Excerpt from NEW Devotional Book — Going Forward in Love

[I’m finishing a new devotional book: “Heart Journey 2: Going Forward in Love.” I plan to publish in November. Here’s an excerpt!]

Day 14

Greet the Lord as one who is dependent upon His love today.

Settle down in the presence of the One whose essence is Love. And you are His most prized possession. You have been bought for a very high price and He wants to meet with you! As you address the Lord today, express your heart to Him. No matter if you are feeling awesome or defeated or neither. Share with Him how you feel.

Read and reflect on the truth of God’s message for you.

The Apostle John wrote this letter to all people who were following Jesus. In some ways, it his gleanings from spending so much time with Jesus and being at His side most of the time. John is sharing from his personal wealth, guided by the Holy Spirit to help us live in the complexities of life and relationships. You can see John’s tenderheartedness in the language he uses to talk about the Lord and us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)

Read the passage one more time and write down a thought or two that particularly resonates with your heart.

You might want to reflect on just a few truths as you consider what this means for you.

You might want to focus your reading on a phrase at a time and read them a couple of times. Let’s do this together.

Two truths struck me. The first is “abide.” John tells us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If we abide in God, we are following and obeying Him. It has to do with respect and trust. There is a time aspect that shows up when abide is used as an adjective. God’s abiding love lasts for a very, very long time. So, we have this parallel in John’s letter that if we confess that we trust Jesus then God will stay with us forever. If we abide with Him, He will abide with us.

How does that make you feel toward God?

Do you feel pressure or anxiety? It’s possible you may feel both of those emotions. Take your feelings to God and see what He says.

The second truth that pushed me was the precept that it’s not about a hollow love or abiding. John is very clear that we can’t say, “Hey, I love God, but pretty much everybody else can take a hike!” If we say we love God and abide in Him, then we’re going to love our brothers and sisters. We’re going to take on the same love that God has for people. That’s how we show our “abiding” and “loving.”

This is a bit more difficult. I don’t naturally love everybody. How about you?

Let’s talk to God about that, too.   

Going forward in love

As you can see, this passage really brings the theme of these reflections home. “Going Forward in Love” is our mission. We don’t want to go forward pushing our own agenda and running over people. There’s no proof of our faith in Jesus in that style.

Let’s ask the Lord who needs our love today. We need His love, but who needs our love.

Lord, help us to abide and love as we go forward!

What is biblical meditation?

“Through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts and create there a dwelling place for the Spirit. Whatever we do and wherever we go, let us stay close to the words of Jesus. They are words of eternal life.” — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Meditation is used to describe a variety of exercises, behaviors and activities for the person seeking to grow their spiritual or inner life. We hear the extremes when meditation is being described, which go from thinking about nothing and clearing your mind to filling your mind with spiritual words and the writings and quotes from the Bible and other books considered sacred for us. One could say that it is a combination of clearing our minds of the clutter of the mundane messages regarding cleaning products and automobiles so that we can focus on the truths from God that apply to all of life. As Henri Nouwen describes in the quote above, “through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts.” That is the goal of our times of daily reflection with the scriptures in this book.

It is as if we want to allow God’s words to go from the reading to the transformation of our thinking and acting. For truths to affect our wills, we have to contemplate meaning, truthfulness, applicability and outcomes. We may ask ourselves questions that address all of these topics. Questions like, what does this mean? What happens if I do this? What will be the results if I act on this principle?

Jesus spent time daily in prayer to His Father. Jesus often said that He was only doing what the Father had told Him to do. It was as if Jesus checked in constantly to see how His activities were matching up with what the Father and Spirit wanted Him to teach and do. Observing this daily habit of Jesus, led Nouwen to say that solitude — being alone with God — was the furnace for change. We connect to God through the Bible. We hear His words as we read and think about all that He has done for us as we meditate on His words. All of this leads us to change how we think and act. Otherwise, we have no truth coming into our lives. Jesus needed a daily time alone with the Father. Are we any different? Are we just as needy?

