Living our Christianity in our own heads

I recently mentioned in a focus group at my church that too often we live our faith within our own heads. Being a church where doctrinal beliefs are one of our key differentiators probably leads us down this path. And, I’m sure there are a host of other reasons. The problem is that good ideas don’t get implemented and people with quiet needs don’t get served.

Enlivening our imaginations should be the result of hearing and experiencing Jesus and biblical truth. When we hear how Jesus listened to cries for help, we should ask ourselves to do the same. It’s right to think about how I can listen like Jesus. Asking any number of questions about how my life can reflect the doctrines or beliefs that are taught in the Bible is a great exercise. The problem comes when those great ideas stay there!

Living and implementing my faith is critical to increasing the Kingdom of God, growing in maturity myself and seeing community flourish. How do we do that?

1)   Recognize we are on a common journey and ask for others to help us. Being in a fellowship or small group where there is “heart level” sharing and no fear of being embarrassed by sharing a weakness or struggle is necessary for growth and maturity.

2)   Find some time for solitude to share with God your desire to change and live more like Jesus in all of your relationships. There simply is no substitute for time alone with our Maker and Sustainer. If we want to live a Jesus-actualized life, then we don’t have to look very far at his pattern of activity to see that times of solitude were foundational for every day of Jesus’ journey.

3)   Surprise one of your friends, neighbors or relatives and share something you’ve been thinking about. It is critical to begin releasing the imaginations of your heart and mind so that they don’t stay in your head. If you have been thinking about reaching out to one of your neighbors or co-workers, next time you see them start a conversation with them. Find out what’s going on in their world and try to shake their hand, give them a hug or pat them on the shoulder. That’s what Jesus would do.

I’ve recently reflected on Isaiah’s vision for how God desires for us to live. This is from Isaiah 58:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
 whose waters never fail.

There are some amazing realities that Isaiah paints for us in this picture of shalom. We will be given light, access to God’s heart – “Here I am,” strength for our bones and water for the gardens of our lives. And it seems to all get rolling as we release our minds from the thoughts and fears that bind up our lives and act. Realizing that God prefers a “fast” that serves others and doesn’t focus on my sacrifice should also be a clue for us.

June 18-19, 2012 24-hour Silent Retreat

I don’t know if you have ever taken a private silent retreat for a day or a week or so, but I have done it from time to time. While our hearts long to slow down, rest and reflect, we rarely feel we can afford to do nothing for several hours or a whole day. The last time I took the time was about nine months ago. I was distraught and tired and stressed. So, I shared with my wife that I needed to take a 24-hour retreat. She supported the idea and knew that I was feeling overwhelmed. So, here are my notes. Perhaps it will fuel your decision to spend some time in solitude.

Monday afternoon 5:25 PM – Reading Nehemiah 1:1-2:10

  1. Hears the news of Jerusalem
  2. Weeps, mourns the loss
  3. Prays – confesses sin, reminded God of his promises, asks for favor with king
  4. Goes about his work…
  5. Four months later the king notices Nehemiah being sad and asks him what’s wrong.
  6. Nehemiah tells his story and asks for help
  7. King and queen confer and say sure, they’ll be glad to help
  8. Nehemiah takes the letters of support the king & queen give him and the army the king provided and went toward Jerusalem
  9. Arrives in Jerusalem; it’s January.
  10. After being in town for three days he goes to inspect the walls
  11. Opposition to him begins immediately from foreigners and outsiders

I’m immediately struck that the Lord called a eunuch, a man who worked for the king/government to restore the holy and symbolic city of Judah. Not a warrior, not a priest, but a man of compassion and planning. Could it be that the Lord would want to re-build Intown?

6:00 PM – Listening to Henri Nouwen’s book: The Way of the Heart (it’s only about 2 hours long available on

4th and 5th Century in Egyptian desert – the Sayings of the Desert Fathers provide a consistent theme with today and how our hearts have not changed. They dealt with the same challenges and temptations that we deal with today.

We are busy people, we go through our days doing the “should” and “oughts” as if they were the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The compulsive minister – our society is ship wrecked and we should be running for our lives.

Have been so seduced by the powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our fatal state?

Meetings to attend, visits to make and many services to lead. We are motivated to come to church, give money, be happy and be rewarded by rewards that are rewarded to busy people. Why is this so?

What is my identity?

There is anger below the surface.

Solitude is the furnace of transformation… the place of conversion. The old self dies and the new self emerges in solitude.

Transforming solitude.

