Friday, December 24, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sitting square in a moment.
This is the test of greatness. The spoil goes to the man who learns this lost art of presence. The man who climbs into his skin at the brink of a new day and dwells there entirely, moment to moment, transforming from glory to glory. Living with unveiled face reflecting God's glory. Opening wide the eyes of the heart letting each experience burn into the soul retina like the branding of a young bull. Picking up on subtleties that pass most by. Brushing up against life's textures and feeling each silky thread with the nerve endings of each fingertip. Parsing verbs and detecting nuances, not with the spirit of a cloddish critic, but a curious child hungry for joy. Panning for gold in every conversation, looking for the best. Redeeming time like a Franciscan monk. Perched high and peering for signs of life with the patience of a Red-tailed hawk. Staying on task, assignment, like a Coho salmon following his internal homing device to the place of his birth. This is what holiness tastes like to me.
To dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. To consume him as your portion. To taste and see His goodness. To pant and faint for Him like an excited dog, drooling and licking, frantic with worship. To embrace the hope of glory, Christ in me. Where dying is gain and living is Christ, where the consideration of my life as worth nothing compared to the joy of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. A life so caught up and swept away that angels look on with jealousy. A centeredness and soundness that speaks of another citizenship, another world altogether. I think this is possible. Call it "entire sanctification or pure/disinterested love" with Wesley, or entering into "Rest" with the author of Hebrews, or being "Holy as God is Holy" with the apostle Paul...whatever it is called, this "strange warmth" is nothing if it is not available to the common man, who is anything but common.
To listen with the poise of golden retriever. To speak with the intentionality of a sunrise and the vibrancy of a sun-ray. To breath in deeply like the guy just did sitting next to me in Panera, inhaling life and exhaling all that is not life. Peace-making and Love-making everywhere you go with the sacrifice and surrender of Mother Teresa. Adorning life with infectious joy like Dick Vitale. Positioning yourself each and every day to "find your life in the losing of it". Considering everything dung in comparison to the excellency of knowing Christ and him alone. Living in the power of the His resurrection, fellowshipping with His suffering in ways that align oneself to deeper reality, "deeper magic" as C.S. Lewis described it.
To exist with this stream of consciousness is my deepest and most abiding desire. To consider all else a loss compared to being present with God's presence. The quintessential Presence. Holiness himself. Wholeness Himself. Wholly. Holy. This is life with God.
To have each and every physical faculty awakened and optimized. Each sense taken to its zenith, smelling a flower as if for the first time, seeing a sunset with virgin eyes. Once blind but now seeing. verily seeing. To shake hands differently, touching with quickened nerve endings, embracing with a holy hug, a heavenly hug. Hearing music with un-muted ears, the wax of hurried life removed from each congested canal, opening a sonic path of purity to the eardrum. To live with this sense of urgency, almost emergency, has got to be what it means to be human.
Could we have been designed for any lesser love affair with life? Would God have sculpted us with a limiting lid on life snuffing out the beautiful fringes of fullness found just on the outskirts of the well worn paths of familiarity? My experience answers, "No." The body of my life work up to this moment screams, "No!", even as it loses its voice in the screaming. My fear is that the "eternity in my heart" will one day lose its voice in its desperate attempts at getting my attention. Today I'm still enough to hear its wheezing sound. Today I'm quiet enough to take in its raspy refrain.
Today is the day the Lord has made, I've attempted to rejoice and be glad "in it".
I am sitting squarely "in it" today, embodying every bit of my spirit. It feels good.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I'm transfixed on this quote of Kierkegaard:
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?
Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”
I could not agree more. I say this to my own shame. Most of the Bible, honestly, is very simple to understand. The rub is in the doing of what is known.
I'm actually becoming quite furious with the amount of conversation I'm having with "Christians" about "more Christian things" and "more Christian thoughts". The church is not dying because it doesn't know what's right, it's dying because it doesn't know what's wrong.
And what's wrong is the "not doing what we already know". The more accumulation of knowledge without practice the more godless our religion becomes.
Someone sent me this just this morning. It's quoting James 1 from the Message:
Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
It is the hot air instead of the fresh air that is crippling our Christianity. It is "talking the good game" without being a good person that crushes all possibility of the "kingdom coming to earth as it is in Heaven".
Real religion isn't knowing more stuff, it's doing what is already known. From where I'm sitting, Christians (myself included) are waterlogged with knowledge, drowning in their own opinions and positions uninterested in the truly "life altering" gospel of Jesus.
When you approach the Bible asking it to help you without altering you, plan on never meeting Jesus, now or in the ever-after.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Buzz words. They pop up in the church like zits in our forehead T-zone on an unsuspecting Monday morning. I’m not sure why our culture is so “catchword” oriented, but we undoubtedly are.
One of the catchwords in the church the last several years is the term “missional”. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different take on its definition, but most would agree it has something to do with “living on mission”, “life as mission”. It is rooted in the “Missio Dei” which means “sent by God”.
“As the Father sent me, so send I you.” - Jesus
It is this mindset that drives the belief system that we are missionaries in whatever context we find ourselves. We don’t “do” missions, we “are” mission. It is this theological framework that deconstructs the modern versions of Christianity and reconstructs something that aligns with the unavoidable “goings on” of Jesus in the gospels. He was obviously “up to something” with his life. He wasn’t “shooting from the hip” or “hoping for the best”; he was deliberately living out a mission assigned to him.
At times Jesus’ disciples would be trying to talk him out of things and he would respond with “missional” declarations. When tested by the crowds or the religious leaders, he would react to their criticisms with a clear sense of mission.
