Archives For enjoying God

I don’t share the following quote lightly. The next few days are some of the busiest of the year for me. But this encourages me to find and take the time in the midst of serving and participating, to do the one thing I need to do.

“It is tempting to always keep busy; there’s so much to do and there are so many in need.
But the point of all this running around is to support the real work of life.
“You are anxious and worried about many things,” Jesus once told Martha, who was “burdened with much serving.” And then he said, “There is need of only one thing.” Mary, Martha’s sister, instead sat at his feet, and today she washes them with oil.
It’s not easy to know how to direct our energies, but if our busy lives, even lived in service to others, never allow us to stop and be with the ones we love, then our purpose is defeated.
It is Holy Week, a time for contemplation. So take a break from much serving and find the one thing that is most needed.”
Amy Andrews in “A Book of Grace-filled Days”

“The story of Jesus is the story of love personified.
We miss the point when we simply try to do what he tells us to do.
And we miss the point when we merely try to follow
the pattern of his life. His life points us back to his
own Source. His life is intelligible only when it is
understood as the personification of divine love.

But genuinely encountering Love is not the same as
inviting Jesus into your heart, joining or attending a
church, or doing what Jesus commands. It is the
experience of love that is transformational. You simply
cannot bask in divine love and not be affected.”
David Benner

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John reclining on Jesus

The only problem with “Alive,” a song from All Sons and Daughters [on their Season One album] is that it is too short! This video clocks in at 2:17 minutes–and it’s a wonderful complement to the music and lyrics.

“Alive”

“This is a call to all the dead and disappointed
The ones who feel like they are done
This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten
But you are not
Oh you are not

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given
Unchained from all that we have done
Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon
And we’re comin’ home
We’re comin’ home

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shaken
We’re alive alive alive alive in You”

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“To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it.
A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset;
but to poets, artists, and saints,
the world is transparent like a window pane––it tells of something beyond…
a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity.”
Bishop Fulton Sheen

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“You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime,
and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing,
walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
G. K. Chesterton

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For if we have no real interest in praising Him, it shows that we have never realized who He is.
For when one becomes conscious of who God really is, and when one realized that He who is Almighty, and infinitely Holy, has ‘done great things to us,’
the only possible reaction is the cry of half-articulate exultation
that bursts from the depths of our being in amazement at the tremendous, inexplicable goodness of God to men.
Thomas Merton

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“…to receive it and to recognize its divine source are a single experience.
This heavenly fruit [like a peach] is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew.
This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows.
It is a message. We know we are being touched
by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore.”
C.S.Lewis

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From Bill Gaultiere:
“The Psalmist prophesied, “[The Lord] raised up for his people a horn [the Christ], the praise of… the people close to his heart” (Psalm 148:14). I read this and my heart melts within me… “The people close to his heart.” I am close to the Lord’s heart! In Christ God draws close to me, to love me — even now in this moment. I belong to the Lord! So do you!
Jesus said, “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love” (John 15;9). Abide. Eleven times in his gospel John described our intimacy with Jesus as abiding. What does it mean to abide in Christ?

Abiding is Affectionate
Some Bible teachers want to reduce abiding to obeying the Lord’s commands…but obedience is more the outcome of abiding rather than the essence of it…Abiding in Jesus is a way of relating and being with him, remaining in his love continually. Abiding is “intimate and organic” (John 15:5, MSG).

…Our primary identity is not what we do — it’s our abiding in Jesus. This is a revolutionary statement with deep spiritual and psychological implications for our identity, well-being, and way of life.

With John we can say, “I am the disciple Jesus loves!”… (John 13:23 and 26; 20:2; 21:7 and 20.) We can learn to live in greater intimacy with Jesus — at first, just for moments, but as we grow in God’s grace it becomes more our way of being so that as we do whatever we’re doing we’re abiding in Jesus and the Father, finding our support, significance, and strength as we lean on Jesus’ chest.”
Bill Gaultiere writing at Soul Shepherding

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“O Love of God, descend into my heart;
Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling,
And scatter there Your cheerful beams.

