Pragmatic Compendium

inspiring the pragmatic practice of intimacy with Christ

toxic concoction.

Doubt and Faith Toxic Concoction Mark Buchanan Your God is Too SafeI got cocky.

I thought I could logically justify my faith in God.

You’ll find some Christians who’ll tell you they can do it.

not me.

not anymore.

When someone told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable, I bristled. Or should I say, my ego bristled? I challenged them to prove it.

They couldn’t. (Their emotionally charged reasoning was circular and redundant and they completely ignored me when I poked questions into the holes in their arguments.)

But in the aftermath of those discussions, I discovered I couldn’t disprove it either.

Science and logic have limits. There are some things that can’t be understood or explained (and a definition isn’t an explanation).

Like what causes gravity.
Like human consciousness.
Like quantum entanglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”).

Like God.

Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just means we don’t understand why. Or how.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that God cannot be completely understood. I forgot that a God I can understand is a God I create. Confine. Any God I can completely understand is limited by time and space and the extent to which I can understand.

Any God who is limited by my understanding is not transcendent.

I was reminded – the hard way – that I don’t want a God I can understand.

It was a season of extreme paradox in my life.

My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more aware of my weakness apart from Christ.

My faith had never been stronger and I had never been more intimately and desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit.

I prayed daily for wisdom and discernment and empathy and compassion. I prayed daily for Him to continuously make me aware of opportunities to be the hands and feet and voice and ears of Christ. Watching and listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit had never been more in the forefront of my awareness. I prayed not only for the Holy Spirit to prompt me when to speak and act, but when to be silent and still.

I prayed for Him to equip me in what I honestly knew to be beyond my capabilities.

and then.

The person who told me my faith was illogical, irrational and unreasonable asked me a simple question:

If God is sovereign, why pray?

You’d think I would have considered that question before, me being all spiritually “mature” and everything.

Turns out, I had never really thunk it through. I had dismissed it, thoughtlessly citing Biblical platitudes like “I pray because Jesus prayed.” and “I pray because the Bible tells us to pray.”

When I finally looked at the question straight on, my entire relationship with God came to a screeching halt.

I couldn’t pray.

I wanted to turn back the clock. To unthink what I was thinking. I wanted the faith of a child.

I wanted stronger faith.

Suddenly and overwhelmingly, I identified with Philip Yancey when he wrote:

“I envy, truly I envy, those people who pray in simple faith without fretting about how prayer works and how God governs this planet. For some reason I cannot avoid pondering these imponderables.”

What was so different about this question this time? It came at a critical juncture in my life. After arguing with God for months, I had finally taken the terrifying step of obedience by sharing something I believe God was revealing to me. Something I tried to ignore. Something I didn’t want to see: That I was part of a church which marginalized grace, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer and relationship with Christ. That we forgot 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 and were ignoring Matthew 28:19.

I was genuinely repentant and prayed desperately for God to bring revival. Heartbroken, I asked for people to pray with me. I was blindsided by how angry people were, how fast and how much they misunderstood what I said and how vehemently they rejected not only what I was saying, but me.

I had argued with God, finally doing what I believed He was prompting me to do and I was faced with closed hearts, closed minds and slammed doors.

So I did what anyone “mature” in their faith would do. I ran into a cave and hid.

A dark cave.

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:4-9

Go ahead, sing-song it with me.

“Julie and Elijah, sitting under a tree, w. h. i. n. ing.”

I prayed.

and then I couldn’t.

Because God is sovereign and God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.

And then I prayed because I couldn’t help it.

Because a life void of intimacy with Christ and utter dependance on the Holy Spirit was vastly empty. and hopelessly dark.

Desolate.

I prayed because I couldn’t help it while at the same time believing that praying to a sovereign God who’s working a plan and doesn’t need my help was…pointless.

Not logical. Not pragmatic.

And that’s where faith is required.

And where doubt came in.

