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Posts in Chuck DeGroat
Imagine The Kingdom (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.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17

  I wonder if we believe this. I wonder if we believe that Jesus longs for us to be one in him, and with one another. I wonder if we can even fathom God’s “glory” in Christ being given to us. Can we imagine the kingdom coming in such a personal, relational way?

  In a world of selfishness and competition, it’s hard to grasp the idea that the maker of heaven and earth would be so utterly unselfish. In my family, we battle about who will take a shower first and how much hot water we’ll have and who gets to be in the bathroom and for how long. In our workplaces, we look over our shoulders, wondering if our colleague might get the promotion ahead of us. We live a world where people battle over profit, feed on the idol of accumulation, wage wars over who possesses what.

  And yet, from the very beginning it seems that the very nature of God is selfless, giving infinitely of his infinite resources, continually overflowing in Love. For St. John, Love is God’s very character (1 John 4:8). God’s been trying to give away the greatest gift of all since the beginning of time, but we’re masters of sabotage, trying to bottle up our own versions of transcendence and love and glory when infinite Love is offered freely.

  But what strikes me about St. John’s imagination in this passage more than anything else today is this: that the world may know. God’s very best advertisement, to put it crassly, is our embodiment of his love. It’s not the most effective mission strategy. It’s not the buttoned up theological argument. It’s not the most emotionally moving worship experience. It’s Love, embodied in women and men, young and old, rich and poor, have’s and have nots, people of every tribe and nation.

  Sometimes in Lent I’ll get very focused on me – my growth, my sanctification process. But it struck me when I was taking Communion at church recently that the Table we approached was the great equalizer, that streams of people would come forward to receive who didn’t share the same blood or net worth or ethnic background or political beliefs all to participate in the life of Jesus. I watched and I wondered – do we even know what’s happening right now? I lamented about how ritualistic the sacrament had become for me and so many.

  God longs to give away his glory. Love, freely given, is available in infinite proportion. What if we, in becoming one with Jesus, became one with each other, and in this showed a watching world how beautiful the community of God can be?   

__________

Prayer:

Loving God, open my heart to both receive and give, to drink deeply of your Love and then to give abundantly from it. Too many times I’ve settled for something less, and too often our world chooses a much less satisfying pathway to the Love it needs. Open our imaginations to see you giving of yourself, infinitely, not just for our sakes but so the world may know. Amen

Imagine The Kingdom (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.

For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.

                                                                                         Acts 17:23-28

One of the reasons I call myself a follower of Jesus is because I believe, deep down in my soul, that he is the very center of the story of the world. All our hopes and aspirations are tied up in Jesus, who reveals who God really is.

And people hunger for life he offers. You do. I do. We see the hunger in insatiable appetites for instant intimacy, constant connection, lasting love. St. Paul says that people are searching, hoping they might “grope for him and find him.” In spiritual practices of every tradition, people are groping. In fad diets and body makeovers, people are reaching for him. And St. Paul even uses a pagan poet to show the hunger.

In him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring.

Even the pagan poets intuited a fundamental union with the divine. And if they do, perhaps your neighbor does. Or your co-worker. Or your yoga teacher. Or your son who has left Christian faith to ‘explore’. Perhaps God is more near to all of us than we think. Could we exercise that kind of imagination?

I’ve heard dozens of stories from missionaries who ventured into tribal territories to evangelize a pagan people only to discover that when they told the Story and named Jesus, the response was, “Oh yes, we know this story well.” St. Paul says it himself in Romans 1. God has revealed enough for everyone to grope for it, albeit frustratingly at times. At a deep down, intuitive level, each and every one of us knows. But we seem to be adept at settling and sabotaging, choosing substitutes that satisfy for a moment but don’t last. Even those who claim Christian faith go about living and moving and being in other places.

Of course, if you follow Paul in Romans, he’s not terribly optimistic about a life that doesn’t find its center in Jesus. In fact, you might just say that it will becoming a “living hell.” We all know the life – the one the prodigal son chose, fun as it was for a time, which eventually ended in a pig pen. I’ve taken the turn a hundred times, and still do, as I give way to distracting and hopeless substitutes for the real life Jesus offers. But St. Paul is also pretty quick to caution all of us, especially those who think they’ve found it and own the territory, to withhold judgment of others. In fact, have you experienced what I’ve experienced? Have you noticed that some who don’t claim Christian faith seem more deeply connected to the Divine than many of us “Christians” are? As a lifelong Christian ‘insider’ this makes me a bit squeamish.

The great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel once said that we fail to understand God “not because we aren't able to extend our concepts far enough but because we don't know how to begin close enough.”[i] Faith becomes a head trip. Christianity is a series of box checks - you’re in or out based on your right answers. And yet, having received theological degrees and having served as an ordained minister, I spent many years living out of union, speaking the name of Jesus but not at all at “home” in him. I didn’t start close enough. I began in my head, not in my deepest being.  

Perhaps, instead of determining insiders and outsiders, we ought to leave the details up to God and simply abide. Perhaps, instead of condemning those who don’t agree, we ought to wade gently into the waters of curious conversations, sharing our longings, our desires, our intuitions of a life of deep and divine connection. Some of my favorite conversations are with those who don’t (yet) claim Jesus but intuit a profound divine connection.

With seemingly lavish grace St. Paul says, “to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” And so, my imagination grows into patient exploration, hopeful that the God in whom each and every human being lives and moves and has their being will reveal the central character of the Story in vivid color, Jesus, who satisfies every desire.

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Prayer:

Ever-present God, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear of your goodness in everything you’ve made. Give me the capacity to see a hunger for you in each and every person I meet. And may Jesus satisfy every desire of ours. Amen

 

[i] Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone (New York, NY: Harper, 1966), p. 127.

Imagine The Kingdom (Thursday)

The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

Always water. Waters to pass through on the exodus journey. Waters to plunge into on our baptismal journey. Waters to cleanse. Waters to purify. Waters to quench thirst. Jesus as “living water.” And “streams of living water” flowing from within those in whom the Spirit dwells. The River of Life in the new heavens and new earth.

Always water.

Jesus calls those who are blessed “thirsty for righteousness.” Wet tears stream from those who longings go unsatisfied. It would seem that our very bodies are living demonstrations of our organic connection to water. Indeed, 60% of the human body is water!

Always water.

As I write, I’m mindful right now that while I was in the frigid frozen tundra of Michigan yesterday, I sit today poolside in Phoenix, AZ where in my line of sight a large, stony bridge pours forth gallons of glistening water into a sky blue pool. The water meanders through a series of rocky canals above, winding down until it passes over a time-eroded curved edge, plunging ten feet into the waters below. And then, what was above and what was below are one.

Augustinian monk and Villanova professor Martin Laird writes, “We might liken the depths of the human to the sponge in the ocean. The sponge looks without and sees ocean; it looks within and sees ocean. The sponge is immersed in what at the same time flows through it.”[i] When I consider Laird’s words, I think of what my friend Jason said on a retreat I led not long ago. He said, “I experience God when my body descends into the water, when I am suspended in it. That’s what it is like to be in Christ.”

