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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

seeing beyond the mess

Opening Prayer: O Lord, help me to gaze upon your beauty today, rather than being overwhelmed and dismayed by the mess.  Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 27:4

Journal: What do you generally focus on, the mess or the beauty?  What is the result of each?  What would it look like to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, rather than focusing on the mess of your life?

Reflection:

beyond the mess

to gaze upon the
beauty of the Lord
~ps. 27:4

you will never reach 
the promised land
if all you can see 
is the shit on your shoes

you must learn to gaze 
beyond the muck
to be captured 
by a greater beauty
to be pulled along 
by a grace far bigger 
than all the mess

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Help us to gaze upon your beauty, O Lord, and help that beauty pull us into the life and the transformation we most deeply desire.  Amen.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

like a little child

Opening Prayer: Teach us, Lord Jesus, what it means to become like little children.  It is not easy for us to do, for we have forgotten what it’s like.  Remind us.  Have mercy on us.  Lead and guide us.  Amen.  

Scripture: Matthew 18:1-4

Journal: What does it mean for you to become like a little child?

Reflection: So let me see if I’ve got this straight, Jesus tells the guys he is grooming to be the leaders of the church after he is gone, the guys who are currently arguing over who is going to be greatest in that kingdom, the guys that seem most concerned with power and position and privilege, that they must “become like little children” in order to even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less lead others in that direction.  Is that right?
     That must mean that spiritual leadership is much different than what we typically think it is.  Spiritual leadership is not about making things happen, but about making space so that they can.  It is not about control and direction, but about service and sacrifice.  It is not about position and prestige, but about and cooperation and community.  It is not about taking up all of the space, but making space for others to express their gift and talents and abilities.  At its core, spiritual leadership actually involves taking off the hat of expert or guru, in order to simply sit with people in wonder and laughter and holy curiosity, as we consider what God is up to.  It does not mean predetermining who people need to be or how things need to go or what things have to look like.  It does not mean manipulating, judging, or fixing.  It simply means being open to God…together.  That is true spiritual leadership. 

Prayer

Closing Prayer: My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.  I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)


Thursday, June 25, 2020

demolition

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me take a wrecking ball to my pride and self-sufficiency, so that I might live my life in the grace and humility you desire me to.  Amen. 

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12

Journal: What does it look like to take a wrecking ball to your pride and self-sufficiency?  How will you do that?  What concrete daily choices will help?

Reflection: The Pharisees were consumed with appearances, they were constantly trying to build and climb and jockey for position.  They were constantly trying to convince themselves and their world that they were somebody.  Power and prestige were their primary motivators.  Thus, they were hollow men; men without any depth or substance.  They were hypokrit─ôs, actors on stage, merely playing a role; putting on their costumes each morning before they went out to take their places in the world.  And Jesus wanted so much more for them than that, as well as for us.
     So he took a wrecking ball to their finely crafted reputations, and proceeded to smash them to smithereens.  And in the process he asks each of us to do the same.  He calls us not to pride and arrogance and pretention and self-sufficiency, but to humility.  For, in the beautiful words of Albert E. Day: “Humility is the demolition of human pride and self-sufficiency.”  
     But the interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t take the wrecking ball to our lives himself, he asks us to do that.  “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” he says.  Thus, he asks each of us to demo our own house.  He asks us to tear down all of the pride and pretense, to eliminate all of the jockeying and posturing, to rid ourselves of the climbing and building and achieving.  It is not any easy thing to ask, or to do, especially in a culture that values the very things he is asking us to demolish.  But it must be done.  Because on the other side of the demolition is life and love.  Only when we don’t need the responses and affirmations of others to define us, can we ever really begin to love and serve them.   
     So let’s get to work.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and start pounding away at all pride and position and pretense and self-promotion.  Let’s abandon our manipulative and self-serving ways and begin to choose what is small and hidden and quiet and lowly.  Let us seek to be invisible, rather than visible.  Let us seek to serve, rather than be served.  Let us be more concerned about the success of others, than we are about our own.  In other words, let us empty ourselves of self, that we might be filled with the life and love of God.  For in lifting him up, we will be lifted up as well. 

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the grace and the strength and the courage to embrace humility, and all that comes with it, in order that you might be lifted up, instead of me.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

humble yourself

Opening Prayer: Forgive me, O Lord, when I am full of pride rather than full of humility, when I seek to become something rather than seeking to become nothing, when I am full of myself rather than full of you.  For when I am full of myself there is no room for you to move, work, and act.  Give me the strength and the grace and the courage to humble myself, O Lord, in order that you will lift me up.  Amen.

Scripture: James 4:1-10

Journal: Where and how is God inviting you to humble yourself?  Why? What do you think he’s hoping the end result will be?

