A morning walk of thoughts and … squirrel!

I love mornings that start well. Sets the tone for the whole day…and maybe it is also that extra spring in the step of a Friday.

I was up early, the sun is shining (again…after a day of storms). Yes, the birds are chirping. I was able to get my mile walk in this morning before the kids were up (I walk around our cul-de-sac so they can find me if they need me. Don’t call social services).

As I was walking I was struck by something, as usually happens. This is my time to pray, and I realized that in the space of one lap, 1/3 of a mile, I went through the following topics:

Thanking God for the gorgeous morning.

My health…good.

My kids…which led to thoughts and prayers and out their spiritual life and about homeschool. Which led to thoughts and prayers about curriculum and tutorial choices for next year.
Those thoughts were interrupted by thoughts about the one boy yesterday who just.could.not.finish.his.work.

Refocus, and prayers for my dad and mom as they continue in the journey and tedium of dementia.

Which led to thoughts about family. Trip this summer.

That led to thoughts about finances. Which was interrupted by thoughts about things I’d like to do.

That was interrupted by the fact that I was out of breath for the moment…financial thoughts always make me walk faster.

Then I thought about friends I would like to connect with soon…and prayers for them.

All…in the span of 1/3 of a mile.

My thoughts jump. They interrupt themselves and distract my focus.
Squirrel!

We’ve all been there. It was still a good morning and time of prayer…but I had to fight for that focus. Back to the boy who couldn’t finish his work yesterday. He was distracted, he was fidgety and he just couldn’t get it done. Mostly his reading.  We are such a fragmented people, and so inundated with competing demands for our attention.

We have just one more month of school and we will have completed our first year. There have been some great things and some areas where I know we need work, but there is one area that keeps coming back to me….

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still.

Focus.

Taking every thought captive to obedience in Christ

This is not something that simply happens to us. Without discipline, my thoughts are all over the place. Without discipline the school work does not get done. Without discipline…it is difficult (impossible?) to contemplate and meditate and focus on God. To be still and know that He is.

That is the area that underlies everything for me in the homeschool venture. To provide the space and the atmosphere and the encouragement…and the requirement…that my kids learn to be still, to silence the distractions, to take their thoughts captive. Maybe only for five minutes, maybe for an hour…but to learn this discipline. They need it to progress in their studies, but they need it vitally in their spiritual life.

I remember reading Thomas Merton responding to a letter where someone said it must be easier to be quiet and spend time in contemplation when you are a hermit. They were desiring that space for solitude and contemplation, and Merton responded that if we cannot find silence and solitude in the room with the television and the distractions we will go crazy in the cabin in the woods. Our thoughts will weigh down on us and distract us and frustrate us. We have to learn the discipline of being still right here…in the midst of all the noise.

I have to admit it took a lap or two before I settled in to prayers that were focused and not jumbled. Thoughts that were held longer than a fleeting moment. Now as we sit down to start school…the reminder is there. Learn to focus. Hold this thought in your mind…don’t be distracted.

Discipline.

Capture your thoughts and do not let them capture you.

Practicing Resurrection…Chapter One

Resurrection Life.  Living with an understanding and transformation caused by the reality that our God not only came as a human, died…but rose from the dead. All of that is staggering. I know that I do not know this deeply enough in my soul. I’m not sure if any of us ever will completely…but we catch glimpses, don’t we.

We have those moments when the reality of eternity sneaks up on us, or grabs our attention…those moments when the reality of following Jesus overwhelms our inadequate minds and souls and we become enlivened in ways we can never manufacture ourselves.

Continuing in Chapter One from Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection.  I need to make sure to highlight the subtitle:

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.

This is not just some formula to set ourselves up to encounter the Resurrection. This is about a life that encounters God and is transformed…into maturity. And for Peterson, this happens only in one way…in the midst of Church.

Ugh.

Seriously, I know there are so many who are immediately thinking either that this is going to be boring, or that there is no way this will translate to our actual congregational situation. Some have been bored by the church, some have been annoyed, some have been frustrate, some have been abused.

