Gone in Sixty Seconds and the Priest Who Died So Others Might Live!

Sixty seconds.

That’s all you the time you have left to live.

How are you going to use it?

That’s the “spiritual rhythm/discipline” I’ve been trying on for size the past six years or so. It’s challenging because it forces me to spend that moment – which is all I am ever promised anyhow – well. It’s not enough time to do anything (fix what’s broken, repair what I’ve mangled, etc.) other than use that time well.

In this season of social distancing (a phrase that my good friend Derek West calls an oxymoron – “if you’re distant, you can’t be social”), this discipline/rhythm is taking on new meaning for me.

The discipline itself is rooted in the Scriptures. While I’ve not done a thorough examination, I’d guess there are a couple of dozen direct biblical references to time and our use of it. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, more indirect references and lessons related to the use of time in the Bible.

My favorite is found in Ephesians 5;15-16,

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. “

Earlier, in Ephesians 5:1, Paul encourages us to “live in love.” He then defines what he means by instructing us to imitate and model Christ in the world.

When we see words like “imitate” and “model” we think they mean that we observe and repeat what we see. But it’s not as simple as observing and repeating. To imitate means more than mere observation.

If I am going to imitate someone, I will need to get to know them. I will need to become so familiar with them that it’s as if I become them. Imitation demands intimacy!

That’s why Paul, before he tells us to imitate Jesus, encourage us, in Ephesians 4, to clothe ourselves in Him. We are, in a literal sense, to “put on Jesus.” In Ephesians 4:24 we read,

“Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This “putting on Jesus” is something we do again and again. It requires discipline – an action we take that’s driven by an intention we have.

When reflecting on Spiritual Discipline, Henri Nouwen once wrote,

“In the spiritual life, the word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means finding that place where you’re not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”

The act (or action) of clothing myself in Him is a recurring discipline that creates space in which God acts. The discipline creates space in my life for God to do the unexpected in and through me!

In other words, if my intention is to imitate Jesus, then the action that must happen prior to that is the discipline of “clothing myself” in Him.

As we clothe ourselves in Him, we are then empowered by Him – His life within us – to live in love as we live in the world.

This is what Ephesians 5:15 explicitly calls living wisely – or living in wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-16. Specifically, that means that as God’s beloved children (Ephesians 5:1-2), clothed in Christ and living in union with Him (Ephesians 4), we are empowered to live well in a world that’s all but forgotten (and even forsaken) how (Ephesians 5:3-4) to live well.

This week, I was humbled by a news article that exemplifies how one can live wisely in our world. The story caught my eye because it’s subject is an Italian Priest who died from the Cornovirus in March. He died because he made a decision to surrender his ventilator so that someone younger might have access to it and live.

Such a decision is possible, even probable, for one who spends a lifetime clothing themselves in Christ. That’s a decision to live as God’s beloved, wrapped up in His life, in the world. A world where both currently and rampantly our first inclination is to hoard, consume, and preserve ourselves rather than sacrifice and share for the sake of others!

Could I make that kind of decision?

Honestly, I am not sure.

I know I could give up a ventilator for those I love, but for those I don’t know and those who may even be an “enemy,” I am not so sure.

I’ve recently witnessed other behaviors from Christian leaders that I consider to be foolish. Behaviors like bantering on about our First Amendment Rights in relation to the mitigations set in place during this Coronavirus pandemic.

No. That’s not the way I want to live those last sixty seconds of my life.

Nor is it the way I think the Scriptures encourage us to live them.

Sixty seconds.

That’s all the time you have left to live.

Do you surrender your ventilator so that others might live?

Do you whine about your rights and pound your self-righteous chest so that all might hear just how upset you are?

Do you extend mercy and grace or anger and hate?

Do you share the light of Christ or keep His light to yourself?

Do you rest in peace as you head into peaceful rest?

Are you able to reflect on a lifetime of sixty seconds in which you’ve “put on Christ” and absorbed HIm into your life?

Sixty seconds.

How are you going to use it?

