Intentional daily practices can alter history

List_Rule of Life

It’s not the big events that really shape our lives. It’s the “dailies” that determine if we will be prepared for what life brings. Too often we don’t pay attention to the quality and choices of our daily actions and interactions. Then we hear a piece of good advice or an insight and say, “Wow, I need to remember that every day!” – and promptly forget it. Then one day we run across that advice in some notes we made and say, “Oh, yeah… I sure do wish I had remembered that.”

In spiritual formation, the “memory trick” for keeping wise counsel at the forefront of our consciousness is called a “Rule of Life.”  A “rule” in this context is a set of precepts, principles, resolutions, practices, and sayings compiled to guide thoughts, words and deeds. Perhaps the most well-known rule is The Rule of St. Benedict or The Benedictine Rule, developed by Benedict of Nursia (who lived from approximately 480-550 AD) that he used to govern the life of his monastic order.

Many who’ve shaped the course of history developed a rule of life to shape their days. Martin Luther King Jr. was intentional about his spiritual and mental focus. His rule of life included:

Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.

Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.

When Pope John XXIII (who served from 1958 to his death in 1963) was a seminary student, he included the following elements in his rule:

Fifteen minutes of silent prayer upon rising in the morning.

Fifteen minutes of spiritual reading.

Before bed, a general examination of conscience followed by confession; then identifying issues for the next morning’s prayer.

Arranging the hours of the day to make this rule possible; setting aside specific time for prayer, study, recreation, and sleep.

Making a habit of turning the mind to God in prayer.

[Both “Rules” are cited from Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 139, 140.]

So here’s the fun part: what ideas would really help you be the person you know God is calling you to be? Start your list. Don’t worry about being profound, nor about being “too corny or cheesy.” This is your list, for your eyes only, to help you keep the most important things the most important things.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Dusty People

Dry Earth_Dusty People

People outside the faith have no idea that we who want to follow Jesus live in constant tension. It’s the tension between the ideal of trying to live the way Jesus calls us to live and the reality that we are, most often, just like everybody else. We struggle and fail and refuse to do what we know God wants us to do. It can be a life of constant frustration and deep discouragement as we experience the reality of the traditional prayer of confession:

…We have done those things we ought not to have done

And left undone those we ought to have done

And there is no health in us.

The disillusion and failure have taken many people away from faith. Facing this reality, however, can actually deepen our understanding of grace and our gratitude to God. It can also reshape our unbiblical expectations.

The starting point is learning, in humility, to accept the fact that we are works in progress. We are not “struck perfect” simply by expressing faith in Christ. Faith is a both an act and a process:

It is an act of commitment—like a wedding,

and a process of becoming—like a marriage.

It is like the birth of a child

and the process of that child growing to mature adulthood.

Second, it helps to realize God is not surprised by our failures. That doesn’t excuse them, but it does give us hope. As I wrote in a recent blog, “Our sin spoils our fellowship with God, but it does not make God love us less.”

My “trigger phrase” to awaken humility and gratitude at the same time is that we are “dusty people.” I take this concept from Psalm 103…

As a father has compassion on his children,

    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

    he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14 NIV).

God knows our limitations. God knows our personality faults and the deep scars of our experience. God knows we don’t have– and cannot get— it all together. God knows we are dust. Mortal, wounded… and redeemed by grace to be resurrected in glory.

In his book, Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly frequently recognizes our imperfection and provides guidance for those who are likely to be overwhelmed by failure.

“The first days and weeks and months of offering total self to God are awkward and painful, but enormously rewarding. Awkward, because it takes constant vigilance and effort and reassertions of the will, at the first level. Painful, because our lapses are so frequent, the intervals when we forget Him so long. Rewarding, because we have begun to live. But these weeks and months and perhaps even years must be passed through before He gives us greater and easier stayedness upon Himself.

“Lapses and forgettings are so frequent. Our surroundings grow so exciting. Our occupations are so exacting. But when you catch yourself again, lose no time in self-recriminations, but breathe a silent prayer for forgiveness and begin again, just where you are. Offer this broken worship up to Him and say: ‘This is what I am except Thou aid me.’ Admit no discouragement, but ever return quietly to Him and wait in His Presence.” (p. 39)

The First Letter of John reminds us,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 1:8-2:1 NIV).

