Friday, December 16, 2005

How To Be Still

This is for those who have been so caught in the administrative trap, the consumerist trap, the busy-ness trap, the expectation trap, the rut trap that you are “mad as %#&* and you’re not gonna take it any more.” Or, maybe you are at the end of your rope physically, emotionally and spiritually. You’re counting on the remote possibility that this is not all there is. Well, good news… it’s not! Here is my premise: You and I can so make our home in the Person of Jesus Christ that troubles won’t go away, but they will lose their grip on us and shrivel to their proper “momentary light affliction” status, joy will rule in our hearts and all those around us will be glad to be with us!

Jesus promised us, promised us mind you in John 15, verse 11, “I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” C’mon! Seriously, do you really think that giving it all for Jesus means that we run around like chickens with their heads cut off, tired, lonely, frustrated, irritable, and too busy for anything meaningful? I sure hope not, too!

What can we do? (Now, be careful. This isn’t a recipe. But, in the scheme of things, we have choice, choices matter and have effects on our lives. We are to “work out our salvation” (Ph 2:12f)). I want to talk about the discipline of silence and solitude – an ancient practice largely lost in our day, but so necessary if we are going to reach balance in our lives. I define “discipline” the way Henri Nouwen did: Creating space in our lives for God to work.

Jesus is our model for solitude and silence. Periodically, Jesus became both physically and spiritually fatigued. So, Duh!, He pulled away. He had a remarkable sense for balance and rhythm in His life. So can we!

Now, this is written as a sort of “Beginner’s Guide” to the discipline of silence and solitude. I am not trying to seem pious nor insult your intelligence, but I am convinced very few of us practice this discipline, and we really need a starting point.

Begin by beginning. Cordon off a single hour somewhere in your schedule. Not at the end of everything else, give it prime time when you are fresh. Make it a time that reflects a significant sacrifice in your schedule. By the way, there ain’t nothin’ so blame sacred about your schedule in the first place! This is a hard step – we take ourselves far too seriously. This step is as important as taking your wife out to eat and canceling that committee meeting to do so! Mentally say, “This hour is of utmost importance!” Don’t broadcast what you’re doing, either. Matthew 6 takes care of that. If people find out you’re off alone “doing nothing,” they will see that as a vacuum and a waste of the time that they pay for and you will be in deep do-do.

Go to a place where the stimuli and distractions can be reduced to a minimum. Another hard step. No cell phones, no TV or radio. Make the place become quiet and comfortable visually. Keep your back straight, don’t slouch. Lie down or sit straight. Posture can create a significant distraction. If you need a nap, take one! Good grief. Fight the propensity to “do” anything!

Incidentally, the Evil One doesn’t like it when Christians get still. They hear God’s voice! Ach! Bad thing! He will pull out all the stops to keep you from this time of silence. Also, your mind is about to become a battleground. More about that as we go along.

Now be still. It is in being still that we “know that He is God.” We are not accustomed to this – you will realize this about 30 seconds into the hour. You must be convinced that this is the absolute best use of this hour, no matter what the sirens of this world screams in your mind! Squirming is predictable. Mark this challenge: When distractions come, when the tendency to quit is strong, when you get frustrated at the amount of noise there is in your mind, when you nearly become convinced this time is totally counter-productive, repent and come back to silence. The Prodigal’s Father is there to hug you, weep with joy over you, and be glad for your return!

THE TIME YOU ARE SPENDING IS A GOOD THING. Reject the lies of your Adversary!

Now listen with apathy. Huh? Do not feel like you must write something down or DO anything. Allow God to determine what happens in this precious hour! Brennan Manning calls this a time of “apathetic mysticism” – we trust God so much that we don’t care what He decides to do with it. You don’t determine what is successful anyway, He does. You are to show up and shut up. Become a sailboat in the sea of God’s love. Simply hoist your sail and go! Let God be God.

