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

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.”)

An option for Lent: focus on growing as a listener

Wednesday January 28 2015

An option for Lent: focus on growing as a listener

Our ability to listen is not set in stone. We can grow as listeners. In the past five or six years, I’ve been reading, teaching and writing about listening. Everything I’ve learned indicates that listening skills can be developed.

Why might listening be a skill to focus on during Lent? Aren't fasting or trying to pray more often more typical Lenten practices?

Almost any Lenten practice is better than doing nothing. Maybe this is a year for you to try fasting from something different or praying in a new way. Those are great ideas. But if you’re wondering why I might recommend growing as a listener as a Lenten goal, here are my reasons:

1. Jesus was a champion listener, and one way to view Lent is an opportunity to be transformed a bit more into Jesus’ image. Read John 3 and 4 (or almost any section of the Gospels) and watch for Jesus’ ability to listen profoundly to all sorts of people.

2. Listening well puts us in a place of receptivity to the other person’s goals, desires, opinions, thoughts and concerns. In other words, listening well can help us engage with other people on their terms, which is an aspect of love. Growing in love lies behind any spiritual practice we might choose for Lent.

3. Listening well helps us grow in humility. Some degree of humility is necessary to go to the place of receptivity described in #2, but going to that place often also helps us grow in humility. It’s a bit of an upward spiral: humility helps us listen better, and listening well helps us develop humility further. Growing in humility is another important goal of all spiritual practices.

4. Listening well helps us see the image of God in others in way we could never have imagined. The unexpectedness of listening, the surprise of what we learn from it, seems to me to be a lovely reflection of the surprise of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Surely experiencing the Holy Spirit in new ways is a good goal for Lent.

If you’d like to set some listening goals for Lent, you might find ideas from some of the resources I’ve written to help people grow as listeners. A good number of these resources are posted here on my website. Here are two articles on:

And some blog posts about:

And there’s also my book, The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry.

I believe a Lenten commitment to pay attention to listening will bear lovely and unexpected fruit. The last few years of focusing on listening have been fascinating for me, and I’ve experienced lots of stimulating and unanticipated growth. And here's a reminder for this year: Lent starts in three weeks, on February 18.

(If you’d like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under “Subscribe.”)

Growing in thankfulness

Wednesday January 21 2015

Growing in thankfulness

Just over twenty years ago my husband and I began a habit that has changed the way we pray individually, with each other and in groups. At that turning-point moment, we decided to try to begin every prayer time with a few prayers of thankfulness.

At that time, Dave and I usually prayed together before bedtime a couple of times each week, and we had begun to notice that our prayers seemed repetitive, boring, and often desperate. It was a stressful time. Dave was deeply unhappy at his work. Our kids had entered adolescence, and we were baffled and frustrated by their increasingly challenging behavior. I had finished a seminary degree and was a candidate for ordination as a Presbyterian minister, but I basically still didn’t have a clear idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Dave and I began our thankfulness experiment. Some nights all we could manage was to thank God that we had food on the table and that the four of us were healthy.

A year went by, then another year. Our prayers of thankfulness blossomed even though my husband’s work situation became worse, our teenagers baffled us more than ever, and I experienced no resolution of my job questions. We were amazed by how many things we could notice for which we wanted to thank God: friends, extended family, our neighborhood, bursting flowers in the spring, colorful leaves in the fall, a comfortable home. Answers to prayer.

The specifics of daily life became more visible to us as manifestations of God’s care. We had always been thankful for food on the table each day, but now many more aspects of our life seemed to flow from the hands of a gracious and generous God.

We became more aware of what we had been missing in all those years of prayer times that were packed with our needs and wants. We simply hadn’t noticed God’s good gifts to us. Looking back, we felt a bit ashamed of the “give me this, give me that” orientation of our prayers before we began our experiment.

I began to pray more thankfulness prayers as a part of my own personal prayers. And I began to experience frustration when I prayed with others. I was an elder in my congregation, so I attended session meetings every month and one or two committee meetings in between. At our church, all committee meetings ended with a time of conversational prayer, and I began to notice how quickly the committee members dived into making requests of God.

