Archive for the ‘Spiritual Practices’ Category

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Slower

In Family and Marriage,Spiritual Practices,The Journey on January 5, 2013 by scottsund Tagged: ,

“We are facing an enormous problem in our lives today.
It’s so big we can hardly see it, and it’s right in front of our face all day, every day.
We’re all living too big lives, crammed form top to toe with activities, urgencies, and obligations that seem absolute.
There’s no time to take a breath, no time to look for the source of the problem.”
-Sarah Susanka, “The Not So Big Life”

ImageHappy New Year.  It’s been a season of silence on this blog.  Though things have been busy over the last month, mostly I needed some quiet for a while.  It’s convicting as a storyteller and a blogger at times when the question arises: do I have anything to say to the world?  Am I “living” these things out?

It seems December gets busier each year as a family.  Despite the best intentions, it’s just a busy, busy month.  There is all the kid stuff at school and performances and recitals and parties.  I was fortunate enough to travel to Mexico to perform the wedding of two beautiful people.  And every day we celebrated an advent activity or spiritual practice to fill the season with meaning.  And it was a great month…but just very, very full.

We hosted both of our families for Christmas meals and gift openings and that was a real treat and our month was supposed to culminate in a cabin rental in the mountains above Cle Elum for 4 days of rest, snow and sledding, and down time as a family.  But the evening before leaving for the cabin, Heather came down sick (her second significant throwing up experience in 10 days).  Over the course of the night she threw up over and over again.  And then my oldest son got it and the two of them puked threw the night.  And then my daughter noticed our dog was bleeding…bad.  She had an exploded anal gland (yep, you read that correctly).  In the next morning of chaos, I was running around cleaning up garbage cans of vomit and cleaning the carpet of blood stains and calling the vet and opening a few of the presents that my parents had brought for the kids and just full of so much anxiety.  It became clear as the sickness lingered all day and the dog needed more significant care, we were not going to make it to our cabin rental.  Luckily, the cabin owners allowed us to use the cabin later in the spring and all of a sudden, our plans were cancelled and we had the next few days to rest, recuperate, and stay home.  3 days with nothing planned.

Sadly, my mind started to instantly go towards: “okay what should we do.”  I texted friends, made plans with the kids to make up for the disappoint of not going to cabin, and started to plot day by day how to fill the next few days.

Luckily my wife, from the sick bed she hadn’t been able to rise from for a day, held up a metaphorical mirror.  “Scott why are you trying so hard to fill in the time with stuff?  Can’t we just slow down?”

Yeah Scott, can’t you just slow down?  The answer, unfortunately in that minute, was no.  No, it’s hard to slow down.  I become adept at going and doing and accomplishing and checking things off a list and so when I need to slow down I don’t know what to do.  But over the course of that day, and the days that followed , I’ve been hearing the words of my wife- can’t we just slow down?  And this has turned into a prayer: slow me down Lord.  Slow me down.

“Sometimes it takes a wake up call to realize

we are living the fast life,

not the good life.”

-Carl Honore

Recently Carl Honore wrote a book about slow parenting and gave this TED talk about the value of slowness.  There is much to like about this talk, and I’ve now got Honore’s book on my reading list for this year, but what stuck out the most is that we shouldn’t just race through your life- we should LIVE it.  And living life intentionally, as a parent or as just a person, happens when we slow down.  When we stop looking at time as linear and wanting to move quickly through it…but as a cycle that we get to enjoy the rhythm and ritual of each day.  For it was Aesop that wrote, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  We all know how the children’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare ends, but then why do I often live like that crazy rabbit….running as fast as I can.

The pace of life becomes unbearable.  We need to slow down.

I was reading in the book of 1 Samuel an amazing story of slowing down.  As you may remember, Samuel was a boy who worked in the temple in Israel and had been dedicated for a life of service to the Lord.  But though he served the priest Eli, he didn’t know the Lord personally yet.  God spoke to Samuel in a dream by calling his name “Samuel, Samuel!” three times and each time Samuel ran to the priest Eli and thought he was paging him.  Finally Eli realized Samuel was hearing from the Lord and Eli gave Samuel these instructions:  “Go lie down and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say,  “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”  True enough, Samuel heard from God again, and this time instead of running, Samuel said: “Here am I Lord.  Here am I.”  And God spoke to Samuel personally for the first time in his life.  How do we hear from God when we never slow down?