  The water descends from the stony waterfall above and then it plunges into the depths, becoming one with the expansive waters below. The Spirit plunges as streams of living water into our very being washing and cleansing and purifying and enlivening and refreshing in ways our baptism promised. Our tears are joined with these waters, our lives entangled with God’s life.

  And the Lamb guides us here, says St. John. To the struggling churches he writes his apocalyptic letter as a message of comfort and imaginative vision. The Lamb – slain and risen – is both the guide and the Living Water, the forgiving victim and the refreshing stream. In the final chapter of his vision, St. John writes, “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

  If I’m honest, I seek to be joined with many different things. I look for connection and oneness in a thousand different places. I long for the living waters, but look in empty wells.

  But for a moment now as I peer ahead at the plunging waters, I long to fall into the goodness of God. How about you?

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Prayer:

Living Water, you refresh and cleanse and purify and heal. You long to wash over me in a flowing fountain of grace and peace. And I long to plunge into your depths. May I fall into the refreshing goodness of your Oneness. Amen

 

[i] Martin Laird, Into The Silent Land (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 17.

Imagine The Kingdom (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.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:1-2

The disciples of Jesus were desperately fearful that Jesus was leaving them. And I can tell you – in twenty years of pastoring and counseling, I’ve talked to plenty of women and men who feel like God is as far away as Mars.

In my church, we proclaim the Apostle’s Creed almost every Sunday. One of the proclamations we make is this: Jesus ascended into heaven. And, as the popular misunderstanding goes, he went to build a heavenly palace for us to dwell in when we, in the end, rise like ghosts into the sky.

Heaven is not a far-away place, however. Heaven is another dimension, more near to us than we realize. Respected New Testament scholar and Episcopal Bishop N.T. Wright says, “The ascension of Jesus…is his going, not way beyond the stars, but into this space, this dimension.”[i] We use language that conveys a “going” but it is not a going away, it is a going deeper. Again, we’ve got to exercise holy imaginations to see and experience this.

C.S. Lewis imagines this process in a way I can relate to. He says that our home needs some significant repairs. God’s mansion-building project requires an extreme makeover. Perhaps you, like me, like to watch HGTV sometimes, and appreciate the transformation that happens when imaginative designers meet skilled laborers. Jesus has entered into this new, deeper heavenly dimension to do his grand re-design, his extreme makeover of you and me and the entire cosmos. He is one with the Creator, after all! C.S. Lewis writes, “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.”[ii]

Lent is often a time for spiritual touch-ups. Some use this liturgical season to “get right with God,” to “recommit to reading the Bible,” to “develop healthier spiritual habits.” When I hear this, I sense that people are still operating from the old, pre-Jesus script that the Pharisees were working off of, the one that I imagine to be a re-painting of the outside of the house while the inside rots. This is why Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs.”

No, stretch your imagination a bit further. The King is building a palace. And the King has sent his Spirit to begin the work in you, from the inside-out. You – God’s living temple – are a top priority in God’s Kingdom restoration project. You, with all of your baggage. You, with that history of abuse. You, with the failed attempts to overcome that addiction. You, with your squeaky clean outside. You, with your doubts about it all. God is far more committed to you than you are to yourself, if you can imagine it.

And so, let the work begin. Surrender to it. Partner in it. Fall into the goodness God has for you.

 __________

Prayer:

Ascended Jesus, I’m trying to imagine that you are not far away, but actually present to me in a way that doesn’t make sense to my analytical mind. But nothing is impossible with you. And so, would you do the work of re-creating me from the inside out to be the beautiful mansion you long to dwell in? Amen

 

[i] https://eerdword.com/2014/05/28/heaven-and-power-n-t-wright-on-jesus-ascension-part-1-of-2/

[ii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1980), p. 206.

 

Imagine The Kingdom (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.

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. John 15:4

Abide.

What a strange word. I don’t use it much. Do you?

Some Bible translators use the word “remain.” Remain in me. But that sounds off to me - sort of like “you must remain here until the officer says you can go.”

Abide.

When all else fails, when I’ve done my Greek studies and consulted my lexicons and bored my wife and daughters with questions about their observations, I go to my pastor-translator, Eugene Peterson. His books on life, and particularly pastoral life, have formed and shaped me. His Bible translation (some might not like that term!) brings new insights and surfaces some of the original flavor of the first writers. Peterson’s translation goes like this:

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.

Whoa. That hits home, quite literally.

The great St. Augustine once said, “God is more near to me than I am to myself.”[i] He called God our “homeland.” If the Bible, Peterson, and Augustine are right and God is “home” in us, then I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not home.

It’s actually kind of like this: I live somewhere in the backyard. In fact, it’s not even a comfortable place. It’s a tent on the hard cold ground. And, even more, I don’t even look at my home very often. I’ve got lots of other distractions to keep my attention. And sometimes, I even begin to think damp tent is as good as it gets.

God is at home but I am away. Can you relate? Imagine living on the grounds of a palatial estate, but never entering the doors. Imagine peeking through the windows but never living within. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “We cannot attain the presence of God because we are already totally in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness.”[ii]

Jesus says, Make your home in me just as I’ve made mine in you.

Abide in me as I abide in you.

And then…remain there! The distractions aren’t nearly as satisfying.

 __________

Prayer:

Abiding God, I long to be at home in you and you in me. That you are far closer to me than I realize is a mystery, but one that captivates my distracted mind. Would you patiently but intentionally pursue me, invite me, and never, ever give up, even when I look away? Amen

 

[i] Augustine, Confessions 3.6.11

[ii] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs (New York, NY: Crossroad, 2003), p. 29.

Imagine The Kingdom (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.

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:1-2

“All I heard was repent-repent-repent growing up,” my 25 year old friend said. I was probably 30 at the time, and wanting to be relevant and edgy I said, “I hate that word, too. It just conveys to people that they’re bad.”

I hope I didn’t steer her too far afoot. You see, I get the visceral and painful response to the word based on her fundamentalist background, but nevertheless I’d tell her today that, indeed, she must repent.

Yet, in a way she hasn’t yet imagined…

Imagine the Kingdom in our midst. Paradise here and now. Freedom for captives. Food for the poor. Homes for refugees. Infinite delights in the mystic sweet communion discovered in contemplative silence. Who wouldn’t want to repent?

Repentance is a tricky word. While it’s been used in tragic and abusive ways, it is quite a simple word picture – turn around. If I were to say, “Hey kids, Disney World is near – turn around!” it’s a safe bet they would. That’s exactly what John the Baptist is doing here.

Turn around! Well that requires attending to where you’re going right now. And I will venture a guess that, like me, you’re trying to find heaven in a romantic relationship, paradise in an all-night binge, security in a lottery ticket. Where are you turned towards? What has captured your imagination?

