Traces

Traces

 

The pursuit of my vision for life and ministry sometimes is clearer than other times. Life brings a fog that obfuscates that vision. The fog is somewhat intermittent, sometimes being thick as pea soup, other times wispy, clear enough to see some images, then sometimes bright and clear with no obstructions. Pursuing that vision requires passion. Passion comes from an enigmatic stirring of the soul for what satisfies deeply and gives meaning to life. I’ve figured out, there are three interlocking pieces to this puzzle; vision, passion and time. Vision requires passion, and passion takes time.

 

Without passion to pursue the vision, (remembering the clarity of vision can go in and out of the fog), the vision would be lost. Passion takes time to perfect. Time is the crucible that forms the passion and gives clarity to the passion to relentlessly pursue the vision.

 

One of the ways I’ve found to stay on track, when the fog descends, is by searching out the traces of God in my life. There are numerous meanings and uses for the word trace. Consider for now, these dictionary concepts encased in the word. ”A visible mark (as a footprint) left by the passage of a person; an indication that something has been present; follow, discover, or ascertain the course of development of something; make one’s course of travel along a path.” Traces are those pathways that demonstrate the presence of God for us. Just as animals leave paths as evidence of their presence, so God has traceable paths to remind us of his presence.

 

In fact, Scripture tells us to pursue paths ourselves to create habitable traces. (Those traces become markers to point our offspring to a permanent presence, even after we’re gone. This is legacy.) “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” Ps 84:5 God’s advice to Israel through Jeremiah, was, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

Jer 6:16

 

I like the way song writer Babbie Mason expressed this truth in her song, “Trust His Heart.” The chorus of the song teaches us, then admonishes us…

“God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His Heart”

 

Recently I’ve been contemplating the traces of God in my life. I’ve discovered when I trace his hand but have trouble finding it, I’m challenged to rely on his heart, as the scriptures faithfully teach us. That’s when I find rest for my soul, as Jeremiah promised.

 

I’m sure I’ll go through the rest of my life pursuing my vision. I’m passionate about it. I accept there will be times of intermittent fog. Yet, in the thickest of fogs, when I can’t trace his hand, I know his heart can be trusted.

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My Attraction to Ancient Future Faith

I created Coram Deo International in January,2015.  Coram Deo, being in its nascent stage of development, brings me to contemplate why I’m so attracted to the Ancient Future Faith. And giving explanation to others for my attraction causes me to process my values, my understanding, and bring forth a reasonable summary. I present to you a few basic thoughts for my attraction. I put these thoughts forth with the hope you may join me.

Continuity

Having lived in Europe for 14 years, and working with Europeans over a much longer time than I actually lived there, has given me, (the lover of history), a strong desire to embrace continuity of life, of faith, of ministry. We humans are not alone, we do not create our experiences and institutions, as though we are the first to ever exist. John Donne, the English poet said it well.

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

I find depth of meaning as a follower of Christ by the emotional/spiritual connection to my predecessors. When I align myself and my conclusions to those who’ve gone before me, I join myself to that Great Cloud of Witnesses in worship as Hebrews 12 informs us. This is the great privilege of one who has found himself in God’s story. I feel I am caught up in a movement much bigger than myself. I’m contributing to that movement. My life makes a difference as it’s realized in the plan and purpose of God.

Purpose

There is a malaise over the cultural expression of our faith. When we become conditioned to perpetuate what we’ve always done, such as the habits of outward worship and the inward appeal to hold fast what we believe is our contending for the faith, we start to believe we are the only ones right. We need a greater purpose than our own traditions. A connection to the early church anchors us and gives us meaning beyond ourselves, the times in which we live, the paltry plans we make for our future. Studying the ancient fathers and mothers of our faith causes me to discover a reality of my faith and God’s purpose I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Future oriented

I understand the importance of the mandate Jesus gave his church, to ‘read the times” and participate with the Holy Spirit in what he is doing to fulfill the promises Jesus gave. By building into the generations younger than ourselves, we help them anchor their faith to this same stream of humanity called the church. Culture is dynamic. This younger generation needs to see a model and be mentored in the development of their unique cultural expression of their times. The Holy Spirit interprets the truth of scripture to every generation in the ways they can forge a continuity of faith. As I participate in this, I become part of the past and hand off to the future the praxis of the faith to others.