It is this particular and peculiar “mission” mindset that is spawning the buzzword “missional” in the church these days. There are times when I’d just as soon dismiss the whole idea along with its ideologues, but there is something to this “missional” thing that isn’t “newfound” at all. It seems anchored, rooted and ancient…like it was meant to be, like it always was.
As I’ve sought to restructure my life to fit a more missional mindset, I’ve found that it affects my leadership immensely. If you’re going to lead missionaly, it requires a revised tactical strategy. I’m not a master tactician, but I’ve come to realize that God has wired me to think more tactically that I’ve given myself credit for in the past. I always thought of myself as an “off the cuff, tornado-chasing, impulsive maverick”, but I’m realizing that I live with not only a sense of “passion”, but also a sense of “mission” as I lead. I have ideas that become ideals just like the next guy. I have thoughts that become theories, too.
So, I thought I’d throw something out there for scrutiny. It is fairly new, but it hit me last week and I thought there was something to it. Please don’t let the “word games” distract you from the “food for thought”.
I’m obviously using the word “mission” and the play on words to communicate what I believe to be “leadership qualities” that bring about “missional” change. Here they are in no specific order (and yet ordered with some specificity…hehehe):
Submission – bowing
*I believe that leadership starts with surrendering yourself to another. Mutual respect and submission gives someone credibility in my book. When you bow down and wash someone’s feet, you lead from your knees in a posture of servanthood and submission. When someone doesn’t lead with this posture, it smacks of an agenda, a power play.
Admission – opening
*I believe that leadership must embody vulnerability and honesty. Unless and until you admit your humanity you will never humanize another, you will only serve to dehumanize them with your ploys and projects. When a leader openly admits weakness and failure and sin, he paves the way for others to come out of hiding. Leadership must be open or it is nothing.
Permission – normalizing
*I believe a leader is always listening for and looking for where people are hearing “NO!” inside their heads and is speaking “YES!” into their spirits. Most people know what they are to do or be, they just haven’t been given permission to do or be it by another. When a leader normalizes someone’s question or answer, they release them to be free in the expression of those things. Most people live reserved and restricted all the while knowing what is right. Leaders don’t teach people what is right as much as they release them to do what they already know is right. Jesus was notorious for saying, “Go and do likewise”. This is giving someone permission to act on their God-given impulse.
Commission – initiating
*I believe a leader is continually looking for “rights of passage”. Humans seem to be wired to need these “checkpoints” in order to move to the next mission. A lot of leaders “insinuate” but don’t “initiate”. They “sort of” let them know they have what it takes, but they don’t empower them to “test themselves” through actually leading themselves. Discipling isn’t teaching someone information, it’s showing them how to do something and then stepping back and watching them do it. Leaders should move from people watching them to them watching people. Jesus did this with the 70 he sent out before him to the towns where he was “about to go”.
Intermission – stopping
*I believe a leader has a horse-sense for when it is time to pause in the mission in order to preserve its longevity. If you keep driving people with your drivenness, they become pent up with nervous energy, tighter than a snare drum. If life is going to be missional, it has to look and feel natural and normal. It can’t look harried and hurried, forced and fabricated. It must flow out of the healthy rhythms of one’s heart. Leaders are patient with the “process” instead of uptight with “progress”. Taking breaks isn’t the same as resignation. Giving people a “breather” lets them know that you care more about them than the product “they crank out”. Jesus was always stopping in the middle of success in order to fill his tank and the tanks of those along side of him.
Omission – removing
*I believe a leader knows what to cut out of his life at just the right time in order to stay the course. Most good leaders are taken out because of an “overabundance good things” not a “single sin”. Saying yes to ten “good things” is just as deadly as saying yes to one “bad thing”. Missional leaders protect mission from the “good ideas” that dilute the “best ideas”. But they don’t’ just protect themselves from subtle parasitical distractions; they protect their teams. If they sense a project, program, or event is siphoning fuel from the mission, they amputate it from the “to do” list. Missional leaders kill anything that leaches lifeblood from the Mission. In so doing, they keep the purpose potent and the mission meaty.
Transmission – spreading
*I believe a leader knows that wherever he is he is transmitting a signal. The passion of a person’s heart is felt, not dealt. Caught, not taught. Leaders don’t turn something on and off depending on where they are, they see themselves as leaders everywhere with everyone. When leadership is “put on”, people are “put off”. It has to spill from a person’s soul almost accidently, like someone caught you being “good” without you knowing it. People are always playing “follow the leader” even when they don’t know it. They are taking their “cues” from the leader the most when he isn’t “officially” leading. What is transmitted in the “off time” when the leader is “off duty” or “off the clock” is what drives missional leadership because it substantiates the message that we are never “not” on. We don’t go to the Lord’s house; we are the Lord’s house. We don’t worship for one hour; we worship for 24 hours. We’re always on the clock. We’re never offline. A leader transmits mission like a cell phone tower transmits frequency. The question is, “How strong is the signal?”
Well, this is a work in progress. I’m sure there are others, but these readily come to mind. Feel free to contribute to the “mission” words if prompted. I’m all ears.
All I know is that “missional leadership” is a different beast altogether. And I’m glad it is because I have an aversion to “traditional leadership” for some reason. Missional leadership feels more like elastic than plastic.
I like elastic.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
It’s the best “city” to live in.
Unfortunately, the days are few and far between that I feel this sacred sense of simplicity hovering about me like a low-lying fog on a crisp spring morning. I typically feel rushed and scatterbrained. Hurried, harried, and harassed by an impending sense of doom or disappointment.
