Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

Practice? I don’t need no stinkin practice

March 2, 2016

Daddy wrote to me, “Can’t you just send a badge (to referee)? She knows the rules better than anyone. She’s just too busy to come to a class.”

She took one class at 15 years old. I’ll guarantee you that she’d be lucky to get an 80 on a closed book exam of the Laws of the Game. (We don’t have “rules” in FIFA based soccer; we have laws. Except of course for the ex-president of FIFA who thought that both rules and laws were for other people.)

I’ve been the point person for referees in western Ohio for almost 30 years. I hear this several times every year. Worse, I’ll get 50 emails a year from parents–at least. I trust the kid to go out and referee a match, yet he/she cannot communicate with me. Daddy or Mommy must do it.

How am I supposed to help the kids grow up when they have parents like that?

I have one referee who is almost 20 (actually, I have four come to think of it) who still have difficulty with responsibility and commitment after having “helicopter” parents.

Talking with a piano teacher today. She says kids will drop the class (parent calls, of course)  for the slightest whim. Five minutes before class. The teacher is paid by the class. Now she has an unpaid void in the calendar.

Practices help us compete better, perform better, learn better.

Spiritual practices, done in the proper attitude, bring us closer to God. It’s no different than soccer or piano. We must discipline ourselves to stay with it. To learn the basics and then the advanced.

There is no shortcut to life in the Spirit. We must be open while we practice and learn to live every day.

What Are We Seeking

January 6, 2016

Do you have a “life verse”?

I never heard about that concept until just a few years ago. Bill Hybels talked once about having a verse from the Bible that was his guide. I’ve heard of others who pick a verse for the year.

This is something I’ve never done. Just never entered my awareness. It seems like a good thing.

Recently I heard a talk where the speaker talked about choosing this one as his verse of the year:

Seek first the Kingdom of God…

This is interesting and very  much worth contemplating.

Seeking? Am I seeking for something this year? That would be actively looking for, expecting, intentional. Something like the shepherd seeking his lost sheep, or the woman seeking her lost coin, or the father seeking his lost son.

Am I seeking more business? A new mission? A new friend? Money? Health? Happiness?

Jesus suggested that we choose one thing first to seek. There are many things I want. Some I am intentionally praying in expectation for. But what is the most important? What should I seek before anything else? The one thing that would bring everything else along with it.

Jesus had a suggestion there, too. The Kingdom of God.

Jesus had many analogies and metaphors of the Kingdom of God. They all seemed to have a common thread of finding God and letting him live in my being. Or, perhaps better, like I am a branch on a grape vine. The juices that bring life to me, the branch, come from God. It is as if I have sought him out and his spirit, his life force, flows through my veins.

Seek first the Kingdom of God. Yes, I think that is a good theme for the year. A good pursuit. Every day I get up and think, am I seeking for the Kingdom of God today?

Seek first the Kingdom of God and then all these things will be added unto you. I like that.

Make 2016 Your Best Year Yet

December 28, 2015

The church staff planning meeting must have been interesting. Well, December 27 is the Sunday after Christmas and before New Years. We need to have a New Year’s Resolutions teaching.

Steve, why don’t you take that? What text would you use?

How about Deuteronomy?

Of course, Deuteronomy. Why didn’t I think of that? <cue head slap>

Teaching Pastor Steve Carter of Willow Creek taught as well about the famous resolutions problem as I’ve heard. You can click the link and watch or listen.

From Deuteronomy 1:6-7–plan your journey, turn toward the promise, go. But before all that, figure out what your Mount Horeb is.

For the Israelites, it was a place of rest and seeming comfort following years of aimless wandering through the deserts.

Problem–the promised land was just “over there.” But they weren’t looking “over there.” They were stuck. God said, “Turn.” Then God said, “Go.”

Our problem–

Where did we get stuck last year. What was your Horeb? Carter says to stop, contemplate, and then name your mountain. Overeating? Overstressed? Overrevving? Overreacting? Overwhelmed?

I’ve always used this week of the calendar to contemplate and review. Yes, years ago I did the self-help guru advice of goal setting and New Year’s Resolutions. I wrote them down. Put them in the front of my DayTimer calendar.

I accomplished exactly none of them.

Then I discovered first getting my heart right. Then uncovering where it seems that God is leading me. Then determining one or more–but not too many–projects that will move me forward. (Note: a project is something that takes more than one task to complete.)

This allows for much more serendipity to enter my life. I can move with changes. Yet, I’m still moving toward being the person God wants me to be.

Name your mountain; turn toward the promise; go.

He Came To Set Us Free

December 23, 2015

“He had come to set people free, and like Moses with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, he was confronting the powers that held people captive.” — N T Wright, Simply Good News

We are only a couple of days from celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s not really his birthday, as some sects believe and shun the day. It’s not a pagan holiday, at least for us, but it was certainly adopted as an alternative to the pagan Roman holiday celebrated about the same time.

I don’t care about all that. We just simply celebrate the coming.

Why did he come?

