Friday, December 15, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Discernment

Most of us who are serious about our relationship with God are trying to figure out what He wants from us.  We want our decisions resting on His directives.  We want our lives led by Him.  We want to draw near to His presence.  So, we read the Bible, listen to sermons, go to seminars and cry out for answers, rarely sure if what we “hear” is from God or some contrivance of our own heart.  We want to be able to know God’s voice, to discern its meaning for our lives.

How about a quick text, Lord?  Or at least a call?

We may be hungry for answers and leading from God but are we listening?  What if God has been speaking all along?  How will we be able to “know” his voice from other strange voices?  How will I even distinguish Jesus’ voice from my own?

In John 10, Jesus talks about his “sheep” hearing his voice.  It is a metaphor with big implications.  He is speaking.  The “hear” is to give attention to, understand, or give ear to the teacher.  Do we?  Just like when I have said to my children, “Do you hear me?” by implication, I mean did they pay attention, understand it and ultimately do it.  I usually ask it because I am not getting the desired response. 

Are we like that?  We really have had God’s words spoken to us and yet He gets no response.  How many times has someone said about God’s written word, “I know but…” Or what I heard in class recently, “It’s so hard.” 

At first I want to ask, “What do you desire most to hear from God?” but I must remember the end of John 10:27:  “My sheep hear my voice and I know them.”  It is an intimacy marker – “I know them intimately,” “I know what they need.”  This causes me to reframe the question: “Do you trust God to give you what you need and are you listening for that?” Do you desire what God desires for you?  Can you hear and trust any direction or answer He may give?  This is what makes discernment an uninvited discipline.  We wanted our answers our way.  That is what we are listening for. 

It is then a spiritual discipline to call discernment “obedient” listening.  Samuel’s famous line, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” was only made when he mistook the voice of God for someone else and, thankfully, that someone else was his mentor, who knew to direct him back to God.  To do the same, be deliberate in your listening.  A deep and deliberate reflection of the times God has “spoken” to you in the past – through His written Word, a sermon or teaching, through godly counsel or prayer – can reveal the pattern by which God has operated in your life.  If you stay familiar with this pattern, then other voices are easily distinguished from God’s.  I have often recommended a journaling exercise of significant God-voiced and God-led events in a person’s life.  To see the pattern is revealing and can prove to be a signpost for when God is speaking next.

These answers and experiences with God should include not just obvious directives, comfort and guidance but answers that include NO, which I often take to mean “better than this.”  Many a person knows, in retrospect, the value of not getting something they thought they once wanted. 

It is also important to note times of silence from God.  Waiting in silence has great purpose in giving us a chance to grow strong and to be willing for God’s answer.  Silence can draw us in and causes us to grapple with the truth God has spoken and then to enact obedience,  to step into and follow His leading.  It also behooves us in such reflections of our history with God to note how we have responded to God when He has spoken.  Have we obeyed?  Have we desired to gain the full benefit of responding to His directives and insight?  Do we trust God enough to listen for what He desires for us?

At the core of the spiritual discipline of discernment is the desire to be near to God. It is the “knowing,” in its intimacy-building intent, that should drive our listening.  The sheep who hear his voice then follow into the field.  Those who are attracted to his voice follow closely, not running ahead or lagging behind, going no further than grace allows and keeping Jesus Christ, that familiar shepherd, at the center of life.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Relationships

There is a myriad of books, Christian and otherwise, about developing healthy relationships.  My intention is not to discuss any of the “how,” which has been done from many perspectives, but rather why those pursuits are significant to our relationship with God.  Whether it is an endearing, sweet relationship (think:  grandchildren or BFF), or a difficult relationship (name your own here), that relationship can cause you to move closer to God or farther from God because it is practice ground for our relationship with Him. 

God wants us to “relate” to Him.  We can see that clearly in His relationships described in the Bible.  He walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve.  The Ten Commandments are relationship guides that teach us how to relate to God and each other.  There are so many relationship descriptors in the New Testament about us:  child, bride, friend and others.  Paul uses the most common of household metaphors of the goal of our relationship with Christ: “Father, out of your glorious riches, strengthen your people.  Fill their souls with the power of your Spirit so that through faith Jesus will become more at home in their hearts.  May love be the rich soil where their lives take that they can know the love of Christ that is infinitely long, wide, high and deep, and may your fullness flood through their entire beings.” (The Voice -Ephesians 3:17-19)

What a loss for a human to not feel grounded, welcomed, settled and at peace in a place on earth!  What a gain to have a home!  Having a home where we are tended to and to which we tend gives a picture for us to stay and play, care and share with God.  I wonder how many people who never had a “home” cannot settle in with God the same way?

