Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sabbatical #26: Confessional Prayer (Path of Celtic Prayer #7)

It is likely something comes to mind when you hear “confession.” Miller says there are three ways to define it – confessing a creed, confessing personal sin, and confessions in the sense of a spiritual autobiography, like Augustine’s, for instance. At its most foundational level, confession is agreeing with God. This is where power for prayer is unleashed because it is evidence of a trusting step toward union with God.

We tend to be too much like our first parents who passed the buck when God came calling after their sin (see Genesis 3) rather than agreeing with God that we’ve done wrong. We’re quick to justify or slow to name our sin and own it. But when we do, we take down the barriers between us and God, it puts us in step with Him. And the goal of our prayer, and the source of our power in prayer is union with Christ.

Listen to Miller:

Here is where the eternal God in Christ drops his huge hand over the threshold of our sinfulness to hold hands with us. This is precisely what the incarnation was about. We want to be one with Christ, and this oneness is born in our willingness to live in agreement concerning our sin and his forgiveness (p. 142).

Miller gives a three part “pilgrimage” in confession. It starts with longing for God and then moves to agreeing that our sin is sin, agreeing with God in this fact. The final aspect of it is not some worm theology, but finding ourselves in abandoning ourselves to God and serving Him. This will bring us into a “dangerously close” relationship with God.

Miller offers several forms in this book, but notes that confession is the “hardest to formalize” (p. 155). Even so, he offers a template that might be helpful. Start by praying this prayer, and then use the following template as a tool (pp. 156-158).

I come to you Father, acknowledging my longing after you.
I come to you Son of the Father, acknowledging that my sin has met the cross.
I come to you Spirit, asking you to fill me so that I may keep my place of ministry in bringing the world to a full confession of its own.

To you, merciful Father, I pray, against you have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
To you, merciful Son of the Father, I pray, wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
To you, merciful Spirit, I pray, create in me a pure heart.

Now believing in your cleansing and trusting in your mercy, I offer you this confession:

I, [YOUR NAME HERE], freely acknowledge my sin.

I take no credit for my redemption, yet I know it stands in place forever, as eternal as grace itself. Give ear to my desperate longing for you, O Father.

For this is how I feel my neediness, and express my longing:

I agree with you that I have sinned. I express what my sins have cost you and how in the past they have barred me from the fullest relationship I might have had with you.

I am seeking that perfect expression of your will for me in the world. Help me rediscover what every moment holds for me so that I can serve you in the exact manner you will equip me to serve. Here is the substance of my search:

Here is the story of how I first met you, how I first felt a longing for your love.

Here I rehearse my first feeling of brokenness for our years of separation and the joy of my homecoming.

As a final expression of my confession, I write out here in prayer my calling in the world. As far as I know here is what you have called me to do and when my service is to begin.

Father to you I give thanks for my purpose.
Son to you I give thanks for your cross and my redemption.
Spirit to you I give thanks for empowering my ministry in the world.

Amen, Father Almighty.
Amen, Son who saves.
Amen, Spirit who empowers.

Sabbatical #25: “Lorica” Prayer (Path of Celtic Prayer #6)

“Lorica” prayer is “breastplate” prayer, prayer for protection. This isn’t self-preservation for its own sake. Rather, it is that one may fulfill what God has called a person to do in this life and have the strength to do it.

This can be challenging for us on two fronts. First, many of us may have a tendency to miss the heart of the prayer and make it about us and our longevity rather than our commitment to fulfilling God’s mission with our lives. Our lives are not our own – they belong to God.

The other challenge is that we, at least I, often think I go to the doctor to get healthy. The modern mind thinks health is largely in our own hands – unlike the Celts who lived on the edge of life and death more often than not. Now don’t get me wrong. I love those who have discovered God’s ways through science and medicine for the benefit of us all. But let us not forget that God has our hairs numbered. He’s in control. He holds our lives in His hands. Let’s pray to Him for protection.

An example prayer is this “Breastplate of Laidcenn”…

O God, defend me everywhere
With your impregnable power and protection.
Deliver all my mortal limbs,
Guarding each with your protective shield,
So the foul demons shall not hurl their darts
Into my side, as is their wont.

Deliver my skull, hair-covered head, and eyes,
Mouth, tongue, teeth, and nostrils,
Neck, breast, side, and limbs,
Joints, fat, and two hands.

Be a helmet of safety to my head,
To my crown covered with hair,
To my forehead, eyes, and triform brain,
To snout, lip, face, and temple.

To my chin, beard, eyebrows, ears,
Chaps, cheeks, septum, nostrils,
Pupils, irises, eyelids, and the like,
To gums, breath, jaws, gullet.

Protect my spine and ribs and their joints,
Back, ridge, and sinews with their bones;
Protect my skin and blood with kidneys,
The area of the buttocks, nates with thighs.
Protect my hams, calves, femurs,
Houghs and knees with knee-joints;
Protect my ankes and shins and heels,
Shanks, feet with their soles.

