Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Sacred Weekend

I'm sitting in an airport just a few hours away from my reunion with my family, and just a few hours removed from finishing a weekend retreat with about 100 students from Pepperdine University.


It was a great weekend for me personally for at least a half dozen reasons:


  • They wanted me to share about following Jesus - pretty much the only thing I feel passionate enough to talk about
  • This is my first "speaking engagement" in a long time, and I re-engaged my old ego-based demons associated with that - quite the humbling experience
  • I got to engage in toil side-by-side with a sister-in-arms that I really respect, who has honored and encouraged me by being attentive to my life-long journey - and I got to see and participate in a work she is dying for daily.
  • I got to meet another capable, gifted, and loving couple who has joined her in the work there - and I instantly loved them both deeply.
  • I experienced a very loving, global-minded, receptive, transforming group of college-age students who are eager to "figure it out" in their own hearts while also looking for ways to "change the world" for it’s good.
  • I got to bond personally with a few of these folks, and experienced the powder-keg of energy and desire that resides deep in this generation - and it made me want to connect with, learn from, guide, and make room for them to "do their thing"...because when they do, watch out! It will be very, very different, and very, very good...more like Christ.


I'm still trying to explain to myself what I witnessed in these "kids" this weekend. In one respect, it was just a typical college-age, Christian weekend retreat...complete with beautiful hills and trees, mess hall, swimming pool, football field, and boys and girls cabins (and Fabio (yes, I said Fabio), the cook, and his crew provided very acceptable food).


But as I talked about Jesus, about his heart and desire for them, about his sacred calling for their lives, his sacred motive of love, his sacred strategy for changing the world through relationships...I saw a common desire lighting up behind their eyes.


A desire for a better life. A better way of life. A better way of "doing Christianity".


And while I was very encouraged, and excited...I think more than anything, I was affirmed. I was validated. Does that make sense? As I said, I'm still figuring it out, but I confess that sometimes I think that I'm crazy. Seriously. I walk around wondering if I am the only one feeling the way I am feeling. 


But this weekend, I was clearly presented with evidence that I am not.


I was very blessed this weekend by this group, and they were very gracious to let me share about my life and passion, about Jesus Christ and his life, and how he wants to use us to change the world globally by loving very deeply, personally, and "transformingly" locally. Just like Christ (who changed the world globally having never travelled more than, what, a hundred or so miles locally).


I shared about a God that I am very excited about, but I do that all the time, and I'm just insecure enough to think that maybe no one wants to hear, or no one needs this God like I do, or no one understands just how incredible great the life He offers is.


One of the students had set up an "e-card" station -- full of paper, paint, colors, markers -- for everyone to sit down and create an "encouragement card" for each other. A beautiful heart named Abby told me she would make me one (after I complained out loud that I was feeling left out), and she made a "crayon card"...and on the inside she wrote:





I sure would never have thought to put it that way, but that is exactly how I feel...I know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but He's also new every morning, and so whenever I find something new about God (or rediscover something old), through Christ, I feel like the kid with a new box of perfect crayons and I want to share him, and my excitement about him, with EVERYONE so they can see how awesome He is!


As it turns out, Jesus let me feel him again, through these young and energetic and "open to life" students, many of whom are hungry for guides and mentors who will be open to them and their vision for a new world, and will join them in forging it.


I would be honored to be one, and I hope I have something to offer them, but I sure know that they have a whole lot to offer me.


Across the generations, across the nation, let us all join Christ on his sacred mission of changing the world...starting with ourselves.



Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Silence and Solitude

(I have been home from this time of silence and solitude for weeks, but am only just now posting it. Sorry for the timeline confusion.)
"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." - Genesis 1:2
I am two weeks into my annual 3-week sabbatical from my regular duties and routines that I perform on behalf of the Southwest Church of Christ.
This is my fourth one of these. It was given to me by the good and gracious people of the Southwest Church of Christ, who enable and support me in my attempt to live the life of Christ in their world here in Amarillo.
Each year, I have included within these three weeks, among other things, 3 days with a mentor of mine, 3 days with my kids (one full 24 hour period exclusively with each one), and 3 days of silence and solitude.
I began my silence and solitude today.
Of all the things I do, I most look forward to this. But I also find it the most difficult.
I look forward to it, I think, because my intention is to have nothing to do but be with God. It is a romantic thought, to be sure, and one I can't let go of. I long to be with God (although sometimes I have to settle for longing to long to be with God), and retreating "away from it all" with the intent to be with Him just feels right. Also, it always seems to be costly and inconvenient for me and those around me, enough so for me to be tempted to see it as an impractical luxury. It's almost like something is opposing my practice of it every year, which anyone who knows me knows that that just makes me want to fight for it all the more.
But the biggest reason I'm so attached to it is because of Jesus. He did it.
After Herod beheaded Jesus' cousin John, Matt 14:13 says that "when Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."

