Jesus Is Personal and Ordinary And That Is Extraordinary

I can probably name all of the appearances Jesus made after his resurrection. What I haven’t done is analyze the context of his appearances. He didn’t come busting through walls like the Kool Aid man, he never wowed anyone first with a fancy trick, he refrained from personal confrontation. Instead, he did the following:

  • He visited his friends. Jesus’ resurrected body was not a apparition or a ghost, he wasn’t around to haunt his enemies or confront those that sent him to death. He preferred to reassure Thomas, reconcile with Peter, and comfort Mary.
  • He preferred to be barely noticed. Mary mistook him for a gardener, the friends on the road to Emmaus spent miles with him and didn’t notice who he was, and he tarried in the distance cooking breakfast while the disciples fished.
  • The context of his appearances were rather ordinary. Appearing in a garden, walking along a road, preparing breakfast in the early morning, stopping by in an upper room. These were just normal locations in normal settings. There was nothing sensational or amazing about the context of the conversation or the encounter.

Frederick Buechner, our great theologian of the midst of life, states:

In other words, it is precisely at such times as these that Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…supper time, or walking along a road. This is the element that all the stories about Christ’s return to life have in common….

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only… the gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts…what we may see is Jesus himself, what we may hear is the first faint sound of a voice somewhere deep within us saying that there is a purpose in this life, in our lives…

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I find it reassuring that I am more likely to encounter Jesus as I drive and walk into my workplace than I am in some burst of knowledge or words written in the sky. Also, that Jesus is concerned about the ordinary and even seems to prefer it. He certainly can use the miraculous and the profound but he isn’t above using a meal or some kids running around or an ordinary argument among friends.

We could be missing God’s voice and purposes and direction because we expect something grander and amazing. Perhaps Jesus wants us to recognize “the miracle of one instance of our precious life to the miracle of the next.”

A Simple Go To Prayer To Do Right Now

My go to prayer the past few weeks is incredibly simple. It only has three lines but in those three lines, I am able to express faith in God’s power, intercession for others, and a hope for a glorious future.

I discovered the prayer from listening to an audio version of James Bryan Smith’s book, The Magnificent Journey. I have now adapted the prayer to include myself, activities, and difficult situations. The prayer goes like this:

Father, may your will be done in ___________’s life today.

May _________ be well today.

May _________ find Joy and Peace today.

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Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

First, I am praying that what God wants done is done in this person’s life. That they have nothing happen to them that is not what God intends. Sometimes, I will drop the use of the word “today” and include a time more specific or open ended.

Second, I am praying for their body and spirit to be protected and whole. I am praying that their thinking not be distorted or misguided and that God provides fullness and fulfillment in their life.

Third, I pray that what becomes a reality in their life is a sense of ultimate well being and a contentment in their circumstances. I am praying that what truly satisfies is present and that God’s presence reminds them of all that is good and possible in this life for today and for all their days.

Perhaps the true effectiveness of this prayer is not in the words but in the simplicity and ease of it. I quickly memorized it and began saying it throughout my day. Almost once an hour, I will say the prayer for a person, then myself, and then a situation I find myself in. Even if I am horribly distracted, burdened, or upset, I am usually able to slow down and voice this prayer for those three things.

If you need a recharge to your prayer life or struggle to know what to pray for, I would encourage you to try this prayer. It has been a profound part of my spiritual life over the last month.

 

A Little Light, A Big Legacy

Jean Vanier died last week. You may not know his name or what he committed his life to but you should.

More than 50 years ago, he started the L’Arche movement of care for the mentally handicapped. Before Vanier came along, these people most likely would have lived in sanitariums and treated more like animals than human beings. Vanier decided to take a few into his home and treat them with tenderness, with love, and with a sense of openness to learn from them as much as they might learn from him. Today, L’Arche is all over the world and is a reminder of our need to love people that we find different, that annoy us, that might even disgust us.

Vanier never wanted L’Arche to be a franchise of facilities. Instead, he referred to L’Arche as a “sign not a solution.” I love that. Why must we constantly find methods, programs, and solutions when reality shows us that quick fixes rarely come and the true value is in the present, where God is and does his work.

Vanier says about L’Arche, “I don’t want to change the world, but I can change myself. We can be little lights of love. L’Arche can be little places where people love each other and never hit the headlines but that is okay.”