Protect my toes growing together,
With the tips of the toes and twice five nails;
Protect my breast, collarbone and small breast,
Nipples, stomach, and navel.

Protect the whole of me with my five senses,
Together with the ten created orifices,
So that from soles of feet to crown of head
I shall not sicken in any organ inside or out. (pp. 125-126)
Did they forget anything? I'm not even sure of what all those are. Bottom line: God is our protector. Pray for your protection and of those who God puts on your heart.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sabbatical #24: Nature Prayer (Path of Celtic Prayer #5)

I read this chapter a few days ago, but just yesterday I went with Suzanne and our girls on a drive to Mt. Rainier to play in the snow. It was a brief time in the snow, but a great drive to look at beautiful forests, snow patches, rivers, waterfalls, and craggy ledges all about. It was beautiful.

We control our environments so much that we can easily forget, apart from the natural tragedies on CNN, the wonder and power of God’s created world. The Celts lived in nature and had a hearty appreciation for it. So much so that they could be considered by some to cross the line into nature worship. According to Miller, though, their goal was to celebrate the great God behind nature, not nature.

Nature gives us a picture of God’s character and should evoke wonder and praise in us. Note this choice quote from Miller challenges the modern “inside” world that most of us inhabit…

A supersized God makes us aware of our smallness and our humble place in the universe. But in order to see him, we must give up our addiction to electronic media. Once we have seen the God of Yosemite and the Everglades, we will be better able to celebrate his awesome reality and our hearts will overflow with praise. Cognizant of God’s majesty, we will subsequently and spontaneously confess our need. (pp. 104-105)
It’s easy for me to say, up here in Washington where Mt. Rainier reminds of God’s greatness whenever the sky is clear (come to think of it, maybe not that easy!), but take some time – even in looking at the details of creation in your garden – to be reminded of God’s greatness through His creation. Go to the beach. Or the mountains.

And think on some awe-inspiring texts as well. Start with Job 38-39.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sabbatical #23: The Taste of Sin

I’ve started reading The Confessions by St. Augustine. He talks about stealing some pears as an adolescent simply for the rush of stealing. He didn’t want to eat the pears. He didn’t need them. He just wanted to steal. He had a taste for sin. His discussion on motives is a good reminder that we need to resist sin and be with God in prayer, fasting, Scripture, and the rest of the disciplines that we might cultivate a taste for godliness rather than sin, particularly when good things are used to lead us into the corruption of that good thing, ending in sin. Here’s what Augustine has to say…

Sin gains entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law. These lowest goods hold delights for us indeed, but no such delights as does my God, who made all things; for in him the just man finds delight, and for upright souls he himself is joy (31).
It is a reminder of the oft-quoted words that Augustine shares near the beginning of his work, “…you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (3).

Sabbatical #22: Wandering Prayer (Path of Celtic Prayer #4)

I should be better at wandering prayer. I’ve been walking around Lake Wilderness out here in Maple Valley, WA. Believe me, I’m not fast so wandering may be the most apt description of what I do.

The Celts had guys that were called perigrini, wanderers. They would start walking or riding in their boat, trusting Jesus as their guide. They had no destination. Their joy was being on the journey with Jesus, led by Jesus. This helps to keep us constantly in prayer. This is a lifestyle we’re called to embrace.

Whatever our apparent earthly destinations, our life itself is a
pilgrimage. Once we understand we will never “arrive,” we can remain in a
continual state of prayer. This doesn’t mean we are always talking to
God. The fullest definition of long, wandering prayer is journeying in the
presence of the triune God. And even when our hearts are not wrapped (or
rapt) in conversation with the Almighty, we are yet in his presence (p. 79).

Miller talks much about life as a journey. I agree, but this has been helpful for me in a practical day-to-day sense, too. This “journeying” prayer reminds me to shut the radio off in the car. To pray while I walk. There’s some who do a good job of this, like my wife. Not me, though. This is a good, helpful reminder.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sabbatical #21: Don’t Forget Elizabeth!

I was just reading Luke 1.39-56. What a rich passage! The thing that swept me up in the story (perhaps another post on Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book) was Elizabeth’s response when Mary arrived.

Think about Elizabeth for a minute. She’s pregnant with a miracle baby of her own and her husband saw an angel in the process. But when Mary walks through the door, she becomes totally self-forgetful. She doesn’t swap stories with Mary. No. Instead she, and John in her womb, delight at the presence of the King – still in the womb of his teenage mother.

What a picture of worship. I’m trying to connect more deeply with God during this sabbatical, but I find that a lot of my time is focused on me getting connected with Him rather than just losing myself in Him, delighting in Him, worshiping Him. That’s the union that God wants for our lives. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the picture that I exist to delight in Him and everything else revolves around that.

