Tag Archives: Maturity

The Path to Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Our friend Tony Harris published a book this past year entitled FADS Marketing. Tony is an expert marketer and his book is a fascinating insider’s view of the world of big marketing. The book opened my eyes to the way I am being sold a bill of goods every day with regard to food, alcohol, drugs, and sex (F.A.D.S. Get it?). If I’m blind to it and if I’m not paying attention, then I will fall for it over and over and over again. What big marketing does is take the field of my basic human appetites and then sows discontent.

Contentment is a recurring theme in Paul’s later writing. I find it interesting that it seems to have become a more important topic the further he got in his own spiritual journey. He takes a rather balanced approach. “I know what it is to have plenty,” he writes, “and I know what it’s like to be in need.” In either circumstance, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves (because it can change rapidly in ways we don’t control), we should seek to be content.

That’s hard to do if I’m blind to the fact that every advertisement and marketing ploy (and they’re all over the place) is trying to stir my appetites’ discontent until I have what they tell me I want and need.

The further I get in my life journey the more I find myself pursuing contentment. I’m not perfect at it by a long shot. I confess that. Like most paths to growth and maturity, the road to contentment often finds me repeatedly taking one step forward before falling two steps back. Looking back, however, I can see the progress. More and more the things of real value to me are relationships, conversations, laughter, time, quiet, a shared meal, life together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again honestly taking inventory of my wants and also taking inventory of my haves. Along the path to contentment, I’ve discovered that if I focus myself on gratitude for, and enjoyment of, the latter then the former takes up less room in my heart and mind.

And so, I contentedly enter another day of the journey.

“All Kinds” on “All Occasions”

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Ephesians 6:18a (NIV)

Among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers we have a small army of individuals who are both passionate and gifted in the spiritual discipline of prayer. I admire and respect them greatly. I probably haven’t expressed that to them enough.

It was Paul who introduced the metaphor of the “Body” to describe the universal whole of all believers. The further I get in my journey the more I appreciate what an apt metaphor it is. Different systems operating with unique parts that make up one body. Each cell, structure, chemical, system, organ and appendage are necessary for healthy functioning, yet those cells, structures, chemicals, systems, organs and appendages are not interchangeable. In fact, some operate independent of one another because they simply don’t mix well, yet they are each necessary for the health of the whole.

In the same way each member has different spiritual gifts, callings, disciplines and abilities that contribute to the healthy functioning of the Body as a whole. Teaching and preaching has always been easy for me. It came naturally. I don’t even think about it, though I know the very idea of standing in front of a crowd and giving a message scares most other members of the Body terribly. Prayer, however, has been something at which I’ve had to work.

One of the lessons I’ve had to learn in my pursuit of developing the discipline of prayer is the very thing Paul encourages of all believers in today’s chapter: pray  on “all occasions” with “all kinds” of prayer.  I’ve had to learn that prayer is not just a rote prayer to bless a meal or the bowing of my head and folding of my hands kind of prayer (though those are both legitimate kinds of prayer). There is breathing prayer. There is singing prayer. There is the type of prayer that is simply an on-going, silent, inner conversation of my spirit with the Spirit. Almost any time I sit down and journal my thoughts, the words on the page naturally transition, at some point, into a written prayer to God. There are set hours of the day when I can “pray the hours” with thousands, maybe even millions, of other members of the Body around the world. There are “popcorn” prayers that blurt out from my system in an unexpected moment. There are prayers of confession, prayers of thanks, and prayers for and over others.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve come to embrace the truth that while some things are not areas of giftedness, passion, or bent they are, in fact, important for my health and spiritual whole. I have never been a naturally gifted athlete (I think I still have slivers in my butt from all the time I spent “on the bench” as a kid), yet participating in CrossFit has become crucial to my overall health as I age. Likewise, I’ve never been a gifted musician or singer, yet learning an instrument, participating on worship teams, and making a “joyful noise” have taught me many lessons and have played a huge part in my spiritual development and overall health. Prayer falls into the same pattern. I have good friends who are truly gifted and called to prayer in ways that, I confess, I sometimes envy. Yet prayer remains a core spiritual discipline that is necessary for my spiritual growth, maturity, and health. It’s simply something I must work at, learn about, and develop.

This morning I’m thinking about my prayer life. It is ever-present on the mental task-list of of my daily life journey. It is an area of my spiritual life that is in constant need of attention. C’est la vie.

And so, I’m going to finish writing this post and take a few moments to stretch my pray muscles and pray for you who took the time to read it.

