Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Practicing Stability

Every once in a while I learn something new that changes how I think. That happened this morning. I'm reading Ruth Haley Barton's book, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. I highly recommend this book for those in leadership in a local church, but what I learned today has relevance to anyone who is a part of a local church family. It is called the Practice of Stability. I am going to quote her section directly and offer some comments.

"Stability is an interesting practice for us Protestants who are most accustomed to leaving our communities when the going gets tough, starting another denomination when we disagree over doctrine or practice, and shopping for a church like we shop for a house--only it seems we leave our churches are frequently than we leave our houses these days!

In the monastic tradition the vow of stability is central to a rule of life. The person promises to remain in that particular monastic community for life and to be shaped by the rhythms of that particular community. This commitment is understood as laying down one's life in its entirety, placing it in the hands of God.

The vow of stability is the first of the vows because nothing is possible until we give our entire life to the primacy of God's kingdom. If we leave ourselves an escape hatch, we have one foot out the door and we are not fully committed. If we say to ourselves that we will stay committed as long as commitment stays exciting and devoid of suffering, we are not fully committed. The grass is not greener 'over there:' one must work out one's problems with this person because if one doesn't, one will have to work it out with that person. This is precisely what is so freeing about the vow of stability, to have to work it out is to demand growth, as painful as it is, and that is freeing. Faithfulness is a limit that forces us to stop running and encounter God, self, and other right now, right here.

Lord have mercy! This is just not the kind of commitment most Protestants are accustomed to. In fact, many church polities don't even allow for this much stability at the leadership level. Leaders rotate off boards at predetermined intervals. Thus groups are never together long enough to get traction on their commitment to each other in community, to really settle in to all that stability means and then to reap the benefits of having been shaped together by shared practices. Sometimes it seems that when everyone has reached a place of trust and is functioning optimally out of shared commitment, it's time for some to leave and others to come on.

[This type of uncertainty] doesn't provide the opportunity for stable, long-term community... and love doesn't grow well in a garden of uncertainty.

Our commitment to stability is that we commit to stay together until tighter we discern a need for change. This is our way of creating stability. in our relationships while at the same time leaving room for the will of God to be revealed among us.

We cannot demand this kind of stability of others; we can only offer it as a true invitation of the spiritual life. Stability is a powerful invitation--to transformation, to creativity, to long-term impact. As Brian Taylor points out, 'It is the failure to commit oneself entirely that blocks creativity in the spiritual life, in the artistic life, in the relational life. Meeting one's obligations with a minimum of commitment may be seen like freedom, but it enslaves us to what is fleeting. In the instability of our age we are constantly reassessing the self--our direction and purpose, our commitment and values. Without the constancy of stability, this assessment can create chaos. Ultimately, the vow of stability is a vow of stability to God. god is the only true eternal rock upon which we stand. But God calls us into a particular life, to be spent int eh company of particular people, to accept one's life as it is given is to begin to find freedom."

Now, I don't know what you think when you read about practicing stability, but I am burdened by the lack of stability, or the complete absence of stability, that is found in so many Christians and churches, and even Hub City Church. And this lack of stability is handicapping our becoming Christlike disciples. 

I wonder what might happen if we would commit to being in community and relationship with each other, even when it is hard and we don't get what we want and our feelings get hurt and we get challenged, until the Holy Spirit leads us and others to the place where we know it is time to move on?

The more I think about practicing stability the more I realize that this could be one of the most counter-cultural things we could do, rating up there with loving others, forgiving others, and extending grace. It also reflects the character of our God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Barton ends this section with some questions for personal reflection, which I encourage you to use:

What appeals to you about stability? What resistance do you have?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Invitation to a Journey

So I hurt my knee. I'm not sure how I hurt my knee or what the problem is with my knee, but I hurt it, and there are ramifications to my exercise routine. I usually walk the dog every morning and then run for about 30 minutes. However, my knee pain is preventing me from running. If you know me then you know that daily exercise is essential to my mental and physical wellbeing (I mean, how do you get a body like mine without daily exercise), so I knew I had to do something.

I tried the elliptical, but that didn't work. So much for it's low-impact-on-joints promise. Next I decided to try the stair-master... it has changed my life. I don't think I have ever had better workouts in my entire life. And while you would assume that the stair-master would hurt my knee, it doesn't hurt it at all.

Now why am I sharing this? Well, my change in my exercise routine has enabled me to read more, and over the past three weeks I've read two books on the stair-master, and I thought it would be a good idea to record my thoughts on those books on this blog that nobody reads.

The first book I read is Invitation to a Journey by Robert Mulholland. I cannot recommend this book enough. I think it is life-changing. I love his definition for spiritual formation:

Spiritual formation is the process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.

