Forty Years of Gratitude

gratitudeOn May 31, I spent some time reflecting on four decades of life. Gratitude quickly became my dominant feeling, and I determined to form a list of suitable length. Items started in a somewhat logical order, but eventually a bit of randomness took over. And then it took a few days to finish! 🙂

1) God
Everything is from Him, and everything is for Him. He is the source of all we see, and a whole bunch more that we don’t. I praise Him as the giver of life, marvel at Him as the Redeemer of all, and seek Him as the guide who hasn’t failed me yet. And if He were not, the rest of this enjoyable list would quickly fade in its beauty.

2) Wife
This lovely woman pledged herself to journey with me before either of us had any clue where we were going! She has enriched my life more than I could calculate, and it gives me pleasure to know our forever-road is a shared one. She was full of beauty when we met, more when we married, and now full of still more as the candles on our cakes increase. Being loved is a good thing, being loved by Shannon is a great thing.

3) Daughters
These three young ladies have added more delight to my life than I could have imagined. A week after our oldest was born, a friend sidled up to me at church and asked knowingly, “So are you feeling things you never felt before?” The answer was yes on that day. The answer is a repeat — but louder — on this day. Loving children is a good thing, and loving these children is a great thing.

4) Parents
I have often counted the first great gift of my life as that of landing in a loving and nurturing family. One wishes this were the experience of every child, but one knows better. Our family has as many quirks as any, but I can truthfully say that care and encouragement and affirmation and support have always being marks of my parents. And four decades in, they continue to love me – and now my own family.  I’m grateful for you, Mom and Dad.

5) Sisters
One of my sisters factors in to the majority of my childhood memories. The other arrived after most of those had occurred, instead sweeping in to my teenage years. Both of these women are intelligent and gifted, caring and powerful. Both of them could likely achieve whatever they set their minds to, and both of them mean more to me today than they did when I first met them. 🙂

6) Extended Family
Mine was a childhood where extended family was spread over many years and many miles. In that sense, my experience of extended family lacked the tightness of some. Still some of my very special and fun childhood memories link back to Christmas holidays and family reunions, fun around card tables and presents around trees. Each of these relationships has evolved over time, and I suspect some of them will become even more special in the future than they were in the past. Family is a good thing, this is something to remember.

7) In-laws
Countless folks live out the jokes that comedians make about in-laws. As much as I laugh at those jokes, I don’t live out any of them. For over 20 years, my in-laws —even before they were my in-laws – treated me with grace and kindness and generosity. I’m certain both the Bandura family and the Tucker family could provide sufficient fodder for an observant comedian, but it’s my blessing to report that Shannon’s latter has been a great addition to my former.

8) Nieces and Nephews
Aiden, Sydney, Mareesa, Jesse, Kalum, Klaya, Deacon, Ryley —  Every one of these kids is special, from the oldest – now driving cars and working shifts – to the youngest, with crawling still on the horizon. Uncles and aunties can play really special roles; I hope that in some way we will play that spot for this growing group.

9) Church
Many church circles use family language to speak of their relationships. That is no stretch for me. There are many for whom church has been an environment of hurt or disappointment. To be sure, my lifelong association with churches has involved experiences that should’ve been better, but the vast majority of mileage that I’ve logged with churches has involved environments of grace and gentleness, where love has been lived out and life has been shared well. Some traditions speak of God as Father and church as Mother. Beneath those “parents”, I have been well nurtured for many years.

10) Gravelbourg
If one must choose a nation in which to live, I nominate Canada. If one must choose a province in which to dwell, I vote for Saskatchewan. If one must choose a community in which to grow up, I’d have been hard-pressed to pick a better one than Gravelbourg. Beginning at age 8, this little town was a sweet place to be raised. I hope it enjoys a bright future for many generations to come!

11) Teachers
I always loved school. Much of that was likely due to good teachers. To the best of my memory, I think I’ve got the near-full roster here, right from Kindergarten through College. I have fond memories or everyone on this list!

K-7: Klassen, Labas, Specht, Moquin, Beaudoin, Léost, Dauphinais, Harbus

8-10: Marchand, Piché, Legault, Bell, Stringer, Loiselle, Bandura (yes, my Dad taught me!)

11-College: Olson, Husband, Husband (again), Muller, Close, Kirkpatrick, Roberts, Bolton, Hart, Perry, Deal, Buchanan

Good teachers are gifts, and I received many of them. Heck, I’m still receiving them!

12) Dakota Preacher
When I was 18 years old, I was touring with a singing/drama group through North Dakota and South Dakota. Each night, the dozen of us were billeted out to stay with families of the local church that was hosting us. Around that time, I was determining my career path. One night, I was hosted by an old preacher and his wife. I’ll never remember their names, and I’ll never recall the city. But he gave me two sentences in a late-night conversation that helped me discern that the Lord was nudging me in a direction that I’d best not ignore. When people speak of “calling”, that’s what was unfolding in that season. And that’s what I prayerfully said “Yes” to that night. Every time I recall the story, that anonymous old gentleman makes me smile all over again. Bless you, Dakota Preacher!

13) Writers
It would be no exaggeration to state that my values and worldview have been forcefully shaped by a multitude of people I have never personally met. From the moment I could sound words out, books have been a vital part of my life. Set me in a library or bookstore, and you can leave me for the day if you like. Leave me a sleeping bag, and you can pick me up in the morning. At this point, it’s impossible to formulate even a Top Ten list of authors who have impacted me; there are just too many. The names on that list would range from theologians and scholars to economists and comedians, from jocks and journalists to kings and apostles, from professors and prisoners to monks and mystics, from poets and preachers to fathers and friends. Words can create worlds, I know this full well.

14) Musicians
Words are powerful; I just said that. Words set to music — those can be even more. Part of that is simply that words-with-tune lock into our minds like few other things! I still know a couple tunes by the Oak Ridge Boys, from the radio stations of childhood car trips.  The first album (on cassette) I ever bought with my own money was Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”. A bargain-bin demo tape by the Langley Vineyard in the mid-1990’s introduced me to worship music that awakened my soul. A double-disc CD by Delirious a few years later continued that journey. Albums — many of them no longer fresh — that I will still hold dear years from now may include some by Steve Bell, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Shane & Shane, Steffany Gretzinger, Bethel Music, with some Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Genesis, and Beach Boys thrown in for way-back-when variety. 🙂

15) SESPU
For over 10 years, I’ve been a member of the unofficial South East Saskatchewan Preachers’ Union. The acronym long ago outgrew its geographic accuracy, and its sound-similarity to “cesspool” serves to keep us steadily humble, while also encouraging great hygiene practices. More importantly, this group — while its members have changed multiple times in the past decade — has been a steady source of encouragement, camaraderie, and friendship to me. Many pastors I know generate facial expressions of envious longing when I describe to them what we’ve created together. It’s been a pleasure, gentleman, and I look forward to reconnecting and building more!

16) Seminary
I completed my graduate studies in 2003, basically a lifetime ago! It wasn’t long after that that I determined the point of a Master’s degree had nothing to do with the courses or the content. Rather, it had everything to do with altering my processor, in order that every thought from that point forward would be better than it might have been otherwise. I like to think that’s been true. I’m sure there’ve been exceptions! Regardless, those three years were precious, during which I received the gifts of many more wonderful teachers: Ralph, Carter, Janzen, Boda, Kenzo, Friebel, Remin, Cummins to name but a few. The list of classmates would be longer still. Thanks CTS community — you were a gift to me. Still are!

17) China Years
In 2003, we owed and owned nothing. From that place of freedom, we determined to spend a year teaching English abroad. One year turned into three, and I have often stated, “ When we are old and grey, recalling the ‘good old days,’  some of those days will be China days.” There have been many special days since then, but those three years were definitely formative and fun and unforgettable for this once-younger couple. 🙂

18) Bible Camp
Reflecting on my childhood generated a thought: Some of my greatest memories are from Bible Camp. ClearView Christian Camp became an annual highlight for me around the age of 8. Over 30 years later, I still spend a week there every summer, long ago joining the volunteer side of the equation. The time of my children attending is not likely far off. Recent years have seen our entire family richly blessed by LifeLinks Family Camp in Montana as well. Kind friends invited us into “their world”, and I now doubt whether they will ever successfully push us back out. 🙂   What can I say? There’s just something special about Bible Camp.