Lately I’ve been hearing of people choosing 1 word “slogans” for the year ahead.  The idea is that this word is both a goal and an anchor for the year, a thought to pray and meditate on. Though I’m not ready to commit that this is the singular word I will dwell on this year, I think the word I’m stuck with right now for 2013 is SLOWER.   Slower.  Slower.  In a frenzied world of pace and progress, slow me down O Lord, slow me down.  How else do we get formed than waiting at the workbench- showing up with the Maker?  How else do we form our families than slowly being together?Please know, this is a hope, and not a finished product. Slow me down Lord.  Slow me down.

Here’s a verse for you: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently.
For the salvation of the Lord….
“Let us examine our ways
And let us return to the Lord,
We lift up our hearts and hands
Toward God in heaven.”
-Lamentations 3: 25-26,40

Here’s a theme song for you on this new journey of slowing down:

Slow me down, O Lord, slow me down
Help my heart to hear Your sound
Speak into my life, Lord speak now
Slow me down O Lord, slow me down
Clear my mind, O Lord, clear my mind
Bring me peace that I cannot find
Take my worried thoughts break my pride
Clear my mind, O Lord, clear my mind
Wake my soul, O Lord, wake my soul
With this mess I’ve made make me whole
Of this life called mine, take control
Wake my soul, O Lord, wake my soul
Slow me down, O Lord, slow me down
Help my heart to hear Your sound
Speak into my life, Lord, speak now
Slow me down Lord.

Yes Lord, this year, S L O W   M E  D O W N.

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On a tree like this

In God's great love,Jesus,Practicing Solitude,Spiritual Practices,The Journey on August 23, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: ,

At the end of my self-sufficiency is the place where Christ can finally begin.  When I can stop, Christ begins.  How often do I fail to live into this?  Many of us claim that in Christ alone is our strength, to quote the worship song.  But do others fail at remembering this as often as I do?

Failure and frustration and worries abound.  Between fears of balancing work and play and the fatigue of an entire summer spent working 2 jobs and not doing enough rest.  It’s easy for me to feel “not enough.”  I’m “not enough” as a businessman, as a pastor, as a husband, as a father.  I’ve been struggling with anxiety and fear, self doubt and frustration.  Why does it feel like I’m not doing “good enough” in any one sphere of my life?  Am I alone in these self doubts and fears?

This has been a theme in past weeks- until words of a friend come back to me.  It’s Thursday at a coffee shop and he shares with me the same words from 1 John I had shared with him a few months back: 1 John 3:19-22:  “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if your heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”  Did you catch it?  “God is greater than our heart.”  God is greater than my worries.  God is greater than my fears.  God is greater than what I try to do on my own.  This same scripture I offered up a few months back to a friend in need of more confidence, was repeated back to me at just the right time.

I’m back at the fishing Lodge now and yesterday was another “not enough” day.  Needing a reminder, I head off for a walk for peace and restoration.  I end up in the back of our 40 acres- in an empty patch of the forest off the beaten track of the nature trail. I follow the path under fallen spruce trees and through native grasses and I enter a stand of new growth alder.  And then it hits me; I have entered a sanctuary.  Away from all else that distracts, it’s just me and my Maker.

The sun streams down in ribbons between the stand of coastal alder trees.  The smell of dew and fog hangs in the air like a sweet perfume.  I stand here for a minute and blink- ‘how am I the only one to receive this gift?’  I feel myself letting go of that which is plaguing me as I pray to God.  “God,” I pray, “You are greater.”

Amidst all the trees is one particularly of interest.  ‘On a tree like this,’ the Spirit whispers in my ear, ‘is what I died for you on.  So you don’t have to strive and worry and try to do it on your own.  When you stop, I can finally begin.’

On a tree like this- the world changed.  Because of the gift of Christ, we don’t have to pretend that we are strong enough and wise enough and perfect.  Christ’s perfection, refined in His sacrifice and death and resurrection, is enough for me to hope on.  I stay for a few minutes and feel myself becoming more centered.

