The path to bliss

Thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12a (the beatitudes)

God you know us so well. You begin your teaching about the kingdom by addressing what human hearts longs for: happiness. We are created to live in a state of well-being and are restless because we do not experience it. You alone provide the true, unsullied source of bliss. Our longing provides us with great energy. It is like a powerful stream of water rushing through a hose, unless held and directed, it dangerously flies about like the banned toy from the 1960’s –  the water wiggle.

Yet the way to this state of blessing seems backwards – happiness through poverty, grief, meekness? You draw me in and then turn my world upside down. Of the many blessings you mention, I’m drawn to the blessedness of “seeing God.” It belongs to the pure in heart.

A pure heart – one not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material (

A clean heart – like soiled laundry washed clean of stains.

A purged heart – one that houses only the purist thoughts, feelings, motives with nothing evil or worldly left in it.

An uncompromised heart – one surrendered totally to the reign of Christ.

A heart absorbed by the contemplation of God

Lord, purify my heart. A pure heart will see you everywhere in all places, people and lives face-to-face with God.

My paraphrase: Oh, the blessedness of having a clean, correctly motivated heart for I will see the face of God everywhere I look.

My heart sings the praise song.  “I want to know you I want to see your face…”

Whose image do you bear, Caesar’s or God’s?

Whose image do you bear, Caesar’s or God’s?

Thoughts on Mark 12:13-17

image from wildwinds.comApparently, the religious and the politicians were ganging up on Jesus, trying to trap him into making a statement that could wind him up in deep kimchee. They come with flattering words and false faces, but he doesn’t fall for it, he “knows their hypocrisy.”

Jesus, you didn’t fall for theirs and you don’t fall for mine. Sometimes I come to you with proper words and with spiritual-sounding requests, but I’m really trying to get you to do for me what I want you to do for me. My desire is hiding inside the trojan horse of proper liturgy.

Oh Jesus, lord of heaven and earth, thy will be done in my life masks a heart that is not present to the presence of the holy Lord of heaven and earth. What I’m really doing is going through the motions of spirituality hoping you’ll bless me and grant me favor.

You speak to me in the symbol of a coin. Governments stamp a representation of their authority upon their coinage.

Coinage in the ancient world had significant political power. Rulers issued coins with their own image and inscription on them. In a certain sense the coin was regarded as the personal property of the ruler. Where the coin was valid the ruler held political sway over the people. Don Schwager, Servants of the Word

With whose image am I stamped? To whom do I belong? Who holds sway over my life?

These questions shake me awake. You are not a vending machine, useful for my purposes. I cannot force you to align with the values I hold as precious. I cannot use my power to attempt to acquire the desires of my small, limited life.

“Give to Caesar that things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” I belong to you, your image is etched in my soul. Your will done in my life is truly the best. Let all that belongs to Caesar fall away from me. I give to you what is rightfully yours, my life. Thank you and amen.

Maybe you can relate to my experience.

With you on the journey,


You are God’s vineyard. How to be a good one.

You are God’s vineyard. How to be a good one.

Dear friend,

According to Jesus, you are God’s planted vineyard, fully equipped with all you need to produce a bounteous crop of grapes: A hedge marking your boundaries and protecting you from critters and thieves, a dug pit to make space for processing the produce of the vine, a tower granting oversight of the vineyard and a residence. God has provided you all you need to live a good and productive life. Be a good, respectful tenant.

What is the hedge God has built around you? God’s word is your protection, it’s truth holds you safe from predators. Connecting with God’s presence through prayer strengthens the wall that surrounds you. When you thoughtlessly forget God, when you willfully disobey God’s Spirit, the hedge is broken and you are vulnerable to forces that intend your harm. Take a word from God’s heart and carry it with you through the day. It will be your hedge and your returning point.

How do you make space to process God’s activity in your life? Practice what you’ve been taught. Do the good works God’s given you to do. Share God’s love. Remain constant. Transformation from grapes to wine happens in the small details done faithfully.

God has built a tower in your soul, a place where you can retreat and gain perspective. With God, in this place of residence, you more clearly see the big picture. You find rest from the urgency of life’s details and remember you are built for eternity. Today will pass and so will its deadlines. What are you doing that will last forever? How can you transform what you’re doing into eternal values? This is the perspective the tower gives. All is redeemable for eternity. Working with spiritual directees, sure. But feeding the dogs?

Lord grant us eyes that see eternity in the dog chow.

With you on the journey,


What is your pentecost experience? Fire or whisper?

What is your pentecost experience? Fire or whisper?

Thoughts on John 20:19-23

Peace can replace fear, resulting in gladness.

There’s the fiery, showy descent of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2, then there’s the quiet gift of the Spirit Jesus breathes on his disciples in John 20. My experience is more akin to the latter.

Like the disciples I lived in hiding because of fear. They were afraid of the wrath of the religious, I was afraid of rejection by peers. They sought safety behind closed doors. Me, I hid behind the pretense of verbosity. We were all afraid of being found and punished.

I was a constant talker, empty words poured from my mouth. I annoyed teachers and friends alike, and didn’t know I even needed to stop. I wasn’t self aware enough to know there was an issue. In fact I took some pride in being called ‘motormouth’ by my teachers. It gained me attention, a point of interface with peers. I thought it connected me with others, but words kept me isolated.

Thank God, Jesus sought me in my hiding place. He found me cowering and offered me peace instead of fear. He drew near and breathed on me, the Spirit entered and I began my journey out of fear into peace and gladness.

What are you hiding from? Maybe, like I was, you are hiding from yourself, or your fears about yourself. Maybe you fear if you were known you would be disliked or rejected. Maybe you assume the roles and the faces friends and society expects of you, all the while shrinking up like a raisin within your soul.

I pray that Jesus will enter your hiding place, find you in the shadow, reach out his hand to you, draw you into an embrace and whisper: Do not be afraid. I have found you, I give you my peace. Walk with me into the light. All will be well.

With you on the journey,


Jesus’ prayer for Debby Bellingham (and maybe for you)

Friends, make this prayer your own!

Paraphrase and prayer based on John 17:11-19

Jesus is no longer in the world, but I am in the world and Jesus has gone to his Father. Jesus prays for Father to keep me in God’s name, the name of Jesus, that all of me may be one, just as Jesus and his Father are one. 

While Jesus was in the world, he kept me in God’s name, he guarded me and didn’t lose any part of me except the part that was death-bound. 

Before Jesus went to be with you, he speaks some words that will fill me with his joy. He gives me your word and says the world will hate me because I am not of the world just as it hated you for the same reason.

He leaves me in the world and asks his Father to protect me from the evil one. 

Jesus repeats that I am not of the world, just as he was not of the world. 

He asks you to sanctify me in truth, God’s word. As Jesus was sent into the world, he sends me into the world. And because of me, he consecrated himself so I also may be consecrated with truth.

Thank you, Jesus for praying for your followers to be one, to be protected from the evil one, to be sanctified and then to be sent out.

Begin with me. Unite the whole of me, lose only the part of me that is tied to death and bound by sin. Drain me like pasta in a colander, keep the good, let the bad run off. Protect me from the wiles of the enemy as I go about my day. Fill me with the joy of your truth as a guard and as a teacher. Send me out to bring your love to the world you so love and call home. Amen.

What Jesus desires

Thoughts on John 17:1-11

Supper is finished. The hour has come. Your discourse turns to prayer and it takes on a surrealistic quality. It’s as if the upper room and your disciples faded away, the scene becomes a frozen tableau. You seem transported into close communion with your Father and we witness a very intimate conversation, you speak of your glory and your desire.

For yourself you want only to bring glory to your Father. For your disciples, for me, you want intimate knowledge of your truth and union with one another.

Truths: I belong to God. God has given me to Jesus. Jesus has given me eternal life. Eternal life consists in knowing God and keeping his word. Knowing God translates into remembering all comes from his great hand. Keeping his word means maintaining union with one another as Jesus and the Father are one.

I belong to God, not to myself, not to my family or my roles, but to God. I am created and sealed by his love and good will.

I have been entrusted to Jesus. His love reveals my humble value. I am worth his dying sacrifice. He carried the cross and he carries me. I am his lamb.

I have eternal life. It begins NOW in the constant exchange that takes place in my heart between God and me. Today, I enjoy the eternal rest of peace and joy.

I receive all as gifts from your heart of love. All creation is your offering to me, meant to draw me into your circle.

I am not alone, I am part of the whole. May I bring glory and honor to all brothers and sisters in Christ and they to me.

Thank you Jesus, for praying for me, keep it up!  Amen.

Just when you think you got it figured out

Thoughts on John 16:29-33

At last, the disciples think they get it. They can finally make sense of what Jesus has been talking about and doing, they got him nailed down; Jesus is no run of the mill teacher, he is from God. Based on this understanding they can believe he is who he has said he was. Whew, glad that’s settled.

But no, Jesus won’t let them rest on their laurels. He shakes their new found confidence by letting them know that in a few hours they are going to desert him; they won’t remember their belief that he is from God. In fear they will abandon him and flee for their lives. And he is ok with that. For his belief is never shattered. He knows he is from God and the Father is always with him, even if his closest friends turn their backs.

