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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

holy, tuesday

Holy Tuesday, March 31

Opening Prayer: By the passion of Your Divine Son, You caused an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life; Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of Your Son.  Amen. (Venite by Robert Benson)

Scripture: John 12:20-36

Journal: Where in your life are you sensing that something must die in order for many seeds to be produced?  What is it?  What is your “kernel?”  What are the “many seeds?”  Where in your life have you seen evidence of life coming out of death?

Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. ~C. S. Lewis


Closing Prayer: Thank you, O God, that spring always follows winter, that Easter always follows Good Friday, that resurrection always follows death!!!  Thank you that when a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it always produces many seeds.  Thank you, O God, that death does not have the final word, life does.  We praise you God of life!!!

Monday, March 30, 2015

holy monday

Holy Monday, March 30

Opening Prayer: Your most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory but first he was crucified: Grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.  Amen. (Venite by Robert Benson)

Scripture: John 12:1-11

Journal: Where do you find yourself in this story from scripture today?  Who can you identify with the most?  The least?  What do you wish to extravagantly pour out to Jesus today?

     When it comes to accomplishing things for God, you will find that high aspirations, enthusiastic feelings, careful planning and being able to express yourself well are not worth very much.  The important thing is absolute surrender to God.  You can do anything He wants you to do if you are walking in the light of full surrender.
     Living in this blessed way involves a continual death which is known to very few, but it is in this position that you can be really effective for God.  A single word spoken to another person from this restful, abandoned position will do more than all our most eager and carefully planned schemes.  You see, when you speak from this position of abandonment to God, it is the Spirit of God who is then speaking, and the word you speak out of this context loses none of its force and authority. ~Francois Fenelon


Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, whatever I’ve got to give you today, may I give it all to you, freely and extravagantly, as an outpouring of my affection.   Amen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

palm sunday

Palm Sunday, March 29

Opening Prayer: You alone bring order to the unruly wills and affections of sinners; Grant us grace to love what You command, and desire what You have promised, so that, among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is to be found.  Amen. (Venite by Robert Benson)

Scripture: Luke 19:28-44

Journal: What is going on within you as we begin Holy Week?  Are you ready for this journey to the cross?  What will that mean for you this year?


ride with me
beckons jesus
to jerusalem
and weep
over a city
gone astray
and die with me
that you might
be raised
to new life


Closing Prayer: Loving God, at this time, we remember that going up to Jerusalem cost Jesus his very life.  So we come before you, conscious of the way religious words and holy phrases can slip so easily from our lazy lips and our hardened hearts.  What do we really know of your mountainous truth, your rock-hard integrity, the depth of your suffering for love of us all?  Forgive us for the shallowness of our faith and the timidity of our following: forgive us for the ready excuses we make for going our own way and claiming it as yours.
     Turn us round again, we pray, by your Holy Spirit, active within us and among us.  Show us how to be open again to your faithfulness and to your freedom, that we may live new lives and be again bearers of the seeds of the realm of Jesus. (A Prayer for Palm Sunday)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

ordering our affections, saturday

Saturday, March 28

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, be my one thing, be my first and truest affection.  May nothing else in all of creation compare to the love and affection I have for you.  Amen.

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Journal: What are the greatest affections of your heart and life these days?  How do they compare and/or relate to your affection for Jesus?

     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."  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 lacks here in Luke 10.  That one thing is making Jesus our one thing.  That one thing is having Jesus as our 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.  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, we have made that thing the center of our lives--a spot that was designed only for Him to occupy.  So the questions we are left to answer regularly are: What occupies most of our time and energy and focus these days?  What is our one thing right now?  And what does it really look like to hold Jesus as our first and truest affection?  The answer to these questions can give us a pretty good idea about whether our lives, and our affections, are properly ordered.


Closing Prayer: When at last I cling to you with all my being, for me there will be no more sorrow, no more toil.  Then at last I shall be alive with true life, for my life will be wholly filled by you. (Confessions by St Augustine)

Friday, March 27, 2015

ordering our affections, friday

Friday, March 27

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to consider all else rubbish compared to my desire to know you.  Be the center of my life and my affections in all that I do.  Amen.

