What I Learned From Trees (Part 2)

What do you think is the largest single organism in the world? Not, sure? Read on to find out.

         Celebrating Christian Community

Although I mostly grew up in Southern California, I am a Colorado girl at heart. Both of my parents grew up there and I still have numerous extended family members who reside in various parts of the state. During my first six years of living there and through many subsequent visits, my roots sank deep; especially out on the plains where the antelope really do play. Speaking of roots, one of the many things I love about Colorado is the Quaking Aspen tree. When I recently decided to do a bit of research on the aspen, I discovered some interesting parallels between aspen trees and us as members of the body of Christ.

Now back to the original question. According to some scientists, the largest and perhaps oldest single organism is a grove of Aspen trees in Fishlake National Forest in central Utah. This grove is named ‘Pando’ (Latin for ‘I spread’). Since Aspens primarily expand and regenerate from a common root system, all trees in a grove are related (clones), therefore a clone of aspen trees is a single organism. Personally, I would like to think that the body of Christ, spread throughout the world and history, is the largest single organism. What could a grove of Aspen trees have in common with the body of Christ and us as individual believers? Let me explain.

Aspen leaves wave back and forth “quake”–even in the slightest breeze–due to the unique structure of the aspen’s leaves and leafstalks. Aspens grow straight and tall with the leaves appearing mostly on the upper portion of a slender trunk to catch the sun. On the surface, they appear delicate, almost fragile with their slender white trunks rising to the sky. However, their strength is hidden below the surface in their intricate root system. This unique root system allows them to thrive in rugged, often arid environments and quickly reestablish after forest fires. Aspens expand and are interrelated through a common root system rather than through germination–hence creating a single organism out of a grove of trees.

What about us, the body of Christ? Oh, that we might be sensitive to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit calling us to love and obedience just as the aspen leaves respond to the slightest breeze. May we too reach upward to God our Father for the nourishment we need and sink our roots deeply in Him gaining strength for challenges of life. Perhaps the most poignant lesson we can learn from the aspen is the beauty and necessity of community. Yes, we need that time of solitude and being still with God, but we also need to be deeply rooted in community–our fellow believers–those who are living as well as that great cloud of witnesses throughout history upon which we build our faith.

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline states, “We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.” We are not meant to walk this journey alone. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in community, we are also meant to live and love in community. Additionally, spiritual formation happens most profoundly in community.

So what is Christian community?

We catch glimpses of community in Scripture (Acts 2:42-47 and Colossians 3:12-17, for example). In Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Adele Calhoun states “Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic and loving ways that encourage growth in Christ. They engage in transparent relationships that cultivate, celebrate and make evident Christ’s love for all the world.” She also points out that community includes...

  • cultivating authentic relationships that connect you to God and his plan to serve and love this world.
  • exercising your gifts in fellowship with others.
  • engaging in hospitality that promotes honest sharing and caring.
  • participating in a small group or covenant group.
  • sharing life with an accountability partner or prayer partner.
  • engaging in mission with others.

Why should we practice community?

According to Ronald Rolheiser, we practice community "So as not to be alone – alone in our joys, alone in our suffering, alone in the everydayness of our lives, alone in the important passages of our lives…to tell people we love them, and hopefully, to hear them tell us the same thing.” And it's not just the body of Christ that needs authentic community, the world also needs to know there is a place where they can come so as not to be alone.

Try this: One of the ways to foster community is to listen. Ask someone to tell you their story and really listen. Be present with that person and thank them for sharing a part of themselves. What did you learn about God, your friend and yourself?

Additional Resources:

  • Life Together - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The Safest Place on Earth - Larry Crabb
  • Reaching Out - Henri J.M. Nouwen

 

Be Still - What I Learned From Trees (Part 1)

Where is your favorite place to be alone with God? One of my favorite places is outdoors enjoying God’s creation. I love how Jesus can teach us valuable lessons as we observe and meditate upon nature.

One of the most poignant lessons came to me one day while I was taking a walk. In order to still my mind and listen to what Jesus might want to say to me, I decided to meditate on the verse “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Historically, the City of Sacramento has a reputation as the “City of Trees” in recognition of its beautiful tree canopy. As I walked along the streets of our neighborhood enjoying the beauty of the trees, it occurred to me that trees are the epitome of stillness and that perhaps I might learn something from them. For example, trees stay firmly rooted to the ground and their roots go deep for the nourishment they need. Their trunks, branches and leaves stretch upward soaking in the sun and rain that help them grow. In some ways it appears that they aren’t doing anything except standing around drinking in their sustenance, growing stronger and taller day by day, year by year.

That’s only part of the story. Trees also share with others what they have received: shelter for various creatures of the earth and sky; shade for the weary; some trees provide fruit for us to eat or flowers for us to enjoy; their leaves release oxygen into the atmosphere; eventually some trees give of themselves so that we can build our homes and provide for numerous products we enjoy. It may appear that they just stand around doing nothing, but in fact they provide invaluable service to our world.

Additionally, trees experience changing seasons of life and have a multitude of different qualities. Some trees loose their leaves in the winter appearing weak and vulnerable; others remain lush and green throughout the year. There are a multitude of shapes, sizes, and shades of green (my favorite color). Some are stronger, taller, and more majestic while others are more flexible and bend easily in the wind. Yet God designs each species of trees for a specific purpose and each one depends upon God for their nourishment through the soil, rain and sun.

Like the trees, we can be still and drink deeply of God’s presence, love and grace. We too need time to soak in his goodness and allow his Spirit to work deep within us so that his love can flow in and through us out to others. Out of the fullness in our hearts, we can provide comfort for the weary, food and shelter for the needy. Perhaps God will use us to bring beauty and hope to a wounded soul. Maybe in our time of need, we will provide an opportunity for someone else to experience the joy of serving. And just like the trees, we have seasons in our own lives–seasons of outward fruitfulness as well as seasons of apparent dormancy or illness and physical limitations. Whatever the season, as we sink our roots deeply into God and reach up to him for our sustenance he will bring forth good fruit.

