Thursday, May 31, 2018

a new name

Opening Prayer: My God, let me know and love you, so that I may find my happiness in you.  Since I cannot fully achieve this on earth, help me to improve daily until I may do so to the full.  Enable me to know you ever more on earth, so that I may know you perfectly in heaven.  Enable me to love you ever more on earth, so that I may love you perfectly in heaven.  In that way my joy may be great on earth, and perfect with you in heaven.  O God of truth, grant me the happiness of heaven so that my joy may be full in accord with your promise.  In the meantime let my mind dwell on that happiness, my tongue speak of it, my heart pine for it, my mouth pronounce it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my entire being desire it until I enter through death in the joy of my Lord forever.  Amen. ~St. Augustine

Scripture: Revelation 2:12-17

Journal: What name do you think will be written on your white stone?  What name do you long to be on it?  How does it make you feel that God has a name picked out specifically for you?  What other things said to the church at Pergamum speak to your heart or life right now?

Reflection: One of the constant struggles in the life of faith is to pay attention to the right voices and ignore the wrong ones.  That would be especially true if you lived in a place like Pergamum.  It was the heart of Enemy territory.  The capital city of Evil.  It was a place of indulgence, immorality, and deception.  It was a place where the wrong voices abounded.  And one of the chief strategies of the Enemy is to try and make us believe things about ourselves and about our God that simply aren’t true.
     In an environment such as this it is vital to hold fast to the truth, lest we get sucked into one of these deceptive ways of thinking.  For the truth is our greatest defense against the deceptions of the Enemy.  In fact, John tells us in one of his earlier writings that when we come to know the truth, the truth will set us free (John 8:32).  Maybe that’s why in this passage Jesus uses the image of a double-edged sword (his word) as the means by which he will wage war against the Enemy.  His truth is our main offensive weapon.  It is the thing we can use to destroy the lies of the Deceiver and hold fast to the truth of our Creator.  When we hold fast to the truth about our God and about ourselves we will be free men and women.  
     That truth being that our God is so filled with love for us that he has a special name picked out for each one of us.  A pet name, if you will.  It is a name of deep affection that will bear our true identity.  One that will immediately let us know how incredibly valuable we are to Him and how extravagantly loved we are by Him.  It is a name written on a white stone that he will share with us when we are united with him in the heavenly realms for all of eternity.  It a name that is the truest expression of who we are in him.  It is a name that is just too good to be true, yet it is both too good and too true.  And I am convinced that when we hear it, a deep “yes” will rise up from the core of our being.  I can’t wait.

Prayers

Closing Prayer: O Lord, our God, thank you that you have a name picked out especially for us.  One that has been hand-picked by you with us specifically and uniquely in mind.  When I am tempted to believe the lies about who you are and who I am in you, give me a little hint about that name; that I might know the truth that will set me free.  The truth that you love me more than I could dream about in my wildest dreams.  In Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

reputation

Opening Prayer: Lord, awaken me, you whose love burns beyond the stars; light the flame of my lantern that I may always burn with love. (A Traveler Toward the Dawn by John Eagan)

Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6

Journal: How are you like the church at Sardis?  How do the words to the church at Sardis speak to your heart today?  How do the inspire you?  How do they disrupt you?  How do you need to “wake up?”  What is dead in you that needs to be revived?

