The Constant Counting

How high can you count? Ever tried?  It’s tougher than you think.

Challenges to Counting

  • Falling asleep at 231.
  • The Boss: “Stop counting and start working”
  • Irritating people by counting out loud.
  • Sneezing, losing your place, having to start over.
  • Not sure what comes after a trillion.

Things People Count

People count sheep, their money, and their kids. Some people count beans, like accountants. We count the number of tickets sold. The pills left in a prescription bottle. The miles to get someplace and the miles left to get there. Kids count the days until school is out and the days until Christmas.

We look up into the clear night sky and count the stars.

counting stars
How high can you count? How many stars are there? 

When Something Really Matters

Counting isn’t always about numbers. Teachers say, “This test counts for half your final grade.” Coaches say, “Alright, let’s make this one count!” A patient, “Doctor, does flossing count for every tooth?” The Dentist, “No, just for the ones you want to keep.”

The Spiritual

There’s a book in the bible named Numbers, it counts bunches of stuff.

Pastors and Ministers say, “We’re not all about nickels and noses.” But everything and everyone gets counted all the time.

Jesus appointed twelve apostles. He sent out the seventy. The baptisms on the day of Pentecost were counted. Paul wrote about his persecutions and gave a number for how many times each thing happened.

A Preacher’s Story

During his sermon the preacher noticed a boy looking up at the ceiling. After the service, he asked…

Preacher: “Why were you staring up at the ceiling?”

Boy: “I was counting.”

Preacher: “I see, how high did you get?”

Boy: “176.”

Preacher: “Why did you stop at a hundred and seventy-six?”

The boy: “That’s how many holes are in each of the ceiling tiles.”

To Close

We count the days until vacation, the dollars in the account, and the beds to be made. Lots of things get counted.

But for today, what matters most? What is it that really counts?

Shalom

 

Fine Meals & Nice Suits

Sometimes we do the lesser thing. 

Lesser Things

Eating subpar meals in lesser restaurants to avoid finding a better one.

Buying a cheap, off the rack, suit because it’s faster than tailoring.

Not getting our car repaired because it’s too much hassle.

Sometimes we accept lesser things due to a lack of opportunity, or laziness, or impatience. Sometimes, it takes too much effort to reach for the brass ring.

In Matters of Faith

Faith isn’t a meal, a suit, or a car repair. However, do we sometimes treat God like a lesser thing because He is inconvenient?

We Wouldn’t Choose…

  1. To talk to our spouse only on our anniversary.
  2. To see our children only on their birthdays.
  3. To care for our family when it doesn’t conflict with other things.

That would be absurd. But when it comes to God, do we offer him less?

An Example

Yesterday morning, the combined attendance at my church rose above our average by hundreds. And it won’t be that full again until next Easter.

packed church
Not my church, but you get the idea.

Admittedly, we preachers prefer standing room only to hundreds of empty seats. We’re egocentric that way. But still…

           “Why do so many people only attend Easter Sunday?”

Is it like only speaking to your spouse on your anniversary, or only seeing your kids on their birthday? Is it the subpar restaurant, the cheap suit, or neglecting your car because keeping it in good shape is too much hassle?  

To Close

Nobody’s perfect. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to honor God with our lives, our hearts, and our will. 

Sometimes we do the lesser thing.

But the Lord our God is not a lesser thing, and he should never be offered less. 

 

Final Blog of Solitude, Pt 8

I started out as a child.

Didn’t We All?

I guess we all did. We came into the world without speech, mobility, or fine motor skills. But we held great potential. We adapted, learned, and developed. Our first word was probably Mama, or something to that affect.

We Got Better

Soon, we learned enough words to interact with others. We learned that language was effective for getting what we wanted, or needed. Babies cry because they are hungry, wet, or in pain. Or maybe just fussy. The crying was replaced by expression of thought. But was it still about wanting and needing?

tantrum

As adults, much of our language is still about getting what we want, or need. Some suggest that personal maturity is measured by the percentage of words used to assist others verses serving ourselves. Maybe?

