Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Solitude Becomes Multitude

Yesterday was filled with unexpected visitors.  My nice work free afternoon became crowded with extra trips to here, needed work there, and on top of all that I felt like I was getting sick.  My choice for a solitary existance turned into an afternoon of multitary demands.  The demand that went unmet was my planned yearly sermon prep time. 

I am going to try to get some solitary time tomorrow.  Today has too many demands of which a nap for me is my personal priority right now.  I should have some time following church tomorrow where I can get away from everything.  Say a prayer for me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm Going to Get Some Solitude Today

I should be able to get a little solitude in today.  I have a few things to do in the morning, and then I am off for some solitude.  I worked real hard to get most of my day off today.  It is crazy when you have to schedule solitude.

I am going to spend some time in silence listening to God.  During this time of the year, I work out my sermons for the next calendar year.  I am going to listen to see if I can hear any clear messages.  Won't you spend a little time in solitude with me this weekend?  Just listen.  Just stop.  Just quiet yourself long enough to possibly hear something other than the noise around you.  God bless.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


How do you get the noise to stop?  There is noise everywhere.  Voices, sounds, cries, rattling, TV, radio, machines, etc.  Noise is everywhere.

I lock myself away every now and then to get something accomlished.  The last time I did that the phone rang, my cell went off, someone came to the doorl  It was crazy. 

I am going to go look for some solitude today and spend it in silence.  Why don't you join me?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The outward disciplines ironically make great demands upon the inner person.  Solitude has an outer appearance that demands an inner practice for continuity.  The integrity of the experience cannot be judged by the outward reflection only.

Solitude may have the appearance of being alone, but it may only be aloneness.  The actions of the hermit may be counter to solitude and may just be a separation from society.  Solitude and silence may be the opposite of the disciplines they are connected to. 

In one of my favorite roles of Tom Hanks, he portrays the challenge that many of us feel as we find ourselves alone.  Cast Away demonstrates the human tragedy of being completely alone.  Forced to live alone, Chuck had to find a way to survive.  Chuck learned to survive but never found solace in the solitude.  He was always bent on leaving. 

I have trended toward Chuck.  When I find myself alone, I tend to try to find any means possible to not be alone.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chapter 7-The Discipline of Solitude

Solitude and silence elude me.  I want to be alone, but I hate being alone.  I like the quiet, but I need the noise.  I am around people all the time because I hate to be alone.

During the early years of my ministry life, I worked all the time.  I was at home only to sleep.  For years, I fooled myself into believing that my commitment alone pushed me, but the truth is that some of it was fueled by my inability to be alone.  I found no comfort in my own presence.

Over the years, I have discovered that being alone is not that bad.  My ministry in TN left me alone in an office for many hours.  My current ministry affords solitude when my other staff member leaves for the day.  I still long for companionship and the company of others, but now I can spend time in a solitary manner without running for the first place to find another human.

What do we fear about being alone?  What challenge is offered in no one else's presence?  What are we afraid will happen?  What might we do?  What might we hear?  What?

It's Really That Simple

My family is still in the midst of simplifying.  We are trying to get rid of excessive choices in our life.  We are trying to limit our complexity.  Yet, we still seem to become more complicated every day.  The more we try to simplify, the more the system seems to fight back. 

This outward discipline is not a momentary one.  Some of the disciplines can be exercised for a few moments and then repeated somewhere else down the road.  Simplicity is a discipline that is born out over an expanse of time.  Small moves now must connect with others in the tomorrow of our lives.  This discipline cries out for a lifetime of action. 

Maybe on my tombstone the words will read, "He enjoyed a simple life."  Maybe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simplicity and Human Relationships

Complexity oozes from most relationships.  Complicated situations and confusing issues make human interaction more difficult.  Conflict only makes matters more complex, complicated, and confusing.

In our range of human experiences, I wonder what percentage of relationships would be considered simple.

I am blessed with a few simple relationships.  What you see is what you get.  There is little or no pretense.  You do not have to wonder where things stand.  You just know. 

Oh, for more simple relationships.  Oh, for simpler days.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nothing Is Simple

Our congregation was giving away coats to people in need today.  We gave away around 600 items.  It is a wondrous thing to be able to help neighbors.  This summer we gave away 8,000 pieces of clothing.  It is such an honor to help God with His humanitarian efforts.

I was surprised at how many people asked us if they needed ID or proof of government assistance.  People called asking how they could qualify.  Others were prepared to give name and address.

All we wanted to do was give them a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf.  That's all.  That's it.  Nothing more.