I never doubted the existence of God. I never doubted Christ or the Cross or the redeeming power of His blood. I never doubted my salvation.

I doubted the point of me.

If God is sovereign, why pray?

If God doesn’t need me, why would He even bother with me? Why did He even bother with me?

And that’s why I say I can’t logically justify my faith.

In my darkest night, when God was completely silent, when the logical, rational and reasonable foundation for my faith was beyond my sight,

I still had faith.

I still have faith.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | apologetics, books, Christ-Centered Church, christian living, pinterest, pragmatic communion, praise team music, prayer, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

lessons from the book of Job: you can say anything to God

Philip Yancey quote Disappointment with God Message of Job“One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God.

Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment— he can absorb them all.

As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out.

In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology: you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist.

That response never once occurred to Job.”

Philip Yancey
Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud

March 28, 2014 Posted by | pinterest, pragmatic communion, prayer, status updates, suffering, therefore I quote | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

four minutes with God: break my heart for what breaks Yours.

a Quote:

(Ellen and Genie were best friends when they were kids, but grew apart over the years. Until this reconnection in their early twenties, as written by Genie.)

“For the next hour I stormed the conversation with highly exaggerated accounts of my great successes…

She [Ellen] listened quietly and at one point when my voice was way up and bragging she broke in: “That’s all very interesting. I know you’ve done some fine work, but you’re probably the unhappiest looking person I’ve ever seen, Genie. What’s really the matter?

walking wounded compassionIf you have ever heard your own defense shatter, remember that sickening silence that follows the crash right now and share it with me as I sat there with an unlighted cigarette in my hand afraid to look down at the wreckage around my feet.

She was not unkind.
In fact, her expression and her voice were so kind I quickly lighted the cigarette and faked a cough while I batted away the tears that were there brimming.

After that I told her things which I had not dared admit to myself. We were very close and yet we were shouting at each other from the opposite shores of the universe…

Ellen talked about what was at the center of her life…

“All right, what is at the center of your life?”

She said, “It isn’t a ‘what.’ There’s a Person there.

“A person?”

“Jesus Christ.”

What did I reply?

“Please!”

That’s what I said and laughed but I didn’t feel at all like laughing. I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do and certainly I didn’t know what else to say.”

from The Burden Is Light by Eugenia Price

my Prayer:
Jesus, ever since I asked You to break my heart for what breaks Yours, I haven’t been the same. This lesson of compassion is not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected. Heartbreak hurts. And so does the knowledge that so many people vehemently hate or casually dismiss the Healer because of all the religious baggage that’s been heaped on top of You.

Lord, despite the heartbreak, please don’t ever let me become desensitized.

Please continue to bless me with this broken heart. Thank you for teaching me, even if empathy wasn’t the learning curve I wanted. Please continue to help me see people and to minister to them. Please help me to recognize the people who are seeking You and please equip me to extend that ministry beyond their temporal needs. Please bless me with the courage to ask the hard, uncomfortable, heartbreaking questions. Please, please tell me when to speak and what to say, when to be silent and what to pray.

the Word:
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:1-11 (ESV)

the lyric.
“Heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen.
Show me how to love like You have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause, as I walk from earth into eternity.”

March 18, 2014 Posted by | books, christian living, devotions, four minutes with God, pragmatic communion, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

four minutes with God: in the dark, surrounded by trees.

peace is not the absence of darknessa Quote:
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]

the Word:
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

my Prayer:
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”

the lyric.
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong

October 24, 2013 Posted by | christian living, devotions, four minutes with God, music, pragmatic communion, prayer, suffering, thankfulness, the search for Joy, what I've learned, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

the positive impact of negative feedback.

