Tested Faith is No Game


desert-cross-798493

(Today, my last full day in the Dominican Republic, I will spend at a remote Trappist monastery above Jarabacoa working on my book project on “Unhurried Time.” The quiet in this location is like a soft blanket on a cold morning. I’d be grateful for Your prayers that my heart and mind would be attentive to whatever God may wish to give me as I write. Thank you!

I fly out of Santo Domingo tomorrow afternoon and arrive at LAX midnight. I will unlike be able to approve or respond to comments them. Thanks for your patience.)

I appreciated hearing Emilie Griffin present at the “Jesus Way” conference sponsored by Renovaré in San Antonio, TX back in July 2009. I returned to my excerpts from her book, Clinging, and found this one:

“Yet we experience trials. We say they are tests, and so they are. Not that God is playing games with us. Far from it. Instead, as our love deepens and our capacities grow, He lets us share in the very reality that lies at the center of things. And we sense this growth as a cross. The stretching is painful. But in the letter of James, we are told not to think, ever, that evils are sent to us from God.” (Emilie Griffin, Clinging. New York: McCracken Press, 1994, p. 82)

When you experience seasons when you feel your faith is being stretched to near the breaking point, how do you feel towards God? How psalm-honest do you pray the truth of your heart to Him? Are you able to begin recognizing the realities to which He is awakening you?

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Waiting For Good Words


I was recently asked to speak to the staff of a Christian organization on the theme of affirming one another. Some of us struggle to share good words with others. It made me think about two words in the English language that literally mean “good words.”

The first is eulogy, rooted in the Greek. These are the good words we wait to say until the person is already gone. Would we be comfortable saying those good words to their living face? Sometimes perhaps.

The other word is benediction, rooted in the Latin. These are good words of blessing spoken in some church traditions, but usually only by official ministers who have received some sort of training or authority to offer such words. We don’t usually think of average person in the pew speaking words of benediction.

A statue of Lenin in Kiev waiting to be torn down (September 1991)

Do we really have to wait until the end (eulogy) or reserve for only special moments (benediction) the good words that we say? I remembered an experience that illustrates how hard it can be to speak good words to one another. In September 1991, I went with Chuck Miller to Kiev in the Ukraine. It was literally weeks after tanks rolled in the streets of Moscow and the Soviet Union was dissolving. We were there train about thirty future house church leaders there. John Guest, the Episcopal evangelist, had recently been in town and had hundreds if not thousands respond to the gospel in faith. It was his desire to provide leadership for these new believers in a city where there were very few Protestant Evangelical churches available.

One evening, Chuck was teaching on the command in 1 Thessalonians to “encourage one another.” It was one of our last evenings with these leaders. After talking about encouraging one another, he wanted them to try this on and gave them a few moments to apply what they had learned. An older gentleman, Sasha, who had been rather quiet through the training stood and, through the interpreter, told that that this was something they just didn’t do in the Ukraine.

What he was saying was that living under Soviet rule for a few generations where Christians were actively persecuted, they had learned that it was unsafe to offer any words of any kind to another since they did not know who they could trust. Chuck listened to what Sasha said, and then responded with what I think were God’s words of wisdom for the moment: “It is very, very hard when we have to choose between being Ukrainian and being Christian. Christians encourage one another. We see this practiced among the Christians in Thessalonica.”

So again, Chuck asked them to try on this practice that was very Christian if not very Ukrainian. At first, they stood and sort of looked at each other uncomfortably. Then, we saw one gentleman say a few words to another, which drew the response of a big bear hug and words back. Soon, the whole room was buzzing with what we assumed was much encouragement. It felt like water was being poured out onto long dry land.

What good words do you wish you would hear spoken by someone who matters to you? What good words is God inviting you to speak to another now, rather than waiting for a eulogy or assuming you’re not authorized to give a benediction?

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A Good Word: Maturity Isn’t About More of Me


I really enjoyed Eugene Peterson’s fifth book in his spiritual theology series, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up In Christ (Eerdmans 2010). It’s rooted in the book of Ephesians and on the theme of Christian maturity. So many good things, one of which is this:

“Christian maturity is not a matter of doing more for God; it is God doing more in and through us. Immaturity is noisy with anxiety-fueled self-importance. Maturity is quietly content to pursue a life of obedient humility. Christian worship is an intentional act of redressing the proportions, the priorities–from me work for God to God working in me, which is the Holy Spirit.” (p. 222-23.)

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Looking Back: Tested Faith is No Game


Today, I am enjoying the opportunity to lead “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” at Sunrise Community Church in Fair Oaks, CA, where I began in ministry and where Gem and I met, began dating, were engaged and married. What a gift to serve this community that so served me. I’d be very grateful if you would take a moment to pray for us that we will be enabled to enter in to all that God desires to give and to do in and among us today. (I’m also preaching both Sunday morning services at Sunrise if you happen to be in the area. I’m sharing a message from Ephesians 3:16-21 titled “Prayer: A Relationship With God.” I’ve really been enjoying that passage over the last year.)