Majesty of God focused

I desperately need to extricate myself from the definition of God I have created. Left to my own imaginings, I can draw an incorrect understanding of God. My tendency is not unique, it’s the tendency of all human beings. JB Phillips wrote about this tendency in his book, Your God is Too Small. Like Don Quixote, it’s easy to create our own reality and become the star of our own show. While I know God interacts with my imagination of him, his interaction guides me and redefines incorrect conclusions I’ve drawn.

The ancient fathers wrested for us and honed the truths we hold dear of all the scripture teaches us. These truths were hammered out over time and perpetuated in Creeds and Confessions handed down to us.They became the basis of our praxis today.

Ultimately, Ancient Future Faith brings me in to contact with the majesty, the magnificence… the overwhelming, inexpressible joy of relationship to the Father and Son, administered by the Holy Spirit. This uniqueness of fellowship which the Godhead enjoys is mine to have and to hold because Christ has made it possible.

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Soul Food

It was a privilege for my wife and me to attend a small concert proffered by 3 string players from the Charlotte symphony. It was a masterful presentation of an evening of music written by 3 composers from Eastern Europe; Martinü, Bartok and Dvorāk.

Composers of the classics produced wonderful music, challenging the musician to play their abstract creation, and with such high demands to conquer as to take years of practice to do so. Their music endures. It satisfies like no other form of music. Its sensory qualities have no equal for restoration and refreshment of soul.

I sat focused, alternatively, on their demeanor, the artistry of their compelling music, and the reality of beauty for the soul. I reflected on the God who created the possibility of abstract beauty I observed displayed in the physiognomy of the performers. This was a public performance but for those of us who had understanding, it was an encounter with the creator of the universe. Magnificent! It was food for my soul!

I reveled in the artistry of these peerless performers who had jaw dropping skill. But it was more than skill. I noted how they were one with their instrument. The musicians caressed their instruments with a loving touch, like that of a mother with her child. There was an obvious understatement of the thousands of hours in learning and practice that brought them to this stage of life. I was aware, and in deep gratitude, for their resolve and perseverance to come to this level…and be able to bless me with their gift.

And, oh, the glorious sound of the strings; the violin and viola. So much emotion can be expressed by these instruments when in the hands of the maestros of music. But, for me, the viola is a glorious instrument, my favorite. There is no sound like the deep, golden throated, sonorous quality of the viola. As the baritone is to choral music, so is the viola to the orchestra. Remember Robert Goulet? (If Ever I would Leave You). Or better yet, Whitney Phipps as he sang as the Father God in “Savior”. Then there are the overtones of harmonies that challenge me to listen even more closely. This is great reward for the listener who connects with the viola.

There is something compelling, even seductive about the viola. It seems to say, “Come away with me and experience the rhapsody of sound I can create for you. Relax, be refreshed and renewed in your spirit by the soothing musical fibers as you indulge in my sound.”

The music ended; the evening came to a close. The audience reluctantly  rose to their feet;  slowly and reverently they filed out of their seats and shuffled toward the door. What was perhaps less than a minute seemed so much longer before the audience regained their sense of equilibrium in normal conversation. Even then, it seemed somehow sacrilegious to engage in every day chatter.

I wish you could have been there too!

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Culture Changes

Culture changes. As I watched the last 5 minutes of the Superbowl half time show last night, I realized (again), I’m out of touch. I didn’t have a clue who the performers were. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t know the lady, but it reminded me how wide the gap between young and old can be/sometimes is.

This is forcefully evident in the church. I read a blog post enumerating “15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret.” This is Dr. David W. Manner, http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/. I’ll not include all 15 items. You can look them up on your own.

The first 5 decisions are:
1.Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines.
2. Eliminating choral expressions in worship.
3. Worship leader ageism.
4. Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.
5. Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.

Lest you think I’m just whining like an old guy wanting the good old days – consider this. A family sits down to dinner. Mom has worked hard to produce a healthy, but good tasting meal. Everyone shares the same bill-o-fare. Interaction takes place in conversation about the day, upcoming events, life in general. (In our household, all conversation is laced with plenty of laughter, jokes and silliness). We eat the same food. So one person doesn’t like the menu, but accepts it anyway. Next day, the menu is different and the person likes it, even though another person doesn’t prefer it.