Dwell in the soul that longs to be Your temple;
Water that barren soil overrun with weeds and briars
And lost for lack of cultivating.
Make it fruitful with Your dew.

Come, dear Refreshment of those who languish;
Come, Star and Guide of those who sail amidst tempests.
You are the Haven of the tossed and shipwrecked.

Come now, Glory and Crown of the living,
As well as the Safeguard of the dying.
Come, Sacred Spirit;
Come, and make me fit to receive You.”
Augustine

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“The present state of the world, the whole of life, is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply, “Create silence! Bring people to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Create silence.”
Soren Kierkegaard

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Early in the morning I’ll seek your face,                                             
“I find my life in the fullness of your joy,
Every stress and anxiety it is gone,
when I enter your rest when I enter your rest.
 
I find my life in you, when I enter your rest,
my peace is complete, when I enter your rest,
oh my faith is refreshed when I enter your rest,
I am surrounded by the power of your love.”
“When I Enter Your Rest” Joann Rosario

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Time to set the table

June 17, 2015 — 1 Comment

He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

Bushwacking up a steep mountain isn’t easy. As I climb, I need to stop and rest. I need to eat and drink. I’m not a robot; my body is alive and I have to get rest and refreshment.

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My soul isn’t any different. Living in this broken, fallen world is like climbing a high peak. The path is hard, difficult, and painful. Before too long, my soul becomes weary, beaten, discouraged.

And just as my body isn’t designed to go without food or drink or rest, my soul isn’t designed to go without spiritual refreshment. I’m not a robot. My soul is alive. I need to spend time with God to restore my soul. I need to drink His living water. I need to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.

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But as we all know in this fast food age, it’s possible to “eat on the run”, get “take-out” or “a quick bite to eat”, wolf down an energy bar, or drink a meal replacement–all concepts that didn’t exist one hundred years ago. My body really doesn’t care how I get my calories. However I care. I don’t find it enjoyable to “grab and go”.

"Nutrition for sustainable energy"--how appetizing does that sound?

“Nutrition for sustainable energy”–how appetizing does that sound?

A good meal at a nice table with a loving friend–that satisfies me in a way a power bar doesn’t.
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When I take the time to set the table with a tablecloth, napkins, silverware, dishes and maybe candles and fresh flowers, it makes a difference. The very act of setting the table focuses me. It helps create a peaceful and calm atmosphere. It signals that the meal will not just be a quick pit stop to refuel my tank.

The same thing is true when I take the time to stop and focus as I meet with God to restore my soul.

I have calmed and quieted myself, like a little child on its mother’s lap.
Psalm 131:2

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Recently, I’ve started lighting two candles at the beginning of my time with God. I had heard of this suggestion before but I never thought I’d be a candle person [but then I never thought I’d be a prayer walk person either!]. At Seven Fountains I bought two candle holders that had been made by prisoners. I like the reminder that there are two of us meeting together, God and me. And the act of lighting the candles is a signal that it is time to be still. I’m going to stay awhile. I will learn from Jesus and find rest for my soul.

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In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:4

What about you?
How do you settle yourself down when you turn to meet with God?

Most of our life happens in the routine of the day-to-day. Whether comforting, boring, easy, or thoughtless, the whole point of a routine is that we know what we will do and what we can expect. This is true for our relationship with God as well. Our regular spiritual practices anchor and sustain us in our daily life.

But God enjoys delight and celebration and making things new too.* There’s a place for special, out-of-the-ordinary times like deep sabbath, a night at the prayer spa and a church retreat.*

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At the beginning of this year I experienced another kind of special time–a private retreat. Typically this would mean going away to a retreat center for a weekend, but instead I did it a little differently. Several mornings while I was staying with family in Thailand, I went by myself to a nearby retreat center.

