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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

delight in the word

Opening Prayer: Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  (Psalm 119:105)

Scripture: Psalm 1:1-3

Journal: How has the word of God come alive in you lately?  What fruit is it producing?  Are you delight in it?  Are you mediating on it?  

Reflection: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3)
     The scriptures are not merely an ancient book of wisdom, or a self-help guide, or a proof-text for a certain brand of theology; they are the very words of God himself.  They are not a text book, but a love letter.  Therefore, they must be read in a different way than what we are used to.   
     They are one of the most tangible places we encounter the Living God.  They are living and active, they are powerful and authoritative, they are God-breathed and God-saturated.  They are the most audible and reliable voice of God that we’ve got.  They guide, they correct, they encourage, and (by the power of the Spirit) they transform.  
     The words of the scriptures are deeply relevant and personal, they speak to each life specifically and to each community corporately.  They tell us what God is like and show us how to live like him.  They are like a javelin aimed at the target of the human heart, always hitting their mark with their life-giving power.
     When we delight in the words of the scriptures, and meditate on them day and night, they produce the fruit of life and love and freedom within us.  They plant us in solid soil and keep us from being blown around by the winds of mood and whim and circumstance.  They make us more into the people God intended us to be.  They make us more able to love the way God intended for us to love.  
     Thus, when we ignore or dismiss or belittle the words of the scriptures—when we make them less than they were intended to be—we do so at our own expense.  If we untether ourselves from their power and their authority, and become the authority ourselves, we drift aimlessly into our own version of the truth, which is not really truth at all. 

Prayer

Closing Prayer: I will walk in freedom, O Lord, for I have sought your precepts.  I delight in your commands because I love them. (Psalm 119:45, 47)


Saturday, August 24, 2019

for freedom

Opening Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that it is for freedom that you have set us free.  Help us to know what that means and what it is supposed to look like today.  Amen.

Scripture: Galatians 5:1-26

Journal: What does freedom in Christ mean to you?  How does it manifest itself in our lives?  Are you living in the full freedom that Jesus desires for you?  How can you enter into that freedom more and more each day?

Reflection: Contrary to popular opinion, freedom is not just about doing whatever you want to do.  True freedom is about being who God made us to be.  It is about loving the way God made us to love.  It is about serving the way God made us to serve.  In fact, it is not really about us at all.  Freedom unbinds us from our slavery to self.  It allows us to not be consumed and compelled by how people and things affect us, but, instead, allows us to be consumed and compelled by the God who made us.  It is the ability to live by the Spirit, instead of living by the flesh.  It is the ability to be our truest selves, rather than continually being controlled and ruled by the false self.  When we are truly free, we are the very best version of ourselves, and we enable others to be the very best version of themselves.    It is truly a taste of the Kingdom.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to live in the full freedom that you created us for, every minute of every day,  Amen.

Monday, August 19, 2019

weakness

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, remind me today that your grace is sufficient for me.  Help me to be brave enough to operate out of my weaknesses, that your power might have room to move and to work.  Amen.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Journal: What do you do with your weaknesses?  How do you deal with them?  What does Jesus ask you to do with them?  Will you do that today?

Reflection:
Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Me: “Oh Yay!  Oh no!”
Jesus:  “Haha.  Why oh no?”
Me:  “Because I hate my weaknesses.  I try to hide them from everybody.”
Jesus: “I know you do.”
Me: “Then why is your power made perfect in my weakness?  Why not in my strength?  That would make a whole lot more sense, wouldn't it?
Jesus:  “Maybe to you it would.  But I know you all too well.  I know that your strengths often get in the way of what I am actually trying to do.  I have to get you to the end of your strength, so you can learn to trust in mine.  When you are weak, your self is out of the way and there is space for me to move and to act.”
Me: “So when I operate only out of my strengths it can actually hinder your strength and your power from being on full display?”
Jesus: (with a smile) “Yep.  When you finally learn that this life is about me and not about you, then we’re getting somewhere.”

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, as much as I would like for everyone to believe that I am big and strong and gifted and adequate, I am not.  It is your strength that really gets the work of the Kingdom done, not mine.  Help me to remember that.  Amen.

Friday, August 9, 2019

the fourth watch

Opening Prayer: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV)

Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33

Journal: Where in your life are you desperately waiting for God to show up?  What is it doing within you?  How will you trust him in the meantime?

