Saturday, November 18, 2017

Soul Care

Soul care. A lot of what I've been writing this year (or at least the first half of the year before I quit making the time to write, thanks to the friends who recently encouraged me!) has been related to this topic.  Even so, being relatively at the forefront of my mind, I began to feel the weight of an empty tank as spring rolled into summer (when I originally wrote this) and again as summer rolled into fall, in fact I’m still feeling fairly drained as I write this.

I have certainly noticed this cyclical pattern in my life over the past couple of years and as one who's wired to push, persevere and generally just get stuff done, my soul can quickly get left in the back seat, forgotten amongst the list of to-dos in a very short period of time.  I can very easily put myself in a pressure cooker of self-derived expectations at home and work despite a lack of outside influences leading me in that direction.

This is commonplace in a world at war against what we truly desire and the busyness, demands, and distractions of life can quickly sneak in like a thief in the night (our enemy is cunning, remember) and before we know it we feel drained, off track, and in need of a reset once again. As John Eldridge says in The Sacred Romance "Sadly, most of us watch the oil level in our car more carefully than we watch over the life of our heart." This is certainly me, even ignoring the fact that I've rarely driven anything that didn't require an oil check at every refuel…

When I get in this mode I shift from living with joy and purpose to living just to survive.  Everything feels like a burden, even things I enjoy.  I fall back into my default mode of checking boxes--work, home, hobbies, even my prayer/quiet time.  A while back I distinctly remember even being frustrated one morning because I didn't get a chance to read as much as I wanted to and just wanted to finish a devotional and move on to something else.  Warning!  I'd certainly fallen out of "restful posture of faith and assurance," as John Eldridge puts it in Walking With God…

As Song of Solomon 5:2 says "I slept but my heart was awake," going over various tasks and concerns, waking up already racing through the coming day, meetings, worries, anxiety.  My 2017 goal of "Ruthlessly eliminating hurry" is continually at risk of going out the window and I feel on a regular basis I can relate more and more to the opening of Breathe by Jonny Diaz:

Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life

In our world this is certainly not uncommon, and I think for most expected, considering that "Starting very early, life has taught all of us to ignore and distrust the deepest yearnings of our heart.  Life, for the most part, teaches us to suppress our longing and live only in the external world where efficiency and performance are everything." (Eldredge, Sacred Romance)

School, jobs, parents, even our churches, which are supposed to be a place to help water and grow the desire for God within us can turn into centers for achievement and busyness.  Taking this into consideration, it's no surprise that many of us get and stay off track despite looking like we have it together on the outside.

In God's eyes, however, all that needs to be achieved is already done and while in His grace he chooses to allow us to be a part of what his is doing, he certainly doesn't need us to accomplish his purposes.

So how do we get back on track and reconnect with our heart?  How do we live like a reservoir of life that constantly flows without emptying instead of a canal that fills up and then quickly transfers its contents to the world around it?

This looks different for everyone and it's crucial that we figure out what things fuel and refresh us so that we can come back to them time and again.

For me, during these times things that typically help are:
-Riding my bike a lot and spending more time outside
-Chillin in my quiet time, maybe reading a short devotional and just listening instead of trying to burn through a book or study
-Sleeping in a little
-Pausing extra efforts and side projects at work and just focusing on the core of my job
-Trying to push out noise and listen to my heart

I've been asking the question of "God, what do you want" a lot.

What do you want me to read this morning? Sometimes the answer is nothing.

What do you want me to learn from this situation? This person? What are you calling me to do in this situation?

This has taken time-in the summer it was probably 3 weeks before I was able to push out enough noise and distractions to get back to a place where I can hear my heart and the still, small voice of God. This fall it’s been several months and I’m still wrestling with it, clinging to the words of Galatians 5:1:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to live more freely and share here on this blog, those reminders are very valuable and much appreciated!

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Made for Greatness

This may come as a surprise to you (it certainly does to me) but we are all made for greatness.  Maybe not fame, fortune, and popularity, but in each of us is the greatness that only God can create and bring out in a world that is constantly telling us otherwise.  In the fairy tale of our lives we are the hero, the prince or princess, the savior of the world around us, the messenger and example sent to save the village.  As Frederick Buechner said "Not only does evil come disguised in the world of the fairly tale but often good does too."

