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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 ...

Thursday, December 29, 2022

loving like jesus loves

A few days ago a friend asked me, “If you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be?”  And as I thought about it, a question rose up from within me.  In fact, it surprised me a bit.  My only explanation is that it came from God; he knew the deepest question of my heart better than I did.  How kind of him to show it to me.

“How can I love like you love?” was my response.  Like I said, I can take no credit for it.  It was just something that arose from a deep and beautiful place in me.  And it was so right!  In fact, the older I get the more it seems like the only question that really matters.  And when it came out of my mouth, I could feel a yes deep in my soul. 

The problem is that it’s so far from my daily reality.  My failures to love seem much more abundant than whatever small successes I might have.  Even the idea of loving like Jesus loves seems almost impossible to me, apart from a work of Divine Grace.  Yet, it is definitely one of the deepest longings of my heart and soul.  But how in the world does that happen?  How can I possibly begin to love like Jesus loves?  I guess the answer is as simple as it is complex: I must let Jesus do the loving in and through me. 

Which brings me to my verses for the day—Luke 7:11-17.  It is the story of a widow who just lost her only son.  Can you imagine the pain?  What a double dose of pain and heartache and tragedy!  First you lose your husband, and then you lose your only child.  Losing one of the two would have been bad enough, but this just seems like piling on.

And here is the verse that stopped me in my tracks: “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” (Luke 7:13) Not only had Jesus revealed to me the deepest question of my heart, but he was also revealing to me how to go about the journey of loving like he loves. 

You see, ninety-nine percent of the time my initial thoughts are about myself, and how things affect me.  Sadly, even when I run into the tragedy and despair of others, my initial thoughts are usually something like, “What can I do?  What do I need to say?  What would be wise and helpful?”  And when I do that, I fail to really see the person in front of me at all, much less allow my heart to go out to them.  Loving like Jesus loves, first of all, involves a shift.  A shift from me worrying about what I am going to say or do, to really seeing them and letting my heart go out to them.  A simple shift, but a profound one.

It’s like Jesus is saying to me: “Jim, just allow me to love others through you, that’s how you love like me.  Train your eyes to really see those around you, and then, instead of worrying about how to respond, just let your heart go out to them.  Make it about them, not about you.  If you can do those two things, you will be well on your way in the journey of love.”


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

the art of staying out of the way

The older I get, the more I am coming to believe that ministry is really only about two things: showing up and staying out of the way.  When I was younger, I failed to fully appreciate the value of either, but after 40+ years of ministry I think I’m finally beginning to see the beauty and the value of both.

The value of simply showing up can never be underestimated.  Showing up says, “I care.”  Showing up says, “I’m committed.”  Showing up says, “You are valuable.”  And most of all, showing up says, “You are loved.”

A few days ago, I traveled a couple of hours to attend the funeral of a good friend’s mom, who had just ended a twelve-year battle with cancer.  And as I approached my friend in the receiving line, he said, “Why should I be surprised?  You always show up, and you have for the last ten years.”

Showing up is not a one-time thing.  It takes constancy and consistency.  It takes time and effort.  It does not come fast or easily.  And in a world that is broken and chaotic and ever-changing, showing up is a light in the midst of the darkness.

But showing up doesn’t stand alone, it must be combined with staying out of the way.  When I was younger, I felt like I always had to be something or do something or say something, but the older I get the more I realize that much of that being or doing or saying actually got in the way of what God was trying to do.  Luckily, he is big enough to use even my needy bumbling and fumbling to accomplish his purposes, most often in spite of me.  But the realization I have made over the last several years is that the need I have to be or to do or to say is often more about me than it is about God.  In fact, if I would just show up and stay out of his way, he would do things that I never imagined. 

A classic example of this involves the 20 years I spent on a high school football sideline.  On the sideline, staying out of the way is an art form.  In fact, there are several things that can happen if you don’t stay out of the way, and they are all bad.  More times than I can count, I have been responsible for talking to players when they were supposed to be on the field or distracting them while they were supposed to be paying attention at practice.  One time I even got one of the game officials (who was a good friend of mine) in trouble because he was talking to me rather than paying attention.  I have also been directly responsible for a sideline warning or two because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was standing.  Luckily, I’ve never been directly responsible for a penalty.  But when you are in the way, and not paying attention to what's going on, there is the distinct possibility that you might get run over by players making sideline tackles or try to get out of bounds, so you have to pay attention and stay on your toes.  Thus, staying out of the way is an active process.

One of my favorite stories about this involved a good friend who was a Young Life leader at our high school.  One day at practice, our running backs coach came to me and said the head coach wanted to see me.  This rarely happened in the middle of practice, so I knew something was up.  As I walked out on the practice field, he pointed over to the sideline and asked, “Is that guy in the blue jacket a Young Life leader?”  “Yes sir,“ I responded.  Then, with a growing grin on his face, he said, “Would you please tell him how we come to practice?  I keep trying to get kids to come over to my huddle, but they are too busy being a part of his huddle to pay any attention.”  So I had the privilege of talking to my Young Life leader friend about the art of staying out of the way.  It is so easy in life and ministry to start making things about ourselves rather than about our God.