My purpose is to worship Him, to be come self-forgetful in His presence. When I do that, potential idols are put in their place. And I’m not just talking about money and that stuff, though that’s true, too. I’m talking about the idolatry of self, or of being a great husband, or worshiping my kids in the sense that our family’s life revolves around them. It doesn’t. It revolves around God – when everything’s working as it should. A worship-centered life isn’t one that is irresponsible. Everything will be taken care of, but in its proper place.

Sabbatical #20: Praying Scripture (Path of Celtic Prayer #3)

One key element of Celtic prayer was praying God’s Word back to God. Their goal was not to ask God for stuff so much as union with Christ. Scripture was seen as “literature born on the high ledges between this world and the next” (54). What better way to strengthen our union with God than by communicating to Him in His language?

What are the strengths of praying Scripture? First, it helps us listen to God’s Word – it moves from the eyes to our ears (via our own mouths). Next, it reminds us that prayer isn’t about us only, but about union with the Triune God. Finally, it can unite the church as we pray together God’s Word corporately.

Miller goes on to talk about the spiritual power in Scripture in several ways. In the struggle with sin, go to Rom. 7.25-8.1. When going through difficult times, read/pray Psalm 23. When grieving, read/pray 1 Cor. 15.51-58. For those who are facing their final days, reading/praying 2 Tim. 4 can be of great comfort.

I actually tried this the other day. I’m working through Luke (this passage is 1.26-38). Here’s what it looked like for me. Maybe it will be of help to you. Maybe not.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
Lord, may I receive Your Word – through Scripture, prayer, whatever – with the same gravity as Mary. May I not take you lightly, but cultivate an awe for You and the fact that You would communicate with me.
30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Thank You for Jesus and the wonderful Savior He is. Thank you that there will never be anyone like Him, nor has there ever been. Help me enjoy His greatness and become increasingly conformed to His image.
34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God."
Lord, I praise your infinite greatness. Help me live in the reality that nothing is impossible with you and to live and pray like I believe it.
38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
God, help me become the kind of person who, regardless of what You ask, will say "let it be to me according to your word.”
This was a profitable experience that has helped bring my Bible reading to life, even if just for a couple days at this point.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sabbatical #19: Be Our Guest?

I miss my family. Suzanne, Eliana, and Vivian will be here tomorrow evening, and I can’t wait. But I also miss my church family. Being immersed in church life, it’s been almost 10 years since we’ve looked for a new church. I’ve visited a couple mega-churches where anonymity is expected, but over the last couple weeks I’ve tried to visit smaller churches. I couldn’t find the church I was looking for in Milwaukee, but it was my discomfort with Plan B that I wanted to post about.

I was in the neighborhood, I presume, of the church I was looking for but couldn’t find (I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with Mapquest) and I saw a Lutheran church. I’ve never been to a Lutheran church. I thought about going, but I worried that I wasn’t dressed nicely enough. I wasn’t sure where to park. So I didn’t. I went and read my Bible at a coffee shop.

Now the Lutherans are our brothers and sisters, as far as I understand Lutheranism. And still I was not comfortable going there. It put me in the position of the guests who come to Cypress Church. It can be awkward, intimidating to go to church, particularly when you aren’t a believer.

But what if you actually get in the door and make it to church? I did that yesterday (Father’s Day) and I was greeted at the door and someone shook my hand when I left. The senior pastor did, too. It was nice, but nobody else talked to me. I felt alone (reason #587 that I can’t wait for my family to get here!), which didn’t trouble me to a great degree. But what about the person who was dying for someone to reach out to them, to show them the love of Christ?

To be fair, this is one of the bigger churches in my hometown and I was really impressed with the church in many other ways. I’d probably go back and I’d have to make the effort to get plugged in to their community.

I’m thankful for the great ministries that welcome people, like the Greeters and the Connection Center, but there’s no substitute for the person sitting in the row behind you tapping you on the shoulder, welcoming you to the church, and maybe even inviting you to lunch.

Sabbatical #18: Happy (Belated) Father's Day!

Happy Belated Father’s Day to any who might be checking today. I had a good time with my dad and brother – we went out to Thai food. Before that I went to my dad’s house and we put pavers in. We’re having a family reunion in a couple weeks. I think more than anything my dad taught me how to work. It wasn’t always fun, but it something I am incredibly thankful for now.

My form of work has changed significantly, however. I was reminded of this by the work I did with my dad yesterday … pavers. I don’t think I’ve ever been this sore the day after anything like I am today. Last night I couldn’t dial my cell phone without much effort – thumbs shaking, and everything. I’m totally worn out, but it was a joy to work hard with my hands, something I rarely do now.

At the same time, it isn’t anything I want to do day in and day out. But I am thankful for all the people who work hard with their hands. It is a proud part of my heritage and we couldn’t live without them.

