Wednesday, September 30, 2020
JUST RELEASED on Amazon!!! My newest book Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love . Been in the works for several years and is finally available. It contains the stories, practices, and content of the Spiritual Formation class I have taught for the last 10+ years. Spread the word! Tell your friends!
Monday, September 28, 2020
Opening Prayer: “Attention Israel! God, our God! God, the one and only! Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, The Message)
Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Journal: How willing are you to let God fully love you? Where are you resistant to his love, and why? How is your ability to love him with all your heart, soul and strength contingent on you being fully loved by him first?
Reflection: What if the main reason we fail to love God as we ought is because we are afraid to be fully loved by him? The scriptures make it clear that we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19), so our love for him can only be a reflection of and response to our own first-hand knowledge of his divine love for us. Thus, if we fail to encounter and experience God’s love fully, then we will fail to love him fully in return.
But why on earth would we be afraid to experience the passion, depths, and delight of God’s extravagant love? Who knows? Maybe it’s too intense. Maybe we are afraid it will be too much for us. As a dear friend of mine once said, “If God was any more intimate with me, I don’t think I could stand it.” Or maybe it’s too demanding. Maybe it requires something of us that we are not sure we will be able to give. That kind of love can only be experienced through total surrender and wild abandon. Unfortunately, surrender and abandon have never been our strong suit. Or maybe it’s all about control. Maybe our hesitation to be fully loved by God has more to do with the fact that his love just puts us so out of control. As a friend and mentor used to pray, “O Lord, I want to know the depths of your delight and affection, but please promise to be gentle with me.”
We want passionate intimacy with God, but it also kind of scares us. We are drawn to it and hesitant of it at the same time. Yet, our only hope of ever being able to love God as we ought, lies in us opening ourselves up to being fully loved by him. It will come only when we are able to truly pray, “Here I am, O Lord, have your way with me.”
Closing Prayer: O Lord, unless I let you fully love me, I will never be able to fully love you. Give me the courage and the grace and the strength to let you have your way with me. Amen.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, why on earth would I every refuse to enter into your rest? Yet I do. Maybe it is because I’m so afraid of what will happen if I stop. But my real fear, I suppose, should be what will happen if I don’t. Lord, have mercy. Amen.
Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30
Journal: In what ways do you refuse the rest God offers you? Why? What would it look like to fully take Jesus up on his offer in Matthew 11:28-30? Will you?
Reflection: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason we do not experience the rest that Jesus offers is because we simply refuse to do so. I don’t know, maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s need, maybe it’s control, or maybe it’s all of the above, but for some reason we consistently refuse the rest that God calls us to.
Just look at the scriptures. “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” (Isaiah 30:15) Or, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6:16) Or, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)
But why on earth would we refuse to enter into God’s rest? I think Matthew 11:28-30 holds a bit of a clue. In order to enter into God’s rest we must first come to him, which few of us seem to have a problem with, and then we must take his yoke upon us, which is much more difficult. That’s because we can’t take on his yoke, until we have taken off our own, whatever it may be. That seems to be where the refusal comes in, we are simply unwilling to take off our own yoke in order to take on the light and free and well-fitting yoke of Jesus. Therefore, we are forever burdened and weary and exhausted from continually trying to do it ourselves.
Basically it all comes down to trust. Do we really trust that God is enough for us, and that he will give us everything we need? Love, affirmation, significance, security, etc. And do we really believe that God is wise enough and loving enough and powerful enough to take care of things without us? Or maybe that’s the issue, maybe we are terrified that he will. Who knows?
Whatever the case, each of us must face our own resistance to God’s rest, as well as our refusal to enter into it. And after we face it, we must name it. Then we must repent of it. We must be willing to take off our own yoke and take on his. Otherwise, we will never experience the rest and the peace and the wholeness he created us for.
