40 Words: “Brokenness” (03.01.2016)

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image from longingforhomedesigns.com

“To be alive, is to be broken.” -Brennan Manning

I forget simple things, like that statement, over and over.

As I’ve said repeatedly, Lent is this season for reflection and contemplation, a time to clear space in my life into which God can speak…

… and I can listen.

At my church, we have been going through a sermon series called “SE7EN”, which is a journey through the Seven Deadly Sins and their effect on our lives. I’ve preached two of the sermons, and each time I have counseled people to get honest with someone and admit their failings.

There’s no shame in having cracks and faults. We all have them; that’s what it means to inhabit this body of ours.

(Of course, the earth-shaking, universe-changing idea is that God decided to inhabit a body just like mine and live a 100% God-centered, God-focused life. This means that brokenness is not an inhibitor of God’s work. It means that brokenness and limitation is a place where God is willing to make his home, in some form or fashion. My job is to recognize that fact and live out that reality.)

Well, I want to get honest with you.

I’m lousy at fasting.

Last week, my wife was out of town, so I was being a faithful house husband: fixing dinner, reheating leftovers, supervising homework and in general running the monkey house.

I consistently blew my fast for 5 days in a row.

I don’t know what it was: the change in routine, the stress of being alone, etc., etc.

The reasons go on and on, but the bottom line remains the same: I failed to control my own self, my ego-driven desires and urges.

By the way, this is not beating myself up; this is merely taking responsibility

Never mind that I was writing daily about the importance of fasting.

Never mind that I had just delivered a message on fasting on Sunday.

This was not my vision for the week.

But here I am, at the beginning of another week. Shana is again traveling, and so I will, again, be faced with my own limitations and temptations.

Part of the spiritual life is an exercise in accepting your limitations while at the same time being doggedly determined to change, progress, and evolve over time.

I believe that God wants more from me, because He has more for me.

Much of my reading recently has come from ancient spiritual masters, from both the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church. More than modern authors, they seem to recognize two key things:

1. The offer of transformation, of *theosis* or “divine union”

2. The inherent limitations of being human.

Because of these limitations, they don’t pull punches when it comes to arranging your life for spiritual growth. Essentially, they say that we *must* learn to discipline and control our egotistical, self-driven urges in order to give ourselves more completely to Christ.

I’m buying that. 100%.

To be alive is indeed to be broken. But to be alive is also to participate in the divine mystery of God-With-Us.

Back to the fast.

40 Words: “Hungry” (2.17.2016)

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If you are fasting, you are going to get hungry…

(that’s kind of how this deal works)…

So we shouldn’t be surprised.

When I fast, I use the hunger pangs to remind me of my brokenness, of how much I don’t long for God. How much I numb my true desires with things like food or entertainment or unhealthy emotions…

Distractions.

But when you fast, you get reminded of what true longing and hunger means.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 61:1 NIV)

We, on the other hand, live in a land that is decidedly not dry and parched.

At least on the surface.

We satisfy every need. Or so we think.

We eat and drink and entertain ourselves into a state of half awake, half dreaming, and then try to convince ourselves that we have found “life.”

Lent—and fasting—brings an opportunity to wake up and discover what true life, true food and water really look like.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

If you are fasting today, don’t dread the coming hunger; the approaching desires for a sandwich.

Welcome them as signs of a truer, deeper hunger and longing that is within you.

Offer your hunger up as a prayer to God.

He listens.

Lent is Coming (Don’t Look Busy)

Ash Wednesday is this week, which means that the season of Lent is upon us.

Lent is the season of the church that leads up to Easter. It is a time of preparation, meant to prepare us both to remember Jesus’ crucifixion as well as his resurrection. Historically, lent was a season where people who had left the church for one reason or another were re-integrated. The bottom line is that traditionally God’s people have used this season to reflect on areas of their lives that might need some “cleaning up”, and also to slow down in order to shed light on any new areas that might need addressing.

Part of lent is slowing down and strategically making space in your life to hear God’s voice. Usually this means “fasting” in some form or fashion.

But actually fasting—and lent—should be a little more than that. For many Christians, fasting is only half of the equation: the other half is engaging in or giving back resources, in the form of “time, talents, and treasures” that have been freed up by the fast.

So you might consider:

  • giving up lunch once a week, but then giving the money you saved to your local church or a local ministry
  • giving up Facebook or Netflix, but then giving the time you freed up to Bible study or a local mission or charity that needs help
  • giving up an hour of sleep in the morning, but then giving the time to prayer and meditation
  • giving up a snack and instead buying food that you can keep in your car to give to the hungry and homeless that you might encounter as you drive around

These are just a few examples, but I think you see the point. Lent isn’t just about giving up Chipotle or chocolate or ice cream; it’s really about carving up space to see God move in different ways. It’s about bringing some of our physical appetites under control so that we can give to needy folks. It’s about becoming aware of where we are still held captive by those same desires, and where we continually need God’s Spirit to help us, to refine us, to grow us into the people that He wants and needs us to be in His world.

