Sunday, May 31, 2009

Two roads converged...mental intersections.

It never ceases to amaze me the way that God brings mental pathways together.  Follow me for a minute here.  

First, Madison, my 13 year old, and I are delivering her flyers.  We do it together every week-end. She makes a little money and we get to spend some time together.  Our conversation drifted to clothing, specifically girl's clothing.  Not my favorite subject, but as the father of four daughters in a sex obsessed culture, one that I have some definite opinions about.  Suffice it to say my opinion's differ from Maddie's.  But she still surrenders to my leadership in this area and is always curious about why I think what I do.  In her own words, "Dad, I'd never wear anything too revealing, that's icky.  But you are a bit to strict on these kinds of things."  I respond by reminding her that I am a bit more qualified to understand the thoughts and intentions of a teen-age boy than she is.  She says she thinks I am over-reacting.  "Sure some boys are gross," she agrees, "but most are not."  I agree that most are not, but that she is far from the expert of the mental patterns of the average teen-age boy.  She smiles and says she disagrees.

Fast forward to just before bed last night.  I'm digging into a new book I got from the library, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. It's already a fascinating book and one that I would recommend just after reading the introduction and table of contents.  One of the ideas in the book is that war has an addictive aspect to it.  It's something that we turn to when we feel something is lacking in our lives.  It makes reality a bit clearer when we can delineate clearly the good guys and the bad guys.  Too bad that the line between those two is never as clear as it appears to be.  Far from rejecting the need for war, Hedges simply says that we must be aware that it has deeper powers over the human heart than we can imagine.  And those who choose to go to war must do it with a greater understand of our own weaknesses when it comes to this force.  In short, we don't know as much about it as we think we know.

And so I started to wonder...

Madison thinks she is an expert on what boys think.  Despite the damage it may do to her self-esteem I have the need to tell her she's wrong.  But there are so many times that I am in the same boat.  I am the spiritual teen-ager telling God, "I get this, I know what I am doing."  I know what is best for me. And He looks at the situation and says, "There is more going on here than you realize.  You'll have to defer to my leadership in this area or it's going to come back and bite you."

Humanity suffers from an overestimation of our own ability to discern reality.  Far too often we think we understand.  I see it constantly in the church (not to mention in my own heart) where we refuse to let our overly simplistic understandings of what God is up to in the world (what He wants to do and HOW He wants to do it) face the deep scrutiny of reality.  We need a healthy dose of "I don't really get what?" if we are to keep growing and learning about God and His world.

Madison needs to dethrone herself when it comes to her expert status on understanding the male species.  Humanity needs to rethink the deeper reasons and implications that come from war.  And me, I need to admit that in reality I am a spiritual teen-ager who thinks I know a lot more than I really do.  

Humility is often in short supply. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Faith and Pop Culture

I just finished reading Faith and Pop Culture, a Bible Study guide edited by Kelli Trujillo and put out as a part of the Christianity Today Study Series.  The focus of the study is to engage thought and provoke discussion about the relationship between our faith and the culture that we live in.  The guide takes on topics that are relevant, focusing mainly on forms of entertainment including television, movies, sports, and literature. 

I liked the format of each study as it used editorials and articles from Christianity Today to start to engage the issues.  It also had a strong section on Biblical passages that need to be studied around the issues that were raised.  I found the best chapter to be the last (which I think should probably have come first) on our culture’s obsession with being entertained.  The rest of the studies were interesting and thought provoking, but would have benefitted from asking the questions of the last study as a foundation to actual critique.  The weakest study was the one on sports.  While I see the value of sports in regards to health and social development, I felt that the attempt to link the concept of Sabbath with competitive sports as they exist in our culture today was too big of a stretch.  

