Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Liberal. Conservative. Feminist. Elitist. Pro-Life. Pro-Choice. Democrat. Evangelical. Redneck. Muslim. Gay. Republican. We’re in the middle of an election cycle, and if you’ve watched TV or read any magazines or newspapers over the past few weeks, you’ve seen or heard these words used in speeches, editorials, and news coverage.
Politicians and pundits throw these terms around constantly during elections, because they know that it gets people riled up and passionate. We’ve seen it happen many times before, especially at the big national conventions. The speaker casually mentions someone’s name, says one of these terms, and that pretty much seals it for the fans of the speaker. If it’s a term the audience finds favorable, then that person is okay. But if it’s an unfavorable term, that person automatically becomes the enemy.
It’s terribly easy to get into an “us versus them” mentality. It only takes a little goading from people we respect or the friends and family around us. And after we take on this feeling of “us versus them,” it’s easy to think of “them” as unfeeling non-humans. We’ve categorized them as “not us” so they are bad.
But the reality is that there is no “us versus them.” We are all just people, human beings created by God. Liberals, Conservatives, Believers, Non-Believers, it doesn’t matter! God created all of us. And here’s the kicker: We’re all God’s Children, and he loves us all the same. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Even though we may disagree with others, we are still commanded to love them. Romans 13:8 reads, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (NIV). Several times through the New Testament, we are told to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 19:19, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31-33, among others…)
Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, I used to hear a saying, and I’ve forgotten exactly how it goes, but it’s something along the lines of: Whatever the preacher shouts loudest about, that’s what the preacher is struggling with in his life. So why am I writing about this? This is one of my big struggles.
It’s easy to label someone. You feel like you know what that person is about, and whether or not you’ll be disappointed or enthused by whatever they have to say. And while it is occasionally a good way of avoiding conflict, you end up missing out on the real person – the complex human being created by God. Once you’ve labeled someone, you’re just seeing a caricature – a flat 2-d version, instead of a vibrant human being.
Not long after I started to write this, I went to TCBC, and there was a brief video of quotations during the service. And as usual, someone has written about this far more eloquently than I. Here’s the quote:
“If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another,
if I can in any way slight another in conversation or even in thought,
then I know nothing of Calvary Love.
“If I can write an unkind letter,
speak an unkind word,
think an unkind thought without grief and shame,
then I know nothing of Calvary Love.”
Lord Jesus, please help me not to get caught up in the viciousness of this election cycle, and help me to remember the human beings involved, rather than focusing on labels. Please help me show your love to everyone around me, and not just to the people I agree with politically and ideologically. Help me love.
Friday, September 12, 2008
This is really where our hearts go if they are free. And, yet - thinking of sharing the glorious truth of the gospel with others is often fearful, duty-laden kind of stuff. It doesn't sound like fun - it sounds like something other people do ... and we don't want to be thought of as "one of those people" - one of those religious fanatics standing on the street corner yelling at people.
So, is there a way to live on mission and share the gospel with others freely? naturally? passionately?
This fall - we want to explore these issues and encourage one another on this "My Take" blog. So, what is your take? What are your thoughts?
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I was excited to write about this topic of God pursuing us and vice versa as this is truly my life as it is now. I'm not a scholar with a lot of Scripture to throw out although there is NO doubt in my mind that each word written in our Holy Bible is TRUTH and yes there are times I may not like the Truth. His Bible puts out there for us our map to living our lives on this earth as believers and followers of our Lord.
A very wise person told me recently as I struggled with "feeling" a true one-on-one relationship with HIM that it is OK to put the Bible aside and talk to Him. That relieved so much pressure for me at this point in my life because as I heard Him call to me in different ways I right away would pick up the Word to seek the answers but yet not feel a connection. She encouraged me to talk to Him as the best friend, adviser, encourager, and at times one I was angry with just like a person sitting across the table from me.
You see, God was not introduced as such to me in my life. I was raised attending Catholic School, church every Sunday and gosh darn it making sure confession was done (in the booth) every six weeks. As a teenager, Young Life was the "place" but it did allow me to enjoy worship in a very different way than I had ever been introduced to and to see Jesus Christ as not just the "person" on the cross but one who desired my heart. On a great skiing trip I did accept Jesus as my savior and for whatever reason Satan took me on a path that had me going as far away from Him (I thought) as possible.
I converted to Judaism and as He knocked on my door I just thought, instead of listening, I will be the best "Jew" I could be. Pack up those bags of flour food on Passover...have my kids celebrate Hanukkah, Purim and all the other holidays I could have them do because as the tears would for some reason still come on Christmas Eve....or Easter...I would find joy in the other holidays. Yes there was joy but still an emptiness and I was doing all the right Jewish traditions. Please don't take this as any offense to anyone of Jewish faith but see I had asked God as my Savior and then was denying Him the access.