Church should be like that. Learning from each other, sharing what we have, growing and responding and giving honor to one another. Excuse me. What did you say? Oh. That’s not family any more? Right. I forgot. What have we gained over what we have lost?

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Lessons Learned on the Journey – Part 2

I can imagine you might be wondering how the plan to downsize is going? (Subject of my last post) Dianne and I have been working on it for a year and a half now.  I’ve drawn some conclusions, (but probably have as many questions as conclusions). As I stated before, the downsizing process involves settling on a new understanding of the rhythm of life.

By this I mean “what we value…and how we choose to pursue what we value, whether things or relationships. The value we place on these dictates the pace we maintain to possess them. It’s what we value and how we seek fulfillment.” Thinking about that pursuit forms the picture in my mind of Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Gollum was the Hobbit who was driven to possess the ring and what it could do for him, …at any cost. Ultimately, it cost him his own life. It literally destroyed him.

I have come to realize the objects of my affection, the stuff I’ve collected, sticks to me like gum on the bottom of my shoe. They can become an idol, a false god. In holding my affections I become a slave to my own choices. The things I pursue become my master.

Here are some things I’ve discovered about this rhythm of life.

  • It’s a liminality I can control. I can control it because I created it. Since to downsize is my choice, those choices abide under my own authority and management. Do I let them control me or do I have the will to demand they sublimate to my authority?
  • Contentment plays a large role in my attitude and motivation to stay the course of downsizing. It opens the door to tranquility, challenging me to accept contentment…divest myself of all the frenetic activity required to maintain it.
  • There is the inner drive to create beauty and the environment of serenity and peace. To have things look nice, ordered, is restful, even worshipful. I am drawn to God in loving response; to see him in all his beauty; the God of order and beauty who created everything we call beautiful.
  • Shrinkage of stuff can cause expansion of soul. I take more time to be intentional, to ponder and think about things I otherwise would not have time for.
  • This rhythm of life is a gem, unpolished and unshaped. On my mental work bench, I contemplate its every facet. It affords me constant opportunity to go deeper in myself. I grow in understanding, aiding the possibility of permanent implementation in my life.
  • Our personality conditions and guides our response to all this. I’m task and goal oriented. It’s natural for me to focus on all this, to organize it, to order it in to a goal – to let it become the way forward. It’s the path for me to walk.

There is a great German word that catches the spirit of what I’m saying. “Torschlusspanik” This word speaks of the fear that time is running out as I get older. I need not fear time when I have slowed myself down and am less encumbered by the stuff I think I need and the pace I need to keep up to maintain it.

A refreshing consequence of downsizing is a slower and more ordered pace of life. I want to continue to learn to smell the roses and enjoy doing so.  How about you?

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Lessons Learned on the Journey – part 1

The Knight Errant is back…after an hiatus of wandering to and fro on the earth,  campaigning for justice, slaying dragons and rescuing fair damsels in distress. 🙂  Ah, it’s a rewarding life I lead.

One of the benefits of getting old is knowing yourself and coming to grips with it. Dianne read about a marketing study done by an ice cream manufacturer. They actually can tell who you are and target you for marketing by knowing what flavor you prefer. For instance, Dianne likes pralines and caramel. I like cookie dough. She read that her choice suggests she is a person who  is more likely to be loving, supportive and prefer to avoid the spotlight. My flavor says I am a person who is more likely to be ambitious, competitive and a visionary. We guffawed loudly. How can this be? They are so right. If you’re curious about yourself, you might want to follow this link.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/07/19/what-your-favorite-ice-cream-flavor-says-about-you/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=story&utm_campaign=Share+Buttons

In this stage as a senior, Dianne and I have made significant changes in life style. We’re seeking a new “rhythm of life.” Knowing ourselves is part of this pursuit to find our proper rhythm. We’ve moved out of our home and voluntarily become homeless. We are living in 3 worlds, splitting our time at our cabin in the mountains, our home in the city and trekking for Jesus in ministry in Europe. Let me explain what I mean when I refer to a new “rhythm of life.”

As I said, getting older, I know myself much better now. I’ve learned certain lessons in life. One such lesson is to value the right things. That’s not to say I do it 100% of the time. But choices must always be made. So on what basis do I make those choices? Seems choices are made for 2 reasons. 1. what is required of me by others, by circumstances.     2. ultimately by what I value. The object of my affection is the choice I make to pursue.

