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Lynne's Blog

Odd and peculiar?

Wednesday February 4 2015

Many of our extended family members think my husband and I are distinctly odd. Strange. Maybe peculiar.

Some of the things we do because we’re Christians seem baffling them. We keep a Sabbath, which appears lazy. In many cases, we pray about things before we act, which seems irresponsible and a bit wacky. We give away at least 10% or our income, which seems totally crazy. We refer to the Bible as God’s word and we love Jesus, which evidently mark us as unthinking and blind to the realities of life.

Not too long ago I came across the word “peculiar” as a positive attribute in the hymn, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.” The first verse of the hymn describes the extent of Jesus’ coming reign as encompassing all creation. The second and third verses describe widespread praise of God, and the fourth verse lists blessings humans receive when Jesus reigns. Then the fifth verse  invites us to respond to the good news that Jesus will reign and that his reign will be so wonderful:

“Let every creature rise and bring / peculiar honors to our king.”

When Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote the words to this hymn, “peculiar” could be used to mean particular or unique. With these words, he’s inviting all creatures to bring to God the offerings that are particular to their own gifts or attributes, the honors that they are uniquely able to bring. The verse is a wonderful call to pay attention to the unique gifts and characteristics that God has blessed us with and then bring to God our lives, our gifts, our abilities, and our praises in the utterly unique form that only we can bring.

I wonder if we would be wise also to think about “peculiar” in this verse as odd or strange, to think about bringing to God the offerings and honors that seem peculiar to the rest of the world. Practices like Sabbath keeping, tithing, prayer, Bible study and many other habits and patterns of life that Christians engage in seem bizarre, even incomprehensible, to many who do not know Christ.

Certainly the church of Jesus Christ needs to proclaim the gospel in ways that are culturally relevant. I worry, though, that we have become so culturally relevant that we are virtually identical to the wider culture. I think we need to speak up about the peculiar things we do because we are Christians.

I feel awkward talking about tithing, the fact that we give away at least 10% of our income. Shouldn’t that be private? I have come to believe that the fact that my husband and I tithe is one of the ways we proclaim with our actions that Christ is Lord of our lives to the people who know us. Specifically, that Christ is Lord of our money, which in Western culture is such a significant indicator of values.

I don’t like being told by family members that we are odd, strange or peculiar. That our faith has blinded us to the realities of life. That we are a bit brainless. But I do like bringing to Jesus the “peculiar honors” that I can bring, the unique and particular things I can offer. And if that means people view me as peculiar in the odd sense, maybe that’s a good thing.

Lent begins this year on February 18, and Lent is a great time to try a new faith-related habit that might look peculiar to others but that also might enable us to bring our own “peculiar honors” to God.

(This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you’d like to receive an email when I put a new post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under “subscribe.”)

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

Monday November 17 2014

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

I’ve been speaking and writing about the Sabbath for almost a decade, but I recently had an aha experience about Sabbath keeping in my life and its connection to other spiritual practices.

Much of my speaking and writing flows out of my own Sabbath observance, which is close to its 35 year anniversary. When we were young adults, my husband and I lived in Israel for 18 months. Our apartment was in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv, so everything was closed on the Sabbath day. Everything. We didn’t have a car, and the busses didn’t run, so it was a day with incredibly few options and a very slow pace.

For the first few months, we chafed at the sense of confinement, but later we relaxed into the rhythm of six days of activity and one day of vastly reduced options. When we returned to Seattle, we decided to adopt a Sabbath pattern of our own. Thirty-five years ago, Christians weren’t talking about the Sabbath at all, so some of our friends thought we were a bit weird.

Some people told us we were legalistic. We were stunned by their comments, because we had experienced the slow pace and reduced options of the Sabbath as a major gift that we wanted to keep on receiving. Sure, the fourth commandment calls for a Sabbath, but we never experienced it as an onerous command. We had learned to receive it as a gift, and we wanted to keep receiving that gift.

My recent aha moment came when I compared Sabbath keeping to having a daily quiet time. In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that a daily quiet time in the specific form of cognitive-based Bible study and intercessory prayer is a non-negotiable, something all Christians have to do. I have often tried to have a daily quiet time in that form, and I have succeeded only intermittently. I have felt a lot of guilt around my quiet time failures.