Yet he pursued and I answered His call again to seek Him. I started back to church but that didn't make life stop having difficulties. But this is where I realized that God doesn't want us to just "do." He wants us to live in a relationship with Him.
10 years and many struggles and tears later, I see that God doesn't want us to "be"... He wants us to live.... He wants us to pursue Him as though He is our life source of EVERYTHING!! He is our first cup of water each day, our first source of light, and yet even if we think Starbucks may sound better that morning instead of THE WATER, He will let you know in His ways that He's OK with Starbucks, just have Him first!!
There are days that struggles ensue but I know that as we pursue each other my God and I will have joy even in the dark times and that is something I will never stop seeking.
My list maker tendencies urge me to be in full-time productive mode and to gauge my weekend as “good” only if all tasks on my list are completed. And when my list maker tendency combines with my rule follower nature, they whisper that I should make a list of the spiritual disciplines and do one each day so that I can “be right with God.” If left to my own devices, most weekends would rate a dismal “okay” on my rating scale.
Several weeks before Ted preached on “Pursing Rest in God,” I finished reading a book entitled The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. The introduction grabbed my attention:
In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that, you need to be still. (p.3)
I knew I had been using the wrong measuring stick. But I didn’t realize what I had been missing. That in the midst of my self-described productivity, I was missing out on God.
On seeing the things that He wanted to show me. On hearing the words and the wisdom that He wanted to impart to me. On feeling the love that He wanted to wrap around me. On connecting with Him through His creation. On knowing Him more intimately.
The realization of all that I’d lost was devastating. Devastating enough to cause me to set aside one day a week for Sabbath rest so that I could attempt to recover what I’d lost and had been missing for a long time.
Just like Buchanan, I also “learned to keep Sabbath in the crucible of breaking it.” I have discovered what a gift it is to let go of my lists and rules for one day each week and to rest in God. And because I’ve let go of the rules, what this looks like for me varies from Sabbath to Sabbath. I try to let God lead. Sometimes Sabbath rest involves connecting with friends over lunch. Sometimes Sabbath rest includes journaling or writing. Sometimes Sabbath rest means physical rest in the form of a nap. And when it’s not 107 degrees outside, Sabbath rest may include taking a walk to enjoy His creation.
I haven’t been practicing this discipline very long, but I’ve already noticed that I haven’t needed to check off everything on my list in order to have a great weekend. So maybe someday I’ll be able to do away with “list maker” and “rule follower” and be able to describe myself as “Sabbath keeper.”
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
In her book, Invitation to Silence and Solitude , Ruth Haley Barton writes: "Your desire for God and your capacity to connect with God as a human soul is the essence of who you are."
We all have the desire to see, experience, and live under the greatness of who God is. When we see an amazing sunset or stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or spend time listening/singing to song which speaks of God's greatness or spend time with someone we love, we are taken in and captured by the greatness of God. And, it is something that we long to experience all the time - not just at moments but moment by moment.
This moment by moment worship of God is at the very heart of why we embrace spiritual disciplines. It is to create space where we can experience Him, not as a random occurrence but the very heartbeat of our lives. For all of us, we have that desire to connect with God - to see Him for who He is and to respond to Him for who He is - that is the essence of worship. If you haven't already - what are the specific disciplines that you need to pursue? Look back over the previous weeks - what disciplines most draw you into seeing God's greatness? Then, when will you do it? None of these things will be dynamic in your life until they become specific!
What is the fruit of pursuing God's greatness? Kathy Smith sent the following to me from a devotional she reads each day: "Experiencing normal Christianity through the week yields such a sweet, intimate, obedient relationship with God that we don't attend the worship service to get recharged; we attend the services to discharge our worship and praise to the Lord because we're over flowing with love and gratitude (Psalm 23:5)." Bill Gillham (http://www.lifetime.org/devotional.php)
What is that normal Christianity? Gillham goes on to say ...
"By letting Christ express His life through us on a moment-by-moment basis, we experience the overcoming, abundant life that Jesus spoke of (John 10:10). Many Christians have taken the independent, do-it-yourself exit off God's "freeway." Cordless Christianity explains why many Christians experience unexciting or perhaps defeated lives. It explains everything from the so-called male mid-life crisis to depression, sheer boredom to anxiety attacks, passivity to dominance, abrasiveness to "wimping out," the workaholic to the sofa spud, legalism to hedonism, perfectionism to slovenliness, etc. These are all manifestations of living in the power of human flesh. Jesus Christ is the only One who ever lived the Christian life, and I have found that by letting Him express His life through us, by faith, we experience the Christian life as God intends."
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
One of our folks sent this little parable to me today. It fits really well with what we've been discussing about opening ourselves up to God and each other. Read - enjoy - apply - discuss amongst yourselves ...
