Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Tenderness of the Towel

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Jesus Christ

As we grow in Christ, we grow in Christ centeredness and a heart that often defers to the well being of others.
I’m on the road this week and have little to no Internet access to research a quote by John Stott; yet, if I attempt to paraphrase, it says that Christ comes to us in our self centered condition, makes us new, and grows us away from self centeredness and towards the love and service of others. I believe this is a true test of authenticity in our walk with Christ.

I can say all day long that I love you but unless I kneel to serve – or show a track record of serving you – then my words are hollow. The fellowship of Christ-Followers that I am joined to states it this way:

… being active in ministry often requires us to sacrifice by giving resources and ourselves in useful ways to meet all kinds of practical needs in the lives of others in our families, church, community, and world. These needs may be physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational; yet, we meet them, by God’s grace and in His name, as best we can.

Wishing or chitchat, without follow through, about the merits of ministry, even that which is well intentioned, is of little use if integrity and authentic Christianity is our aim. It is essential to “do ministry” – in effect “be the church”-and not simply “talk about theories of “ ministry if we wish to be faithful to the example of Christ and the exhortation of scripture. Examine an excerpt from the Book of James:

JAS 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. JAS 2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline chapter 9, underscores the importance of the discipline of service. I especially like his thought regarding the contrast between radical (flesh based) self-denial and servant hood. “In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance for glorious martyrdom. But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial.

At the outset of Chapter nine, Richard Foster points to the scene where the disciples were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest. Can you identify? Have you seen similar glimpses of pride, self-reliance, and boasting in Christian circles? Sadly, we still do. In the case of the disciples, Jesus intervened. “Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness.” May we submit to his lead and may we lead others by faithfulness to His example and with the courage to be least. For in doing so, we find greatness (re-defined) and humility before our King.

As I close, let me pinch the following song lyric from Paula at Listen In. I really like it and have always appreciated Michael Card’s substantive writing. This is no exception. Let it serve as sort of a musical postlude to this week’s post.

And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up
the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place,
on any ordinary day,
the parable can live again
when one will kneel and one will yield.

Our Saviour Servant must show us how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.

From “The Basin and the Towel”
by Michael Card

Grace to you in Him, and God bless.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Perpetual Stew

Have you ever stewed for hours – or even days – over a wrong you endured at the hand of another? Frankly, there are times it is easy to do. To be angry over a wrong makes sense. In fact, anger is a reasonable emotion at times. Yet, there is a difference between being “angry yet without sin” and hanging on to bitterness over an offense that we know God says to forgive. To embrace – even emotionally relive – the occurrence and remain in a “perpetual stew”, is to harm ourselves and cling to “one of the greatest bondages” we can choose to endure. Worse yet, we may even stew over the petty as well as the consequential.

We may fume and fuss over simply not getting our way and the offense at the root of our fuming may actually be no offense at all. It is only that our stubborn will and cherished plans were thwarted. Trumped, if you will, by the will of another who chose to play their figurative Ace of Spades rather than fold to our wishes.

This week’s chapter was really helpful. It took a direction that that surprised me – in a good way. I guess I fall into the camp that has seen the abuses of “submission teaching” and could easily “throw out the baby with the bath water” if not encouraged by the likes of Richard Foster. Likewise, I’m quite stubborn, too. I’ve had to learn – by God’s grace and His willingness to “send me to the woodshed” (Hebrews 12:4-11) – to be schooled in choosing to trust Him in matters of authority and demonstrate that trust by submitting to others. In the end, I've learned i
t’s far better to be teachable and obedient than to put God in the spot of having to enroll me in disciplinary remediation.

A Song:

Maybe you can identify?

Surrender don't come natural to me. I'd rather fight you for something I don't really want than take what you give that I need. And I've beat my head against so many walls I'm falling down, falling on my knees (Rich Mullins, Hold Me Jesus)

It’s too bad that some things we choose to learn the hard way. Nonetheless, praise God that He loves us enough to grow us as his children and progress us towards His character.