Realistically, we will fail God daily– and often fail to recognize most of our sins. (And that’s a mercy, in and of itself!). God does not want us to punish ourselves with guilt and shame as the way of “self-atonement.” Instead, we cast ourselves on God’s mercy. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about faith embracing God’s grace.

 

 

Advice for a really bad day OR New Year’s Day Every Day

What do you do when you’ve had a really bad day? I’m not talking about a bad day when you’ve  experience all kinds of hassles and problems that are not necessarily of your own making. I’m talking about those bad days when you’ve really messed up:

When you’ve said or done something that you really regret;

When you’ve fallen into that thing that makes you ashamed;

Or when you’ve missed an opportunity because you lacked the courage or wisdom to act.

Bad days are part of life. The question is: what do we do about them– especially when we’ve created our own problems??

New Year’s Day is when the world gets a powerful hint of grace. It’s one of the most vivid experiences of God’s “common grace.” Common grace is a theological term for God’s continuing mercy extending to all creatures, as described by Jesus in Matthew 5:45-46:

…For [the Father] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

In this case, on the first day of a new year, those who have minimal belief in God get a sense of what Jesus promises in faith, hope, grace and love. It’s a fresh start. New Year’s Day is typically the season when we try to put frustrations and failures behind us so we can move forward in positive, constructive—and dare I say redemptive—directions. We have hope that we can make the coming days different. There’s a sense of wiping the slate clean. What a great celebration! The problem is January 2 and 3 and 4…

Resolutions are rarely sustainable unless something happens in the heart.

Our hearts are changed when we accept by faith God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin upon himself as the ultimate expression of grace. He gives us that fresh start of being right with God, being released from regret and shame, and entering into the freedom God intends for us.

Take heart in this: Our sin spoils our fellowship with God, but it does not make God love us less.

The wonder of God’s grace is that it lasts, and it lasts, and it lasts. One of the most encouraging passages of Scripture that testifies to God’s continuing mercy and forgiveness is Lamentations 3:22-23,

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness (New International Version NIV).

The Book of Lamentations, attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, is a compilation of five prayers in the form of “dirge poetry” or “funeral songs” written during Judah’s judgment and exile. Even in the midst of God’s people experiencing the consequences of their sin and rebellion, Jeremiah proclaimed and celebrated the blessings of God’s mercy and faithfulness. The time of consequences will not last. God’s mercy triumphs.

This verse inspired the well-known hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960). Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky in a log cabin and became a teacher at age sixteen. He had a powerful to conversion to Christ at age twenty-seven during a revival. He served as a Methodist minister for one year before resigning due to poor health. In 1909 Chisholm began his career as a life insurance agent. In 1923, at age fifty-seven, Chisholm wrote this popular hymn.

This hymn describes God’s faithfulness being demonstrated in God’s character, (“There is no shadow of turning (or change) with thee…), in God’s creation, seen in the consistency of nature (“Summer and winter…”), and, ultimately, in God’s redemption, described in the third stanza which says,

Pardon for Sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

We cling to God’s faithfulness when it appears God has let us down– and especially when we have let God down.

If God’s mercies are present at times of our unfaithfulness, how much more will they be present when we recognize our failure and truly seek the Lord in humility and brokenness?!

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17 NIV).

When you’ve had a really bad day—do what we are called to do every other day: Trust God’s faithfulness not your own performance.

How Jesus (un)dressed for success

Nativity feetAt that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them (Luke 2:1-7 NLT).

How would you expect the Creator of the Universe to be clothed if and when entering this world?

Would you expect the first garment to be a robe of rags?

These were exchanged in later years for a single robe–a seamless one.  But that was stripped from him.

A jail suit– stripes and all–can you see your Lord in it? But he didn’t even get that…

He was stripped naked and publicly exposed.

For God’s sake (literally)–please understand–this is the essence of the incarnation:

Not merely a baby cooing,

But a naked man dying.

It’s not a comfortable picture.

It’s enough to break your heart–

Enough to break it open?

 

 

Jesus’ birth makes life now matter

Nativity scene

A number of years ago, I was at a dinner gathering with people from around our community. I knew most of them by reputation, but they were not involved in the congregation I served. Cathy, the woman sitting next to me said, “Do you mind if I ask you a theological question?”

