Be Kind

Kindness is defined a number of ways, depending on the one that receives that kindness.  I think an adequate summary might be: showing gentleness, helpfulness and consideration through our words and actions.

Kindness seems to be a rare commodity these days.  In an increasingly coarse culture, the exchange of ideas has come to resemble the volley of weapons on the battlefield.  It is my observation that battle lines are quickly drawn and attacks ensue, no matter the importance of the issue.  Offense and misunderstandings increase in this environment, because we are all too often loaded for bear when we approach any conversation…even among friends.

Friends.  That brings to mind Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  Insulated behind our screens and keyboards, we will often carry our arguments much farther than we may have intended, resorting to personal attacks and ad hominem arguments rather than having an adult discussion of the facts and our positions.

So, what are “we” to do.  By “we,” I am specifically addressing the one who is reading this who would identify herself as a believer in Jesus, seeking to allow His Lordship to be expressed in all areas of life.  I suggest four thoughts that should guide us in every discourse.  To make them memorable, I have followed the K-I-N-D acrostic to form my outline.

Kingdom – As Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  In all things, including our conversations, we are instructed to “seek first His Kingdom AND righteousness.”  There is often a large gulf between being “right” and being “righteous.”  If my being “right” is or has become more important than my relationship with God, first of all, and my sister, friend…even my enemy, I need to correct my course.  Kingdom citizens love, even our “enemies.”

Intent – What is my intent in this conversation or action?  Is love my motive?  Am I being moved by my emotional investment in this issue, or the good of the other person or people involved?  Am I seeking God’s glory?  I am finding that when I begin to examine my motive and intentions, I will be much more constructive in my conversations and actions.  How about you?

Necessary – Quite simply, some things are not even worth argument or conflict.  The old adage, “Choose your battles,” can save so much heartache, stress and time.  I have friends on Facebook who have way too much time on their hands for arguments over “non-essentials.”  I do realize that labeling something non-essential is a bit subjective, BUT, simply taking the time to ask myself the question, “Is it necessary for me to insert myself or my opinion here?” can be the difference in becoming a stumbling block to others.

Define – A thoughtful college professor of mine used to say, “Words don’t have meanings, people do.”  It’s a bit of a twist, I know, but taking the time to give definition to a person can create an environment for meaningful interaction.  I may totally disagree with someone, including their positions on issues and even lifestyle, and still have a positive relationship with them.  In Romans 12:18, Paul says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.”

You may notice something, here.  All the responsibility for a KIND environment of interaction depends on me.  I cannot control anyone but myself.  If I am showing kindness and genuine communication fails, I can excuse myself, with kindness, and walk away with a clear conscience and peace within.  It’s a miserable day when I’ve failed to be kind and am nagged by those “I really should have said…I really should have done…” thoughts.

In the end, kindness wins, every time.  Have you found this to be true?  I’d love to know your thoughts or hear your story about the power of kindness.

 

It’s Complicated…

If you use Facebook, you’ve probably seen the relationship status: It’s Complicated.  This can mean many things to many people.  It’s obscure.  It’s mysterious.  It’s, well, complicated.

Such is life, isn’t it?  BUT…does it have to be so.  Sure, there are complications in our lives that are out of our control.  However, the majority of the complications of our lives are our own doing.  We make decisions, every day, that will either simplify our lives or complicate them further.

the majority of the complications of our lives are our own doing. We make decisions, every day, that will either simplify our lives or complicate them further. Click To Tweet

Our Western culture has, for a long time, been invested in the idea that our security comes through our abundance of possessions.  Even within the Church, there is a cultural expression of this, commonly called the “prosperity gospel,” that teaches the evidence of genuine faith can be equated with abundant wealth (and health).  Happiness has been equated with material abundance.

The sad fact is, we have bought this line.  We have begun to describe ourselves as “blessed” when we increase our material wealth in some way.  When we get a new job or promotion, God has “blessed” us.  When we buy a new house or a new car, we post to social media thanking God for His “blessing.”  We often describe those who have attained material wealth as “blessed” by God.

AND so it goes.  We find our happiness and security in our ability to attain material wealth and surround ourselves with material things, blind to the fact that we have submitted ourselves to a culture of idolatry.

