Strengthening the Soul (12)

Recently, I heard the podcast of a message preached by Tim Keller entitled, “Real Friendship and the Pleading Priest.” (This is in the series The Gospel According to Abraham.)

We live in a Western culture, especially as Americans in one of the most individualistic cultures there has ever been. What I mean by an “individualistic culture” is that we really deny the idea of corporate responsibility. We believe in individual responsibility. Western people say, “It doesn’t matter what my father did or my grandfather did. It doesn’t matter what my race did. It doesn’t matter what my people have done. I’m not responsible for what anyone else has done. No one else’s record can influence me. I stand or fall,-I’m judged strictly by what I have done.

Does this sound familiar?

In America, it is common for many to live without any regard for others. Consequently, men and women make decisions based solely on their individual preferences without regard for anyone else.


“It’s my life and I can do what I want to do!”

leadership.jpg


I suppose that we can follow the rest of the herd and do what most of this culture seems to be doing.

Yet, the Bible offers a much different vision of life. The Bible offers a vision of a Christ-following community in which men and women look out for one another’s welfare. Consequently, as I reflect upon my week and the decisions that I need to make, I might ask what might be in the best interest of my congregation. What is in the best interest of my marriage? What is in the best interest of my children? What is in the best interest of my extended family? Such questions challenge me to think about the impact of my decision on others instead of announcing my right to choose and then forging ahead with what I wish to do.

Question:

Can you recall a decision that you made totally focused on your own self-interest and later regretted it? Do you recall later seeing the impact of that decision on others (family, friends, church)?

What are the drawbacks to such individualism?


Strengthening the Soul (11)

Perhaps you’ve heard people say:

Sony-Plasma-television.jpg


“We don’t watch that much television.”


Well, maybe.

The truth is that many of us watch far more television than we realize.

In some homes, the television is always on. Literally! The first person who gets up in the morning turns on the television and it may stay on until everyone leaves for work. When they come home in the afternoon, they turn the television on again and it stays on until bedtime.

Really? Do we really want to live this way? Have we thought about this?

Hour after hour the television blares. In some families, they do not have real conversation at dinner because the television is on. Who can have a real conversation when the other person is keeping one eye on the television? What are we shaping and forming in our homes when no one has the other’s undivided attention? What does this say to our children when we seem more interested in a television program than experiencing real conversation with people?

Note these realities from the Center for Screen-Time Awareness :

How many people are in the average American household?            2.55

How many televisions do they have?                                                   2.73

We are a society of more televisions than people!

50% of American homes have at least 3 televisions or more
19% of homes have only 1.

In 1975 only 11% of US households had more than 3 TVs…and 57% only had 1!

The average American home has the television on for well over 8 hours every day. That is an hour more than just a decade ago.

The average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television each day.

Young people 12-17 years of age increased their television viewing by 3% just this year…a pretty big increase in just 12 months.

Teenage girls have dramatically increased their television viewing late at night and early in the morning…maybe they just don’t sleep anymore?

All the above statistics are from Nielson 2006


Consider:
1. For one week, make a note of how long the television is on each day. You may be surprised to know how much television you really are watching.

2. If you are in the habit of leaving the television on each evening, consider having an hour in which you turn it off and your family does something enjoyable for the evening.

3. Consider turning the television on for specific programs instead of just leaving it on throughout the day or evening.

4. Any other suggestions?


Strengthening the Soul (10)

This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?

Strengthening the Soul (9)

I really felt ashamed at the end of that day. But, I learned something that I have never forgotten.classroom_desks.jpg

I was in the fourth grade. “Jane” sat in the chair behind me. She often drooled on her desk. She was blond, lanky, and physically challenged. She had difficulty with coordination and often fell down on the playground during recess. On those occasions, she sometimes returned to class with skinned and bloody knees.

One day, the class was returning from recess. Several boys were walking into the classroom and began making fun of Jane. I was already in my chair. They laughed and then I laughed. A few seconds later I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and Jane was looking at me with such a sad look.

“You are my friend and you laughed!”

I felt sick. No excuse. No justification. No good reason. All I knew to do was to say, “I’m sorry.” That sounded pretty small and lame given what I had done. I had betrayed her.

How in the world could I have done something like this? How could I have laughed at someone who had so many obstacles to overcome and only wanted a friend? The truth is that I got caught up in the moment and ignored what was really important.

Now, in 2010, I know that it is still possible to get caught up in whatever is taking place at the moment and forget what is important in life.

