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Posts in Chuck DeGroat
Follow Jesus (Holy Saturday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Holy Saturday

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1

David Tracy, a Roman Catholic theologian, has said, “There is never an authentic disclosure of truth which is not also transformative.”[i] What he means, at least in part, is that the Christian claim on ‘truth’ is hollow if it remains a doctrinal claim apart from a lived experience of transformed lives. And, of course, Jesus places a big exclamation point on this when he calls himself “the way, the truth, the life.” Indicting the religious experts, he shows truth by living it, by becoming our Passover, by going through hell to release us from our own hellish prisons. He shows us the truth by entering in, becoming a human being, into-the-dust of limitation and creatureliness in order to meet us right where we are. Jesus isn’t a concept. No, Jesus lived a life and took a journey that is now ours to take.

As the sun descends beneath the horizon and darkness falls upon the earth, millions of Christians all over the world are celebrating the Resurrection-dawn at Easter Vigil services across the world. Darkness is required for a dawn. You cannot have authentic faith without it. Christianity is, in the end, no happy-clappy, health-and-wealth social club. It is about a transformed community, imaging the Son, walking the pascal way, dying and rising, resisting the violent-coercive-imperialistic way of consumerist culture, and most likely paying the price for it. Humiliation is not an option – it’s an inevitability.

But the breaking dawn invites us to see that all is not doom and gloom. From darkness, the impossible is realized. With the disciples of Jesus scattered to the four winds, afraid to embrace a faith that might require their participation as those transformed by truth, Jesus emerges to a world that must now reckon with a very new reality. This new reality is that conflicts are not won and lost by power, intimidation, or violence. The real battle is won through self-surrender, humiliation, turning the other cheek, loving and blessing and forgiving our neighbor. The real transformation happens as every false self experiences death and resurrection within.

Jesus does not save us from suffering. He saves us from ourselves, which engages us in a process of profound transformation as every part of us that resists God is chipped and stripped away. And while this journey isn’t as pretty as some would like it to be, it is real – a life lived awake and alert, a life lived vulnerably, a life lived with freedom. Read the great stories of the saints and martyrs. You will not find doom and gloom, but joy.  

I long for joy. I long for my desires to match God’s desires. I long to live in God’s freedom. And – can I be honest? – when I’m simply indulging myself, I don’t feel very free or joyful. When I’ve wasted a day living out of my avoidant self, when I’ve ruined a conversation living out of my cynical self, when I’ve exhausted myself living out of my achieving self, I’m not really joyful. I may get a laugh or some admiration, but I’m not joyful.

I want to end our journey together with an imaginative exercise which will nurture joy in these final hours of the cruciform night. On this Holy Saturday, I want you to imagine sitting very still in the midst of the darkness. The confusion of Good Friday has passed and the dawn of Easter has not yet emerged. All is quiet. We wait. We listen. All is still.

Can you hear your heart beating? Can you feel your feet on the ground? Can you feel the delight of not having to do a thing at all but sit still, rest, and be?

You’ve fallen into goodness. The goodness is the ground beneath you. The goodness is the dust to which you’ve returned. The goodness is your limitations. The goodness is the body God designed to be yours and yours alone. The goodness is the infinite presence of Jesus, by the Spirit, more near to you than you are to you. The goodness is the transformative work God is doing in the silence of your being without you even knowing it.

You sit here now in the dark with no one to impress, no one to please. In this place, you are simply enough, in Jesus. You are enough.

I want you to imagine every fig-leaved false self dissolving into oneness with Christ, centered in the very core of your being. Christ dwells in your innermost depths, welcoming you. Come. Relax. Enjoy. You are worthy. You are mine.

You hear the words with delight. In the darkness and in the stillness, all is well. Everything he has is yours. You are his beloved son, his beloved daughter. He sees you straight through to your core and smiles, delighting in his child.

You’ve fallen into goodness.

 

[i] David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1981), p. 78.

Follow Jesus (Good Friday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Good Friday

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Ps. 22: 24, 26, 29

The road to Easter resurrection goes through Good Friday’s dying. Every single transformative journey takes the same path. This is, at least in part, what Good Friday teaches us. We all must die. Like the grain of wheat, we must fall to the ground and die for new life to begin

Once again, the Psalmist reminds us that those who are truly surrendered go down to the dust. That’s where we began at Ash Wednesday, and it’s appropriate that this is where we approach our conclusion of the Lenten season, as well. The poor will eat. Those who return to the ground will bow. We don’t see Jesus in the lofty heights but in the liminal spaces. Every human journey of transformation must take this downward path.

In fact, St. Paul takes it a step further. He calls our path a crucifixion. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Ga. 2:20). He has been crucified? What does that even mean for you and for me?

It means that parts of us Paul calls “flesh” and many call “false self” must die. Each must go down into the ground, through the cruciform path, and be transformed. Self-sufficient and shame-based parts of me must die, and controlling and cavalier parts of me must die. My cruciform journey must touch every part of me – every not-yet-transformed part of me – until I become wholehearted, which I call the experience of oneness and worthiness in Christ.

The renowned British pastor and theologian John Stott helps me understand this when he writes:

What we are (our self or personal identity) is partly the result of the Creation (the image of God), and partly the result of the fall (the image defaced). The self we are to deny, disown, and crucify is our fallen self, everything within us that is incompatible with Jesus Christ (hence Christ’s command, ‘let him deny himself and follow me’). The self we are to affirm and value is our created self, everything within us that is compatible with Jesus Christ (hence his statement that if we lose ourselves by self-denial we shall find ourselves). True self-denial (the denial of our false, fallen self) is not the road to self-destruction, but the road to self-discovery.[i]

This is our Lenten work, but this goes beyond Lent. This work continues through Eastertide and into Pentecost and throughout all of the seasons of the church year.

But this is delightful work. You see, all this talking of dying and cruciformity might sound negative and messy, but it’s really about unshackling you from every idol and addiction and attachment that weighs you down. Truth is, life in the fleshy-false-self is enslaved life. It’s unfulfilled life. It’s burdensome life. It’s momentarily-satisfying but soul-sucking life. It’s non-life.

If John Stott is right, the new way through Good Friday leads to self-discovery, an opening of ourselves to becoming full known in Jesus. Remember when Adam and Eve hid. Now, we come out of hiding. We move toward vulnerability. We take the adventure of self-disclosure, the risk of intimacy. This is abundant life. This is freedom – naked and unashamed.

In a sense, it’s what we’ve all been hungry for since the beginning. It’s what the primeval story of Adam and Eve teaches us. We were made for more. And Good Friday is the ultimate gateway. Through our poverty, into the dust we go, trusting God’s goodness to see us through into transformation.

__________

Prayer:

Crucified Lord, you died so that I might live. And you’ve paved the path for life, and life abundant, through the Cross. May I take this journey with courage and boldness, open to the transformative work you’ll do in and through me. Thank you, Jesus. Amen

 

[i] John Stott. The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005).

Follow Jesus (Maundy Thursday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Maundy Thursday

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. John 13:14-15

She sat in my office, broken by a betrayal. I had no words. Her sense of her own dignity seemed shattered. I saw on her the face of one who feels worthless.