I hope you had a good time with your dads and were able to honor them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sabbatical #17: Trinity Prayer (Path of Celtic Prayer #2)

While we tend to go to different members of the Godhead depending on the content of prayer (praise the Father for creation, ask Jesus for help on daily stuff, and ignore the Spirit), the Celts regularly prayed to the Trinity, particularly in the morning and in the evening (“If I die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take” is Celtic because they thought evil spirits could steal souls in the middle of the night). Here’s an example of a “typical morning prayer,” according to Miller:

I awake in the name of the Father who made me.
I arise in the name of the Son who died to save me.
I rise to greet the dawn in the name of the Spirit who fills me with life.
The evening prayer was similar:

I lay me down in the love of my Father.
I surrender my body to rest in the love of my Savior.
I trust my life in sleep to the Spirit who fills me with life.
Miller suggests writing your own morning and evening prayers with more personal and expanded “endings” to the prayer prompts (48-49). Here’s what he gives, if you’re interested.

Holy God,
I am rising today in the name of the Father who…

I am rising today in the name of the Son who…

I am rising today in the name of the Spirit who…

God of all that is and was and shall be, for this day and its fullness I give you thanks;
Thank you father for the Earth and its endless beauty. Thank you especially for…

Thank you, Son, for your example of obedience to your Father which taught me faithfulness this day as I endeavored to…

Thank you, Spirit, for your infilling of my life, I especially thank you for your presence today as you walked with me through…

Father, give me sleep tonight, so that my praise in the morning may…

Son, wake me in obedience tomorrow so that I may…

Spirit, offer me your presence tomorrow so that I may…


I haven't had a chance to work on it, but it seems like a fruitful exercise to even do once, let alone make it part of one's devotional practice.

Sabbatical #16: The God of the Celts with us today (Path of Celtic Prayer #1)

I’ve been working on remembering God’s presence with me at all times, and cultivating that sense of companionship that He wants to have with me. I’ve started reading The Path of Celtic Prayer by Calvin Miller. I’ve just hit the intro, but I liked this reminder that God is all around us from Miller.

“Celtic spirituality is filled with nature runes (poems or incantations) extolling the virtues of the triune God as he fills the natural world. The Celts sometimes struggled not to confuse God and nature; God is always greater than and separate from his creation. Nonetheless, we have much to learn from the way in which they allowed nature to inform their spirituality…” (20-21).

I hope it is good food for thought for you…

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sabbatical #15: Addicted to Noise

Sabbatical #13 deals with doing things that give God room to speak while you’re waiting to hear from you. I’m addicted to noise, particularly in the car – even more so here in Washington and the Mariners are playing. But there has been a joy in turning the radio off to limit the stimuli and perhaps hear from God. Even though I haven’t heard anything from God, necessarily, even leaving space for Him reminds me that He’s there. It’s nice. Try it, particularly if you’re one who always needs the radio or TV on like me. It really is a pleasant reminder.

Sabbatical #14: Live Well

I’m reading 3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger, the guy who wrote Friday Night Lights – the book, not the movie or TV show. It covers the Cardinals vs. Cubs series in August 2003. It is a well-written book that follows a three game series and how Tony La Russa, manager of the Cardinals works – along with flashbacks of interesting tid-bits on the game or the history of the Cardinals that elucidates the moments in the series.

One such flashback was moving today, similar to the death of Alexander Hamilton was for me when I finished his biography about a week ago. Daryl Kile was a good pitcher for the Cardinals, but in June 2002 he died of a heart attack in his sleep. I remember when this happened that I hastened to get a physical because I hadn’t for years, at the time. It was tragic. He seemed to have some kind of premonition. He wanted to stay on the phone with his wife, but he had to pitch the next day and go to bed. He seemed to know something was wrong.

The family aspect of it tears me up, like it did with Hamilton. It makes you think about how you’re living now. Am I living well? There’s an exercise I mentioned in the Seven Habits post (under Leadership, I think) about beginning with the end in mind. Think about what you want people to say at your funeral – family, work, church, and friend – and then live in the now so that those things might be said.

Alexander Hamilton and Daryl Kile are good reminders for me to write that mission statement and figure out what I most value – and then live intentionally in light of it. How ‘bout you?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sabbatical #13: Waiting for God in the Great Northwest

I’m up with my family in the greatest part of the Great Northwest, Washington State, not far out of Seattle. It has been good to loaf around and spend some time with my brother, mom, grandmother, and dad and stepmom. Today I’m the errand boy, which is nice. It isn’t often that I contribute to the family these days – apart from bringing Eliana & Vivian up, which Suzanne is doing in a few days. It’s nice. I don’t have internet at my mom’s, where I’m staying, so my posting won’t be as consistent, but I’m having a great time working on my relationship with God.

