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.