“Dim Dots” – Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

“Dim Dots” – Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

Annie Dillard ends her childhood memoir, An American Childhood, by reflecting on the “dim dots” of her life that led to her becoming fully alive – “the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch this speckled mineral sphere, our present world.” By “dim dots” she means the moments and events of our lives that form a single contiguous line toward who we eventually become.  Her “dim dots” include various memories of childhood, that continue to hold significance to her, while others, she had hoped not to forget, have strangely faded away.

Though I am more than sure many of my “dim dots,” though significant, have fully faded from view, many remain clearly visible in my mind’s eye.  For fear of leaving something important out, or overemphasizing less important memories, I’ll refrain from sharing my list, as it occurs to me today.

The point is, we are the accumulative sum of all of those “dim dots.”  Though some life experiences are clearly more memorable and impactful than others, nothing can be excluded.  Remove any of my dots, to some degree, I’m no longer who I am today.  Obviously, some things matter more than others.  But, every experience, every interaction, every relationship, every sensation, every mistake, every achievement, every moment of transcendence, every coincidence, every hurt feeling, every life-stage, every moment of ecstasy, every sickness, every season, every loss, every holy moment, every employment, every abysmal failure, every skill we learn, every book we read, every test we pass, every moment of breathtaking beauty, every act of service, every gauntlet we endure, every weakness we overcome, every act of selfishness, every spiritual encounter, every moment of debasement, every goal achieved, EVERYTHING contributes to who we become.  EVERYTHING has contributed to who we are.

In fact, I think it could be argued that every dot, to some degree, predicts the dots that will follow.  Not always.  But, often.

Beyond the moments that could potentially be marked on a calendar or a map, or recorded in a journal, yearbook, or police record, or photographed or videoed, are the countless other influences – our genetics, our parent’s guidance, our birth-order, our ethnicity or nationality, our social/economic status, our geography, our traditions, our generation, our friendships, our loves and losses, our education, our religious influences, our exposure to beauty or tragedy, etc.

As you reflect on the “dim dots” of your life, here are some questions to ponder…

  • Who are the people who’ve made the biggest impact on your life, for good or ill?
  • What memories cause you the most joy?  What memories cause you the most pain?
  • When were you the happiest?  When were you the saddest?
  • Where has been “home” for you?
  • What, to date, has been your greatest achievement?
  • What would you erase from your past, if you could?
  • What if you had chosen a different school to attend, a different career to pursue, a different place to live, a different person to marry?
  • What memories haunt you?
  • What historic events do you remember most clearly?
  • What precious moment would you relive, if you could, simply for the joy of it?
  • When have you felt most alive?
  • When did you stop pretending?  Have you?
  • What moments or experiences, if erased, would most alter who you are today?
  • How has your faith and spirituality affected who you’ve become?

If you drew a line, starting with your birth, from dot to dot to dot, all the way to this very moment (yes, this moment – as you read this blog), what dots might be coming next, and after that, and after that?

What are your “dim dots?”

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense. But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense.  But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

Last weekend, while out for a ride, my motorcycle battery died, requiring a long wait for a tow home.  I also had to buy a new battery.  As I’ve told my motorcycle buddies about my predicament, many have asked, “Don’t you have a tender?”

I have a tender, but I didn’t realize I needed it, as long as the battery had a sufficient charge to start the bike, which mine did, at least while I was still at home.  Since last weekend, I’ve learned that a tender should be used any time the bike isn’t in operation.

8429961_f496

For those not familiar, a tender is a small device that connects the bike’s battery to a wall outlet, that charges your battery when it’s low, and maintains the battery when it is fully-charged.  That’s the key – you want to keep your battery fully charged.

When I was growing up, I remember my Grandpa having a battery charger.  He had boats, motorcycles, a tractor, lawnmowers, all requiring batteries for operation.  Since he didn’t use all of them daily, or even weekly, when the batteries got low – or died – he would “re-charge” them.  There were always batteries being charged at Grandpa’s.  A battery might have fully lost it’s charge, but it could be “re-charged” by connecting it to the charger.

f3Fd3s73q95Lb5s25q7d7d4ed4950752c41f22

The truth is, I hadn’t used a tender or a recharger when my battery died.  But, I’m learning, tending is far better for the battery than re-charging.  Both will re-charge the battery.  But, tending, by maintaining the charge is better for the overall life-span of the battery.

