Sunday, June 11, 2017

Easy Yoke

I'm intrigued by how many of us make vacation - time away from our normal day-to-day life - so stressful. This morning I woke up at 3:30 a.m. in order to catch a 6:30 flight back home from a wonderful time away seeing family. There were A LOT of people at the airport, sending their checked bags down the conveyor belt, taking their laptops out of the bag, taking off their belts and shoes to go through the security check points. A few of those families were clearly going somewhere sunny to enjoy a few days at the beach. The flights to sunnier climates were packed. Our flight to Cincinnati had 9 people on it! Unbelievable, but glorious!

If we are learning from Jesus how to live our lives, we will be talking with Him as we plan our vacations and as we wait in those miserable security lines. Jesus tells us  "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Next time you get stressed out at this or other small, medium, or large details regarding that perfect vacation, instead of indulging thoughts of chaos, crowds, crash landings, running out of food (or worse yet, coffee!), lost luggage, etc... simple check to see the look on the One to whom you are yoked.

Can you get a vision of the smile and delight on your creators face? Can you push pause on the conveyor belt of crazy thoughts and simply enjoy being in the company of the One (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) who has you in the palm of His hand? (If all of this seems impossible to think and visual, consider reading, meditating on or memorizing some of Psalms, such as Psalm 18, 31, 63, 95, 121 and soon enough, your thoughts of who God is will expand and it will become more natural to think such thoughts.)

This video is a short one of Dallas Willard teaching on the easy yoke. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGsMVILmbvs

Monday, June 05, 2017

Give us this day our daily work (part 4)

As I have said previously, work is a gift from God and is best understood to be that which we do in partnership with God to bring about good in the world. Indeed, one of the challenges that we face with work is over-estimating our contribution to our with-God partnership. We may be tempted to over-work which may indicate that we think that the world is going to fall apart if we do not do our part. Notice that over-work may indicate that we really do not think that God can do a good job managing the universe (insert "the office," "the shop," "the kitchen," "the church" for whatever sphere you oversee).

Respect for work properly defined means respecting the limitations of work. God instructs the Hebrew people (and us) that they are to work six days and rest one day. This is the pattern and rhythm of life prescribed by God in scripture (see Exodus 20, Numbers 23 and Deuteronomy 5). It is a command along with being just good old plain common sense. The Hebrew people had been slaves for generations. They could have easily grown to believe that their identity was based on that which they produced. This is not God's way.

Our identity is tied to our Heavenly Father. It is possible to live in conversation and communion with the One who promises to care for birds and begonias and even us (Matthew 5:25-34). When we learn the good and beautiful way of Jesus, we notice that worrying and defining ourselves by the results of our work are simply not our way anymore. We can live in the easy yoke with Father-Son-Holy Spirit and there we will find a rhythm of work and rest that is truly life-giving and life-sustaining.

Our daily work is restored to us as the gift that it was intended when we acknowledge that it cannot own us. All of this comes from God. God created us to work and rest. How is it that we have so much trouble with this? Is it so hard to trust that God, in whatever time and in whatever way, will bring about good from our work? Is it hard for us to accept the gift of this rhythm of work and rest because we are not totally convinced that God is generous and joyous and gives good things to those who ask?

"Because we do not rest, we lose our way....We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight." Wayne Muller, Sabbath. Also other good books about the subject: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn and Sabbath Keeping by Lynne M. Baab.

Also, click the link below to hear-see an incredible sermon by Ray Hammond at EpicChurch Buffalo. We were visiting the church on the day he preached it. There are some very practical tools that may help you start this practice if you feel like a beginner.

http://subsplash.com/epicchurchbuf/v/sxazmhb

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Give us this day our daily work (part 3)

The reality of God - Father, Son, and Spirit - Trinity as the most beautiful and mysterious and foundational community has been sinking into my mind recently. God created everything not because there was a lack of something, but because of the fullness of life within His being. For instance, the three plates on my kitchen wall represent the Trinity - the full life of God - extending beyond self. My husband and I get the rare privilege during these few weeks when our students are gone to have a meal with just the two of us. Meals with only us requires only two plates. We enjoy the presence of a third, or twenty five as was the case last week. We do this kind of sharing because we enjoy the company of others. We do not invite people over for dinner so that they are indebted to us. We give out of our abundance.