The reality of God-dwelling-within is this: we are often turned to the periphery of our lives, and not to the center. King Jesus is home on his throne, waiting like the patient father for you and for me – prodigals that we are – to turn around. The infinitely patient God is no further from you than the heart beating in your chest, and yet you’ve tried to find him in a chocolate donut, a one-night stand, a shiny new car.

I’m not trying to guilt you. If you’re feeling it, though, it might be an opportune time to ask this question – what was I really looking for? Believe me, Jesus isn’t waiting to scold you, he’s waiting to embrace you. But he can’t receive you if you’re not looking.

Recently, someone I’ve been spiritually directing said to me, “Chuck, it feels like when I tune into the reality that God dwells within me more close to me than I am to myself, my whole body vibrates with an energy that feels better than anything I’ve ever known.” I believe the Bible calls this “delight.” And it was a word frequently on the lips of the Psalmists, early church theologians, medieval mystics, Puritan contemplatives, traditional hymn writers, and always little children – who have that stunning capacity to see beauty and goodness where the rest of us don’t.

Repent, for the kingdom is near. Turn around. Take a look. Exercise a bit of your sanctified imagination. What goodness might you find and fall in to if you dared to look?

 __________

Prayer:

God in whom I delight, I want to taste and see a sweetness and a beauty in you that I look for in a thousand other places. I realize you’re not looking to scold me for looking elsewhere – you’re just longing for me. I believe! Help my unbelief! Amen

Imagine The Kingdom (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.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-21

It is said that Leo Tolstoy wrote, “In the midst of winter, I find within me the invisible summer.” I think this gets to what Jesus is saying in Luke 17.

The Kingdom is not something that can be manufactured, strategized, or packaged. It’s not a brand. It’s not a possession. It can’t be bought and sold, built or torn down. In other words, this Kingdom which comes with the reign of Jesus is the antithesis of our controlling, managing, and editing ego.

Perhaps this is why these words are spoken to the Pharisees. In that day, there was no better representative of a manufactured, managed and manipulated kingdom than the Pharisaical version of it. This is why Jesus could playfully say, “Tear it down! I’ll rebuild it in three days.”

Sometimes, for me, to be “in the Kingdom” requires me only to close my eyes. It’s winter outside – when my eyes are open – but it’s summer when I close them. If, amidst silence, the inner voices can dim and the pressure to do something can relax, a sense of peace ensues. Sometimes I’ll say, “Jesus is that you?” And I’ll imagine him saying, “Yes, I’m here. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m always with you.”

Granted, this is an exercise of the imagination. And yes, I’m trusting the good old Story to be true – that Jesus has come in-the-flesh, has died, has risen, and has sent his life-giving Spirit to dwell in me.

I’m believing a bit of that old Belinda Carlisle song too, I suppose -

     Oooh baby do you know what that’s worth

Oooh heaven is a place on earth.

Heaven is a place on earth. God dwells among humans – you and me. No, heaven isn’t “up there” somewhere. It’s not located somewhere between Venus and Saturn. God came. Emmanuel dwelled with us. His Spirit dwells in the church and in our hearts. Heaven is, quite literally, within you.

The old sages and mystics knew this. Some people live like it today. Because paradise is literally a breath away, they can close their eyes and imagine. These folks don’t waste a whole lot of time buying boats and fur coats.

One of my favorite mystics of all – St. Teresa of Avila – wrote about this heavenly place in you and me. She called her work The Interior Castle and she imagined a mansion fit for a king, a beautiful place where intimacy with God is privileged over anything else. A favorite translator of mine wrote an introduction to her work describing this inner mansion like this:

There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.[i]

Will you imagine this Kingdom with me in this Lenten week? And will you dare imagine that God’s Kingdom is among and within you?

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Prayer:

King Jesus, you’ve come near, more than I can imagine. Or can I? Have I even tried? I commit to imagining this extraordinary reality – that your heaven is more near than I think, that your paradise is within and among me. Give me the eyes to see what is already here and now. Amen

 

[i] Mirabai Starr, Teresa of Avila The Interior Castle (New York, NY: Penguin, 2013), Kindle Locations 69-72.

Live From Your True Self (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.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19

New words catch my eye every time I read this extraordinary passage, perhaps my favorite in all the New Testament. Today it was the word “rooted.” At other times, “established.” Sometimes a phrase – “long and high and deep is the love.” There are untold treasures for you in multiple, slow readings of this text.

St. Paul is talking about something that happens in our “inner being.” Not in our church. Not in our kids. Not in our relationship (though each of these things will draw the benefits). No, the image here is of Christ dwelling in our hearts. And the implication is that we will experience profound rootedness, power, community, and a love that surpasses anything St. Paul could explain in a letter.

At this point in the Lenten season it’s likely that some of the original excitement about the prospect of this season for your growth has lost its fervor. You get busy. A Lenten devotional is put aside for more pressing matters. Maybe you’ve picked this up on a Saturday looking to salvage what’s left. I’m not sure where you are, but it doesn’t matter.

St. Paul’s prayer is that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you. Somehow, someway, God has a storehouse of grace for you and for me. Somehow, someway God knows that we need his grace to be strengthened. Could he know, right now, how busy and preoccupied you’ve been and still be gracious to you? Is that possible?

Do you hear God’s longing for you in this passage? Can you give yourself the gift of multiple readings, perhaps even noting what words stir in you as you read? God longs for you to dwell in and live from your deepest self, rooted and established in him. He longs for you to fall into the goodness of “the fullness of God.”

__________

Prayer:

God of glorious riches, strengthen me. Root me. Establish me. Dwell in me. Deepen your love in and through me, so that I might be a conduit of this love to all. Amen

Live From Your True Self (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.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatian 5:22-23

“Exercise a bit more self-control,” I heard her yell to her 5 year old in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. He was walking down the aisle opening each door and slamming it shut. One by one he continued until he stepped right in front of me and slammed the door I had already opened.

The adorable little punk actually got me thinking about what self-control really is that day. Like a bolt of lightning, it hit me – Self-control is when our true selves, in Christ, are in control. Self-control isn’t a strict behavior-modification project – it’s simply living from our center.

Lent is often a season where the term self-control is thrown around. Having indulged on Fat Tuesday, we enter Ash Wednesday with a sense that this is the season to get right again – lose the weight, end the pornography addiction, clamp down on drinking. Someone once said to me, “Isn’t it convenient that God built-in a weight loss and sobriety plan into the liturgical calendar?”

Self-control, as I’ve seen it practiced, is often motivated by self-contempt. I don’t like myself. I’m too fat. I drink too much. I never exercise.

And so let me offer you a word – if this is your version of self-control, you are far afoot from anything St. Paul imagines.

Look at the words that surround it in the passage above - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. Do these sound like burdensome products of rigid, self-contemptuous discipline? Of course not. These are the heart-responses of one whose life is so utterly rooted in Jesus that gentleness simply emerges, kindness overflows, peace lingers.