Reflection: “Humility is not nothingness but fullness, for into the vacuum created by the demolition of human pride and self-sufficiency, pours the fullness of God,” writes Albert E. Day.  Thus, my cup can overflow only when it is totally empty and devoid of self.  Humility is the process by which that emptying takes place.  Through humility, God empties us of self, in order to make room within us to receive his fullness.  That’s why he says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are inviting us to embrace humility, in order that there might be space within us to receive your fullness.  Give us the strength and the grace and the courage to do so.  Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

the good way

Opening Prayer: Help us to see, O Lord, that we find the good way not by immediate action, or by knee-jerk reaction, but by standing, looking, asking, and then walking.  Help us to resist the urge to dive right in, when we should be stopping and praying.   

Scripture: Jeremiah 6:16

Journal: How do you typically try to find the good way?  How well does that typically work for you?  What would it look like to stand, look, ask, and then walk?  Will you?

Reflection:

     the good way

         jer. 6:16

you can’t start with go
if you want to reach
God’s chosen destination
you must start with stop

you must pause and consider
you must observe and pay attention
you must see both the conditions 
and possibilities

you must ask
how the ancients
found their way
into the promised land

you must ask
where the good way is
for the way
is as important
as the destination

then and only then
can you walk
the path that appears
before you
guided by the peace
of knowing that 
your entire journey
is in hands far greater
than your own

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Help us to stop, O Lord, for we are not good at it.  And stopping is the gateway to the good way.  Help us to never forget that.  Amen.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

the refusal to rest

Opening Prayer: O Lord, forgive us when we simply refuse to rest.  For when we do so, we do so at our own expense.  We actually tear away at the image of the God we have been made to reflect.  Help us to discover what it means to truly rest, and how that rest actually is meant to make us more like you.  Amen.

Scripture: Isaiah 30:15

Journal: How and why do you refuse to rest?  What are the consequences?  Do you see it as a virtue, or as an act of disobedience?  How do you think God see is?

Reflection:  It’s really interesting how the Scriptures clearly show us, over and over again, that choosing not to rest is an act of disobedience.  I wonder why we are so reluctant to call it that?  In fact, we actually call it virtue.  How backwards is that?  For when we rest, somehow, mysteriously, it makes us more like the God who created us.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Help us, O Lord, this day, to return and to rest, for it is our salvation.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

justice and righteousness

Opening Prayer: Lord, thank you that justice and righteousness are a big deal to you.  And thank you that you want them to be a big deal to us as well.  Show us how to do that.  Help us to be agents of your peace in this world of chaos.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Scripture: Isaiah 32:16-18

Journal: How are justice and righteousness concretely taking shape in your life these days?  How is that bringing about shalom?  How is God calling you to be an agent of his shalom in the world?

Reflection: In the kingdom of God, justice and righteousness are vitally and intimately connected.  Just look at the Scriptures, you hardly ever see one without the other. Justice (mishpat), at its core, means that all of the principles and standards of the covenant are applied equally and fairly to everyone.  And righteousness (tsedaqah) has to do with right standing and right relationship, first with God and then with one another.  Righteousness means that everyone and everything are living as they were intended to.  Thus, you can’t be righteous without being just, and you can’t be just without being righteous.
     And when you put the two together, you get peace (shalom).  And by peace, I do not mean merely a calm and serene feeling inside, but I mean wholeness. Shalom is always about experiencing the creation intent of God.  Shalom is about being exactly who and what we were meant to be.  It is about reversing the effects of the fall whenever and wherever possible and making space for God to usher in the kingdom once again.  For only when we experience true shalom can we ever have any real hope of finding the rest our souls most deeply long for.
     The tricky part is that only God can bring about true shalom, but we are all responsible to live justly and act rightly—by his power and his grace.  It is how we seek the peace of the city. (Jer. 29:7) In order to seek shalom for all, we must consider what it means for us as individuals to live in such a way that we do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) We can’t just sit idly by and hope that it will somehow magically come about.  It will take a lot of effort on our part.  It will take a lot of prayer and reflection and confession and conversation and repentance and reconciliation.  It will involve each of us considering what God would have us to do in order to make his shalom a possibility for all.
     What does that look like for you?  How will you take the first, or the next, step?  How will you live in such a way, this day, that you are an agent of God’s shalom in the world?  After all, “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.  It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.  You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” (James 3:17-18, The Message)

Prayer

Closing Prayer: May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace, so that you might be agents of his peace in this broken and hurting world.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

what are you trying to prove?

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you offer us the invitation to come to you and rest.  Rest is such a fleeting and fragile thing in this world of achievement and accomplishment.  It seems that we are constantly being asked to prove that we are worth loving.  And that is so overwhelming, depressing, and exhausting.  It can wear us down and burn us out.  So help us to take you up on your invitation today, so that we might actually be able to breathe again.  That we might be able to truly find our rest in you.  Amen. 

Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30

Journal: What are you trying to prove?  How does it keep you from rest?

Reflection: “What are you trying to prove?  Why do you keep running around wearing yourself down, loading yourself up, and burning yourself out?  Why are you trying so hard to prove to yourself and your world—and even to me—that you are worth loving?  Come to me and I will give you rest.  Come to me and I will show you who you really are; I will show you who I made you to be.  I will show that it is not what you do that makes you valuable, it is who you are.  In fact, it is whose you are.  You are mine.  You belong to me.  I love you fully, passionately, and unconditionally.  Take that “yoke” upon you and you can finally stop running and performing and jockeying.  Take my yoke upon you and you will finally be able to stop and to breathe.  You will finally be able to recover the life of your soul.”

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Find rest, O my Soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62: 5-8, NIV)


Monday, June 8, 2020

new wine

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, all too often we try to house the new work of the Spirit in old wineskins that cannot possibly contain it.  Help us to know what it looks like to create new wineskins that will enable the work of the Spirit within and among us to grow and expand and flourish.  Amen.

Scripture: Mark 2:18-22

Journal: What new wine is the Spirit cresting in you these days?  How are you trying to hold it in old wineskins?  What would it look like to create new wineskins in order to make good space for that work of the Spirit to grow and expand and flourish?

Reflection: All too often I find that the new life God is trying to grow within me simply will not fit into the same old containers I try to put it in.  The life of the Spirit is dynamic, not static, and our practice should be the same.  Oh that is not to say that old practices aren't useful in the life of the Spirit, because they definitely are.  In fact, some of the best ancient practices have not been practiced for so long that they have a lot of new life to them. 
     What Jesus seems to be saying here is that our practice should always be determined by the life and movement of the Spirit, not vice versa.  The practices of the faith (or the spiritual disciplines, or means of grace, or whatever you want to call them) are intended to make space for the Spirit to move, not to constrict or control it.  Therefore, it seems that our spiritual practice must be constantly adapted to what God is doing in our souls and in our community.  Holding on to old, lifeless, duty-filled, performance-based forms of spiritual practice (as in Mark 2:18-22) does not give the room that the new, vibrant, growing, expansive, spacious work of the Spirit requires for the current season.  And when we hold on to ritual, simply for the sake of ritual, it is like putting new wine in old wineskins.  When we are hell-bent on always having to do the same old things the same old ways, the soul actually begins to shrivel and die.  It becomes more about what we do than about what He does.  Not that these practices and rituals are always bad, there will probably be a season in the future where they will serve us well once again--or should I say where they will serve God well as he does his work within us.  Therefore, we must constantly examine our souls and our practice to try and make the best possible space within us for the Spirit of God to do his work. 
     What is the state of your soul these days?  What is God's Spirit doing within you?  What is the state of your current practice?  Is it producing good fruit?  Is it making good space for the growth that is going on within you?  If not, what will make good space for the movement of God's Spirit in your heart and life?  And how will you make those things a part of your normal rhythm and practice? —New Wine by Jim Branch

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Forgive us, Lord Jesus, when we try to put the new life of the Spirit in the same old containers.  Give us new wineskins that can make room for all the life and the fullness and the vitality the Spirit desires to bring to us.  Amen.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

training versus trying

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to know what it means to train ourselves to be godly.  Give us the strength and the wisdom and the courage and the grace to do so.  Amen.

Scripture: 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Journal: How do you train yourself to be godly?  How is that different from just trying real hard?  What will you do this week in terms of training for the purpose of godliness?  What are your spiritual practices these days and do the fit more into the category of training or trying?

Reflection: “Instead, train yourself to be godly.” (1 Tim. 4:7, NLT)  There is a world of difference between training yourself to be godly, and just trying to be godly.  Unfortunately, all too often, in our spiritual lives, we just try to be godly without training ourselves to be godly.  And the trying without the training is destined to failure.
     Years ago a group of friends were sitting around talking about training for marathons, when one of the guys in the group made the statement that he didn’t need to train.  In fact, he said he could run a marathon “right now.”  At which point, every other guy in the group challenged him: “Okay, let’s see it.”  What ensued was pretty hilarious—the stuff legends and lore are made of.  But long story short, he tried, and though he performed valiantly and admirably, he failed.  No surprise.
     You see, trying can only get us so far.  Some further than others, mind you, but without training, trying is an exercise in futility.  How in the world could we ever think that we could become godly just by trying real hard?  We need practice at constantly turning to God for help.  We need to train ourselves to use his strength and his power to do the thing that we cannot do on our own—become like him.
     Training is much different, especially in the spiritual life.  Training definitely involves effort, but it doesn’t involve sheer willpower and determination.  Training involves teaching our soul and spirit to constantly turn towards God rather than ourselves.  Spiritual practice is nothing more than making time and space for God to move and to work and to act.  Spiritual practice, or the spiritual disciplines, are the things we do that help us to be the people God desires us to be.  They are the ways we train our soul and spirit to be open and receptive and obedient to God’s voice, God’s direction, and God’s will at all times and in all situations.  If we constantly train ourselves to turn towards God over and over and over again, then we will be able to do that when times of trial or temptation or disaster come.  When the “game” is on the line, our soul will be trained to use God’s Spirit and power, rather than trying to rely on our own.  That is how we become spiritually fit.       

