Friday Fiction – Judgment

Shadowlands Prologue Part 8

“Did you eat from the Tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

There was no accusation in the voice.  Only a deep sadness.

“It wasn’t me.” Adam spoke up.  “It was the woman.  The one YOU gave me.”

Elyon looked Eve.  “Is this true? What have you done, Eve?”

“It was the serpent YOU created,” she said.  Neither she nor Adam would look up at Elyon.

Elyon continued to stand in front of Adam and Eve.  But Logos turned towards the underbrush.  In a loud voice – a voice that Adam and Eve had never heard Him use – he commanded, “Serpent!  Come out!  Show yourself!”

They heard a rustling in the bushes, and then the serpent appeared, skipping out into the clearing.  He laughed and pranced with glee.  “Isn’t this something?” he asked.  “Now, whatever are you going to do?  Are you to kill these Image-Bearers like you promised?  I can’t wait to see!”

Elyon turned to the serpent and pronounced judgment.  “I will deal with my Children in a moment.  But first, you.  You were a liar and a deceiver from the beginning.  Your rebellion grows deeper.  And now – now, you are cursed above all livestock and and all wild animals.  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”  As he spoke, the serpent shriveled, his paws and arms receding into his side, his fur falling off, and his two legs and tail melding into one long, hairless tail.  He fell to the ground, now a long, thin creature that looked like a vine with no leaves.  As Adam and Eve watched in shock, scales grew over his pale skin, covering him.  He slithered now, backing away from Elyon.

But Logos stopped his progress, stepping in his path.  Elyon continued, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”  He looked up from the serpent at Logos, tears in His eyes.  “This serpent will strike at your heel, my Son.”  As Adam and Eve watched, it seemed as though Logos was transformed for an instant – He looked as though He had been badly beaten.  Blood was flowing from his forehead, and wounds appeared in His hands, His feet, and His side.  Adam and Eve both blinked – what was this?  But just as quickly, He appeared as He always had, whole and perfect.  Something must have been playing tricks with their eyes.

Elyon looked back at the serpent.  “Yes, you will strike at His heel.  But my Son will crush your head.  He will finish this.”

Logos stepped aside, and without a word, the serpent slithered off into the deep grass.

Then Elyon turned back to Adam and Eve.  He sighed deeply. 

“Eve,” he said, his voice filled with love.  “My dearly beloved daughter.  Because of your choice, pain has entered my Creation.  This means that your pain in child-bearing will be multiplied.  Giving birth to new Image-Bearers will involve painful labor.  You will desire to please your husband, and yet to control him.  But he will rule over you – not always in an honorable way.”

And then He looked at Adam.  “My dearly beloved son,” He said, “You kept silent.  You did not protect Eve.  You listened to her, and You ate the fruit, disobeying My command.  Because of these actions, my Creation has been corrupted.  The ground is now cursed, and will not bear fruit without great toil and work.  You will labor hard to produce food, and yet weeds will grow and choke what you have planted.  Life will now be much more difficult, much different than you have known.”

He paused for a moment, then spoke again.  “Adam, I created you from the ground – from the dust of the earth.  Eve, you were created from Adam.  And so both of you came from the dust of the earth, and both of you shall return to the dust of the earth.”

Adam and Eve were stunned.  They didn’t understand exactly what this meant, but it sounded ominous.

And then the Three-in-One spoke together.  This time, Adam and Eve understood clearly.

“You must leave Eden.  You cannot be here, and you cannot come here ever again.”

Friday Fiction – The Fall

Shadowlands Prologue – Part 7

Eve plucked the fruit from the tree and pulled it close, inspecting it.  Fresh juice ran down her hand, some dripping off her wrist, some off her elbow.  The smell was intoxicating.  As she looked, the fruit seemed like no other piece of fruit she had ever seen before.  It was beautiful, the most appealing thing she could ever remember seeing.  It seemed that the air carried the taste before she even bit into it.  Desire welled up within her.

The serpent watched, expectantly.  Eve glanced at Adam, but he was as captivated by the fruit as she was.