I think about my grandfather, who grew up in a family with a very rigid Sabbath practice. For his parents, a quiet Sunday Sabbath was non-negotiable, and little boys were forced to sit still for one whole day every week. My grandfather stopped attending church as a young man, and seldom darkened the door of a church for the rest of this life. Far from being a gift, for him the Sabbath was one of the factors that drove him from the church.

Encouragement to have a daily quiet time didn’t drive me from the church, but the guilt associated with my failure to measure up hasn’t done much to nurture my faith. Yet the Sabbath has taught me oceans about God’s grace and love for me. The Sabbath has been a factor in shaping me into a person who loves God, receives good gifts from God and tries to respond in faithful service. The Sabbath has helped me understand that my form of a daily quiet time needs to involve stillness and silence, not serious study of the Bible and not just intercessory prayer.

We call spiritual practices “disciplines” because they require an act of the will and persistent obedience. Yet it seems increasingly clear to me that the necessary discipline and persistence need to be rooted in receiving practices as gifts rather than as obligations.

My questions of the day: what Christian practices in your life feel like a gift? Do you perceive any ways they are shaping you?

(If you'd like to read some articles I've written on the sabbath, click here and scroll two-thirds of the way down the page. You'll find a half dozen articles about the sabbath. Here are links to my Sabbath book and my Sabbath Bible study guide. My book Joy Together has a chapter on communal Sabbath keeping. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe.")

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

Saturday July 19 2014

The Lord's Prayer and Spiritual Practices, part 2

As an adult, I have seldom prayed the Lord’s Prayer as a part of my personal prayer life, and I have not been in churches that use it regularly. Therefore, I simply haven’t thought of it very often. Earlier this year, a local minister asked me to preach as a part of his series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I please do a sermon on how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices, he asked. So I began pondering that question.

In my first post on this topic, I wrote about the invitation to intimacy conveyed by the prayer. In this post I want to ponder the intercessory portion of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 5:11-13, NRSV).

I’m struck, right off, by the simplicity of this prayer. In a consumer age, when we are assaulted by ceaseless advertisements designed to create desire, this prayer is lean and spare, focused on essential needs. These intercessions, recommended by Jesus, make me want to be sure my prayers are focused on what really matters – what I need – and not on what the consumer culture tells me I want.

Two spiritual practices that have helped me detach from the consumer culture the most are Sabbath keeping and fasting.* Keeping a Sabbath gives me a day off every week from striving, from pushing hard, from believing I am essential and necessary. That step back from my everyday life enables me to separate needs from wants more easily. Fasting – from food or from other things like entertainment media, electronic devices, or shopping – creates space for prayer and clear thinking and for understanding my need for God.

The Lord’s Prayer also indicates the high priority Jesus puts on forgiveness. In an age when many church worship services no longer include a confession of sin, we need to make time in our personal prayer life to acknowledge our sin to God. This can happen silently in prayer alone, in prayer times with family members or small groups, while journaling or walking or singing a song about forgiveness. Confessing sin with some regularity requires intentional effort in our self-focused world.

Jesus couples two things: asking God for forgiveness and forgiving others. The first is challenging, and the second is sometimes next to impossible, which reveals our need for God’s help. These requests in the Lord’s Prayer trigger in me an awareness of my deep need for God. I need God’s help to know how to pray and what to pray for, to grow in praying in ways consistent with God’s priorities and not centered only on my own desires. I need God’s help to face my sins and particularly to forgive others. I need God’s help to desire not to follow evil paths.

What are the spiritual practices in your life that help you acknowledge and express your need for God? Which spiritual practices help you take steps to forgive others? In what setting do you pray most readily for forgiveness? In what ways do your prayers reflect your own needs, and the needs of others, and in what ways do your prayers reflect your desires? Which spiritual practices help you resist the consumer culture? These are just a few of the questions I think about when I read or pray the intercessions in the Lord’s Prayer.

(*If you'd like to learn more about the Sabbath or Fasting, I've written a book on each of those topics: Sabbath Keeping and Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. I've also written numerous articles about those two spiritual practices, which you can find on the articles page of this website. The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 1, is available here. If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. )

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