Unwelcome Help

western_fence_lizard_2007_06_03_1aA while back, I led a day retreat for the leadership team of a large Southern California ministry at Rancho Capistrano, a beautiful Spanish-style retreat center in the area. We were near the end of the day and were gathering up our things and preparing to leave.

On one end of the room in which we were meeting, I noticed a Western fence lizard (we called them “bluebellies” when I was growing up) pacing in a wall length window frame, trying to get out. He was not a baby lizard, but a full grown one. He must have come through an open door at some point during the day. It was obvious he wanted to get back out to his home and didn’t know how.

So, I walked up carefully and reached down to capture him so I could release him outside. I gently set my hand on his back when he reached around and bit me hard on the knuckle. It left a pretty bloody lizard tooth mark. I’d never had a bluebelly bite me in all the years I’d dealt with them. He must have thought, in that reptilian brain of his, that I intended to capture him and perhaps do him harm. I continued with my intention, carried him outside and set him on the ground. He ran off without giving me a second thought.

It made me think about times I’ve been bitten trying to help someone. It’s happened more times than I wish to remember. In leadership, we sometimes find ourselves trying to help people get where they want to go. We can see where they seem to be aiming, but when we go to help them they reach around and bite us. They see us as enemies instead of as friends. We can tell what they want, but they think we are only trying to do them harm, judge them or harness them for our own selfish purposes.

When have you experienced a bite back when you sought to extend help to another?

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And the Greatest Commandment Is…

Inside the San Juan Capistrano Mission

Inside the San Juan Capistrano Mission

A sharp, capable young leader approaches Jesus for some insight into what is most important in life. (Specifically, he asked what mattered most in the law of Moses). You’ll likely remember Jesus’s answer:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40 NIV)

The greatest commandment—that which matters and means most—is loving God wholly and caring for others at least as much as I care for myself. This made me think, though, about what realistically functions as my greatest commandment?

  • Righteousness? I may then tend to focus on my being right (and certain others, perhaps, being wrong).
  • Faith? I may then focus on believing the right things about God, myself, the world, etc.
  • Hope? I may then focus on making sure I end up in the right place when I die, or on working towards making my future what I want it to be.
  • Joy? I may then focus on making sure I enjoy my life (whether others do or not).
  • Profit? I’ll live as though my life really does consist in the abundance of my possessions, even when Jesus says it doesn’t.

The greatest commandment really is the commandment of loving God and loving people. Am I not invited to follow Jesus in caring for the genuine well-being and good of those around me, whether or not they have the right lifestyle, right answer, right future, right focus, or right whatever? Am I going to wait for them to get right before I will seek their good?

Reflection: If you were to assess what you think most about, what takes up a majority of your time and where your resources tend to be most spent, what would this tell you about your own functional first commandment?

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Overcoming Fear Through Trust

Psalm 56:3-4 NIV
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—

in God I trust and am not afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?

When I am afraid. I find myself afraid in many ways. I’m afraid to fail in writing the book I’m supposed to be writing. I’m afraid of looking dumb. What do I do when I’m afraid? Sometimes I distract myself. Sometimes I procrastinate. Sometimes I hide. Does it work? Not really. The fear doesn’t go away. What does David do?

I put my trust in You. Instead of hiding, escaping, or numbing, David puts his trust in God. If I learn to look past my distorted image of God that looks suspiciously like certain authorities figures in my life on a bad day, I can see that He really is faithful—more faithful than I can imagine. If I think about how easy it often is to trust Gem when I see her honesty, sincerity and lack of guile, how much more should I be able to trust God who will never let me down, neither willfully or ‘accidentally’? What helps me to rest trustingly in God more?

In God, whose word I praise—God always says what He means and always means what He says. He doesn’t waste words. I praise His word because it is true, right, good, merciful, kind and words like this could just keep piling up. When I feel it hard to connect with something in scripture because it doesn’t feel real to me, that says very little about the quality of what God says. It probably says much more about my own ability to receive or perceive the goodness of what He says. Father, Your word is most worthy of praise.

In God I trust and am not afraid. I want to learn how to do what David does here. I want to so trust in You, Lord, that I am no longer paralyzed, immobilized or hindered by fears. There is a kind of inward hurry that prevents me from sinking down and soaking in the peace and rest of God into my heart and mind. God, You really are completely trustworthy. You are not holding the failures and transgressions of my past against me. You do not desire to keep a record of wrongs between You and me. You desired to remove them, and so You sent Your Son to make this justly possible. You did it the right way. You didn’t pretend there was nothing wrong with me. You addressed the wrong in me righteously and rightly.

