Reflections on Faith
In this blog, you will find weekly reflections on life and faith. My hope is that, in some way, they will prove helpful to you in your daily living. May God bless you on the spiritual journey.
Andrew S. Odom
I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8)
I have been reading Albert Hsu’s book "The Suburban Christian" to help fuel my most recent sermon series. The book is both convicting and compelling all at the same time, often making me feel awkward and uncomfortable about the lifestyle so many of us are living. One thing in particular that grabbed me is the description he gives of a single day:
Too often I rush through my day, my mind filled with multiple agenda items and concerns, with little space for contemplation or prayer. I then sit down at dinner, about to say a perfunctory “Thanks for this food,” and I realize that I have not spoken a word to God or giving God a thought all day.
I can completely identify, and I am a pastor. My whole job is supposed to revolve around who God is and what God is doing, and yet, like so many of us, I get caught up in the day and leave God out of it. What can we do about this?
Hsu tells us that the answer is not to simply add God-time in between items on our schedule as we rush off to the next thing. The answer, which is also the challenge, is to earnestly attempt to recognize the presence of God throughout the day, in each and every thing, all the time. When you take a shower in the morning, think of it as a reminder of your baptism as the Spirit of God washes you clean inside and out. When you get dressed, ask God to clothe you with his presence. Christians call it “practicing the presence of God,” and it can reframe the way you look at your day. In fact, as one pastor puts it “by often repeating these acts they become habitual, and the presence of God becomes something that comes quite naturally to us.” It’s just a matter of practice.
Published on 10/16/2016 @ 7:55 PM CDT
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. (Psalm 62:1)
We live in a consumer driven culture, one that, if unchecked, easily becomes hell bent on feeding our growing appetites for more stuff. Accepting this reality also pushes us to accept what the problem of it is. The problem is not economic or political. It’s not practical or relational. The problem is spiritual. Our consistent increase in consumption is a spiritual problem that results in us and our children having a skewed version of reality. Author Albert Hsu makes the observation that children growing up a consumer driven culture “may have a distorted view of what the average family ‘needs’ to own. He also asserts that “parents who provide too much for their children create people who go through their adult lives chronically dissatisfied.”
All of this certainly sounds bleak, but it does not have to be that way. One thing to keep in mind, and even be challenged by, is that we belong to a community that shares a different kind of reality. It is a reality that counters the consumer culture we live in, one that calls upon us to redirect our thinking and our hearts over and over again. We are a people who support each other in the slow spiritual work of facing our own foibles and misdirection as we open ourselves up to the reality of the Spirit of God. This is the purpose of the church. Like the psalmist, we wait in silence, not for the next invention to be introduced, not for the latest product to be unveiled, but for the God from whom our salvation comes.
Published on 10/11/2016 @ 8:31 AM CDT
Some of you wandered for years in the desert, looking but not finding a good place to live, half-starved and parched with thirst, staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion. (Psalm 107:409)
Living in a suburb always means one thing, commuting. You may or may not commute to work, but you certainly commute to shop or to church or to seek out whatever promise that another area of the city can offer. Commuting has become a way of life that we rarely even think about anymore. The problem is that commuting affects us on a deeper level than we would like to admit. It stretches us thin throughout our week and fragments our lives to the point of breaking. We live life in pieces, scattered throughout the city, always trying to accomplish more in less time because we have further to go. The funny thing is, most of our commuting is not necessary. We can usually find whatever we need within earshot of where we live. We have been seduced, though, by the lure of a better thing in the area across town, and our communal life suffers because of it.
We may not be able to solve the commuter problem altogether. At one level, it is what it is, and this is the reality we have. One thought though is to adopt what Albert Hsu, in his book The Suburban Christian, describes as a parish mentality. Drawing on the wisdom St. Benedict used when he asked new members of his monastic communities to take a “vow of stability” rather than to wander from place to place, Hsu focuses on a five square mile radius around his home and tries to complete the majority of his activity in that area. The wisdom is that the longer you spend in a local community, the better. This isn’t meant to be a fix all, just an adjustment in perspective. The more you invest in one area, the more you will come across and get to know the same people. The more familiar the faces and the encounters and the specifics will become. The more you will trust and the less you will fear. The more you might just take notice of God in the midst of a world you once rushed by. Take a vow of stability and see what happens. Perhaps your life will feel a little more rooted and a little less scattered.
Published on 10/03/2016 @ 9:30 PM CDT
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
Over half of all Americans now live in the suburbs, so whether you are a suburbanite or not, your life has been affected by the suburban movement. I grew up in an old suburb of Dallas that had been swallowed up by the city, but I now live in a new suburb. It is much different from where I grew up. When my family moved to Murphy, Texas, traffic was manageable. In fact, between the morning and evening rush, the streets were eerily empty. I liked to joke that I could lie down on Plano Parkway at 9am and not get run over until 5pm. I can’t say that anymore. What brought all these people here? What are we looking for?
“The suburban life is a spiritual quest,” says author Albert Hsu. He goes on to talk about how we are all looking for something, likening us to nomads like Abraham and Moses who set out seeking a land God had promised. We are searchers, seekers, and journey-folk at heart, and the suburbs are simply our most recent version of the spiritual quest we have always been on. The suburbs often hold out the promise of paradise. You can have it all in the suburbs. It is an empty promise.
One lesson that living in the suburbs can teach us is a lesson in losing control. It is the same lesson Abraham faithfully learned in his own journey. As my friend Karl Travis puts it, “Faith strips us of the illusion that we are in charge.” I hate to break it to you, but as much as we crave it, we are not in control. We’re just not, and no grand community plan will prove otherwise. So when you discover that the life you find yourself in isn’t quite what it was promised to be, may you be pointed right back to the God who is in charge.
Published on 09/26/2016 @ 9:47 PM CDT
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
His name was Terrence. Her name is Betty. I didn’t know him. I don’t know her. I haven’t seen the video and certainly don’t know either of their life stories. What I do know is that we live in a world filled with fear. We let fear take over. We let fear see other people as a threat first and something else second. We let fear run our emotions, our decisions, our lives. Terrance is now dead because fear is a very powerful thing. We live in a world filled with fear.
If we live in a world filled with fear, we long for a world without it. We long for a world that can reconcile differences rather than shoot at them. We long for a world of no more tears, no more pain, and no more heartache. That kind of world understands and appreciates how a person’s race matters because people matter. That is the world we are after. As Christians, we are called not just to long for and pray for that world, but also to work towards that world. Prayer is the very thing that becomes a catalyst in us for not just sitting still, but actively working toward a world with less fear of one another.
His name was Terrence. Her name is Betty. Say their names. Picture their faces. Pray for them. Pray for their families. Pray for Tulsa. Allow your prayer to be that thing through which God changes your heart to see what you can do in this world to wipe fear from the face of the deep. Then, begin the hard work doing it. If we pray and do nothing, it was never prayer to begin with.
Published on 09/20/2016 @ 4:56 PM CDT