Jesus lived his life, ministry and death in the company of a network of personal relationships.  Some were not comfortable, as with the Jewish leaders.  His relationship with the disciples was problematic.  Some were daring, as with women, lepers and zealots.  He met people in gardens, houses, on walks by the sea, and in the synagogue.  He met them in enemy territory (Samaria).  He had friction within his family.  He was frequently eating with people.  He was not an isolated religious figure sitting inside a temple or on a hill.  He was immersed in relationship.

In all these, Jesus did not forget his Father in Heaven nor his purpose on earth, despite the challenge within these relationships.  I propose that if I keep God at the center of my relationships, instead of myself, I will be challenged in different ways than I intended.  It will be a spiritual discipline which will make me more like Jesus.

The first example that comes to mind is in marriage, but you can apply parenting or work relationships.  When my husband and I have a disagreement or a decision to make, do we make it based on what we want (which can be in opposition to each other) or do we make the remedy or solution revolve around what God wants of our marriage?  It is a discipline to move the center of all such discussions around God and His priorities for us, individually and corporately.  What impact does it hold to make decisions that bring us closer to God and not just to get relief or do what is easiest?  What impact does the witness have to solve problems that demonstrate our trust of God in any dilemma or decision?

This thought process also includes any relationship I may have with an enemy.  Jesus had the most powerful things to say about this kind of relationship.  In Luke and Matthew, he challenges the people of his day and us with these relationship guides when it comes to an enemy: (Matthew 5)

  •      You have heard it said, “Do not murder,” but anyone who is angry (enough to murder) his brother with be judged by his anger.
  • ·       In fact, anyone who calls another person names, “fool” being the highlight, may find himself with a day in court or in the fires of hell.
  • ·       Don’t offer your gifts to God at the altar if your brother has something against you.  Make it right with him first.
  • ·       If someone sues you, make right the offense.

And then he pushes all the harder (Luke 6):
  • ·       Love your enemies.
  • ·       Pray for those who persecute you.
  • ·       Bless those who curse you.
  • ·       Be good to them.
  • ·       Lend to them, expecting no return.
  •       Expect no compensation for their demands or thievery.

Ouch!  That is not what today’s relationship books say.  This set of directives does not make sense in Jewish law nor to our sense of justice.  Jesus explains,  “I have come not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matt 5:17)  He becomes the consummation of the purpose of the law.  He has come to fill it with his presence, to show its deepest meaning, to have its strongest impact.  It’s what we might call “the spirit of the law,” but much more because Jesus is now the ultimate goal. Jesus becomes enough for us. In dealing with our enemies, we are not to serve our own purposes nor do good to our enemies for their sake, but for the sake of Jesus.  Basic law only serves to point to our deeper need for Him and His deeper truth.

That is what makes relationship a spiritual discipline we did not invite, but it is what we need - full relationship with Christ.  It is daunting and not what I want to do.  I may want to work on certain relationships because it makes life easier (me at the center).  I want to appear at peace with my enemies (me at the center), but keep them at arm’s length so as not to enter any more difficulty than I have to, (me at the center).  But with God at the center, the severest discipline begins.  The discipline is defined differently, enacted differently and drives me into total dependence on and obedience to God...

Which is what He wanted all along.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Comfort

On the heels of the discipline of Suffering, it seems only logical to move to its opposite:  Comfort.  Whether we consider the overt and tangible places of security and stability, such as good health, relationship harmony and reconciliation, financial security or any position secured, or if we consider deep and abiding strengths, such as strong faith, victory over oppression, any overcoming of strongholds or evil, a discipline comes to keep God at the center of it rather than our own ego.  To fail to keep God at the center is to distort the comfort or miss the fullness of its blessing.

What is comfort’s purpose in our lives?  Why are some allowed a lighter load, a greater skill or a greater advantage?  When a position is gained or strength is received, some cannot rest in comfort or are baffled on what to do with it, even to the point that they cannot be comfortable with the comfort. Some people idolize certain kinds of comfort (such as financial gain) and think it the ultimate goal in life instead of a tool to be used for God.  It is faith development to operate from a position of strength and use it for good and not for evil, to use it for God and not for self.

Some people fear success and strength because inherently they know each come with responsibility.  We often settle for less in our faith development for this very reason, seen in the most insidious of ways.  We reduce the possibilities because we only engage in sin avoidance and do not look for the greater good in the possibility of maturity and purity.  While it is true that we have our weaknesses and failures, we fail to have vision for the possibilities and the process for trusting and depending on God to move from weakness to strength, from failure to success.  And while I don’t want to be a tyrant over the process and demand more from myself than God does (when perfectionism holds no grace), we often don’t give credit to the possibilities in us.