I am asking myself these questions more than ever before.

I am not always satisfied with my answers, but I am thankful that I continue to ask the question.

Grace and peace,

Biz

Redeveloping the “Y” Axis!

If you remember, I finished my last post (here) with the assertion that the church is in position to restore what I call a y-axis reality.  Borrowing the term x-y axis,” we first learned in geometry.

The x-axis is, of course, the horizontal (time-bound/natural) plane.  For our purposes, the x-axis represents a life lived and experienced on a horizontal playing field. On this horizontal playing field, all that you see is all that there is.

No reason to look up or out.

There is nothing, or no one, there.

Sociologists call this an immanent frame.

An immanent frame is, in the words of Charles Taylor, a way we perceive the world that “frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) frame.”

Life within this immanent frame unconsciously denies the reality of the supernatural.

The natural, time-bound, experience of life is all that’s left in life.

Most authorities on the subject agree: ours is an immanent frame!

We now live in an x-axis-only frame.

Our world is pretty much an x-axis world.  By that, I mean that we only look out and rarely, if ever, look up.

And, while I believe in a y-axis reality, I am guilty of getting stuck in an x-axis-only mentality.  Yes, I am often guilty of living like the world.  At least in this way.

Living as if the only solutions available to me are ones I can see that are right in front of me, I look out but do not look up.

In other words, I live on the x-axis.

I want to live on the y-axis.

The y-axis is the vertical plane.  It’s the “let’s look up again and dream a world shaped by the sacred, saturated with wonder, and soaked in awe” axis.

It’s the axis that points me to something, Someone, beyond what my eyes see.

In a world whose resources are limited, it just makes sense to be a y-axis person.

Y-Axis Problems in an X-Axis World

But I find it challenging to live on the Y-axis.  It’s just too easy to get caught up in myself and my problems.  When I do that, I tend to look to myself (and those around me) for solutions.

At times those solutions work out pretty well.  Most often, however, the solutions are short-term solutions, and I find myself back – again – where I once was.  This time around, a little more aggravated and far less patient.

The stress of returning to the problems takes its toll.  Then, in dealing with anxiety, I begin to select options located within an x-axis-only frame.   I ask questions like,

“Who caused this problem, and why is it not resolved yet?” Or,

“Whom can I blame for this?”

These x-axis-only questions deliver x-axis-only solutions.  Again, I look to people, circumstances, and situations for the answers.

I am learning a harsh lesson: my default position, especially when dealing with tough situations or encountering intractable problems, is x-axis-only.

So, I wonder, “if I struggle with being a y-axis person, are there others who do as well?”

If so, then maybe there is a spiritual discipline or rhythm available to us that well help reorient ourselves to a y-axis reality.

Re-developing the Y-Axis Reality

Perhaps, over time and through practice, a y-axis response can be our default orientation!

Being a y-axis person is vital because the y-axis incorporates, and values the x-axis.  The x-axis, conversely, is dismissive of the y-axis and ignorant of its existence!

In other words, when I live on the y-axis (the reality in which I am aware of and attentive to God’s presence), then I become vitally alive in the x-axis (reality in which my life-with-God plays out).

I may have discovered a rhythm for this very purpose.

This spiritual rhythm is nestled within Psalm 105:3-4.  I am just now beginning to practice it, but I will at least give you the gist of it so that you can, if you desire, practice it as well!

Spiritual Rhythms, the With-God-Life, and Y-Axis Reality

First, a word about why I believe spiritual rhythms and disciplines are keys to the With-God-Life and essential to redeveloping a y-axis reality.

  • Spiritual rhythms empower us to live fully into the present reality of God.  They are not an ‘end’ in and of themselves.   They are a means to an end – the highest End of them all – God’s presence within and among us
  • Spiritual rhythms don’t earn any favor with God or serve as some arbitrary measure of our spiritual success. They are simple practices of grace, to be experienced over and over again (habit), that awaken us to the presence of Christ in our midst.  As we are awakened, we are then invited to abide with Him.