Talking With God

If we were taught to pray, we learned that prayer was about asking for things. We learned that prayer was talking to God but also that God didn’t talk back. That shaped our perception of God and prayer, for life.

Consider This

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God.” (Henri Nouwen, “The Way of the Heart.”)

A Broader View

What if prayer could also be about reflection, meditation, and the opportunity for God to speak back? Does his still small voice still exist? Can the Holy Spirit still place a thought, an idea, or a blessing within us?

Prayer is from the heart, it’s of the soul, not just the mind.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” To worship in spirit is to worship with expression from your spirit, from your heart, not just your mind.

what-is-the-holy-spirit-dove

To Close

The last seven blog posts have been about spiritual quests, the need for a deeper communication and a closer communion with God. I’ve blogged about solitude, silence, and prayer. And I hope you have been blessed, or at least encouraged, to seek a closer walk with him. This is the final blog on this theme.

God Bless you and keep you, and may the peace of God be yours in abundance.

Shalom

A State of Mind? Solitude Pt Six

Is it a state of mind?

Nearly Impossible?

Solitude in quiet, peaceful places may be hard to find. It may be impossible for some.

  1. Mothers with young children.
  2. People with long, daily commutes.
  3. Care givers with little time for themselves.
  4. People with widely different schedules each week.
  5. Anyone with a lot of people in their home.

busy-people

In Our Minds?

Can we find it in our minds? Having a mind of solitude and silence can be as challenging as the real thing; it’s why the desert fathers went into the desert. Consider these:

  1. Our brain doesn’t come with an off/on switch.
  2. Our ears pick up sound even when we don’t want them to.
  3. The distractions of discomfort, sound, sight, and touch are inevitable.

Regardless of the location, quiet or busy, crowded or deserted, we can learn to listen for the voice of God. But we must approach it with determination. 

lightmeditatinginachurch

Let me offer some steps that may be useful. I’ve learned these from my experience and from the mentoring of others.

The Basic Quiet Time Devotional

  1. If possible sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing: in and out, in and out, letting go of what’s happening around you. (One minute)
  1. Offer a prayer asking God to bless you with his Spirit. (One minute)
  1. Open your eyes and read a few verses of scripture. You can read though books of the bible or randomly. It doesn’t require much, but read until you find one thought, phrase, or word that jumps off the page. (Three or four minutes)
  1. Contemplate on the one. Why did it appeal to you? What is its value? How is it beneficial. Now, go back and read it again, read it four or five times. Appreciate its beauty and truth to your life, appreciate God.  (Ten minutes)
  1. Now, close your eyes and relax your shoulders and arms. Sit quietly. Allow your mind to be receptive to the leading of the Spirit. Resist the need to take control by creating structured thought. This sounds crazy, but try to un-focus your mind. (Five minutes)
  1. Finally, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the benefits you’ve received. After the prayer, sit quietly for another minute or two and enjoy the peace. (Three minutes)

The times can adjust as you like. The suggested times only provide a sense of what can happen in 20 minutes, it’s up to you.

Don’t think of this as a formula or a structured template. It’s only a guideline.

If you are just starting, then try a couple of times a week. If it grows from there then fine. It’s not about a rigid schedule or being able to say, “I’ve had a devotional every day this week!”

More to come, to be continued

The Blog of Solitude, Part 5

Hearing and Listening

Girl listening with her hand on an ear
The Awesome Power of the Listening Ear?

Some Quotes

  1. “Listening is a positive act; you have to put yourself out to do it.”
  2. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
  3. “One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to someone.”

Listening To God

 I was taught that God spoke to me through the bible, it’s how I listened to him. It’s true. But through the years, I’ve discovered that his voice can be heard in other ways.