Here are the self-defeating things I hear people say: 

            “We will always be sinners.”  (You mean the Cross wasn’t effective or that I cannot mature into Christ-likeness ever?)

            “We can never be like Christ.” (This negates Bible verses which say some powerful things like, “You have the mind of Christ.”)

            “One step forward and two steps back.” (As if failure must accompany success).

            “All we can do is pray.” (As if prayer is the least and last of power that we hold instead of the first and best of our actions.”

Part of the discipline of comfort is to develop gratitude to God for the opportunity to be in a strong or favorable position.  In a fast-paced, busy world, people often do not stop long enough to reflect on the victory or opportunity to appreciate what God has done in them and through them.   “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Small bites.  Slow chewing.  Don’t wolf down the blessings and opportunities so that you don’t experience them fully nor get the chance to look for God in them. 

As a teacher, I have seen students grasp concepts and incorporate them into right living in ways that are fulfilling, victorious and even miraculous.  To sit and relish the opportunity to do so and value the change they work to manifest is a delight.  And to give credit where credit is due to God for the deep work done by His Holy Spirit is to see the Kingdom alive and at work, and is, by definition, the basis of worship.  That kind of focused gratitude is a discipline because I might blow right through the experience or tend to turn that reflective awe on myself and put myself at the center of that success instead of God.

It is also discipline to catch God’s vision for us to have success in certain areas and want to be ready, to be strong when the task comes along.  To position myself to be strong and ready to be well-spent for the opportunities God gives is a discipline.  Many a life is vacant and wandering because it is not purposed and purposeful. When I prepare, develop a vision, seek mentors and teachers, accept critique, and be teachable, I am moving God’s gifts in  me to a place of maturity and usefulness.  Here’s my metaphor:  Learning to skateboard (or snow ski or water ski or surf) requires core strength training.  Falling down repeatedly does not  make one strong enough to stay upright.  It is a discipline to develop an inner strength needed for success.  It is a discipline to rest in and draw from a position of comfort.

Then, when we are strengthened and in right position, it is a discipline to look for the right application of that strength.  A way to test such application comes from Jesus himself: “I look to where the Father is working and I work, too.” (John 5:17) It is a discipline to keep God’s activity as the vehicle for the use of my strengths specifically in a way that causes others to be brought closer to God and into His Kingdom and not to respond to my own emotions or contrivances.  To keep God at the center of the purpose for my strengths and resultant comfort and assuredness is to bring a success that glorifies Him and not me.

Part of comfort’s discipline is to let it be a deliberate platform for the next deeper (and maybe severe) challenge.  God uses people of strength, generosity and wisdom for His advancing Kingdom, which will often have resistance, backlash, even battle.  This includes the battles for the hearts and minds of others.  The position of comfort is supposed to be a comfort for others. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)  You can give nothing of which you do not have yourself.  Be a strength-builder and comfort-giver in others; find people into whom you can speak strength into vocational skills, people skills, spiritual wisdom, comfort and nourishment.

Do you want to see a better world?  Do you want your family to grow in faith and practice?  Do you want more unity in community?  What you want in others must begin in you and for strength to grow and grow into success, God must be at the center for it to be a comfort.  He impacts the definition of comfort and can do that as much in our places of weakness as in our places of giftedness, in our places of failure as well as success.

It is a discipline to keep God at the center of the change I need to develop greater readiness, wisdom, full purity and greater maturity which may move me towards a humble perfection, the comfort that finally allows me to be at peace.

Friday, November 10, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Suffering

Suffering is surely an uninvited discipline, like no other.  We see suffering as a torment from hell, to be cursed or avoided, rather than an opportunity or a teacher.  This happens most when we put ourselves at the center of suffering, instead of God.

We protest suffering for two reasons.  The first is that we have been led to believe or have convinced ourselves that getting close to God is a guarantee of affluence, comfort or control.  We are frequently on the lookout for proof to our right for “blessing” or “good” and in the process, we mislabel comfort for blessing and ease for good.

Secondly, through advancement in medicine and technology, much of modern human suffering has been minimized.  In American/western culture, we have access to many quick escapes from suffering.  We do not have to stay thirsty or hungry for long.  Most illnesses are quickly mitigated with medicine.  We often don’t even have to walk any further than from our house to our car.  And we look upon the hungry, thirsty, the sick and those taking the bus as if they are missing the blessings of God.

As a result, we are far removed – and thankfully so – from much suffering, but when it comes, often our hope wanes, our faith falters.

What is your tendency when suffering comes?

I am going to suggest that when we suffer – if we allow it – that we would see suffering as a discipline.  This can happen when we keep God at the center of the discipline, which involves a diligent search for what is good and for where God is in the suffering.