I would encourage and even challenge you to be thoughtful and intentional over the next 40 days. Pick something that will open up space in your life for God to speak and move.

Personally, I am giving up a few things, one of which is Facebook (not a huge sacrifice for me, which is why there are multiple activities for me this year). But, I am also engaging in some activities that, God willing, will allow me to draw closer to God as well as to others.

(By the way, I will continue to write and publish over Lent, so feel free to subscribe here and get my blogs delivered straight to your inbox.)

If you’d like to share your ideas for Lent here, go right ahead. We’re listening. Otherwise (as Gandalf would say), “Keep it safe, keep it secret.”

May your Lenten journey be rich, and full of peace where you need it and challenge you where you need it as well.
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2015 Lenten Reflections

Well, we survived.

(At least for the most part.)

We have walked our walk, and made the 40-day journey. It began with Ash on skin and ended with an empty tomb.

We have reflected and yearned, gone hungry and sat in silence.

Some of us have woken up to even new areas of our lives where we are still “in bondage.”

But it’s over. We’re done. It’s Easter now, and time to engage with the power of God’s Spirit in a “resurrection life.” I’ve written about that before, but what I wanted to do for now is to jot down a few notes about my own 40-day journey, and maybe hear from you about yours.

MY SACRIFICE

When we started this journey, I encouraged you guys to thoughtfully choose something to give up, to “limit yourselves” in some way…

… I also encouraged you all to keep it a secret. 

I did that. I didn’t really tell anyone about my fast; however, since we are on the other side now, here’s what I did..

I decided to give up all media. That meant that for 6 days a week I watched no TV, listened to no music or podcasts, and visited no “news or entertainment” websites. Now, I had to do some of this for my work, so exceptions had to be made from time to time, but for the most part I was able to make this work. In the time that I gained back from this, I tried to add more prayer, and more reading of spiritual/theological books. On the “seventh day”, I “feasted,” meaning I listened to and watched whatever I wanted for 24 hours.

Here’s what I learned:

NO JOURNEY IS PERFECT

It’s hard to keep this up! As I said, I have to take in some media for my job, and sometimes that spilled over into mindless surfing for a few minutes until I could re-center. Further, sometimes I had to make decisions to be with my family—who were watcing a show of some kind—rather than maintain my fast.

There are always bumps in the road, but you have to constantly re-adust, re-commit and keep pesevering. It’s not going to be perfect, but you can still finish. The point is to not give up. Stay on the journey.

It’s easy to live in an “all-or-nothing” mentality, but spiritually-speaking it ultimately won’t get you very far. Spirituality is seldom (if ever) about “all or nothing.” It’s about staying centered in the midst of failure and disappointment. It’s about continuing to move forward even when you haven’t been perfect. It’s in the “in-between” places that we tend to grow the most.

YOU’D BE SURPRISED WHAT YOU DON’T MISS

As I began to “quiet down”, I was shocked with how much I simply wasn’t missing. Normally, I’m pretty addicted (maybe that’s the key word) to news websites, Tumblr, NPR, ESPN, etc., etc., but as I began to lower those voices, I was shocked with how much I didn’t miss those voices.

My normal life—my everyday conversations, interactions and all the challenges that sometimes accompanies them—were plenty to occupy my mind.

Sure, I missed some “big stories” (that somehow seldom seem to be as big as they first appear to be), but by and large people caught me up as was necessary.

I really didn’t miss all that much, and this was actually pretty surprising.

FASTING SOMETIMES EXPOSES MORE NEED FOR FASTING

When I first pulled back from some of the media I was engaging in, I dove into some fun theology books. However, a week or two into my journey, I suddenly had a nagging thought: “You know, books are a form of media as well.”

Well now…

What I began to realize was that sometimes ”surrending and getting quiet before God means really surrendering and getting quiet before GOd.” 

It doesn’t mean reading more Henri Nouwen.

Pulling back just a little sometimes exposes our need to pull back even more. We discover new ways in which we are distracting ourselves and refusing to listen to the deepest voice in our souls, the One that is calling us to our deepest, truest self.

There’s probably more, deeper things that happened during my time in the desert, but they may take a little time for me to process (and I may not even share them all here), but those were just a couple of things that I learned.

What about you? What was your Lenten season like?