Friday, February 27, 2015

Just Stuck

Being stuck is worse than being in a rut.  No, I’m not talking about the side streets in Chicago in February,  I’m talking about life.   Being stuck in a situation or place for some time usually results in some form of emotional angst, from simple frustration to full-blown anger.   Regardless of how quick we are to go from frustration to anger, all of us dislike it when we are not making progress and feeling like we are stuck.

Sometimes, we wonder exactly what God may be doing in our life when we feel stuck.  All of us experience times when we have been waiting for something to happen. Perhaps a new job, a solution to some family situation or often it's something even more frustrating. Waiting on God when things are really not going well is rough. And, for some reason, the time often keeps passing without much relief in sight.

A few years ago, I learned some lessons from a time of "feeling stuck" and while I'm not fully equipped to explain why God often puts us in situations where we feel that we are stuck, let me articulate some of my thoughts:

Thought #1: Being stuck may be better than where you were headed.

The rock and Roll song "American Pie", by Don McLean, has a reference in the lyrics "the day the music died, " to the deaths of rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.  These three and their pilot climbed into a four-seater plane in 1959 and all died when the plane went down on a snowy February evening. Waylon Jennings, in his 20’s at the time, and a future Country Music superstar, had given up his seat in the plane to the Big Bopper and survived.

The Bible is full of examples of people that were stuck.  The people of Israel in the desert and again in Babylon.  Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as King David, to name just of few of the obvious, were men that felt stuck for years while God worked on their character.  Back then and to this day, God prepares individuals, nations and events specifically for a later time when things would fit together and we would see the fulfillment of His specific callings and purposes. Don't be so quick to see a lack of momentum as wasted time; being stuck is better than sinking into rebellion from God and His purpose for your life.

Thought #2: Being stuck is needed sometime to cool off

Galatians 5:22 is the verse that lists what the Apostle Paul identifies as the "Fruits of the Spirit" and this great list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This word "patience" is translated "longsuffering" in the King James version which is a great way of understanding patience.  The Greek word being translated "Patience" is makrothumia which literally means being "long-tempered". I like that definition as it is the opposite of short-tempered.

I think most of us can understand that sometimes we just need to cool off.  Back a few years ago (it seems like a different life), I was a securities principal and broker and worked with stocks, bonds and public companies. The SEC requires a "cooling off period" of a minimum of 20 days from the time a public company files a prospectus or written intentions of selling securities and the actual public offering of the securities. While most CEOs dislike the 20 days of waiting, the SEC understands that even companies need to "cool off" before they offer huge blocks of ownership of their company to the general public.

Thought #3, Being Stuck can be an active way of waiting

I’ve noticed that some people find a way to remain productive when the rest of us are just stuck. We don't like waiting but it really seems like it's a necessary part of life. It’s also a very important ingredient of our spiritual life. In the Bible, God often tells His people to wait. For example, Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord." From God's perspective, it's often better to wait.

Finally, our waiting on the Lord is to be active not passive. In Isaiah we are given the word picture that waiting is like an eagle that flies by fixing his wings and riding the wind. Isaiah 40:31 says, "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."

So, remember, you are not just stuck. You may be in a very special place in God's plan and there are always lessons to be learned.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mardi Gras no.....Lent yes!

What is Mardi Gras?

Likely more people are excited about Mardi Gras than Lent.  Both Mardi Gras (which is French for "Fat Tuesday") and Lent are traditions that have evolved and unfortunately devolved over many years.   Mardi Gras doesn’t have any remaining spiritual significance other than it is the day before Lent. The origin is reported that people would be fasting starting on Ash Wednesday, and would ‘use up’ their remaining foods that were not going to be consumed during the 40 day period of Lent.   

Over time,  Mardi Gras and “Fat Tuesday” became the opportunity or excuse for one more day or one extreme day to indulge the flesh.  Like the bachelor and bachelorette parties that should be avoided as they are often regretted, I recommend that we just say ‘no’ to Mardi Gras. Having a celebration of a day called Fat Tuesday or encouraging over-indulgence as if some how we are entitled to revel in excess just seems contrary to the whole idea of fasting and discipline.

What is Lent?