Suffering is often the opportunity for an engaging exposure of false idols, false ideas about God and ourselves.  It first can reveal our predilection to be immovable, to resist change.  We would often rather be ruined than make any change.  When we are comfortable – settled in and unchallenged – we often have nothing to compel us forward.  We stagnate.  We even fail to seek God.

Suffering also exposes what is bad or painful in our lives – those things we often try to ignore, or try to bury, avoid, or lie to ourselves about.  Those painful things often cause us to reliably sin to get something better.  That sin can lead us to false dependencies (idols) which are blatantly bad for us – alcohol, bad relationships – or subtle, culture-rewarded behaviors – TV, food, status-building, work addiction.  No matter which, we often mistake lesser longings for greater ones, settling for popularity over influence, or material gain over belonging, or individualism over community.  Or anything over God.  We will often sacrifice the righteous to the good, missing God altogether.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops perseverance and perseverance develops our character and our dependence upon hope. Romans 5:3-5

The Greek work for suffering (“problems and trials” in this version) means “pressure.”  It metaphorically is being “hemmed in,” a narrow place, as if there are no other options (but God).  Thus, our idioms of “dire straits” or “between a rock and a hard place.”  Suffering is good when it applies pressure on us to finally come to God, where our only hope lies.  We would like to think that comfort, affluence or wellness would give us hope, but each will fail.  Illness still comes; bad weather still comes; failure and loss still exist. Only the hope from God sustains because He does not fail; his presence remains when all else collapses or abandons us.
So, how do we engage the discipline in suffering?  How do I keep God at the center and persevere?  How do I build hope, that which I need most of all?

Let God comfort you.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. In fact, when you are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation!  2 Corinthians 1:3-6a

When I have been hemmed in by suffering, I have asked God for many things – answers, change, relief, direction…even His will.  But God wants to offer himself as the greatest comforter.  He wants to be with us even then.  Be still and let his Holy Spirit enter and speak to you, to hold you in the darkness of fear and anxiety.  Some things many never change.  A loved one dies.  A lost opportunity may never return.  One decision may impact an entire life.  Let Jesus be enough for you.  Learn to engage him in the deep recesses of the human existence.

Let God’s community absorb your grief.

Share each other’s burdens and in this way, obey the law of Christ.  Galatians 1:2

Along with the end of 2 Corinthians 1:6, we can see that the community is supposed to be there for each other.  This is a fallen world and terrible things happen.  Entering into the suffering of others allows you to be a conduit of God’s love and compassion.  The parallel meaning of “share each other’s burdens” is to let others share your burden.  Receiving other’s compassion is a discipline, too.  Isolation is inherently non-biblical.

See suffering as a chance for God to grow you.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So, let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be mature and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4

It is a spiritual maturity to look into the eyes of suffering and look for an opportunity – for joy, to prove your faithfulness, to grow steady.  The “test” of your faith is a “proof” word – to demonstrate your faith – your trust for and your trust of God.  To whom do you need to prove it?  Not God.  He already knows.  Often, we need the proof ourselves.  Leaning into God, trusting His Word has often brought a subtle amazement to me.  People have asked me, “How did you get through that?”  I knew it was God.  It may not have been easy.  It wasn’t fun (i.e. comfortable), but, with God, I endured.

We are more than our problems.  I see no reason to retain labels such as “victim” or “survivor” or “I am in recovery.”  Many people keep these labels their entire lives.  The apostle Paul says you are more than that, more than a conqueror because of the love of Christ.

In all these things (trouble, calamity, persecution, hunger, danger, even death) we are more than conquerors through Christ, who loved us.  Romans 8:37

Don’t reduce your prayers to only circle around your problems.  God is more than your problem-solver.  Instead, when you suffer, seek greater things than solutions.  Suffering may be that place you learn wisdom, true self-knowledge, Christ-likeness, perseverance, your faith, God’s presence and gain the thing that gives life triumph through any battle – hope.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Grace

“Wait!” you say. “There no discipline in Grace.  It is God’s free gift.  I just accept it, right?  It’s all God.  How could there be any discipline in receiving grace?”

That is what we have been told, isn’t it?  That Grace is all God’s responsibility.  But, if we examine the cultural context of the use of the word charis (grace) we might get a different picture.

In our day, the word “grace” is used uniquely and sparingly, but in the Greco-Roman, New Testament culture, grace was an everyday word which represented the synergy between patron and benefactor, master and servant, gifter and recipient.  That culture, with a huge division between rich and poor, could not exist without it.  The poor would be devastated by deep needs; the rich would be devastated by lack of household, farm, and political support.

So, grace was not a one-way effort.  The original gift may have started with patron, master or gifter, but there was an expected response and  partnership that was a giving and taking and giving again.  It was a symbiotic relationship between each.

