Category Archives: Spiritual disciplines

Taking time in lonely places

Lonely_place

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Luke 5:16)

I must say, I hesitated to use that Scripture passage to begin this post. I’m writing what I expect will be my last post until April 2014 – and that is assuming God calls me to resume writing this blog at that time. If you have not been reading my blog of late you may not know that I am soon leaving my role as “pastor-in-charge” and moving into a new role as “pastor-on-sabbatical.” It is a time away for prayer and spiritual renewal. And it feels in some ways like it will be time spent in lonely places. The reason I hesitate to use the Scripture is that I am not trying to equate my ministry with Jesus’ ministry. And yet, I am trying to follow his lead.

So, as of January 1, 2014 I will be officially appointed to a sabbatical time and another pastor will take over the charge of the church in the interim. I am anticipating a time of spiritual struggle that leads to renewal. I am also nervous about the struggle and what it will be. And in the midst of that, I wrestle with the fear that the time away will not shed new light on my future and may not give me the greater connection I long for. Those fears are unfounded and I push them off into God’s hands as often as I remember to do so. I hear my soul crying out with the words, “This must not be just an extended vacation!”

I do realize this is what it can look like to others. I am aware that many people have grueling jobs and could use time away. That’s part of the reason I am striving to make this time useful and renewing. My job is not more important than anyone else’s job, but it is different. The task of a pastor and spiritual leader is to live out their life as a disciple of Jesus Christ in a very real way and to lead others to do the same. The call of the pastor is to work with the Holy Spirit to draw people into the presence of God in a world hell-bent on making God irrelevant. And the task never seems to get easier. And at this point I have come to realize that it never will.

So in order to have the spiritual strength to keep going it is important to take the steps needed to be strong. The example Jesus gives is time away in lonely places. Jesus – the Son of God filled with the Spirit of God – had need to regain his strength as he went about his work, and the servant is not greater than the master. How much more must I take time if Jesus knew that he needed such time?

So, how will I occupy this time? How will I find renewal and strength for the days when I make my way back into the battle? I will focus on four areas of my life. First is time with family. I have been blessed with a helpmate in my wife and time with Jan renews my soul. She is a great encourager and a woman of deep faith who inspires me in many ways. I will also spend some time with extended family helping them with some simple tasks and things I can do to ease their burdens.

Secondly, I will be spending time with a counselor. Mental health issues are becoming more and more recognizable as factors that contribute to our life’s successes and failures. I am grateful that we have come to understand the need to work through issues and challenges that affect our psyche and emotions. There used to be much more of a stigma related to counseling and therapy, but the reality is that our thinking and functioning can get off track if we don’t deal with the ups and downs of life in the proper way.

Along those same lines, I am engaging with a coach – someone to help me think through how I work and how I can best serve the church going forward. This is not a counseling session, but a way of developing my strengths and understanding my weaknesses in order to be an effective pastor.

And finally, and this is where the “lonely places” really comes in, I will be making a pilgrimage across northern central Spain. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned this. It is the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a 500 mile trek from the border of France on Spain’s eastern border to the Cathedral of Saint James near Spain’s western coastal border. It should take just over one month to make that journey. The timeframe for this journey is winter time and so there will be less people on the path as I go. The landscape will be more barren, as happens during the winter. And there will be less availability in regard to accommodations at this time of year. As near I can tell, it will be something of a lonely place. But that is also what I long for. That time will be time for God and me to deal with the deeper spiritual issues as I walk and pray and talk with God.

Through it all I covet your prayers. And quite possibly when I wander back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life I may write a new post on this blog. If not, thanks for being a faithful reader.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Advertisements

The Footsteps I Follow

enter at own riskI feel the need to apologize for my recent posts. They seem to all be very internal “me” focused musings. But the reality is, that’s the season I’m in. I have tried to use this blog as a place for honest musings and challenges regarding faith and discipleship. At times I have addressed issues within the church – both local and denominational; and at other times I have written about more individual, but hopefully universal subjects. Right now I’m in a season of self-reflection and its unlikely it will change any time soon.

So, I could apologize, but it might seem disingenuous as I once again delve into self-reflection or very personal moments. Therefore, I will simply let this first bit of today’s post stand as a checkpoint of sorts. Continue reading if you will, but you’ve been warned.