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to come to you and enter into your rest. Give me the strength and the grace and the courage to take off my yoke and take on yours. For only then will I know the rest and the peace and the wholeness you created me for. Amen.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
Opening Prayer: O Heavenly Father, the one through whom all of fatherhood derives its name, give us, this day, the power and the strength to experience the life and the love and the fullness you created us for. We have absolutely no hope of doing that apart from you. Lord, have mercy. Amen.
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21
Journal: Are you living out of God’s strength and power these days, or out of your own? What would it look like to live a life that is empowered by God?
Reflection: What if the main reason we are not able to dwell with Christ in our hearts through faith, or stay rooted and grounded in his love, or grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, or be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, is because we have not yet availed ourselves of his power to do so? What if the main reason we are unable to experience the life and the love and the fullness we were created for is because we keep trying to do it all in our own strength?
After all, the basis for this entire prayer is that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being. All of these amazing things are to be done out of his abundant resources, not our own. He is the only one who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us. Until we begin to use his power, rather than our own, we will be continually frustrated. We will live lives that are so much less than the lives he imagined for us.
His power is the power. His power is dynamis. It is the Greek word we get the word dynamite from. It is power that has effect, power that accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish, power that changes things, power that transforms. But only if we use it. We must stop trying to do it all ourselves and avail ourselves of God’s power. We must live empowered lives. Only then will we begin to experience the immeasurably more than we ask or imagine that Paul is talking about.
Closing Prayer: Lord, only through you, and your power, can we experience a life that is immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Work within us, through the power of your Spirit, to produce that life. Amen.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Opening Prayer: O Lord, when I look at what I deserve, because of my sin and disobedience, and what I have been given, because your abundant grace and unfailing love, I am filled with a deep sense of humility, joy, and gratitude. Thank you that you have given me your uprightness, your righteousness and your peace, even though I do not deserve it. That is definitely reason to brighten up, spin around, and shout aloud. Thanks be to God!
Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11
Journal: Would you say your life is marked more by gratitude or entitlement? Why? What does a life that is marked by gratitude look like? How do you cultivate such a life?
Reflection: The blessed life, according to King David, is one in which you know what you really deserve, as well as what you don’t. Gratitude is always the result of being given what you do not deserve. It comes from recognizing and acknowledging that you have received a gift. You have done nothing to earn or achieve the love and the grace and the forgiveness and the compassion that has been lavished upon you, it is the gift of God. And the receiving of that gift always brings about joy and celebration. It always causes us to rejoice (brighten up, in the Hebrew), to be glad (literally, to spin around), and to sing (shout aloud).
The opposite of gratitude is not necessarily ingratitude, but entitlement. Entitlement comes from thinking you deserve better, that you are owed something. It is a posture and an attitude that makes gratitude impossible. In fact, entitlement poisons the soul, always leading to ingratitude, as well as to all sorts of other ugly and horrific states of heart and mind: pride, arrogance, disregard, self-centeredness, and, ultimately, frustration, bitterness, and anger. Not particularly the blessed life that God had in mind.
So the question is, what will it be today, gratitude or entitlement? The choice is up to you.
Closing Prayer: O Lord, give me a spirit of gratitude, rather than a spirit of entitlement. Help me to always recognize your love and your grace in ways that help me to offer love and grace to others, as well as to myself. Amen.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that it is for freedom that you set us free. Help us to live like it. Amen.
Scripture: Galatians 5:1
Journal: Who or what is robbing you of your joy and freedom these days? Why?
Reflection: Don’t give fear, anxiety, and insecurity the power to steal your joy, your laughter, and your freedom today. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Fear, anxiety, and insecurity are some of the main predators of the spiritual life. They will eat up all of your joy and your life and your freedom if you let them. Don’t let them; that’s the key. It’s why Paul tells the Galatians to “Stand firm.” You are not powerless in this struggle. You have the Spirit of God living within you.