Points to ponder:

“Every discipline has a corresponding freedom.” In fact, “the purpose of the Disciplines is freedom”. “In and of themselves, they (the disciplines) are of no value. They only have value as a means of setting us before God so that He can give us the liberation that we seek.”

“The freedom in submission is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always having to get our own way.”

“In submission we are at last free to value other people. Their dreams and plans become important to us. We have entered into a new…freedom-the freedom to give up our own rights for the good of others.”

“Do you know that liberation comes from giving up your rights? “ “It means that at last you are able to break that viscous law of commerce that says, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back; you bloody my nose, I’ll bloody your nose”. "It means you are free to obey Jesus’ command.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Jesus calls us to self-denial without self-hatred.” Self-denial is “a way of coming to understand that we do not have to have our own way”. “Our happiness is not dependent upon getting what we want.” It “means the freedom to give way to others” and “ hold others’ interests above our interests”.

“Our difficulty is due primarily to the fact that we have failed to understand Jesus’ teaching that the way to self-fulfillment is through self-denial.” “Perhaps…we can look upon self-denial as the liberation that it actually is.”

So Much More:

There is so much more in this chapter to grasp and unpack than what I can take the time to develop right now. The concept of the cross-life is absolutely – upset the apple cart of tepid living – fantastic. ( “The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servant hood.”) The limits of the discipline of submission, the need for discernment, the value of dependence and the good of not having a “book of rules” to cover every circumstance in life all merit discussion and I feel a real sense of loss in needing to wrap up this week’s study and post. Nonetheless, I need to break away to get some rest. My youngest son needs his dad to spend some time with him over an early breakfast and “let’s go fishing” guy time. So, let me practice submission and give way to the needs of my son. I look forward to your posts.

In closing, the seven acts submission toward the end of the chapter may be a recipe worth noting. I began this post with the idea of the perpetual stew – Foster’s reference to the uptight, bound up, and ulcer afflicted. May we opt for a stew of a different sort? May we opt for liberation?

God Bless.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Can an Offering So Small Go So Far?

In recent years I've found great encouragement in the little boy's offering of his simple gift of five loaves and two fishes to Jesus. It's become sort of a theme for me as I recognize increasingly that God takes and breaks our most feeble of offerings and employs them to His glory and the good of others. It's really quite freeing. I can work to do my best and offer who I am and whatever I may have to Him; yet, in the end, it is He that takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and multiplies it to usefulness. How humbling and awesome this is!

A little while back, M.L.H., Spritual Birdwatching, made reference to a daily meditation by Henri Nouwen. In some ways, the daily nature of the meditation e-letter can be a bit much; nonetheless, I appreciate Henri Nouwen's heart and find his comments edifying and, at times, challenging. Given my penchant for the "loaves and fishes", here is a recent tidbit that merits meditation:

"Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus' life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

As God's beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God's chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints ..... and it can be our story too." Henri Nouwen

God Bless.

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Friday, July 15, 2005

A Bear Paw, a T.V., and the Audible Apparition.

“Can you identify with the practice? Turn on the “tube”. Leave it on. Don’t watch - just allow it to provide a distraction in daily living. Who cares what’s on? The presence of the picture and the audible apparition of sound make easy the way of escape from needing to face a gnawing question or working on a relationship that would benefit from solitude, devoted time, and the absence of distractions.

“Noise”, in fact, takes many forms. Television, music, work, recreation, hobbies, substance abuse, and so on increase the volume. We run, we work, we read, we watch and we avoid the questions that seem to call to us from the silence. In fact, working and remaining busy, even too busy, sometimes appears simpler to deal with than living life. Thinking, feeling, facing our mortality, and living at peace with those around us – now that is the hard part. The noise is easy; it’s even a bit comforting. Ultimately however, we must dampen the hullabaloo and face our challenges.

