Archive for July, 2008

31
Jul
08

Speaking forgiveness

For a long time now I have been drawn repeatedly to the subject of forgiveness. Perhaps because I struggle with it so much myself… both on the extending and the receiving ends. As I feel the urge to lash back at someone who has slighted or wronged me begin to well up inside, I realize how far I yet have to go on the “transformation toward Christ-likeness” journey, as Dallas Willard would call it.

One of the sub-topics of forgiveness that has really puzzled me is this: when I am at last able to forgive someone who has injured me, does it “count” as actual forgiveness if I do not speak that forgiveness directly to them? Can I, in the privacy of my prayer closet alone with God, just forgive Bob without calling Bob or going to visit him and saying, “Bob, I forgive you”?

In one sense, I feel like I am giving myself a “weasel hatch” if I do not go and speak to Bob and offer my forgiveness in person. In a sense I am preserving the ability to change my mind and say, “Nope, sorry. I thought I was going to forgive you, but I’ve changed my mind. You blew it.” It goes without saying that there is absolutely no resemblance between this form of conditional forgiveness and the forgiveness we receive from God DAILY! But many times that awareness does not stop us from being jerks.  On the other hand, making a production out of the act of walking up to Bob, looking him right in the eye, grabbing his one hand with both of my hands and saying, “Bob, I just want you to know that I forgive you,” runs the risk of dredging up the past hurt and renewing the animosity again, or else just emphasizing MY amazing virtue as a wonderful, generous, forgiving person. Either one of those options seems to be completely counter-productive also.

So here is the response that finally bubbled up out of the depths the other day that seems to make some kind of sense… But I would really like to hear from folks about whether this sounds reasonable, biblical, totally a rationalization based on personal whims or just what. Let me know!

OK – it seems to me that what matters most on the topic of forgiveness is, from this point forward, the quality of the interaction you have with Bob, (or fill in the blank with a more pertinent name.) If in your heart, your forgiveness of Bob (and just to be clear, “Bob” is a randomly chosen, fictional name here. I don’t really have a beef right now with any Bobs that I am aware of) is genuine, you cannot help but behave differently toward him. The validation of your forgiveness will be your warmth, your acceptance, your genuine compassion, exhibited toward a person for whom you previously experienced none of those things. And really, isn’t that what finally matters? God will see the depth and genunineness of your forgiveness, so does it really matter that you speak it directly to Bob? I suppose if the subject came up and Bob were to say, “Something is different about you lately… what’s the deal?” you might take advantage of that chance to explain. But I am going to go ahead and lodge my official response today as: “No, the act of forgiveness does not necessarily require that your forgiveness be directly spoken.”

Thoughts?

25
Jul
08

Spiritual Summitting

Exhausting. Exhilarating. Challenging. Worth every step of the process! While these are actually the words I would use to describe my climb to the top of the Twin Sisters peak here in Colorado yesterday (11,402 foot elevation), it seems to me that they also work really well to describe the journey of the

Twin Sisters Peak

Twin Sisters Peak

spirit. (Before exploring this intriguing parallelism, let me digress a bit by saying that I think this mountain is mis-named. While it is true that there are two peaks, very close to one another of roughly the same elevation, they are no more twins than my brother Alan and me. Even at a distance – as you can see here – they look nothing alike whatsoever. So I am today officially beginning my lobbying campaign with the National Park Service to change the name of this mountain to Two Sisters, Bearing a Striking Tho’ Not Identical Resemblance to One Another. Long name, but technically much more accurate.)

Anyway, back to the central point; the similarities and differences between the mountain trail and the spiritual journey. In each case, the beginning steps are filled with the excitement of anticipating the adventure ahead. Your gear is all secure, your sunscreen has been applied, and you are ready to launch off to discover vast new vistas. This excitement lasts for a significant part of the journey and is soon replaced by a sense of tediousness and monotony and the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” You know that you have come too far to turn around and go back, but you soon begin to think that the destination is impossibly far away. You weary, trying desperately to rekindle the enthusiasm you had at the trailhead.

Vital to both the spiritual journey and the mountain climb is the ability to observe regular rest and refreshment stops along the way. It absolutely IS God who calls us to the spiritual trail and God who gives us the energy to embark on the journey, but we play a part, too. Just as our God is a “both/and” God who creates and redeems by collaboration, so also is the journey toward sanctification a “both/and” undertaking. We work WITH God, attuning and responding to the urgings of the spirit as we seek to grow in Christlikeness. And every now and then, we need to stop on the trail, take a drink of water, and assess our position.

We should not undertake either one of these journeys without companions and guides. They are the ones who encourage us when we want to quit, who point out the wonders along the path that we might otherwise miss and who are there to help us read the map and determine our next steps. As American Express might have said some years ago, “Don’t leave home without them.”

