Encouragement!

by Rob Gibson           June 17, 2016

Post #8 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical Journey…

I just returned from a national convention of similarly striped religious types. It triggered someone in me, someone I want dead, as well as someone I want to thrive. I want a critical spirit to die and the loving encourager to thrive. 
Along my sabbatical journey, I read a piece that stuck me. It resonated too deeply for comfort and uncovered a deadly part of me. The sub-heading was “ The Compulsive Minister” — One who is angry and greedy for more. It slew me when I read:
“Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart.” The Way of the Heart, Henri J.M. Nouwen

This pricked me as it revealed a seething dissatisfaction with myself and the results I greedily demand. It was triggered this week as demands for more baptisms, more passion, more of a burdened heart, more, more, and more were intensely preached. The desired results had been weighed and measured and found lacking.
I have a perpetually active evaluator in my head, heaping the messages “not enough,” “get it right,” and “do more” at me all the time. I do not need anybody singing with that choir. Rather, the choir we all need to hear more is a gospel choir, and the gospel is good news, not condemnation. The gospel is that Jesus Christ loved you and me to death, in spite of our falling short of the mark. His love is not measured or withheld based on our performance but rather abundantly flowing to us like the perpetually deep and fresh waters of a raging waterfall. The rivers of grace are full, even when I am empty and my striving stumbles and stalls. 

What I need and I believe the church and the world needs is a lot more Barnabas! Barnabas is a name that means “son of encouragement.” Barnabas encouraged the Christian community and the Apostles by his generosity (Acts 4:36-37). When Paul returned to Jerusalem, after his conversion, it was Barnabas that encouragingly introduced this former murderous persecutor of the church to the Apostles (Acts 9:27) when they were afraid of him and seriously doubted his Christianity. The son of encouragement propelled the greatest missionary ever to press on. He didn’t identify all the failures, foibles or faults in the man, which, by his own admission, were many (1Tim 1:15). Rather he focused on the possibilities, the opportunities and what could be. 

Like Jesus with Peter after his triple denial, he did not castigate his friend, but knew there was a passionate loving shepherd in Peter that needed to be encouraged to step into the love and power within him (2Tim 1:7). Jesus was an encourager — encouraging each of us to embrace the truth of his love for us. He invited sinners to lay down deadly ways of self-satisfaction and to receive the abundant life he offers (John 10:10). 

I want to be a Barnabas, not a critic. I want to live in Jesus abundant love and walk kindly, patiently and generously with others in the light of his love, even when we miss the mark. Let’s encourage each other to live in the freedom and love that is ours in Christ and run together into the glory that is increasingly ours in Christ (2Cor. 4:17-18). 

Time for One Thing.

by Rob Gibson   June 9, 2016

Post #7 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical journey…

Time is limited and it’s running out quickly. Harry Chapin sung the lamentable reality in “Cats in the Craddle”:

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad

You know we’ll have a good time then

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

The legacy of busyness is, in the end, empty and unfulfilling. He longed for a moment with his son. Our hearts were made, and long for, connection to love. That song always brings tears to me. It resonates deeply as I long for time with my dad, but time is past. I look at my children, no longer babies but budding professionals, time is passing. I see people running fast, connections lost or never found because we couldn’t find the time.

It is as Dr. Suess says:

“How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?”

It’s getting late. The urgency of making a living, building a home, saving for retirement and the next vacation, making the payments, upgrading the house, running the kids to ballet, gymnastics, swim team, soccer practice and Tae Kwon Do leaves precious little time to sit at the dinner table, or toss a ball in the yard and simply breathe deeply of life together.

On our journey, we visited St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. It is a Catholic monastery, beautifully set in the Rocky Mountains. Christ’s love was palpable in that community. I spoke with one of the monks, Brother Thomas, after service. He is an octogenarian who has given his life to prayer and living a prayerful life while working the ranch, bakery, and tending the monastery. They say: “The monks life is based more on how he lives than on what he does, and how he works more than what that work is.” The brothers breathe deeply of life in communion with God and each other.

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St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado

Brother Thomas approached and was inquisitive and full of love. He winsomely asked some telling questions seeking to connect. Then in the course of our encounter he offered, “we are depriving our children today.” I asked what he meant, wondering what a man who has deprived himself of “normal life” and grabbing the goodies of our modern world could be thinking. He answered: “When I was a boy we took time to play together and be kids and be together, even inviting our non-Catholic friends to church with us. We did life together. We were not consumed by games and videos and rushed, but had time together.”

It was more profound than these words convey. I was experiencing life with him and the very  intentional presence of his soul to mine. He was taking time to engage me with depth. His presence was full and loving and intriguing. He was joyful, warm, and his peace had weight. This senior, a man deprived of all the trappings, had a luminous presence about him. Briefly our souls connected, and that is a rare gift in this busy world.

In that moment, he was intent on one thing. He was fully present to another. Time did not stop, but the time was intentional, welcoming and rich. He did not look past me to speak to someone else, quickly dispense with superficial pleasantries, or rush to another thing; he connected and was focused on one thing, in that moment.