After a full day of ministry and the people were coming and the demand for Jesus was growing, it says in Mark 1:35 that "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."

From the beginning of his ministry to the end, he modeled this for me. There is the 40 days of solitude and prayer that Jesus had after his ministry-initiating baptism, and there was his desperate, night-time retreat into the Garden of Gethsemane for a some intense solo time with God at the end of his ministry.
And even if I didn't have all the examples, I have Dr. Luke's summary observation in Luke 5:16 - "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
When I'm at my best, I'm retreating often, too, to lonely places and praying. At my best, I go out to the Palo Duro Canyon weekly for extended time with God, in addition to regular "retreats" into myself wherever I am in my busy day, finding that lonely spot where I am most aware of God.
But this annual 3 day event always tests me. What do I do? What part should the Bible play? Should I study? Should I read? Should I sit in the lotus position all day and meditate? Should I fast? Should I organize each day with a theme? Should I spend the time interceding for people? For my family? For the church I serve? For the lost?
Each year, regardless of my plan, it seems I spend much of my time trying to NOT do things, more than figuring out what I'm going to do.
So today, I spent hours just sitting on a bridge, by a lake, in the rain (it's a covered bridge), surrounded by incredible landscapes of threatening clouds and rumbling 10-second long surround-sound thunder...calling my thoughts away from my regular distractions, calling my body not just do something, but stand there. 
It was way hard. I've taken a special interest in prayer, and feel like I've prayed a lot in my life, but I still found myself uttering the words, with very real humility and confusion, "Jesus, teach me to pray." I found myself agreeing with something I read once, "when it comes to prayer, we are all still beginners."
I prayed the Lord's Prayer, sort of empty, hoping for some magic to pop out of them. I did several other things as I was straining to hear God's direction for me, and as uneventful as it was, I just feel good and like I'm where I'm supposed to be.
So, this first half day is pretty typical of what I've experienced each year doing this...it could be described quite accurately as "formless" and "void". Which took me right back to the beginning, to the quote from Genesis above...and it struck me! Both the "darkness" and the "Spirit of God" were present there over the formless and void earth.
So I'm right where I need to be...getting out of "planning" and "thinking" and "git-er-done" addictions and just being in the darkness of the void of activity that I'm here to practice, expecting once again for the Spirit of God to be there.
Dear Father:
Flare up my love for You, O God.
Ruin my life.
I have built a life of loving others in Your Name,
And would trade it all for oneness with You.
I love You more than I love my work for You,
but, oh, how I love to work for You.
Where I am too comfortable, disrupt me.
Where I am ignoring You, hurt me.
Get my attention, once again.
Mold me into the image of Your son, Jesus Christ.
Let your Kingdom come and will be done,
Here in me as it is in Heaven.
Let me live in the present alone, O God.
Save me from my past! From my future!
Only let me be still and know You are God.
That is enough for me.
Enjoy me, O God, the creation of Your hands!
And open my eyes to be aware of your delight,
That is enough for me.
Here I am, I am Yours.
Examine me and find every offensive way.
Help me not run from your refining fire.
Help me not run to the noise of the Olympics,
Or the hiding place of helping others in their needs,
Or the avoidance tactic of "doing your work."
Help me not run to the priority of "family" if it is taking me from You.
Give me the nothingness, the emptiness, the darkness
That so many of the prayer master's write about.
Give me the unlearning that I need,
The detachment from the slavery of needing to please men, or myself.
Give me total apathy for the politics and ways of this world,
enough for me to be Yours alone.
And then, Jesus, make me useful in this world,
For Your Fame, my joy, and Your son's glory.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Coming Down - Mountain Chronicles V