Reflection: A reputation is a powerful thing.  Because a reputation (good or bad) is often not reality, but only someone’s impression of reality.  And in our day and age—as well as that of the church at Sardis apparently—impression is everything.  If you can create and maintain the impression you are hoping for, then who cares what the reality is, right?  Thus, impression becomes all about reputation management.  What people think about you becomes more important than what the truth about you really is.  As long as you can keep up the charade you are good to go.
     But keeping up the charade can be exhausting, and darn near impossible over time.  Eventually someone is going to find out the ugly truth.  There is always that one person in any crowd that is adept at spotting a phony.  Someone who is somehow magically or supernaturally able to see right through the façade—right down to the core.  And when this happens we are horrified.  Because somehow our greatest fear—and maybe, at the same time, our deepest longing—comes true, we are exposed.  
     That’s how the church at Sardis must’ve felt.  They had worked and worked at maintaining a good reputation, even though they knew deep in their hearts that there was no life in their souls.  And then here comes Jesus, into the midst of the pretense, calling their bluff and tearing their finely crafted costume to smithereens.  At that point they must have been in scramble mode.  I mean, what do you do?  Deny it?  Ignore it?  Avoid it?  Rationalize?  Or do you resort to attack?  What is the best strategy for damage control?  How can we spin it so that our reputation—which we have worked so hard on—still comes out intact?
     Or maybe there is another solution.  Maybe we do exactly what Jesus is suggesting.  Maybe we admit the truth.  Maybe we come clean and stop trying to fool ourselves—and others.  Maybe we take it as a wake-up call to start living an authentic life with God.  Maybe we repent.  Maybe we change our minds, our way of thinking (as well as our direction), and begin to see everything (and live everything) differently.  Maybe we realize that reality is more important than reputation and we start trying to be authentic people in Christ; more concerned with how we’re loving than with what people are thinking.  Like Jesus, who made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8, KJV)

Prayers

Closing Prayer: Most Holy God, wake me up from my soul’s deep slumber and bring my life under your complete control.  By your grace, awaken me daily to the reality of your presence within and around me.  And, by the power of your Spirit, make me responsive to your will and your direction.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

your first love

Opening Prayer:  O Lord, our God, forgive us when we run off and chase lovers other than you.  Forgive us when we have left you, or first and truest love.  Help us to repent and to return to the only true Lover of our souls.  Amen.

Scripture: Revelation 2:1-7

Journal: How are you like the church at Ephesus?  How do the words to the church at Ephesus speak to your heart?  What ways do these words disturb you?  How do they challenge you?  What does it look like to keep Jesus as your “first love?”

Reflection: It is amazing how easily love can turn into duty if we are not careful to keep the fires of romance alive deep in our hearts.  Not that duty is a bad thing mind you, but if that’s all we’ve got, it is far from the passionate love that is what our hearts most deeply long for in relationship; particularly in our relationship with God.
     I wonder if that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus?  I wonder if over time their relationship with God had turned from loving romance to routine duty.  I wonder where, when, and why they just started going through the motions rather than allowing themselves to be seized by the power of the Great Affection.  Don’t get me wrong, duty is very definitely a significant part of the commitment of love, but if our affections are not engaged as well, it will quickly digress into something not resembling love at all.
     It seems like that’s what God was asking of the church at Ephesus.  He wanted not only their actions, but their affections.  He wanted their hearts, not just their behavior.  For he knew if he had their hearts, their behavior would follow.  He wanted the attention and affection and passion and intensity with them that he’d had “at first.”  He wanted them to return to the days when all they could do was think about him and long for him and yearn to be with him in an intimate embrace.  So he called upon them to repent—which does not seem like a particularly romantic word, but is—and return to their Lover of their souls, who continually longs for intimate union with his creation.

Prayers

Closing Prayer: “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.  I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders.  I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.
    “But you walked away from your first love—why?  What’s going on with you, anyway?  Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?  A Lucifer fall!
     “Turn back!  Recover your dear early love.  No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.
     “You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business.  I hate it, too.
     “Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.  I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner.  I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.” (Revelation 2:2-7, The Message)

Friday, May 25, 2018

tepid

Opening Prayer: O Lord, my God, protect me from ever having a tepid form of devotion to you.  Guard me from having a lukewarm heart.  Keep me from ever putting my spiritual life on cruise-control.  By your Spirit create a burning desire for you deep in my soul; one that controls and determines the way I live my life.  In the name of Jesus I pray.  Amen.

Scripture: Revelation 3:14-22

Journal: How are you like the church at Laodicea?  What parts of this letter speak to your heart?  What disrupts you?  What challenges you?  What is your spiritual temperature right now?  If God wrote you a letter today, what would it say?

