Hurricane Irma, Anxiety, and Upheld by the Word

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Hurricane Irma & the Curse of the Anxious

Last weekend Hurricane Irma carved a path through Southwest Florida and the eye of the storm came right over our town of Arcadia. A week prior to the storm we’d been watching it, tracking it, and listening to the commentary of where the storm was going to go. Weather scientists surmised just how much damage Irma would cause.

And the anxiety rose.

And the anxiety built stronger.

And finally that same anxiety sang out until reaching a crescendo leaving me feeling raw and spent and sad.

The anxiety was building before that though. A friend weeks prior had sent a group text asking for prayer because her anxiety was getting the best of her. She was sad and fed up and wanted to both give up and get better. I could concur. I was hardly keeping it all at bay, hardly treading water.

If you’ve never struggled with anxiety or felt the devastating effects of depressed feelings, it’s hard to understand. It’s like a hole that’s caving in around you, everything’s moving quickly around you, and there’s no way out. The only solution is to cry out in panic, which causes those around you to shy away and get angry. And you cry out in panic because then, at least, you’re doing something to save yourself. At the absolute least you’re engaging in something to try and feel better and maybe, just maybe, you’ll panic loudly enough that something will realign and right itself.

It doesn’t.

You just wind up sick and spent and everyone around you is angry and perplexed.

Upheld by the Word

I was reading a book by Misty Edwards last night called “What is the Point?” and she wrote about Hebrews 1:3. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (ESV).”

Misty wrote about how God holds everything together by his Word. His word, in this case, is not scripture. Many Christians falsely believe that the Word is the Bible. It’s not. The Word is a man! The Word is Jesus. John 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word is Jesus.

In Hebrews 1:3 the Greek word for word here is rhema. Rhema is defined in this context as a command where rhema is used in metonymy for everything which God decrees. Metonymy is a substitution where a word is used to mean something. In this case, the word is used to mean Christ.

We are upheld by the Word, by Christ.

Colossians 1:17 tells us that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (ESV).”

We are wrapped up in Christ. We are held together by Christ. We drink our coffee each morning, we go to work, we do our jobs, raise our families, and feed the cat only because we are upheld by the Word — Jesus the unfathomable.

Misty went on to write, “Love is a two-sided coin, and He is jealous and exclusive…we are fashioned for Him (21).” She tells about how she’s learned that our purpose in life is first rooted in being His and secondly rooted in doing what we do and following our passions.

There are many paths we can take in this life. There are many roads we can take in order to feel fulfillment. I’d like to say that all roads lead to Rome and that no matter what you do to make yourself feel better it’ll lead to Divine inspiration. It’s not the case. We have a divine purpose, and we’ve all felt a tugging to discover the meaning of our lives. We’ve all longed to know what we’re here for and what we’re called to do.

We are Meant for Jesus

Misty writes, “The beginning of life is Jesus; the purpose of life is Jesus; the meaning of life and the ending of life is Jesus. He is God, and it is His story we are wrapped up in. Creation itself was made for Him, and he will inherit all of it (Colossians 1:16) (25).”

Although we have desires and dreams to do great things on Earth, our true desire for fulfillment will never be met outside of Jesus. I’m earning a Master’s degree in Education Theory and Practice and plan on earning a doctorate in Instructional Technology and Design. I’m a teacher and have dreams of working online and being a college dean or an instructor at a missions base or maybe something else I haven’t thought of yet.

Those things are good. Work is good. Education is good. Living a good life and doing the things that are in our hearts is good, but if our dreams are not trumped by the singular focus of life defined by intimacy with God, nothing will truly fulfill us.

“He designed us for Himself, and until we are fully His, we will feel off balance, uncentered, empty, and aimless,” (26) writes Misty. “By beholding Him, we become like Him, therefore fulfilling our primary life purpose.”

If you’re feeling stressed out, inferior, and anxious I encourage you to take a breath, look to the heavens, and know that you are upheld by Christ. Jesus loves you. He delights in you. He calls you beautiful (Song of Songs 1:15). Your life is Christ. Your every breath comes from Him. Rest and be assured that you are loved and blessed and well kept.

 

 

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Help! My Kids Bore Me!

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Help! My Kids Bore Me!

In college when I was working toward my undergrad, I had a professor who was often candid with us. We were talking about raising kids while balancing college and careers and our professor told us that she took off a few years when her twins were born. She said it was great. She said it was well worth it. Then she said this, “One day I realized that I needed to hear someone say something other than choo-choo.” That’s when she went back to work.

It struck me. Hard.

My kids are amazing. I love them. They have wonderful personalities, diverse interests, and it’s fun watching them grow and learn. When our own twins were born a few years ago and I was in the middle of my first full-time teaching job, and life was, as it is for any large, young family, hectic with work, kids, and the daily monotony of the ho-hum, day-to-day. I realized something: I understood my college professor then more than any time ever.

