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Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

Friday September 16 2016

Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” Fulton Oursler, American Journalist (1893-1952)

I love the metaphor of the thieves. Engaging in regret for the past or fear of the future is like a thief sweeping through our mind stealing important things. What gets stolen when regret and fear dominate our thoughts? Joy in the present. The ability to see God’s hand at work. Gratitude for good gifts. Hope for the future based in God’s goodness.

The quotation highlights three challenges: (1) to see the past with faith and gratitude, (2) to see the future with hope and (3) to look for God’s presence and companionship in the present as much as possible. I want to suggest some spiritual practices for each of these challenges.

1. See the past with faith and gratitude

a. Sometimes regrets about the past are rooted in a sense of guilt and shame. God offers us full and abundant forgiveness, but sometimes we find it hard to receive that forgiveness. My suggestion: write down the specific sources of guilt or shame that contribute to your sense of regret about the past. When I am having a hard time feeling forgiven, I find Psalms 32, 51 and 130 helpful. Read your list of sources of guilt or shame, then pray one of the psalms I’ve mentioned. If a verse in the psalm jumps out at you, post it on your bathroom mirror. Dwell in God’s forgiveness.

b. Sometimes regrets about the past aren’t rooted in sin or shame, they’re just regrets about situations we wish we’d handled differently. Think about – or talk with a friend about – a situation where you wish you had responded differently. List as many aspects of the situation that you are thankful for. Note where God was present in the situation and where you experienced God’s guidance or comfort. Let those gifts from God exist in your memory alongside the aspects you wish you had done differently. You may want to pray Psalm103:1-5 as a way to think about God’s blessings to you, even when there are regrets about some aspects of a situation.

2. See the future with hope

a. In the midst of anxiety, many people find the Serenity Prayer helpful. It was written around 1934 by Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s a great prayer to memorize. Pray it several times slowly:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

b. Pick a scripture about peace or hope. Memorize it or post it in your car, by your desk, on your bedside table or beside the kitchen sink. Repeat it to yourself and let it sink into your heart. Here are two possibilities for passages to use: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

3. Look for God’s presence and companionship in the present

a. Breath prayer is one of the best ways to be present in each moment. Slow your breathing and focus on each breath. In God, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Ponder the fact that you depend on God for each breath, and God gives you that breath in generosity and love. Breathe deeply and slowly, and rest in God’s presence and goodness that surrounds you.

b. Thankfulness is another great way to be present to God’s gifts in each moment. When you stop at a traffic light, stand in line at the bank, wait for a website to download or step outside to get your mail, look around and name several things that come to you as a gift. Or focus on all the individual parts of your body that are working well (even if some parts aren't working so well!), and thank God for each of them. “Wonderful are your works, that I know very well” (Psalm 139:14)

These are just a very few ideas. What helps you rejoice in the past and look forward to the future with trust? What helps you abide in Christ in the present moment?

(Next week: a quotation from Eugene Peterson about a pastor’s chief job, which I think relates to the chief job of a parent, family member and friend. Watercolor painting of Lake Hawea, New Zealand, by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Rick Warren on love and disagreement

Wednesday September 7 2016

Quotations I love: Rick Warren on love and disagreement

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone is to agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Rick Warren

This quotation echoes one of the major findings of my research on listening, which I’ll explain in this post. I looked around online to try to find the source for this quotation, and instead I found a great deal of anger about the quotation from Christians on both sides of the GLBT debate. So, as I discuss the quotation, I’m going to ask you, my lovely readers, to set aside your thoughts about sexuality issues and think about human disagreements in other areas.

Let’s use an example from my life to consider Rick Warren’s words. A few years ago I reconnected with a woman I had known in a Christian fellowship group when she and I were in our twenties. In our conversation, I found out that in her thirties she became disillusioned with the church. She embraced a Buddhist meditation practice that she has continued for more than two decades.

When I learned about this, several different emotions flooded my body. I felt sad that I wouldn’t get to hear the story of what it looked like for someone to follow Jesus over the many years since we’d last seen each other. I felt anxious that I wouldn’t know what to say to her. And I also worried that if I drew her out about her Buddhist practice, which I wanted to do, that I would be communicating tactic agreement with her practice.

In my listening research, I learned that most people feel a fair amount of anxiety when they listen, especially when the person they’re listening to is expressing an opinion that differs with theirs. Rick Warren writes that we have accepted two lies, and the first one is this: “if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.” My listening research indicates that it is a natural human response to feel some level of fear when we interact with someone who has a major life value that is different than ours. Will I know what to say? Will I defend my own opinion appropriately, gently and firmly? If I ask some questions about the underlying motivations and passions that lie behind this value, will it sound like I agree?