The truth is, these are brief moments.  We don’t live back there amidst the alder.  We live in the real world of real worries and real obligations that are constantly pulling at us and telling us to be more, do more, accomplish more.  And if you are anything like me, you might lose your bearings from time to time as you try to be “enough”.

As a reminder today, Christ taught me again that His worth is enough.  On a tree like this…my life changed.  I’m confident He did that for you too.

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Gratitude: The Important Choice

In God's calling,grateful,Spiritual Practices on April 18, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

Choosing to be grateful.  Sounds great- but often like a Hallmark card or a bumper sticker, without context and without framework, it feels annoyingly simplistic.  Choose gratitude?  “But I have so much anxiety right now.”  “But there is so much to worry about right now.”  “But there are real problems that need real fixes and simply “being grateful” isn’t going to fix anything.”  But…but…but.

The power of gratitude is that it can’t always whitewash the real challenges or heartaches or stresses in our life, but it helps keep those things at the periphery instead of in the center.  When we dwell in gratitude, we allow God to stay in the center of our focus and attention and keep those things that need worrying about on the edge, where we can actually keep them in their healthy perspective.  Because at least for me, when I center on my problems and my anxieties instead of centering on God, I become fairly worthless in regards to being a blessing in the world.

Being grateful is like choosing to dwell in the blessings of the everyday instead of drowning in the minutia of what’s not well.  Remember in Philippians…Paul says: God is near.  Yes God is near.  He is here.  It is the power of the resurrection we celebrated so mightily at Easter.  Jesus died and came alive to bring us real life here and now- not just when we die.  And because He left His spirit here, we know that God is in this place.  We see markers of God’s presence at every good and joyful thing on earth.  Anything good here on Earth?  That sunrise, the laugh of my two-year old, the kiss from a lover, the first beat of a new album…its all from HIM.

So choose gratitude.  Choose to be joyful.  Choose to look at the positive and not center on the negative.  Yes your life is an unfinished work.  Yes you have challenges.  Yes things are not ideal.  They never will be.  Not here on earth, because we live in an age that though the Spirit is here, God isn’t finished with this place yet.  Someday, the book of Revelation tells us, God will wipe every tear from our eye and there will be no more weeping and no more heartache.  But until then, we live in a real world that has challenges.  But the sooner you can be grateful for what you have, for who you are, for what God created  you to do here and now, peace will reign in your life.

The bible tells us to be grateful.  1 Thessalonians tells us “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Why is this God’s will?  Same reason I teach my kids to be thankful for their meals, or a gift from a friend.  Because gratitude becomes a gateway to thankfulness and thankfulness becomes a gateway to joy.  Want to meet truly joyful people in the world?  They are those that are thankful and grateful for each friend, for special day, for each small blessing in their life.  Simply put: gratitude teaches us to live richer lives.

Sunday our head pastor RD preached on this and showed this powerful clip from Louie Schwartberg’s TED talk.  The whole video is good but if you are in a rush, skip ahead to 3:58 into the video to see a short video piece on GRATITUDE.  Trust me…you will be thankful you spent the few minutes watching it.

May you be showered with good things.  And may you give thanks for it all.

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Check out this blog

In Spiritual Practices,The Church on March 19, 2012 by scottsund

  A great post on communion from the real writer of our family.

http://bit.ly/FVNofn

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God is in this place

In God's great love,Practicing Solitude,Spiritual Practices,The Journey on March 16, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

Heading south from the Edmonds Marine Beach Park, I set out on a hike into a driving rain this week.  I was off on a journey, in the worst weather imaginable, to be in nature and have some time to reflect.  I hiked over logs, near railroad tracks, and scrambled over rocks.  The tide was high so I didn’t have much beach to work with.  There was no one in the Off Leash Dog Area and as I continued south towards Richmond Beach I had the beach to myself.

It took a while to slow my brain down, to shut off email and to not check my phone.  I get out of practice with how to really enjoy a hike…you have to tell your brain to stop doing and learn to just be for a while.  This is difficult for me.