Have a great day, my friend.

Note to readers: Occasionally people reach out to ask my permission to “share” or “re-post” one of my posts like this one. Please know you are welcome to share any of my posts at any time if you think they could be an encouragement to others.   – Tom

Grace in the Journey: Given and Received

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
Romans 15:1-2 (NIV)

Annoying to be around. That was the bottom line. Abrasive, abrupt, and usually off in left field in most matters. I can still remember the silly arguments and petty details that occupied this person’s thoughts and conversation at, seemingly, all times. It was hard not to roll my eyes and want to head for the nearest exit when the mouth opened and the judgmental, legalistic rhetoric began to flow. Nevertheless, this person was a sincere follower of Jesus. Truly, despite all the annoyance. And, this person was a part of my local community of Jesus’ followers.

Sometimes the Message is ill-served by the way early scholars divided it into chapters and verses. One of the best study tools I’ve experienced is to read the different books and letters without all the chapter breaks and verse references. It’s amazing what you see differently. When I’m reading a chapter-a-day, I can easily forget that today’s chapter is connected to yesterday’s chapter as well as being a lead-in to tomorrow’s chapter. When I read it in prescribed, daily chunks it’s easy to lose context.

Today’s chapter is like that. In yesterday’s chapter Paul addressed the conflicts that can arise because of differences in culture, background, heritage, and traditions. People from different tribes have all sorts of differing, non-essential rules about food, clothing, special days, rituals, and the like. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but they’re by no means essential to being a follower of Jesus.

The first two verses of today’s chapter are really a summation of yesterday’s chapter. Paul ends this conversation by saying that those believers who have the grace and maturity to see that all of these rules, customs and traditions don’t matter to God, should bear with those who do. We could argue about it, get self-righteous about it, and then watch the emotions escalate as the conversation sinks into anger, name calling, discord, division, and even to hatred. Paul urges the mature believer to graciously channel the fruit of Holy Spirit towards those who are stuck in their traditions and rituals: love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

In my memory banks this morning are a number of fellow believers, like the one I described at the top of this post, who I’ve shared part of my journey with in this or that community. I’m seeing their faces and laughing to myself at some of the memories.

In the quiet I am also reminded of my own immaturity, particularly in the early years of my spiritual journey. I confess that I have my own annoying quirks and have, through the years, embraced my own share of non-essential, petty thoughts as well as silly moral or religious causes. I have very specific memories of me being the source of rolling eyes and bit tongues. Now, in hindsight, I can appreciate the forbearance my elders and peers showed me in loving, kind, patient, and gentle fashion. Thank you for that, if you’re reading this.

I’m on this journey with every other person who is on their own respective journey. Each of us are having our own conversation with Life. Grace (undeserved and unearned favor) is required. Sometimes it’s required that we receive it. Sometimes it’s required that we give it. It’s the only way we’ll successfully reach our destination together and progress to that which is beyond.

Forever Young Maturity

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness,have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
Romans 9:30-32 (NIV)

A few years ago our daughter, Taylor, was living in a Catholic Worker commune. Her fellow residents and the people “The Worker” served each day came from some very different realities than those in which Taylor grew up. One weekend when she was visiting with Wendy and me she shared about a moment of realization listening to all these people who were living on the razor’s edge with no safety net and no back up. There was no “Plan B” if the shit hit the fan.

I realized,” Taylor said, “that I will never know this reality. I have a huge safety net, people who love me, and I will always have a safe place to go.”

When Taylor and Madison were in the toddler phase of life, they were suddenly introduced to all sorts of rules:

“Don’t touch.”
“That’s a no-no.”
“No! You never hit your sister.”
“I said, ‘Put the toys away. Now!'”
“Wash your hands before supper.”

In the toddler phase life is pretty black and white for a child. There is a seemingly endless list of do’s and don’ts, and parents add to the list incessantly. If you follow the rules life hums along relatively swimmingly, and if you don’t follow the rules you learn about parental wrath and punishment. For children, life feels a bit like a legalistic system of merit. Parents and authorities reward me when I’m good and punish me when I’m bad. From a parent’s perspective you certainly love your child no matter what, but I wonder how much a young child comprehends this when the merit system rules his or her existence.

As the girls moved into adulthood our relationship changed as they became mature in their understanding of themselves, their parents, and the world around them. They began to make their own decisions and had to experience the natural consequences of their words, actions, and decisions on their own day-to-day realities. As a father, I still desire for them to make wise decisions. I’m happy to provide advice if asked. Ultimately, however, they have to choose for themselves because it is the right choice, not because of their father’s approval or wrath.

