Don’t Miss It!



A few weeks ago my daughter-in-law texted me to alert me to be sure to see a movie she had just viewed. She knows my husband and I love movies and seek out the ones we believe are the “best of the best”, but this one was one she urged us to be sure to see on the big screen. “Don’t miss it!” she said.


I’m sure you have had more than a few times when someone urged you not to miss something. He or she believed we would enjoy it and wanted to share it with us. I know I have said the same thing to others as well.


Far too often we miss many things that can inspire, enlighten, or arrest our attention as we sail through most of our days. We don’t need to be in a movie theater, attend a concert or sporting event, or have seats in the arena at the Olympics to experience them. We do, however, need to be awake and fully present to such discoveries. The challenge is whether we will slow down long enough to catch the discoveries.


One of the numerous ways this can show up is when we are in our times with the Lord. If we have known Him for some time, we can almost disengage as we read passages in His Word that we know so well that we miss the nuggets we have yet to discover.


My senses have been heightened in that regard as a result of reading The Burning Word by Judith Kunst as she describes the Jewish Midrash way of reading and turning over the scripture.


Kunst makes a great comparison of how many of us read scripture versus the Jewish way of reading it:


“My religious tradition was more about movement. The primary task of our Bible reading was traveling, through the trusted medium of Holy Scripture, toward a perfection of knowing and doing that was somewhere out there, beyond words.


The Jewish way of reading, I am learning, is less about progressing than about digging in, holding on – not passing through words but dwelling in them, under and around them.”


IMG_0128 I can own the truth that I have sometimes read through passages to accomplish a goal or find some information or help. Other times I have known the richness of taking time to value the story I hold in my hands in the Bible and to look deeper into the meanings, the context, the key words, and more.


To consider the choice of a single word and why it may have been chosen is where Kunst’s writing has taken me. A recent example was when I was preparing for a women’s Bible study on the Gospel of John.


While reading John 14:6 (ESV) where Jesus tells his disciples I am the way, the truth, and the life”, my attention fixed on that little word, the. It’s such a common word that it rarely gets much attention from any of us in our daily life, let alone in our reading of scripture. Yet, it was such a moment of discovery to recognize the significance of this little article used as an adjective before those key descriptors of Jesus (way, truth, life).


 Many today believe there are many ways to God, many ways to heaven.


If that were true, then perhaps Jesus would have rightly said, “I am a way, a truth, and a life”. Using “a” points to something that is indefinite and can imply it is one of many choices. But Jesus chose the definite article “the”. Choice of that word means it is a specific object, thing, or person that both the person speaking and the listener know. That little word makes all the difference in understanding what Jesus meant as He was teaching.


It may sound like a small thing, but it was an “aha” moment for me to slow me even further in my consideration of the rich texts that I read during my time in the Word with the Lord.


Accomplishing goals in reading scripture are good things, but I wonder if we miss more than we realize when we make that the focus.


Perhaps we also miss that what we are reading is not only truth but also real.


When David wrote the Psalms that were so descriptive of the world around him and his own experience, have we considered the language he used was describing real things, places, and people? The trees, the streams, the rocks, and all that David and every other writer of the Word named were real.


Archaeological discoveries find more and more proof of the truth and the realness of the story we read from Genesis to Revelation. It is far from fiction and fantasy.


Consider that God wanted to convey to his created human beings that He was and is real. It was not lost on Him that our finite understanding made it impossible to grasp the eternal and infinite.


So, He chose to show us who He was and is and Jesus came to the earth. He was and is real in every way, but He was and is also God.










Chew Slowly




Many of us grew up with our mothers admonishing us to chew slowly. Not many of us knew why and what benefit we would gain if we did. I sometimes wonder if we ever really grasped the benefit as we race through our meals, often eating “on the go.”


Chewing slowly not only allows for better digestion, but it has the added bonus of better hydration, easier weight loss or management, and of course we can actually taste and savor the food we are eating.


