Monday, June 16, 2008

Soul-Numbing Ruts

We are creatures of habit. Many of us enjoy, even thrive on being in control, knowing what's happening and what's happening next. We love God, even etch out time for Him on a daily basis. We know what to do, we spent an amount of time praying and then some time perhaps reading Scripture. As well intended as these are, they can actually become counter-productive to our spiritual formation, for often these pre-programmed patterns can become nothing more than a shell that houses stagnant spirituality (which in and of itself is an oxymoron).

Nonetheless, we can experience what Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways refers to as "a soul-numbing rut."

He writes,

“I’ve found that many people
experience a dilemma in the walk with God.
Their love for God has not dimmed,
they’ve just fallen into a soul-numbing rut.
Their devotions seem like nothing more
than shadows of what they’ve been doing for years.”
~Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways~

Sometimes the best thing we can do for our spiritual vitality is simply mix up our routine.

These spiritual experiments and explorations of what we typically call "devotions" or "quiet times" can become catalyst in our engagement of God.

This past Thursday, I spent 13-hours with about 70 middle and high schoolers. I was helping to facilitate a day-long Journey Encounter. We started at St. Patrick's Park, which is a huge outdoor park laced with miles of trails along the St. Joesph River. We spent about 2-hours in worship, silence, reflection, and simply walking alone along the River bank and in the woods. At the end of our time, students gathered back with an object of nature in hand, symbolically representing something that God had been speaking to them. As students shared, it was apparent that God had been speaking to them, and for many of them this was a new experience.

After a quick lunch, we then journeyed to the shores of Lake Michigan to the dunes of Mount Baldly. The goal of the afternoon, was to be engaged by God as we reflected on Who He is, How He Sees Us, and What He's Speaking to Us in the Present.

Something happens when we break out of our normal "soul-numbing ruts." We become more sensitive to God's dealings and the present. We also often begin to see present circumstances in a different light. They become more clearer, as our perspective is reoriented to vantage point higher than our own.

That evening, we all gathered together. We spend some time worshiping and such... Then the coolest thing happened. Everybody paired up with someone that the DID NOT know. After a few moments of instruction, they each stood there, simply with one hand on the shoulder of the other. Listening... Waiting... Listening and Waiting for the Voice of God that had been directing their day in silence and solitude on a personal level to now speak into the life of another.

After each person had prayed for the other, we pulled back together as a large group. People from all over the room began to share how what the other person had prayed was exactly what they were going through. One girl said, "It was freaky... The very things I have been dealing with, she prayed about, even using the exact words that I use..." Another said, "He prayed about my bad grades... Nobody knows about my bad grades, but me and my parents." The sharing went on for about twenty-five minutes.

These young people, who had moved outside of their familiar "soul-numbing ruts" began to become sensitive to the Spirit of God speaking into their lives on a personal level, as well as they began to hear Him speak on the behalf of others. As Henri Nouwen wrote, it is "silence" that "teaches us to speak."

Have you fallen prone to any "soul-numbing ruts"? (As well intended as they may be...)

How does the idea of "experimenting" and "exploring" different ways to have your "devotions" or "quiet times" strike you?

Summer is a great time to explore new ways of engaging God..

What would it look like for you to shake up your routine a bit?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What Kind of People are we Developing...?

Perhaps a better starting point for most of us would be:

What kind of person are we becoming?

What are we
to shape our character and person-hood
into the image of Christ?

Many well intended "Christians" love Jesus, even spend some amount of time with Him daily, yet are NOT intentional about the kinds of persons they are becoming. Many people tell me, "I read my Bible and pray." But, when the conversation continues into the ways in which they are intentionally designing their times with God to better engage God and to help them in their spiritual journey, many people glaze over... This is an entirely foreign concept to their daily trajectory. We know in the back of our minds, we are to be "transformed into the image of Christ," but if honest, we are often at a lose for how that transpires - what's our part - what's God's part - and so forth...

This (what's stated above) is HUGE...!

But, the above, for those who are leaders lends itself into the question,

"What kind of person(s) are we developing?

How are we intentionally journeying with those we lead
into an intentional and self-guided spirituality with God?

Are we?

I spent five hours today with a group of some of the brightest and most creative people I know. It seemed like 30 minutes. We sat down to pray, think-tank, brainstorm, mind-map and explore What kind of people (children) do we want to develop? Specifically, by the time a child in our ministry (Mosaic Kids) is leaving 5th grade, what concepts, realities, understandings, characteristics do we want them to have been given intentional and strategic opportunity to explore, acquire and possess?