I finished Hearing God by Dallas Willard yesterday and it had some practical words on hearing God. He suggested a prayer James Dobson says he offers daily: “God, speak to me today through the books I read, magazines, conversations, and circumstances.” It was something like that. Willard suggests a prayer like that and then, when you’re waiting to hear from God, to wait to hear while you’re doing something light – like running errands or going through your mail. Situations where you can keep one ear on God and one on the work you’re doing. This keeps from being overly-introspective and “trying too hard” and going to work with such vigor that we’re too focused on our task to hear – at least until our ears have been well trained.

I don’t have a pressing question, but I’m going to try this today as I go on my family errands. Let me know if/how it works for you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sabbatical #12: Hearing God through Scripture

I’ve wanted to “listen” to God better in my life. It’s kind of the focus of my sabbatical, I guess you could say. I’m reading Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. It is really challenging – in terms of following Willard (he’s a smart cookie) and actually doing it. He always does a great job of inspiring us to live a God-immersed life. He is a man calling for discipleship, excellent living in the here-and-now, not just in heaven.

God’s Word isn’t limited to Scripture, according to Willard, because God is a communicating Person, but it is the surest way to genuine transformation because it shows us how to live and how to get there.

When we engage the Word, we should not focus on quantity, but quality. I totally focus on quantity. I need to work on slowing down in Scripture and submitting myself to it. These are Willard’s tips on reading for transformation:

1. Information – this text means something and God communicates through it.
2. Longing for it to be so – you actually want this change to change your life.
3. Affirmation that it must be so – trusting what God says is true even if it doesn’t line up with our experiences.
4. Invocation to God to make it so.
5. Appropriation by God’s grace that it is so – this cannot be faked. “The ability for it will be given as you watch for God to move in your life.” (Willard 164).
I know it is just a sketch, and probably incomplete, but it might be helpful. I know the book will be helpful, if you're interested.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sabbatical #11: The complexity of people

I’ve only done a few posts on Alexander Hamilton, but hopefully it is enough to see the complexity of an incomparably talented man who was all too human. His dueling partner/opponent, Aaron Burr, was very much the antithesis of Hamilton – brooding, private, scheming (I guess that’s not far from Hamilton on the last count).

As I read the end of the book, I began to loathe Burr. He seemed arrogant and just generally repulsive. But then there was a note reminding of his tremendous heartache, losing most of his family that was dear to him as a child, including, if I remember correctly, his grandfather Jonathan Edwards (what an incredible heritage!).

I try not to do it, but I’m not sure it is totally avoidable, but do you ever judge motives of others, thinking you know why they’re doing what they’re doing? I vaguely remember a reminder by Eugene Peterson on spiritual direction. It was basically a reminder that the only one who knows the whole story of the one you’re interacting with is God. It is the duty of the pastor, and of any friend, really, to be humble in working with them. We don’t know the whole story.

I don’t know what to do with this, but to remember it as I interact with people and counsel them, remembering to point them to God.

Sabbatical #10: "I charge you to remember that you are a Christian"

Alexander’s life had its share of heartache, including the loss of his eldest son in a duel and the mental breakdown of his eldest daughter. Knowing his wife may have to endure another loss, including the loss of her mother, Hamilton wrote the following after noting he would not shoot Burr in the duel:

“This must increase my hazards and redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather that I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me and [I humbly] hope will, but in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian.” (Chernow 697)
He wanted to remind her to take solace in her faith and the hope of their reunion. Eliza was a strong believer who worked diligently to care for widows and orphans (see James 1.27). He encouraged her to let her faith guide her through difficult times.

How has/can “remembering that you are a Christian” affected your decisions?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sabbatical #9: A Father's Advice

In a note to his son prepared a few days before his duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton said, “My dear James, I have prepared for you a thesis on discretion. You may need it. God Bless you. Your affectionate father. A.H.” (Chernow 692).
Hamilton’s gifts were unprecedented, but he could not control his tongue. Sounds like the wisdom of James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:1-18)
A good reminder for all of us.

Sabbatical #8: I had no idea … the greatness and tragedy of Alexander Hamilton

Do you ever read a book, knowing how it ends, but you read it with the hope that the end will change. I can’t remember the last book, except when I read the passion accounts, where I have been so near tears as the life of Alexander Hamilton as written by Ron Chernow. It has been fascinating. I still haven't finished my notes on the conference, but this biography was powerful enough that I need to get some thoughts down on it.

I didn’t know we were so indebted as a nation to his work during the birth of our nation. He build the infrastructure for much of what we enjoy as a nation, particularly the economic aspects. He was amazingly gifted and rose from obscurity in the West Indies to the heights of government, gaining the confidence of George Washington. He wrote voluminously, but he was unable to govern his passions publicly and made many enemies – both parties wanting what was best for the nation, but the distrust and ugliness of politics was amazing.

