Category Archives: Spiritual Emotions

Emotional Service

Last Monday afternoon, I joined others from Resurrection Lutheran Church to serve a meal at East Immanuel Lutheran Church on the east side of St. Paul. The meal is hosted by CURE Ministries and they provide a meal, clothing and groceries to families and individuals in need. Volunteers from Resurrection has been assisting at the meal once a month for the past year.

As I worked alongside the other volunteers, I experienced a mixture of emotions. Since I am preaching on spiritual emotions, I took time to reflect on the mixture of  emotions I experienced during this brief time of service.

The first emotion was a sense of awkwardness. This was only my second time serving at East Immanuel and I did not know all the leaders or duties. The leaders (Mike, Scott, Terrell, Doc) worked hard to welcome, orient and direct us. Still I was outside my normal comfort zone. I am usually the leader and to be the follower is sometimes challenging for me.  Yet as I reflected on the awkward sensation, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from business guru and Christian, Ken Blanchard, “Unless you feel awkward doing something new, you are not doing something new.”

I also felt a sense of pride and joy as I recognized the many volunteers from Resurrection. As a pastor, there is joy in seeing others participate in meaningful service. I was especially proud of Terri Dokken who has taken a strong role of leadership in this partnership. As we prayed prior to serving the guests, I was thankful that God had called so many to participate.

After the prayer, Scott asked for volunteers who were able to help move some canned goods. The post office had collected food in a recent drive, but it was all located in an outside garage. Several of us, both guests and volunteers, began the task of moving the piles of canned goods upstairs. After the first feeling of confusion, I participated moving the food to an upstairs Sunday School room. The task was not particularly challenging or exciting; in time it became rather tedious, trying to sort the food into meaningful categories.

As I reflected on the tedious nature of our service, I realized that service is not always exciting or a “Feel-Good” experience. Often, service is repetitive, mind-numbing work. Sometime I wonder if pastors over-sell service as joyous and fun, when in actuality there will often be elements of toilsome labor.

I also have had some modest feelings of regret. I mentioned that there were some guests who were also helping with moving the food. I now regret that I did not make the effort or time to converse with them, to hear a bit of their story. Part of our partnership is to make such connections.

Finally as I finished up my tasks for the evening, I felt both satisfaction and fatigued. Doc commented on this when I came downstairs, “You look tired.” I was tired, but I also felt a deeper sense of satisfaction of having served in God’s kingdom.

Service involves our body, mind and spirit. People often make judgments about a service by the initial feelings they have. Taking time to reflect on those feelings can help us better understand what God is doing not only with our hands, but also with our hearts.

Lord Jesus, give me energy and passion to serve wherever you call me to go.

“No Win in Comparison”

Yesterday I preached on the spiritual emotion/virtue of humility. I borrowed a phrase from Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, who preached “There is no win in comparison.” The real enemy of humility is not just pride, but envy; we have a constant need to compare ourselves to others to see if we measure up. If our self-worth is based on a comparison model, we never win.  There is always someone who is richer, smarter, faster, fitter, holier than we are.

Then yesterday, Seth Godin wrote in his blog about the danger of comparison in one’s business model.

Compared to magical

The easiest way to sell yourself short is to compare your work to the competition. To say that you are 5% cheaper or have one or two features that stand out–this is a formula for slightly better mediocrity.

The goal ought to be to compare yourself not to the best your peers or the competition has managed to get through a committee or down on paper, but to an unattainable, magical unicorn.

Compared to that, how are you doing?

I don’t know much about magical unicorns (I will need to check with my daughter Suzanne regarding that), but the one place I go for comparison is Jesus Christ. Not that I live a “What-Would-Jesus-Do” life, but rather a life based solely on “What-has-Jesus-created-and-called-me-to-be-and-do?” As a child of God, my value and worth rests totally in God’s Son. When my heart, mind, and soul focus on Jesus, then the comparison model does not have a chance.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me (Galatians 2:20)

Lord Jesus, keep my focus on you and your call in my life.

Riding My Emotions

I have been writing recently about spiritual emotions. Today I rode my bike to church and with the ride came a variety of feelings.

First came the excitement of doing something new. I had talked about making the 28 mile trek from home to Resurrection all last summer, but never did it. This year I felt this internal drive to make it happen. So as I prepared my water bottles and look over the route, I had a mixture of joy, anticipation and excitement.

The joy and excitement stayed with me during the first twelve miles of the ride. It was a beautiful morning, cool with a slight overcast. Part of my journey was along a paved state trail, a converted railroad bed, that was sheltered and tree-lined. I felt like a kid set free.