Maintaining the battery’s charge versus a cycle of dead battery, charged battery, dead battery, charged batter.  Hmmmmm.  The choice seems more obvious now.

Let’s apply this lesson spiritually.  I can maintain my spiritual batteries by staying connected to the “Source.”  Or, I can run my spiritual batteries until they lose their charge, or die between uses, and then attempt to hopefully recharge them.  I can maintain my spiritual charge, or cycle between having a dead spiritual battery, followed by spiritual recharging, followed by a dead battery, followed by recharging, and so on, and so forth.

If I’m honest, I’ve always been a “re-charge” kind of Christian.  I use up all of my spiritual charge, collapse, then desperately look for something to re-charge my battery.  And, then I do it again.  It’s like a roller-coaster of spiritual energy and utter depletion.

What would my spiritual life be like if I was regularly connected to a spiritual tender, that kept me connected to my power “Source,” all of the time?

Lesson learned – regarding my bike and my soul.  Both need tending.

Predictable Growth

Predictable Growth

Though I’ve attempted growing bonsai trees for more than a decade, my botanical interests have expanded in recent years.  Last year, I added cactus and succulents.  Six months ago, I added orchids.

IMG_0826

Besides the beauty they bring to my home, I’m fascinated by the daily growth, development and changes.  Especially in the Spring, I can discover a new sprout, bud, or bloom every time I look.

Just this week, some of my orchids have started blooming, and others are getting close.  The Desert Roses I pruned and repotted, are just beginning to show signs of new growth.  The bougainvillea, that looked sickly last month, are blooming.

IMG_0825

Given the right amount of sunlight, water, fertilizer, pruning and care, plants grow and blossom in fairly predictable ways.  Barring strange weather, or insects, or disease, plants bloom when they’re supposed to bloom and bear fruit when they’re supposed to bear fruit.

IMG_0823

My life doesn’t seem nearly as predictable.  My growth, development, and fruitfulness seems much more random and sporadic.  Sometimes, when I want to grow, I feel like I’m hopelessly fallow.  Then, other times, growth sprouts unexpectedly, unpredictably.  In either situation, I certainly don’t see signs of new growth on a daily basis.

But, if I’m honest, my personal seasons and rhythms of care aren’t nearly as consistent as my gardening.  I see what my plants need, and do it.  They’re watered, on a schedule.  They’re fertilized, regularly.  Pruning and trimming is performed as needed.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in that.  If I want to see more regular growth and development in myself, I need to schedule more purposeful and intentional routine in my life.  Could it be that fruitfulness in humans is just as predictable as in plants, if we’re attentive to the seasonality of our own needs for care, nourishment, and pruning?

IMG_0820

Why do we pray?

Why do we pray?

“What’s the point of prayer?”  I’ve been asked this question more times than I can remember.  Lately, I’ve asked it, myself.

People of faith pray.  It’s what we do.  Even people, claiming no faith, sometimes find themselves praying in difficult situations.

Often, we pray for wants or needs.  Often, we pray for the people we’re concerned about.  Sometimes, we ask others to pray for us.

But, what’s the point?  If God already knows what we need, why pray?  Does God need convincing?  And, why do we ask others to pray for us?  Do more, or other’s, prayers motivate God more?

What about when prayers go unanswered?  Did I pray the wrong prayer, or did I not pray long enough, or fervently enough, or say the right words, or ask enough others to pray with me?

These are hard questions.  But, these are questions many ask.  We pray.  But, why?

C.S. Lewis said, “I don’t pray to change God.  I pray to change me.”  Is that the point of prayer?  Maybe.

Sometimes, though not often enough, we offer prayers of thanks.  Sometimes, we pray to worship.  Sometimes, we pray to repent.  Sometimes, we pray just to be with God.  Sometimes, we pray to listen.

Sometimes, we lament.

