Monday, November 30, 2009

Grace Received

Yesterday at church I was discouraged and annoyed at myself that I really slacked off on quiet time with God during the previous week when we were on vacation. I know that I really struggle with maintaining an established time when my routine changes, but it's not an excuse. Before communion, I was thinking about this and repenting for my lack of discipline. I hate that this happens so often and yet I am not sure how to change it. I know that God would be just fine with a few minutes here and there throughout the day and yet I can't even manage to do that some days. I feel like I am a slave to the first thing in the morning quiet time of prayer and reading. I act like if I can't do that, then I shouldn't do anything.

I was still thinking about this after communion when we were singing a song I hadn't heard before. The lyrics said something about having regrets followed by the chorus of "O how you love me". I so needed the reminder of God's grace and unfailing love at that moment and that's what I got. I was overwhelmed by the truth that God loves me despite my behavior. Nothing I do or fail to do will change how he feels about me! Sometimes I forget my need for grace, but I was quite appreciative of the reminder and the ability to receive it yesterday. Praise God for his endless supply!

Do you ever forget about your need for grace? Have you been blessed by God's faithfulness lately?

Life All-In With God

Yesterday was the last message of our Soul Revolution series. I missed the week before due to traveling, but you and I can both listen to it, as well as yesterday's message, here. Below are my notes from yesterday.

Soul Revolution Week 8 (so there were only 8 weeks after all)

December 11th: 60th day of the 60-60 experiment

How does an experiment like this end? God's desire is that it won't.

It's a matter of acquiring a new habit of thought. - Frank Laubach

We need to establish our own God reminders: in the car, bathroom mirror, cell phone, keys, fridge, laptop, etc.

Philippians 1:6 "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it on the day of Christ Jesus.
>He: God is in charge and in control
>who began: we are a work in progress; change to our hearts comes slow
>a good work: all that God does is good; Habakkuk 3:2
>in you: he has plans of good specifically for you
>will be faithful to complete it: God will not give up on us
>on the day of Christ Jesus: God's work in us will be completed only when Christ returns.
~Our gain did not begin the day we were born and will not end the day we die.

Therefore, we should not give up on our attempts to draw closer to God.

God's focus is not on good starts, but on complete games.

I really enjoyed the reminder that just because the experiment is almost over, does not mean we ought to revert to our old way of living where we think about God maybe once per day. I like that Jeff acknowledged that we may need to use something other than beeps and alarms to continue to cultivate this mindset. I have found that as the weeks continue, there are multiple times per day when I don't hear my watch beep. Obviously, I am becoming used to it and it's effectiveness is waning. I thought about other things I might do to remember to focus on God. Perhaps put a banner on my cell phone reminding me that God is with me - something to see whenever I look at my phone. Perhaps put a note in the car prompting me to pray each time I head out to somewhere. There are many things that can be done that will prevent me from a pray once and done mentality. I know that it is hard, but most worthwhile things are challenging. Habits are developed through repetition. If this is something that I really want, I have to be willing to put in the necessary work.

What about you? How do you remember to draw near to God?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

60-60 Post 5

On Sunday evening we had our small group. We talked about the chapters we had read along with how the 60-60 experiment was going. It has definitely been harder to be diligent about focusing each hour on God as the experiment has progressed. I know that I don't want to go back to not thinking about God once the 6o days are up, but I can definitely see that as a possibility unless I improve my focus now while I'm in it.

We talked about focusing on one area in our lives where we would like to improve. We talked about putting intentional practices in place to help us grow in this particular area. The area that I said I wanted to get better at was thinking of others. I do notice that I tend to spend a lot of time on what I want. I really do want to get better at thinking about how I can help others and in considering others' interests when making decisions about using my time and energy. I, obviously, can pray to be more sensitive to the needs of others and to have eyes open to see opportunities to help others. I also thought about memorizing scripture that pertains to being others-focused (Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others - Philippians 2:4).

This week's 60-60 challenge was quite pertinent. Chapter 14's challenge is to "pay special attention to how [God] wants to use you to meet spiritual and physical needs around you." We are to ask God to see the people we interact with through his eyes, write down the names of four people who seem far from God or disconnected from community and pray for them, and take risks by reaching out to those around us. Definitely all others-related.

I'm glad I am blogging about this because I had already forgotten about the "four people" part. I will be sure to spend some time thinking about others and praying specifically for four.

Related to this, I was talking with a woman on Sunday at church and she said that she was having a difficult time presently. I told her to give me a call (because there wasn't time nor place right then to have a private discussion) to talk about it. Yesterday I was reading Chapter 14 in Soul Revolution and it was talking about getting involved with others' lives even if you aren't sure what you are supposed to do. Pray for guidance and then act. After reading this part, I was reminded of the woman. I know that she usually leaves work on her lunch break so I thought it might be a good opportunity to meet her during her break to talk with her about what is going on in her life (as I don't work on Tuesdays). It was 11:30 a.m. when I had this thought so I called her and ended up leaving a message on her answering machine. I decided to wait around until about 12:30 to see if she would call back and accept my offer. I didn't hear back from her, but she did call in the evening and we had a chance to talk for a bit. I was grateful for the opportunity to step out in faith even though it seemed like it might be an inconvenience to my regularly scheduled program (my plans). God wants my obedience, which sometimes means sacrificing time, energy, etc. I didn't have to at this time, but I think he was proud of my willingness.

