Sunday, August 26, 2012


Someone explained to me recently that the word "repent" in the Bible is quite different from our popular conception. It means so, so much more than merely "stop that sinning!" 

Repent in the New Testament sense means to agree with God. We see that somewhat in confession: yeah, you're right, I was wrong. But really it has a much deeper and more wonderful sense. Repent means agree to the extent that you are seeing yourself and the situation through God's perspective. It means coming to see your behavior, your situation, and the world around you through His eyes.

That's what daily Bible reading is really about. As we read God's word we begin to see things from his perspective. "Man sees the outward appearance but the LORD sees the heart." We are more saddened and disturbed by our sins. We are less afraid of other people's opinions and more in awe of God. Even if the mountains shake and fall into the heart of the sea we will not fear. 

Could this be what Jesus was getting at as he wandered Judea shouting "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" We turn from our sins because we come to agree with God and see them from his perspective.

That's why daily Bible study is so important. It's not an exercise in devotion. It's a process of coming to see our situations and selves and world through God's eyes, to think like Him, to have His priorities and heart.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Holy Impudence

No matter the dung clinging to your clothes, no matter the mistakes you are horribly and secretly ashamed of, let nothing stop you from running to your eternal Father.  Run right up to him in your filthy glory and fall shamelessly at his feet for grace to help in your time of need.  Notice it is grace we are offered--an unmerited favor or helping hand.  It is not merited at all.

Lift up your chin, lift up your eyes with even a sparkle in them because you know something of the great love hiding in the heart of God himself for you.  In your worst failures still come boldly, confidently, almost shamelessly into the very throne room of heaven because you have had a magnificent secret whispered in your ear. You, grubby street urchin that you are, are beloved by God, shamelessly loved by Him, so much so that He gave himself completely for you to save you from the very sins you need mercy for.

In fact, the way to God's displeasure is to shrink back, to skulk with modesty in the bushes with fig leaves trying to cover your shame. No. Let the fig leaves drop. Come marching in all your hairy sinfulness straight in to the Court and say: Look at the mess I've made again! And will not the Father smile such a smile as to light heaven and earth, and will He not take you straight to the bathtub and scrub every stain from His child again?

Perhaps to us our sad mistaken lives seem a never-ending series of mistakes. But to the eternal God, they are but a few days of crawling before we learn to stand and walk without stumbling with him forever.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hearing Voices

I don't have a job right now, and sometimes I feel a little unmotivated.  Today, for instance, I'm at a friend's house pottering around.  My wife is out of town, and I woke up late, after ten.  I rolled around on the sofa pull-out mattress, grunting.  At last I got up, sipped a little coffee. I opened a book by Anne Lamott and read a few pages. I wandered around the apartment, like a bear emerging from its hibernation cave.  Finally I popped in a sci-fi movie and watched about thirty minutes of it.

Maybe you're thinking: "Boy, this guy really needs to get a job. He's really wasting his time."  And let me tell you something more. God had indicated he wanted me to spend today praying for a friend of mine.  I've managed a couple short prayers so far, just an indistinct batch of sentences. It was about all I could manage.

Then I decided to do the dishes.  I collected them from where they were scattered around the house in crusty glory. I scrubbed them, feeling the warm water flow energetically over my hands.  The pots banged as I wiped them out with a soapy washcloth and rinsed them in the sink.  I tidied up books and clothing and papers around the house. Then I did stop and pray for my friend: for about five or eight minutes.  And I read some more of the Anne Lamott book.

Today while I potter around there are a lot of "voices" speaking to me.  Here's what one of them is quietly saying: "You're a loser, you're a washed up guy, you're just pretending to be a writer. You're mind is grimy and your body is getting fat and lazy. You're stuck in the mud. You have all this time to do useful things but you just waste it. You're the equivalent of a leech on society."  I'm just telling you what those voices have to say.  But I don't pay much attention to those voices, most of the time, because I found a new Voice a few years ago.  It was like dialing a radio tuner, but suddenly one day the channel started to come in.  The Voice on that channel said, "You are special to me. You are one-of-a-kind. I gave my life for you and I did it gladly.  I have such great plans for you, in this life and the next. You're the apple of my eye and I'm so proud of you. I'm proud that you took the time to come visit your friend. I'm happy you got to read this great book by Anne. I'm pleased that you did the dishes and tidied up the house. And I'm terribly proud that you are concerned about a friend of yours and want to spend the day praying for him.  I'm pleased as punch, Daniel. Hang in there!" The Voice didn't seem to pay attention to a single one of my failures.