At this stage of life, like Taylor’s observation at The Worker, I’ve watched the girls come to an understanding, now more than ever, that our love and support for them is ever-present, unwavering, and unconditional. They’ve learned the lessons of their childhood. They’ve matured.

I’ve always pondered the notion that God’s relationship with humanity across the Great Story is a bit like the natural human life-cycle. When God gave Moses “The Law” it was essentially the toddler stage of humanity. Things were simple, brutal, and messy. A simple black-and-white system of rules is what humanity in the toddler stage needed, what it could comprehend and understand.

The period immediately following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is essentially a major life change. If feels a bit like a rite-of-passage shift into a new relational reality between God and humanity made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial atonement. Paul’s letter to the Jewish followers of Jesus in Rome reads like a sage telling the young adult that it’s time to wake-up, and grow-up, into a mature understanding of their relationship with God. Gone are the toddler days of rule keeping, now it’s time to step out and start walking in the maturity of faith in God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and righteousness made possible – not because you kept the rules – but because God showed love for us in this: while we were yet knuckle-headed, foolish children who sometimes go our own way, Christ died for us.

This morning in the quiet I’m looking at a canvas I discovered under the guest room bed this weekend while Wendy and I were cleaning-up. It’s a little something Taylor made for Milo while she was pregnant. It’s now sitting next to my desk, and I think I’m going to hang it in my office while the kids sojourn in Scotland. It’s the words of a song I sang to her repeatedly at bedtime when she was a child. It’s the words of a parent’s faith, hope, and blessing to a child, anticipating that the child will mature into a person of wisdom, Godliness, and yet retain the one thing that Jesus said was, ironically, a prerequisite to a mature person’s entrance to God’s Kingdom:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Toddlers, rules, grace, love, maturity, wisdom, parenting, Taylor, Clayton, Milo, Maddy Kate, Garrett, Jesus, Bob Dylan, child-like faith. That’s what’s tumbling around in my heart and head on this Monday morning.

May you stay Forever Young.

Have a great week my friends.

Progress

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

When I began working out regularly this past June, one of my instructors asked me if I had any specific goals in  mind. Without hesitation I answered, “To keep showing up!”

I’ve continued to show up for five months now, and in the past few weeks I’ve received a handful of unsolicited comments from people saying they’ve noticed a difference in me. It’s always nice to hear an unexpected “attaboy,” and it gives a little extra psychological push to keep going.

Today we’re starting Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Just a couple of days ago as we made our way through his first letter to the Thessalonians believers, I called out verses in which Paul “urged” them to “more and more” live in a way pleasing to God and to love each other. I couldn’t help but notice that he starts his second letter with an “attaboy.” He calls out and recognizes the very things he urged them to do, saying their faith and their love for each other was “increasing” and “growing more and more.”

Visible, tangible progress.

Some mornings I spend time in the quiet meditating and pondering for some time what the Spirit has to say to me through the morning’s chapter. This morning the Spirit confronted me directly with this question: “Is my spiritual progress as evident as my physical progress?”

Certainly there is an ebb and flow to progress in this journey. Progress is always more evident in the early stages of a journey. The further I progress, the big, self-evident improvements give way to small tweaks in maturity. The small tweaks make a huge difference though they are not as evident to others as the early gains. And, along this journey I’ve discovered that progress does not happen at the same rate. I hit “set points” along the way in which I don’t feel as if I’m making any progress at all. I have to press on and persevere in order to experience the next breakthrough and realize further growth.

Nevertheless, the Spirit’s question is a worthwhile one. Late in his own life journey, Paul writes to his protegé, Timothy: “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.” (1 Tim 4:8 MSG)

And so, this morning I’m taking a little inventory. Where am I physically? Where am I spiritually? Where am I mentally, emotionally, and relationally? Am I making progress? Am I slogging through a set-point? Am I resting in anticipation for the next push? Am I regressing?

All good questions for me to mull over as I head to work out this morning.

Thanks for “showing up” this morning, my friend. Have a great day.

