Friday, October 30, 2009

Secret Service

Years ago during cold and flu season, three in our household of four were ill. I rarely get colds, but back then I had felt heaviness in my chest for about 48 hours. One child had a bearish cough, and the other was lethargic, signaling yet another ear infection.

Sluggish, it was all I could do to get everyone ready, in the car, and drive to the doctor. While paying our doctor bill, I saw Rox, who worshiped at church with us. I must have had WEARY stamped on my forehead. I told him the doctor’s diagnosis: daughter had a ruptured ear drum, son had severe bronchitis, and I had pneumonia. His brows arched in concern.

By the time I bought prescribed meds and drove home, I literally collapsed with exhaustion. Right before my husband arrived from out of town, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and there stood Charlotte Owens, a woman from our church. Rox had told his wife Pamela about our wilting family.

Pamela and a few other women cooked a quick supper for us. To this day, my eyes grow moist when I think of that chain-reaction of care and kind service. For the next few days Dave and family pitched in to help. On either end of giving awaits a blessing, whether the giver or the receiver.

The spiritual discipline of service is lived out in biblical examples: a cup of cold water; Jesus acknowledging tax collector Zacchaeus; Martha offering hospitality; and King Jesus, kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet.

Service is deeply rooted in the discipline of submission, of placing others’ needs before our own. If you are a parent you have served. If you have a spouse, you have served. If you are a policeman, a sanitation worker, firefighter, judge, or other public servant, you have served.

It is not difficult to find someone to render a service to, but the challenge is to serve with genuine selflessness, tender care, and joy for the opportunity. Temptations may arise to brag about a service provided, to want recognition, or a pat on the back. Also, the “poor me” attitude can be prevalent when serving. We go ahead and do the act of service, but it’s served with a decanter of whine.

The greatest services are those offered with joy, those that never receive recognition. They are “hidden.” The servers do not expect applause or desire it. That servant-person can make 100 sandwiches in the middle of the night for firefighters and not seek any thanks or mention their kindness to family or friends. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness in front of men to be seen by them….but your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4).

Richard Foster in his book, “Celebration of Discipline,” lists these areas of service: do daily small things for folk; guard people’s reputations; allow others to serve you; extend common courtesies; be hospitable; listen well; and share the word of Life.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1153) said if we are to live the life of one who will lead others “what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” One can offer good leadership and authority and still be a servant. Jesus is the prevalent example of such a person. Our prideful nature may want the big job that comes with fanfare and glory. But it’s the daily sacrifices, the little things that add up to humility seeping into our lives in a small stream. Humility is one of the rewards of genuine service to others.

This week, join the “secret service.” Do for others and don’t mention it to a soul—ever. You might choose to sit quietly and listen to your spouse’s critique when your usual response is to offer a verbal defense. Or you could choose to halt gossip and save a reputation from a beating. Or make it your goal to extend common courtesies the entire week, on the phone, in the auto, and in your home.

Our loving Father is watching for the mothers who hold fevered children, for the dads who build character by their example, and for that secret service for a neighbor. He’s lining up the rewards, for here and hereafter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Humility to the Max

The CD player in the car is pumping out favorite music, and careless you forget to watch the speedometer. Flashing lights in the rearview mirror, signal time to pull to the shoulder of the road, submitting to a governing authority.

I’ve experienced several of these submissions. Long ago on the first day I drove with my new driver’s license, the standard Fairlane and I hopped and jerked across a road in front of a Conroe Police officer. The concerned officer wanted to know if anything was wrong. “Nothing’s wrong, officer—just not used to this clutch.”

We are called to submit every day to familiar faces and strangers. I witnessed an altercation in a parking lot the other day when one man on his cell phone walked behind a moving car. The driver gave a friendly honk and the walker exploded into expletives, which brought about words of challenge from the driver. After verbal sparring, the driver simply drove away and parked in a different area and went into the store. I later encountered him whistling. He gave up the fight, submitted, and seemed happier for it.

Submission is the topic this week. Our goals when practicing the spiritual disciplines is not to gain the discipline itself, but rather learn from the practice. If the discipline of silence is practiced just to be silent. It serves no purpose. If the discipline of submission is practiced to be more “religious” than others, then no one benefits.

Submission is simply a readiness to yield to another person, and it is probably one of the most difficult of all disciplines. People want to have the last word. Defend their actions. Make sure their way is promoted and practiced. The prevailing attitude is if you don’t agree with me, then I will not tolerate or consider any ideas from you. Arguments ensue.

Submission is based in self-denial. But self-denial is not rooted in hatred of self, rather it is deeply rooted in humility, giving others the benefit of the doubt, having an unassuming attitude, and dishing out understanding and grace in huge portions. A great lesson on submission was set forth when Jesus gave up his place with God, to become human and take on the task of imaging servant-God on earth. (Philippians 2).

The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus gave us an exact representation of God (1:3). It may seem strange to think of God as submissive servant, but serving is God’s most exact representation. His rain falls on the just and unjust. His power allows both the wicked and righteous to breathe in and breathe out, every second.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). When we become a servant like Jesus, willing to take last place, then we too are portraying God to our fellow travelers. Eugene Peterson says although Jesus spoke of a kingdom and a reign, he lived a life of service to others.

Submitting to just governing authorities may be the easiest area of submission because we can face fines or jail time for failures. Punishment is motivational. But submitting to those around us is often more difficult because pride has to sit down, selfishness has to back off, and egos, well, they need to go on vacation.