“I’ll be right back,” I said. I returned with a basin and water. “May I wash your feet?” I asked. She gave me permission, and wept as I gently washed them.

This was a true self moment, a moment when my deepest me in Jesus emerged to bless another. I was along for the ride. I’d never done this…and I’ve never done anything quite like it since. Maybe you’ve had the feeling too, the feeling of being connected to Love and getting out of the way long enough for Love to live through you.

Later that day, shame overcame me. Less selfless parts of me began to cry out, “That was a show. All for you and not for her. You’re a phony.” Another part of me chimed in, “She didn’t deserve that from you. She’s a mess. Let her deal with it herself.” I was tossed to-and-fro in a torrent of inner fragmentation. A few moments later I exclaimed, “Stop.”

It was like I was commanding the ‘Legion’ within. My inner world was in a frenzy, and I felt a bit like Jesus declaring to the raging waters, “Be still!” Over the next few moments I began tending to my various inner rivals, showing compassion to parts of me that needed care. As if I was washing the feet of ashamed and pained parts of me, I lavished them with care. Later that night, I fell into my bed in exhaustion.

     Following Jesus means going to battle for the sake of the other. It means stepping into shame and confusion, pain and betrayal. It means alliance and advocacy, justice and mercy. But let’s not forget we need the same ourselves. I’m convinced Evil wanted to sabotage divine dignity in me that day, and I’m grateful the Spirit stepped in. 

Later Jesus would command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The word command is where we get the word ‘Maundy’ in Maundy Thursday. This is our command, our call, our vocation. We love because Jesus loves us. Jesus longs to show us compassion. Jesus knows the battle is hard, that we are weary, that sometimes it just feels like too much. He also knows our inner battles – the voices of shame and anger and self-contempt and avoidance and so many more. And so, through our True self in Christ, he becomes our servant, the one who washes our feet.

Can you imagine it? Jesus longs to wash your feet. He longs to show you the love he commands you to offer the other. On this day, why don’t you practice receiving that love? Why don’t you greet Jesus, at your very feet, touching the ground, a reminder once again that it is here that God reminds us who we are.

__________

Prayer:

Humble Servant, you wash my feet! I can hardly fathom it. I never, ever feel like I do enough for you and for others. And yet you long to show me love. You long to show me that in you, I am enough. Amazing love, how can it be! May I, too, be a blessing to others. Amen

Follow Jesus (Holy Week Wednesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Wednesday in Holy Week

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. John 13:21-22

Betrayal stings. It sends a singe of shame to the soul’s depths. It prompts us to question everyone and everything. It shatters trust. It plunges the soul into a panicked tailspin.

Jesus was fully human, full of emotion – confusion, sadness, shame, anger, joy, ecstasy, contentment. How must this betrayal have felt? How did he not turn over the table in rage?

One of his closest confidantes cut a deal with the other side. With the Evil One, no less. Judas was a friend he walked alongside on long journeys – from Jerusalem to Galilee and back for a full 240 miles – and several times, I believe. I imagine that there were dozens of conversations during unhurried moments. Storytelling. Laughter. Breaking bread.

I’d kick him out immediately. But no, Jesus set the table. He invited his betrayer to the table. He broke bread with him yet again. In a strange act of hospitality, Jesus served his betrayer.

To follow Jesus is to enter in to the matrix of relationship. It is to move toward others with vulnerability. It is to show empathy. It is to give and receive. In a world calloused by relational wounds, closed off to intimacy, and clamoring for cheap imitations, Jesus paves the way for risky, vulnerable intimacy. Jesus risks it all – even betrayal – to fulfill his sacred vocation.  

Last year a person I’d been counseling took a bold step into truth in her closest relationships. She named toxic and dysfunctional patterns that threatened shalom in her family, including her father’s alcoholism and rage. She did all of this in the name of Jesus and for the sake of integrity. Within days, her father – the family’s patriarch – told everyone in the family to cut her off. Social media connections were severed. Phone messages and texts went unreturned. To return, she faced the choice of forfeiting her integrity. She has been betrayed by her closest ones.

However, she continued to follow Jesus. In time, a new community emerged for her, marked by Christ-like humility, giving and receiving, justice-seeking, peacemaking, and vulnerable relationship. This became her new family. And though filled with grief, she continues to walk toward the Cross. The devastating episode returned her to the earth, to her ground, where like that grain of wheat she sat with tears until her anger turned toward compassion. She shared this note with me just a few weeks ago:

Dear Family, I miss you. How I longed to see you at Thanksgiving. There was a fresh sense of grief as I thought about how you’ve cut me off. I want us to live in truth together, and if we cannot I will grieve some more. But know this – I have not cut you off. You are welcome at my table.

__________

Prayer:

Lamb of God, you do not cut me off. But sometimes I cut myself off from you. Sometimes I do this because I’ve felt the sting of betrayal, and struggle to trust. Mend my heart. Soften it. Allow me to open my table once again, even to my enemies. Amen

Follow Jesus (Holy Week Tuesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Tuesday in Holy Week

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. John 12:23-26

Jesus will be there with you. Right there with you. Before you and behind you. To your left and to your right. At your head and at your feet. In your inmost being. Jesus will be right there with you.

He says, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  He will be there.

We follow Jesus like a grain that falls to the ground and dies. We follow Jesus to the ground, to our ground.

Like my student in a MA in Counseling program who I was assigned to supervise. He thought he had entered to get the skills necessary to help others in need. But he didn’t realize he was in need. I recall the evening when he was counseling an addict on the verge of losing his marriage. I was watching through one of those mirrored windows. I watched him stumble through the counseling session, trying to offer bits of advice that were not landing. We debriefed afterwards and I offered a hard truth:

“John, you’re that man,” I said with a compassionate seriousness. He stared at me blankly. “You’ve been trying to fix your own broken life with some duct tape here and some gauze bandages there, but it’s worse than you think, isn’t it?”

His head dropped, and tears began to flow. Soon enough, the dam broke, and he was crying out, “I’m hurting so much. It hurts so bad.” I wrapped my arms around his back and held him for 10 minutes.

The grain of wheat dropped into the earth that evening. He followed Jesus to his ground. He watered it with his tears. And the dying continued for the next months. But what began to emerge was beautiful goodness. Compassion – for himself and for others. Patience. Humility.  

I watched as his entire posture changed with his clients. Gone were the quick fixes and in was empathy. His own tears flowed as he sat in hard places with clients.

I think that he is one of those who Jesus refers to when he says Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

The grain that falls to the earth falls into goodness.

__________

Prayer:

Humble Savior, I follow you on the path that leads into the earth, into what feels like dying but ultimately transforms. I follow you. Amen

Follow Jesus (Holy Week Monday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Monday in Holy Week

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

                                                     Isa. 42:1-4

He is coming to bring justice. Don’t let that word scare you. It’s not the apocalyptic horror story people make it out to be. No, God’s justice is about setting everything aright, restoring the world’s brokenness, making all things new, including you.