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the strength and the grace and the courage to stand firm whenever something, or someone, tries to rob me of my joy and laughter and freedom. You desire me to live freely, and you give me the power to do so. Help me to live in that truth. Amen.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, tell me what it means to put away my sword and to drink your cup. Then give me the strength and the grace and the courage to do it. Amen.
Scripture: John 18:1-11
Journal: How is Jesus asking you to put your sword away these days? What does that mean for you? What cup is he asking you to drink? What does that look like?
Reflection: “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)
Put up your sword and pick up your cup, two things that are essential in the spiritual life. Two things that are necessities if we ever hope to be like Jesus. But, unfortunately, they are two things that are easier said than done, since the sword and the cup are different for each of us.
For Jesus, it meant surrender and sacrifice. It meant obedience to the will of the Father, rather than his own. It meant choosing to give his life away, rather than desperately clinging to it. It meant a willingness to embrace, rather than defend. It meant pouring himself out for love.
What does it mean for each of us? That is what we must determine for ourselves. Each of us must ask the Lord what putting away the sword and drinking the cup are supposed to look like. And, make no mistake about it, there is a direct relationship between the two. In fact, you cannot do one without the other. First comes the surrender, then comes the sacrifice. We must first lay down our weapons, whatever that may mean, and stop fighting and defending and resisting, before we will ever really be able to take the cup God has given us and drink it down to the dregs. This will not happen lightly, it will take unyielding courage and heroic humility. And it will not happen haphazardly, it will take a lot of thought and prayer and intention on our part. It will take recognition and resolution. We must see what it means to put away the sword and to drink the cup, and then we must do it.
In this way we completely open ourselves up to God’s will and his work, both in and through us. That is the work Jesus chose to be about. And if we want to be his followers, it will be the same for each of us.
Closing Prayer: O Lord, help us to be like Jesus. Help us to choose to be about your will and your work and your kingdom, rather than our own. Amen.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to live as if your words “It is finished” are really true. Amen.
Scripture: John 19:28-30
Journal: What do the words “It is finished” mean to you today? What would it look like if you lived your lived fully believing that they were true?
Reflection: If “It is finished” the way Jesus says it is, then why do I tend to live as if it is not? Why do I continue to live with the feeling that somehow I still have to earn God’s favor? Why do I still live as if my value and my worth were still up for grabs? Why do I continue to live my life desperately trying to prove that I am worth loving? Why do I continue to allow fear and insecurity and anxiety to control me and rob me of joy and freedom? Why do I still live so much of my life out of need, rather than out of love?
If “It is finished,” then all of this has already been settled. Everything is just grace and gratitude.
Closing Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that it really is finished. Help me to live in the joy and freedom of that truth. Amen.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you prayed for us in the upper room. Thank you that you came to reveal to us the heart and love of the Father. Help us to know that love deeply. And then help us to love others, as we ourselves have been loved. Amen.
Scripture: John 17:20-26
Journal: What are the scriptures saying to you today?
Reflection: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)
Jesus came to reveal the heart of God. And he could only do that because he knew the heart of God himself—intimately. In fact, he and the Father were one. They were of one heart. That is the kind of knowing that ministry must flow out of. That is the kind of love and intimacy out of which mission was designed to be born. How can you make someone known, if you do not know them yourself? How can you possibly love others with the love of God, if you have never experience that love yourself? Unless you know yourself as beloved, you can never hope to lead others into a deep knowledge of their own belovedness. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, never let us run to the world before we have run to you. For we can only love others to the extent that we have experienced your divine love. Amen.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, let me know your love and care so deeply today that it would allow me to live with an untroubled heart—whole and free. Amen.
Scripture: John 14:1-7
Journal: What is God saying to you today through the scriptures? What kind of relationship do you really believe God wants with you? How does this help you to live with an untroubled heart? God is offering you his cup of wine today, will you drink? What does it look like to say yes to his love today?