Instead of letting the momentum of the moment determine what I do or say, I would like to define the moment:

  • I want to create space in my life for people like Jane. I would like to make room for the disadvantaged, the poor, and those who face many obstacles.
  • I want to make a difference in the world instead of allowing others who speak loudly or forcefully to fill my mind with negative, defeatist thoughts about present and future possibilities.
  • I want to be intentional with the choices in my life instead of taking the path of least resistance.


Question:

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. When do you tend to get caught up in the moment? What has helped you, at times, to move beyond this temptation?   

Strengthening the Soul (8)

How could we have so much information and so little wisdom?Latte.jpg

I’ve wondered about this. After all, we sometimes make tragic mistakes in our lives, not because of a lack of information but a lack of wisdom.

I just read “Wisdom & God in the Age of Information” by Dean M. Riley. (Riley is Professor of Library Science at Houston Baptist University.) In the article Riley discusses the role of information in our lives.

How glorious it is to live in an “information age.” We are surrounded by it, driven by it, and have created whole new technological avenues to access it. We crave it daily, hourly, and minute by minute. Information infuses the way we live, it guides our choices, and it is an ever-present part of our lives–the search for it is a near constant activity, so much so that it drives internet search companies to gigantic financial success, just because they help people find what they are looking for. (p. 51)

Yet, one wonders if we know what to do with the information. Many of us have much information about any number of things. Don’t know about the Ryder Cup? Just Google it. Don’t know which car to purchase? Just Google the ones that interest you. Need to know about a certain medicine and its side effects? Google it. Yet, do we know what to do with this information? Are we simply collecting bits and pieces of information or can we say that we are also becoming wiser?

Riley asks “Why is it important to have a working understanding of information in the 21st century? Once we find information, what do we do with it? And how do we avoid drowning in the sea?”

Immanuel Kant, in his famous essay “What is Enlightenment“, wrote: “If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.” (p. 55)

So consider what this means for a man or woman of the 21st century. We have access to a tremendous amount of information. Yet, what will we do with this information? How does this information impact the kind of people that we want to become? Or, to use the words of John Ortberg (The Me I Want to Be), “What kind of me do you want to be?” Riley says “We must retrain and renew our minds. Information can be a step toward gaining wisdom and helping us better understand our Creator and His creation, or it can be a barrier, a distraction.”


As a person who wants to nurture the soul, I have found the following questions useful. Perhaps you will as well.

1. Am I a person who is growing in wisdom? Or, am I a person who simply gathers bits and pieces of Googled information?

2. Do I seek wisdom? While good, solid information is useful and can help one make a good decision, wisdom is about understanding and becoming a certain kind of person.

3. Do I build practices into my life that help me move toward wisdom?


Question:

I would love to hear your reflection on these thoughts. In particular, I wonder what practices have been most helpful to you as you seek to grow in wisdom?


Strengthening the Soul (7)

What holds you back?

What holds you back from being the kind of person that God has called you to be either as a single or as a married person?

What holds some of us back is our own immaturity. We get stuck in particular patterns of immature behavior. Some of these patterns include:


1. Seeing the problems in my life as someone else’s responsibility.

Immature people spend a lot of energy blaming, reacting, and projecting.

“This is your fault.”

“If it wasn’t for _________, I would be really doing well.”

“It’s not my fault, if you had been through everything I’ve experienced in this marriage, you would have done the same thing.”

“This is my wife’s fault. If she would just act the way she should, we would not have these problems.”


2. Using manipulation to make things happen.

Perhaps you have heard someone say “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I once heard a minister brag at a conference that he lived by this mantra. Now think about the implication of this. This person doesn’t want to go through the process of getting permission, so he does what he wants, assuming that the other party will forgive. This is nothing less than raw manipulation.

Do we want our children to live like this in our home? “It is easier to ask Dad’s forgiveness than his permission so I took his car once he began his nap.” Or, “It is easier to ask mom’s forgiveness than her permission, so I took some money from her purse and later on apologized.” Is this the way we want our children to behave?


3. Saying whatever might enable me to get what I want.

Some people will say whatever is convenient in order to get what they want. They decide what they will say on the basis of convenience rather than truth. “No, I just made up that story about last week’s sale. I thought it might help my presentation.” Consider these examples:

“Just call in sick.” (When you are not sick.)

“Just tell them that you have to go to a funeral.” (When there is no funeral.)

“Just tell them that you don’t have any money.” (When you have $20 in your wallet.)

“Just pad the numbers on your presentation. Then they will really want to buy it.” (Not being entirely honest.)

“Just tell her that you had to work late.” (While you do something that will only damage any future honesty within your marriage.)


Our own immaturity often reflects our self-centeredness and our stubborn refusal to take responsibility for our lives. Some of us are stuck in patterns of immaturity. Instead of growing as authentic, godly men and women, we waste valuable energy trying to maintain control and avoid responsibility.


