Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Do not ride in the car with Lynne . . .

Saturday November 7 2015

Do not ride in the car with Lynne . . .

unless you want to get the occasional lecture . . .

or maybe it was a sermon.

Here’s what happened this past Sunday on the way to church. My husband, Dave, has been studying Jeremiah. Soon after we headed out, he said, “Jeremiah talks so much about idolatry. The Seahawks are playing this afternoon, and so many people will be glued to their big TV screens. I find myself wondering if there isn’t a lot of idolatry going on today, just like in Jeremiah’s time.”

“Wondering?” I burst out. “You find yourself wondering? I don’t wonder about that at all. I know for sure there is a lot of idolatry going on. The challenge is how do we recognize it, receive forgiveness from God for it, and then combat it as much as possible in our daily lives. All of these depend on spiritual practices.”

Then I kept talking. I had three main points, which I’ll outline here. (See, it was like a sermon!)

1. Many spiritual practices help us recognize our own idolatries. I wrote last week about letting fear, ego and ambition drive the bus, and I wrote about practices that can help us figure out who is driving our bus and how to switch drivers. I recommended what I call “the basics of the Christian life”: weekly communal worship, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer. I also recommended journaling, prayer partners, spiritual direction and silence. In the car on Sunday, I gave Dave a brief synopsis of my post last week.

2. Then I talked about forgiveness. Often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. We so often have compassion on others, but not on ourselves. God’s tender, forgiving love for us is so great that the psalmist can write:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12).

If God’s love for us is as big as the skies, then shouldn’t we be able to accept that love, coupled with forgiveness?

I like the language of “do” for my besetting sins. “I’ve been doing overeating lately.” Not, “I’m an overeater” or “I struggle with overeating.” I’m not defined by my sins. Yes, I do counterproductive and stupid and even evil things sometimes, but God forgives me, and I start afresh. “Do” language helps me see myself as someone who screws up from time to time and as someone who receives forgiveness from God and then tries to live a holy and obedient life with joy. I am not a compulsive overeater; I just do it sometimes.

My typical idolatry is not the big screen TV with the Seahawks game on it. Mine relates to food and the self-loathing that I sometimes do after I overeat. But even self-loathing, something I do from time to time, does not define me. It’s just a slip into idolatry that God can forgive, and that I can learn to forgive as well.

3. If idolatry is rampant, then shouldn’t we be paying a lot of attention to other people’s idolatry? Should we be thinking and talking about where we see other people failing?

Jesus is pretty clear that our primary business is facing into our own sin:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3).

So that was my lecture/sermon in the car on Sunday morning. Idolatry is rampant but forgivable through God’s love and Jesus’ grace and the Holy Spirit’s power. Our spiritual practices shape us so we can more easily see our habitual forms of sin and receive forgiveness. Our language – “doing” sin rather than being irredeemably sinful – helps us live as God’s new and beloved creatures. And our primary job is to focus on our own sin, receive forgiveness and live a new life in Christ, rather than criticizing others for spending too much time in front of a big screen TV.

(If you’d like to receive an email update when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Photo credit: an article in the Daily Telegraph about a police officer who got in trouble for tweeting this photo. For those of you who know Dave, he’s NOT bald! And he doesn’t look as old as the man in the cartoon! But after we got to church, I found myself wishing that something or someone had covered my mouth.)

When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus

Friday October 30 2015

When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus

Way back when the world was young, I thought the actor Don Johnson was cute. So when I saw an interview with him in Parade Magazine last month, I read it. He talked about his latest film project and his daughter for most of the interview, but at the end the interviewer asked if there is anything in his earlier life he would like to change. Here’s his answer:

I wish I had become a little more aware of how full of fear, ego and ambition I was, and how I let a lot of that drive the bus.

I won’t detail all the ways that fear, ego and ambition can harm us when they drive the bus. I’m going to assume that you, like me, are trying to grow in letting other characteristics drive the bus. Those other, more healthy, bus drivers might include compassion for others and for ourselves, humility and peace. Perhaps the most significant bus driver should be God’s love.