I’ve known for a very long time that I’m different. Not “better” different. Because, really, “better” is relative. Better than what? The comparisons are limitless. and I’m thinking at least 50% of them wouldn’t be pretty. “Different” can imply too much trouble. too much work. weird. tiresome. exasperating. I don’t deny those adjectives. They’re not my favorite, but they’re not untrue.

square peg round holeI’m probably most at home with the idea of square pegness. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I usually don’t fit. It bothered me so much more when I was a kid.

I’m not a kid anymore.

I’ll be 49 this month. In 4 days actually. Time for (another) hard look in the mirror:

Retin-A prescription. check.
sunscreen. check.
paralyzing self-doubt. che…WAIT.

WHAT THE H3LL is THAT DOING HERE?

no no no no no. That has got to GO.

Somehow, somewhere, some way, the idea that I’m “doing it WRONG” had planted itself smack in the middle of my writing path, taking me on a multi-month detour that led straight into a dead end. I stopped “doing it” altogether and focused instead on the WAY I was doing it. Which again, I perceived believed was WRONG.

Ironically, the thing that triggered the paralyzing self-doubt was the exact same thing that knocked me free from it.

feedback.

~ Someone telling me my blog posts were selfish made me forget that a blog, by definition is an online journal. So, by definition, MY blog is about what I think and how I feel and how I process. It’s not a place where I write one-size-fits all articles directed at the masses in exchange for money. I intentionally don’t monetize this blog because I want to say what I want to say without outside censorship. Almost overnight, internal censorship resulted in words that were so restricted and appropriately vanilla that proofing them was like reading something written by a complete stranger. A boring stranger. KMN. I forgot that clicking – or not clicking – a mouse button is a choice every single person who reads my blog is free to make…or NOT make.

~ Someone telling me they don’t read my blog because I tend to ramble on, somehow made me count my words – instead of considering the fact that maybe they just DON’T WANT TO READ it. I took the “ramble on” feedback to mean that I needed to learn to write more concisely – instead of considering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – what I have to say just flat out doesn’t interest them.

~ Two different people tell me they sometimes have to read something I’ve written twice and I focus on the one who tells me I lost them instead of focusing on the one who wants to have coffee to explore what I said and talk about what she took away from it after the second, slower read it required and the deeper thinking it led to.

~ And most frustrating and challenging of all, there were widespread tangential comments from, and conversations with, multiple people about both my Christ-centered church and my search for joy blog posts which didn’t seem to be related to the content of what I had actually written. I had written extensively about the why and how we do things and the feedback was all about what we do – or about something else entirely. I was overwhelmed and grieved with the heartbreaking realization that we were suffering from a fatal illness and the feedback I was hearing was all about how dedicated we are to our health and how hard we work to eat right and exercise. It was a disconnect I couldn’t reconcile.

and so I shut down. no more writing until I could learn how to do it with more clarity.

Finally, after months of being unable to even open my book draft, and after finally identifying exactly WHY (a lack of confidence in my ability to effectively encode ANYthing I wanted to say), I began asking people to restate, in their own words, what they thought I said. One after another, multiple people made it crystal clear to me that my encoding was spot on. The message was clear. It was understood.

It was just rejected.

EXCELLENT!!

wait. that’s probably just a different kind of bad.

BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY!

I’m used to rejection. Being dismissed is old hat. I’m SO much better at respectfully agreeing to disagree than I’ll ever be at pretending to agree.

But being an educator and believing I had become an incompetent communicator? That was paralyzing.

This feedback led to a significant pivot point. These people were able to succinctly restate my message. They had a very clear understanding of what I wrote and their ability to precisely restate what I said – along with their rejection of it – was just the epiphany I needed to break free from this quagmire. In that pivot point moment, I saw it. I was suffering from toxic levels of avoidance. I couldn’t write. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because by NOT writing, there was absolutely ZERO chance I could create selfish, rambling, rhetoric that loses people. I had spent weeks re-reading previous blog posts with the eye of an iron glute professor armed with textbook communication theory and a psychological red pen that could berate Dr. Seuss for lack of clarity and nonsensical vocabulary.