Reflection: In biblical times, marriages were basically arranged. But the participants did have some say in the final outcome. If the groom-to-be was on board with the arrangement, he would go to his future bride’s house and offer her a cup of wine. It was his way of saying, “I choose you.” And if the bride was also in agreement with the arrangement, she would then drink the wine, basically saying, “And I choose you.”
After that, the groom would then go back to his father’s house and begin to build a room onto it, where he and his new bride would live. When all the work was finally completed, the father of the groom would give the okay and the groom-to-be would then make his way back to his future bride’s house. At that time the bridesmaids, who had been watching and waiting for the groom’s return, would announce his coming. Then the bride-to-be would go out to meet her groom and everyone would process back to the groom’s house where the wedding feast would begin.
One of the really beautiful parts of this whole process was what the groom would say at his proposal, after the wine had been offered and accepted. He would say, “Bride to be, in my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.”
These are the very words Jesus chose to use in order to tell his followers what one day awaited them—a celebration. A wedding feast. You see, God wants intimate union with us. Union so deep that only the delights of marriage can begin to capture it. He wants more than just a dutiful, distant relationship. He wants passion. He wants longing. He wants unbridled affection. That is the kind of life God wants both for and with each of us. All we have to do is say, “I do.” All you have to do is say yes to love. (from my newest book Into the Heart of God, which should be out in a few weeks)
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to say yes to your love today. Help me to trust you fully and completely. Thank you that you love me with more passion and affection than I can ever imagine. Amen.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, you laid aside divine privilege and came down to earth. Then, you took the role of the lowliest servant and stooped down and washed the feet of your disciples. And you did it all because of love. That was your why. Help it to be mine as well. Amen.
Scripture: John 13:1-17
Journal: What are the motives behind most of the things you do? When was the last time you did something solely out of love? What would it look like if that became the only motive for everything you did?
Reflection: What is your why? Have you ever stopped to think about that? Have you ever stopped to consider why it is that you do the things you do? Whys matter. They really matter.
Just look at Jesus. He was getting ready to leave this world. He was staring at loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, sorrow, suffering, torture, and even crucifixion. Of all the times when it might seem appropriate, or at least understandable, to do something for yourself, to be motivated by need, he was still thinking of others. He still chose to be motivated by love.
All power and all authority had been given to him by the Father, so he set it aside. He chose to put a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin, and stoop down to wash the disciples’ feet. Why on earth would he do such a thing? How on earth could he do such a thing? The answer to the first question is because of love. And the answer to the second is because he didn’t need anything from them. Therefore, he was totally free to love and to serve.
And the scary thing is that he calls each of us to do the same. Oh, not merely to wash feet, although that very well may be part of it, but to be free from need in order to love, whatever form that may take. You see, freedom is not just the ability to do whatever we want to do, it is the ability to become all that we were meant to be—to live and to love the way God intended.
So let’s begin to pray to that end. Let’s pray that God would give us the strength and the grace and the courage to let our why be love, instead of need. After all, if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us. Right?
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to be like you. Help my why always to be love. Amen.
Monday, September 7, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you alone can make the blind to see. Help me to see you, myself, and my world with your eyes today. Amen.
Scripture: John 9:1-41
Journal: What is God saying to you through the scriptures today? What are your blind spots these days?
Reflection: Physical blindness is one thing, but spiritual blindness is quite another. I mean, at least those who are physically blind know it, right? The problem is that, oftentimes, those who are spiritually blind actually think they can see. That’s the beauty of this passage in John, Jesus uses one to display the other. He makes the blind man able to see and he shows the seeing men that they are really blind.
There was likely a time in each of our spiritual journeys where we would say, like the blind man, “Once I was blind, but now I see.” There was a time, or a period of time, when somehow God turned the lights on for us and we were finally able to see things as they really are. But the problem is that even after we are able “to see,” there are still things we are blind to. It’s just a part of the spiritual journey; we all develop blind spots. Thus, we all are in constant need of Jesus coming to each of us again and again, in order to help us see in new ways.
