Monday, October 22, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: Tools 1-4 = A Life in Motion

Just a quick pause in between introducing tools 4 and 5 to make an observation: the first four tools work together as a kind of "minimum viable product" for having a life in motion. Here's how that works:

The FLOW tool gives you a simple way to think about life as a "receive and release" arrangement. If you embrace that way of thinking about life then the first thing you want to do is to receive, to let the love flow in, which is what the ABIDE tool is about. Recognizing that the inflow has such a high priority, it's only wise then that you order your life in such a way that being filled up isn't something that just happens by accident or on occasion. So you put in place regular practices and scheduled times that add a RHYTHM to your abiding. Being filled up now becomes a routine in your life, and all that accumulating inflow will want to go somewhere, so the FOLLOW tool becomes the way you seek out ongoing direction on where your flow is intended to go. A sustainable life in motion is the result.

The remaining tools then can be seen as navigation aids for the journey you are on. Using the FOLLOW tool involves a lot of observation and discernment: what's going on around me right now? What's the opportunity for Kingdom Come that this particular Kairos moment is opening up? Tools 5-10 can help to focus those kinds of questions in helpful ways, as well as give guidance for some of the challenges and questions that are likely to arise along the way.

Next week I'll introduce one of the most helpful "navigation aids" in the toolbox - the BALANCE tool which points us to the three core relationships we want to tend in life.

Be sure to bookmark the Toolbox Page for a helpful index to these resources.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: FOLLOW - Orient, Act, Repeat

Tool #4 lets you see the central message of Jesus in visual form. It's a rich symbol with a lot of depth to it. God is up to something wonderful and you can be a part of it. That's good news.

To find the full set of tools, go to Toolbox Central.  Sermons 5-9 in the Road Trip series unpack the Follow symbol and the message of Jesus.

The message that Jesus preached is summarized in this verse: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15 Understanding that message is key to following Jesus. There are four words to unpack, each one represented in the Follow icon as well.

Time – Jesus uses a special word for “time” in his message which is “kairos” in the Greek language. It refers to the moment when something is ripe or ready to happen. It’s not the “scheduled” time, but rather the “right” time, like the way we say “It’s time!” when a baby is about to be born. The message of Jesus is not just general information. It’s always an announcement of something that is happening now, because this is the moment when life is changing.

Kingdom – God wants all of life to be right: good, whole, beautiful and joyful for everyone and everything. Whenever life moves from the way it is into the way it should be that’s a little bit of “Kingdom come.” So to say; “the Kingdom has come near” means that we are standing on the edge, ready to step into a better world.

Repent – We usually associate “repent” with the emotions of shame and regret, even fear. But it simply means to turn, to change your mind, to change your direction. There is always a turning from and a turning towards. Jesus invites us to turn towards something wonderful (Kingdom come) which is why his message is called “The Gospel” (good news) rather than “The Warning.”

Believe – To “believe in the good news” means more than just accepting it as true. It means acting on it as well because “believe in” is a statement of trust. When you believe in a person you put your life in their hands. When you believe in the good news you put your life on its pathway.

With those understandings we can rephrase Jesus’ message into more familiar language in this way; “You have arrived, right now, at a moment when something wonderful is happening. Your life and the world is being set right, repaired, restored and released into joy! So drop what you’re doing, pay attention to this, and become a part of it.” To act on that message is to follow Jesus.

The Follow icon represents this message of movement and moment in this way. A timeline enters from the left and arrives at the “kairos moment” marked by the X. From there, we can keep going just as we were on our current path (dotted line arrow.) Or, we can notice that a new pathway is possible (arrow bending upwards) leading to a better future (Kingdom come.)

Changing directions is a process. First we “turn around” (repent, shown as the curved arrow going down) which involves turning from the direction we were going. Then we continue by turning towards the new path, not only in our intentions but also in our actions. The result is that we emerge from the kairos moment going in a new, Kingdom-ward direction.

Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus arrives at a “kairos moment” and follows Jesus into a new life); Mark 10:17-22 (Another man chooses to stay on his current path.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: RHYTHM - Structure Your Life for Spiritual Health

Here's tool #3 in the toolbox, which invites you to think about the rhythms and patterns in your life. As my friend Ernie likes to say; "There are ways of living that give life, and there are ways of living that... don't." Are your life rhythms life-giving? Read on!

To find the full set of tools, go to Toolbox Central.


If you think of the way a pendulum swings, back and forth along a smooth curve, you have a good mental image for the idea of rhythm. That curved path is represented in the semi-circle shape used in the icon for rhythm.

Physical life is filled with rhythms, like breathing in and out, the beating of our hearts, and the daily switch from being asleep to being awake and then back again. If we ignore these rhythms or try to override them life does not go well for us!

