What Is

What Is

I believe the most spiritual things we do are the least spiritual. It isn’t the amount of great inspirational books we consume, or the amount of prayer circles in which we engage that most effectively develop our spiritual eyes. It is when we engage in the most ordinary things in life that we learn to see God.

My spiritual life on this day consisted of giving sips of water to my wife who can no longer hold a cup, can barely swallow, and doesn’t know for certain where she is. She asks the same question every thirty seconds because she doesn’t remember that she’s asked it. Delirious, disconnected, and demented we watch her slip away from us.

This is what dying looks like. It sucks with a loud noise! It isn’t graceful. It isn’t sweet. And it sure as hell isn’t pretty. Not the version I’m watching, anyway.

About a week and a half ago Tricia began slipping into long seasons of confusion, not eating, and not being able to feed herself. Her hands and arms are no longer much help as her MS has progressed upward. Her voice is very frail and her speech is slurred when she does attempt to speak. The painful shift in our reality culminated last week when she no longer recognized our daughter.

My point in sharing this entry isn’t to point out how challenging my life is. Nor is it to spin myself as some kind of hero. I’m not. I hate it and wish I were anywhere but here most days. Death’s waiting room is a crappy place to spend any time. The point of this entry is that our most spiritual place is right where we are. Taking up our cross is taking up our reality. This season is just about showing up and giving someone five spoonfuls of sweet potatoes and letting them ask us whether it is morning or night fifty times while we do it. My heart hopes that in those five bites of food she gets from me that she’s reminded that I love her and that I’m here.

What is it that has felt the least spiritual to you today and yet may be the very most spiritual? You may have only thrown a ball with your son, but you made a memory that will shape his life. You may have taken your daughter to the movie, but it impacted her because you gave her the gift of time. The conversation you had with your spouse between soccer games and the grocery store may have felt mundane to you but it meant the world to them. It is those things for which we live. Not the big ministry opportunity, or the great epiphany on the hillside with the guru. It is those five blinking spoonfuls of sweet potatoes that are exactly where God has us. Let’s not waste them and learn to see God in our reality.

Because of You…

I’m often reminded that we don’t always do a great job of honoring those who inspire us, challenge us, and ultimately shape the changes in us that we experience throughout our lives. Most of us can think of individuals who have had an impact on us personally, helped us experience a shift in our thinking, or the way we view ourselves. Yet for many of us, we’ve never expressed to them their impact on us personally.

My most humbling moments have been those where someone has sent me an email or a note, had a conversation, or even given me a gift accompanied by a reminder of some way that they were impacted by me or what I do. Often I may not even remember the specific conversations to which they refer, but I remember that we shared a moment where I saw a light come back in their eyes. For whatever reason they credited me with that. I am always moved by even the smallest of those stories.

We all have those people who walked the extra mile with us. God meets us in the now through the love and encouragement of those around us. He doesn’t send angels with flaming swords. He sends helping hands and willing hearts. He sends someone with one morsel of encouragement that I need in that moment. He whispers a challenging word from someone whom I trust and respect enough to listen.

Celebrate those whom God has used to speak change into your heart and mind. Share with them specifically what it was in them that challenged you, encouraged you, and saved you. Express specifically how your life is different because you knew them, worked with them, or found yourself impacted by them. By doing so we encourage those who have encouraged us, and they experience the joy of seeing the fruit of purpose in their own life and story.

Those from whom I’ve gleaned the most have lived very sacrificially. Many have experienced great adversity and yet freely shared their experience, strength and hope with me happily. Wisdom and depth come at a great price yet for many of us we digest it from others as if it is being dispensed from a vending machine that we can keep putting quarters in and get our thought for the day.

It isn’t those who have done it all perfectly that always make the best mentors and communicators. It is anyone who is willing to be honest enough about their brokenness and who has learned to steward their pain well. These are the people I trust most. For them to hear that, “Because of you, I am changed.” or, “Because of you, I now have hope,” is the closest thing to purpose they may ever realize in their own broken story.

Share those milestones with those who walked you by them. Celebrate the joy of encouraging a life well lived. Don’t assume that they are besieged with appreciation. Your gratitude may be the only encouragement they ever hear.

This weekend I get to participate in celebrating such a life. Our founding pastor, Scotty Smith is transitioning after twenty-six years of ministry and we are throwing he and his wife Darlene a party! His last two Sundays with us will be tomorrow and the following week, May 20. There will be stories, songs, and appreciation extended for not only his message of God’s grace to us these many years, but for the way he has shaped a culture. We are different because he was here. We are freer because he shared his freedom with us. We steward our pain a little better because he was a faithful steward of his pain with us. We are a little more honest because he was transparent with us. We understand God’s great love a little better because he gave freely from the places where he has experienced that love himself.

Thank you, Scotty and Darlene for your friendship, your faithfulness, and freely sharing your lives with us. We are better for it, because of you!

Join In the Heavy Lifting

I believe in Christian community. I believe in a body of people who come together regularly and know one another and share with one another. I believe in bringing our questions, our failures, our successes, and even our perspectives that don’t fit the grid of a traditional Christian and throwing it out there and working through all of it together.

We are in a sermon series that explores the model of Worship, Care, Serve as somewhat of a tagline that lets people know who we are as a church. It occurs to me that if we are truly doing any one of these then the other two will be in practice as well. If our worship is truly God focused, Christ centered adoration that changes us then we will be caring for others. If we are genuinely caring for others we will be serving. How can we genuinely care and not serve? Serving is just an outgrowth of sincerely caring and a byproduct of seeing Christ through the lens of a worshipping heart.

I have paid people to do my yard work weekly, train me at the gym, clean my house, wash my car, counsel me, consult with me, do my taxes, cut my hair, and even pick out my clothes for special events a couple of times.

I order food online, books that download directly to my cool electronic devices, buy music that I store in a “cloud” and have even been known to use valet parking at the mall on those rare occasions that I still shop retail.

I’m not unique in this lifestyle. The people in my worshipping community live similarly or better. I’m not saying that any of this is bad. It is the fruit of progress in a world that has changed more in the last one hundred years than all of history combined when it comes to technology.

Where the wheels begin to wobble in this cultural paradigm is when we bring these lifestyle expectations into the church. We end up waiting on people to serve us instead of seeking opportunities to serve others. We wonder why our paid staff can’t handle all the hurting and needy people in our midst. After all, that is their job, right? We pay them to do that.

We want to come and drink the coffee, experience some form of worship that is supposed to happen to us, and hear a message that is going to challenge us in ways that we never considered before because we have essentially paid people to do all of these things.

I wonder if the reason that so many of us have such empty experiences in the church is because we aren’t investing ourselves. When we view the church as a place where we go and get an experience on Sunday it will never be enough. When the church is a place where others do the heavy lifting so I can float in and out it will never be community to me.

We will experience the church as she is meant to be when we are willing to invest ourselves beyond our experiential expectations and consumerism.

When we worship, care and serve we are truly living in Christian community but not if one is without the other two.