Do I believe there’s value in prayer?  Yes, of course.  Do I believe God answers prayer?  Yes, but…  Do I believe there’s value to praying for others, or asking others to pray for me?  Yes, but not for the sake of ganging-up on God.

Increasingly, I’m thinking of prayer as connection, and less about the requests I may or may not make.  Just as an electronic device needs to be connected to an electrical outlet to function, I’m thinking of prayer as connection to the “Source.”

Sometimes the connection may lead to answers and outcomes.  Sometimes, not.  Sometimes, God might speak.  Sometimes, not.  Sometimes, I might feel something – peace, or forgiveness, or refreshment.  Sometimes, not.

But, regardless of the outcome, I need the connection anyway.  I need the connection, because I need God.

Maybe it’s like the conversations I have with my wife.  Though we certainly talk about all kinds of things – from basic information like the grocery list, to decisions we need to make, to sharing our hearts – the main reason for our talking is connection.  If we just need to pass information or make requests, we could leave each other notes, or send each other texts.  But, we need more than that.  We need to hear each other’s voices.  We need to look into each other’s eyes.  We need to see the joy or concern on each other’s faces.  We need to connect.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t bring our requests to God, or that we shouldn’t pray for others.  I’m not suggesting God doesn’t answer prayer.

I’m saying the specific outcomes of prayer aren’t the point, at least not to me.  Connection is the point – connection with the God who created the universe, the God who became human to redeem a fallen world, the God who is love, the God in whom I live, and move, and have my being.

The point is connection.

What follows your “but”?

What follows your “but”?

Somewhere, along the way, I started thinking of the word “but” as an erasure.  Add “but” to any statement, and everything before it disappears…

“I think you’re really great, but...”

“I really appreciate the gesture, but…”

“Thanks for the kind offer, but…”

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

Often, as soon as the “but” shows up, you know the jab is coming…

“…, but you’re just not my type.”

“…, but it’s just not good enough.”

“…, but I’m not interested.”

“… but I think you’re a jerk.”

“… but you deserved it.”

Etc., etc., etc.  “But” always seems to be followed by criticism, complaint, or rejection.

I need to confess, I’ve been saying a lot of “but” prayers lately.

“Lord, I know you are good, but…”

“Lord, I know you are in control, but…”

“Lord, I know I should trust you, but…”

It occurred to me, this morning, that the Biblical writers often reversed the “but.”  Often, in Scripture, the “but” follows the negative, instead of the positive.  Throughout the Psalms, for example, the negative precedes the “but,” followed by hope and trust in God…

“My enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love.” (Psalm 13:4-5)

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

“For I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side!’  They conspire against me and plot to take my life.  But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.'” (Psalm 31:13-14)

“Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  (Psalm 73:26)

I’ve always appreciated that Scripture allows for lament.  Lament is a raw, honest, human form of prayer.  Lament cries out to God in anger, pain, anguish and despair.  Lament, often, is a complaint to God, against God, about perceived unfairness.  Lament, sometimes, even blames God for the complaint.

There are times, we all need to lament.  I’m thankful God is graciously willing and able to receive our laments, even when they are less than kind, respectful, or faith-filled, without holding our complaints against us.

In the wake of recent events, I’ve been lamenting a lot.  “But,” my laments have been mostly ranting and raving, without a lot of faith or hope.  What my laments have been missing is the properly placed “but.”

“…, but I will trust in you.”

I’m a 9

I’m a 9

I’ve recently become fascinated with the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a tool for understanding yourself and others, based on nine different personality typologies.  The Enneagram is not scientific.  Rather, it seems to have evolved from the wisdom of several ancient traditions.

One place to learn more about the Enneagram, and which of the nine types you are, is iancron.com.  There are many such sites, but I particularly like this one.

Admittedly, I am a junky when it comes to personality assessments.  I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs.  I am an S on the DISC.  I’m a “quick start” on the Kolby.  I’m a blue on the True Colors.  I’m in the house of Ravenclaw on Pottermore – but, that’s totally different.

What I like about the Enneagram, is that it helps you understand your personality when you’re healthy and when you’re unhealthy.  The Enneagram reveals how you likely react to stress, and who you can become when you’re healthy and growing.  And, the Enneagram provides a path for personal growth and development.

