Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Love Note From the Shepherd

I've been slowly re-working through W. Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 for about a year, picking it up off and on as I’ve felt led. Keller’s experience as a shepherd provides a ton of practical insight into this particular Psalm, which is a favorite for many. He takes each phrase from the Psalm and expands on it with experienced tenderness and wisdom.

I’ve been praying Psalm 23 on a daily basis for a long time now. Since I still so often wake up scared and alone, as an orphaned sinner needing to be found again, it helps me solidly reorient myself to the place of being found in God’s kingdom of love on a daily basis. This has become a precious habit for me. As needed, I continue to pray it throughout the day, using various translations and paraphrases in an attempt to keep it fresh and connected to my actual heart and mind experiences.

This Psalm is slowly becoming a part of the fabric of my inner life in that it has expanded my imagination immensely as I walk with God in his green pastures and still waters. When I’m rooted and established in it and the symbolic world it opens up to me, I can (sometimes!) see grass under my feet and wide open blue sky above me, regardless of where I am.

Last night I was reading a section under “You rod and your staff – they comfort me,” (23:4) and I came across this precious section:

“Sometimes I have been fascinated to see how a shepherd will actually hold his staff against the side of some sheep that is a special pet or favorite, simply so that they are ‘in touch.’ . . . It is He [the Spirit] who gently, tenderly, but persistently says to us, ‘This is the way - walk in it.’ And as we comply and cooperate with His gentle promptings, a sense of safety, comfort, and well-being envelops us. . . . Through Him I am ‘in touch’ with Christ. There steals over me the keen awareness that I am His and He is mine. The gracious Spirit continually brings home to me the acute consciousness that I am God’s child and He is my Father. In all of this there is enormous comfort and a sublime sense of ‘oneness,’ of ‘belonging,’ of ‘being in His care,’ and hence the object of His special affection.” (Pp. 121-22, emphasis mine)

This vision of walking along together in constant touch with my tender and strong Shepherd captivates me! It is necessary for a sheep to comply and cooperate with the Shepherd’s love in order for “comfort and well-being” to be experienced. Sheep are so stubborn though! This cooperative trust takes practice, especially with sheep as stubborn and wounded as I (as anyone reading my blog can attest!). I am starting to experience his wise and tender goodness though, attending me through most of my days (at least more than I did 5 years ago!).

Through this steady “walking together” I find I am experiencing more of the Shepherd’s love, care and attention. I also am being changed, into His image and likeness. On rare occasion I can say, “I am one of his favorites and he is very fond of me!”

I too, have sheep following me (not least of which are my children), and I can see the Shepherd’s hand on mine as I shepherd them. It will take a lifetime, it seems, to re-learn ways of trust and surrender. I’m thankful he’s not in any hurry.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ragamuffin: The Movie

My wife and I were privileged to see Ragamuffin: The Movie last night in Louisville, KY. The story is a powerful re-telling of the life and music of Rich Mullins, warts and all.

The story of Rich Mullins is compelling because I sense the need for a larger kind of life and understanding of God that is beyond rule-keeping and is at the same time true and authentic to what the common person (i.e., real actual broken people!) experience in day to day life. Rich was a prophet who reminds us that Jesus let go of all his riches to come and live with us in our weakest and most needy places. Rich could never identify with the strong, glorious Jesus of most churches and Christians. He sought fellowship with the ragamuffin Jesus who identifies with the poor and weak.

Rich had a father wound the size of Indiana and could not easily find God in the midst of it. Song writing seemed to be good therapy for him. He did find God deeply enough and often enough to genuinely experience healing in the love of God and pave the way for many others to experience the same. I would argue that a whole generation of “ragamuffin song-writers” would not have emerged without Rich paving the way in Nashville and beyond. I think of artists such as Andrew Peterson, Jill Phillips, JJ Heller, Jason Gray and Matthew Perryman Jones, and many others. It can be said that the decisions we make chart a course for those who come after us, and Rich certainly charted a course by the decisions he made. It can also be said that the wounds we bear and sins we battle as we cling to Jesus chart a course for other “losers” to follow.

As I reflect on the film, I want to pick out two themes that struck me as especially powerful.

The Experiential Reality of Jesus as Experienced through his Disciples

First, during an interview in the film Rich revealed that he didn’t become a Christian because someone explained all the “nuts and bolts” to him; rather he became a Christian because people were willing to be the “nuts and bolts” to him in personal relationship. He experienced Jesus through his people, and this more than anything else convinced him of the reality of Jesus and his love. Dallas Willard talked about this recently in a way that I think Rich would appreciate (my apologies for the long quote!).