Kids take a toll on a parent. It’s the hardest job in the world, and often it’s one of the most thankless ones. How come there’s Mother’s and Father’s Day? For the same reason there’s Teacher’s Appreciation Week and Nurse’s Appreciation Day. There are only sub-holidays like that because they’re for the underappreciated and underpaid members of society.

Standing at the trampoline with a cup of lukewarm coffee in my hand watching one of the twins, who are two, bounce, I was overcome with boredom.

Besides wondering if I was doing the right thing by allowing him to play on the trampoline, as reports of small children breaking their hips has recently inundated our newsfeeds, I was standing there thinking about the many other things I’d rather be doing. I could be in the kitchen visiting with my wife, talking with my parents who were visiting, and working on coursework for my Master’s degree. All things that would stimulate my mind more than watching a two year old bounce on the trampoline and whine that he keeps falling down.

Overcoming Boredom

The gospel permeates every part of our lives. Although the reference isn’t in line with how it’s used in scripture, it holds true, a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. The gospel, like a yeast, works through life through and through.

Standing at the trampoline feeling frustrated at the amount of work I had to do, all the responsibilities I had, all the self-important “things” I wanted to do in order to feel accomplished, I remembered something about how the gospel and my current situation of raising a large, young family are able to converge.

The gospel tells me this: Jesus died for the sins of all people. And he didn’t have to do it.

As Jesus was self-sacrificing, and encourages me to do so, I must be looking at parenting as a self-sacrificing opportunity.

Sacrifice as an Opportunity

Not being able to spend all my time working, or visiting, or serving myself in some other way is a good thing. The last thing we need in this life is another adult who is adult in name only. Children are selfish. Teenagers, which I call adolescent children, are selfish. Adults are not.

Jesus gave his life so I can enjoy the benefit of the gospel. Not just a message, but a living organism feeding me in symbiotic fashion.

When my children need me, even though watching them jump on the trampoline, or draw, or play with trucks — all rather boring things — I get to grow in sacrifice. It’s an opportunity for me to watch my kids develop, and I get to grow in patience and love and selflessness. It’s less about me being bored and my preference to do something more intellectually stimulating. It’s about connecting with the gospel inside me, being like our supernatural hero, Jesus, and giving love, patience, and sacrifice to another part of myself–my children.

We all have to work and we all need time to do the things that make us tick, but there’s a divine balance that must be put to work. Our families are important, just as our work and social lives are important. With life comes opportunities to do it all, and we can do it all in the proper seasons.

What Trump’s Words To North Korea and Your Bedroom Have In Common

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President Donald Trump, in a seemingly improvised message to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, was clear: “[North Korea] will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Tough words from out of left field. Within hours the country heard reports from various cabinet members, including Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Everyone in Trump’s circle was backing up the statement. Of course. What else could they do?

The President’s remarks encouraged Kim Jong Un to make more threats, all centering around the small protectorate of Guam. And those threats encouraged the President to make more and so the story is still unfolding.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called the leader’s back-and-forth a game of “I’m rubber and you’re glue” in one of last week’s episodes.

And although the game of “I’m rubber and you’re glue” tends to work things out on the playground, it doesn’t hold a candle to geopolitical issues and the peace process.

Nor does it do much for the peace process in your own home.

It’s not breaking news, like Trump’s brazen words were, that it takes work in order to make marriage work.

It’s also not breaking news that in order for marriage to work, both partners have to respect one another.

Colossians 3:18 has some sage marriage advice. Paul is encouraging believers to live well with one another and have good, happy marriages.

“Ladies,” he writes, “be subordinate to your men, as becomes a Christian wife. Men, love your wives and don’t act ornery toward them (Cotton Patch Gospel).”

I know some who would call this passage a turning back of women’s lib and a cry to allow men to dominate women and keep them under the thumb of male oppression.

But there’s balance here in Colossians. There’s mutual respect. Paul is saying that women must honor their husbands because it’s their Christian duty to do so. And he’s telling the men the same. Now, Cotton Patch is a fun paraphrase and uses the word “ornery” when encouraging the men in how to act toward their wives. Men, don’t be ornery toward your wife does seem as though it’s letting the men off the hook. It has the air of “boys will be boys” in it. But that’s just one paraphrase.

The Wuest translation doesn’t let anyone off the hook.

Wives, be constantly subjecting yourselves with implicit obedience to your husbands as you ought to do in the Lord. Husbands, be loving your wives with a divine love which impels you to deny yourselves for their benefit, and stop being bitter and harsh to them.