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I had worshipped at Seven Fountains on previous visits. I had even stayed overnight once after a transcontinental flight [in a very foggy jetlagged state which is not conducive for doing much except sleep]. But this was the first time I went there to be alone with God.

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A spiritual director suggested I might walk through the prayer labyrinth. Although I had heard of it before, I had never come across it in all my wanderings through the grounds. But frankly the idea of praying while following a path has never appealed to me. [‘Labyrinth’ turns out to be a bit of a misnomer because it is not a maze. There is a single path to the center and back.]

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However being out of one’s routine includes the opportunity to try new things. So when I found a booklet about the labyrinth at the welcome center, I decided to give it a try. I asked for directions and discovered the labyrinth was just beyond a sign I had always dutifully obeyed.

"Do not enter without permission"

“Do not enter without permission”

Since I am writing about the experience now, four months later, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you doing this walk turned out to be one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. The time I spent with God there [which I did at a snail’s pace] was so meaningful that I returned three more times.

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Although I don’t think Jesus ever walked a prayer labyrinth, I think it is significant that the gospels record that he went away by himself to talk with the Father:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

But Jesus often withdrew to wilderness and prayed. Luke 5:16

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Matthew 14:23

Solitude, wilderness, a mountainside–these are not part of my daily routine. But I am so thankful I was able to get away by myself and spend uninterrupted time with my Father. It changed me and months later I am still reaping the benefits.

I don’t know how often it would be good for me to do this. Should I should make it a routine?!? But I manage to go to the dentist once a year for a check-up, and to the doctor for an annual physical. I celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary every year too. So I think I can mark one day or one weekend a year to go off alone with God. Or following this year’s approach, I could even make a month of Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons into a retreat time every January. Whatever I decide, I know God will be ready to meet me.

What about you?
How often do you go away on retreat?
Where have you gone to meet alone with God?

**You might enjoy:
God’s amuse bouches
Time to put on dancing shoes
Making things new
The prayer spa
Deep sabbath
Getting away together

And if you ever end up in Chiang Mai, plan a special time at Seven Fountains

Speaking of my Father

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I John 3:1

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“How great is a Father’s love to his children! That which friendship cannot do, and mere benevolence will not attempt, a father’s heart and hand must do for his children. They are his offspring, he must bless them; they are his children, he must show himself strong in their defense. If an earthly father watches over his children with unceasing love and care, how much more does our heavenly Father? Abba, Father!
…There is heaven in the depth of that word–Father! There is all I can ask; all my necessities can demand; all my wishes can desire. I have all in all to all eternity when I can say, ‘Father.'”
Charles Spurgeon

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So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Hebrews 10:19-22 [The Message]

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  “Calling God “Abba” is entering into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had…Calling God “Abba, Father” (see Roman 8:15; Galatians 4:6) is a cry of the heart, a prayer welling up from our innermost being.  It has nothing do with naming God but everything to do with claiming God as the source of who we are.  This claim does not come from any sudden insight or acquired conviction…it is the claim of love.”
Henri Nouwen

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“One Thing Remains”

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love…”

Not just a name

February 6, 2015 — 2 Comments

Recently I have been feeling the weight of my sinfulness and the many ways I go off God’s path, following my petty selfish desires. Even my righteous acts don’t make the grade:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:4

Thankfully, at the same time I have been aware that Jesus can wash me clean and restore my relationship with Him. With Peter, I’ve been praying, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [John 13:9] I am finding it helpful to follow a personal liturgy for confessionadapted from The Book of Common Prayer, with commentary by David Powlison on each phrase in the prayer.

He begins:
“Even when your thoughts and feelings are chaotic, these words can serve as your guide. They are a channel for honesty. Instead of wallowing in misery and failure, these words help you to plan how you will walk in the direction of honesty, mercy, gratitude, and freedom.”