God gives us instruction as far back as Genesis concerning the need to meditate, but the book of Joshua is perhaps the most specific and simple concerning the absolute necessity of meditation.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8 ESV)

If this were the only thing that God ever said about meditating on Scripture, it would be enough. It is quite clear that if we want to experience success in life — according to God’s economy — then we need to meditate on the laws of God. That was Jesus’s pattern and it was the Lord’s clear instruction for Joshua. Of course, the Psalms of David are full of promises regarding meditation. In fact, when David thinks about preparations for war, he chooses meditating on God’s truth instead of developing battle strategies. He says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:23 ESV)

Let us join together, then, daily to listen to God’s wondrous works and allow them to change our minds and hearts as we ponder, answer questions and think about how to go forward in love!

— From my forthcoming book, “Heart Journey: Going Forward in Love” due to be published in December, 2017.

Simple, Direct and From the Heart

Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus: A Seven-Day Journey by Jimmy Locklear
Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus: A Seven-Day Journey
by Jimmy Locklear
Link: http://a.co/amhK59t

For over two years, I’ve used the prayers of Jesus from the gospels to guide and enliven my relationship with God. I spent a lot of time looking at Jesus’s teaching and relating to folks four years ago while writing Heart Journey. I was consistently struck by the simplicity of his conversations with his Father. Later while working on prayer and fasting guide for my church I began to collect my reflections on the places in Scripture where we are told or shown that Jesus was praying. In some cases, we read what he said and in others we only know the place or time of day or circumstances of his prayers. I was so heartened by his example for us. And he was so emphatic about keeping our prayers simple and speaking directly from our hearts realizing that our Heavenly Father already knows our needs. 

So, twice my church’s prayer team had provided these prayers of Jesus for use by our community. I decided to change the format a bit and include seven of Jesus’s prayers in a small booklet as a way to help us increase our commitment to spending time alone with God. I had been wanting to publish a book on the Amazon Kindle Platform and this manuscript gave me that opportunity. It has been a very positive experience and a way to help a wider circle of people in their spiritual journey. There are a few more prayers that could make up a sequel booklet, and I’m also working on a booklet on repentance, too. The most popular blog post, by far, that I posted over the past two years has been on repentance and our response to grace after we sin. 

Because you have been an encourager to me, I wanted you to know about this latest little project. Here’s the link where you can find Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus. It is only available as an ebook currently, but I’m considering having print on-demand available in the future.

I’ll leave you with the invitation given to us by our 14th Century sister Julian of Norwich who wrote: Our good Lord revealed that it is greatly pleasing to him that a simple soul should come naked, openly and familiarly. For this is the loving yearning of the soul through the touch of the Holy Spirit. 

In a day when we want to belong and to feel safe, may we accept the calling of Jesus. 

“We want information, God wants a conversation.” – Samuel Williamson

51nbnmeipgl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Over the years, I’ve read many books on prayer and meditation. I’ve been very selective in my choices of books to actually spend time with and apply to my relationship with God and my devotional life. There are only a few books on the topic of prayer and talking with God that I would recommend to anybody. And most of the books with which I’ve resonated were written by monks, priests and ancient contemplatives. So, for me to actually review and recommend a book by a contemporary layperson is a rarity!

Recently, I was asked to review a new book by Samuel C. Williamson (Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere from Kregel Publications, 2016, Grand Rapids, MI) on listening to God and seeing our prayers as a dialogue instead of a monologue. I was skeptical because I don’t know Mr. Williamson and for the reasons I mentioned above, but the book was endorsed by Eugene Peterson someone for whom I have great respect. I decided to take a closer look and what I found was just the kind of book I would write on the subject of developing a deeper relationship with God and learning to listen to God’s voice every day.

Williamson’s book is anecdotal, but it comes from a man whose faith is based on a Biblical and theologically orthodox foundation. So, his experiences are filtered through the doctrines of the historical Christian faith. Therefore, I can heartily recommend the chapters of this book to anyone who wants to grow closer to their Creator and Lord. In fact, chapters 4, 5 and 6 are particularly of value to new or young Christians who want to understand the place of Scripture in their daily lives and how they might structure a devotional life.