“Not at all. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, both my parents recently died. I believe they are in heaven. As I was talking to my husband about heaven, I said that I felt ready to die. I don’t want to die now and leave my family, but I believe in the Lord. Then I thought: What is the point of life in this world anyway? I mean, there are many good things in our lives, but just what is the point of this life, especially if heaven is so great and glorious?”

John, our host, chimed in, “Life here is really great—but there’s also plenty of heartache. Why not go straight to eternity?”

These questions, though new to them, are ones many have asked silently in their hearts. In one sense, these are the Ecclesiastes questions. The Book of Ecclesiastes, normally attributed to Solomon, David’s heir and King of Israel whose wealth and power were beyond comparison, dives deeply into the the futility and never-quite-satisfying nature of life. Here are the opening words:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 New Living Translation)

Citing the cyclical nature of life, the endless repetition, the author asks, “What is the point of life when all that we do seems to add up to emptiness, vanity, and meaninglessness? Why do we keep going?”

To ask these questions is to penetrate to the meaning of life; to answer them is to grasp in a new way the very purpose of existence.

I think a partial reply is found in the verse, “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior…” (Luke 2:11)

Jesus came to show us that part of God’s grand purpose for us includes the fullest experience of life in this world to better prepare us for the fullness of life in glory!

Jesus’ birth gives meaning to history. Jesus’ life on this earth gives meaning to my story and yours. This earthly life is our way of connecting with God now and for eternity. A passage from Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), an Anglican chaplain, presents the heroic aspect of our living now by faith. He suggests that our living “by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) can inspire even the angels who have no experience of “faith” because they live now in God’s presence —what a fascinating thought! Robinson writes,

“If angels could envy, how they would envy us our splendid chance, to be able, in a world where everything unseen must be taken on sheer faith, in a world where the contest between the flesh and the spirit is being decided for the universe, not only to win the battle ourselves but also to win it for others! To help [another] up the mountain while you yourself are only just able to keep your foothold, to struggle through the mist together, that surely is better than to stand at the summit and beckon. You will have a hard time of it, I know; and I would like to make it smoother and to ‘let you down’ easier; but I am sure that God, who loves you even more than I do, and has absolute wisdom, will not tax you beyond your strength…” [quoted in John W. Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1986), 203-04].

Life is not just an exercise in waiting for heaven. Life now matters. Affirm the message of this quote, attributed to Irenaeus of Lyons (a second century church leader), “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God became flesh to validate as well as redeem life in this world. Live now.

 

Not a Chore! Seven Guidelines for Journaling

Blank Journal

Many people resist journaling because it feels like a chore, like an essay test, or like a duty they “should do.” I can’t tell you how many times people respond to my own testimony about journaling by saying, “I know I should journal, but I just can’t get into it.” I suggest we re-frame journaling as a valuable tool for paying attention to our inner lives, our souls. A journal is not a classroom assignment or a duty; it’s a powerful way to pay attention to your heart and mind.

A journal is more like a letter to God,

a way to focus in prayer,

a way to clear your head and process your thoughts.

A journal is like a great friend who listens on paper instead of in person.

A journal is “holy daydreaming” in ink.

A journal is a way of paying attention. Most of us lack the mental discipline to maintain focus on a consistent train of thought for a significant amount of time. Our thoughts wander, and we have to pull ourselves back to the subject time and again. Journaling keeps us engaged on a topic to the point where we gain new clarity and insight.

It takes a bit of practice to get over the “classroom syndrome” of thinking your journal has to meet a certain standard of excellence. There’s no one grading you. God especially isn’t interested in grades, any more than a parent would grade the spelling or grammar of a note from her kindergarten-age child. It’s all about the connection.

Let me get one thing out of the way: Should you use a computer or keep a notebook? I have read (though I cannot find the research reference—sorry) that there is a significant link between hand writing and heart connection. That intrigues me. I personally find the pace of writing by hand better matches the process of SoulShaping (my own word) than typing on a keyboard. I am quick to acknowledge, however, that the choice is yours. If you use a notebook, shy away from fancy leather-bound journals because they tend to make us think we’ve got be “neat and tidy” in our writing. And it’s often difficult to write in them because they don’t lie flat. I prefer an inexpensive spiral notebook with lined paper.

