Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An Uninvited Discipline - Aging

It may seem obvious that growth, in general, involves discipline and I want to raise the awareness that growing older is a spiritual discipline, no matter what decade of life one is passing through.  Sometimes, we want to race through a decade (see teenagers) or push back from the next (see 50-year-olds), yet each can be a marvelous time for growth if we keep God at the center of it.

It is modernity’s health and technology advancements that make this discussion possible.  In 1900, the life expectancy for men was age 47, for women it was 50.  Infant mortality was around 10% (today it is 6.89%), with adult roles and expectations applying to a young person by age 14-15.  As a result, the “seasons” of life was not a well-developed concept in a world where either you were a child or an adult, neither very far from death.

Contributing to a changed view of the seasons of life was the stabilization of health practices such that children and adults didn’t die enmasse of disease or injury and life expectancies expanded greatly.  Adolescence was incubated in the 1920s, but didn’t manifest as an age phenomenon until the ready-mobility created by the automobile and the development of radio and TV where a teen culture could be explored outside of the family culture.  Also, the possibility of living past 60 created a retirement class, a whole group of people who also have mobility and new roles.
A new set of expectations about life and even life-with-God became possible.  All that to challenge your view of faith practices, which in previous calamitous and confining eras was more of a matter of dealing with death and staying alive.  The basic assumptions change when the safety of your environment and the opportunities of a long life exist.  What attitudes prevail when childhood is extended?  What changes occur when life is less precarious?  How do we incorporate a role for spiritual growth and eldership for a healthy older population?

While the decades of the 1900s were spent developing a youth-oriented culture, have we failed to see the value and possibilities of a full-functioning eldership in the population?  Since eldership is underdeveloped and less venerated, most people push back from it instead of embracing, growing and celebrating it, instead of joining God in it and desiring His measure of maturity for it.
I find the things people say about their age expectations to be both interesting and telling.  My eight-old granddaughter marks the days until she can be nine.  Teenagers clamor to be 18, when they can finally “do whatever they want.”  Then out of post 40-year-olds I hear, “Oh, to be 20 again” or “I can’t wait to retire.”  Any reflection of “some day…” or “if only I had …” about another time of life causes us to miss the possibility of today.

I propose that it is a spiritual discipline, and one we rarely invite, to understand the purpose and possibility of every age.  It can be a huge benefit to your relationship with God if you can keep Him in the center of the process of growing old, which we are all doing.  At the core of this discussion, I believe, is identity – how I define myself.  For us to see the spiritual discipline of growing within an age and stage and then moving to the next is to keep our identity secure in God’s definition for us and  His purpose for our lives.  For example, if I can stay connected to my identity as a child of God, that marker can hold and guide me through child-rearing, vocational development, health challenges and community changes.  The discipline is to lean into God to remember His definition for my identity through success and failure, trial and trauma, change and stagnation.  Such a discipline can bear the onslaught and victory of each age. 
Others have written specifically on carrying disciplines into the second half of life.  You can read Richard Rohr, William Buford, Billy Graham or James Fowler.  I want to focus on the discipline God may intend the most:  maturity.  Christ-like maturity.  There are specific markers for that maturity in the New Testament:

·  Humbleness, where holiness, purity and righteousness characterize a sure pursuit and discipline, is one few invite let alone desire, even with its blessing.  (Matthew 5:5, 6, 8)
· Defining a new life in Christ, being able to let go of cultural definitions which prove to be constraints on life, is a true challenge for change. To understand that to grasp the greater things of God requires that we let go of the lesser things of culture, childhood and ego. (Matthew 16:25-26)
·  Wisdom-keeping, which provides stability for a person and a community,  is a sure discipline.  It is marked by a deliberate thought process independent of the culture and, when from God, it penetrates the whole person and nurtures identity.  This can only happen with dependence on God and can provide guidance to a life of integrity and give a reputation to a world badly in need of its understandings.  (Prov 2:2; 2:10; 3:5; 4:23; 16:21) Those who hold their own “wisdom” and use it to isolate themselves or divide others are not mature.
·  Mentoring relationships of those who partner and follow an elder can only be accomplished by one of a practiced maturity of the previous traits. Gifted leadership needs to be developed so God’s people can be thoroughly equipped to minister and lift up others, which leads to people being unified in faith of Jesus Christ and so all can mature and be formed into his likeness, love being the driving force. (Eph. 4:11-16)

Realize that each stage of life must be filled – worked for and relished – and then abandoned for the next.  Be weary of the culture’s tendency to overprize youth and young adulthood, trapping the elders into a false sense of identity when they over-identify or do not match youth’s expectations.  Instead, assert and preserve the dignity, creativity and richness of all phases of life. 
By midlife and beyond, in love and work, the mature find a way to contribute to the community and to integrate generations.  This means impacting the world today by equipping the next generation and leaving a legacy. Whether through financial contributions, through parenting and mentoring, to being a praying grandparent, investing in God’s work takes precedence in such a way that each age can be faced with a sense of fullness which can overcome the grief and loss of many things.
Each decade we live, the ultimate spiritual discipline might be the effort to keep God at the center of the practice of life.

Monday, January 15, 2018

An Uninvited Discipline - Forgiveness

I so appreciate Christ’s effort on the cross which makes forgiveness available to me.  All I have to do is accept it, ask for it and it is mine!  Once I have repented of my sin and received forgiveness, could there be a discipline which attends it?  Is there a practice which can bring me into greater proximity to God through forgiveness, the very thing He has given freely?  Surely!  I call it accepting the full force of forgiveness and that its power can ripple in areas within myself and any person who needs it.