Husbands, do you respect your wives? Do you love them with a divine love? Do you love her in such a way that you are impelled to deny yourself for her benefit?

Wives, do you let your husband lead your home with you? Do you take him seriously? Do you appreciate his masculine nature? Do you make him feel that the work he does is a blessing to his family?

Marriage is a team activity.

But there are two distinct roles we each play in our marriages.

Husbands have one role, wives have another. And it’s up to the two of you to figure out what those roles are and how they are played out within your marriage.

Men are pretty delicate humans despite what they’ll tell you. Make your husband feel as though his masculinity isn’t good enough and you’ve knocked the wind out of him. His masculinity is directly tied to his sex drive (something we’re not talking about in this post), and his ability to lead and take care of his family and the work he does.

And we know that women want and deserve equal treatment in the marriage. They want to be loved passionately and brought into the fold as not just a plaything but an equal who has value.

I heard it said once from a female friend of mine that husbands are good at coming up with the big picture of how to run the family and wives are good at taking that vision and making it happen.

She didn’t say that wives aren’t good at getting a vision and executing it, nor did she say there’s no place for such a thing.

If your marriage mirrors Trump’s words to Kim Jong Un, you’re primed and ready for your own nuclear disaster within the four walls of your home.

Putting Paul to Practice

The way you treat your spouse is the way your children will learn to treat theirs. You and your spouse are the first and most prominent examples of how romantic relationships should look like. Your kids are watching…and they’re taking notes.

A husband who calls his wife names, or blatantly disrespects her, or treats her like a possession rather than a prized teammate is a husband who is announcing that he’s going to bring “fire and fury like the world has never seen” to his home. A husband who doesn’t take care of his wife by treating her with divine love and delicate respect and an equal partner is a husband who will have strife and unmerited fury in his home. Men, love your wives, treat them like you would your own body. If you love your wife, you show that you love yourself (Ephesians 5:25).

Wives, respect your husbands. Men are a lot more delicate than they let on. To disrespect your husband is to emasculate him. And you don’t want a pansy-assed emasculated husband. You don’t want a nice, good boy who doesn’t rock the boat.

You want a man, not a mouse.

Be his teammate. Be his cheerleader. Work with him to take the vision the two of you dreamed up for your family and organize it. And in doing that, you’ll also get a teammate, a cheerleader, and someone who will move mountains for you.

Don’t declare war on one another. Instead, come up with a resolution for peacekeeping.

Communicate well, listen to one another, be vulnerable. Make a pact, today, that you’re going to drown out the negative with love. Season your words with gentleness and kindness. Treat one another well. You’re both valuable.

Back to School

back to school for SL

Back to School

It’s back to school for many in the next couple of weeks. The newness of another academic year is exciting.

New backpacks, school supplies, meeting old friends, making new ones, and meeting teachers (for the teachers, meeting students).

There’s something special about a new year back at school. It’s a fresh start. A new beginning.

Last year is in the past, this year is a fresh beginning. A person can rectify wrongs by starting over. It’s brilliant.

I’ve taken the summer off writing for Song Lifestyle. I haven’t blogged, gone live, or made a single post to social media about the blog.

That was on purpose.

I needed some time to refocus on what exactly I want to do with Song Lifestyle.

Song Lifestyle began as a kind of live journal of what I was learning about this beloved gospel we enjoy. It was a way for me to annotate my Bible in a way that is shared with as many people who wanted to read it.

And I’m still interested in doing that.

The gospel is not boring.

I think it was Martin Luther who said that we have to hear the gospel every day because we forget it every day.

And it’s true. We do.

But this year I want to have more of a focus in my blogging. I want to have an agenda, so to speak.

And so this post is highlighting that agenda.

The Agenda

Song Lifestyle is about the romance of God. Living a life in love with the Lord, being the Shulamite swept off her feet by the King.

And Song Lifestyle is about applying the gospel to our lives. Every part of our lives.

How is the gospel related to our work, our marriages, our parenting, our politics?

These are the very things I want to talk about this year.

The gospel applied to work, family, and politics.

Work

Work is a vital part of who we are as people. We love to listen to people talk about their work. Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing that he writes about people’s work because people love to read about other people working.

I’m a big fan of the show The West Wing. And part of the reason I enjoy it so much is because I get to watch people give themselves fully to their work and try to fit a personal life into the mix.

I’m a middle school teacher. And although I’m not an important White House staffer, my job is pretty important. I get to teach kids, inspire them to do well, and help shape our culture.

I’m also a graduate student. It’s a lot of work and my academic work goes hand-in-hand with my teaching.

Just how does the gospel and the revelation of Jesus’ grace and love fit in with what we do with our work?

Family

Whether or not you have a wife and kids, family is another huge part of our lives. How we relate to our spouses, how we treat our children, and how we manage our friendships are vital aspects to being human.