But the old imagery is helpful, at times. You know – the imagery of fire and brimstone, the imagery of wars and floods. You see, justice isn’t always pretty. God’s setting-things-right comes not with flowers laid down on the path before us but on a trail of tears. Cosmic and personal transformation doesn’t look like paying for a spray tan in order to change your image. It’s a dying and rising. It’s bloody.

“Cut out your eye if it causes you to sin,” Jesus says. That’s bloody. Of course, we don’t go around cutting people’s eyes out to make a point. But maybe you get the spirit behind it. Jesus is saying – Do the hard work. Do the heart surgery. Transformation isn’t easy. It’s a bloody mess.

Like Jill. That’s not her real name, but she’s a real person. She was terrorized by a physical, emotional, and spiritual abuser for decades. When I met her, she was soulless. She had no desires, no passions, no needs of her own. She was practically mute save for the parroting of her husband’s opinions. She was radically out of touch with her self – that beautiful image-bearing self in Jesus. The self she was wearing was a tattered and beaten one, a persona built over the course of many years through much childhood neglect and trauma. This was the only garment she wore.

Jill’s dying-to-rising journey might not make the annals of the saints. She didn’t journey to a foreign country and save thousands of souls. No, she had no life to give for another, no self to offer. We had to find her lost self first. This took many, many months. She feared having her own opinions, expressing her own needs. But as she did, something grew within her. I saw her smile. She asked for a cup of coffee. She decided to start exercising. And her tyrant husband became enraged.

Jill endured brutal abuse during those months to the point of leaving her husband. She stuck around longer than I wanted her to. But when she left, it was her leaving. She’d grown weary of those old garments. She longed to be dressed in the new clothes of Jesus. She claimed Ezekiel 16 as her story:

I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Ezekiel 16:10-12

Despite apocalyptic drama and profound abuse, she longed to bear the beauty of her divine image, and desired to become a blessing to others.

His lawyer was a warrior. He threatened her. He threatened me. For months she stepped in and out of her new identity, sometimes falling back into the fearful doormat-of-a-wife burdened by guilt and shame. Justice for Jill was not easy. Her desire to follow Jesus meant walking the gauntlet of crucifixion, to her old self, to her destructive marriage, to a church community that wouldn’t support her, to his financial security. She kept walking though.

Christ is coming to bring justice. And if we follow, we may find ourselves walking the bloody path, too. Transformation always involves a dying. In Jill’s case, the death to her old self came at a high cost but became an extraordinary metamorphosis.

During our last session together, we celebrated the emergence of the butterfly from the transformative chrysalis. Jill would go on to become an extraordinary champion of other women like her longing to follow Jesus to freedom. This is the kind of justice Jesus is bringing in concrete ways, not necessarily for the annals of the saints, but extraordinary nonetheless.  

__________

Prayer:

Just King, we long for justice in the big crises and in our smaller stories, in the lives of broken people and in a groaning creation. We long to become our new selves in Christ, transformed in order to be a blessing to others. May it be so. Amen

Follow Jesus (Palm Sunday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

                             Matthew 21:5

The journey began with these words: You are dust and to dust you shall return. If you recall, these are words of beauty and goodness, words that invite you back into your original creatureliness, your inherent limitations, the ground of your being – your “enoughness” as God’s imager-bearer.

You may recall, also, that our journey has taken us into the in-the-flesh life of Jesus, who became human, who took on human limitations without regret. Jesus – so committed to you that from the very beginning he’s been searching you out, coming for you, eager to redeem and restore, to dwell with you and in you, by the Spirit.

Can you follow this Jesus? He’s not driving a BMW. He’s not accompanied by the Secret Service. He’s not dressed in his Sunday best.

Can you follow this Jesus? He’s not a king like other kings.

Can you follow this Jesus? He doesn’t care how impressed you are.

In those days, to follow someone was to become more like that person, to embody their character and virtue, their teachings and actions. For three years the disciples followed Jesus, but if you check their record it’s full of infighting and comparison. That’s because following someone like Jesus is a lifelong, intentional, transformational, and (need I say it again!) often painful process.

We become what we follow. And so who do you follow? What do you follow? Where are your habits being formed? And are you open to going in a new direction, following the One who will take you places you never dared explore?

If I’m honest, I’m not sure. I mean, what will it cost? I’ve got a life to live and bills to pay and daughters to send to college. I want to sell books and be admired. I want the appearance of following, but not the cost.

But here is the gratifying goodness of it all – to become more like Jesus is to become more ourselves. Thomas Merton wrote, “To be born again is not to become somebody else but to become ourselves.”[i] All this talk of dying to ourselves is not some morbid form of self-negation. No, it’s ultimately generative and life-producing. The seed must fall to the ground and die in order to live. We must die to every other version of our-selves to become ourselves.

You see, our lives are caught up in a much larger dynamic. Our stories are best seen in and through a much larger story of union with Jesus and our sabotage of it. James Finley says it well:

On the one hand there is the great truth that from the first moment of my existence the deepest dimension of my life is that I am made by God for union with himself. The deepest dimension of my identity as a human person is that I share in God's own life both now and in eternity in a relationship of untold intimacy. On the other hand, my own daily experience impresses upon me the painful truth that my heart has listened to the serpent instead of to God. There is something in me that puts on fig leaves of concealment, kills my brother, builds towers of confusion, and brings cosmic chaos upon the earth. There is something in me that loves darkness rather than light, that rejects God and thereby rejects my own deepest reality as a human person made in the image and likeness of God.[ii]

Following Jesus on this journey, in one sense, is an affirmation of your own deepest reality as one made in God’s image. It is about finding yourself, not in some strange self-fulfillment sort of way, but in union with the life of this surrendering King.

In this week, we seek to follow Jesus.

__________

Prayer:

King Jesus, your journey is simultaneously exciting and frightening for me. It seems as if it comes with a cost. But at the same time, the thought of “becoming myself” wholly in you is something that stirs my heart. Draw me further and deeper into this union and communion, I pray. Amen

 

[i] Thomas Merton. Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation. Sydney: Read How You Want, 2008.

[ii] James Finley. Merton’s Palace of Nowhere (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1978).

Wrestle with God (Saturday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Fifth Saturday in Lent

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34

Luke says it pretty clearly here: They didn’t have a clue. Of course, he puts it more politely: They did not grasp what was said. But it’s devastating, nevertheless. On the cusp of the most weighty, significant, monumental week in history, the disciples didn’t get it.

How, after three years together, did they miss it?

How, after three years together, were they clueless?

No matter our proximity to Jesus, it seems that we’re often blinded by our alternative agendas for God. Even those closest to him missed the clues he was laying along the way. And who could blame them – does anyone have a category for God-in-the-flesh dying and rising?

God’s destroy. God’s conquer. God’s battle each other. They punish their rebellious slaves. They don’t mysteriously appear in-the-flesh on a redeem-and-restore mission that involves becoming the victim, the slain Lamb.

Do we get it today? We have all kinds of alternative agendas for God. We call God into action like the warrior gods of old for the sake of our supposedly righteous causes. But God’s action in Christ unravels our alternative agendas for God. He beats the sword into a plowshare (Joel 3:10), making peace through his willingly surrendered life.