But this morning I’m sitting in the local coffee house with a hot Cup of Joe thinking about how much I love my life. I’m not caught up in the lingering residue of yesterday, nor am I eclipsed by the prospect of tomorrow’s deadlines. I’m sitting squarely in the moment, present and accounted for. This is rare, indeed.
The ambient music filling the room is some sort of orchestra piece, a symphonic mixture of the most rich and enriching sounds a heart could possibly know. I’m not a fan of all classical music, but whatever is playing right now is intoxicating.
The snow is lightly falling like cotton from the sky. It hasn’t yet turned brown with age, so everywhere you look all you see is purity and innocence. Even the ugly eyesores of the rural landscape are blanketed with the wintery garment of God. It speaks of the salvaging salvation of God covering the blight of our sick, sad and sorry lives with his only begotten Son. I feel covered today. Completely and Beautifully.
Last night our family decorated our Christmas tree and Heidi beautified our house with the trappings of Christmas. She is amazing. Boughs of holly and evergreen. Strings of lights and plastic diamond beads reflecting prism-like colors against the witnessing walls. Embroidered blankets intricately cross-stitched with snowflakes and candy canes and carolers. Christmas décor laced around the staircase banister, tenderly placed above the bay window, woven serpentine-like through the family pictures on the coffee table. The placement of candles throughout the house feels like you’re living in the 1700’s before the days of electricity.
This is the city we now live in…and for all its perks, it stinks.
Simplicity and Electricity don’t get along real well.
Electricity has brought us television and computers and phones and video games. Things that connect us for sure, but more often than not, they serve to disconnect us. You’ll be sitting with your family in the living room and 2 of them will be checking facebook on their smart phones, 3 of them will be on laptops wirelessly connected to the world, 1 will be on the phone texting someone (I just noticed texting still isn’t a word in my computer because it put a fat red line under it…thank you, Jesus), while others are watching television to pass the time. If you just sit there and look around you for a second, you will feel first-hand what the city of “Electri-city” inevitably produces.
But the city of “Simpli-city” offers less while giving you more. It forces you to create and conversate (not a word, I know. I care not…neither is the word “texting”). It forces you to eat together at a table and plant a garden in your backyard. In a world of simplicity you work in the day, play in the evening, and sleep in the night. You follow the seasonal rhythms of life and surrender yourselves to the created order of a day, a week, a month or a year. Electricity seems to allow you to stay awake when you should be asleep and sleep when you should be awake. This is why we live in a world of sleepwalking and daydreaming; we are far from home.
Simplicity is sitting by a fire with your kin. It is stringing popcorn together for a decoration all the while eating it and throwing it at each other. It is laughing at worn-out jokes you’ve all heard before, but graciously and gratefully relive in the retelling. It is listening to your offspring goofing around with each other on the couch making up silly voices that you would never utter in the presence of anyone other than your family. It is snuggling on the couch and tickling each other and kissing each other’s rosy cheeks. It is eating some of mom’s famous cheese soup that her mother fed her when they were decking the halls with boughs of holly themselves. Simplicity is needing nothing and having everything.
So as I sit smack dab in the middle of “Electricity”, I’m musing about and pining for the world of “Simplicity”.
I don’t think I’m alone.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
When you want to believe something really bad, you’ll find a way to get the Scripture to say what you want.
For instance, the verse: “God is love.” This verse can be twisted to fit our vacillating passions quite easily. In fact, I just heard a new song on the Christian radio station where the chorus said, “Love is God and God is love, no one's below no one's above.” Sounds so true the only problem is that it’s not. Love is not God. Love can be of God, but there’s a lot of so-called love that shouldn’t be turned into “God”. You can’t just take Scripture and turn it upside down and expect anything more than upside down theology.
Take the popular verse “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It seems formulaic doesn’t it? If I put in some time delighting in God, I get what I want. God’s delight is directly connected to my desire. It becomes an easy way to do what you want to do under the guise of God’s favor. I can’t tell you how many people use this verse when they are looking for God’s will in a decision only to end up following their own will thinking it God’s.
And the worst of it is that it isn’t hard to read into the Word your particular angle. Phrases like, “I really feel that God wants this.” Really? Last I checked, feeling something isn’t the place to start in looking for God’s wisdom. “I don’t know why, but I sense this is what’s right.” Really? You not knowing “why” is a great reason to stop dead in your tracks and seek out rationale before taking off. “God moves in mysterious ways.” No ones arguing that, but he doesn’t move in un-counseled, un-biblical ways. He can often lead you toward the unreasonable, but I’ve never seen him lead someone toward the unreasoned.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but trust me, I’ve been praying about this.” I don’t know where this line of logic is coming from. People making abrupt decisions in their “prayer closet” (I tend to think it’s a pretty one-sided, lop-sided prayer if they are praying at all) outside of godly counsel is not biblical. It’s just not.
This is the danger of having a “personal relationship” with God. “It’s just between me and God.” No, it isn’t. When you come to Christ you enter into the fellowship of a faith family. You don’t get to be a latchkey kid wandering about orphaned and homeless. You are grafted into a community of counsel. The reason for this is not just provision; it’s protection. We come under authority and submit ourselves to the whole. There’s no going rogue.
I think this “personal relationship” thing is bred partly in the personal ownership of our own copies of the cannon, the Scripture. Now let me be clear, I am all for owning a personal copy of the Bible and am grateful for the development of the printing press and the men and women that have translated the bible into the tongues of each tribe that is blessed to read the Word for themselves. We all know the carnage that came with a powerful and precious few lording over the peasant masses with a twisted translation of truth.