Developing a Spiritual Workout

I was in the nursery on Sunday, but I listened to the message yesterday. Jeff talked about how there are certain spiritual practices we should all develop, such as prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. However, the way in which we do these can be different and should correspond to how we best relate to God.

Gary Thomas wrote a book called Sacred Pathways that talks about nine different pathways in which a person may best relate to God. They are the Naturalist (draws near to God through nature), the Sensate (draws near to God through the senses), the Traditionalist (draws near to God through ritual and symbol), the Ascetic (draws near to God through solitude and simplicity), the Activist (draws near to God through bringing about social change), the Caregiver (draws near to God through caring for and serving others), the Enthusiast (draws near to God through celebration and mystery), the Contemplative (draws near to God through personal adoration and heartfelt devotion), and the Intellectual (draws near to God through his/her mind). North Point has the survey online where you can answer 45 questions to find out which is your strongest pathway.

I took the survey and found that I am pretty evenly Contemplative and Intellectual. It definitely makes sense to me. I like to read and journal. I would be interested to learn more about these particular pathways (the Intellectual in me). Jeff had mentioned trying to hold a two hour class to go more in depth on the pathways but I don't know if/when that will happen.

I did like the reminder that we all worship best in different ways. It's okay that I don't raise my hands and dance when we sing. And it's okay that others do. My focus tends to be on the words I am singing.

I would be interested to know what pathway you found to be your strongest when you took the survey. Feel free to post your answer in the comments section.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spiritual Inventory

Like I mentioned in the last post, one of the challenges from this last week/end was to take a full spiritual inventory. We were then encouraged to share it with a Spiritual Running Partner (aka accountability partner). Jill and I had both shared and confessed to one another when we first became accountability partners but that was a while ago and we both thought it would be good to go through the inventory to determine whether there was anything we may have inadvertently neglected to share.

Tuesday morning I sat down with my Soul Revolution book to go through the inventory. It asked me to write down five different headings under which I would write down whatever came to mind that needed to be confessed and forgiven (I figured I'd list everything including the things that had previously been confessed to be thorough).

The first heading was RESENTMENTS. Anything that I felt resentment toward - people, institutions, ideas - I was to list. It was an eclectic little list but not all that long. I guess that means I tend to do a decent job of forgiving others (my perception, could be inaccurate).

The second heading was FEARS. This was to include any childhood fears along with an explanation of why I am afraid. It also was relatively short but there was sort of an underlying theme of fear of rejection and/or humiliation. Interesting observation.

The third list was MORAL BEHAVIORS. This is anything that was against God's will - lying, cheating, sexual impurity, greed, revenge, etc (check out Galatians 5:19-21 for additional items that could be included). This list ended up being the longest along with the one about which I felt the most shame. Talking with Jill, these are the things that society tends to condemn the most. Fear (not trusting God), resentment (unwillingness to forgive), pride, selfishness, etc - none of those are really seen as sinful in our culture. "Getting what's yours" (selfishness) is definitely seen as acceptable behavior.

The fourth list was PRIDE AND SELFISHNESS. We were to think about where these two issues have hurt others or separated us from God - acted unloving or hypocritical. I know that selfishness is a definite struggle as is pride. It's really hard not to struggle in a "me first" culture. This is one area I definitely want to grow in and am willing to admit that I fall short of "loving others as yourself".

The fifth list was RELATIONAL/EMOTIONAL STRUGGLES. When writing down people's names, we were to write down the feelings associated with their name (fear, anger, shame, guilt, envy, etc). This list was surprisingly short yet brought up the most emotions when discussing it with Jill. I guess because I do value relationships and don't want there to be any issues.

Looking over the list, I was reminded of when I was younger and had a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Sure I had lied and cheated, but I had not committed any sexual transgressions or participated in illegal activities (drinking or drugs) so I was a-okay in my mind. Definitely a Pharisee-in-training. I was able to justify any sin as "not as bad" as some others that I could have committed. I had my own sin rating system (which, unfortunately for me, God does not have or endorse). Praise the Lord for helping me to see myself as I truly was - a sinner like everyone else in desperate need of a Savior! Now, seeing everything that I could think of written out has reinforced my need for grace. It was a very humbling experience that really helped me to see myself as I am and how much I need God in my life. I am thankful that some of the items on the list are no longer struggles. I also see how much I need to grow and know that, if I stay connected to God, he can change me in these areas.