Jesus says, “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.” John 15:4

In what ways has nature spoken to you about the goodness and beauty of our triune God? What season might you be in right now?

Spend some time today soaking in God’s goodness and love; then allow that to flow through you to others.

You might also want to check out this song by Steven Curtis Chapman on Youtube: http://youtu.be/lcX5106rJLY

 

 

Building with With-God Life: So what is spiritual formation anyway?

Spiritual Formation - a Process

What comes to mind when you hear the term “spiritual formation”? Perhaps you think of discipleship, spiritual disciplines, or spending days in a monastery in silence. While these things may be included in spiritual formation, they only represent a small part of the picture. As an introduction to the theme of spiritual formation, I would like to step back and give you a bigger vision of what spiritual formation is about by using the analogy of building a house. I hope to create a picture of what God is inviting us to do with him.

When a builder constructs a house he needs to have a plan or vision of what the house will look like. I will call our house “Life with God”, a restored relationship to God through the finished work of Christ: a loving, intimate, interactive relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that’s the house. The process of building the house, the work or labor, is spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is not the goal itself, but it is the process or journey we engage in to build our life with God.

Every building project needs materials and tools to complete the job. The building process of spiritual formation does not happen through the disciplines alone, for example, rather God uses various tools to deepen our relationship to Him. In practical terms, some of the tools God uses are the spiritual disciplines, our jobs, family, hardships, the sacraments of the church, community, etc. Additionally, just as a building project needs materials for building, there is also the need for some kind of funding or financial support, or a fuel to sustain the project. A life of restored relationship and growing intimacy will not happen without the fuel of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, what is our part in this building process? What is our status as laborers in the project? I find the image of an apprentice to be very helpful here. Jesus invites us to come and follow him, to do life with him, much like the medieval apprenticeship program in England. According to Gary Moon, we are invited to “an apprenticeship centered on immersion in the culture of the master, experientially learning to do what he did through hands-on training.” We are active participants, not passive recipients in this process of growing intimacy with God.

The wonderful truth is that we are not alone in this process. As Richard Foster states in his article Becoming Like Christ, Jesus “who is the Way shows us the way to live so that we increasingly come to share his love, hope, feelings, and habits. He agrees to be yoked to us, as we are yoked to him, and to train us in how to live our lives as he would live them if he were in our place”. This is the journey of spiritual formation, living all of life with God, in a deepening immersion in his will and ways.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22 NRSV

As you reflect on your journey, which tools have been especially helpful for you in building your life with God? I’m always encouraged by stories of Jesus’ work in the lives of my fellow travelers. I'd love to hear from you!

Related Resources:

  • Becoming Like Christ – Richard Foster http://cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/401
  • Apprenticeship with Jesus – Gary Moon

 

With-God Life: What difference can a preposition make?

Yes, I said preposition NOT proposition. Although I suppose they could both apply since God has a proposition for you and for me. But I digress...Have you ever thought about the difference between living life for God versus living life with God? STOP, for just a moment and reflect on that question. What difference could that preposition make in your life?

Think about your marriage, your children or a significant friendship. How fulfilling would that relationship be if you only did things for that person and not with them? Most likely that relationship would become a burden for you and would not be very affirming for the person on the receiving end. Being together, doing life together, sharing thoughts, hopes and heartaches are elements that help create intimacy. The same is true in our relationship with God.

You’ve heard the statements, and perhaps even said them yourself: “I want to live my life for God”; “Because of what Christ did for me, I want to do great things for God”; I’m sure you can think of others. While those heartfelt expressions of commitment are not wrong, they can distract you from God’s greater desire for your life – to live life with God, in restored relationship to him. Living life for God can lead to a life of doing, performing, earning. Living life with God leads to relationship, intimacy, delighting in him and experiencing his delight in you. Acts of obedience and service to others will flow out of this life of intimacy with God and will be empowered by his love rather than your own strength. Experiencing intimate, loving, interactive fellowship with the God of the universe through the saving work of Christ...now that’s a proposition you can’t ignore.

Today, find one way that you can take a step in the direction of living your life with God. Not sure? Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you. Still not sure? Read a few examples from fellow travelers. Then, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it! Related resources are also found below.

I asked a few pastor friends the following question: “In your daily life, what are 1 or 2 examples of how you live your life with God?” Here their responses...

Trevor Hudson (Methodist pastor and author from South Africa) “The waking up moment has been important for me. I like to turn my mind towards God as soon as I can, give thanks for the day and ask God to be with me in all I do. Another moment for me that is important is that moment when I am with people. I seek to be aware of God's presence in each encounter through the day and to discern how I can live out my faith with them.”
Kai Nilsen (Lead Pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio and a member of both the Renovaré Institute faculty and the Renovaré Ministry Team) “As a pastor, it would seem obvious that I am intentional about living my live with God. But it takes conscious and intentional forethought.  My daily routine varies (a complex system and four kids contribute to a never ending variety in my daily life). But, most often, I seek to begin my day immersed in who I am as a child of God.  That can take many forms.  When I am crazy busy and would lean toward lack of focus, I spend more time in quiet and solitude.  The Breath Prayer (saying the words, "Breath of God," when I inhale and “Renew my life” when I exhale) has been a consistent companion. When I sense my mind needs to be challenged I use that morning time to read.  When I feel disconnected with the “Great Story” I will use that morning time to read and reflect on scriptures.  I try to be aware of what my spirit needs at a given time and be flexible in my approach.”

Related Resources: