Seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus

A Voice in the Desert

Thoughts of a pilgrim on a journey toward Jesus...

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Arabic Words/Phrases I Wish We Had In English

As most of you know, Angie and I lived in Jordan for almost fifteen years. We studied Arabic and became fairly fluent. We loved learning Arabic phrases and idioms that communicated thoughts and ideas better than any literal use of language could. In fact, some of the phrases were so unique to Arabic that we continue to use them interspersed with English comments when English words just won’t do!

Recently my father-in-law shared an article with my son about Arabic phrases Deric Gruen wishes we had in English (see his post here). Of the five he listed I regularly used three when I was in the Middle East – saha (صحة used for sneezes, coughs or just to wish “health” for a person); yallah (يلا let’s go; time to get moving); insha’allah (إن شاء الله “if God wills” – used a lot in various ways). But the article got me thinking about my favorite words and phrases I wish we had an English equivalent for…

1. hayk (هيك)= “that’s the way it is” – This is an all-time favorite. Imagine your child asking you one of those questions you don’t want to answer, instead of getting mad and yelling, “Because I said so!” wouldn’t it be better to be able to say, in a calm, cool voice, “Hayk.” That’s just the way it is. Or when you’re in geometry class and you don’t want to do the proof…”hayk” (ok, that one might not gain you any points).

2. ya halla (يا هلا) = “welcome” or “make yourself at home” – This is actually a contraction of the more formal ‘ahlan wa sahlan (أهلاً وسهلاً) which is used all the time in the Arabic world where hospitality is a virtue and obligation. It has the idea that you are part of the family and our home is wide open to you. So while English has a way to say “welcome”, we don’t have the rich invitation and warmth behind the word. Granted, even the Arabic word can be said as a formality, without the heart of it, but that’s true of any language. I always loved the depth and the beauty of the idea that when I say ya halla, I am welcoming you in a significant way.

3. ma’laysh (معليش)= “don’t worry about it” or “no big deal” – I’m not entirely sure of it’s origins. I’ve heard it’s a contraction of three words, but don’t know. It is colloquial so not usually written. Anyway, ma’laysh is a multi-purpose phrase that can be used to tell someone the spilled milk is no big deal or to ask permission to do something…you don’t mind, do you? It can also take on the equivalent of, “meh, whatever.” Very versatile word!

4. haram (حرام)= “shameful” or “forbidden” – It is used to describe things that shouldn’t be done or eaten. But it has come to be used in unfortunate situations to describe things that shouldn’t be. Somebody is sick? Haram. Someone lost a job? Haram. Someone cheated me? Haram on him/her! (shame on him/her…and maybe me…)

5. ‘akeed (أكيد)= “definitely” or “for sure” – This is sort of the antithesis of insha’allah which often takes on a “hopefully” sort of air. ‘akeed leaves no doubt. When Angie and I would schedule an appointment with an Arab and they’d say, “‘insha’allah” we would often say, “Not ‘insha’allah, ‘akeed! to convey the point that this needed to happen. It wasn’t always effective, but it often brought a chuckle and got our message across.

Those are my favorites…but for those who are Arabic speakers, what Arabic words do you wish had English equivalents?

From Young and Brash to Older and More Gracious

This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. I was having lunch with one of my best friends from high school this week and shared the idea with her and she remembered a difficult conversation we had had during the period mentioned below. It served as confirmation to me that I should share it. I hope it’s received in the spirit with which it’s intended! ~ Rick

Dear Family and Friends,

There aren’t all that many things I regret in life. For the most part I have tried to live by treating others as I would want to be treated. I have sought to be respectful of others and their opinions. I have tried to be generous and kind. I have wanted to be fair and gracious. While I think I have done reasonably well, there was a period of my life that I know I wasn’t very gracious. I wasn’t very kind. I was zealous and perhaps even rabid in the way I shared and defended my beliefs. I was passionate…but I wasn’t very tactful. At times I was downright mean.