  1. In moments of awesome majesty. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” (Psalm 19:1). God’s heart is revealed in nature. When I’m up in his mountains, I see his heart and hear his voice. For me, the mountains are where the glory of God is truly declared.
  1. In moments of great grief. The Spirit has given me comfort in moments of suffering, grief, and crisis. The Lord has blessed me with thoughts that calmed and strengthened me. His voice is often strongest when I am at my weakest.
  1. In moments of amazing worship. I hear his voice in moments of whole-hearted praise. If I can distance my worried distractions, unshackle my bonds of self-awareness, and freely give my heart, mind, and soul, then his voice is clear.

Things The Voice of God Are Not:

  1. mystical
  2. magical
  3. emotional
  4. invented
  5. audible

His Voice?

God doesn’t speak to me audibly, at least I’ve never heard him. He speaks to my spirit, for he is spirit, (John 4:24). Long have I journeyed to better hear his voice.

I’ve had a lot of help along the way.

Men and women of God, people of towering faith, who wholly love their holy Father, have taught me much about solitude, silence, and listening, and I have  grown.

It’s taken decades.

Just So You Know

There are no three-point plans. No seminars or conferences. There’s nothing man can offer that will rewire your spirituality. Preachers, mentors, books and events provide ideas and point in the right direction. But they can’t change your life.

A vital connection with God isn’t like an exercise machine promising weight loss and restored abs. The machine doesn’t deliver simply because you bought it. But they are easy to get, available for three easy payments, and then are just three months away from a garage sale.

Do we believe that everything important, including God, can be obtained or managed with a short cut, a work-around, or an app? Helen Keller wrote, “There are not shortcuts to anyplace worth going.” 

no-shortcuts

To Close

The quest for God is a holy quest. It’s reachable. But it requires the continual seeking of solitude and silence. We must get comfortable with silence and good at listening, so we can welcome the Spirit to speak with his quiet, still voice.

His voice comes nearer when we draw closer, with a listening heart and a willing spirit.

…to be continued.

Shalom

The Quest: Solitude, Part 3

Do you have a spiritual quest?

What Is It?

A spiritual quest (SQ) is a goal, or objective. Begin with an idea, something for which you are passionate, then let it mushroom with heartfelt urgency. Not quick action, poor choices, or bad decisions, but an urgency that can’t be ignored.

A SQ isn’t about one’s profession, or avocation. It isn’t a goal shaped by this world. It’s about you and God. It’s a holy desire that must be realized. It’s a quest that must be fulfilled. It calls you, it moves you, and it will not be denied.

Examples

  1. Moses seeking God’s face on Mt Sanai.
  2. David’s need to raise God’s honor by defeating the Philistines.
  3. Nehemiah’s brokenness over Jerusalem’s walls.
  4. Jesus with the Father: In the wilderness and the garden of Gethsemane.
  5. Paul wanting to know the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.

 

Sierra Exif JPEG
A Metaphor: Finding the Voice of God

The SQ may involve spiritual development, or specific action. But the corner stone of the quest is a holy hunger for God. To know him better, deeper, to experience him.

The Challenges

The SQ will face challenges. Maybe in the form of distraction, road blocks, or persecution. Our world doesn’t encourage spiritual development. Our culture doesn’t facilitate the deeper things of God, to the contrary, it raises hurdles and obstacles.

One of the hurdles may be in hearing the voice of God. Listening is essential to the SQ. Noise engulfs us, permeating our minds. We are distracted by the moving parts.

(to read more on distraction and solitude click here: The Blog of Solitude, Part 2

When do we hear his voice? Are we hearing his voice? A worthwhile SQ could be to reconnect with the heart of God.

From Henri Nouwen,

“Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved—but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ.”

To Close

A passion for God. A holy hunger. A quest for his presence and deeper meaning in our lives. Does it exist? Can it be found? Where do we look?

Achieving our SQ may require solitude. It may require a desert experience. In fact, finding the listening place for the voice of God may be our first SQ.

….to be continued.

Shalom

The Blog of Solitude

Part One

Here’s a thing: Sensory Deprivation

A Definition

It’s an intentional reduction, or elimination, of environmental stimuli.