In a nutshell I found most of the studies thought provoking and well written but it was hard to escape the nagging sense that at times we try too hard to make the Scripture compatible with what we know as culture instead of allowing it to critique culture, calling us to live as citizens of a different Kingdom.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday

This week's word comes from an experience I had during a funeral today. The funeral was for Lynn, an almost 50 year old woman who had lived her whole life severely physically limited by cerebral palsy. She was a close friend of our family and will be missed more than can be imagined. I was reading the following text...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for tItaliche old order of things has passed away."He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"  (Rev.21:1-5)
...and reflecting on how one day evil will be ended and all things will be made new when I had a bit of a...
"glimpisode" - A momentary glimpse at a deep emotional and spiritual level of life the way God really intends it to be.  It is characterized by a sweet sorrow that both mourns for the way things are and hopes for the way that they will be.  Celtic Christians called these moments "thin spaces" - places where you could touch and experience God in a deep and profound way, where the wall that divides human and divine grows thin.  It can happen in many ways at many times.  Maybe you've experienced it while reading a good book or watching a movie.  Maybe it has flowed out of deep love for someone or from someone.  Or maybe, like me, it overwhelms you to grasp how far we have come from what God intended and yet how lovingly He is calling us home. May your life be filled with glimpisodes that draw you closer to the One who gave His life for you to set you free.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This week's sermon...

Samuel steps up to the role of prophet and helps lead Israel back to the worship of the True God...even when the challenges come.

Full study guide online here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quote of the week...

Not the usual source for a quote of the week, but one that should cause us to reflect a bit...
"What luck for rulers, that men do not think."
--Adolf Hitler

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wipe Out!

As much as I hate to admit it, it's the possibility of wiping out that makes the ride so much fun. What is true of tubing is also true of life. A little adrenaline is good for the soul every now and then.   As inspiration, enjoy Becca's big wipeout on Kawakawa Lake today!

Friday, May 22, 2009

About as successful as the cross...

Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm, taken from Holy Sweat by Tim Hansel.  
Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks.

As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s. Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folk in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him, and slashing workers’ tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him. Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once and for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence’s home, which they riddled with bullets. And they chased off all the families except one black family which refused to leave.

Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were church people. Another was the local newspaper’s reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.  “I heard the awful news,” he called to Clarence, “and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing.” Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags. So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”

Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is going strong today.
Helps to redefine what we mean by success, doesn't it?  May God help us to live faithful lives.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An education on poverty that...

... moves past cliches and exposes some difficult truths.  Like this idea - 
You have to be rich to be poor. That's what some people who have never lived below the poverty line don't understand.You have to be rich to be poor.Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don't often explain. So we'll explain it here. Consider this a primer on the economics of poverty.
From the Washington Post.  Read it all here.  One thing is for sure.  We often tend to oversimplify the problems and difficulties that others have to live with. Shame on us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday

This week's word inspired by death and funerals...
"griefeducation" - The process by which grief educates and reminds you about what is really important. It shakes your foundations in order to see what areas of your life are really solid and what areas are just fluff that look good but have no substance. It's a truth that inspires verses like this - "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart." (Ecc. 7:2) and incredible presentations like this one. (It's long, 55 minutes, but one of the most moving presentations that you will ever hear.)  It's a painful gift, but grief opens our hearts to truths that we would refuse to see any other way.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This week's sermon...

"Speak Lord...for your servant is listening." Eli's advice to Samuel is pretty good advice for us too. Here's last weeks sermon from I Samuel 3 - Learning to Listen...

Full study guide in online here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quote of the week...

"Christ put his classroom of redemption among the poor–not because money is evil, but because money often makes slaves of those who worship the things of earth and forget about God."
--Oscar Romero (December 25, 1978)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary to us...

17 years ago yesterday I made the best decision of my life.  I married Angela Davies. Neither one of us knew what we were getting into at the time, but it has been a blessing everyday since then.  Angela is not only my greatest fan (everyone needs one of those), the one who inspires me to be more than I am, and the most beautiful woman I know, but she has also been a driving force in helping me to seek to live more like Jesus each and every day. Whereas I tend to sit and think, she tends to question and do.  Her spiritual questions keep us both thinking and growing...and keep me honest.  Without her I would far too often slide into theological reflection that does nothing but contemplate.  With her I am constantly challenged to live out what it is I think God is saying.  She is my best friend and I can't imagine ever not having her around.  I often tell her that she is the island of calm and serenity in the midst of my ocean of chaos.  So I am thankful for 17 amazing years...and praying that God will give us 117 more. 

