Needed Words For Needed Times

Things are busy this week as we find the new normal for our daughter after her surgery. Everything has gone better than expected and she is recovering nicely but has a way to go before she is up on her feet and feeling at her best. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I truly appreciate it.

As God often does, he has provided needed words at exactly the needed time. I came across this meditation as I was listening to The Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. It is by Luis Espinal. May it encourage you as it has encouraged me:

Meditation by Luis Espinal

There are Christians
Who have hysterical reactions
As if the world had slipped out of God’s hands.
They are violent
As if they were risking everything.

But we believe in history.
The world is not a roll of the dice
On its way toward chaos.
A new world has begun to happen
Since Christ has risen?

Jesus Christ,
We rejoice in your definitive triumph
With our bodies still in the breach,
Our souls in tension;
We cry our first “Hurrah!”
Till eternity unfolds itself.

Your sorrow now has passed.
Your enemies have failed.
You are the definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us?
We accept the struggle and the death,
Because you, our love, will not die!

We march behind you on the road to the future.
You are with us. You are our immortality?

Take away the sadness from our faces;
We are not in a game of chance?
You have the last word!

Beyond the crushing of our bones,
Now has begun the eternal “Alleluia!”
From the thousands of openings
In our wounded bodies and souls,
There now arises a triumphal song!

So teach us to give voice
To your new life throughout the world,
Because you dry the tears of the oppressed forever?
And death will disappear.

Preparing for Life’s Harder Moments

With the help of my wife, Leah, we have told a little of our daughter Joy’s story involving birth defects, multiple surgeries, and God’s means of working and encouraging us during heavy times.

On Tuesday, Joy will be having another surgery. This one will be on her jaw and requires a bone graft from her hip. Recovery shouldn’t be much fun as she must be on a strict liquid diet and have very little activity.

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One aspect of my spiritual growth is an awareness of when I need help. When sticking to the status quo just won’t cut it and I need to be intentional and be willing to prepare, from a spiritual standpoint, for a difficult event. Here are some ways that I plan on preparing myself spiritually and emotionally for next week:

  1. Fasting – I have talked about fasting in this space before. The biblical use of fasting was largely to mark solemn occasions or times of repentance and returning to the Lord. Joy’s surgery, though routine for the doctor’s performing it, still will have deep impact on my daughter’s daily life for the next month and our family’s as well. This occasion requires me, as her father, to be at my best, and to be constantly in a state of prayer. In my recent practice of fasting, I have found deep moments with God and opportunities for spiritual reflection that has been life giving and a needed reset in my spiritual life. I don’t want to go into this time running on spiritual fumes, so I need something drastic to set the spiritual tone.
  2. Asking for prayer – Even though I have a blog and share some of my business, I am normally a pretty guarded person. I don’t like to talk about my own problems for fear that people would think I am fishing for sympathy or think my situation is more serious than someone else. But, in several of my church and work settings, I have specifically asked for prayer for Joy and that the surgery will go smoothly and that recovery will be light and free of pain. I have seen the power of intercessory prayer, and need that power in my family’s life this week.
  3. Surrender – I remember when Joy was just a few month’s old and had her first surgery on her lip. The dust had settled on the surgery and time in the recovery room. I made my way to the small chapel in the hospital where she was staying. I can’t remember too many times that I felt more reliant on God and aware of my lack of ability to control much of anything. I had come to a place of surrender of my child over to God. This is a terrifying yet comforting place to be as a parent. So, I find myself back in that spot again. I have to be willing to let things be for Joy and our family during Christmas. I have to daily pray for God’s will to be done for the surgery and for the aftermath. I have no control over how she will respond and what will cause her the most discomfort and irritation. I have to simply trust that God knows our deepest needs and will provide for those in a way that is best for all of us.

Why I Think Differently About Worship

2017 was a very difficult year for me and the beginning of 2018 may have been even worse. So many Sundays, I would arrive at our church’s worship beat down and jagged and angry. But in the practice of worship and in the participation with the transcendent, I would be reminded of God’s glorious riches and his love for me. I would transport past the immediacy of my pain to sweet comfort of a Savior who hurts with me and knows my sorrow and grief.

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If you are not practicing worship then you are susceptible to “what have you done for me lately thinking.” Scripture talks about God’s glorious riches and out of those glorious riches come God’s strength. But if I am not spending time in awe and not willing to worship the God of these riches then I am just left with the immediacy of God’s action and there may not be much there to think about and be in awe of.

God is not only as good as his last action, he is vastly more great, more powerful, more loving, more dynamic, more glorious, and more beautiful than we can ever imagine in our current state of humanness. But in our fickleness and emotionally driven impulsiveness we will miss all of who God is unless we take time for worship.

I pray that you are taking time to worship and sit in awe of God and that you are constantly reminded of his good and beautiful nature. That knowledge was refreshing and healing for me, it can be for you as well.