I venture to guess you will experience at least two things. One, if you are serious, you will come face-to-face to yourself. Busy-ness is the best distraction from facing our own worst enemy… self. But, it is self that must be faced. Here is who self is: nothing. More than that, we are sinful nothings! Outside the kindness and mercy of God’s grace, we are road kill on the highway of life. This is a necessary hurdle to peace and joy. It is part of what the ancients called the mortification of the flesh. As long as we clinch self, our hands are not open to what God would place there!

Two, we will begin to hear the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved! I am honored and glad you came to see me! I love just being with you.” An amazing thing occurs: Life takes on balance. Urgency fades and we can, for example, truly “smell the roses.” Recently, in a period of silence, I became nearly enamored with the grandeur and stature of an oak tree! Here is a created thing simply doing exactly what it was created to be and do – to reach for God and live! You and I are of much more importance than that tree. In solitude and silence we can replace the pseudo-value we place on ourselves and enjoy being valued by God.

That is all. Accept God’s acceptance. Wouldn’t the hour be profitable if you and I could walk away resting in the fact that we are loved by God and truly believe that truth is all that really matters? Oh, at the end of the time, Satan is going to try to convince you that your hour was a “waste of time” and “Don’t ever do that again.” Consider: You have just given God your undivided attention for an hour; how can that be a waste of time? Remember when Judas said just that? Here it is (from Matthew 26):

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9"This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Giving God an hour is never a waste of time.
Now, finish, and plan your next time of silence and solitude. Enjoy these times. If you are not coming to experience the joy of John 15:11, confess your self-absorbed yardstick for “good.” Silence and solitude is not to be “liked” as we would a movie, a ballgame or a taco! It is an intimate relationship with our loving Daddy, and hour long hug in the lap of eternal comfort and acceptance.
Until we become convinced we are loved by God, there is no other message. There is a time a place for service, petitionary prayer, and other do-ings of the faith. I am convinced, though, that all that is preceded by time alone with God.

From The Message, we read Jesus’ words (John 15:5),

"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing.”

Paul told Timothy, “Discipline yourself for godliness (1 Tm 4:7).” That applies to you and me. It is a truth that sets us free! We can soar like the mighty oak in our Daddy’s kingdom! Imagine that – joy unspeakable!

“And, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Good News for Pastors

Are you a pastor or a church leader? Are things rosy? Church growing, everybody happy? Love what you’re doing? …Honest?

I have news for you… and it’s all good! Many, many pastors out there experience what I will call the Reality Gap. There is a huge gulf fixed between where you’d like to be (individually, spiritually, career-wise, church life) and Reality. It is not very easy to cope with it, huh? "It’s them!” we often say. Then when we are alone with ourselves, we wonder, “Where did I go wrong?” If you’re like me, you have a hard time getting away from your own worst enemy… self. We know about denial, but the pain of the Reality Gap is often nearly unbearable.

We pastor types really do well to dream! We even ask God to direct our dreams! We receive what we consider to be God-given, and off we go to make it into a reality. …It doesn’t happen! The Reality Gap! It’s the difference between my church and Acts 2:42-47!

Here begins the good news. Jesus said to those who would be around after His ascension (and that includes you and me)

“I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left--feeling abandoned, bereft. So don't be upset. Don't be distraught “(Jn 14:27, The Message).

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27, ESV).

If neither of those renditions is your life verse, help is on the way… help is right here! And, since we live in such a list-driven world (I hate lists!) here’s my list.

1. Stop readin’ books (metaphorically speaking, that is) ! Books are deceptive. For one, they seem to convey the idea that if you do all that is contained within, your ministry will soar! Not so. They also feed on your consumerist bent. “Buyyyy the booook! You NEEEED this book!” Plus, they charge too much for them.
2. Put first things first. A “successful” church (or ministry, or life, for that matter) is not the first thing. Do you see what is missing from this formula: Read book, implement book’s plan for successful church, BOOM - successful church? What is missing is what God wants to do in YOU! You are here first and foremost to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). What am I doing to become a Christ-like person is a better question than how can I build a successful church. Finally, success is not something you can do. Success is God’s business, faithfulness is ours.
3. Be faithful by being with Jesus. THAT is the first thing. Ever read John 15:1-11??? Christ is inviting the likes of you and me to make our home in Him! This is freeing! Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (The Message), “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.” It is the free and rested soul that is the Kingdom-builder in the crowd. SIMPLY FIND WAYS TO BE ALONE AND STILL WITH JESUS. Hear Him call you His Beloved child. Let Him stroke your hair with His soft comforting Hand. Let His eyes delight in you. This is the truth, the freeing truth. And, oh, by the way, if you “don’t have time” to be alone with Him for any period of time, your fuse is lit. You may not lose your job; worse, you may work for the next 20 years in a ministry only to produce “wood, hay and stubble.” You don’t have time NOT to be still and hear from God.

