through (and are still going through) a lot.  In fact, as we talked about it all, there was not quite as much enthusiasm about this story, not as much laughter--only the hard reality of what life can throw at you from time to time...particularly as you get older. 

The beauty of it all was that there was a deep desire in the midst of the pain, and the struggle, and the chaos, to really press into faith; to turn to God and truly trust in Him.  And there was the realization that the content of their lives these days might just be the best type of "soil" in which the fruit of the Spirit can actually work, and grow, and take root.  We wondered together out loud about why faith wasn't more a part of their picture when they were younger, and talked about the times and the places and the people God had used through the years to try and get their attention and capture their hearts.  We talked about times that were significant--times that they thought for sure were going to change them forever--and how after a few months, or weeks, or even days, those times and experiences had faded away and the same old patterns, old habits, and old lives became their reality once again.  "I wonder what happened?" one of them said as he looked off into the distance.  "I even saw it happen to my kids.  They would come home all fired up from a camp, or a retreat, or a mission trip, with a whole new outlook on things, a whole new perspective, but it never lasted.  Before long they were the exact same as they had been before."

Now I know that that's just the nature of the spiritual life; it is clearly seen in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the seed.  Sometimes the seed just doesn't take root, does last, because of the condition of the soil.  But I also began to wonder if (or what) we might contribute to that process as well.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few months earlier as we were talking about life and ministry, and about true and lasting change, as well as the lack of it.  I had been speaking on a weekend camp to a group of high school kids, trying to tell them of the incredible, extravagant love of Jesus.  In the midst of the weekend, as I was praying and preparing, and feeling more and more insecure about my ability to actually articulate that Love in a way that kids might actually respond to, God very clearly said to me, "Don't sell me to them.  Just tell them about me the best you can, and I'll do the rest.  Salvation is my responsibility, not yours."  And, of course, he was right.  He was not some product that they needed to buy; it's not like I was trying to sell them vinyl siding.  This is the God of the universe we're talking about here.  He can, and will, speak for himself.  And when He does, it always has the desired effect (Isaiah 55:10-11).  And unless He does, it is all for naught. 

I can try to sell them God if I want to (and I might even get pretty good at it), but if I do, then that is actually all they've got in the end...something that has been sold to them.  It is not their own, not a true part of them.  So once the product doesn't work quite the way they want it to, they take it back for a refund.  They walk away, because true salvation is something that just can't be manufactured; it is the work of the Spirit.  In fact, any salvation that's manufactured would seem to be synthetic (man-made) rather than authentic (God breathed).  And I'll have to admit, that I've done my fair share of trying to manufacture salvation in my lifetime. 

I wonder if that might be part of the reason that so many folks don't follow through after they have first heard about (or been sold) God.  It seems like a very fine line to me (and one I'm not sure I can even see) between giving a clear and compelling presentation of the Gospel and actually trying to sell God, but I think there is a big difference.  And I think there is a big difference between someone that has been sold a "product" and someone that has been "seized by the power of the Great Affection."  And one of the major differences seems to be that one lasts only a short time, while the other is eternal.

What does all of this mean?  I'm really not sure; it just seems to be something I need to be mindful of.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

proud papa (once again)

If you are a Young Life Leader--and probably even if you're not--this is a worthy read.

YL Leader Survival Guide

Sunday, September 1, 2013

workin it

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live...(Isaiah 55:1-3)

So Isaiah 55 was my reading for the day; which seems pretty ironic since it's Labor Day weekend.  So ironic, in fact, that it made me do a double-take, and then made me do a little research on what exactly Labor Day is and how it came about.  It seems that the idea of Labor Day goes back a ways, first being proposed in the United States in 1882; and then officially adopted as a holiday by the state of Oregon in 1887.  It actually wasn't until 1894 that it became a national holiday.  And best I can tell, Labor Day was a creation of the labor movement to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.  So, in essence, Labor Day celebrates work; and man's accomplishments as a result of that work--good old American productivity...earn your keep, make it on your own, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, make a name for yourself productivity.  Which, on the surface, seems like a fine thing to celebrate...until you hold it up beside Isaiah 55.  Sometimes it is difficult to actually see the difference between the core values that our culture promotes and the values of the Gospel; that is until you hold it up to the light of Scripture.  Then it becomes evident that somehow, through the years, we have drifted toward the culture and away from the Gospel in very subtle, but significant ways.

I caught myself in that tension today as I was sitting with the question asked in verse 2: Why do you labor for that which does not satisfy?  I began to realize that as much as I try to convince myself that the opposite is true, I do, in fact, feed on things that can never--and were never intended to--satisfy me.  Instead of coming to Him alone, the well of living waters, I go elsewhere; I strive for recognition, toil for affirmation, try to build a reputation, perform to be admired for my work, jockey for position, labor to secure my place in the grand scheme of things.  In other words, I labor (long and hard I might add) for that which does not satisfy.  It might taste good for a moment, but in no time at all my soul is empty once again demanding to be filled.  Of course I can put a pretty face on it, doing it all in the name of His kingdom and His work, but in all honesty, deep in my heart I know better.  I know how much of it is really about me; about building and climbing and achieving and earning (all of which are smiled upon and applauded by the culture around us).  I can even make myself believe that it is all for noble purposes...for a while.  But eventually I come back to the realization that much of what I am laboring for, once again, is that which cannot satisfy and does not last.

The invitation of Isaiah 55 is altogether different.  It is not about laboring, and earning, and toiling, and striving and producing.  It is not a celebration of man's ability to feed himself, build his own world, or meet his own needs.  It is simply about coming.   Open, dependent, receptive, attentive, bringing nothing to the table.  Just comingCome and listenCome and drink and eat. Listen diligently, incline your ear, hear His voice.  Then you soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Then your soul may live.  The very life of the Spirit within us depends on it. 

Now that's something to celebrate!!!