Why can't things be more simple? 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seek First

Foster's take on "seeking first the Kingdom of God" is an interesting concept.  The notion that one must "seek" prior to moving into the simple life is quite profound.  Many of us could give things away, but that does not necessarily demonstrate the inner change necessary for the simple life.  Simplicity could easily be equated with asceticism if it were not for the "seeking."  God does not desire poverty but simplicity.

On the other hand, I have known a few wealthy people who seemed to have a simple life.  They had not given all away, but they had developed a Kingdom first mentality that kept their heart in the right place.  Perhaps that is the sum of it all.  It's the heart and treasure thing.  Find the treasure, and you will know where the heart is.

"And all these things shall be added unto you."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finance and Simplicity

When my family lived in TN, we had very little.  We lived in a doublewide.  We had just enough to get by.  While living in MI, we have been blessed with a lot.  We make a good living.  We need a lot more money here.  All in all, I felt better in TN, financially speaking.  We made little, but we needed little.  Here, we make more, but we need more.  

I long for simpler times.  Stuff clutters our lives physically and financially.  Paula and I are working to unclutter our lives.  We are looking at all options. 

We long for simplicity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Yesterday was one of the most complicated days of my life.  There was a big blow up with my son.  There were doctors appointments.  There was work.  There was family.  There was working out the family dynamics.  There was . . .

I had an AT&T guy try to switch us over to their phone, tv, internet service for an hour.  I couldn't have him sit down in the living room because we have a bunch of stuff to sell sitting in there.  He couldn't sit at the dinner table as he came to the door as we were finishing dinner.  I decided then and there that, although I have been decluttering my life, I have not gone far enough. 

The clutter of life distracts from the important stuff of life.  Have you ever noticed that clutter clutters and time wasters waste time.  I am ready to be free of all that.  I have tried to make the move surgically.  One little bit at a time.  I think I am going to throw the baby out with the bath water and just cleanse.  After parent/teacher conferences tonight, I am going to purge!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chapter 6-The Discipline of Simplicity

The first of the "outward" disciplines is such a paradox.  Simplicity is far from simple.  The least cluttered and complicated of the disciplines, simplicity is perhaps the most difficult to practice.

The "inward" disciplines of the last 4 weeks are practiced in the privacy of ones own closet.  The "outward" disciplines are on full display for everyone to see.  Everyone can pick out someone who practices simplicity or, for that matter, someone who doesn't.  Which one are you?

I tend to be a complicator.  I tend to make my world more complex.  I tend to collect.  I tend to hold onto.  I tend to not be simple.  I so want a simplified life.  And honestly, my family and I are working toward that end.

We have gone through just about all of the house (garage and basement are still on the list) and shared many of our possessions with others who need them.  We are continually asking the question "Do we really need this?"  17 years of accumumlated family stuff can amount to an awful lot.  It can also complicate life, and it has. 

I think I am going to clean the office computer desk at home tonight.  That sounds simple. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Paths

I recently realized one of the reasons why Bible School can be challenging for adults.  The two approaches to studying Scripture vary greatly.  Exposition tries to discover "what the passage is saying," and devotional study attempts to find "what the passage is saying to me."  For some, straight exposition is to bulky and cluttered with references to history, linguistics, and foreign cultures.  For others, devotional study seems too subjective and fuzzy.

As a teacher, I have felt the angst of the students as they desire the opposite they are receiving.  "You need to give us more meat," they might say.  Or "So what does that have to do with me," others might remark.  Keeping a balance between textual and personal can be quite difficult.

In a class I am currently teaching, I am trying to develop an environment that will allow for both.  The students have material that covers both sides of this balance.  I believe that some will gravitate toward both.  Having the material before them, they will choose which is most important to them.  Perhaps this format will give the class an opportunity to discover where they would like the balance to be.  I'm just going to hang on and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Crumbs for the dogs"

My Bible School class studied the passage from Mark 7 that talks about the woman who needed her child freed of a demon, and Jesus tells her that she needs to wait her turn.  I have read this a thousand times and have always felt sorry for the woman.  It is as though Jesus brushed her right off, or that's how I have always reacted to the story.

Upon further study this week, I discovered a wonderful word in Jesus remarks to her.  It was the word "first."  Jesus told her that the children get the crumbs before the dog, but He never told her she couldn't have some.  God's plan was to take the message of salvation to the Jews first; then to the Gentiles. 

