Deserts Can Bloom

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….FullSizeRender

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

 

Desert Darkness Like I had Never Known
2008 was as dark a time as I’ve ever experienced. I was dealing with a mystery illness no doctor could identify let alone remedy. Even after many hours of sleep, I was so staggeringly fatigued – I had to go down the stairs on my rear one step at a time. I’d awake at 2 in the morning in a full blown panic attack – an experience I’d never known
before. To add further darkness to the desert experience, God seemed to have just left me there. No matter how I pleaded, he was silent. He felt distant. It was as if he just up and left….

Alone.Version 2

Afraid.

Undone.

I was in a barren landscape; no identifiable landmarks; lost. I felt cast aside.

I had no idea how I found myself there. I was just going about life and ministry and then the darkness descended. I had apparently lost my health. Emotionally I was unglued. The future was uncertain. It’s unsettling when medical specialist after medical specialist simply says, “I can’t help you” with a sympathetic yet helpless shrug.

It’s been 10 years plus since then.  I have regained some of my capacities but no where near what I had before the unnamed Asian virus wreaked its havoc in me. I still live with all the symptoms. Some days are not pleasant.  The panic attacks are all but gone. God has graciously helped me to see he was there all along and was doing a deep and beautiful work in me.

Like most suffering, the process really stinks but the fruit can be beautiful.

My Desert Has Blossomed
Two years ago I sat down to write what God had taught me along the way. You can find in  the book titled The Uninvited Companion. That is what I named my new physical reality, “the uninvited companion.”

The cards and letters I have received, the stories I have been told, of those who have read the book had stopped me speechless.

How can God use one person’s desert to be a glass of water for others?

Only God can make a desert blossom. A desert is a desert. Yet when a desert blooms, wow, what beauty. My physical reality still feels like a desert, yet God displays beauty in and around me constantly. This is not self-generated, it is graced.

Yours?
What desert(s) exist in your life?

Divorce. Singleness. Cancer. Betrayal. Poverty. Loneliness. Doubt. Anxiety. Childlessness.

Along our pilgrimages we all find ourselves in desert places. These are places we do not see coming nor choose to go to. Suddenly we find ourselves there. Sometimes its our own fault, sometimes another’s, sometimes pain in a fallen world strikes us.

Regardless of the cause, our deserts do not outstrip God’s redemptive competency. God defines our deserts, our deserts do not define God.

IMG_3102He has made parts of my desert blossom. He will do the same in yours. It may be soon. It may be later in life. It will certainly in eternity. He is able. He loves each of us. He is a Father who sees and knows and is present (even if he does not grace us
with sensing his presence).

What is the name of your desert?

How has God brought beauty into your past deserts?

He will do it again. He is loving and he is powerful.

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, Thinking Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update: TUC Celebration

Thank you to all who helped celebrate The Uninvited Companion’s one year celebration. During 1-5 January, 1783 free kindle editions were download! That is quite the response.

If you find this book helpful, please pass it on as a resource for an applied theology of suffering or as a personal companion to someone who finds themselves in a season of personal adversity.

Thanks!

SES

Print

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Resources, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health, Thinking Well | Leave a comment

2018 Reads List

Here is an annual reads list I share. I trust you will find something to stimulate your on-going learning.

Please, please send me titles you have read of late that you found worth the time.

Thanks!

Keep growing in Christ!

SES

2018 reads list scott e shaum

Posted in Resources | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Free: The Uninvited Companion

The Uninvited Companion has been so well received – the stories I have heard! I am grateful to how God has used it.

To celebrate it’s one year on the market, the Kindle Edition is free through January 5.

Please pass this onto your contacts.

Thanks and Happy New Year

SES

Print

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Resources, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health, Thinking Well | 1 Comment

Why are We So Tired?

WordPress provides detailed statistics on this blog’s activity. This site has had over 34,000 views. Amidst all this traffic there is one blog topic that stands amongst them all in total views: Exhaustion.

I have written on the subject twice. You can see the first here and then a revised version from a couple years later here.

I find this statistic fascinating. And revealing.

I suspect we are a tired bunch of people.

A Shepherd’s Gathering
I just returned from the annual Pastoral Training in Member Care Conference (next year will be the 30th anniversary – don’t miss it!). One of the observations I made at this conference is how tired all of us care-giving shepherds are.

What’s up with that?

Do we not sabbath or sabbatical?

Do we simply say yes to too much?

Are we trying to accomplish more than our capacities allow for?

Are we need-driven rather than Father-responsive?

On the one hand, there is no way to sacrificially serve others without tiring. God does ask us to lay our lives down for others. Pouring out of ourselves is our calling. Fatigue is a realistic expectation.

Yet many of us cross over from a “good-tired” into a consistent weariness that can spike to a deep weariness that we do not easily recover from. Our efforts to renew on any given day or week simply are not adequate. More is consistently going out than is coming in. Our “fuel tanks” are red-lining way too often.