There once was a land where everyone lived in boxes. The boxes were strong cubicles with holes in the bottoms where the people could stick their feet out so they could walk around. The boxes were quite dark inside, but each one came with their own light. If the people bumped into each other… That was ok- because the boxes protected them. The people became known as boxers. As soon as a new little boxer or boxette was born they were fitted with their own little box. The boxes kept the people safe, but they also kept out the sun and the beauty of the land around them- and Boxville was a very beautiful town. But the people seemed content- after all they had never experienced anything else, and some people lived in some pretty elaborate boxes.
Then it happened… One day one of the boxers accidentally fell off a cliff and his box was shattered. For the first time in his life he saw all the beauty around him. He felt a freedom he had never experienced before. He quickly went to his wife and told her about the beauty outside the box. Cautiously she removed her box. The sun was so warm and inviting, and she felt relatively safe as her husband was the only other one outside the box.
“Let’s keep this quiet,” she said. “It’s safer that way.”
But alas, a neighbor had heard her squeals of delight as she had exited her box… and he too shed his box. Pretty soon the word spread to all the boxers in Boxville and boxes were coming off right and left. Oh, there were a few who did not care to exit their boxes- after all they had lived there all their lives and they were quite comfortable in their boxes.
And then the inevitable happened. Polly box bumped into Molly box. Without her protective box she felt a new yet somehow familiar pain. But before she could say “ouch” the King of Boxville showed up with some Neosporin and a hug.
Pretty soon everyone was bumping into everyone else. They felt very vulnerable. And so most of them crawled back into their boxes and lived unhappily ever after.
The few that remained outside of their boxes enjoyed the sun and the beauty all around them. Oh, sure they bumped into each other every now and then, but it seemed the king was always there with His Neosporin and His hugs. After a little while they didn’t seem to bump into each other nearly as often. In fact, they almost seemed to enjoy bumping into a friend every now and then. They found they did not need the Neosporin nearly as much, but the hugs were always welcome.
And they lived happily ever after.
Moral of the story: Don’t crawl back into your box!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
In many ways, pursuing God's love is a part 2 of Pursuing Brokenness. It is when we begin to allow God to peel back the layers - to remove the exoskeleton - that we begin to experience and appreciate God's love. Why? Because it is then that we are able to begin to love and be loved by others. Here is the piece of art that we shared on Sunday morning (from Angela Culpepper)
“When you are revealed it is raw and painful and naked. Being revealed and exposed hurts! And, you have no idea how you will be received and maybe you will be damaged further. To walk around skinless is very, very hard.” Angela Culpepper
This connects with what A. W. Tozer wrote
“To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free."Finally, Alan Jones (Soul Making)shares that "The task of love is to help us rid ourselves of the exoskeleton, to lay us bare, to set us free. But we love the prison house. The place of bondage is, at least, familiar. Love, then, comes as an unwelcome shock."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
God calls us to Himself and he "bids us die" (as the old hymn goes). The biblical understanding of the phrase "take up your cross" has been lost in our world. It is often used to speak of someone taking on a burden or enduring a burden of some kind. However, the call to "die" is one in which we intentionally allow God to strip us of self - those self-protective layers that we accumulate over the years. The joy in this is that our freedom in life is experienced when we submit, surrender, and die --- we are never more free/never more "the true us" than when we choose to live in the "water" of dependent/surrendered relationship with God.
Joe Darr sent this passage from one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia tales --- its the story of a dragon being "stripped" by the great lion Aslan (for the uninitiated: Aslan is the Christ figure in the Narnia stories) ...
"Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything-"
"Is that all right now?"
Eustace laughed - a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before - and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. "There it is," he said, "and anyone who likes can have it as far as I'm concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then - but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don't know."
"Go on," said Edmund, with considerable patience.
"Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it - if you can understand. Well, it came closer up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."
"You mean it spoke?"
"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden - trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.
"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells - like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.
"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two, I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
"But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
"Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."
"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they didn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them."
A couple of pages later it reads:
"It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that 'from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.' To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun."
Friday, August 8, 2008
Last week, we looked at the need to have STOP DAYs and STOP Moments if we are going to rest in Christ. I received an email on Sunday afternoon that was a perfect illustration of what it means to struggle with the text of Scripture – to seek earnestly after the truth of God! With the emailer’s permission, I want to post the discussion we had this week ---
I am intensely aware of my desperate need for regular Sabbath, but it does not happen. My wheels never stop spinning...kids, house, errands, cooking, ministry. I feel the ocean of neediness that surrounds me is vast and never-ending. Yes, there are times when my kids are sources of joy and cooking is a delight rather than a duty, but for the most part my role-related responsibilities require full-time, seven-days-a-week work. The kids always require attention. People have to eat. Messes get made. There is always "mothering" that needs to be done. And (in case you were not aware) I am not energized by being a mom. Some women are, but I am not one of them. Mothering is hard work for me. And as you know, weekends are not time off for me. It's nice to have my husband’s help with the kids and the house on the weekends, but for the most part the same type of work is required of me on Saturdays and Sundays as is the rest of the week. Monday comes, and I've not stopped. So here is my question: What does it look like for someone in my shoes to have a Stop Day on a regular basis? How do I, as a full-time mother with children at home all week, take a day to stop? What would you suggest for me? How do I cease from my sources of stress and busy-ness?