What can mere mortals do to me? I hear in this that the harm fear causes me to imagine is always greater than reality. What harm is actually going to happen? I remember someone once saying that fear is actually a doorway into a deeper experience of God and His love. It just doesn’t look like that from this side!


  • What are some of the fears you are currently facing?
  • What is the harm you imagine?
  • How might God be inviting you to step right through that fear into a place of deeper surrender and communion with Him?

Knowing the Love of God

On Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to share a few words on the deep abiding love of God for us. Few have spoken to me of His love more profoundly than Brennan Manning. Here are a few excerpts I’ve collected over the years:

“When we get waylaid from our walk with God by busyness, depression, family problems, or worse, God does not abandon us. Nor, if we walk the way of trust, do we abandon God. When we wander off the path, that trust pulls us back; and we do not flinch, hesitate, or worry about being unwelcome in the Father’s arms. No matter where we are on the journey, we have a quiet confidence that our trust in God’s love gives God immense pleasure.” (Brennan Manning. Ruthless Trust. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000, p. 19.)

“…the heart of it is this: to make the Lord and his immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.” (p. 49, quoting John Eagen. A Traveler Toward the Dawn. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990, Brennan Manning. Abba’s Child. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994, pp. 150-51.)

“In a moment of naked honesty, ask yourself, ‘Do I wholeheartedly trust that God likes me?’ (Not loves me, because theologically God can’t do otherwise.) ‘And do I trust that God likes me, not after I clean up my act and eliminate every trace of sin, selfishness, dishonesty, and degraded love; not after I develop a disciplined prayer life and spend ten years in Calcutta with Mother Teresa’s missionaries; but in this moment, right now, right here, with all my faults and weaknesses?’ If you answer without hesitation, ‘Oh yes, God does like me; in fact, he’s very fond of me,’ you’re living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness.” (Brennan Manning. The Wisdom of Tenderness. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002, p. 17.)

“…the splendor of a human heart which trusts that it is loved gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the sight of ten thousand butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom.” (Brennan Manning. Ruthless Trust. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000, p. 2.)

(A repost from February 2010)

A Prayer for God’s People

I had a wonderful time preaching the three services (9am, 11am and 6pm) at Ventura Vineyard yesterday. I have renewed respect for my friends who preach multiple services every week!

As I mentioned here yesterday, I preached from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 on the theme of “Prayer as Relationship with God.” The recording will be available on the church’s media page sometime tomorrow.

Someone asked after the first service for a copy of my personal paraphrase of this prayer that I closed the service with. I told her I’d make it available here (Thanks for asking):

I humble myself before You, Father—Father of all fatherhood—and I ask that You would richly strengthen us with power through Your Spirit in the deepest places in us. Do this so that together we would know Christ at home in and among us. Rooted and foundationed in this place of unfailing love, enable us all to share together in the expansive width, the enduring length, the unreachable height, and the unfathomable depth of Christ’s own love for us. Open our hearts to know the love that what we can never fully know. As a result, may the life of God overflow our lives together in community. Do this and even more, God, in a way that surprises and even overwhelms us we pray, in Jesus’ name.

May God answer this prayer in my life and yours, in my community of faith and yours. Amen.

Looking Back: Trying to Compete with God

Happy Mother’s Day! I’m looking forward to enjoying the day with Gem today. We’ll have a couple of hours as a family later this afternoon on a party boat on Lake Mission Viejo, enjoying some goodies and conversation. What a treat!

Below is a link to a post where I quoted Abbé de Tourville on the mistake of trying to love God first. It never works out.

Read more of “Trying to Compete with God

Looking Back: Working for God?

I continue to be amazed by the work of God in those who have come to the Journey this week. To hear the testimonies of pastors who are rediscovering the life and power of God for themselves and for their communities of faith is at points almost overwhelming. I have a profound sense of all this being a work of God alone. I sure haven’t masterminded the God stories I’m hearing from these men and women.

The challenge for those whose life work is ministry is they can fall into the “elder brother syndrome” (from the parable of the prodigal son). In July 2007, I reflected on this parable for a few days of an eight-day silent retreat in the Boston area. Below is the first of a few posts in which I shared insights I was gaining. I hope they help  you as well.

Read more of “Working for God?