The Horn

That horn, which I thought was a warning to the other driver

—sounded a warning to me.

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Photo by Nathan Lindahl from Unsplash.com

I am really embarrassed—make that more like ashamed—to share this. But here goes. When describing the mistakes of God’s people in the past, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that these things “were written as warnings for us” not to do as they did. Here’s your warning.

We live in a fairly “old,” by California standards, development that is situated right at the beginning of a road that serves as the main thoroughfare for several large, newer developments. The resultant traffic is insane—especially in the morning rush. There are very few school bus routes in our area anymore, so it’s a parent-student taxi brigade.

The entrance to our development is the last traffic light for those leaving these newer subdivisions before opening on the major roads. There’s a lot of drama every morning at our traffic light because only one lane turns left and everybody wants into that lane (hang in there, there’s a point to this).

One morning I turned onto that road and was stopped for the red light for the main road. The light turned green and as I started forward a guy started to cut right in front of me. He’d been in the far right lane, passing all the law-abiding drivers patiently waiting in the left turn lane. Now he expected to cut in front of me. Here’s the shameful thing: I laid on the horn and kept him stuck, blocking the right lane. He glared at me and waved… well, I guess it wasn’t exactly a wave…. And kept edging in. Since our cars’ paint colors didn’t match I finally yielded—not the “right-of-way,” but the “wrong-of-way.” Again he “waved.”

Wow… What just happened? I was ashamed to see that—in an instant—I could still get so angry, be so reactive and be so careless. Road rage—I had it! That horn, which I thought was a warning to the other driver—sounded a warning to me.

I’ve come to realize driving is soul stuff. How I feel about control, about my rights, my convenience, my sense of justice and fairness, my right of way—and how I am so wrong-of-way too often.

And I’m reminded nearly every morning when I hear the horns from my house. But you won’t hear mine again.

Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.                                   Proverbs 15:18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.                                                              Proverbs 19:11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Cool Guy?

How do you share your faith when it’s just not cool?

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Photo by Aaron Burden from Unsplash.com

I don’t think I’ve ever been thought of as a “cool guy”—you know, the nonchalant, everybody-probably-wishes-they-were-me kind of guy. If you remember the TV show, Happy Days, I was never, ever like “The Fonz” (Henry Winkler). I’ve always been more like Richie (Ron Howard). In fact, when my senior class in high school was voting on senior class personalities—you know, “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Greatest Hair,” “Most Popular”—I was voted “Most Responsible.” I didn’t even know they had such a category. And believe me, it didn’t feel cool.

Danny was cool. Effortlessly cool. Like he didn’t need anybody, but was surrounded by people who wanted to be with him. Yeah—I found myself wondering what it would be like to be like Danny.

One evening a friend and I went to see Danny because he wasn’t coming to youth group and church activities any longer. Danny invited us in and took us to his back patio. Then he lit up a cigarette, took a deep draw on it, blew out the smoke and asked, “So what’s on your minds?”

It’s cool to be direct—not threatened by anything.

“Well, we’ve missed you at church and just wanted to reconnect.”

“That’s cool, but I’m not into church stuff anymore. It’s just not where I’m at. Too many hypocrites.” He knocked the ashes off his cigarette onto the knee of his jeans and rubbed them into the fabric. (I obviously would never make the shift from most responsible to cool if I had to act like Danny).

“You’re right,” I responded.

His eyebrows rose above his round, wire-rim glasses. “I am?” he said with surprise.

“Yeah, the church is all messed up. Too many people go just to be seen, or to try to be sure they are on God’s good side. That’s garbage. But what about Jesus? What do you think about Jesus?”

“Jesus….” Long, long pause, “Jesus. I guess he’s cool.”

That opened the door to a couple of hours of conversation. Danny smoked more than a few cigarettes as we discussed the Bible, science and evolution, Jesus’ humanity and divinity, death and resurrection, and I can’t remember what else. We covered a lot of ground. And it was not because we pushed, but because he kept asking.

“Hey, Danny, we should be going. Thanks for giving us this time. Before we go, do you want to pray with us?”

Up went the eyebrows!

“Pray with you?? Nah… I’m not into that.”

“Well, after all we’ve talked about, we just wondered if you wanted to take the next step and commit or recommit your life to Christ…”

He just shook his head, “Don’t take this wrong, guys, but I’m not ready for anything like that.”

“No problem. We really enjoyed getting connected again. See you sometime.”

When we got in the car, I couldn’t help myself, “I doubt if we’ll ever see Danny in church again.”