Today, I didn’t get further than the prayer’s opening greeting:
“Almighty and most merciful Father”

Here are Powlison’s comments on that simple phrase:

“Notice that you are talking with someone who is both all powerful and most merciful. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is the God of comfort and Father of mercies. God becomes your Father, our Father who art in heaven, through Jesus. He loved you in the exact way you most need help and rescue from outside yourself. He died in your place. He laid down his life for you. He is alive. He pursues you. Someday you will see him face to face. He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit. Turn to him. Call on him for help.
 
Don’t mistake the true God for other things. For example, what if your human father was weak, absent, fickle or harsh? The reason you know that such things are wrong is that you have a God-implanted sense within you: a true father should be strong, involved, faithful, generous and tender. Your true Father welcomes you. He is glad to see you and willingly listens to you. He will protect you. He will hear you. He is merciful. He is generous-hearted. He will help you. He will give you what you truly need.”

In particular, this echoed in my heart:
“He pursues you… He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit.”

God does not wait for me to come to Him. He is pursuing me. He comes to me with life, and welcomes me into His holy of holies. He makes it possible for me to enter into His presence. The work and effort is His.

Because of this, I don’t have to wait until I have cleaned up my act. And I don’t come as a grown-up who has it all together, but as a child, calling out, “Abba–Papa”.

I am not asking forgiveness from some distant, impersonal divine being. I’m approaching my Father who created me in love and with love, to be loved by Him. He is personal, intimate, present with me. He answers back to me, “Yes, I am here for you now. Come. Be washed. Be clean.”

This is my confidence. I can come without any hesitation. ‘Father’ is not just a name. It describes our relationship. It explains why He wants to forgive me. It testifies how His love never runs out on me.

“In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love.”
[One Thing Remains]

Because of this, perhaps the biggest wonder is not that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy God lavishes His love on me, but that it takes me so long to come to Him.

I want to learn to stay closer, to return faster, to delight more in His love. And this is just what my Father wants for me too.

He waits. He beckons. He invites. He whispers, “Come.”

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We talk about having a quiet time with God. Why not have a dance time too?

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“How can we not sing and make music to You in our hearts?
How can we possibly remain silent and still, in response to who You are and everything You’ve done for us, Jesus?
Forgive us when we, like the elder brother, remain smugly on the outside of the house of redemption—off the dance floor of Your reconciling love (Luke 15:25).
Cause us to hear the Father speaking to us right now: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
Indeed, Lord, forgive us for confusing reverence with rigor mortis.
Forgive us for giving You ardor-less order when we worship You.
Forgive us for living more by our temperament tests, Myers-Briggs profiles, and personality types than by the lyric, music, and dance of the gospel.
Free us from giving You a measured response to a measureless gospel.” Scotty Smith

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We will dance, we will dance for Your glory
We will dance, we will dance for Your glory
We will dance for Your glory, Lord
We will lift up a shout to adore You
Every sound that we make, it is for You
We will dance for Your glory, Lord

For salvation’s in this place
You’re the name by which we’re saved, Jesus, Jesus
Let Your name be lifted high
As our thankful hearts now cry, “Jesus, Jesus”

Lift up your heads, you ancient gates
Be lifted up, you ancient doors
The King is coming in, the King is coming in
We lift up a shout to shake the skies
Lift up a cry, “Be glorified!”
The King is coming in, the King is coming in

We’re the people of God with a song to sing
And we’re bringing our lives as an offering
We will dance for Your glory, Lord
And Your cross is the hope that we hold up high
As we tell the whole world of Your love and life
We will dance for Your glory, Lord ”
Matt Redman

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“The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God;
the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit;
the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit;
and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship,
pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.”
John Piper

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Dance, dance, everybody dance
Everybody sing for joy is in this place now

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
To save a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Dance, dance, everybody dance
Everybody sing for joy is in this place now

Your joy is in this place now”
Tim Hughes

One of the highlights of last year was dancing at my niece’s wedding. Under a big tent by the sea, guests of all ages–kids and parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents–joined in. As the DJ played song after song, we shimmied, boogied, shuffled, hopped, and twirled to the music.