How should a man act in this society where anyone can be anything and anyone can identify as anything they want to identify as? What is a woman’s role in the family and in the world? What do we expect from our children?

These are just a few sub-topics we’re going to explore this year. The possibilities are endless.

Politics

There’s really nothing more annoying than a Christian blogging about politics. But I’ve got some different views. For starters, I’m not a conservative Christian. I’m a democrat and fell hard for Senator Bernie Sanders before the DNC screwed the pooch and ousted him. And I’m still Feelin’ the Bern.

What does it mean to be liberal AND love Jesus. Many evangelicals would simply write me off as some backslidden noisemaker for making such a comment.

How does the gospel shape our politics? How does it change the way we vote? How does it change the way we talk about our leaders? I’ll tell you this, I won’t badmouth President Trump. I won’t stay quiet either.

How can a Christian disagree yet remain at peace?

The political articles I write won’t be narratives about how someone *should* vote or think. I’ll write about my own personal application of the gospel to my politics.

This year is going to be busy. And it’s going to be good.

I look forward to taking you on my journey.

Stop drugging your body with Illogical Thought-Trees

spock-illogical-thoughts-don't-belong-mindfully-renewed

Back in 1968 prophet Spock spoke to us. “… I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans. I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.”Star Trek, season 3, episode 7

Why would we wish to have perpetually damaging substance generating components in our brains that are fueled by half-truths that do not even make sense?

What do I mean by, “drugging your body?” The things that you think about effect hormones that flow from the “forest in your mind” in to your body as either cortisol (a stress hormone) or oxytocin (comfort hormone). Having too much cortisol in your body has serious implications for your heath and wellbeing, which I have experienced first hand.

As we mature in our mindfulness and become aware of harmful ideas, I recommend that you focus on a certain thought-pattern. As you identify the bogus reasoning, declare your freedom and drive a stake of truth in that harmful structure in your brain. I refer to these physical structures as thought-trees because they look like trees and the biological processes that affect trees provide accessible analogies for addressing brain activity. This is where neuroplasticity comes into play.

Neuroplasticity:

The capacity of the brain to develop and change throughout life.

The capacity of the nervous system to develop new neuronal connections.

Those are two vague and boring definitions.

Let me give you a better one:

Mindful Neuroplasticity: Your brain can be reshaped, rebuilt, made smarter, happier, and molded to bring about the best version of yourself by being mindful, catching harmful thoughts and renewing your mind.

Do you know what happens to the harmful thought-trees in our minds when are fully replaced by life-giving structures? Over time, they burn and are forgotten.

What to do? The path forward.

Identify. Capture. Discard. Replace. Rebuild.

The first step is to identify harmful false thought patterns.

We can do this by becoming aware of certain illogical thought triggers. These subtle deceptions are based on potent false ideas such as False Finalities and Nebulous Conclusions.

I’ll Never, I always, She is …,

Finality Defined: the fact or impression of being an irreversible ending.

Example: I am a failure is false, I sometimes fail is true.

Recognizing the false finality makes it easy to discard.

Nebulous Defined: hazy, vague, indistinct, or confused:

Double whammy: a statement that includes both a false finality and a nebulous conclusion.

Example:

False: There’s so much that I need to accomplish (nebulous), I could never complete it all (Finality).

True: There seems to be an overwhelming amount of things to accomplish, I need to make a list. Then I can have a realistic idea of what it will take to complete these tasks. I can get help if I need it.

For more tips on short circuiting these types of thoughts check out this article: How to Short Circuit Harmful Ruminating Thoughts

The Nightly Cleaning Crew

There are agents known as the gardeners of your respective brain landscape. Glial cells, as they are called work to speed up impulses among specific neurons. And there are additional agents. Also, glial cells are the debris removers, yanking up unwanted weed growth, pruning branches, vacuuming up fallen thoughts during your sleep.

This produces a critical question, which ones to prune?

There’s a classic saying amongst neuroscientists: “neurons that fire together wire together.”

Scientists are just starting to uncover this puzzle, however, what they have discovered to date is fascinating and has compelling implications. A protein, called C1q (almost sounds like a robot from Star Wars) marks the connections that are getting used less often. This mark is a sign for when the cleaning team sets out during sleep. The relationships that were attached to that structure are pruned. The thought tree is starting to forfeit its effect on your existence.

So we join in with Doctor Spock in saying to those damaging thoughts, “that’s illogical, those pesky thoughts are not worth considering.”

Now that we have a handle on Identifying, Capturing, and Discarding, my next post is going to be focused on replacing and rebuilding.

“be transformed by the renewal of your mind”- Romans 12:2

I think that sums it up quite nicely.

I hope that this offering has been helpful to you in some way. If you have any questions or comments or for more of my thoughts about Mindfulness and Christian Meditation please check out my blog Mindfully Renewed.

Warm Regards,

J. A. Conner

Everyday Monasticism: Vespers and Compline

monks at vespersVespers and Compline

 

Vespers

Vespers is an evening prayer of the Divine Office. In Latin, vespers means evening. In the orthodox church, Vespers is the liturgical hour which kicks off all the hours. Genesis 1:5 is the rationale for doing so: “…and there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.”

Vespers is a time to reflect on the day that has passed and thank God for all that has happened. It is also a time of praise.

This is when the work day has ended and you are able to sit back and reflect on the ways in which God worked things out for you that day. Perhaps a meeting that you were dreading went well, or you finished your work early, or you finished anything at all. The day was busy with kids, coworkers, finances, and friends. You have a lot to be thankful for even when things don’t go aright.

The basic schedule in which monastics pray vespers is outlined below. I have purposely left out a few parts for simplicity:

Introductory verse: Anything that is full of praise.

Psalm 107:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for the is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Hymn: You could sing some worship song you like.

Gospel Canticle: a story from the gospels that will bring encouragement at the day’s end.

Intercession: Pray about issues that arose during the day.

Concluding prayer: think about the Lord’s prayer and how you live that out.

Like praying lauds, praising God for life at the beginning of the day and praying over your day before it begins, take time with vespers to think about those things you praised God about in the morning and the requests you asked of Him. Let this be a time of praise and thanksgiving.

 

Compline

Compline is the night prayer. The psalms that are chosen for reading at compline are those psalms that are full of confidence in the Lord.

Compline is such a special time. For those of us not living in a monastery, but living a monastic life, compline is similar to a child saying his prayers before he drifts off to sleep.

Psalm 90 and 91 are often thought of when thinking about compline. The monastic is thinking about God’s protection during the night during compline. You are thinking about how strong God is and how faithful He is to rescue you from harm. You’re thinking about His love and how while you are resting at night, you are snuggled up in his strong arms. You are, as the Shulamite says in Song of Songs 2:6 “His left hand cradles my head while his right hand holds me close. I am at rest in this love.”

Drift off to sleep thinking about how sure you are in God’s kindness and love and grace and romance. He adores you! He’s going to protect you! Nothing, absolutely nothing, will be able to separate you from His love.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Everyday Monasticism. I hope you’ll choose to live a modern monastic life full of hope in the freedom we have in Christ the Romancer.

Join me this summer for our Summer of Wisdom as we explore Proverbs.

Everyday Monasticism: Lauds

Monks of the Desert
The Monks of the Desert in New Mexico 

Everyday Monasticism Part 2

Last week we defined everyday monasticism. It’s living daily in contemplation of the goodness of our Lord. We discussed how this gospel we are all wrecked over is a Catholic gospel. That’s not to say that we are all Catholic, but that the word Catholic is defined as “all embracing.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all. All were included in the gospel.

This week and the following two more weeks we are going to have a brief discussion of the Divine Office–the Liturgy of the Hours.

There’s a lot of whack, a lot of glory on the Liturgy of the Hours. Our Catholic and orthodox friends have quite the revelation when it comes to worshiping God in this way. Where some who have taken a straight shot of grace and continue to do so might call the Liturgy of the Hours religious, others of us are able to see the beauty in the Divine Office.

Those who regularly pray the Divine Office may be doing so out of a religious motivation to “do something” for God or prove their devotion to him. Both of which are unnecessary, rightly agreed; however, those who pray the Divine Office regularly also understand why they are doing it other than religious devotion. By praying the Divine Office each day they are recentering their focus on God during the various hours of the day. They are engaging in active contemplation–thinking deeply about our Lord and committing themselves to him over and over.

Those of us, again, who have as Crowder puts it, have chosen to “drink grace straight”, may look at the act of committing ourselves to the Lord over and over as unnecessary religion, but those who do it often see it merely as a part of their daily lives.

Divine Office

The Monks of the Desert located in New Mexico are part of a Benedictine Abbey called Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert. They are a cloistered, or sheltered, group of men who have given their lives to Ora (prayer) and Labora (work). They live and work at the monastery, which is beautiful, and pray the Divine Office each day between their work.

The following is taken from their website and gives an overview of their daily schedule:

4:00 AM – Vigils – , begins with the verse from Psalm 50, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

5:45AM – Lauds – This is the prayer of the Church as light returns to earth, recounting the eternal light bestowed on the world by the Risen Christ.

8:45 AM – Terce – the first of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray

1:00 PM – Sext – the second of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray.

3:30 PM – None – the last of the “little hours” in which the monks come together and pray.