postive impact of negative feedbackI’m not saying I’m going to insulate myself from honest, yet sometimes negative feedback because it might derail me again. I understand the dangers of a steady diet of rainbows. I’ve paid a therapist and a voice teacher to tell me the truth. I’m going to keep seeking feedback. And NOT only from people who believe every kid who plays should get a trophy. I just need to REMIND MYSELF of ONE thing EVERY. SINGLE. time I process a word of it:

I’m a square peg.

and I LIKE being square. I think round things are inefficient uses of space. And I know the look I get when I say that out loud to someone. It goes with the eye roll you just gave me. Nobody thinks or cares about the the spacial efficiency of square objects.

except maybe me. because I’m different.

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Christ-Centered Church, learning curve, pinterest, poor me some whine, pragmatic communication, pragmatic communion, the search for Joy, what I've learned, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

the donkey is busy.

It’s taken me months to nail down the problem. WHY did I shut down after publishing my “Christ-centered church” series?

writers block keyboardI couldn’t even think about public speaking.
In most interpersonal conversations, I didn’t go near a discussion about faith.
I couldn’t write a word in “my” book.
I couldn’t even open the document.

Anything I had to say was pointless. recycled and contrived. self-important rambling. vomit from my fingertips.

my confidence wasn’t the only thing that was shot. my credibility was in a crumpled heap:

Who did I think I was? If God has a message, He does NOT want me to share it. As a matter of fact, if He wants anybody to actually hear a message, He really needs to find someone else to share it. seriously. look at the history. I suck at this.

Not only did the message of the Christ-centered church series get vehemently rejected, it was so vehemently rejected, people rejected stuff I didn’t even SAY. Those posts shut down conversation and built unscalable walls of defensiveness that are still impenetrable today.

Vehement rejection aside, there seem to be just as many people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say in the first place. Not even a little. Then there are the people who are convinced they understand, but when they comment or talk to me, it’s clear. Not even close. I hadn’t succinctly explained what I was talking about. I sometimes wondered if I would have been better understood if I had written those posts in pig-Latin.

Am I dismissing the relatively few people who did understand? who identified with what I said? who responded positively?

of course I am. It’s what we humans do. In an employee review, we will dismiss the 9 “excellents” and obsess over the one “needs improvement.” Because the next review? We want that “needs improvement” to be improved. significantly.

For months after that series, I was convinced I couldn’t put words together in comprehensible sentences. I couldn’t write. I stopped the “conversations with a born-again athiest” series. If what I said about my faith caused CHRISTIANS such confusion and anger, I had NO business talking to an atheist. seriously.

I was paralyzed by a complete and total lack of confidence in my ability to discern ANYthing. God’s will, God’s prompting, God’s movement. Wisdom?

fuggetaboutit.

It was months of paralyzing doubt…no – paralyzing conviction – that I had nothing of value to contribute to…anyone – and even if I did – I was incapable of articulating it with any clarity at all.

I threw myself into physical labor. I can’t screw that up, right?

I began asking God for a mentor. To send someone wise and blessed with discernment. Then, just two weeks ago, I had coffee with a new friend. A deep thinker. We read the same authors. She took the time to listen and dig. She’s a question asker. It was a short four hours. I put my finger on it:

encoding.

and I already KNEW it. I mentioned it in the middle of the Christ-centered church series, in a post entitled ““Christ-centered Church.” I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Encoding is, to simplify it, the words and pictures I use to convey my message…it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MODIFY MY ENCODING in an effort to clarify my message and minimize any misinterpretation”

encoding and decoding

I went back and read the Christ-centered church series again. and again. and again.

Was WHAT I said inaccurate? no. and I do NOT answer that question lightly. More than 6 months later and I’ve got even more and detailed reasons for believing it’s true. Hard. heart wrenchingly hard. but true.

