Grateful Listening to Scripture


IMG_0834The other morning, as I was enjoying my morning reading of the lectionary passages for the day, I found myself very grateful. I journalled this little prayer of thanks:

“Thank you, Jesus, for enabling me to read these texts with an ear to hear your voice, rather than with a sense of needing to fulfill my “spiritual formation” duty. I sometimes fall asleep to this simple reality. Thank you for awakening me to remember that spiritual practices are simply a way of offering you the gift of my attention…of my abiding in you. Thank you for reminding me that my deepest and truest hungers and thirsts are satisfied in you. Too often I begin in a place of hunger and thirst for your living presence and present voice, but then devolve into a sense of duty, obligation and lifeless focus on my faithfulness or my unfaithfulness, neither of which brings life. Only your faithfulness does this. It sounds simple to write this prayer, but I can so easily become focused on my side of our relationship in such a way that I forget your initiative and interest that always precedes mine. Thank you, and Amen.”

I’ve realized along the way that sometimes I come to the scriptures as a listener, but sometimes I come to the scriptures seeking answers to the questions I have crafted, solutions to the problem I have identified, blessings the ideas I’ve hatched. It’s too easy to fool myself that I’m seeking God’s kingdom first when I’m really seeking God’s kickstart of mine.

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Hearing with the Heart


IMG_2924My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Psalm 27:8 (NLT)

This verses raises questions in me. How is my heart hearing the personal invitation of the Lord to come and talk with Him? Am I sensing just how wanted I am in His presence? Am I counting on His strong desire for my company? Do I feel this when I rise in the early hours of the morning, or is my anxiety evidence that I really believe He harbors frustration or disappointment towards me? Do I believe that my failures in doing good or my offenses in having done wrong are foremost in His mind when He thinks of me or sees me? Am I failing to experience Him as the gentle, gracious, merciful, forgiving God that He actually is? Do I see Him as fully committed to helping me awaken fully from all of the deceptions that currently capture my thinking and my imagination?

In the psalm, David speaks of his enemies. Can I hear those ways in which I feel attacked, opposed, confronted by fears, anxieties, timidity or doubt? They are certainly enemies to me. David experiences being surrounded by trouble without being overwhelmed by fear. He is able to be confident even while attacked. He has courage even when enemies are all around him.

Jesus, enable me to be a person truly and deeply focused on the one thing of dwelling in Your presence wherever I go and whatever I do. Forgive when I focus on my own imperfections rather than on Your perfections. May I continue to response to your invitation to my heart by saying, “Lord, I am coming.”

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Fresh Wind for a New Year


The-wind-carries-dandelion

This word from Jesus comes in the flow of Nicodemus’ nighttime conversation with him. Nick affirms Jesus as having come from God, but Jesus responds by saying that no one can see the kingdom without being born again. The “again” birth is a birth of the Spirit. Spirit gives birth to spirit. That is the kind of birth we need. (My tradition has laid a lot of weight on this particular experience. We distinguished nominal Christians from “born again” Christians. That was huge at the time I was converted and began to walk with Jesus in the late 70s).

Jesus’s description of this Spirit-birth is that it is like the wind. You can’t really say exactly where the wind comes from or where it ends up, but you can hear the sound and witness its effects. The wind blows where it wishes. The Spirit does what is best from the Spirit’s perspective. I can’t expect to fully understand the Spirit’s purposes or goals (the coming from or going to of the Spirit), but I can witness the effects of the Spirit’s moving here and now in my life.

“Thank you, Jesus, for how Your Spirit has given me new life. I long that the Spirit would flow from within me like the roaring Rio Jimenoa that Gem and I have often heard and seen in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. I want to learn to be less attached to my demands to always know Your purposes and goals. They are greater than I can comprehend. I forget this. Spirit, do whatever pleases you in and through my life. May the evidence of your blowing in and through my life be obvious to others. Amen.

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Jesus: A Grateful Presence



This morning, I am in Sacramento preparing to enjoy a family Thanksgiving celebration. I’m deeply grateful for this day. I was thinking about thankfulness, and was drawn to this central word of thanksgiving in the life of Jesus (and from my journal a while back):

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 NIV)

I haven’t usually thought about this as a prayer passage, but just as He does with the loaves and fish when He multiplies them for the feeding of thousands, He takes, thanks, breaks and gives the bread to His followers. Will it multiply in them to eternal life?