It makes me feel a bit hopeless to think I can't incorporate a regular Sabbath in this season of my life, especially when it is in this season that I feel the ache for it most profoundly. My kids aren't going anywhere; the messes aren't going to magically stop; people still need to be fed and clothed and cared for. I want to change as a result of what you shared, but I need help figuring out how. I'd love to know your thoughts on this matter (or Jenifer's, if she has words of wisdom to share).
Thanks again for emailing. On Sunday morning, I had added to the side of my notes to challenge husbands with young families to work with their wives to figure this whole thing out. For some reason, I didn't share that ... so, it is really great to know that the Spirit is at work in that. This is a huge issue, and something that Jenifer and I have talked about and still need to "flesh out".
Knowing that you are at a unique time of life and a unique person (i.e., what gives you rest is not what works for others) - you will have to get creative. In addition, the command for a Stop Day is really a command to stop from your life work - for you, managing the household. So, here are a few ideas that I'd challenge you to discuss with your husband. (not knowing what kinds of things you may or may not already do - here are some ideas)
1. Is there a time in the week when you could get away for an 4-5 hour chunk (half day on Saturday or an evening) where it wasn't for a ministry meeting or errands but just simply a time to sit at a coffee shop or some place that would be relaxing?
2. Since taking care of the family is your life work, it might make a lot of sense to choose a day where you don't cook or clean or run errands or do anything related to the managing of your house. Having your husband there to share the regular kid stuff would help but make sure you only eat food that is prepared beforehand or you order out. No laundry, no cleaning, no cooking - just have a day where regular duties are completely off limits. In addition, make it a priority that you won't take on other tasks that day except ones that are relational/relaxing/etc. Don't have dinner with someone you "need" to have dinner with - don't accept an opportunity to do things that are "work" of any kind.
3. If finances allow, hire a maid and babysitter to come for a half a day each week so that you can leave and have Stop Time and know that a huge task is taken off your plate.
4. This idea is more seasonal but still gets the STOP principle - get away for an overnight retreat with a couple of girlfriends where the only agenda is to hang out - not necessarily talk or have any agenda --- just quiet and being with God.
I realize that some of these ideas may not fit and they will all be things that you'll have to discuss with your husband. However, I'd love to hear your feedback.
The things you suggested are very practical, very real. It was nice to realize our family has already incorporated a couple of your ideas. Since we moved to our new house, my husband has already gone above and beyond what is expected and hired a housekeeper who cleans our house every other week. This alone has lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders...one for which I am continually thankful. Additionally, I have a monthly girls dinner club that offers me the huge gift of uninterrupted, child-free, adult-interaction with my closest friends. My husband always makes it easy for me to get away on those nights, and there is never the expectation for me to be home by a particular hour. But you are right in that it is the rest of my "life work" that needs to be turned off regularly. I think your suggestions are worth considering and integrating into our lives somehow.
Since I emailed you Monday I have been reading a few other resources that offer information and guidance about the Sabbath. They have reinforced the bit you said Sunday about not making the Sabbath a worldly "Me Day". I'm not supposed to honor the Sabbath because I've earned a day off, or am entitled to a weekly retreat just so I can catch my breath before I dive back into life. Nor is this about taking a day to find a better, more-organized me or indulge myself with things I like until I feel stronger or more able to handle my life. Rather, I am learning that the Sabbath needs to intentionally provide a Christ-centered, restful environment for my spirit to reflect on what God has done for me in the past six days, and a time when He has opportunity to reveal more of himself to me through delightful, peaceful, recreational activities. I love the picture of God resting on the seventh day simply because it was time to. Time to enjoy what had been made, to reflect on being rather than doing, to quit making things, to revel in the peace that comes from stopping. What a unique characteristic of our huge God...sovereignly ordaining a time to stop for nothing more than the sheer delight it brings. And then expecting us to do as He did. I love the freedom He provides for me in His example. I am desperate to write this into my life somehow and hungry to obey the command to honor Him with a Sabbath in order that my spirit may drink in more of Him and discover his idea of rest.