The Senses

Most of us probably have an image of the Sensory Deprivation tanks. The tank is an enclosed tub with enough water and salt to stretch out, float, and be totally relaxed. Once inside you are cut off from sight, sound, touch, and smell. Even gravity is suspended due to the high saline.

The SD tanks were used in psychological studies, in some therapy models, and various other applications. It was considered pop-culture in the 60’s when it was used with psychotropic drugs. Groan.

Am I Crazy?

I’m in no way drawn to a deprivation tank. But the idea of reduced stimuli seems nice. Maybe they were on to something.

Perhaps I could experience a virtual tank? I could:

  1. Turn off TV
  2. Turn off computer
  3. Turn off phone
  4. Turn off tablet
  5. Turn off stereo
  6. Turn off the widgets and gadgets
  7. Turn it all off

Our washer/dryer has more dings, chimes, and jingles than a doorbell factory. Good grief.

Solitude and Silence

I’m becoming a fan, but there doesn’t seem to be many of us. Of course, being alone is a singular experience so how would I know?

Quiet solitude isn’t a disease or a sign of a sick mind. However, it does seem to be highly unpopular. So we fidget in the silence and twitch in the solitude. Have we become a nation of stimulation cravers? 

 I’ve decided to seek solitude and silence, but I’m having trouble finding them. Not with a search warrant, or even a magnifying glass, are they readily apparent. But I’m not giving up. Maybe I should write about it? Yes, that’s it!

The Blog of Solitude

Sweet tranquility will be realized through tens of thousands of electronic stimuli all permanently placed on the world wide web.

Countless throngs of people, or perhaps dozens, will read my solitude blog! What do you think of this for a tag line:

            “Less stimuli through blogging.”

To Close

Man, I love changing the world. Look for what’s coming next on the Blog of Solitude.

Shalom

New Year’s: Searching For Reasons

Do you celebrate New Year’s? Should it be celebrated? 

New Year’s

Our Federal government proclaimed New Year’s a holiday on June 28, 1870. As a nation, we have been officially celebrating it for 146 years.

Thing About It

New Year’s doesn’t acknowledge a president’s birthday, or a famous explorer, or a champion of human rights. It doesn’t embrace any religious purpose. It doesn’t celebrate our nation’s freedom or honor the sacrifice of fallen soldiers. It isn’t a national day of prayer and fasting as was the original declaration of Thanksgiving. 

Reasons People Celebrate New Year’s

  • It’s a national holiday
  • Promise of a better year
  • The parties
  • An opportunity to drink
  • It’s on the calendar
  • It’s something to do
  • It’s what we do
  • What else is there to do?
  • It welcomes the New Year
  • It’s an American tradition

As Near As I Can Tell

As near as I can tell, the entire focus of New Year’s is the end of one year and the beginning of another. It’s the turning of a calendar.

Some New Year’s Numbers

  1. New Year’s Eve is the most popular drinking day in America.
  2. One million will crowd Time Square to watch the ball drop.
  3. Another billion will watch from around the world.
  4. $3200 is the price for a direct view of the ball from the Marriott Hotel.
  5. 360 million glasses of Champagne will be served.

Millions will drink too much and put people’s safety at risk.

recovery-drinking-new-years-eve

In Closing

I’m not against celebrating New Year’s. I’m just struggling to find a reasonable reason to do so. It isn’t about honor, or remembering, or acknowledging something sacred or patriotic. It doesn’t encourage faith, thanksgiving ,or anything spiritual. 

I guess having fun is the purpose of New Year’s? 

Be safe. Be responsible. Be wise.

Shalom 

 

 

The Quest

My freshman year, the track coach challenged me with, “Rick, you’re not fast enough yet to sprint for varsity track. But if you’ll run the 880, you can be varsity this year.” 

A Tough Decision

It was tough. The 880 was two laps around the track, but it seemed like a marathon.

My First Race

At the first track meet, I came in last, sixty yards behind the winner. Coach said, “Rick, you’re going to have to dig deep, train harder, and run with courage.” At season’s end, at the District meet, I finished third. I medaled at District, as a freshman. I like a challenge.

