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
Jesus left with his disciples and went to the lake. (Mark 3:7, CEB)
Just last week, a group of pastors I have been meeting with for 15 years now made our annual trek to the Texas Hill Country. We all look forward to this week together, and we absolutely do not miss it, no exceptions. During the week, we spend a great deal of time sharing about what has happened through the year in our churches and our families and our lives. We discuss the set of books that we agreed to read together. We talk about what we feel like we are doing well alongside the mistakes we have made. In a sense, each of us spends some time under the microscope of the rest of the group. It is part think tank, part performance review, and part therapy. One of my favorite things, though, about this group is that we laugh, a lot. We cut up and let our hair down and act a fool. At some point every year someone inevitably makes the comment that they have not laughed this hard in a good while. It is a place and a time of complete safety and trust and love. I don’t know where I would be without them. Through them, God refreshes my life and my soul.
Jesus had such a group. We often, and perhaps wrongly, picture the disciples as a group of serious people only focused on the mission Jesus called them to. I think a more accurate picture is to see them as the close companions they really were, a group that laughed hard and took God seriously and trusted one another with the whole of their lives, a group that could share absolutely anything without worry. We should see them that way and realize we need a group like that too if we are to faithfully get through this life unscathed.
Published on 10/24/2016 @ 9:12 PM CDT
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