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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Psalm 27: Confidence in God


A while back, I reflected and journaled a few thoughts on the first few verses of Psalm 27:

Psalm 27:1-3
The LORD is my light and my salvation —
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

This is a David psalm. It’s personal (my, me, I). The Lord, today, is my light, my salvation, my stronghold. He may be this for many people around the world, but David reminds me that He is this personally with me…today. I am not trapped in darkness because the Lord is my light. I am not helpless and hopeless because the Lord is my salvation. I am not exposed and defenseless because the Lord is my salvation.

And the main truth here is that there is no threat that can confront me that will cause me any true harm. There is no one I need be afraid of because of the Lord with me.

David doesn’t say “The Lord might be my light,” or “The Lord is willing to be my light.” It simply said “is.” Is-ness is simple confidence. I am not trying to manufacture or produce something. God simply is One Who enlightens me, saves me and keeps me safe.

David goes on to describe what looks to me like escalating threats.

  • Advance against to devour (threat)
  • Attacked (action)
  • Besieged by a whole army (threat)
  • A war actually breaks out (action)

Many of my fears are an envisioning of some possible future threat. Nothing can threaten me harm that the Lord cannot show me (light), save me from (salvation), or protect me from (stronghold).

Verse 2 says “when.” Verse 3 says “though.” ‘When’ sounds like an expected future event. “Though” sounds like a possible future threat. Even in the face of mounting threats and attacks, David finds confidence (3) in the Lord. Confidence. Dictionary phrases that help me envision what David means by confidence include:

  • a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances. (In David’s case, the reliance is on the Lord)
  • faith or belief that another will act in a right, proper, or effective way. David directs this faith or belief towards the Lord.
  • the quality or state of being certain; certitude. David has a sense of certainty that there was no threat or attack that would harm Him with the Lord on his side.
  • a relation of trust or intimacy. David entrusts himself to the Lord. He feels safe and secure in God’s presence.

Like Gideon and Moses when the Lord gave them an assignment that felt daunting and overwhelming, confidence didn’t come as they considered their own capabilities or resources. It came as they realized more deeply that God Himself was going with them. They weren’t alone or abandoned. They had the light of God with them. They knew the Lord would rescue them Himself. They grew in confidence that God would be a safe, secure place for them to live their lives.

I am growing in this confidence as well as I learn that there is no threat of harm in my life that has escaped the Lord’s notice. He sees more clearly than I do just what hardships and threats have come our way.

I am struck, too, that David assumes that when there is a confrontation with his enemies, it will be them who “stumble and fall.” I often assume that in a confrontation with my enemies, I will be ashamed or harmed somehow. I want to feel the confidence David feels as he proclaims that the Lord is his God–a Light, Salvation and a Stronghold.

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Soul Care Question #5: Unconditional Love?


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[Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?]

If Paul’s questions begin with favor and generosity, it makes sense that his finale would be  the love of God: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (35a). The familiar passage continues: “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:35b-39).”

The question of God’s love is the most basic one of all. What might come between me and Christ’s deep care for me? My own failures? But Paul says no ‘depth’ will separate me from God’s love in Christ. There is no trouble, difficulty, opposition, scarcity, exposure, or threat that can rise up and block the effective care of Jesus for me. Nothing. Never. Period. I am empowered to live my life as a conquerer through Jesus. I can even be “more than a conqueror.”

But even with these assuring words, I feel the twin temptations rise up with questions of their own: “What have you failed to do that would increase God’s love for you?” and “What have you done that will diminish God’s love for you?” If I focus on what I feel are God’s disappointed expectations or realizations, I will fail to rest confidently in unfailing love. I don’t want to waste one moment allowing corrosive questions like these to linger.

There is nothing—no thing—anytime or anywhere that Jesus will ever allow to come between you and Him. His love will always overcome whatever threatens to make a gap in your relationship with Him. He is always and actively closing that gap. It doesn’t exist from his side, even if it seems to from ours. Am I living as though there were something I could do that would diminish the potency, power or presence of the love of Father, Son and Spirit for me? Do I really think I’m that powerful? Silly. Very silly.

