Category Archives: Reflections from Chartres

Questions (6 of 6)

Crucifix in sacristy window, Chartres Cathedral

I’m living with lot of questions lately. Burning, existential, spiritual questions. They keep bugging me and just have to be answered.

I suspect that part of the problem is that I don’t always really want to know the answers. But at the same time, I do want to know. It’s pretty obvious that I’m never going to be satisfied—or at peace—until I see what I need to see, and then act on the truth God reveals.

• What does it mean for me to be faithful to God?

• What does it mean for me to pick up my cross daily?

• What does God truly want me to give of myself and my resources in light of the gross inequities and great suffering for so many throughout the world?

I’m not looking for trite answers here. I already know what the Bible says about each of these questions. I’m trying to pierce the fog of self-deception and cultural blindness to see the truth about how I’m living out my faith (or not), what’s truly in my heart, and what Christ sees in me and in the world. I’m trying to be more open to hear how God wants to answer these questions for me.

I don’t have an axe to grind, and I’m not reacting. I want the Gospel I preach to others to revolutionize my own life in all of the ways that Jesus intended. And I want to better serve Christ and his kingdom, and not keep tripping so much over my own stubborn, self-centered, self-serving tendencies.

I feel calm when facing these questions, on one hand; and yet increasingly desperate, on the other. Not desperate so much out of anxiety or fear, but out of a growing sense of the enormous need in the world and my minuscule capacity to do much about it. I’d like to do more, and I’d like to be more.

And so, in my growing desperation, I’m becoming more and more aware that I have to make some choices—maybe some radical choices—if the future is going to be any different than the past. I’m talking about making changes in how I respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in absolutely every context of my life, and in how I give of myself and my resources to others on a regular basis.

For example, I’m increasingly dissatisfied with my trying to have the best of both worlds. I have spent most of my life both attempting to enjoy a meaningful relationship with God and to minister effectively to others, while simultaneously living to please myself as much as possible. And it’s not working. Or at least, I’m not at all satisfied.

Some days, I feel overwhelmed by all these questions. At other times, when I am more grounded, I can let go of what is way outside of my control or understanding. When I feel well connected to God, I can rest in his grace and focus on what is within my power to do.

However, at the same, the Spirit is still calling for changes. I’m beginning to see that the question is not, “How much can I do for Christ and his kingdom, given that I will continue to serve myself as well as possible?” The question has increasingly become, “What could I do—or, better, what would God do through me—if only I would let go of my self-serving choices and behavior?”

The more I keep asking these questions, and am not be afraid of what the Holy Spirit might show me, the more I see that God is actually starting to answer them. He’s using the process of asking the same things over and over to change me in ways I resist, but like. Greater clarity and conviction are emerging little by little—not always with words or concepts, but I can feel the shifts, and I can see that I’m changing for the better.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with this process. I’m not in control, and I’m a little (a lot?) worried sometimes about where all this might go. At the same time, it feels right.

What questions are you living with right now? I’d really like to know how the Holy Spirit is bugging you…and changing you through the process.

A Prayer “Loving God, thank you for the questions that lead me to better places. Please draw me more fully into Jesus’ life and death. Please help me to not lose heart as I have to face the utter darkness, despair, and desperation of the cross. Give me courage and strength to die to myself, and lead me by your power to resurrection in every area of my life possible. May your good will be done.”

I’m writing from Chartres, France. When these words are posted, I will be teaching the The Spirit-Led Leader course at the Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kiev. Please pray for Jill’s complete healing from her pulmonary embolism (see post “To Live or To Die”), and for my teaching and coaching of seminarians and pastors this spring ( Thank you. May this Easter week be a time both of dying to self and of experiencing resurrection for you.


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Self-Confident or God-Confident? (5 of 6)

I had to laugh. I was walking the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral today, looking for inspiration and peace. I was trying to get motivated to write this week’s web article on self-confidence. Instead, I just felt anxious about whether or not I really had anything worth saying!

Whenever I lack self-confidence like this, or become overly self-conscious, I freeze up or become horribly awkward. I’m afraid I won’t be clever, interesting or original enough, and you won’t keep reading or won’t respect me. So, I procrastinate.