Time for an Evaluation
Over the remainder of this year, I am taking some time to ponder my own tiredness.  Here are but a few questions I am asking:

Why do I say yes to what I say yes to?

Is what I say yes to the absolute essential work I must be doing? Has the Father specifically told me to do it, or am I simply reasoning I “need” to do it?

Am I living by the cultural mantra that “we can do it all?”

Am I serving primarily from a place of tiredness or restedness? What would it take to shift into the latter? Is this a desirable and/or realistic goal?

Am I responding to internal fears and external demands more than Father, Son, Holy Spirit invitations? What would a deepening of response to God look like?

What would allow me to engage others from a welling up of inner spiritual vibrancy on a consistent basis?

These are but a sample. Create some of your own.

May I encourage you to hold these prayers before God over the coming months?

Resources
Here are two titles that may be of some stimulation. As best I can tell, these two authors are not Christ-followers. At least these books are not written from a typical Evangelical bent. Thus, they provide a different perspective on the topics. Some of the findings in Rest is research-based. These books have me thinking and praying from different angles.

Do you have a resource to suggest?

IMG_2892

 

 

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less  

By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2891

 

 

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

By Greg McKeown

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Shepherd’s Work of Spiritual Mentoring

In the previous two posts (here and here) I have put forth definition of spiritual formation and implications for our shepherd work.

Our working definition of spiritual formation is:

Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit drawing us deeper into the love and life of the Father and Son; which shapes us into Jesus’ image of love for the Father and for the world.

From that definition, we added that the shepherds first, foremost and primary role is to shepherd others to this place of communion with Jesus:

Unknown“Shepherds are willfully complicit with the Holy Spirit’s concern of drawing all into communion with the Father and Son.”

What we are advocating for is a trajectory of growth in communion with the Father and the Son by the Spirit. Yes, the path is circuitous. It is not linear. This is the messy stuff of relationship. Yet, in the Spirit, we grow in our abiding in Jesus. Shepherds seek to facilitate that relational growth.

Because we are bent on trying to make life work on own best efforts, we are reminded that we do not throw people back on themselves with self-determining efforts. God is the one who grows us.

An Observation
Over many years of shepherding workers around the world, I have made an observation. This is general in nature, but it will serve our purpose.

We all have a spirituality that “works” in our own culture. We know how to navigate culture; we have resources and a community around us; we experience less (or at least Unknown
different) stressors; and we can become familiar with the enemy’s ploys in that context.

When we move into a new country, all bets are off. Suddenly we are faced with a deluge of stressors; we are confronted with spiritual oppression that overwhelms; we may have little to no faith community.

We now have a spirituality crisis as the spiritual practices we observed in our home culture can be quickly outstripped by the demands of life and ministry in a new context.

Our spirituality is no longer adequate for the life-ministry context we find ourselves in.

What is the Spirit up to? Well, the same as always. He is inviting us in deeper still.

In human terms, our input must far exceed our output. But many workers do not know what to do and have not been shepherded into deeper waters of faith.

Spiritual Coaching and Mentoring
Here is where shepherds can become ground-level practical in their shepherding.

When faced with workers who are distressed and showing symptoms of emotional thinness and spiritual malnourishment, shepherds can offer practical ways forward.

The simple fact is that God is inviting each of us to spend far more time with him than we likely ever have before. And this on a daily basis.

We require lengthier time in the Word, reflecting, pondering, chewing all in a spirit of openness to God – not just for more knowledge or to prep for our next teaching session.

God will invite us to lengthier times of sitting with him in prayer – in whatever form that takes.

Sabbath and a day of solitude and prayer a month are no longer optional.

Necessary too are spiritual directors, mentors and pastors of our souls.

Creativity can Breath Life
IMG_3102Particularly in our prayer practices we can invite creativity. There are a multitude of well-known practices: intercession, silence, meditation, contemplation, Examen, on and on. Whatever faith stream you come out of (e.g. reformed, liturgical, charismatic, contemplative, etc.), there is a rich heritage of prayer practices.

What’s more, many will find great enrichment in creative expression – walking and praying as you go; painting; praying with a friend; writing poetry; playing an instrument. The fact, though, is that few of us have been given permission in these area. Nor do we know how.

Take Examen for example. This can be a profoundly insight reflection practice. But how does one go about it? What is the purpose? How do I learn to discern what the Spirit wants me to see? Who can help me gain some perspective?

This is the practical encouragement and mentoring spiritual shepherds can provide as we shepherd others deeper into communion with God.

There is a great need for newer workers to be mentored into deeper ways of responsive abiding in Jesus. What a gift we can offer by providing such guidance.

As always, I would love to hear from your experience in this area – how others have assisted you or what you have found beneficial in your care of others. Thanks!

Would you mind doing me a favor and share this site with 3-5 friends or colleagues if you think it worth their time? Thanks!

Posted in Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Implications of Spiritual Formation for Shepherd Care

In the last entry I defined spiritual formation as:

Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit drawing us deeper into the love and life of the Father and Son; which shapes us into Jesus’ image of love for the Father and for the world.