But this is not a book about form and structure, but about learning that we are free to follow Jesus to where he wants to take us and that we can be free in what we ask him as we would our closest of friends. Williamson writes, “We are involved in a divine dialogue.” The authenticity of the author’s desire to share his experience of the relational nature of God’s personality and character rang true, as did his desire to help others open their hearts to the divine conversation. The book is very appealing at this level.

Williamson also speaks clearly regarding our motives and how misguided our desire for guidance can be. “If we want to hear God in the storm, let’s first learn to hear his voice in the calm,” he writes. And, again, in chapter 1, he peals back our self-centeredness, “We want information; God wants a conversation.”

I found the writer’s questions regarding our presuppositions to be extremely helpful in plowing the ground of our own hearts concerning prayer. “What if God wants to converse with us more than he wants to direct us?” Williamson asks us.

Does that kind of question scare you? Or does that question point out how valuable you are to God? In my own experience, it was several years ago when I came to God with open and empty hands that I found his presence most welcoming and comforting. Williamson offers us help, “It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions. He does. But our obsession with them deafens us to his message. The restrictive nature of our questions limits our ability to recognize God’s voice;” he writes.

As you can see, there is a lot to recommend about this book. In closing my review I want to mention a couple of other things that I really appreciated in reading it and a suggestion that I would make if you choose to read it. I loved that many of Williamson’s illustrations and stories were from his business, family and church experiences. He didn’t compartmentalize his experience of God to one area of his life. Secondly, he offers a broad range of resources and other voices to reinforce and support his convictions and suggestions. And, finally, my suggestion is that you don’t have to read the whole book before you start implementing some of the truths taught here. In fact, I’d suggest that you put the book down from time to time (or close your Kindle if you read like I do) and put into practice something that has struck you as helpful or interesting. —- Jimmy Locklear


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.



The Moment When You Think Your Life May Be Over

I don’t know if everyone has one of these moments, but I suspect that there are many more folks than we are aware of who have a moment when seemingly everything important passes before their mental eyes and there is this fear of their life on earth being over. Well, I believe I have had at least two of these moments and perhaps three.

The most recent moment for me occurred on October 2, 2015. I was ushering at Turner Field for the St. Louis Cardinals versus Atlanta Braves major league baseball game. It was a chilly evening and I was at my assigned section Aisle 206, which is in the terrace level near home plate. It was not a huge crowd, but I’m usually pretty busy helping guests find their seats even when other parts of the stadium may have light crowds. It was the second inning and I had just been chatting with my sister who was at the game with my Mom. They preferred sitting in the outfield terrace, but my sister had come by my section to say hello.

This was my first season working for the Braves and it was just about over. Only one more home series. I’m semi-retired, I guess. I’ve received partial disability payments from my private insurance for over a year and have not been able to work fulltime since suffering a major heart attack in January of 2013. That experience became the basis of the first book I published – Sacred Heart Attack – and was life changing in many ways. I do some other project and consulting work while writing manuscripts for additional books. However, that heart attack in Montreal was not one of the times I felt like I was going to die. Even though I learned from the cardiologist that unblocked my left descending artery that I was in serious danger, I was conscious – in pain, but conscious – and thought that everything was going to be fine.

My youngest son Jed had worked for the Braves for the 2014 season and I was his primary transportation to and from the approximately 70 out of 81 games that he worked as a guest relations representative. For the 2015 season he was set to be on the promotions team and I had been thinking about being an usher and had talked to some of the ushers about their jobs. Eventually, that’s what I did. It was a challenging assignment at the beginning, both physically and mentally. Long hours of standing posed the biggest challenge. But I enjoyed baseball and had been a Braves fan and follower for many, many years; and I enjoyed relating to new people from all around the country. So, I was in the right spot. I had developed a few friends from my fellow gameday staff, too.

Just as I was finishing my conversation with my sister I started having a familiar pain combination of pressure and burning in the center of my chest. I breathed a couple of deep cleansing breaths, but nothing changed. I wondered if it was gas and excused my self to go to the Men’s Restroom. That didn’t help and the pain had risen to a 7 on that 10-point scale. I left the restroom and walked by one of my fellow ushers and told him that I was going to First Aid at aisle 211 to get my blood pressure checked. I told him I wasn’t feeling well and that he should tell our supervisor.