Enough of this.  She raised the fruit to her mouth and bit into it.  Juice dribbled down her chin as taste, unlike anything she had ever before experienced, burst in her mouth.  “Adam!” she exclaimed.  “You have to try this!”

He reached for it, and she extended the fruit to his mouth.  He bit in also, and found the experience as delightful as had Eve.

The serpent began to laugh.  He turned and walked off into underbrush.

And then everything changed.

Both of them realized at the same instant that they were naked.  Despite the fact that no other human being was there, just the two of them – two who had shared intimacy since their creation – they were suddenly ashamed.  Blushing, clutching to cover themselves up, they turned away from one another, looking for something, anything they could find.

Eve was the first to speak. “We need to…we have to make something to cover ourselves with,” she stuttered.  “Over there – those leaves.  We can weave some of them together.”  For the first time ever, they were both ashamed to look at one another.

They had just finished fashioning simple clothes for themselves when they heard something.  It was the Three-In-One, walking through the Garden, calling their names.  “Adam!  Eve!  Where are you?”

“Quick!” Adam whispered.  “We have to hide!  They can’t see us like this!”  Scrambling, they crawled under some bushes – another first for them.

The Three-in-One came striding into the clearing and stopped.  Looking around, they called out.  “Adam.  Eve.  Where are you?  Why are you hiding?”

Trembling with shame and embarrassment, they stayed underneath the bushes.  Eve jabbed at Adam with her finger.  “Say something!” she hissed.  “They know we’re here!”

“We hid…because we heard you coming…and we were naked,”  Adam said in a quavering voice.

As Adam and Eve peered through the leaves, the Three-in-One lowered their head.  It seemed as though waves of sadness – something Adam and Eve had never experienced before – flowed from the Three-in-One.  “Come out,” the Three-in-One said quietly.  As Adam and Eve crawled out, the Three-in-One resolved into their three separate forms.  Elyon stood there, magnificent and glorious, and Adam and Eve couldn’t bear to look at Him.  At His right hand, Logos stood.  It seemed that water flowed from His eyes.  Above them both, Ruach hovered, His Presence peaceful and comforting and yet…and yet, it was also convicting.  Adam and Eve knew they had done something terrible.

Elyon looked at both of them, love radiating from His very being.  And yet, Adam and Eve still could not bear to look up at His face – that beautiful, loving face that they had looked at and talked with on so many occasions.

“Who told you that you were naked?” He asked.

No response.  Ashamed silence.

“Did you eat from the Tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

There was no accusation in the voice.  Only a deep sadness.

“It wasn’t me.” Adam spoke up.  “It was the woman.  The one YOU gave me.”

Still No “Lite and Fluffy”

I really really really really really wanted and planned on writing a “lite and fluffy” blog.  Sun is shining, flowers blooming, happy people, all is right with the worlds, unicorns and rainbows.  Really.

But life just doesn’t cooperate.

Life is hard right now.  Last week, in my sermon, I said that I felt like every day was like walking through chest-deep mud.  This week?  It feels like the mud’s 3 feet above my head and I’m using a snorkel just to breathe while I try to push through it.

It’s not just about me.  I’m doing all right, slogging along.  Further along than I was last week.  But my family is hurting.  I have friends that are hurting.  I learned things Saturday, yesterday, last night that tear at me.  There are people close to me, intimate friends, acquaintances, even people who aren’t as close but who are still very important to me who are just dealing with a lot of pain and loss in life right now.  And the more you know about the pain of others, the more you tend to carry.

I’m in this season in my life that is not fun but in which God is working.  In the midst of it all, I’m re-visiting and re-learning some important lessons.  I’ll just share a couple with you this morning as food for thought.

