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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

intimacy, tuesday

Tuesday, June 30

Opening Prayer: O God, you who created us naked and unashamed, you who truly knows us and truly loves us, give us the courage to live this day in love and not in fear.  Give us the strength and the bravery to come out of hiding, with you and with others, and allow ourselves the possibility of the true intimacy we were made for.  Amen.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18-3:13

Journal: Where has fear and hiding kept you from true intimacy in your life?  What do you typically use to hide behind?  What do you cover yourself with?  What would it look like to live out of love and not out of fear?

     I've been thinking a lot lately about the whole idea of intimacy.  Particularly about what it really is and how it is created and nurtured—as well as what are obstacles and hindrances to the cultivating of intimacy in relationships.  I have a suspicion that, like most things, if we consider how intimacy is developed and grown between people it will help us begin to understand the dynamics and design of intimacy with God. 
     The word intimacy comes from Latin intimus, referring to what is interior or inside.  Thus intimacy happens when we reveal and expose our insides to one another.  It requires mutual disclosure, by its very nature it is never a one way street.  This is particularly true as we consider intimacy with God.  "The big and hidden secret," Richard Rohr writes, "is this: God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul.  Once you experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes what is going on for you: mystery, tenderness, singularity, nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and, of course also, suffering.  This is the mystical vocabulary of the saints."
     God longs for intimacy with us, therefore He discloses or reveals Himself to us, not merely ideas or theological concepts about God, but He actually shows us Himself.  He opens His infinite heart and allows us to see inside.  And His desire in doing so is that it might completely capture ours in return and give us the desire and the courage to disclose ourselves to Him.  Not that He needs us to do that, obviously He knows us better than we even know ourselves.  Our disclosure is more about what happens in us as we open up to Him—it grows this Divine intimacy within us.  Therefore, we must stay attentive to both movements; to how God is revealing and disclosing Himself to us and how we are intentionally and courageously revealing and exposing ourselves to Him—two steps in an incredibly beautiful dance.


Closing Prayer: O Lord, our God, we were made for intimacy with you.  Forgive us when we run from you, when we hide behind our fig leaves, whatever they may look like, and try to mask our real condition.  You know us to the core, O God.  We can’t hide from you.  You know where we are without having to ask, yet you do ask because you want us to know where we are too.  Lord have mercy.  Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2015

intimacy, monday

Monday, June 29

Opening Prayer: O God, who existed before all things, draw near to my heart today as I draw near to yours.  Grant that as we are together during this time—as well as this day—I will know of your presence to the very core of my being.  Let me experience the intimacy with you that I was created for.  In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh.  Amen.
Scripture: Song of Songs 7:10-13
Journal: What do God’s words do within you today?  Could it be that these words are for you?  How do you respond?

O living flame of love
That tenderly wounds my soul
In its deepest center!  Since
Now you are not oppressive,
Now Consummate! If it be your will:
Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand!  O delicate touch
That tastes of eternal life
And pays every debt!
In killing you changed death into life.
O lamps of fire!
In whose splendors
The deep caverns of feeling,
Once obscure and blind,
Now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
Both warmth and light to their beloved.
How gently and lovingly
You wake in my heart,
Where in secret you dwell alone;
And in your sweet breathing,
Filled with good and glory,
How tenderly you swell my heart with love.

                        ~John of the Cross


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. ~St. Mechthildis

Sunday, June 28, 2015

intimacy, sunday

Sunday, June 28

Opening Prayer: I ask You, Lord Jesus, to develop in me, Your lover, an immeasurable urge towards You, and affection that is unbounded, a longing that is unrestrained, a fervor that throws discretion to the winds!  The more worthwhile our love for You, all the more pressing does it become.  Reason does not make it tremble, wise judgment does not tempter it. ~Richard Rolle 

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-24

Journal: What words or images in this Psalm capture your heart?  What challenges or disrupts you?  Where are you experiencing the intimacy you were made for?  What stands in the way of that?