If you know me, and are wondering, I’m a Nine on the Enneagram, which means I’m a “Peacemaker,” and my primary weakness is “sloth.”  According to the website integrative9.com, “Enneagram Nines are motivated by a need to be settled and in harmony with the world and, as a result, being accommodating and accepting will be important to them. They strive for a peaceful existence and appreciate stability, preferring to avoid conflict. At their best, Nines are experienced as self-aware and vibrant. They offer the gift of right, sustainable action to themselves and the world around them. Less-healthy Nines may be experienced as procrastinating, stubborn and self-denying. This stems from a pattern of going along to get along with others and the eventual discomfort that arises when this strategy is not satisfying.”

As a nine, when I’m unhealthy, I tend to withdraw, avoid conflict, suppress anger, and may become passive-agressive (though, I really hope not!).  When I’m healthy, I’m able to to see the strengths of multiple perspectives, and may be able to build bridges.  My primary growth opportunity is to set goals, to communicate my passions, and to act.

The Enneagram isn’t the Bible.  It doesn’t say everything about every variation of every personality type.  It doesn’t explain why I enjoy riding a motorcycle, or perusing antique shops, or growing bonsai trees, or watching super-hero movies.  It can’t explain, fully, how or why I’m the person I am, with the complicated assortment of strengths and struggles I possess.  But, it is a helpful tool.

Just like a hammer can’t fix every home repair, the Enneagram has its limits.  But, just like a hammer is great for hammering, I’m finding the Enneagram to be very helpful in gaining a deep understanding into myself, and how I can work on growing and becoming a healthier version of me.  I encourage you to explore the Enneagram for yourself.

For those who are interested, two excellent books on the Enneagram are…

Richard Rohr’s, The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective

and

Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s, The Road Back to you; An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

“Come” – a sermon in a series called “Thirsty?,” preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, March 4, 2018

“Come” – a sermon in a series called “Thirsty?,” preached at First Church Coral Springs on Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thirsty?

I carry a water jug around with me, most of the time.  I, normally, fill it at least once or twice a day.  But, on Sundays, I get so thirsty from preaching and talking, I have to fill it three times.

When I work outside of the house, or in the garage – like I did yesterday – my wife frequently asks me if I’ve had enough to drink, because it gets so hot here, in South Florida.

Often, when I’m riding my motorcycle, for any length of time, especially in the sun and heat, I realize how quickly I feel dehydrated, and need a drink.

God designed our bodies to need water.  About 60% of the human body is composed of water.  We can’t survive more than a few days without water – less than that if we are in a hot or dry climate.  Virtually every part and function of the human body, down to the molecular level, depends on water to function healthily.  We need it to thrive.  We need it to survive.

And, when we need more, the body’s natural, God-designed response is to feel thirst.  When the body’s hydration equilibrium gets out of balance, and needs more water, the central nervous system alerts the brain, which sends us signals like dry mouth and the craving for fluid.  When we feel thirsty, we know we need something to drink.  We don’t need a doctor’s report to tell us.  We just know.

But, we aren’t just physical, of course.  We’re also spiritual beings.  Just as the body needs water and food and oxygen to live and function, our souls need the Spirit.  And, just as the physical body thirsts for water, the Bible says that we are designed to thirst for the Spirit.

Sometimes we don’t recognize spiritual thirst, as spiritual.  Sometimes, we just feel an inner need or drive that demands attention.  We need to feel valued, or loved, or accepted, or important… or to stop feeling loneliness or pain.  If we don’t understand our thirst as spiritual, we might look for other ways to quench it.  I wonder if, sometimes, our thirst for worldly things –  like wealth, or possessions, or popularity, or approval, or status, or substances, or escape, or sex, or food, or fun, or any number of other things –  might actually be a thirst for God, that we’re attempting to quench with cheap substitutes.

We likely only figure that out when we get what we thought we wanted, but it just doesn’t satisfy the thirst.

C.S. Lewis, wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

            There is an old Ethiopian proverb that says, “In the abundance of water a fool is thirsty.”