I found myself thinking, This is the maker of the universe we are addressing! The giver of every good gift in our lives! And we have the audacity to come into the presence of this generous and gracious God without acknowledging our gratitude and our dependence? We launch right into a list of requests. What kind of brats behave like this? I got angry so many times in meetings that I finally began to take initiative. When the leader of the meeting would say, “Let’s spend some time in prayer,” I would immediately chime in, “Could we please begin with some prayers of thankfulness?” It became clear to me that in committees and other groups, we were able to see God’s hand in our midst more clearly when we regularly set aside time to notice God’s gifts and blessings.

Prayers of thankfulness enable us to see what God has been doing and where God has been working. Prayers of thankfulness help us to notice the specifics of God’s work and the patterns of God’s goodness in our lives and the lives of others. Prayers of thankfulness make us stop and look. We are missing so much of God’s work in the world because we don’t notice and because we don’t express our thanks.

Lent, which begins February 18 this year, is a great time to try new spiritual practices, and a new pattern of thankfulness prayers might be a lovely thing to try this year. To think about options for Lent, you might enjoy an article I wrote on “small” spiritual practices. The article has lots of practical ideas: Small Habits, Big Benefits.

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

Money, generosity and transformation into Christ’s image

Friday January 16 2015

Money, generosity and transformation into Christ’s image

Money was my father’s joy in life. He loved earning it, and he especially loved investing it and managing it. My bedtime stories in elementary school involved tales of how compound interest works and why it is so wonderful. Dinner conversation in my teen years involved lessons about the Fed and how its actions impact inflation. When I took economics 101 in college, I was bored out of my mind. Doesn’t everybody know this stuff, I wondered. Don’t their fathers teach them?

As you can imagine, my father’s teaching about money impacted me profoundly. In my teen years, I was very, very careful with money, tracking every penny I earned, spent and saved. After I became a Christian at 19, I learned that financial generosity is a part of Christian living. I learned that Jesus said we cannot serve God and money. I felt that my world view was being subjected to an earthquake.

I can vividly remember the first time I put a ten dollar bill into an offering basket. I was 20 or 21. The offering was being taken at a student conference, and it would go for student missionary work overseas. As I put the money in the basket, I felt as if my heart was being torn out of my chest.  

At 22 I got my first full time job. I felt led by God to tithe, to give away 10% of what earned before taxes. I had a very small salary, so 10% wasn’t a very big sum of money (a good thing), but it felt like I was breaking everything I learned from my father about money (a painful thing). Two years later, I got married. My husband and I made the same decision about tithing.

We have tended to give 5% of our income to our local church and the other 5% to friends who missionaries and to microloans through Opportunity International. For a period of time in the early 2000s, we had a much higher income than we had ever had before, so we gave away more than 10%.

I have learned that many New Testament scholars and theologians do not believe that the Bible instructs Christian to tithe. Perhaps not. But the regular and consistent giving away of a set percentage of my income has shaped me. I still enjoy managing money, just like my father taught me. But I see clearly that generosity with money (and with time and possessions as well) reflects the generous heart of God revealed in Jesus. I’m so grateful that the selfish and self-absorbed girl who once struggled to put $10 into an offering basket has been transformed into a woman who enjoys acts of generosity, at least some of the time.

Part of the reason why we can’t serve God and money is that focusing on money too much removes generosity from our hearts, and generosity is close to the heart of God. “For you know the generous act* of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NRSV). When we serve or worship money, we are not allowing ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ the Generous One. Tithing, more than any other thing I have done, has shaped me into a person who has moments of reflecting Christ’s generosity.

In addition, as my friend Steve Simon told me one time, God tells us to give because it builds our trust in God as our provider and because it keeps us from being enslaved to the god of More. I believe tithing sets up a structure that shapes us into people who trust God to provide and who resist the power of the god of More. At any time, a structure can become an end in itself and a source of pride and arrogance, and I’m sure in some cases tithing gets warped that way. However, if we tithe with the goal of growing in reflecting God’s generosity, increasing in trusting God and resisting the powers that tell us more is better, over the long haul this spiritual practice can be a significant source of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s been in my life.

Tithing is a spiritual practice or a spiritual discipline, and Lent, which begins February 18, is a great time to think about trying new spiritual practices. I encourage you to think about experimenting with a new spiritual discipline during Lent this year. You might enjoy an article I wrote entitled “I’m excited about spiritual disciplines.”

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

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