But throughout the Bible, people didn’t have the luxury of translating the Bible “for themselves, by themselves”. They came together in community and heard the “reading” of the law/letters in community and then talked about its meaning together. You didn’t get to have “personal devotions”. They were devoted to the “apostles teaching” if you remember in Acts 2. They were asked to not “neglect the public reading of the Scriptures” in Timothy.
I don’t want to discourage the personal reading of the Bible, but I do want to discourage the personal interpretation of it. I don’t think the Bible was to be consumed in private completely divorced from the counsel and accountability of the community. If we read the Word, we should be in discussion with others concerning the details of our findings. Collective commentary, in my opinion, leads to the best shot at truth. Not just in biblical interpretation, but in finding out things like who should build your house and how it should be built. The more research and references you gather, the better your chances of health and success, whatever the endeavor.
The reason I feel strongly about this is because I’m continually seeing people making choices apart from community in the name of God. It goes something like this: “I’ve really sought the Lord on this and I don’t expect people to understand, but this is what I have to do.” This is rubbish. Absolute rubbish.
To make matters worse, they find “pieces of verses” to validate their belief system and justify their decision. You have to believe this is what Jesus was dealing with when he told Judas, “What you must do, do quickly.” In other words, you’ve already made up your mind and figured out a way to rationalize your behavior, and I’m not going to talk you out of it so get it over with.”
Do you ever talk to people that are coming to you with their decisions wanting your approval without ever seeking your counsel? They’ve already “made up their mind” but are trying to fake like they are asking for your perspective or permission. You can tell they already have signed the papers, or purchased the tickets, or moved out of the house, but they are trying to make you feel like you have a say. I think this is what Jesus would say, “What you have already decided to do, do it quickly.” Don’t waste my time like you really are asking my advice. Don’t pretend like the dye hasn’t been cast and the choice isn’t already set is stone. Do what you’re gonna’ do.
The Word of God is personalized to fit their belief system and the Wisdom of Counsel is avoided where it pushes back on their preconceptions and presuppositions. They go to people that tell them what their “itching ears want to hear, turning aside from truth and embracing myths of their own making”
I’m guilty as charged as well. So this isn’t a rant against others, it’s a rant against us. We have a problem, and I’m sick of it.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Last night as I put the girls to bed, I climbed up into their bunks with them and began my nightly tradition of tickling them and then talking to them when the ground has been cultivated with relaxing laughter.
Aly was showing me how she makes shadow animals on the wall with her hands from the light of the closet. She made a dinosaur, a duck, and a vulture. She asked me if I knew any so I put my hands in the form of a traditional church and cast a shadow of a building with a tall steeple. It triggered a little memory from my childhood Sunday School days where the teacher taught us how to interlock our digits, make a steeple with our index fingers, and chant out a this little poem:
“This is the church, this is the steeple,
open the doors, and there’s all the people.”
As I showed the girls how to do it, I balked. Like an allergic reaction to cat hair I felt my heart send off alarms of warning: “Don’t teach your kids that the church is a building! You know you don’t believe that…why perpetuate perverted theology in the form of a cute little incantation? Teach them about the church!”
The ball was already rolling and they were beginning to practice the poem accompanied with these clever hand motions. While they were in the middle of parroting back to me what I had just taught them I yelled out, “NOOO! no, No, NO, NOOOOOO! That is not what the church is!” They looked at me like I was “cookoo for cocoa puffs” half wondering if I was serious. In a weird way, I was. Dead serious.
I told them that though this witty little rhyme was catchy and seemingly innocuous, it was not true. I told them that the church is not the building sporting a sweet steeple, but that it is, in fact, the people inside who are the church. They looked at me puzzled and probably wondered why I was making such a big deal about something so benign. I couldn’t help it. I hate the belief system of “meeting at the church” that has crowded out the biblical model of “meeting as the church”. It seems subtle, but it is central.
I then smashed my hands together and rewrote the Mother Goose-like rhyme:
“This is the building, this is the steeple,
opens the doors, and there’s all the church.”
It doesn’t rhyme anymore, which sort of stinks, but at least it’s true. Kami was the first to point out that it didn’t rhyme anymore. I told her I didn’t care because the other way of saying it was heresy. She asked me what heresy was and I said, “Something that sounds true but isn’t.” She could tell I was dead serious about it. I could feel that I was dead serious about it.
They wanted me to make it rhyme so it sounded as cool as the first one, but it was late and everything I tried sounded dumb.
“This is the building, here is the mezzanine,
open the doors and meet all the drama queens.”
“This is a steeple on a makeshift pole barn,
Where inside the people could not give a darn.”
Ok, maybe I need to work harder on the rhyme, but I’ll get it nailed down post haste. It’s a work in progress.
I know, you may not think this to be that big a deal. You have the right to your opinion. But if I were going to die on a mountain, it would be to murder the deadly doctrine I call “The Objectification of the Church”, not for Calvanism or the Pre-trib rapture of the church. You see, the church is not a place, and for the record, it is not a person. It is a people--a motley crew of recovering hypocrites who need a Savior really, really bad.
There are few things, in my estimation, that have struck such a mortal deathblow to the kingdom—like a sucker punch to the temple (pun intended)—than the belief that the church is a building.
These are the phrases that indicate you believe that the church is a place:
“I’m going to church.” “What church do you attend?” “We have great worship at our church!” “I left church and went home.” “If we keep growing we’ll have to build a bigger church!”