Wrestle with that. Because, if we’re honest, we hardly believe it today. Our alternative agendas for God often look like the old-fashioned agenda. We pray to God for the success, the victory, the win. Our prayers are shaped like ATM-withdrawals to a God who takes sides, so we assume, rather than a God who suffers and dies so that we’d no longer need to take sides.

The next week is a week to wrestle with the reality that this God, who came in-the-flesh, came even closer in the Spirit. This surrendering and sacrificing God took up residence in us, through the Spirit, in order to reconnect us to our original and beautiful humanity, in order for us to become Christ to others. Somehow, someway, we’ve got the wrestle with this hard reality – the baton of Jesus is passed to us. We bear his life and (dare we think it) his death. If you read St. Paul’s letters carefully, this theme takes center stage.

I’ve come to think of this last-week-of-Lent wrestling match as an opportunity to die alongside Jesus, as a chance to identify every obstacle to union with him. I want to not only believe but experience St. Augustine’s profound statement – “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.” I want to run through the streets with Catherine of Genoa as she exclaims, “My deepest me is God!” I want my inner life to be transformed to such a degree that I really can grasp it, that I really have a clue, that I’m really tuned in to the surrendered journey of Jesus. I want to fall, with Jesus, into the goodness of redemption. Won’t you join me?

__________

Prayer:

Lamb of God, remove every obstacle to union. I long to be one with you in spirit, in desire, in purpose. It is with this hope that I enter Holy Week. Amen

Wrestle with God (Friday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Fifth Friday in Lent

My eyes are spent with weeping;
    my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
    because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint
    in the streets of the city.

Lamentations 2:11

I’ve performed many more weddings than funerals. I’ve had the privilege of officiating ceremonies in Napa Valley, CA and Paris, France, at the foot of the Grand Tetons and the belly of a cruise ship. Each memory stirs feelings of joy and newness, hope and promise.

I also live as a white male with a PhD, some resources, a beautiful family, and a now tenured faculty position. Life is good. So it’s hard to relate, at times, to texts like the one above. I’m not living at the epicenter of Middle East terrorism or inner city violence. I don’t see the destruction of bodies on my streets and I’ve can’t relate to my black friend’s regular racist interactions with his neighbors in our town. 

But can I open my eyes? Can I choose to see, to listen to stories, to step into places of discomfort, to enter in to the pain?

I’ve had the privilege of being a therapist, among other hats I wear. That has been my place of entrance, of companionship, of alliance. It’s in that place that my blinders come off and I’m invited into the solidarity of another’s story. But it’s hard, at times – really hard. I’d rather not believe that church-going Christians are racists, that seemingly good men are narcissistic abusers, that sweet grandmothers can be sexual predators. I choose to enter in. I choose to see, however painful the truth and the stories are.

Where do you enter in? If Lent is a season of repentance, at least a part of that repentance is choosing to move toward the pain. Beyond personal maturation and transformation, Lent is a season of participation in the sufferings of the world, something we’re called to do (Philip. 3). Just as we choose to remove every fig-leaved and false-selved mask, we choose to dive beneath the societal mask of supposed exceptionalism and freedom and prosperity to see the world’s deep pain. We choose to see.

Our true self in Christ has a kind of homing beacon. It’s compass-direction leads us to our central vocation – love of God and love of neighbor. The true self is guided by compassion, kindness, love, and empathy. It moves toward every so-called “other.” It refuses to categorize, demonize, or diminish the image-bearing humanity of another. But I often live out of every other agenda-driven false self within. I’ve got work to do. And so do you.

When we read the stories of Scripture, including the difficult laments like the one above, our blinders are removed. In Scripture, we do not find a sanitary tale of ascent into heavenly bliss, but an often messy and painful fall into the goodness of God’s creation. Through the messy stories of Scripture, we watch beauty emerge from brokenness, redemption from despair, freedom from slavery. But we’ve got to look, perhaps with fresh new eyes, in order to see the pain.

And so, wrestle with God’s word. And wrestle with the implications of living in this beautiful-and-broken world. Where might you choose to enter in?

I’ve done a lot of weddings. I like hope and new beginnings. I like happy stories and hopeful promises. I want to celebrate goodness wherever it is found. But I’m also learning that it is found in the unexpected and sometimes messy places, too.

__________

Prayer:

Incarnate Christ, you moved close to the pain of the world. You entered in. You became a bearer of that pain for the sake of the world. I want to follow you into the beauty and brokenness of this world for the sake of its transformation…and mine. Amen

Wrestle with God (Thursday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Fifth Thursday in Lent

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. Ecclesiastes 1:2;8

Everything is vanity. Fleeting. Like trying to catch the wind. Now you see it, now you don’t. An exercise in futility.

God is there. God is not there.

 “I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Can you relate? The ongoing tug-of-war in my soul leaves me wondering whether or not I’m really a follower of Jesus, at times. I am fickle – I find myself in church worshipping, but just as quickly I am even more engrossed in a high-budget action movie that awakens my senses. At other times I’ll be sitting with a client I’m counseling engrossed in her story with a sense that God is bigger than I’ve ever known. But shortly after I’ll see another whose gruesome story of abuse makes me wonder how God can be both good and all-powerful.

The one who wrestles with God also wrestles with doubt. It is inevitable. Read the Psalms alone and you’re in for a wild ride through the land of doubt, uncertainty, and despair. In fact, if you pay attention to the many biblical dialogues between God and humans – kings, prophets, ordinary folks – you’ll see instance after instance of “Are you sure, God?”

In fact, when I look at the Scriptures as a whole, I’m reminded that God didn’t provide a recipe book or an owner’s manual. The Bible is Story, through and through, chock full of human expressions of every imaginable emotion. God is not some diagnosably Obsessive Compulsive Disorder list-maker, not some insecure taskmaster. In fact, in trusting us with the Bible in its cacophonous beauty, he seems to be demonstrating how very secure he is in his own being with our doubts, disputes, and despair. Maybe God is more of a grown up than I thought?

The great 16th century theologian and reformer John Calvin once wrote, “Surely we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.”[i] Any certainty, John? Really? But yes, it’s comforting to know that all of my supposed certainties may be laced with doubt, assailed by anxiety. It’s comforting to know that God is secure even amidst my insecurity.

This is why God is not just comfortable with but delights in being more near to us than we are to ourselves. God is not afraid of you. God is not afraid of your doubts. God is not afraid of your anxiety. Perhaps the reason “Do not fear” is so often on God’s lips is because he is ultimately fearless when it comes to us. God’s own trust in us is absolutely tied to his confidence in his own love and care for us.

And so wrestle with each and every doubt. Speak it plainly. Share it with confidence. God is secure, and God is a much better listener than anyone you’ve ever known.

__________

Prayer:

Powerful and Good God, knowing that you are secure helps me to feel a bit more secure. Knowing that you are willing to hear my every doubt frees me up to express to you concerns that I thought were weak and selfish. I want honesty in every part of me. Give me the confidence to trust you. Amen

 

[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.1

Wrestle with God (Wednesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Fifth Wednesday in Lent

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Gen. 22:24-28

“It feels like my struggle is just a revelation of how little faith I have,” she said, battling to look me in the eyes. Her shame was palpable. She’d heard it time and again – real Christians with real faith see real victory in their lives.