Scripture: Philippians 3:7-14

Journal: What do these words of scripture stir up in you today?  How do they speak to your life?  How do they inspire you?  How do they disturb you?  How do they challenge you?

     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. 
     I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
     I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:7-14 (The Message)


Closing Prayer: O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ~Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, March 26, 2015

ordering our affections, thursday

Thursday, March 26

Opening Prayer: I have heard your call, my Lord, and respond with a yes that arises from the depth of my being.  I know that if I follow close to you, nothing shall be able to separate me from your love. Amen. A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God by Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job)

Scripture: John 21:15-19

Journal: Do you truly love him, more than these?  What is these for you?  Walk with Jesus on the quiet beach and hear him ask you the same question he asked Simon Peter.  Write him a letter in response to his question.

     They are walking down the shoreline in the early morning sun.  It had been days since that fateful night.  It is just the two of them, with John following well behind.  Jesus had something he wanted to ask 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 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 lingering deep within his soul as he replayed, over and over again, that dreaded scene from the night of Jesus’ arrest.  Peter had denied him, three times.  He had denied 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 walk, Jesus senses that there is a lot below the surface of his friend's silence.  A deep wrestling is going on.  So he turns to Peter and asks the question, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  In fact, three times Jesus asks it, and three times Peter answers—three chances to confess that which he had denied only days earlier.  It is such a sweet picture of grace and intention and restoration, even though Peter doesn’t fully realize what is going on.  Jesus is offering him a second chance.  Jesus is 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 my love.  How I long for you to live your whole life from this deep inner reality.  Peter, you are my Beloved . . . am I yours?
     It isn’t just any question, it is the question: “Do you truly love me?”  And it isn’t just “Do you truly love me?” but “Do you truly love me more than these?”  And what are the “these” to which he is referring?  Are “these” his friends, or his family, or his work, or his business?  It could be anything.  Which is exactly the point.  Because the question Jesus asks Peter isn’t just for Peter, it is for us all.  Each of us has a different these.  Jesus wants us to realize that it’s only when we live our lives firmly in the center of his love and affection that we are able to be truly free—free of our deep need for love and acceptance and affirmation and significance.  Free to feed his lambs without feeding on his lambs. (Being with Jesus by Jim Branch)

Closing Prayer: Yes, Father!  Yes!  And always Yes! ~Francis de Sales

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ordering our affections, wednesday

Wednesday, March 25

Opening Prayer: Each day may I remember the source of the mercies Thou hast bestowed on me gently and generously; each day may I be fuller in love to Thyself. ~Carmina Gadelica

Scripture: Mark 10:17-31

Journal: Where is your treasure?  What do you treasure?  Do you treasure Jesus above all else?  Who, or what, is his biggest competitor in your life?  If you were the one standing before Jesus, rather than the rich young ruler, what would he ask you to give up in order to fully follow him?

     Let me talk very intimately and very earnestly with you about Him who is dearer than life.  Do you really want to live your lives, every moment of your lives, in His presence?  Do you long for Him, crave Him?  Do you love His presence?  Does every drop of blood in your body love Him?  Does every breath you draw breathe a prayer, a praise to Him?  Do you sing and dance within yourselves, as you glory in His love?  Have you set yourselves to be His, and only His, walking every moment in holy obedience?  I know I’m talking like an old-time evangelist.  But I can’t help that, nor dare I restrain myself and get prim and conventional.  We have too long been prim and restrained.  The fires of the love of God, of our love toward God, and His love toward us, are very hot.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength.”  Do we really do it?  Is love steadfastly directed toward God, in our minds, all day long?  Do we intersperse our work with gentle prayers and praises to Him?  Do we live in the steady peace of God, a peace down at the depths of our souls, where all strain is gone and God is already victor over the world, already victor over our weaknesses?  This life, this abiding, enduring peace that never fails, this serene power and unhurried conquest over ourselves, outward conquest over the world, is meant to be ours.  It is a life that is freed from strain and anxiety and hurry, for something of the Cosmic Patience of God becomes ours.  Are our lives unshakable, because we are clear down on bed rock, rooted and grounded in the love of God?  This is the first and greatest commandment. (A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly)