These are the phrases that indicate you believe that the church is a people:
“I love being with my church.” “The church sang with all her heart today.” “I love my church’s passion.” “I’m meeting my church down at the food-mobile today.” “I love seeing my church in the community!” “I love being a part of the church!”
“Christianity isn’t about going to church, it’s about being the church.”
I’m going to teach the girls this little jingle tonight. I hope it sets the record straight.
“This is a building with a fancy white perch,
inside or out, the people are the church.”
It’s my day off. A day to turn off and go off. A day that says, “Off is good. On is bad”. A counterintuitive day that declares war against all that speaks of production, productivity and cranking out product. A Sabbath from busyness and business. A respite, an oasis, a refuge.
But dang is it hard to really “take” a day off. It’s this gift that is being handed to me that I don’t want to take for some reason. I don’t want to reach out, grab it and let it have its way with me. I’m starting to learn why.
I’ve come to realize that busyness means importance inside of me. I feel important when I’m about the business of making something or making something happen. I feel significance in this mass production, a security that my identity is unquestionably useful. A validation that I am very much needed. That I’m not just matter, I matter.
I matter to life, to people, to myself. I’m important, I’m essential. Things can’t go on without me. I’m quite a catch. I’m unique in my contribution. I’m one of a kind in a world of almost 7 billion.
The funny thing is that even when I’m not doing much of anything that makes a hill of beans difference, I just keep moving “as if”. That’s what Americans do, “just keep moving, it looks like you’re important when you simply move about, the faster the better.” And so I’m a veritable pinball machine bouncing to and fro making a racket, setting off sirens and racking up points like a champ. The more frenetic and frantic the pace, the more points you get…and the more points you get, the better you are compared to someone else, and when you’re better than someone else, in our culture this makes you somebody special. Boy, do I want to be special. So special that I, unlike many others, can’t afford to take a day off. And so on and so forth.
Another wonderful thing about moving fast is that nobody, not ever you yourself, can catch “you” and ask you probing questions about the quality behind all the quantity. Your heart, your built in “quality control” mechanism, gets gagged and thrown into the internal mechanical closet, forlorn and forgotten. Quality of life is lost, as quantity becomes the barometer of success.
And it’s godless. Godlessness is different than ungodliness. It’s more insidious and undetected. It’s, by way of definition, “life without God”. . . and who actually can tell whether that’s happening these days. Ungodliness is more pronounced and far harder to hide. It’s glaring addiction or an obvious “misaction” or reaction that we can spot that from a mile away. But godlessness looks so slick, so savvy, so seductive. Unfortunately, busyness and preoccupation and multi-tasking and crowded itineraries are often applauded as a “move of God”, a “blessed life of opportunity”, an “abundant life”. It is rewarded with more hyperactivity leading to more adulation leading to counterfeit “closeness to God”. It’s because we have been led to believe that “God is always moving”. He’s always “on the move”. Really?
What about “be still and know that I am God”? Another way of saying, “Slow down and let me catch up, would ya?” What if God is “still” sometimes? What if knowing God involves being still, sitting still and staying still? What if the “rest of God”, as Mark Buchanan cleverly calls it, is found in the “rest of us”, and what if the “rest of us” is the path to the “rest of God”? We miss the rest of life when we miss the rest of us found in the rest of God. It’s that simple, it’s that profound.
How do I know that this civilization is obsessive-compulsively addicted to manic energy and performance-enhanced self-importance? It takes one to know one as they say. I’m an addict myself who goes into withdrawal given small amounts of free time with nothing to do. I get fidgety and unnerved. And my days off are spent as a stir-crazy rehabilitant trying to kick his habit. Itching my crawling skin, winding my hair into tight, wool-like circles, chewing my nails down to the cuticle, and nervously tapping my foot on the ground nursing my medically diagnosed restless legs syndrome.
Restless legs syndrome…tell me our culture hasn’t gone raving mad.
Yet here I am, fighting for the rest of God, the rest of me, the rest of life. Ironically enough, there’s no place I’d rather be…that is if I’m listening to the right voice, of many, inside my head. The rest of the voices are telling me something is falling apart without me. Those voices sound much more affirming and validating stroking my uniqueness, my importance, my worth…but they are full of hogwash. Which is the Greek word for bologna.
And so I sit still in the papoose of God’s presence. Is he enough?
These are the words that stuck out to me as I read through the first 2 chapters of Genesis. I love those chapters...they breathe something into me about my design and God's desire...
Creative, primal, original, innovative, unique, novel, fresh, clean, unusual, inventive, ingenious, new, imaginative, ground-breaking, matchless, distinctive, exceptional, artistic, inspiring, revolutionary
Good, beautiful, stunning, striking, gorgeous, dramatic, dazzling, spectacular, astonishing, surprising, arresting, remarkable, elegant, lovely, alluring, brilliant, fabulous, fascinating, extraordinary, charming, enthralling, intriguing, mesmerizing, captivating, riveting, entrancing
Form, sculpt, carve, shape, mold, craft, fashion, chisel, whittle
Touch, feel, handle, squeeze, contact, stroke, hold, caress, embrace
Dust, terracotta, dirt, soil, mud, earth, clay, loam, ground, sand, land
Breathe, exhale, respire, inspire
Attractive, robust, hearty, healthy, vigorous, energetic, enthusiastic, brisk, full of life, lively, dynamic, vibrant, animated, exciting, pulsating, effervescent, alive, vivacious, stirring, stimulating, electrifying, thrilling, sparkling, spirited, inspiring, breathtaking, radiant
Delightful, idyllic, peaceful calm, tranquil, pleasant, heavenly, serene, soothing, wonderful, blissful, pastoral, countrified, green, rustic, bucolic, agrarian
Freedom, liberty, independence, free will, choice, emancipation, liberation, release, unrestraint, deliverance, rescue
Friendship, companionship, camaraderie, closeness, alliance, amity, company, intimacy, nearness, coalition, association, union, harmony, community, relationship, confidence, partnership, connection, bond, communion
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The past two mornings I have woken an hour and a half before daylight in hopes of bagging a deer.