There are times in his life where you absolutely loathe Hamilton (like his year long affair despite his wonderfully faithful wife, Eliza) and his willingness to smear his opponents, though he would not overlook a slight against his person. He also didn’t know when to stop and he could not control his tongue/pen, particularly after Washington had retired to Mount Vernon. Washington did much to restrain his amazing aide.

But Hamilton was above reproach in his financial dealings in an era where that could not be said of all public officials. And, despite his painful (and embarrassingly public) affair, his love for his family was tremendous. I’m alone in Milwaukee and I think it is the picture of the tender Hamilton saying goodbye to his family in writing (they didn’t know he was going to duel) before he went to his fateful duel with Aaron Burr. An orphan himself, Hamilton held an orphan child they were taking care of until the boy fell asleep on his lap – where they slept for a little while together. What a tender picture of a great man.

Hamilton had little use for faith for much of his life, but in his later years his faith seems to be genuinely warm, which obviously endears him to me all the more. He hated dueling – partially due to his faith, but was bound by the fact that to back out would hurt his honor that he may need in case of a crisis of civil war that he feared with Jefferson as president. To maintain his honor he planned to shoot his first bullet in the air. Burr shot to kill and succeeded.

It was tragic, particularly the pain it caused to his wife and seven children. What a shame that such a great man, who seemed to put his personal life in order during his later years, had his life tragically cut short.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sabbatical #7: The Challenge of Silence

My first experience with silence at Starbucks was nice. I’ve done it a couple times since in my hotel room where it was quieter – no disco or Latin music. You’d think it would go better, but it was much more difficult to sit and be un-agenda-ed with God. The silence magnified the challenge of waiting for God on His timing. It was an awkward silence.

I think real silence is preferable, but it will take some growing on my part for this to no longer be “awkward.” When I think about it, I really don’t cultivate silence. I like music on, or TV on, or some kind of noise. I’m addicted to noise.

I’m reading Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I’ve read it before, a few years ago, but I still haven’t lived out the sub-title: “Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.” I think, at least at the learning stages, I need to get used to hearing His voice in quiet before I learn to discern it in the jumble of life.

Suzanne and I have been watching Ultimate Fighter over the last couple weeks. (OK, I watch most of it and she pops in from time to time, but leaves for most of the fights). I started watching because I saw an old high school wrestling teammate was one of the coaches (Jens Pulver). Suzanne asked how they could hear the directions from their coaches while they were fighting and all the hollering that was going on. I don’t know how it works for the guys in the octagon, but when I was wrestling, I could pretty well tune things out and only hear the voices of my coaches. I trained my ear to hear them.

I think that’s what I’m trying to do in terms of God’s voice. My goal isn’t to be a monastic that spends hours of silence each day. Rather, I want to be acquainted with His voice like that of a companion through the struggles, and joys, of everyday life.

I won’t summarize Willard’s book – I usually fade about 2/3 of the way through in such enterprises (see the Reformission posts on Driscoll’s “Radical Reformission”). But where I am now in the book makes a good point that if God is speaking specifically to us we should be looking for it. Just because He’s speaking doesn’t mean we’re in a posture to hear. We need to be aware. We need to cultivate an ear that hears.

How do you cultivate an ear for God’s voice?

Can you hear Him amid the din of life?

Perhaps more primary, do you want to?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Sabbatical #6: Sabbatical Plans Changing?

My plans during this sabbatical were to get away and spend extended time with God. My relationship seems pretty dry and mechanical at this point. I’m certainly not in a place I want to lead from. So I was looking forward to slowing down and spending that time with God to re-connect and rebuild some of those areas where I feel I’m deficient.

But as I have been going to sessions and dealing with my propensity to be alone and lack of deep relationships, I’m troubled. And I wonder if I don’t need to re-shape my plans to spend more time with people. Since there’s plenty of family time, some of that will be natural. But it is probably something I need to build better into my life, particularly a “spiritual friendship” and/or “spiritual mentorship.” I don’t even know exactly what they look like, but I feel like I’m missing them and I need them badly.

But this isn’t an either/or thing. I spent some solitude time at Starbucks today. The goal was to be silent before God. Despite the fact that I was doing it in the midst of the disco and then Latin mix of music, it was a good time. I usually come to God with an agenda. Not this time. I just waited. I never do that. It was nice. I imagined God was in the chair across from me and I just waited. I felt like there was some things He was telling me. And then I felt the liberty to pray (not out loud, I’m in Starbucks!). It was the prayer of relationship, of conversation more than a laundry-list prayer of my needs. It felt like a relationship more than it has in a long time. Here’s the process of “Silent Prayer” suggested by my workshop leader, Mindy Caliguire.

* Set aside time to sit in silent prayer.
* Think of a prayer word that describes your relationship with God at that particular time.
* Enter this time of silent prayer by acknowledging your desire to be attentive to God.
* Sit quietly, resting in the reality of God’s presence.
* When distracting thoughts come, gently let them go. Use your prayer word to bring your attention back to God.
* At the end of your time, thank God for His presence and ease back into the activities of your day.