  • get rid of scaffolding
  • it is a concrete place
  • We have to die to our neighbors – to stop judging them, to stop measuring our success in comparison to them.
  • Thus, to become free to become compassionate
  • Compassion and judgement cannot co-exist

Three things are concerning me:

  1. My church
  2. Friend 1
  3. Friend 2

Silence – Psalm 39:1 – St. Benidict

I said, “I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
while in the presence of the wicked.”

Words can get in the way.

Silence guards the inner life with God.

Preaching: read the words of Scripture repeatedly and allow for silence with a few comments.

Holy Spirit is the divine counselour.

Solitude and silence can never be separated from the call to unceasing prayer.

As soon as you decide that you are going to live in peace, evil comes to attack you with boredom, distraction, evil thoughts, sickness, weakness, etc.

Prayer of the mind –

  • Most ministers pray very little or not at all
  • One of the attacks of evil is making us think that prayer is primarily of the mind – “speaking with God” or thinking about God, talking to God.
  • Thinking about God is not a spontaneous event while thinking about the pressing matters of life comes quite naturally – ain’t that a bitch?
  • This intellectual idea of prayer has evolved through a view of the world as being mastered through the intellect
  • Real prayer comes from the heart

Nouwen said, “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand in the face of the Lord ever present, all seeing within you.”

Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart. Totally one. Heart speaks to heart.

Stretch out your hand, “Lord as you will and as you know, have mercy. Lord, help.”

If we train our hearts to a point of praying, we will pray more.

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

As my prayer passes from my lips to my heart, the heart continues to pray in me.

Solitude, Silence & Prayer.

8:50 PM


  1. Don’t judge others
  2. Have compassion
  3. Be silent more
  4. Pray unceasingly

Church – stay?

Friend 1 in relational challenge – love and listen

Friend 2 with ministry challenge – support – how?

6/19/2012 – 9:15 AM

Read a blog by John Eldredge on Practicing the Presence of Jesus through worship, personal worship. Good stuff!

Remembering Jed’s birth brings me to tears. He’s 22 today and what a kid!

(Song lyrics) “If I give it all to you, will you take it all?”

When I was a very young follower of Jesus, I would sit on the wooden floor in the bedroom I shared with two brothers. I would station myself at the end of the dresser near our closet and read the Bible and pray. Some 45+ years later God is still present as I follow the pattern of reading, praying and listening. Several years ago I asked the Lord to take me back or to restore that sense of His presence and He’s done that through years of pruning by his hand of love.

Thank you, Lord.

Shane Claiborne – The Irresistible Revolution

Bob Sorge – Unrelenting Prayer

Toward a Vision of the Local Church (book I should write)

Friendship and community.

June 2006, American Sociological Review, Duke University and University of Arizona study: 1 in 4 Americans have no one to confide in.

The new social detachment appears to have come as a result of our hardwired American pursuit of what we want.

Where the church holds the trump card is in human contact.

House churches – would this be a place for us, Lord?

Intown: Praying for a leader to emerge to re-build my church. Like Nehemiah. A Team Effort.

Personal messages to me: this is a time of pruning and receiving.





Chapter 9: Moving Day

Saturday is “Moving Day” in the context of professional golf’s typical four-day tournament, Thursday and Friday are used to whittle down the field of players to the final 40 or so who will play the two weekend rounds. Everyone who fails to make the cut goes home. Saturday is called “Moving Day” because it is the day when competitors try to set themselves us for the final push on Sunday.

There are a couple of similarities for me on this Saturday. Moving out of CCU is very likely according to the nurses and doctors I had seen so far. And moving to a semi-private room means I was one step closer to being discharged and one step closer to returning home to Atlanta. The implications of changing rooms and eventually being discharged were the dominant themes for the day. It must be similar to the golfer fielding questions about where he needs to be on Sunday in order to have a chance to win the tournament. But he hasn’t even played the 18 holes scheduled for today! One thing at a time, please.

Curt was trying to get a new plane reservation to fly to Atlanta on Saturday evening or Sunday, but there were long wait times on the phone. Eventually, he took a taxi to the airport and made a reservation for Sunday at 1:00 PM. Curt had been a great support and friend to me when I really needed him to help me. I thanked him for everything as he left my room that afternoon.

I had changed the station on the radio that Lind had secured for me. All day Saturday there was classical music filling the background in my room. The music reminded me of beauty being born of suffering as I recalled the struggles that had filled the lives of many composers. Perhaps beauty could come from my pain.