She pinned her Facebook wall with optimistic quotes and positive thoughts, but these were only a mask. Somehow, she hoped that by portraying positivity, she’d become positive herself.

How strange is it, then, that so many women and men in Scripture seem to wrestle? In this passage, Jacob himself seems to be wrestling with this “God-man” – one who seems to be close enough to be intimately engaged and yet powerful enough to re-name him.

He was once called Jacob. Jacob, which could mean “followed” or “supplanted,” becomes Israel, “one who struggles with God.” The one who was clasping at Esau’s heel is now the one who stands toe to toe with God, who enters the boxing ring with God, who is wounded by God.

From now on, an entire nation is defined by his wrestling match with God. The people of “Israel” have a vocation embedded in their name.

I once heard a theologian say that one of Israel’s major problems in the Old Testament was that it actually failed to wrestle well with God. Instead of wrestling, she went back to old habits and loves, old idols and addictions. Instead of wrestling, she’d look for security in military power and human leaders. But where she failed in her vocation as God-wrestler, Jesus didn’t. Jesus accomplishes what Israel failed at.

And because we are “in Christ” – because Christ is more near to us than we are to ourselves – we, too, become God-wrestlers. We, too, are marked not by a merit badge but by a limp. Christians make Jesus known not in strength but in weakness. Christians are transformed not by climbing the ladder but by wrestling in the ring, where we’re always close to the ground.

You see, once again our limits are on display, and it’s quite alright with God. The limp isn’t a disqualifier. The struggle isn’t a strikeout. Falling to the mat isn’t our end. In fact, our very wrestling is a declaration of trust. By grabbing hold of God by the arms and wrestling, we’re declaring our desires, our longings, our hopes. We’re declaring that God is real – not some ghost-like figure but One who enters in.

Those who follow Jesus are the “new Israel,” with a new identity, a new vocation, a new mission. Our wrestling is not just for ourselves, but for the sake of all. I wonder what it would be like for a watching world to see us wrestling honestly with God, unafraid of our limp, engaged relentlessly with a God who is more near and available than we can imagine!

__________

Prayer:

Wrestling God, I’ve got to admit – it’s hard to imagine getting in the boxing ring with you. The story of Jacob seems like an old fable, not a relevant invitation. But I want to live out my vocation and mission as the God-struggler, for my sake and for the sake of the world. Amen

Wrestle With God (Tuesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Fifth Tuesday in Lent

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” Revelation 6:9-10

How long, oh Lord? This is an ancient cry. It’s a cry of Psalmists and wisdom writers and prophets. But in a surprising New Testament twist, the cry of lament is found on the lips of those martyrs who’ve already gone to be with the Lord.

Lament in heaven? I’ve heard a bunch of funeral sermons, but I’ve never heard one emphasizing the sadness of those who’ve gone to be with Christ. What can this mean?

What it means is this: How long? is a cry for us all. It’s a cry for those at the bottom of the pit and those at the loftiest heights. It’s a cry for the poor and for the rich. It’s a cry for the abuse victim and for the ecstastic new mother.

You see, these are wrestling words. These are words for a world in which injustice still lingers, where racism dehumanizes, where pornography toxifies. They are words for a world in which Christians are still martyred, innocent children are aborted, and women are paid less than men. There is always an opportunity to cry out How long?

We live in a world longing for shalom, groaning for redemption (Rom. 8). Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Some of us ignore this. Others cope with cynicism or with denial or with distraction. But Lent invites us to pay attention, not merely to our ordinary problems – credit card debt or the need for weight loss – but to the more complex and messy ones. Lent invites us to wrestle on behalf of anyone, anywhere, who needs the justice and mercy of Christ.

A pastor was once over-heard saying, “Lent is kind of like a God-sanctioned self-improvement project.” When I heard this, I cringed. No, Lent isn’t about a bit of cleaning up and repair work but about personal and cosmic transformation. As we’re changed, our cries become the cries of the world. We join our voices with the heavenly voices who see a world not yet set right.

The agenda of my old selves is always (false) self-centered. My true self in Christ, however, joins in union with the One who came near to love to join and even weep with those who long for mercy and justice. Prayer, then, can become a wrestling on behalf of the Palestinian Christian denied human rights, the pastor’s wife being emotionally abused by her narcissistic husband, and the teenage girl raped by her boyfriend now wondering how to end her pregnancy.      

To become participants in this cosmic wrestling match requires us to do some Lenten soul-work, however. We’ve got to attend to patterns of denial, avoidance, and distraction. We’ve got to name the false realities we live into that mask the real. We’ve got to open ourselves to the groaning of the entire creation, not just our own.

But, this isn’t an invitation to a depressing life! As our hearts become more expansive, joy grows within us. We see through the pain into the profound goodness of others made in the image of God. We join with Jesus, who makes his home in me and you and every broken imager-bearer.

So, join your voice to the saints who’ve already gone before us. How long? is a prayer for all of us.

__________

Prayer:

Justice-and-Mercy seeking God, you hear the groans of your creation and your children. I want to join my ‘How Long?’ to theirs. I long to wrestle on behalf of others. Stir in me a heart for those who need this cry. Amen

 

Wrestle With God (Sunday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
    and my groanings are poured out like water.
For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
    and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
    I have no rest, but trouble comes.

                             Job 3:24-26

In a culture where we’ve become experts in pain avoidance, wrestle with God. In a world where self-help books promise quick fixes, enter the boxing ring. In a society that wipes away tears before they’ve fully been shed, embrace your pain.

 But what does that mean? For Job, at least, it meant wrestling with God until he came to a place of silence, of surrender. Dogged by so-called friends who were trying to theologize his experience, friends who were trying to find some rationale, Job just kept wrestling. Challenged by accusations, Job kept wrestling. Job kept wrestling until his arms could no longer grip, until his hands opened in a posture of surrender.

Some have tried to find a secret recipe for understanding God in this 42 chapter, 12 round boxing match called “The Book of Job.” But you can’t find it. It’s not there. There’s no “how-to” of pain management. No, this book is a heavyweight bout. Job enters the ring. He looks pain square in the eye. And he knows that he can’t do that without looking God square in the eye.

Lent is a Job-like season. It’s a time when we pay attention to our strategies of avoidance. It’s a season in which we rip off our band aids and do the major heart surgery necessary to discover how we sabotage the God-abiding life. It’s a season in which we acknowledge our propensity to avoid the ground of our being and the limitations of our creaturely life.

And pain holds the possibility of returning us back to that ground. When tragedy affects us, there is no more room for pretense. When health is stolen from us, our false selves relax their controlling grip. All of a sudden we’re thrown into a raw, unfiltered space. We’re thrust into the boxing ring            , and it feels like God is our greatest enemy.

In these times, the fluff has to go. Throw out the self-help book. Refuse the Kleenex meant to clean you up quickly. Avert your eyes when the super-spiritual comforter comes with her encouraging Bible verse. Let your entire being descend into its earthy, rugged ground. “Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”[i]

Remember, blessed are the broken. On the wilderness journey of life, there is no path around, under, or over – only through. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it all out. Go through it, with boxing gloves on, honest as you can.

