Month: February 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Is God Pro-Exhaustion?

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My wife and I started teaching a four-week class on busyness yesterday. Delving deeper into this topic becomes more of a mirror to seeing ourselves than a window in seeing others. Both of us have started the conversation of what busyness reveals about our hearts.

One of the most telling insights we have encountered comes from Richard A. Swenson in his book Margin:

We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in.

The question that roars from Swenson, “Is God now pro-exhaustion?”  We add activities, refuse to edit our schedules, and never turn off the work mode. Somewhere in the midst of this, you and I can believe the lie that busyness can offer us significance, value, importance, and love from others and God.

Why we are busy tells us far more about our spiritual lives than what makes us busy.

Perhaps, God has called us to live a different pace than we currently live. He may have given us less responsibility than we have put on ourselves. The Gospel reminds us of Christ saving us through His death and resurrection, not us earning our saving ourselves through our busyness.

What would it like for you to experience the still waters God provides? You could take a walk outside for five minutes. Not look at a screen for fifteen minutes. Laugh with your family. Read over Psalm 23. Today, you and I can rebel against our busyness by stopping long enough to receive God’s grace in breathing.

Photo credit by Pierre Rougler.

Being Right

Patterns matter in our lives. People can notice them in our lives, but often we can miss their subtlety in our lives. A few months ago, I had to come face to face with a pattern of my life. Trusted friends brought to my attention the need to be right.

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Rightness would trump understanding and empathy. A few conflicts and disagreements took place in my life. The pattern began to start. Rather than moving towards the other person attempting to see their perspective, I stubbornly saw the situation out of my rightness.

In our relationships, we ask people to move towards us without ever taking the effort to go towards them.

When being right becomes a pattern, we want to tell people like it is without any regard to grace. You and I can practice our venting session to them. At the end of the day, it reeks of our own pride. Keeping the focus on the other person releases us from seeing our part. I can remain in the clear without taking any responsibility.

Proverbs 21:2 calls us to evaluate rightness, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Pride locks us on the faults of another. Empathy moves us to one another.  Recording wrongs makes a never-ending tally.  Compassion looks at people as Christ sees them.

Releasing our need for rightness allows us to experience the Gospel. It reveals our need for Christ’s grace while also extending it to others. It moves us from making situations transactional to identifying the pain in someone else. It motivates us to seek reconciliation rather than winning the argument. 

I had to come to grips with my pattern of being right. I had to ask God for help to understand the other person. In doing so, I began to see how God was changing my heart and making me realize the blindspot I could not see. Gracious people spoke the truth in love to me.

What would happen if you released your need to be right? How would you experience Christ’s grace? How might it help you in your relationships?

Photo credit by Sérgio Rola.

Reads of the Week | 02/20/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

How Smartphones Hurt Sleep by Olga Khazan

Blue lights tell our body to wake up. Khazan gives the science behind why we should power down our smartphones when we go to bed.

Monty Williams and the Quiet Life of Faith by Cray Allred

You may have watched the eulogy of Ingrid Williams given by Monty Williams. This post reflects on the quiet faith of following Christ in the public square.

Why It’s Important to Study the Bible in Context by Craig Keener

I heard Craig Keener give a lecture on the Gospel of Luke at my college. Often, we can pick verses out of place missing their meaning. In some ways reading the Bible is like reading any other book. We have to understand the whole context to understand the passage.

To Give One’s Self by Bryan Marvel

Marvel has started to post weekly reflections on Galatians. In this first week, he reflects on Paul’s opening and the calling for us to give ourselves.

Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Kate Bowler

Bowler writes a gripping article about her battle with cancer as she studies the prosperity gospel. Her raw and genuine heart sees God’s grace in the midst of her pain.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

Passion without Giftedness or Ability

I played guitar in high school, and I wanted to minor in Digital Media. Guitar playing requires this little thing called rhythm. Digital media includes having the perspective to see the minute details. I had a desire to pursue the guitar and digital media, but they did not match how God wired me.