The true self in Christ is our inner orchestral conductor, and the orchestra players are every part of us still fighting, still vying for control, still seeking transformation. Self-control is our joyful, gentle, and faithful work of inviting every anxious part of us, every angry part of us, every resistant part of us to relax its grip and find compassion in Christ.

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Prayer:

Good and Gentle God, your sense of control is never demanding and always inviting, never forced but always gifted. Your compassion teaches us the way of compassion toward ourselves and every one we encounter. Cultivate gentle, faithful, and joyful self-control in me, I pray. Amen

Live From Your True Self (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.

Your terrors have paralyzed me.
They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
    They have engulfed me completely.
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
    Darkness is my closest friend.

                                                     Psalm 88:17-18

When we live from our true selves, we live free from emotional reactivity yet ever in touch with our wide range of emotions. This is an important realization, because many believe that to be “in Christ” and to live from the new self is to live in a perpetual state of bliss.

In truth, living from the true self allows us to be radically in touch with every part of us, every emotion, even the supposed dark ones. As we cultivate a life lived from our center, however, we become free from the stranglehold of particular emotions or emotional states. Our addictive habits, patterns and emotions release their grip, allowing us to live non-reactively and freely from a place of honesty and vulnerability.

Someone I saw for counseling experienced the vice grip of seething anger after a divorce. For several years, her anger occupied a center seat in her psyche, conducting her internal orchestra for her. She later said to me that it felt as if she was possessed by it. The anger overflowed into her parenting, her work, even her most intimate relationships.

When she came to me she said that a previous therapist told her that the anger needed to be expressed. This was true, but years of repressed rage came flooding in to such an extent that in time she fired her therapist in a fit of rage.

When the Psalmists express emotions of anger, sadness, loneliness, abandonment, fear and more, what they are demonstrating for us is how emotions brought into the light of vulnerable relationship with God can be released into God’s secure hands rather than held tightly. They are teaching us surrender, possible only because we’re living from our God-self, united to Jesus, where compassion for every emotion is possible.

My client’s anger took over because she was not quite ready to plunge into the depths of her rage. Her life had been a whirlwind of dominating emotional states – fear, depression, addiction. Opening the floodgates of rage simply gave another part of her free access to take over.

Cultivating a deep, experienced union with Christ anchors us for the hard work of honoring our many fluctuating emotions. When we embrace the stunning reality that the Spirit dwells within, something within us is opened. We’re not alone. We’re held, secure, anchored. We experience peace amidst the storms of life.

God’s Spirit is no stranger when “darkness is our closest friend.” God is no stranger to every emotion within. When our true self united with Christ listens within, it can hear the painful voices calling out from within, the many emotions that need to be expressed. And as a result, we can choose to give parts of us a voice, even a Psalm, if that seems best.

Allow Lent to be a season where you cultivate a deep, anchored centeredness in which your new-creation-self in Christ can tune in compassionately to every emotion within and give them a voice.

__________

Prayer:

Spirit of God, can I trust that you dwell in me so deeply that no emotion, no thought, no behavior is a surprise to you? Could it be possible that I could find that center to be such an anchoring place that I can join your Spirit in extending compassion to myself? May it be so. Amen

Live From Your True Self (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.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Gen 1:28

Among Western Americans, Wednesday is hump-day. For those of us whose work week begins on Monday, there is the dreaded moment when the alarm sounds and the perpetual routine begins again – shower and clothes, hair and makeup, lunch and laptop, and…where are my keys? Hump-day is a half-way house of sorts, a glimpse of light on the horizon. So, how are you feeling on this hump-day?

Sadly, work is often treated as the price we pay for days off, a vacation to Florida, and the just-not-enough paycheck. Some dread it and cut corners as best they can. Others cope by trying to conquer it. Coffee sustains. Dreaming of Friday gets us over the hump. And we hit repeat. 

And yet, consider this in light of Lent: your work connects you to the ground, to your ground. Whether you make latte’s or trade stocks, design roadways or raise children, your work is an invitation to your creaturely humanity – your body, your hands, your sweat, your intuition, your participation in something beyond you.

Yes, I’m familiar with work’s curse in Genesis 3. But I’m thinking of work’s blessing in Genesis 1. I’m thinking of you – the God-imaged you – made to fill and subdue, created to exercise God’s ambassadorship, to name, to bless, and to care for. I’m thinking of the opportunity to bring your whole self to a particular task, like the guy who mowed my lawn one summer once did.

He probably didn’t know I was watching him, but I was. He was just another member of the crew, but he mowed like he owned the company. He steered that wide deck, stand-on mower around our yard with precision and authority, creating his signature circular patterns with delight. When he finished, he’d step away to admire his workmanship, take in the smell of freshly cut grass, and (I’m quite sure) give thanks for the job. His admiration was not rushed. He was not on to the next lawn. No, he lingered, if only to notice a spot he missed or to gather a few fallen tree branches. Somehow his work was a connection to something deep, good, and original in creation. He taught me a lot that day.

Have dominion, God says. Exercise your image-bearing wherever you are, as the royalty I’ve made you to be. Be my ambassador, no matter whether you preach sermons or punt footballs, flip burgers or finance startups. How great a tragedy it would be to fail to see your beauty, your creativity, your humanity shining in the ordinary stuff of life.

To be sure, this is not an invitation to settle – to settle for abusive labor or indignity, to settle for work that erodes your closest relationships and kills your soul. However, Lent may be just the season to slow down and consider what your work means. Where has God placed you? What is it teaching you? How are you exercising your ambassadorship? What beauty or dignity are you bringing into your unique space in the world? How is Christ present in the ordinariness?

In fact, Christ delights in the ordinary. Ordinary work. Ordinary you, waking up each day into gratitude for the gift of breathing Spirit-life into every space and every place you meander.   

__________

Prayer:

Creator God, you designed me to be your image-bearing ambassador in whatever I do and wherever I go. I cannot imagine it! Sometimes, I wonder if what I do even matters. I pray that Christ would show up in me and through me in ordinary ways breathing Spirit-life into every space and place I meander. For the sake of your Kingdom, Amen

Live From Your True Self (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.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? Psalm 42:1-2

Can you fathom living according to your sacred and holy design by God? Can you imagine honoring yourself and others in the generosity afforded to dignified image-bearers? Can you imagine feeling alive with desire, beauty-infused desire animated by your loving Creator?

We may be the only creature in this world that resists living according to its design. The tree cannot help but lift its strong limbs draped in reds and yellows and oranges into the Autumn sky. The puppy cannot help but wag its furry tail at the arrival of its master. The rock cannot help but sit still as a paperweight in obedience to its Creator.

But we put on faces that are not our own. We strive to be as fit as our coworker, as funny as our sibling, as politically-informed as our best friend. We choose someone else’s design to copy, and in so doing we find ourselves disconnected from our own. I’ve seen this too much, both in myself and in many, many others. It is a form of impoverishment. Disconnected, we live hollow lives of imitation. What we feel, think, and do does not emerge from our truest self in God.