We are sinners but that's only part of the story.  As John Eldridge says in The Sacred Romance "Your evaluation of your soul, which is drawn from a world filled with people still terribly confused about the nature of their souls, is probably wrong."  The fall made it much harder to achieve the greatness we were designed for but it's still possible and the goal of our lives.  We are God's chosen ones, the object of His affection, created for relationship with him and greatness in his name.

As the Psalmist said, "what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor." Ps 8:4-5

So why do we run? Why do we settle for a mediocre life absent of adventure and the greatness God designed us for?  I think Eldridge perfectly sums it up here: "As hard as it may be for us to see our sin, it is far harder still for us to remember our glory.  The pain of the memory of our former glory is so excruciating, we would rather stay in our pigsty than return to our true home." (The Sacred Romance)

Acknowledging this and living it out are two completely different things, so how do we pull our heads up out of the muck, mire, and noise of life?  Away from our sin and dejection, negative, defeatist feelings about ourselves, our worth and our potential to achieve the glory and greatness we were designed to embody?

Walking with God. It's the only answer, the only approach that is effective and feeds our desire for intimacy and for the "the courtship that began at the Garden (of Eden) and culminates in the wedding feast of the lamb." (Sacred Romance).  Allowing God to woo us with his love, beauty, and adventurous character.  Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.  Being caught up in His Glory, by the fact that the creator of the universe, all of the beauty around us, angels, heaven, and everything in between wants nothing more than to love, encourage, and grow us into the fullness of relationship with him.  

As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."  This is the method, the process, the only way to rise above our lowly world and lowly view of ourselves.  The only way to be transformed by His love, glory, and beauty into what we were created to be. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. 


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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Balance


    Now that I've set the stage for goal setting it's time to jump back into the foundation of my goals for the year.  Balance is another thing that got way off last year and is something that is at constant risk with all of the options and demands of life.  Just the basics of being a parent of 4 kids, manager of an organization and leader of a small group can be tough to juggle, both from a time and an emotional and spiritual health perspective.  Throw in a house and a propensity for car projects and you've got a recipe for disaster (or burnout) if not properly managed and balanced. 

    I know I've been plugging the book The One Thing quite a bit here, and honestly I haven't read the whole thing, but I have been picking it up from time to time and reading a page or two and God has consistently landed me on a concept or image that directly relates to something timely in my life.  Demands on your time, energy, and focus can shift over time but as Gary Keller says  in the book "Pursuing a balanced life means never pursuing anything at the extremes." 

    There have been several times over the past couple of years where I've seen work start to eat into other areas of life, usually from a time perspective, but also from a focus and emotional balance perspective as was the case last year amidst all of the org changes we experienced.  Around this time I ran across this image in the book and thought it painted a really good picture of what we should be trying to achieve: 


    The concept here is that work is best served by bursts of short, focused efforts: a project or initiative or maybe the setting up of an efficient organization.  Thankfully, I work in an environment where these things are typically cyclical and allow for some re-centering from time to time, the nature of product development naturally lends itself to this and the key for me is to synchronize this with the natural rhythm of life.  

    Life, on the other hand, needs constant balancing, keeping you, your focus, emotions, and energy on an even keel with much shorter cycles of ups and downs.  This is also critical to success in your work life and like at work, there is also a great need in life to evaluate and prioritize the myriad of options to spend our time and energy as  "It's not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it's that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have." (The One Thing)

    "Balance" would obviously be a pretty weak and not very actionable goal but knowing yourself and what both throws you off and lifts you up can direct you towards things to both watch out for and make sure you do to keep life in a healthy path.  


    For example's sake, here are some related goals for me this year:
    • Loosen up, Have more fun, take self less seriously
    • Spend more time outside 
    • Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life (ie slow down, take on less at home, and prioritize!)
    • Don't let things fester, take 'em head on--work, friends, home issues etc.

    As John Ortberg says in The Life You've Always Wanted "God did not create people in his own image for passivity. He is not a passive God.  When we face important decisions, we must pray, seek guidance, and exercise judgement, wisdom, initiative, choice, and responsibility." How we spend our time each day is an important decision and is the key and primary reason to set God-sized and God-directed goals to ensure the decisions we make are along the path we should take.
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Goals

As you’ve probably noticed, my plan for the first part of the year is to record what I found as I unpacked the events of last fall, mainly for my future reference and reflection but also in the event it may help someone else.  