This kind of paralyzing self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence is widespread in my experience. Many of my clients, students, and friends wrestle with these same issues in their own ways.

As I see it, the root cause of the problem is often fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking foolish, fear of what others may be thinking or feeling about us. Our confidence falters, and we hesitate to put ourselves forward.

Sometimes, we have the opposite problem, too. Driven by pride, we become determined to prove our worth or superiority to others—or to ourselves. We may accomplish a lot, but too often the end result is more about us, and less about God.

At the same time, pride can be the cause of a low self-image and our feeling badly ourselves. It works like this: When we can’t do something as well as we’d like, our pride can’t bear the thought of our “losing” or “not measuring up.” So we mope about or feel embarrassed over our shortcomings and failures, and stop trying.

Either way—puffed up into self-serving overdrive or deflated into self-defeating underdrive—we can easily become too pre-occupied with Self.

What’s needed is a shift in our focus. We need to move from being so self-conscious (worrying about our performance or what others might be thinking about us) to being more God-conscious (focusing on what God wants for our lives and how the Holy Spirit works through imperfect mortals to bless others).

And what a difference it makes! When I become more God-confident at least 5 things happen:

1)   I remember to base my self-image first and foremost on how God looks at me (I am loved, valued, cherished, and forgiven; and have purpose in life), and on what God will do through me (not on what others think of me).

2) I ask God how I may best serve Christ’s purposes today and meet the needs of those God brings into my life (rather than on what I might get out of my efforts).

3)  I stop procrastinating, because I know I have important work to do in the name of Jesus that stems from God’s calling and will (rather than waiting until I feel like getting started or I am certain of “success”).

4) I work hard to offer my best to God, because I feel so grateful to be loved by God and eager to be part of whatever the Holy Spirit is doing.

5) I make a conscious decision to trust that God will do good things through me, because that’s how God works when we obey the Spirit’s promptings and use our spiritual gifts to serve others.

In short, focusing on self either keeps us from getting to the work God has for us to do, or distorts our motivation and message by bringing glory to ourselves instead of God. Focusing on God makes our confidence soar, and motivates us to get going with the good work God has for us to do—today!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

The Point: Are you tired of getting all tangled up in yourself? Stop thinking so much about what others are thinking about you and being so afraid. Have more confidence in God’s work in you and through you, and get going with what you know you need to be doing.


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Incredible Joy! (4 of 6)

Easter Vigil in Cathedral
Youth celebrating Christ's resurrection in Chartres Cathedral
Youth celebrating after the Vigil

I have never been to celebration like this before. I’ve been to social gatherings with lots of laughter and commotion. I’ve enjoyed elegant multi-course, white-table clothed, dinners with sumptuous delicacies, as well as fun backyard barbecues with kids running all over the place having a great time. But there was something different about this night.

The joy was almost palpable. As soon as the three-hour vigil finished, just before midnight, the youth rushed to the front of the church to sing and dance. As the huge cathedral bells announced the arrival of Easter Sunday morning, near pandemonium broke out near the altar.

Outside the circle of dancers, everyone was clapping, belting out the choruses led by Simoni, a guitar strumming, Spanish priest. “He is resurrected! He is resurrected!” “With him we died. With him we are resurrected. With him we live!” The mood was infectious.

By one a.m. the Chartres cathedral finally closed its doors and the joyous singers took to the streets. I couldn’t fall asleep until at least two.

Actually, I didn’t want to go to sleep. I never wanted to lose the feeling. In fact, I’m still smiling several days later, picturing the scene and recalling the laughter, the delight, and the great feeling of hope we all felt that night.

In a flash I knew that all the money in the world could not buy what I was experiencing at the moment. The emotions ran high and love was overflowing. At the same, the feeling behind the celebration was very deep and the meaning substantial.

The one who died on the cross for our sins came back to life again! Unheard of. Unparalleled. Life-transforming for his band of scared disciples and followers. Radically re-orienting. Hope-inspiring. Joy-producing. Confidence-building. Energizing. Motivating. Absolutely explosive.