I will let you know how this develops in our life...thanks again for the follow-up.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Pursuing Rest in God #2
by Ted Wueste
Here are a few more thoughts on Pursuing God through a STOP DAY or creating STOP moments in your life. The pace of life is generally too much for our souls, and living wisely (in light of that) requires intention. The following ideas come from Richard Swenson in his book Margin.
1. Expect the Unexpected. Nearly everything takes longer than expected - add an extra 20 percent time margin to your scheduled activities.
2. Learn to say no.
3. Turn off the television.
4. Prune the activity branches.
5. Separate time from technology. Try disconnecting from clocks, watches, alarms, cellphones, email for a day.
6. Schedule "free time" into your week.
For more details on these suggestions, pick up a copy of Swenson's book - pages 155-161
What has helped you pursue rest?
Monday, August 4, 2008
Resting in Christ alone is a challenge and being intentional about a regular "Stop Day" (Sabbath) can be a huge challenge. Yet, making the decision to engage in "stop" disciplines is absolutely essential. I hope that this blog can serve as a discussion where we can interact - posting questions/responses/ideas/encouragements. I have several things that I'd like to post this week and likely will after Monday (my STOP DAY). For now, here are some thoughts on the two disciplines that I did not address this morning.
In Mark 1: 21-45, we see Jesus retreat from the crowds --- even Jesus engaged in disciplines ... Mark 1 (solitude)
Filtering out all the noise of life ... solitude.
Read Mark 1:21-45
What is solitude? Scheduling a time where you can experience isolation and be alone with God. One person said that it is a container discipline for all the other disciplines ... the point is to be alone - to retreat from the voices and demands. Go on a walk, get up early in the morning or stay up late, go to a park on your lunch break ... when we look at Mark 1, solitude is this:
- retreating so that we can refocus.
- retreating so that we can restructure our responses.
"We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror." Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In solitude, we look in the mirror and it can be painful but it is there that we find the environment for true healing and rest. When our lives are so addicted to the adrenaline rush of activity - of course, its hard to be quiet and alone ... it is only here that we begin to notice what God is doing in us - and what He wants to do in us.
Often this is very hard to do ... listen to this quote from Henri Nouwen: "Solitude doesn't mean we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, all our anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distractions, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves in us at full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the voices of our interior. It is thus not surprising that we have a difficult time being alone ... Solitude is not an instantaneous response to an occupied life. There are too many reasons for us not to be alone."
Finally - the discipline of simplicity ... it is the idea of:
Structuring my life around reality ... simplicity.
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Phil 4:11-12)
This is the art of letting go ... saying goodbye to our attachment to possessions --- this discipline reminds us that He is all we need. How do we do this?
- Assess what makes life complicated & simplify/eliminate
- Downsize possessions
- Downsize activities
- Cut back on discretionary spending; start to give more away
- Intentionally do things that cost no money
More, later this week but please discuss/question/respond!
Dr. Ted Wueste
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Thank you for giving me the chance to share what was on my heart on Sunday. I have to say I was completely humbled by the opportunity to share in this series. As I said during the lesson, God has been working in my heart over the past several weeks regarding community and how we relate with each other as believers. I hope you were able to walk away with the truth and discipline that I tried to hammer home throughout the lesson—we cannot fully understand and know God unless we live in community with other believers, pursuing Him through each other!
At the end of the lesson, I challenged you to make a connection this week with another believer with the intent of community—to share and pursue God through that person. Well, what kind of leader would I be if I did not accept my own challenge? So I wanted to give you a follow up to my story of community that began on Thursday of last week.
For those who were not present for the lesson, let me give you a bit of background:
I manage an outpatient rehab clinic in Burleson, and last week was probably the most difficult week of employment I have had to face. Not only did our A/C break down multiple times in the beginning of the week with employees griping and complaining about every small problem that arose, but on Wednesday afternoon I received a call from our Human Resources department. Those unexpected calls are rarely a good thing, and this time was no exception. It turned out that the “powers that be” decided we needed to work more with less. I’ve been through downsizes before working for this hospital, but it never affected my department personally—you see, being an offsite (and out of town) satellite of the hospital’s outpatient department kept us isolated and somewhat protected from the politics of the hospital. Unfortunately this time was different.
I learned Wednesday afternoon that I was to lose one of my best employees, simply because she was the last hired in the office/admissions role in my clinic. To make things worse, she was a calming, happy fixture in our front office that brightened the attitudes of all those that worked with her. I have never had a more honorable, loyal, hardworking employee. And now I had to tell her she lost her job. This affected me deeply—I was saddened and angry at the same time. I agonized over this decision to the point I lost sleep and appetite.
Fortunately, in God’s divine plan, Ted had asked the Shepherding Team earlier in the week to meet for lunch near my clinic to share our lives and what was going on in our hearts. As I shared on Sunday, I went to that lunch and opened my heart and poured out my burdens to these great men. God touched me personally simply because I was willing to lay my burdens at his feet, using the men before me. I walked away from that lunch feeling rather bloated but spiritually lighter than I had felt all week, because I knew that my burden was no longer carried alone. I had four other men praying and sharing that burden with me.