How are we to think about Jesus’s presence today? No doubt volumes could be written on that question, and have been. But the simple fact is that Jesus Christ is present in this world, the only world we have, and in many ways. His teachings, even mangled and broken, have an incredible power to disrupt human systems, including the ones that claim to own him. He is the misfit and thus is available to all who would seek him. His crucifixion and resurrection announce the end of human systems and stand in judgment over them. He is the man on the cross calling us to join him there. He makes himself available to individuals who hear of him and seek him. In many forms both inside and outside the church, with its traditions, symbolisms, and literature, he is simply here among us. He is in his people, but he does not allow himself to be boxed in by them. He calls to us by just being here in our midst. There is nothing like him. The people in the churches also have the option of finding him and following him into his kingdom, though that may rarely be what they are doing.

For many today who think of themselves as educated, historical studies and “higher criticism”—perhaps something they call a “scientific” outlook—have made the person and teachings of Jesus problematic. From where they start, he seems a questionable resource for actually living their lives. He may become for them  a scholarly football to kick around or to ignore. But he does not go away. In spite of all, he himself is still available in this world, and beyond all historical issues and confusions there stands a strong if somewhat hazy impression of what he stood for. To come to know him and to clarify who he really is, people have only to stand for what he stood for, as best they can, and to do so by inviting him to take their life into his life and walk with them. If they do just this with humility and openness—which everyone knows to be his manner of life—they will know him more and more as they take his life to be their life. In this way they do not have to “know” at the start. It is enough to venture on the kingdom of God and its King. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).. . . Jesus himself comes through and affirms his reality in the “communion of the Christian with God.” Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, 147-8.

The Raw Undiluted Love of God as the Only Gospel Worth Living and Building On

Second, Rich came to find refuge in the love of God, largely thanks to the ministry of Brennan Manning and his “Ragamuffin Gospel.” This gospel emphasizes the unconditional love of God as the only viable basis for self-understanding and purpose in life. “God loves us as we are, not as we should be, because none of us is as we should be,” Brennan would frequently say. Brennan challenged Rich to trust in this love, and provided opportunities to do so in their relationship.

In the end, Rich’s story is about the rock-solid reality of the love of Jesus, within reach of every single person who is willing to believe that they are loved by God, and to shape their lives in response to that love. Having an “Oregon-sized” father wound of my own, I wept as I followed Rich’s journey with Jesus as he found healing and release. The ragamuffin Jesus finds us and puts us back together in ways that are messy but deeply life changing and profound.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just As I Am

After my journey into deep pain earlier today, I found deep and sweet refuge in this song by Andrew Peterson from his album Love and Thunder.

Just as I Am
What's that on the ground?
It's what's left of my heart
Somebody named Jesus broke it to pieces
And planted the shards

And they're coming up green,
And they're coming in bloom
I can hardly believe this is all coming true

Just as I am and just as I was
Just as I will be He loves me, He does
He showed me the day that
He shed His own blood
He loves me, oh He loves me, He does

All of my life I've held on to this fear
These thistles and vines ensnare and entwine
What flowers appeared
It's the fear that I'll fall one too many times
It's the fear that His love is no better than mine
(but He tells me that)

Just as I am and just as I was
Just as I will be He loves me, He does
He showed me the day that
He shed His own blood
He loves me, oh He loves me, He does
He loves me, oh, He loves me, He does

Well it's time now to harvest what little that grew
This man they call Jesus, who planted the seeds
Has come for the fruit
And the best that I've got isn't nearly enough
He's glad for the crop, but it's me that He loves

Copyright 2003 New Spring Publishing, Inc.

You can listen to it here.

Irretrievably Broken and Tenaciously Held

A friend posted on Facebook this short clip from the old Will Smith series, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was one of my favorite shows when it aired.

This particular clip shows James Avery comforting Will Smith when Will’s Dad bails on him – yet again. Will Smith’s character goes through all his survival mechanisms, through rage and despair, until he is a mess.

So many emotions are stirred in me watching this. I can relate to the anger, the confusion, the despair. Have a watch for yourself:

How come he don’t want me, man??

This is the core question of every man betrayed, rejected and abandoned by his father. As I’ve grown older, I realize that my Dad loved me the best he could, and I regularly forgive him with God’s help. This doesn’t change the fact that he indeed did betray me, reject me and abandon me. He made choices that deeply ingrained within me thoughts, feelings and actions of an abandoned orphan, left on his own to navigate a dark and scary world.

As much as I relate to the pain of this episode and the reality to which it points, what strikes me even more deeply is how James Avery (Uncle Phil) steps in to help Will deal with the loss. He knows he can’t be his father, can’t undo what’s been done, but he offers himself – utterly - without reserve, in love and care for this broken boy before him.

This is just what our heavenly Father does. This is what the disciple of Jesus can count on, rely on, have confidence in.

I can’t count how many times I’ve raged against my Dad in the arms of Jesus. The boy who was rejected and abandoned at age 9 had no categories for processing what was happening, nor was there anyone to step in to guide me. I didn’t feel permission at the time to be angry with my Dad, so all my fury turned inward toward myself. Self-hatred became the way I managed my kingdom, the way I survived. If I could hate myself enough, perhaps no one would ever leave me again. Twisted, eh?

How come he don’t want me, man??