I recently let all of our church know that I would be taking a 3-month sabbatical beginning January 1, 2014. I have come to realize that I need to regain some spiritual footing in order to serve God’s purpose well in the years ahead. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish while managing and leading the day-to-day life of the church. My time away is not a means of getting away from the church in order to be away from the church, it is simply time to be more deeply connected to God for the work ahead. It may be too bold of me to equate this time to that of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, but still I do relate it to that. In some ways, those are the footsteps I follow.

camino pic 1One of my hopes as I plan this time away is to make an ancient pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is otherwise known as The Way of Saint James. I first learned of this pilgrimage through the movie “The Way,” which piqued my interest in this 500 mile journey. Yes, I said 500 miles. The journey begins near the border of France and Spain and winds across northern/central Spain to the Cathedral of St. James. It takes about a month or so to make the journey. It is a pilgrimage that has been made by many peoples in the last 800 years. And I hope to add my name to the list.

The pilgrimage was historically made by Christian pilgrims who wanted to make their way to the place where ancient tradition says the bones of St. James are interred. To be in close proximity to these ancient relics was thought to bring a special blessing of God to the pilgrim who was willing to make such a journey. These days many people see the journey as more significant than the destination. They see the journey as the means to the greater blessing of God – and I am one of those.

My hope for the journey is to give myself undeniable time with God. By that I mean that I will have nothing else to occupy my thoughts or my spirit. Sure, for a couple of three days I might be consumed by other thoughts and challenges left behind, but eventually I will just have to get into a deep lasting conversation with God. There is no activity to capture my interest, no group to interact with (save the other pilgrims I see along the way), and no TV or Facebook to occupy my attention. There should be some significant time of reflection and spiritual conversation.

And that’s why I’m planning this as part of my sabbatical. I want to be intentional about digging down deeper with God. And I know that it won’t happen so easily among the everyday things that already distract me so (and I am NOT referring to church stuff – just common, ordinary, everyday stuff). You see, this time is not being planned as an escape from church or life or anything else. I was given good advice one time – it is always better to run TOWARD something than to run FROM something. So, I’m choosing to run toward God, to run deeper into a life as a servant of the King of Kings.

As I make my way I follow the footsteps of many pilgrims who have gone before me. I follow the footsteps of many faithful people who sought a deeper connection with God. I follow the spiritual footsteps of Jesus as I leave what is known for a time away to connect with God. And then, when I have completed the pilgrimage, I hope to walk more faithfully either on the road I am currently traveling or on a new path to which God calls me.

Of course, it all begins with that first step. As for what happens then? Well, that remains to be known and experienced. I simply thank God for the chance to know Him more in this ancient way.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Time-busting junk food

Well, I did not get the Monday musing out on Monday. So, maybe a Wednesday Wandering?

I was just journaling my thoughts for the morning (a spiritual coach has, thankfully, given me a “first 15 minutes of the day” journaling homework assignment). I began to realize how often I give my time and attention to things that don’t need either. I began to think of those things as “time junk food” that I need to cut out of my daily diet.

Having recently changed my eating habits and lost some weight, this image is fresh for me. I have come to a place of making better decisions about the food I eat. I feed my health and my future more than my taste buds. It used to be that junk food was a big part of my diet – pizza, fries, cakes, pies, etc. But now, I stay away from those things and I feel better. I am trimmer and more energetic and life is better because of making that decision.

So, with that idea fresh in my head, the Spirit prompted me to consider the use of my time in the same way. How often it is that I get on the computer and check Facebook?  It’s a great way to communicate, so I am not dismissing it.  But so many times I check Twitter feeds and emails and text messages. Most of what I encounter is “junk food” in regard to the time I give it. Even when I eat good food I can eat too much of it and be unhealthy. It seems it has been that way with my time.

Here’s the big insight I got as I journaled. I give myself over to the “junk food” times without a thought. That then leaves me less time to get done what I need to get done. Not thinking of the “junk food” moments, I now feel like I just have too much to do and too much pressure. The reality is, I do have much to do, I can be overwhelmed, but my “junk food” addiction is making it worse. Then, to top it all off, I feel so overwhelmed by my to-do list that I need to take time away to breathe again – and then get back to the work still to be done.

I wish I could tell you I have confidence that I can change this about myself. But, I know me and I am not too confident. Having said that, I do believe my life can be different. You see, I have one who can help me change. I know the God of the Universe, the Creator of all that is seen and unseen – and God loves me. So, on my own I spend time on the “junk”. But, if I acknowledge my failures and give myself over to the transforming power of God, I can find new life.

All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

It means keeping my failures in mind and going to God with the ongoing struggle. And just as it has been a process for me to eat right and lose weight, so it will also be a process to change my time management habits. But, I have hope because I have experienced that hope in other ways.