The third plate that hangs in my kitchen reminds me that God's life in the Trinity is full and abundant and overflowing. The Trinity is the ultimate extension of hospitality.

Jesus, the Son, made manifest the reality of God in human existence. While he was living among us humans, he was fully human. He did normal things we do including work. He had apprenticed himself to his father so that meant that he was a carpenter. His craftsmanship was good, however, I'm sure that when he first began, he made mistakes in measuring or cutting.

"Remember that you always measure twice and cut once!" I can just hear the words of his father. It is fun to imagine all of the things that Jesus made in his shop. His mind and his hands equally engaged in the task in front of him while at the same time engaging with God through prayer. I can imagine that as Jesus cut the wood, he would have been giving glory to God. I'm sure he was asking that the fullness of the Trinitarian life be made tangible and beautiful to the senses of those who would sit at the table he was making. The table represents communication and communion with others. I'm imagining that the energy Jesus put into making a dining room table would allow the many others that ate around it to see that God does provide and that God is good.

The communion of the Trinity is all over the place in the Gospel of John. Jesus addresses his disciples regarding his departure. They did not understand that he was going nor did they get why he must go. The dwelling place that Jesus promised these believers that he was preparing for them had very little to do with a physical location (John 14:1-2). In the heart of the Trinity, the dinner table was being prepared and all of them and all of us were being sent invitations. This communication and communion with the Trinity is now open and available for all of us.

This kind of relationship is not reserved for mystics or ascetics or those in monasteries or at altars at summer church camp. It is not reserved for pastors or for those who have studies scripture or who have fancy theological degrees. It is open for anyone who wants it. I'm sure that there is plenty of Triniarian fellowship among "the religious" but this fellowship was never intended to be contained in those place. It overwhelms me how accessible Trinitarian fellowship is to me right here in my ordinary life. I do not have to be in some special facility to speak with Him. It is shocking to me that I can know, not simply "feel," that reality right here....wherever here is and whatever this is that I am doing.

Finally, the section entitled Entering the Ordinary (page 14) in the Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard writes:  (he is addressing how Jesus entered into ordinary life and ordinary work and that this was God's way of arranging the delivery of His life to us) "If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles (and at one time Dallas included in this list a lady who owns a flower shop). In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his nature and becomes available to us through him. Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God's life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone."

Next time you are tempted to minimize how interested God is in your daily existence, come back to this thought: Trinitarian fellowship is available and the invitation has your name on it. "Come and Dine at the Master's table."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Give us this day our daily work (part 2)

It is Monday and Mondays get such a bad rap! This complaining that we do about Mondays is tied to this lie that we maintain that work is drudgery. However, work is not drudgery. Sometimes it may feel like drudgery for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that we need an attitude adjustment and correct thinking about work.

What if we were to speak the truth about Mondays? Here is my list of things that are true about this day for me:

  • I said YES to too much last week. I was tired, perhaps exhausted is a better term because I got myself into a position that was not good.
  • I have not been sleeping well or enough (part of this is due to the first item on this list and part of it has to do with anxiety and lack of trust that God has my back)
  • I procrastinate tasks that frustrate me. I put them in that paperwork stack and forget about them until, on days like this, I have to confront them and somehow deal with unpleasant or mundane details. (Notice that I am actually spending my time blogging and not really confronting the stack;) 
  • Details such as these can exhaust me.

How can I learn the truth about work today with all of these realities? What would it take for me to see work as good, as a gift from God, and as what I do in partnership with God to bring about good in our world?