  • I can’t control anything and I can’t fix anything.  As Danny Silk says, on a good day, I can control myself.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  I can’t control how others respond, I can’t control what people do with sound, biblical advice, I can’t control the choices other make with their lives, I can’t control the circumstances or the suffering of other people, I can’t control the level of anyone’s pain, I can’t control the hard times that some people are facing, I can’t control debilitating illnesses that people are facing.  None of it.  I want to.  I want to take their pain away, remove their obstacles, fix things, heal illnesses.  But I can’t do any of that.  Only Jesus can.  All I can do is trust Him and pray for them.
  • “You will never rise above your level of self-awareness.  It is the lid on your life.”  Dr. Rob Reimer taught me this in one of the first Soul Care conferences I ever attended.  The older I get, the more I realize it is true.  There is stuff in my life with which I will never deal, address, or change until I am aware of it.  I am thankful for a loving family and close, intimate allies (as John Eldredge calls them) who are courageous enough to point out my blind spots.  I am thankful for the voice of the Father and for journaling as tools of self-discovery.  But this truth affects us in other ways.  You see, the people in my life will never rise above their level of self-awareness.  And when you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with someone and trying to help them but they either can’t or aren’t willing to see, you can’t help them.  They will never rise above their level of self-awareness, and they will never receive help or encouragement or strengthening because they won’t see their need for it.  (That was exactly what Jesus experienced with the Pharisees – they were blind to their own hypocrisy and sinfulness and couldn’t hear or receive what He tried to speak into them.)
  • This is a season.  It may not be the best season or the worst season.  It may be a season that I hate.  But it’s a season.  It won’t last forever.  And I can choose to let God refine me through, or I can fight Him.  I can recognize I can’t control anything and do everything I can to love and care for people in this season, or I can withdraw and hide.  But it’s only a season.
  • And finally, I will continue to rest on God’s promises, like Psalm 46:1 – 5 (NIV) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

Friday Fiction – The Serpent

Shadowlands Prologue Part 6

Eve stood in clearing, waiting for Adam.  She was mesmerized by the two Trees in front of her.  Why had they waited so long to come here – to just look at these two majestic Trees?  She told herself again that there was no harm in looking, in enjoying the beauty.

“They ARE majestic, aren’t they?”

Eve jumped at the silky voice.  She turned to see a beautiful creature, a serpent, standing there beside her, gazing up at the Trees.  How had he come up beside her so suddenly without her hearing him?  She was distracted from the Trees for a moment by his beauty.  Variegated fur ruffled in the wind, patterns swirling across his body.

“Yes, they are,” she answered.  “What is your name?  I don’t think we’ve met, and I thought I knew all the serpents that lived in the Garden.”

“My name?” he asked.  “My name isn’t really important.  But you!  You and Adam are the crowning achievements of Creation!  And here you are, admiring these majestic fruit trees in your Garden.  Tell me,” and he put a paw on her shoulder, “how does the fruit from that Tree taste?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“You don’t know?  You don’t know how the fruit of one of your own trees tastes?  How can that be?” he asked.

Eve suddenly felt very foolish.  It WAS her Tree, after all…hers and Adam’s.  She looked up at it again, taking in the lush fruit that hung, ripe and ready to be plucked.

The serpent spoke again.  “Let me guess,” he said.  “Did Elyon tell you not to eat that fruit?  Did he really place you in this beautiful Garden, tell you it was a gift for you, and then tell you that couldn’t eat any fruit from any of these beautiful trees?  What a shame.”  He shook in his head at the thought.

“No, that’s not right,” Eve said, glancing at him for an instant.  But her eyes were drawn back to that fruit.  It hung so low to the ground.  Without realizing it, she began to walk slowly towards the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “The Three-in-One didn’t tell us we couldn’t eat from any tree in the Garden.  He warned us not to eat from that tree, not even to touch its fruit,” she said, pointing, “or if we did, our spirits would die.”

The serpent threw back his head and laughed.  “Your spirits will NOT die,” he said.  “You foolish woman!  How could you believe that?  Eating a piece of fruit would cause you to die?  Oh, my.  I can’t believe that you have been so deceived.  Elyon doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because…well, I probably shouldn’t tell you.”

They were now standing right under the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a branch laden with fruit at eye-level, right in front of Eve.  It looked so ripe, so luscious – unlike any other fruit she had ever eaten.  It smelled delicious.  Her mouth began to water.  She responded to the serpent without taking her eyes off of the fruit: “What?  Tell me, serpent.  Why doesn’t Elyon want us to eat the fruit?”