Question:

What is one sign of immaturity that you sometimes see in others? Do you have an example of how you have addressed an issue of immaturity in your own life?




   

Strengthening the Soul (6)

Sometimes life is very difficult and even painful.coffee cup (1).jpg

Some of this pain is due to loss. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • The loss of a friend due to a move, a job change, or simply drifting away from one another.
  • The loss of a team. You feel as you are alone on your job. You miss the team at your former job.
  • The loss of your youth. Maybe you see this in your appearance, your weight, or other body features.
  • The loss of your health.
  • The loss of your financial security.
  • The loss of your dream.
  • The loss of your job.
  • The loss of your church. You are at a different church now. You really feel the losses.
  • The loss of your innocence.
  • The loss of your faith.

So often, we attach ourselves to something that promises to relieve us of pain. We may watch television from morning to night. We may constantly be in a hurry, scurrying from one activity to the next without really being present for any of them. Some of us spend more money than we have, while others of us eat more than we ought. Then some live in the dark world of pornography. Still others lose themselves in their families or careers.

Peter Scazzero in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, writes:

The world is filled with illusions and pretense. We convince ourselves that we cannot live without certain earthly pleasures, accomplishments, and relationships. We become “attached” (or “addicted,” to use a contemporary word). We attach our wills to the belief that something less than God will satisfy us. We think if we just accomplish that one big goal, then we will really feel content and good about ourselves. We will be “finished” and able to rest.

But slowly we find the accumulation of things–clothes, new electronic toys, cars, houses–no longer gives us the initial “rush” it once did. The great feeling wears off, so we convince ourselves we need more. We are seduced by the false gods of status, attention, and fame. We fall captive to the illusion that if we just get a few more words of praise from a few more important people, it will somehow be enough.

Does this sound familiar?

We are in pain and so we withdraw. We keep to ourselves. We share our true thoughts with no one. When this pain is not dealt with, we often mask it through some kind of addiction. We will do anything to somehow take the pain away. The problem is that these attachments or addictions only mask pain.

Perhaps, what many of us need is to spend time before God in solitude and silence. Regular time with God will not only help you to see your true self but will be a time to meet God.

If you are not in the habit of doing this, start with ten minutes. Ten minutes with no phone, computer, texting, etc. Ten minutes with no radio or television. Pay attention to your thoughts during this time. Pay attention to what you might feel. Pray that just for a moment that you will see yourself as God sees you.


Question:
What daily or weekly habits have been particularly helpful to you as you attempt to stay attuned to what you are feeling/thinking and what God is calling you to become?


Strengthening the Soul (5)

Do you hesitate about the wrong things?

Sometimes we are more hesitant about doing what is right than doing what we know is wrong.

In other words, we may hesitate greatly to do what we know God wants us to do, while we hardly pause at some opportunities to do wrong.


The itch to sin may feel a lot more intense than the heart felt desire within to live in such a manner as to bring God pleasure.

hesitation.jpg

In his book, The Royal Way of the Cross, Francois Fenelon wrote:

Do you hesitate or resist so much when the world sought to seduce you through its passions and pleasures? Did you resist evil as stoutly as you resist what is good? When it is a question of going astray, consciousness of heart and reason by indulging vanity or sensual pleasure, we are not so afraid of “going too far;” we choose, we yield unreservedly. But when the question is to believe that we, who did not make ourselves, were made by an All-wise, All-powerful Hand to acknowledge that we owe all to Him from Whom we received all, and Who made us for Himself; then we begin to hesitate . . . . (p. 19)

Some of us are more hesitant about being a fully devoted follower of Jesus than we are about sinning.


Some of us fear . . .

. . . that if we yield to God, he will not come through.

. . . that if we surrender to God, what we experience in him will not be as satisfying as indulging in what our flesh wants.

. . . that if we give ourselves over to God, we will give more than we will get.


Fenelon continues:

What are you afraid of? Of leaving that which will soon leave you?

What are you afraid of? Of following too much goodness, finding a too-loving God; of being drawn by an attraction which is stronger than self, or the charms of this poor world?

What are you afraid of? Of becoming too humble, too detached, too pure, too true, too reasonable, too grateful to your Father which is in heaven? I pray you, be afraid of nothing so much as of this false fear–this foolish, worldly wisdom which hesitates between God and self, between vice and virtue, between gratitude and in gratitude, between life and death. (p. 21)


Question:

Can you relate to this? Have you ever found yourself hesitating more to do what is right than to do what you know is wrong? What was at work in your thinking/heart at that point?