What about you? What do you struggle with? Food? Time? Finances? Relationships?

Whatever it may be, let me tell you that the God of the universe is ready to love you and empower you to discover a new life. There is HOPE in Jesus Christ.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Influenced by a Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. is famous for his “I have a dream” speech. The idea of what could be in regard to racial harmony remains compelling to many. Dreams that have deeper and significant meaning can do that. They may not come true to the extent they were seen, at least not for a while, but they are influential in keeping lofty ideals in our hearts and in our work. I discovered that again in a dream had by a friend of my son, Andrew.

I had mentioned this dream in my sermon yesterday. I don’t know the details because I got this second hand (and my memory is not so great mostly due to sleep deprivation at UMARMY camp last week). The dream was about this young man going to heaven and experiencing worship there in the presence of Jesus Christ. Everyone in the room had something they were tossing at the feet of Jesus to honor and glorify him for all he gave to us as the Son of God. Some had beautiful crowns and handfuls of jewels. It is reminiscent of Revelation 4:9-11:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

In the dream, this young man realized that the amount of jewels and crowns one had to offer in worship was in direct correlation to the way each person lived for the glory of God. In other words, those who sought to intentionally act for God’s glory – those who lived desiring most to see God’s will be done, those who lived hoping that the face of Jesus would be seen and their own selfish desires would be subordinated to the will of God – those people had stored up greater treasure in heaven. And, because they lived more faithfully in connection with God and serving God’s purpose, they had more to offer to Jesus, the Lamb of God sitting on the throne of heaven.

The young man looked at his own hands and saw he had only a few jewels. As he looked at them he couldn’t wait to lay them at Jesus feet and to give him honor. And yet, at the same time, he wished he had more to give. He wasn’t upset or sad or jealous – he was in heaven before Jesus after all. But he did wish that he could give more like he saw others doing. Their joy was so much greater.

That young man woke up from that dream inspired to live differently. He isn’t fearing the fires of hell and thereby working to please God. Instead, he is anticipating the worship experience he will have when he gets to heaven and he wants it to be the greatest it could possibly be.

My son was talking to me about this dream because he too is being compelled by the Holy Spirit to live more intentionally for the glory of God rather than for his own selfish gain. And he in turn inspired me to consider my own focus in life – how am I seeking to bring glory to God? Am I?

As Andrew and I talked about this idea I was reminded by the Spirit of the words Jesus spoke – “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…” (Matthew 3:2) and “The Kingdom of God is within you…” (Luke 17:21). The Spirit helped me to see that the experience of worshiping Jesus Christ in the Kingdom to come can also be known in this lifetime in a greater way. When we live seeking to all we do for the glory of God alone, we have more to offer in our acts of spiritual worship. Our experience of the presence of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is more intense, more joyful, more fulfilling.

I am inspired to discover that greater life. I am inspired to know a great sense of God’s presence and power. I am inspired by the dream to live more and more for the glory of God. I hope you are as well.

Holy high five to you,
Mike

Who is magnifying who?

Magnify the LORD with me! Together let us lift his name up high! (Psalms 34:3 CEB)

Magnify the LORD, our God!
Bow low at his footstool!
He is holy!
(Psalms 99:5 CEB)

Looking at passages like those above, it seems like Scripture calls for me to magnify the Lord. When Mary is told she is going to have a child who will be the Messiah she declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” The word magnify in that context means to exalt, to make known, to lift up God’s name, to declare God as the “Holy One”.

And yet, it seems like the greater reality is that I am the one being magnified. Not in the same way, not that I am being exalted, but that God is magnifying my soul as a way to examine the intricate workings of my life.

I picture God as a master craftsman watchmaker who is about his work fixing and tweaking my inner workings. I see God at his workbench with those funny looking glasses that have small lenses sitting about 1.5 inches from his eyes. He can see every problem, every piece that is out of sync. Nothing in my life is hidden from him.

And even when things look like they’re working fairly well, He continues to work. And so I ask, “Lord, why do you continue to look so hard? If things are working pretty well do you really need to work so diligently to find a problem? It makes me feel as if I am never good enough.”

And then, loving me, He responds, “I must keep looking and working. Even when the major problems are fixed and time is able to be well-kept, there are smaller issues. There are gears that are not quite aligned, and springs that must be tightened. If I don’t tend to these issues they can become bigger problems down the road. Where there is even a small amount of friction the workings can get work down. Where there is a misalignment the parts can get damaged or wear out too quickly. The beauty of your life demands such attention. If I did not love you and long to see you at your most exquisite I would not bother with such work.”