Maybe, in the end, you’ll be able to surrender with Job. Maybe in the wordless ground of your being, connected again to your creation-dust, you’ll be able to say with Job

I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. Job 42:1

__________

Prayer:

God, I’d like to enter into a more honest place with you. In the midst of a world that sanitizes suffering, I want to be a person who has nothing to hide between us. Give me the courage to trust you with my whole heart and story. Amen

 

[i] Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3, p. 17 at http://nfs.sparknotes.com/lear/page_310.html

Take The Humble Path (Saturday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:9

“I’m a peacekeeper,” she said to me, with her head tilted downward. I had asked her if she could speak to her boss about sexist and racist remarks he’d made toward her. But she made clear that it was not her personality to stir the pot.

“What if you could become a peacemaker?” I asked. She looked confused. I wondered aloud with her whether or not it was time for someone to declare shalom where there was no peace.

“But I might lose my job!” she retorted.

She’d been there for 10 years. She was the senior engineer in a Silicon Valley startup, and at 35 she was probably more than a decade older than most of her colleagues. Her boss and the founder was 32, a young, brash, and narcissistic guy who experienced his early success as a sign of impenetrability.

I could conceive of several different ways in which she could and should tackle racist and sexist comments, but peacekeeping wasn’t on the list. After running through options which included outside, legal intervention, she said to me, “I’ve been here with him a long time. I think I owe it to him relationally to say something clearly and directly.” Wow. Something new was emerging in her.

We walked through her language and tone. She wanted to practice – to imagine herself in the conversation, speaking non-reactively but with strength. I coached her to share how it felt and what she needed. We talked about specific requests she’d make. She did meditation exercises in which she imagined speaking to him, in the setting they’d gather, face to face, with clear speech and direct eye contact. She wisely planned for another senior employee to be present. And then the big day came.

When she called me that evening, I could hardly wait to hear what happened. My formerly anxious and diminutive client had chosen to become a peacemaker.  She knew the risk. She’d planned for multiple contingencies. She’d also received the affirmation of several peers at work who were willing to go to battle if and when it was necessary. However, she’d go before them.

I can’t imagine anything more Christ-like, in some respects. But I worried whether or not I was unwittingly setting her up to “cast her pearls before swine.” Regardless, she’d made the choice after a lot of deliberation. She didn’t have to do this. She longed to. Something in her shifted in our weeks of discernment. She was beginning to have a vision for a workplace where people wouldn’t walk on eggshells, where trust and vulnerability could fuel creativity and innovation. Her imagination was lifted to a place of wholeness and vitality.

“Well, it was disastrous,” she said, with an unexpected calm. “Within minutes he was twisting my words into some conspiratorial theory about me undermining him for years. Within the hour, the board was contacted, my desk was cleared, and I’m now sitting at home with a glass of wine and a box of memories a decade old.”

I was stunned. Of course, I felt responsible to some degree. I didn’t say a word.

“And I feel exhilarated,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive than I did today. The texts I’ve received range from profound gratitude to words like ‘hero’ and ‘role model.’” While her own future was uncertain, she anticipated a larger fight in which she’d play some role in and for the sake of her colleagues that remained.

Flocks of people did not come to Jesus that day. A narcissistic founder did not fall to his knees and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. No, but something profound happened. Words of shalom entered into a dark space. A light shined in the darkness. A woman experienced persecution. A courageous soul experienced rejoicing. And the kingdom was among us.

I think that this brave woman’s imitation-of-Christ happens every day. She’s not going to be sainted. Her name won’t appear on some wall of courage in downtown San Francisco. But her words brought disruption, holy disruption into unholiness. And she felt alive.

You’d probably like to hear the end of the story. I would too. But like many biblical parables, it is unresolved. Like our lives, it is unresolved. I don’t live in San Francisco anymore. I’ve heard an update or two. She’s landed on her feet. He’s still doing his narcissistic thing. But I believe the kingdom came in a tangible way on that day, through an ordinary woman, much like you and me. She certainly inspired me to follow Christ on the path of humility.

__________

Prayer:

Peacemaking God, every day you go before us. But it takes a lot of courage for me to step into the fray. I’ll admit, I am kind of scared. But I also long to be alive, to live with freedom. Give me the courage to live for you. Amen

Take The Humble Path (Friday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8

What bugs you the most about Christians? You can ask this question to longtime Christians or new ones, skeptical seekers or ardent atheists, and you’ll likely get a similar answer: hypocrisy.

You know it. You’ve experienced it. You’ve likely practiced it. It comes from a Greek word that means “play-acting.” It’s about stage craft – playing a role on the outside, but not living it from your whole being. And Jesus was fairly merciless when it came to hypocrites. Matthew 23 is a tour de force against the hypocritical religious:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28

On the other hand, Jesus has a vision for wholeheartedness. It emerges in the one who comes to the end of herself, mourns the old, is humbled by the process, and grows in new longings for a life of grace and mercy. This person is pure of heart.

No, not squeaky clean. No, not ready to be sainted. No, not adorned with a halo. No, not perfect. Pure.

“She is a person of character of character consistency, a person who rings true whenever you tap her. She keeps promises,” says one theologian.[i] What you see is what you get. The inside matches the outside. There is no show.

Words like purity, and even perfection, get thrown around a lot in Christian circles, and some of us even believe that God expects nothing less than this gold standard of morality. We become adept at climbing the ladder of holiness up to God with our Lenten fasts and our daily disciplines only to realize that the holy top of the mountain is unattainable. And even more, Jesus isn’t there! He’s come to us.

In fact, we’ve really distorted both words – purity and perfection. Each in their own way actually get at what I’ve called wholeheartedness.[ii] This is an experience of oneness and worthiness in Christ. It is that “abiding” we mused on days ago, that being-at-home in Jesus.

And this, you’ll be shocked to hear, comes not from climbing but falling – falling into grace, falling into goodness, falling into your life. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as Paula D’Arcy says. And that means that God comes in and through the concreteness of your very being – who you are, where you are. Christ’s dying and Christ’s rising takes place in you. You may actually begin to believe that God isn’t ‘out there’ residing somewhere between Jupiter and Venus, but within.

The so-called hypocrites can’t stand this kind of talk. God must be attained, achieved, arrived at. God is a goal, attained by checking the boxes. Any talk of God’s beautiful intimacy in Christ sounds blasphemous.

And yet, it’s the true story we’re so blessed to participate in. God comes so near that he changes you, even you, from the inside out. He’s not afraid of what’s in you, and if it takes a lifetime he’ll work to remind you that shouldn’t be either. The God-in-you reality should remind us every day that it’s not about cleaning up our act for God, but making our whole being available for God’s abiding.

God’s doing the cleanup work in your right now. You can resist or surrender. You can fool around with the externals or fall into his infinite goodness, always available to you, right now and forever. You can close your eyes to grace or open them in order to “see God,” who is more near than you are to yourself.

__________

Prayer:

God-in-us, you’re not afraid of what’s inside me. Why should I be afraid? You are making me new, cleaning me, purifying me, making your home in me. Housecleaning has never been so glorious. Give me the eyes to see. Amen

 

[i] Cornelius Plantinga, Not The Ways It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary On Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 34-35.