The reward for us at the summit of the peak formerly known as Twin Sisters was a spectacular view. Long’s Peak, the highest in the Rockies to the north, the entire Estes Valley to the west, faint outlines of Boulder, CO to the south. 360 degrees of majesty all around us. And in a way, that is a great description of the reward of scaling the spiritual summits, too. Not a view of the Colorado countryside, but certainly a perspective that allows you to consider a larger, fuller, more complete perspective on what the awesome adventure of life has to offer. It strikes me that in the deepest depths of our sin, perspective is often the first casualty. I am no longer able to see anything but that which is two inches in front of my nose. The sum total of my awareness revolves around that which only affects ME. When Jesus tells his disciples in the farewell discourse, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:12-13) he is calling them to embrace God’s perspective. The human perspective calls us to consider our own lives as the ultimate value worth protecting. God’s perspective says just the opposite.

Come. Respond to God’s call to scale the spiritual summits. Bring a friend or two. And don’t neglect to take nourishment along the way.

Be Blessed.

23
Jul
08

The Wonder Within

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honor.”
Psalm 8:3-5 Estes Park, Colorado

When I hear this passage from Psalms, I imagine David – whom the text says is the author – standing on a hillside much like the one I am looking at right now here at the YMCA of the Rockies outside of Estes Park. I imagine him being overcome with awe and reverence by the sheer physical beauty he was surrounded by, just like I am now. It is not hard for a “flatlander” like me to be stirred to poetry when I get a chance to look at scenery like this. Someone asked yesterday if I thought it ever got old… that is, seeing mountains like this every day. I cannot imagine how it could.

We look at the uprising rocks and the sweeping vistas and hillsides above us and imagine God’s careful hand carving each one of the crevices carefully, like an artist.

But then I am also driven to another Psalm at this point: Psalm 139 where we hear the psalmist express awe and wonder at another one of God’s amazing creations. He expresses and awareness that you and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this sentence the word “fearfully” has the same meaning as when we hear someone say, “Fear the Lord.” It means to regard with great reverence. And so this verse is saying that when God made you – knit you together in your mother’s womb to use the psalmist’s phrase – God did so with great reverence. God MADE the world. God made YOU “fearfully and wonderfully.” Jesus tells us the same thing in Matthew 10:29-31 when he says, “… are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your heavenly father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

And so I guess my message today is very simple… it is proper that we look at these mountains, and lakes, and forests with a sense of awe and wonder because they are worthy of that kind of reverence. But the scriptures remind us that God regards his creation of human beings with an even greater sense of wonder and reverence than these mountains. And if God thinks of us – each one of us – that way, how could we possibly not also be filled with wonder and reverence when we look at another person?

22
Jul
08

Road Russellings

Blogging from the road… I-70 somewhere in the eastern part of Colorado on the way to the YMCA of the Rockies at Estes Park. I can’t honesty say that I don’t prefer looking down on this particular part of the countryside from the 30,000 foot vantage point while wrestling to open a tiny foil pouch of peanuts. For one thing, the computer bounces around less when it is sitting on the little tabletop on an airplane. But then again, here in the car it is not shoved up right under my nose, a mere six inches from the back of the seat in front of me.

But on the airplane I do not have a chance to see the incredible texture and detail of this Kansas countryside up close and personal like I am seeing it now. And in case you might doubt it, there is amazing richness and texture to be found in the landscape of western Kansas. Really!

But the real reason I wanted to post today was to relate an interesting incident that happened as Joan and I pulled off the highway at about 7:15 last night (Sunday night) in Colby. We had reservations at the Holiday Inn Express and had plugged the address into our GPS system so we would be directed precisely to the front door of our hotel. The soothing female voice told us to exit at Exit 54 and turn right. She then told us to turn right at the next intersection and continue ahead, “…point three miles to destination.” There was a combination Wendy’s/gas station complex immediately past the intersection, but nothing that looked like a Holiday Inn…  Express or otherwise. After we had driven the requisite “point three miles,” we heard GPS Lady proudly announce, “ARRIVING at destination, on right.” There to the right of the car we spotted a pheasant scurrying across the road to disappear into a vast, undulating cornfield. If this was indeed our destination, we were significantly underprepared to take advantage of these accommodations.

After a quick phone call to the front desk of the REAL Holiday Inn Express, we were able to reverse our tracks and find the correct bricks-and-mortar location. But it was a moment that provided an interesting illustration of something that can (and often does!) happen in our walk in the world. It was an illustration of the way that in our steadfast focus on getting from Point “A” to Point “B” we can sometimes find ourselves trusting everything BUT our eyes and our common sense to get us there. Our spiritual journey is obviously infinitely more complex than getting from Kansas City to Estes Park, Colorado, but as John Wesley was so astute to point out, we are called to use many different tools in our quest to apprehend truth. The guidance of the eternal roadmap that is the inspired Word of God should be our first and primary touchstone, of course. Unlike our paper-and-ink roadmap however, it is a living, breathing, ever-unfolding resource for life, timeless and yet always new.