I don’t remember everyone I offended. I don’t remember all the people I lambasted. But I know it is more than I care to remember. And I’m sorry. I am really, truly sorry. I ask your forgiveness. I wish I had known then what I’ve learned over the years and would have communicated the same truths in a loving, gracious way. I wish I would have been more respectful of the ways we differed. I wish I wouldn’t have been so judgmental – whether you were wrong or not, I was wrong in the way I communicated and treated you.

I don’t know how many people I might have turned off to ideas they might have been open to listening to or discussing. I don’t know how many people heard me and tossed me into the category of hypocrite or extreme fundamentalist. I’m not really worried about those labels anyway; I’m more concerned that the deep, important truths I believed then and continue to believe now were marginalized or ignored because I was a poor messenger. And I deeply regret that.

I recognize that even if I had spoken with words full of grace and tact we might have left the conversation with different beliefs. I know that I may not have convinced you of anything. I don’t mind that. But I am concerned that maybe you walked away doubting my love for you or my part in our friendship. I fear that my actions may have led you to reject the things I believe, not on their merit or lack thereof, but because of me.

So, please, please forgive me. Please know that with time comes (at least sometimes) wisdom. If I did offend you, perhaps you’ll tell me and we can sit down over a cup of coffee and I can apologize in person. We don’t even have to revisit our original conversation unless you want to get some things off your chest! It would be great just to spend time together and talk.

Humbly,

Rick

The Practice of Being Present

I suppose all of us have had the experience of speaking to someone and after a story or question expecting a reaction or an answer and instead getting a blank expression. After a moment of awkward silence the person might snap back to attention and embarrassingly apologize for “zoning out”. Sometimes it’s humorous but often it is insulting or feels downright rude. We like it when the people we’re speaking to give us their attention and stay present to us in the conversation.

This week I’m preparing some video lessons for a group that is exploring how to experience a more intimate, personal relationship with God. My role is to cast vision and discuss practices that can move people in that direction – or at least create space for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. In my reflection and preparation I’ve been reminded of how important it is to maintain an attitude of attentiveness and to remain “present” and open to God throughout the day. There are so many ways he communicates to us; if we fail to remain “present”, we will miss it.

It can sometimes feel like life is too full or too busy to be able to hear God. We may feel like caring for children or writing reports – or whatever our busyness – crowds out God’s voice or gets in the way of really paying attention. I appreciate what Jean Stairs wrote in Listening for the Soul:

Becoming more conscious of God is not so much about seeking a mystical, out of this world or end of life’s road kind of religious experience, but rather developing a deeper awareness and appreciation of how our everyday experiences abound in the mystery and presence of God. The ordinary events of our experience should not be in the way or apart from the way to living in the presence of God, but the way to it (emphasis mine).

God wants to meet us in our every-day life. He has promised he is with us always (Matthew 28:20) and will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). There is nowhere we can go that he isn’t right there with us (Psalm 139:7-12). While there is great value in taking time away from normal life activities to seek after God, we usually can’t do that very often. We can start the day with time in God’s word and in prayer. We can take time daily to spend in silence and solitude. But we can also learn to stay present throughout the day to God and open to his breaking into our lives.

In our relationship with God, what does it mean to “be present” to him? How can we live in a posture of “being present” to him? The following are thoughts that are mostly not original with me, but I cannot find where I’ve collected them over the years!