I hope it’s not cheating; however, I borrowed that bit from an earlier post on “
Room Noise”. It was prelude to an earlier portion of our study; yet, it fits too well with this week’s chapter on Solitude to exclude it from the discussion. Foster continues the thread. “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that strap to our wrists or fit over our ears so that, if no one else is around, at least we are not condemned to silence.”

Why is it that we dread silence, being still, and being alone? Somewhere along the way of spiritual growth, we must begin to cherish the silence and find strength in solitude. Granted, we may not cherish loneliness. This makes perfect sense. After all, God did say, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Relationships matter. They are important. Foster chimes in, “But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear”.

Going quiet, getting still, and listening to God roots us deeply in the soil of confidence and courage. It re-orients us to God given goals and sustains us when the noise of living begins. To be at ease in our fellowship with Him and at peace with solitude grounds us in ways that clamor and activity can never do. “There is freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisper better.”

I truly rejoice in the model of our Saviour. He knew the merit of community and retreat. The first part of his ministry, He spent time with His disciples and likewise withdrew to be alone. Many have called this season the “year of obscurity”. It was at least a prequel to the more public sending out and further training of which they would later partake. Yet, Christ continued - the whole of his ministry- to withdraw and pray. He said NO to always doing, serving, and staying in the midst of the crowds. He modeled time alone with His Father and shows the need that we have for silence and solitude is, in fact, a God-given need.

How can I be used of God to fill the gas-tanks of others if I never pause for refueling and maintenance? It’s absurd, yet, many times I feel guilty if I choose to stop for a bit of petrol, check the oil level, and clean the windscreen. I am so happy that Christ, God incarnate, knew – and still knows- what it is like to be human. He knew limitations. He felt weary. He got thirsty and He initiated solitude with His Father.

Foster gives 5 practical steps into solitude. I wish to underscore two.

1) Take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill our day. The early morning moments before the family awakes. Lingering long over a cup of coffee before heading off to work. Etc. Can I do better at seizing the little points of grace that God allows to be woven into the fabric of a daily routine? Moreover, will I take off the head phones, turn off the TV, and allow God to adjust the thread, the warp and the woof in order to add more such time into my life?

2) Find and develop a “quiet place”. For me, it’s the quiet of my bedroom an hour or so before heading to the office or the airport. I can sit cross-legged on the bed, cup of coffee at hand, bible open, and simply retreat into fellowship with my Father. I so need His presence. Really, it’s more desperation than discipline. I’ve known too often what it’s like to try to run on spiritual fumes and I know I don’t do well when I try. It’s so much better to fill the tank than close my eyes, cross my fingers, and hope the fuel gauge allows for an unseen reserve when the needle hits Empty.

Both steps – when practiced – place us in a spot to be nourished by God whilst we listen to His whisper, leading, and heart. It develops the "fruit of solitude" in us. We become willing to listen more, speak less, be attentive, and yearn for His presence.

More can be said but Foster wraps it up nicely. “Don’t you feel a tug…?. Don’t you long for something more? It is the discipline of solitude that will open the door. You are welcome to come in and listen to God’s speech in the wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence”.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Today They're Cowboys. Tomorrow They'll Be Walking Funny.

Maybe Curly got it right? “The secret to life is one thing”…Curly Washburn, City Slickers 1991. The seasoned and leather skinned cowboy’s counsel to Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal, sounds as if it were drawn from the same well as Kierkegaard’s, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. And for Richard Foster, the one thing is a subject that merits obedience – Simplicity.

God made man upright, and they -- they have sought out many devices. (Ecclesiastes 7:29, Young’s Literal Translation)

The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” Richard Foster, Ch 6 Celebration of Discipline. In fact, I’m convinced that each of the disciplines graciously nurtures an inward reality that must work its way out in the visible fabric of how we live. Or, as Foster puts it, “ We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without it having a profound effect on how we live”.

Early in the chapter, Foster employs some pithy statements to underscore the incongruence of modern culture with the measure of simplicity.

Pithy 1: “We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic.” Strong words, maybe, but accurate if the context is materialism. Psychosis can be defined as …”a defective or lost contact with reality often with hallucinations or delusions”. Are we deluded? Do we, as Foster says, “Crave things we neither need nor enjoy” and “buy things we do not need to impress people we do not like”? Hmmm…

Pithy 2: “It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” Amen. Our culture is unbalanced and we can easily be entangled with an ambition that places “mammon” above a desire for God and his kingdom.

Is there a “unity of focus around which our lives are oriented”? As a culture “en masse”, the answer is no way. For the Christ-follower, we can hope for better. “Courageously, we need to articulate new, more human ways to live. We should take exception to the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn.” We should take exception but do we?

I’m a bit jaded in this area. Too many times, I’ve met partakers in the body of Christ that have left a smaller fellowship at a time that happens to coincide with the starting of a new business that can benefit from larger market in which to fish. Ugh! Not exactly what Christ meant when He said, “ and I will make you fishers of men.” Or the family that leaves a fellowship because the husband found a “church” (culturally and not biblically defined) that has a basketball ball team and is big enough to tend to his kids without his involvement in teaching a bible class on a rotation with other parents. You name it. There is always a “bigger & better” element that can augment the church buffet that many choose to graze. Too, bad, the gospel has to suffer. Maybe, Foster should have added a lust for “milk over meat” and “ease over growth or service” to the recipe for a haphazard inward reality?

Suffer, forego, work to grow, and be inconvenienced to serve – no way. Why should I when I can put a bit of coin in the hat, sit in a pew, and have a professional tend to business for me? Why should I labor or seek first God’s kingdom…I’ve got a kingdom of my own to build. So, show me a church where I can “look the part” and that is big enough to assuage my spiritual hunger with empty calories that free me to play church and build a bigger home in a neighborhood of people just like me. Ugh-again! (OK time to get off the soapbox regarding the cultural American Christianity-Lite that, I'm afraid, is too widely practiced.This is not OK)

So, how do we find our center? (Center in biblical terms, that is.)

First, we cut the legs out from under the notion that money and accumulation do not matter. They do. “No serious reading of Scripture can substantiate…a view…that Jesus did not address himself to practical economic questions”. “Jesus declared war on the materialism of His day.”

"No servant can serve two masters at the same time. He will hate one of them and love the other. Or he will be faithful to one and dislike the other. You can't serve God and Money at the same time." (Luke 16:13, NIrV)

“Do not put away riches for yourselves on earth. Moths and rust can destroy them. Thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, put away riches for yourselves in heaven. There, moths and rust do not destroy them. There, thieves do not break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your riches are.” (Matt 6: 19-21, NIrV)

Secondly, we nurture a balanced view of God’s provision. We avoid asceticism that “finds contentment only when it is abased” and embrace simplicity that “knows contentment in both abasement and abounding”.

Thirdly, we avoid making simplicity – or any discipline- an idol that we enthrone above God’s call that we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. Likewise, we refrain from the temptation toward legalism lest we stray from “the path of disciplined grace that runs along a narrow ridge between the two treacherous chasms of moralism and antinomianism”. (Refer to the Introduction to Celebration of Discipline)

Fourthly, we celebrate Simplicity for the needed perspective that it brings. It “sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us”. It sets a blade to the root of greed, “mammon”-based idolatry, and “un-Christian legalistic asceticism” and “sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others”.

Finally, we trust God for the grace and strength to nurture the inward reality and work it out into our outward life-style. We remember that “ where our treasure is, there shall our heart be also” and, whilst yielding our heart to God, we beseech Him to fully capture our heart. For, if He has our heart, He has our treasure, too.