Jesus is amazing.  He made His point several different ways.  He was in Gentile country telling a Gentile woman that she would have her turn.  Wasn't that what He was saying merely by His presence.  He had come to her (them) but not until He had gone to Israel.  He was demonstrating His concern for her by that same presence.  He had no reason to be there other than to bring Himself into their proximity.  He demonstrated His point as He was making His point.  What a wonderful teacher!!!!!

I think the Syrophoenician woman was probably OK with the crumbs she got that day.  God give me just the crumbs you have left over.  Bless me with much with just what is left over.  Thank you for the crumbs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Nonverbal Books"

Foster makes a lot out of "nonverbal books."  By that, he means almost anything else that can be studied that is not in written form.  These are the events of life, history, art, nature, relationships, etc. 

I was thinking about my wife's 5 cats.  They love my wife.  They love being with my wife.  They wait for her, look for her, and . . . (fill in with any needy kind of thing).  That kind of love or dependence is what I imagine God looks for from us.  Longing, affection, desire, need, exhiliration, joy, contentment, etc.

There might actually be something I could learn from my wife's cats.  Well, I guess they are good for something.


Studying for my sermon this week, I ran across an interesting concept.  Rom. 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  I must have read and studied this passage a hundred times.  The "and" finally caught me this time.

Are the two concepts "have sinned" and "fall short" two separate issues or a consequential truth.  Did we all sin and then fall short, or did we sin and therefore fall short?  I don't think the end result is different, but the point could be.  I am sure that I fall short of God's glory even when I don't sin.  My perfection is even less than the glory of God let alone my sin.

God thank you for your grace.  I need you when I am bad and good.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Studying My Nose

I had a minor procedure done on my nose yesterday.  I had a plastic surgeon remove a subaceous hyperplasia from the end of my nose.  My family doctor has removed many over the past several months, but she wanted a plastic surgeon take care of this prominent one.

I don't consider myself a vain person, but when the bandage moved a little and I saw the 5 stitches instead of 1 or 2 as told before the procedure, I felt a little self-conscious.  To be honest the bump on the end of my nose has been visible for several years, but I was more concerned about the potential scar from the work of a pro.  That seems a little odd.

I have never been good with surprises or changes.  In fact, I have many times acted like a real jerk just because I "was not prepared for _______."  I have made a mess of surprise parties, unexpected changes in plans, unforseen circumstances, etc.  I need to let go of control and learn to live with life.

I think my nose is going to be OK.  I had the bump removed because I wanted it gone.  It is gone.  That is good right?  What do I have to complain about?  I need to go apologize to some people.  Looking at yourself under the microscope of study isn't as bad as I thought.  Now doing something about what I have seen . . . now that's another thing all together.  I'm going to apologize to some of my favorite people in the world.  They deserve it, and I need it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I love school.  I could go to school for the rest of my life.  I tried it once.  Five years of seminary that were only supposed to last two.  In fact, I am planning on beginning my DMin within the next two years.

I study a lot.  Sermon prep, ministry books, theoretical physics, and as much church history as I can find.  But I cannot tell you the last time I studied our world or national situations or events in the Far East. 

Foster challenges the notions of study by including nonverbal "books."  I am always intrigued when I read this section, but I am rarely moved to explore this region of study.  I think I am going to study nonverbal "books" as my first action of studying tomorrow.  I will let you know how it went.  Have a great day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter 5-The Discipline of Study

I love going to school.  I love studying.  I love my nose pressed into a good book or even a bad one.  I live for new ideas and challenging concepts.  I like to master new fields.  I enjoy the process of discovery.

Foster aptly points out his four steps of studying-repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection.  I profoundly agree that we too often never reach the stage of reflection.  This life-change component of understanding is so frequently overlooked and so desperately needed.

I am going to attempt to practice the discipline of study this week with a slant toward reflection.  I will study books and events.  I will start tomorrow with a Bible passage that I will be preaching from this weekend.  I hope you will join me as I venture into the Book of Romans.  I will use Romans 1:1-3:20 as the broad text for this sermon.  Hope you join me in those pages.

My Brother Said This Would Happen

My brother told me that a blog would get difficult.  Well, I have found it challenging over the past few days.  I have consistently stayed a day behind. 

This is the final blog on fasting.  I will intro the new discipline later today.

The pace of life has made this attempt at practicing the classic disciplines hard.  I originally thought the disciplines would make this project difficult.  I now believe that my life makes the disciplines difficult.

My family is going through a decluttering phase.  We have cleaned rooms.  Emptied closets.  Given away bags of clothing.  We are cleaning out the garage.  We are getting rid of stuff to make room for life.