19) Guitar
I was the least musical kid you’d ever have met, aside from singing at church and rocking along with whatever was playing from my ghetto blaster (there’s an 80’s term for you) — always in the privacy and safety of my closed-door bedroom. Our family didn’t have a musical emphasis, and even if my parents had pushed me in that direction, I would have balked. Sports was all I wanted. However, when Shannon and I married midway through her university years, I determined that I needed a hobby to fill my wife-has-homework hours. Encouraged by a couple friends who were teaching themselves at the time, I brought my first guitar home in a wedge-shaped cardboard box because we didn’t have enough money for the case. I then purchased a small coiled book of worship songs and proceeded to begin with all the ones built on only three chords. My main goal: Learn to strum steadily and speedily enough that I could enjoy singing in my living room. I did. And I still do. 🙂

20) Sports
As just mentioned, I’ve loved sports since I was born. Hockey, baseball, badminton, basketball, volleyball, and swimming all provided fun and pleasure for spans of my life. For all its benefits, exercise in itself doesn’t allure me nearly so much as when it involves ways to score or strategy and skills to hone. While that passion has found a different place within my adult list of priorities (anyone else notice those aren’t the same as in high school?!), I still follow enough sports stories to roll Shannon’s eyes on a good day. And I’m happy to do so!

21) Milkshakes
Who doesn’t love milkshakes?! I’m also grateful for their cousin ice cream. They both make the list. And if you treat me to either in the year ahead, you might even make the list.

22) Health
I’m grateful for a healthy 40 years! I’ve had more injuries than illnesses, mostly from the sports mentioned above and mostly healed up. But health has been a blessing, so much so that I often joke (only partly) that I’m aimed at living until 120, meaning my “over the hill” experience won’t be arriving until around 2062.

23) Faith
Without hesitation, my spiritual journey is the richest dimension of my life. That doesn’t mean I’m a guru on a mountain-top. It doesn’t even mean I have more answers than questions — quite the opposite actually. What I mean is this: I have often mused over how very impoverished my life would feel without spirituality, particularly the path I have discovered in Jesus. The pursuit of knowing and trusting and loving and following God has been central to my existence for well over two decades. Every other piece of my life is interwoven into it, stemming from it. My greatest intellectual stimulation, emotional development, relational depth, character formation, and gut-level satisfaction has all been found there. Well over 1500 years ago, Augustine expressed it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” I have found this to be true, and rest is wildly better than restlessness!

24) House
We have lived most of our past year in a rental property, and it’s served us well. We furnished it as basically and cheaply as we could, treating the year as an extended camping trip. And it’s worked. But would you believe that our house back home is looking pretty sweet in our imaginations right about now? A space of one’s own is a privilege and pleasure, and we’ve had both in owning three different homes through our marrieds lives. They’ve all been more-than-adequate and well-suited to our seasons of life. A house of one’s own — a gift to be stewarded and enjoyed for sure!

25) Bed
Sleeping on a cheap, secondhand mattress on the floor for the past nine months has reminded me well: Never underestimate the value of a good bed!

26) Vehicles
In 1993, I took my drivers test in a 1976 Chevy Nova.  The first few cars I might have called my own were Mercury Topaz. The first car I felt some pleasure in was a Pontiac Grand Am. We now own a Pontiac Vibe and a Toyota Sienna.  It is not a blessing lost on me to own reliable vehicles that require only reasonable and occasional maintenance. Yay for this!

27) Technology
For all the struggles that technology has added to the world, I confess to significant gratitude for the inventions of computers and Internet, GPS and PVR. I love my iPhone, and I marvel at Facebook’s ability to both reunite long lost friends and to assassinate helpless hours who were certainly created for nobler purposes.