Last weeks sermon...

Here is a unique Mother's Day sermon about Hannah, the mom who gave her child to God by leaving him with Eli the priest and his immoral sons...not your typical mother's day message.

Full study guide online here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This could be said about more than just preaching...

“When I was in my 20’s I would read McCheyne’s Bible reading calender, and I would get some great ideas – and I would preach on it. And I do it now. And I hate to tell you: I’m a lot better preacher than I was.  And I really don’t think its a matter of exegesis skills. Its the fact that you don’t see all kinds of things in the text because you haven’t suffered. You haven’t had much experience of life. You haven’t had any major failures, where you’ve realized your a lot more sinful than you ever believed. You haven’t had major sicknesses. You haven’t suffered. You haven’t been broken. And you know, the very same exegesis skills – bible reading – that you do in your 50’s gives you all kinds of insights… And then you preach, and you’re way better than you were 30 years ago.  The real difference, I don’t think is usually exegesis or theology…its the fact that you’ve been in life, you’ve spent time with people, you’ve watched people die.”
--Tim Keller
(Thanks to Unashamed Workman for the link)

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's a close race...

Dead Snake - 128
Jeff Kuhn - 130

See here for explanation...


I am one of those weirdos who thinks preaching is actually really important.  I have wrestled with the fact that maybe it's only because that is what I do in the body of Christ.  But I always come back to believing that when it is done right that God accomplishes something valuable in the lives of both the preacher and the listener.  So when I saw this clip from John Piper I thought I'd share it here.  

It's a great explanation of what he calls preaching. The full text is below or on their blog here.

Some of you may have little or no experience with what I mean by preaching. I think it will help you listen to my messages if I say a word about it.

What I mean by preaching is expository exultation.

Preaching Is Expository

Expository means that preaching aims to exposit, or explain and apply, the meaning of the Bible. The reason for this is that the Bible is God’s word, inspired, infallible, profitable—all 66 books of it.

The preacher’s job is to minimize his own opinions and deliver the truth of God. Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people's lives.

The preacher should do that in a way that enables you to see that the points he is making actually come from the Bible. If you can’t see that they come from the Bible, your faith will end up resting on a man and not on God's word.

The aim of this exposition is to help you eat and digest biblical truth that will

  • make your spiritual bones more like steel,
  • double the capacity of your spiritual lungs,
  • make the eyes of your heart dazzled with the brightness of the glory of God,
  • and awaken the capacity of your soul for kinds of spiritual enjoyment you didn’t even know existed.

Preaching Is Exultation

Preaching is also exultation. This means that the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply try understand what he explains. Rather, the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.

Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. The preacher worships—exults—over the word, trying his best to draw you into a worshipful response by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My job is not simply to see truth and show it to you. (The devil could do that for his own devious reasons.) My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a sermon and a lecture.

Preaching Isn't Church, but It Serves the Church

Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other.

One of the purposes of preaching is to equip us for that and inspire us to love each other better.

But God has created the church so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.

What to Expect from My Preaching and Why

If you're used to a twenty-minute, immediately practical, relaxed talk, you won't find that from what I've just described.

  • I preach twice that long;
  • I do not aim to be immediately practical but eternally helpful;
  • and I am not relaxed.

I standing vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I said there.

That's what I mean by preaching.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's super pastor...

Several things have converged in my life at the present to help solidify my thinking in a specific area.  It has to do with the role of the pastor in the local church.  This is something that I care deeply about, as it is what I sense to be my calling, but I am concerned that what we currently are doing is far from what we should be.

It started with the fact that I have an upcoming job assessment.  This will be my first in 10 years. I am looking forward to it and have been asking for one for the last 7 years at GBC.  I love and respect the Leadership Team that I work with and am hoping for some honest assessment that will help me grow in my job, but that will also give me some clarity as to what it is that I need to see as priorities in my role.