These questions reflect the normal fear or anxiety that we experience when we listen to someone who is different than we are. But we have to remember that in fact, every human being on the face of the earth is different than we are, even our closest friends who share most of our deepest values. This truth relates to Warren’s second lie, that “to love someone is to agree with everything they believe or do.”

One of the most significant listening skills is learning to set aside the fears – big and small – that sweep through our minds and bodies when a conversation partner disagrees with something we hold dear. We will be able to listen and converse with compassion only if we can set aside that inner turmoil or inner noise. “You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate” says Rick Warren, but we do need to identify our fears so we can respond appropriately.

“I’m still a committed Christian,” I said to my friend. “But I am very interested in hearing in what you value about your Buddhist practice.”

 

Here are two articles I wrote about setting aside various forms of inner noise as we listen:
     Listening past the noise
     Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others

I’ve also written many blog posts about listening, as well as a book, The Power of Listening.

(Next week, spiritual practices that help address a vivid quotation by Fulton Oursler: “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

Thursday September 1 2016

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes,

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.

When I was writing my book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together, a student asked me what I was working on, and I briefly described the book to him. He replied, “There’s so much rhetoric about spiritual practices—the idea seems to be that if I get the practice right, then I’ll work my way to God.” He went on to say that theologians throughout the ages have affirmed that God meets us. He argued that it is not our responsibility to engineer a meeting with God; in fact, it is impossible for us to do so. He also said that spiritual practices are often a form of works-righteousness, an attempt to earn God’s approval.

In order to engage in spiritual practices or to teach them to groups, we must think clearly and theologically about the ways spiritual practices contribute to Christian life, and we must be very certain that we are not attempting to control God or trying to work our way to God. Henri Nouwen’s metaphor about the well in the desert is helpful in that regard.

When we experience that joy of being beloved, it’s like water in the desert. We taste it and touch it, and we want more. Spiritual practices – many ways of engaging with the Bible, many ways of praying, and many other practices like attending church, small groups, Sabbath keeping, fasting, journaling and hospitality – are ways that we act on our desire for more of God’s presence. We draw near to God because we are loved, not to prove ourselves worthy of love or to get God to do our bidding.

Nouwen continues,

The word ‘digging’ might not be the best word since it suggests hard and painful work that finally leads me to the place where I can quench my thirst. Perhaps all we need to do is remove the dry sand that covers the well. There may be quite a pile of dry sand in our lives, but the One who so desires to quench our thirst will help us to remove it.

Spiritual practices help us return to the well over and over. They help us remove the dry sand. And, as Nouwen points out, the “One who so desires to quench our thirst” helps us return to the well and remove the dry sand. We don’t engage in spiritual practices apart from the God who loves us, calls us to draw near and empowers us to do so. This perspective on spiritual practices is essential.

Questions for reflection:

1. Think of a time in your life when you felt beloved. Who was the one loving you? What were the factors that help you feel beloved? Draw the situation or write a few words to describe it. Sit with that belovedness for a few moments.

2. Think about the spiritual practices you engage in: going to church, attending a small group, forms of Bible study, forms of prayer, other spiritual practices. To what extent do you engage in those practicesbecause you are already beloved? Which ones help you feel beloved while you do them or afterwards? Ponder the reasons behind these patterns.

3. If you could bring a spirit of belovedness into your spiritual practices, what would it look like?

(This is the first post in a series on quotations I love. Next week: my ponderings on a quotation by Rick Warren about compassion for people whose lifestyle you disagree with. Illustration by Dave Baab. Part of this post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Previous posts that discuss spiritual practices:

     Open Hands, Open Hearts    
     Spiritual Practices for the Easter Season         
     Do not ride in the car with Lynne                   
     When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus         
     Of clouds and attentiveness         
     Hearing God’s voice        
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices         
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2

I’ve also written numerous articles about spiritual practices which are available on the articles page of this website.

Worshipping God the Creator: Creation speaks and Creation helps us give thanks

Wednesday August 24 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: Creation speaks and Creation helps us give thanks

(Much of this series on worshipping God the Creator is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife. The kindle edition of the book is currently on sale at amazon.com for $2.99.)

I want to close this series on worshipping God the creator with my all time favorite hymn about Creation. It was written more than 300 years ago by Joseph Addison (1672-1719), and its age goes to show that God was speaking through nature a long time ago, just as God continues to speak now. (You can listen to it here.)