How do we change bus drivers? I’d like to make a few suggestions for practices that encourage that change.

1. The basics of the Christian life: weekly communal worship, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer. The weekly discipline of attending church should remind us we are not God and Someone Else is. This is a key starting point that helps us change bus drivers. Fellowship with other Christians, studying the Bible alone and with others, and praying in many forms are essential ground-level habits that over time change our perspective and the foundation of our lives.

2. Journaling. So many people have told me that they are most honest with themselves when they journal. They say that journaling helps them face up to those moments when fear, ego and ambition are playing too big a role in motivations and behaviors. Many people have told me they like to write their prayers in their journal. Writing out prayers slows them down, they say, enough to pray longer and more deeply. And as I said in #1, prayer is essential in changing the perspective and foundation of our heart in part because it focuses on attention on God, rather than on the things that drive us.

3. Prayer partners in pairs or groups. I’ve been in women’s prayer groups for 25 years. My first women’s prayer group is still going (with some changes in members), and when I’m in Seattle I attend as faithfully as I can because the level of honesty and support there is remarkable. Honesty coupled with support is powerful in helping us change the orientation of our heart.

4. Spiritual direction. Here I’m referring to the formal relationship with a spiritual director, with whom you meet regularly, usually once a month. A spiritual director is tasked with helping us see God’s hand and God’s presence in our lives. In other words, he or she helps us pay attention. And where we direct our attention plays a big role in who drives our bus.

5. Silence. In The Cultivated Life, Susan Phillips writes about a man who told her that showering turns his heart toward God. When he showers, he can’t work and he can’t be interrupted, so he prays. Many people engage in a structured spiritual practice involving silence, such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer or mindfulness meditation. Others find moments when they can’t work and can’t be interrupted, perhaps in the car, while walking, before sleeping at night or first thing in the morning. Or showering! Silence, with no work and no interruptions, can make space for us to pray honestly about the inner and outer forces in our lives.

What or who drives your bus? What helps you move away from letting fear, ego and ambition drive the bus? What do you wish could be your bus driver? God’s love? Something else? What helps you change drivers? 

(If you'd like to receive an email alert when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Of clouds and attentiveness

Tuesday February 17 2015

Of clouds and attentiveness

A couple of years ago, in a moment of air-headedness, I ran my car into a post in a parking lot. The wheel well collapsed into the wheel. After calls to our insurance company and a body shop, I found myself in the cab of a tow truck.

I asked the driver, a man about 40 years old, where he was from, and learned he had been born and raised in the same suburb of Dunedin, New Zealand, where he now lives. I asked him if he had lived anywhere else, and he said he had spent a few years in Brisbane, Australia, where the consistently sunny weather drove him crazy.

He said he likes the rapid changes in weather that we experience here in Dunedin. “Just look at that sky,” he enthused. “It’s gorgeous. All those clouds. That’s what I missed in Brisbane.”

I glanced at the sky. “All those clouds” were, from my point of view, gray and drab. Admittedly, I was probably a bit shell shocked from hitting the post and hearing that awful crunch of breaking plastic, but it was not the sort of sky that I could imagine getting enthusiastic about.

The driver dropped me, and my beleaguered car, at the body shop. I picked up a loaner car and made my way home. At the first stop light, I looked at the sky again. I noticed the variations in the shades of gray within the towering clouds, and the small peeks of blue sky and yellow light around the clouds. The tow truck driver had been right. The clouds were beautiful. In order to see the beauty, I needed to look closely.

A Jewish Sabbath prayer goes like this: “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.” I don’t know if I’m better at sightlessness than other people, but I do know I’m exceptionally good at it.

The Sabbath has been one spiritual practice in my life that has slowed me down enough to look at the beauty of the world God made and at the miracles God continues to perform. I don’t think it’s any accident that the Jewish prayer about walking sightless among miracles is a Sabbath prayer. I’ve written a book and a lot of articles about sabbath keeping, enabling me to reflect on that particular spiritual practice as a way to be more attentive to God’s world and work around me. I still keep a sabbath, and it has been one of the joys of my life.