28) Down Ancient Paths
Less than a decade ago, I had two separate opportunities to travel the Holy Land through this organization. While I have likely blurred into his memory, I will forever count Charles Nienkirchen as a friend, as well as one of my all-time favourite teachers. Travelling portions of Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey with him was a rare privilege, which I will never forget. If you ever wish for a first-rate, faith-centred travel-learning experience, check DAP out. You’ll be grateful you did.

29) Sandwiches
Such a simple and perfect meal! Shannon and I have spent an inordinate portion of our marriage bickering over whether normal humans pronounce the word as it looks phonetically or rather more like “samwich”. Regardless of how the syllables are uttered, the world is a better place because of stuff stuffed into bread.

30) Arrow Leadership
From 2011 through 2013, this leadership course enriched my life in ways I’d never have imagined. The relationships were rich, the facilitators were exceptional, and the contacts made there continue today to bless both me and many within my sphere of influence. I’m grateful for the extraordinary community experience that this was — indicative of the grace, wisdom, and power that Christ-centered relationships can really wield. If you’ve ever longed for “more”, I guarantee you, friend: It can be had!

31) Fruit
Poorly-informed tradition views the fall of humanity revolving around an apple. Truthfully, it was more likely to have been a number of other options in that lured in Adam & Eve. And stupid them! But if it had been a mango or a cherry or a raspberry (or a few others favourites of mine), I’d have been likely to have plunged all Creation into a Fall as well.

32) Laughter
If there’s a better sound than a child laughing, I’ve not heard it. If there’s a better feeling than gasping from a tear-causing bout of the funnies, I’ve not felt it. Whether it’s stirred up by a stand-up comedian, a witty friend, a clever story on an audio book, a wildly honest word from the lips of a child, or the latest viral prank video, humour is something I’m quick to say thanks for. A world without laughter would hardly be a world at all. Gratefully, I’ve not lived many days in any world like that.

33) Science
Though any formal “science classes” ended for me in high school, I think I’ve actually been wired to love science since birth. So I have great appreciation for those who devote their lives to being driven by curiosity to discover new technologies, to answer age-old questions, to improve the human experience, and make the world a better place. Those who undertake such endeavours with intelligence and integrity, humility and wonder are always some of my very favourite folks to learn from.

34) Nature
Imagine a world without a world! No… wait: Don’t bother. What I mean is: Nature is good! Trees, water, animals, air, sky, sun, fields, flowers, bugs, rainbows, stars, clouds, soil, wind. No exhaustive list could be formed! I read a study recently that said claimed quantifiable results that people are healthier when they spend time with trees. I don’t doubt it’s true, and I do doubt it’s limited to trees. Goodness and life pour through Creation. Enjoy it and treasure it.

35) Conversation
Minds and hearts turning thoughts and feelings into words — this has long been fun to me! Not just fun, but feeding. As I’ve aged, I’ve also discovered more of my introverted nature that reveals itself at times with a strong inner sense that it’s time for all conversations to stop. Because for me, there are moments when it had better be silence or stillness in a hurry. But lives are made to intertwine, and conversations with special people factor into many of my most precious times through four decades.

36) Sabbatical/BSSM
This list is something of a close to four decades of life. It’s also something of a conclusion to a very special nine-month period for our family. We’ve been richly blessed by churches in both Regina (for sending us) and in Redding (for receiving us). I’m well aware of the inability I currently feel to concisely or even coherently answer the upcoming question, “So how was BSSM?” For a guy who just admitted his love of conversation, that reply may be one requiring groanings that the Holy Spirit then interprets! This opportunity has been rich and rough, fun and full, exhausting and refreshing all at once. And in a decade from now, I’ll still be unearthing things that were initiated here.

37) Work
I’ve always had a job when I wanted or needed one. Some were mundane, some were more interesting. Either way, I always gave my best, enjoyed my coworkers, and learned what I could. For over a decade, I’ve served with the Glen Elm Church of Christ. It’s had moments of all over the spectrum, but overall, such a privilege and pleasure. My pad answer when strangers ask me about my work is that “I love most of it most of the time.” And typically, they reply to me, “I’d take that!” I would too! And I do. 🙂

38) Showers
One of the simple pleasures of life, without a doubt! Coincidentally, it’s also where most of my best thoughts take place. If I could put one in my office, or rig up a desk space and waterproof computer in my shower at home, I dare dream that I’d get productive enough to sweep a few Nobel Prizes in a given calendar year. That may be an overstatement, but I would be mighty clean!