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Dancing is the perfect way to celebrate a joyful occasion like a wedding because when we’re filled with joy we can’t sit still. It starts to bubble up inside and then gushes out, like a child so excited they start running around the house. No wonder the Hebrew word for joy ‘gil’ can be literally translated as spinning around in joy. There’s an exuberance to deep joy that can’t be contained.

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That’s what happened with King David as he brought the ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem. He was so overcome with joy that he was leaping and dancing before the Lord.

Later Saul’s daughter criticized him because he had acted undignified in front of everyone. But David told her he wasn’t dancing to the crowd, he was dancing before the Lord. “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undefined than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” [2 Samuel 6:21-22] He wasn’t worried if he didn’t look respectable. It was more important to him to express the joy he felt inside to the Lord.

By nature and upbringing, I’m more like Saul’s daughter than David. My cultural heritage is a mixture of German and New England. My early church background included Lutheran, Congregational and Presbyterian churches where worship falls on the reverent and restrained side.

To dance or even move my feet during worship was completely foreign to me. [There’s a reason Presbyterians are sometimes referred to, tongue in cheek, as “God’s frozen chosen”.] Then I attended services where people were more exuberant as they praised God. I saw worship could include raising arms in the air, clapping, dancing in the aisles, and shouting.

In fact, the Psalms encourage us to dance when we praise God:

Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise Him with the harp and lyre,
praise Him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise Him with the strings and pipe,
praise Him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Psalm 150:3-5

We’ve just finished the Christmas season, the grand celebration of the Word becoming flesh and living among us. It’s an annual reminder that the life of faith is not just lived on a spiritual level. We’re physical beings too. Our spirits are housed in our bodies, and our arms and legs can be instruments of praise.

It’s also a season of great joy.
We read, “I bring you good news of great joy.”
We sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
A savior is born! Now we can walk in the light! Gloria in excelsis deo!

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I think of the song about the little drummer boy who played his drum for the infant Jesus. Perhaps my gift can be to dance before the Lord. Yes, I may look undignified. I may feel silly and embarrassed. But if I can forget about being respectable, I can give the honor and praise that is due Him by using my entire being; my hands, my feet, my voice, my arms, my legs. What better way to celebrate the Word becoming flesh?

You turned my wailing into dancing;
    You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise You forever.

Psalm 30:11-12

How do you express your joy?
What songs would you suggest for praising God with dance?

Need helping thinking about what the Sabbath means? Here’s a book on the importance of keeping the Sabbath, by Matthew Sleeth, an ER doctor, currently $2.99 for the Kindle version:
24/6: A prescription for a healthier, happier life

I’ve started reading it, and it’s excellent.

“A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us — not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.”
― Marva J. Dawn

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“God rested on the seventh day… Rest, therefore, is seen in the Bible not as a sign of weakness or laziness, but as a divine activity as a sign of his wisdom and holiness. If resting is important to God, I don’t think we can minimize its importance for us as humans.…

We were designed for Camel travel, not supersonic jet behavior. Except for the last 50 years, humans have been able to live within the limits set for the human body. Today, however, we are exceeding these limits, not just barely, by a huge margin. We need the principle of Sabbath keeping.

Real resting takes time. Extended time. Unfrustrated time. Idle time. It also demands that you have nothing waiting in the wings. You have to disconnect, disengage, Let go, and forget what you were doing before and what waits for you after. You have to completely separate yourself from your regular routine.”
–Archibald Hart

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“Worry: The Sabbath is an invitation to rest emotionally and mentally from things that cause worry and stress, such as budgets, major decisions, and planning the week ahead. At the end of the Sabbath, from a place of rest, we can engage in some of the decision-making that needs to be done in the week. How can you say “No” to worry on the Sabbath?”
Developing a Sabbath Practice

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“Since the definition of “work” involves trying to effect change, I am embracing one simple fact: Sabbath is the cessation of trying to effect change in my environment.  This is primarily a mental discipline, and means that I must cease thinking: 1) that things are not okay as they are, and 2) that I need to take steps to change things.”
–Ruth Everhart