Now for the follow-up to that story:
On Monday morning, less than 24 hours after sharing my lesson, I sat down with the employee and had to explain to her that, even though she was one of my best employees, I had no choice but to let her go. Fortunately she understood the situation and graciously did not hold me responsible for her job loss. Tears were shed on both side, but she left with no animosity towards me. As tragic and difficult as this event was, God created a beautiful opportunity for community shortly thereafter.
What I didn’t mention earlier was that not only was she one of my best employees, but she shared the small office with another equally great employee who happens to be her sister-in-law. This is where community happened.
After my former employee left the clinic, I sat down with her coworker who was for obvious reasons distraught and angry. Because we were in a confined space and it was just the two of us, she poured out her burdens and grief. In the midst of the conversation that ensued, she, a believer, asked me a powerful question that I will never forget, “Why do I care so much about this?” My only thought and answer was simply, “Because you love.” It was during this conversation that she realized that I shared her burden and grief, and she was not alone. Community had just occurred, and I knew she was going to be alright, despite the grieving process that would continue to take place. I knew I could trust God to heal both of our hearts.
My prayer is that this week you can find community with someone as you seek to pursue God through others. I also pray that your community is not centered on heartache and grief. However, if it is, know this: God did not intend for His children to carry their burdens alone. We were designed to commune with others. And when we share Christ with other believers, we will come to know Him more fully.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
So after preaching Sunday, followed by the 20's+ Lunch and a college leaders' meeting, I packed up and headed out to hide myself away with a Bible, books, some good music, and my laptop, devoting the last few days to writing out my views on God, the Bible, salvation, the church, end times, and so forth. After 22 typed pages and three 12-hour days of too much caffeine, no phone calls (except for my wonderful Jess who's in CA!), very few emails, and not much sleep, I'm just about ready to wrap it up.
I bored you with that story (thanks for reading!) for only one purpose: you see, in developing my doctrinal statement, in covering all those topics, in hitting on as many points within each "area" of theology as I can, and especially in substantiating my beliefs as true, I only had one authority to which to turn. I couldn't rely on my own intelligence, because first, God's truth exceeds what I can comprehend and second, let's be honest, there's not much there worth relying on! I couldn't rely on my own emotions or logic because they're faulty and lead me to my perceived truth, which likely isn't truth at all. I couldn't rely on... (fill in the blank - anything within myself!).
Instead, I'm only able to base my theology on what God reveals to us in Scripture. Because if I'm developing a theology of God, I can't start anywhere but with himself and his word, in which he has spoken his truth - the truth! So for literally 36+ hours this week, I have been flipping pages in my Bible, trying to remember "where that verse comes from," seeing how "this verse connects with that one," dwelling on different words and concepts, questioning the order of terms and phrases, and in every sense of the word, studying and meditating on Scripture.
And let me be, just for this moment, an affirmation to you: there's stuff in there that is deep; there's stuff that's frustrating; there's stuff that's confusing. But even just in these last few days my view of God has become wider; my knowledge of him has become deeper; and my awe and reverence of him, because of the many-faceted sovereign goodness he has revealed, has become far richer. I think I'm figuring out a glimpse of what it means to "love the Lord your God with all your mind..." What would it look like if we all spent a little time in this great pursuit?
It's been a long few days. But let me assure you and encourage you, it's totally worth it!
Monday, July 14, 2008
Also, in preparation for next week, I humbly ask you to set aside some time this week and fast from something. I'm going to ask our staff and church leadership to do the same thing, but I think that since we're approaching such an "unknown" topic, it might be good for us if we, as a body, gave it a whirl. What do you fast from? Anything! A meal, a day's worth of meals, sweets, your favorite Starbucks beverage or TV show... whatever you feel God leading you to give up. What do you do? Spend that time focusing on God: journal, read Scripture, pray, dwell, or just "be." The point of fasting is to realize what controls you, and to let God become your provision and sufficiency. There are a couple of links to resources at the bottom of this post.
Thanks all; see you Sunday!
"But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
The LORD hears when I call to him."
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
Over the man who carries out evil devices!"
"You who hear prayer,
To you shall all flesh come."
"If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
The Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
He has attended to the voice of my prayer."
"If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination."
"Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear."
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
"‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil'"
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
2 Corinthians 12:8-9
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..."
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.'
1 Thessalonians 5:17
"Pray without ceasing..."