A quote from his book, Becoming Human

Vanier loved the word “little.” In an interview with Krista Tippitt, he stated that, “What is important is to become a little friend of Jesus.” What I think that means is to find a simplicity in Jesus and his approach to his life and ministry. To find friendship in Jesus’ presence and guidance and ways of living. If you have ever worked with the mentally handicapped, you know this kind of little friendship of big hugs, warm smiles, words of endearment, and pats on the head.

It is also important to lessen our drive to understand everything. Vanier would say that we are not intended to know everything and, in fact, our knowledge could be a detriment to us doing what we truly need to do. “If we know too much, it might cut us away from being present and available,” Vanier said.

Vanier has taught us to accept what we can’t understand and to not miss an opportunity to love what is right in front of us:

“We should love reality and not live in the imagination of what could have been and what should have been. God is present in reality and we can live that reality with the needs we have. We can trust God in that reality.”

If you want to hear more from Vanier, I couldn’t recommend this interview highly enough. I have listened to this three or four times in the last few weeks. He expounds on the equilibrium that handicapped people bring to society, the need for tenderness, and the vulnerability of God. Listen to it now.

What You Cannot Do

Have you ever thought about the power that man has?

Man can create, organize, build, and achieve but man can also destroy. Man’s power to destroy is constantly on display. From bomb marked city-scapes to scandals that take down entire corporations, there seems no end to man’s power to destroy. Man can also destroy marriages, friendships, families, and themselves.

Frederick Buechner points out that man’s power, as great as it is, only works from the outside, externally. “A man has power from the outside to push, pull, prod, and mold other men to his liking, for his good or for theirs, but it is only the outside of these other men that his power can affect.” Buechner goes on to illustrate that the most powerful person in the world, as great as this person’s influence and control, still couldn’t satisfy the deepest longing of his own personal soul or that of anyone else’s. The longing that each of us has for love, for deep peace, and meaning can never be satisfied by man’s efforts, no matter the autonomy, freedom, or power. “All man’s power is powerless because at its roots, of course, the deepest longing of the human soul is the longing for God, and this no man has the power to satisfy.”

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

The Bible makes the bold claim that God is love. Dwell on that claim for a second. If this is true then all forms of love that we have as humans, as distorted as they may be, does not come from ourselves but are a reflection of God’s love. In other words, love is not one of man’s powers. Man can only yield its power externally but cannot reach into the heart, to our deepest selves, only God can do that. This is his power to satisfy and to bring true healing, to bring life-giving love, to hold things together, to restore.

Trying to operate in man’s power to achieve what only God can bring will only cause your world to feel small, closed in, and dark. But the power of God’s love expands your world, opens you up to receive love from others, brings light to the dark, helps you get up when you are down and generates peace when it is nowhere to be found.

Ultimately, which would you rather have? Man’s power or God’s power?

I’ll Take The Blame

I originally posted this two Easters ago but it is such a great reminder for me I may just make it an Easter tradition.

I have spent so much time in the last few months reflecting on the teachings and miracles of Jesus that I felt like I was ill prepared for Easter week. I wanted to feel connected to the reality of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion, and resurrection. I immediately thought of a book I read several years back called Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. His chapter on Jesus is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. His description of Jesus’ crucifiction is the kind of raw, stark, and beautiful thing I needed this week. So, I thought I would share a few of Spufford’s words and offer a little meditation for us to get in line with the level of love and sacrifice present in Easter week. More to come this week.spufford

Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration…

Place yourself in the crowd that morning. What is going through your head as Jesus stumbles by? Are you saddened? Angry? Ashamed? Disappointed? Relieved? Glad? Are you being swept away by the jeers and cat calls from those around you? Do you want to spit at him like the person beside you? Or are tears rolling down your face? The pure humiliation of Jesus’ parade through the streets is shocking compared to the promise of just a few days before. Isn’t that just like us humans. We will turn on a person for no good reason other than our personal preferences weren’t met that day and we might as well take it out on something or someone.

…he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told… I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness…

What do you fear you deserve? What has my sin done? What should be in store for me? Jesus takes the blame. He embraces our faults and takes them in on himself. That is the picture of Jesus as he heads to the cross.