I walked in to the First Aid office and had about 14 eyes focused on me. I’m sure it was unusual to see a uniformed Braves employee walk into their office. I told a couple of the EMTs that I was having chest pain, that I’d had a heart attack before and that I’d like for them to take my blood pressure. They were happy to oblige and began asking me a few questions about the location and severity of my pain. My blood pressure was 170 over 105, which was extremely high for me since I took meds that generally kept my pressure down to 115 over 75. The EMT asked me to lay down on their examining table so that they could hook up the leads for an EKG. Before loading me into the ambulance, they wanted to see if the test could detect anything. They kept having trouble with one area. They couldn’t get a good signal, which can be a sign that there is a problem.

About this time, I told them that I had a small 200-doses can of Nitroglycerin Sublingual Spray that I always carried in my pocket. They said that I should go ahead and use it. I gladly complied with two short bursts in my mouth. I looked at my watch with the thought that in five minutes I would do it again if the pain continued.

This is when it happened.

There was not immediate relief, so, I started thinking this could be the end of things on earth. The EMTs began loading me on to a gurney and asked if I wanted to go to Grady’s ER or Emory Midtown Hospital. I said that Emory was my choice because that’s where my cardiologist practiced medicine and all of my records would be there. The two hospitals were equally close to Turner Field.

When I suffered 100% blockage of my LDA some 33 months ago, I didn’t really know how seriously my heart was being damaged by the cutoff of blood/oxygen flow. But now I knew the full ramifications of the pain I was experiencing. This was not heartburn, indigestion or acid reflux. And it wasn’t my gall bladder or pancreas. I no longer had a gall bladder and my pancreas pain would’ve been a little lower.

No, this was a coronary artery or two in major distress! And, suddenly, I didn’t want to die. Why was that surprising to me? You might ask, Doesn’t everyone feel that way?

Actually, no, everyone doesn’t feel opposed to dying all of the time. Over the past three years, I had grown accustomed to the idea that I might be passing on to heaven sooner rather than later. I even had a dream on February 28, 2014, while in the hospital suffering from pancreatitis, about going to heaven and what the first few hours might be like. And, of course, it was very pleasant!

As I’ve grown closer to God over the past few years, the experience of his presence was a powerful antidote to the difficulties and challenges of life. I wanted more of that experience and I think that is a good sentiment. And I realize the choice on when we pass on to glory is God’s decision and not ours. I had begun to get the idea that, for me, it might be sooner than one might expect.

My first thoughts were that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t “put my affairs in order” as well as I would like. Jenny and Jed, Jameson and Justin would all be fine in figuring out where our will and life insurance information was and things like that. But I hadn’t prepared them for my being vacant from our family. In fact, I don’t know what all of that means. So, by writing this essay, I’m inviting that process for my family and for yours. Here’s one of my deep desires: we learn to befriend our death and celebrate the life that we have been given. Most of us would agree that life is a gift and most of you reading this essay have been given a life of privilege, wealth and all manner of life-enhancing blessings. Physical death is a result of the fallen nature of creation and all of us will experience death unless Jesus returns and completes the trifecta of his work with heaven on earth that followed his incarnation and death/resurrection/ascension.

So, let’s say that I wanted to celebrate a little more. Hang out a little more. Have “heaven on earth” fun a little more. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Jenny being able to rest after years of teaching and grad school and teaching. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Jed fully blossom into the man that God intends for him to be. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Justin on the biggest stage so that everyone could appreciate the wonderfulness of his presence in front of an audience or a camera. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Aberdeen reach her second birthday and then start working toward kindergarten. And I didn’t want to leave before seeing Bethany publish a book for the parents of medically complicated children and for Abby to be known as the General’s daughter.

Here’s the deal, though. I am ready to leave whenever God calls me to be in his physical presence. I’m ready because I haven’t let my dreams and desires die in me. I’m sharing them now and I’ll continue to celebrate life in the midst of heartache because there is a redeemer. The story we are in has an ending that is magical and wonderful and peaceful. Our world isn’t hurling through space with no destination.