     The story of the Sacred Romance begins not with God alone, the Author at his desk, but with God in relationship, intimacy beyond our wildest imagination, heroic intimacy.  The Trinity is at the center of the universe; perfect relationship is the heart of reality.  Think of your best moments of love or friendship or creative partnership, the best times with family or friends around the dinner table, your richest conversations, the acts of simple kindness that sometime seem like the only things that make life worth living.  Like the shimmer of sunlight on a lake, these are reflections of the love that flows from among the Trinity.  We long for intimacy because we are made in the image of perfect intimacy. (The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge)


Closing Prayer: God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.  I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.  You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight.  You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.  I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.  This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in!
     Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?  To be out of your sight?  If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  If I go underground, you’re there!  If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute—you’re already there waiting!  Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  At night I’m immersed in the light!”  It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
     Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration—what a creation!  You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
     Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!  God, I’ll never comprehend them!  I couldn’t even begin to count them—any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!  And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!  And you murderers—out of here!—all the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations.  See how I hate those who hate you, God, see how I loathe all this godless arrogance; I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.  Your enemies are my enemies!
     Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. ~The Message

Saturday, June 27, 2015

more, saturday

Saturday, June 27

Opening Prayer: God of Hospitality, I want to prepare my heart for your coming. Stay close by me as I walk through busy days. Open my eyes and ears and heart that I may see you all around me. Amen. ~Beth A. Richardson

Scripture: Philippians 1:8-10

Journal: Who or what is causing your love for God to abound more and more these days?  How is God at work in you, growing that love?  How is that growing love expressing itself to those around you?

To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.  (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)


Closing Prayer: So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. ~The Message

Friday, June 26, 2015

more, friday

Friday, June 26

Opening Prayer: Help us to catch a glimpse of you today, O God; one that will change everything about us.  One that will cause our faces to shine with the light of your glory.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Scripture: Exodus 33:7-23

Journal: Where have you seen God’s glory lately?  Did you truly take time to behold what he was trying to show you?  What did it do within you?  How do you nurture that? 

     They say that the things we spend the most time beholding are the things we ultimately end up becoming in the long run.  Somehow those things that occupy our hearts and minds tend to form us in ways we are not even fully aware of.  Therefore, it seems pretty important that we be very intentional about what we are beholding on a regular basis.  To behold is much different from merely looking at something.  It involves really seeing it; seeing far beneath the surface to the very core of a thing.  I think that’s why Julian of Norwich once said: “Truth sees God, and wisdom beholds God, and from these two comes the third, and that is a marvelous delight in God, which is love.”  Beholding is a spiritual practice, a discipline, a means of grace.  By beholding God we are able to see him in a way that transforms us into his image.  Therefore, we must take special care to make sure we are regularly beholding the One that we most deeply desire to become like.  That’s probably why, years ago, Marian Scheele wrote: “When the soul is occupied with looking away from present trials into the face of Christ, and making this a regular and passionate occupation, this soul will become more tranquil and still, and therefore more able to reflect the Being it adores.  This reflected glory will enable us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The only effort required is the giving up of all effort.”


Closing Prayer: O Eternal God!  You are a deep sea, into which the deeper I enter the more I find, and the more I find the more I seek. ~Catherine of Sienna

Thursday, June 25, 2015

more, thursday

Thursday, June 25

Opening Prayer: You called, You cried, you shattered my deafness.  You sparkled, you blazed, You drove away my blindness.  You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath, and I pant for You.  I tasted and now I hunger and thirst.  You touched me, and now I burn with longing for your peace. ~St. Augustine

Scripture: John 4:1-30

Journal: Where do you find yourself in this story?  What are you thirsty for these days?  How are you trying to satisfy that thirst?  What well are you constantly running to in order to draw water?

