How’s Your Spirit and Your Purpose?

It is Memorial Day evening and the thousands of cars are heading into the cities from every direction.  People have enjoyed the Memorial Day Weekend in a wide variety of settings.  That’s the way it should be, and then there is the out-of-touch with reality Paul of Tarsus.  Somehow he never takes into consideration the importance of three-day weekends that begin and later end the lazy, hazy days of summer.  He never talks about the importance of “getting away” and enjoying life.  If anything, Paul of Tarsus just seems too serious.

Take into consideration what he had to say in Ephesians 4:11-13:  “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Can you imagine that the job of pastors is not to keep the ship of the church floating and in the black on the financial page?  Can you imagine that the job of pastors is not even to preach stirring sermons and to make people feel good?  Paul of Tarsus says that the job of the pastor/teach is to “equip the saints.”  The word equip in the Greek is the same word for mending nets of fishermen.  In other words, the pastor/teach is to mend the nets of the lives of the congregation so that they, the members of the church, can do two things: “the work of ministry” and secondly “build up the body of Christ.”  The members of the church are to do the work of ministry in the world, the same work that Jesus did in meeting the needs of people and proclaiming the word that the Kingdom of God had arrived.  Then secondly the members of the church are to be able to build one another up, encourage and support one another.  All of that is no small task.

How long do members of the church have to do all this work?  “Until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity…”  In other words, it sounds as if we are to continue in these tasks for the rest of our lives.  There isn’t even retirement!

In addition to a life’s work ahead of us, this Apostle and also Tent-Maker gave the standard of maturity:  “to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  We get to measure our lives against Christ’s!  That doesn’t seem fair, but since it is His Spirit working in us to accomplish this goal, maybe it is fair and right.

I have no question that three day weekends, vacations, and just “getting away” once in a while is really important, but it is even more important for all of us to remember the very purpose of our life in Christ and the goal of growing into maturity in Christ.

How is your Spirit? An antidote to worry

“Don’t worry!  It will all turn out just fine!”

How I hate simplistic answers, easy platitudes.  The giver of such easy answers is right.  I know it.  “Don’t worry,” but Bobby McFerrin’s  famous song “Don’t worry.  Be happy”  is just a little too simplistic for me and sometimes a little too difficult to implement.   And what is the antidote to worry?

A book called Soul Mentoring by Cannon Beach, OR author David Robinson modernizes a book written by Pope Gregory the Great in 590 AD called Pastoral Care.   Robinson  wrote, “The three classic monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience present a counterculture alternative to the seduction of fortune, fame, and freedom.  I suggest simplicity as an antidote to fortune (in place of poverty), sacrifice as an antidote to fame (in place of chastity), and service as an antidote to unlimited freedom (in place of obedience).”  (p. 8)  Is there an antidote to worry that is not a simplistic platitude?

I know the admonition of the scriptures: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5,6)  I know that trust is the medicine for many of the ailments of the spirit, of the mind and of the emotions.  Trust turns our mind, our very spirit away from what “might be” to the God who is present in the past, the present and the future.  But I still continued to ponder: Is there an ingredient in the medicine of trust that is basic to its remedial salve?

Then I thought of Father Abe as he was called to “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” (Genesis 22: 2)  Now if Father Abraham was not worried, something was wrong.  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”  The emotional bond between Father and Son was tight, and as Abraham sharpened his much-used knife his heart must have been breaking.  Pain, struggle, questions all cloaked in worry.  What did he do?  He surrendered his much-loved son into the love and mercy of God.  Surrender or relinquishment are not popular words today, nor are they themes of many of the sermons preached in American churches today.

Then there is Jesus himself.  The Garden of Gethsemane is now a quiet, peaceful place where Christian tourist flock, but it was the place of an immense, spiritual battle on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.  That spiritual battle was won by Jesus as he cried out, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42b)  For Jesus this was an act of surrender, relinquishment.

Perhaps the basic ingredient in trust is surrender, relinquishment.  Why is trust so hard for us as adults?  We have to surrender our control (often times our illusion of control), we have to relinquish our need for certain, immediate answers, we have to give up our dream and our expectations and acknowledge that God knows more than we do.  Yes, trust is not easy, for its basic ingredient is surrender and relinquishment, and God’s promise is that he will “make straight our paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)


How’s Your Spirit and Your Choices?

I lay in bed two, nearest the window, and a hospital curtain separated me from bed one in which lay an eighty-five year old gentleman, but there was more than a curtain that separated us.  This gentleman whom I will call Sam, not his real name, had travelled a life journey of which I am unaware.  Sam had perfected the little word NO which he used frequently when he was offered help of any variety.  He could and did say other things also, but when it came to doing anything that might help him or help his caregivers, the word of choice was NO!