39) Travel
The world is a glorious place! To be sure, it’s full of struggle and hardship. At times, the beauty and the heartbreak are holding hands beside one another. However, the point here is that the opportunity to travel and be shaped by such discoveries is a luxury, one that I have both enjoyed and cherished. Nineteen nations and counting have impacted me — some for days, others for years. To be sure, there are many ways to travel — it may be commonplace for people to trek and take. But I’ve never tried to be that type of traveler. Going and giving seems more appropriate, and as if by supernatural mathematics, one ends up receiving even more in return! It would be near-impossible to list all the ways I’ve been impacted by lessons learned in other lands, but it is a certainty that I am a different man today than I would have been, had my feet never wandered off.

40) You
If you’ve slugged it through this whole list, then there’s definitely a spot on it for you! You’re obviously an individual of grace and care, and I’m grateful for such folks! I’ve needed such folks for 40 years. And I don’t suspect my need has worn out yet. Thanks for being you!

JOIN IN: Your comment makes this post better!

  • How about your list?
  • Any obvious or obscure gratitude items pop to mind as you read the list?
  • What did I miss? 

In Search of Identity

Our class schedule at BSSM has a steady diet of Bible and theology. We recently spent time looking at the creation and fall of humanity, and I had opportunity to share with the class some thoughts that have been significant for me. There were enough inquiries and requests for clarification that I determined it was worth the effort to put them in writing.

Here we go…

creationFrom the very beginning, people have been the unique apex of Creation. We alone bear the image of God. The first titles that Scripture would drive us to place upon God are Creator and Ruler. So as one would expect, God designed us to be rulers and creators. From a place of perfect harmony with our Maker, we are set to fill His world with vivid depictions of His qualities through gracious and powerful ways in which we steward life within our lives, families, and world.

However, sin changes all of this. The divine image is fragmented like a shattered mirror. Our hands get bloodied as they attempt to reset the shards of our broken identity, and we find ourselves exposed to a scope of shame, insecurity, and fear far larger than our hiding skills can handle. And when one’s legitimate identity is lost, no other option exists: We will seek an illegitimate replacement.

In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God pronounces the “curses” that will fall upon them. Check Genesis 3:16-19 below:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Adam’s role of producer now faces new challenges. The attention and intensity required for sustenance will spike. He will throw himself into working and weeding, and seldom will he receive the payoff he anticipates.

Eve’s role of procreator now faces new challenges. The pain and struggle involved in bringing forth new life will climb. She will throw herself into nurturing and nourishing, and seldom will she receive the payoff she anticipates.

These are the curses, so we are told. However, grace always shows up in the most surprising places. A slow look at our great ancestors departing God’s garden provides a rich revelation.

Perhaps all human ventures can be found in two words:

  • Tasks
  • People

The timeless temptation to establish our own identities repeatedly drives us to these realms.

Tasks: We will seek to be known by what we can do. We will pursue productivity, chasing greater efficiency and higher levels of competence. Through achievement, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

People: We will seek to be known by who we know. We will pour ourselves into family or friends. We will nurture connections and construct networks. Through relationships, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

Except that we won’t.

Hidden in the darkness of sin’s curse is a measure of divine grace: God will never allow us to find satisfaction in false identity.

Adam may toil rigorously and relentlessly, but the thorns and the thistles will never allow him to attain the heights or harvest of which he dreams. His restlessness will find no rest in tasks.

And Eve may relate dotingly and devotedly, but the pains of labour will become the pains of love, and no amount of pouring herself out will result in her feeling filled up. Her restlessness will find no rest in people.

Even the affliction of the Fall displays the affection of the Father.

Said another way: Sometimes our hearts’ homelessness is God’s gift to lead us to Himself.