It was almost a dance.  Gift begat loyalty and relationship.  It was the interaction of joy and benefit for each. If you have ever given a gift to someone only to find out they didn’t use it, or offered a helping hand which was rejected, or offered your hand in a dance to be rejected, you can get a taste of the necessity of a response to a grace offer.  In the Greco-Roman world, such a rejection was almost taboo and, definitely, a disgrace.

John the Baptist sees this most clearly, trying to get us to see the gift and response to the coming Savior, “This is who I spoke of, He who comes after me is preferred before me.  And of His fulness, we will receive grace for grace.” (John 1:15, 16) In the Greek, it is “charis anti charis,” “grace against/opposite grace” or “grace for the cause of grace.”  In a dance, the dancers are across from each other, “opposite” each other, the dance incomplete without the other.  I take this to mean that effort is a companion of grace.  It is the response to grace. 

What is the grace/gift that God extends to us?  To what am I to respond?  God is extravagant with His gifts.  He gives the power of the resurrection (Eph 1:19, 20).  He gives the desire and power to obey Him (Phil 2:13).  His divine power gives me everything I need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3) and the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).  He gives us "every spiritual blessing" (Eph 1:3)  Wow!  What generosity!

And my response?  The Bible makes it clear what is a partnered response to this grace.  Peter says to make every effort to apply those promises to my life (2 Peter 1:3-9).  Paul says to treat grace as special and trust God in what He gives (Gal 2:20,21).  Because of God’s promises, I am to clean myself up and be holy (2 Cor 7:1). My response-ability is clear and holds great promise.

What a dance that would be!  God offers all the power you need to live the holy life! You take his hand and let him lead.  You stay in step with the music and movement of grace, to accept where He may take you.  It is a discipline to let Him lead and to stay in the follower-role. 

God begins a work in us and invites us to join in the effort.  When we live under the influence of God, of which the Bible names many ways of doing so, these become elements of grace, his unmerited favor.  God makes the change possible within the context of our lives and when we catch His vision and plug into the movement of God, growth and change happen.  Life becomes different.

Keeping the dance metaphor requires that we keep God at the center of the discipline of grace.  He is the patron, the master, the gifter, the “lead” in the gift of grace.  You keep your eyes on him.  When you and God join up and dance, your life is now supernatural.  A whole lot of God (the super) and a little bit of you (the natural) makes that possible.

Have you been dancing with God?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Introducing: An Uninvited Discipline

Spirituality is a messy business.  Historically, the "spiritual" disiciplines have been compacted into a list of activities sometimes accessibly only by people living in a convent or monastery.  Try finding silence or solitude when you are mother of young children; try to meditate any where but the drive home from work (and please don't close your eyes).  

I am not saying silence, solitude, meditation and other ancient practices are not worthy pursuits.  In fact, to find spaces for those and other such practices can prepare the way for others, but I think the wrong things can happen when we confine our spiritual discipline to places that the whole of our lives cannot enter.  Such confined practices can leave us to feel less connected to God when maybe He is crying out to us in alternative ways, in the corners of our lives that are noisier and cluttered.   Or maybe we end up compartmentalizing spiritual growth into spaces which we can control, because to allow our whole selves, our whole lives in on spiritual growth would require vulnerability or real sacrifice.

It is crucial to see the significance of our entire life as spiritual.  Because most of our lives are noisy and busy, we often cannot see the the spirituality of it.  Because we are distracted and self-centered, we don't want to bear the burden of discipline in certain areas.

So, I introduce to you the Uninvited Disciplines:  Grace, Suffering, Comfort, Discernment, Repentance and Forgiveness, Relationships and Aging.  We may not want to own our part of the discipline (Grace - isn't it all God?), or see the struggle inside the gift (Comfort) or want to suffer at all, even for the cause of God.   These disciplines will only stand as examples of others we are also avoiding, but the model will stand.

Here is the perspective I want to take each time we face an uninvited discipline:  that at the center or heart of any discipline, we would look for God, seek God, desire God - no matter the outcome for us.  I believe our greatest failure in our usual spiritual pursuits is that we are at the center of any discipline we encounter.  Even as we look for answers, comfort, or correction, we are still at the center.  Thus, we are looking for our agenda to be satisfied, trying to command the discipline to meet our needs.  Sometimes that keeps us from the discomfort of the discipline God actually wants.  Sometimes that tact keeps us from God.

I challenge you to look into each discipline - either the ones I mention or any you are avoiding - and seek to see God, be with God and join with God in it.  Then you can move out with God in any change, if it comes.  Be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they went into the firey furnance:  they expected to be saved, yet held to their faith even if they were not.