Be still and know that He is God – it is that simple. What is your SQ, your Stillness Quotient? When you are still in that Sabbath Stillness, you hear of your acceptance, and “the things of earth will grow strangely still, in the light of His glory and grace.” Oh, and the Reality Gap will lose its death-grip on you. Then, others will grow more Christ-like from being with you because they will say of you what they said of Peter and John, “They recognized them as having been with Jesus” (Ac 4:13).


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The church does not have the luxury of “hanging in there” over the next few years. The church has lost her status in the community and people by the droves are leaving and will continue to leave if the church chooses to “hang in there” even if hanging in there means peddling harder and doing better.
From, and from an Update entitled “A Faith Revolution Is Redefining ‘Church,’ According to New Study”

"One of the most eye-opening portions of the research contained in the book [Revolution] describes what the faith community may look like twenty years from now. Using survey data and other cultural indicators he has been measuring for more than two decades, Barna estimates that the local church is presently the primary form of faith experience and expression for about two-thirds of the nation’s adults. He projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current “market share” and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack. Importantly, Barna’s studies do not suggest that most people will drop out of a local church to simply ignore spirituality or be freed up from the demands of church life. Although there will be millions of people who abandon the entire faith community for the usual reasons – hurtful experiences in churches, lack of interest in spiritual matters, prioritizing other dimensions of their life – a growing percentage of church dropouts will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and to relate to God through different means."

What!? Am I reading that correctly? Are people leaving church in order to find God? That’s insane! That is like saying that people are having difficulty finding a grocery store that sells… food! Or maybe it is a crazy as having to look long and hard to find a bank that cashes checks! Am I unreasonable to assume that the one place God could be found is the church? If the research is true, and I have no reason to cast doubt, that is about the most serious indictment on the church I have ever heard. In my estimation, that is right up there with the Crusades and the selling of indulgences!

I sure wish Francis Schaeffer were alive. “How then shall we live?” is even more poignant now than when he first posed it. That is what I mean when I say that the church cannot hang in there – she must, must answer Schaeffer’s question.

Here is my answer (I am not now interested particularly in the How? Another

post, possibly.) ….

1. The church must be about putting people in the Presence of Jesus. I am not referring to evangelism per se; I am talking about literally putting people in the Presence of Jesus. See John 15:1-11 and Acts 4:13 (“… They recognized them as having been with Jesus”).

2. The church must purify any and all that she does so that is building God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

3. The church has got to be a fellowship of intimate followers of Christ. If there is no community, there is no church and, therefore, no impact. Read Acts 2:42 and following.

4. The church must seek to enrich her worship experience. She is woefully lacking in this area. There is a holy God near by that we have yet to imbibe like we can.

5. We must maintain a sober and careful adherence to God’s written Word. We must learn it and teach it with passion and precision.

6. We must create community à la John 13:34,35. The church is not the church without love and koinonia as her warp and woof. This is hard, hard work.

7. We must forsake the negative side of Institutionalism, Individualism and Rationalism. I get this from Dr. Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Faith. We must embrace mystery.

Like Paul told Timothy, we must “discipline ourselves for godliness.” Nothing else will do. We certainly cannot hang in there! The process does not begin with our own resolve to correct or remedy something. We must find ways to “be still and know that He is God.”

“For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

Until we begin to experience the transformation that comes with hearing and knowing the voice of the One who calls each of us His Beloved, there is no other message!