Before getting too far down that road I wanted to share some thoughts on goal setting, specifically how creating and praying through "God sized goals" as Mark Batterson puts it can be a guiding force in life in growing us in the direction and into the people God created us to be.  As C.S. Lewis puts it in The Weight of Glory
"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

This (goal setting, not being too easily pleased) is something I started last year after reading the book Wild Goose Chase and goes way beyond New Years resolutions.  It is a process of thinking and praying  your way through both annual goals and life goals to direct both long and short term focus and activity and a way to "Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death." (A Trip Around the Sun)

I highly recommend a read of Wild Goose Chase as the book is a life changer and has much more detail, but this PDF gives a good overview to get you started: http://chasethegoose.com/files/10-steps-to-setting-life-goals.pdf

You may ask, why do this?  Aren't resolutions good enough?  For me, no.  I don't have much resolve and they tend to be short sighted, shallow, and not very compelling.  Also, as I've gotten older I've found I can relate more anid more to this statement and this process has helped me combat the effects of age on my imagination: 
"Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, the center of cognitive gravity tends to shift from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain.  That neurological tendency presents a grave spiritual danger: at some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory.  Instead of creating the future, we repeat the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic.  But it doesn't have to be that way." (A Trip Around the Sun)

God sized goals are a way of stretching and living by imagination.  "It's not enough to dream big and pray hard.  You also have to think long.  If you don't, you'll experience high degrees of discouragement.  Why? Because we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year. Of course, we also tend to underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.  The bigger the vision the harder you'll have to pray and the longer you'll have to think. But if you keep circling it'll come to pass in God's timing." (The Circle Maker)

Start big (life) then narrow in on steps over the year to get you there (image from The One Thing)
There is some sold guidance and examples in the PDF linked above but here are some additional questions to help hone in on God ordained passions to drive goals:
• What makes you sad mad glad?
○ Your true calling is somewhere at the intersection of those things 
• What makes you angry or pound your fist on the table?
• What makes you sad?
• What/who brings joy to your heart?
• What wakes you up early and keep you up late? (Netflix is not a valid answer here)
• What am I doing that I could not do apart from God?  (If the answer is nothing, pray that God would open your eyes!)

In the Bible there is the example of Nehemiah weeping for days over Jerusalem--if you feel this way about something it's a good indication God wants you to take personal responsibility to do something about it.  If you need some inspiration I would also highly recommend David Platt's Counter Culture.

Also, write them down.  As Lee Iacocca said "The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen."  Writing your goals down also allows you to share with friends who can hold you accountable as well as your spouse so that the two of you can dream and plan together!

So what's it going to take to stop living like God is an insurance plan?  What changes can you make, whether big or small, can shift your life and focus in the direction you were designed to go?  "Something as simple as a change of pace can give you a new perspective on life." (Wild Goose Chase)

Think big, pray hard and then jump in with both feet.  As John Ortberg says in If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat "When I say yes, I set in motion an adventure that will leave me forever changed."

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Approval

As I headed into my goal setting for 2017 I felt I first needed to take a step back and work through how I got off track in 2016.  In this post I briefly mentioned some changes my organization went through, and while it ended up being a net positive from both the organizational and workload perspective, there were also some impacts that I did not foresee going into it.

As new leaders came in I found myself having the urge to prove something while also questioning alot of what I was doing.  As John Eldredge puts it in Walking With God I'd "moved out of the restful posture of faith and assurance." Having been in my role for a few years, I'd become very comfortable with both the people and expectation aspects of our previous leadership and the reality is that while there is always room for improvement the way I had things set up and had been operating had been working well for 3 years.  

The issue, I think, was as Eldridge says "We give our hearts over to so many things other than God.  We look to so many other things for life… Especially the very gifts that he himself gives to us--they become more important than he is. That's not the way it's supposed to be. As long as our happiness is tied to the things we can lose we are vulnerable."  (Walking with God). A lot of prayer and intentionality had gone into how I'd formed my role and organization and had chosen to operate.  As with all things earthly there was plenty broken and non-ideal but I had also not gone about them willy nilly and shortcomings aside I think God was still well pleased. 

The crux was that I had put too much stock in the gift and position God had blessed me with, I was worshiping the gift (or title and responsibility) instead of the giver and had lost sight of the fact that I had not gotten there on my own nor would I remain so that way and when the questions came my pride became at stake and I was easily rattled. I had shifted to servanthood of man and my own ego as Paul writes in Galations 1:10: "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." and holding others opinion/approval above Jesus leads us to being held hostage by them.