Paul wrote something about the love of God that help me here:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Jesus, your death for me and for other ungodly persons like me was evidence of the depth of your love. It was never based on our goodness or our remarkable performance. It might have made some sense for you to die for a worthy person, but you loved enough to die for an unworthy person like me. I haven’t done anything to deserve such status. But I can’t do anything to undeserve it either. It is a gift that I want to keep on receiving.

So, more surely than water runs downhill, the love of Jesus flows towards me. More surely than the sun rises each and every morning of my life, the love of Jesus rises me meet me in every moment. More surely than there is air for me to breath in every moment, there is always the love of Jesus for me to rest in.

RESPONSE: “How can God’s love be unfailing in light of what I’ve done? Of what’s been done to me?” What in my life threatens to put distance between me and the Father’s love? How does the Father answer those nagging voices, “He would love me more if…” or “He loves me less now that…”

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Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?


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[Soul Care Question #3: Unending Justification?]

Paul has raised questions about God’s favor, God’s generosity and God’s lack of accusation towards us. His fourth question? “Who then is the one who condemns (8:34a)? Paul goes on to respond to that question by answering, “No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Not only am I not accused, but I am not condemned. Who will have the power to condemn me when Ultimate Justice has acquitted me? No one will. Accusers will accuse and condemners will condemn, but I need not listen to such words. I could foolishly listen and give credence to them. But, they haven’t any substance in reality. Jesus Christ has proven His love, taken my penalty, and sits in authority now. He is still speaking up for my cause. He is still stands in my defense. If the evil one seeks to condemn, Jesus defends me and refuses to listen to such empty charges. Jesus is actively for me and seeking my good. It feels good when someone cares enough to take action for my good. Jesus is doing this for me all the time.

Some mornings I awake with a sense of uneasiness. It is a kind of accusing, even condemning feeling. As I reflect on that feeling now, I wonder why I wouldn’t have easily connected these Romans 8 questions about “Who will accuse?” or “Who will condemn?” with this feeling. It isn’t a feeling that rings true in the light of these queries. It is a feeling that strikes me as untrue, unreal, and unreliable. I must awake to this and trust in the intercession of Jesus for me that cannot be diminished or taken from me.

RESPONSE: Can I come to a place where I am quicker to assume the reality of this truth and slower to give any weight to feelings of accusation or condemnation? Of course I can. Will I? How might I rehearse these truths in a way that deepens my reliance on Jesus? How might I keep my ear open to the accepting words of Jesus towards me? Am I letting another voice condemn me when the Supreme Court has delivered it’s final verdict of “Not Guilty”?

[Soul Care Question #5: Unconditional Love?]

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Soul Care Question #3: Unending Justification?


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[Soul Care Question #2: Untold Generosity?]

Paul’s first two questions in Romans 8:31-39 dealt with God’s favor and generosity. But what happens when we do something wrong? Doesn’t this call God’s favor and generosity into question or change God’s orientation? For this reason, Paul’s third question is, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” (8:33)

Paul basically says that if God has completely justified us through Jesus, and if God is the Divine Supreme Court, then what authority will be able to effectively level a charge against us? When I’ve been acquitted by the highest court of all, then no prosecutor in any lower court has a leg to stand on in bringing a charge against me. There is no higher authority to which he could appeal. Whatever there is to be justified has already been justified. And the Father has already justified me today through Jesus. I am not hopeless or helpless. I am unaccusable. By generous grace, I am right with God. There isn’t anything wrong between us anymore. Do I believe this? Do I trust this?

RESPONSE: So if the Father does not accuse me, what business do I have accusing myself or allowing someone else to do so? Where are you tempted to listen to accusing voices in the back of your mind? What do you suspect God is still holding against you? Can you see the smiling, accepting face of Jesus saying, “That’s old business. Let’s leave that behind us alright?”

[Soul Care Question #4: Unceasing Intercession?]

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