 "If you throw us into the blazing furnace, then the God we serve is able to rescue us from it and release us from your power...but even if He does not, you can be sure we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue you erected."  Daniel 3:16-18

Spirituality is a messy business.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Find the Beauty of God

I am reminded of a paragraph written by Augustine of the beauty of God.  I wanted to update it for today:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new;  late have I love you!  For behold, You were within me and I outside. I kept looking for you out there and in my unloveliness came those lovely things of creation that you made.  Yet,You were with me when I was not with You.  Since my attention fell elsewhere, I was kept from You by those things, yet had they not been in You, they would not have been at all.  You called and cried to me to break open my deafness. You sent your beams to shine upon me and chase away my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me and I drew in my breathe and do now pant for You.  I tasted You and now hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me and I have burned for Your peace.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Psalm 34:8

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Unexpected Discipline does not end.

I come to the end of what I called the Unexpected Disciplines, but I am sure God is not done surprising you as he weaves himself into your life and you into his Kingdom purposes.  I choose these because I think the surprise can sometimes cause us to miss the chance to move towards God and His Kingdom – and I wanted to call attention to the possibilities when he surprises you with discipline.  Take the joy in it!

God continues to call us through all of life’s events, some more or less comfortable.  This is grace, the unexpected gift God uses to move us and change us.  We may like to compartmentalize and control the movement of God, but grace insists on spilling over into ordinary days.  Let each defining moment drive you to prayer to seek out God as he would have you know him and to be changed as he would have you be. 

Discipline helps us see what we need and need from him and if our images of God are rooted in grace and truth, we can develop the eyes to see what he is doing in these moments.  I am grateful that I don’t have to be dead to see heaven and heaven-at-work in me.  The gospel/Good News is at work now, in unexpected places and ways.  So, I can more readily look for the good in other messy disciplines:  forgiveness, repentance, marriage, parenting, aging, consequences, time, traffic and more.  These may deserve another classification, but I am thankful for God in each.

“God will have his way with us and he will be severe at times.  The journey though at times is difficult, it is glorious.”  The Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas

Monday, October 02, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - Leadership

In leadership lies one of the great challenges of the gifts of God, which can always be perverted towards sin.  It is an unexpected discipline to find that our greatest temptation may lie in the center of our greatest gift or collection of gifts needed for most leaders.  

This is my theory of strengths and weaknesses:  In every strength lies weakness and in every weakness lies evidence of possible strength.  In leadership, when one has been chose by people or God, this truth can be magnified and the examples are prolific.

A person who knows how to get things done, might do so with no consideration of others.  The task takes precedence over the people. Work relationships are strained; home relationships are sacrificed; even the leader's health is compromised, all for the cause or task.

A person who is trying to bring a team together for a worthy cause, endeavor or even the advancement of the Gospel may mistake the way to do team-building, thinking it the cause or endeavor alone is that which causes people to bond.  The significance of the phrase "team-building" is forgotten and the cause - though right or pure - is subjected to a tyranny that destroys the team.  As Simon Sinek says, "A team is not a group of people who work together.  A team is a group of people who trust each other."

Especially when talented people are put in position as leaders in their skill area in the Kingdom of Heaven, with the best of intentions, they can miss the mark of who is to be served and who is to get the glory.  The attention given a servant of God is easily translated into glory for the servant and not God.

Beware of the unexpected discipline - the test and lessons - of leadership where new possibility for movement towards God or sin can immediately present themselves.  Beware of virtues in which sin lies-in-wait, and strengths, which can devolve into weaknesses.

Prayer-led attention to the dangers of leadership can increase a person's ability to stay humble and effective as a leader:

  • Remember whose purposes you serve - God's and not your own.  This can be examined in your agenda, your focus, your measure of success.
  • Be careful of rule-making which leadership often concocts in order to protect its position.  This can leave a leader unchanged and unbending, and which a leader can come to trust more than God.
  • Be careful of rules which only serve the cause and not people, often superseding compassion and love.  Rules, which are needed for structure and due process in an organization, can become a vehicle for hypocrisy.  This happens when I, as the leader, use them to measure you but not myself.

The apostle Paul speaks very well of the dangers of leadership, whether it draws criticism or praise.  As divisions were arising among Christians as to whose leadership was better or worse, Paul or Apollos, Paul refused to take part in the criticism or praise. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Let a man regard us (Paul and Apollos) in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  It is required that stewards be found trustworthy of their call and gifts.  For me, it is a small thing to be examined by you, or by any human court.  In fact, I do not even judge myself.

For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not relieved by this nor unaccountable by my own judgment, but the one who examines me is the Lord.  So, I do not go on passing judgment by any but the Lord.  In time he will reveal; he will bring light to the things hidden in darkness and will disclose the motives of people's hearts.  Then each man's praise will come to him from God.