5:30 PM – Vespers – This includes a half-hour of praying psalms, a hymn, the Magnificat, and a prolonged prayer of intercessions for the needs and intentions of the entire Church.

7:30 PM – Compline – Consists of a penitential rite, three psalms, a hymn, and an antiphon sung to Our Lady that varies according to the liturgical season.

Lauds

Lauds is is morning prayer where the congregation focuses on praise. When praying Lauds, you’re thinking about the goodness of God for keeping you safe in the night. Often during Compline, the last prayer of the day, the congregation will pray Psalm 4:8 “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” You are spending time praising God for a good night, for life to devote to Him, and asking for the day to be blessed and for your mind to stay in contemplation of His greatness.

A psalm often read or sang during Lauds is Psalm 62.

O God, you are my God, I watch for you from the dawn.

My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.

I came to your sanctuary,

as one in a parched and waterless land,

so that I could see your might and your glory.

My lips will praise you, for your mercy is better than life itself.

Thus I will bless you throughout my life,

and raise my hands in prayer to your name;

my soul will be filled as if by rich food,

and my mouth will sing your praises and rejoice.

I will remember you as I lie in bed,

I will think of you in the morning,

for you have been my helper,

and I will take joy in the protection of your wings.

My soul clings to you; your right hand raises me up.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end.

Amen

Everyday Monasticism: Lauds

Don’t run out and join a monastery. By practicing everyday monasticism, you can enjoy celebrating Lauds by waking in the morning and sitting with your coffee and think about the wonders of God. Think about the grace we’ve been offered that Paul talks about in Romans 6-8. Celebrate that we’ve died with Christ and because we died with Him, we have also raised to life with Him! (Romans 6:8). Allow your day to begin with praise. It beats turning on CNN the first thing and seeing what else went wrong during the night.

Celebrating Lauds sets your heart on the goodness and majesty and grace of Christ. It helps you to pray about your day and remember that you are an open heaven. Everything you do is blessed because “Christ, who is your life, [has] appeared, and you [will] appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). There is nothing you can do apart from Him. He’s living His life inside you. The Distilled Translation tells us that Jesus is using our bodies (Galatians 2:20).

Don’t get religious. But do go into this week and practice loving God each morning. See how your days go!

Everyday Monasticism

 

Saint Benedict

Everyday Monasticism

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6 ESV).

The lives of those who have chosen to live in convents and monasteries has always fascinated me. I’m not Catholic in that I’ve gone through catechism and had my first communion. However, I do believe in the Catholicity of the gospel. Catholic is defined as “all embracing” or “including a wide variety of things.” In other words, Catholic is universal.

I’ve often thought that if life had turned out differently for me, and I had not met my wife and chose to have a family, I think that today I may be a dominican monk spending my days in contemplation and working at a university or in some school teaching young people.

Ora et Labora

Saint Benedict is the founder of Western Monasticism. He was born about the year 480 at Nursia near the Umbrian province in north central Italy. He “was renowned for handing on to his monks a balanced way of life – particularly with respect to contemplative prayer and active work, ora et labora” (http://www.dominicanajournal.org/oralabora/).

Ora et Labora is translated as Work and Prayer.

This is where I am most actively drawn to the lives of monks. They live their lives in contemplation while they go about their daily tasks. For some, the very thought of spending even 15 minutes in solitude and silence is frightening. But I think it sounds wonderful. Staying in contemplation of the goodness of God, thinking about the romance we have with Jesus, contemplating the whack! It seems like the perfect life. And to add work to that–to go about some laborious task like beer-making while contemplating the grace and salvation of God, would be best life ever status! The monks at St. Benedict in Italy, the birthplace of Saint Benedict, make Birra Nursia in order to support themselves.

Thus, everyday monasticism.

Everyday Monasticism

There’s no real reason to jump ship and join a monastery. You can, if you want. It’s a noble calling. There are obvious objections I’d have, objections over the religiosity of many of the practices, but it’s noble nonetheless.

God has already called us kings and priests. Revelation 1:6 is one place in scripture where we’re ordained into the holy priesthood. The Greek word used for priest in Revelation is hiereus.

In Revelation it’s used figuratively. Christians are called priests because we have offered Him spiritual sacrifices. We minister to the world, performing the sacred rite of telling others about the grace given to us through Christ. We are, therefore, priests who carry the whack!

As Song People living lives of active contemplation, we are blessed with the ability to live Ora et Labora each day. Saint Benedict taught his monks that their work was also a prayer since everything we do as Christians is to the glory of God.

You can work at a bank or teach a group of kids or work in a hospital or be a stay-at-home mom and make your everyday work an offering of prayer unto the Lord. We can walk the dog and be in contemplation about our engagement we have with Jesus. There is no need to jump into a religious life inside the walls of a convent or monastery in order to live a life of uninterrupted bliss with Jesus.