"God was very good to put the 'going down' part of mountain climbing trips at the end." - Your truly, while coming down the mountain
"What are you, O mighty mountain? Before [God's man] you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of 'God bless it! God bless it!'" - Zach 4:7
We woke up to our last morning on the mountain. Before us was the task of packing everything once again on our backs, hiking down the 6.5 miles that we hiked up, and doing so with the deadline of when the Durango-Silverton train would arrive at Needleton.  
There was much excitement stirring in us. We had a lot to come down for. Among them:
* Four ice-cold cans of Dr. Pepper than we hid near the train stop in the chilly waters of Needle Creek,
* The comfort of an "indoor" experience on the train.
* The concession car.
* Accessibility to a toilet.
* Hearing the voices of our families once in cell phone range.
* A car that carries us up-hills with the mere push of a pedal.
* A hotel hot-tub.
* A warm shower in the hotel.
* A feast of non-freeze dried food we would celebrate over that evening.
* A bed in a climate-controlled room complete with a pillows, lights, sheets, blankets and a TV.
It's amazing how those things that I take for granted all of the time, most of which I don't really need, become such motivators when I've been deprived of them for just a short time.
But more than anything, the most immediate and inward reward for me would come from what awaited us on the other side of that bridge over the Animas River. When we would take our packs off our backs for the last time and sit on the railroad ties waiting to wave the train down, the deep and satisfied feeling of faithfulness. The feeling of following through. Of doing something that mattered even when it was hard, inconvenient, and full of doubt. The feeling of getting to say "we did that" and "we did that together".
There is a deep excitement in the anticipation of doing something.
There is a different, but equally deep excitement in the actual doing of the something.
And there is also an excitement that comes with the thing being done, and it's transition into becoming a memory. I think I love them all, but this one is strangely special to me.
Memories are awesome. I'm not sure why. Maybe because they represent things that are permanent and unchangeable in a world where it seems there is not much of that. 
Beautiful memories are tools for our current joy, funny memories are tools for our current laughter, painful memories are tools for our current healing, and formative memories are tools for our current teaching. All memories, in the sharing of them, are tools for our current relationship building ("baptism" into the fellowship of men that meet in my basement on Tuesday nights is to take a turn in the "hot seat," where you share your whole story from birth to now. An impossible task without memory. We always initiate this ritual with the words, "make us your friends tonight" - meaning: tell us everything). Memories are just cool.
My buddy Keith wrote me today and said he has enjoyed reading these chronicles with his son, and that he is amazed at how much he has already forgotten. Me too.
But I don't worry much about that. I know I have forgotten some of the greatest stories. But honestly, they seem to come right back whenever I need them or they need to serve a purpose that God wants served through or in me.
Anyway, we had a great and relatively speedy hike down. We found our hidden Dr. Peppers, went across the bridge way before our deadline to catch the train, sat down and sure enough, the feelings I was most looking forward to came rushing in. It was awesome.
The only thing we now HAD to do was wait. I love times like this (okay, in my frantic and normal days, I hate times like this...but in this setting, I loved it...and I need to learn to love it more). Waiting forces me into the present. I can't do anything else that I MUST do, so I have to find something TO do. I looked around with hours to kill, and, Hey! Look! There's my son, Shade!
That may sound strange that I noticed my son Shade since I have been with him 24-7 for days now, but that's how it is, isn't it? I've heard it said that "you are where your thoughts are," and even in the constant presence of my beloved son, I find myself leaving him for other things that aren't right there. (This is often how my prayer life with God seems to go, too. And appointments that I have with people in my office. And date night with my wife.) So, with nothing to do but wait, and rediscovering that I'm getting to be with my son...
Shade and I spent the couple of hours there exploring around this Needleton spot. We found a boarded up old outhouse that I'm sure was used by the gold miners back in the day while waiting for this same train (Shade squeezed in and used it before he called me over to check it out). We found what looked like an old ticketing station. We went down by the river and found an incredible outcropping of stones, where we searched for unique ones to take home as gifts for the family. We found a perfectly round one that looked like a ball for Jakin. We found one that would stand up and had the shape of a cross engraved in it naturally for Shade's mom. We found a heart shaped one for Callie. And then, believe it or not, we found one in the shape of a cannon for Shade Canon Mashburn to take home. We also found a very nice campsite down the tracks a bit...we laughed that we were sure it was there for mountain climbers who didn't make the train deadline and had to set up camp here until the next day...and we were glad we made it!
The blessed train horn bellowed in the distance, and Shade got on the tracks as the engine came around the mountain. He and I did the special wave of his arms that they told us to do to stop the train, it did, we loaded up and settled in for the 3 hour ride back to Durango.
Side note: As the train started to inch forward, a backpacker dude came running across the bridge from the wild, yelling for the train to wait, which it didn't, and the four of us looked at each other with deep compassion for the guy. We were smiling, though, because we understood exactly what that guy was feeling.
I was glad not to be him, but at the same time, there was a part of me (small...very small) that likes when things happen that take my choices away. If I HAD to stay one more night in the mountains, I would've done it. And it would've ended up great. It would've had all the secret treasures that "forced waiting" has.
It was very easy to enjoy the train ride down. It felt so good to be moving, and not by our own power.
What a grace this trip was. The lessons continue to this day. The memory of it is still serving us actively. Almost like Christ is still moving in us through this trip, but not by our own power.
The mountain represented a wild challenge for us. A mighty and overwhelming challenge, in so many ways, and we were walking into it. Having made it successfully, I connect with the spirit of the quote above from Scripture: "What are you mighty mountain? You have been made flat ground (achievable, explorable, experiencable) by God before our feet. You, the challenge, have become our blessing and teacher. God bless you! God bless you! God bless you!"
"'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." - Zech 4:6