Then at twelve miles, a new feeling rose up within me. I could feel my back tire going soft and disappointment crept into my heart. “No, Not a flat tire.  Not today! Not on the way to work,” I thought. And I simply panicked. Even though I had changed my bike tire, it had always been with more experienced riders who could assist me. Thinking I could not do it on my own, I phoned my wife and asked her to rescue me.

While I waited, I decided to work on changing the tire. And within fifteen minutes, I had the flat fixed. Now my emotions shifted again, from disappointment to that of satisfaction. “I can fix a flat!” But my wife was still on her way and she was not answering her cell phone. So I waited, impatient and also apologetic. When she arrived, I was feeling a bit embarrassed that I had called for her assistance. When she arrived she responded graciously and I felt some relief and peace that I could complete my ride.

The rest of the ride went smoothly except for one instance. As I entered Woodbury proper, the traffic increased and I had to be quite mindful of various cars and trucks at intersections. Approaching one traffic light, a male passenger yelled something at me through an open car window. I felt this immediate irritation at being accosted. I believed that I had every right to be there. The car had stopped at the intersection and I bicycled by it. As I passed, with irritation I said to the passenger, “I have every right to bike here.” He just gave me a strange, disgruntled look and I rode on.

I then reflected on my feelings of irritation. Was I going to let this one momentary event color the rest of my ride? Would I allow this irritation to grow to full anger? Emotions can be ridden just like a bike. We can brood on some feeling, deepening its intensity, or we can let it go, seeking new emotions to ride.

Fortunately, I caught sight of a unique vehicle, a recumbent bike with a full bright-yellow wind frame around it. With that flash of novelty, I happily finished my ride to church, feeling a new sense of accomplishment.

Now I am wondering, “What emotions and feeling will I have on the ride home this evening?”

Lord Jesus, take the rough edges of my heart and mold them to your desires.

Changing Moods

Emotions need to be distinguished from moods. Emotions are often linked to specific events or situations. I am sad when I go to a funeral or I am happy when my team wins. Moods tend to be longer lasting and have a less specific object attached to them. We often say, “that person got up on the wrong side of the bed,” when someone is in an angry or “sour” mood. My angry mood might have been triggered by some event, such as a disappointing or unfair job review, but then seems to spill over into all of my thinking. My disappointment begins to color how I look and react to all of my life. My mood turns “sour” and I seem stuck.

Philosopher Robert C. Solomon in his book, True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions are Really Telling Us, describes non-clinical depressive mood in this way,

A person might get depressed about his rejection from law school, an emotion about a specific event. But that emotion gains in scope, spreads over other aspects of his experience, and so starts affecting all the things he does, which now seem no longer worthwhile, and his relationships, which come to seem inadequate to make up for the disappointment , and before long he is depressed, not just about something, but about everything. A cure for depression (again not the clinical kind) may be to come to grips with the incident that initiated the depression and come to understand that it is not so serious or life damaging. (p.42)

The book of Nehemiah describes a change of mood for the people of Israel. After the exile in Babylon, many people returned to Jerusalem only to discover the city walls torn down and the religious life in chaos. The priest Ezra and others begin to restore hope in the people by reading to them the book of the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:1-9). The people are deeply moved by this reading; they realize they have broken many of God’s laws and need to repent. The people began to weep.

Ezra then spoke to the grieving people. “This day is holy to the Lord your God, do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9).  He goes on to tell them that instead it should be seen as a day of celebration, of feasting and wine, because God has come in the reading of the word. Ezra’s final word has become a favorite of mine, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10).

Ezra’s words changed the mood from one of sorrow over Israel’s sin to the mood of celebration because God has come to rescue his people. The law is a gift to guide and assist the people so its reading is to be seen as a joyful experience.  The mood changed to joy.

Have you had moments when your mood has been changed by a new perspective or insight?

Lord Jesus, let my heart resonate with your heart and seek your kingdom.

What is Humility?

In the winter of 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant-general, a permanent promotion that had previously been given only to George Washington. Grant’s military success in the Mississippi River valley during the Civil War had earned him this distinct promotion. Through the early years of the war he had never been to Washington D.C. nor met President Lincoln, but in December he was called to Washington to receive his promotion and to command the entire Union Army. Grant had reached the top of the military ladder and a splendid reception was planned.

