Good Words

Life: John Stott died this week. Find out what made him such a great man.

oxforddictionary.com

Music: Gillian Welch talks about how slowing down helped her to create better music.

Politics:  What some religious leaders are doing about the debt crisis

Curriculum: The Mono online course on communicating with God

Book:   Church in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

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What Your Spiritual Practices Might Be Missing

Sometimes I am at fault on this blog by making spiritual formation about what we do. I talk much about spiritual disciplines such as solitude, prayer, meditation, and scripture reading. But the reality is that these are just tools that we use to grow closer to God. A lumberjack would never say that his goal is to use a chainsaw but to cut down a tree. In the same way, a Christian would never say the goal is to prayer. No, the goal is to talk to God and to communicate what is in your heart. God is the one that does all of the real work, we are just called to use our tools (spiritual disciplines) properly.

One of the strangest miracles in the Gospels for me is not Jesus walking on the water but Peter walking on the water. The miracle had nothing to do with Peter, except his own willingness to give it a try and trust Jesus, but had everything to do with Jesus. Peter requested to walk on the water and all Jesus says is, “come.” Jesus has miracles waiting for us and all we have to do is “come”. And we “come” through our practices of spiritual devotion. Jesus does the rest.

Work Hazards

Because of my work, I have carpal tunnel syndrome and a strange pain down the side of my right leg. I enjoy playing basketball but I have a finger that is trying to go the wrong direction because it has been jammed so many times. I also like to jog but I still have scars on both of my knees because of falls in the morning darkness.

I am describing to you the dangers of making a living and recreation. Work related physical side effects are common but from what I can tell, there are no negative side effects to the spiritual life. Prayer may make us sleepy but that isn’t causing us any harm. Serving others may be time-consuming but very rarely are you in danger of physical ailments. Worship may take a little strength for standing or hand raising but I have never seen anyone faint from worship exhaustion, at least not in my church. Scripture memorization may be a little tedious but our brains don’t cramp up from being overworked.

Working on our spiritual life requires a little sacrifice and a multitude of rewards. So before you start to complain about how hard it is to pray everyday or read scripture, go run two miles or spend all day loading trucks and tell me that your spiritual practices are causing you discomfort.

Time Stands Still

No official blog post today as I am working on a project for the blog that I am really excited about. Stay tuned and get ready to learn some new things that will help your spiritual formation. Meanwhile, this is what I am reading now:

The Pastor  by Eugene Peterson

 

 

 

 

‘I Found God At Work’

Brother Lawrence

Image via Wikipedia

Brother Lawrence did his work without complaining or grumbling. His work was as a kitchen aide in a monastery in France. Most of his life at the monastery was spent working in the kitchen; not as a superior but as a lowly kitchen hand who washed dishes and lived in obscurity. He died in 1691 but no one other than his brothers in the monastery seemed to notice. It wasn’t until after his death that a series of “maxims” and conversations were recorded and presented as the book “The Practice of the Presence of God” that Brother Lawrence gained notoriety.

Brother Lawrence lived in a world, as we do as well, where certain positions and jobs have more significance than others. He lived in a world, as we do as well, where certain religious practices “matter” while others mean very little. But the genius of Brother Lawrence was his ability to find God in the ordinary.  “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” He later says that it is enough for him to “pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

While we look at our work and chores as hindrances and distractions from other, more noble, pursuits, Brother Lawrence looked at his work as the most noble and spiritual exercise that he participated in each day . He found God in a kitchen, among the plates and cups and leftovers. Perhaps we need to take a cue from Brother Lawrence and bring our faith into our work and seek His presence, even in the most mundane and ordinary.

Why You Need a Spiritual Retreat

I finished leading a men’s retreat on Saturday and began thinking about the value of retreats in the spiritual life. I have put together a list of why retreats are helpful for individuals and for groups.

1. Usually involves nature – You certainly could have a retreat in a high rise building or in some hotel but there is a reason that retreat centers and Christian camps are usually found in remote or rural settings. We all barely notice nature in the rush of our normal lives and just being forced to pay attention to the created world around us starts to change our perspective on life.

2. It is quiet – I am not just speaking about a natural quiet but also quiet that involves limited distractions and needless noise. The hold that electronic devices and computers have on us in our normal existence seem somewhat silly in a retreat environment. This allows us the space to listen to God.

3. Theme oriented – For a weekend retreat, we only had three sessions but they had somewhat of a connection and they came one right after another. The theme of the weekend and the lessons learned stayed at the front of your mind. It was just intense enough to keep you engaged in the topic and the ideas of the sessions. You were forced to deal with the themes in some way.

4. Community – There is certainly great impact that can come from private or personal retreat but a retreat with a small group of people can build a bond that is very profound and meaningful. There are ideas and insights that can come through sharing together that would not have been possible alone. I bonded with the guys that attended our retreat this past weekend and it was just as much of a spiritual bond as it was a communal bond.

Do Women Take To Spiritual Things More Than Men?

This weekend, I will be leading a men’s retreat consisting of about 7 guys. I began thinking about how men approach spiritual matters and whether or not women approach the spiritual life more easily than men? Here are some of my observations:

Women:

enjoy talking more than men (making sharing fears, doubts, and struggles easier)

are usually more emotional (the deep spiritual experiences may be felt more profoundly by women)

may be more compassionate (the needs of others may be much more important to them than men)

are more communal (being together with other like-minded individuals, usually other women, is important to women)

On the surface it looks like these characteristics would make spiritual formation and growth more of a women’s activity rather than men. Men prefer action and going and doing which sometimes results in skipping the spiritual aspects of the faith. So what is the balance, in the spiritual life, that men provide that creates a more well-rounded communal spiritual environment. I think it is wisdom. As I think about the women in the Bible I think of big hearts and big love. When I think about the men of the Bible, at least the good ones, I think about big wisdom and the ability to speak with inspiration from God. I am not trying to make exclusive designations here, I am just making general observations. For a family or a church to be a spiritually mature organization, it needs both the heartfelt countenance of women and the reserved, big picture wisdom of men.

Just because I am a male doesn’t make me more wise than my wife but I believe that God has created men with a proclivity towards wisdom that doesn’t come as easily for women. Just as women are more capable, sometimes, at compassion, love, and service, men posses traits and the make up to be wise and thoughtful in a profound way. Wisdom is as much a spiritual quality as compassion or love. It involves using non-physical parts of our selves such as thoughts, ideas, choices, and the will. Wisdom may be one of the most neglected aspects of the Bible. Wisdom takes up not just paragraphs of the Bible but whole books of the Bible.

Maybe if churches would talk about wisdom growth rather than spiritual growth they may have more success in attracting men to things like a men’s retreat. What do you think? Are men’s and women’s spiritual lives the same?

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.

Solitude

– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God

Community

– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together

Conclusion

– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.

Pick It Up And Read

Saint Augustine

Image via Wikipedia

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at the college where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.