[ii] See DeGroat, Wholeheartedness.

Take The Humble Path (Thursday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

“I’m blessed with the gift of mercy,” she said to me, with a twinkle of eagerness in her eye. You got the sense that she was ready to jump into any ministry I asked her to do. And there were needs at the church…plenty of them. I needed her. But, I told her no.

Why would I do that? I knew her too well to draw her in to something that could further intensify a wound in her. You see, she had learned a long time ago to give as a way of getting. She grew up an only child in a family of high achieving parents, and she got their attention by being the child-without-needs, the child always ready to come through for Mom and Dad. Her room was spotless. Her grades were high. And she never whined or complained. As her pastor, I could not ask her to serve without having a long and hard conversation about her life and my vision for her growth.

The quality of mercy Jesus imagines here is different than eager giving. The merciful person – because she’s a broken, lamenting, humbled, and longing soul – is close to the ground. She’s fallen into goodness herself. And from that place, she gives freely, with no strings attached.

In pastoral ministry, I’ve meet many eager givers. I’ve seen them come through the seminary as well. And we often bless their supposed gifts. But too many today help from a place of woundedness. And this form of helping often leads to resentment and emptiness.

When I think about how and why I give, it’s complicated. I give to bless. But I also give to be thanked. I give to be noticed. I give to feel special. I give to satisfy an appetite for usefulness. I give to stay busy. I give to get benefits. I give from a whole host of troubling and complicated motives.

The question for each of us is this: Are we on the beatitude journey of Jesus? If we are, we’re doing the deep archaeological dig in our souls necessary for authentically merciful giving. And when we are close to the ground of our own being, close to that humus-soil of meekness, we are prone to meet others right where they are, as wounded-healers to weary and broken souls.   

We all long to be rescuers, at some level. We long to be heroic. But sometimes our rescuing masks our own core needs for love and security. Jesus makes a far better Rescuer than you and me. As we’re humbled and as our sense of self-importance slowly dissipates, we might actually find ourselves eager to participate as mercy-givers, not because we’re fishing for satisfaction but because we’re longing to see the world made right.

__________

Prayer:

Rescuing Savior, I realize now that you are a far better “rescuer” than I am. In fact, in rescuing another I may not recognize that it is I who most desperately need rescuing. Continue to do the work of humbling me for participation in your kingdom life. I really do long to be a mercy-giver. Amen

Take The Humble Path (Wednesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6

When I was a kid, our house was Grand Central Station for my neighborhood friends. This meant that lots of snacks and drinks were necessary. After a couple of hours of pickup basketball or football, we’d bring our massive hunger and thirst into my kitchen in a frenzied rush. Perhaps you can imagine the ravenous hunger of a bunch of middle school boys.

Now, can you imagine how hungry and thirsty the Jewish people were for a Rescuer after hundreds of years of exile? Can you imagine the excitement as the gossip spread – “He’s here, he’s really here. The Messiah has come! We’re free!” And can you grasp the shock of the young followers assembled on that hillside when Jesus announced that the kingdom come was not the end of their hunger and thirst, but an invitation to it?

Blessed are the broken. Blessed are the mourners. Blessed are the meek. And now this? Perhaps, you can relate. Maybe you’re one of those folks who’ve been following Jesus for years, and yet the marriage hasn’t gotten better, the depression hasn’t diminished, the economic issues haven’t subsided. Or maybe you’re a new follower of Jesus, and you hoped that faith would bring sweeping changes in every area of your life. But, your heart still aches.

We are a people in search of fulfillment. If the Garden of Eden story teaches us anything, it teaches us that we’re not even content with paradise. There is always something more. We now know that each year millions of dollars are spent on psychological research to determine what you and I hunger for, and that marketers use this research to custom-tailor ads that will stir longing in us. The General Motors research division once called this “the organized creation of dissatisfaction.”[i]  

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t satisfy every hunger and thirst when he comes. But he doesn’t mock them either. He ennobles them. Hunger and thirst define the kingdom-dweller, the Jesus-follower. Holy desire animates us. And for what? Righteousness – the world set right again, hearts re-tuned, painful relationships restored, the self-righteous redeemed, racism razed. Jesus invites us into a deeper hunger and thirst, beyond better wifi signals and a better coffee shop in our neighborhood.

The first four beatitudes chip away at our cheap versions of happiness, exposing our Garden-grown propensity for self-fulfillment, and inviting us downward, back to the ground of our being. But notice – they don’t invite us into a prude and squeamish guilt-and-shame based existence. No, this downward journey is the way of life, and life to the full.

Lent, as I said in the Acknowledgments, is from the old English word Lencten, the “springtime” of the soul. Out of death, life. Out of a thawing soil, green. Days lengthening. Sun warming. Hope growing. But for this life-giving process to happen, each season must be embraced and honored for its redeeming work. Yes, even the winter’s dying.

And so, in this Lenten season as we straddle death and life, enter in. Let the broken-mourning-meek-hungering vision of the kingdom do its deep, soul-transforming work on you. Fall into the goodness of God’s beatitude vision.

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Prayer:

Risen Christ, we hunger for the same righteousness you long for, but if we’re honest we’re often satisfied by smaller things. We thirst for justice in our broken world, but sometimes settle for quick fixes. Stir a deeper hunger and thirst for your kingdom and your righteousness. Amen

 

[i] This phrase is quoted in William Cavanaugh’s important short work called Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). These insights are also elaborated upon in my book Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), pp. 16-20.

Take The Humble Path (Tuesday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

I have a favorite poem called “The Self Slaved” by Patrick Cavanaugh. It’s too long to quote the entire poem here – go google it – but there are several lines that are powerful:

    

Me I will throw away.

Me sufficient for the day

The sticky self that clings

Adhesions on the wings

To love and adventure…

 

I will have love, have love

From anything made of

And a life with a shapely form

With gaiety and charm

And capable of receiving

With grace the grace of living

And wild moments too

Self when freed from you.[i]

 

What is stunning to me about this poem is how humble it is. The writer, Patrick Kavanagh, has obviously come to a point in life where he’s tired of the old, “self-righteous” and “sufficient” self, the self that thinks it knows where it’s going and how to get there. He’s obviously lived long enough to grow tired of the self which is incapable of the “grace of living,” longing now even more deeply for the life of freedom, full of “wild moments,” “capable of receiving,” capable of love.

Every maturing life must go through periods of humiliation, where our egos are shown their limitations. Inheriting the earth is not about attaining, accumulating, or conquering. You don’t get the life you want by buying it. Joy can’t be bottled. Those who are “meek” have been refined, through brokenheartedness and grief, now humbled and freed from self-necessity. They inherit the earth because they’ve fallen into the goodness of it.