As we abide with Him, we then begin to build a Jesus-way of life.

In other words, Spiritual rhythms help cultivate a life around the reality that Jesus is in our midst and that He is inviting us into an interactive and ongoing relationship with Him.

They are tools that help us live into the With-God-Life and experience a Y-axis reality.

Psalm 105:3-4 encourages the spiritual rhythm meditating and reflecting on His word and works:

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered.”

Three Reflections and Meditations Designed to Re-develop the Y-axis Reality

The Psalmist is inviting us to contemplate and meditate on the presence of God in our midst.

His words encourage three specific meditations that encompass all of life and lift us into a Y-axis reality in an X-axis world.

  1. Rejoice in his rule as you meditate on the power of His name.  In this we find contentment.  Hold whatever ails you up to the power of his name and rejoice in his sovereign care.  Yes, He’s got this!
  2. Race after and Rest in His abiding presence.  Assume that God is with you. Look for Him.  Talk to Him. Listen to Him.  When we begin to live as if God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves (Acts 17:27), we learn to rest and trust His love in the anxious moments where fear would like to control us.
  3. Remember the wonderful works he has done.  To remember, in a bible-way, is to focus intently on, reflect, meditate, chew, and digest the thought.  Spend some time recalling the works of God (the rest of Psalm 105 is a great place to start).  Write them down.  Carry these wonderful works with you.  When you feel alone, fearful, abandoned, deserted, take a look at the list.  Carefully hold your situation up to the list.  You may find this will bring some much-needed perspective and hope!

As I said, I am just beginning to practice this meditation.

I know this: without spiritual practices and rhythms, I find myself easily driven by X-axis default patterns.  As I employ spiritual practices and rhythms, I find myself more intently focused on the reality that God is near to me and desires to reveal His will and His way in this very present problem!

Disrupting to Renew!

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I Know What You Did Last Weekend!

I Know What You Did Last Summer, a favorite slasher/horror movie of the late 90s, grossed over 100 million at the box office.

The revenue and popularity generated by the original were immense. So much so that they decided to follow it up with two sequels.

As always, Hollywood greed crowded out good judgment.  The follow-ups were flops.

But, as far as horror movies go, the original still gets strong reviews among regular folk like you and me.

I know that many of my readers probably aren’t into horror movies.  But, for some reason, I’ve always been intrigued by them.

As a child, I read every Hitchcock story I could find.  I picked up much of what Steven King was writing as well.  I read Poe, Mary Shelley, Anne Rice, to name but a few.

There are, of course, many things I now wish I had not read or seen.  I am coming to believe, however, that the horror genre, in general, is on to something.

Something to which the church ought to pay attention!

Continue reading “I Know What You Did Last Weekend!”

Transforming Pastoral Ministry, Pt. 3

Transforming Pastoral Ministry, Pt. 3

The image of Pillars came to me years ago during a brisk afternoon run in the hot Florida sunshine.

It was during a particularly trying season of ministry back in the years of 2003 – 2004.

It was a season filled with strife, conflict, anger, hurt, despair, etc.  The conflict I was experiencing then is, all too often, common within the walls of the church.  The symptoms of the conflict and pain became evident because the Elder board asked our long-tenured senior pastor to resign.

While he did submit his resignation, the forced nature of the resignation was difficult for many in our community to resolve.  The pastor himself struggled with the decision (imposition) for months.

At the time of his departure, I was the recently appointed Executive Pastor of the church.  I was in the post for about six months when the conflict began to make its waves.  About a year into my role was when the termination (forced resignation) came about.

Continue reading “Transforming Pastoral Ministry, Pt. 3”

A Story About A Church: Something Has to Change!

A Story about a Church: Something Has to Change!

Why is that life – that joyful life with Jesus – so hard to experience now?  What is it about the way we are living life that makes such moments exceptional, and why on earth can they not be normative?”

She had me at “why.”

She was right.

In my heart, I sensed that something had to change.

Continue reading “A Story About A Church: Something Has to Change!”