St. Augustine once wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

            Nothing can replace God.  If the thirst is for God – and it is, because God made us that way – nothing this world offers can satisfy it.  Until we realize that only God can quench the thirst, we will remain restless.

You may have noticed, the symbol for this series is a gold fish.  You may have wondered, “Why goldfish?”  Have you ever noticed, goldfish are never thirsty?  A goldfish needs water, just like humans do, though they have a different anatomy to process it.  Water passes through the goldfish’s mouth, and out their gills, and somehow water is absorbed into the fish’s body by osmosis somewhere in between. A goldfish never thinks, “I’m thirsty.  I need a drink of water,”  because a goldfish is literally swimming in it, and breathing it.  I’m not sure if a goldfish even knows what water is, unless it jumps out of the fishbowl!

Imagine if we, like the goldfish, were actually fully immersed in living water!  We are!   Acts 17:28 says, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Ponder that for a moment.  God is everywhere.  God is always with us.  Like a goldfish in water, we are literally swimming in God’s presence.

            If you live in a place like South Sudan, water is not always easily available, and quenching a thirst may require walking miles in search of a dirty water hole, or stream.  For most of us, clean water is more easily available.  It’s as close as a water fountain, or a water tap, or a bottle of water from the store.

What if our spiritual thirsts are even more easy to quench than our physical thirsts?  What if there’s living water as available to us as water is to a goldfish, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  Can you imagine being so deeply immersed in God, that we will never thirst again, that we could absorb God by osmosis, as he passes through us?  Can you imagine?

 

Living water…

One day, Jesus was walking with his disciples, and came to a well in a village called Sychar.  It was in the middle of the day, and Jesus was thirsty, and he didn’t have a bucket and rope to draw water.  So, Jesus asked a woman who had come to the well, to give him a drink.

In those days, it was unusual for a stranger to speak to woman, much less ask her for a favor – it wasn’t the custom.  And, this woman was a Samaritan, and Jesus was a Jew, and Jews were supposed to hate Samaritans.  The woman asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

            Jesus replied, “If you knew me, you would be asking me for living water.”

            Notice how Jesus switched the topic from literal water, to living water?

            She said, “You don’t even have a rope.  How are you getting water?”

            Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:13-14)

            The woman said, “Sir, give me that water.  I want that water!”

The conversation began with a simple request for a drink of water.  But, the conversation quickly turned spiritual.  Jesus wasn’t talking about water, drawn from a well.  He was offering himself.  He was offering her the Spirit.  Jesus was saying, the gift of the Spirit – in whom we live, and move and belong – is like a fresh spring of water that never ends, even for eternity, and it’s available to everyone.

And, that living water is available to us every moment of every day.

 

“Let the one who is thirsty come…”

The last chapter of the book of Revelation describes the end of times, when all will be well.  It says there is a never-ending stream, flowing from the throne of God, and  through the main streets of heaven.  And, the Spirit invites everyone to come and drink, Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”  (Revelation 22:17)

            The Spirit is inviting us.  Jesus is inviting us.  There is a river of living water flowing all around us, that will quench our deepest thirsts and desires.  All we have to do is drink.

            One of the first scriptures I ever learned was, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) The same passage appears in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.  But, Luke adds, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Even a terrible, dead-beat, sad-excuse-for-a  father, will usually feed his hungry kids.  If that’s true, then our heavenly Father will give us so much more.  “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  You can ask him for the living water, and know for sure that he will give it to you!

           

You can lead a horse to water…

            Friends, God does not play hide and seek with us.  God isn’t stingy.  God doesn’t want us to thirst for him unnecessarily.  God doesn’t make us jump through hoops to catch him.  The offer is made – “Come and drink.”  The offer is made – “Ask me, and I will give you living water.  Ask me, and I will give you my Spirit.”

            There’s an old expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.”  I don’t mean to call y’all horses… but if horse shoe fits…  If the thirst fits…

If you are spiritually thirsty… if you’ve realized that nothing in this world can quench your deepest thirst… come and drink the living water.  It’s all around you.  All you have to do is ask.  All you have to do is drink.