But then the strangest thing happened as I allowed myself to be present to nature around me.  Up high an eagle screeched out its call and flew off.  A seagull was curious about my presence and he kept squawking and flying near me.  The wind and the rain beat against me… and it was fantastic.  I stood on a log for a long time listening the sound of the sea pound on the rocks below.  I stopped to notice the most beautiful purple snail shell as it was getting tussled around by the crashing waves.  I was enjoying the smallness and minutia of the present so well I literally almost stepped onto a seal.  In a flash and flurry he bounded into the water and I’m fairly confident we both scared the daylights out of each other.

Minute by minute I was leaving the city behind and I was all here, on this marine beach, alone with just my thoughts and the Lord.   It was an Exodus journey of sorts, praying my way into God’s presence again and mindful of where God has led me thus far and all the next steps that lay before me.

I came around a smell patch of rocks and descended back down to the sandy beach.  I wasn’t paying great attention as I was watching boats travel up Puget Sound into a strong gale wind.  Ouch- a thorn in the skin of my leg pierced through  my jeans.  What in the world is this stupid thorn bush doing on the beach?  Why does something bad always have to be in a good spot?  Why do good things have to end so easily?  I started to get negative when all of a sudden I looked down.  And there, on the rock below me, was the biggest agate rock I have ever seen in my entire life.  If you don’t know, you can read here, agates are a rare stone that have a translucent quality about them.  We have found agates on Hood Canal, but agates on the canal are the size of an adult tooth.  But this agate I found on my hike was a monster- and its presence under the sticker bushes was not to be missed.  Sometimes it is in slowing down through the hard things that the best treasures are found.  I wrote a short poem about the agate here:

Brambles and Agates

The biggest agate I ever found
Was while trapped in brambles and sticker bushes
On a beach hike in Edmonds.
Why sticker bushes along a beach path?
Why sticker bushes at all?
Trapped- stuck- thorns pierce my jeans
And hold me there a prisoner.

All my life
On sunny days
Agates eluded.
But here- amidst brambles
Slippery rocks
In fear and pain and frustration
Jewels are found.

The best parts in life
Are found
In the toughest terrain.

The best treasures always
Emerge in the tussle.

At the end of almost an hour hiking on the water, once my hands were numb and my clothes were soaked through, I said goodbye to Mother Nature and Father God that was in that place.  Like Jacob after he wrestles the angel in the book of Genesis, I felt God meet me on that beach.  I felt a nearness to Him and a newness from Him that I haven’t felt in a while.  It was a wonderful hour with God.  In the book of Genesis, Jacob leaves a pile of stones to mark God’s presence in the place where he encounters the Lord.

For me on the beach, on a wet miserable day, on a beach south of Edmonds, I left a marker to the Lord.  Surely the Lord is in this place.  I made a marker there to celebrate Him.

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Cisterns

In Keeping it Real,Spiritual Practices,Struggles with faith,The Journey,Uncategorized on March 3, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

cis·tern [sis-tern]  noun

1.a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid.

I was meeting with a friend in Portland a while back when he quoted Jeremiah on me.  Keep in mind, not many people are prone to quote Jeremiah.  But this man, my mentor and one of my best friends, has a way of challenging me to my core.  He said:

Jeremiah 2:13

13“My people have done two things wrong.
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of life-giving water.
They have also dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that can’t hold water.

In the context of the moment, he was addressing one of my other friends who has been having a hard time connecting with God lately.  My buddy, the one being quoted to, opened the conversation by saying that because of the challenges in his life lately, he was having a very hard time remembering that God loves him, and thus, a very hard time remembering that God is real and alive in the world.  That’s when my mentor dropped Jeremiah on him, challenging the situation of distance from God with the talk of cisterns.

I’ve reflected a lot over the last month on this notion of “cisterns”, things that collect water.  The prophet Jeremiah (above) looks at the situation in Israel when people were far from God and labels “two things wrong” whereas I normally just see one.  I look at my own life at times of distance and realize I have had moments where I abandon God, who the prophet calls “the fountain of life-giving water.”  I do this.  Many other people do this.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to abandon God.  I just stop hanging out with Him.  I stop searching for Him in the world.  And then like a relationship once the dating and romance has ended, all that is left is the formal ties of allegiance.  In our daily lives, we can abandon the fountain of real life and then wonder why our life feels devoid of God’s life-giving and life-altering power.  We feel as dry as an ancient riverbed and so we stop going to God, the fountain of this life-giving water.  Those things we seek define us and ultimately fill us.