I like what NT Wright says in Simply Good News, “He had come to set the people free.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote essentially the same theme in his book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I like the Gospels–Mark for his great literary style of simplicity and movement; Luke for his attention to detail and lifting up women and the Holy Spirit; John for his devotion.

But Paul captures this idea of freedom especially in his letter to the Galatians. “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”

I’ve come to see among a great number of Protestant denominations and even among some Catholics the tendency to have it all in the head. It’s agreeing with the right statements, saying the right things, judging people according to whatever law they ascribe to. And the number of people searching the scriptures for hidden meanings and fortune-telling the future simply amazes me.

When I was young, I wanted to be an “intellectual”, whatever that meant. I studied broadly into different fields of inquiry. By personality, I’m one who thinks too much.

What I’ve learned is that most of us think way too much. The meaning is right there in front of us in plain sight just waiting for us to see.

Jesus began his ministry quoting, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“Release to the captives!” Who are they? They are us–all of us. Paul would say we once were captive, but now we’re free.

Who wouldn’t want to go out into the world teaching this? Why do we corrupt the message with too much other stuff?

Jesus came, now we are free.

What If We Had a Ceasefire?

December 1, 2015


I’m sure it was “bumper sticker philosophy.” I have no clue what the rest of the words were on it. But the one word blared out distinctly.

Then a line of thinking began. What is it about that word?

Ceasefire describes a momentary (or hopefully longer) cessation of hostilities between the combatants. Rifles and artillery fall silent. People can breathe. A certain amount of relaxation seeps into the body and the group.

What if we invoked that word a little more often? And in other contexts?

Here’s a thought that I believe a large majority of Americans would go with–what if we took Nancy Pelosi (leader of the “liberal” wing of the Democrats in the US House) and Jim Jordan (leader of the “conservative” wing of the Republicans). What if we forced them into a room together and wouldn’t let them out until they forged a ceasefire?

Maybe we could get them to work within their differences (which are OK in themselves) with the purpose of an effective government? Let’s stop shooting at each other and see how we can work toward some common objectives–say the overall welfare of the people of the US?

Then I heard about white, male, Christian who took his firearms to a crowded shopping area that contained a Planned Parenthood clinic and started shooting.

What if we had a ceasefire among all the competing brands of Christianity? What if we learned to live with the variety of opinions and then focused on living out the commands of Jesus? Very simple–love God, love your neighbor.

Yes. A ceasefire. We need one of those. Maybe we could begin with the Christmas season and then extend it.

Have We Become Voyeurs

October 28, 2015

One of my Spiritual Disciplines is fasting–fasting from TV news, that is.

No, I’m not a flaming conservative who thinks all the media has a liberal bias. Nor do I think about whether there is a conservative bias. TV news has a distinct sensationalism bias.

It’s all about how each network can get the largest number of people to watch for a long enough period of time to serve up plenty of advertisements. Don’t kid yourselves. You get sucked in to your news source of choice because they have figured out ways to get you to watch. This is simply a business model.

We fall for it.

The TV in front of me the other day while I was running on the treadmill showed off some so-called “expert” speculating about the motives or mental health of someone who injured and killed a number of people with her out-of-control car.

What good was that speculation? There was no fact discussed. Merely opinion. And not even informed opinion. Just the fantasy of speculation about someone they don’t know and really don’t care about. And a million people watched it. I even read the closed caption for about a minute to see what was up.

This is what you get when someone thinks that showing news 24-hours-per-day is a good thing. They quickly discovered that filling all that time with valuable information was either too costly or too boring. They have to hook you and reel you in. Not enough viewers means not enough advertising which means not enough revenue.

But people watch. And not just in North America. It’s a human trait.

Why do we get so wrapped up in idle gossip and speculation about others when there is so much of ourselves that we need to pay attention to? Maybe that’s too hard.

Practice the Spiritual Discipline of fasting from TV news. You might just discover your blood pressure dropping, your emotions more centered, your friends and family more understanding, and your attention fixed upon others whom you can love and serve. I call that a good thing.

Finding Our Way

September 30, 2015

Lake Tahoe

Last week on vacation in California we decided to drive up to Lake Tahoe from Folsom where my conference was held.

The tourist spot that overlooked Emerald Bay was packed. We kept driving. Found this nice rock outcropping.

We found  place to park and hiked around to a small, barely noticeable trail that led from the road to this small rock ledge.

The view was beautiful. I sat cross-legged on the rock and contemplated the view for a while.

Lake Tahoe 2

Then we turned to head back.

We had only traveled about 500 feet. There was no sign of the road. No sign of a path on the rock ledge. Looking up the terrain was just a pile of rocks.

For about five seconds I felt what people who have gotten lost in the wilderness must feel.

Or, people lost in life. There is nothing distinguishing with which to become oriented. If you go one way, it is sure death from a several hundred foot fall. The other way appears insurmountable.

What to do?

I took a deep breath. Quit looking far ahead. I knew the general direction from which we came.

