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Archive for June, 2010

Spiritual Amnesia

I have this weird thing where certain smells trigger memories for me – it brings them back as if they’re happening all over again.

The air freshener in the men’s room at Blackberry’s did that yesterday.

Yeah, that’s right. I said it.

Just from that smell I remembered my first week at Parkview – starting a new ministry, bracing for the cold, living with the nuns in Lemont (long story), and getting to know a new church.

In January 2009, Jason Anhalt and I went to eat at Parkview East (Blackberry’s is a popular staff haunt, what can I say) during that first week and I remember the smell of the heater running and the fruity air freshener as I thought :

What am I doing here?

What’s going to happen next?

What about the people I left behind?

What could God possibly want with me in this place?

James Wilhoit, a great Christian scholar, says that one of the greatest fears the Jewish people had was to forget. Reading the Old Testament you’ll see the word “remember” and “celebrate” and “festival” repeated over and over again.

The reason? God likes to tell people what to do. Right?

No, the reason is that every time they remembered, celebrated, or held a festival someone would ask: “Why are we doing this?” and someone would explain, “When we were slaves in Israel, God came and rescued us…” Remembering and celebrating meant that there would always be a reason to tell the incredible story of how God had rescued them and why that made a difference in the lives of people.

God knew people needed that because we have a very short spiritual memory. Sometimes I think I have spiritual amnesia.

Lessons in faith and trust where God came through like gangbusters are easily forgotten.

Times of forgiveness and teaching over failures are put aside.

And in their place are worry, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, etc.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have those very human emotions, I’m just saying 9 times out of 10 it isn’t new. We’ve felt that way before and God has dismantled it and given us hope.

Even if we forgot that He did.

The most spiritually healthy thing we can do sometimes is to remember – to think about where we’ve come from, to stave off spiritual amnesia, to recall that God has never abandoned us but instead has allowed us to learn firsthand lessons that give us the prep we need for life going forward.

Here’s a little exercise. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is this the first time I’ve dealt with a situation like this one? If not, what happened last time?
  2. What did God do and how did I respond? (here’s where having a journal would be helpful)
  3. What does that experience teach me about the present one?

Celebrate what God has done in your past sometime this week. Throw a party. Invite some people. Haul out the good wine. Don’t forget, don’t ever forget.

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Here’s a thought from writer Henri Nouwen regarding something we don’t think much about.

Words that do not become flesh in us remain “just words.” They have no power to affect our lives. If someone says, “I love you,” without any deep emotion, the words do more harm than good. But if these same words are spoken from the heart, they can create new life.

It is important that we keep in touch with the source of our words. Our great temptation is to become “pleasers,” people who say the right words to please others but whose words have no roots in their interior lives. We have to keep making sure our words are rooted in our hearts. The best way to do that is in prayerful silence.

Father, help our words to come from silent times with you. To be rooted in peace, to create peace, and to return peace to us because they serve as pathways for your Spirit to work in all of Creation.

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Who Changes You?

(Hint: I’m not talking about Jesus)

The good church answer to that question would be God, Jesus, Holy Spirit or any combination of the three.

I want to get a bit deeper though, because while it is true that transformation that lasts and is beautiful and life-giving comes from a friendship with God, the reality can’t be ignored:

Other people make us change.

Think about it: you can read about the example of Jesus, pray for direction, but 9 times out of 10 we try to find someone who is living with and around us, experiencing this time and this moment, and watch them – we try to find answers and direction by watching people who are in the same world and on the same journey.

Sometimes they influence us for the good.

Sometimes not.

So, the question is again – Who changes you?

Who by their life and example to you is helping you become a different person? Who has the most influence on your life? Is that a good thing? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who do I go to with spiritual questions or life altering decisions that need to be made?
  2. What does the track record of me taking their advice look like?
  3. Are they really the person I am looking to become? i.e. Do they look like Jesus?

What this is all leading up to is one important thought: We should be intentionally choosing one or two spiritual friends who guide us in the direction of becoming more and more like Jesus.

Not that they are our only friends, but that they are people we share our journey with on a deep and personal level and help us listen to God for the next step in our transformation. They should be our “peers” – meaning they should share much of our rhythm of life and be walking much of the same road we are, and it doesn’t hurt if they are a little farther along.

We need to spend time praying with those folks and listening to God together – and being changed by the process.

So, who changes you?

Another hint: the answer is never “no one”. Someone is changing you. If we answer “no one”, we may be in trouble because we could be missing the source of greatest influence on our lives.

If you want help with this one, please get in touch with me. I’d love to talk to you more about spiritual friendship.

Peace

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Most of us are going a thousand miles an hour in a thousand different directions.

I am. For example, this week I’m working on at least 3 different teaching materials, resources for our website, a doctoral project, recruiting small group coaches, and doing a wedding. In the middle I attend meetings and then outside the Parkview doors do the family thing, which is awesome.

This is life.

This is great.

Especially when we feel like it’s what we’re made for.

But even when we’re doing what we’re made for and what gives us life back when we do it, we can get to the point where the tank runs low. This is an interesting spot.

The culture we live in says our value in life is based on our accomplishments.

You aren’t a slacker are you? Did your mamma raise a slacker?

But then we begin to think, deep down inside, that we need to do something about our life and pace or we aren’t going to survive.

When do we know that we’re really tired and need rest and retreat with God? Ruth Haley Barton, author and founder of the Transforming Center gives some great signs that we need to seriously find ways to rest.  She provided the concepts at a recent retreat – I give the descriptions that follow each one.

  1. Feeling too much “ought” or “should” – we get caught in feeling like everything is vitally important and we’re obligated to do something about it.
  2. Having unrealistic expectations – when we desire to try and climb every mountain when our boots have holes and we’ve never seen a mountain.
  3. Having difficulty receiving help from others – we don’t just THINK we are the only ones who can do what we do, we’re CONVINCED of it
  4. Having few or no boundaries in our life – we don’t say “no” often enough to the things that we feel we “ought” to do (see #1)
  5. Becoming ”performers” or “perfectionists” – when we become compulsive and intolerant about avoiding errors and become obsessive about the way we present ourselves (i.e. the show must go on!)
  6. Finding sadness or unresolved tensions in relationships – when we feel our most important relationships are killing us rather than giving us life (including our relationship with God!) We say “don’t go there” when it comes to certain relationships.
  7. Becoming dependent on our own willfulness – acting as if we really are in control of the universe and if we don’t do something the planets will all crash into each other (metaphorically of course!)
  8. Becoming isolated – when we find that we’re hiding from the people we work with, interact with, even love and respect (Just me and Jesus, that’s all I need…)
  9. Becoming overloaded with information – being constantly connected to information streams like the web, our smartphones, etc. without creating space. Reading tweets, blogs, and Facebook compulsively and without any regard to the flesh-and-bone life around us.

If you said, “Hey, that’s not a sign that you’re tired or being drained” then I hate to say this but someone has to:

You’re tired and drained.

Or you soon will be.

Unplug. Retreat with God.

Get alone. Be quiet. Focus on your breathing.

Pray: “God, I’m here. I’m tired. I’m listening”

And wait.

Throw away distractions. Turn off your phone. Turn off the TV. Ask your family to give you 30 minutes (or however much time works for your life) and just get quiet with God.

Let your mind focus on Him.

Be ready for some honest thoughts to come to light.

Write them down.

Plan to do it again tomorrow or in a week.

Soon you’ll begin to feel a bit more rested and ready to turn the sources of exhaustion around and do what it is that you love and ACTUALLY love it again. You may actually start to love God again, who knows.

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