The good news for me was that God showed mercy to me on October 2nd. The nitroglycerin proved to be the proper antidote for artery distress, which was probably a coronary artery spasm. Subsequent echocardiograms and heart catheterization showed that my arteries were in good shape with nothing close to a blockage. So that spasm served me well. It opened my eyes to the continued blessing of life and re-kindled my mission to encourage you to befriend your death and celebrate your life that is in the hands of a loving and merciful Creator and a Savior who has bought you for good.

“That’s just my cross to bear,” she said sadly.

Do you have to carry a cross, if you’re not following Jesus? And what is my cross anyway?

“That’s just my cross to bear,” said the suffering traveler. You’ve probably heard this from a variety of people in difficult situations. You may have been told that some challenge or illness or poverty is “just your cross to bear.” What is this metaphorical cross? And why does everyone have one? It seems to be central in the teaching of Jesus, as he called it a prerequisite for being his disciple, but what exactly is it?

Whether you are reading the biographical accounts of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark or Luke, eventually you will come across this direct demand from the Nazarene Jesus. It goes something like this, Jesus told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In the Matthew 16 account, Jesus goes on to talk about the trade off of gaining the world while losing your soul and what is a soul really worth. So, we are left with the question of losing the world, but gaining our souls. That seems a fair prospect, but Jesus goes on to sweeten the pot by saying that he and his angels will come in the glory of the Father and “repay each person according to what he has done.” This is remarkable in its specificity – each person – as well as in the offer, which appears to be very generous.

Recently, I wrote this in my journal:

I am going through a sobering time of seeing, again, how slim our resources are and how anxious and fearful I can become. I remember that in 2007 our situation seemed even worse. Certainly, I felt more helpless and hopeless then. I can see now that health and financial challenges are my cross to bear.

As I wrote this, the Spirit nudged me with the questions of how do you know what your cross is and what was Jesus talking about when he called you to take up your cross? I took a step back and began to reflect more deeply.

Jesus was teaching his followers a very important principle related to both the deep religion of following him and a lesson in balance between the spiritual and material world. He did this often in responding to temptations of things like food versus spiritual food. “Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus said. Of course, this is a bit confusing and disturbing because we do need food to live and, yet, Jesus tells us that that is not enough. This is where a sense of humility and naivetè comes into the picture. Jesus asks us to step out of the norm and accepted and apply his spiritual instruction to our physical and material lives.

Shortly after this teaching, Jesus broke through the physical with the spiritual reality of his identity as the Bright and Morning Star as he was transfigured and “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” This experience illustrated that the line between the physical and spiritual is a narrow space.

Let’s go back to Jesus’ description of what it takes to be his disciple. In Matthew 16:24ff, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

What is your cross? What was Jesus’ cross? What do we know for sure? Jesus’ cross was, in fact, a real wooden cross that he carried to the Hill of Death. He later hung on that cross and uttered that his mission and calling was finished. So, for Jesus, his cross, both actual and metaphorical, represented his mission, calling, purpose and vocation. It was the reason he came to earth. It is the single greatest symbol of redemption and hope that we have in the world. And it is a symbol of pain, suffering and execution.

For Jesus, perhaps, it was both a burden and a passion. Maybe it was more a passion than a burden, then more a burden than a passion. He was the only one who could carry his cross and I suspect that you are the only one who can carry your cross. And while it does require self-denial and work, there is a joy and sense of calling present that we have been missing – that I have been missing.

Jesus talks about “losing your life for Him.” The primary way I’ve seen that applied is through our giving up our ambitions and goals and taking on his ambitions and goals: the cross. We have to ask Jesus and our community of faith to help us understand what that means. As Jesus pointed out earlier, our reward is specific and our cross is specific. Only I can carry my cross. I have a part to play that is mine and mine alone. This is what Jesus knows is best for his mission and the best for us. We have limited our interpretation or application of this calling by focusing on an aspect of suffering or difficulty when, I believe the Spirit wanted me to see, Jesus was talking about something larger and all encompassing.

