Hey everyone,

I hope you enjoyed the retreat and have had a chance to rest up.  I mentioned this blog as a place to continue our conversations and share thoughts with each other.  This first post was written by Shannon Kuzmich who participated in the retreat.  Feel free to make comments and share your own thoughts.  Also, there is some way to get a notice in your inbox whenever the blog changes – so look around the sight and check the box if you so desire.

A couple of the songs we sang at church today were musical reminders of the grand vision of God as the reigning King over all!  It was another reminder of our glorious calling to trust Jesus in everything and live, really live, under His reign.

Mike

 

From Shannon …

Sorry…there is no silver bullet.  As Edge joked to an overly-serious journalist in a 1990 music video, “it’s a journey…a musical journey.”  Well, maybe not the music so much (don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Manuel fan).  As Mike shared about his Colorado to California road trip, the journey can be fraught with threats and real dangers, tensions, flaring tempers, frustration, questioning, and repeated re-commitments to realizing the vision…or just getting through the next snow flurry.

But isn’t it, after all, quite grand?  This journey we are “all-in” on will certainly take each of us up along our own sacred and secret road trip.  Sacred?  Ah…we must remember it is a journey toward more fully realizing the essence of God’s dream of us…who He has desired us to be from the beginning.  That is absolutely sacred.  And the trip is secret, even from us at times.  The Spirit works deeply, secretly, mercifully, and gently over time to transform us from the inside out…nudging a little, pressing a bit, and speaking loudly once in a great while just to let us know He is at work.

For a performance junky perfectionist such as myself, the lack of concrete how-to steps exasperates me.   But that’s the control thing again.  The Pharisees were such as these.  The root of it is pride that casts the gaze on self, seeking to celebrate the wonders of who we are in our self-directed acts of piety, compliance, obedience, rule-following, and self-flagellation.  Gross.

But, it doesn’t matter at all, does it?  I have this amazing God who calls to me to know Him, to seek Him, to trust Him, to love Him, and to allow Him to indwell me and use me for His purposes.  Christ took care of my debt.  I still have the sin, but there are no more penalties for it, only the freedom to dig into the abundance He promised me.  As my husband said tonight, “It’s overwhelming, but it’s what we’re called to do.”

And again, it is quite grand, isn’t it?  Life is getting really tough (maybe it’s just me), but circumstances don’t define me and they certainly don’t limit what God can do through my pathetic little life.  The possibility of another transforming God-planned adventure fuels me with hope despite my sins, my secrets, my regrets, and my fears about change.  I have been to the dark side enough times to know there is nothing good for me there.  I have had all that I want that this world offers, and it leaves my stomach growling for some real food.   I am Eustace as the dragon, nearing the end of myself (again) and watching the horizon line with fear to see His silhouette emerging against the skyline of my hearts vision.

If the tough times are part of the journey, then find encouragement in the fact that it’s not all for naught.  Dick Lane shared on Friday night that after 50 years of following Christ, he carries regrets that he has not been kind enough, patient enough, available enough.  I challenge him to rethink his assessment and revel in the joy that he exudes a spirit of meekness to those of us who would emulate him.  He is not aware, obviously.  Humility can be a cruel blessing in that the person of humility cannot enjoy the richness of their state simply because they are humble.  Dick, revel man, revel!

 

 

“Temptation will strike where we are most vulnerable. (p. 138).  Indeed.  I thought these chapters were quite insightful into the matters of temptation and sin.  He talks about the central issue of soul satisfaction and its relationship with temptation.  “Does this road lead toward or away from the me I want to be?”  What a great question to guide us in times of weakness.  Ortberg says on page 138 that the best way to escape temptation is to talk about it with a friend.  This is part of the role the community plays in our struggle with sin.  This struggle, in other words, is not something private between me and God.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments in his book “Life Together” that we are too casual in our confessions of sin.  We barge into God’s holy and sin-free presence and rattle off a confession, but we cringe at telling another sinful human being.  The more we keep this junk hidden in the back closets of our heart, the more they will continue to derail us and knock us out of the flow of God’s Spirit.  But how do we know who to talk to?  How do we take the step of faith and invite a friend into our battle?  What kind of friend does it need to be?  How important is safety?  I wonder if sometimes we would rather continue to struggle with temptation on our own than endure the perceived humiliation of telling another person about it.  As a result, we stay in prison.