To set the record straight, I’m not a hunter. I don’t know the first thing about deer urine, bait piles in the off-season, looking for scrapes, evaluating the constitution and consistency of a deer’s feces, doing reconnaissance on a wooded lot and positioning myself according, setting up a tree stand, rattling fake horns together or grunting with one of those kazoo-looking contraptions.
When I get into the woods, I don’t know what I’m looking for. It seems like hunters know the lay of the land, the prevailing winds, the nearby fields and what was harvested the past month. They know what the deer feed on and whether there are good oak trees dropping a steady diet of seductive acorns. They know where they bed down and how early to get in the woods in order to not spook them in the middle of R.E.M. sleep.
Hunters seem to know what to wear, I’ve noticed. They have camouflage outerwear…heck, they probably are sporting camouflage underwear for all I know. They have insulated boots and gloves that are often matching the rest of their clothes. They have fanny packs filled with “only God knows what”, I’m thinking things like a good sharp knife to field dress the deer when downed, a deer call of some sort, and maybe some granola in case the stomach starts growlin’. Who knows, I just know they look like they know what they’re doin’, that’s all.
I, on the other hand, borrowed every bit of hunting gear I wore from my buddy Marcus. I do have a gun. It’s a 12-gauge Remington that a friend bought for me. I know how to load it and unload it. The reason I know that is because the last two mornings I’ve loaded fives shells and unloaded five shells right next to the car. I know that some hunters only put a couple shells in since you’d have to be a pretty stupid hunter to unload 5 rounds on a dumb deer. But I feel more like a hunter when I fill the chamber to its max capacity. I know I won’t need them, but it makes me feel more manly to load five and unload five when I pumped that “thingy” that empties the other “thingy”.
I don’t know if “real” hunters purchased these, but I got me some hand and foot warmers for the occasion. Last time I was out in the inclement weather of Michigan fishing I nearly froze to death, so I called my wife on Sunday and asked her to pick me up something to keep me warm. After texting back a couple snide remarks, she obliged. I’m almost sure “real” hunters have thick calluses and a higher pain tolerance so that they don’t have to have the artificial life support of “digit warmers” and the like. But I do, cause I’m a wanna be.
It hit me this morning as I sat the base of a hard maple that I’m not a hunter. Not in the real sense of the term. Hunters know how to hunt. If I’m anything I’m a hoper. I aimlessly walk into a 100-acre lot and hope that a deer comes my way. I’m hoping that I’m in the right place at the right time, hoping that I get lucky enough to pick a random spot where there is a chance encounter with my prey. I’m wishing, wanting, wondering and waiting…
There is a difference between hoping and hunting. I know that now, because as I sat there this morning looking around me, scatterbrained and schizophrenic, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have no idea what is really going on in the woods around me. I’m just hoping to get lucky. Banking on the luck of the draw.
Sometimes I think I do this with church as well. I hope people will come to church. I don’t know why they, out of nowhere, would decide to, I just hope they will. I remember praying these prayers that I found myself praying today, “Lord, just please help them to come.” “Lord, please wake people up this morning giving them the urge to get out of bed and come to church. Please Lord, draw them to these doors today.” Hahaha. All the while God must be sayin’, “Is that how you think it works? I just randomly sprinkle some pixy dust on someone while they are in bed on Sunday morning and they sleep walk to church entranced with an irresistible urge to attend for no apparent reason? I don’t think so.” We are really asking to get lucky. Wishing for a miracle. Hoping instead of hunting.
It happens, but not often. More than not, you have to put in some serious time and intelligence and relationship to be a good hunter. Deer don’t just show up broad side at 30 yards, you have to lay the groundwork for that moment. You have to put some skin and sweat into that experience. You have to know their world, their patterns, and their story. You have to watch them in their natural habitat and do your best to enter their habitat as an indigenous creature that relates to their environment. If you don’t incarnate yourself into their “neck of the woods”, you will stick out like a sore thumb making your intentions obvious and obnoxious. You can’t just pray for people to come to church; you can’t just pray for deer to come to your tree stand. That is a hoper, not a hunter.
To be an angler of fish, you have to study fish.
To be a trapper of mice, you have to study mice.
To be a fisher of men, you have to study men.
Am I a hunter, or a hoper?
Right now, I’m more of a hoper to be honest…in both the world of mice and men…and deer.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Proverbs 18:22 - Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.
This verse may be the greatest understatement in the whole Bible.
A “good thing”? Really? That’s the best you got?
Heidi just loves being reduced to a thing. Objectified into the equivalent of a toaster. “Good morning, my little thingy.” She loves it when I refer to her as a thing I have to take care of, a thing I have to make time for, a thing in my schedule to do. She’s my little plaything. It just makes her come alive. Not.
But she is the best thing I’ve got going. There is “no-thing” more important to me than her in the whole world. And yet as one author said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”
I love the word “find” in this verse. It’s the greatest find in the world. Some look and look for years trying to find the “love of their life” without success. But when you find a “wife”, there isn’t a better find in the world. And when you get it wrong and settle for the best you could find instead, there isn’t anything more terrible. There is nothing good about that.
