Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reveal God For Who He Is

While reflecting on passages from this week, I observed the following truths. God is praised for being mysterious. Rulers are praised for explaining mysteries. (Proverbs 25:2 CEV) I find this a captivating contrast. The most important role of missional leaders is to reveal God for who He is.

Every generation will announce to the next His wonderful and powerful deeds (Psalm 145:4). This spiritual axiom is followed with the revelation of a process. I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and your mighty miracles. Then everyone will talk about the same, and will tell all nations about You. Finally, they will celebrate and sing about You and Your glory!

The process is reflection/meditation, followed by conversation/sharing, culminating in celebration/praise. What we think about, we talk about. And our conversation influences behavior!

Praise includes rehearsing the acts of God and the character of His Kingdom (Psalm 145:10-13). The culmination is awareness of the enduring quality of our King and His Kingdom. What an understatement is the parallel thought of Proverbs 25:2 with Psalm 145:3 which says, “You are wonderful, Lord, and you deserve all praise, because you are much greater than anyone can understand.

Leaders help others to better understand God and his people then pass their experience with God on to next generations by telling their own stories of God’s deeds, miracles, and glory!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Personal Spiritual Droughts

Do you go through dry times in your spiritual life? Some people seem to think that never happens to pastors or congregational leaders. Surely vocational Christian servants have a direct line to communion with God! Wrong…at least, wrong for this Christian leader.

I tried to decide how transparent I am willing to risk being as I share from my personal journal. Then I decided that if I speak about being authentic, I must be willing to risk transparent revelation of my own spiritual dilemma. So yes, I go through spiritual droughts; parched, dry times.

In those times, even when I keep reading Scripture, meditating, and crying out to God, I feel myself shut out from the warmth of relationship with God. I know that He is there, faithfully being who He has promised to be, doing what only God can do. But my eyes fail to catch the brilliance of His presence. My ears fail to hear the soft whisper of His caring voice.

When I go through times when the heavens are brass and my spirit cannot sense joyful intimacy with God, I feel the pain of Psalm 137:1-2, “Beside the rivers of Babylon we thought about Jerusalem, and we sat down and cried. We hung our small harps on the willow trees.” (CEV) In those times when I feel far away from God I can remember moments of close relationship, days when the Word jumped off the pages and into my spirit. But what I remember appears so far away and the current experience so barren that I feel like one in exile. In those moments I lay down my pen, as though never to take it up again – like the exiles who “hung their harps on the willow trees.”

The enemy influences our spirit, but God is always faithful and somehow we recall our history with God. Then as the fog gradually lifts, we can begin to “sing about the Lord in a foreign land.” Ps 137:4. Another Psalm, the 107th, reminds me of this act of remembering and responding to God’s faithfulness. There the following two statements are recorded four times each:

You were in serious trouble, but you prayed to the Lord, and he rescued you. (vs. 6,13,19,28)

You should praise the Lord for his love and for the wonderful things he does for all of us. (vs. 8,15,21,31)

We serve a God who turns rivers to deserts (at our disobedience) and deserts to lakes (at our right relationship), Psalm 107:33-35. God will return out joy when we obey; “You will see this because you obey the Lord…” Psalm 107:42. So we must be wise. When the dark days come and we pass through the desert of our spiritual experience, then we must remember the kindness of the Lord!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Keeping the Balance

My friend, Gretchen Sanewsky, of First Baptist Church of Jackson, Michigan began one day at a recent American Baptist of Michigan retreat by presenting a devotion that touched me deeply. I asked her for permission to share her thoughts. Gretchen describes being at the "end of our rope as a tricky place” but one which can also prove creative. She said, “It's like the "cutting edge" only farther out. Enjoy her thoughts and commit to finding balance in your own life and ministry.