  1. Staying in the moment – we have a tendency to rush through life, moving from one activity to the next or even thinking ahead to what’s coming instead of being full present in the “now”. We need to learn to be fully where we are in the moment – present to others and to the task at hand. Certainly there are times when we are doing things that this is not needed, but too often we multitask or check out when we need to stay present in the moment.
  1. Really seeing things – not looking through them (this goes for people too!). We have a tendency to make assumptions or to feel like we already know where things are going. This is closely connected to staying in the moment. It encourages us to slow down and to be aware of what is rather than making assumptions. Rather than forming our response or moving onto the next thing, we need to pay attention. I am often tempted to do this when reading Bible passages that are familiar. I know what it says, but if I check out I may miss how God wants to speak through the verses to me in my life situation today. In the same way, if I assume I know where a conversation is going, I dishonor the other person and may miss important information. In my relationship with God I may miss something he wants me to see or experience or hear.
  1. Looking at the ordinary with fresh eyes – Have you ever stopped to think how amazing it is that you can pick up a ball and throw it and have it go (more or less) where you aim? Or that you can mix certain ingredients that alone taste horrible but together are delicious? There is so much around that if we were to stop and really pay attention to it, we might be amazed!  Barbara Brown Taylor has written, ““Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” I often find myself captivated by a smile or the way the wind blows across a field or the way a good author phrases the most common things in poetic beauty. How might God want to speak to us if we would pause to look at the ordinary and mundane with an openness to seeing it afresh?
  1. Being available to God – If God did speak to me or was to do something that was obviously him around me, are would I obey? Would I slow down to respond? I believe he is constantly speaking to us in a myriad of ways (consider Psalm 19 for example), but most of us have not learned to be available to listen or respond. We may be willing to obey should he speak, but we don’t really believe he will speak. We need to intentionally make ourselves available to him all the time.
  1. Living in a state of awareness – This can be difficult in many ways. But, as we practice and establish rhythms in our life that help us maintain a posture of receptivity, it can become reality. Last week I was talking to a good friend and we were overwhelmed by how God breaks through the mundane to show glimpses of himself when we walk with a conscious awareness of his presence. We don’t always “feel” his presence, but like the way a certain car we are interested in buying suddenly starts appearing all around us all the time, when we cultivate that awareness, we see him all the time.
  1. Living in expectancy – Most of us resign ourselves to the thought that we just aren’t that spiritual or just not worthy of God’s speaking to us. But when we come to the realization that He is speaking to us and we are worthy of such intimacy and begin to live in expectancy, we will begin to notice his presence all around us in ways we never had before.
  1. Living in trust – More and more we need to learn to let go of the need to control so much of our lives. We need to come to a place of trust. As we discover God’s loving presence with us all the time and in so many different ways, we can begin to truly walk moment-by-moment in faith that God will guide us and walk with us in all of life’s experiences and circumstances.

Take time to reflect on your experience. When do you sense God most intimately in your life?

Has there been a time when God showed up or broke in and you were surprised? Why was it surprising?

Is there any way you sense God inviting you to be more intentional to be present to him in your daily life? In what ways? What will you do about it?

Conflict Transformation

Conflict is one of those things most people try to avoid. I imagine it’s largely because few of us have experienced conflict turn out well. Everyone has a baseline response to conflict: Yield, withdrawal, win, compromise…but few of us understand how to work through conflict to a point of resolution. Much of how we approach conflict is conditioned by how we observed it and experienced it growing up – with parents, teachers, coaches, classmates. We found the best way to cope…passive-aggressive behavior, conciliatory comments, argumentativeness, violence – some worked well, many not at all!

Conflict happens in all relationships. It is inevitable. How we handle that conflict is essential for moving forward in the relationship. In the past few months I’ve come across the idea of “conflict transformation”. Conflict transformation is not a commitment to transforming the conflict into something else – though that might be a good thing – it is a commitment “for us to seek transformation in and through the conflict” (Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together, p. 104). It is all about finding ways for me to be open to the presence of Jesus in the midst of conflict. It is an attempt to seek after deeper levels of heart change in my life rather than simply slipping into habits or natural responses that may not reflect Christ’s presence in my life.

This is a big challenge. How do I enter into a conflict situation with a desire to be changed for the better? How do I enter into it with the mindset of maintaining the unity of Christ – and even seeing the situation strengthen our unity in Christ – instead of simply managing the situation or resolving it and moving on. The reality for most of us is that conflict stirs very strong emotions in us and we often respond before we can even slow down enough for a rational thought.

To experience conflict transformation, we need to affirm the truth that Jesus is with us in the midst of the conflict. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and in the context of a conflict the passage promised that were two or three are gathered, he was in their midst (Matthew 18:19). We can ask ourselves, “What does Christian love demand in this situation?” We can seek to remain open to God and the other person rather than withdrawing or attacking.