In the midst of the darkest of human realities, light has come into the world. No matter what difficulty we must face when we walk outside the doors of the church—and no matter what darkness we sometimes see when we look inside our own hearts and minds—there is more to the story.

God lifts up those who look to him for life. Fighting for what’s right is not a lost cause. Seeking to live by love is not a fool’s game. Struggling to be a person of integrity is not a waste of effort. Though we may be exploited by the opportunists, be disadvantaged by the unscrupulous, suffer unjustly at the hands of others, or simply stumble over our own weaknesses and failures, God does not abandon those who put their trust in him.

Jesus’ resurrection proves who is really in charge, and where true hope can be found. There is justice. There is forgiveness. There is reward for doing good. There is eternal life.

What a great night! What a great Savior.

Though you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)


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Staying on the Path (3 of 6)

This posting is in a series of reflections from my time in Chartres, France.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

A labyrinth located in the nave of the Chartres Cathedral serves as a pathway of prayer for believers. It winds back and forth, symbolically representing the many twists and turns throughout our life’s journey. Christians have walked the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral to meditate, pray, and seek a closer connection to God for over eight centuries. While walking, believers often experience something that mirrors some aspect of their life, giving them new insight and prompting prayer.

While traversing the winding path over the past two weeks, I have been praying that God would help me to know better what it means to deny myself and to pick up my cross to follow Jesus, as he instructed all of his disciples to do (Mark 8:34). I have been asking Christ to set me free from the fears that have been holding me back from surrendering my will to God’s at a deeper level, and from the distractions and impulses that take me away from the Holy Spirit’s leading.

On one walk, as I approached one of the dozens of hairpin turns on the labyrinth pathway, I suddenly saw a picture of how easily I get off track with my thinking or behavior. For example, I may be thinking about my writing, or my family, or something to do with my work, and suddenly, I’m off rehearsing how someone hurt me or of how I would like to get revenge. Or, I can be doing well with living by my priorities, and then I’ll make some stupid decision that dissipates my energy or health. Or, I’ll feel love and kindness toward someone, only to bite someone else’s head off in the next instant. Or, I’ll be all set to go forward with God’s leading in some important aspect of my life, and then I get cold feet and start to question myself. I let myself get distracted from the calling and opportunity at hand, or my faith wavers, my confidence diminishes, or I start hedging my bets.

The 180 degree turns in the pathway in front of me were suddenly illustrating a troubling aspect of my life that I wished were different. Indeed, my life is full of contradictions and competing values and impulses, and I frustrate myself often (not to mention how I must negatively affect others at times).

Now, I know my path is going to keep winding back and forth in my life, shifting direction from time to time, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. What I what to know is how can stop letting my “flesh” (sinful impulses and fear) so easily cause me to veer away from the Spirit’s leading onto a path that is contrary to God’s will for me?

As I prayed about these things this past Friday, I realized again that on my own I do not have the power to change my most deep-seated instincts and habits. God has to do the deep inner work within me to set me free and to keep me on the Spirit-led path. Yet, my experience also teaches me that my response to the Spirit and the ways that I order my thinking and living can help.

• The path of the Spirit is pretty well marked out for me—not necessarily all the details, but the character, the spirit, the intention of God’s ways are well known to me. I can consciously remind myself of what I already know to be true.

• I can set out to walk this path every day, and in every circumstance, setting my intention to listen, learn and follow the Spirit.

• I can make a point of not letting other things or people so easily distract (disturb, entice, annoy, consume, intimidate, threaten) me. I will react often, but I can catch myself and ask, “Is this how I want to react?”

• I can choose not to distract myself when I become afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed.  I can simply remind myself, “Yes, this task is scary or hard, but the Spirit will show me what most needs to be done, and help me to do it.”

• When I discover that I have taken a sharp turn away from the Spirit’s leading, I can stop, reconnect with God, look around for how to get back on the Spirit-led path again, and start fresh.