The new rhythm requires downsizing. Having to downsize was a choice of value selection. Having downsized in  2 stages, the first being done, I’m on the path to seek a new “rhythm of life.” The process of selection with the goal of reducing life and the possession of things, has created the recognition of what is basic and  germain to my existence. I choose to select elements that I will maintain and let others go. These become the basic elements, the essential ingredients of how I live life. And the process of choosing forces me to hold on to fewer of those elements I once thought necessary to life.

Forty eight years of marriage and collecting the stuff consumerism seduces me to obtain, ultimately produced many layers on top and around my inner core. Over time I began to believe it’s those things I must maintain. All this has produced a rhythm of life I’m tempted to believe I cannot live without. The process of downsizing forces me to consider a new reality…one which I discover is a new rhythm. It’s a rhythm that’s reduced in the size and amount of stuff and the time I devote to maintaining it. It’s a rhythm that’s slower paced, the blessing of which is inner peace, tranquility and the focus of joy; the joy the Holy Spirit wants me to have, the joy he will give me.

There is an unintended consequence to making the choice(s) to downsize. The right choices provide a serendipitous blessing; that blessing is the opportunity to respond more freely to what God wants for me. In my new rhythm I find the joy of his abiding presence.

My challenge then,  is to find this “rhythm of life” and live within it. Sorry to say I still have to work on it. But I’m trying, and when I do I’m finding it rewarding…worth the effort.

I’ll come back with some more thoughts about all this next time. I’ll present a definition for you to ponder. In the meantime, take the challenge to consider a new rhythm for yourself.

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Balancing Life’s Circumstances

In its day, “The Music Man” musical was a broadway hit, winning many awards. From that musical we received the song “Ya Got Trouble”. The song showcases “Professor” and con man Harold Hill, who convinces the citizens of this small town the new recreation of pool will lead to nothing but degradation and immorality of the youth of the town. He thus cons them to allow him to teach them to play an instrument and form a marching band. His diabolical plan all along is only to bilk them of their money, then disappear. This whimsical look at a simpler time is pure lighthearted merriment. However, there is a strain of truth that seeps in to the current of our own day. Whether years or centuries past, we are tied to these same ills that plague our society as well. Truly, corruption, injustice and violence are with us permanently. They are the results of our old sin nature. That nature is pervasive, universal.

I’ve read and re-read the OT book of Habbakuk recently. There is an interesting parallel of the prophet’s day to our day, as I see it. The prophet was troubled by the same issues we face…injustice, violence and evil seemingly swallowing up righteousness. After Habbakuk complains twice, he then resolves to take his post of normal responsibility in daily life and wait for God’s response to his questions. “I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” 2:1

Here are some observations I want to make, pointing us to applications for ourselves. There is a readiness in his waiting. He says, he will, from his post, “look out to see what he (God) will say to me.” What is not told us is how long he would wait to hear. That is usually my first question. Implicit in his resolve is a commitment to wait…(now here’s the hard part),… without end…if God should so choose. He is poised to respond to whatever God says, whenever he says it.

This is “active waiting!” It’s acceptance of God’s will and his will to be done.  From the outset of his prayer and plea to God for answers, he is committed to wait to hear what God will say. This is anticipation and faith,But it’ not blind faith, It’s faith based in the nature and character of God. It shows us ultimate trust and confidence in the nature and purpose of God for our lives and for others as well. His decision to trust God is a reflection on his own character and level of maturity. It’s a willingness to place himself and his good in the hands of a sovereign God. He assumes the righteous God will balance the scales of justice and violence. His final prayer reveals this. …”I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” 3:16

In the end he affirms his willingness to accept whatever God does because he is a good, benevolent and righteous God. He accepts the worst case scenario – should that be – as God’s sovereign will. God is his strength even making him run with the swiftness and dexterity of a deer. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord: I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength: he makes my feet like deer’s; he makes me tread on high places.” 3:17-19

There must be activity in the waiting process. I see it like a man in the ocean treading water, bobbing up and down, constantly moving his feet to stay afloat, yet never moving, accept by what movement happens because of the current. His waiting cannot be passive or he would drown.

What’s the lesson for us? Wait actively. Trusting God for the outcome and willingness to accept whatever that will be. Maybe I should also say, and whenever that might be!

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