Lent is a very ancient season in the church that is a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and renewal preceding Easter.  Lent is an old-English word that really is just another name for Spring, as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.  In the early church, there were many different times of fasting and prayer and many try to attribute the practice of a 40-day fast prior to Easter to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.  However, the records from the Council of Nicaea are readily accessible and I find no particular reference to a time of fasting by the Council of Nicaea. History records that by the 6th century, the leaders of the church had a problem in that very few people were participating in the weekly communion service.  Church teaching at that time was most severe, focusing on God’s vengeance, man’s sinfulness, eternal damnation and hell fire.  Most people felt that they were unworthy to receive communion so a 40-day period of fasting was instituted to prepare people to receive communion at Easter.   The Quadragesima would eventually be known as “Ash Wednesday” as ashes were used in the ceremony beginning this period of fasting, prayer and renewal.

A Biblical fast always involves abstaining from food for some period. While it rarely would be a complete abstinence (i.e. only water), it should be deliberate, it should be over an extended period of time (i.e. 21 days, 40 days) and should always involve prayer.

Both 21 days and 40 days are great Biblical numbers for a feast. The prophet Daniel fasted for 21 days and Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days.

The Quadragesima fast or Lent changed greatly over the years.  The people wanted to know what minimally was required to complete the fast (not unlike today) and the church over the years relaxed the fast from one meal a day with no meat, poultry or fish consumed, to a few days of fasting a week and recently for Catholics to not eating meat on Friday during Lent. Many Christians don’t fast during Lent but will ‘give up’ something. This is unfortunate as it is in a fast that we can truly reflect, renew our spirits and prepare for this time to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Unfortunately, many of the churches have abandoned the season of Lent but recently fasting is making a comeback in some of our Evangelical Churches.  For more on fasting, here is a link to my blog on Prayer and Fasting .

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Hurry Not

We are just too busy!  My job back in the 1990’s took me to New York and Wall Street on a regular, almost weekly basis. The New York and Wall Street busyness was clearly evident and noticeable as it was a dramatic contrast from the daily lifestyle of those of us that lived in the Midwest.

Today, that New York busyness has invaded the North, South, East and West.  It is normative in our workplace, our schools, our churches and our families.  Everyone I meet is busy.  Our computers, smart phones, the Internet and endless cable TV programs have created an environment where we believe we need to be busy every waking hour of the day.  

Back before all this technology, I have to admit that I was rarely able to keep my workday to just eight hours. It wasn’t unusual for me to put in ten hours in the office, as there were opportunities for those of us that were committed to putting in some casual overtime.  A conscientious and hardworking employee often became a conscientious and hardworking manager and I rose to the occasion.

With our smart phones and computers we now work many more hours as our work will follow us home.   Most of the people that I know spend not only a few hours on their computers at home on work related tasks but their smart phone will capture their attention long into the evening.  People now get up and immediately look at their iPhone or Droid as emails are expected to be replied to within a day and often a business culture requires texts to be replied to within hours.

For those that are not preoccupied with their careers and employers' demands, there have been plenty of other things that keep us busy.   From playing League of Legends on the computer to FarmVille on Facebook, we are busy and even hurried through our day.

Being hurried through the day is in deep contrast to the example of Jesus who never seemed to be in a hurry.  Jesus not only refused to be hurried, but prayer and solitude was a regular part of his daily routine.  Jesus told his disciples, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32).  This practice of solitude was a practice of many in the early church.  Not only did monks and hermits practice solitude, but the Rules of St. Benedict of prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal were embraced by both clergy and the common people.

By definition, to hurry is to act with haste, to perform in an unusually accelerated manner.  One of the ways to understand what hurry does in our lives is that it makes us scattered, un-deliberate, and seemingly haphazard. 

Its time to slow down.  I would actually recommend that we slow down and eliminated some worthless activities, and that we embrace the ancient, but important, discipline of contemplation and solitude.

A great way to start is to find thirty minutes to sixty minutes each day to be quiet.  Let's quiet our smart phone, our TV and computer and discover what it is like to be silent. Being silent and practicing the ever presence of God is a amazing way to begin to hear that inner voice.  Being quiet and silent is also a way to reflect on what God is accomplishing or wants to accomplish in our lives.  Being silent can be actually more productive in the long run as it builds self and helps us prioritize. During our quiet time, let's thank God and listen so that we may hear the answers to the many questions and prayers we have been asking.

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