“Yes, why?”  It was Adam.  He had returned, having discovered nothing but a couple of broken branches on a few small trees.  “Why would Elyon lie to us?  Why would he tell us not to eat this fruit?”

The serpent laughed again.  “Why?  Because he is afraid!  He doesn’t want you to eat this fruit because this fruit is special – it is magic.  The truth is that if you eat this fruit, you won’t die.  Instead, you will become just as wise and as powerful as him!  There are things you don’t know and don’t understand – and this fruit will make you wise.  Your eyes will be opened to things that are hidden from you!”

“Really?” Adam asked.  “Why would you say that?”

The serpent didn’t answer.  Instead, he tightened his grip on Eve’s shoulder, pushing her closer to the branch.  “Look at it,” he whispered.  “It’s so beautiful.  You can smell how wonderful it is…can you imagine how it must taste?  And think of it – one bite and you’ll become like Elyon.  You’ll be like the creator.  You could do anything you want!”

Adam stood there silently, unsure of what to do.

Eve looked at the fruit – smelled it.  She caressed it with her eyes.  It looked so lovely – more than any fruit she had ever eaten.  And it would taste so good.  And…it would make her as wise as Elyon?  She felt so foolish that she had never eaten it.

The serpent pointed with his other paw.  “Go ahead and touch it,” he said.  “You’ll see.  Nothing will happen.  Then you’ll know it’s okay to eat it.”

She reached out and touched it.  Nothing happened.

So she wrapped her hand around it and plucked it from the Tree.

Book Review – Mansions of the Heart

A few years ago, one of my closest friends gave me a hardback copy of the book Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook.  He told me it was a life-changing book.  I looked at it, began it, and set it aside because I had so many other books stacked up to read.  A few months later, I was dealing with some life issues that led me to pick it back up again and to read it through.  My friend had been right – it was a life-changer that helped me understand my own life’s journey, my spiritual growth, and where I needed to head on my journey.  Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading through the book for the second time after deciding late this summer that I needed a refresher.

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R. Thomas Ashbrook, the author, who also wrote the novel Presence – What if Jesus Were Really Here?, is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Church Resource Ministries, and he leads Imago Dei, which is CRM’s international spiritual formation ministry.  A Lutheran pastor with twenty-six years of experience in ministry, Tom has degrees in aeronautical engineering, management systems, pastoral ministry, and spiritual formation.  He lives in Centennial, Colorado with his wife Charlotte.

Mansions of the Heart is patterned after St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, a picture of spiritual formation that has helped many followers of Jesus in the five plus centuries since she wrote it.  It’s a picture that helps us understand the journey that we are taking and the process that God uses to transform us throughout our lives.

The book begins by dealing with four of the dead-ends that believers have tried time and time again, to no avail – pursuing personal holiness; service to God; spiritual wholeness; and enlightened study and understanding.  Ashbrook points out that while all of these are good and important, they rely upon our effort rather than abiding in Christ, which is the only real way to experience personal transformation.  Ashbrook uses the seven interior rooms that Teresa described as a road map to help us understand our pasts, our journey with Christ, and how He takes us deeper in our walk with Him along our life’s journey.

Here is a brief summary of each mansion (or room) – each stage of our process:

  • The First Mansion – a new beginning.  This is salvation – the place where we recognize our need for salvation, believe on Jesus, and place our trust in Him and in His work on the cross for our eternal life.
  • The Second Mansion – between a rock and hard place.  This is a place where our faith is deepening, and yet we struggle with temptation and are still engaged somewhat in earthly pursuits.  There is tension between what we want and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us as we grow.
  • The Third Mansion – following Jesus.  It may take us years to get to this place, but this is the place where we are living consistent lives as disciples.  Scripture, prayer, church attendance, fellowship, a desire to please God – these are all consistent parts of our life at this place.
  • The Fourth Mansion – discovering the love of Jesus – a place of new depth in our walk with Jesus, where we experience a growing intimacy with Him.
  • The Fifth Mansion – longing for oneness with God.  Ashbrook describes it this way:  “The fifth mansion is a time of transition where our focus moves even further from doing to being, from serving to loving. God is calling us to begin to live according to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the call to union with God. Our one desire is for God, Himself.”
  • The Sixth Mansion – the passion of God’s love.  This is where we have fully “fallen in love” with God, and are experiencing deep times in God’s Presence.  When it seems that God is absent, it is deeply painful.  This is where we are learning what it means to truly and fully live “in Christ.”
  • The Seventh Mansion – a life of love in the Trinity.  Ashbrook writes, “The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity. As is true with each of the prior mansions, this is still a season of our journey, not a milestone or destination. But in this season, we come to experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ. At its fullest, it is the realization of the apostle Paul’s statement, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (cf. Gal. 2:20).”

Ashbrook also devotes a chapter to the experience that John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” – a season of loss, of dryness, of feeling that God is absent and that His voice cannot be heard.  That chapter alone is powerful and helpful.

For each mansion/season, the author walks through several important issues for that season, including our heart’s desire, key activities, what ministry will look like to us, how our prayer lives will change, how the enemy will most often attack us, and finally, keys for growth in that time.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here.  If you are serious about spiritual formation and about your journey with Jesus, this book is a great addition to your library.

Where Is God?

I first saw the question online last week – “where was God during Hurricane Harvey?”

I can’t take credit for the great answer I saw from someone (I don’t remember who wrote the blog, or I would give them credit) – God was present in His people, who were rescuing the stranded, bringing relief supplies to those in need, and coming in to the midst of the chaos following the hurricane to help however they could.

We are the Body of Christ in this world, and…

  • Wherever there is darkness, we go to bring the light;
  • Wherever there is pain, we go to bring healing;
  • Wherever there are captives, we go to set them free;
  • Wherever there is turmoil, we go to bring peace;
  • Wherever there is hunger and thirst, we go to bring food and drink;
  • Wherever there is spiritual hunger and thirst, we go to bring the Bread of Life and the Living Water; and
  • Wherever there is boredom and lack of purpose, we go to bring salt.

When the world asks “where was God when…” the answer must always be that God is present in His people, who do His work. God is present in His people, who are salt and light; God is present in His people, who love their neighbors and their enemies; God is present in His people, whose God-given vision can bring solutions to impossible situations; God is present in His people, whose self-sacrifice and service to others is like that of Jesus, who came not be served but to serve others.

You see, when a storm hits, it’s not an “act of God.” It’s not God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. A storm is a storm. It’s a result of weather patterns in a sinful, fallen world.

Where is God in the storm?

God is present in the refreshing rain, not in the torrential flooding.

God is present in the air we breathe, but not in the tornadic winds.

God is present in the deep blue sea, but not in the chaos of the storm surge.

God’s power is displayed in the might of a weather pattern, but God is not present in the destruction that is brought by the storm.

God is present, most of all, within us, His people.

Let us live our lives as God’s representatives in these difficult times, as Paul instructed us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a (NIV)

Friday Fiction – The Trees

The Shadowlands – Prologue Part 5

Days passed.  Months.  Years, even.  Who knows for sure?

With the Three-in-One, one day is as a thousand years.

Adam and Eve grew closer and closer to one another; grew in grace and in the knowledge of Elyon, Logos, and Ruach.

Every day, they would enjoy exploring the delights of the never-ending Garden, taking in its sights and sounds, and the pleasures of the abundant food that the Three-in-One had provided for them.  Every evening, they would walk in the cool of the Garden with the Three-in-One.

At times, they would follow one of the rivers, ranging far from the Garden, exploring creation, fearing nothing, knowing that wherever they might be, they would always find their way home.  Knowing that wherever they might be, Elyon watched over them, Logos would be sure to encounter them, and Ruach would refresh them.  Wherever they went, they encountered animal friends that they had named.  Wherever they went, they knew and were known, intimately.