We are, therefore, everyday monastics. As John Crowder often says, “this is the drunkest day of your life.” You are an open heaven. You are a monk living a contemplative life in the glory of God. You are a nun of the order of whack! We are Christians living out a very Catholic gospel…the gospel that is for everybody, the gospel that is universal, the gospel where all are included in the life and resurrection of Jesus.

Creativity in the Mundane

Creativity in the Mundane

inspired man

Last week I wrote about how there is glory in the mundane. All our average weekly experiences are just as spirit-filled as going to some big conference with high profile speakers and professional worship teams.

There’s nothing wrong with conferences and professional worship teams…but there’s nothing more spirit-filled about them compared to your average everyday life of picking up the kids from soccer practice or spending an evening balancing your checkbook.

Creative Conception Boredom

Although there’s glory in the more boring parts of life just as there’s glory on being a missionary or a popular itinerant preacher, it’s not a lot of fun to be bored. Living a normal life of doing the laundry, going off to work, and playing the same board game with your kids every evening can get monotonous.

But being bored can be a tool.

We teach our children that boredom is a blessing. Unless we get bored, we’ll never have an original idea to keep us entertained. Although I’ve not done the research, I can imagine that some of the most profound inventions were created out of some aspect of boredom. The late Steve Jobs, although wanting to revolutionize the world with the personal computer, likely would never have had the idea to build that first computer in his garage unless he was sitting around bored wondering what to do.

The mundane is a blessing in that it causes us to look deep into our hearts and discover just what it is that makes us tick.

For many Christians, the notion of “God’s will” is an elusive one. To know God’s will for one’s life is the principalis finis — or the main goal — in Christian living.

Knowing God’s Will

God’s will is not a mystery. It’s simply a matter of looking deep inside yourself and figuring out what it is that you want to do. Wait. That doesn’t sound very spiritual. It doesn’t. That’s because it’s not. Not really.

When I was fresh out of high school I joined a ministry based out of Texas that, for it’s primary function, existed to be a place for young people to spend a year seeking God’s will for their lives.

There was so much talk back then, maybe even more than today, about getting a vision for God’s will for your life. The idea was to get the vision as early as possible, create a 5 and then 10 year plan, and never give up. That way a person wouldn’t waste any time in doing what it was that God wanted them to do.

I remember the leaders made it so difficult. It was like chasing the elusive white rabbit of destiny. We took classes, we fasted, we prayed, we memorized scripture, and had lengthy discussions about just what it meant to gain God’s will for our lives.

For me, I wa convinced that God was uninterested in showing me his will. I couldn’t get it. Like so many young people, I was too interested in too many things to really nail it down. And like so many young people in the church, I was absolutely convinced that it would not be God’s will for me to have a secular job and make money. That was heresy!

The general rule of thumb back then was that if you didn’t want to do something. If it was the one thing you couldn’t imagine doing with your life, you were likely being called to do that thing.

It was such bondage. We’d say, “I have no desire to move to Africa and live a lonely life out in the bush, so that’s clearly what God wants me to do. I have to kill the flesh in order to wrap my head around God’s will for my life.” Then we’d fast longer, pray harder, memorize some obscure scripture taken fully out of context…you know…something about suffering or going lower and lower in order to be accepted and loved by God.

God’s will is not elusive.

It’s not some fantastical idea that you have to strain and strive for in order to get it.

You can get it right now. That’s right…right now you can get God’s will for your life.

Just rest.

Sit back. Close your eyes. And think this thought: What would you do with your life if money didn’t matter? What’s the one thing (or group of related things) that you would like to do every day or every week? If you could make money doing something, anything, what would you like to do?

The answer to those questions will be God’s will for your life.

See. You didn’t have to fast or strive or memorize Leviticus in order to attain it. God’s will was right there inside you all along.

John Crowder, in an article titled Christological Ecstasy, writes this on the subject: “We have considered the will of God to be against our human will–quite often pictureing our deepest desires to be in direct conflict or contradiction to God. But in reality, there is a heavy duty ecstasy that comes along with doing His will because we are created for a divine synergy of the deepest levels of our longing.”

Generally speaking, we are taught that if we enjoy something, it’s probably not from God. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! God is a ravenous LOVER of people! He’s been hijacked by his love for us! Gladness is at the center of His heart (Heb 1:9).

Crowder goes on to write, “What if He is the one who has kindled our core desires, while the gnomic twist simply offered us cheap, unsatisfying fixes to those infinite longings? Let me clarify: when I speak of the will, I am speaking of our deepest heart’s desire that results in action.”

