Deeply Loved


Over the past month I’ve done I’ve done four posts reflecting on Keri Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; this post marks my final post on the book and my review of it.

Deeply Loved Cover

The book is described on the back by saying “Jesus Loves You.  That profound fact has been changing lives around the world for centuries.  Yet, there are days when you don’t experience this completely in your own life.  So how do you get to the very core of that statement on a deep personal level?…Using the gospel stories of Jesus, reflection, and personal stories, Kent will guide you through forty days of how to create space in your life for Jesus to show up and love you.  Deeply.”  Over the course of 40 days she then guides you through 40 different disciplines meant to draw you closer to Jesus, or, perhaps more accurately, allow you to open up so he can draw you closer to himself.  Either way you look at it, I have to say that having gone through the book I can testify that the disciplines Keri shares did help me re-focus my thoughts, attitudes, and even actions on Jesus.

Though I read the book over Lent (which happens to be 40 days), and I did so with others from around the country as part of a blog tour, I can also reassure you that it would be appropriate to read any time during the year.  Each entry is only 4-5 pages long, meaning you can read it in just a few minutes a day.  But as you close the book each day you’re left with profound thoughts and reflections you’ll spend days meditating on (literally!).  This truly is one of the few books I’ve read that I will go back and re-read multiple times simply because it’s had an impact on my life that can’t be easily put into words; it’s by far the best devotional book I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll give this book 5/5 stars, meaning you need to add it to your “must read” list, especially if you want to read a book to draw closer to Him.

It’s All About Grace


It’s Holy Week; more specifically, it’s Wednesday of Holy Week (also known as Spy Wednesday or Holy Wednesday).  Over the past several weeks I’ve been reading through the book Deeply Loved by Kerry Wyatt Kent as part of a Lent devotional, and today I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the importance of Holy Week.

Deeply Loved Cover

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday), which is the Sunday before Easter, and continues through until Easter morning.  In traditional and liturgical circles there are generally a bunch of services this week and, for the first time in a decade I won’t get to participate in all of them (for the record, I have class on Thursday night and so I won’t be attending the Maundy Thursday service and on Good Friday we’ll be traveling so I’ll visit a church for their evening service).

As an arts person with a background in both music and theatre part of me just loves the drama and pageantry of Holy Week – from celebrating the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday (complete with waving of palms and processing into the sanctuary) to experiencing communion (the night of the Last Supper) and leaving a darkened and stripped sanctuary on Thursday to the quiet reflection of Good Friday to the sunrise service on Easter morning, there’s just something about going through the process that helps remind me of what Jesus did, particularly that last week of his life on Earth.

Perhaps more than anything, though, I’m reminded of the awesome grace of God that is demonstrated this week.  I’m reminded that regardless of how many times I fail – whether I say things I shouldn’t at work or fail to do my daily quiet time or whatever – regardless of what I do or don’t do God has paid the price for my sin and I’m clean before him through Jesus.  For me, Holy Week is the reminder of grace – free grace; it’s a reminder that there is nothing – nothing – I can do to earn God’s love or favor.  He did it all.  He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the praises of people who would later betray him; he washed the feet of the disciples who would just hours later abandon him; he suffered the betrayal of one of his closest friends who turned him over to the authorities; he suffered through an unjust and illegal trial, endured flogging at the hands of Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, was literally nailed to a cross, and then he died.  All for me (and you, too!).  There’s nothing I can do to earn that type of love or deserve that type of love – God gave freely to me.  The drama and pageantry of Holy Week reminds me of that grace.

And after all that, Easter is when everything changes.  Jesus “done got up” from the grave – “he is not here”, but he is risen!  Grace wins!  Not only does God punish Jesus for my sins and failings (instead of punishing me), he provides a rescue by defeating death and granting me victory over death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “Grace, grace, God’s grace” is truly “amazing grace”.

What’s Holy Week mean to me?  It means that “because of Jesus I’m alive”; it reminds me of grace.  Deeply Loved has proven a wonderful tool over the past several weeks to remind me of that love as I’ve encountered and practiced different ways to interact with and experience the presence of Jesus in my life.  I’m not perfect (at least not yet – but just wait until I get to Heaven!); I mess up every day.  But I know that because of Holy Week – because of grace – God forgives, accepts, loves, and is working to change me into the image of his son.

Serving


This is the third post reflecting on Kerry Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; if you’d like to read my first two reflections click here and here.  Today I want to reflect on her thoughts regarding service.

Kent’s words were, to me, comforting to read.  In some ways for me they almost “lowered the bar”, so to speak in regarding expectations for service, but the more I thought about it I realize how difficult what she’s writing about can be.  I’ll just be honest and say that one of the things that drives me crazy is always being asked to serve – I get tired of hearing it.  This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, so if you’re reading it and find yourself thinking, “He’s talking about me” rest assured I’m not.  Here’s my gripe though – we seem to have defined “service” as only doing some sort of formal work for the church or some community organization.  And while that’s important, service is so much more than that.  I get tired of the implication that when I don’t serve in some “official” capacity I’m not serving.

I really believe that I have three main acts of service God has given me – so when someone asks me to serve in another capacity I have to weigh it against those priorities.  I suppose it’s cliché to say it, but I take Colossians 3:23 literally – I don’t work for anyone but the Lord.  And right now he’s given me three primary responsibilities: my family, my job, and my school.  That means that I need to value family time with my wife and girls, I need to be devoted to my job and give it everything I have, and when it’s time to study I need to do that to the best of my ability.  Some people have accused me of using that to avoid service, but I don’t think it is – I truly believe I’m focusing on what is important and serving where God has called me to serve.  I will be the first to tell you I often struggle to give my wife and girls the best part of my time, which to me says I don’t need to add anything else to my plate right now.

But more than that, service is what we do every moment of every day.  It’s letting someone get off the elevator before me, or opening the door as I walk into a building.  Read what Kent writes:

“The simple things you do to care for your family, the work you do to provide for others, the way you treat customers or coworkers – all of this can be service to God, if you choose to see it that way.”

This is what I meant when I said that when I first read the chapter I felt like the bar got lowered – I was reminded that I need to view every act I do every day as service and I felt like I did that, so I felt vindicated against those who would try to convict me – here was a quote I could use to prove to them I was correct.  But then I got to the application part of the chapter, and that’s when the bar got raised again:

“A simple way to practice service is to be open to interruptions, to give your attention to those who ask for it.  When you are interrupted, decide that you will see that interruption as one that comes not from the person before you but from God.”

Well there went my feel-good moment!  I hate to be interrupted.  I’ll let the phone right (voicemail can answer) or close the office door to avoid interruptions.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but too often I’ll put off something with the girls until I finish what I’m doing.  I hate to be interrupted.    And, worse than that, I let people know I don’t like to be interrupted.  I don’t do it intentionally, but I recognize that my tone of voice and my body language communicate loud and clear that I’m not happy with the interruption.  I’m selfish, and there’s no getting around it when it glares me in the face.  Yet according to Kent, allowing for the interruption can be an act of service in itself.

Deeply Loved Cover

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook wall that someone had shared with me about the “iPhone Mom”.  I thought it was a great reminder to live in the moment, to literally allow for the interruption.  And, in all honesty, when I read it I didn’t read it as written to “mom” but to “dad” (since I’m a dad) – I wasn’t trying to put down mothers or say anything negative about them.  But boy was that a mistake – I quickly found out there was a massive back-lash against the author for writing what she wrote (you can read two of the responses here and here).  I’m not here to support or defend the post, since obviously sharing the original one got me in trouble!  But as I reflect back on it I think the reason it struck a chord with me was that author was trying to say is what Kent was saying in this application section – open yourself up to the interruption (at least that’s how I read it).

I have a long, long way to g(r)o(w) here, and I rest in the grace knowing that God is working in me, he is molding me into the person he wants me to be.  This particular day made me re-evaluate (again) my priorities, and recognize where I needed to change and improve.  And, with God’s grace, tomorrow will be better than today.

Rest


This past week was spring break from my classes (not work but school), and I made a conscious decision to not do any homework.  Now in all honesty that means I’m feeling a little behind right now, with a take-home mid-term, paper, and several chapters of reading due on Thursday, but I needed the break – we all did.  I was able to hang out with Melissa and just snuggle on the couch, play with the girls, and even take a nap.  It was….well, restful.

Deeply Loved Cover

As I’m working through Deeply Loved by Kerri Wyatt Kent I’ve been meditating all week on one particular chapter (I read it Tuesday): Hurry.  (This is actually post #2 on the book, so to read #1 click here)  The thing I loved about this particular chapter is that she acknowledged the busyness of life without making me feel guilty for it, though she did challenge me to evaluate it and reflect on it differently.  She shared the following metaphor from a friend who was busy.  The metaphor compared our lives to a jar of river water all shaken up.  She commented that we need to “sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.”  Wyatt goes on,

[This} is what the jar of water teachers us.  We must be willing to show up, and be still – and let [God] work.  Just letting go of control – to stop trying so hard – is, ironically, the hardest thing to do.