I was visiting with the nurse in charge of helping me, and I explained that I viewed this stay in the hospital as an adventure.  There are many adventures that we do not get to choose, but we can choose the attitude that we bring to the event.  From behind the curtain I heard the disgruntled words, “That is a funny attitude to have.”   Perhaps it is “a funny attitude to have,” but I am convinced that it is the only attitude that allows grace to flow freely to me and to all those who come in contact with me.

In my book A Grace-Filled Journey Home I sought to identify attitudes and actions that I want and intent to have as I journey through life toward my final destination.  I saw, once again, in living color how the attitude of “the grumps” only makes life hell for all those who seek to be of help.  So, O Lord, by your mercy continue to create in me the attitude of gratitude.

How Is Your Spirit When Your Body Is Broken?

My head was leaning against the window pane of my fourth floor “luxury” room at the Auburn Medical Center.  Another tsunami wave of pain racked by abdomen, tears formed in my eyes and I found myself crying (?), praying(?) out loud: “I believe!”  I wish I could say that an even bigger tsunami of peace covered my body or that an avalanche of God’s healing swept over me or even the still small voice of God was heard by me, but none of that happened.

Instead I was inundated by questions, ponderings, confusion, and then amazement and gratitude.  Where did those two words-“I believe”-come from?  What did I believe?  Why did I say that?  Was that a prayer, and if so it was definitely unrehearsed, spontaneous and bewildering?  In the midst of tear-producing pain all I could say, all I could pray was “I believe.”

Kidney stones are no fun, to say the least, but I was not prepared for the post-operation pain that I was experiencing, and in the midst of the pain, from deep within my spirit the confessional prayer was proclaimed out loud by me.  Perhaps deep within my being a war raged:  if God is good, if God is for me, if God only wants the best for me, why am I experiencing such pain and such difficulties?  If this spiritual battle was taking place, it was not on my conscious level, but the confessional prayer “I believe” was both verbal and conscious.  Maybe that answers the why of the prayer, but what about the question, “Where did the confessional prayer come from?”

Upon hearing the words, “I believe” I knew that this confessional prayer was from deep within my heart, and that which comes from the heart and is directed toward God is the work of the grace of God.  I sensed that God’s Spirit, God’s Spirit of grace was actively running around in my heart, empowering, molding and enlivening me to proclaim “I believe.”  But what did I believe?

I sensed immediately that my confession of faith had nothing to do with a belief in God’s healing power to touch my broken body.  Oh, I believe that is true, but this confession of faith was at a more basic, a more fundamental level.  This statement of faith had to do with God’s character, God’s intentions for me and the relationship that God has with me.  This confession of faith, in the midst of and in the face of pain and difficulties, was and is a confession that God is good, that God wants the best for me, that even this pain journey of mine has passed through the loving circle of God’s best for me.  I know that sounds strange, but my confessional prayer was a statement, a prayer of faith that God’s invisible Spirit was at work in the unseen parts of my life, creating character, creating faith, creating and shaping me in ways that only pain in the Potter’s Hands can accomplish.

I found myself full of gratitude, full of thankfulness that God’s Spirit had not allowed me to become angry, confused, bitter or you name any number of results that can develop when one goes through pain.  Instead, solely  on the basis of grace, God had infused me with thankfulness and gratitude.  That is the fruit of the Spirit, not the working of my own abilities or willingness.  Praise God for such grace.

This is only one of the many experiences and learnings that are continuing to be developed in me as I journey forward in God’s healing, a healing that is much more than simply physical.  In the days ahead I will continue to post those experiences and learnings.

Feel free to comment.


How’s Your Spirit?

How’s your spirit?  Our spirit?  What’s that?”  Often times we have enough to think about–finances, relationships, jobs, family, schedules, etc–that we don’t have time to think about “our spirit,” whatever that may be.  Yet the reality is that we are spiritual beings.  Teilhard de Chardin once said that we are not human beings on a spiritual journey; rather, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.

We have been created to be “in relationship,” with other people, with ourselves, with our planet earth and also with God.  “Our spirit” is our “God-relationship” part of us, but it is not as if we have a specific organ in our body that relates to God.  Rather, our spirit is all of who we are in relationship to God.   It was St Augustine who said that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and if that is so than perhaps we need to ask ourselves more often “How’s my spirit?”

What’s interesting to me is how seldom we talk about our God-relationship or our spiritual journey with others, even within the church.  We act as if it so private that no one else is to know how we relate to God and how we even struggle with God.  For most of the time during the last twenty plus years of my life I have had a spiritual director, one who walks with me, prays with me, and seeks to listen to the Holy Spirits movement in my life.

What a privilege it is to have another person committed to me, to listen to God’s Spirit working in my spirit.  Who do you have in your life who is committed to walk with you in the Spirit?