Prayer

Closing Prayer: You alone, O Lord, can make us godly, but that doesn’t let us completely off the hook.  We too have a responsibility in this equation.  Help us to know what it means to train ourselves to be godly, and then help us to do it.  Amen.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

free to love

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to never use our freedom to do whatever we want to do, for that is not freedom.  Freedom comes through loving and serving, not through manipulating and demanding.  Help us to find our freedom in you.  Amen. 

Scripture: Galatians 5:13

Journal: What is freedom?  How do you define it?  How do you know when you are really free?

Reflection: “It’s absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. (Gal. 5:13, The Message)
     Where did we ever get the idea that freedom was doing whatever the hell we wanted to do.  It is not!  Freedom is about love and care.  Freedom is about the ability to stop being so self-centered and self-consumed that we are finally able to love and serve those around us, rather than extort love out of them.  We are free men and women when having our own needs met is not the driving force behind all of our relationships and behavior.  For only then are we really free to love.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to live as free men and women: free to love, rather than demanding to be loved; free to serve, rather than demanding to be served; and free to be others-centered, rather than constantly being self-centered.  In other words, help us to be like you.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

more is not better

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you have made us free.  Help us to have the strength and the grace and the courage to live in that freedom and not be drawn back into the yoke of slavery.  Amen.

Scripture: Galatians 5:1

Journal: Where in your life are you choosing bondage over freedom?  How does buying into the “more is better” mentality play into that?  Does it lead you to freedom or bondage?  How will you choose freedom today?

Reflection: If I have learned anything in these last few months of quarantine and pandemic, it’s that more is not better.  It’s just not.  But, unfortunately, we live in a culture that says it is.  We live in a world that is addicted to more.  But my guess is that in the past few months, where more has not been an option, the value of less has kind of snuck up on us, surprised us, and maybe even delighted us.  In fact, in many ways we might have actually discovered that less is more.  Less work means more quality time to be with those who are nearest and dearest to us.  Less activity means more conversation, rest, and reflection.  Less frenzy and chaos and hurry means more peace and joy and contentment.
     But what happens when things finally get back to normal?  Do we jump right back in to our “more is better” mentality?  Or do we take the lessons that less has taught us and weave them into the fabric of our lives?  Do we proceed in a different way and at a different pace and with a different perspective, or do we mindlessly plunge back in to the demands and busyness and hurry?
     “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free,” Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  What if the last few months were about bringing freedom?  What if the last few months were an opportunity to experience a different way, so that each of us might choose to proceed differently?  What if God is trying to get our attention, as a people and as a culture, and say, “More is not better. See!  Less is the better, deeper, and more live-giving way.  Choose less.  Don’t allow the desire for more to rule over you.  Don’t allow it to make you its slave once again.  Because the constant pursuit of more will actually make you less; and doing less, will actually help you to become more.  Everything is topsy-turvy in the kingdom of God.”
     The only question is, will we choose freedom, or will we choose bondage?  Whether we believe it or not, the choice really is up to us.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you want freedom for us, but you will not make us choose it.  That choice is up to us.  Help us, Lord Jesus, to choose freedom, every minute of every day.  Amen.


Monday, June 1, 2020

free indeed

Opening Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that because of you we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters.  Help us to live like it.  Amen. 

Scripture: John 8:33-36

Journal: Do you live more like a slave or more like a son or daughter?  What does it mean that Christ have made you free indeed?  How do you live like it?

Reflection: We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good.  His inscrutable love seeks our awakening.  True, since this awakening implies a kind of death to our exterior self, we will dread His coming in proportion as we are identified with this exterior self and attached to it.  But when we understand the dialectic of life and death we will learn to take the risks implied by faith, to make the choices that deliver us from our routine self and open to us the door of a new being, a new reality.
     The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas, and the will that is the captive of its own desire cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and a supernatural desire.  For how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and an opposite desire?  God cannot plant His liberty in me because I am a prisoner and I do not even desire to be free.  I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for the things that I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love.  I must learn therefore to let go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me.  I must learn to “leave myself” in order to find myself by yielding to the love of God. Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for setting us free.  Help us not, although free, to enter the chains of bondage and slavery once again.  Help us to live as sons and daughters of God.  Amen.