So, it was one small trail. The noticing the small path that cut through some brush. Then the broken tree we had gone under. Then the tricky balancing act around some fallen rocks. Then the road was there above us. A short climb, and back to the road.

I thought–the spiritual life is like that. Sometimes we venture out to live life. We want the beautiful, the spectacular. We find ourselves in a spot where we’ve lost our bearings.

We only need to take that deep breath. Relax. Reorient.

In the spiritual life, the steps are opening the Bible again. Not to understand the whole thing. Reading Romans or James or Galatians. Simple paths.

Prayer, stopping to converse with God becomes another step.

Finding a spiritual mentor or guide or small group is another step.

Then we find our way through the rocks and brush. We’re on our way home.

Victim Attitude Is Unbecoming Of A Disciple

August 13, 2015

Donald Miller wrote some good novels before he turned into a marketing guru. Blue Like Jazz, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years,  Searching For God Knows What, Through Painted Deserts are all worth a read.

He just posted an article on his blog talking about how some Christians like to play the victim card.

I have thought often about people I know (quite a few) who identify themselves as Christian, but they always are looking through a lens of being underdogs, underappreciated, misunderstood, persecuted, or something. And this is all in the USA!

Miller used the word victim to identify this syndrome. 

He starts looking into people who like to be a victim as an outlook on life. He may stretch it by saying it gives them power, but in a way it does give them some leverage over some people.

Read his post. Think about it. I just spent quite a bit of time today contemplating his thoughts.

I relate to when I was a little kid at the height of the Cold War. All I heard from the old farmers around town was how the Soviets were going to overrun the country (so they all had their .22 rifles and 12 ga shotguns and were going to stand up to the Russian tanks that were coming). 

Even at 7 or 8 years old, I thought that was a ridiculous picture. For two reasons. First even as a youngster, I seemed to realize about firepower. But secondly, I kept wondering why these upstanding patriots had so little confidence in our armed forces that it was a sure bet that we’d be overrun.

And the same thing with Christians. (100% of the people I grew up with identified as Christian.) They always talked about how Communist Atheists would put an end to Chrisianity. 

I guess it was just pure naiveté of someone not yet 10 who thought that if God is so powerful, why should we think that some group would put him out of business.

Even so today. I have confidence in God. I also know (learning from the New Testament) that society at large is composed of many different types of people. It is foolish to think that everyone around us in society is exactly like us. 

What we learn from Revalation aside from all the over-thinkers looking for all manner of fortune telling, is that the game is over. God wins. Jesus leads the world to God.

So, why do we (some of us) go around acting like victims. In America, we don’t have a clue. Why not try living with our brothers and sisters in Iran, Iraq and many other places. They are fighting for their very lives even as I write this. But here? We have money. We have comfortable lives. No one shoots at us as we go to church. No one arrests us simply for our faith in God.

We just need to help those who are. It is not becoming to act like a victim. It is becoming to be strong in our faith.

Prayer Beyond Words

July 8, 2015

 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

One thing that has impressed me almost from the first time I read the Gospels is Jesus’ discipline. He went away to pray regularly. He attended meetings at the synagogue “as was his custom”.
In this story, his closest disciples were surprised. By the end of his ministry, they understood.

In the faith versus works debate, I do not consider spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices as works. Although, they can be. It depends, of course, upon attitude.

Did you ever here the phrase while growing up, “Please assume an attitude of prayer”? In the protestant tradition that I grew up in, this meant bowing your head and closing your eyes.

The attitude of prayer is more than posture.

T.S. Eliot, the American/British poet, wrote, “And prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.”

Someone asks you to pray. Your stomach tightens; your mind races. What will I say? Will I sound stupid?

Praying aloud is comforting to others, but that is merely scratching the surface of prayer.

The Renovare Spiritual Formation publication of the Bible discusses the variety of spiritual disciplines. Of prayer, it says,, “Interactive conversation with God about what we and God are thinking and doing together.”

Some of my most meaningful prayers have no words. God listens for my breath. I listen for God’s.

What Is The State of Your Heart

July 8, 2015

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” — Jeremiah 17:9-10

I heard John Ortberg once refer to Jesus as the first cardiologist for he was always concerned with the state of your heart.

We should all be concerned with the state of our own heart.

Where is it today? What is it full of?

Is it fearful? Look deep inside at it. Ponder. What is it that I am afraid of? Sit down and have a conversation with God. Lay out your fears before him. Then listen. God will lead you to a writing or will whisper a message that lets you know that with God in your life, you really have nothing to fear. You have a life beyond this one.

Perhaps your heart is full of bitterness? You have suffered a wrong, or at least believe you have suffered a wrong. People are bad. They are all out to get you. Your life is shriveled. People avoid you. God is there to heal the bitter heart and bring warmth.

Perhaps your heart is filled with joy. You smile easily. You are comfortable with yourself and your relationship with God. And God smiles with you, spreading the joy to all you meet.

Perhaps your heart is filled with love. Everyone you meet says, “There goes a true follower of Jesus.” And their lives are enriched.