Jesus’ deepest calling was to creation, restoration and glory. And doing those with the Father and the Holy Spirit. While on earth, he paid particular attention to following the words he heard from his father. In the same way, we are to pay particular attention to the words of Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus. And we are called to carry a cross that might include sacrifice and difficulty, but also purpose and fulfillment. But you don’t have to carry a cross if you don’t want to follow Jesus.


And what about my cross? I’ve learned that it is much more than my health struggles and my financial scarcities. It is my desire for you to know the depth and breadth of God’s love for you and the nearness of God to you. It is my passion to write and my passion to see families in love with each other. It is my submission and willingness to be naïve when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus. It’s all my stuff, too. It’s me.

Much ado about Presence! How to be fully present to those you love

One of the most common desires that a growing number of Christians express when talking about family and close relationships is to be “fully present.” We have learned of this interpersonal dynamic through the speaking and writing of spiritual and faith leaders, especially those who combine a bit of psychology with their spirituality and theology. Nationally and internationally, we have heard of this disposition from people like David Benner, Henri Nouwen, John Eldredge, Richard Rohr, Jean Vanier and Thomas Merton. And regionally we have heard presence advocated by folks like Larry Bolden, Basil Pennington and others.

Like many ideals presented to us, we begin to aspire to and share these concepts with others and express them in our conversations. Unfortunately, for many of us, the actual meaning and practice of something like being fully present can become foggy. What exactly am I trying to become? What does this look like? We need a refresher course or cheat sheet for how we want to change and become more attentive in our relationships. So, let us begin!

First, I have to say that this will be a simplification of the process that leads to our ability to be fully present or to have presence. The church reformer John Calvin wrote in The Institutes of the Christian Religion: “There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” And even earlier, St. Augustine prayed, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.” So, we are on a journey in knowing God and knowing ourselves and as we continue on that journey and are diligent in our attempts at being present, we will experience greater freedom in fully being ourselves and fully being open to others. This openness is one of the fundamentals of presence.

Benner wrote, “Presence is a gift, but it is also a practice;” in his book Soulful Spirituality (p. 154). This leads us to ask God for the motivation and understanding to grow in our presence. While, at the same time, consciously putting ourselves into situations where we can develop an inner stillness. We need a stillness of our souls or our hearts in order to be present. God has planted the seeds of stillness in our hearts by giving us grace, forgiveness, the promise of his presence from now to eternity and we have seen the demonstration of his love through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. How shall we cultivate those seeds?

IMG_0541Times of stillness and quiet are foundational for being able to be fully present. “One of the reasons most of us are limited in our ability to be present to others and ourselves is that we possess so little inner stillness. We are too full to be truly still – full of distractions, preoccupations, plans, worries, regrets, things that need to be rehearsed, and things that need to be reviewed.” (Benner, p. 146) I have found this to be true in my life, too. In fact, almost nothing has served to transform me more than times in stillness with the Holy Spirit. Nouwen called solitude the furnace of transformation. As we come to God with open and empty hands, we are signifying our dependence and desire to remove distractions. I believe this was the practice of Jesus during his years on earth and that he calls us to the same. In Luke 10 we read the story of Jesus visiting again with his good friends and calling Martha to presence, which was the one thing that she was lacking:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV)

Have you ever felt like Martha? There is so much to be done and we feel like we have to do it! Yet, Jesus calls us to just one thing: to be present with him.

So, the first suggestion on cultivating the seeds of presence is to give yourself 20 minutes of stillness a day. I have a place in my home where I can sit down and become still and alone. Initially, a few years ago, this was the place where I would sit and cry and say to God that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I told the Lord that I felt like everything was falling a part and I didn’t know what to do. So, your stillness may start in chaos, but don’t give up. As thoughts come into your mind, respond by giving them to God. You may want to say, “Lord, this is yours. Father, take this away. Jesus, I release this to you.” And this may take some time. Eventually, you may develop a shorthand word as you feel God’s presence and you just say Jesus or Spirit.