Years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to sit with a couple who had just lost a child.  Since that was also something we’d experienced, we gladly stepped into that painful, awful, sacred space with them.  We told them our story and our experience and hoped it would offer them some peace and hope and comfort.  But as we walked away from the time, I had this overwhelming sense that I had made the time more about us than about them.  In my desire to be helpful and comforting, and wise, I had missed the opportunity to just be with them in their grief and listen to what was going on in their hearts.  To this day I long for a do-over (click here), for the ability just to sit with them and be with them, rather than feeling any need to be or do or say anything significant.  For the chance to not be so focused on my own needs and fears and insecurities that I get in the way of what God is trying to do.

Not getting in the way of what God is trying to do is a significant part of ministry.  The best leaders do not take up all the room but make space for God (and for others) to speak, move, and act.  Hopefully next time I will remember that.

Friday, December 23, 2022

what occupies my inner space

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

What do I allow to occupy my inner space?  Whatever it is, will determine how I live.  

Do I let my fears and insecurities and inadequacies and needs consume me, or do I dwell on what is good and excellent and true and beautiful?  All too often, I’m afraid, it is the former rather than the latter.  I tend to focus on my shortcomings and gaffes and mistakes and failures, instead of focusing on the victories and progress and growth going on within and around me.  

Mary chose to focus on what God was up to within and around her, and it made all the difference.  She treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  O Lord, help me to do the same.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

the new thing

isaiah 43:19

the new thing
hardly ever
reveals itself
at the beginning

it is much more
subtle than that

it is conceived in us
long before it is
born into the world

we must carry it
around a while
deeply within us
to give it time
and space to
form and grow
into what it is
to become

so pay careful
attention lest you
miss the beauty
being done in you

Saturday, December 17, 2022

now that's a prayer

 I think I need to pray this prayer every day.

A Liturgy Begging the Grace To Accomplish What Is Beyond Me

O Spirit of the Living God, who raises
your people from death to life,

the comforting of your children
in their hard journeys through the valley
of the shadow is, from beginning to end,
your work, not mine.

I am neither wise enough, nor compassionate
enough, nor tempered enough by present griefs,
to form prayers adequate to serve these your
people in the face of an enemy so formidable
as death.

I am wholly unfit to enter the holy sufferings of
others, to give guidance or true comfort,
to speak words of consolation that would name
the wounds of dying and grieving hearts,
or wrap them in compassionate
embrace, or remind them
that there remains a firm, eternal hope
which will outgrow and outlast death itself.

If this is not your work, then I would not have it
be mine.  For I would not bid the grieving hang
their sorrows or their hopes on any words that
cannot bear their weight.

So then, take this meager measure of anything
I might give, O God, and bless it
for the benefit of your people.
Breathe spirit and life into these flawed forms.
Let my insufficiencies be met
by the power of your grace.

I know I will encounter discouragement 
     in this labor
I know I will often experience the creative
     process as an impossible struggle against
     self and darkness.

Even  so, be at work in and through me, O Lord.

I will sometimes falter, lose heart, abandon
course, and be tempted to turn to diversions
and old comforts that cannot sustain.

Even so, be at work in and through me, O Lord.

On my best days I might be too confident in my
own abilities to recognize the depth of my need,
but more often I will be too empty, too spent,
too crippled by my brokenness to believe I have 
anything to give.

Even so, O Lord, be at work in and through me.

In the end, this is my sole means of stewardship:
     to repeatedly ply the imperfect talents with
     which you have entrusted me, daily offering
     to you my poverty, begging you to fill the
     hollow forms of my offerings.

O Holy Spirit, meet, fill, and quicken now,
these insufficient gifts.  Inspire prayers that
would shepherd and comfort your people—
even in their dyings, even in their griefs—
voicing their mortal laments and their eternal
hopes, gently turning their gaze to the promise
of coming resurrection, to the hope of
a world remade, and to the splendor of the
King who soon returns to redeem all sorrows.


(Every Moment Holy, Volume II by Douglas McKelvey)

Friday, December 16, 2022

i am not the light, he is

He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the Light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:8-9)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I have to be—or I desperately want to be—more than I really am.  And when I do this, I become the absolute worst version of myself.  I try to be the light, when I can only be a witness to the light.  Jesus is the true light that gives light to every man, and when I try to be that myself, I get in the way of what he is doing.  I take up all the room.  I make it about me.  Trying to be something I am not is always a sure-fire way to hinder, rather than help, what God is trying to do.  So every now and then I need to be reminded of my place…and his.  Grateful to John for doing that for me today.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

the overshadowed life

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35)  What a wild and intimate and exciting and terrifying journey Mary is being invited on.  It is a journey that thrills her even as it troubles her.  “What does this mean?  How will this be?”  And the beautiful answer she is given is that she will be overshadowed.  Her life will no longer be about herself, but about her God.  She will be the one through whom he will enter his creation.

Being overshadowed means two distinct things.  First, it means that her life is secondary.  From here on out, her life will be hidden.  She will always live in the shadows of the bigger story that is being told, and she needs to not only be okay with that, but she needs to embrace it. 

And secondly, it means that the Holy Spirit will envelop her, the same way the cloud enveloped the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Luke 9:34) She will disappear into him, and he will envelop her—what a beautiful picture of the life God invites each of us into. 

All of us, like Mary, are invited to be hidden in him and enveloped by him.  The only question is: What will we say?  Will we, like Mary, say yes to this incredible, yet demanding, invitation into the very heart and life of God?  Will we say, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”?  Will we have the courage and the strength and the grace to live the overshadowed life?