Practice 20 minutes twice per day.

Because discussion went so long, the details weren’t totally explained, but it was helpful to set aside 20 minutes of un-agenda-ed time. I hope this is helpful for you. It was for me, though it will be of little use if it doesn’t become a practice.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sabbatical #5: "What do you want?"

I’ll probably only bleed out one or two posts per day to allow for more reflection for myself and you, if you’re reflecting alongside me. Last night’s message was from Dave Johnson of The Church of the Open Door in Minneapolis, MN. He spoke of his desperation, as his church was growing uncontrollably, that he didn’t have a life and that all the problems they had ignored because of their tremendous growth had come to roost. They hadn’t built the character to uphold the anointing God was giving them.

His biblical example was Samson. He was blessed time and again, but he had no character. Johnson thinks it was because he didn’t want it. Maybe didn’t think he needed it to be blessed. The foil to Samson is the Israelites as they prepare to go into Jericho. They were to be circumcised again. Not the best battle plan. But God wanted to “cut them deep,” I guess to remind them whose battle it really is.

The common theme was that this “cutting deep” would slow the Israelites down, and it slowed Dave and Open Door down. They couldn’t, and didn’t, continue at their frantic pace of growth. In fact, they were going to have to go backwards for a time to create the church that took “spiritual formation” seriously. But that was fine in his eyes because it was building character to go along with God’s anointing.

This was so good because I feel at times, in the busyness of ministry and life, that I’m “anorexic inside” (his words), in terms of Christ being formed in me. I find myself driven by my circumstances. I don’t want that. That’s why I chose this conference as part of my sabbatical. I don’t want to go through the motions as a pastor – or even as a Christian for that matter.

His closing question was this: “What do you want?”

I don’t know. I know I want to want to have Christ fully formed in me. But if an omniscient observer of my life were to judge me by my actions, I wonder what they might see that I want. Comfort? Appreciation? Approval? Who knows? I know now my prayer is that I would grow to become the person who genuinely wants to let God invade every part of my life. I need to wrestle with this a little more so I’m going to quit blogging and start journaling.

Before I go, “What do you want?”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Great God Debate (Updated)

I haven't listened to it yet; probably won't for a few days. But I often listen to the Hugh Hewitt show and he had "The Great God Debate" on June 5 (you might have to scroll a bit to find it - the June 5th show). I hope it is helpful. Here's the link: http://www.townhall.com/talkradio/Show.aspx?RadioShowID=5

Since the debate, which I still haven't listened to, Mark Roberts has begun looking at "god is Not Great" on his blog: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/godisnotgreat.htm.

For helpful apologetics resources, go to www.str.org.

Sabbatical #4: Half Day Retreat

The Spiritual Formation Forum started today with a half day retreat with an optional “Receiving the Love of God.” Much of the way through I was frustrated that there was a bunch of talking and not much solitude, which is what I was expecting. But when it all came around, it was a great time of personal challenge for me. The guide gave us several ways we can “block” God’s love for us – busyness, shame, “idols,” etc… with accompanying pictures for us to meditate upon. I chose “isolation/loneliness.”

I usually don’t mind being alone. I kind of like it. Some people hate eating alone and think it sad that someone would go to a movie alone. The only reason I wouldn’t do either of those is because others think it too weird. I have no problem with it. But this comfort with being alone hurts me in many ways.

While I am surrounded by a loving family and church, I don’t plumb the depths of relationships well. I have many cordial relationships, but few of a transforming depth. I’m not sure I know how to get there. Not sure I want to, at least really want to. Kind of a bummer, huh?

But more of a downer is the fact that this hinders me receiving God’s love because He often speaks His love through other people – as He did to me and Suzanne through Cypress Church last Sunday. I’m grateful for the friendships that are growing in my small group on Sunday evenings, and I imagine those are the soil from which even deeper relationships will grow. But I realize I do need those deeper relationships. I just don’t look forward to the awkward (at least it feels that way to me) formation of those relationships.

Here’s the list of “blockages” to receiving God’s love.

Busyness/Pace of Life
Distortions of God’s Image
Counterfeits (things you use to fill you instead of God)
Which one might it be for you?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sabbatical #3: "Mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and..."

...cheese fries and a brat."

I started the morning at LAX - Clayton Slagle was kind enough to take me at 4:15 am. He's a saint, but not because he took me to the airport; he wakes up about that time anyway. When I got to the airport, I hear somebody greeting everyone with too much energy for that time in the morning. I was facing the planes, but curiousity finally got the best of me when this person shouted, "Mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce!" Yep. It was Little Richard from that annoying insurance commercial ... and I'm sure he's done some other stuff. Before he left for his plane a member of his entourage was handing out "souvenirs" from Little Richard. I took one. It was a Christian book, at least it seems to be - I haven't looked at it closely. It was really encouraging. He was a jovial guy who was greeting everyone warmly. He wasn't an aloof celebrity, and he was giving out literature that people might know about Christ.

