the black hole syndrome

A black hole is an area in space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.  A black hole is formed when a star collapses. It has an incredibly strong gravitational pull, and once an object crosses the “event horizon” it is within the black hole’s grasp.  It continues to bring things into itself, nothing escapes and the “hole” is never filled.

Sometimes I can identify all to well with a black hole.  In a strange similarity to the collapse of a star, my collapse happens when my focus turns inward. If I am not careful, I can become very “me” focused.  I want to be happy, I want satisfied, I want attention, I want conversations to center around me…. On and on it goes, I want what I want.  The funny thing is, when I begin to seek my own satisfaction so fervently, it becomes the very thing that eludes me.  Every conversation, every relationship, every attempt to “please me” somehow crosses my own “event horizon” and is sucked into the void.  The more I focus on me, the emptier I feel.

I recently had a bout with my “black hole syndrome.”  For a period of time I allowed myself to become very selfish in my pursuits and desires.  I took extraordinary measures to ensure my own pleasure, satisfaction and gratification.  I was even willing to sacrifice in order to obtain this goal (sacrifice at other’s expense of course).  Ironically, the more diligently I pursue my own fulfillment, the emptier & less fulfilled I become.

When this aching emptiness gets my attention enough to bring me to my senses, I am “re-reminded” of the truth of God’s Word.  1 Corinthian 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” These instructions go beyond living in peaceable community.  When I begin to apply this truth to my life, the black hole closes.  This wisdom does more than benefit my relationships with others, it benefits me.  I no longer watch attempt after attempt to satisfy myself disappear into a bottomless chasm.  Instead, I forget about myself, seek the good of others, & at last, find fulfillment.

growth

Screen shot 2011-03-23 at 9.38.20 AMThis picture was taken in the home of a couple from our church.  It is of the doorway where they have measured their children’s growth over the years. They have two children, both now in college.  Pencil marks record the height of each child. The markings are accompanied by initials and the date, each child proudly logging their most recent evidence of growth.

This doorway is a clear record of progress.  It is measured and marked off.  From year to year, date to date, some spans of time showing more growth than others.  It is a place where they can come and see that they are not the same as they used to be.

Just like a healthy child grows, there is to be growth in our spiritual lives. Colossians 2:6-7  says, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (NLT)

Accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior is just the beginning.  We are called to continue following Him.  Our roots growing deep, our lives being built, our faith growing  strong.  If we are not growing, advancing, maturing spiritually there is a problem.  In fact, in 2 Peter 1 we are given list of advancements to be made in our lives spiritually.  In verse 9 we are told “But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.”  If there is not growth, if we “fail to develop” there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, a good number of Christians are unaware of whether they are growing or not.  It is important that we monitor our spiritual growth, however, monitoring spiritual growth is not as simple as standing with our back to the wall while someone marks above our head with a pencil.

In the commotion and business of life, our growth in Jesus can become an afterthought.  What ways of monitoring and measuring this growth do you have in place?

I have would like to make two recomendations:

1. Journal.  Over the last 15 years I have journaled with moderate consistency.  It is as close to pencil marks on a door frame as you can get.  After your daily quiet time with the Lord, take a few minutes to journal where you are in your walk, what you are learning or what you are going through at the time.  I am encouraged when I look back through my journal and can see where God has made changes in me.  I would not be able to see that growth if I did not journal.

2. An honest voice. Find someone in your life that you can trust to speak the truth in love. It will need to be someone who is close enough to give you feedback to questions like,  “Are you  seeing growth in me? Am I changing at all? Becoming more Christ like? Less Christ like? In what areas?” Set up a regular time to address these questions and be prepared to deal with the answers.

Our spiritual development is far too important to simply hope that it is occurring. (check out Hebrews 5:11-14)  What steps are you taking to ensure growth is taking place?

bee together

When I was in grade school, I think it was 4th grade, a beekeeper came and talked to our class.  He had recently been out on an emergency call to remove a beehive from a family’s home.  He told us how he had removed the beehive safely and successfully.  The next challenge he faced was merging these “new-bees” into his existing hives at home.  Bees rely on odor and pheromones to identify one another within a bee colony and will fight and kill “outsider” bees that intrude their hive.

A special technique is used when a
beekeeper merges two colonies.   To merge colonies a beekeeper will place the hives together, separated by several layers of paper.  Over a period of several days, the bees will work their way through the paper.  As they take the time to work through the paper, the bees become accustomed to the other colony’s pheromones.  Eventually the bees penetrate the barrier that the beekeeper placed between them.  When they do, they all smell the same, like the paper they’ve all gone through.  Fighting is avoided and the bees are united.

Just recently I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a tight knit group of friends that I do not get to see often.  This close group was completely unacquainted with each other only a couple of years ago.  On the rare occasions we get to be together there is openness, understanding, transparency, deep sharing and encouragement.  This level of closeness is not unique to this group, but this group serves as an example of one of the key ways to obtain this level of intimacy. My group of friends has not given up meeting together.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There is something about the way bees are unified that I believe holds true in our human relationships.  The bees become unified after they have passed through the layers of paper.  Too often, when we encounter barriers in our relationships it signals the end of the line.  But we are instructed to “ not give up meeting together.” There are levels of knowing and being known that will not be achieved until we have “passed through” some barriers in our relationships.  There are depths of friendship that are not achieved until we have “passed through” some shared experiences.  God has made us for relationship.  He has made us to be part of a family, part of the same body.  We need one another and we need one another in a way that goes beyond the superficial.   If we are to ever move below the surface it is going to take a greater level of commitment to one another in our relationships.