It does mean we must shift down into first gear to do so.PICT0415


As I consider the sweet times of fellowship with the Lord during solitude and silence, I am keenly aware it only occurs when I deliberately slow myself down to rest in His presence. Those times with Him are immeasurably richer when my time in the Word and dialoguing with Him around it are a foundation for the level of intimacy solitude and silence bring.


I wonder how often we fail to chew slowly as we read in His Word. Quiet times must sometimes be compressed into shortened periods and we sometimes listen to the Word over iPods on our way to work or school. These and other times around the Word all help us focus on the Lord and nourish our spirits. They are good, but there is quite a difference between the enjoyments of dining at a table versus grabbing something at a drive through window.


I love what Judith Kunst reminds us about the Talmud in The Burning Word:


“Turn it and turn it again,” the Talmud says of the scriptures, “for everything is contained therein.”


 Her words suggest to me the value of savoring the words that I read in the Word. She, in fact, points out that the Jewish tradition of reading the scripture called Midrash encourages that slow chewing on the Word.


Listen to Judith’s description:


“The Holy Scriptures abound with gaps, abrupt shifts, and odd syntax that puzzles, even confounds, any reader of scripture. Jewish Midrash views these troubling irregularities not as accidents or errors, or cultural disparities to be passed over, but rather as deliberate invitations to grapple with God’s revealed word – and by extension – to grapple with God himself…


Midrash views the Bible as one side of a conversation, started by God, containing an implicit invitation, even command, to keep the conversation – argument, story, poem, prayer – going.”


 This interaction with the Word makes sense to me as a living document, a letter written from God to His children. As I read passages now that I know well and have read many times before, it is not unusual when I chew slowly to discover something new or fresh I somehow did not see at other times.


PICT0420Chewing slowly allows me to notice the texture and subtle flavors of any food. The same is true with the Word.


It also reminds me of a few years ago on a trip to California. We visited some of the vineyards for which California is famous. If the vintner was present in the tasting room, we were taught to approach a glass of wine more slowly to discover all its nuances. It meant holding the glass up to allow the light to filter through the wine and notice the subtle or bold colors produced by the winemaker’s skills. It meant holding the glass of wine to the nose to discover its fragrance.


The vintner would slow us down even then to notice not just one fragrance, but a variety of complex notes. Swirling the wine in the glass before sipping it added another dimension by the addition of oxygen to the wine that had been bottled (closed off from air) just moments before. Then, and only then, were we advised to sip and taste the wine and enjoy all it contained.


In the first portion of Psalm 34:8 (ESV), the psalmist invites us:


“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”


I think the vintner’s lesson about wine serves me well in reading scripture or considering the Midrash manner of reading the Word.


Only then can I discover the richness of the dialogue meant to guide my relationship with the Lord. It is also from that rich interaction I sense His nudge to come aside to be alone with Him and allow His whispers to draw me into intimacy with Him.

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What Are You Leaking?



This might sound like a strange question to ask, but consider this: whatever we are full of will be what leaks from the deepest recesses of our being whether we intend that or not.


One obvious way we see this is when we are overly tired or stressed. No matter what our faith or desire may be to emulate, most of us will leak lots of evidences of that exhaustion. Our words will be sharper and our tone will often reflect frustration. We will listen less well even if we don’t want that to happen. We will be eager to get away from everyone and everything to find some level of relief even if that simply means falling into bed.


It happens to all of us.


But there are other things that seep out of us that may be harder to recognize unless we determine to observe ourselves objectively. If we are full of bitterness, envy, jealousy, lust, selfishness, greed, anger, or resentment, those will leak in our responses to life and those in it. We may very well try to hide such things in the recesses of our hearts, but we are never as skilled as we think in doing so.


Those less nice things, those sins, that we have left unattended within our hearts lead to a feeling of emptiness and we go to great lengths to try to fill that emptiness. We may use any number of things including but not limited to alcohol, cigarettes, food, spending (also known as retail therapy), sleeping, TV, movies, music, gambling, or even excessive exercise. We want to evade and avoid what seems to be devouring us. But we won’t stop there.