When Grant arrived in Washington that morning, no one was there to greet him at the train station. He and his son walked to a nearby hotel to book a room. The hotel clerk looked at the dusty, unkempt military officer before him and said he might have small upstairs room in the back of the hotel. Grant said this would be acceptable and signed the guest register. When the hotel clerk saw the signature, “Ulysses S. Grant,” he was aghast and tried to change the hotel arrangements. Grant didn’t care.

I offer this story because it demonstrates that humility is not so much an emotion as the absence of an emotion. Grant did not feel slighted or peeved that he did not receive instant recognition and respect from the hotel clerk. He did not see himself superior to the hotel clerk or look down on him with contempt. Grant was obviously a “superior” general to the hotel clerk (to be fair, the clerk probably never competed to be a “superior” general), but that “superiority” did not dictate how he treated the clerk in their daily affairs.

As Robert C. Roberts writes in Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues,

Humility is not itself an emotion, like joy or gratitude or contrition. A person could be a wonderful exemplar of humility without ever feeling humble; in fact, one who frequently feels humble is probably not very humble. But humility is an emotion-disposition – primarily a negative one, a disposition not to feel the emotions associated with caring a lot about one’s status. As an inclination to construe as my equal every person who is presented to me, humility is a disposition not to be downcast by the fact that someone is clearly ahead of me in the games of the world nor to find any satisfaction in noting that I am ahead of someone in those games.

It is the ability to have my self-comfort quite apart from any question about my place in the social pecking order (whether the criterion is accomplishments, education, beauty, money, power, fame, or position). . . . It is thus a self-confidence, one that runs far deeper than the tenuous self-confidence of the person who believes in himself because others look up to him. (Kindle Locations 1186-1196)

The best example of humility is Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians

Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion (The Message: Phil 2:6-8)

Just prior to this humble description of Christ, Paul encourages us to “think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” Our thinking and our judgments effects how we respond to others and their comments. Even when one is the Commanding General of the Army.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your humble service. May I reflect you in my life today.

What is NOT Humility

Mac Davis had a country western hit called “Lord, its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.” The song was Davis’ tongue-in-cheek reflection on reaching the top of the ladder in the music business and being all alone. Humility is not a virtue embraced by most people who are climbing their social ladder, whether in school, sports, business or society. Yet humility is something the Christian faith advocates, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord” (James 4:10).

Robert C. Roberts in his book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtue, writes that in our culture we often confuse humility with humiliation. We think that a humble person must lack confidence in his abilities and judgments.

He does not initiate projects and human relationships. He would rather follow orders than give them, would rather have others make the decisions in his life. His failures (or his genes) have rendered him a psychologically passive personality, a Mr. Milquetoast who does not object to being told where to sit and wait, or even to being utilized as a convenient wiping-place for muddy feet. Anyone who undertook to cultivate this disposition in his children would be doing them a momentous disservice. This is not humility, but rather a deeply engrained and ramified humiliation. (Kindle Locations 1092-1094).

Roberts goes on to demonstrate that the opposite of humility is not self-confidence, initiative, or assertiveness, but rather always comparing one’s self to the people around you, to make sure you are further up the social ladder or pecking order than someone else. Attitudes such as:

pushiness, scorn of “inferiors,” rejoicing in the downfall of others, envy, resentment and grudge-bearing, ruthless ambition, haughtiness, shame at failure or disadvantageous comparison, and the need to excel others so as to think well of oneself.

We are taught by our culture to rank how well we are doing by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the schools our children attend or the jobs we do. To be top-ranked means I must be “better” than those who are lower in rank. Or I “scorn”  or “envy” those of higher rank because I am “beneath” them.

Roberts goes to describe what humility is and its significance for true spiritual fellowship.

Humility is the ability, without prejudice to one’s self-comfort, to admit one’s inferiority, in this or that respect, to another. And it is the ability, without increment to one’s self-comfort or prejudice to the quality of one’s relationship with another, to remark one’s superiority, in this or that respect, to another. As such, humility is a psychological principle of independence from others and a necessary ground of genuine fellowship with them, an emotional independence of one’s judgments concerning how one ranks vis-a-vis other human beings. (Kindle Locations 1118-1122).

Humility is the ability to see all people as equal in some fundamental way.

Next, I will post on the Christian source of humility.

What are some other ways that you believe humility has been misunderstood?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your humility that saves me.

Crossing Boundary Waters

I am looking forward to a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota this July with men from Resurrection Lutheran Church. Part of our preparation is to read Andrew Rogness’ Crossing Boundary Waters: A Spiritual Journey in Canoe Country. Andrew was a Lutheran pastor who wrote about his four-day solo canoe trip in the BWCA and his personal discoveries.