So. Was HOW I shared the message ineffective? I shared personally and chronologically. I stepped through what I believe God was revealing to me in the order He revealed it. I explained how He revealed it. I read the series again. I went over and over it. I read my prayer journal entries from that time. I couldn’t see any other way to do it. Should I have left myself completely out of it? Excluded my thoughts and feelings? Should I have just stated facts and stuck exclusively with movie clips and metaphors, like dominoes? Was all that personal stuff just a self-indulgent, cathartic purge? If I had just stated the premise of the message up front, would it have had more clarity? Or, as I suspect, would the message have been rejected even faster? Having already decided I was wrong, no one would have come back to read any more; there would have been absolutely NO reason to hear me out.

And here’s the gist of it: If I did such a phenomenally poor job encoding a blog series, how in the world could I possibly encode a book?

I was a communication major. I should be able to structure and articulate a message. Supposedly, I’m an educator. What I came face to face with – what paralyzed me – was that it doesn’t matter a flyin flip WHAT I have to say if I’m incapable of saying it in a way it can be understood.

And then God reminded me of Balaam’s ass.

sometimes God sounds like an ass - Balaams donkey

“Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth…”

I don’t believe in coincidences. God led me to this book, and this passage:

“As the final song was sung before I was to be introduced, I leaned to Boneface and out of fear and desperation [I] blurted, “I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know why God would send me here to speak to these people, Why me?” Without hesitation, and with a big grin, Boneface turned to me and said, “You are here because the donkey was busy tonight.”
He was making a not-so-veiled reference to the prophet Balaam’s talking donkey in the Old Testament.
I got the message. God uses anything or anyone He chooses.”
Elijah, Steps to a Life of Power by Bob Saffrin

If God can speak through an ass, He can speak through me.

and it has not escaped my attention that Balaam beat the crap out of that donkey THREE times before he understood what the donkey was trying to tell him.

I just need to keep reminding myself of one thing:

“…Balaam replied. ‘But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.’”

August 22, 2013 Posted by | books, Christ-Centered Church, christian living, conversations with an atheist, learning curve, pinterest, poor me some whine, pragmatic communion, writing | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

idences.

specifically, providence and coincidence.

Tozer quote you can see God from anywhereprovidence: capitalized : God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny

coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

I can’t ever remember believing in coincidences. My husband on the other hand, is a big believer in them. He believes some things – LOTS of things – just…happen. I believe some things happen randomly too. But I also believe that God takes each and every one of those random events and circumstances and, in His sovereign will, wrapped in undeserved and unearned grace and mercy, purposefully works them for His good.

Every. single. one of them. Because He is that good. He’s all powerful, all knowing and ever present.

When we find ourselves smack in the middle a seemingly random happening, both my husband and I agree that God has given us the freedom to choose. We are to be guided by wisdom (Bible, learned knowledge, prayer, experience, wise counsel, reason, etc.), but we get to choose how we respond. We both find loads of scriptural support for this belief.

The big difference between Hubs and I on this is that I tend to assume God’s hand in nearly everything – big or teeny, obvious or not, whether I ever get to know how or not. I’m not saying I believe God MAKES everything happen in this fallen world, although I believe He could. Again – He is that good. I’m saying I don’t find scriptural support for the extreme, exclusive idea that He makes EVERYthing happen. Sure, some things He makes happen. But some things He allows to happen. His sovereign will is unknown to us. In all cases, I believe the promise of Romans 8:28.

Who am I to determine what is meaningful or insignificant? The Bible tells me nothing is insignificant to God. The Bible tells me the hairs on my head are actually numbered.

Even being “in the dark,” as it were, I intuitively look for deeper meaning. What is God doing? Why did He allow something to happen? I immediately start thinking and praying about how to respond, whether it be taking action or figuring out what God wants me to learn or take away from the situation.