She draws a distinction between “busy” and “hurry” that I’ve never before contemplated, but which has given me pause this week to consider.  Busy, she writes, is an “outward reality – what we do”; it’s what I feel sometimes at work.  But “hurry is an inner reality – how we think, the angst we feel when we are overwhelmed by obligations or by trying to adapt to rapid change.”  She challenged me to settle down, to become less hurried, by stopping the multi-tasking effort and focusing on what is most important right now.  This particularly struck a chord with me because I realize that when I become most stressed, particularly at work, it’s when I feel I’m doing too many things at once (it’s why emails sometimes only get half-read).  And I’ve been really trying lately to be more focused, to only do one thing at once rather than 10, and this chapter reinforced that to me.  She wrote that “Hurry has become a mindless habit.  We’ve said yes to everything but serenity.”

So this week I chose to rest, to try and practice serenity, to allow God to refresh and refill me.  I’ve got plenty to do this coming week, but now I’m feeling that I’ll be able to do it – one step at a time.

Building Intimacy


About two months ago I volunteered to be part of a blog review team looking at a new book titled Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent. The book is a devotional with the subtitle, “40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus”.  The original plan was to read the book during the season of Lent (one chapter for each of the 40 days), but since the book just arrived last week I’m a little behind…  So I read a few chapters to get me in the swing of things, then jumped forward to where I would have been had I started on Ash Wednesday (which, for the record, was February 13).

Kent’s writing immediately drew me in.  Each chapter is roughly 5-6 pages long, with some very specific application suggestions on the last page.  When I first started reading the chapters some of the titles reminded me of spiritual disciplines to practice (confession, gratitude, simplicity), but I found they were much more than that.  Each chapter highlights a specific insight into how (can) relate to Christ.  I’ve found that spending time each day going through the chapter has drawn me into deeper meditation on the nature and person of Jesus Christ and, as a result, my relationship with him.

So today marks the first of several posts I’ll write about the book.  I’ll be doing at least once a week between now and Easter, perhaps more if time allows.  Today I want to highlight my thoughts on one chapter in particular: Confession.

Deeply Loved Cover

Confession

This chapter, in particular, brought some fresh insight into the act of confession for me.  Kent tells the story of when her six year old daughter confessed of being envious of her brother and how she (the daughter) felt like such a terrible person for feeling that way.  Kent then told how she processed with her daughter the difference between thoughts and actions, what sin was, etc, and how the entire experience brought them closer together rather than force them apart.  Having daughters of my own, I related to this.  When they come to me with struggles they don’t need (or want or expect) condemnation but confirmation, love, support, and forgiveness.  They confess when they are confident of these things.  Kent then compared this situation to our relationship with Jesus; she writes,

The spiritual practice of confession looks exactly like my daughter coming to me to admit her jealous thoughts.  We come to Jesus and own up to our thoughts and actions that are wrong.  He receives these soberly, not brushing them under the rug as if they didn’t matter.  But neither does he shame us.  In confession, we sit with Jesus and look boldly at the truth about our struggle against sin and come clear.  We are washing in grace…Jesus sees our struggles.  What we confess, he already knows.  We do not confess to inform him but to access the grace he wants to give us.  He is moved with compassion by our plight and wants to help us.  Compassion accesses that assistance.”

This section brought such a warm, loving, and open reaction in me to the act of confession that it really helped clarify what has become (for whatever reason) so foggy.  Confession isn’t about punishment, but about forgiveness.  John tells us in his letter that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).  One Bible teacher I heard once told me that the word that is translated as “If” here can also be translated as “when”, so that instead of “if we confess” we could (and perhaps should” read it as “when we confess” – it’s a promise that should bring hope and healing, not condemnation and shame.

Kent goes on to conclude,

When we imagine God’s forgiveness as a huge blanket to cover the entire world, we keep him distant.  But when we specifically name the ways in which we have fallen short, he comes to us and wraps us, individually, in the warm embrace of his love. Confession…builds intimacy. (emphasis mine)

What a beautiful picture of what God has given us!  One the last page of the chapter Kent then highlights some very practical and easy steps to take to practice confession.   The last phrase she wrote (that confession builds intimacy) reminds me of something my father once told me; he says, “God doesn’t have favorites, but he does have intimates, and anyone can be an intimate of God.”  We know that in any relationships there is always one person who loves and cares more than the other person – it’s the nature of relationships – and it is the one who cares less who controls the level of intimacy in the relationship.  Because of our fallen nature, it’s only natural to realize that when it comes to our relationship with God we are the ones who naturally care less, meaning we control the level of intimacy in the relationship, and we have to choose to be intimate with Him.  Confession is a choice we can make in the right direction.

For a free copy of the first chapter, please click this link