My life with Heidi has been so “good”. We have shared almost 14 years together in marriage and it keeps getting better and better, gooder and gooder. When I think about my life I would say with the Psalmist, “Surely ‘goodness’ and mercy has followed us all the days of our lives”. The days of our lives…sounds like a Soap Opera, doesn’t it? Our lives together are filled with goodness, tons and tons of goodies. We are blessed.
I have found a wife and she is the best thing I’ve ever found. Our life together is so, so good. And today I wanted to celebrate that goodness.
I love you, Heidi.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
It’s hard to do something with the wrong equipment.
Two weeks ago I couldn’t find a screwdriver anywhere so I decided to Gerry rig a butter knife into a Phillips head screwdriver. I was stripping the screw and ruining the knife, but eventually with persistent toil and brazen determination I removed the screw. What would have taken about 20 seconds with a screwdriver and about 3 seconds with a drill and the right bit, took about 5 minutes and took 2 years off my life.
Last week I jumped into my car at 6:20am and looked at an opaque frosty windshield. I searched the car high and low for an ice scraper to no avail. I scoured the garage and even looked in our van to steal one from my wife. Nothing. After a few minutes of this scavenger hunt of sorts, I resigned to the fact that for whatever reason our scrapers were long gone and set my affections on finding something else with a sharp edge that could get the job done. I eventually decided on a CD cover that was under my seat. I took the CD out of it as well as the little pamphlet with the lyrics and proceeded to scrape the thin layer of frost off my windshield. The plastic was scraping unevenly and when I would press it harder against the glass the case would crack and chip away at the edges. By the time I finished clearing a little hole in the windshield to look out of, the CD case was cracked into pieces and my hand felt like there were little shards of plastic lodged under the skin of my irritated palm.
This morning I decided to edge my mulch beds. The weather was beautiful and the ground was perfect for digging, neither too wet nor too dry…like the soup in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it was “just right”. I opened the garage and looked around for a good shovel only to find one with a broken handle from this past Spring. I had forgotten that I broke it when I was digging out a tree trunk that ironically is still sitting in my yard as a memorial of yet another half-finished project.
The only other tool in the shed, so to speak, was an ice pick that I inherited from my father who inherited it from his father. It is weathered, but solid--seemingly unbreakable. Tools come and go, but this one stands the test of time as the grandfather of gardening. I have yet to use it on ice ironically, which was its intended purpose, but almost every year I pull it out after looking hopelessly for a shovel and use it to edge my cedar mulch beds around my landscaping. Today was no exception. After an hour and half of pushing that doggone ice pick into the sod and turning over the ground, I emerged with 2 massive blood blisters and 2 smaller puss blisters on my fingers. My hands feel dead even as I stroke these keys to write this entry, shaking like they have endured a shocking trauma. And they have.
It got me to thinking about how often people do things without being equipped with the right tools. They live their lives making the best with what they have in the garage of their hearts. The come upon situations and dig deep inside of themselves to find the equipment needed to respond appropriately, but after coming up empty, they sheepishly either back away or foolishly fire away with a random tool that doesn’t fit the bill.
It does no good to give someone an opportunity if you first don’t equip them to succeed. It does no good to expect someone to grow and then never give them to tools to do so. I’m guilty of doing this with people all the time. I think they should just know what I’m talking about and go and do what I preached on…but they sit there saying, “If you knew how empty my tool shed was, you wouldn’t be taking me to the woodshed right now! I've got nothin’! No one has taught me, tooled me!”
And if it feels anything like using a butter knife as a screwdriver, a CD as an ice scraper or an ice pick as an landscape edger, I feel their pain. This kind of life is filled with blood blisters, shaking hands and salty sweat.
It helps to have the right tools because...Equipped people are empowered people.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Permit me to flush something out of the bushes. I’m sure you’ve thought about it before, but it never hurts to try and put something into words.
For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the boundlessness of human experience. I’m not a humanist in the sense that I believe that everything exists for man orbiting around him as the center of all things. But I am a humanist in the sense that I believe man has exceeding value due to this little thing called Imago Dei, the image of God.
When God ensconced man with the mind, will, and emotions that represented his very nature, he planted within us immeasurable possibility. We are the image of God carrying around the imagination of God. Thus, the human spirit is potent, the root word of potential. Imageless we would be as worthless as ice in Iceland. It is the image of God that makes the spirit of man “inspiring”. Spirited, if you will.
Humanitarian causes resonate with me. When I peruse the gospels and watch Jesus’ meanderings, he seems pretty humanitarian to me. Feeding people when they were hungry, talking about social issues like poverty and inequality and seats of privilege, meeting physical needs like hearing loss, paralysis, a 12 year bout with vaginal bleeding, and a variety of disabilities. He was all about fighting for the marginalized and becoming vocal chords for those who had no voice.
I am sensitive to things that are inhumane. Injustice fires me up. Treating people with dignity regardless of race, creed, image, education or gender is a big deal to me. Abuse of the innocent, weak, or defenseless will cause an allergic reaction inside of me forcing my hand and demanding action. Humane treatment is huge for me.
There is a reason why these things strike a chord with me…I believe in the dignity of human life. I don’t think there is even a close second to its value. A smile, a tear, goose bumps, and laughter…all these things speak of something spiritual that is woven into the tapestry of our souls. Humanity is precious.
And there is nothing so powerful to me as a person who shows up in life. A person fully present and unabashedly comfortable in his or her own skin. When I meet an individual who shines in all their God-breathed glory without put-on pretence, I am moved profoundly.