But this, argues, Peterson, is right where we encounter Resurrection Life. Not because of accident…this is God’s design.

Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 180-182). Kindle Edition.

This Church. Named people in a specific place, in specific congregations. This Church.

Peterson challenges us to look at the similarity between the coming of our Savior (Luke 1-2) and the coming of our salvation community (Acts 1-2). There are great similarities.

In the same way that God could have chosen to come in glory, to come doing miracles that drew enormous crowds and swayed the nations to follow him…he could also have chosen to establish a Church where there was success and where there was power and where the world would want to come.

He didn’t.

We talk a lot about Christ killed on a cross as a scandal, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). I want to talk about church, this actual congregation that I attend, as stumbling block, as scandal, as absurd. The Holy Spirit could have formed congregations out of an elite group of talented men and women who hungered for the “beauty of holiness,” congregations as stunning as the curvaceous Tirzah and as terrifying to the forces of evil as the army with banners. Why didn’t he? Because that is not the way the Holy Spirit works. We know that is not the way the Savior was brought into our lives. Why would the Spirit change strategies in bringing the salvation community, the church, the congregation, into our lives?

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 327-331). Kindle Edition.

So, this church with all its inadequacies and all of, well, us. This is the place we are to grow into maturity and to know what it is to walk in Resurrection life.

That is, possibly, a little disappointing. I have been involved in fellowships where there just seemed to be a lot of people there because they felt obligated. Or a lot of people who were pretty messed up. Like me. This is the place? Really?

Yes, really. Because it is not all about us.  Our salvation was not about what we could do or work or accomplish. Our growing up in Christ, being the Church…is not about our abilities. The power of the Church comes from God.

but the essence that is behind the appearances: God’s will, Christ’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s work. This, not what we do or do not do in belief and doubt, in faithfulness or betrayal, in obedience or disobedience, is what we simply must get through our heads if we are going to understand and participate rightly in any church that we are part of.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 191-193). Kindle Edition.

Resurrection life is to be found in the local congregation. With all our insufficiencies and all our problems…even there….and Peterson uses the letter to the Ephesian church to help us “get” this. He explains that this was the congregation Paul was with for 3 years, and this is the only letter to a church that is not addressing a problem. Not that there weren’t problems there…but this letter is more about the true identity of the church, and in it we find a vocabulary we need:

But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church – no church is exempt – but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity. The letter also gives us an adequate vocabulary and large enough imagination for living in the fullness of God’s glory, living to “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 206-208). Kindle Edition.

We are a little handicapped, though…we have actual faces looking at us, and voices talking to us…and people who annoy us or who delight us. People who form our understanding of Church, and it is sometimes hard to separate our marred congregation from the intention of God to use this place to establish His kingdom.

When we who follow Jesus enter a church and participate in its life, our understanding of the place and company we are in is strongly conditioned by what we observe and experience in this congregation and its local history, these people with their personal and collective virtues and faults. That means that none of us ever sees the church whole and complete. We have access only to something partial, sometimes distorted, always incomplete.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 213-216). Kindle Edition.

Some, as I have come to know through my friend Michael’s blog, have been deeply wounded by their church. Wounding, abuse, disillusionment…these stack up against our seeing the church as something where God is establishing His glory. Sometimes it is hard to think with imagination and wonder when we pull into the parking lot.

We have the Ephesian letter before us so that even though we are surrounded with immature and deficient and incomplete churches, we can acquire a feel for what maturity is, what growing up in Christ consists of. By means of Ephesians we get an accurate account of what God is doing and the way the Spirit is working at the heart of every congregation.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 217-219). Kindle Edition.

Resurrection life. In the Body. In the Church…in my congregation. Growing up to maturity in Christ…right there, with my rear in a seat and the person next to me bumping into me and the other person hugging me and the other person singing behind me. Those actual people.

We are in this together. We are the Body….and we cannot fathom Resurrection life or maturity in Christ apart from these other travelers.