Closing Prayer: Lord, you are my Lover, it is you whom I desire.  You flow through my body like a stream, you shine on my face like the sun.  Let me be your reflection.  Amen. ~St. Mechthildis

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ordering our affections, tuesday

Tuesday, March 24

Opening Prayer: Deliver us when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind; Grant that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship you in Spirit and in truth.  Amen. (Venite by Robert Benson)

Scripture: Luke 14:25-35

Journal: How do these words of Jesus strike you?  How do they disturb you?  How do they inspire you?  How do they challenge you?  How does your love for Jesus compare to your love for the other things in your life?
     It seems like a pretty extreme statement doesn’t it?  It’s very disturbing and disruptive, especially to our “have our cake and eat it too” mentality.  Somehow we have tried to tame Jesus and his words.  Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we can be “half in.”  But Jesus will not stand for that.  He will not settle for less.  He will not be tamed.  He is wild and free.  He is disruptive and disturbing.  As John Powell once said. “He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”  You cannot “buy him” in small quantities, with him it is “all or nothing.”  Our problem is that we tend to want a limited quantity of him; five dollars’ worth, if you will.  We want just enough to make us comfortable, but not so much that it disturbs our lives or disrupts our plans and agendas.  But of course, Jesus will not operate by our rules.  That’s just the way he is.  And as you read Luke 14:25-35 that becomes pretty clear.
     Jesus doesn’t just desire our love and allegiance, he demands it.  In fact, if in comparison to our love for him we don’t “hate” all else, we are not worthy of him.  There is no room for negotiation, no room for debate.  His love for us demands our full love and allegiance in return.  If, indeed, we really want to follow him we can only do so with all of our being.


     One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.
     “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’
     “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
     “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.
     “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.”
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (Luke 14:25-35, The Message)


Closing Prayer: Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. ~Ignatius Loyola

Monday, March 23, 2015

ordering our affections, monday

Monday, March 23

Opening Prayer: O Lord, my God, be my first love and not merely one of many. Be the one true love of my heart and soul.  You alone deserve that place in my heart.  Amen.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Journal: What consumes most of your thought and energy these days?  What does it tell you about the order of your affections?  Why is it important to order your affections?  What would it look like for God to be your greatest affection?

     God’s ultimate desire is to be the greatest of all our affections, not just one of many which all constantly compete for the top place in our hearts.  When we give ourselves to these lesser affections, we rob him (the Great Affection) of what he made us for, and rob ourselves of the life that was intended for us.  The problem is that it is not always readily apparent—to us anyway—when something, or someone (even the good things of this life—friends, family, ministry, etc.), has grabbed that top place within us that was intended only for him.  When we do this, we become excessively attached to people, places, material possessions, occupations, titles, honors, achievements, and the acclaim or affirmation of others.  These things are good in themselves when ordered and directed by the love of God.  But they can become compulsions (or even addictions) and produce chaos when they push God from the center of our lives and become the key to our identity. 
     Therefore, the saints of old made a practice of ruthless self-examination.  They intentionally made time and space to listen to God and, thus, to constantly examine their affections to assure they were in proper order.  God must be first, before all else, and only then will we have the freedom to truly love others.  Therefore, we might be wise to follow their lead.


Closing Prayer: O Spirit of God. We ask you to help orient all our actions by your inspirations, carry them on by your gracious assistance, that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from you and through you be happily ended.  Amen. ~A Jesuit Prayer

Sunday, March 22, 2015

ordering our affections, sunday

Sunday, March 22 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

Opening Prayer: Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!  And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I rushed headlong into the well-formed things that you have made.  You were with me, and I was not with you. ~St. Augustine

Scripture: Mark 12:28-31

Journal: How do you love God with all of your heart?  With all of your soul?  With all of your mind?  With all of your strength?  Which one is most difficult for you?  Why?