Off course there are limits to submission when lives are endangered or a God-trained conscience will be violated. Other areas of injustices should be prayerfully considered and confronted. Richard Foster says, “There is no such thing as a law of submission that will cover every situation.”

Something my husband, David, said helps us both to love and submit to each other. He says, “We’re both bright in spots.” We see the value in each other’s opinion and knowledge. And after 40 years of living together, we have just about learned to love each other unconditionally.

Practicing the kind of love God has for mankind will support submission to others: “But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit” (Psalm 86:15, MSG).

Lord, like you, help us to never give up on each other, but to hold each other in the highest regard because of your unfailing love to us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Alone with God

I sought out the Quiet Place on Abilene Christian University’s campus after weeks of hustle and bustle. In the foyer, a statue of a kneeling pray-er, with hands lifted high greets visitors, and the sound of trickling water gently soothes tired minds.

The small rooms are designed for those seeking a few moments of solitude and prayer. Soft lighting and simple furnishings invite busy people to a place of stillness, prayer, and listening. The memory of my hour of solitude lingers.

This week we’ll explore the spiritual discipline of solitude, derived from Latin and Old French meaning “alone.” Even in a crowd, one can be alone with their thoughts. Away from a crowd, distractions fade so that one can experience deepening awareness.

Many people fear being alone. They sabotage personal solitude through incoming sounds, news, and people. When was the last time you set aside a few hours to be alone and think about your life, your goals?

“Be still and know that I am God” is a directive from God to seek his presence (Psalm 46:10). Another settling scripture: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2). No longer a helpless infant, a weaned child learned to trust that his needs will be met.

To withdraw in solitude may mean that you plan to talk to God for a few hours or a few days. The voluntary absence of words should never be seen as ritual, but as a sacrifice to better listen in your spirit to God. Richard Foster calls this an “inward attentiveness” to God.

Often when we speak, we only hear our own words, blocking out other speakers and what is going on around us. An old proverb says, “All those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” Rather than a lengthy vow of silence a better discipline might be to speak in moderation, not overusing words, and thereby cutting out some of the noise for the people you break bread with, your companions.

Quaker Richard Foster suggests retreating in solitude four times a year for four hours. In silence, contemplate your life. Start the time with worship and prayer and then be silent. Take along a piece of paper and write down any thoughts that come to you. God may adjust the lens with which you view your life.

Some aspects of our daily lives lend themselves to solitude. Foster calls these “little solitudes.” Contemplate your day when you first awaken in the morning. Drink that first cup of coffee in silence without incoming news. Take a ten minute break in the afternoon before gathering with your family for the evening. Before you retire for the night, go outdoors, look skyward, and offer your evening prayers.

Jesus often went to a solitary place to pray, and one of my favorite prophecies about Jesus speaks about his being in tune with God’s work for him, “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isaiah 50:4-5).

This week, may God grant each of you solitude, awakened ears, and words to sustain the weary.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Simplicity-An Outward Discipline

Simplicity—a divine word if only it can be lived out. Sometimes, I dream of having a life-uniform that's wash and wear and mine would have an elastic waist. I’d have one pair of comfortable shoes (matching of course, have to give in to my girlie whims). I’d also like just enough living space to function successfully, add a couple of forks and plates and then I could live a simple life, right? Not necessarily.

This week, we’ll look at the outward Christian discipline of simplicity (based on an inward standard). A friend said, “I wish manufacturers would stop making all the stuff we don’t need.” But owning fewer things does not mean we are living simply.

The Bible neither endorses drastic denial of self or a self-absorbed pampered life. Somewhere in the middle is a good place to live.

Following are Bible precepts which direct a life of simplicity. First, God created and owns the earth: “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). The earth and all we have is on loan from God, for our use but not abuse.

Second, God made the earth to bless us with food, beauty and enjoyment—lands of “milk and honey” to be enjoyed. Thanksgiving to God for the earth and its provisions is the proper mindset rather than look at my green thumb garden that I grew all by myself.

Third, Cyndy Salzmann, known as America’s Clutter Coach, says, “You are not your stuff.” Whatever is on loan to you from God does not define you. What if you lost all monies and your home today? What sort of person would you be without your props and stuff?

If lives are defined by the gracious acceptance that God made, God loans, and we are not our stuff, then we have a platform to live simply. Not self-imposed poverty. Not hoarding. We enjoy God’s gifts as loans and share with others.

All of that said, we live in a culture of indulgence, and our overstuffed homes, schedules, and bodies give witness to cluttered lives, the opposite of simplicity. Richard Foster says, “We are trapped in a maze of competing attachments.” We are bombarded with ads to buy more, eat more, do more, so many things latching on to us that we could resemble the tinker man with all his pots and pans piled on his shoulders.

Parent coach Leslie Wilson says a child of five is only able to keep up with two-five toys per year of age. A five year old can be responsible for 10 to 25 items (puzzles, crayons, books, and toys), but not 125. We train them early toward a cluttered life and an attachment to things.

This week, meditate on Richard Foster’s guidelines for simple living, and celebrate the discipline of simplicity: buy according to need not status; reject anything producing addiction; develop giving-away habit; avoid gadgets, enjoy without owning (use libraries and public parks); appreciate creation; be skeptical of incurring debt; use honest speech; do not oppress others; and seek God’s kingdom.

May God bless you as you seek to live simply this week.