And he doesn’t hold their betrayal against them. He warns and then assures them. Away from me, you are going to run into trouble; but don’t worry, I handle trouble. Stick with me and your heart will remain at peace. 

Jesus, you are glad when I gain some new spiritual insight, but the insight is not the goal. You are the goal. The insight can be driven away from my consciousness. In fact this is my reality. I sit with you, you share your voice of love with me, I write it down; and then it remains a note in my journal and retires to the back of my mind as I get up and begin the day’s activities. No wonder I have trouble in my day – irritation easily invades, impatience is my normal reaction, ruled by old habits. What can I expect when I leave you behind as I rise from my prayer chair?

You know me so well, my lapse of memory is no surprise to you! You encourage me to maintain hope. You continually call to me:  Relax, don’t beat yourself up, come back to me, with me you’ll find peace, patience and strength. Friends who have auditory issues wear a hearing aid to increase their ability to hear. Lord, equip me with one. I don’t want to miss your whispered invitations to peace.

Thank you and amen.

For what it’s worth…

Thoughts on John 6:22-29

The crowd had followed you across the sea, because of the signs they saw you perform. There you miraculously fed them, convincing them you were the prophet who is to come into the world. Now it is morning and they can’t find you. They saw your disciples get into the boat to go to the other shore and you weren’t with them. Where could you have gone? They wanted to find you again. So they hitched rides in random fishing boats to seek you.

When they do find you, they are curious about how you got there. And you seem to chide them, assigning to them the desire to feed their bellies as the motivation for their quest.

Uh oh. Hit me on the head again, Holy Spirit. What motivates my desire to know you? Is it to understand the wonder of who you are and the power of your hope? Or is because I want my agenda to be satisfied? Each morning I wake eager to hear your voice of love, but my desire is often tainted with the pressure to hear a word that I can translate into a blog post. I sometimes listen not for my heart’s sake, but for the perceived benefit of being found helpful or insightful by others. Ouch, ugly. But I must admit, this is not always the case, and when it is, I often catch myself and attempt to refocus my heart’s attention.

I hear your encouragement to my soul, listen for the sake of hearing my voice of love meant precisely for you. Don’t worry about impacting others. Your work is to believe in me. A good lesson for my heart.

I read a poem this morning that reinforces this lesson. Schmaltzy, yes, but a good reminder.

Lord, let me make this rule

To think of life as school,

And try my best

To stand each test,

And do my work,

And nothing shirk.

Should someone else outshine

This dullard head of mine,

Should I be sad?

I will be glad.

To do my best

Is Thy behest.

Some day the bell will sound,

Some day my heart will bound,

As with a shout

That school is out

And lessons done,

I homeward run.

Maltbie Davenport Babcock


Thank you and amen

Get off the condemnation train

Thoughts on John 3:16-21

It seems like we’re on a train, bound for condemnation because we don’t want to walk through the decontamination room, and rid ourselves of the death that clings. You are the way to get off the train. You are the process that eliminates death. You don’t wish me to die, you came to bring me life. If only I believe. It’s like the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, if they had believed the evil was building they might have fled the country and not suffered under his demented plans. Lord, increase my belief. Thank you that you do not condemn me; you’re cheering for me, coming toward me with light. As I face the light my condemnation falls behind me like a dark shadow. Thank you and amen.

A Receptive vs Acquiring Gospel

Thoughts on John 3:1-8

We all know about NIcodemas coming to you under cover of night, out of fear, they say. Or maybe he thought he’d have a better chance at a private conversation at night, out of the public eye. At any rate, he was testing you. Not testing as the Pharisees were later to do, trying to trip you up, but legitimately checking you out. He called you Rabbi and acknowledged your wondrous deeds proved God sent you.

You throw him a curve ball with the born again talk. According to his way of thinking, entering the Kingdom of God was done through keeping the law and offering the correct sacrifices. But you are describing a receptive means of righteousness, not an acquiring one. Nicodemas’ attempts at righteousness was playing catch up; trying to return to the state of innocence experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden. You describe union with the Kingdom as accomplished by starting over, becoming like an infant who is born not of it’s own plan or control, but because of the joining of its parents. Spiritual birth happens not by trying hard, but by letting love create and carry me. The grace is found in being dependent upon my loving parent, there is no grace in relying upon my best efforts to earn your love.

Come Holy Spirit, blow into and through my life. Leave evidence of my spiritual birth as I work, talk, and write this day.