Sin is no longer a concept we can assume people accept.  It is also not a popular topic to explore.   I wish our ruined self died when Christ came into our hearts.  But it does not seem so.  We have our signature sins.  We have particular temptations that trip us up.  We are vulnerable to certain things for a host of reasons.  But I love the idea that we don’t have to choose sin and temptation.   They do not help us become the me we want to be.  So the fight, in community with others, is worth it.

Any thoughts?  Any one have insight into how to practice confession with a friend?  Feel free to weigh in.

Chapter 11

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

I loved it.  Absolutely loved it.  Is there a more intimidating, and shame-producing question than, “How is your prayer life?”  Ortberg offers the provocative and liberating notion that we are never speaking or acting outside of God’s presence.  He is always “with us” so our thoughts, words and actions are in essence prayers.  He says, “The goal of prayer is to live all of my life and speak all of my words in the joyful awareness of the presence of God. (p. 134)”  Wow.  I think I could probably devote the next 30 years to that one.

I talk in front of people for a living.  And yet, in so many ways, I am a quiet introvert.  I’m hardly ever at a loss for words but I’m often tired of words. So private prayer is sometimes hard for me.  I’m not comfortable giving God laundry lists.  I have trouble imagining He’d have much to say to me beyond, “get your act together.”   For as long as I can remember, I have mostly defined prayer as time spent with my eyes closed asking God to intervene in various situations.  The harder it is the more real it is.  It frees me to consider his broader definition of prayer.  It makes prayer less of a chore and more of a delight.  He actually, indirectly, helps resolve the ago-old tension between our praying and God’s omniscience.  Prayer as relationship.  It makes more sense.  It loosens the chains.

Finally, the invitation to “pray what is in me” is also freeing.  Reading between the lines of this book, I sense Ortberg is a recovering performance junkie.  He may have actually mentioned that early in the book.  His distinction between praying what is in me versus what I wish were in me frees me from pretend caring.  Now I believe God purifies our desires as we grow in Him.  His will increasingly becomes our will.  We grow to want what He wants.  We begin to care about what He cares about.  But it takes time.  So praying what I want.  Simple.  Pretty easy.  Liberating.

Once more I apologize for the long delay.  I know its been awhile, but I’d love to restart this conversation so feel free to jump in.

 

I was deeply stirred by these chapters.  For as long as I can remember, my mind has been a battle ground between what is good, encouraging and God-centered and what is bad, discouraging and me-centered.  Through these chapters, I was drawn once more to the inviting vision of peace that is possible for those who choose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the renewing of their mind.

I was especially challenged by Ortberg’s call to action.  For years I have kept a single page from a torn Bible in a folder s as a standing reminder that I don’t need any more information about God – including any more Bible knowledge.  If all I had was that single page it would be enough to nourish my mind for a lifetime, and sustain my pursuit of maturity in Christ.  We don’t need any more information.  We need to engage in the practical exercises shown throughout the Scriptures and history to strengthen our life in Jesus.  For me, these days, that means carving out a block of time every day to spend with Jesus.   I’m rediscovering this as an essential to a life well ordered in Jesus.  I know it sounds basic.  It is.  You may think that this is easy for me because I’m a Pastor.  It isn’t.  The same distractions and excuses that keep others from spending time with Jesus, keep me from doing it as well.  I’m convinced that my desire for peace in my soul is impossible unless I spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis.

What struck you in these chapters?  What action do you feel you need to take?  This forum is one way to “never worry alone.”  So feel free to share your thoughts and lets spur one another on toward a renewed mind!

Let nothing trouble you

Let nothing frighten you

All things pass

God alone never changes

Patience can do all things

Whoever has God has everything

God alone is sufficient

I love the opening line of chapter 3 – “A flourishing life is possible.”  We may find it quite meaningful to take this phrase with us into a time of solitude, and interact with God on whether or not we actually believe it is true.  A flourishing life is possible.  I’m not sure where you stand with this, but there are many times in my journey where a flourishing life feels out of reach.  There are so many pressures and challenges to navigate. The hope of this book – and the essence of these four chapters – is that we can become people who experience God’s joy (we flourish) no matter what circumstances we are facing.  Ortberg says that our main job is to stay connected to God.  Such simple counsel.  And yet, if we are not carving out time to be with God and interact with Him, we will not be able to stay connected.  Knowing we should be spending time with God is not the same as actually doing it.