     Like the woman at the well, sooner or later, perhaps in a quiet, reflective moment, we must all come to terms with the honest truth that we were looking for more than we’ve found thus far.  We certainly don’t resemble the Samaritan woman.  We keep our marriages to a minimum, and we hold down respectable jobs and pay our bills on time.  We may look pretty respectable and orthodox.  But still our souls are very thirsty.
     Perhaps your prayer life has dried up, or in spite of your best efforts you still are not making much of a difference in anyone’s life, or maybe you’ve lost all the joy, all the passion, in your life.  You have the same sadness buried in your soul as all those Samaritans had.  You may have a head full of knowledge about God, but you still yearn to experience something sacred, something that will at long last calm the ache from deep within.  As this story unfolds, take your place next to this Samaritan woman.
     It’s part of my pastoral calling to look closely at the lives of those who go to church.  They all clean up pretty nicely on Sunday morning.  But just below the surface of their navy-blue suits and colorful dresses lie souls that are not nearly so tidy.  On a typical Sunday in our church, I sit facing the congregation while the choir sings the anthem before the sermon.  I gaze into the faces of people I know and love.  I see the elder whose marriage is hanging on by a thread.  Next to him is the Sunday school teacher whose daughter was arrested last week for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Two pews behind them is the church’s newest widow, who is wondering how she will survive sitting in church alone for the first time in forty years.  She happens to be sitting next to a young couple who desperately want to be parents, but not a single one of the fertility treatments seem to be helping.  The details may change as I look from face to face, but the essential story remains the same.  They are all thirsty.
     My job is to remember that what we are struggling with is not just our families and jobs.  No, the stakes are much higher than that.  The real struggle is with our parched souls.  We were created with a need to satisfy our physical thirst, and every morning of our lives we are reminded of this thirst.  But this physical thirst is a symbol, maybe even a sacrament, that points to the deeper spiritual thirst of the soul.  So also is our longing for better families and more satisfying jobs a symbol of our deeper yearning to be a part of the family and mission of God.  We simply cannot satisfy the thirst of our souls by pouring on new relationships, experience, achievements, or careers.
     As the Samaritan woman discovered, it doesn’t matter how many times we may try to rearrange our relationships and reorder our lives.  Until we find relief for the soul, everything else will be nothing more than a distraction—a very temporary one at that—from our fundamental craving for living water.
     Most of us haven’t gone through five spouses, but we have gone through jobs, five moves, five weight-loss programs, or five churches—and still the insatiable thirst continues.  We will never find what we are looking for in the things we pick up along the way.  Not even the religious things.  Not even important things like relationships.  All of these things will leave our souls empty if we try to force them to satisfy our thirst.  The true object of our search is nothing less than an encounter with the Holy One. (Sacred Thirst by M. Craig Barnes)


Closing Prayer: O God, giver of life and source of living water.  Forgive me for all the places other than you that I go to satisfy the deepest longings of my heart.  Help me to see what broken wells I go to each day in search of the fullness only you can provide.  Allow me to quench the thirsts of my soul in You this day, and in nothing, or no one, else.  Through Christ.  Amen. (Beginnings by Jim Branch)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

more, wednesday

Wednesday, June 24

Opening Prayer: O God, thank you that your great affection is a river of delights from which we can drink without end.  Help us to live in your love all the minutes of this day.  Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 36:5-10

Journal: What words or images in this Psalm make life well up within you?  How does it meet you in your places of deepest longing?  Do you really believe that this is what God wants for you?  Will you feast?  Will you drink?  What is your response to His invitation today?

     How do you explain the unexplainable?  It seems like that is a problem God often runs into.  Not necessarily a problem for him, after all, he’s God.  But more a problem for us as we attempt to get our minds and hearts around things that are so much bigger than we dare dream about.  I think that’s why God often speaks in the language of metaphor.  He gives us visual images that we can understand to try and help us begin to fathom things we can’t.  His love, being a classic example.  Since we are finite, how can we possibly understand a love that’s infinite?  Since we are conditional, how can we begin to comprehend a love that is unconditional?
     God uses many different words and images to describe his great affection.  Here in Psalm 36 the main word he uses is chesed, which highlights the eternal nature of his love.  It is often translated as his “steadfast” or “unchanging” love.  It is a love that is almost exclusively used to describe the way that only God can love.  It is a love that is not going anywhere.  It is a love that will never fail, never waver, never run dry.  Thus, the image of a river.  A river from which God invites to drink, that we might know the depths of his delight.