Still practicing

November 14, 2013 — 3 Comments

A person once asked me, “Are you a practicing Christian?” The question took me aback for a moment. To me there wasn’t any other kind, But then I thought, ‘Yes, that’s right. I am practicing. I haven’t mastered this yet.’
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I was reminded of that brief encounter when I started to read Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath. She begins her reflections on Jewish spiritual practices by saying:

“Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. That is not to say that Judaism doesn’t have dogma or doctrine. It is rather to say that for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver. (Indeed, Judaism suggests that the repeating of the practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter’s faith will return.)

…Madeline L’Engle once likened spiritual practice to piano etudes: You do not necessarily enjoy the etudes— you want to skip right ahead to the sonatas and concertos—but if you don’t work through the etudes you will arrive at the sonatas and not know what to do. So, too, with the spiritual life. It’s not all about mountaintops. Mostly it’s about training so that you’ll know the mountaintop for what it is when you get there.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not make us Christians. Instead, the practicing teaches us what it means to live as Christians.”

Given the title of Winner’s book, it’s not surprising that the first discipline she focuses on is the Sabbath. As I read her description of Jewish Sabbath practices, I realized that the Deep Sabbath I wrote about a few months ago is actually the regular Sabbath. Oops. It’s not a once-a-year activity.

Every week, with no exceptions, observant Jews set aside a day and obey the fourth commandment. They light Sabbath candles at sundown and for 24 hours, they cease from all manner of work. The Hebrew verb ‘Shabbat’ means to cease, and that includes lighting fires [no cooking, no turning on lights], and shopping.

When I was working full-time for a publishing company and living a maxed-out life, I decided one year to stop doing laundry and grocery shopping on Sundays. It was a rather radical step, but I was surprised how easy it was to work those activities into the rest of the week.

Now I face other, more subtle challenges. Since Sundays is a prime work day for Jack as a pastor, we’ve tried over the years to take a regular day-off. But as I reflect on it, that’s not the same as a Sabbath. A day-off is something your company gives you for you to do whatever you want or need to do. A Sabbath is a holy day, set apart, and spent in the presence of God. Another oops.

After reading Mudhouse Sabbath, I decided it’s time to try yet again to take a weekly Sabbath. In other words, it’s time to practice. And that means I need to be ready to stumble and fail because establishing a new life habit doesn’t happen over night. Then I discovered a small group guide with a section [pages 10-12], “Developing a Sabbath Practice.” Over the course of a month, it helps you shape your Sabbath practice by having you reflect on what to exclude from your Sabbath. Then it has you practice weaning yourself off those activities, and also think about what to include.

I’m still working through the guide. I’m still thinking about what boundaries I need and want to put on the day. I’m still working on preparing better for the Sabbath, too. Winner writes that Jews spend Sunday, Monday and Tuesday remembering the Sabbath, and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday preparing for it. Having tried and failed a few weeks to take a Sabbath, I can see the wisdom in that.

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This week, our Sabbath day fell perfectly into place. Monday, Jack and I walked to a nearby park, enjoying the cathedral of eucalyptus trees as the sun rose. Later I went with an old friend who was visiting and had a special hammam [Turkish bath]. I stayed off the internet and read a book. We ended the day sharing a meal with our visiting friends: roasted lamb and couscous stuffing and special desserts from a local bakery.

The Sabbath was so enjoyable that I’ve found myself thinking about it every day since then. It has helped me feel loved by God. It’s been a reminder of how He cares for me. I’ve experienced the joy Isaiah told about:

You must observe the Sabbath
rather than doing anything you please on My holy day.
You must look forward to the Sabbath
and treat the Lord’s holy day with respect.
You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities,
and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.

Then you will find joy in your relationship to the Lord,
and I will give you great prosperity,
and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.”