Reflection: “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” (Matthew 14:25)  Why the fourth watch?  Why did Jesus wait so long to go out to them?  After all, they had been out on the lake, buffeted by the wind and the waves for as many as twelve hours.  Why not go out to them sooner?  Why wait until they had been bruised and battered and beaten?
     Do you ever ask that question?  Do you ever wonder why God seems to let the storms of life go on for so long before he eventually shows up in the midst of them?  Is he testing our belief?  Is he trying to see if we really believe that he is able to calm the storm?  Or is he trying to see if we really believe that he is willing to?  I know that I have little trouble believing that he can, but much more difficulty believing that he will. 
     Regardless of the reason, I have found that Jesus is a fourth-watch-kind-of-a-God.  He tends to wait a while before he comes out to us.  And even when he does, sometimes our circumstances are so chaotic that we still cannot recognize him.
     The fourth watch is the point where we just cannot do it anymore.  It is the place in time when we can row no more.  The fourth watch is the time when we finally cry, “Uncle!”  When we say, “I just cannot do this anymore.  I’ve got nothing left.”  It is the time when we have finally been brought to the point of total desperation and absolute dependence.  It is the time when we have finally come to the end of ourselves.  And unfortunately, for most of us, that is a long, long journey.  For there is something God is trying to do deep within us and bringing us to the end of ourselves is the only way to make it happen.  Otherwise we would just keep on rowing and rowing and rowing.
     It’s like God finally says: “I want you to trust me.  Not me and your own gifts and efforts, not me and your circumstances, not even me and your friends and family; but me alone.  And you will never trust me alone until all of the other things have been stripped away.  Until you have come to the end of yourself and there is nothing else, and no one else, left to cling to but me.  That’s when I’ve finally got you where I want you.  That’s when true growth and transformation can take place.  That’s when you finally reach the point where you can become all that I dreamt you to be.”
     So if it takes until the fourth watch to get me there, then I suppose it’s worth it, huh?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to know that when you wait until the fourth watch to come out to me, you are not just being difficult.  You are trying to accomplish something very good in me.  Help me to never let the storms of this life, or the timing of your coming, make me doubt the goodness of your heart.

Friday, August 2, 2019

pruning

Opening Prayer: Have your way with me, O God.  Take your strong and gentle hands and make me into a garden of your delight.  Grow me where I need to be grown, water me where I need to be watered, and prune me where I need to be pruned.  I belong to you.  Amen.

Scripture: John 15:1-2

Journal: What does God’s pruning look like in your life these days?  How is he cutting away the old in order to make good room for new life and growth?

Reflection: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2, NIV)  
     Contrary to popular opinion, pruning is not a bad thing…in the spiritual life, I mean.  Oh sure, it sounds painful and awful, and I cringe whenever I hear the word, but it is actually a beautiful and necessary thing.  It is not just about getting rid of that which is old and dead and ugly within us—which sounds so hard and shameful—but it is also about taking that which is already fruitful and making space for even more fruit to grow.  It is about letting go of the old (even in the cases where the old has been wonderful), in order to embrace the new.
     The problem is that we like the old.  We have grown used to it.  We are comfortable with it.  And let’s face it, we suck at letting go.  When we have something that is working for us, we hold onto it for dear life, no matter how functional or dysfunctional it may be.  We like the old and the familiar.  We like being in control.  Letting go flies directly in the face of all of that.  So we hold on.  That’s why this pruning is necessary.  We typically will not be able to let go on our own, God has to help the process along. 
     The word for prune in the Greek is kathairĊ, which also means to cleanse or to purge.  It is a necessary part of growth, both for a plant, as well as a heart and soul.  A thing can only grow if there is room for it.  Thus, space must be made.  The saints of old understood this.  They often referred to this pattern of spiritual growth using the words purgation, illumination, and union.  Thus, the soul must first be purged of the many things occupying it, in order for something new and beautiful to come about.  The old might have indeed been great for a time, or a season, but once a new season begins the old must give way.  The leaves of autumn must fall to the ground before the new leaves of spring can come.  And so it is with a soul.  
     The beautiful part of the image is that we are not solely responsible for this pruning, it is in the hands of the Gardener.  He knows just how to do it.  And thankfully he has very gentle hands.  All we need to do is to be open, receptive, and responsive to his divine touch.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: I am yours, O God, do with me as you please.  Help me to be open and receptive to your strong and loving hands.  Amen.