Spiritual life is deeply shaped by rhythm as well. Jesus shows us this in his image of the Vine and Branches in John 15. “Those who abide in me bear much fruit.” he says, which is like the first swing of the pendulum from a time of rest into a time of being productive or “fruitful.” He continues, saying; “Every branch that bears fruit the Father prunes to make it bear more fruit.” That’s the pendulum swinging back again as we “cut back” on our work to return to the time of resting and renewal. From that rest and abiding of course will come even more fruit when the time is right again.

This is the fundamental rhythm in our spiritual life: the movement from abiding and resting in God, out into fruitful work, and then back again.

It’s important to note that while our spiritual life rhythm has two parts, abiding comes first. After all, it’s not as if the branch has to bear fruit first before the vine will let it have any sap! Rest and abiding are not the reward for being productive. Rather, it’s our being filled by God first that naturally results in our ability to do good in the world. “We love because he first loved us” from 1 John 4:19 makes that as clear as can be.

Since abiding is so important to our spiritual life, it’s only wise then that we begin to structure our lives in order to protect our time for abiding. It’s spiritually wise to make our time for abiding into more than just an occasional activity. We want it to become a lifestyle. The way we do that is through establishing and tending rhythms.

A daily rhythm of abiding allows us to integrate our spiritual life into some of the most regular and powerful rhythms we have. As we learn to go into our work day with the deep assurance that we are already loved, valued and affirmed by God, we avoid the temptation to work our way to feeling good about ourselves.

A weekly rhythm of “Sabbath” rest has deep roots in scripture. It appears in the Creation stories (Genesis 2:1-4) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), and Jesus made it a habit to take time for Sabbath (Luke 4:16). He also helped us to recover the idea that Sabbath is a gift intended to serve us, not a burdensome set of rules to be kept (Mark 2:23-28).

There are also rhythms of life that are not so regular as a daily or weekly practice. These are more like “seasons” we go through, extended times of work and fruitfulness followed by the “pruning” that lets us find renewal and new directions in life. Developing the ability to recognize spiritual rhythms, to nurture them and respond to them, is an important tool for us to have in hand.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: ABIDE - Start Here

Here's tool #2 in the toolbox, which is the first tool that has something for you to do. In keeping with the traditions of my Lutheran tribe, the first thing to do is to stop doing and receive. Read on!

To find the full set of tools, go to Toolbox Central.  Here is a sermon on Abiding as well.


Jesus teaches us that love is the center of life and faith. His summary of what’s truly important is that we should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) We are also taught that being loved comes before being loving. As it says in 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” So the starting point in life is learning to be loved, which is surprisingly difficult for many of us!

Jesus uses a particular word and a powerful image to talk about remaining open and connected to God to receive that love. The word is Abide, and the image is the Vine and Branches in John 15:1-11. “I am the vine, you are the branches... Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s hard to overstate the importance of abiding for the branches. Not only is abiding in the vine what allows the branch to bear fruit, it’s what keeps the branch alive in the first place! The Pipe metaphor points this out as well, reminding us that there’s no outflow without an inflow first. That’s why the icon for Abide has a circle at the top of the pipe shape, to focus our attention on the inflow first.

To abide then is to remain intimately connected to God and receiving the flow of love as a way of life. And as we live moment by moment, it’s a sense of resting in that security. Abiding is what’s envisioned for us when Jesus invites; “Come to me… and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

We believe that God loves us, loves us all the time, and loves us just as we are. But for many people, ”being loved” doesn’t go much further. It’s something they believe, but not something they experience. It’s like a radio station that is broadcasting all the time but we’re not listening to it. How then do we “tune in” to the station? How do we learn to Abide?

The answer to that may be different for different people, and it may be different for the same person at different times! But a good starting point is to look at the beautiful moment of abiding between Jesus and the Father at his baptism. What we see there is Jesus simply listening, “soaking it in” as the Father declares three things to him: You are my son, I love you, and I’m pleased with you. (Mark 1:9-11) Jesus abides constantly in the relationship declared in those three statements. That relationship is his source of strength and direction for all he does and endures.

Learning to be loved can begin by spending time in prayer simply listening to the Father just as Jesus did. Listen to the Father speak those same words to you. Let it wash over you and soak into your heart. Physical experiences can also help us re-center on the spiritual reality of God’s love for us. For example, pausing in the moment when the warm water of your shower runs down over your head can be a powerful reminder of the peace and well-being you have with God’s love showering down on you. Wrapping a comforter around your shoulders can be a physical representation of God’s tender embrace.

John 15:16 (I chose you)

1 John 3:1a (Children of God)
Zephaniah 3:17 (God sings over you)