We live our lives struggling with being worried about what we think others are thinking about us--which sounds ridiculous when you really think about it and our thinking could be and usually is completely off base.  As Ortberg puts it, at some point "you realize nobody was thinking about you anyways.. (but) that information does not alone bring true freedom. When our identity is wrapped up in whether or not we are perceived as successful, we are set up for approval addiction. Our sense of self is on the line."  (The Life you've Always Wanted)

The solution to this is in those times "When I catch myself comparing myself with others or thinking 'I could be happy if only I had what they have', then I know I need to withdraw for a while and listen for another voice… it always asks of self-absorbed children 'What are you doing here?'  When Jesus spoke, he was free from the need to create an impression. He was free to speak the truth in love." (The Life you've Always Wanted)

When we become Christians our framework for approval changes.  We are inherently approved by our belief in Jesus as our savior and as this song so harmoniously states we are no longer slaves to others but his children and ultimately no one else's opinion matters which should be both encouraging and empowering to us. 

Matthew 10:37 says: "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."  Loving Him most allows us to love not only our father, mother, wife, children and others the right way, but also ourselves from the right motive, because He first loved us.  We will fall short otherwise. Loving Jesus means our allegiance and affections are grounded in Him and loving him is the only requirement for approval.   


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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Joy

"The battle in your life is against your joy." (Eldridge, Walking with God)  How often do we feel like this? Life is full of hassles, battles, disappointments chipping away, one by one, little by little wearing us down until we're just trying to survive.  In fact, as I was attempting to write this several things interrupted my precious early morning time when the house is supposed to be silent.

Our 9 month old was cooing in his bed an hour before he normally gets up, one of our 4yr old twins wet her bed, and to top things off, a rat poked its head out of the linen closet (not joking) sparking an all out war on its existence.  At least now we can pinpoint what's been making the occasional noise in the ceiling the past couple of weeks. Suffice it to say when God speaks, he speaks!

A lot of times we think life is just hard but the truth is "God wants us to be happy, but he knows that we cannot be truly happy until we are completely his and until he is our all. And the weaning process is hard." (Walking with God). This leaves us with a choice-we can take joy in the weaning process as a daily reminder of how much we need God and his grace and be thankful for the transformation he's working in our lives, or we can be frustrated and disheartened at all of the struggle and strife life seems to bring.

Psalm 1:3 says:
"Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers."

When we're joyful and walking in the Spirit we're like that tree planted by the stream-strong, full of life, we feel bulletproof and want to love others and share in joy with them.  We're more able to roll with punches and enjoy the subtle moments of life-kids giggling as they do something mischievous in the other room,  the look in your infants eyes as he proudly claps his hands together, the sometimes crazy circumstances God shows his presence through.

So what does it take to get to a place where as the Psalmist says "My heart leaps for joy?"  It starts first with questioning what's missing or has been overshadowed in life.  I think most of us have access and opportunity for plenty of joy, we either don't notice or it is overshadowed by other things.  As Gary Keller says in The One Thing "The challenge is that the right question isn't always so obvious. Most things we want don't come with a road map or a set of instructions, so it can be difficult to frame the right question."

This is not so with God, the only question that needs asking is 'what is it Lord?'  This brought out a recurring theme as I tried to unpack my lack of joyfulness in December.  There was this post on Joy from ransomed heart on 12/30, a timely chapter on Joy in a book I was reading (Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted), as well as the lyrics to what's been one of my favorite songs over the past year (guess I got stuck on the catchy beat and didn't pay attention to the words):

We're choosing celebration
Breaking into freedom
You're the song
You're the song
Of our hearts

As the lyrics say, joy and celebration are a choice, and choosing requires us to stop and take notice there's an option. So often we run from one thing to the next, so caught up in busyness that we don't even pause to celebrate a victory before moving on to conquer the next.  God created us for joy but how do we ensure it is experienced in our daily lives?

Be observant
God wants to speak to us and is persistent as clearly shown in the example above, we just have to take the time to stop and listen!  Think about what would have happened if Moses was late for a meeting and hadn't stopped to take note of the burning bush or if the Samaritan had rushed off like the others who had passed by the injured man on the road.  As Dallas Willard said "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry in your life", one of my primary goals for 2017!