“When He had given thanks” happens here twice. Jesus says grace twice here! He probably “said grace” before the meal. Jesus is a thankful person. He really does give thanks in everything. My gratitude level is more haphazard. I’m glad for my end-of-the-day Examen exercise. This is when I journal ten “thanks” to God as I reflect back on my day. God is inviting me to live thankfully all the time. This would make my soul more bouyant. I would more regularly remember that I really do live a graced life.

My thank You’s are sometimes as simple as, “Thank You for this hot cup of coffee I can make and enjoy this morning. Not everyone has what I have.” “Thank You for a toasted piece of bread with jelly on it. It is a feast compared with what some in my world have available to them today.” “Thank You, Father, for a mansion of a house, not compared with wealthier areas of South Orange county, but compared with families suffering in Port Au Prince, Haiti, often with no housing or temporary housing at best. You have provided for us richly.”

My prayer today, Father, is that I would be awakened to the good things in each moment so that I notice them, acknowledge them and offer thanks in the midst. Help me express the gratitude of my heart to You in words and movments toward You. Amen.

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Never Worry About Anything


peaceful_place_wallpaper_4f3f3Anxiety is all too often my unwelcome traveling companion on the journey. I can autopilot my way into fairly high anxiety with both hands tied behind my back (which also makes me anxious). A familiar text that is also becoming an intimate friend is Paul’s counsel about anxiety in Philippians 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (vs. 6-7).”

I’m inviting into a peace that cannot be comprehended. I have a preference for things that I can grasp, but this peace is not one of those things. How do I experience this peace that I can’t wrap my arms around? Verse 6 is the counsel I pursue. Verse 7 is the fruit it produces. Sequence matters here. I must remember what is God’s fruit and what is my pursuit.

So, instead of lingering in my anxious thoughts and feelings, I can acknowledge what I am fearful of being without and ask the Father for it through Jesus. I can also give thanks that whatever it is I need will be generously provided. This way of responding to inner movements of worry and anxiety enable me to live peacefully beyond any human explanation.

Too often, my efforts to follow this counsel feel like a skeleton with no meat on the bones. Thank You, Jesus, that Your Spirit is able to re-assemble dry bones and knit muscle and flesh into them. May your Spirit knit muscle of willing action onto the bones of my intentions. Amen.

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Psalm 27: Things I Don’t Want From God


Psalm 27:9-12
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;

you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

David prays, “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger.” Surely there is part of David that knows God would never abandon him. But, perhaps in the midst of attack and danger, he feels an absence of God and his help. Perhaps he wonders whether the bad things happening to him are caused by his own many failings and shortcomings, and so prays, “Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.”

I know the sense of God’s apparent absence, rejection or abandonment. There are times when outward troubles and inward angst tempt me to believe that God has finally had enough of me and has decided to try His hand with someone else. Rather than pretend I don’t feel this way, it’s better, like David, to simply pray these feelings to God. I bring those feelings together with my proclamation of God as helper and Savior. I affirm that even if I were forsaken by the human loved ones who should never abandon me (mother, father, siblings, wife, sons?), the Lord will always receive me, welcome me, embrace me.

In such places, it makes good sense to ask Him to guide me and counsel me, to “teach me Your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.” I don’t want my enemy to have any grounds for accusation or condemnation. I want to be free of footholds of guilt or shame that he might take in my life.

What do my foes desire? Like Jesus’s description of the evil one in John 10, they come only to kill, steal and destroy. What he can’t murder, he takes. What he can’t take, he makes useless for anyone else to enjoy. He has no interest in life or living. He only desires to take life away from everyone else. And, like the false witness David speaks of, He is fine with lying to get what he wants.

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Psalm 27: A Heart That Listens


 Psalm 27:8 (NLT):
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
      And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

This passage raises many good questions for me: Is my heart perceiving the Lord’s personal invitation to come and talk with Him? Am I sensing just how wanted I am in His presence? Am I counting on His strong desire for my company? Do I feel this when I rise in the early hours of the morning, or is my anxiety evidence that I really believe He harbors frustration or disappointment towards me? Do I believe that my failures in doing good or my offenses in having done wrong are foremost in His mind when He thinks of me or sees me? Am I failing to experience Him as the gentle, gracious, merciful, forgiving God that He actually is? Do I see Him as fully committed to helping me awaken fully from all of the deceptions that currently capture my thinking and my imagination? These things are true. I want to know them as true in my very body.

Enable me to be a person truly and deeply focused on the one thing of dwelling in Your presence wherever I go and whatever I do. Forgive when I focus on my own imperfections rather than on Your perfections.

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