The Psalmist says that his soul desires God. In a world of competing desires, the Psalmist seeks to recalibrate. He holds his inner compass out and discovers his true direction, his heart’s deepest longing. This is pretty astounding. The Psalmist doesn’t say, “I can’t trust my longings…they’re always twisted and wrong.” In the midst of what seems to be profound pain in the Psalm, the writer sifts through the varying emotions and tunes in. This attunement doesn’t make the pain go away instantly, but it does provide a lifeline, an anchor.

In fact, it’s often our lack of anchoring that gets us in trouble in the first place. The tree is content being a tree and a rock sits as a rock would sit, but we try on a thousand different masks to see which fits best. Outside the Garden, we search for our fig-leaved persona-of-the-day which we hope will allow us to shine, to outsmart, to humor, to overcome.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to my early childhood, a time when I wasn’t so worried about what others thought, a time when I lived from my own unique, quirky design unapologetically. I’m reminded of a poetic musing by Rilke:

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. Then in these swelling and ebbing currents, these deepening tides moving out, returning, I will sing you as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea.[i]

Do you, like me, desire to be attuned to your own deepest desires, like the Psalmist? Do you desire to be like the tree that praises God, the river that flows freely, the puppy that delights at the arrival at its master? If so, speak this longing out loud. Allow the desire to well up within, especially in this Lenten season. Bring to God your longings with a sense of childlike abandon.

__________

Prayer:

Ever-present Spirit, I long to live and love with a childlike freedom. And yet, I’m constrained by the masks I’ve chosen to wear to cover my shame and insecurity. Awaken my fickle heart to its deepest desire – a life lived fully in you. Amen

 

 

[i] Anita Barrows, Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (New York, NY: Penguin, 2005), Kindle Locations 692-693.

Live From Your True Self (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.

 

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:44-48

God will love you if you love others.

It sounds true enough, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s a version of the same lie the serpent spewed in Genesis and Satan spewed in the wilderness to Jesus: You can attain. You can achieve. Climb the ladder of good works to the top, and you will have proven to God that you’re worth it.

This is Evil’s twisted lie. You see, love is not an achievement game, it’s an act of intimacy. Love is easy – amazingly easy – when it emerges from one’s deepest core. Think about one’s first glimpse of a newborn. That kind of love isn’t forced, isn’t willed. That kind of love is a surrender to the grace and givenness of God’s extraordinary gifts.

I don’t know where religion twisted loving God into a performance game. I see this beautiful picture of a so-called “sinful woman” whose love is reckless and free, and wonder why we’ve turned loving God into a checklist of behaviors. We too often look more like the Pharisees than this prodigious lover.

Loving God is an act of intimacy, not of moral performance. It emerges from our heart’s longing for connection. The most common language for this intimacy throughout the history of the church has been sexual, a fact that surprises and even embarrasses many. Think about it. The enjoyment of sexual intimacy isn’t predicated on following a to-do list. It’s not a burdensome duty. No, it’s an encounter bathed in longing, satisfied in mutual surrender. That so many writers found Song of Solomon to be the best picture of this kind of intimacy is not shocking.

The “true self” in Christ cannot do anything but love. Its vocation is love, compassion, and connection.

Our false selves, with their fig-leaved propensity for hiding and scheming, demand love, manipulate love, sabotage love.

And Jesus sees through to the core. Jesus sees our heart’s desire. Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”

Jesus seems to know how you and I sabotage and manipulate and scheme and demand, and yet…and yet…he offers grace, releasing us to live from our hidden life in Christ in fullness and joy. He sees us to the core. And he sees his image, alive with dignity and goodness.

While the religious leaders competed and compared, a woman loved. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, she bathes them, drying them with her hair! She kisses his feet. Can you imagine the scene? As the religious men tower over, she sits in the dust of Ash Wednesday, connected to the ground, not just physically but spiritually.

Can you imagine the gossip among the onlookers? And yet, Jesus recognizes prodigious love when he sees it. That’s faith. Unfettered and free. Surrendered and intimate.

In a season where many typically tidy up their behaviors and tame their passions, might we instead take some time to reflect on who and what we love? Perhaps, as we give up trying so hard, we might just allow ourselves to fall into the goodness of this sacred intimacy, returning to the gracious ground in humble, prodigious love.

__________

Prayer:

God our Prodigious Lover, you give and give and give. You seem at ease with a kind of reckless intimacy that tends to embarrass me. I prefer rules and checklists, ways of knowing that I’m actually pleasing you. Could it be that love is much more simple, intimate, and available? I’m ready to find out. Amen

Live From Your True Self (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.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34

What does Jesus see when he sees you? What do you see in you? Take it a step further – what do you see in your neighbor?

If I understood the love of Jesus in and through my judgments of myself and others, it would not be a very generous picture. The generosity of Jesus in the Gospels stands in stark contrast to the judgments of the religious leaders. In fact, his kindness is an offense to these nit-picking moralists who go around checking theological positions and measuring behavioral conformity.

In the early centuries after Jesus, Christians took seriously the call to “follow Christ,” becoming good Samaritans in ways that challenge my addiction to comfort and security. They rescued abandoned babies off of trash piles, entered plague infested towns to care for the sick as others were running away, practiced faithfulness in marriages, and pooled their resources to share abundantly. I want to believe that these early followers were not motivated by guilt (“I’m going to hell if I don’t do this”) but desire – desire to see the beauty and dignity of Christ fill embattled souls, renew broken cities, and enliven the spiritually dead.

In other words, they saw life amidst death, dignity amidst depravity, hope amidst despair. The pursuit of dignity motivated acts of justice, peace, and reconciliation. Now, I’m sure they were prone to judgmentalism just like you and me, but they refused to reduce people to their offenses.

A pastor and theologian named John Calvin articulated this social ethic 500 years ago when he wrote, It is not the will of God… that we should forget the primeval dignity which (God) bestowed on our first parents – a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice.” Calvin, who had a lot to say about human wickedness and sin, refused to define people by their sin, but urged a Jesus-like generosity to all. He admits it’s difficult, but says this:  

In this way only we can attain to what is not to say difficult, but all together against nature, to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them.[i]

What does Jesus see when he sees you? What do you see in you? What do you see in your neighbor? I can focus on the negatives, at times. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine the dignity beneath the depravity of an abusive husband, a mercilessly rude boss, a manipulative political leader, or a power-abusing pastor.

Of course, Jesus isn’t encouraging an ethic that turns a blind eye toward wickedness. But it seems as if his first posture, his default gear, his initial instinct is always generosity. In the same chapter as the “Good Samaritan” story, Jesus encourages his followers to go city-to-city and show hospitality – to love and heal, to bless and bring peace. And yet, the sad reality of life in a broken world is that some will reject our generosity and sabotage the opportunity for healing. Jesus says:

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

Over the years, I’ve tried to allow this tension to define my own ministry of pastoring, counseling, and teaching. In generosity, I pursue even those who don’t seem to deserve it. I honor the image-bearing dignity in them. But some will sabotage it. In their brokenness, they will reject your hospitality and refuse your invitation for them to experience the depths of God’s love.