Saint Augustine knew it well:

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

The thorns’ piercing provides shocking protection. The contractions’ strain houses surprising shelter. The Father refuses that we would find rest apart from Him, and in His gracious move of loving redemption, He turns even curses into blessing. We will whine and wander, sweat and swear. But we will remain migrants until we find our way home to the One who makes and re-makes us.

And this is a sign of God’s kindness toward us as the ones He dearly loves.

The Ripples of the Resurrection

Today around the world, Christians recited the following dialogue:

“Christ is risen.”
“He is risen indeed.”

And indeed he is. The apostle Paul correctly remarked that a false resurrection would result in a foolish religion. If Jesus has not been raised, then none of us will be redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). This simple equation has wrapped into it the complexities of what I call the “ripples of the resurrection”.

christ's tombOne cannot speak of the resurrection as a phenomenon regarding one body of one man missing from one tomb on one day in a land and time far removed from my own. This simply will not do. If even one legitimate resurrection has taken place, then a monumental movement has been unleashed. Death’s dam has sprung a leak. Mortality’s mantle has been torn. One dead one returning to life declares that the barriers we have deemed insurmountable are not so; limitations have lapsed and borders have broken.

pebble in poolA rock of resurrection has been dropped into the pool of the universe, and the ripples will extend until the edges of the cosmos have felt its impact. The same ripples are also moving through the portion of creation known as “your life”. Feel the swell of the wave as the resurrection’s reach extends to, and through, your realm. Stopped to breathe and dare to dream. Christ’s resurrection reconfigures our existence, and it has nothing to do with how worthy or unworthy we are of such a magical touch.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul sums up the mystery of Christ’s resurrection power in this sentence: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Some have remarked that the Greek text is even shorter and downright abrupt. It literally looks like these three phrases:

  • If Anyone
  • In Christ
  • New Creation

boomA mathematician might create a basic equation from these three parts. A chemist might imagine a playful “boom” as the first two ingredients mix to form the third. Whatever the imagery, the language demands that we leave a gap. There is mystery. How does the combination of the first two phrases equate to the third? What connects these dots? What happens in that in-between space?

We need not know.

And we cannot know.

It’s the ripples of the resurrection. It is the movement of an incomparable wave proceeding from its start point and forcing its will and way upon all that it touches. One day the ripples of the resurrection will reach the edges of the pool. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

For today, be prayerful regarding, and perceptive to, the ripples of the resurrection in your life.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

And he is but the first.

Considering Steadfast Love

typewriterOccasionally, I compose short pieces for our church bulletin. While most would consider 250 words or less shorter than the ideal blog post, allow me to share one such recent post below. If such articles are useful to you or your church for similar use, consider permission granted. Please just tag on my blog address for the sake of reference.

 

I was recently in Psalm 107, following along while listening to an online audio Bible. As I listened to the reader’s voice, a refrain emerged from the text, providing a natural focal point for my attention. Four times over (verses 8, 15, 21, 31), the writer urges us:

“Let them think the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

The closing line presents this slightly altered form:

“Let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”

I find value here. There is a reminder to linger, to mentally sit with the reality of God’s steady and unfailing affections toward us.

Life is fast, and days are full. Ideas and emotions, opportunities and obligations – these blast by and through us at blurring speed. And so the psalmist calls us to consideration of something secure and unchanging, something that holds us fast even when our grip feels like it is slipping.

Today friends: Breathe deep. Sit still. Open hands.

And consider the stable and stabilizing passion that flows from the Father’s heart toward you. Take root. Lean in. Consider it.

Praying With Gratitude

[In my January 1, 2015 post, I christened this the “Year of Learning” here on the blog. Each post, I’ll aim to share something recently discovered (or re-discovered) in the hope that you might add my learning to your own discoveries and make double-moves forward and upward this year!]

In her book “Jesus Calling“, Sarah Young shares these reflections on prayer as if being spoken by Jesus himself:

“When you bring me prayer requests, lay out your concerns before me. Speak to me candidly; pour out your heart. Then thank me for the answers that I have set into motion long before you can discern the results. When your requests come to mind again, continue to thank me for the answers that are on the way. If you keep on stating your concerns to me, you will live in a state of tension. When you thank me for how I am answering your prayers, your mindset becomes much more positive. Thankful prayers keep your focus on my presence and my promises.”