Choose it
"Extraordinary results are rarely happenstance. They come from the choices we make and the actions we take." (Keller, The One Thing)  On average, it takes 66 days to form a habit.  This is not something that's going to happen overnight.  Make Joy your priority, put it at the top of your daily to-do list, pray daily if not hourly that God would bring you to a place of Joy and take notice of all he's doing.  Use the 66-day Calendar if you think it will help!

Surround Yourself
"Each of us knows a few people who are joy-carriers.  When we are around them, they breathe life into us.  Prize them. Thank them.  Above all, get intentional about being with them." (Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted)  There are certainly people in my life who fall into this category and one of my goals for 2017 is to be intentional and spend more time with those folks.

Now is the Time
The Psalmist (118:24) said "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Form a mindset to rejoice at any opportunity you get-you hit the light that takes forever green on the way to work, the elevator is waiting for you when you walk in the door, or better yet you hike up the 5 flights of stairs to your desk and are filled with joy for the oxygen you are now gasping for.
Just the other day I was a bit preoccupied on the way to work and prayed "God, show me your presence in a very real way today."  Shortly after, one of my favorite songs came up on my playlist and as I was rounding a corner I saw a huge puddle in the road which of course I joyfully splashed through because that's what you do in a Land Cruiser!

Easier said than done, and something I'm still struggling to practice daily, but if we take on a mindset and build a habit of joy while being observant and relying on God we can make every day, even every moment, an opportunity to experience Joy. As John Ortberg says "If we don't rejoice today, we will not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die.  If we are going to rejoice, it must be this day.  This is the day the Lord has made. This is the Dee Dah Day." 
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reset


Wouldn't it be great if life had a reset button?  I'm not talking about starting over from the beginning- diapers, drool and all that, but we all have moments, days and even larger chunks of time that we wished had gone differently when we look back.  The good news is that it does, as Paul Tripp says here "The beautiful thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the Lord offers grace for each of these little moments. The Bible doesn't say, 'His mercies are new once a year.' No, 'His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.'(Lamentations 3:22-23)." 

The challenge to this is that we actually have to stop, reflect and seek this grace from God and ourselves, a practice that in my experience can be easily overshadowed in tough seasons of life.  As I mentioned in my lastpost, the end of 2017 was one of those times.  I pushed hard, ignoring the signs of fatigue and quite frankly got ragged out.  I think most people can relate to the words of this song by NF:
Oh, these hands are tired
Oh, this heart is tired
Oh, this soul is tired
But I'll keep on
I'll keep on
I'll keep on

We keep on, pushing, striving, and ignoring the signs of our hearts and souls crying out for rest.  Like most people I know myself fairly well and am well aware of the signs of my soul crying out for relief and as Andy Stanley says in Choosing to Cheat:  "The gauges on your dashboard are not there to tip you off to the fact that your car is in need of repair. They are there to keep you from getting to that point." but I just kept rolling, blinders on, until the check engine light came on and I came chugging to a stop. 

Another quote I read by Francis de Sales captures this in a way that may not translate to future generations but felt very tangible to me: "there is no clock, no matter how good it may be, that doesn't need resetting and rewinding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  In addition, at least once a year it must be taken apart to remove dirt clogging it, straighten out bent parts, and repair those worn out.  In like manner, every morning and evening a man who really takes care of his heart must rewind it for God's service…. More-over, he must often reflect on his condition in order to reform and improve it.  Finally, at least once a year he must take it apart and examine every piece in detail, that is every affection and passion, in order to repair whatever defects there may be."

When things get off track in life the first step is to stop and ask the question "why?"  So often we just charge ahead, knowing something is off yet not wanting to slow down or acknowledge and address what is going on.  As Gary Keller says in The One Thing "Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.  How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life."

When we were in school and didn't understand something we asked questions, when something comes up in a conversation these days and we don't know the answer we hit Google, so why is it that when things get off track in life we don't take the same approach?  God is right there waiting for us to seek him, to seek healing, restoration, and rest!  As Matthew 11:29-30 says "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is my goal for 2017, to be watchful of my soul, to acknowledge the warning signs, to seek God for renewal and restoration daily.  I plan to start with a process of looking back at what broke and setting goals for the year to help me keep things on track, day by day, minute by minute and will share both the process and the output here. 

In closing, another quote from Paul Tripp that really hit home and was a great reminder of where my heart and mind need to be in this coming year (and all those that follow!):
"Yes, you and I need to be committed to change in 2017, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation. Instead, find joy in, and be faithful to, a day-by-day and step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith."
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