Keeping the Balance
Mark 1:29-39
Rev. Gretchen C. Sanewsky

Does anyone feel tired, worn out, overburdened, overworked, stressed out, even burned out? Do we worry that we might actually reach the end of our rope? If so, we are not alone. Career Builder reports that American workers have the least vacation time of any modern developed society. One quarter of working moms and over one third of working dads report bringing work home at least one day each week. Fifty percent of all US workers feel a great deal of stress on the job. Job burnout affects our immune systems and is linked to migraines, digestive disorders, skin diseases, high blood pressure, heart disease, and emotional distress. (Kate Lorenz, Career

It seems that we spend a lot more time working, and a lot less time playing these days. Americans put in more work hours than any other nation. We average nine more weeks of labor per year than our working counterparts in Western Europe, who get at least 20 days of mandatory paid vacation per year. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not have mandatory vacation time. We literally exist in a time-famine. We are starving for down-time, rest, and renewal. This contributes to our nation being ranked number one for depression and mental health problems. ( “Overworked, Vacation-Starved America Ranks #1 in Depression, Mental Health Problems”, Silja J. A. Talvi, In These Times, Nov. 2008) Certainly in this time of economic hardship our rate of burnout is not going get much better any time soon.

According to George Barna’s research, burnout is an all too common picture of those in the church of Jesus Christ. Barna finds that many pastors see themselves as called to preaching and teaching, but do not feel gifted in discipleship or in helping people use their passions to fulfill God’s call. In congregations where the pastor does feel more like an organizer, they tend to hoard the power and not share it with capable, gifted lay people. ( No wonder lay leaders are burned out from not using their gifts and over working in the church. Clergy are burned out from trying to do it all and manage it all. As Christians, and as the church of Jesus Christ, we are NOT keeping the balance as Jesus taught.

We read in the Gospel of Mark how, on the Sabbath, Jesus went from teaching in the synagogue, straight to the home of Simon Peter. Here he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. In the evening, after the Sabbath ended, people brought to Jesus all who were sick and demon possessed. Scripture says, “And the whole city was gathered around the door.” The WHOLE city! Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.

Mark writes that in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place to pray. He went alone. Not even the disciples knew where Jesus was as they, and others, had to go searching for him. Jesus was possibly there quite a long time during which the disciples awoke, realized he was gone, organized and went looking for him. Once found, Jesus was re-energized in spirit. He then invited the disciples to go with him to all the neighboring towns to spread God’s message. So Jesus went throughout the region of Galilee proclaiming the message of God’s hope in the synagogues and healing people. Jesus’ life, his spiritual life, had an ebb and flow. He was keeping the balance. When Jesus was with people he was really present, enough to bring God’s healing. Jesus was not just with a handful of people, but with entire cities meeting their needs. When Jesus wanted to be alone with God, he was really alone, in secret. He went to a deserted place and communed only with God. Jesus was keeping the balance between work and rest. He was keeping the balance between giving of himself spiritually to others and being nurtured and renewed in spirit by God. Keeping such balance in life might seem like a small thing, but we know from Jesus’ life that it has powerful results! If it is so simple, why don’t we do it?

Let us be inspired by the wise words of writer Alice Walker. She is the author of the world renowned book The Color Purple. Published in Newsweek magazine, Alice Walker writes a letter to newly inaugurated President Barack Obama on keeping the balance. (“Newsweek”, Inauguration 2009, ‘White House Advice’, by Alice Walker, pp. 106-107)

Walker writes, “…I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance.” Even if we stopped right here, these words are enough to release us as Christians from a huge burden so we can share in Christ’s way of keeping the balance.

Walker continues, “A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters…We are used to seeing men in the White House become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they reminds us of scissors. This is no way to lead….

Do we ever worry that even in trying to keep the balance as Jesus did that we might just get to the end of our ropes? Maybe that’s what we all need; to get to the end of our ropes so we can finally let go and let God. At the end of our ropes we can allow Christ to “bear us up on eagles’ wings, to run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) Christ guides us in keeping the balance so we can offer this hope to a stressed out, burned out world. Let’s put away the stress, let go of the end of our ropes, live by Jesus’ example, and get back to keeping the balance.