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” Mark 12:28-30 (The Message)

Before anything, love Me.  Just love Me.  It's as simple as that.  In fact, that is the one thing I really want from you, your love.  And I want all of it.  I want you to love me with everything you've got; all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Every bit of you.  And I want you to love me for Me, not for the sake of anyone, or anything else.  I must be the end, and not just a means to some other end.  So love me because that's what I made you to do.  And when you do what I have made you to do, you will know joy and fullness like you have never known it before.  Then, and only then, will you be able to truly love others; for then you will be free from needing them to come through for you in some strangely dependent way.  This freedom from needing them will allow you to truly love them, rather than to try and manipulate love out of them.  For this second love can only be a reflection of the first.


Closing Prayer: I feel your love as you hold me to your sacred heart, my beloved Jesus, my God, my Master, but I feel, too, the need I have of your tenderness, and your caress because of my infinite weakness. ~Charles de Foucauld

Saturday, March 21, 2015

messy, saturday

Saturday, March 21

Opening Prayer: O God, disrupt, disturb, disorient, do whatever it takes to make us into the people and the lovers you desire for us to be.  Amen.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Journal: What is your thorn?  Is his grace sufficient for you, even in that?


years and years of hard work
diligently putting it all together
piece by piece
thinking all is well
progress is being made
but then you
come and scramble the whole picture
leaving pieces scattered everywhere
you smile lovingly
as i sit in the middle of the mess
knowing that i don’t know
knowing that i’m undone
and thinking to yourself
now that’s progress


Closing Prayer: Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
     By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.  I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
     Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5-11)

Friday, March 20, 2015

messy, friday

Friday, March 20

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, O the depths you were willing to go to in order to show us your love!  O the depths to which you were willing to stoop in order to show us our incredible worth.  Thank you for your unfailing love.  Amen.

Scripture: John 13:1-17

Journal: Put yourself in this passage.  Put yourself in Simon Peter’s shoes.  Jesus kneels before you, takes your dirty feet into his strong and gentle hands.  He looks you deeply in the eyes, and then begins to wash your feet.  What is your response?  What else in you needs to be washed this day?

     Years ago I was at a weekend camp with kids and leaders from my community.  My job for the weekend was to make sure all of the leaders, who were there with their high school friends, had everything they needed for a fruitful and successful experience.  Just before our main meeting on Saturday night, one of our leaders came to me with a dilemma.  His cabin and another cabin of guys, from a rival high school, had been in conflict all weekend, several times being on the verge of violence.  His dilemma was that during the free time, just before our evening meeting, some kids from the other cabin had come in and vandalized his cabin.  His fear was that if the guys in his cabin went up after the meeting and saw what the other cabin had done, there was sure to be a fight.  He wondered if I might be able to go up during the meeting and take care of whatever damage might have been inflicted.  So after making sure everyone was in the meeting and taking care of a couple of more quick requests, I headed up to survey the damage.
     As soon as I walked in the door I couldn’t believe my eyes, or nose.  What these guys had done was come in and take a bowel movement right in the middle of the floor of their rival cabin.  And not only that, they had taken the excrement and spread it all over the walls.  When I walked into the bathroom, I could quickly see that they had done the same thing there as well; spreading the nastiness all over those walls too.  It didn’t take long before I realized exactly what I had to do.  While the entire camp sat in the meeting listening to the incredible story of what Jesus had done on the Cross, I would be on my hands and knees cleaning this incredibly nasty mess off the floors and walls.  I must admit that, as I began the process, I was not pleased—and that’s putting it mildly.
     So what do you do?  You get over it, you roll up your sleeves, and you get to work.  It wasn’t until about half way through the process that I was in a state to hear anything other than my anger and frustration.  But as I continued on, I began to realize that God was right there in the midst of it all.  This is exactly where Jesus would be; just as he was when we bent down to wash the disciple’s dirty feet—why in the world would Almighty God stoop that low?  Only because of Love.  
     As a matter of fact that was not all, God had something more to say to me.  “You know that the kids that did this are listening to the story of my great love for them right now don’t you?  You see what you are doing right there, cleaning this nasty mess off of everything?  That’s what I’m doing for them right now—even as they hear the story of my Passion.  I am washing them.  I’m cleaning their filth and their stench and their nastiness with my very own hands, with my very own blood.  And you know what else?  I did the same thing for you.  You were exactly like them, covered in your own sin and filth and nastiness.  I got my hands involved in your filth, I washed you clean, and I made you whole.”  And before I knew it, tears were streaming down my cheeks; tears of joy, tears of gratitude, tears of recognition of the depths of His amazing love—tears of peace.  I, indeed, had been washed as white as snow by the loving hands—and blood—of my Creator.  Only because of Love.  Thanks be to God!!!


Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you were willing to wash my dirty feet.  May I learn to do the same for others.  Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

messy, thursday

Thursday, March 19

Opening Prayer: Lord God, help us to believe that you are able to bring life out of the most painful, chaotic, and messy circumstances.  When we are tempted to doubt the goodness of your heart, or to lose hope that you will, indeed, care for us, help us to hold fast to an unswerving trust in your unfailing love.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Scripture: John 11:38-44

Journal: Where have the circumstances of your life made it difficult for you to believe in God’s heart?  Who can you relate to most in this story right now?  Why?  What stones do you need rolled away within you these days?

     The cave is dark and cold, filled with death and decay.  After all, it's been four days since the dead man was placed inside.  There's no more hope; that's it!  Death has had the final word.  If only Jesus would've shown up sooner...but now what could he possibly do?
     Ever feel that way?  Ever feel like all hope is lost; like life and health and change are not possible because of the gravitational pull of the deadness inside?  Martha would have us believe that it is just too late.  "Don't open up that tomb, it's going to stink.  It is far too messy to be redeemed."  I'm so glad that Jesus didn't (and still doesn't) share her sentiments.  In fact, Jesus specializes in messy.  That's because Jesus knows that for something (or someone) to be resurrected it has to truly die first.  Why do you think he waited four days before he arrived at the tomb?  Why do you think he said to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"  You see, Jesus is bigger than death—be it the death of someone we love, the death of a relationship we hold near and dear, the death of a dream, or the death that lives within us on a regular basis.  Death would have us believe that this is it.  That's all there is.  There's no way out of this pain and darkness and depression.  We are stuck.  We are trapped.  Life can never be the same again. 
     But Jesus knows better.  Maybe that's why he weeps.  Maybe he is heartbroken that somewhere, deep inside, we don't truly believe that he can redeem this, whatever this may be.  Maybe he is weeping over the fact that we do not really believe that he can, or will, bring life out of the most unimaginable pain and brokenness.  Maybe his tears come from the fact that our circumstances have made us doubt the goodness of his heart.  And maybe his sadness is, somehow, related to our stuckness.  Who knows?
     Luckily the story doesn't end there.  In fact, Jesus then calls out, "Take away the stone."  And some unknown, unseen (to us) group of people spring into action.  People that are filled with the hope that this is not, indeed, the end.  People that are filled with the faith to know that even though things look unredeemable, Jesus is able to breathe life into even the most dismal and hopeless and painful of circumstances.  People that care so deeply for the one inside the tomb that they are standing by, willing and ready, to do whatever it takes to help make that redemption possible.  "He can't get out himself," they think, "so why don't we help roll the stone away and just see what Jesus will do." 
     Truth be told, there can never be enough stone-rollers in the world.  In fact, what if that was what our churches were full of?  Oh what a different world it would be!  Stone-rollers don't care about the stink.  They don't care about the mess.  They don't care about what anyone thinks.  They are beyond all of that, because at some point in time someone had the courage and the grace to roll their stone away, so that they might walk out of the grave into the light of new life.  And because of that, if there's ever a time when someone needs a stone rolled away—rather than to be avoided or judged or given up on—they want to be the first in line.  I get the privilege to seeing some stone-rollers do their thing from time to time, and let me tell you, it is remarkable.  Being a stone-roller is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
     After the stone is rolled away, Jesus turns his eyes, and his heart, to his Father—the giver of all life.  He knows the Father's heart like no one else.  He knows the goodness.  He knows the faithfulness.  He knows the love.  And he knows that those standing around, particularly the family of this dead man, are doubting all of that at the moment.  Maybe, somehow, they think that it was God's hand that caused all of this pain, but Jesus knows better.  He knows the heart of the Father that groans for and with his creation (Romans 8:26) in their most broken hours—and so he prays.  He prays that they may believe; believe that he is the God of life even in the face of death, believe that they can trust his heart even when they can't see his hand, believe that he was sent from the Father's side to redeem the unredeemable.
     So Jesus calls out the dead man's name and tells him to come out.  Notice he doesn't just say “Come alive” or “Be healed,” but “Come out.”  Because a significant part of the new life that Jesus calls us to is leaving the tomb behind.  He raises us from the dead, breathes new life into our soul, and then calls each of us to “Come out.”  Thus, coming to life again but choosing to remain in the tomb is not an option, yet so many people live like it is.  So many people, claiming to belong to Jesus, claiming to have been raised from the dead, are still sitting in the darkness of the tomb of shame or guilt or anger or bitterness or unforgiveness or self-pity.  They are still living a life that is anything but alive.  We must take that step out of the tomb.  Then, and only then, can the body of Christ (maybe even the same ones who rolled away the stone) come along side us and help us take off the grave clothes so we can be totally alive and totally free. 