Adam enjoyed the physical activity of exploration, running and racing ahead with excitement, taking it all in.  Eve would walk more slowly, taking her time, thoughtful and grateful.  Adam would dive and swim and swing and jump and climb, while Eve would stop to gaze at the beauty of flowers and plants or to talk with the animals that they encountered.

It was perfect.  It was Paradise.

Until the day of the Separation.  The day of the Fall.  The day when their world came to an end – when Eden was closed off to them, their spirits died, and Creation became the Shadowlands.

*                    *                    *

Eve had been feeling a restlessness in her spirit, but wasn’t sure what it was.  She and Adam lacked for nothing; the Three-in-One had provided all they could ask for or imagine, and so much more even beyond that.  She was both contented and happy, all of her longings met.

And yet…there was something that nagged at her.  There were times when Adam would go off on his own to explore and she felt…alone?  No, that couldn’t be it.  She was never really alone.  The Three-in-One might not be with her at every moment, but she knew they watched over her.  Still…she felt as though she were missing out on something.

A thought came…what about the Tree?  The one in the middle of the Garden.  She and Adam had avoided it since the day that the Three-in-One had warned them about it.  They had explored so much of Creation, so much of the Garden…and there was still so much more to see.  But…that Tree.  What had They called it?  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that was it.

What would it hurt to just go look at it?  Why had they avoided it?  After all, the whole Garden was theirs, a gift – and the Tree was part of the Garden.  If they couldn’t eat from it, that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy its beauty.

So she set off for it.

She was almost there when Adam came jogging up to her.  “Whatcha doing?” he asked in his playful way.

“Going for a walk,” she responded.

“Where?”

“I wanted to go look at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” she said.  Adam began to protest, but she cut him off.  “I know we’re not supposed to eat from it.  But I just want to look at it.  This whole Garden is ours, including the Tree.  We’ve been so afraid of it that we’ve never really looked at it.  I just want to see it.  There’s no harm in that.”

“I guess you’re right,” Adam agreed.  “Let’s go see it.”

Before long, they walked into the clearing where the Tree stood.  A short distance away, another Tree stood – the Tree of Life.  Eve realized that they had never really looked at it either, and had never eaten its fruit because it was so close to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Both Trees were beautiful, standing tall and strong, alike in their grandeur but bearing fruit that was obviously different.

They stood together, holding hands, looking at both Trees, taking it all in.

A moment later, a branch snapped off to the right, somewhere in the smaller trees at the edge of clearing.  Then, more noise.  It sounded like a large animal was moving around in there.  Adam, curious, left Eve standing there to go see what might be making noise.

Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Book Review

Book Review – Flee, Be Silent, Pray

When I read these words in the Introduction to Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I knew I had to read the rest of the book: “Evangelical Christianity in America is an anxiety factory.  As a life-long evangelical, I’ve absorbed the notion that I can never do enough for Jesus. Words like discipleship and obedience carry connotations of trying harder, doing more, and always bumping up the commitment another notch. Evangelicals affirm grace and ‘faith alone’ in theory, but we also worry that we can never pray enough, serve enough, evangelize enough, read the Bible enough, or ‘grow’ enough to satisfy God. Too many sermons revolve around an obligation to do more things or to try harder.”

Author and freelance writer Ed Cyzewski, who grew up Catholic and is now an Evangelical, draws on the Catholic and early Church traditions of contemplative prayer to write this informative and challenging primer on prayer and spiritual formation. He uses Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart as a guide. He points out that while most of us understand the importance of prayer, studying Scripture, and meditating on Scripture, we often miss the vital fact that it is God’s love that is the foundation of all Christian spirituality. Making space for daily contemplative prayer, he writes, helps us learn to rest in God’s Presence.

This is a switch for many of us – we’ve been programmed to do, do, do…serve, serve, serve…but this book calls us back to abide, abide, abide.

At nine chapters long, Flee, Be Silent, Pray is not a long read, but it is one that you will want to take your time working through. Cyzewski leads us through these important topics:

• Chapter 1- Praying with Scripture – learning to abide in Christ, using Scripture to focus ourselves.