I have to admit…I was hoping for something more. I was hoping Peterson was going to wow me with some truth that would suddenly bring me to a new understanding of the Resurrection…something that would fix this longing I have.

He doesn’t. He points us to what God is doing in our midst…and just like the surprise and mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection redeeming us….there is mystery in how the Church will be the place we will encounter God and be transformed.

It doesn’t usually happen in a flash and in some spectacular way. God works in subtle ways and with patience.

Still…the Spirit is stirring something within me. I love my fellowship…I love worshipping together and I love interacting. Still, I do not know that I have fully grasped the reality that this is the place…this is the structure…for my maturity to establish. How about you? Does this spark your imagination for Church, or does it just irritate you because the expectation is too high? Does it ring true that God would work in a Church in the same way He came in the Incarnation…surprisingly humble and not in great power and show?

What does this mean for us when we gather together next? How do we internalize these truths in a way that impacts our approach to being part of the Church?

 

 

Messy Monday…meet intention, countered by 2 year olds.

Photo on 4-8-13 at 7.02 AM

This is my kitchen table…built by a friend. Not a pedestal table, like the one we had for 16 years and loved…but found out is not so great when trying to do homework. Pedestal tables tend to bend and bounce when kids lean on them as they do their work. Plus, our last table only had four chairs. That means for the last five years one person had to sit in a folding chair. Sometimes it takes us awhile to update around here.

 

I love this new table. I love that it was made by someone we know, and I love that it is big enough for more than just us. There is room for friends…we have a bench with it that we can sit three more folks, or kiddos, on.

 

I actually did not really mean to just write about the table…but more about what it is on the table. I am ready for a day of school. The plans are set for the week. The books are readily at hand. Pencils are sharpened and paper is ready.

 

The plan has been made.

 

The sun is shining and the birds are chirping…and everything is in place for a great Monday morning. The coffee even tastes good.

 

What you cannot tell from this window is that every five minutes or so Little Miss is hollering at me from her crib. Nope…she is not supposed to be up. She does not normally wake up for another two hours. Last night I stayed up late getting everything ready for today…so I could awaken early and peacefully enjoy a cup of coffee and some time in prayer.

 

I am ignoring my almost 2 year old to have a few minutes. She is okay, trust me…I know her Dad checked on her at 5am when her diaper had leaked and changed her and gave her a clean sheet. She is okay to holler for a few more minutes.

 

My point?

 

I am attempting to follow through on the promptings of the Spirit to live a more intentional life. I tend to live a bit by the seat-of-my-pants. That means I tend to be frustrated because I have not put things in order to set up for a good day.

 

Even, however, when all is set and the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and the books look inviting….someone will pee themselves and make a mess and then not go back to sleep.

 

The dog will get sick on the carpet. Someone will wake up in a bad mood.

 

Someone will lose a job.

 

Someone will have a terrifying health scare and end up in the hospital.

 

Someone will die.

 

All of these things have happened to friends or ourselves in the last three days. Surprising, unexpected twists that throw our intentional approach askew.

 

Messy Mondays. Or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.

 

But you know what? Listen to what I heard in church yesterday….

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

God is the source of my salvation and He is my fortress. I will not be shaken…not because I am strong and have an answer for everything…but because He is my rock and salvation.

11 One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Power belongs to God. That speaks to my soul today.  He is unfailing in His love…needed to hear that as well. He is just and knows our hearts. Psalm 62…read the rest of it and think of the rest and confidence we can have in God.

Doesn’t matter what the twist is that has happened. God is able and He is our fortress. From the trivial interruptions of little ones who throw our plans askew, to the live changing, devastating challenges….God is power, He is unfailing in His love and He is aware of us.

The intentional approach is good…and a great foundation, but grace is needed for the interruptions and the unexpected. Resurrection life…knowing that Life comes from outside ourselves and does not depend on us. On Messy Mondays or Sundays filled with song.

Resurrection Life starts…with the Church?!!

I have to admit I was a little frustrated that the first chapter in Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection was on….the church.