We also will try to use others to try to fill us up. Ruth Haley Barton puts it this way:


“When we are not finding ourselves loved by God in solitude, in the company of others we are always on the prowl for ways they can fill our emptiness. We enter life in community trying to grab and grasp from others what only God can give.”


What we most need is for those persons we seek out to lovingly point us to the only Source that can deal with both the ugly things in our unattended heart and the emptiness that comes when our hearts have chilled from bitterness, disappointment, hurt, rejection, and more.


“At times the strength of spiritual community lies in the love of people who refrain from getting caught in the trap of trying to fix everything for us, who pray for us and allow us the pain of our wilderness, our wants, so that we may be more deeply grounded in God.” Rosemary Dougherty


Those people will need a tenacious grace-filled faith to both nudge us and leave us alone with God even when we protest that we don’t hear Him or He doesn’t care.


“Solitude, at its most basic and profound level, is simply an opportunity to be ourselves with God.” Ruth Haley Barton


The simple truth is this: when we sit in the presence of the Lord, we are changed. His love overshadows us and washes away the debris within and floods us with Himself. It is then when we have been drenched like dew on grass in the early morning that we are satisfied. And when we leave that place to re-enter our world, we leak His love, His fragrance.


Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:15 (AMP):


“For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;”

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Life Begets Life


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Reflecting on solitude and silence might give you the impression that we are to cut ourselves off from everyone and everything and enter into isolation. As a spiritual discipline, I think it is more accurately stepping into the presence of God causing us to both empty ourselves and refill ourselves.


I see that in the life of the Lord during His ministry on the earth. He seemed to have the perfect balance in His life. We see Him teaching large crowds of thousands of people as well as more intimate times He spent with only His disciples. We see Him enjoying the companionship of close friends like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and we also see Him slipping off for times of solitude alone with His Father.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:


“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”


If we can grow into a mature balance of time apart in solitude as well as time with others, we are more likely to respond to others from the fullness we gained in solitude rather than from a point of neediness.


God designed us to be in fellowship with one another, to support, encourage, and 1280exhort one another. It is in such a context we are gifted with accountability that produces growth and keeps us from slipping into the darkness that lurks about seeking to overtake us.


Every spiritual discipline has a purpose. Each is designed to help us grow and enable us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” as Paul writes to the church at Ephesus.


That calling includes being salt and light in the midst of whatever part of the world He has placed us. It includes being Him by loving others as He has loved us. To do that, be that, we must be regenerated, refreshed, renewed, and refilled by time alone with Him.


I so appreciate what Ruth Haley Barton says in this regard:


“If my experiences in solitude and silence don’t make a difference in this real-life moment, then I’m not sure any of this is worth much.”


 In the 17th century a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris wrote a little book, The Practice of the Presence of God that left us a treasure trove of wisdom about intimacy with the Lord and the value gained by practicing it. One of his quotes gives evidence to his own times alone with God:


“One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquility, is not to let it wander too far in other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.”


IMG_2709We know Him through many and diverse ways, but it seems to me that just as it is with my closest friends, I learn to know Him best in intimate times alone with Him.


Time spent with Him is never wasted, never selfish.


He invites us to time alone with Him because it equips us through healing, restoration, and refreshment to be more like Him, more available to Him for His purposes through transformation.


If we observe the lives of those who walked the most closely with Jesus, those who were His most intimate friends, we see clear evidences of humanity and failing. But we also see the gradual transformation of character that resulted in those very ones being used by God to light a flame in the world ignited by His light that still glows today.


Listen to Ruth Haley Barton’s description of what happens when we have experienced solitude and silence with Him:


“Over time we become safer for other seeking souls, because we are able to be with IMG_3259them and the issues they are dealing with without being hooked by our own anxieties and fears. We are comfortable with our humanity, because we have experienced God’s love and compassion in that place, and so it becomes very natural for us to extend love and compassion to others in their humanity.”