I had received an email message from my friend and fellow elder Brian Terrell saying that he was going to be making an announcement during the worship service on Sunday morning at our church. He had expressed his shock and disbelief upon receiving my email on the 10th that I had sent to elders and pastors at my church. Later in the day I sent an email with the following prayer requests:

  1. Thankful for wonderful care at hospital in Montreal
  2. Safe travel for Jenny & Jameson to Montreal on Sunday
  3. Good discharge from hospital on Monday
  4. Smooth flight home on Tuesday.

It all seemed so simple.

Again, I was told in the afternoon that I would probably have to leave my CCU room and move to the Cardiology section that was two floors up later that day. I would likely go to a semi-private room with one other patient. The hospital was experiencing high emergency demand with a flu epidemic and the usual influx of sick people on the weekend.

Rev. Terry Gyger was an old friend of mine who had spent many years helping folks plant new churches in major cities around the world. Terry had recently “retired” from a position as president of Redeemer City To City based in New York. He and his wife Dorothy had been using Atlanta as home base and now Terry would be working from there as well. He was helping my church in our transitions and we had just made the decision to hire him as our Interim Senior Pastor prior to my trip to Montreal. Thus, he was on my distribution when I emailed the Intown folks about my heart attack. Terry contacted a pastor friend of his who lived in Montreal to let him know of my situation. Consequently, I received a call that morning from Rev. Jean Zoellner who was traveling back to Montreal from Ottawa and wanted to come see me this evening. I was delighted to hear from him and looked forward to his visit. He came by after dinner and we had a refreshing and encouraging time. He lived in a South Montreal neighborhood with a L’Arche community. The L’Arche folks had converted a church into a day program center and the rectory was now the L’Arche residential house.

Since I now had my suitcase, backpack and a plastic bag of clothes (think large bag including boots and a winter coat – Montreal in January, remember!) that I had worn to the ER, moving me to another unit would not be a simple feat. However, around 10:00 PM, the nurse told me to go to sleep because they had not heard anything. After expecting to move all day, I was wondering what was going to happen. She said, “We’re keeping you here as long as we can because we know we are better when you are here.”

I was so struck by her comment that I immediately entered it into the notepad in my iPhone. I was not sure exactly what she meant, but I liked the sentiment.

Finally, at 11:40 PM, a couple of nurses and an orderly came in and said that it was time to move.

We gathered all my stuff, decided to toss my 3 different oxygen masks, and I sat in a mega wheeled chair and we were off. It reminded me of a Jeff Foxworthy story about his family going to Hawaii. I think he called it, “The Clampetts Go On Vacation.” When the elevator door opened to the 4th Floor I thought I had crossed into the tropics. The air was thick and hot. Where was I? There were even beds in the hallway and it was dark and seemed foggy, though I expect that was my brain having been awakened during my first rim cycle of sleep.

Soon, we reached my new room. It was smaller and there was sleeping person on the other side of the curtain. I got into a harder, flatter bed. It was nosier with new nurses who insisted on checking my vital signs and connecting me to an older, heavier transmitter for monitoring my heart activity. Unfortunately, I was not able to get much sleep that night.

Moving Day was finally over. It had been a really terrific day, but the ending minutes gave me even greater desire for Home.



Mind Game: hiding behind words

Have you ever considered how you’ve come to view prayer and how you actually pray? When I hear Jesus talking about prayer and observe the glimpses that we see in the Gospels of the New Testament, I wonder if what we so often do is the same as the prayer Jesus is talking about. The most common thread to his prayer life is solitude. We don’t do much of that. And he seems to suggest the best approach for us. “Go into your closet and close the door so no one can see,” he told us.

“And, by the way, your Heavenly Father already knows what you need, so, don’t be long-winded and repetitive,” he said.

One of the attacks of evil is making us think that prayer is primarily of the mind – “speaking with God” or “thinking about God” or “talking to God.” We have placed such a high value on mastering the world through the intellect that our view of prayer has evolved into a mind game with God. Some how we have gotten the idea that the theological correctness or the order of our prayers is really, really important. I can almost hear Jesus say, “my dear children, speak from your heart.”

Reading a prayer that someone else has written is perhaps helpful at times to help us put words to our feelings, but at some point we have to go “off script” and improvise from how we are really feeling and what we are desiring. In order for us to freely do that we must know deeply that we are beloved of God.