The second part of Jeremiah’s lament here struck me as convicting.  The Lord says, “They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water.”  In a place like ancient Israel, without literal water you will literally die.  This isn’t just a metaphor.  And because of the arid climate, you either found a way to live near the source of water or you developed containers and reservoirs to contain water for the dryer days and weeks of your life.

Spiritually, how often do we do the same thing?  We go out to “build cisterns” to contain God in and do the good things of our Christian faith.  We get busy in church or in service or get busy trying to do good things for the Kingdom or get busy in a small group or just plain get busy in life.  All the while, if we’re not careful, we’re building cisterns that can’t hold water.  Because at the end of the day, it is the substance of our spiritual life that counts, and not the things we do for God.  What is our life actually “full of”?  What do we actually contain?  What are we spilling out in our actions and deeds?  If we don’t live near the source, our lives will become arid in no time at all.  But if we seek God and fill our life with a fullness of spirit of Jesus, I’m inclined to think it is Him that our lives will speak of.

Paul speaks in Corinthians about our life becoming so full of Christ that like an aroma, we will reek of God to the world around us.  Like the sweet perfume of a blooming jasmine or the robust and flavorful whiff of an Italian kitchen, our very lives will start to smell like Jesus when we drink of Him daily.  Paul writes, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent (or odorous) with life.”

What does your life smell like right now?  What is it full of?  I am challenged in this season to dwell on the power of Jesus to fill me up, so that I would be full of His spirit, and not rely on my own cisterns.  From my Lenten journal this week I have written it over and over, “Come and fill me up Lord.  Come and fill me up.”

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Be My Everything…please

In Practicing Solitude,Spiritual Practices on March 1, 2012 by scottsund

‎”Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand,
asif it were necessary to understand,
when it is simply necessary to love.”
-Claude Monet

At the end of me, is where God can begin.  At the end of my striving and failing and trying.  At the end of my successes and misses.  When I finally reach the place of exhaustion, when I turn to God and say, ‘can you fill me up?’ is when I actually give him room to really move in my life.  But how many times must I learn this?  At the very end of my rope is the beginning of God’s.  Why do I rely so heavily on self-sufficiency instead of the gift that awaits in Christ?

Lent is the season of sacrifice as we await the joy of Easter.  In years past I gave up coffee, sugar, and other harmlessly harmful things (pun intended).  This year?  Nothing to give up…instead I need to drink in.  I realized at our Ash Wednesday service last week that I had been in a place of spiritual dryness for a short time.  I had been doing the work of ministry but not enough time spent at the actual wellhead of my faith: Jesus Christ.  It is so strange how we can talk of our love of God without any time spent in the divine romance.  But at the Ash Wednesday service, as we sang out the worship song “Be My Everything!” I literally was yelling out the words to God as I was desperately trying to remind myself.  Yes, Jesus, BE MY EVERYTHING.  I have been making the mistake of EVERYTHING BUT JESUS…life has been crowding out time with the Lord.  Too much stuff to do…not enough time dwelling in the presence of Christ.

So I’m spending less time trying to understand…and more time (to quote Monet) just trying to Love.  Every morning for the next 40 days of Lent, I’m trying to drink from the source.  I wake before the kids and wife, and silently I slip downstairs.  With a cup of coffee, I resist the temptation to check email.  I resist the temptation to check FB.  I resist the temptation to open the Seattle Times.  Before I do anything else, I spend time with Jesus.  Maybe this is easier for you than me…for me this is hard.  But I’ve been doing it.  I open the bible.  I open my journal.  And I write my prayers.  I write my questions.  I write my thoughts to Him.  Less personal reflection and more of a written journey of intimacy.  Like going on a date with your wife after a season of just laboring together, as Christians we need to sit across the table and just gaze at the One who gives our life meaning.  Without the practice of intimacy, we can easily become just role players in a play that has lost its meaning.  No, we need to be reminded of the author of it all.  This is my journey for the next 5+ weeks until Easter.  Want to join me?