Years ago, I walked a woman through a difficult season of marriage in which she started to take seriously the damage of her husband’s alcoholism and emotional abuse. She had a remarkable capacity to see what her husband could become if he pursued health and sobriety, but despite her efforts he refused, sabotaging her generosity over and again. However, her repeated attempts to save her marriage and help her husband began to erode her own sense of dignity and worth. Eventually, with the wise counsel of friends, a pastor, and others, she decided to “wipe the dust off of her feet” and leave her toxic marriage. Some Christian friends condemned her for being unforgiving. However, we did not want to see her abusive husband continue to use and abuse her generosity, and we felt a strong need to pursue and value her dignity. She was like the man in the Good Samaritan story…robbed, beaten, half dead, and in need of care.

Living out the generosity of Jesus is a messy business. We may find ourselves going into places we never expected to visit. We may wind up forgiving people we thought unforgivable. We may also find our generosity refused and rejected. You see, we are in the Good Samaritan story, not just as givers of grace, but as broken and weary recipients of the grace of Jesus – the ultimate Good Samaritan. And so, experience his generosity. Drink deeply of it. And as you do, you’ll grow in your capacity to show generosity to others and, with discernment, to walk away when your generosity is sabotaged.

__________

Prayer:

Christ the Good Samaritan, I want to receive your generosity and I want to become one who lives with generosity. It’s confusing, at times, because it is hard to believe that you see dignity and beauty behind my sin and pain. In this Lenten season of refinement, grow me up into one who wholeheartedly embraces your grace and wholeheartedly offers it to others. Amen

 

[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, vii, 6.

Dwell 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.


Saturday Week 1

But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:17-20

“You’re nothing – no good, good for nothing!”

It’s amazing to me how many people I’ve pastored and counseled feel this. Executives and ex-convicts, pizza deliverers and pastors – this message does not discriminate. Success does not mitigate it. Self-helps books don’t cure it. Only an encounter with the One whose yoke is easy and burden is light eases the sting of it.

There are some who will argue that this message is true, however. They’re convinced that they are bad to the core, depraved sinners in the hands of an angry God. Christians who’ve lived in the faith for years will stake their theological integrity on it. Somehow, preserving this principle is more important than living in the truth that we are “a new creation – the old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17).

I grew up hearing a part of Romans 7 echoing in my ear – “nothing good dwells in you.” But I’ve had to re-tune my hearing over time. St. Paul seems to be saying that something within me has the power to hijack my “I” – my true self. He says that it is no longer I, myself, who sins, but sin in me. Sin is a passenger who has taken control of the car, steering erratically.

But I see it. I know it. Paul seems to be saying that I (we!) want to do good, but we’re stuck. On our own, it’s nothing but wrong turns and dead ends.

So, to be clear – I really do want something different, according to Paul. I’m just stuck. It’s not that I’m as wretched as I can be. It’s not that I’m toxic to the core. No, the reality is that I – my true self – is enslaved. I’m sick with sin. But my sickness and slavery don’t define me.

This is such an important corrective. As I hear Paul, what I’m struck by is that my “flesh” is my false self. It’s the sin-diseased part of me that plays the contrarian, that whispers in my ear, “Surely, God didn’t say that that special tree is off-limits to you!” In other words, sin is not native to my soul. It is an invader.

That’s the first piece of this passage, and it’s a huge one. Somehow, it’s revealing a paradox. We’re not as bad as we can be. We’re not “bad to the bone.” Sin is not our identity and does not define us. (You can wipe the sweat from your brow and smile…that’s good news.)

On the other hand, we’ve got a problem. A disease looms large. It hijacks every form of wellness within. As the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said, sin is a “disease of the vital region,” the heart. We’re literally heart-sick. And some of us need to know that we’re sicker than we think while others need to hear that they’re not defined by their sickness. What do you need to hear?

But there’s something else we need to hear before we leave St. Paul’s words behind. I’ve discovered I can’t conquer this disease on my own.

Have you tried? I have. I get into fights with parts of me that struggle for control. We throw jabs back and forth. I’ll beat myself up with negative words when I don’t live up to my own expectations. I’ll try to overcome seemingly weaker parts of me with strict behavioral guidelines. I’ll work as hard as I can until I’m pressed down under a heap of guilt and shame, unable to see my way out.

And maybe it takes this. Maybe it takes getting good and tired of trying on our own to beat back the disease of sin. Maybe it takes coming to the end of ourselves to hear what Paul says in the verses that follow:

Who can set me free from my sinful old self? God’s Law has power over my mind, but sin still has power over my sinful old self. I thank God I can be free through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In uniting ourselves to Jesus and in surrendering control, we begin to experience freedom from the vestiges of the old, false self which takes on a hundred different personalities within us, each vying for the driver’s seat. The voice of Jesus within us, present by the Spirit, becomes the powerful voice of truth, of goodness, of joy, of peace, of love. A hundred other voices may be whispering, perhaps even screaming. But, if we can tune our ears, it’s just possible that we’ll hear a different one than the other, toxic and negative voice, one that says, “I love you – each and every one of you – and I won’t stop loving you until each and every one of you finally relaxes your grip and receives my compassion.” 

__________

Prayer:

Compassionate Spirit, you are more kind to me than I imagined. It is astounding to imagine that you dwell in me, longing to heal my many inner conflicts. I’ve got work to do, but knowing that you are listening and loving within is such an encouragement. Thank you for your kindness to me. Amen  

Dwell 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.


Friday Week 1

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Here is the great mystery: Christ in you. Not a few galaxies away. Not a few continents away. Not a few miles away. Not even a few inches away. No, Christ in you.

Christ in you, with all of your self-sabotaging ways. Christ in you, with all of your burdening doubts. Christ in you, with all of your past infidelities. Christ in you, even in the Ash-Wednesday-dust of your creatureliness. Christ in you.

The story is told of the great 15th century saint, Catherine of Genoa, who was so utterly consumed by this extraordinary truth that she ran through the streets declaring, “My deepest me is you, Oh God! My deepest me is you!”[i] Can you imagine the strength and security in one who would risk humiliation to declare this profound reality?

Because we’ve blown it time and again, it is quite easy to believe that what resides in us is nothing but darkness. Shame in you. Pain in you. Brokenness in you. But St. Paul and St. Catherine heartily disagree. Here is the mystery: Christ in you.