In the past few years I’ve been broadening out to consider other spiritual practices that encourage attentiveness and mindfulness:

  • The intentional practice of thankfulness.
  • Pausing to take a deep breath, then focusing on my surroundings for a few moments.
  • At the end of each day, looking back over my day for signs of God’s presence (the prayer of examen).
  • Saying grace at meals in a way that is not perfunctory but actually involves a few moments of attention to the smells and look of the food I’m about to eat.

Lent begins this week, and Lent is a great time to try a new habit or pattern or practice to help us draw near to God. This idea of attentiveness or mindfulness isn’t new for me, but I still need it desperately. I need the joy and peace that comes from seeing God’s gifts and God’s hand in my life. For Lent this year, I’m going to focus on attentiveness.

Here’s my question of the day: what helps you notice God’s goodness surrounding you?

(To receive an email update whenever I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under “subscribe.” This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering voices.)

What is hope?

Tuesday February 10 2015

What is hope?

In the second half of 2011 I did a private research project. In the midst of academic research and writing, I explored the role of hope in my life.

Between mid 2010 and early 2011 I was sick for many months, and no one in the medical community could figure out what was going on. On March 7, 2011, some of the elders of my church prayed for me, and I had a miraculous healing. (That’s another story. Perhaps someday I’ll tell it on this blog.) After I got better, I realized the months of not feeling well had robbed me of hope, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back. In fact, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it is.

So I began watching for the word “hope” in books, conversations, sermons, prayers and the Bible. I began asking friends where and when they experience hope. As I listened and pondered, I could hear hints of two kinds of hope: hope for life after death and hope for daily life on earth.

I realized I don’t have any trouble with hope for heaven. We have hope that after we die, we will have new bodies (I Corinthians 15:35-49), our tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and we will live with Jesus forever (Revelation22:4). For some odd reason, that form of hope has always been very alive and real to me.

But surely the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13) also wants to give us hope for the days of our life on earth. The months of not feeling well had pretty much wiped that out for me.

So I kept listening, reading and thinking. I heard people use “hope” to describe a sort of vague wish. That wasn’t the kind of hope I was longing for. I heard people use “hope” in relation to upcoming events and plans they had, sometimes with a strong confidence that I admired and wished for. Increasingly I could see that hope is rooted in confidence. But where does that confidence come from?

At the same time as my informal research about hope, I was doing academic research involving interviews about listening. (That research resulted in my book, The Power of Listening.)  Many of those interviews touched on the need for improved listening skills because of the decline of the church in Western countries. Two people said almost identical words in interviews: “I have so much confidence in the power of the Gospel.”

Their words brought many of my thoughts together. Where does confidence about the future come from? From the power of God, which we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our only hope for the distant future, for life after death, but Jesus is also our only hope for today and tomorrow. God has blessed me with so many good things all my life, and I can have confidence that God will continue that blessing the rest of today, tomorrow, next week and next year. Sure, that blessing isn’t always an experience of pure joy. Even in the hard times, God is present, giving the comfort of companionship and the redemption of pain. (I recently wrote a post about this wonderful reality.)

What more confidence do I need? What more do I need as a foundation for hope?

“In Christ alone my hope is found.” It sounds simple, even simplistic, but that statement sums up six months of pondering. (It’s from a praise song by Stuart Townend that I mostly, but not entirely, like.) Before my pondering, when we sang those words in church – In Christ alone my hope is found – they made no sense to me. Now they seems like a profound truth. Thank you God, for meeting us in our questions and searching. And thank you for the precious gift of hope.

What gives you hope? Where is your hope found? What spiritual practices help you experience hope? Lent begins next week, and these questions are a good foundation for thinking about doing something different or special during Lent.

(If you'd like to receive an email notice when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

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.”)

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