Last week, I had a friend remark to me “You see God in EVERYTHING.”

quote-lo-the-poor-indian-whose-untutored-mind-sees-god-in-clouds-or-hears-him-in-the-wind-alexander-pope-Not sure I ever consciously thought about it before, but she’s right. I do. I can’t imagine living any other way. To me, it’s completely normal. The fact that I see God in everything is probably one of the reasons I don’t believe in coincidences.

This might be a chicken or the egg kind of thing.

Either way, over the last few months, I’ve seen more of my own fingerprints than God’s. My life was one of the smudgiest sliding glass doors you’ve ever seen. And all the fingerprints were down low. Where I could reach.

To drastically summarize 16 “hard look in the mirror” blog posts: God has been silent in my life for a few months. I don’t like it. At. All. I feel like God the Father has taken His hand off the bicycle seat of my life to teach me…what? To be confident He is there even when I don’t feel the security of His hand? I researched the theology of “the dark night” and came out of all the reading grounded in one of the metaphors. I was going to stop swimming and float. Not drift – with no intention. FLOAT – in the current of God’s will. I wasn’t going to fight the current. I was going to stop swimming in the direction I thought God wanted me to go. I was going to FLOAT.

In the silence.

Seemed like a reasonable plan.

Until the silence became unbearable. I wrote last week, that I came to a breaking point. If you didn’t read that, “CLICK HERE” to check it out.

ya back?

okay. so that Monday night, I went to sleep having intentionally chosen this season of silence and whatever God is teaching me over tried and true past remedies for finding Joy in God. I called it my darkest night.

Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox. The local school where I’ve recorded for more than 3 years had two cancellations for that upcoming weekend. Could I cover two vocal labs (recording sessions)? (If you didn’t do it a minute ago, you’re gonna have to read “two steps forward. one step back.” to get the full impact of that “coincidence.”)

and remember. I see God’s hand in EVERYthing.

So, in the spirit of floating, I said yes.

I spent the entire morning looking for two songs to sing. Given that I had less than four days to prepare a lead and at least two harmonies for each song, I focused specifically on songs I already knew. Song after song – one obstacle after another. No track. Background vocals already on the track. Wrong key. just…wrong after wrong after wrong.

I left the house for the afternoon and when I came back, someone had posted on my facebook wall:

“Hey, so you know the song ‘He is with You” by Mandisa? I think you should sing it at church. Take a look….’”

I immediately thought: “Mandisa? I can’t sing Mandisa.” But again, in the spirit of floating, I responded:

“I’m gonna call that a God thing. LocalRecordingSchool called me today asking me to fill in two cancellations this weekend. I struggled to select tracks all day. One down. one to go. Thanks, friend. If the rough cut is any good, I’ll give you a copy.”

And then another facebook friend commented:

“‘There is a God’ by Lee Ann Womack?”

That’s two.

Monday night I had broken down, wimped out and asked God to let me/help me sing again, then almost immediately took back my request, choosing the lesson of the dark night over the temporal blessing that would have come with the singing.

Then all that happened on Tuesday. The fingerprints on my sliding glass door were MUCH bigger than my own.

and they weren’t anywhere near my reach.

August 20, 2013 Posted by | christian living, intentional living, learning curve, music, pinterest, poor me some whine, pragmatic communion, suffering, thankfulness, the search for Joy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

the dark night.

and no. I’m not talking about Holy DARK KNIGHT, Batman.

I had never even heard about the dark night until I started reading about finding joy and delight in God, spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness and the silence of God. I first stumbled upon the term while reading “Prayer” by Philip Yancey. He said:

“I take some comfort in the fact that virtually all the masters of spirituality recount a dark night of the soul. Sometimes it passes quickly and sometimes it persists for months, even years. I have yet to find a single witness, though, who does not tell of going through a dry period.”