I believe that I need to do that in my spiritual life.  I need to declutter so I can make room for life.  I need to rid my life of some stuff so I can put better stuff in.  I think I'll go and clean a closet or two and then try to figure out how to do that in my life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Enough Discipline

I am just now remembering why the disciplined life is so difficult.  Discipline always demonstrates the need for more discipline. 

My life has been crazy over the last many weeks.  This project is one of many that I am currently involved in.  I thought this exercise would be a good break from everything else, but I am realizing that this project is the perfect opportunity for me to see the lunacy of my life.

Discipline cannot be added to a hectic life.  Discipline brings order to the crazy schedule.  I have up til now just tried to add this project into the mix.  Some disciplines can just be thrown into you day, but others life fasting demand more attention. 

My 36 hour fast will not happen within this week, but I still learned a lot from not being able to do it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Forgetting, again.

Yesterday was a very long day.  Our church had a work day at two sites on Saturday.  We were landscaping a school and painting a pregnancy center.  We started early and worked all day. 

When I finally arrived home, my son was using the computer.  When he stopped for the evening, I went about my business (resting mostly) and then went to bed.  Needless to say, I forgot to do this blog.  I remembered this morning as I was waking up,  but yesterday had already passed.

Discipline is more than just wanting to do something.  Discipline is the positive habit we form by choosing a good action.  I may have forgotten yesterday, but I still choose the disciplined life.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fasting and Forgetting

I don't know that I failed at my fast, but I struggled none the less.  I didn't fail because I ate something; although, I did.  Last night as a warmed up my son's pizza, I took two bites of bacon left on the warming tray.  23 hours in, I was at the church helping a young lady's family prepare a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for her upcoming mission trip, and I was offered a key lime tart.  Not thinking, I enjoyed it all.

I failed this attempt at fasting not because I ate but because I could not focus.  For the past day, life and work have been demanding.  I have run here, been interviewed by a radio station, ordered mulch for a church project, went to a meeting, grocery shopped, and a vast assortment of other important things.

I forgot that fasting and solitude are an excellent pairing.  Fasting is much more than not eating.  Fasting is about focus and attention.  I lacked both over the last 24 hours.  The food thing was no big deal.  I guess that is why fasting is difficult and not eating is only inconvenient.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fasting Tomorrow

As I prepare for my fast, I am trying to quiet myself and get mentally ready.  The 24 hour variety offers time to reflect and an attainable finish line.  I will eat a light meal this afternoon and end the fast tomorrow at supper time.

The uncomfortable part of fasting by yourself when you are in a family is the uneasy of not participating with your family at mealtime.  We really like to be able to spend time around the dinner table.  With a 14 year old, my wife and  I enjoy the little time we get with our son.  I will just have to focus on our experience even though I will not be sharing in the meal tonight.

I hope you will try fasting with me.  The experience for many of us is more liberating than we imagine and is not as difficult as we might think.  Good luck not eating.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Celebrating the Disciplines Together

Spiritual discipline as a corporate event has become an endangered species.  The disciplines have been relegated to the domain of the individual.  I believe our overvalued sense of individualistic self-actualization has wiped out most of the community aspects of American life.  We are so into the self that we have forgotten about the importance of the gathering of ourselves.  This impact has been profoundly detrimental to the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Fasting as an individual practice has disappeared from many corners of our society because we have lost the corporate dynamics that allow for learning across the generations.  Pressing the disciplines into the realm of the individual has moved these practices into the underground recesses of the person.  The who, what, when, why, how questions no longer have a public forum in which to be uttered.  As such, fasting has now been adopted and secularized by a populace that understands little about the spiritual dynamics of this marvelous discipline.

I find it interesting that this discipline has such a long history of corporate practice.  Most recognized religious groups understand the value of fasting.  Both Jews and Christians have had community practices that pressed for regular weekly fasting.  Within the Christian spectrum today, one would have a difficult time finding any group practicing a weekly fast.  I find this amazing and saddening.  I need to do something about this.  Well, perhaps that is what this blog is all about.  Maybe, just maybe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chapter 4-Discipline of Fasting

A word about this project.  If you are just now joining me on this journey, I would like to make it very clear that this blog is not a platform for me to herald my great devotion and outstanding virtues as a Christian minister.  The entire purpose of this work is to share with others my personal experiences and feelings about the classic disciplines.  My goal is to help us all understand how a disciplined devotion can draw us closer to our God.