We live in a time when multitasking has become the norm. The term first appeared in an IBM document in 1965. It was originally the function of a computer, but more recently has become the expectation for humans. We may talk on the phone while typing an email or drive an automobile while listening to the radio. We become so accustomed to doing more than one thing at a time that our brains accept it as normal. To be fully present with someone, we have to unlearn multitasking. With this in mind, the second suggestion for cultivating seeds of presence is to practice doing just one thing at a time. Try doing this a little each day. One of my biggest challenges is reading while eating or watching TV while eating. Yesterday, I tried eating and just savoring the food. The food tasted better. In his teaching on being fully present, Larry Bolden of Wellspring Group talks about the value of “savoring the moment.” In order to get to that place, we have to take in the whole experience. We have to focus on the words a person is saying or taste the flavor of each fruit or vegetable or spice to savor them. Decide that you are going to get less done instead of more tomorrow and mono-task! You may need to put fewer things on your “To Do List” or put only one thing on your list.

Especially, if we are sitting down to talk with someone, it is important to make sure that we can hear just his/her voice. In time, you may be able to do that in a noisy area, but you may need a quieter place. Consider your surroundings and how the outer noise may affect your inner stillness is the third suggestion. And don’t be timid to ask someone to repeat what they said if your own thoughts got in the way of your hearing them. You know how some folks seem to bring peace with them when they enter a room or approach to greet you? That is what you are aiming to develop. We all can feel that and being conscious of your surroundings can foster a more peaceful and personal presence.

An overarching motivation for our desire to be fully present is that it is a sign of respect and humility. We know that if we are fully present we will have more to give to the people around us. So, our inner and outer posture needs to mimic our respect for the other person who was created in the image of God. We want to respect the sacredness of the encounter. We will turn toward the person and look at them.

Perhaps another tool that we can use in cultivating presence is to imagine that we are sitting across the table from Jesus. How would we respond in that moment? We would want to receive all of the wisdom, knowledge, love and guidance that we could from Jesus. We wouldn’t want to miss a single syllable or gesture in his words and movements. We would want to have the laser focus of all of our senses on Jesus. If we believe in the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in believers and that we are members of the Body of the Messiah, then we are in fact encountering Jesus when we sit across the table from one of God’s children.

Begin the journey of being fully present to those you love. We need all of you.

Your presence is a gift only you can give.


Sin’s Lingering Effect


There is an unsettledness that comes after we sin. If our hearts are most at home or we are most human when we are seeking God and responding to God’s calling, then it would follow that when we turn our back on Him we would feel uncomfortable and disjointed.

Once we have encountered and connected to God via the Gospel and the sealing by the Holy Spirit, we begin a journey of becoming whole, complete and at peace. Life begins to make sense in a way that it never had previously. So, when we wander and look for life in the created world rather than from the Source and Creator, our new roots are disturbed and we are shaken. Is my world going to crumble? We may ask ourselves why we are not feeling secure. We consider if we should return to the patterns of survival we had chosen in the past. Evil and our old patterns of survival and shame would call to us to avoid contact and conversation with Perfection – the One we had betrayed.

Yet, the Holy Spirit reminds us that chaos will ensue if we wander. Our restored home is with the Creator and Savior and we are an unmoored boat without a slip without God.

Photo by P. Vankevich.
Photo by P. Vankevich.

And the Spirit also calls to us saying that forgiveness is our “re-birth right” given to us through the crucifixion of Jesus. Repentance can be fast if we are willing to open our hearts to God and confess our weakness. We live in a fast-paced society and if we are un-hinged, we lose connection with our purpose and focus. The lack of focus and direction gives rise to a treacherous momentum toward confusion and hopelessness. So, restoring our relationship and re-focusing our hearts is critical to our survival.

I refer you to my post on Fast Repentance (coming soon) for help in restoring your relationship with Jesus.

The Intentionality of Love

March 3, 2015

If we want to grow in love, we might need to plot and meditate on how we want to love those we encounter. It has struck me recently that the hardest area of growth for me is showing love when I’m surprised by an opportunity or encounter. Even though we love someone from a volitional and intellectual standpoint and want to bring wholeness to a person’s life, our response emotionally to an unexpected situation can look like criticism, indifference or even rejection.

So, how do we learn to show love to those we truly love?

For starters, we have to develop patterns of behavior that come from a strategic and rehearsed place of consciousness. The idea that we will naturally give or receive love is not likely or is, perhaps, naïve. I had this reality come crashing in on me recently.