Is a “dry period” necessarily this “dark night”? Are these terms interchangeable? Both have been so eclectically described, I can’t lock down a globally accepted definition. People who have attempted to describe their experience have trouble articulating it. I’ve read John of the Cross, who is the originator of the term “dark night.” I’ve read Teresa of Avila and an unknown monk. Those three were not easy or complete reads. Thankfully, Thomas Green wrote extensively about the dark night and interpreted for me. C.S. Lewis, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Henri Nouwen and a number of others have written about dryness and/or the dark night.

dark night of soul annie dillardI’ve read a lot of metaphors in the last few weeks.

It would appear that one dark night does not fit all.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version, courtesy of Eric Sammons

“Unfortunately, “Dark Night” has become a term used very loosely to designate any difficult or depressing time in life. But this is not the meaning St. John of the Cross gives to “Dark Night.”

…not brought about by external events, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Instead, they are brought about by God alone, who uses the Dark Nights to purge the soul of attachments to the things of this world….”

“…God becomes the primary initiator of prayer, not man…the soul experiences dryness in prayer. It is a painful state that tests the soul to see if it desires prayer for the consolations or because it desires God Himself. At this stage, the ability to meditate becomes difficult, even painful, as no fruit comes from it and the Holy Spirit wants to move the soul from meditation to contemplation.

I have to ask. Is there scriptural basis for this?

Make no mistake. I’m a strong believer in the “dry spell” of it all. I’m a witness to it. I KNOW it happens. and I know first-hand how devastating it is. How it can rock faith. I’m smack in the thick of it.

and it. SUCKS.

My skepticism is with the surety and scriptural foundation of the dark night as the reason.

I’ve seen a commenter on another blog ask about the scriptural foundation of the explanation of the dark night and he was effectively dismissed. The general assumption expressed by those who responded to him was that he didn’t understand and obviously hadn’t experienced it. It didn’t occur to anyone that the reason he didn’t understand was that their explanations were vague and weak.

and I find myself thinking of an emperor in his underwear.

offended? If the invisible shoe fits, wear it.

hhhhhhhhh.

It would be so much simpler if I was just smack in the middle of disobedience and I could repent, claim the promise of Romans 8:1 and move forward. Instead, I’m compelled to keep reading….

“Why is this painful stage necessary?…It is necessary so that the soul can be purged of defects that still exist within it, defects which prevent the soul from being passively receptive to God’s grace.”

purged of defects?

I have defects. I reek of defects.

“…a person might flee from the Dark Night and regress into lower levels of prayer. The proper response to this temptation to regress, however, is renewing your trust in God, continuing to utilize acquired recollection in prayer, abstaining from seeking consolation, and seeking counsel from a good spiritual director.”

lower levels of prayer?

lower levels of prayer. like with consolations and meditations?

and the “proper” response is to

(1) renew my trust in God
(2) continue to utilize “acquired” recollection in prayer
(3) don’t seek consolation and
(4) seek counsel from a good spiritual advisor.

so.

(1) duh.
(2) I think that means remember what God has done in my life in the past.
(3) Don’t try to pray the way I used to pray. Because those prayers are “lower.”
(4) God, if you want me to have a spiritual mentor who’s experienced this before, you’re gonna have to send me one. Break the silence.

SEND. me. one. PLEASE.

I admit. I’m torn. Between

(1) wanting there to be such a thing as this dark night and
(2) thinking it’s just a scape goat for people who need to rationalize whatever spiritual obstacle they are facing.

Faaaarrrr more likely, I’m grasping at straws to rationalize failing.

I started this journey because I wanted to find joy and delight in the nature of who God is without the crutches of circumstance or experiences. This is the scripture that comes to mind right now:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  James 1:2-4

count it all joy.

I’m tryin.

[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]

August 16, 2013 Posted by | christian living, pinterest, poor me some whine, pragmatic communion, prayer, suffering, thankfulness, the search for Joy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

two steps forward. one step back.

If you read my last post, “growing pains” you know I’ve been having trouble seeing God’s hand in my life over the last few months.