Closing Prayer: O God, your love is a raging river.  Sweep us away in the torrents of your great affection.  Through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

more, tuesday

Tuesday, June 23

Opening Prayer:  Lord God, how our hearts long for more of you; for more love, for more power, for more depth and quality in our relationship with you and in our relationships with those in our lives and world.  For too long we have been content with less than what you desire for us.  May that never be the case again.  O God, let us drop all our guards and our pretenses and let us come face-to-face with you, the Lover of our souls.  May we know your love that surpasses knowledge and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Amen.

Scripture: John 17:20-23

Journal: What does it mean to live your life in God?  What would that look like?

     God wants more for us.  Yep, you read that right—for us.  It is easy to believe that God wants more of us and from us, which are both true.  But ultimately God also wants more for us.  It's as simple as that.  And the main thing God wants for us is intimate union with himself. God wants us to live in him.  It's all over the pages of scripture; look no further than the upper room discourse (chapters 14-17 of John) to see exactly what I'm talking about:

     Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?  The words I say to you   
     are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me
     when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me..." (John 14:10-11)
     Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in   
     the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

     Now remain in my love. (John 15:9)

     ...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be   
     in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that
     you gave me, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.  May they be   
     brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even
     as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23)

As Thomas Merton so beautifully pointed out in Thoughts in Solitude, God's desire is not that we live merely for him, or even with him, but to live in him.  That is the kind of relationship he most desires with each of us.  Anything short of that is settling for less than what God created us for.  So let us not stop short of God's deepest desire.  Let us always press on for more—to live our lives in him.  Let us live in loving, intimate union with he who made us for himself.  Let us live in the abundance of his great affection.  After all, that's what union with him is really all about.


Closing Prayer: O God, may we always live in the abundance of your great affection.  Through Christ.  Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2015

more, monday

Monday, June 22

Opening Prayer: O God, our Father, the One from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name, we thank you that you want fullness for us.  And not merely all the fullness we can hold, but you long for us to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  That is more fullness than we dare image, ask for, or dream about.  Thank you that that’s your deepest desire for us in Christ.  We pray in his name.  Amen.

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21

Journal: What word best describes your life with Christ right now: dwelling, rooted, or filled?  How are each of these three words taking shape in your inner life right now?  What is the relationship between the three?

     Transformation and intimacy both cry out for ministry.  We are led through the furnace of God's purity not just for our own sake but also for the sake of others.  We are drawn up into the bosom of God's love not merely to experience acceptance but also so we can give His love to others.
     The world writhes under the pain of its arrogance and self-sufficiency.  We can make a difference, if we will.
     In earlier days, we tried to serve out of our spiritual bankruptcy, and we failed.  We now know that ministry must flow out of abundance. 
     Bernard of Clairvaux writes, "If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than a canal.  For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water.  In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs."  We have determined to be reservoirs. (Prayer by Richard J. Foster)


Closing Prayer: My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, The Message)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

more, sunday

Sunday, June 21

Opening Prayer: Lord God, asking for more of you seems like such a dangerous request.  In fact, if you indeed give us what we are asking for, it will probably wreck our lives as we now know them.  But our desire for more of you is also the deepest longing of our hearts.  So regardless of the outcome, O Lord, give us more of you than we have right now.  Fill us to overflowing with your power and your presence and your love—and we will never be the same.  Through Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

Scripture: John 10:10

Journal: Where are you yearning for more right now?  Where and how are you longing for more of God?  What would this look like in your life?