In previous posts I have written about the benefits of keeping a journal. Now I’d like to share some guidelines for journaling. There’s no right or wrong way to keep a journal.  The basic principle is: Does it help you better understand the Lord, yourself, and others?  Here are seven principles that can set you on the road to developing your own style:

Begin with a simple prayer.

My starting point is that my journal is a spiritual conversation with the Lord. Prayer affirms this at the outset. I use a simple prayer whenever I prepare to journal or to study or to work on a sermon, a blog or any other project. I open my hands, holding them palms up, and say, “Lord, give me what you want to give me in this time.” Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. The Lord searches our hearts and directs us to the most important matters.

Work with feelings and perceptions.

The journal should not be a chronicle of dates and events.  The insights come from paying attention to how you felt and what you perceived about events and situations.

Trust your own insights.

If they are wrong, that will become apparent in the process of writing.  A proper sense of independence and personal authority is healthy.  After all, who, besides the Holy Spirit, is a better authority on yourself than you?

Anything goes.

Be completely free in your journal.  Write it for your eyes only, not to impress someone who may someday read it.  It is private; no one is looking over your shoulder.  You’re free to go with God over the landscape of your soul: to trudge along, to skip, to run, to roll. Draw, tell your story, write poetry, jot down phrases, record quotes, make charts, delve into memories… use whatever captures your mood and mind in that moment.

Be honest.

Don’t fool yourself with pious talk; if you feel lousy, say it.  We are free to be honest because as someone said, “The One who knows me best, loves me most.”  In honesty, we will see both the light and dark sides of our souls.  The point is to accept them and take God with us as we explore them.

There is a natural tendency to what I call “spiraling.”

This is my own term for going over the same ground again and again. The center of the spiral, the issue, may be the same, but our understanding of it is continually deepening and progressing like the widening loops of a spiral.

Discipline yourself to write positively.

The aim of the journal is to generate the energy to be an overcomer.  State the facts, record your negative feelings honestly, but then seek out the promise.

The Book of Proverbs says,

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23).

Your journal is one of the most effective ways to guard your heart, to listen to the Lord, to pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit around you. Write on!

[Note that I have adapted these from an article I wrote called “Keeping A Personal Journal,” Leadership, Volume III, Number 1, Winter 1982, 156-57, and later published in my book SoulShaping: Taking Care of your spiritual life, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, pages 72-76].

A Servant Protests

Robert Greenleaf is credited with the term “servant leadership,” but I would say the concept goes back to countless examples in Scripture. Abraham showed servant leadership and humility when he allowed Lot to choose his portion of land (Genesis 13:8-9). Moses demonstrated servant leadership time and again when he made personal sacrifices and interceded for God’s people in the wilderness (Exodus 32:11-14). And David showed servant leadership in his valuing of his men (2 Samuel 23:13-17). But Jesus is The Model of servant leadership. Jesus’ example and teaching made it very clear that leadership is not about accruing power to the leader, but using whatever resources the leader has for the benefit of those in her or his care.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)

For those “outside” the leadership task, this may seem like a fairly straightforward paradigm. When a person tries to live into this servant calling, however, the cost becomes very clear.

I remember my own sense of call to ministry and saying to God, “O.K., Lord, I’ll serve you.” I hadn’t realized I expected to serve on my own terms.

When I protested the long hours, the Lord said, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. Time is not your’s to keep. Time is my gift to you. I promise you time enough for my work now and your Sabbath refreshment. Keep your heart focused on an eternity of joy.”

When I longed for rewards, the Lord smiled, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. The rewards I have for you are beyond comparison. You’re looking in the wrong place for them.”

When I asked for the pain to be removed, the Lord said, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. My service is to the human heart– a place of pain. You will feel the pain of those who are broken. That is the only way I can heal.”

When I complained because I felt so alone, the Lord said, “Alone? You are never alone. But if you’re wrapped up in yourself, you miss me. I am with you. Always. You don’t seem to take that very seriously. Believe! And I have given you my children, too. You’ll find they’re a lot like you.”

In the silence of the moment, I realized that the Master of the Universe was not a tyrant, but my Father. His only son rolled up his sleeves to sweat and serve among us. This Jesus was and is the Servant King to whom no nobility can compare.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

“O.K., Lord, I really do want to be your servant. It’s not easy for me. And I’ll probably start grumbling again. I’m not even sure I have what it takes. But, if you’ll have me, I’m yours.”