Jesus is the only safe place for me to rage. Invective pours out like a sacrifice of bile. Once the raging does it’s work, Jesus’ persistent presence washes over me with an acceptance that is unmoving, a love that cannot be shaken by my violent sobs. There, in that place, I rest - in his strong and loving arms – deeply broken, shattered, splintered, stretched and agonizingly empty. But I am also at the same time held together, held tight, loved with a love stronger than any earthly force, more than mountains are high and oceans are deep.

Jesus, I don’t know why my Dad left, why he rejected me and our family. I’ll never understand it. I give up trying to understand it, I give up trying to mask the pain, trying to appear strong, trying to make life work. I give up.

I abandon myself into your loving arms. I surrender to your love.

I trust with ruthless confidence that you will never leave me or forsake me, never betray or reject me. All of reality itself would unravel before that happens. I rest in your strong, loving arms. Here I am safe, free and dearly loved. This is better news than any orphan could ever imagine! Train my arms to hold others Jesus, with the love that is holding me now and forever.

Thank you for wanting me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pledge of the Apprentice (short version)

I am working on a longer version of this prayer/pledge that teases out the assumptions and vision that make it possible. [update: I have posted the longer version here.] For now, I wanted to post the pledge in its simple shortened form. I’ve been praying it for several months now, more regularly since December 2013 and am finding great benefit to my soul with God. I pray through this daily as well as the abandonment prayer I posted on January 1, 2014.

I should note that I got this from a bookmark printed by a church I used to attend (Sojourn Community Church). It was at a time when Dallas Willard’s vision flooded this particular church and so his hands are all over this as well. I have no idea where they got it; web searches to find an original source have failed.

I apprentice myself to Jesus in order to live eternally now;

to become the kind of person who does what he did and says the things he said in his confident, peaceful manner.

I commit myself to learning this.

I intend to be with Him (through the Holy Spirit) doing the necessary and appropriate things (means of grace) for apprehending this new kind of life.

I do this for the sake of God;

to work with Him as he extends the loving rule and reign of His kingdom to others.

I do not do this to earn or merit anything; it is my simple, but passionate cooperation.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Some of My Favorite 2013 Facebook Moments

I was looking at my Facebook account and saw the option to see my “2013 Year in Review.” I was curious, so I clicked on the link. I was struck by some of the statements I’ve made, both funny and serious, and felt blessed yet again at how God has been working in my life.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a strange mix of contemplative jokester who listens to both Metallica and Andrew Peterson (not all at the same time though). My FB posts were a pretty good representation of that!

For your amusement and pondering:


Great grace can only thrive where there is great need. Most of us do not experience great grace because we're not willing to share how needy we are, with God and with others.


Tebow going to the Patriots is kind of like Luke Skywalker going to intern for Emperor Palpatine.


Relax. The one who began your story will finish it. (Phil 1:6; Heb 12:1-3)


The one chiefly disturbed by your lack of progress is you. Jesus is quite relaxed and confident. Rest in that.


It's a special kind of friendship when God crushes two people and they find grace in the rubble of each other's brokenness.


Ok, folks, scratch one item off my bucket list: had my first TV interview a few minutes ago (not really on my bucket list, but hey, it sounds good). I was interviewed by Wave 3 here in Louisville about seeing the meteor this morning. This was my script, carefully crafted for maximum impact:

"I walked outside and saw somethin'; I said, Lord Jesus, it's a meteor!! Aint nobody got time for dat!"

The cameraman seemed quite impressed.


Feasting on the goodness of God today, regardless of what's on the table.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee

I found this hymn by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) full of sweet imagery to reflect on. The love of Jesus is the heart of all true spirituality.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

(courtesy of CyberHymnal)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

My Prayer for 2014

My hearts desire for 2014 is summed up well in a prayer by Charles de Foucauld, a Catholic priest of the 19th century. Here is some background on who he was, provided by Interrupting the Silence.

Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg on September 15, 1858. He grew up in an aristocratic family. He served as a French army officer in Algeria but left the army in 1882 and went as an explorer to Morocco.

In 1890 he joined the Trappist order, but left in 1897 to follow an as yet undefined religious vocation. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1901. Thereafter he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to “shout the Gospel with his life”. “I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

He wanted to establish a new religious order and wrote several rules for this religious life. This new order, the Little Brothers of Jesus, however, would not become a reality until after his death.

Charles de Foucauld was shot to death by rebels December 1, 1916. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 13, 2005 and is considered a martyr of the Roman Catholic Church.

The prayer by de Foucauld captures the surrender I seek to cultivate in this coming year. It is the way of the child, the way of Jesus with his Abba in the Kingdom of the Heavens. In the previous year I have tasted sweet waters as I have risked surrendering to Jesus more fully, and am emboldened to continue this more fully in the coming year. May you find comfort and direction in it as well, dear friends!


I abandon myself into your hands;

do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready for all, I accept all.


Let only your will be done in me,

and in all your creatures -

I wish no more than this, O Lord.


Into your hands I commend my soul:

I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,

for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,

and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.