We also need to “affirm that conflict can be the catalyst for needed growth and transformation…if we are willing to engage it as such” (Barton, p. 146). We need to enter into the situation to seek resolution of the conflict, but we also want to create the space for God to use it to transform us. Practicing regular times of self-examination and learning to pay attention to what’s going on inside us can help us navigate conflict situations. As we examine ourselves, we may become aware of attitudes that have contributed to the situation that need confession; or we may realize how the conflict is affecting us and see areas God wants to refine. By slowing down and reflecting on the situation and our heart and attitudes in it, we seek to understand what it is God is doing in us and perhaps in the other person so we can grow.

Not every conflict lends itself easily to conflict transformation. But if we approach conflict with a right heart and attitude, it can be something that transforms us more into the image of Jesus. As with so much of life, things happen and it often feels like we have no control over it. But if we take the attitude that God purposes or permits everything for a purpose then we can know that each situation is a transformational growth opportunity. Instead of hiding from the challenges as potholes to be avoided, we can embrace the opportunity to learn and grow and model a different approach.

What would it mean in your life to pursue conflict transformation? What about this idea is attractive? Is there anything your heart resists? Take time to pray and ponder what God might be inviting you to experience…

Five Best Things About Being Sick

Like most people, I hate to get sick. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often to me – it hasn’t happened in more than a year.  Unfortunately it happened this week. What started out as allergies turned into a nasty cold. The net effect is I feel tired and like someone has hit me over the head with a two by four most of the time.

While I don’t like being sick, I have realized there are actually some positives to illness. So without further ado, my top five best things about getting sick…

5. It reminds me I am human. I usually do not feel as old as I am. In my mind I can still do all the things I did twenty thirty years ago. Getting sick reminds me that I am, after all, only human. I can’t do everything. I have to accept and acknowledge my limits and live accordingly. I need to eat well; rest enough; and get good exercise. I do the first and third without problem (most of the time). It’s the “rest enough” that can be a challenge. Being sick forces me to break from the normal routines. It is a good reminder who is in charge; who is truly immortal; and who can truly do everything.

4. It forces me to slow down. I normally do pretty well at keeping a good balance between work and rest. I take time to reflect on what is happening in and around me. I have fairly good rhythms in my life. Even so, illness forces me to slow down. I cannot keep up the pace I’m used to following. I have to find a different rhythm. And that’s a good thing. Not only does it provide the needed rest to recover, it also…

3. It helps me prioritize. When I can’t do everything, I need to figure out what’s most important. What are the things I can let go of (perhaps only temporarily) and what do I have to do today. In the process of prioritizing I often identify things that not only don’t have to be done today, they actually are not even mine to do, or they have become distractions to what I’m supposed to do. I should, as part of my normal life rhythm, take time to evaluate how I’m doing. The truth is sometimes I don’t. Illness helps me to make sure I am focusing on the things I should when I should.

2. It makes me thankful. When I am sick, I appreciate health so much more. It can be easy to wallow in my illness or complain about it or become bitter and frustrated. I try not to let that happen. Instead, I find it usually helps me feel more grateful that I am usually a healthy person. I am thankful for physical blessings and also for spiritual ones. I am thankful that Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 are true: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Now granted, Paul is not talking about the common cold here, but when I’m sick even as it reminds me I am human, it also makes me thankful that there is a spiritual, inward reality that is coming alive and being renewed “day by day”.

1. It reminds me what an amazing woman and doctor my wife is. More than twenty-five years ago I married a medical student who is today a physician. Over the years my children and I have learned that there is a lot more we can do when we’re sick than we thought. While others would let colds or flus slow them down, Angie would give us a Tylenol or an Advil and (unless we were contagious) encourage us to keep going. She was sympathetic and she offered care and concern, but she also knew how much she was able to put up with – chronic pain among other things. She modeled for us that illness might slow us down a bit and needed to be attended to, but except in certain circumstances, it didn’t have to debilitate us. And the reality was, as a doctor, she could tell us exactly what we needed to do to get better and it pretty much always worked and worked quickly.

So, no, I don’t like being sick…but I have learned that it isn’t (usually) the end of the world. In fact, if I approach it with a good attitude, it can even be a gift.

Character Traits

My good friend Alan has a saying to which he often refers: “Who you are and who you’re becoming is more important than what you do.” I believe he’s right. In a world where the ends often justify the means, I wonder how many people would agree with that statement. Perhaps the real question is not how many would agree with it, but how many live it out? It’s easy to say you believe character is important, even most important, but it can be hard to live that when the pressure is on and you need results.