And I heard God’s gracious response, “I want you — now and forever. And remember, as you serve me, I serve you .”

Adapted from Douglas J. Rumford, What About Heaven and Hell, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000, p. 124.

 

Gollum and Necessary Companions

We all have people in our lives we’d like to avoid and be done with. But in doing so, we may miss something essential to our life and mission.

Gollum was a disgusting, dangerous and necessary companion for Frodo Baggins. If you’re not familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic novels of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a brief background will suffice. Tolkien’s epic work The Lord of the Rings, tells the story of evil power rising to tyrannize and exploit Middle Earth, controlled by The One Ring of Power. Thousands of years before the events of the novels, the Dark Lord Sauron had forged the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power and subdue those who wore them: the leaders of Men, Elves and Dwarves. Sauron was later vanquished in battle by an alliance of Elves and Men. The One Ruling Ring was lost in the River Anduin at Gladden Fields. Over two thousand years later, the ring was found by one of the river-folk called Déagol. His friend Sméagol (who was eventually called Gollum) immediately fell under the ring’s influence and strangled Déagol to acquire the Ring. Sméagol was banished and hid under the Misty Mountains. The power of the ring seduced Gollum, controlling him and making him a lesser being. One of the benefits of the ring was being invisible, which had great advantages for survival. The ring also extended his lifespan and transformed him over the course of hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature. Ironically, Gollum lost the ring, his “precious”, and, as recounted in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found it. Meanwhile, the Dark Lord Sauron re-assumed physical form and took back his old realm of Mordor. (Hang in there– I’m getting to my point…).

The hobbit Frodo Baggins inherited the ring from Bilbo Baggins, his first cousin (once removed) and guardian. Neither were aware of its origin and nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and old friend of Bilbo, suspected the ring’s identity. When Gandalf became certain, he knew the only way to destroy the Dark Lord and prevent the absolute corruption of Middle Earth was to keep Sauron from getting the ring. Gandalf strongly advised Frodo to destroy the ring by throwing it into the Cracks of Doom, the lava flow in the heart of Mt. Doom, where the all the rings were originally forged. Frodo agreed, and thus began an arduous and very dangerous quest.

Along the way Frodo was tracked and attacked several times by Gollum who was driven to get the ring back from Frodo. When Frodo had the opportunity to do away with Gollum, however, Frodo showed mercy. Instead of killing Gollum, Frodo made constructive use of Gollum’s knowledge and skills. Like David with King Saul, Frodo never took judgment into his own hands (see 1 Samuel 24:6-15 and 1 Samuel 26:1-25). The result (spoiler alert!) was that Gollum led Frodo to the Cracks of Doom and (there’s a lot more to this story!) the The One Ring of Power was destroyed. Middle Earth was saved.

We all have ambivalent relationships that we cannot avoid, trying as they are. I think of Jesus choosing Judas as one of the disciples and entrusting him with the group’s money (John 12:4-6). That decision takes us into serious contemplation on the nature of fellowship. Even among God’s people there are relationships in which we may feel devalued, undermined, put on the spot by competition and comparison, taken advantage of, taken for granted, and any number of other frustrations. And, to be candid, we often consider ways to avoid these relationships. The Gollum principle (perhaps we could call it the “Judas principle”…), however, sounds a note of caution. Maybe there is a redemptive purpose in the midst of this trying relationship. Gollum is that person who causes persistent irritation, but in the end plays an important, even essential, role.

Some time ago I made a list of my “Gollums.” I know this sounds terrible– but I had to be honest with myself as a discipline of confession and repentance. On reflection, I was able to name not only the “challenge(s)” those few people posed, but also the value they brought into my life. I do not claim I wanted to continue in those relationships. They are not friend-type folks for me. But I’ve learned that I am called to humility and patience, even when I think I have justification to change the relationship. They ended up helping me move along the journey.

We can all understand difficult, antagonistic relationships in the world. The sobering truth is that fellowship in the Body of Christ brings the us into community with those who would not choose to relate to us under other circumstances. It helps me to remember that I am to value and love all whom God calls. Knowing myself in all honesty, I am amazed at God’s love for me. And I sometimes I wonder whose Gollum I am.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord… 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.                  Romans 12:14-21 New International Version (NIV)

Being content when it doesn’t make sense

Even in the midst of dementia, my dad found contentment through God’s Word.