Isaiah 58:13-14

I’m already beginning to think ahead to this coming Monday. I need to carve out some time to plan and prepare for it. It might not be as perfect as last Monday, but that will be alright. I’m still practicing.

What about you? What spiritual habit are you practicing?

In the midst of my daily life, as I plow through my routines like a stubborn ox, it’s easy to overlook what God is doing in the world.

But when I take the time to get out of my rut–with a vacation or simply by enjoying a sabbath day–I often have a fresh experience of the beauty and abundance God has given to His creation.

Afterwards, I find my reading of scripture is also refreshed because God’s word is not only a light to our soul but also a way to look at the world.

That’s what happened to me as I read Psalm 65 this week. It’s a wonderful psalm, filled with reasons to give God praise. In particular, the second half came alive as I remembered how I had seen these verses in action this month while on vacation.** How blessed we are that God continues to be active and working in the world we live in. How could we live without His loving care?

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by Your power,
having armed Yourself with strength,

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who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

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The whole earth is filled with awe at Your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
You call forth songs of joy.

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You care for the land and water it;
You enrich it abundantly.

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The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so You have ordained it.2013 6 13 Dingle Penninsula north west aj 052

You drench its furrows and level its ridges; You soften it with showers and bless its crops.

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You crown the year with Your bounty,
and Your carts overflow with abundance.

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The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.

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The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

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God has been up to quite a lot, hasn’t He?

Where have you been enjoying God’s gift of creation recently?

**Notes
All pictures thanks to God [and County Kerry in southwest Ireland]

Desire is often talked about as something we ought to overcome.  Still, being is desiring:  our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls are full of desires.  Some are unruly, turbulent, and very distracting; some make us think deep thoughts and see great visions; some teach us how to love; and some keep us searching for God.   Our desire for God is the desire that should guide all other desires.  Otherwise our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls become one another’s enemies and our inner lives become chaotic, leading us to despair and self-destruction.

Henri Nouwen

♦◊♦

Up now, slight man! Flee for a little while your occupations; hide yourself for a time you’re your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside now your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God, and rest for a little time in Him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God and those that can help you in seeking Him.

Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, “I seek Your face; Your face, Lord, will I seek.”

Anselm

♦◊♦

Abide in me: These words are no law of Moses, demanding from the sinful what they cannot perform. They are the command of love, which is ever only a promise in a different shape.

You are not under the law, with its inexorable ‘Do,’ but under grace, with its blessed ‘Believe what Christ will do for you’.

Andrew Murray

Getting connected

April 16, 2013 — 4 Comments

A few years ago, I drove down from Boston to an artist’s colony in the hills of Virginia. I stayed overnight at a friend’s house and before I got on the road again, I took advantage of her wireless internet connection.

I only had time to send a brief update to Jack who was holding down the fort back in Rabat and I was looking forward to catching up on my internet activity when I arrived at my destination.

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Once I unpacked, I discovered I could connect to my choice of four wireless networks. But there was one small problem: the internet was down. It still wasn’t working the next morning. I started going into withdrawal with feelings of desperation. I started to wonder how long could I survive without being connected.

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At breakfast in the residence hall, one person mentioned they had checked email that morning. “So the internet is working?” I asked with hope in my voice. No, he had used his Iphone. “Oh,” I said with disappointment.

At lunch in the studio complex, I asked a few more people. One said he had used a wireless network on the other side of the long narrow building. I didn’t exactly run back to my studio and grab my computer; but I did go straight away, leaving my soup to cool.

I clicked on this new wireless network and felt a surprisingly powerful sense of relief when it connected. I could communicate with friends again, check the weather, catch up on the news, load up a blog post, visit with family on Skype, and research a half-dozen “I wonder about…” questions I had thought of during my 12 hours of driving.

connected

The internet has been around for years but I haven’t always been so dependent on it. The first time I went to an artist’s colony, there was one desktop computer and residents signed up for half-hour slots [I put my westward jetlag to good use with long pre-dawn sessions]. The last time I went, they had just gotten wireless and I read A.W.Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy online. But when the connection went down for a weekend, it didn’t phase me.