Jesus taught that we become people of deep character through intimacy with him (consider John 15:1-17). As we are transformed more and more into his image, we reflect more and more of his character in our words and actions. As he said in Matthew 7:17-18, good trees bear good fruit and bad trees don’t no matter how it looks.

I have written elsewhere on this blog on the kinds of practices I believe help us create space for the Holy Spirit to transform us into good trees; that allow us to remain deeply connect to Jesus so we are made into his likeness. But how do we know if a person is a “good tree”? How do we know if they are the kind of person who believes character is more important than results?

What are some of the signs that a person is a person of character? I offer just a few and they are influenced by Gary Hunter and Tim Addington…

1. When talking about success he/she recognizes and appreciates the influence and role of others; when talking about failure he/she take responsibility without placing blame.

2 She/he can notice/observe/assess a situation without making judgment, being comfortable with ambiguity and holding things in tension.

3. He/she has appropriate humility – neither thinking too much of self nor being falsely self deprecating.

4. She/he is a person of conviction, willing to listen to others but not quickly bending because of public opinion.

5. He/she has a strong sense of identity in relation to their Heavenly Father; having strong self-awareness of his/her own emotions, wiring, strengths, weaknesses, giftings.

6. She/he forgive and ask forgiveness when called for.

Who are you becoming? Are you the person you want to be? How are you connecting with Jesus so you can become more like him? If someone was to evaluate your life according to these six traits, how would you measure up?

Indifference

Indifference is usually defined as a lack of concern or disinterest. It is viewed negatively. To be indifferent is to be callous or unfeeling toward others. This kind of indifference is, rightly, seen in a negative, pejorative light.

Over the last few weeks, I have been pondering the concept of freedom – true freedom. I’ve wondered what would it be like to be truly free to make choices and live without fear of consequences – things like what others might think or death or loss of something I value. In my reading and meditating one word has come up over and over again: indifference. In this case, indifference has a positive, spiritual sense. Let me explain.

Back during the Middle Ages, Ignatius of Loyola affirmed that human beings were created to love God with all their heart and soul through loving others. To be able to do this properly, he wrote, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent toward all created things…wanting and choosing only that which leads to the end for which we were created” (Spiritual Exercises 23 translated by George E. Ganss). He suggests that we will ultimately live best and will be happiest when we love one thing or more precisely some One. To do this we need “interior freedom” to be able to pursue that some One without distraction or competition. Hence we need indifference – indifference to everything that is not God; indifference to anything that is not God’s will; indifference to anything that prevents us from loving well.

Indifference, then, is defined as “being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal” (Brackley, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, p. 12). In this context, the ultimate goal is loving God alone. Indifference then allows us to pursue that ultimate goal. It creates the freedom we need to actually move in that direction. Such indifference allows our hearts to reach a place where we can truly say with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). It allows our heart to be in quiet resolve in the midst of confusion and fright so we can resond in a similar way as Mary in Luke 1 when the angel told her she would have a child by the Holy Spirit, With a heart for God she said, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Whatever the Lord wants, no matter the personal cost, I accept.

When we reach a place of indifference, we are truly free to be used by God for his glory. Indifference is not an easy attitude to attain. The truth is we cannot, by our own effort alone, get to a place of true indifference. We need God’s help. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. But like many transformational attitudes, we can create space in our lives for him to do his work.

1. Pray. Ask God to give us a holy detachment; a true indifference to anything that is not his will; does not lead us to love him and others more.

2. Wait. It sometimes takes time for God to move in us to remove our attachments and bring us to indifference.

3. Seek. We can ask ourselves during this time what might be something that needs to die or something in me that stands in the way of my being open to God’s purpose or desire? Take time to quietly sit before the Lord and ask him to show you what might be keeping you from truly desiring his will above all else.

4. Love. Continue to love and worship God well studying his Word and doing all you know for certain you are to do. Keep pursuing him and loving others even as you pray, wait and seek indifference and true inner freedom.

 

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