Our relationship with our material possessions becomes increasingly complicated.  The very things we have accumulated to serve us turn the tables on us and we serve them, instead.  As we become increasingly invested in our stuff, our freedom to find fulfillment in our intimacy with Jesus often decreases.

Keith Drury says,

Like a tiny drop of poison added to our coffee each day, materialism slowly poisons the soul.

 There is a simpler path…a road less traveled.  It is the path of simplicity.

There is a growing movement in our nation, especially among young people, to reject the rampant materialism of our culture and get back to basics.  The tiny house movement is one such expression of this.  There is a rejection of the premise that bigger is better and homes that are well below the average 2,700 square feet (new construction) are being built across the country.  In fact, the average “tiny” house is less that 500 square feet, with many below 200 square feet of living space.

There are a number of reasons people seek a simpler life, rejecting the pursuit of material wealth.  I’m not talking about those who are purely motivated by some altruistic need to use less.  I’m talking about those who have determined to change their focus from seeking the material for security and satisfaction and seeking that security and satisfaction in God.

There is a classic scripture that addresses this.  It is found in Matthew 6:24-34.  I don’t believe for a minute that Jesus is condemning material possessions, or the attainment of them.  He is ultimately addressing an attitude of the heart toward them.

  • You cannot serve both God and money.
  • Do not worry about the provisions of life (food, water, clothing).
  • Do not find security in your accumulation of material things.
  • Your priority MUST be the kingdom of God, a right relationship with Him and with your neighbor, and you will see that God has provided and will provide.

That’s my summary of Jesus teaching here.  You may find holes in it.  You may have additions.  Feel free to share them in the comments.

Here are three SIMPLE steps to begin practicing simplicity:

  1. Downsize – take an honest assessment of your possessions.  Why do you have that collection?  How useful are those things that remain in boxes from your last move?  What about those tools you haven’t used in a year or two?  Have a garage sale and give the money to your church or a favorite charity…or, an individual who is struggling.  Give those things away that are collecting dust.
  2. Say NO to spending – Obviously, there are necessities on which we must spend money.  What about that “disposable” income?  Have you thought that it might be a better investment of those resources God has given to actually do some good rather than satisfy your wants or horde for some future that may or may not come?
  3. Deny yourself, daily – It could be as simple as not purchasing that expensive cup of coffee or daily sweet treat with a plan to increase your giving by the same amount you save by doing so.  Who knows?  The possibilities are numerous.

So…what do you plan to do, this week, to begin a practice of simplicity in your own life?

 

 

Overwhelmed with silence?

Last night, following our small group time, I loaded into the car with three of my children, as usual.  There was much small talk about the night.

One of my children, who shall remain nameless, spoke up about what they had learned about the discipline of silence.

Child: “Dad (insert awkward silence here) it would be hard to be silent for an entire day, wouldn’t it?”

Me: “Yes, that’s why it’s better to start off with small doses of silence.  Start with a few minutes…then an hour…work your way up to longer periods of time.”

Child: “OK”

I celebrated another win within my mind.  I had connected on a spiritual level.  I had contributed to the growth of my child.  I couldn’t wait to sit back and watch things happen.

This morning, I had returned home from the office to take care of a couple of things at home.  My wife says, “(The Child Who Shall Remain Nameless) has given up on being silent.  It’s too hard.”

Did you hear that sound of deflation?

Application of a new discipline can be overwhelming.  Silence is a tough discipline, particularly for a child who likes to fill every void with words 🙂  I’ve written about the need for Making Space for God in a Really Loud World and the difficulties in doing so.  That’s why we need to take baby steps in new directions.  Here are three that will help you along in silence.

Start Small

It’s called  baby step, for good reason.  For some of us, spending fifteen minutes in silence is a major victory.  Determine to spend that fifteen minutes of silence this week.  Master it.  Then, next week, add five minutes.  Not only is an incremental increase effective, it will help you establish the habit over time.