One thing in that moment of time. One person. One image bearer given time and focused attention. “I’d love to, if I can find the time.” We don’t find time, it is given and it is limited. My question is, what will I do with the time? I’ve left many behind in the wake of the busyness of building a profession and a portfolio. I’m certain I’ve missed profound encounters and life giving relationships. I’ve missed some of the real wealth offered in our limited time. One thing I don’t want to miss any more is time with you – every you put in my path.

A person, a relationship, old or new, a connection, before it gets too late. One thing, another soul, another heart that beats in the image of our loving God.

I have time for one thing.

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The road to St. Benedict’s Monastery, winter 2016.

 

Who Needs You?

by Rob Gibson   June 3, 2016

Post #7 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical journey… 

As my journey began, our church family and friends purposely left us alone and undisturbed. It was a welcome restful kindness, at first. Then the silence gave way to some eerie imaginations. Like the strange noises from the basement that scare a child on a dark lonely night, my soul was hearing disturbing noise. Silence was unearthing self doubt and dark questions.

The silence became empty, lonely, and fearful. The fear was; “Am I needed? Do I matter? Does anybody care?” My imaginations stirred lies and negative answers. If the phone isn’t ringing, the calendar isn’t booked, problems aren’t seeking my solution, and I’m not fixing stuff, I don’t matter. The deeper question is: “Am I valuable?”

The young mother senses she’s needed by the sweet cry of her baby and she is loved in return. The nurse is valued in bringing relief to the wounded. The cashier serves a line of customers and is met with smiles and thank you’s. These relational experiences, someone who needs us, send an implied message of value. But in silence, no one asks. My silence, though planned for rest and rejuvenation, took me to the doubt and darkness of my soul in order to welcome greater light. Silence and solitude is a hard but necessary part of maturing our souls.

This is not the first time I’ve faced this silence, but the heart is fickle. The question of value comes to us as kids finding our place, as singles in search of companionship, searching for a job, or letting go in retirement. Attacks on human value respect no age or boundaries.

I experienced this in my first midlife change, when leaving business leadership to pursue ministry at age 40. Moving from leading 300 employees to the isolation of seminary, with a young doctoral candidate teaching me Greek, raised questions of value. I was humbled intellectually and professionally, as I struggled to learn, the phone had stopped ringing, and I wasn’t producing a measurable profit! I wasn’t making an impact, at least according to a worldly paradigm. I’ve known men and women confronted by this struggle with the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or as the kids leave the nest. I’ve seen it in young boys searching for dad’s approval and validation on the ball field and in young school girls who saw their value in curves and cup size.

The attacks on our value and worth come at every age, and it came to me in silence and solitude. The option was to get busy, do something, even turn the music up, or step into what seemed dark, embrace solitude, listen for God, and grow.

In the solitude I discovered my desire to be needed. If I’m needed, I’m valuable, right? I faced my narcissistic want to be desired and admired by others. If a paycheck isn’t coming, if the phone isn’t ringing, if they, whoever the “they” are, don’t need me or want me,  am I valuable?

Silence and solitude is beautiful, lonely by design and necessary for our souls to be still with the hard questions and God. I took the narcissist, the over achiever, the striving performer and the lies they scream into the silence with God.

I faced the truth: I’m not needed. I’m not needed and that’s ok. It does not diminish my value. There will come a day when each of us goes onto new adventures or glory, and our friends, family and the world will carry on, sustained by Christ, not you and me. They do not need me and that does not make me worth less. It maes me humble, expendable, and yet still valuable and loved. Worth is not determined by others opinion, need of us, or our production, looks or skill set. Worth comes from God who speaks us into glorious existence and says:

“Let Us make man in Our image …So God created them; male and female he created them…and saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen. 1:26-27, 31)

The Psalmist marvels at His work:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

And Paul reminds us of the value of His work saying:

“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:4-7) and “…together with Christ, we are heirs of God’s glory.” (Rom. 8:17)

God the Father initiates our created value, Jesus Christ constructs it in love, and the Holy Spirit confirms and seals it for eternity. Our value is inherent as beloved image bearers.

I found an answer. The answer does not stroke the narcissist, applaud accomplishment or stoke busyness, but anchors real value in our Lord and God. The answer is He doesn’t need me, but He made me with inherent value. The answer is I’m not needed and don’t need to be needed, and, you don’t need me. That is actually good news.

Everything we need we have in Christ and in Him we have immeasurable value. We are replaceable, expendable, and indeed will be in due time. But for a relatively brief period, we do have one another. We are unique gifts from God to each other. We are image bearers that bless one another, love, add perspective, reveal glory, refine one another, and, for a bit, make life richer.

You are valuable, more so than whatever someone may want or demand of you, more than what you demand of yourself, and immensely more than the sum of your parts and capacities, or the contrived standards of this world. God’s glory is in you as His beloved child. That is enough. You are enough!

Take a few minutes, be alone and be silent, and let the truth that you are His beloved touch your soul.