Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

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“Obnoxious!” Really?

“Obnoxious,” he said riding by me from the other direction.

High vis“Well, at least you can see me,” I mumbled under my breath. And that’s the point; every wise cyclist knows that the first most important thing about riding is being seen. Drivers in fast cars and big trucks run into that which they cannot see. Thusly, I dress in the high-vis gear pictured here. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive outfit, but ya gotta admit—it catches your eye. On top of the high-vis attire, I also have a bright, flashing headlamp and two bright, flashing tail lights (called torches in the bike biz).

So, how dare he call me obnoxious, especially as we’re both riding on paths shared by pedestrians. Why, I’ll have you know I’m riding wisely and safely; not like him, he had no lights and was wearing dark clothing that was even adorned with my undergrad alma mater—sheesh! But I’m visible.

Mom’s with baby strollers see me, couples with gigantic mastiffs or teensy poodles on leashes see me, and, obviously, other cyclists see me as well. This means no accidents, everyone leaves the park as whole as they arrived. But rather than trading insults, we usually exchange pleasantries like “hello” or “what a beautiful dog” and so on.

Obnoxious indeed!

But then again, maybe he’s right. No, I don’t mean about my on-bike wardrobe, but more along the lines of my thinking. I definitely had obnoxious thoughts about him after that ride-by insult. I compared his poor example to my good example. Then I got to thinking how I often I view certain bumper stickers as obnoxious; or certain body-adornments; or even some t-shirt slogans. Yes, I instantly judge others just as easily as Mister Dark Rider judged me. And that’s obnoxious. I don’t even know these people, I don’t even know Mister Dark Rider. I don’t know their backgrounds, their hurts, their fears, their successes or their failures. I just snap judge them based on some sticky paper attached to their rear chrome. Yes, I’m well aware that people intentionally put bumper stickers on their cars as a statement, often to rile people up; but what led them to feeling justified emblazing that message for all to see? I have no idea.

Another thought occurred to me later in the week. It was easy for Mister Dark Rider to see my “light” due to the high-vis gear. But does the Light residing in my soul by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit shine out as easily? When others see me to do they see Jesus? Do people sense the presence of the Lord in my life?
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14 & 16

Maybe God meant for Mister Dark Rider to stir up some deeper thoughts in my soul. Maybe this was a way to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the deeper, darker corners of the closets of my soul. Maybe the Lord was showing me what he wants to work on next.

Could it be that God wants me to be more sensitive to how quickly I judge others on little things like bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans? For behind these little cultural artifacts are hearts and souls that are dear to the heart of our Father. Perhaps the Lord used Mister Dark Rider as a way to move my thinking into a more eternal realm. Each soul, whether draped in high-vis gear or festooned with slogans, are souls that have eternal destinies. Am I helping these souls to consider salvation in Jesus, or do I drive them away?

A Bit Somber, but Blessed

It’s been a tough week. Work stuff has some mounting pressures, I need to make a big decision in the very near future and I’m preparing to officiate my first wedding and launch a new small group on the west side of town. Then Janey and I went to a memorial service yesterday. Yes, it was a celebration of a vibrant and godly man that is now with the Lord, but it still has sadness. As one of the speakers said, no matter how hard my week was; which, frankly, it wasn’t that big of a deal—I still come home to my bride and I’m not fighting a life-draining illness. Chronic pain takes a toll, but I’m not fighting for my life.

 

So…

…I don’t have much to say today without getting choked up. I don’t have permission to share names, but the brief time I knew this man I felt such positive electricity, like the Holy Spirit vibrating through every fiber of his being. I don’t care who you are, that moves a person’s soul.

So I don’t have much to say. Still, I am continually amazed, and a bit disappointed, how quickly I move through my days with check lists, task boxes, to-dos, and stuff to accomplish. But how much does all of this really matter? Sure, these things have importance to a degree, but they don’t breathe life into me. And I don’t breathe life into them; they’re inanimate expressions of someone else’s urgency. But what was urgent to Jesus? People.

Relationships were, and still are, what Jesus cares about. And the way Jesus shows His care cross_sunsetin another person’s life is through us (John 13:31-35). No, I don’t plan to abandon my responsibilities, I don’t want to lose the job God’s blessing me with; but perhaps I can approach each check box, task and to-do item with a view of the other lives around me. Maybe I can strive to love and serve my bride, my boys, my church, my employer with just a little more effort to intentionally exude light and life rather than check marks and packed calendars.

 

Like I said…

…I don’t have much to say. My soul is stirred.