Implications for Shepherd Care
As we shepherd, we are always on the lookout for ill-health in the other’s relationship IMG_0206with God.

This is not the morality police, actually it is the opposite.

Evangelical spirituality is rife with moralism. No, this is not about sin management. Rather it is about communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We seek to shepherd people to Jesus. Jesus is our pasture of rest. He is our stream of living water. He is our peace, our joy, our guide, our calm in all life’s storms. He is more than adequate for the constant upsurge of our brokenness.

Shepherds bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people. This is the core work of shepherd care.

“Do Not Throw People Back on Themselves”
There is a poignant story James B. Torrence shares to start the second chapter of his book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. It is too lengthy to transcribe here (the book is worth the read), but I will share the concluding observation Torrence made from this very sweet story:

“It seems to be that in a pastoral situation our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace – to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into eternal life of communion with the Father.” p. 45

Do not “throw people back onto themselves.” Brilliantly stated, this.

When faced with others in need, it is so tempting to give them “exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it.IMG_8483” That is not shepherding well though. It throws people back on themselves as if their best hope is somewhere within themselves; if they could just dig a little harder, resolve a little more determinedly then all their life challenges would come out well.

No, this will not do. This is moralism – trying to make our life work by our own efforts.

First relationship, then life change.

Participation in the Life of Jesus
The life of holiness is simply and mysteriously participating in the life of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).” So we are seeking to shepherd people to Jesus that they may grow in their abiding in him. As they do so, Jesus lives his life in them.

The Shepherd’s Task
This is the shepherd’s task – take people to Jesus. Remind them of his immeasurable love. Tell once again that his disposition toward us is forgiveness in love (see Psalm 139). That we are not on our own. We are given the Spirit of love and grace who leads us into all truth.

In the end, shepherds are willfully complicit with the Holy Spirit’s concern of drawing all into communion with the Father and Son. When we fail or are struggling in the dark, that is what we need most – someone to walk with us back into that embracing communion.

How About You?
IMG_5546We are all sheep first, shepherds second. How is the Spirit growing your communion with the Father and Son?

Who is your shepherd? How is God growing you as a sheep, that you might be a more grace-filled shepherd?

How might you change your approach to shepherding others? Do not throw yourself back on yourself here! Seek the Chief Shepherd, he will show you the way forward.

As always, your thoughts are most welcome.

Posted in Shepherding Well, Thinking Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What is Spiritual Formation?

Despite common usage, the phrase “spiritual formation” has wide variance in what it exactly refers to.

IMG_1127Common Concepts
“Transformed into Jesus’ likeness” is one prevalent understanding. But what does that mean? If I am growing in the “image of Jesus,” how does it happen?

Character change is another similar concept. How does one grow in character-deficient areas? And is character the primary concern of formation?

What role do spiritual practices play in all this?

I have wrestled through these issues for a long time. In a recent course of study I pushed to hammer out a personal definition. Various sources* were helpful as I wrote and re-wrote and wrestled with wording.

A Working Definition
Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit drawing us deeper into the love and life of the Father and Son; which shapes us into Jesus’ image of love for the Father and for the world.

Key Elements
First, communion is primary.  Our God is a relational God. Relationship is core, the primary focus. His first and foremost desire is for me to know him, his love for me, his presence, his very person. Jesus’ word to us is “abide in me.”

The Holy Spirit is wooing us to communion with the Father in and through the Son. The Father and Son have been living in loving communion all eternity by the Spirit. The Spirit now unites us to Jesus and in Jesus to the Father. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. I am in you and you are in me.” God is the focus, and my growing relationship with him.

Thus the key marker of spiritual formation is growing in communion with the Triune God.

Second, transformation (being shaped into Jesus’ image, character change, etc.) does happen. But it happens as a corollary of communion. I become like the one I abide with. I am changed in his presence.

Communion first, transformation as a corollary.

Third, change happens by the Holy Spirit, not my sheer effort. Yes, I do have a role, but this is not a self-help project in any way. Spiritual practices do not change me, God changes me.

Fourth,  this is not only about me. As I am grown in love for God, he grows me in his concerns for the world. It does lead to “action.”

A word of caution here, though. Usually, in our activistic church culture, this is where we land first. He who is busiest is closest to God, can go the thinking. Actually, not true. Serving God can undermine communion with God. It happens to this in ministry all the time.

I repeat the main point: Communion first, growth and service from that. He overflows our lives as we drink of him.

IMG_0843It’s all about Relationship
So what is being “formed” in spiritual formation? In a nutshell, the person’s capacity to commune with God; an inclination to abide, commune, to be with God in an open and receptive posture. Everything else flows from this.

Communion first, transformation and service from that.

So how are you responding to the Lord’s invitation to abide today?

*Two key books that were very clarifying for me were Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints and Tom Ashbrook’s Mansion of the Heart. In the early chapters of both these books, a definition and primary focus of spiritual formation is wrestled with.

Posted in Shepherding Well | 6 Comments