Ask God to show you your blind spots today. Listen carefully to his voice and write down what he reveals to you. Ask one of your closest and dearest friends to enter into that process with you. Lovingly tell each other what you see. Ask that friend to tell you what they think your blind spots are, and be open and receptive to whatever God says through them. Ask Him to help you to see. What around you does he want you to see? Who around you does he want you to see? What within you does he want you to see? (Into the Heart of God by Jim Branch)
Closing Prayer: O God, help me to see. Help me to see those things in my life and my world that I am still blind to. I cannot see them unless you show me. So show me where I am still blind, O God, so I will not be like the Pharisees.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me learn to abide in you and in your word, for that is the only true path to freedom. Amen.
Scripture: John 8:31-32
Journal: What is your sense of freedom these days? Are you abiding in Jesus and in his word? How are the two connected?
Reflection: The first step towards freedom is abiding. If we ever have any hope of living a life that is whole and free, it will be because we have learned to abide in the truth. If it is, in fact, the truth that sets us free, then we better get so familiar with the truth that it simply becomes a part of who we are. Otherwise, we will constantly be blown around by every wind of opinion and agenda that comes along—and, believe me, there are a lot of those these days.
You see, truth is not relative, it is absolute. If it were relative, then there would be no truth at all, only anarchy. Jesus knew that. And he knew the link between truth and freedom. Contrary to popular opinion, freedom does not come from determining our own truth—which is not truth at all—but by living in line with the truth from which, and for which, we were made.
Thus, Jesus is the truth (see John 14:6), and as we abide in him, and abide in his word, we get to know what the Truth really is. And then truth sets us free. But it all starts with abiding. If I do not abide in him, and in his word, then I will never know the truth of his divine love and care and delight, and I will never experience the freedom for which I was made.
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, if it all starts with abiding, then give me the grace and the strength and the discipline I need in order to do that. For only then will I know the truth, and only then will I know the life and the freedom for which I was made. Amen.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Opening Prayer: Thank you, O God, that you are always at work, in all times, in all places, and in all seasons. Help me to trust you in the midst of whatever season or circumstances I may find myself. I will trust in you, O Lord. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 107:33-43
Journal: What is life like for you these days? Would the word consolation or desolation best describe the state of your soul these days? Where do you see evidence of each? What do you think God is up to through them?
Reflection: Back in the 1548, a very wise saint named Ignatius of Loyola made an incredibly helpful observation. He pointed out that there are two main movements in the spiritual life: consolation and desolation. Consolation being “when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord.” And desolation being the state in which the soul becomes “disturbed and agitated, without hope, without love; when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.” Thus, consolation stirs up feelings of peace, hope, and love, that orients us toward God and toward helping others, while desolation stirs up feelings of disruption, disturbance, despair, depression, frustration, isolation, anxiety, etc.
The biggest misconception being that God works in one, but not the other. The truth is that God works in both. In fact, some of the most significant work God does in the soul comes through periods of desolation; we just have to stay with them long enough to dig through the rubble and find out exactly what he is up to. There are times when, for some reason completely unknown to us, he “turns rivers into deserts and flowing springs into thirsty ground.” And there are times when he “turns the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs.” There are seasons when “we sow fields and plant vineyards that yield a fruitful harvest,” and seasons when “we are humbled by oppression, calamity, and sorrow.” There are times when we are fully aware of his life and his love and his presence in our lives, and times when it seems like he is “making us wander in a trackless waste.” But in all of these things, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, God works. We just have to take to heart the last line of this ancient prayer: “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:43) We must constantly hold our lives before God, whatever the state, and consider what our good and loving God is up to within and around us.
Closing Prayer: Thank you, O Sovereign Lord, that in times of consolation and times of desolation you are always at work. Help me to stand firm in that truth today. Amen.