Strengthening the Soul (4)

The photograph to the right has become one of the best known pictures in US history. leeharvey.jpg

The photograph became famous because of Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy. The picture was taken as Oswald was being gunned down by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. This took place on a Sunday morning, November 24, 1963, as Oswald was being transferred to the Dallas County Jail. The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize.

The man standing next to Oswald (in the light suit) is former Dallas homicide detective James Leavelle. Leavelle was told to handcuff himself to Oswald. They walked into the basement area to exit into the police garage where a police car was waiting. Leavelle and a small group had already expressed their reservations about transferring Oswald to the Dallas County Jail because the police had received a number of death threats regarding Oswald. Police Chief Jesse Curry told Leavelle that they were going to do the transfer this way because he had promised the media that the move would be public.

Note the following from yesterday’s Dallas News:

An ambulance rushed Oswald to Parkland Hospital, where President John F. Kennedy had died almost exactly two days before. Leavelle kept trying to revive Oswald, trying to get a pulse. “But he never did gain consciousness,” he said. “We were about halfway to the hospital, when he took a deep breath and then relaxed. I think that is when he died.”

The officer’s last moments with Oswald prompted thousands of questions for Leavelle later, as a stunned world searched for answers. “They’d say, ‘Did he confess? Did he admit it?’ But he never uttered a word.”

Leavelle is about to turn 90. He continues to get telephone calls and letters thanking him for his service.

Isn’t it interesting that Leavelle has been living for 90 years and yet the public only knows him for what happened during just a few seconds of his life?

Sometimes, tragic moments have a way of marking a person’s identity.

I was thinking today about how easy it is to allow a few seconds of our lives to determine and form our identity. One snapshot can often be allowed to be the sum total of our identity and consequently determine much about what we do in the future. For example, a person may have experienced one or more of the following difficulties:

  • Divorced
  • Former drug user
  • Fired twice–loser
  • finished everything required for the Master’s degree but the thesis
  • Filed bankruptcy ten years ago
  • Overweight
  • Got pregnant and not married when 19
  • Helped to get a girl pregnant while in college
  • Parent of a drug addict

For many people, these difficulties have a way of marking them forever–at least in their minds. It is possible for a person to live for 40 years and yet always identify himself as a person who went through a divorce.

Perhaps a good exercise as you begin a new week is reminding yourself of your true identity in Jesus. Your identity in Jesus trumps any failure or any other identity marker. Perhaps your soul needs to hear this.   

Question:

Does this resonate with you? Do you ever find yourself allowing a moment from the past to become your identity marker?

Strengthening the Soul (3)

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”Journal.jpg

As I recall, Socrates said this at his trial for heresy. Socrates was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of their day and instead think for themselves.

Fast forward to 2010.

The alarm clock rings. It is the beginning of a new day. Off to work.

1. I do this.
2. I do that.
3. Time for lunch.
4. After lunch, I do this.
5. Then, I do that.
6. Time to go home.
7. Dinner.
8. Evening.
9. Bed

The alarm clock rings. Repeat 1-9.

Is this a life?

I think Socrates is right. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” After all, life is more than existing through the days/weeks/months/years. LIfe has meaning and the center for that meaning is the soul.

So how does a person use the disciplines to nurture the soul?

One tool that I have used for a long time is a journal. At this moment, I am sitting at my desk at home. To my left is a bookshelf. On the top shelf, there are about thirteen used journals. Most of them are either black or dark blue in color. One is tan. These thirteen journals are full of insights, memories, reflections and stories. There are no blank pages. For many years, I have recorded my thoughts usually three to four times a week. There is a suitcase in our garage full of these used journals from earlier years.

The following are some ways that journaling has been helpful in tending my soul:

1. Writing in my journal has enabled me to process and evaluate my day in light of my purpose for living. For example, reflecting in my journal gives me the opportunity to examine the way I handled conversations with people or perhaps a delicate situation.

2. Writing in my journal has helped me become aware of my real thoughts. Sometimes I am amazed at what comes out when I am writing. At times, thoughts and motives are expressed on paper that I really wasn’t conscious of having.

3. Writing in my journal has given me a forum for being honest with myself and with God. I find that so often my prayers are far more honest and candid when I write down what I am praying. My prayer also becomes more specific and focused.

4. Writing in my journal has given me a place to record insights, quotes, and stories that I hear or read. Often it is the place where I record significant lines or paragraphs from my reading.

I am not suggesting that you absolutely need to be journaling. I am saying that there is great value in having a discipline that calls for you to pause and examine your life. There is something valuable about reflecting on how you are living in light of your purpose.

Question:

Do you journal? Do you ever process your life through your writing? What has been your experience with this?