Observations from the Backyard

Backyard observations

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been adjusting to lots of changes. Adjusting to a new home in a new part of the city, increased (but very fun) responsibilities with my new position, and slogging through the second-to-last semester of grad school; all while trying to maintain a balance with the rest of life. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit still and quiet the mind. This morning was just such a time as I sat on our bench in the backyard. It had recently rained so the air was freshly moist, the raindrops were rolling off leaves with a distinctive liquid-y plop onto other leaves or the ground, and the birds were out in force as the land drank in the refreshing after a summer of being parched. Here are just a few simple observations from this time of

quietness.

Initial Sense

The peaceful breeze,

fresh with moisture and fragrance;

Bringing season’s change.

Floating Thought

Cars rumble away,

destinations and errands.

But birdsong remains.

Almost Over

Beckoning silence.

To-do lists and checkboxes.

The tensions of life.

Uncomfortable Words and Prayer

Peace

Contemplative, centering and meditation. What do you think when you read these words? Many western Christians bristle at these words. They conjure up images of bald Tibetans in orange and red robes or multi-armed Hindu gods. And yet Scripture is full of admonitions to meditate. Often the admonitions occur with the word “wait” or “still” as well as many uses of the word “meditate.” In Psalms, meditate and meditation (a derivative of meditate) simply mean to muse, or contemplate or pray. It is also interesting to note that “the fact remains that every human brain, from early childhood on, contemplates the possibility that spiritual realms exist”[1].

Our Brains and God

God built our brains to seek after him, but somehow many of us, myself included, have lost our way in how to do this. For instance, I have task lists and check marks for how I “do” faith. My devotion time is something I squeeze in between getting out of bed in the morning and showering. But am I really seeking God or going through a motion to look spiritual? It isn’t so much the timeframe of this practice as much as it the authenticity of it. Reading Scripture and prayer are good things, but where is my head, and especially my heart, when I do them? Is my prayer a laundry list for God, a list of tasks and expectations that resemble my Franklin Planner? Or am I really desiring to commune with the God of the universe?

The Dessert Fathers from so many centuries ago knew better. “Meditation for them consisted in making the words of the Bible their own by memorizing them and repeating them, with deep and simple concentration, ‘from the heart.’ Therefore the ‘heart’ comes to play a central role in this primitive form of monastic prayer”[2]. But things have changed. Foster notes that “usually people will tolerate a brief dabbling in the ‘inward journey,’ but then it is time to get on with the real business in the real world. We need courage to move beyond the prejudice of our age and affirm with our best scientists that more than the material world exists” (emphasis in the original)[3].

I agree with Merton and Foster.

Jesus and Being Self-Aware

It is so easy to lose the peace in my soul and to allow the “joy of my salvation” to be stolen away.  Why?

Partially because I grew up in a home that breathed in anxiety and breathed out worry. We could all be starters for any team in the in the NWL (National Worry League). I don’t know if those of us from Northern European descent are more predisposed to worry or not, but it seems so genetically ingrained that it is nearly impossible to overcome. Yet Jesus still says that with God nothing is impossible; He goes on to say that He gives us peace, not worldly peace, but the peace that passes understanding (cf. Lk. 18:27, Jo. 14:27 & Phil. 4:6-7).

I want this peace; frankly, I need this peace. How can I be a light in the world when I’m dark inside? How can I expect the world to be a more peaceful place when I can’t even be a more peaceful person? This isn’t being self-absorbed, it’s being self-aware. I want to draw people to Jesus, but all I do is repel them if they look at me see a tightly wound up ball of tension that is irritable and angry. I pray, Jesus, take this away! In fact, the centering prayer phrase I’m now using at this point in my life is, “Peace in Jesus; peace in me.”

So again I embark on a discipline of incorporating more centering prayer in my life. Usually such attempts last a few days and then the busyness and tiredness of life bleed this away from me. So far, my latest attempt has lasted a week; and I love it. I still pray for people and for God’s touch in their lives. But now I’m also intentionally allowing the Holy Spirit to flow more freely in my soul. Through this I am receiving fleeting tastes of that peace I have so desperately longed for.

Over time, I will let you know how this is going.

[1] How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Neuroscientist. Andrew Newberg, MD & Mark Robert Waldman, New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. Kindle location 108.

[2] Contemplative Prayer. Thomas Merton, New York: Image Books, 1969, p. xxix.

[3] Celebration of Discipline. Richard J. Foster, New York: Harper Collins, 1978, Kindle location 277.

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.

Prayer Bench & MRI Update

Bench

Just a quick note today. The picture depicts an extraordinary spot to sit and pray, ponder and contemplate. It is a spring that pops out of the ground in the interior part of Black Butte Ranch near the Paulina Pool complex. The brook really does babble over moss covered rocks and winds its way down a slope lined with tall pines, firs and aspens. I can’t help but praise God in such a glorious setting.