As the chapter closes, Foster makes 10 practical controlling principles toward the outward expression of simplicity. They’re really quite good and he reminds us that these suggestions should “never be viewed as laws but only as one attempt to flesh out the meaning of simplicity”. Paul, of Baggas’ Blog, provides a terrific summary of all ten in his post for Chapter 6.
So let me leave you to read on.

“May God give You – and me- the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number-one priority of our lives.” “To do so is to live in simplicity” and , if this was the “one thing” of “on the range” fame, then Curly was right.

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The Wounded Healer

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.”
Henri Nouwen

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

This is not OK! (Grieve, Pray, Love, Act) Posted by Picasa

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Happy 4th Posted by Picasa

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Product is Joy

Study produces joy”, to quote Richard Foster from this week’s Celebration of Discipline Chapter 5. The chapter on the inward discipline of study was a real pleasure to ponder and apply.

It was fresh in its call to transformation and was inclusive of elements that are often overlooked in Christian circles. To be culturally literate is a good thing; yet, it is not often that observing nature, the relationships that go on between human beings, institutions, cultures, and us are sited as viable aspects of Christian study. It seems, more often than not, that many Christians hold that bible study equals Christian study and that all the rest is secular or irrelevant.

Without question, the study of God’s word is most important. All we believe and do must submit to His rule and, therefore, the authority of His word; yet, how do I see God’s word, via the ministry of God the Spirit, work it’s way toward renewal of my mind, repentance, and practical changed-life living if I stick my head in the sand rather than transact life in the culture I actually live in today?

M.L.H., in her post this week,(see Spiritual Birdwatching) makes a good observation. In fact, she points us to the Apostle Paul.

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized--whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (I Cor. 9:19-23, The Message)

What a terrific exhortation! May we know our God and know our culture, too. May we make room for applying the intrinsic rules of study (Understanding, Interpreting, and Evaluating) and the extrinsic rules (Experience, Other Books, Live discussions), whilst “keeping my bearings in Christ”, to the study of books - verbal and nonverbal. Clearly, there is a place for “reverent observation”.

I found the section on the Four Steps of study quite encouraging. The author put in concise terms a process that I knew intuitively but had not synthesized to the point of stating it so succinctly. Repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection flow in a progression that leads to understanding and transformation. For years I’ve had to study this way in order to comprehend and apply truth to my life. I’ve always thought I was a bit thick – or at least wired a bit differently- because I had to practice repetition, concentrate, dissect thoughts, and ruminate on a subject to grasp the author’s intended meaning and get to the nuggets of understanding and practical application. I am enheartened hearing now that the process is normal and useful.

Applause is merited, too, for Mr. Foster’s recognition of the need for tarrying times with God. If the aim of study were cerebral alone, then tarrying with God to wrestle a truth to the point of repentance, embrace and obedience would be less necessary. However, I prefer to be broken, genuine, and real rather than puffed up. The heart desire is to be a man of understanding – not a know-it-all more akin to a peacock than a servant of Christ. So, to tarry seems good.

Sojourning takes time. The author makes practical suggestions on getting away to tarry and change. The suggestion to retreat, to read large portions of scripture, and to zero in on a smaller book all ring true for me. Thus, I will take the suggestion to heart and put it in practice by studying Colossians these next 30 days. I do expect to hear from God as I study His word. Maybe even “hear new things in new ways”, to quote the author. You, if you wish, can hold me accountable. The dialogue (or as Foster calls it- "live discussion") would be helpful.

In closing, the aim of the inward disciplines is transformation and study, specifically, is a means of God’s grace for changing our inner man. Study disciplines our thinking. It moves our minds to think on the truth that gets our understanding past the cognitive to the level of experience and life change that keeps us from being puffed up with head knowledge and, as a positive, tips us towards the authentic. Proper study bears fruit in our inner spirit and works it way out into our experience, life decisions and our relationships. In many ways, study is a means of grace leading to heart change and behavior change that is good for us, good for others and glorifying to God.

May we humbly avail ourselves to the gracious discipline of study and - may we be changed. Amen

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