Each leader, who has followed Paul, should trust that same standard:  God's.  Trust not your own heart, nor the praise or criticism of people.  Do not let yourself be deceived by yourself.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - NOW

Ephesians 5:1-20

Live in love, as a fragrant offering to God…

What if NOW is the greatest moment of your life: being able to gift God with the thing he wants most – Love? A life lived in love. Love which drives you to see God in the moment and all aspects of life, whether pleasant or not. This moment is the only moment you hold and which holds the possibility of offering to God that which pleases him most. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow may not arrive in the same condition in which you hold today.

To remove all known sin from your life and to replace it with a love for God and his people is a worthwhile effort because every moment counts. Every moment is recorded in history, in your memory, impacting the lives of others. What you do NOW reverberates into your relationship with God!

Make proper use of your words, offer words thankfully in praise…

Capture this moment with a different perspective. Whether it is a moment in traffic, at your worksite, sitting in a doctor’s office, or in a quiet place at home, see God in it and see what he is doing in it.  Formulate your words so as to express the presence of God and the work of God into the life he has given. Your mouth will reveal what the heart holds. Be thankful, even in the difficulty, that he is still at work in you!

Once you were the personification of darkness but now you are the light of the Lord, a beacon. This can be seen in fruit (that which is good, right & true). Make it your aim to learn what pleases the Lord. Expose deeds of darkness.

The great purpose of this moment is to expose God! Let his light, which is in you and shines through you, become the means by which evil is revealed and maybe changed. Let no opportunity pass that could be filled with the light (good, right & true deeds) of God. This means I cannot look the other way, minimize another’s suffering, or fail in justice at any time. For it pleases God when we are vessels of his light.

Be careful how you live, be mindful of your steps. Walk as wise!

Next to pursuing God, wisdom is one of the greatest pursuits available to people. Anyone can participate in folly; fools are everywhere. But a person of wisdom is a rare gem. Now is the time to raise your attention and differentiate between the foolish and the wise and to walk as such. Every step counts; every choice matters, now more than ever!

Make the most of every moment…understand and be confident in God’s will and don’t live thoughtlessly…

The Christian life is not a hobby, confined to Sunday morning, Wednesday nights or even daily devotions. It is life, new life, ongoing life, the whole of life, your life. The greatest question we often ask of God is “What do you want of me?” It is a worthwhile effort to discern and disseminate God’s will such that you can live today in the confidence of God-led purpose. It is the difference between whether life seems to matter or not. And what you do does matter.

Let God fill you with his Holy Spirit, then you will be empowered to speak to each other with songs, spiritual hymns and make music with your hearts tuned to God.

The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams and you will only experience this to the extent you can see with your eyes of faith. Can you discover God in the ordinary as well as the great and awe-inspiring, the painful as well as the pleasant? To be able is to possess a rare and rich faith. 

Realize you are standing on holy ground, not because of the where you are, but because of the Who in you. Take a moment to capture the sacrament of the present moment. Something is a sacrament if it is a means of grace which transmits truth, revelation or the love of God. That makes NOW a vessel of the divine.

Who could foresee this day full of God?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Cloisters of Iona Abbey - North

Marguerite                        Nightfall:  time of dreams and passions,
                                         Full moon's eye stares into our soul.

Ivyleaf Toadflax                Now that each step is lit by stars
                                         Echoes of memories, held on to, fade

Thistle                              But pricked, we do recall a time
                                         When those attacked were timely saved

Scottish Rose                   To drink sweet liquor here distilled
                                         From fruits of one year's blazing sun.

Dandelion                         Roar as you eat, and count the time
                                         Spent seeking; hoping soon to find

Navelwort                         Connections back to your beginnings,
                                         Remember dark times in the womb

Foxglove                          Where heartbeats lulled us all to sleep;
                                         Life's rhythm-keeper soothed our soul.

Iris                                    And feeding from the Earth's life-fluid
                                        These flags fly high then quickly fade,

Harebell                           Like distant sounds of ringing bells;
                                        Chimed harmonies blown in the air.

Tormentil                          Stand tall in torment and in pain
                                         Surrounded by your dying fears. 

Sea Campion                   Once around your journey starts to end, 
                                         Where once it flowed it tries to ebb.

Saxifrage                          But by the power of this Stone-breaker
                                         We can turn the corner once again.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - Revelation from God

All Christians want a word from God.  We know that the Bible supplies us with His most clear Word, yet in the nuances of life, we want specific revelation.  “Just tell me what to do, Lord, “ we pray.  We want something of God’s truth that is suddenly clear, revelatory, new, or strong as it applies to our situation. We look for it; we wait for it.  The discipline to seek, find and apply is traumatic sometimes.  Yet, the staggering potential for a person to live in conscious awareness and interaction with God requires a discipline to have the “ears” to hear and the heart to honor and act on a revelation from God is the only way to live.  And to be able to hear the voice of God and distinguish it from all other voices, especially our own, is the heartfelt desire of those truly seeking.