At the same time I have been re-reading The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk.  This is a fascinating book that talks about both a theology of church leadership and some shifts that are needed in the way we do things.  My thinking was further stirred when Len Hjalmarson of NextReformation posted two entries (here and here) on the same book.

But it all came to a head yesterday as I read this classified ad.  (No, I'm not looking for another job, just always curious what church's expectations are for their pastor.)
Church X is seeking a spirit-filled, spirit-led visionary leader to serve as Lead Pastor of our multi-cultural congregation of approximately 450 Plus.  We are looking for a Lead Pastor whose personal and pastoral life is characterized by a spirit of prayer. The Shepherd we are seeking must have a passion for God, His Word, and His people.. Administration, team building, assimilation experience are essential. Our Lead Pastor must also possess Bible-based preaching & teaching skills that are relevant to today's challenges without compromising God's word. We are seeking a Pastor whose leadership style includes a focus on evangelism, modeling, mentoring and continually speaking the word of God. We desire a Pastor that BI for God's purpose.
Who can do all that? In fact, if someone thinks that they actually can that just might disqualify them for the position.  I understand that this church is seeking a gifted individual, but no one can fill those shoes.  I read this ad to my wife and asked her the same question, "Who can actually do all of that?" Her response was, "It sounds like they are looking for a church."  And I think that may sum up how I feel. Pastors can't do it all.  The way to make this thing work isn't to find the ultra-gifted spiritual's for each part to do its work.  

In the past 2-3 years I have realized that God has given me gifts to do what I do.  But with that has come the truth that there are certain areas in which I am not gifted.  This is not about always loving your job and not wanting to do things you don't like.  Some of the areas that I sense gifting in are areas that I really don't enjoy all that much. Overall though, I love what I do, but in some ways I fear that my very presence as the "paid pastor" enables people to look to me to accomplish what they are called to contribute.  

So wherever you are, if you are a part of a church, do me a big favor. Realize that your pastor is a lot like you.  Strengths and weakeness, ability and disability, and that this is just the way God planned it.  If anything, the pastor's role is prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up... (Eph. 4:12)
His or her job is to help you get moving so that the church can fully participate in the mission of God.  But they can't do it alone.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday

This week's word...
"Suffathering" - A word describing the process (inherent in being a father or a mother) of literally feeling the pain of a son or daughter. There is an invisible connection that forces parents to share in the suffering that their children are going through. It can be the mental stress of a big decision, the hurt that they bear from relationships, or even the pain that follows a bad choice. It is constantly undervalued and misunderstood by children, but is far from imaginary. It's why Simeon said to Mary, the mother of Jesus, "...and a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:35) And to think I never believed my dad when he said, "This is going to hurt me more than it does you..."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just for fun...

I love this.  It may not be profound...but it definitely qualifies as amazing!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quote of the week...

I've just started reading Enough, by Will Samson.  It's an awesome book thus far.  I'll do a little review here when I finish it, but I knew right away I was in for a treat when I came across this quote in the forward.  Words of wisdom for those of us who would concern ourselves with the spiritual growth of our own life and in the lives of others.
"Guilt can be a good indicator of where things are wrong, but it's a bad motivator toward getting things right."
-- Shaine Claiborne.
That's why Paul would write to Titus...
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It (the grace of God) teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:11-13, NIV)
We change not by feeling guilty enough, but by grace.  The guilt only lets us know that the change needs to come.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Congratulations to Maddie

We just found out this week that Madison has received quite an honor.  She prepared a project for Historica, an educational program that works with elementary and middle school students.  She had to choose a topic (Japanese Internment Camps in Canada during WW II), prepared a written report, and also a "creative component".  She then presented at her school, and was chosen as one of nine to go on to regional competition.  At the regional competition she was selected as one of only 12 students in BC (and only 100 in Canada) to go on a week trip to the National Fair in Ottawa. Wow!  She's pretty excited and we are very proud of her.  We have to work out some details.  It looks like she might have to make the trip without Angela or I (due to Historica's policy) but we're checking into that.  We're not sure if she should make a trip like that without a parent...but whether she goes or not, she has done an amazing job.  And we've all learned something along the way.  I've posted her creative component below so that you can get a sense of her project and how it impacted her.  Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Confusion and Clarity