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
1 John 5:14-15
"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”
While I will in no way pretend to be on par in any aspect of my life with C.S. Lewis (I think I’m taller than he was; there may be some other minor differences, too…), the story above is my story. Substitute “Trinity” with “Baylor”, “1929” with “1991”, and “Magdelen” (which I assume is a college dormitory at the school he attended) with “some non-descript, shabby Waco apartment complex”, and you have the story of my conversion. And while I might not be able to reconcile why God decided to draw me to Himself, I am overwhelmed with humility and gratitude that He did.
It becomes, then, my great honor and privilege to return to Him the whole of myself in the outright pursuit of the One who decided to rescue me from death and grant me the life I now have the opportunity to live. And like the Prodigal (Lk 15), the Father has granted me much more than I deserved. I, too, have been given a robe (the Incarnation), a ring for my finger (He saved me “while (I) was still a sinner”), the fattened calf (the Holy Spirit), and He has prepared a feast to celebrate (intimate friendships with believers). He never asked me to pursue him empty-handed.
I don’t think I will ever fully understand WHY God did what He did, and I guess I don’t need to understand. And that’s probably a good thing. Because now I can spend more time trying to figure out why He gave me a wife who is so much smarter than I am…
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I was coaching my 13 year old son this week through the excruciating task of writing a research paper. The topic was the Transfiguration of Christ. It's a familiar story to me, but having never really stopped and meditated on the intricate elements, I had not received those deeply poignant and life changing messages woven within it. I found it interesting that six days before He allowed His veil of humanity to be lifted to show the disciples His divine glory, He had spoken of suffering. After Jesus speaks of His impending death and resurrection, Peter pulls Him aside to rebuke Him. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter saying: "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Later, on the mountain, as Jesus appears in His glory with Moses and Elijah by his side, Peter comes up with the great idea of building three shelters. Why? He probably wanted to go ahead and house this promised glory now and avoid the sufferings Jesus had spoken of. Peter just didn't seem to be on board with the whole suffering thing, yet Christ had also said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
I begin to think about Jesus modeling suffering for us and what this means to me. I also begin to question if I, like Peter, want to avoid all of the suffering as well! How do I come after Jesus, deny myself, and take up my cross? Many Christians believe that Christ's call to deny ourselves means that we should not spend time trying to understand what is happening inside us. But this approach requires that we deny many things inside ourselves. A few years ago a deep, insatiable longing for something deeper in my life continued resurfacing until I could no longer ignore it. I tried many things to numb or fill up the longing. I related to people in a way that assured I felt good about myself. I spent a lot of energy insuring that my appearance, my image, and my accomplishments were recognized and valued by others. I had no freedom in relationships to really be able to love others. I was only capable of using them to fend off my insecurities. I certainly never wanted anyone to see my darkest parts of my heart. They may run away and certainly then I would be rejected. So I hid. But something inside me kept screaming. That something was God calling me to something more. He was calling me to "Life." He was revealing to me true intimacy and true purpose, not the counterfeit life I had created for myself. As I examined my current life, I began to see the effects - the harm done to me by living in a fallen world, a world full of sinful people. My parents had not loved me perfectly. My friends had not loved me perfectly. In fact, nobody on this whole planet had loved me unconditionally or completely and it had wounded me. I, in response, also being a sinful being, had learned some subtle and some not so subtle relational ways of dealing with this pain. As God made me aware of these wounds and the ways in which I had responded, He lovingly began to heal and restore these places in my heart. He took me by the hand, guided me into some painful memories, and then began mending. My willingness to do the self-examination was the beginning of the suffering. As the denied realities were exposed and healed, I then had to make a choice to surrender and let go of the old protective ways of relating. This was the next part in the process of suffering. I had a choice whether to choose independence (relying on my own resources for life), or dependence (relying on God to fulfill my desires). This is a choice that I still have to make every day of my life.
Mike Mason expresses the process beautifully:
"When the self knows that it is already accepted, unconditionally, there is no need anymore for it to preoccupy itself with advancing its own claims or with trying to create the conditions that might make it worthy of being loved. As long as the self is consumed in the struggle to make itself lovely, it cannot love. First it must come to the end of its own resources, for the power to love derives purely and solely from the knowledge that one is already loved in return. The energy for love flows not out of any effort, but simply from being loved."
This was the unconditional love I longed for. As I receive this love from God more and more, I realize that I don't have to hide those dark places in my heart anymore. Instead, I rejoice in the fact that I must depend on God for my strength. I can't love others with my own resources! If I could, I wouldn't need the cross!
Andreas Ebert writes:
"God saves humanity not by punishing it but by restoring it! We overcome evil not by a frontal and heroic attack, but by a humble letting go that always feels first like losing. Christianity is probably the only religion in the world that teaches us, from the very cross, how to win by losing."