Why does it take so long to embrace this? The hard and sad reality is that there is a conspiracy of our own self-sabotaging voices matched by the twisted obsession some pastors have with telling people how bad they are. I’ve often told pastoral colleagues, “You don’t need to convince people that they’re bad. They feel it already.” We live in a shame-and-guilt saturated culture, and it doesn’t take much for the old, dark internal scripts to play again. In fact, the self-esteem movement of the late-twentieth century tried to remedy this, but it only compounded our sense of unworthiness.[ii]

Sin, you see, is a rejection of your original goodness. It is a sabotaging of your original beauty. It is your silly attempt to find love on the outside when the Christ in you reality is that it’s already yours.

The great 5th century Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, expressed his own regret about how long it took for him to get this. As you reflect on his words, perhaps it’s not too late for you not only to believe this, but to experience it in the depths of your own spirit:

Late have I loved you, oh Beauty ever old, ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me, and I was outside myself and it was there that I sought you and, myself disfigured, I rushed upon the beautiful things you have made. You were with me but I was not with you.[iii]

__________

Prayer:

Oh Beauty ever old, ever new. It has been too long. I have been busily trying to prove myself while you’ve been at home in me all the while. I have been frustratingly scattered in my love while you’ve been loving me from within all the while. Welcome me home, I pray. Amen

 

[i] See Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2013), p. 5.

[ii] See the work of Kristin Neff, University of Texas (Austin) researcher, including her book Self Compassion.

[iii] St. Augustine, Confessions 10.27.38

Dwell 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.


Thursday Week 1

You shall be called by a new name

You shall be a crown of beauty

and a royal diadem.

from Isaiah 62

 

I would not normally choose a fourth-century Trinitarian theologian as my therapist, but if Gregory of Nyssa were alive still I might ask for an appointment. Above my desk I hang a quote of his:

Our godlike beauty is hidden behind curtains of shame.

This is really good news for someone like me. Could it be good news for you?

The shame message is a loud one, after all. Parts of us shout, “You’re not enough – thin enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, disciplined enough.” Maybe this shame voice is even telling you that you don’t do Lent well enough. The inner voice of shame can be relentless. It’s a primary tool Evil uses to erode loving intimacy with God.

Sometimes we need long dead fourth-century theologians to come along and tell us that our deepest self is really quite beautiful to God.

Our godlike beauty is hidden behind curtains of shame.

 Don’t believe him? How about believing the greatest spiritual theologian of the 20th century, Thomas Merton? He writes:

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.[i]
 

Merton makes an even more audacious claim than St. Gregory. Not only will our shame dissipate, but war, hatred, cruelty and greed will cease. We may even begin to see each other as gods and goddesses.

In a season when our spiritual focus can become behavioral and our sense of growth tied to successful fasting from chocolate or Facebook, I’d like to suggest a different practice. What if instead of seeing your ‘sinful behavior’ as the big problem, you shifted your focus to your original goodness? What if instead of imagining God’s disappointment in your lack of discipline you imagined God smiling at his very image in you. Yes, in you…of all people! Perhaps, that alone could stir in you a desire to live faithfully in every aspect of your life.

You see, too often we play the game of mistaken identity. You woke up one day believing that you were a lowly pauper, and many voices within your life conspired to convince you of its truth. Even some spiritual guides along the way participated in this dark conspiracy. They’ve become convinced that what defines us is the trinity of bentness, badness, and brokenness.

But the Trinity who created you for beauty, goodness, and dignity knows better. The Father designed you, down to that oddly placed freckle. The Son came to remind you of who you are, becoming a pauper to rescue you from indignity and despair. The Spirit was sent to be your deepest voice, your inner Counselor, whispering Beauty and Dignity over your soul day and night. Together, they long to be your homing beacon, ushering you back to your original design, reminding you of your God-imaged goodness.

Can you hear their whisper?

__________

Prayer:

Holy Trinity, rescue me from the unholy trinity of bentness, badness, and brokenness. Release its grip on my imagination, and show me my dignity and beauty hidden beneath curtains of shame, bestowed to me by you, ever gracious One. Amen

 

[i] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York, NY: Image, 1968), p. 155.

Dwell 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.


Wednesday Week 1

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 1 Corinthians 6:19

When I heard this verse quoted in my childhood, the application dripped with guilt. In my imagination, old St. Paul was a prude man shouting in my face warnings of sexual sin. I only have anecdotal evidence for it, but I’d contend that this text is quoted most in books on sexual addiction and sermons on adultery.

But if we move too quickly to behavioral maxims, we miss the beautiful imagery and theological rationale behind caring for our bodies. Our bodies are temples. No, not sinful and fleshy repositories of a soul. No, not dirty prisons. Temples.

Temples, of course, are the domain of gods. The tabernacle/temple elaborated in the Old Testament was, in various accounts, the center of the earth, God’s new Eden, the dwelling place of the King, and the st       aging ground out of which the entire earth would be renewed and restored.

Monks and hermits who went out into the desert in the early centuries of the church took this imagery seriously. Their desert vocation was to do the challenging heart work of knowing oneself, of examining motives, and of preparing the heart as the King’s palace. A 4th century monk – St. Macarius – paints a beautiful picture, writing:  

Within the heart is an unfathomable depth. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death, in it is life. The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures…rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. The heart is Christ’s palace…there Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there…the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.[i]

Every time I read this passage it takes my breath away. All of that…in me?!

And yet, you and I can live such externalized lives that we miss the opportunity to enter into the depths, explore the passageways, chase the lions, and cultivate beauty. Our busy, frenetic lives find us moving from one task to the next, rarely stopping to assess our health. We remember to change the oil in our cars, change the filters in our water dispensers, and change the bag on our vacuums, but we neglect the work of inner housecleaning. We’re unfamiliar with the vast territory of our hearts.

And so we tinker every now and then with a self-help book, a new behavioral strategy to lose weight or avoid porn, a Lenten fast. Soon enough, though, we’re right back where we started. The cycle goes on, and eventually we feel helpless to change. Some go to therapy. Others give up the process altogether. Many bury their hearts, refusing to feel, to examine, to seek Christ in the innermost places.

If we were sitting together, I’d ask you how you’ve experienced this. I ask this quite a bit, in fact, and get a wide variety of responses. Some tell me that this talk of inner depths is selfish introspection. Others say that Jesus is on his throne in heaven and we should focus upward, not inward. A few talk of bad experiences with a therapist. Others claim a lack of time. Many say, “I’ve never heard anything quite like this before. This could be a beautiful journey!”

Your heart is a temple. God resides there. But there are plenty of obstacles to face on your adventure inward. Dragons, lions, and poisonous creatures are apt metaphors for the many resistances within. Because my early story of faith was filled with influential adults who showed little curiosity for my heart and great interest in my behavior and theological agreement, my inner dragons will sometimes whisper, “This is nonsense Chuck. Nothing to see here. Christ wouldn’t dwell in your sorry heart, anyway.” I’ve needed friends, mentors, counselors, and spiritual directors in various stages of my journey over the last two decades of ‘recovery’ from these poisonous messages to encourage me, challenge me, and mostly remind me that God not only dwells within, but loves me through and through.