At the same time we have to lift our eyes to scan the surroundings and make judgments based on our accumulated experiences. Just like we did when the GPS told us we were staying in the middle of the Colby cornfield.

19
Jul
08

Gospelize?

One of the sappy realities of my recent induction into the blogosphere will be my child-like fascination with the idea of blogging. Apologies to those to whom this stuff is totally passe.

I noticed earlier today as I was cutting my grass that I kept thinking about what I might blog about next. And in order to stay somewhat consistent with the title and theme of the blog, this means looking for the places where God is at work. So there I am, pushing my Toro along on a REALLY hot day with my Gospel Eyes (or gospelize if you prefer) peeled. Mostly there was just sweat dripping down into my Gospel Eyes, but it struck me as a cool sort of posture with which to approach the world.

It reminded me of the time at Aldersgate UMC when I was working with the confirmation class. The Saturday before Easter Sunday rolled around and Iva Lee – the actual confirmation teacher – casually said to me, “Now, you ARE planning to preach at the sunrise service, aren’t you?” Actually this was the first time I had heard anything about it, but I wanted to be cool and casual and so I responded with a hearty, “Sure! you bet!” and then began to panic.

But what happened was all that week I had my antenna up, looking everywhere for evidence of God’s influence on me and on the world. Anything… a chance encounter in the check-out line, a song on the radio, Joan’s report on her day at work… could become fodder for a sermon illustration. The clock was ticking and I needed to harvest some significance whereever I could! “This must be what it is like to preach every week!” I thought to myself. “You have to be alert! You have to be ready to be ‘gospelized’ at a moment’s notice!”

But really… regardless of whether you preach in front of a church every week or not (and I still don’t due to the fact that I am at the UM Church of the Resurrection), aren’t we called to see God at work in the everyday events of our lives? If we only understand our faith to be meant for Sunday morning, we have failed to recognize the life and history-changing power that has been handed to us by our spiritual forebears. We have missed the point BADLY.

Go forth with a new set of Gospel Eyes, prepared to meet God at every turn!

18
Jul
08

Hello, blog world!

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Romans 12:2

Well, here we go… history being made at this very moment. The old dog has been taught a new trick and is eager to use it. You are reading my very first ever blog!! Hopefully I will be a lot more attentive to this than I have been to my Facebook account. I have to admit though… for the life of me I cannot figure that thing out. And what is the deal with all those green plants people keep trying to send me?

So far I am liking the blog thing. But the concept that I will have something pithy and worthwhile to say on a regular basis still seems a little intimidating. However, in keeping with the idea implied by the name of the blog (“Russellings of the Spirit”), I am going to try imparting a little bit of where God seems to be nudging me when I sit down to post. The hope would be that my nudgings (or “russellings”) will nudge something in you and that as you respond we will together find ourselves becoming more regularly open to the infinite variety of methods by which God attempts to grab our attention. Then again, I might just pop in and ask something a lot more pedestrian, like if you know anyone who does small engine repair at a reasonable price also…

As a general rule I am going to try and keep these short so as to incent a greater regularity of posting. At least that is the idea. We’ll see how that goes.

Here is what grabbed me earlier this week: I was reading my daily Kansas City Star and came across Jenee Osterheldt’s column. It appears in the FYI section on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I don’t usually read it, but this one caught my eye for some reason.  In this column Jenee told the story of a law school student named Aubrey Gann. Aubrey has finished law school at UMKC and is preparing for the Missouri Bar exam. On her breaks from studying 12 hours a day, she developed the discipline of listing her blessings and giving thanks for them. Aubrey decided that one of her biggest blessings was her family and the support they have given her in following this path. Jenee writes, “Then she thought about the many people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams, the people who didn’t have the opportunities she’s been afforded, particularly minorities.”

So Aubrey decided to act. She has been planning an end-of-the-summer road trip to California to celebrate the relief of finishing the bar, but the reality is that she has very limited funds. How to make this trip and also do something beneficial for those people who have not had the same opportunities she has?

“She suddenly got an idea to make her trip more meaningful,” Jenee goes on to relate. “She would sell advertising space on her car on eBay. (Item #260260355326). The idea is that she will pay the expenses of her trip, but will also be able to raise money with which she can contribute to the UMKC Law School Diversity Scholarship.

Here is what grabbed me so much about this story: It is a great example of Paul’s advice in action. In the Romans passage quoted at the top of the page, Paul is urging his readers to look beyond the constraints of their circumstances and to let God’s spirit guide them to a new understanding of what is possible. I can’t tell you how many times I have fallen short of this mark by letting my perceived situation define my mind’s response rather than the other way around.  This probably sounds a little like pop psychology “possibility thinking,” true, but it is so much more! It is really a case of letting God be God and listening to the other side of the story, as disclosed by the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if Aubrey prayed and received a revelation of this creative solution, but she certainly did not allow herself to be “conformed to this world” and its definition of what her options were.  Let’s plan to do likewise.




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