We came up with about 70 things, many which are inter-related (as much of life is). All of which we believe a child by that age is fully capable of exploring, acquiring and possessing. Unfortunately, children's ministries (sacred babysitting), hasn't been anymore intentional about developing these realities than the average person (adult) is in developing in their own life. (Perhaps there's stark truth at work here: the average person doesn't do it, because the don't know how, because we haven't taught and modeled in church (especially from an early age) HOW TO...

As we conversed today, there was a strong sense the energy and expectancy emerging in the room in increasing exponential proportions, as we on several occasions we looked at one another and said, "Do you realize that if this were to happen, and children actually explore, acquire and possess even two-thirds of what we want to shoot for, this would totally reshape what Sunday mornings would be for when they become adults...?"

This could be powerful! Imagine, young adults who not only have a strong sense of who they are, how God's shaped them to engage/relate to Him, others and the world, and know how to "self-feed" themselves...?

Is this possible...?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Living a Hit-and-Run Life

Just this past Monday in Hartford, Connecticut at 5:49 in the afternoon, something awful happened. Angel Torres, a 78-year old man was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The amazing thing is, the whole scene can be seen by a video captured from a overhead street light. Not only does the video show the two cars involved in this incident, the more compelling aspect is, ALL the people in the area are clearly seen doing nothing. Several cars and people can be seen passing Angel Torres as he lies motionless in the street before a police car arrives on the scene.

As I first read about this Headline on my cell phone, I immediately thought about Wesley Autrey, the gentleman who was moved to action upon witnessing a man fall onto the Subway tracks in New York. Wesley didn't merely watch as a man struggled for his life, he did something, he dove into the railway, even in the midst of an oncoming train.

On the one hand, there's an apparent lack of heart and the presence of what Jesus called "cold love," where no one steps forward to help. On the other, there's one man who selflessly put his own life on the line in n attempt to rescue another in need.

The responses and reactions we demonstrate in such moments can't be conjured up on the spot. As G.K. Chesterton said, we can grow a beard in a moment of passion." We can only expect to withdrawal out of the reserves of who we are and have been becoming. Spiritual practices & disciplines develop within us reflexors that empower us to respond and react to life's challenges, circumstances and situations in a manner that's directed, intentional, selfless and Christlike.

The alternative to such practices is to merely living a hit-and-run life and spirituality...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Just Like Papa...

The biggest, most shaping and long lasting influences on our lives and the things we learn along the way more often than not are the result of something we see, observe, reflect on, experience and engage.

We learn by watching, trying, mimicking... doing. It is in this doing, often merely experimental, that we experience the process of transformation and becoming...

This week
our family has been on vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. My father drove in from North Carolina and joined us for the last couple of days. Micah, my five-year-old son has been eagerly anticipating his arrival ever since he learned of the news of "Papa Jobe" meeting us in the mountains. It's amazing to see how little boys attach themselves to fathers and grandfathers, even those they only see once or twice a year... He simply loves his Papa's...

Papa arrived yesterday afternoon. Hours earlier Micah had grabbed his ball cap and put it on. Interestingly, he hasn't worn the hat once in the six days we've been here, but he knows Papa always has a hat on, and it seems in preparation for seeing Papa, he puts his hat on as well.

Shortly after his arrival we all loaded up and were in route to find somewhere to eat. No sooner than out the door and towards the van and Micah had rubbed up against Papa and grabbed his hand with a proud smile ringing from one ear to the other.

We arrived at the Old Mill restaurant, Micah, right next to Papa - hand in hand... and for the rest of the night never left his side. I sat across from the huge round table fixated just across from the open windows overlooking the river. Several times I smiled, as I glanced across the table only to observe Micah looking at Papa out of the corner of his eye, intently watching, observing and even mimicking Papa's every move. He re-positioned his had just to be exactly like his Papa's... Re-maneuvered and postured himself just to sit like Papa... Each time with that same proud little subtle-silent-loving smile on his face.

He's learning... He's growing... He's watching... He's becoming...

And, so we all are...

The question is, I suppose, what/who is it that we're spending most of our time looking at...?

For knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we are well on our way to becoming the very essence of what our eyes, minds and hearts have become fixated upon...