Now the idea of spending 24 hours without a connection feels like being stranded on a desert island. I’ve slowly changed how I live to the point where it’s difficult to function without the internet. This didn’t happen overnight though. The change was a gradual process. And I do believer it would be possible to wean myself off of the internet, especially if my family and friends stopped using it.

There are a lot of parallels between my dependence on the internet and my connection with God. First, it’s helpful for me to remember that significant life change usually doesn’t happen overnight. Patterns and habits take time to develop, and they also take time to wither away.

When I first committed myself to following Jesus, spending time with God every day wasn’t too difficult. I was learning new things and making discoveries. I was eager to get to know Him better and being a student, I had a fair amount of control over my day. I found it a lot harder to stay connected when I had children, and later when I worked fulltime. I let the relationship go slack and gradually lost the habit of taking time to be with God.

When I regained control over the structure of my life after I left my job and moved overseas, I decided to plug in deeper again. But it took awhile before I became dependent on my daily time with God once more.

And there are still periods when my connection to God goes ‘down’ and I have to work at reconnecting. This past week as I’ve been traveling and out of my routine, I’ve found it harder to find a quiet space. It’s not as easy as being at home in my routine. It’s like having to walk outside into the snowy cold air, through the mud, to the other studio wing to get an internet connection.

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When I’m desperate enough though, I don’t mind the extra effort. And what a relief it is to find God has been waiting patiently for me to come and spend time with Him again.

How about you? What is your connection to God like these days? Strong and easy? Or requiring more effort?

{Edited from the archives}

Speaking of enjoying God

January 25, 2013 — 1 Comment

Father in heaven, when the thought of You wakes in our hearts,
let it not wake like a frightened bird that flies about in dismay, Continue Reading…

Enjoy…God

January 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m in the middle of a visit with three special kids. It’s wonderful to relax and enjoy their company. We’re biking and playing miniature golf and sledding and enjoying some special meals together.**

Having fun, relaxing, enjoying each other…

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snow in Thailand!

snow in Thailand!

enjoying a good laugh together

enjoying a good laugh together

Sounds just like spending time with God, doesn’t it?

Sadly, ‘enjoying God’ sometimes seems like an oxymoron to me. Being with my Heavenly Father can turn into an activity I ought/must/should do. I know I’m supposed to obey, listen, work, follow, share, trust, study, pray. But enjoy Him?

That may sounds vaguely heretical, but it’s not.

Back in the 1640s, a group of English and Scottish pastors got together and wrote down the basics of belief in the triune God in the Westminster Confession of Faith. They also put together the Westminster Catechism, a summary of what people who follow Jesus need to be taught, in the form of questions and answers from the Bible. There’s a long version of 196 questions and a short version of 107 questions.

And where did they begin? What did they see as the foundation of the Christian life? Where would be the place to start in the journey of faith?

How about sin? Jesus? Judgment? Wrath? Heaven? Adam and Eve? God’s holiness? God’s perfection? God’s power?

No. The first question is about enjoying God.

“Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”

Perhaps that’s why one scripture passage that attracted me to God when I was a child was:
You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

Joy, pleasure–intuitively we understand that this is what we were created for. The absence of joy and pleasure feels like brokenness.

Still, I find it amazing that God created me not as His slave or servant, but to bring Him glory and to enjoy Him–and by extension enjoy His love, rest, justice, righteousness, freedom, power, and every other aspect of His magnificent being.

Given that, here are two great questions to think about:
1]This year, what’s one thing I can do to increase my enjoyment of God?

2] What’s one way I’m going to enjoy God this week?

Links and Notes
**Snow in Thailand–yes it exists, at the zoo’s snow dome

ice cream and cake-- a Sunday breakfast tradition chez Mimi

ice cream and cake– a Sunday breakfast tradition chez Mimi

The Westminster Catechism