• I can focus on walking the path that leads to God, rather than focus on trying to change myself or others. That is, instead of trying to make things happen so much, I can put my energy into connecting with God and letting the needed changes in me and in others flow from the Spirit’s activity.

• I can choose to trust God.

If I close my eyes I can see distinctly the spot on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth where the Spirit spoke to me about how I am living my life. While, at first, the 180 degree turn painfully illustrated to me how easily I switch directions, change focus, and move out of the Spirit into the flesh in a moment. Yet now this mental picture also depicts how I would like to navigate the twists and turns in life by staying in the Spirit.

I leave today for Africa. I’m a little nervous, but now, after spending time seeking God in prayer, I feel ready. I do not know all of how God intends to use us there, but I’m sure the Holy Spirit is leading us, and will work in us and through us to serve Christ’s purposes. The most important thing is that I stay on the path.

Final Thought

Isaiah said that God would keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfastly fixed on God. Focusing on the Spirit-led path before us is what a steadfast mind is all about.

When you feel yourself starting to veer off the path in your mind, heart or behavior, try simply saying to yourself, “Stay on the path.” As your mind and spirit obey your instructions, feel the temptations diminish in power, and the peace within you deepen and strengthen.

What helps you to stay on the path?


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Christ in Judgment (It’s a good thing!) (2 of 6)

This is the first in a series of reflections based on my time in Chartres, France (September 2008)

West Wall of Chartres Cathedral

Placed in the most significant position, high on the west wall of the Chartres Cathedral (France), in the center of the multi-colored rose shaped window, Christ is seated on his heavenly throne. He is known here as “Christ in Judgment,” reigning over all of creation at the end of time, surrounded by apostles and the souls of the saved and condemned. This powerful symbol of faith says that, contrary to appearances at times, some day Christ will set wrongs right, the martyrs and faithful will be vindicated, and all the “dead will be judged according to what they have done” (Revelation 20:12).

Over the years, the notion of Christ as Judge has alternately frightened me, repulsed me, or simply left me cold. There is so much judgment and rejection in the world that crushes people that I often recoil from critical, damning attitudes and images of condemnation. I much prefer the Jesus who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Believing that God accepts and loves me as I am with all of my faults, experiencing God’s forgiveness, and living out of a place of grace (rather than judgment) has been incredibly healing and motivating for me over the years.

Yet, I am changing. I still am very drawn to the compassionate and forgiving Jesus, and I depend upon Christ for rest for my soul. Yet, at the same time, I’m starting to see that grace only has meaning when there has been judgment. Forgiveness is transforming, but only when we’ve acknowledged (judged) that we or others have done wrong. Truth sets us free only when we admit (judged) that we have been held in bondage by lies, distortions, and manipulative behavior. In biblical teaching, mercy triumphs over judgment, but judgment still has its place when it holds up truth for all to see and demands that we alter our lives to fit with the laws of love.

On Friday, I had been walking the labyrinth, which is uncovered only once a week on Fridays for pilgrims. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I turned to look up at the magnificent rose window to the west. When I fixed my eyes on Jesus on his throne, I suddenly saw Christ as not only the judge, but my judge—and I was surprised by my reaction. I felt strength and encouragement. I felt at peace.

When I am honest with myself, I know that Christ’s judgment is always right. I know that his opinion is the only one that truly matters. If I submit myself to him, and actively seek out his perspective on my life, rather than experiencing domination, I find freedom. Rather than feeling disempowered, I find more strength and confidence to live the life I am meant to live.

If, on the other hand, I look to others (or even myself) to judge my life, the truth is going to be colored and distorted by their (or my) interests and limitations. Whether I submit to or rebel against the judgments of others, they will exert too much control over me. Only one person can rightly serve as Judge of my life. Only Christ offers me the full truth I need to see and the grace I need to accept it and live by it.

Over the past couple of years, I have been struggling with rejection and judgment from someone who used to respect me and was close to me. I know intellectually that I am being treated this way because I won’t go along with his way of thinking or do what he wants. However, emotionally, I keep churning inside. I keep wondering if I did something wrong to bring about his rejection of me, and what truth there is in his accusations and judgments. I can see that I’m too attached to his opinion of me. Yet, for some reason, I have been having a very hard time accepting what’s happened and my powerlessness in the relationship.