What might it be like for you to explore these inner realms? What are the resistances that emerge for you as you consider this temple exploration project? What are the obstacles that impede safe passage within? The journey begins with desire, an earnest desire to explore and a sincere commitment to continue despite the dragon’s opposition. But the good news is this: Christ has already taken up residence, and he’s calling for you, urging you on the journey, and filling you with the spiritual resources you need to make it Home.

__________

Prayer:

Christ the King, that you sit enthroned in my heart – your temple – is a mystery to me. But it’s a mystery worth exploring! I long to be Home with you, but there are many obstacles and resistances in the way. Give me the grace and the courage to journey on, and the ears to hear your voice cheering me on the way. Amen

 

[i] St. Macarius, Homilies 15:32-33.

Dwell 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.


Tuesday Week 1

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Romans 8:9

 “How do I know that I’m living out of my true self in Christ?” she asked, frustrated by her lack of consistency in her spiritual journey. It’s a good question, and it’s the right question. Too often, our questions revolve around whether or not we’re doing the ‘godly’ thing, living behaviorally in a faithful and obedient way. But my friend was asking a more profound question – How do I know that I’m living out of my deepest identity, my “true self” in Christ?

For St. Paul, it seems that the true self is the Christ-self, God hidden and dwelling within us by the Spirit. You may know it when you experience it – moments of compassion and connection to God and others, inclinations to self-giving love, a heart quickened to extend grace, to forgive effortlessly. You may also be thinking, “Why is this such an infrequent experience for me?” Don’t worry, I feel the same way! I can feel so conflicted within.

I’ve actually learned to develop some inner dialogue around these competing parts. When I’m feeling especially judgmental of someone, I’ll sometimes pause and imagine a conversation within between my true self and this angry part of me. I’ll imagine Jesus, joined in union with my deepest self, showing compassion, listening well, showing curiosity. A recent dialogue went something like this:

Me (In Jesus!): You seem very angry. What’s going on?

Angry Part: I was misunderstood…again. I’m so mad.

Me: Tell me some more about it.

Angry Part: This friend made a huge assumption about my motives and his words felt condescending and judgmental. I’d love to fire an email away at him and tell him what I think and how wrong he is.

Me: Thanks for saying that. I’m so sorry that happened. Take a few minutes to relax and breathe, and know that I’m here with you. I love you.

Angry Part: I’ve taken some time now to breathe. I feel less angry knowing you see me and understand.

Now, the first time I tried this I felt somewhat silly, and wondered if I was schizophrenic. Let me assure you, however…I’m not and you’re not. We do experience inner conflict, however. There are parts of us that can feel angry, ashamed, misunderstood, frightened, abandoned. There are parts of us that may feel very young and vulnerable. These parts of us need the care of Christ in unique ways. In fact, with some practice you might find yourself engaging in meaningful and healing inner conversations around these different parts of you.

So, what is the true self like? A favorite psychologist of mine uses 7 c’s to describe the true self: calm, compassionate, courageous, clear, creative, curious, connected.[i] I find it interesting that psychologists are discovering attributes of this true self that are beautifully analogous to the fruits of the Spirit! What if psychology has accidentally discovered that life in the Spirit is actually the most healthy, vibrant, soul-nourishing life there is? 

You are in the Spirit. Christ dwells in you. It may not always feel like it. You might be triggered to anger, flooded with shame. But it’s your deepest reality. Beneath your brokenness is a profound goodness – God dwelling within.

__________

Prayer:

Compassionate Spirit, you are more kind to me than I imagined. It is astounding to imagine that you dwell in me, longing to heal my many inner conflicts. I’ve got work to do, but knowing that you are listening and loving within is such an encouragement. Thank you for your kindness to me. Amen  

 

[i] See the works of Internal Family Systems theorist Richard Schwartz.

Dwell with God (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 Week 1

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4:18

“It feels like I just get stuck in my anxiety sometimes,” he told me. “It’s like I can be completely fine and relaxed, and then I get triggered. My whole body can go into a state of panic in seconds. It’s like there are two of me – the relaxed me and the anxious me – and they’re at war.”

We all long to live in the experience of oneness and worthiness in Christ. We all long for wholeness, through and through. When we’re operating from our core – our true self – it seems that nothing can overcome us.

And yet, both theologians and psychologists – and St. John in this passage! – seem to affirm a more complicated dynamic within us.[i] Truth be told, we can feel kind of fragmented at times. We can feel “not quite ourselves.” It can feel like parts of us are at war.  

Think about it. There are parts of you that you don’t like and parts you do. There are parts that beat you up and parts that cheer you up. You might experience a conflict between parts of yourself. You might say to your spouse, “Part of me wants to go on a bike ride with you and another part of me wants to take a nap.” You might even experience a more profound confusion, even a sense of hypocrisy, as theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer expresses:

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?[ii]

 

In this passage, love and fear compete for a place of primacy within. Of course, we long to live in perfect “wholehearted” love. But fear often wins out. Fear about the conversation that went bad this morning. Fear about the big date. Fear about what you’ll get back on tax day. Fear about the test results.  

But perfect love casts out all fear, right? I just need to be more perfect, right? Wrong.

What St. John is getting at is not some kind of moral perfection, but a sense of oneness, of unity within, of wholeheartedness. It’s as if he’s aware of what psychologists know today – that we can become disconnected from our core self. He’s revealing to us that we can become fragmented, disconnected from our true selves dwelling in love, dwelling in Christ. Just like the man I mentioned above, we can get triggered, becoming one with our fear and alienated from Jesus.

Now hear this: St. John isn’t trying to shame you in this passage. He’s not asking you to “get over” your fear. In fact, I think he’s actually on to the ancient wisdom - that we’re more than our anxiety. I think he’s actually tuned into the reality that we were created in Love and for Love. I think he’s asking us to return to our roots, to fall back into the goodness of God’s original love, to a place of original fearlessness.

St. John believes that your deepest being is made for love and lives in love because he knew, very personally, Love incarnate – Jesus. But remember - he also knew fear. He watched as Jesus was hung from the Cross. So, he’s not looking to shame you, but to invite you – back into Love’s arms, back into Love’s security, back into Love’s goodness.

In the end, fear is a product of control. Parts of us vying for control within send our system into a panic, and we’re quickly disconnected from our true self in Christ and thrown into a state of inner emergency. But surrender is the antithesis of control.

So, surrender to love. Fall into goodness. His arms are wide open, waiting to catch you. 

__________

Prayer:

Loving God, I admit it – I get scared. Fear seems to take over my being at times. I’m beginning to realize that I can’t conquer or control fear, but I can surrender. I can fall back into the Love that is more original than fear. Teach me to fall, Jesus. Amen

 

[i] See Ch. 8 of my book Wholeheartedness for an elaboration of this psychological dynamic.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8: Letters and Papers from Prison, transl. Eberhard Bethge (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), pp. 221-222.