Have a Plan

Plan the when, where and how you will spend your time in silence before God.  Timing and location are an important aspect of this discipline.  Silence and Solitude often go hand in hand (I’m talking about that, Sunday), so you may need to find a location that puts you away from your normal routine (or people).  Set an appointment and keep it.  Arrange other commitments around that appointment.  This is important time, often more important than any busy work you may have on your calendar.

Expect Interruptions

Interruptions take various forms.  Mine are my thoughts.  It’s difficult for me to not become distracted with thoughts about my day, the upcoming week, etc.  Even now, while writing this, I’m thinking about my plans for the evening and the things I need to do in preparation for those plans.  Expect it.  Don’t allow it to frustrate you.  Have a favorite verse of scripture to read silently to yourself, or, better yet, have some memorized to quote to yourself, silently.  Allow the Word to permeate your thoughts and silence the other voices.  With practice, silence will come easier.

Don’t give up

Frustrations may arise.  Plans may need to be changed.  Find your groove.  Remember, this is a means of GRACE.  Allow that to bring you comfort and encouragement in the struggle.  Commit the time to Jesus.

How are you planning to seek silence, this week?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share it in the comments.  It’s a great opportunity to brag on Jesus and encourage others along the way!

Finding Space for God in a Really Loud World

Raucous.

Boisterous.

Booming.

Thundering.

Obstreperous.

They’re all synonymous for REALLY LOUD.

I have experience in really loud.  I have seven kids from age four to twenty.  There is much shouting, laughing, banging, hooping and hollering around my house.  I like it that way, most of the time.

Last night, after a long day of obstreperous activity (see what I did there?), my wife was looking a little worse for wear.  She needed some time away.  I said, “Let’s take a drive, get you a late-night snack and have some quiet time.”  She turned to me, as we headed down the road, and asked, “I’m not a bad mom to need some quiet time, am I?”

That simple question strikes at the heart of our problem with silence and solitude.  We often feel guilty for getting away.  We often feel uncomfortable for seeking peace and quiet.

There’s so much to be done.

There’s so much to be said.

There’s so much…

I’m reminded of a passage in the Bible.  In Mark 6, we see an enormous amount of activity…what could be compared to a storm of activity, surrounding Jesus and the disciples.  Here, in the midst of His preaching and the working of miracles, a RAUCOUS crowd was constantly nipping at His heals.  The demands were great.  Then in Mark 6:31, we read:

He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). NET

The disciples had just returned from a missionary journey, of sorts.  They were excited about what they had witnessed God doing through them.  The crowd, whipped into a frenzy by the preaching and miracles of Jesus, were oppressive and demanding.

There was so much to be said and done.

Jesus said, “Let’s get away and rest.”

There are numerous examples in the gospels, when Jesus is said to have sought silence and solitude.  There were early mornings and late nights.  There were times of popularity and times of persecution.  It seems that any time was the appropriate time for Jesus to get away, rest and pray.

Why do we find it so hard?

In a recent small group discussion, a comment was made that went something like this, “When I take time to get away and rest, I almost feel lazy and unproductive.”

Eugene Peterson, in an article titled, “The Unbusy Pastor” has this to say about our society’s attitude about busyness:

I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance. I want to be important, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance and my vanity is fed. The busier I am, the more important I am.

Could it be, that we are incorrectly convinced that our worth is found in our busyness?

Pastor, don’t you think we should be busy doing the work of the Lord?  Building the Kingdom?  Serving Him by serving others?

Therein lies the trap.

I’m reminded of another story, when Jesus was visiting the house of Mary and Martha.  Martha was busy, buzzing about, preparing food, serving…and boiling within that Mary was not helping.  She asked, “Jesus, don’t you care that Mary has left me to do all the work alone?” (Luke 10:40)  You see, Mary had chosen instead to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen and spend time with him, rather than joining in the labor of the day.  Jesus answered her:

10:41 “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, 10:42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 – NET)

Jesus was busy.

Jesus was in demand.

Jesus was important.

Jesus took time to seek space for the Father in a very loud world.

Why should our practice be any different?

Silence and Solitude were a necessity for Jesus.

AND, yes, silence and solitude are a necessity for us.

No, Marjorie, you are not a bad mom to need some quiet time.  You’re a better mom because you take some time away.

How do you make space for God, in silence and solitude, in a very loud world?  Share in the comments.