Reflection: The church at Laodicea was tepid. They had allowed their wealth and prosperity to lull them to sleep spiritually.  Or, to use the metaphor the book of Revelation itself uses, they had become lukewarm.  And lukewarm-ness is a trait that God doesn't care for at all.  Come to think of it, nobody cares for it.  Because being lukewarm wreaks of apathy.  It has no backbone to it, no commitment, no passion, and no zeal.  Which is one of the things God asks the church to become—zealous.  The word zealous in the Greek is zēloō, which means "to boil."  God longs for their hearts to boil with love for him.  In other words, God is telling them to turn up the heat of their affection for him; be lukewarm no longer.
     The image of stove comes to mind immediately.  God is saying, "Right now your passion and desire for me is about a four or five (out of ten).  Is that good enough for you?  Because it is not good enough for me.  I didn't create you to be just a four or five— turn up the heat.  I want more for you and I want more from you, don't settle for less."  I think that's why I love this passage.  It is an invitation.  God is inviting me into a deeper, more intimate, more passionate relationship with him.  God wants my inner life to boil with affection and desire for him. 
     The reality is that we all boil inside for something.  There is something in our lives that is getting our passion, that is on the front burner.  It might be work, it might be family, it might be a significant relationship, it might be wealth (like it was for the Laodiceans), or it might even be ministry.  Something is on the front burner of our lives, receiving all of the heat of our passions and desires that only God deserves.  Our challenge is to take the time and space to figure out just what that is, to name it, and to return (repent) him to his rightful place on the front burner of our lives.
     One of the ways we do that is given right in the text; by simply opening the door to him, the One who knocks and knocks.  We must consistently open the door of our hearts and souls, and invite him into our days and our lives, to spend intimate time with us around our inner table, feasting on the Bread of Life.  He will not intrude.  He will wait (and knock) until space has been made and the door has been opened and he has been welcomed in.  May we all hear the knock and open the door each day to make space and time for him.

Prayers

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, turn up the heat of my inner fires for you.  Let my life boil with affection and desire for you and you alone.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

lay down your life

Opening Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you that you laid down your life for us.  Give us the grace and the courage to lay down our lives for one another.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Amen.

Scripture: 1 John 3:16-18

Journal: Where and how is God asking you to lay down your life these days?

Reflection: The laying down of a life is a tall order; one that I’m not sure can be accomplished by grit and determination.  Because the laying down of a life—at least the laying down of it as Jesus calls us to—is not a one-time event, but a perpetual lifestyle.  I can’t consistently choose you over me on a regular basis; I need Divine assistance.  Only when I make this realization is it possible to make consistent progress in the direction of self-sacrifice.  I cannot make myself like Jesus, no matter how hard I try.  Only Jesus can make me like Jesus.  I must simply surrender myself to him and put myself in his hands.  He is my only hope of ever really living a life of laying down my life.  Which, in wild irony, is the only way to become my true self (by abandoning myself altogether).  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O Jesus, I am so terrible at laying down my life.  It runs so against my nature.  Yet that is what you call me to.  Teach me to love like you.  Give me your heart.  Make your heart, my heart.  Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2018

self-importance

Opening Prayer: Forgive me, O God, when I start thinking more of myself, and my efforts, than I ought.  Remind me that you are the only one who can change lives.  Help me to pit my hope in you, rather than in my own gifts and efforts.  Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 131:1-3

Journal: Where in your life are you trying to grow larger and higher?  And where are you content to be small and lowly, so that God might be lifted up?

Reflection: Self-importance is one of the great pitfalls of the life of ministry.  I think that’s why I love Psalm 131 so much; it keeps my ego constantly in check.  It reminds me that it is possible to overestimate my own importance in the grand scheme of things.  And it helps me to realize that when I do this it can lead to some really dark and desperate places.  Places that have much more to do with my need to be needed than with God’s need for my involvement in his work and his kingdom.  It can leave me breathlessly running around trying to do everything for everyone because the world simply cannot exist without me.
     The tricky part is that it’s a very subtle thing; something I am slowly drawn into.  Somewhere along the line, as I become more and more involved in the lives of people, I become convinced of how essential and necessary I am to all that God is doing in and through them.  I begin to see myself as indispensable to that process, and begin to see myself as way bigger and much higher than I really am.
     Psalm 131 brings my eyes, and my heart, back down to earth.  It helps me to see things as they really are.  It helps me realize that I am really not that big a deal.  In fact, I am a pretty little deal.   It lets me know that God is God and I am not.  It helps me to stop, and become like a weaned child in the loving embrace of its mother—content, dependent, at peace.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to always be about lifting you up, not lifting me up.  Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