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My brother-in-law Chris took the picture above. He picked up a camera a few years ago and has continued to develop this love while also having the skill to see photos before clicking the button. I have a couple of friends who play in a band called Pompton Lakes. You can see the joy of them playing for practice or on stage.

When I think over my pursuit of digital media and guitar, I reflect on these individuals. They have passion, giftedness, and ability in these areas. They have grown and developed.

Maturity means having an honest conversation about passion, giftedness, and ability. You and I know people who have found a rhythm in these three characteristics. We also know people who play off beat with these characteristics.

I wonder how often we try to pursue areas where we have passion, but no giftedness or ability. It’s a challenging and honest conversation with ourselves. American Idol brought us singers out of tune. People call themselves event planners but do not manage the details well. You can observe this in people in sports and art too.

Maybe we pursue these passions out of a genuine interest or at times we do it out of the comparison of others or wanting recognition.

Strangely, people believe in developing giftedness and ability, but it seems we rarely talk about developing a passion. When we can realize how God has wired us with gifts and abilities, perhaps our passion can get developed by helping and serving others.

We no longer have to confine ourselves to a particular gift or ability. In finding the truth about ourselves, we can find the freedom to serve and make a difference in ways God wired us.

How do we find out about gifts and abilities? Take the gift assessments, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,  and StrengthFinder. Even more importantly, ask the people around you, “What gifts and abilities do you recognize in me?” Allow them to have permission help you observe your life and God might speak through them to show you how you can help others.

In having the honest conversation with ourselves, we might find out that our passion does not line up with our giftedness and ability. I had to find out the truth about playing guitar and digital media so I could appreciate people like Chris and Pompton Lakes, but also to free myself develop and grow in the gifts and abilities God gave me.

What passion have you pursued that does not line up with your gift or ability? What gifts and abilities do others notice in you? How might God call you use those to serve others?

Photo credit by Chris Mason Design.

When to Walk Away

I have come to appreciate my wife Robyn’s wisdom. Often, people will ask for her perspective. It comes with a territory as a professional counselor. Last week, a person asked her about handling disagreements.

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As Robyn responded to the question, she shared a thoughtful piece of wisdom, “Sometimes in the heat of the disagreement, we need to kindly walk away and then plan on coming back to the conversation.”

Walking away from a conversation means recognizing gridlock, neither of us can hear the other in the present moment. So we agree to finish the conversation later in affirmation of each other. With a little time and perhaps even perspective from another we can have a more productive conversation.

How many times have we dug our heels into a disagreement? We defend our viewpoint. The other person supports theirs. No person moving towards the other in understanding, but, on the contrary, the debate escalates with no sign of working together.

Rather than digging our heels into the ground, we can learn the moment to walk away. Not out of anger, but out of the realization that sometimes both people need space. Then we can come back to the conversation with grace and understanding for each other.

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Reads of the Week | 02/13/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

Touchdown Jesus: Johnny Football’s Fall before the Altar of Icon by Valerie Dunham

The best article that you read about Johnny Manziel. Dunham phenomenally observes our cultural objectifying of athletes. She brings a fresh and redeeming perspective to this issue.

For All the “World-Changers” Now Driving a Minivan by Ashley Hales

I think many of us struggle with the view of our ordinary life compared to our dreams of changing the world. Read from Ashley Hales in this article:

Maybe vocation and calling is so much more than an equation to figure out. And maybe calling is big and vocation is small. Because calling is simple, but it’s fathoms deep. It’s borne out of knowing who I am—not the smart version, but simply the loved child of Jesus. My self-narrative is only this: I am the beloved child of God. He delights in me.

The Lord Is My Shepherd or Predator? by Knut H. Heim

We have memorized and repeated Psalm 23. Heim delves into the background of this famous passage and helps us contextualize it for the 21st Century.

Tweens’ take on Valentine’s Day: Get over yourselves, grown-ups by Petula Dvorak

What happens when a columnist asks tweens about love and Valentine’s Day? Dvorak fascinatingly looks into the perspective of 12-13-year-olds.

What Christians Forget about Work by Aaron Armstrong

Armstrong reflects on the redemptive aspect of work in our lives. It’s not something God meant for us to avoid, but a space where we can experience life in Him.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

Receive

How well do you receive? Receiving sounds counter intuitive for many people. An unforeseen gift given to us can cause fear because the immediate feeling of reciprocating. We do an awkward dance when a person offers a compliment by downplaying it or deflecting it.

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Earning and deserving lie to us. In a world where we pull up our boot straps and judge our value by stats and responses, receiving comes unnatural and out of nowhere. People giving to us out of their delight in us shock us, let alone when God gives anything to us.

Then following Jesus adds the conundrum of humility. Kind words or positive feedback gets returned with the awkward reminder of our weaknesses, rather than a simple thank you.

What we might consider humility might actually look like pride. Evelyn Underhill said, “All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility, but an insidious form of spiritual pride.”

Receiving anything requires grace. It’s the realization that someone has given to us out of their delight in us. Giving like this shocks us because we look for the strings attached and fine print. Receiving requires trust in the motivation of the person giving.

Scripture speaks of us receiving reconciliation as Christ’s gifts (Eph. 2:8), and then that reminds us that every good gift comes from above (James 1:17). We have to learn the spiritual practice of receiving; not adding to our pride positively or negatively or looking for ways of earning.

Today, in 40 Days of Decrease Alicia Britt Chloe shared an insight on Corrie Ten Boom. Biographer Carole C. Carlson said that Boom received compliments and gifts like flowers and then gave them back to God. Listen how Chloe calls us to do the same:

Whereas deflection discounts and rejects praise, redirection stewards and then deposits praise at the feet of the One who it is due. Sincerely receive any affirmation today without apology and then tonight, offer Jesus a bouquet of praise. If at day’s end you find your intended bouquet sparse, fill it in with gratitude for God’s work in your life.

So, how well do you receive? We no longer have to live with the pressure of deserving and earning. Grace always brings us back to the gifts God has given us out of His love and care. Receiving anything ends with a simple thank you to the giver and ultimately gratitude towards God.

Photo credit by Annie Spratt.

Dust

Today marks the beginning of Lent. Ash Wednesday will lead us up to the Easter celebration of the resurrection. Several conversations will center on what people will fast for the next forty days. You may have given up social media, carbs, sugar, caffeine, or Netflix. Often, we can get caught up with practice – the ash on a forehead and the fasting – that we can forget the purpose.

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Dust, the nuisance of house cleaning. The small particle of material gets brushed aside. Having dust does not fall under cleanliness close to godliness.

God creates us out of dust in Genesis. What we shove aside, God miraculous breathes life to form humanity. Dust represents humanity and life. Dust becomes ash through death. Both dust and ash bring us back to our frailty.

Created beings have limitations, feel exhaustion, sin, have weaknesses and experience death. Sometimes we forget this fact in our everyday life.

Walter Brueggemann speaks of our forgetfulness of our humanity. He reflects on remembering this truth in the context of Ash Wednesday in Remember You are Dust:

In our forgetting, we neglect not only our God-given fragility. We also lose track of our vocation. We are, as breathed on dust, called into the service and company of another, called to do work other than our own. This creature, formed of dust, is entrusted with the garden, with all the animals, and with all living things. Our creatureliness binds us to the role of steward, friend, and companion of all other creatures who share fragility.

You may or may not participate in Ash Wednesday or Lent, but do not forget the reason for the preparation for Easter. In coming into contact with Christ, we become well aware of our human limitation and weakness.

In a world that fights aging and continuously searches for the fountain of youth, we find freedom in knowing we came from dust and will return to ash. The weight of perfection and immortality has been met with grace.

We no longer have to carry the burden or believe the lie of self-sufficiency. Christ’s humanity and divinity through His death and resurrection gives us life. Created beings find purpose, meaning, and significance from the Creator.

Ash Wednesday and Lent does not merely leave us in our fragility and frailty, rather it begins us on the path to Easter, the resurrection life found in Jesus Christ.

Realizing we are dust brings us to the reality of the Gospel. What we could never accomplish on our own, Christ offers us life through His reconciliation and forgiveness.