By the way, I am in the process of exploring church hosts and partners for late 2010 and 2011 “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” events. If you have any interest at all in the possibility of hosting such a Saturday retreat at your church, would you get in touch with me so we can talk (alan@tli.cc or 949.951.5558). It would be a treat to serve your community, and perhaps other churches in your area who might be open to partnering in such a day.

For today’s post, I’m sharing a link back to a post from June 2009 about the gift of proven faith. How does God go about testing and more deeply rooting our faith in Him? I think you’ll appreciate this good word from Emilie Griffin’s book Clinging.

CLICK for “Tested Faith is No Game”

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Looking Back: Family Rhythms


It’s been a good week of retreat. Yesterday afternoon and evening, we reflected together on Psalm 139 then heard one another’s stories of how we have known ourselves beloved by God. It was amazing to hear some of the unique ways God has shown his love over our lifetimes. What a gift to be part of a spiritual family like this!

Today, I’m reposting a link from May 2009 when I shared an insightful word from David Robinson’s Family Closter about rhythms of family spirituality. Enjoy!

Click to read more of “A Good Word: Family Rhythms

Good Words for a New Year


The title of this blog post is the title of my sermon for the morning at Orange Coast Free Methodist Church. I’m preaching there through the end of February (except January 31). The dumb little speaker’s trick I used for the outline was B.E.S.T. (as in, what are the best words we can speak in 2010).

Blessing
Encouragement
Scripture
Thanks

In the “blessing” part of the message, I’ll be sharing a few scriptures I’ve used in the past as a word of blessing for my sons for for others:

May the Lord hold you in his hands
for all to see–
a beautiful crown
in the hands of God
[Paraphrased from Isaiah 62:3, NLT]

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
[Numbers 6:24-26, NIV]

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
[Psalm 20:1, 4]

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
[2 Thessalonians 3:16]

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
[1 Thessalonians 3:12-13]

May you grow and become strong in spirit.
May God fill you with His wisdom
And cause His grace to be upon you.
May you grow in wisdom and stature,
And in favor with God and with people.
[from Luke 1:80; 2:40, 52]

How might God be inviting you to speak words of blessing—good words—to the people in your life?

Preaching in the New Year


This Sunday, I’ll preach my first of eight Sundays at Orange Coast Free Methodist Church (the first four Sundays of January and the four Sundays of February). My friend, Shin Asami, has served this church for ten years as senior pastor, but is in transition to another position. This will be the first time in quite a while that I had a weekly preaching gig. I am really looking forward to it.

This first Sunday, I’ll share a few thoughts about the words we speak to one another. It felt like a good theme for a new year. And in that spirit, let me share a “good word” from recent reading and research on the theme of unhurried life:

“Humility is a very slow business if it is authentic. It’s another instance of a spirituality that is not in a hurry.” (Dennis Okhold. Monk Habits for Everyday People. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007, p. 71)

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A Good Word: Practicing God’s Presence


IMG_2722Yesterday, I had the treat of leading a couple of training sessions for InterVarsity leaders for the Greater L.A. area. Our theme was “Grace-Based Leadership.” It was a rich, powerful time.

One of the quotations I shared was from Frank Laubach, who was the last century’s Brother Lawrence in modeling a lifestyle of practicing the presence of God.

“Last year, as you know, I decided to try to keep God in mind all the time. That was rather easy for a lonesome man in a strange land. It has always been easier for the shepherds, and the monks, and anchorites than for people surrounded by crowds.

But today it is an altogether different thing. I am no longer lonesome. The hours of the day from dawn to bedtime are spent in the presence of others. Either this new situation will crowd God out or I must take Him into it all. I must learn a continuous silent conversation of heart to heart with God while looking into other eyes and listening to other voices. If I decide to do this it is far more difficult than the thing I was doing before.

Yet if this experiment is to have any value for busy people it must be worked under exactly these conditions of high pressure and throngs of people.” (Laubach, Frank. Letters by a Modern Mystic. Westwood: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1937, 1958, p. 56.)

Frank Laubach managed to live a lifestyle of a rich practice of God’s presence in the midst of a life of very active mission and ministry.

How do you sense God inviting you to remember Him in your life and work today?

A Good Word: Tested Faith is No Game


desert-cross-798493I enjoyed hearing Emilie Griffin speak at the recent “Jesus Way” conference sponsored by Renovaré in San Antonio, TX. I went back to some of my excerpts from her book, Clinging, and found this one:

“Yet we experience trials. We say they are tests, and so they are. Not that God is playing games with us. Far from it. Instead, as our love deepens and our capacities grow, He lets us share in the very reality that lies at the center of things. And we sense this growth as a cross. The stretching is painful. But in the letter of James, we are told not to think, ever, that evils are sent to us from God.” (Emilie Griffin, Clinging. New York: McCracken Press, 1994, p. 82)

When you experience seasons when you feel your faith is being stretched to near the breaking point, how do you feel towards God? How psalm-honest do you pray the truth of your heart to Him? Are you able to begin recognizing the realities to which He is awakening you?

Buy a copy of Clinging: The Experience of Prayer at Amazon.com