Tomorrow morning I teach our Adult SS class again. I have taught it many times over the past 10 years at our church. But the last two times have been a bit frustrating for me. Not because of the class - they are awesome and really a great cross section of people that I love "being the church" with. And not because I am unprepared - I have been working through these ideas and concepts for the past 7 years and have spent a lot of time thinking, praying, and reflecting on them in light of Scripture. My frustration is in what happens between me and the class. I am having trouble clearly communicating what it is that I am trying to say. What I mean by the words I choose is not what people are interpreting from the words they hear. For someone who communicates for a living that is a pretty frustrating place to be.

My focus is on how we read the Bible. The way to come to the text often shapes what you will see there. I have a friend who once told me that if the only tool you have is a hammer then most of what you see will look like a nail. When we approach Scripture as a repository of promises and blessings, that is often all we find there. When it looks like a rule book to us, that's all it will be. When it's a complicated theological puzzle, we can spend hours and hours trying to make the pieces fit, almost to the point of missing the picture. And if it's a story...? (For more on this you really should read The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. I wish I could get him to come teach the class!)

I think we need to read the Bible all of these ways, but the best way is to read it as story. To enter the story of what God is doing in the world and just soak in it for a while. To strap on Joseph's sandals, go fishing with Peter, preaching with Paul, to the tomb with Mary, and just let it impact us like we've never heard it before.

That's what I am trying to communicate in this class. But I'm failing. So tomorrow we're back at it. That's what I do. I try to help us all listen to the text...myself included. And sometimes what I need is a good dose of frustration. It's the spiritual castor oil. Tastes horrible, not sure why we need it, but good for what ails you.

Friday, May 08, 2009

This week's sermon...

Here's a message from last Sunday on Simplicity from Luke 12:13-34.

Full study guide is online here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bumper sticker truth

Today I saw this bumper sticker on a car parked at our local hospital.  I laughed out loud (LOL for all you text speak people). One of the aspects that struck me as funny was that even though years ago I would have loved it, I would have understood it differently.  It would have been a way to say God bless those other weirdos that I don't understand, and if I was honest, those that I didn't want to understand.  

But the years change you.  I am learning more about people...and more about me.  I'm learning that we are usually more alike than we are different. And far too often I have refused to admit it as a way to feel better about my own preferences and idiosyncrasies. As much as I hate to admit it, the older I get the more it becomes clear to me that the freak is me. Before you laugh too hard let me remind you that it's you too.  There is no "normal".  We all have our freakish aspects.  For years I used myself as the definition of normal, and your level of "freakishness" was derived by how far from me you were on the normal scale.  Today I think we're all a bit weird.  We all have our hang-ups.  We all need a lot of grace. So yeah, "God bless the freaks." That's a great prayer.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How the internet affects us...

You should really read this post by Tod Bolsinger, and the article from The Atlantic Monthly that it references.  At least, I think you should. Pop on over and you will see what I mean....

Word Creation Wednesday

This week's word has a theological bent to it. Something worth chewing on for a while I hope...
"Imaginashun" - The shunning or rejection of another person due to a refusal to see them as created in the image of God. This is usually done for justifiable reasons, including their actions (which may have caused us pain), their belief systems (which may be false and even harmful), or their past failures (which are usually way worse than ours). The truth is that loving people because of the divine imprint in their nature is just too difficult. If we loved people merely because God loves them (and created them in his image) then we would have to love people like Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, Barak Obama, Jerry Springer (heaven forbid), or even worse, the people we come in contact with everyday. We'd have to love Miss California AND Perez Hilton, the contest judge who has made her life so difficult. Surely Jesus didn't mean for us to love people unconditionally? That would have severe implications for our thoughts and actions. Imagine what might happen if we did that...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

This week's sermon...