After traveling all day, I went to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers to catch them play the Cubs. I think the makeup of the crowd was probably 60% Brewers fans, 40% Cubs fans. It was a nice park, but the roof was closed. I saw several home runs by the Brewers, but I only lasted through the fifth inning. I'm fading fast from the short night last night.

It has been a great start to this adventure, but I've been a little lonely, which is surprising. I generally like some solitude time, but I was itching to share my adventure with people - I called Suzanne, my Dad, Danny Kugelberg (Cubs fan).

I'm looking forward to the conference that starts tomorrow.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sabbatical #2: Sabbatical Expectations

Note: This post was meant to go out a day or two ago (it is June 5 right now) so I put it down as June 4 so the chronology of the posts follow a logical progression. I'll probably post the "sabbatical plan" in the next day or two.

Given my thoughts in the last post, I obviously have some expectations of good time with God. It will be important to remember some of the things I learned in the 201 class from Paul and Terry (If you haven’t taken the class you’re missing out. I learn something new every time from those guys.), specifically that God isn’t on my timetable. I need to lay aside expectations that God will speak to me, but to work hard to cultivate the interior life such that I could “hear” Him when He does speak. If I can train my ear, or at least get further along on the training process, this will be a most fruitful time – even if it doesn’t bear fruit until much farther down the line.

One temptation will be to “produce” insights. One fear I have is that I won’t have any great “experience” to share when I return, or even in the process of blogging about what’s happening with me. Do you ever have that temptation to sound more “spiritual” or “insightful” than you really are? (Too much self-disclosure here?) God help me from making this great opportunity I’ve been given into an opportunity for pious pharisaism!

I hope you enjoy listening in on the process, but please be patient if it doesn’t seem like much is happening. And help me be patient with myself as I wait on God’s timing as well.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sabbatical #1: Last Sunday at Cypress

This morning (6/3) was really special for me and Suzanne. We love this church. We were attendees for a couple years before we came on staff part-time in the college ministry. To be given this great gift of a sabbatical is wonderful, but the gift of affirmation from the congregation - both services - was truly powerful. Thank you for the privilege of serving with you.

I don’t know that anyone from our church has done a sabbatical. I'm a little nervous. I don't want to mess it up for those to follow. It certainly hasn’t happened in the last seven years since I’ve been here (five years full time). I’m grateful for the opportunity to the elders have made possible. It really makes me feel valued by the elders and the church, that they want to make sure I’m doing well and I’m refreshed for ministry.

I’m by no means burned out, but I wouldn’t say I’m energized, either. I’m surviving. I’m grateful that the leadership isn’t hoping for surviving, but want thriving. I am really looking for the time to slow down and set aside extended time to refresh my relationship with God. I’m great at reading my Bible and doing “devotions,” but my prayer life has always been a struggle. That’s my big goal this month … to work on drawing near to God in a more meaningful way. First for myself, to delight in Him, but also that I might be able to pastor out of greater depth, doing a better job of drawing on God’s resources and not relying on myself in ministry.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Poor Sport, Good Laugh

I know my mom doesn't like this guy already, but I got a good chuckle out of this. I guess because he's no relation to me. Then I'd be pretty embarrassed.


Friday, June 1, 2007

The Seven Churches: Hypocrisy in Sardis

How do you know if a church is alive?

What you need to know about Sardis: Once a major city that had a strong defense, but was twice overrun – once by Cyrus the Persian. However, they were not the noble city they once were. Now they were pretty ordinary – with an extraordinary reputation they were living off of. (Like the Yankees of today, if you’re a baseball fan.)

What do the seven spirits represent?

How do you think they get a reputation of being alive?

How do these texts illuminate the nature of hypocrisy? (Mt. 11.20; Mt. 6.1-6; 16-18; 2 Tim. 3.5)

What does it mean to “Wake up” (“keep watch”) in practical terms for our spiritual lives? (Ps. 139.23-24.)

How do you “strengthen what remains” in the life of the Sardisans and our lives?

What is the significance of remembering in Scripture? (Dt. 8.1-20; Ps. 77; Rev. 2.5)

What do you think they have received and heard?

How are we supposed to relate and function “in the Spirit” as believers? (Gal. 5.22-23; 2 Cor. 3.18; 1 Cor. 3.16; Jude 20; Jn. 4.24; Phil. 3.3; Gal. 5.25)

What would an authentic Christian life look like?

How do you think most Sardisians may have “soiled their clothes”?

What are the consequences if they don’t “wake up”?

What happens if they obey?


How would you say you are most prone to hypocrisy in your life?

What do you do to actually “keep watch”/“wake up” in your life?

What are your strengths? How will you build on them to strengthen the church?