I have seen some not get the full force of forgiveness when they have blocked its healing power.  In Matthew 18, Jesus gives several lessons on forgiveness, and most pointedly in verse 35, he ends the series of lessons by saying, “Unless you forgive from your heart…”  You are to forgive from the place of hurt and anger, the place you feel it the most.  Forgiveness is not just a good idea, it is a balm to a hurting heart.  The full force of forgiveness is to provide healing and freedom from the sin against you.  It is surely a discipline to allow forgiveness that far reach into the center of who you are. 

We may want to forgive in theory, but not practice.  I heard this in statements such as, “I forgive her but…” or “I have tried to forgive” or “I have forgiven him in my mind.”  People say this because they have only applied forgiveness as an idea.  It may be a good idea, but just an idea.  Not a practice. 

Failing to get healed from an offense is proof that forgiveness has not been “from the heart.”  Depending on the scale of the offense, seeking healing may be a severe discipline.  I may need therapy.  I may need deep community prayer and support.  I may need to own any complicity in the sin (i.e. vengefulness, bitterness, despair) and repent so that the full force of forgiveness can enter my heart for someone else. To forgive as such is to be able to remember without hurting.

Another area where people often need the full force of forgiveness is in forgiving themselves.  I have heard people say it is harder to forgive themselves than anyone else.  As with any other person, forgiving oneself involves the same discipline.  If this is you, I challenge you to think and say out loud the following:

            I need to repent of _________, which has harmed me greatly.

  • This means I know I have wronged myself and the good work God wants to do in me.
  • I am committed to changing that behavior to keep God’s goals and power at the center of that change. 
  •  I am committed to making reconciliation with myself, to prove that I can be trusted.

Don’t hold back the power of God from any person, even yourself.  If we forgive like God forgives, it is surely a discipline.  God went to extreme measures to make forgiveness available.  He intends it to be a force in our lives, especially when we learn how to direct it towards all who need it.  

To become ready to forgive may be the greatest part of this discipline and with God at the center, forgiveness is no longer a trite assent to a good idea.  Instead, the force of forgiveness reverberates through our lives and rebuilds them, which can provide a testimony as to God’s power in and through forgiveness.  What a discipline!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Philippians 2:13

For God is working in you,
giving you the desire to obey Him 
and the power to do as He pleases.  Phil 2:13

How much are you working against Him?

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

An Uninvited Discipline - Repentance

This seems the right moment to considered the layered meaning of discipline.  It is a practice of something in which one is not proficient:  gathering skills and experiences to improve in an application.  Its root word – disciple - infers it includes following someone else’s example.  So, in spiritual discipline, we engage a practice where Jesus is the discipler; He is at the center.  We do it for Him.  We let the practice drive us to Him.  We will soon see that repentance becomes the epitome of spiritual discipline. 

Without God, there is no need for it.   Without God, not only is there no need, there is no one to whom to confess or admit anything.  Without God, ethical standards are situational, with each person determining (and avoiding) any sense of wrongness. This can be seen in the oft-repeated phrase, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”  A subtle, “Sorry about your luck.” At the core, repentance is admitting we are wrong.  In this, we are not proficient.  Many only have sorrow over their actions when there is a negative consequence.  Sorry they got caught.  Sorry there were consequences.  Maybe even sorry someone else was offended, but that is not the sorrow that leads to repentance, at the heart of which is confession and change.  The mark of true “sorriness” (sorrow/grief) is marked by change (true repentance). As long as ego is at the center, little change is possible. 

As it is, I [Paul] rejoice not because you were grieved but because you were grieved into repentance…For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.  
2 Corinthians 7:7-11

In the translation, The Voice, it is said of godly sorrow:  …because you were moved to make a permanent change that can happen only with the realization that your actions have gone against God.

When we wrong someone else, we have sinned against one of God’s and, like any Father, He is just as offended.  This applies when we have wronged ourselves with sinful choices which prove to be attack against our own humanity.  Even when someone else wrongs us, we reliably sin in response.  We may not be the original offender, and whether we attack back or ignore the offense, if we do not forgive, we have sinned.  If we choose resentment and bitterness, detachment and separation, or stay wounded, it is evidence of our lack of God and His healing efforts. We are at the center, licking our wounds, petting our passions and massaging our egos, but with God at the center, He exercises our passions towards Him, feeding us with love, filling us with compassion, and healing our injuries.  

It is a discipline to train for the right response to sin, no matter its source.  If I keep God at the center of mending an offense - a sin - the purpose and practice change.  I will be grieved because of how God sees it.  I repent in light of God’s provision to do so and because of His desire for unity among His children and because he desires holiness within me.  This is because He wants to remain at the center of me and us.

There are godly indicators in wanting to forgive others and myself.  It is okay to do it out of obedience, gratitude for my own forgiveness, maybe even to avoid the wrath of God and the consequences He may bring, but what if I had a sorrow over offending God, the lover of my soul, and the Father, who holds me dear?  He wants more for me than I want for myself and He knows that sin keeps me from Him and His best.  The discipline of true repentance provides an exercise which strengthens my relationship with the Father and carries me through the pain of offenses offered by a sinful world.