Closing Prayer: O Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

messy, wednesday

Wednesday, March 18

Opening Prayer: Here in the presence of Almighty God, I kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient heart confess my sins, so that I may obtain forgiveness by your infinite goodness and mercy.  Amen. ~The Book of Common Prayer

Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11

Journal: What has been your experience with the practice of confession?  Are there things within you right now that are taking up all the space that God longs to occupy?  How might confession open up space within you for God to speak and act?  What are the things you need to confess before God this day? 


I want to be a mirror that reflects your whole being,
and never to be too blind or too old
to hold your heavy, swaying image.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere do I want to remain folded,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.

                                                ~Rainer Maria Rilke

     A few years ago, at the end of a retreat I was leading, I got into a wonderful conversation with a dear friend about all that God was up to in our lives.  And somewhere in the midst of the conversation he asked me a great question: "Do you have any secrets?"  The tone and the spirit of the question was not at all threatening or judgmental or harsh, but rather easy and free and filled with care.  And I clearly remember being delighted with the answer that arose from deep within me.  "You know," I said, "I really don't."  And something really wonderful was struck deep within me, not only by the answer, but also by the question.  Because deep in my heart I have a desire to live openly, unfolded, before God and before the folks in my life and world, and this question was an invitation to do just that.
     I've been thinking about confession a lot lately, and the role it plays in our life with God.  So many times I have viewed confession as a shame-filled, guilt-laden process that no one in their right mind would want to perform on any kind of regular basis.  But I'm beginning to think that I had it all wrong.  Confession is not a practice that is meant to produce guilt and fear and shame, but one that holds within it the possibility of living truly and freely and wholly (or holy) before God and before one another.  Confession is meant to produce life and space and freedom within us.  When I stand open before God and allow him to see all of me (which he already sees anyway), it does something beautiful deep within my soul.  It opens the possibility for intimacy and communication and growth (i.e., real relationship).  It allows him to help me clean my "inner room" of all of the junk and mess and clutter that fills the landscape of my soul and takes up room that God alone was meant to inhabit.  It unfolds me.  Because living folded, closed, and hiding is not really life at all, but only a fear-filled lie.  And we all know that: There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) 
     So I'm hoping that from this day forward I will begin to see confession in a new way; as an invitation and an opportunity rather than a duty and obligation.  An invitation from my loving Father to live before him openly, freely, and unfolded.  Thanks be to God!


Closing Prayer: Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean.  Count yourself lucky—God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him.  When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans.  The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.  Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”  Suddenly the pressure was gone—my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. 
     These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.  God’s my island hideaway, keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.  Let me give you some good advice; I’m looking you in the eye and giving it to you straight: “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track.”   God-defiers are always in trouble; God-affirmers find themselves loved every time they turn around. 
     Celebrate God.  Sing together—everyone!  All you honest hearts, raise the roof! (Psalm 32:1-11, The Message)