The audio from my simplicity sermon is still not posted so here's one from the past called, "The one who could throw, didn't."

Full study guide online here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Quote of the week...

“We have the nicest garbage man,
He empties out our garbage can.
He’s just as nice as he can be,
He always stops and talks to me.
My mother doesn’t like his smell,
But mother doesn’t know him well.”
--Peter Marshall (I think)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

This is ironic...

In light of my last post and my sermon topic today you just have to wonder...

Will we ever just be open to being "still"?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Playing little games

Tomorrow I preach on the discipline of simplicity.  I've defined simplicity as “Living life for what is most important, refusing to let the accumulation of the unimportant distract us from God’s call.” Once again I have been forced to think through the stuff of my life and how what I have shapes who I am, often whether I realize it or not.  I don't know who wrote this...but they said something worth saying.  
Some men die by shrapnel;
Some go down in flames.
But most men perish inch by inch
Playing little games.
In different words Thoreau said something similiar..
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
It seems that there is only so much mental head space in my life and once I have filled it there is no room left for the voice of God.  The goal has to be to clear the way, to open up space for God to speak. And that has serious implications for the choices I make from day to day.

My hope for you this week-end is that you take the time to think through your own life...reflecting how you can simplify your life and thus make space for God to speak clearly to you.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mental Illness of the Spirit...

Today I had a long interaction with Steven (not his real name).  Steven suffers from extreme paranoia.  He came to see me because he had been banned from the local Greyhound bus station. Of course, he was completely innocent.  His story was that the ticket agent had jumped across the counter and assaulted him.  He had called the police, but they had, just as he expected, taken the Greyhound employee's side.  The witnesses had seen nothing...other than the fact that Steven had become very impatient and loud with the ticket agent and the agent responded by telling him to leave the station.

As I talked to Steven his mind was hard at work making mental connections.  They were out to get him.  This incident was tied to the recent fire in his apartment building.  The fire was started by people connected to his step-mother.  She had slowly poisoned his father over that last 5 years, leading to his eventual death.  The step-mom is engineering all of this to keep him from collecting any of the inheritance.  She wants to isolate Steven in Hope (thus the expulsion from the Greyhound station) so that he has no freedom to travel.  This, he says, makes him a sitting duck for those who are seeking to kill him.  It's quite a fascinating story - and I haven't even told you how his siblings are complicit in the whole affair.

After a few minutes of talking with Steven it becomes abundantly clear that the only thing that is out to get him is his own mental illness.  He needs some intensive help, and probably some good medication in order to keep the paranoia at bay.  But because he can function at a pretty high level in society, society tends to let him be, even if that is to his own detriment.

As is often the case, my personal interactions tend to inspire reflection.  As I pitied Steven for the difficult challenge of having his own mind work against him, I was challenged to think about a malady that I often suffer from - spiritual paranoia.  When bad things happen to me, when I am not sure where God is, when I don't understand how He could allow the things that He is allowing, I begin to allow these things to make me paranoid.  What if He isn't good?  What if He isn't in control.  What if Romans 8:28...
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." nothing but wishful thinking?  At that moment God looks at me, much as how I look at Steven.  He sees the futility of my thinking.  He marvels at my ability to miss so much of what is actually going on in the middle of my self-absorption.  He hurts for my weakness.  And somehow He still loves me.   

Steven has lost the ability to trust.  Every action that happens to him is somehow suspect.  I often do the same.  Trust is a fragile object that must be cared for.  It is one that needs to be both nourished and practiced.  As children we trust without too much effort.  Maybe that comes from our lack of understanding of what the real world is like.  As adults we "know better".  But when it comes to our spiritual life, trust is the only antidote for spiritual paranoia.  If we don't learn to trust, we spend all our lives running from everything - even those things that God works for our good at a level far beyond our own understanding.
"The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
--Proverbs 28:1