The wind whispering through the trees reminds me of Jesus talking with Nicodemus in John chapter three about the Holy Spirit. ‘Nic’ was pondering the idea of being born from above when Jesus stated, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8). I’m sure that left Nic scratching his head.

The brook and its soothing noise reminds me of being washed by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26).  As I drink in the truth of Scripture I am being cleansed; sometimes the cleansing is through encouragement and sometimes through conviction.

Brook

I can go on, but I’ll wait to install other components of my “bench time” later.

To close, I want to say thank you for so much positive response on my MRI post last week. I was not expecting so much love and support. Reading through posts on my Facebook and blog site brought tears to my eyes—thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

The MRI results do show considerable spinal degeneration but none needing another surgical intervention, thank God. My surgeon has said I need right elbow surgery to fix nerve impingement; but an elbow, while important, is not the spine!

Thank you again my friends and family, may God bless you with more of himself in your lives.

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.

Odd Feeling

hawkLately I’ve been feeling odd; it’s a longing in my soul I can’t identify. I’m not sad, nor am I depressed; I’m just…longing. Longing for what I don’t know. It isn’t really a sentimental emotion nor am I anxious about anything, at least not anything that’s at the surface of my thinking.

A Pastor Friend

A pastor friend of mine said he feels that way sometimes. He said maybe there is some latent sadness lurking under the surface of my consciousness. Maybe I’m struggling with completely accepting a mom that is slowly slipping deeper into dementia; the mother of my childhood no longer exists, but the shell of what used to be withers before my eyes and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Maybe it’s a longing for solitude. I find myself looking out the window more than I used to, thinking about wilderness trails, mountain views, and rustling wind through tall firs. On one of my lunchtime walks the other day I stopped in front of a big church building watching a young hawk soaring effortlessly above it. It was beautiful even as traffic buzzed around me and exhaust fumes filled my nostrils this hawk was still surviving, still reminding me that God’s creation is much more than concrete, asphalt and noise.

Holy Spirit Flow

Maybe I’m longing to be freer in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God’s tugging at me to realize I am blocking his flow in my life somehow, somewhere; but where?

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

—Jesus, John 3:8

Do I have the fresh air of the Holy Spirit flowing out of me? I hope so, but I don’t know; maybe this is what I’m longing for, maybe this is what the world is longing for.

More to Do, Little to Be

leaf-path_resized

“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

—Luke 6:12

“To be in His presence is gift enough.” This is a phrase I heard last week at the Hope Pregnancy Clinic banquet. It is a compelling quote, especially when feeling distant from God. Personally, my life is so full of stuff needing to be done that life itself has become a series of to-do lists. I’m slowly and sadly morphing into the recent cliché of living as a human-doing rather than a human being. Perhaps an overused phrase, but it has a lot of truth to it.

Jesus spent hours just being with His Father, I’m sure He had requests but given the amount of time spent with His Father it is likely that much of the time was just basking in the presence of the Lord. Jesus was longing to hear the voice of His Father rather than His own voice. Conversely, much my time with the Father is nothing more than a ten minute “prayer session” of requests and laments. I don’t give enough time to listen to anything other than my own voice. There is no presence of God because I monopolize the time with my own presence.

Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine states in Sensing Jesus that life for a Christ-follower is an apprenticeship with Jesus and “apprenticeship needs meditation and time” (p. 26).  Part of this time is spent in prayerful meditation on the character of God or on a portion of Scripture, such as the one mentioned above. It takes time in any conversation to move into the deeper waters of relational richness and soul-moving transformation. It reminds me of strolling with Jesus down a leaf-strewn path, kicking and crunching through the fallen foliage just talking…talking about the deep things like longing for Heaven, or enduring through chronic pain or fearing the future. It is asking Jesus to speak into the darker areas of my heart; the areas of selfish ambition, or the desire to be in control or my covetousness. It is intentionally opening the doors and windows of my soul to the refreshing and cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit wafting through unhindered, removing the stench of sin and clutter. This opens up spaces for healing and transformation, and for two-way conversation.

Be More Than Do

Instead, Jesus is kept at arm’s length with carefully crafted to-do lists and requests. We have accomplishments next to little check-marked boxes of things we have done; but Jesus is interested in transforming our being, not our doing.  We are called to be lights, not do lights (Matt. 5:14-16 and Phil. 2:15).

What if our mindset was to be healing rather than do healing? And being bathed in the presence of Jesus is in itself healing; yes, the aches remain and things needs to be done for employers, school, and ministry—but that time of being with Jesus can help us become a healing presence for others. But when we focus on doing, our soul shrinks to the size of our check boxes; Jesus wants to transcend us above such a small soul to become more like Him. To become more of a healing light, drawing others to Jesus’ healing presence.

We are to be more than we are to do.