One of the saddest moments in my life was realizing my dad was suffering from dementia. The moment of that realization is another story. What stands out more than the sadness (and the fear that this dreaded condition may lie ahead for me), however, was a phrase my dad used frequently in the midst of his terrible confusion. He would often quote Philippians 4:11, King James Version, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Those words had a new depth of meaning coming from a man whose mind was betraying him.

It seems to me that contentment was, at some level beyond his compromised cognitive processes, dad’s defense against despair. This verse was the voice of his “inner coach” continually reminding him that God’s presence and care were his comfort and strength.

My experience with dad reinforced the fact that life-choices accumulate. The attitudes we nurture now will either help or hinder our adjustment to the challenges ahead. Beyond attitudes, our choice to soak, to marinate, in God’s Word reaches our hearts and minds in ways we may never fully appreciate. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (KJV). This verse has a broader application than keeping us from sin. God’s Word keeps us focused on the mind of Christ.

God’s Word had taken such deep root in my dad’s heart and spirit that even dementia couldn’t smother it. I realize this may not be a common experience for many in dementia, but it gives me hope– and a determination to continue to devote myself to hiding God’s Word in my heart.

I’m also cultivating contentment in a culture of discontent. Learning to be content today will pay rich dividends now and into the future.  Contentment appreciates what we have in life and in Christ. Contentment sees all things in the light of eternity. And above all, contentment trusts God’s wisdom and care, often in spite of appearances.

 

Tags dementia, Philippians 4:11 Psalms 119:11 1 Corinthians 2:16

Who do you really want to be?

I often remind myself that Jesus did not die on the cross so we could remain the same. Jesus died, rose from grave, ascended into heaven and is coming again in order to make us new creations who are living into that new life now and for eternity. Through faith in Christ, we are new creations.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 New Living Translation, NLT).

Is that true in your experience? Are the old ways changing? What does that new life look like? Another passage from 2 Corinthians makes a breath-taking assertion and affirmation:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 RSV).

The key to change is not simply knowing we “should” change, but firing up our emotional engagement to desire and seek change. That starts with vision. We are being changed “from one degree of glory to another!” Like Moses’ face when he experienced God’s presence (see Exodus 34:29-35). If you could really change things about yourself, what would you really like to change? If you could really experience a new way of thinking, speaking and behaving, what characteristics would be top on your list? Here’s the amazing promise of the gospel: God is actively pursuing change in us. This is not a DIY (do it yourself) project.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”  (Philippians 2:12-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV).

We often have vague ideas of the person we truly want to be, but don’t take time to get specific. When you begin to see the person you really want to be, you begin to move toward that vision. Start a list of the qualities you hope to develop, those characteristics you sense God the Holy Spirit wants to shape in you. I began a list for myself and eventually compiled it into this format. I call it “PICTURE A LIFE…”

Picture a life in which…
Joy carries you through the day,
and laughter comes as naturally as breathing.
You are not lured by that which would destroy you,
but are drawn to that which builds you up.
You can trust yourself–
having control over your thought and words,
over your responses and reactions.
You live above the distractions and deceptions of the world,
being a non-anxious, very real presence to others around you.
You have no need to hide.
You can look others in the eye, valuing them for themselves alone,
not for what they would give you.
You find courage to face every conflict honorably,
and strength to fulfill every responsibility faithfully.
You endure suffering with courage,
able to live with the questions.
You can admit when you are wrong:
You can say, “I’m sorry,” and begin again,
and are gentle with yourself,
renouncing the chains of shame, and self-condemnation.
You are connected to God who created you as you,
and are becoming all that God created you to be.
You are at peace in all circumstances,
celebrating God’s faithful provision in times of abundance,
trusting in quiet contentment in times of want.
You are free to serve others willingly,
without thought or need for thanks.
You have the freedom to live for an audience of One.

Picture such a life–
For it is meant to be yours.

(Copyright, Dr. Douglas J. Rumford, SoulShaping: Taking Care Of Your Spiritual Life, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, pp. 60-61)

Energy comes from holy imagination. Hope comes from seeing that change is possible. Jesus Christ died so that he, by the power of God at work within us, could transform us into daughters and sons of God who live in freedom and joy, who serve in power and grace. Work in us, Lord!