Monday, January 28, 2008

Thank Yous

I’m one of those traditionalists who still believes in writing thank you notes for gifts. That means that near the end of January I am feeling guilty if I have not yet written notes of thanks for my Christmas presents. So, that’s where I find myself today.

As I was running errands tonight, I decided to pick up some thank you cards. I happened to be in Office Depot, knowing that they would have stationery of some sort. Seems that the only stationery I could find was designed to be run through a printer. There was nothing smaller than letter-size paper. I did not find any thank you cards. Hmm.

I had to go to Wal-Mart as well, so I checked out their stationery selection. I could hardly find it. Again, they only seemed to have the kind of paper you use to print out party invitations or family newsletters. Surely they would have thank you cards. Finally I found them. They were all marked at clearance prices. Cool. I picked up four 10-packs at 75 cents each.

But will they restock their thank you cards? With email being so simple and easy, we can quickly acknowledge gifts with very little effort. But there’s just something about a “hard copy” note.

Going through old files a few days ago, I found some old letters my parents had written to me in the 1980s. It touched my heart to see what they had said to me then. I had forgotten the depth of their love for me and my new wife. Then I thought about how I would miss having those notes, if email had been available in those days. I doubt we would have exchanged letters much at all.

I don’t hate technology, but there is still something very special about a good old-fashioned letter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Well Read

I was in college before it occurred to me that I could actually enjoy reading. Nearly all my reading was school work; and that was, well, work. I’m a slow reader, and I don’t have the greatest comprehension, either. Maybe it’s ironic that I like to write.

I took a speed reading class while I was in college, but I can’t tell that it did any good. I got good at passing my eyes over the words, but I couldn’t fully grasp the content. I have long since given up on those techniques.

I have found that sometimes the Holy Spirit gives me what feels like a supernatural ability to read and absorb quickly. Maybe that’s how some people read all the time. I often pray for that kind of mental clarity.

Christian mystic A. W. Tozer said that he would often read on his knees. He may have meant that figuratively, but he sought God’s help to understand what he was reading. Of course we want to read the Bible on our knees, asking the Spirit to enlighten us. But we also need the Spirit to enlighten us about everything we read. Tozer said that he would read great works of literature on his knees, asking God to help him understand Shakespeare, for example.

Tozer also said that there is a difference between being “well read” and having done a lot of reading. One can read plenty of books without really grasping the deep meaning of the work. Sometimes we may need to read a book over and over to mine it thoroughly.

This week I picked up my copy of Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. I had read this book in the 1980s, and then read it again about three years ago. But when I read the first chapter again on Monday, the words were so alive that it seemed like I had never seen them before. My own markings in the book assured me that I had been there before.

The words hit home for me in a fresh way because God has grown me. Many times this happens when I read the Bible. As I grow in Christ, I am ready to hear things in a new way. The experience reminds me of the lyrics of Toby Mac’s song, “No Ordinary Love.”

Mama never said it would be like this.
I never knew such bliss existed.
Maybe it’s just so indescribable,
Love was liable to get it twisted.
She never told me, but if she tried,
I was a little to young and
it floated right by me.
I never dreamed of love so fulfilling,
Simply killing and over spilling on me.

There are a lot of things that have floated right by me. I want to keep growing, so I keep putting myself where God can pour himself into my soul. Who knows how much I’m missing? There is always more that Jesus wants to show me. Compared to knowing Jesus, everything is just trash.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Why Bother?

A caveman in an old “B.C.” comic strip was explaining the game of golf to a cavewoman. “The fewer times you hit the ball, the better,” he said. She left him speechless with her next question: “Why hit the ball at all?”


In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests 12 disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. We know that God wants us to do these things, because the Bible tells us so. But, besides obedience, why engage in spiritual disciplines at all?


Last week a friend shared an insight from the Christian writer Dallas Willard about the value of the disciplines. As most believers have learned, we grow the most through our difficult experiences. Through our suffering we grow more spiritually than through any other experiences. In our difficulties, we do what we have to. We face the pain. We learn to trust. We learn that God really loves us. We stop relying on ourselves. We get our priorities in order.


In many ways, engaging in spiritual disciplines helps us simulate the experience of suffering, says Willard. With the disciplines, we interrupt our selfish schedules to do something that will allow us to grow closer to Jesus. In a way, we produce our own suffering, because we believe that knowing Jesus is worth it.


I’m finally making sense of this. When I interviewed Charlie Engle, after he ran across the Sahara Desert, he also spoke of the growth that any person gains through suffering. As he tackles seemingly impossible feats, he pushes himself beyond reasonable limits. He said that we all will suffer, and we all can grow through that suffering. He wants to grow, he said, but he wants to choose the suffering intentionally.


I thought there had to be some way to apply that thinking to the spiritual life. We can choose to “suffer” by engaging in spiritual disciplines. We push ourselves to read the whole Bible in a year, to fast for a day or two, to memorize a chapter of scripture, to pray for a half hour, to spend a day alone with God. Through it all, we get to know him and love him more.


We can also push ourselves to “suffer” by stepping out boldly in faith – changing careers, adopting a child, giving sacrificially, volunteering in the community, running for office, going back to school, selling an extra car, becoming a missionary.


A life without difficulties would make us dull and spiritually weak. I’m not asking for trouble, but I do want to grow spiritually. Choosing to engage in the spiritual disciplines seems like a great way to embrace a life of love with Jesus.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ah, Friends

My family and I spent last week at the beach, and it was a great experience. With our time commitments increasing, I knew that we needed to make a vacation a priority. So, we spent New Year’s week at Long Beach, NC.

We got to read, watch cable TV (a rare treat), rest, walk on the beach, visit, play, pray, and eat. We learned to use our new “Cosmic Catch” toy ball. Lots of fun. We found some beautiful seashells.

I read through the book of Galatians in the Bible again, and I think I’m beginning to see what Paul’s big point is. Finally I am seeing how all the pieces of the book fit together. I did lots of other reading, too. I also took time to walk about two miles a day. (I have always regretted becoming a couch potato in vacations past.)

As fun and restful as our vacation was, I was ready to come home on Saturday.

We missed our friends. Fortunately, on Sunday, we had lots of time to visit. Of course we saw people at our worship celebration, and then ate lunch with friends. Then we got to spend all afternoon with friends again at a kid’s birthday party.

More than ever, I appreciate friends whose lives are woven together with ours. One of the best stress reducers in life is friendship. Having one or two close friends is good. And having a few dozen people who love you and build you up is priceless. I thank God for such meaningful relationships.

One of the books I read last week is “Making Room for Life,” by Randy Frazee. In it he talks about life with more time for relationships. Reading it made me grateful for my friends and eager to go deeper into friendship. It also made me see how family has to be a priority. I expect to be sharing more about making room for life in the days ahead.