Having seen what you are supposed to write and then share with another person, I'm sure you can understand how difficult this can be. It requires extreme vulnerability. Even knowing that Jill already knew most of this, it is still hard to place yourself in a position to be rejected, judged, or condemned. We have established a strong enough relationship that we knew neither would do that to the other. Still, it wasn't easy to share. Knowing that we were both confessing was beneficial because both were required to be vulnerable. And it was a great opportunity to demonstrate acceptance and love to one another.

The best part about our sharing, was the conversation about which parts were hardest to share, where we wanted to change and the prayer at the end. I love praying with Jill! It is so encouraging to hear someone pray for you and to be able to pray for another person. I was so refreshed afterward. Yes, we both left with a "things to do" list but it helps knowing that she supports me and it definitely challenges me to do what is needed because I know she will follow up to see how I'm doing.

Do you have someone with whom you can be completely honest? If so, isn't it freeing to be able to just be and not have to put up a front? If not, would you like to have someone like this? Pray that God would bring that someone into your life. He is faithful!

How People Change

Adam and I were out of town for this past week's Soul Revolution. However, I was getting together with my accountability partner/friend Jill on Tuesday and she wanted us to share our Spiritual Inventories (which was a part of Sunday's message) so I decided I had better listen to the message before we got together. (I also needed to do the inventory so I had a busy Tuesday morning). So I listened to it and took some notes that I will share with you. Feel free to listen to it yourself here.

Soul Revolution Week 5

Spiritual Inventory
>Am I living as if my sins are the main event rather than God's work and grace on my sins?
>Am I allowing my sins to label me?

This reminded me of a Stuff Christians Like post I had just read on Monday about focusing on our failures rather than our successes (I was doing catch up there as well). I recommend you check it out.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

1 Timothy 4:8 - spiritual workout
>Put spiritual practices in place so that when trials come, we will turn to God rather than responding with our old habits. (Spiritual practice info in next week's message which I will also miss due to being in the nursery but you will be able to find it at the church's website where this week's message is linked).
>Work out in community.
>We can have a greater impact as a group than as individuals.
>Spiritual growth is not a solo sport.

I did enjoy the message. Especially how it related so well to the SCL post the previous day. I definitely liked Jon Acuff's point that it is "NO CONDEMNATION" rather than "SOME or A LITTLE CONDEMNATION" that we sometimes tend to believe. Romans 8:1 is a verse that needs to be written on my heart.

If you are wondering what exactly the Spiritual Inventory is, check out the post after this for more information along with my experience with it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

60-60 Post 4

As I stated in my last post, I was out of town last week. Now, I suppose that really shouldn't affect the 60-60 experiment. But it did for me. See, I'm a routine person. When I get out of my daily schedule I struggle a lot with maintaining a quiet time and being purposeful about spending time with God.

Why does a new environment disrupt my usual fastidiousness? I think it has to do with what I perceive to be unwritten expectations. When I'm visiting someone, or someone is visiting me, I find it hard to justify hiding myself away for half an hour, especially when I'm the last one up in the morning. I feel like everyone is waiting on me so I shouldn't dawdle. Having or being company tends to mean squeezing in as much as possible into the few days we are seeing each other which also shuts the door on "me time".

Now, I know that God is present at all times (hence the 60-60 reminders) and that even short times of connection can be beneficial. I just really prefer that time of solitude. I'm an introvert so I have trouble focusing when there are other distractions. I can focus when I'm driving alone in the car, but if there's someone else with me, they usually want to talk or listen to the radio.

I did hear the beeps and did think of God's presence throughout the week. I admired the beauty of fall and the rolling landscape of the Shenandoah Valley. I just don't feel like there was anything that really stuck out. Probably the most interesting thing of the week was helping Adam's grandmother list her old couch on Craigslist. I took a picture and posted an ad on Wednesday. Someone contacted her on Thursday, stopped by on Friday, looked at it, purchased it and took it with her that evening. That's some fast response! I did not think that it would be such a quick sell.

So that was last week. How is everyone else doing?

What's Wrong With These People?

I apologize for the delay in new posts. I was out of town last week without regular access to a computer. So I will try to make up for it this week by giving updates on Soul Revolution.

On November 1, Neal shared with us a situation from his life that involved conflict in relationships and dealing with it. My notes do not talk about what he shared, just his closing comments. You are welcome to hear the whole message here.

Soul Revolution Message week 4:

Luke 23:34a "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
>What if we could pray this for those who have hurt us?

It's not just "them". It's me too. I also have sinned and need forgiveness. We are all broken and messy because of sin. Jesus was broken to put us back together again!

Lessons Learned:
>Don't avoid the situation.
>Follow the Matthew 18:15-17 way of handling conflict.
>I may not be able to change the situation, but I know that I can change how I handle/deal with it.

We are wounded wounders but God is calling us to become wounded healers (John Burke).

Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive or that you need forgiveness from?