When I share this in a talk, a small quarter of the room nods with a knowing look while many sit and stare, unsure of what I’m getting at. We’re so addicted to upward mobility that the thought of necessary humiliations along the way is puzzling. Maybe a story will help. I was speaking with an Uber driver recently who had great success in his first 35 years of life in Silicon Valley. And then, out of the blue, he received an invitation from his board to meet. With details of his narcissistic, self-serving behavior, the board gave him 30 minutes to clear the office he’d occupied for 3 years, a bare bones “go-away” financial package, and an apology for not doing it sooner. It was swift, shocking, and painful. He was red-faced, heartbroken, and enraged. He fought back over the next weeks until his mind and body literally couldn’t fight any longer. He told me that he surrendered on that day.

Driving for Uber to pay the bills in the city he once viewed from a 20 story office was the ultimate humiliation. At times, he’d pick up people who once adored him. But he was humbled. He was no longer looking for someone to blame, no longer playing the victim. In a 30 minute drive from my hotel to the airport, I experienced the free soul of a man who’d descended from the heights, quite literally, and fallen into goodness. He said to me, “Every ride is now an opportunity to learn, to share, to be thankful for every moment.”

Blessed are the meek. They’ve found their way down to the ground, to the place where Jesus is and where Jesus can meet them.

__________

Prayer:

Humble Savior, you paved the way for my journey of downward mobility. But I’m scared. Sometimes, this feels like too much. How much of me needs to die? How does that even happen? Will you walk with me on the way and guide me into places of growth, even when I resist? And will I really experience goodness? Will you be near, even in my questions? Amen

 

 

[i] Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1964), p. 160.

Take The Humble Path (Monday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Years ago I wrote a book called Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. It narrates our stories through the story of the Exodus from Egypt, an 11 day journey that took forty years. In other words, it took a day for Israel to leave Egypt, but forty years to get the “Egypt” out of Israel. It always seems to take a lot longer for us to leave what’s behind and claim what’s ahead.

There is often a conflict within me about this. Parts of me want to journey ahead, growing into the person I long to be. Other parts of me resist, still craving the attachments of my past. In the mix, the voice of my true self can get squelched. I can feel lost, stuck, even sad amidst the cacophony of competing voices within me.

Part of my resistance is that I don’t want to say goodbye. I like those old parts of me quite a bit. Some have served me well. I hid behind humor and words early in my life, but it got my somewhere. Part of me was a driven workhorse, and that helped my career. It feels kind of sad saying goodbye – like, I’m saying goodbye to parts of me that served me well, parts of me that knew how to have a good time, parts of me that could outwork the next guy.

There is a grief in this process, isn’t there? When Jesus imagines us coming to the end of ourselves, he’s imagining the death of every little self, every “old self” as St. Paul might say, every false self, even the ones that served us well. I imagine parts of me still in Egypt, still addicted to certain ways of being and living and working that must be freed from their slavery, even if they come kicking and screaming. I imagine an inner conversation with that busy workhorse part of me who reminds me that he’s done the hard work of helping build my career, advance along the way, even write books. But I also imagine Jesus whispering, “Can you rest now and let me lead?”

My wife said recently that she’s seen me change over the years. I used to be a whole lot more anxious and obsessive than I am today. What’s interesting is that there were parts of the old me that she liked (as well as parts she is glad to see growing up.) Truth be told, the couple that fell in love 22 years ago has seen a lot of dying along the way. And with that process, there have been tears of sadness and joy.

Jesus wasn’t trying to play therapist to the disciples when he challenged them to mourn. He was recognizing the reality of switching stories, of transitioning from a life geared toward their own self-fulfillment to a kingdom-life, with all it entails. The next years for those sitting at his feet on that hillside will be tougher than they know. They’ve chosen to enter into a new Story, led by a new (true) self, freed to live and love and serve and even die.

What must you mourn as you leave the old behind? It’s quite alright to like, even to love, old memories, old attachments, old parts of you from the past. But it may also be time to thank them and to say goodbye, to grieve and mourn their loss. The new lies ahead.

__________

Prayer:

Suffering Servant, you knew pain and were well-acquainted with grief. In becoming one of us, you’ve shown such great love and solidarity with our journeys, as well. Thank you for giving me permission to grieve. I know that it is only through tears that I will see your kingdom with new eyes. Amen

Take The Humble Path (Sunday)

Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Of all the things Jesus could start with, this is it?

Imagine this: Jesus had just gathered his young disciples, teenage young men that they were, for their very first lesson. Just prior to this, they’d been with Jesus among the “crowds,” with a broad ethnic mix of women and men from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. The attention was fixed on this miracle worker, Jesus, who seemed to be able to heal every disease, even giving hope to epileptics and paralytics and demoniacs. Can you imagine the buzz?

To be a teenage follower of Jesus in this eclectic crowd! Social media would have been abuzz. How special must these young followers have felt? And then, with seeming ignorance to the opportunity a large crowd was for a preacher, Jesus says, “Let’s get out of here.” And he takes a much smaller crew of followers up a hillside to chat with them about what the kingdom of God really means.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 What a buzzkill, Jesus! Just think of it – these newly empowered young followers who are feeling quite special about themselves now told that the first principle of this new kingdom order is poverty! What could Jesus mean?

He wasn’t telling them to sell off their stocks and IRA’s – no, he was saying something far more radical. To a group of young, newly empowered, feeling-kind-of-special followers he was saying, “You must come to the very end of yourselves.”

20th century poet T.S. Eliot in his beautiful “East Coker” imagines a path through a world that offers only fragile, temporal solutions. Amidst war and secularism and cheap versions of progress, Eliot imagines another way, an inward journey:

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.[i]

Jesus is envisioning us falling into the goodness of his kingdom. It’s not a journey that requires us to climb a ladder up into the divine heights. No, this kingdom of heaven requires us to let go, to fall, to come to our end. The heavenly dimension available and accessible to all is not up there, but as close as your body, as close as the ground you stand on.

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 will be a hard message for these young followers. After all, when you’re young it’s all about the upwardly mobile life. We accumulate degrees and edit resumes and iron our best shirts for the big interview. We’re always striving for the next promotion, the big payday. For young followers looking for a Messiah to give them titles and riches and glory, this message might just be a hard one to swallow. Maybe they, and all of us, need a bit of time to sit with it. In the next Beatitude, Jesus will invite us to grieve, too.

For Jesus, the Lenten journey must go through a Cross. For each of us, there is a daily dying in which every part of us that grasps, accumulates, and strives chooses, once and for all, to surrender. This is a lifetime work. It’s not slow, it’s not easy, it’s not sexy. In time, our true selves in Christ emerge from the ruins like the resurrected Jesus, freed to live the full, abundant life – the heavenly life – Jesus promises. But a lot of dying needs to happen. Every resistant part of us is invited to surrender.

Sit with this difficult invitation from Jesus today. There is no need to hear it as a command to sell all your possessions immediately and wallow in guilt about the life you’ve lived. That’s not the point! Jesus is inviting us to freedom, not guilt. He’s showing us the way to goodness, not guiltiness. He’s offering the opportunity to remove every obstacle to union. As we sit with Jesus and consider this, will we take the journey?

__________

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, you open a way to us that seems daunting but is ultimately freeing. And yet, it’s hard to comprehend. What does it mean for me? And how can I live for you in a world that lives to consume, possess and accumulate? Give me wisdom, and be my guide. Amen

 

[i] T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), p. 20.