write me

Opening Prayer: O Jesus, speak to me during this time about the story you are telling, the story I was made for.  Open my eyes, Lord, to the ways that story is being told—and lived—in the events and circumstances of this day.  Show me how all that happens to me this day echoes your larger Story if only I will keep my heart focused on you.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:1-4

Journal: What is your story these days?  What story is God telling to you, in you, and through you?

Reflection:

     write me

O God
every day
and in every moment
you are writing
a beautiful story

give me the grace
and the patience
to let that story unfold
and not try to force
or manipulate it

help me
to not get in the way
and to not get in a hurry
but to wait on you

for only you
can tell me
my true place
in your grand design

my story is yours
O God
write me

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain, so indelibly engraved that no prosperity, no adversity, shall ever move me from your love. ~Thomas a Kempis

Saturday, May 5, 2018

give

Opening Prayer: Father, you give to me with a lavish hand, you do not withhold from me of your great grace and mercy.  Let me live and serve you also with a generous heart.  In the name of your Son, who gave his all.  Amen. (Disciplines for the Inner Life by Bob Benson and Michael W. Benson)

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Journal: Where and how is God asking you to give yourself these days?

Reflection: Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

     Giving is a little bit tricky.  Because, in reality, we can only give what we have been given.  If the sower is not given the seed in the first place, then he has nothing of value to sow in the fields (and the lives) to which he has been given.  Luckily, we are given the promise that if we are open and attentive to receiving it, there is One who is able and willing to supply, and even increase, this seed.
     The problem is that, oftentimes, we try so hard to give that which we do not possess.  And when we do this, abundance simply will not happen.  We cannot produce abundance (an enlarged harvest of righteousness) on our own, no matter how hard we try.  We can only give—fully and freely—that which we have been given.  So it seems kind of important that we know exactly what that is.  For this seed wasn't given to us to hoard for ourselves, but to be scattered abroad in the fields of this world, that it might produce a harvest.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O Lord, help me to learn to give fully and freely that which I have to give, and to stop trying so hard to give that which I don't.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

discipline

Opening Prayer: Father of all humanity, you call your children to walk in the light of Christ.  Free us from darkness and keep us forever in the radiance of your truth, until we come at last to live with you on high.  We pray this in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. (The Little Book of Hours)

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7:17

Journal: What is the life the Lord has assigned to you?  What does it look like to live that life with intention and purpose?

Reflection: More recently I’m beginning to understand that, in my life with God, the word discipline means the endeavor to create space in my life in which God can act.  Discipline means being intentional about preventing everything in my life from being filled up.  The diligent watchfulness guards my soul from intrusions that crowd out God.
     Marking off space for God to be at work is a challenge because God likes doing things with me that I hadn’t counted on.  He likes to decide the agenda rather than docilely going along with my carefully scripted list of activities.  If I leave God too little space, the desires God has for me and for our time together simply don’t happen.  This is the why of solitude with God.  I simply make room for God to do what only God is able to do.  Yet the excuses I make (to myself and to others) for not making this space are endless.  Why would I want to cheat myself out of God’s deepest longing for me?  Is it because I don’t trust God?  Is it because I’m addicted to being in charge?  Is it because I’m simply afraid to let go and rest in the silence of God’s presence?
     If I am ever to enjoy a rhythm of solitude and silence, I will always need to exert some effort.  However, the effort is not to be building outwardly but to protect that little cell of my heart, the part of me where God and I get to be together—to protect it and then to find the solitude where God will enter and spend time with me. (Running on Empty by Fil Anderson)

Prayers

Closing Prayer: : O Jesus, our redemption, love, and desire, may your love constrain you to pass over our evils, sparing us, and having answered our prayer, may you satisfy us with your face.  Amen. (The Little Book of Hours)