As I talk with God about all of these details, I often hear his encouragement to hold onto things loosely. I do what I can and release all other matters into His tender care. For instance, I listen to His voice in, through, and beyond the requests that others make of me. God helps me discern those tasks that I am inclined to say YES to in a hurry to either please someone else or to rescue them from poor planning on their part. As I listen for His voice, I may also discern that there are tasks that I am inclined to say NO to in a hurry from fear or because I want to make life difficult for the one asking. If a particular task does not fit into either of these categories, then I will ask God to show me whether that particular thing is really mine to do. If it is something that I am happy to do and have time to do, then I ask God to show me what it looks like for me to do that task in partnership with Him. If imagining the task and the process is easy and if it will bring glory to God, at that point, I say YES.

If I find in retrospect, like this last week, that I have accidentally said YES to too many things, then I realize that even in the midst of no sleep and chaos, God has a way of bringing good. In the midst of too many tasks, I pray without ceasing and rely heavily on the power of God to fill in all the holes left by my busyness. I also remember during these times that asking for help from others is not a sign of weakness, but a good way to include others in partnering with God. They may not even be aware that you are inviting them into seeing what God is able to do with those who let them have it all.

A final thought is that Monday is a fresh day brimming with ways to partner with God. Like any other day, we can use it as a day to reboot. We have the power to prioritizing our tasks in life. We can begin the week by asking God to show us what we need to see in our work. We can be honest with God about that which is not going the way we had hoped. We can invite His care into our lists of tasks, into our e-mail correspondence, and into our meetings with others. Monday = a day to meet God in our work.


Give us this day our daily work (part 1)

Imagine the tallest pile of paperwork that you have ever seen on your own desk. If you hate paperwork piles and systematically deal with paperwork as to prevent such things, maybe you can imagine the paperwork pile on the desk of a co-worker.

This one afternoon in March almost ten years ago I had a breakthrough. The paperwork pile was at an all time high. It was the very end of the month which meant that the dreaded and inevitable e-mail would be in my end box. "Please turn in your monthly stats, I am waiting on them." The sender of the e-mail had also caught me as I tried to slither past her desk as I was entering the office complex. I saw the look on her face and I heard it in her voice. That look on that day was the beginning of a breakthrough in my thinking, attitude, and operating regarding work.

On my co-workers face I saw that I was causing more than a simple inconvenience. I began to imagine all of the ways that my late paperwork would impact her life. She often stayed very late and came in very early. She was not in good health and that meant that a lack of rest might cause sickness. Her hours away from work were spent with her teenage and young adult children. Turning in my paperwork late would mean that she would have to sacrifice that precious time with family. Instead of that smile that she offered me as I passed her desk, there would be a look of disappointment or maybe even a snarl.

The stack of paperwork had to be done. It was drudgery! My mind was flooded with questions: How in the world could I do it all in the two hours before it was time to leave for the day? How in the world could I survive two straight hours of paperwork and remain sane? I was desperate, so I prayed.

Praying about paperwork had scarcely crossed my mind before. Even then, it seemed strange to me. It seemed strange to pray for paperwork and it seemed strange to me at that time that I had never really considered praying about paperwork before.

During this season of my life, I was learning a lot about how to live in responsive obedience to Jesus in all arena's of my life. It was clear that I had a lot to learn. I felt like a beginner in the discipleship process when I had often perceived myself as anything but that. In fact, I had made a decision to follow Jesus almost twenty years prior. God called me into the ministry. I studied the Bible in the original languages and had graduated from college and seminary. All of this, along with fifteen years of serving as a pastor and in other various ministry roles, and now, in my everyday walking with Jesus life I felt like I was in kindergarten again.

Jesus welcomed the children and challenged his grown men disciples that "unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." It is a humbling place to be: kindergarten at age thirty five. It was sometimes a painfully stretching and clunky process, but I was assured day by day that my living Lord was with me and in me. He was my teacher in everything.

Praying for my work, starting with this pile of paperwork was difficult at first. I prayed about how difficult it was. I pleaded with God, "Please, show me why praying for this paperwork is so difficult." I also asked God to show me how Jesus would do my job if he were me.

In my imagination, I tried to get a visual of Jesus doing my work. AHA! That was it. At the core of this trouble with paperwork was this subtle lie that I bought (and probably, unknowingly perpetuated). I really didn't think Jesus would do my work. It was too small. It was too insignificant. It was too secular. Having been a professional Christian for years, I had bought the lie that work that was not overtly Christian was not Jesus' kind of work.

Prior to this breakthrough, I would not have admitted that I thought my work was too small and too secular to be a Jesus sort of job. However, that idea had ruled my thinking and had been spoiling my attitude about my work. This thought was a lie. The reason I was having trouble praying for my paperwork was that I thought somehow it remained outside the realm of the kingdom of God.

The truth is that work is good because it was instituted by God. In Genesis 1:26-31, it states that both the man and woman were created to tend the earth. We are given work to do with our whole beings. Work was a gift to the first humans and their work was to bless the created world that God had made. Fundamentally, work brings good to the others. It is necessary, but not intended to be a drudgery. Notice that there is no mention of human sweat coming from work until after sin enters the world. Drudgery at work is often what we feel when we do not embrace work as a gift. It is also our attitude when we see it as somehow outside of what God is doing in the world.

The daily nature of work reminds us that when Jesus was instructing his disciples about prayer, he places right in the middle a request for daily bread. It is a reminder that we all are dependent on our good Father to give us what we need. God designed our daily work to bring blessing and good to the world. We do our work as responsive obedient children.

We do our work for Jesus, in the manner of Jesus, with Jesus' resources, and for his glory. This is precisely what Paul means by this exhortation in Colossians 3:17: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

(This is a draft of that which was published by Light & Life magazine, May, 2017. I'm posting it here for those of you who want to read stuff that I right who do not generally get the magazine. I would recommend getting it, though, it is an excellent magazine and I am super excited to be published there. It can be found online at: http://fmcusa.org/lightandlifemag/give-us-this-day-our-daily-work/
In addition, I'm going to continue to write about this subject so being able to trace the thread will be helpful.)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

March Morph

This butterfly - named Morpho - landed on my sweater as we went through the Butterfly House (www.missouribotanicalgarden.org) near St. Louis a few years ago. During March, there are thousands of these magnificent creatures flying and landing everywhere.

It seems appropriate that March is the month of morphing. We enjoy lengthening days and we may choose to take on some practice that helps us along in the process of changing during Lent. These forty days of preparing to celebrate Jesus' resurrection almost always consume the month of March. Now it is the beginning of April and two weeks until Easter.
It is a good time to look for signs of transformation.

The word metamorphosis (the change process that a caterpillar goes through before becoming a butterfly) comes from the Greek word:

metamorfow

It is used in 2 Corinthians 3. Paul is giving details to the early church about life in the Spirit. He compares the splendor of God's glory as reflected on Moses' face with the greater glory that is now available to us in Christ through the working of the Spirit in our lives. He writes in 2 Cor. 3:17-18: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed (metaphorphosis) into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."

I am routinely amazed that God is so powerfully and personally invested in my life. Change is possible and substantial change - even a metamorphosis - is what God does in us. We change by degree and these changes are sometimes even imperceptible to us.  I know that that the Spirit is alive and powerfully working in me. In the last week, I have gotten a glimpse of growth that the Spirit is working into me. It is a glorious reflection of God in me. This vibrant healing begins to pop like the blue of the Morpho. It takes more than a month, but the beautiful benefits are worth the wait.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dwelling Continually Upon God

Madame Guyon (1648-1717) wrote "Your main concern lies in dwelling continually upon the God who is within you....all you need to do is remain steadfast in giving your utmost attention to God. He will do all things well" in Experience the Depths of Jesus Christ. This is similar to what Rich Warren says in Purpose Driven Life. He states that when we fix our thoughts on God then God fixes our thoughts. ("You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, whose thoughts are fixed on You!" Isaiah 26:3 NLT and "Set your minds of things that are above, not on things that are on earth" Colossians 3:2)

Most of us have rather undisciplined thoughts. We have millions of shiny objects, glistening and shimmery things that want attention. However, we are fully capable of telling these thoughts "NO." I am fond of saying that "not every bunny must be chased because with some experience, we know that the carrot some bunnies lead us to are poisonous and not good for human consumption." The truth remains that sometimes out of habit I choose to follow that bunny. It might be because I want to indulge some bad habit like anger, jealousy, or lust.

