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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Drive and Desires - Sorting out the Mess

We returned from our 3k mile road trip and we were exhausted. However, I was also antsy to finish the audio book that consumed the last two days of our journey. Upon further reflection, I found it amusing that we listened to 3 audio books on our trip and all three of them had to do with desire, motives, and what fuels our choices, behaviors, etc... They are radically different from each other, from different genres, disciplines, and written with radically differing motives. Here is the list: Drive by Daniel Pink, Motive by Jonathan Kellerman, and Teach us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel.

It was two months ago when I started this post. The antsy feeling that I expressed about finishing the audio book after our road trip perfectly illustrates our wrestling with drives and desires. A good mystery book, as almost all Jonathan Kellerman work is, does it's job if it creates this insatiable, antsy, almost compulsive desire for resolution. We are conditioned to want the resolution and the more fiercely one wants the resolution, the better the book. The resolution of that story was good, but it was not great. I was glad that I finished it because that antsy feeling needed to go away so that I could put my full mental and emotional energy into work.

This is similar to the antsy feeling we nurture when we worry about stuff. All of us have things, projects, relationships, etc... that need resolution. We need - we desire - answers. This wrestling is natural and normal and our needs are real. However, we are far too likely to wrestling ourselves into worry instead of presenting our needs, questions, projects, relationships, etc...to God.

We are told to allow God access to all of us. We present our needs to God and because we know that God is able to sort out all of our drives and desires, we are able to be confident that we can refrain from worry. Our compulsion to fix things can be a sign that we are not living confidently in a conversational relationship with our Abba Father.

Reflect on Paul's exortation in Philippians 4:4-7: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentle be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be make known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Our worry (which is sin, by the way!) is no longer is necessary. God takes care of it all. It is also so interesting, perhaps it can be called a miracle-wonder, that after we release our questions and projects, asking God to take care of it, we see things sorted out. We are given great peace.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rule 51

It is my experience that generally people either over use or under use the words "I'm sorry."

In my youth, I was a compulsive "I'm sorry"-er. Now, as an adult, I have recognized that authentic, deep sorrow plagues my soul when I find that from my action or inaction, I have wronged another. I am now embarrassed to admit that there were years of my life where I was unable or unwilling to admit that I was wrong.

I am admitting it now. I have been miserably wrong and careless with relationships. I am deeply grieved that this is true, but it is.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs would say that apologizing is a sign of weakness (rule 6). However, even more true than that is rule 51: "Sometimes you're wrong!" (For you non-NCIS fans, you can find Gibbs rules with a quick internet search.)

There are two extreme reactions that happen when one person offends another: attack and hide. Neither of them are loving and neither of them invite God's transformation. Having deep sorrow for being the offender is the first step, the next few steps include confession, and an attempt at making amends (in the spirit of Romans 12:18 "as far as it depends on me"), and then, it requires new thoughts and a new heart. All of this is part of learning the kind of love that Jesus has for all of us. How good it is that we have a teacher (Jesus....not Gibbs!) who is always more willing to teach, lead, and infill us than we can fathom

It is not a shock that Jesus includes this essential request as part of the prayer that he taught his disciples: "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

We need that prayer and the repeated reminder that resources for forgiveness come from Jesus.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

God's Word is the Best Meal in Town

A couple of weeks ago, there were several e-mails about free food that appeared in my inbox. I was in Tennessee when I received these messages so I couldn't show up to get this free food. However, I remember thinking "who would pass up on the opportunity for free food?" A few days later, my family of origin gathered around the card tables in my mom's 20' x 20' double-wide mobile home living room, this thought came back to me. "This is some really excellent food...better than any restaurant and it is FREE....and I didn't even have to cook it. WOW!!!"

The thought occurred to me again as I could not sleep this morning around 4 a.m. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah's words were wrestling in my mind. God's word is like that. It has a way of sticking with you like good food. Hours after you digest it, you remember it and you can even re-experience it moving you to do something different or to form a new intention. One intention that I have for this new year is to ABIDE in God's word as His word is ever so faithful to abide in me. (Here is a great song-video, the Sower's Song, by Andrew Peterson)

These are the words from Isaiah 55 that were wrestling in me this morning:

v. 1-3
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money, 
come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

v. 10-13
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall comp up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

The prophet calls the Hebrew people to take, eat, digest and fully experience the transforming power of God's word. There is such power in God's word. This morning as I was listening to God's word going out into our community, I added my prayers to it. Our annual Breathitt County Bible Reading Marathon features a Genesis-Revelation non-stop for four days public reading. Jackson Community Church opens their facilities and the speaker outdoors broadcasts it right downtown, diagonally across from the county court house. People from around 80 area churches join together to make this happen and the cooperation and cordiality that it has fostered is simply outstanding. Folks have included me as one of their own even though I do not have a super cool accent and read from a different translation of scripture.

While I have been there a lot of early morning hours over the last few days, I have been adding my prayers to the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul. I pray that all who have the seed of the Word sown in them would be receptive. I pray that the Holy Spirit would till the soil of hearts and that people might be hungry for real life change. We have been given the best, most nutritious food, and it truly satisfies! I'm hungry for it....are you?