There are four parts to his definition. First, spiritual formation is a process. Second, it is the process of being formed. We don't form ourselves. We position ourselves to be formed by God. Third, we are formed by God in the image of Christ. The goal is to be like Jesus, or as I like to say, to live the life that Jesus would live if Jesus were living our life. Fourth, we are formed in the image of Christ, not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. We have an others-focused faith.

The rest of the book unpacks his incredible definition, and you need to read it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What defines us and what defiles us... and praying for indifference.

 It's been almost two years since I've written anything for this blog. Maybe it will be the same length between today's post and my next, but I had two things on my mind today that I wanted to write down and typing is easier, and more legible, than writing.

The first comes from today's Lectio 365 app where they are discussing Mark 7:14-19. 

What defines us and what defiles us?

For the Jews in Jesus' day, it was food. But Jesus declares all food clean in this passage (praise God!). 

So what should define us as Jesus followers and what is it that defiles us?

I'm pondering that today.

Second, I read a chapter in Ruth Barton's book, Strengthening the soul of your leadership, that talked about developing discernment to hear God's voice and know his will. One thing she tells us to do is to pray for indifference. That is, pray that we will be indifferent to anything and everything other than God's will.

That is a tough prayer to pray, but I will make it mine today.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Stuff that breaks my heart

I have so much going through my mind, that I don't even know where to begin. In an effort to help me process and communicate what I'm thinking, I'm re-engaging with the blog.

My first thing to share is this: I am heartbroken this morning about the state of the church, and in particular, those who claim to be followers of Jesus. In all honesty, I'm not sure there is any hope for the church in America. Here are a few of the reasons why.

  • We're more concerned about politics than about living as citizens of God's kingdom. 
  • We care more about political agendas than our friends and families coming to know Jesus.
  • We're just like our culture with our lack of civility and us vs. them mindset.
  • We can't seem to get along.
  • We label and condemn those who believe differently than us, even if the disagreements are about secondary matters.
  • We are not known for our love.
  • We fallen into the traps of social media.
  • We no longer need a church family.
  • We no longer really need Jesus, or at least we don't live like it.
  • We have so many idols.
  • We are prideful and condescending.
  • We are closed to correction.

I know we will never be perfect, but that is not an excuse for what we've become. 

It's time to humble ourselves and repent. It's time to get back to our first love.

It's time to pray: Lord, bring revival, and let it begin with me.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Frederick Buechner Books

There are a few authors who breathe a breath of fresh air into my soul every time I read them. Frederick Buechner is one of them. I just finished two of his books, A Crazy, Holy Grace and The Remarkable Ordinary

These books are actually collections of some of his speaking engagements, which doesn't lessen their potency. They were just as refreshing and raw as his other books. 

Actually, if there were one word I would use to describe both of these books it would be the word real. 

We need some real in our world of fake.

While I recommend everyone read these books (and all his books for that matter), I believe those who are in the middle of grief, hurt and sickness, might find the most hope in their pages. Over and over again, a face of someone I know, who is in the middle of something difficult, popped into my head as I read. This was especially true in A Crazy, Holy Grace.

The Remarkable Ordinary was almost like a pause button. We don't pause and listen and think very much, or at least it seems that way to me at times. I needed to read this to be reminded to pause and listen.

How about buying something for your soul this Christmas. One or both of these books might just be what your soul has on its Christmas list.

I need to thank Handlebar for providing me these books free of charge to review. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Toilet for Viello

For many of us, the first thing we do every morning when we get up, and the last thing we do right before we fall asleep is go to the bathroom. Have you ever paused to thank God for your toilet. Toilets really are a gift from God.

Can you imagine life without a toilet? Honestly, I can’t.

What if you had the opportunity to provide a toilet for someone who doesn’t have a toilet?

What if you could provide a toilet for an entire village?

We have the opportunity to do just that for our village in Haiti. Viello is in need of toilet facilities. We’re going to provide them with toilet facilities.

This is an important step in reaching one of the "8 Benchmarks" that Disciple's Village is working towards and that we are partnering with them to work towards in transforming the village of Viello.

Our goal is is to raise $475 in the next 2 weeks. If we raise more than $475 it will go to the next Viello project.

This will purchase the materials to build the toilet. Residents of Viello will be digging the hole for the toilet as well as carrying all the materials up the mountain (by "carry" I mean "hand-carry" cinder blocks, rebar, all building materials up the mountain...).

There are two ways you can contribute to this project. You can give on Sunday or you can give online. Just make sure to mark your gift with "toilet." 

To quote Karen Nichols, this is a "no brainer" for us. Let's be generous.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Watering Thorns

Watering thorns.
Who would do such a thing?
         - Alicia Britt Chole in The Sacred Slow

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Watering thorns.
Who would do such a thing?
          - Alicia Britt Chole in The Sacred Slow