Humans seem less human every year to me. I don’t know if it’s because we know too much or if we are mistakenly convinced that we have to try really hard if we ever hope to be noticed, achieve greatness or wield influence. Maybe it’s all the plastic we deal with every day. Plastic money that doesn’t exist (green that isn’t backed with gold, so to speak), plastic personalities quintessentially represented by politicians giving stump speeches, smear ads and empty promises, and plastic bodies made up with cosmetics and airbrushing, doctored up until they are too good to be true. Most of life is very, very inhuman, and all the more as our world values the generic over the authentic.
But due to “supply and demand’, the hunger for ‘human’ is on the rise. “Human” is rare. People want the warts, zits and birthmarks. They are suspicious of the slick shtick. Get this; people are so desperate for ‘human’ that they will forfeit truth for something true. This is where it gets dangerous; because when someone is genuine it is so intoxicating that people will naturally pick what is “real” over what is “right”. That is how hungry people are for human. They are dying to encounter something real, someone real.
St. Ignatius said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Another way of saying this is that the Holy Spirit is never more evident than when the Human Spirit is unveiled and unleashed.
I really believe that churches would see almost 100% growth over the next year if they would concentrate on the freeing of the Human Spirit as much as the filling of the Holy Spirit. The fact of the matter is that they are practically the same thing…which is to say that one can not happen without the other. And if a person is deemed filled with the Holy Spirit without any affect on the person’s Human Spirit, I would submit that the entire ruckus was nothing more than a false alarm, a fire drill if you will. Cause when the Holy Spirit shows up in a person’s life, their human spirit moves from being dehumanized to “humanized” and it is evidenced by effectual life.
I have never quite gotten the conversion of the heart that never translates into the conversion of the face. The heart has to inform the face of the “so-called” conversion somewhere along the line. The Holy Spirit and the Human Spirit have got to be in cahoots with each other.
Remember, the Bible says, “The Holy Spirit bears witness with our Human Spirit that we are children of God.”
I love the marriage of strong Anthropology and Pnuematology.
This is where the Kingdom heaves with anticipation, contracting with the birth pangs of redemption. It’s human and holy. It’s incarnation.
“When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” – Jesus
“When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen Jesus.” – I hope to say this.
When you see the unadulterated human, you are looking at the unapologetic holy.
Monday, November 08, 2010
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
There is a moment in discipleship that I’ve found intriguing. If we are over-schooled in the theology of God’s sovereignty we might even miss it. I fear there have been days when I have.
We have been taught to follow God and rightly so. In fact, over the last several years many believers have tampered with terminology converting from the term “Christian” to “Christ-follower”. The theory is that the label “Christian” has lost its meaning and that in order to recover the quintessential desire of God we must embrace a new name, which represents a more nuanced representation of Biblical discipleship. Hence, the term “Christ-follower”.
Now I would submit that we’re largely nitpicking over semantics, but I do think there is something to the label “Christian” that needed some new branding and with it an awakening of the original theological intent.
But regardless of where you stand on the aforementioned issue of terminological rebranding, no one would argue that we are called by God to be follows of Christ. This is bedrock to our faith, a cornerstone that mustn’t be touched…
…but if you will allow me to touch it for a moment, I want to wonder out loud about something.
I want to touch it because I think this verse talks about a critical time in discipleship where Jesus sends us to go before him and he follows us. If we aren’t careful, we will walk in the “shadow of Jesus” our whole lives and miss the opportunity Christ gives us to strike camp and test ourselves.
It’s easier to always have Jesus to fall back on as the kneejerk default. When you stumble with your words, you look to him and he fills in the blanks. When you start to falter in the execution of your plan, he promptly takes over and bails you out. When you come to a situation that seems a little out of your league, you back up and let him step up to the plate as the pinch hitter. As you move to the bench, you watch him hit the homerun musing to yourself, “I’m glad I didn’t try to come through, I would have struck out. Only Jesus can hit the clutch homerun in the bottom of the ninth.” It seems like a Christ-o-centric model of ministry that is theologically airtight. There’s only one problem, Jesus doesn’t agree with it.
Jesus knew that if all his disciples did was watch him and listen to him and follow him, he wouldn’t ever be able to leave the planet. His goal was not to monopolize; it was to mobilize. This is the moment in discipleship that is talked about in this passage where Jesus sends them out and follows them to the towns they decide to go. He lets them encounter people cold turkey and doesn’t provide ice-breakers and crowd-teasers. He lets them decide where to stay and when to leave. He lets them cast out demons and heal diseases. And get this, before they go and do all this stuff he takes things away from them that could easily become security blankets like their wallets, shoes and luggage. He wants them to go forward with nothing but their own hearts and each other so that they would know without a shadow of a doubt that “they could do it”.
It says that Jesus sent them out “like sheep to the wolves”. I find it disturbing that Jesus knew they were going to face insurmountable odds and that he lets them go anyway. What must Jesus have been thinking?
Well, maybe something like this…
I know they believe in me, but they must know that I believe in them, too.
I know they count on me, but they must accept that I count on them, too.
I know they follow me, but they have to believe that I follow them, too.
And he did. And when they returned from this mission trip and told Jesus about how cool it was to “do the stuff themselves”, the text says that Jesus was “full of joy in the Holy Spirit”. This is the only time where we see Jesus described in this way. This is the only time where we get the sense that Jesus was smiling and laughing and clapping with delight.
I still think it moves Jesus to joy when he sends us out and follows us around watching us “do the stuff” he taught us to do.
It’s a beautiful thing to follow Jesus.
It’s a beautiful thing that he follows us.
It actually brings him great joy to do so.