September 30

Jesus told his disciples that if their faith was the size of a mustard seed – it was enough. Really? Like those greedy disciples of old, I often think my problem is that I need MORE of something. More faith. More discipline. More maturity. More cooperation. More. More. More.

What if all this wanting and needing is distracting me, leading me down blind alleys, driving me off-course and into choppy waters?

I heard Neil Anderson tell his life story once, which he punctuated with this line, “When I realized that all I had in my life was God, I discovered he was all I needed.” This sounds remarkably like what my friend learned on her 27 day journey through the valley of the shadow of death.

What if today we practiced “less” rather than “more” living?

Today, could we practice fragility – and faith? What if today is good enough? Can you find the gratitude in the “less” than of today? No asking for “more!” – just for today. See what happens.


September 29

22 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!

23 They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

24 I think: The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him.

25 The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the person who seeks him.

26 It’s good to wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance.

27 It’s good for a man to carry a yoke in his youth.

Lamentations 3:22-27, CEB

We’ve been talking for a number of days about the nature of memory in faith, and the role that plays in the times of life where we feel we are in “darkness”. I suspect the author of Lamentations knows what we’ve been talking about all too well.

There’s some irony to these verses, especially verse 26. You see, in Lamentations, the last thing the author has done is wait in silence. In fact, pretty much the whole book is a complaint. 4 of the 5 chapters (chapter 3 being the exception) are complaints about what God has failed to do. These chapters express fears and anxieties about what’s going to happen. They beg God for help. They’re painfully honest and contagiously sad. And that’s okay. In fact, we should do that from time to time. But, because of this, some people have even argued that chapter 3 shouldn’t be a part of Lamentations- it’s so unlike those other chapters it must be a fake! I personally think that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Chapter 3 may be the key chapter in the whole book. In the midst of everything the authors deal with in Lamentations, they still find a way to keep their history with God in front of them. They struggle, doubt, waver, and, yet, in the midst of the bleakness we find hope. Lamentations does not end on a cheery note, chapter 3 is right smack dab in the middle of the book. But isn’t that how life is? We have up’s and down’s. We have hope sometimes and not others. Rarely do these things happen in well-organized or structured ways. They happen when they happen, and I think Lamentations is an honest reflection of that.

Whatever place you’re in today, whether that’s darkness or light, hope or hopelessness, try to keep your whole past in front of you. If you’re hopeful, remember the times of hopelessness and you may appreciate today even more. If you’re hopeless, remember the times of hope and keep holding on. Call a trusted friend and share your life with them. Discuss the struggle. Maybe they’ll have a little bit of hope you can borrow.


September 28

In a dark time, the eye begins to see. Theodore Roethke

Scott talked about his own depression in this month’s devotional. No one wants the gift of depression, but having experienced it, I think Scott makes a case for it having been a good teacher. It’s not just about the lessons he learned- and of course, there were many of those.

When we struggle with something like depression, or a kid gone missing, or a marital crisis – whatever we face, it fundamentally changes us. No one whose spouse has betrayed them ever unlearns what it feels like to lose trust. They may rebuild and restore the marriage. They may even some day (God willing) talk about how the incidence of infidelity ultimately taught them how much they valued their marriage. But the bell never gets unrung.

For some, it makes us “more” – it accentuates the personality traits we’ve demonstrated from an early age. For others, it becomes a refining experience. The word that comes to mind is – fragile. Those of us who have had a drop-to-your-knees in despair experience may forever be more fragile after they realize that life can change on a dime.

In our be strong or go home world, fragile isn’t good unless it’s stamped on a box delivered to our door with a cool gift inside. Fragile is associated with weak, not well.

But the kingdom of God has always been about turning this world upside down and shaking out the loose change from our pants pockets.

Fragile, in the kingdom of God, is precious. Like fine china, or the most delicate crystal, fragile is expensive. Maybe another word for fragile is vulnerable. Vulnerable people learn to be honest about who they are and what’s up with them.

Here’s what I know about vulnerable people: they don’t take anything for granted, they appreciate the ordinary, they don’t have the energy to judge, they are grateful for good enough days, they can sit with suffering, and they can sit with others who are in need of companionship.

Do you know anyone whose own life experiences has left them brittle and hard? More certain? More rigid and self-righteous? That’s the opposite of vulnerable.

Maybe today we can sit with the possibility that fragility and vulnerability aren’t bad, they may be evidence of healing and transformation.


September 27

12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.”

15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.”

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:12-17, CEB

We’ve been talking about the struggle to remember what God has done and to use that as a basis for faith when we’re struggling in life. A few days ago, I wrote that I struggle to use God’s past actions as proof that He’ll act again. I don’t remember what the paper was on, but I wrote this general idea in one of my papers in seminary. Next to that comment, my professor wrote, “Interesting.”

Any time he wrote “interesting”, it meant that he either disagreed, or hadn’t thought of that idea before. And there isn’t an idea in the world he hasn’t thought of. So I had to ask myself, “Why does he disagree?” It makes perfect sense to me that people struggle to have confidence in God’s ability to act. It makes sense to me that we would be afraid that, at any given time, He might stop acting. Why would he disagree?