No wonder, then, seeing Jesus as my one and only true Judge was so comforting!  Jesus is not like this former friend. Jesus knows the truth. He knows I am not perfect and make many mistakes. I sin and let him down, hurt others, and work against myself all the time. Yet, in Jesus, I find truth. Where I have failed, he offers forgiveness. Where I am confused, he offers wisdom. Where I am wrongly trying to justify myself, he cuts through the pretense.

Christ my Judge does not jerk me around with self-serving demands. He is reasonable and fair, and speaks the truth when I need to hear it, not to hurt me, confuse me or try to manipulate me. Though his rebuke may cut me deeply, I never doubt that he speaks the truth out of love. He is for me, more than I can ever be for him.

So, I trust him. In his judgment I find peace and strength. I feel relief. Looking to him, it’s easier to let go the false judgments of others, and the unreasonable demands I place on myself. Then, ironically, the more I look to Christ as my Judge, the more I find my way back to Jesus, my Savior and Lord, whose yoke is easy and burden is light.

What does Christ in Judgment mean to you?

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Spiritual Retreat in Chartres, France (1 of 6)

The Chartres Cathedral

If you haven’t ever been there, you have to go some time. But expect to be changed by your visit.

Chartres is a town, one hour by train, southwest of Paris. In it is a huge, beautiful cathedral, built at the beginning of the thirteenth century. My wife, Jill, and I journey to Chartres once a year for a ten day spiritual retreat.

  • I go to connect with God on a deeper level
  • I go to rest–from all my striving and drivenness
  • I go to listen to God
  • I always hear something I don’t want to hear, but need to hear
  • It’s always a hard time
  • It’s always the best time of the whole year

When you walk inside of the cathedral, you are immediately struck by the immensity of the sanctuary. The pillars stretch up into grand arches that lift your eyes and heart toward heaven. The stained glass windows are breathtaking. The labyrinth on the floor is intriguing.

My favorite thing to do in the Chartres cathedral is to quietly walk around, hum the Lord’s prayer, and pray. I like to spend hours sitting in front of a statue of Jesus. This year I gravitated to a life-sized crucifix–a cross, with a figure representing Jesus nailed to it. Each day I took time to simply look at him and think about his love and self-sacrificial death. At times, I did my Bible study there, looking up from my Bible periodically, remembering to silently ask Jesus how the verses apply to my life.

Often, I just sat there in Jesus’ presence, letting my mind wander and thinking about what’s going on in my life. I know God is present everywhere, but it’s different there. Somehow sitting in such a grand house of worship, with a figure of Jesus on the cross in front of me, surrounded by stained glass windows and sculptures telling biblical stories, makes me more aware of God’s presence. I find that I want to pray. I want to connect. I want God to speak to me.

This year, I have been reading and thinking a lot about differences among Christians and differences between Christianity and other religions–especially, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age beliefs. I’ve been deliberately seeking out people whose faith is different from mine. I want to understand them better.

I’ll admit, I originally mostly wanted to make myself feel better about being a Christian. I wanted to find the faults in others’ beliefs to strengthen my own confidence in mine. But I’ve been discovering a surprising thing. The people I’m meeting are a lot like me, and share many of the same values I hold. They’re often people who love their families, want to honor God with their life and practice, and want to do good and make the world a better place.

So my search has changed. Instead of just looking for the differences, now I’m also looking for how God is working everywhere in the world, in different traditions, through and in spite of official dogmas and traditions. I’m amazed at what I’m finding, and eager to stay on the journey. I’m more glad than ever to be a Christian, and my love for Jesus keeps deepening, but I’m also amazed at the people I’m meeting and what I’m learning from them.

I discovered that the crucifix had been positioned inside of the ecumencial chapel in the cathedral. As I wrestle with deep spiritual questions, I was being drawn to sit with Jesus, in a place devoted to celebrating points of common faith among divergent traditions. I wonder what God is going to show me next….

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