Who are your closest brothers and sisters in Christ?  What is your level of commitment to them?  Some are in the habit of not meeting together, not building relationship, not pressing through barriers, not passing through shared experiences.  What about you?  What habits are you developing when it comes to your relationships?

do you hear what i hear?

Just recently, I spent some time in a crowded shopping mall.  It was full of the typical holiday commotion that you would expect to find in a mall this time of year.  It was nearly in a state of complete chaos, but I will dismiss it as “general holiday excitement.” People were bustling all around, trying to find the perfect gift.  In the midst of the busyness, I sat down, enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched.

As I watched the shoppers scurry around I sipped my coffee and listened to the Christmas songs that were playing over the mall PA system.  For whatever reason, I began to pay close attention to the words that were being sung.  “In the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…” Song after song poured out of the speakers. “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the new born King…”,  “The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good…”

I felt like I was the only one who was listening, or the only one who cared about what was being sung.  “These songs should be acknowledged as more than just background music,” I thought to myself.  Wonderful truths were being proclaimed to the mass of oblivious shoppers. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  But no one batted an eye at this incredible announcement.

“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.”  No one acknowledged the song, but it continued all the same. “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!”

One after another the songs came.  And not the typical mall Christmas songs either.  They weren’t playing songs like “Here Comes Santa Clause” & “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  They kept playing the good ones.  O Holy Night, What Child Is This, The First Noel… With each song, it was as if someone was intentionally trying to get a message across.

I understand that people had other things on their minds.  Not everyone had the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee and simply observing & listening.  But still, the contrast of beautiful, life changing truths being sung to people who appeared to be completely indifferent was stark.

I kept listening.  I sat and thought about the words I was hearing.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I felt overwhelmed by God’s love.  I felt thankful.  I felt sad for those who weren’t hearing what I was.

I have been back to the mall since then.  Unfortunately, I think I was more like the other folks as I attempted to get some shopping done.  Not only when I am at the mall, but just in life in general, I can get so distracted and caught up in the frantic pace of life.  What was it about that day at the mall?  Why was I so moved by the beauty of Christ coming to save sinners?  Why was the significance of Jesus’ work so apparent to me then? I think, very simply, the difference was that I took time to be still.  I took time to listen and to let the truth settle in my heart.   Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It becomes more pronounced around Christmas, the rushing around and forgetting what the “season” is really all about.  But it is a problem that we deal with all year round.  Take some time to hear.  Take some time to “be still & know.

 

 

berry ripe

I love berries. I think they might be my favorite food.  I have have  blueberries,red raspberries and black raspberries all growing in my yard. Blueberries are far and away my favorite, but I love them all.  I would like to say that it is because I am so health conscious and constantly aware of the vitamins and antioxidants and whatnot that I consume, but, I just really like the way they taste.

Right now we have loads of ripe berries in our yard.  I was outside picking some this morning.  In fact, I just finished a bowl of cereal topped with berries from our yard.

While I was picking today I started to think about the time Jesus said that the fields were “white unto harvest.” Jesus was referring to people who were in need of ministry. I had never thought of it before, but apparently there is some sort of “ripening” process.  Some people must be more “ripe” than others, or, more ready to be ministered to.  It kinda makes sense.  As I was picking berries I also noticed how easily a ripe berry is harvested.  When you pick a ripe berry you have to do little more than touch it and it falls off of the bush.  But when you jump the gun and try to harvest a berry that isn’t quite ripe, there is resistance.  Often some tugging, and fighting are necessary to get it off.

Some people certainly are more receptive of Jesus’ love and the Good News, while others want little to do with it.  So, as I gathered my harvested, I  started thinking about the ripening process.  What changes one of these hard, little, unripe berries, that refuses to be separated from their stem, into a tender, ripe berry that is easily gathered? Exposure to the sun.

I think this awareness of a “ripening” will help me to have the right mindset when spending time with non-believers.  I don’t need to spend my time tugging and twisting and struggling.  If they are not “ripe” they simply need more exposure to the Son.  Simply by allowing God to use me as an expression of His love, and allowing His Spirit to be active in my life, the “ripening” is in progress.

defrag

Have you ever felt fragmented?   I have.  It feels like you are divided into a hundred different roles? (parent, spouse, sibling, friend, employee, student, neighbor, co-worker, home owner…..)

Each role carrying it’s own set of obligations and responsibilities; pay the mortgage, register the car, call the insurance company, when is our anniversary again? mow the yard, get groceries, file taxes, what’s going on at my kid’s school?

This was one of those mornings for me.  I felt so overwhelmed with all that I need to get done  that I didn’t even know which direction my first step should be in.

I like simple.  Life, however, seems to trend towards the complex.  I am thankful that when life works itself up into a frenzy, my ultimate purposes are spelled out clearly and simply.  Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  When I start to feel fragmented, verses like this one offer the clarity that I need.  Whether I am taking care of things at work, spending time with my kids or mowing my lawn my purposes are the same; be just, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, 
 what God is looking for in men and women.
 It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, 
and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 – The Message