And so I find myself saying, “Thank you, God. Thank you for not leaving me where I feel adequate but working in me to transform me and change me that I might find my life ‘exquisite’. What an honor to be loved as such a valuable creation.”

Lent is the time when we purposefully let God examine our lives, even down to the most intimate places and the smallest of details. It may feel like we are inadequate, but the opposite is actually true. Only those who are loved and seen as precious get such attention from the Master Craftsman. Let Him work and you will find an exquisite life. And it will be all the more reason to magnify the Lord.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

In the Cool of the Morning

It’s a different kind of day today. The temperature outside is unfamiliar. There is a coolness that has been absent for so long. It’s refreshing reminder that life has its seasons (of course, in Houston the seasons are “hot” and “not so hot”). The point is, life is a flow, a journey, and what was the reality one day can change the next. Some changes are welcome – like temps in the 60’s – and others, well, not so much.

Today is a different kind of day for me, a welcomed but unfamiliar change. I am officially starting my one-month sabbatical. As the day begins there is a different feeling in the air. I don’t have to focus my mind on the usual weekly agenda, instead my agenda is to focus on time with God. It’s going to take some getting used to. I love being the Pastor at Asbury and I love what God is doing there. But ’tis the season for a different focus.

I plan to put out my blog still. It may be a little more introspective than usual as I hope to share some of what God is doing in me during this time. I pray blessings upon you all.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

I had a Feast of a Fast…

Let me first say how nice it is to be able to talk to you. A couple of times each week I am able to sit down with you and just muse about what’s on my mind. Thanks for giving me that freedom. Sometimes I hope to enlighten others from what I’ve learned, other times I like to challenge as I have been challenged. And then, there are days like today when I am grateful for the chance to confess my lack of great spirituality. Just wanted to warn you that I am admitting once more to my imperfection. But, there is good news to be had.

So what is the imperfection du jour? I rarely fast. To see me is to know that abstaining from food is not a regular occurrence. And yet, I know that fasting has been a key means of spiritual discipline from back in the earliest biblical times. I know I should, but I haven’t. This year I came face-to-face with my spiritual laziness as my 17 year-old son fasted every Wednesday during Lent. I was humbled but still reluctant. I did not want shame to move me to take on this discipline (funny how we think we must “feel” right in order to do right). And each Wednesday I was reminded of my “sin” as I did not see him eating dinner with us and knowing he was honestly seeking to know God more.

Then, at the beginning of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, a pastor friend noted that he was fasting on Friday from sundown until Sunday morning. He was doing this to remember Jesus sacrifice in his death on the cross. I still wasn’t moved right then to do anything. But, later, as noon approached and I began to think of Jesus being nailed to the cross and thinking about how 3 o’clock is understood as the time of his death, I felt compelled. I found my spirit longing to fast from 3pm Friday until Sunday morning.

I told my wife, Jan, that I decided to take on this fast. She was concerned that I would be fasting the day prior to one of the busiest and biggest days in the church (she has much love and concern for me, and for that I am grateful). But, I explained to her that I felt compelled to take this on. So I did.

Jan was right, Saturday was a full day of getting things ready. The church was filled with people getting ready for sunrise service, a great children & family event, and prepping the Sanctuary. Much of the time I was working on sermon writing, but also doing work in these other areas.

All I can tell you is this – Saturday was one of the most blessed days I have ever experienced. It wasn’t like Easter Sunday, it was just this great sense of knowing God and being spiritually inflated and filled. I worked through the day, at times feeling hungry but never needing to eat. I prayed throughout the day remembering that at that time 2,000 years ago Jesus lay dead in the tomb. At the same time, I was getting excited for the day ahead and celebrating the resurrection. It was, well, a blessed day.

One thing I did not mention earlier is that I have fasted before. I’ve done it because I know it’s important. I did it because we should. It never did much for me. Last week I discovered real fasting. I discovered spiritual renewal and strength as I abstained from food. Oh, I was glad for a Sunday morning kolache, no doubt, but Saturday was a day like none other I’ve had before.

I had a feast of a fast.

The most amazing thing about the experience for me is that I cannot wait to fast again. Knowing how God can use that time and how I can be with God in that time, I want fasting to be a regular part of my life in Christ. For that I give thanks to God.

Have you ever fasted?
What was your experience like?
Is it something you want to try, or try again?

Holy high-five to you,
Mike