Fast forward 5 years. I had been married for over a year and was just getting ready to leave for seminary. Sarah and I were at my home church in the worship service. When we stood to sing, this guy I didn’t recognize glanced back our way. He did it several times during the service. Like he knew Sarah or me. After the service, he came directly up to us and looked right at me through his wire-rim glasses.

“Are you Doug Rumford?”

“Yes,” but I couldn’t place this clean-cut, suit-wearing guy.

“I’m Danny. Man, I’ve been praying I would see you!”

“Wait. What? You’re DANNY?? Smoking-on-your-porch, rubbing-cigarette-ashes-into-your-jeans Danny?”

He laughed, “Yeah—so you remember me? I gave you quite a hard time that day.”

“It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

“Me neither. That’s why I’ve been praying to see you. Six months ago I prayed to receive Jesus Christ into my life as Lord and Savior. After that prayer, the man who was sharing with me asked, ‘Danny, how many people helped you get to this place of commitment? Who was the first person you remember sharing with you?’ I told him it was you, Doug. He said, ‘Then start praying you can see Doug and tell him—and everyone else who shared with you, too. It will be a great encouragement and joy to them.’ So I’ve been praying—and here you are. Thank you!”

He gave me a huge hug. Tears were rolling down both our cheeks.

“I’m sorry I was such a jerk. That wasn’t cool,” Danny said. “But Doug, you were so cool to reach out to me.”

I was cool. I was cool?… So that’s what it really means! Now I get it!

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 New International Version NIV).

Strength Comes With The Doing

“Be wise at what is good…” Romans 16:19

God deepens our experience of faith through our action.

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Photo by Jason Briscoe from Unsplash.com

Many of us don’t try something because, at that time, we don’t feel strong enough, wise enough, talented enough, or just-about-anything enough. So we wait—and miss so many opportunities. Life opens up for us when we learn that strength doesn’t come before we begin a task. Strength actually comes with the doing of the task.

Think about exercise: It seems foolish to say it, but you cannot wait until you “get strong” to begin to exercise. Strength is the product of exercise. And it’s important to realize progress in physical exercise is not noticeable immediately. At first, we will feel tired. And then things will change. According to Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., author of Aerobics, after about six weeks of consistent effort a series of changes happen “all at once” in the body.

In my book, SoulShaping: Taking Care of your Spiritual Life, I tell one of the most famous and amusing experiments demonstrating this. A researcher in exercise and human physiology set a weight on the floor, tied a rope to it, ran the rope over a pulley fastened to the edge of a table, then sat on the other side of the table and looped the rope over the middle finger of his right hand. Then, in time to a metronome, he began lifting the weight. The first time and for many weeks thereafter, the best he could do was 25 lifts before his finger became fatigued. To expand the experiment, he had a mechanic in the building lift the weight occasionally, in the same manner, and the mechanic always beat him. One day, about two months later, the researcher began his usual lifts, but found his finger wasn’t tired at 25. He kept going and ultimately reached 100. He suspected what had happened, and brought the experiment to a rather unorthodox conclusion. He invited the mechanic in again and made a small bet that he could best him. The mechanic accepted—and lost.

What the researcher suspected was the vascularization of his finger muscles–more blood vessels had opened up, creating new routes for delivering more oxygen. What was most interesting was that they apparently didn’t open up one at a time but a network at a time. Physiologists call this “the training effect.”

Athletes report similar “plateaus of progress,” improving not only day by day, but in quantum jumps. This vascularization is the most essential factor in building endurance. It reduces fatigue in the skeletal muscles, saturating the tissue with oxygen and carrying away more wastes. It is a vital factor in the health of the heart, the most important muscle of all.  More or larger blood vessels supplying the heart tissue with energy-producing oxygen considerably reduce the chances of any cardiac failure.  And even if a heart attack were to occur, the improved blood supply would help to keep the surrounding tissue healthy and improve chances for a speedy recovery.

Consider an analogy in the spiritual realm. Spiritual experience shows a similar correlation to physical conditioning.  After sustained discipline, our spiritual lives respond and deepen with increased vitality and sensitivity to God’s presence and direction. Likewise, when we step out in faith, only then do we experience the reality of faith. When we make a commitment to sacrificial giving or to serving or to regular discipleship—only then do our hopes turn into reality.

For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Here’s the principle: Strength comes with the doing. If no demand is made, no strength is supplied! Paul wrote,

“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 New English Translation).

If you want to experience spiritual vitality, put yourself in a place where a demand is made upon you. Bring Jesus Christ into your conversation. Say yes to mentoring a child or young person who has just begun walking with Jesus. Reach out to a neighbor in need. Pray with a person for a problem they have.