The Christian Response To Meditation? Do it Differently

The number of Americans who practiced meditation in 2017(14.1%) is 10% higher than the number from just five years ago(4.1%). Children are getting in on the act as well. 5.4% of children practiced meditation compared to just .6% in 2012.*

Yet, the response to this growth from Christians has been non-existent. Here in this so-called secular age, thousands and maybe millions of people are participating in a spiritual practice and embracing spirituality and Christians aren’t noticing and aren’t responding and aren’t presenting the Christian alternative to secular meditation.

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A year and a half ago, I committed to a short blog series on meditation. I asked, “Should Christians meditate?” and I talked about my own experience with Christian meditation. Since then, I have had the chance to speak to a group of leaders on my campus about meditation. In that preparation, I discovered this explanation from Tim Keller on the practice, “Meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.”

Like the cow’s process of rumination, or chewing over again, we should take the steps of embracing God’s truths, largely through scripture, and letting them be considered, turned over in our mind, sink into our hearts, and find not just the truth in them but God’s presence in them.

The Christian version of meditation is full, robust, life-giving, a “room full of marvels” and not dependent on our skill or expertise. As long as we can take the time and invite God to be with us and speak with us, He will show up and fill us with his presence. God is doing the heavy lifting, we just have to be willing to surrender to him in that moment.

As Christians, we should be experts on meditation in its proper form and should be practitioners of it. We have a chance to show the world the richness of this kind of encounter with God.

The Real Reason We Should Be Overflowing With Thankfulness

I invite you to stop what you are doing. Take a step back from your activity. Take a deep breath and think about all that you have to be thankful for. I don’t even have to mention the usual list of health, family, and a roof over your head. What I want you to be thankful for is simply the great presence, power, and promises found in life with Christ.

Do you remember that not even death can separate you from the love of God? That the life we live as Christians inside the Kingdom of God is a life full of love, now and forever. That love is not contingent on our ability to maintain some level of goodness.

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Do you remember that you are valuable and precious? As Eugene Peterson said, “we are splendid, never-to-be-duplicated stories of grace.” Christ dwells in you and delights in you and sacrificed everything to be made alive in you.

Do you remember that you are a new creation? That your life from this point on is capable of transformation and deep change. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

See all that we have to be thankful for? Thank God for our health and our provisions but more than that, thank God for his great love and his work in our lives. Without which, we would be aimless, tossed about by our own desires, and ever on the edge of despair and loneliness.

Being All In Is The Only Way

When was the last time you were fullhearted in anything?

Halfheartedness seems to be the default mode for the modern American person. We have our laptop out while watching TV, our phones out while watching our kids games, music in while reading a book, and screens on while we eat. Do we ever just fully devote ourselves to a task or an event or a project?

The Christian life is not a life that can be done halfheartedly. Jesus’ command to take up a cross, no our cross, and follow him is not a call for halfheartedness. It is a call for fully devoted surrender and sacrifice that starts to require our entire self – from our thoughts, to our use of our body, to the choices that we make.

Yet, we try to get by with a halfhearted faith.

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We let other people pray for us, we open God’s word just on occasion, we substitute blogs and podcasts for real Christian community, and we fill up our time with endless distractions that have zero eternal significance. Dallas Willard says, “When we are halfhearted in our faith, we are halfhearted in our thinking. And the halfheartedness defeats the whole project.”

Do we ever practice loving one another or being generous or sharing the impact God has made on our life? If you are like me, generosity and love and sacrifice doesn’t come easily and it won’t come at all if I remain halfhearted in my commitment to Christ. My life of following Christ requires all of me.

This world needs halfhearted followers of Christ like I need a hole in my head. You can be distracted while watching TV or brushing your teeth but when it is time to live this Christian life, commit your everything to it. This is why I write this blog, so that readers can Grow Up to a fullhearted faith and leave their halfhearted ways behind them.

Looking For Something Holy

Shortly before I graduated from high school, a friend and I traveled 40 miles to see Rich Mullins in concert. It was unlike any Christian experience I had witnessed in my short life. I still remember some of the things he said and the spirit present in that small town church.

As I began to recently research his life, I found out that Mullins’ concerts were legendary as spiritual, holy experiences. Mullins’ manager, Gay Quinsenberry, said of his concerts late in his career, “God spoke through Rich in ways I had never seen before or since.”

Mullins didn’t see his role as performer there to entertain and garner applause. For him, playing music and creating was a calling. He believed that his shows should have a message: “You know what? The world is full of musicians. What the world is starving for is Christ. If I wanna just go to a concert, I’ll go see the Chieftains, or a symphony, or a jazz concert, or a rock concert. But if I go to a Christian concert, I want to be reminded that He is a loving God, and that He has forgiven me, and there is hope.”

I hope there are places that you go where you are reminded that God is a “loving God” and that there is hope. Mullins, in his abbreviated life, ruthlessly pursued God and found Him in unlikely venues and scenarios. I want to follow his example of heeding God’s call on my life, wherever it may lead.

 

How To Recharge Your Spiritual Life

I woke up this morning and listened to a two-minute devotional, then I prayed for a few minutes, then I read the same Psalm for 10-minutes and then I sat down to write about Christian Spiritual Formation. None of this is strenuous, none of this required large spiritual muscles. I simply found a few things that I knew were important for me to do and started to do them. The hardest part was simply carving out time in my day for 20 minutes of Growing Up activity.

If you have reached a dry patch in your spiritual life I would suggest that you do two things. One, find the 10 minutes that you are going to devote Growing Up. I do mornings because no one else is up and I am not mentally drained from the day. You may choose a different time and that is fine but stick to that time for at least a week.

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Secondly, start experimenting. Use that first week as a laboratory for finding a set of practices that bring you closer to God. Do not try to fit some ideal found in a book or what your Pastor has outlined for you, the point is to make it work and be sustainable. If you stick to it long enough, God will show you what activities and practices need to be added and which ones need to be dropped. Be flexible. There are many aspects to your spiritual self (your non-physical self) and growth in all of these areas will not happen over night. But, if you remain consistent and are open to the working of God, you will see change.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Read one Psalm everyday for a week

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Memorize the 23rd Psalm

Sing your favorite worship song or hymn

Write a spiritual note of encouragement to a friend

Take a walk without your headphones or looking at your phone

Pray for God’s will to manifest itself in your life

Thank God for 3 things

 

We Lost A Momentous Christian Voice

I just heard that Eugene Peterson died. What a giant loss this is.

I cannot put into words what it is like to read and listen to Peterson talk about God. Only Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, and Peterson make me feel like a different person after reading them. I feel more hopeful and more full of faith. But, most of all I find myself more in love with Jesus. I walk away from a reading session of Peterson and I feel like the wisest, most profound, person I could talk to has just held a conversation with me.

What is so attractive for me is that Peterson is interested in Spiritual Theology? In his mind, there is no point in discussing God unless you expect God to actually do something in your life, to change your countenance, and begin making you whole. Peterson had a brilliant mind and a poets sense of words but a pastor’s heart. He used his words, through writing and sermons, as a means of loving his readers and wanting them to grasp the beauty and truth of scripture. I have seen many pastors but not any that viewed their sermons as letters of love to their congregation. Peterson did.

I find it interesting that I have been on such a big Peterson kick the last month or two. I have been listening to his collection of sermons and last week I downloaded his latest, a 90-day devotional called Every Step An Arrival. Also, I listened to a 2015 podcast interview with Krista Tippitt. I would highly recommend any of these options but be aware that he isn’t flashy and that his voice is sometimes hard to listen to. You have to take your time with Peterson and wait for him to draw you in to show you the life that is possible with Christ. His memoir, The Pastor, is required reading for any person in ministry and for most congregants who need to know that a pastor is not just a leader with good hair but should be the person most desiring growth in all life’s good areas.

Author took haphazard route to God - The Blade

For an entry point in Peterson, I would recommend a piece called, “Confessions of a Former Sabbath Breaker.” It captures his mirth, his wisdom, his sincerity, and his pastor’s heart. When you read it you will know what I have been trying to say in this blog.

I am sad today but oh so grateful for his work, his ministry, his heart, and his words. Do yourself a favor and read or listen to something by Peterson and ask yourself if your life, in any way, resembles his. If not, you are missing so much.

What Happens When You Make Yourself Available to God

This past week, I met with a brand new believer and talked about what to focus on in the days ahead.

I went to church and me and two other guys worked through some scripture and I led in prayer.

The following day, I attended a small group with faculty members at the university where I work. We spent time in devotion and then listened to each other’s stories and worked on discerning God’s work in and around those stories.

On Sundays, I taught a college bible study class where we learned what makes a good Christlike community.

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All of that plus a symposium on campus where colleagues and I spoke about being a Christian librarian and the unique role we play in the academic environment of our students.

All of these things, I have prayed for and desired to have happened. I want to be in the midst of other’s spiritual journey, guiding them and passing along some things that I have learned and expressing the reality of Christ’s transforming power.

Quite significantly, not one of these opportunities I had to push or pull to make happen. I didn’t have to twist arms to get people to do this with me or to show up. It just happened and that is a testament to God working. I simply made myself available and am in tune enough to know when God is guiding circumstances and people’s hearts.

Are you making yourself available? Have you asked God to use you in whatever way he sees fit? And are you faithful to move whenever he says move?

I don’t consider myself special because of these opportunities that I have, just thankful that God sees enough in me to want to use me. He wants to use you and will gladly provide you chances to minister to others and to serve. Just make yourself available.