I'm telling you, it's a pretty good radio station.  That's why I feel a sense of peace as I loaf around this apartment. I know I'll get a job one of these days, but I've also learned recently that having a job is not what makes us human or even what gives true value to our life.  I am thankful for this day, for the quietness of this room, for the clean dishes, for the few minutes I managed to pray. I think you can notice people who listen to the Old radio station too often. They look beat down, jumpy, on edge. That's cause the old radio station is never planning to say they are good enough.  It's unreasonably critical.  And if this New radio station is unreasonably supportive, I'm not going to complain. I probably wouldn't even be writing this entry if I couldn't hear that comforting, counseling Voice. I hope you can tune into this channel on your radio, too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

POEM: Day Seven

Evening cool settled on the warm world
Flowers' fragrance rising in the fog
Cicadas playing their first night's song.

The Artist sat back from his canvas, well-satisfied
Angels craned their necks for a better look and then
Covered their glowing eyes with wings and shouted praise
Tuning ten-million voices to the wheeling stars.

God blessed the seventh day with rest and holiness,
Silence and seeking, a day to lay on the chest of God and breathe.
Creation was all done and just begun.

If You Call the Sabbath a Delight

When I was a young boy, Sunday was a bother.  There were certain things I wasn't allowed to do, and the day as a whole seemed a little stuffy.

Now it is often my favorite day of the week.  Sunday for me is the equivalent of sleeping in, watching cartoons and eating pancakes.  Here are a few things that have turned Sunday (technically not the Sabbath anyway--Saturday was) into a joy.

1. Personally, I like to follow the old Jewish method and start my Sabbath on Saturday evening, and end it on Sunday evening. By the end of Saturday I'm pretty exhausted, ready for a break from work.  By the evening of Sunday, I'm refreshed, starting to think about the week ahead, ready to accomplish a few things before Monday morning. 

2. A good tradition, unlike a bad one, can be exciting.  Jewish people often remember very fondly the process of the Mother lighting the Sabbath candles as the family came together to start the Shabbat.  For me, on Saturday evening sometimes I like to say a prayer of thanks for the week past, and eat some Sabbath ice cream. The ice cream is very important.  On Sunday evening, before I begin working again, I will sometimes listen or sing a hymn or two, then pray for the week to come, committing it to God.

3. I TRY not to have any hard and fast rules about what can and can't be done on a Sabbath. After all, the day was made for us, we were not made for the day.  Activities that are fun, rejuvenating are great. I try to avoid duties that I do the rest of the week.  Anything that feels like "you must do this" and there is an inward groan--you are free from that today!  Answering the long backpile of emails, cleaning the house, studying for that test, baking all those dishes for supper, finding receipts to do your taxes--GOD has given you a "get out of jail free" card from them for this one day a week.  And resist your flesh that whips at you and says "if you had been more responsible earlier in the week, you could take a day off, but now you have to work to catch up."  No. God's "get out of jail free" card trumps that. But notice the distinction. It's not saying you CAN'T clean the house and do your taxes. It's saying YOU ARE FREE NOT TO. If you are doing them out of a sense of misery and duty--God at least is not going to be clicking his tongue at you for not working on them today.

4. I like kicking back on a sofa, napping, reading some encouraging books on Sunday afternoon.  Watching football games all afternoon might be relaxing for a while, but spending some time with God, although a discipline, is far more refreshing.  Do you feel the balance?  Kicking back, letting your hair down, having fun playing Sorry with your family or reading a book in solitude--and resting you heart with a secret smile on God. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

POEM: Why Do the Angels Keep Singing?

Nha Trang Beach, Vietnam, January 2004

God, I hear the Hallelujah chorus

and the angels crying glory.

But with my eyes I only see a crippled boy,

peddling a tricycle with his hands to sell his peanuts

to tourists.

Why do the angels keep singing

as though they can't see the sadness

in this world?

But now I remember that You came here

to our broken earth, and touched

the cripples, and wept at death, and died and rose.

Angels, keep singing for my Jesus.