 

 

 

Experience the Power to Change

You may know that we recently moved into a house with three bedrooms.  Then again, you may not have known that.  Well, three bedrooms for a family of NINE, just doesn’t work.  Do the math, if you want, but I assure you, it doesn’t.  Are we crazy?  No.  We had a plan.  The house had a garage.  There was enough space there to add two bedrooms, a play room and a laundry.  So, that’s what we are doing.  As is the case with most remodel projects, there is electrical work to be done.  There are circuits to be added, wiring to be run, receptacles and switches to be installed, lighting…you get the picture.

Wait…

What does this have to do with a desire to get spiritual?

Be patient…that was all background.  Here’s the illustration.

Once the “work” is done…the installation is complete.  The power is ON.  The rooms remain dark, until a switch is tripped, clicked, flipped…whatever term you want to use to describe it.  Did you get that?  The “work is DONE.”  The power is available.  Still…a switch must be flipped.

As a body, we are starting a journey, this week, down a well-worn path.  Many have gone before us, having become dissatisfied with their present experience with God.  These who have gone before us have “discovered” that there are habits or disciplines that make an enormous difference in their experience of intimacy with God.  Jesus, Himself, devoted time to prayer, fasting, silence, simplicity, isolation…paving the way for those who would follow Him.

Spiritual disciplines, then, like the switch, completes the circuit, opening the path through which that grace flows. These are paths that God has chosen. Click To Tweet

Why?  If we are made alive in Christ by grace, made holy by grace, then why invest ourselves in disciplines to draw closer to God?  Remember the switch that opens the circuit that supplies the power to the light?  That switch “allows” the power to flow.  It doesn’t supply the power.  It opens the path through which the power flows.  The same is true of spiritual disciplines.  God has provided all things necessary for life and godliness.  By His grace, every need is supplied.  Spiritual disciplines, then, like the switch completes the circuit, open the path through which that grace flows.  These are paths that God has chosen.

I cannot describe how happy it made me to flick that switch for the first time and see the lights come on.  It was a “let there be light…and there was light moment.”  In the same way, it is difficult to describe, at times, the wonder of intimacy with God in those times of genuine connection through His word, prayer, silence, etc.  It is, truly, something you MUST experience for yourself.

Are you ready?  The installation is complete.  The power is ON.  Let’s flip the switch, together.

spiritual discipinespj quote

 

Fuel for the Journey

A friend recently asked me, “What would be your ideal vacation?” I leaned back and thought for a minute, remembering my wife and I spending 6 wonderful days in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, celebrating 20 years of wedded bliss. I thought of the week-long road-trip we took with our oldest son, celebrating his home-school graduation. Then, this popped out of my mouth, “One that would never end.” We both laughed. My friend’s question got me thinking. Whether it be a long road-trip, a cross-country journey on the train or the bus, or a trip “across the pond” by plane, there is a common need…fuel. Even a stay-cation, made popular because of the rising price of said fuel, needs, well, fuel.
The same is true for our spiritual journey. Getting from our personal starting point to God’s desired destination must be fueled by something. I’d like to make a few observations and practical suggestions about how that happens.

First, this journey is fueled by grace.  I know this may seem obvious to many but it gets lost in the shuffle, at times.  Any discussion about spiritual growth must begin with an important caveat that this all begins and ends with God.  God initiates this relationship and it is He that is faithful to bring to completion what he has started in us.  Scripture demonstrates this.  In the midst of a discussion by Paul about his ministry and that of Apollos, is found in 1 Corinthians 3.  He says there, “I planted.  Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow”  (3:6 NET).  In general, Paul is hoping we understand that he and Apollos were being used by God to facilitate the growth of the church and, therefore, the believers in Corinth.  Specifically, I think we find a principle here that there are things we can and MUST do to facilitate our growth.  That being said, it is “growth in grace,” because we can plant and water, but God causes the growth.