I returned home one day after a meeting and some errands and my son asked me to come to the garage to see how he had put away the case of bottled water that he purchases each month. When he proudly showed me his work, I responded by pointing out that he had put all of the bottles on one side of the refrigerators_freezers_general_use_3763shelf in the refrigerator, which pulled the shelf loose on one side and was pressing on the drawer below. His face saddened and he was crest fallen saying, “I just wanted to show you that I had put them all away.” He was looking for a “well done” and I gave him a “poorly done.”

My heart sank, too. I tried to recover with words of praise and explaining my comments, but the damage was done. I had wounded him. And I had learned a valuable lesson. Of course, this was not the first time that I had done this. But it was the first time that I had grasped the gravity of what I had done. And I also shared the story with my wife.

Later that day, my son invited me to the garage, again. This time I was prepared. And he was, too. Perhaps even more proudly this time, he opened the refrigerator door and showed the perfectly balanced shelf of bottled water. “Twelve on each side and the grease jars in the middle,” he said.

I smiled, and said, “Great job!” We fist bumped and then hugged. It was a sweet moment. We savored the experience and went back inside the house. He smilingly shared with his Mom the “twelve and twelve” good deed he had done.

We discussed later how God had given us a “do-over.” We don’t always get a second chance to restore love and acceptance. In fact, it is rare. But, it allowed me to rehearse how I should’ve responded initially and how I’d like to act in the future. I have often shared the principle that solitude is the furnace of transformation. And the corollary is that we need to prepare in advance to do the right thing.

The more we practice love and the more our hearts are connected to our actions, the more likely we are to do the deeds of Jesus.

Light and Dark

February 2, 2015

The past few days have been full of images: paintings, stories and conversations about light and darkness. In the final scene of the TV series True Detective that I watched on Saturday there was a lengthy discussion of light and dark that summarized themes that had been referenced throughout the 8-episode story. Also, in a Sunday morning class discussion on the idea of painful self-probing and the attributes of God, there was a vivid contrast. Then, during the sermon teaching on grace there was a reference to the Vacquez painting of the crucifixion of Jesus, which was the dark day in human history.

In our visual culture where most of us are learning through pictures and images, the contrast of dark and light always gives us an undeniable truth concerning the world in which we live.

Rust Kohle, one of the two central characters in True Detective, said that he had been thinking about what this investigation had been about. That it had been part of a bigger story. What he called, “The oldest story.” When asked what that was, he replied, “The story of light versus darkness.”

In the final scene of season one of the HBO series True Detective, there is a lengthy conversation [NSFW-language] in the parking lot of a hospital in Louisiana between detectives Rust Kohle and Marty Hart. Kohle in a wheelchair has been convalescing after surviving a horrific stabbing by the serial killer they had spent 15 years trying to find. As they gaze up at a cloudless night sky, Rust says that while healing in bed he had been musing as to what their investigation was really about. He said that the investigation had drawn them into a bigger story – a story about light versus dark.

In the simplest of terms, this is the story of all of our lives. Are we moving toward the light? Or, are we moving toward darkness? There is a trajectory to our lives, perhaps like the stars in the dark Louisiana sky. The darkness seems massive and the stars are tiny in comparison. Are we letting the light creep in or are we being overcome by the darkness?

In the painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, there is darkness all around, too. The light in the painting is reserved for and focused in Jesus who is overcoming the darkness with the light of a ransom-paying sacrifice. He is rescuing all of humanity from the darkness.

The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez
The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez

In the same way the final words of True Detective reveal a truth, Rust said, “If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

We make choices from time to time that move us closer to the light or deeper into the darkness. Clarity and purity are experienced as we move into the light and confusion and contamination as we shift toward the darkness.

So, in humility and ascent, we surrender our hearts to the Light of creation. For we hope that as we move toward the light we will experience transformation. We become new creations shedding the layers of darkness and becoming, as it were, our greatest selves: all that for which we were created and the journey for which we were equipped through the magic of substitutionary grace given to us by the death (dark) and resurrection (light) of Jesus.