• Chapter 2 – Cheating at Prayer – avoiding repetition while learning to treasure recited prayers.

• Chapter 3 – Mindfulness for Anxious Evangelicals – how to use Ignatius’ Examen to help yourself be mindful of God’s Presence throughout your day

• Chapter 4 – Fleeing to the Freedom of Solitude – why solitude matters, and why it is so hard for us as evangelicals

• Chapter 5 – Be Silent – finding freedom from distraction and learning that silence isn’t an accident.

• Chapter 6 – Repeating Silence – learning how to do “centering prayer.”

• Chapter 7 – Expectations for Prayer – learning to pray without condemning yourself or becoming discouraged and quitting.

• Chapter 8 – Evangelicals Don’t Have Dark Nights of the Soul – yes, we do. This chapter talks about what they look like and how they help us grow.

• Chapter 9 – Do Evangelicals Actually Have Hope? – yes, we do. But our hope is in Jesus, not in correct doctrine.

In Chapter 9, Cyzewski writes these words, which stunned and challenged me: “There is no escape from the darkness, doubts, and uncertainty of life. We cannot live in perpetual victory, forever advancing toward spiritual dominance where we’ll emerge as the sole guardians of truth and biblical knowledge. That quest is a fool’s errand that generations have failed at. I have seen one evangelical friend after another run empty as they realized that their faith largely rested on affirming doctrinal statements without a structure of spiritual practices that could keep them grounded before God. One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him.”

Wow!

If you aren’t afraid to have your thinking about prayer and about your relationship with Jesus challenged and stretched, then I highly recommend this book. I’m still mulling over some of the things I read in this book a month ago, and I will be re-reading it because I know there’s more still for me to mine from it.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here. At $2.99, it’s well worth it!

Dry Times

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Or more difficult yet, what do you do when you don’t want to do anything but you know you need to be doing something?

That’s where I’ve lived for the past two months.

I thought that having surgery would fix everything and that I would begin to feel more energized, more like my “normal” self, more like being productive and getting things done.

But honestly, I don’t.

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Everyone asks me, “How are you feeling?”  And I feel like I need to report some major progress, like the expectations on me to recover and be back to normal are very high.  Even though that’s not really the case – it’s just my projection of what I think other people are thinking.

And it’s not just physical or mental.

I’ve had a hard time getting back into any kind of a routine with my spiritual life.  (I know, I know.  Bad admission for a pastor to make.) But I’ve had a hard time getting into a routine with my normal disciplines – reading, journaling, etc.  And when I am doing those things, it just feels…dry.  I kind of feel stuck.

So what do you do when you’re in a place like that?  Especially when you are a leader?

I don’t know that there are any simple answers.  I know that I’m not in a “dark night of the soul” place where I’m not seeing God work or hearing His voice.  I know that I’m grateful; I know that He is good; I know that He is with me.

I’m just tired, and tired of being tired.

So what I do is this – I just keep on keeping on.  I’ve gone back to some basics – making sure I’m spending time reading the Bible every day, especially the Psalms and the Gospels.  I’m trying to make time every day to sit in silence with God, whether I journal or not.  I look for things for which to be thankful, and I give thanks for them.  I enjoy my time with my girls, and with my friends.  I play worship music and I soak with it.  And I take a little time each evening to sit outside, get some fresh air, and look at the woods.

I’m working on getting enough sleep and exercise and on eating healthier, because I can control those things.

I keep doing my job, and I keep doing my ministry.  I keep showing up.  I keep doing what I’m supposed to do, what I’m required to do, and what I know to do.

And, I wait.  Because I know this is a season, and I know it will pass.  I know that it won’t always be this way.  I know I can’t just will myself out of this; I know I can trust my Father.  I know He is with me, and I know He will work out something good in me through this.

And, I know that somehow, this will help me to be a blessing to others in some way in the future.

So if you’re going through a dry time…keep on going.  You won’t be there forever.  Even if it feels like it at times.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV) 

He will complete that good work in you.  And in me!