Second, this journey is fueled by spiritual disciplines.  Yeah…I know, that is a combination of two words that can be seen as merely boring watchwords of religious practice.  BUT, they are so much more.  Keith Drury divides these into three basic categories: disciplines of abstinence, disciplines of action and disciplines of association.  Fasting (giving up meals to pray), solitude (getting alone to hear from God), and simplicity (purchasing only the necessary or living sacrificially) are examples of abstinence.  Scripture (reading the Word of God, hearing God’s voice, and applying it), Prayer (bringing your private praise and petition to God), and Penance (doing restitution for wrongs by making them right are examples of action.  Community (connecting with others in a smaller group of sharing, caring and learning), Testimony (hearing or giving a witness to God’s work in the soul of an individual), Eucharist (participating in the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace).  It’s important to notice that some disciplines are private or individual disciplines.  Others are corporate.  The private, individualistic journey of faith is almost foreign to the Bible.  This walk is meant to take place in community.  We are bound together, in unity, through faith and practice.

Third, this journey is fueled by accountability.  Every Paul needs a Barnabas.  Every Timothy needs a Paul.  There are a number of people, over the years, who have proposed some form of what I’m talking about here.  It’s about a growing mentoring relationship.  It’s about accountability and encouragement that only happens on purpose.  There are numerous facets to this relationship that cannot be described here.  In our recent SoulShift study, David Drury writes, “You need to hear someone else and be heard by someone else – someone who can really know what you mean, someone to whom you can relate, someone who can even call you out from time to time, someone who might be able to tell when you’re exaggerating or leaving key parts out of the story, someone who has been tempted in ways you’ve been tempted…you need a key convo (conversation) in order to shift yourself forward spiritually” (David Drury and Steve DeNeff, SoulShift: The Measure of a Life Transformed, pg. 155).

A few years ago, my wife called me, “James…I don’t know what’s wrong with the car.  I barely made it over a couple of hills and now, it just shut down.  I was just able to coast it off the highway.  Come help.”  I found her, and my son, sitting in the vehicle a few minutes later.  I got into the driver seat, turned the key…the fuel gauge was below EMPTY.  Yep…she’d run out of fuel.  You may find yourself running on fumes, today, spiritually, barely making it over the hills you are climbing.  You may even be, like my wife, distracted and hurrying through life…BAM, you are out of fuel.  The good news is: you don’t have to remain so.  God has provided all things necessary for life and godliness.  Lean into Him.  Begin to develop a spiritual discipline or two.  Find someone to link arms and walk this journey, together.  Find a community of faith.  It doesn’t have to be the best, the brightest, the latest or the coolest.  Get plugged in, connected, engaged…and grow, bearing fruit and glorify your Father.

Amen.

Arriving: An Advent Journey – Day 5

Arriving advent

3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 3:9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 3:10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 3:11 And the Lord God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 3:12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” 3:13 So the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman replied, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

3:14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you above all the wild beasts

and all the living creatures of the field!

On your belly you will crawl

and dust you will eat all the days of your life.

3:15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman

and between your offspring and her offspring;

her offspring will attack your head,

and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”

-Genesis 3:8-15

 

I have come to call it the greatest question of grace.  There within this tragic story of humanity’s sin, is God asking, “Where are you?”   He could have responded in so many ways and all of them would be justified.  He could have chosen to reject, hide himself or destroy them on the spot. But, there He is, seeking His broken and rebellious children, those He created to be in unbroken fellowship with Him, yet, they hide in fear of His coming.

This coming and seeking narrative that begins here, continues through the rest of the Bible.  Sin has its consequences.  That is made abundantly plain, here.  There is brokenness and shame. There is hostility and curse.  There is alienation from God and lostness.  Yet, again, we here that grace-filled question, “Where are you?”

Brian D. Russell comments, “It is truly good news because God continues to desire relationship despite humanity’s disobedience.  This is the heart of the gospel and its first echo.  God will work from Genesis 3 forward to bring reconciliation and wholeness to humanity.”

Jesus Himself said, “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)  As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the incarnation, God’s coming to His creation, in flesh, let’s commit ourselves to being found faithful.

I don’t want to be found hiding in the hedges and thorns of my sin.  I want to be standing in the path, excited to walk with the Lord of all creation.  So, I will stand, according to His grace and mercy, depending upon the God of my salvation and that reconciliation that has come in Jesus.

Will you stand with me?