The Bible is our first and foremost helper in this task.  We can learn to recognize and interact with the concrete presentation of a word from God, enlivened and empowered by His Spirit.   To lay hold of Biblical truths and apply them is the place to begin to see the validity and availability of the movement of God, whether we deal with ourselves or the world.  

The Bible also gives then gives us extra-biblical clues as to other places to access God’s revelation. 

Romans 1:20 says that nature/creation reveals the great, general truths of God.  To sit in creation's presence, to contemplate nature’s point to the Creator is a basic even the untrained scientist can appreciate.  Then to look for nature's metaphor as an application to our own lives requires a student’s hunt for truth.  I remember when I was in the middle of decision-making in a life change, that I retreated to a summer hill, buried in the foothills of central Ohio.  There the trees and the fields provided more than just an assurance, but also a representation of what it meant to move on to the next level.  That decision could be guided not just by the path I left behind, but the unknown path ahead.  As I was assured of my destination, I realized the path to it could be managed because it was just trees, hills and fields.

John 3:26-36 points to the teaching of valuable teachers, which can contain revelation from God.  This is John the Baptist’s discourse confirming Jesus as the Messiah.  Essentially, John tells his disciples how to recognize, as he does, that Jesus is the coming One: that Jesus’ teaching and baptizing is the sign that he is from God and to believe what he says.  This great teacher, John the Baptist, diminishes his role and increases Jesus’.  It is the sign of a Spirit-led teacher, to give credit where credit is due by giving honor to Jesus as the Son, then their word becomes merited as revelation.

Then Paul gives us one of the most revolutionary chapters in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.  He teaches how our spirit interacts with God’s Spirit for knowledge of the great things of God (verse 10), even to the point that he declares, “for we have the mind of Christ!” (verse 16) It’s a daunting truth. It’s an unexpected discipline to let ourselves in on this truth:  to trust God with our mind.  Yet, I think most seeking Christians have had truths revealed in mind and spirit - that place of knowing - and then their testimony lived out becomes an affirmation of God's truth. 

Think for a minute about the truths God has assured you of, whether through trial, test, enlightenment, teaching or fellowship.  Here are mine:

  • I cannot sin and expect blessing from God.
  • ·God is quick to forgive.
  • ·The Holy Spirit is alive and available to me.
  • ·Jesus is enough for me.
  • ·The community of God is life-giving.
  • ·Being led by God requires trust and going into the unknown.
  • ·God is right. (duh!)
  • ·God will fight battles for me and with me.
  • ·The Bible contains all the truth I need.
  • ·The Psalms contain all the wisdom I need.
  • ·God’s people are everywhere!
  • ·Marriage is sacred and wonderful!
  • ·Work’s success defined by God may not look anything like worldly success.
  • ·God is generous with the generous.
  • ·God is the best Daddy I ever had!!
  •  Today only makes sense in light of heaven tomorrow.

These seem obvious, but their deep trueness is embedded in my heart as God let them be lived out in me.  It’s an unexpected discipline to allow those Truths to penetrate my life such that I can be helped, healed and led. 

There is another way God reveals Himself and His truth:  through silence.  I know people often just want something from God – even if it is “no.”  It is a discipline to understand and recognize God’s silence for what it is.  It is a heavy discipline as the silence can cause us to scream in anguish or retreat into our own silence, but I think it is a way for God to draw us close so that we can really hear what He has to say.

We may need to grapple with the truths He has already presented (Ps 46:10).  Silence may also be the chance for us to willingly submit (Ps 4:4). (Ps 37:7)  It may be the quiet which allows us to be brought “safely into harbor.” (Ps 107:30)  It may be the place where the firestorm of other voices are finally quieted so we can discern the still, small voice of God.  Through this, we will know His voice and be able to distinguish it from all other “strange” voices, even our own.  

Sometimes, too, when encountering a great Truth from God, we may find our shallow peacefulness disturbed.  The noise we create around us can dull our sense to the greater need in ourselves.  How often have I, in such moments, cried out loud some inner truth I did not know was hiding there!  

Thus, silence is not absence, but “room” for God to accomplish what he is doing in us. 

It’s an unexpected discipline to stay present for all places of revelation from God.  I can do it, though, because of Jesus’ great assurance in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always…” which is just as true today as when he first said it.  I love the discipline of releasing myself into that truth.