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Note to my regular readers:
Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is  spending most of an entire year (Sep ’18 through Jul ’19) studying the book of Acts. In conjunction with this study, I’ve decided to blog our way through all of Paul’s letters in chronological order. The exact chronology is a matter of scholarly debate. We began with Paul’s letter to the believers in the Asia Minor region of Galatia, then proceeded to his first letter to the believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Today we’re moving on to his second letter to the followers of Jesus there. Many scholars think these two letters preceded his letter to the Galatians.
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Poured Out, Changed, Improved

“Moab has been at rest from youth,
    like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
    she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
    and her aroma is unchanged.”
Jeremiah 48:11 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoy wine with a good meal. We’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned some of the basics of pairing a wine with the food we’re eating and getting the most out of the wine we drink. Just last night I put a couple of beef filets on the grill and Wendy made some sweet potato medallions. We opened this big, bombastic Spanish red wine, a Cariñena. It was aptly named El Bombero, and its bold flavor was a wonderful compliment to the richness of the steaks.

One of the things I’ve learned about wine is that it changes after you uncork the bottle. In fact, some of the experts I’ve read believe that almost any wine will taste better if you “decant” it, or transfer it to a glass decanter, and let it breathe for an hour or so before you drink it. Wine often has an initial sharp taste from being shut up inside the bottle for a long period. That sharp or sour taste smooths out, and the true flavor of the wine opens up when it’s transferred to another vessel and oxygen has a chance to work its natural magic.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic works is a message of condemnation for the ancient nation of Moab (located just east of the Dead Sea). Moab’s mountainous regions were known for their wine and vineyards, so Jeremiah leverages their wineries for the purposes of a word picture. The Moabites had not changed and had not been “poured out” into exile as other nations in the region had. But, Jeremiah’s prophetic word tells Moab she would be “decanted” when the Persian army came through.

As I pondered Jeremiah’s word picture this morning I meditated on my own life journey. One of the unexpected realities of my own journey is how much change I would experience as I reached this stage of life. When I was young I had this notion that a person sort of reaches maximum personal maturity somewhere in early adulthood and then just maintains. To be honest, I have observed fellow adults for whom this appears to be their reality. I had no idea how much, in my experience, the spiritual process of being poured out, matured, and changed is cyclical and perpetual.

Wine that stays corked, bottled up, and unchanged retains a sharp and bitter taste. I’ve observed that humans are much the same way. There is a benefit to wine being poured out, decanted, and allowed to patiently sit so that change can bring out the blessings of maturity and aging. So my spirit  benefits from a similar process as I continue on life’s road.

Initiative and Patience

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I’ve come to understand that progression in the journey requires a heady mixture of what, on the surface of things, seems contradictory ingredients. God asks me to develop both initiative and patience.

Jesus made it clear to any who would follow Him:  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Asking, seeking, and knocking are verbs. They are actions initiated by the one who is doing the asking, seeking, and knocking. I also find it fascinating that Jesus did not mention one, but three distinct verbs with slightly different metaphorical meanings. I have learned along my journey that I have to be proactive if I wish to make spiritual headway. God doesn’t give passing grades for simply showing up at class and warming a seat. If I want to move to the next spiritual grade level I have to fully participate in each lesson, assignment, experiment, exercise, and practicum. Initiative is required.

In today’s chapter, God speaks through the ancient prophet Jeremiah and foreshadows Jesus’ spiritual lesson. “Call out to me,” God says. Take the initiative. Pick up the phone. Give a shout. If I do, then an answer is promised. “Great and unsearchable things” of which I am ignorant.

In the rest of Jeremiah’s message God takes responsibility for the judgement on the nation of Judah, but then spends the rest of the chapter giving a vision of healing, restoration, redemption, and blessing. “Yes,” God says, “I am letting my children experience this hardship, but if they take the initiative to seek me out and have patience they will ultimately find that this has all been part of a much larger plan.”

This is where I find patience required. I started my spiritual journey following Jesus almost 40 years ago, and there are things I’m only beginning to learn and fathom as I approach the 40 year milestone (which is full of all sorts of spiritual significance in the Great Story). If I had bailed out early, there is so much I would have missed.

This morning I find myself thinking of the times as a parent that I earned my children’s wrath for doing what they could not, would not understand in the moment. They only saw the surface of things through the immature lens of their immediate desires. Meanwhile, as a father I was more interested in their long-term character and spiritual development than in making my child momentarily happy. Even as a parent trying to raise spiritually mature children I had to take the initiative to do what may have been unpopular in the moment and have the patience that my children would someday thank me for seeking what was best for them.

At this, the beginning of another work week, I find myself once again taking the initiative to ask, seek, and knock what God would have for me in the days ahead. And, I patiently press forward one step at a time.