We all have our preferred paths for pursuing God.  Some of us like solitude.  Some of us hate it.  Some of us like to open the Bible.  Some of us haven’t a clue what to do with an open Bible.  It’s important as we grapple with this book, to remember that we will not always like some of the spiritual exercises that move us toward maturity in Christ.  There is a counter-intuitive component of genuine spiritual formation.  That means, there are times when I have to surrender what I want to do or what I like to do, and embrace what I’m uncomfortable or bored or uninspired doing.  As Ortberg asks, “who is in charge?”  I know this cuts against the grain of our cherished independence, but spiritual formation will not always lead us into our favorite exercises and practices.  We need time in solitude whether we like it or not.  We need time in prayer whether we like it or not.  We time mulling over the inspired Word of God whether we think so or not.  We need spiritual friendships whether we think we have time for them or not.

Ortberg uses some weird phrases.  “You-ier?”  I don’t think I’ll ever say that again.  “Try softer?”  I guess its kind of cute … or not.  Anyway,   it’s good advice especially for the performance addicts who find their identity  in accomplishment.  Spiritual formation does not happen unless we intend for it to happen.  But the language of “hard work,” “trying,” and  “doing our best”  is at cross purposes with Spirit orchestrated formation.  “Flow,” as Ortberg puts it, is a good picture.  We step into the flow of what the Spirit is doing in our lives and we let Him carry us along.  We do our part but we don’t force results.  It’s not necessary to extract a “word” from God every time we open the Bible.  We don’t have to leave time in solitude with some deep and profound sense that we have encountered God.  We are rarely going to see fireworks in our Christian experience.  Our confidence is that the Spirit is working, over the long haul, so that “Christ is formed in us.”  (Gal. 4:19)

So here is my question – and it’s personal and annoying and … worth considering.  What keeps us from carving out 30 minutes to an hour everyday to be alone with God?  Any thoughts?

“You are not your handiwork;  your life is not your project.  Your life is God’s project.  God thought you up, and he knows what you were intended to be.  He has many good works for you to do, but they are not the kind of “to do” lists we give spouses or employees.  They are signposts to your true self.”  (Page 14)

This is wonderful reminder.  Our life does not belong to us.  We are not here to accomplish our own missions or complete our own projects.  I like how Ortberg immediately sets the title of his book in the larger context of God’s grand story.  God thought us up.  He knows what we were intended to be.  He gave us our temperament.  He equipped us with gifts and talents.  He hard-wired us with various passions and desires.  He designed our body and mind.  This isn’t creation by Henry Ford – the same thing mass-produced.  We are hand-crafted by God the Creator.  This takes the pressure off of us.  Our job is to engage in the practices, experiences and relationships that will form us into the person God intended.  The Spirit meets us in our intention.  We begin to “flourish.”

Chapter 2 is a description of the various counterfeit versions of self we are tempted to pursue.  I think I related to all the ones he explained!  I’m sure you’ve had this happen – you meet someone and gradually realize that they want you to be something you are not.  Their words, facial expressions and silence are packed with the message – “you are not enough as you are.”  They want you to be a deeper thinker but that’s not your tendency.  They want you to be more subtle, but you have a big, loud personality.  They want you to talk more, but you are more at ease listening.  They want you to share your feelings but you have trouble accessing feelings.  In various ways they communicate to you that you are not enough – you are not what you “should” be.  Is this not one of the more oppressive burdens we heap upon one another?  Do any of us long to be around those who are perpetually dissatisfied with us?  Obviously, if we take spiritual formation seriously, we will walk into our blind spots.  We will face some of our natural tendencies and seek God’s help to become more Christ-like in them.  The thinker will need the Spirit to get in touch with their feelings.  The extrovert will need to spend time with the Spirit in solitude.  The loner will need to build relationships with others.  But I find it liberating to remember God designed me not my critics.

Lastly, this conversation is ultimately about our spiritual formation- the shaping of our inner self and character.  I thought Ortberg’s two questions to assess the health of our inner self  were wonderful (page 21).

Am I growing more easily discouraged these days?

Am I growing more easily irritated?

So what were your reactions to the first two chapters?

I am looking forward to our time reading and discussing the book.  Hopefully it is a helpful resource as we seek to grow together in our relationship with Jesus.  The reading schedule is listed below.  Obviously, this is being posted a bit late for the first reading.  But do the best you can and later this week I’ll post a blog reflecting on the first set of readings.  Again, I’m looking forward to the adventure!

chapters 1&2  – by august 15

chapters 3-6 – by august 22

chapters 7-10 – by august 29

chapters 11-14 – by september 5

chapter 15-18 – September 12

chapter 19-21 – September 19

chapter 22- September 26