I have been involved in conversations around the Church for years. I have friends from all spectrums when it comes to dealing with the Body of Christ…some who have had a lifetime of good experiences, some who have been disillusioned, some who have been frustrated, some who have left it, some who have been (legitimately) abused within the Body of Christ.  Sometimes I feel like I have exhausted the conversation.

Myself, I have had overall good experiences, with some that give me a reality check on the sinful humanity that we are who make up the Body of Christ. Still…I love the fellowship we are part of right now. I love the community and conversations and the worship, I love the missions we support and are involved with, I love the influence on my kids. I look forward to being with this group of people, and I am challenged by the teaching and the call to follow Jesus.  So, as I was reading Peterson’s book, with the hope of understanding better what it means to walk in the reality of the Resurrection…I thought, “ho, hum…we’ll get the church discussion out of the way.”

Nothing new.

Then I read this:

Church is an appointed gathering of named people in particular places who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines: death of nations, death of civilization, death of marriage, death of careers, obituaries without end. Death by war, death by murder, death by accident, death by starvation. Death by electric chair, lethal injection, and hanging. The practice of resurrection is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in resurrection life, life out of death, life that trumps death, life that is the last word, Jesus life. This practice is not a vague wish upwards but comprises a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 154-158). Kindle Edition.

Man that rang truth to me…in a world where death gets the biggest headlines. In the midst of this is a named people….Sarah, Steve, Noelle, Michael, Anita, Kim, Stephanie, Jill, Bryan, Kevin, Jim, Ryan, Andrew, Alyson, Bill….practicing a life of resurrection. It is not hap-hazard. It does not happen to us in a vague way; something that happens without our notice. Our coming together in worship and in the participation of resurrection life is an intentional, deliberate decision.  Life.

Ahhh….the product of ‘a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil.’

Discrete but interlocking.

Going to worship with the community of believers. Intentionally joining with others and declaring that God IS. That He hears our worship and is worthy. Intentionally turning our attention toward Him and recognizing Who He is and giving testimony to what He has done.

Intentional. Life over death.

The Lord’s Table…taking in the bread and the wine as recognition and embrace of the sacrifice and the redemption and the saving and the eternity altering act of God.

The Word. Intentionally turning our attention to the Word of God…believing that it is the Word of God and that it has bearing on our lives. Intentionally turning our attention to the testimony of the Spirit that this is Truth.

All these seemingly simple acts….added to the conversations and the involving in others’ lives…are part of Resurrection Life.

More, though….the resurrection plays out in our lives in ‘improvisation’….

The practice of resurrection encourages improvisation on the basic resurrection story as given in our Scriptures and revealed in Jesus. Thousands of derivative unanticipated resurrection details proliferate across the landscape. The company of people who practice resurrection replicates the way of Jesus on the highways and byways named and numbered on all the maps of the world.

This is the church.

The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 162-165). Kindle Edition.

I love this. This is what I needed to hear….especially the last line:  it is not an attack on the world of death, but an embrace of life in the country of death.

Worship, church, reading the Word, prayer…living life in relationship with other believers and hearing the testimony of God’s acts of resurrection in their lives…this is an invitation to live eternity in time.

We are not consumed with death. We are consumed with life.

Real life.

Life that is founded in the Resurrection of God. Life that is informed by the Spirit and is altered from the death we once knew.

There is more to this chapter, but I wanted to post just this for today. There is much here to think on, to pray on and to talk about. I so hope even just these brief quotations breath life to you as it has done to me this morning!!  But beyond that swell of hope…what does it mean. How does it affect how we view church.

Have you ever thought of Church as being part of the Resurrection life….a key element, however ordinary, in establishing the power and the reality of the Resurrection in your life?

Those who have been damaged by the church…how do we overcome that fear or hostility or anger or disappointment and come to a place where the Church again breathes life into our souls?

This weekend as we prepare to “go to” Church…how can we go with a different mindset? A mindset that intentionally approaches the community worship as an act of embracing life in a country of death?