Perhaps we should all take as our nickname – Jedidiah! The name means “loved by God” or “beloved of God.” We named our third son Jedidiah the day after he was born. We searched for another “J” name and discovered a great story and truth from the life of King David. Here’s the scripture reference from 2 Samuel chapter 12:

24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.

Unless we hear the voice of God calling to us in love, we will try to hide behind the “right words” and the correct theology when we sit in his presence or come to him in prayer. You may come to him thinking you are Jack or Sylvia, but remember that God has given you a nickname – Beloved! And he wants to hear the simple or the sophisticated words from you. Not the formulaic or repetitious, but the dialogue of your heart. He is there. He is near.


Why aren’t churches more like people? And how that would make a difference in hard times.

One of my favorite books is TURN MY MOURNING INTO DANCING by Henri Nouwen. I’ve read it more than once and given away at least 15 copies in the past four years. Some say that it gives them a “framework” for dealing with suffering and others say that it has helped them learn to mourn their past and their sins and to receive healing. To me, it is all those things and more.

In this short 110-page collection of Nouwen’s writings and sermons on suffering and finding hope in hard times, we learn to remember and forget and to move forward from the depths of pain and challenge. This is all a great handbook for the valleys of a life lived from a whole heart, but how could some of the principles be applied to a whole community of people. Skeptical? So am I.

The church that I’ve been a part of for some 28 years is going through a very hard time. With that as background I came across these words recently in this book: Memory also reminds us of the faithfulness of God in the hard places and joyous moments. It lets us see how God has brought good from even the impossible situations. Remembering in this way allows us to live in the present. It does not mean to live in another time but to live in the present with our whole history, with an awareness of the possibilities we might not otherwise think to look for.

And this is no problem for an individual because all of my memories are contained in my heart and mind. But this is a major challenge for a church because our memory is a collection of all of the remembrances from all of the people who ever been a part of this community of faith. Those who are a part of this body in the here and now represent only a fraction of that memory of the faithfulness of God over the years. And changing pastors on multiple occasions is like transplanting the cerebral cortex with a new set of disconnected memories or starting over. The body has joys and sorrows, beauty and sadness, but only selected remembrances tie them together.

So, what do we draw upon when times are tough? Our corporate memory fails us. For an individual, here’s the advice Nouwen offer. Would this also work for a community of individuals?

1. Count your losses. As a prelude to our dance, we need to ask ourselves to remember what we have actually lost. For most churches, we have lost people over the years. Sometimes our loss is because of life changes, or illness or death, but too often it is “painfully, through misunderstanding, conflict or anger.”

2. Live in Hope. If we had a memory, we would experience the possibility of God’s rescue through a variety of means. Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world or success in the business. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.

3. Open your community to receive compassion. To receive compassion, we have to allow others into our despair and pain. One of the hardest times for me was a few years ago when I suffered great loss and pain and was forced to let others know; including letting God know. I had to come to Him with empty and open hands and then to share weakness with people I knew and people I didn’t. Pride does not die easily and sharing our weakness and failure with family, friends and acquaintances can be excruciating. But, when shared, suffering is a catalyst for community and compassion. The key component to the word “compassion” is “with”. It is “suffering with” and “sharing with” and “sitting with” and “praying with.”

4. Overcome your activity to stop and pray. When things are great or tough, or life is sweet or it stinks, our vitality and movement into wholeness and allowing the voice of God to invade our prayers is dependent on a discipline of quiet or solitude. Our mind may tell us to get busy, but new beginnings or pressing the re-set button are only possible with the energy produced from prayer. Light a new fire through prayer.

5. Read life backwards. Nouwen instructs us that without memory there is not expectation. “For by not remembering we allow forgotten memories to become independent forces that have a crippling effect on our functioning and relating and praying… Like the people of Israel who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God’s guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God’s presence in the events that have made us or unmade us.”

There’s more in the book and there’s more in the Bible, but here’s one of my favorite lines as we finish our time of sharing. This is the money quote for today and always, for individuals and churches.

For even while we mourn, we do not forget how our life can ultimately join God’s larger dance of life and hope.

So, if churches were more like people, perhaps we would experience more hope when our churches go through hard times.

Anima Christi

Although this has been around for 600 years or so, I have just recently discovered the beauty and power of this prayer.

Soul of Chirst, sanctify me

Body of Christ, save me

Blood of Christ, inebriate me

Water from Christ’s side, wash me

Passion of Christ, strengthen me

O good Jesus, hear me

Within thy wounds hide me

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee

From the malicious enemy defend me

In the hour of my death call me

And bid me come unto Thee

That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels

Forever and ever