So, how do I define God-exalting? It's following the example Christ set before us. The Transfiguration was an encouragement and a glimpse of Christ's glory. The cross was the fulfillment of God's purpose for his life...this was His true glory. Our glory is the image of God that we reflect, so as we suffer for the purpose of loving others...dying to self for the sake of others, this is God-exalting. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the sake of the gospel will save it." - Mark 8:34-36
My time in college has been a true time to wrestle with my beliefs and to better figure out where I, not my family, stand on certain values. One of the values I have struggled with these last four years is the idea of living a Truth-centered life. Growing up I viewed the Word of God as a beautiful love letter that could provide joy and comfort to me in times of frustration or sorrow. The Truth was an important part of my life, but for the wrong reasons; I did not use it to better understand my Lord, but to better my life. My time in college has truly opened my eyes about the Word of God. It is not a book to make me happy and to serve me, but a book that I can use to better understand my God and how to better serve Him. It’s not about me, it’s about Him. Yes, God loves me and can use His Word to comfort me, or challenge me, or convict me, but it’s ultimately about learning about God and how I can better reflect Him, serve Him, and bring glory to His name. A self-centered view of the Truth fails to exalt Him. If my greatest desire is to glorify God, than a Truth-centered view and value is essential.
When I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus and His disciples I am often comforted and encouraged. Not only by the truth and life-giving teachings of Jesus, but also by the lives of the disciples. I see raw, honest, real-life in those twelve men. Many times they were confused by what Jesus was saying and doing, or why he was doing it. I can relate to that! Jesus did not choose his twelve disciples because they “had it all together” or “knew it all.” They were not the smartest, most savvy, or most experienced. Jesus chose them because of their faith. He simply said to each of them, “Follow me.” That was the only condition. Not: study this, know these concepts, or get that part of your life together first. Just, “Follow me.” That is the only thing Jesus asks of me today, to simply follow Him. In the midst of my pain, brokenness, failure, immaturity, and all - follow Him.
Being grace-filled means that I receive the unconditional acceptance that Jesus extends to me, confident that He loves me just as I am, right where I am. He speaks to me in that place and says, “Follow me.” When I receive that unconditional grace from Jesus I am able to extend that same unconditional grace to others. Not making demands or placing conditions on my love and acceptance of others – with no regard to their age, gender, financial status, personality, or choices. Because I have received grace, I can choose to freely give it to others, just as Jesus does. I am comforted that, although I don’t always deserve it, Jesus continues to give grace, and keeps saying to me, “Follow Me.”
I had the privilege recently of watching my children play during recess at school. I watched many children who were playing with other kids, some playing make-believe, some playing soccer, and other children who were all alone. At many points in my life, I was just like each of those children.
Relationships are especially important to me. I have come to realize that I need them even more than when I was younger and had the support of my family.
Over the last 8 years, my approach to relationships has changed. I am purposeful about with whom and how I spend my time. After moving to Fort Worth 15 years ago, I developed friendships easily at work and at church. When I left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom, I realized I had no friends who were contemporaries. I started attending a weekly Bible study and joined a mom’s group for the sole purpose of developing relationships with like-minded women who loved the Lord and wanted to be comforted, inspired, and understood.
My approach to relationships is changing again. A friend of my husband recently told him that he felt there were so many Christians out there who are “a mile wide but only and inch deep.” I now feel the need for deeper relationships, those which contain a greater depth, acceptance, and Christ-like love.
"Carrying a heavy load? Try helping someone else carry theirs." This phrase is harder than it sounds. For some of us, one more thing is too much. Being submissive and obedient to God’s greatest commandment seems overwhelming. However, God wants us to experience the result of serving. Being servant-minded is where the abundant life lies.
My father died when I was 18. I have struggled for years to understand what good could come from his death. But I have found that by sharing my experience with death, God has equipped me to serve other kids who are grieving the loss of a parent. When I am "serving" these kids, I feel JOYFUL!! They are healing me!!
Ultimately, by being servant-minded, we imitate Christ’s humility to others. By doing so, the reward of true, intense, and manifested Joy in your life far outweighs the burden of doing one more thing.
We are instructed by Christ to be “missionally-driven,” but what does that mean? Being missional is the adjective form of being a missionary. It is following Christ’s example, making His name known to those around us. How can we live our lives as missionaries for Christ, sharing the love of Christ everyday? We can start by putting aside our pride and our excuses, allowing the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and develop a desire to serve all of His people. Being missional involves touching people’s lives, taking the time to meet people where they are, listening to their story, and loving them. We are invited to leave our comfort zones, extending a loving hand to all we encounter, both strangers and friends. Being missional for Christ can be the most gratifying and exhausting part of our faith journey. We don’t need to travel great distances to change lives for Christ, we can begin with those around us. Trinity Chapel provides opportunities to share the love of Christ both globally and locally. A missional lifestyle is one of humility and love. Ask God to work in your life today, as you seek to become missionally-driven.
“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21