When we step out in faith, our faith grows. When we step out, we will be amazed at our experience of God’s presence. It may not–in fact usually does not–come in a dramatic way. It may not happen all at once– remember the training effect. But there will be a sense of peace and confidence that you’ve done the right thing, and God is pleased.

Achieving strength and competence takes time. But that time brings a huge return on investment.

“Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).

 

Stop, Look and Listen

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner

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Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.  Photo by Austin Schmid (from Unsplash.com)

Cues and clues to life’s deeper meaning and purpose surround us in every moment. But it’s so easy to miss them. Human experience can be rich beyond comparison, but many of us settle for a spiritually impoverished existence. Every moment gives the opportunity to learn, to say thank you, to pray, to reach out and to reach in—if we will learn to see these. There is so much to explore, to understand, to consider that it can be overwhelming. To make the most of it we need to be equipped with an expectant attitude, trained with tools for mining the moments, and discipled by models that instruct and inspire us. That is the purpose of this blog. It is a spiritual journal for maximizing our experience of God in everyday life.

The starting point is to see the spiritual application of a lesson we learned from the earliest age about traffic safety: Stop, Look and Listen.

Stop

I love to travel and explore. I’ve visited over 25 countries for ministry and/ or vacation and have more on my list. And I’m even more fascinated by the inner geography of the heart and mind, what someone has called (I cannot find who), “the continents within us.” That’s why it is important to make time for exploring your inner life. Make space for God. I can think of nothing more essential for the cultivation of a rich, full experience of life. People pile up experiences but often fail to savor those experiences. When we stop, we pay attention. We give ourselves the gift of ceasing activity so we can explore the layers of life.

Have you ever been in the middle of an activity and suddenly realized: This is really special? It’s happened to me at family gatherings, in worship services, in meetings with special people, and in simple times of joy. Stopping may be for just a moment, or it may be at the end of a day—but learn how to take time to reflect.

I think this is especially important for parents. We live in a day when parents are very intentional about setting their children up for success. From preschool on, parents want to get the best teachers for their children and to involve their children in sports and clubs that will provide the best platforms for future progress. But what about a child’s inner life? What about a child’s soul? There are very, very few opportunities outside of a vital church fellowship where a child’s inner life can be nurtured. A starting point is helping them stop and ask questions like: Where is God in this moment? What am I thankful for right now? What am I learning right now—about God, myself, others, and the world around me? Where do I need help? Jesus takes the lives of our children very seriously. Jesus said, “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me” (Matthew 18:5, New Living Translation). I am so thankful for those who welcome children and help them stop so they can learn about God’s love and care.

Look

Stopping does not mean the cessation of activity. It means a change of focus. That’s where our next step, “Look,” comes in. We make time to pay attention. Make time to look around; make time to look within. What am I feeling and thinking right now? Why am I reacting or responding in a particular way?

I am fascinated by black and white photographs. Of course there are wonderful color photographs and images. But there’s something also mesmerizing about black and white images. The work of Ansel Adams comes to mind. Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph; you make it.” He also said, “There are always two people in every photograph: the photographer and the viewer.”

In other words, we bring something to the photograph. That’s true of every experience we have. Life doesn’t happen around us. Life happens in us. And this is all the more important when we embrace the belief that we are spiritual-physical beings, created in God’s image to experience life as God’s special creations. As Psalm 8 says:

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
   the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
   human beings that you should care for them?
5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God
   and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made,
   putting all things under their authority.

Psalm 8:3-6, New Living Translation

When we look, we take time to allow an image to form in our hearts and minds. We have the privilege of “freezing a moment” so that it can live on in a very special way. I have kept a spiritual journal for over 45 years. Each journal entry is like a photograph of my heart and mind and life at that moment. When I go back to read past entries (which is often called “harvesting” your journal), it’s like I’m back in the moment. And the practice of journaling has trained me to capture moments in nearly every day.

Listen

Even as we use multiple senses for traffic safety, we also use multiple means for spiritual vitality. I began this piece with a quote from Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books. He took a position as school minister at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire instituting a new, full-time religion department at the one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States. After nine years, he moved full-time to his farm on Rupert Mountain, Vermont. Here’s the full quote about listening to life.

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…. If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. [Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (Harper SanFranciso, 1992), citing Now and Then, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, pages 92, 87].

Buechner activates all the senses in bringing depth, fullness, richness to life’s moments. And, above all, we are always listening for grace, for that sense of God’s loving presence in the present.

I invite you to join me as I write this spiritual journal for maximizing our experience of God and our inner selves in everyday life. My goal is to equip us with an expectant attitude, train us with practical tools for mining the moments, and disciple us by providing models that instruct and inspire us.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Ephesians 3:20 New Living Translation