I have just learned in the last many months that eating can be enjoyed.  I have always eaten as though my life depended upon it.  I don't mean eating in general, but eating this meal right now is the most important thing in the world.  I have always eaten like I grew up in the Great Depression.  Every morsel was taken in as if there might not be another meal.  While I have known times of want, I can't ever remember going without.  Even with that in mind, I have always eaten as if the goal were to consume as many calories as possible.

Recently, I discovered that I could eat until "full" and everything would be OK.  For most of my life, leaving the table meant a feeling of "overeating."  I have lost about 18 pounds recently just by stopping when I am full.

How is it that so many of us find comfort in food?  I would eat when depressed.  I would eat to show I could eat "that" much.  I would eat when the food was bad.  I would eat and eat and eat.

I am looking forward to the discipline of fasting.  I think I am going to do a 24 hour fast and 36 hour fast during the next week.  I will let you know more tomorrow.  I'm going to look for a Twinkie.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prayer for Fasting

Prayer is overwhelmingly simple and frustratingly complex.  Enough said.

As I look forward to the next chapter, I feel that it is appropriate to ask you to pray for me as I getting closer to the next discipline, fasting.  I want my time in the project to be productive.  I really want to fully experience each of the classic disciplines.  I have fasted before, but I want to dig deeper this time in order to share with you my experience.

I hope you prayed with me this past week.  I hope you will join me in fasting this week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


During a time of prayer during services today, I asked people to pray for someone on our prayer list and someone I mentioned.  Did I do that so we could make sure and inform God or keep everyone involved?

Prayer is understood as very imporant and very complicated.  I don't know if I pray because I trut God will help, or if I pray because I'm afraid He won't.  Do we pray to receive or do we pray because we might not.

I don't have the answer, but I am going to pray anyway.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pray Without Ceasing

I remember as a kid hearing that we should "pray without ceasing."  If Foster is right and praying is as much or more listening than speaking, then I can imagine prayer "without ceasing."  It is hard to imagine consciously lifting everything before God, but listening without ceasing seems absolutely possible.

When I first became a father, I discovered that I could hear my son's cry even while in a deep sleep.  I am a very hard sleeper, but I could always hear my son.  It was as though I was always listening even when preoccupied with sleep.  I was listening without ceasing.

If listening is the primary purpose of prayer, then praying without ceasing somehow seems possible for the first time in my life.  43 years of life and I finally learned something.  Pretty good, heh?

God help me as I'm listening. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Prayer & Life

I had a professor wax eloquent one day and say, "To pray is to breathe."  A similar sentiment is found in this chapter.  I have found that praying is more like breathing pure oxygen.  I have only known that experience a few times, but it was so different than my normal experience of breathing and somehow exhilirating.  I pray often, but I am seldom lifted up into the Holy Place.  At times, it actually seems to take my breath away. 

Actually, prayer seems like the first breath of a newborn babe.  Necessary, burning, strange, lifegiving, profoundly unfamiliar experience; yet after a while soothing, empowering, and absolutely necessary.  Perhaps as we peak through the vale of the eternal we are getting our first breaths of air from the other side.  Maybe our connection to Somewhere Beyond Here brings strangeness, disorientation, and even fear.  Could it be that we don't pray because we are too familiar with here and afraid of there.

When my son, Caleb, was born, he turned a nice shade of purple before he really started breathing oxygen.  We remember this quite well because his dad, me, had the video camera running while Paula was having the C-section.  (Should I mention that was against hospital policy?  I was being honest when I told the doctor the camera wasn't on: "it was just flashing."  Oops, my bad!)  Going from one world to the next certainly can be traumatic.  Why am I at times willing to turn purple before I inhaling the air of the other side?  I'm not sure I have a good answer for that.  By the way, I don't think Caleb had a good answer either.

Breathe deep!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Foothills of Prayer

"We should never make prayer too complicated."  Wow, that's what I do best.  I make things complicated.  I can always imagine ways to make things harder than they should be.  I am learning to appreciate simplicity though.  I am just now learning that parenting isn't as hard as it seems.  The complicating factors I add make the situations much more difficult.  When I deal with a situation with simple action, results can easily be seen.  

Prayer is simple, but simple does not mean easy.  I struggle at the vastness of the need for prayer.  Someone had a stroke.  Someone else is going through a divorce.  Iran is developing nukes.  A friend is struggling financially.  My mid-life crisis is growing like a weed.  The planet is in peril.  I have the sniffles.  I desire a profoundly healthy prayer life, not an easy one. 

God, help me talk to you.  By your grace, free me from me and draw me to you.  Thanks for listening.