This hymn is a poetic paraphrase of the opening verses of Psalm 19. First the sun speaks, then as night falls, the moon and stars “take up the wondrous tale.” The exultant finale is the overall message from the skies, the content of the "wondrous tale": “The hand that made us is divine.” Whenever I sing or hear this hymn, or even just read the words, I find myself praying, “Yes, Lord God our Creator, I’m listening to the voice of nature speaking so clearly. You made such a beautiful earth and sky. Thank you.”

If you're not a lover of hymns, you can approach this as a poem, which of course it is.

The spacious firmament on high,
with all the blue ethereal sky,
and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
does his Creator's power display,
and publishes to every land
the work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
and nightly to the listening earth
repeats the story of her birth;
whilst all the stars that round her burn,
and all the planets in their turn,
confirm the tidings, as they roll,
and spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
move round the dark terrestrial ball;
what though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found;
in reason's ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
for ever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”

I want to give you a bonus hymn, another favorite hymn of mine and another beautiful poem, written in 1864 by Folliot S. Pierpoint. (You can listen to it here.) The progression of logic in this one is also worth noting: the poet thanks God for the beauty of the earth in the first two stanzas, then moves on to thank God for our senses that enable us to perceive the earth’s beauty.  Next he thanks God for human love and the church, and then lastly for God’s precious presence with us and love poured out on us.

This hymn captures the reality for so many of us. If we stop our frenzied productivity and busyness for a moment, we can then notice something beautiful about creation. We thank God for it, and then, if we stop our busyness a bit longer, we easily move into thanking God for other gifts of daily life, and ultimately for God’s great gift of love and presence. This sequence illustrates the way we depend on nature to jump start prayers of thankfulness and praise. Praise God for the beauty of creation that helps us in this way.

For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

 

This is the last post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         
     Bill's story        
     Co-creators with God        
     Two quite diverse stories         
     A powerful quotation, some scriptures and a hymn    

(Next week I begin a new series: "Quotations I love." I'll begin the series with a quotation by Henri Nouwen from the Life of the Beloved, which illustrates that knowing we are beloved is the foundation for spiritual practices, and in fact for all we do as Christians. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Worshipping God the Creator: A powerful quotation, some scriptures and a hymn

Wednesday August 17 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: A powerful quotation, some scriptures and a hymn

Ron Sider writes:

“You and I have a problem – in fact three problems. The environmental crisis is not a silly fiction created by mad scientists and political demagogues. There are dangerous holes in the ozone layer. Our waters, soil and air are polluted.   . . . But we have a second problem. Some of the people most concerned about the ecological dangers tell us that historic Christianity is the problem. We must, they tell us, reject the biblical teaching that the Creator is distinct from the earth and that people alone are made in the image of God. . . . Australian scientist Pete Singer says that people are no more important than monkeys and mosquitoes. To think that we are more important is 'speciesism.' Fortunately, biblical Christians reject this theological nonsense. But then so often we turn around and worship the earth in a different way. By the cars we drive, the houses we purchase, the affluent lifestyles we live, we show that we really worship the god of materialistic consumerism. That’s our third problem.”[1]

Ron Sider wrote those words in the mid 1990s. It’s interesting to think about what he might say differently right now about environmental issues we should focus on. Despite some of the specifics in the quotation being out of date, his major points are still true.

Here are some scriptures that have spoken to me as I have contemplated worshipping God the Creator:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1).

The Spirit of the Lord has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4).

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3).

I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination (Jeremiah 2:7).

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you (Deuteronomy 8:7-10).

Here is a hymn written in 1822 by Henry Ware, Jr. (You can listen to it here.) Note the progression of the logic: creation praises God with its voice, a kind of creation-based music, and in the same way our music should call us to praise.

All nature’s works His praise declare, to Whom they all belong;
There is a voice in every star, in every breeze a song.
Sweet music fills the world abroad with strains of love and power;
The stormy sea sings praise to God, the thunder and the shower.

To God the tribes of ocean cry, and birds upon the wing;
To God the powers that dwell on high their tuneful tribute bring.
Like them, let us the throne surround, with them loud chorus raise,
While instruments of loftier sound assist our feeble praise.

Great God, to Thee we consecrate our voices and our skill;
We bid the pealing organ wait to speak alone Thy will.
Lord, while the music round us floats may earth-born passions die;
O grant its rich and swelling notes may lift our souls on high!

 

This is the twelfth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           
     Voluntary simplicity in action         
     Bill's story        
     Co-creators with God        
     Two quite diverse stories         

(Next week: the last post in this series about worshipping God the creator. Part of this post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Ron Sider, “Tending the Garden without Worshipping It,” The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons on Caring for Creation, Stan L. LeQuire, ed. (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1996), p. 30.

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