God has placed his will inside you and it looks a whole lot like the things you love to do. Do you love doing ministry and helping people? That’s God’s will for you. Do you enjoy starting businesses and making money and employing people and encouraging them and mentoring them? That’s God’s will for you! Do you want to be a stay at home mom or dad and raise kids and manage a home and personal finances? That’s also God’s will.

God has planted his will deep inside you so that you will do the very thing that He has willed for you to do! Going out and being a miserable missionary to Nigeria because that’s the Christian thing to do is against His will.

You cannot make God like you any more than He already likes you! You can’t work up any more favor by sacrificing your desire (God’s will) for something that you don’t enjoy.

For the sake of length, we will finish this post next week when I write about work and enjoyment and how both are the will of God.

For this week, go into your work week meditating on how good God has been to you. Take a few moments each day and ask yourself the questions I provided for you. I bet by Friday you’ll be closer to the will of God than you’ve ever been in your life.

Glory in the Mundane

bored-at-work

Life and Boredom

Fun will always trump boredom. I cannot stand to be bored. I need to be moving, doing something productive, or I need to be using my brain and thinking deeply about a topic. Aside from some late evening viewing with my wife, sitting around on Netflix waiting to be entertained by the next Netflix original kills me inside.

There is nobody who likes boredom.

But boredom is good for you.

There’s glory in the mundane parts of life. There are few people who are constantly entertained, always on some adventure, and engaging their minds in deep, meaningful thinking. Life gets monotonous sometimes–and it’s what we do with that boredom that will make all the difference.

Two Types of Boredom

There are two types of boredom:

  1. The Everyday Mundane (which we will discuss this week)
  2. and Creative Conception Boredom (which we will discuss next week)

The Everyday Mundane

This boredom is the everyday life of the average person. There’s laundry piled high in the laundry room; the kids’ rooms are a mess; the dog shat on the living room floor last night and nobody bothered to pick it up or “didn’t see it”; the baby (or babies, if you’re like us and you have twins) won’t stop crying, getting into things, escaped, etc…; bills need to be paid…

These are just a few examples of the Everyday Mundane. It’s work, and kids, and housekeeping…and LIFE.

For so many (myself included), we look at other people’s lives and wonder how they got to be so lucky. How they managed to always be on the go, living an adventure, and successful. It seems like they can up and create an adventure anytime they please! They’re always in some far off country doing something amazing, or in an airport waiting to do something amazing, or they’re on Facebook talking about the amazing things they’re planning…it can take a toll if you don’t watch out.

But there’s hope!

Our lives are relevant even if we aren’t preaching to ten thousand people in some amphitheatre in Australia. Our lives are relevant even if we haven’t written a national bestseller or some award winning blog. Our lives mean something…even if that something is that we managed to find ALL THE MATCHES to our kids’ socks in the dryer (GLORY! That’s a miracle…call the archdiocese or whoever you call. It’s like finding a weeping Virgin Mary statue).

It makes me think of the Greek word for life…or at least one of them.

Zoe (Strong’s G2222): simply it means life or the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate.

This is all of us. We are all living a Zoe life. We are alive, we are vital, and we are animate. Even if it’s folding socks or picking up toddler mess, we’re alive. And there’s WHACK on it! There’s glory in living this kind of life.

But there’s another Greek word, the root word that comes from Zoe, that catches my attention even more.

It’s Zao (Strong’s G2198): It’s meaning is packed with glory! It means to live, breathe, to be among the living (not lifeless, not dead); to enjoy real life; active, blessed, endless in the Kingdom of God.

This is the life we’re living. Zao. Our lives are active and blessed. We are breathing and living. We are living a life that is endless in the Kingdom of God.

Living Zao

The next time you are tempted to be down about your boredom, look around the room (or the playground, or the boardroom, or the classroom, or the front lawn scattered with toys) and remember that you’re living Zao! God has put you in a place and has declared it good!

There is nowhere we can escape the love and power of God. There is not a place on earth we can get away from the goodness and romance of our Lover. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ (Romans 8:39).

You are an open heaven. Christ died and placed his life inside you in order that you would co-labor with him. For some, that means that they’ll travel the globe and preach to far off people groups. For others, that means that you’ll work and encourage your co-worker. For even more, it means that you’ll be a stay-at-home mom or dad and raise good, healthy, loved kids.

Live Zao — enjoy this real life that you are living. See how you are blessed and endless in the kingdom of God. You ARE endless. You are never going to die…not for real. You’re life is eternal.

Next week we will talk about Creative Conception Boredom and how it can completely revitalize your living.

In the meantime, check out a book by Lily Crowder about living a regular life full of glory while doing the normal, everyday mundane tasks most of us do. It’s a real eye-opener and quite encouraging.