Barton’s words also convict us of the truth of who we are and often are not:


 “Sometimes we are downright mean and judgmental. But most, if not all, of our meanness comes out of the places within us that have been unattended and untouched by God’s love. Every broken place that has not been healed and transformed in God’s presence is a hard edge of our personality that slices and dices other people when they bump up against it.”


When we spend time alone with Him whether for a half hour or a day, our hearts are changed and filled to overflowing with the love that He is and when that is true, we leak more of that overflowing love to anyone around us.


How blessed that must make Him.




When Communion Comes




In the midst of approaching Lent many of us seek to bring a more conscious awareness of what this season means in the deepest sense. Some of us give up something to emulate sacrifice and also to serve as reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord. Many of us participate in various church services and gatherings that are more contemplative, lights may be dimmed and quietness hovers over the room.


Setting the tone in such times can cause us to feel a closer connection with the Lord. Perhaps we tune in to more of His holiness and sacred moments such as this give us a greater sense of His presence with us. It quiets our soul and gentles our spirit.


What is it that makes such times so special for us? Each of us might answer that differently, but it seems to invite us into an intimate place that is set aside from our typical times of worship. I think it is an invitation to communion beyond sharing the bread and cup if that is part of the service.


Thomas Merton gives a lovely description:


“The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and beyond speech, and it is beyond concept.”


In such moments we can experience the paradox of an awareness of how broken and weak we may be, how flawed and imperfect we are, how lonely or lost we may be in our journey of faith, and even so, experience the loving arms of a gracious God who transforms us and heals our brokenness because He is LOVE.


When we begin to rest in this Love, we cease striving. We are less concerned about what others may think or need or want from us. We are more in touch with how the Lord is filling us. In those moments however brief they may be, we experience communion and are refreshed.


“This Love does not lose track of us no matter what dark places we must walk into. It is a Love deeper than any abyss that we might fall into. It is a Love with the power to heal any brokenness we might encounter.” Ruth Haley Barton


These encounters with Him bring us into a greater awareness of how deeply loved we are by the Lord, the breadth and depth of His grace, and gives us the courage to risk exposing our true selves with all our deepest concerns, questions, fears, and doubts to Him. And we can do so in our own times of devotion with Him.


We can risk being vulnerable with God when we know beyond doubt that we are loved and accepted by Him through grace. In those times of quietness we can own the truth of who we are at our core versus who we try to be when we are with others. It is then we are most quiet and open to the guidance He wants to give us.


We can miss this when we do all the talking in our times with the Lord. Some have said we tend to do most of the talking because He is not physically present within our human sight. I think there is truth in that. Can you imagine what a relationship with someone we love would be like if any time we were with them, we were doing all the talking all the time?


We would never get to know that person as well even if their silent listening gave us the sense we did know and appreciate them. We would never have a response from them to all of our words, a response that could offer comfort, encouragement, truth, or accountability.


In any other relationship we have, there is ebb and flow, a rhythm. We each speak and listen and this is what we tend to call true communication. When we have such reciprocal relationships we feel a connection, a union of hearts. If we have a real relationship with the Lord, would the same not also be true?


It is in those times when we stop talking when we are with the Lord that we begin to recognize His voice. Perhaps we have heard Him as his Word was open in our laps, but through the Holy Spirit there is that whisper we can come to know as His voice. When we practice listening in such times of devotion with Him, it makes it easier to recognize His voice as we go through our day and interact with others.


“At the very heart of the discernment process is an ability to pay attention not only to the obvious – circumstances, the clear meaning of pertinent Scriptures, the advice of friends who are wise in the Lord, the wisdom contained in our faith tradition – but also to the inner dynamics that give us clues as to whether the step we are considering will nurture life in us: the life of Christ lived in and through our most authentic self.” Ruth Haley Barton