Early in his trip he encountered a small narrow opening to a lake that had a swift current to it.

Enough water moves through it to form a clear “V” shape with swirling eddies and small whirlpools. If I try to paddle through it, I will be going against the current. This can be hard enough for two paddlers, but manageable. I have never tried it alone. Now with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, I decide to try. (p. 26).

Over the next several paragraphs, Andrew described his three attempts to conquer this small rapids at the entrance to the lake. It becomes almost comical in his description of different positions and approaches. After his final approach, he paddled to the smoothly rounded granite bed on the east side of the narrows. As he sat on the rock, his feet dangling in the water, he reflected on his attempt to conquer this small section of the river.

I realize that I had entered the water to manipulate, dominate, and objectify it as though it were there so serve me. This image explodes into a maze of thoughts and insight, leaving my body on the edge of the rapids. . . . What I thought were the reasons for my coming here, I now see as symptoms of a deeper issue. I had intended to search for myself, unsure if my problems were with me or with others and my relationships with them. Maybe the problem is how I relate to myself. I hear words reverberating in some forgotten sanctuary, “Whoever would find their life will lose it. And whoever would lose their life will find it.” Words that were an utter mystery to me. Why do I remember them? Why do they make perfect sense now? (p. 28-29)

Canoe trips, summer hikes, or long car drives can be time for self-reflection and renewal. Leaving the familiar routines of daily life can sometime open cracks that allow the Holy Spirit to break into our lives in a fresh and powerful way. Times of reflections can help us understand our spiritual emotions and cultivate a healthier perspective on them.

I look forward to such encounters and contemplations during my travels. May God give you time for such spiritual reflection.

Lord Jesus, grant me your perspective of my life.

“If I were you. . .” Repost

Compassion and empathy are Christian virtues that Jesus taught us to cultivate. Jesus’ command “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:38) is a central to our Christian faith. We cannot love unless we empathize with our neighbor and seek to understand his or her situation. As St. Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Now empathy and compassion are not restricted to the church. Seth Godin is a respected author on marketing and business. He wrote in his blog yesterday about the need for empathy in customer service.

“If I were you…”

But of course, you’re not.

And this is the most important component of strategic marketing: we’re not our customer.

Empathy isn’t dictated to us by a focus group or a statistical analysis. Empathy is the powerful (and rare) ability to imagine what motivates someone else to act. . .

When a teacher can’t see why a student is stuck, or when an interface designer dismisses the 12% of the users who can’t find the ‘off’ switch… we’re seeing a failure of empathy, not a flaw in the user base.

When we call a prospect stupid for not choosing us, when we resort to blunt promotional tactics to get attention we could have earned with a more graceful approach–these are the symptoms that we’ve forgotten how to be empathetic.

You don’t have to wear panty hose to be a great brand manager at L’eggs, nor do you need to be unemployed to work on a task force on getting people back to work. What is required, though, is a persistent effort to understand how other people see the world, and to care about it.

Seth’s last point, “to care about it” is part of what it means to have spiritual emotions such as compassion and empathy. Our faith can impact our daily lives, even at work.

Lord Jesus, teach me to care about the people and thing for which you are passionate.

My Joy and My Crown

Running with Joy is TRUE Running

JOY is one spiritual emotion that many seek. Paul writes about joy in his letter to the church at Philippi.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you. (Phil 1:3-4).

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. (Phil 1:18)

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown (Phil 4:1).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice (Phil 4:4)

Though there are connections, Christians often confuse joy with happiness. There is a difference. Like its root, happiness often depends on happenstance, on the situation. But joy rests in God. Paul was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, contemplating his possible execution. Yet the letter was his most joyous.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you , and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).   He spoke these words as he ate his final meal before his death.

Frederick Buechner writes,

Happiness turns up more or less where you expect it to—a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as he one who bequeaths it. (Beyond Words, p. 204).

However, there are times I  struggle with Buechner, especially his comments about jogging.

 Jogging is supposed to be good for the heart, the lungs, the muscles, and physical well-being generally.  It is also said to produce a kindof euphoria known as jogger’s high.
The look of anguish and despair that contorts the faces of most of the people you see huffing and puffing at it, by the side of the road, however, is striking.  If you didn’t know directly form them that they are having the time of their lives, the chances are you wouldn’t be likely to guess it. (Beyond Words, p. 191)

I will try to remember to smile more when I run.

Lord Jesus, let my joy be ever you.