With a little effort and a lot of God's gracious work in our lives, we can set our minds on God. We can develop habits of the mind that return us to thinking, fixing, and dwelling on the things of God and the ways of God. We can grow in this. 

I challenge you to try this. Choose an activity that you do seven times a day. This can be getting in your car, making phone calls, checking your e-mail, washing your hands, fixing your hair...choose something you do habitually and without much concentration. Decide that when you engage in this activity, you will dwell on God. It might feel natural for you to sing a hymn or praise song, give thanks, say the Lord's prayer, or some other scripture you have memorized. If you do this, actually turning your attention to God in the regular everyday activities, then you will find that your mind will develop habits of dwelling on God. It may require some experimenting and some guidance from God and others more seasoned in a life of prayer, but eventually you will notice that your thoughts are changing. The glistening and shimmery things do not hold the same appeal as they once did. The bunnies are still cute and furry, but their appeal is just not what it used to be.

Here is the sermon that I preached last week that includes this idea and some others.
Our church website: http://oakdalefmc.com/

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Walking with Jesus in Responsive Obedience

It is about a week away from Ash Wednesday. This means that I am talking with God about taking on an additional practice or refraining from something that I am now doing. The forty days leading up to Easter is called Lent and Christians for centuries have used this as a season to fast, pray, or begin another spiritual discipline that would prepare the human heart for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

While playing games at my dinner table the other night, one lady admitted that she was a recovering legalist or Pharisee. I don't remember if I blurted it out or just in my mind, "aren't we all!" And as I pondered how we can engage in some sort of new (or re-newed) spiritual practice during Lent, I was reminded how beneficial spiritual disciplines are if they are practiced in conversation with Jesus.

Remember that when Jesus cautions against praying in public, it was not the praying that he was correcting, but their motivation. Those who practice any spiritual discipline in order to get God or others to like them more are going the wrong direction. They do them "so that they may be seen by others" and to this, Jesus says that getting that sort of attention is their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

Here is a list of "warning signs" that are sort of like markers on a trail or road signs. These may help to alert us. These are the signs to pay attention to so that people like me - recovering legalists - can prepare for and practice disciplines in the manner of walking with Jesus in responsive obedience.

10 indications I may be turning spiritual disciplines into legalisms:

1. When in conversation with others about the disciplines I use "obligatory" language. (This sounds like "I should," "I have to," or "I ought to")

2. Those closest to me say that I've become judgmental of them, that I am obsessed with myself, that I have become less "present" or loving with them, or that I act "holier than thou."

3. I feel guilty at the end of the day if I have neglected or somehow "failed" at some spiritual discipline.

4. If, when gazing on God's face, I see a scowl and not a smile.

5. If I feel increasing anxiety and not peace.

6. When in conversation with God I use generalizations and obscurities instead of specifics. If I secretly fear that if I got totally real with God that His promise of unfailing/steadfast love would come to an abrupt end.

7. If I plot and scheme so that I can make sure to mention my practice of spiritual disciplines while in conversation with others.

8. When the simple thought of engaging in the next spiritual discipline brings dread or frustration into my mind.

9. If I have not taken the time to ask Jesus, my ever present teacher and guide, to show me how to have a whole life program that would allow me to become like him. If I have not invited him to show me explicitly which and how disciplines are to be used in my life with him.

10. If I am sacrificing good activities such as sleep, time with family and friends, or time at work because I must tackle my own transformation.