I suspect it’s not that my professor struggles to understand these fears and anxieties. I think he’s probably just overcome them in a way that I really admire. I suspect he learned a long time ago what I wrote a few days ago: all we have to use for the basis of our faith is the past. God constantly tells His people to take faith because He’s acted in their lives before. I suspect my professor has internalized this in a way I have yet to do.

I suspect this is something many of us struggle with. We struggle to continue to believe when times get tough. We may maintain our belief in God, but just doubt He’s going to do anything for us.

I hope one day to be able to believe with confidence that will act simply because He has done it before.


September 26

Yesterday we said that God’s presence in all its various manifestations helps us make sense of our lives. Certainly it provides us opportunities to repent, to make changes, to adjust our own lifestyle choices.

But I think we need God’s presence for more than providing coaching for a self-improved life.

My friend’s son was missing for 27 days. There aren’t enough principles in the world to have propped up my friend and her family while they waited for their prodigal son to return home. Or not. Oh sure, I’m confident people may have tried to give her some words of encouragement to rally around – we humans do that sort of thing. But let’s be honest. The boy was missing for 27 days. Think about that. 27 days.

Jesus said, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

When we really experience this loss of the human breath, life or soul (as defined by Barbara Brown Taylor when she refers to this passage), this isn’t part of the gospel that stirs the crowds and produces a chorus of “Amens!”

Taylor quotes Ken Wilber who says that this is a tough teaching, because this message isn’t about the spiritual shortfall in the world. (This suffering isn’t about anything she can or should do or not do. It’s not about the culture, or the devil, or even her boy. Focusing outside herself in this ordeal is missing the SECOND big reason we need God with us.)

What is the problem, if it isn’t the fact that this boy has gone off the grid?

The problem is in the spiritual grasping of the self. My friend figured this out. She awoke to the fact that much of her efforts to save, rescue and restore her boy to the family had more to do with how she felt, what she needed and wanted than it did helping him. This is the kind of knowing that only Princess Warriors grasp. This is deep stuff.

Her self was not made content – as Ken Wilber says, “the self is made toast”. This is the work of transformation. It was in this desert experience that my dear friend discovered the second reason God’s presence is so necessary – so that the work of transformation might be done.

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:13 NIV

But first, our “self” has to be turned into toast. My friend had to let lots of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, assumptions, hopes and dreams GO, and she had to trust in God’s presence with her and those she loves. That’s it. That’s a different kind of rest.


September 25

12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.”

15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.”

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:12-17, CEB

The other day, we talked about the fact that we struggle to remember what God has done for us. This is understandable, especially in hard times. It’s hard to draw on the past and feel that it gives us confidence in the future. Just because something has happened before doesn’t mean it will happen again, right?

I compare this mentality to the way experts use statistics in sports. For instance, in baseball, when a guy who typically hits a lot of home runs (say, Miguel Cabrera) hasn’t hit a home run in 6 or 7 games, a fan might say that Cabrera “is due”. This means he’s “due” to hit another home run. In other words, it’s bound to happen because there’s been a long drought. A baseball statistician will tell you that there is no such thing as being “due” because it can’t be statistically proved. Each home run a guy hits may be the last home run he ever hits and home runs that haven’t yet been hit cannot be predicted. That is all true.

I think the fan knows something intuitive about baseball, though. It’s not about statistics or what you can prove. We intuitively know that a guy who hits home runs with such regularity is bound to hit another at some point (until he retires anyway, but Cabrera has a number of good years left!) and we trust that will happen, even if it takes 10 games.

We’re often the same way in our faith. We fight our inner skeptic which produces doubt and tells us, “There’s no statistical evidence that God’s past actions will lead to His future actions. He’s not due.” And yet, what else do we have to go off other than intuition and faith? What else do we have to go off other than the past? Throughout the Bible, God reminds His people, “I’ve saved you before, why do you doubt me?”

I doubt because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of not being taken care of, or protected. I’m afraid of not being secure. I’m afraid that maybe I’ll find out God doesn’t exist. I’m afraid of a lot of things that keep me doubting, even though I can look at my past, and the history of God’s people, and know with confidence that He will deliver us. When I can access this kind of trust and intuition (I can’t always), I find that it very much mediates my times of darkness.

What keeps you from embracing what you’ve seen God do in the past?


September 24

Why do we need God to go with us?

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:13 NIV

One reason we need God to go with us is so that we can learn from him. Through his word, the writings of his followers, his Holy Spirit, and hearing the wisdom passed down through the generations by the faithful – God teaches us how to make sense of the world we live in within a framework of faith.

I learn from the scriptures that suffering is part of life. I notice that Job had tough times AND was considered a righteous man. I read about Joseph’s family drama, and know that families are messy. I study the life of David and Solomon and figure out that even the most faithful and wise can really make a mess of things.

When we read carefully and thoroughly, we figure out what Solomon learned ages ago – good and bad things come to us. This is life. There’s no way to go around it, we must go through it.

Our work is to take these teachings and translate them into our daily living. We cannot just read it, we have to wrestle with it. Eugene Peterson wrote a great book that used a metaphor of “eating the book” – yes, we need to do that. Digest it. Mull it over. Do the necessary work of holding up the way we live with the principles we learn – and consider what our next right step might be based on what we discover.

Are we utilizing this resource in our daily lives? In a few days, we’ll talk about another reason God goes with us.


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