A Guest Speaker

Randy Harris, of Abilene Christian University, was at Southeast Sunday morning and challenged the congregation to truly trust God. On Monday morning, at an area wide minister’s breakfast, he gave another challenging message. He asked about our spiritual quests, something we were obsessed about, with obsession being a good thing in that context.

He gave us a few minutes to think, then he shared his own:

  1. To daily live in the passion of Christ.
  2. To be simple.
  3. To become the peace of God.

As he explained them, and they had depth beyond what I can write about, it was obvious we were in the presence of a truly spiritual man. He was growing with God in ways we had not ever considered. It was inspiring. 

Two Concerns

He mentioned two ways that we could be in trouble:

  1. If we didn’t have any spiritual quests.
  2. If our quests were work related, not personal.

He spoke of running out of steam, of being depleted. Many ministers serve from an empty cup. Just pushing through by relying on talent and personality. Most church members aren’t aware; and neither are most church leaders, but it’s totally possible to serve God with an empty heart and an arid soul.

Ministry done well, day after month after year, with all of its problems, conflicts, suicides, death, broken marriages, tragedies and crisis can suck the life out of a minister’s soul.

What Churches Need

Our churches need ministers who aren’t just answer people, problem solvers, effective administrators, or magnets for growth.

What churches need, even if they don’t realize it, are ministers whose hearts are filled with the Spirit, whose souls are saturated with the Father’s presence, and whose lives are infused with the light of the glory of God.

But ministers, more often than not, serve without any of those divine values. They just keep going, and keep smiling. We all have families to feed.

cross_jesus_wood_236183

To Close

It’s my responsibly to nourish my soul and fill my heart. But doing so requires different priorities and a quest for something that draw me into his presence.

What spiritual quest do you have? What feeds and fills your soul? Or are you content with  attending church and living a decent life?

Think about it.

Shalom

Speaking of Leaking

HERE’S A THING

A little boy was asked how high he could count. His answer, “3,462.” Thinking that a strange response, he was asked about the number. He replied,

                “That’s how many holes there are in the ceiling tiles at church.”

ceiling tiles with holes
Ceilings With Holes 

SOME THOUGHTS FOR YOU

Some people leave church greatly inspired while others leave greatly refreshed. If you take all the people who sleep in church, and lay them end to end, they will sleep more comfortably. 

sleeping end to end in pews

When a visiting preacher finished his message, a man went forward seeking prayers for repentance and commitment. The preacher was feeling really good about someone responding when one of the members yelled out:

                                          “Careful preacher, he leaks.”

Uh Huh. 

SPEAKING OF LEAKING

Seems like we all leak.

Our faith rises and falls. Our love for our fellow man weakens by the actions and attitudes of our fellow man. 

The fires of revival are too easily quenched by the flumes of rampant sin. 

TOTAL PERFECTION

I like the idea of being complete, of possessing moral excellence and redemptive righteousness.

Or is it self-righteousness I like having?  

Truthfully, I’ve counted my share of holes in the ceiling tiles at church. I’ve nodded off during the service, and I’m the preacher! Good grief. 

sleeping-in-church

THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH…I’M A SINNER

I’m a sinner living in a broken world. I am not perfect, never have been, never will be. I make mistakes, think wrong thoughts, say things I shouldn’t and do things I regret.

Most of the time, my heart is soft and my spirit is sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. But not always. I know what it is to be stiff-necked with pride and to think myself above everything and everyone. 

I’m a fallen person. And by the way, so are you. 

Varnishing the truth would just be an attempt to make myself look better.

THE REALLY GREAT NEWS

But the really great news is that I have a covenant relationship with God. Salvation isn’t waiting for my perfection. Forgiveness isn’t on hold while I figure out to make myself holy.

 I’m forgiven by mercy and saved by grace. Jesus is my holiness, righteousness, and redemption

A CLOSING THOUGHT

The truth is: I leak. But here’s something to rejoice about, Jesus doesn’t.

Hallelujah!