God has been silent.

sound of silenceWhen I first became aware of the silence, I immediately assumed sin was separating me from God. I confessed all the sin I could identify. I raked through my life and identified the sin I had been rationalizing or been numb and oblivious to. I asked God to reveal to me anything I hadn’t found.

Be careful what you pray for.

I let go of some things in my life. Good things. One thing in particular that was responsible for actually helping me to discover how to worship God – to praise Him – for who He was instead just thank Him for what He did for me; for the blessings He afforded. This was something I had never understood or been able to do before. That’s what made leading worship a good thing. a very good thing.

I let it go because it had morphed into a crutch I had become dependent on to facilitate that worship.

I let go of other “good” things too. They had become obstacles in my relationship with Him.

But if you are one of the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, you know all that.

Since then, God has been silent.

I’ve been seeking God every day. Relentlessly.

that’s an understatement.

Still. God has been silent.

crickets.

After more than 6 years of sensing God’s presence and movement in my daily life, it took less than two months for me to become resigned to the silence.

Not seeing or sensing God’s hand in my life, I stopped looking for it.

I expected the silence. It became my new normal.

dark night of the sensesI began reading everything I could about finding delight and joy in God. About spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness, the absence of God and the silence of God. C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Philip Yancey and authors new to me, like Thomas Green, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. People who experienced and wrote about the “dark night.” Some of them talked about the dark night lasting the rest of their life.

I stopped writing in my prayer journal.

I had nothing to say.

I began abiding.

I threw myself into the mindless work of purging my environment and my life of superfluous things.

I began learning how to “pray without words” as C.S. Lewis would say. I stopped filling up the space between me and God with my voice. my incessant talking. I shut up. and I listened.

And God was silent.

In the beginning, I hated it. It was unsettling.

I was brokenhearted. I don’t say that kind stuff about myself. But there’s really no better way to describe it.

C.S. Lewis described it this way:

“We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

After a few weeks, there was peace in the quiet. Like sitting with a close friend. The kind of friend you can ride in a car with, not talking, and feel no need to fill the void with spoken words. completely grounded. no need for a stealth “#awkward” tweet from the passenger seat.

so, there was peace.

but not joy.

In my last post, I said that I hadn’t been able to pray any specific petitionary prayers because I didn’t trust my motives. I said that last Monday I had hit bottom. The silence had become unbearable.

I broke.

I asked God to let me sing again. In my weakness, I instinctively reached out for the one thing that had allowed me to experience true JOY in God – regardless of my circumstances.

Singing to Him. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it since June 30th.

I went to bed that Monday night, the silence ringing in my mind. Disappointed in myself for caving. For chickening out and turning my back on whatever God is trying to teach me in this time of silence. Instead of trusting in the process of this journey, I reached out for old, tried and true, comfortable habits.

I wimped out.

I was convinced God was teaching me something. Something important. Although I had no idea what and I had no idea how long the lesson would last. It seemed that, at what appeared to be the hardest part of the lesson, I was asking God to give back what I had given up. I was going backward. I was turning my back on what He has for me now.

As I fell asleep, I took back my request. I told God that I didn’t want to settle for temporal blessings of comfort and happiness in exchange for this new relationship. Even if the new relationship meant years of silence.

Last Monday night was my darkest night.

[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]

August 13, 2013 Posted by | music, pinterest, poor me some whine, pragmatic communion, prayer, suffering, thankfulness, the search for Joy, Uncategorized, what I've learned | 2 Comments

four minutes with God: 2 Chronicles 5:13-14

a Quote:
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.

…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper

my Prayer:
Come Thou Fount Here I raise mine EbenezerLord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.

Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.

Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.

the Word:
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

“He is good; his love endures forever.”

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)

the lyric.
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope


[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]

July 10, 2013 Posted by | books, christian living, devotions, four minutes with God, music, pinterest, pragmatic communion, praise team music, prayer, thankfulness, the search for Joy, what I've learned, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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