Photo credit by Austin Ban.

What I’m Scared to Hear

I sat across from a friend at lunch. We reminisced about our college experience a few years prior. The conversation turned towards our growth since that chapter of our lives. In the midst of this conversation, he commented to me, “You listen better now than before. I remember how often you used to interrupt people…”

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My friend’s observation caught me off guard. I began to rewind our conversations. Each episode I played back in my mind pointed to a moment where I could have listened more intently. The truth of what he said scared me because I had to recognize an area of growth in my life. His comment also confirmed the truth about growth in my life.

The truth hurts. It sounds like a trite saying after someone gives a sharp piece of feedback. You and I want to grow, but listening to the reality about ourselves feels like root canal work: a necessary process with an enormous amount of pain.

If people could share the honest truth with you, what would they say?

That question can scare us. The truth can confirm a fault we always knew or make us aware of an area of growth we did not see. It can come out of a place of love from another person and at other times they say it out of their selfishness. For us to truly grow and mature, we have to learn to receive difficult feedback recognizing what we need to hear.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in How People Grow talks about the desire to accept the truth:

When people understand that the truth can save and preserve their lives, it is hard not to love it. When you love something, you pursue it and want to be around it. Seek God’s truth. Hang around honest people. Invite safe people to tell you the truth about yourself. Don’t take a passive role with truth: Hunt it down. Pray David’s prayer: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me.” (Ps. 43:3)

Finding out the truth about us can scare us, but it brings us life. Community becomes essential. When we have friends who love and care for us, we can listen to the truth knowing they want the best for us.

Some people speak the truth without grace or knowing us. That can become more about them than you. The people that love us the most will give us the reality of where we can grow and how God has brought growth to us.

What my friend said at lunch scared, but confirmed growth in my life. God brings people in our lives who not only help us grow but point to His work in us. Thus, we can do the same for someone else.

What truth might God call you to face today? What truth might God call you to share with another motivated by love?

Photo credit by Alyssa Smith.

Chosenness and Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day as a child? You may have had a mailbox where you received the delivery cards and candy. Notes got passed with the checkbox for the question, “Do you like me?” Schools would allow students to fundraise by selling roses and secret singing grams. A classroom anxiously anticipated the blushing, excitement, and embarrassment of classmates receiving these gifts.

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We learned at an early age about the joy and disappointment of Valentine’s Day. Some of us get the note with the checkbox “yes.” Others of us waited for the flower or love letter that never came. We might have taken courageous steps to show another our interest met with approval or rejection.

The week leading up to Valentine’s Day amplifies the human desire for acceptance, being chosen, and finding love. It can be an exhilarating celebration the loved ones around us. On the other hand, many struggle with the reality of pain. This day represents a hope for what could be, but a present that does not reflect that.

Learning to experience grace in following Jesus calls us to enter the darkness. Not necessarily for easy answers to our questions, but an even deeper recognition of Christ in us. Identifying the hurt and brokenness, while seeing the beauty in the midst of the reality.

Henri Nouwen in the Life of the Beloved makes a powerful statement finding the truth of God’s love in the midst of a world full of rejection, darkness, doubt, insecurity, and self-interest. He calls us to reclaim our chosenness from God:

The great spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God, who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time – our brief chronological existence – but by the One, who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.

The world around us this week will give us various definitions and expectations about experiencing love. Let us find the truth of our chosenness and acceptance from the One that loved us first. And in experiencing that love, we can then love the people around us. The Gospel time and time again reminds us that the truth of God’s love trumps the lies the world around us has told us.

Many of you have wanted to forget this week for various reason. I hope you have you can find your acceptance in a God who loves you and a friend with a listening ear that does not speak clichés or trite, simple answers.

Christ calls us out of our brokenness and in the healing we can become aware of the pain in others. Becoming aware of our pain leads us to help others to find healing in Christ.

May all of us communicate God’s chosenness and love to each other. In the midst of a highly commercialized holiday with seemingly fluctuating messages about love, I hope we speak the truth God’s love in us before anyone else loved us.

Photo credit by Hello Goodbye.

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