     Breathing Under Water
I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.
And then one day,
--and I still don’t know how it happened—
the sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.

~Sr. Carol Bieleck, RSCJ


Closing Prayer: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
     “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

story, saturday

Saturday, June 20

Opening Prayer: Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:1-3, 8)

Scripture: Psalm 107

Journal: Which of the stories contained in Psalm 107 seems most like your current story?  How?  Write a Psalm to God this morning giving thanks for your current story.


Some set out on a journey to who knows where,
     they set sail on the winds of God’s breath.
They weren’t sure where they were going or when they would get there,
     but they knew it would be good when they arrived. 
They saw things along the way that they never thought possible
     and discovered truths of the heart
     that had been buried within them for a long, long time.
What they saw and discovered changed them into something that more
     closely resembled who they really were.
And they realized that this journey was not about arriving, but becoming
     indeed a journey that would last a lifetime.
And in the end would bring them to the discovery of the truth
     that was whispered into them from before the foundations of the world.           
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
     and his wonderful deeds for men, for he knows us intimately
     and longs to reveal to us that which is most true about who we really are.


Closing Prayer: Let us give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.  For, in his great passion for us, he will not allow us to settle for less than the beauty and delight he had in mind for us when he dreamt us into being.  Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2015

story, friday

Friday, June 19

Opening Prayer:  Thank you, O Lord, that your story brings us to life.  When we remember who you are, and all that you have done in our lives, our mouths are filled with laughter and our hearts are filled with songs of joy.  Thank you, O Lord, for all of the blessings you have so graciously poured out upon us.  Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 126:1-6

Journal: What has God done in the past that helps you to trust that he will indeed show up in the future?  How does remembering the things God has done give you a current sense of joy?  How does it help you dream?  What do you dream of in your relationship with him?

When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. ~Eugene Peterson

Every Christian story needs sharing.  We require a few other persons to whom we can tell our stories.  Every story is different.  Every story is the same.  How are we to know that what we feel is legitimate and healthy?  How are we to know that our story is not a fragment of abnormal psychology?  Tell the story.  In telling we recognize the common plot of God’s grace setting us apart, personally calling us and revealing his Son to us.  We also recognize the great care with which he respects and uses every individual feature of our bodies and minds so that each story is totally fresh and original. ~Eugene Peterson


Closing Prayer: It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles.  We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.  We were the talk of the nations—“God was wonderful to them!”  God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.  And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing. (Psalm 126, The Message)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

story, thursday

Thursday, June 18

Opening Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help me to love you with all that is within me.  Be the center of my universe and enable my whole life to revolve around you.  I love you, O Jesus, my Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Scripture: John 21:1-18

Journal: Where do you find yourself in this story?  How does it speak to your own?