Man Holding Pray Word In PalmWhile I know the feeling of need that drives a person to voice prayer requests repeatedly, I believe that Sarah is onto something here, when she considers the way in which repetitious requesting impact our hearts.

She describes a feeling of tension. Within Scripture, Jesus advises us that a type of prayer is available to us – a type of prayer that looks considerably different than pagan prayers in which words and wishes are repeated tirelessly. He urges us to pray out of an assumption that our hearer is a thoroughly good Father, who is well aware of what we need but enjoys our asking all the same.

And this is why gratitude within prayer is so key. It rescues our tone from resembling a slave begging for favour from a stingy master, and it frees us to come as a deeply loved child comes to a kind father.

Gratitude helps us pray to the real God, out of who we really are before Him.

And that is something I need to learn over and over.

[On an aside, my 6-year-old determined what image I should use today. Count this as our first joint effort on the blog. :-)]

Why Your “God-Shaped Hole” is Deceiving You

The cliché is widespread within Christian circles: There is a God-shaped hole in every person, and only God can fill it. A strand of truth is woven through the thought, but Len Sweet is on to a subtle deception that lies within this favorite phrase:

The enthroning of the self is the author of countless sins, and is such a pervasive presence that it has infiltrated even some of our most hugged metaphors. “There is a God-shaped hole in the human heart that only God can fill” causes me to cringe every time I hear it, as if God exists to fill our holes, to fill our gaps, to be a pleasure plug. Every addiction is an honest attempt to fill the emptiness we feel when we deny Christ. Every addiction is self-medication. The “hole” is a metaphor for the sense of emptiness that consumes us when we seek independence. Desire is God-ordained to encourage us to seek the divine and Christ’s provisions, but a self-focused response is to stuff the desire with whatever will quell the discomfort.

Sabbath: A Practice of Death

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In a short film by The Work of the People, Barbara Brown Taylor describes Sabbath as “a practice of death”. Here is some of what she means:

“At least for me, a decline in productivity is a practice in death. Productivity is the universal means of valuing one another. Sabbath is a weekly tonic built into the teaching and the fabric of the universe that once a week you’re supposed to quit being good for anything.”

She goes on to explain that the initial taste of Sabbath is typically pleasure. But if you live there for a while, it becomes unnerving. That nothing can be earned or achieved or measured, this unnerves many of us so intensely that it feels like a form of dying.

This thought becomes especially provocative when we consider Sabbath within the context of the Creation account. In approaching Day Seven, an obvious question gets asked: Why did God rest? If not for recharging or renewal, what was Yahweh doing?

At the least, He was making a statement.

Here’s what I mean.

Jesus-baptismIt’s a lot like Jesus’ baptism. As we read of his journey toward the John the Baptist and the Jordan River, another obvious questions gets asked: Why will Jesus be baptized? Sinless and in no need of forgiveness, Jesus still described the act as being for “righteousness’ sake”. Again, I say: At the very least, he was making a statement.

Jesus’ baptism, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of baptism’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

Likewise: God’s Sabbath, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of Sabbath’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

In a sentence, I’ve never met anyone who moves smoothly or naturally toward death. We are build to live; the drive for self-preservation is relentless. There’s a survival mechanism here that is right and proper. But a troubling paradox lies at the heart of the spiritual life. Being raised follows being laid down, and defeat is actually a pre-requisite to victory.

Life is found in death. Or as St. Francis said it: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” And none of our feet move well in that direction.

So the next time you observe a baptism, remember Jesus’ statement act. The next time you squirm in stillness, recall God’s statement act. The Son’s soaking or the Father’s finishing: These are just two of many loving nudges to move us in a direction we’d never naturally choose – the way of life.

 

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  • You ever squirmed with stillness or silence? What do you think was behind that?
  • How do you process this paradox that we are so uninclined to move toward the death that brings life?

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