     The first time he saw her was across a bonfire at a friend’s house after a football game.  She was there with a friend of a friend and caught his eye right off the bat.  As a matter of fact, he just couldn’t take his eyes off of her.  It wasn’t just because she was beautiful—which she absolutely was—but it was so much more than that.  It was more of a quality about her: the way she smiled, the way she laughed, the way she carried herself.  She had it, whatever it was.  And whatever it was, it came from somewhere deep within her; almost as if there was an inner well bubbling up from her very heart and soul.  He could see it in everything she did: in the way she listened, and in the way she talked, and in the way she cared for people—treating them as if they were the only person in the world at that moment.  There was just something about her; a depth and beauty that he had never seen in anyone else.
     It took him about thirty minutes, but he finally worked up the nerve to go over and talk to her.  And when he did, it was like talking to someone he had known all of his life, the conversation was so easy and comfortable—so good.  He got her number and asked if he could give her a call sometime, and when she said yes something leapt deep within him.  Well one call led to another, and another, and before he knew it he had asked her out.  Their first date was the most amazing he’d ever had, not so much because of what they did, but because of the way she seemed to bring out the very best in him.  It was almost like he had come home, to a home he had never known before but had been searching for his entire life.  In fact the only word that could come close to describing the way she made him feel was full; she just brought him to life inside.
     Well one date turned into three, and then to five, and before he knew it they had been dating for six months.  It was different than any relationship he’d ever had.  They talked for hours at a time about things that really mattered; no games, no pretense, no drama.  And the most amazing thing was that they were also able to just be together without feeling the need to talk at all; comfortable with just being together in silence.  He had never felt that way with anyone before—much less a girl.  This relationship was just different, in the very best sense of the word.
     One night, as winter was turning to spring, they were lying on the trampoline in her back yard looking up at the stars and enjoying just being together, when she asked him a question: “What do you think it means to be in love?”  The question surprised him with its innocence and honesty.  It wasn’t something that he had not wondered about himself from time to time; especially since he had met her.  For a moment he was silent, not really knowing what to say, until he uttered the classic male response, “Uh, I don’t know.”  He then quickly recovered by adding, “What does it mean to you?”  She thought for a moment, looking far off into the stars, and said, “I think it means that you are willing to give that person, and that person alone, all of you, every bit of yourself, your whole heart—no holding back.  When I tell someone I love them it means that I am committing my entire heart, soul, and life to them completely…forever.  And if they want to be with me, if they are really in love with me, I expect them to do the same.”
     As she spoke, he knew at his core that what she was saying was right and true, it was the kind of love he most deeply longed for and dreamt about, but something about it scared him to death.  Was he really capable of loving someone like that?  Did he really have what it takes?  Was he willing to enter into that type of relationship with someone…forever?  Something in him desperately wanted to believe he could, and something in him wanted to run away.
     Then she turned to him with one of the purest and most innocent looks he had ever seen; so pure and innocent that he knew he was not worthy of it.  And as her eyes looked deeply into his, she uttered the words, “I love you.”  He was in complete shock.  She immediately put her hands to his lips and said, “Don’t say a word.  I don’t want you to say anything right now.  I just wanted you to know how I feel.”
     A few minutes later he was in his car on the way home, trying to process all that had just happened.  It was so confusing, so scary.  He didn’t know what to say or what to do, so he made his typical decision…he did nothing.  He didn’t text.  He didn’t call.  He didn’t go to see her.  He was paralyzed.  Before he knew it a week had gone by and he still hadn’t communicated with her at all.  He just didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.
     It had now been two weeks since the conversation on the trampoline, and he was out with some friends at an outdoor concert downtown, when he ran into an old girlfriend.  In fact, she was the girl he had been dating before he went to that fateful bonfire.  This old girlfriend was nothing particularly special.  He didn’t love her.  He never had, but she was easy—comfortable to be around and never really demanding anything of him.  From the day he broke up with her she had wanted to get back together; always promising him that if he would start seeing her again she would not require or expect anything of him.  In fact, she would allow him to go wherever he wanted and do whatever he desired…even go out with other girls.  She just wanted to get back together; and told him that again on this night.  So now he had a decision to make: to go with the one that brought him to life like no one ever had but demanded all of his love in return, or go with the one that he didn’t love, but was easy to date and demanded nothing from him.
     A couple more weeks went by and he was sitting at the mall thinking about all that had happened over the past eight months, when suddenly he got a text from her.  It said: “i still luv u.  i can forgive and forget the past, but nothing has changed.  i still want all of you, or nothing at all."  As soon as he finished reading the text he looked up and there she was, standing right in front of him.  She looked deeply into his eyes and asked him THE question, “Do you love me?”
     I would love to tell you what he said to her, but I can’t.  Only you can do that, because he is you.  That’s what this story is really all about—you and God.  The God who is wildly and passionately in love with you, the God that made you for relationship with himself, stands before you this day and asks you that very same question.  Do you truly love me? You are my Beloved, am I yours?  His love is totally free, but loving him back requires all of your heart and soul.  So what's your answer?


Closing Prayer: O Jesus, you are my life, you are my Beloved, you are my everything.  I love you.  Amen.