 

 

When Adults Are Dumb

Have you seen the Still Face experiment? It is movingly powerful. It shows a mom and baby happily interacting, connecting and enjoying each other’s company. Then the mom is instructed to turn back to the child with zero expression on her face. Then for two minutes the infant starts to stress out and is visibly disturbed that the mom is not showing the affectionate attention that the baby expects. The point is to show the power of engaged, loving attention and the damage it can cause when it is not present. (See the video below)

I had this video in the back of my mind recently when I read Mark 10, which contains two stories that seem to have nothing in common but actually are connected to one another beautifully. The first story is of Jesus surrounded by children who seem to be getting on the disciples last nerve. Then, in the story that follows, Jesus is approached by a young, rich and powerful man who wants to know the secrets to the spiritual life.

I had never compared and contrasted the story of Jesus with the little children and the story that follows it. In the first story, the children are being rebuked by the disciples but Jesus makes the statement that no one will enter the Kingdom of God unless they receive it like little children. He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” You see, these children couldn’t stay away from Jesus. There was something about the way that Jesus interacted and accepted them that seemed to make all of the difference in the world, despite the disapproval of the adults on the scene.

If the point of the scene with the children is hard to grasp, it is perfectly illustrated by the story of the rich young man. He is an obedient, faithful person who still wants more and can’t even recognize when what he wants is right in front of him. In a moment of tenderness, Jesus even looks on him and scripture says, “loves him.” The children would have taken this look and that love and been perfectly content but the man ignores Jesus’ look of love and the words that come with it.

The man, the adult, has lost the ability to accept Jesus’ love and life as all that he needs. He has Jesus’ full attention and even an interaction of love and acceptance, exactly what the children knew was worth being present for, and that wasn’t enough.

For us, we dismiss the interactive, loving, and present Jesus for things that we conclude we really need. Instead of, with childlike eyes, take what is right in front of us. Our adult preferences, pride, and know-it-all nature cloud the simple, yet transformative, presence of Christ looking at us and loving us. Jesus’ look and love are enough, I don’t need to add-on to that.

Like a baby who craves a parent’s affectionate attention, what we need is Christ and his attention and he so longs to give it to us.

No One Said The Christian Life Wouldn’t Require Work

I don’t always enjoy reading scripture. Some days the thought of spending one minute in silence sounds excruciating. If prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, then my side of the conversation is haphazard, stunted, disjointed, and superficial. What I am trying to say is that the spiritual life isn’t always pleasant or full of rich experiences. Sometimes it just feels like a chore.

What has fascinated me recently is the process more than the finished product.

Established artist and writers understand the process much better than others. David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book, Art and Fear, state, “To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping the artwork.” Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t set out to write stand-up comedy routines, he just tries to write a joke a day. Success for him is his calendar full of red X’s showing each of the days he was able to write a joke. Similarly, writing tips talk about sitting down daily and just writing and not trying to perfect or edit until you have gotten a set number of words or pages completed. What is important is the act, the discipline, the reps, the practice.

So, why is it in our spiritual life, we read a couple of scriptures, say a couple of prayers, read a devotional whenever we get around to it and expect the finished product of our lives to be developed and mature and noteworthy? Was great art or a great athletic team or a great leader developed by just dabbling in their craft?

The spiritual life, so much more than other areas, requires off-the-spot training. For example, by spending time understanding Jesus’ sacrifice or studying love or working through our need for humility, this allows us preparation off-the-spot that assists us to be Christlike on-the-spot.

It is like Danny LaRusso from the original Karate Kid toiling away washing Mr. Miagi’s car and painting his fence. It all seemed pointless and ineffective until Mr. Miagi began sparing with him and the moves he had ingrained in his body through the chores of washing and painting were able to withstand and react with precision and effectiveness. The practice off-the-spot allowed him to perform on the spot.

I have seen this happen in my own life. Not in every case, for their are many areas where there is still great work to do, but when faced with deep struggle or challenge, I realize that have some of the spiritual resources and capacity to handle these obstacles because of the work I have done in practice and developed through the process.

If you are not seeing the spiritual results you expected God to have changed by now, perhaps you are not paying enough attention to the process of devoting energy, intention, time, and resources to Growing Up in Christlikeness. Care about this process, be committed to it. God will honor it and the Holy Spirit will guide you in it. Not just for achievement sake but for benefit of your personal well-being and those around you.

I Need More Play In My Life

Wednesday mornings are my writing days. This is the day that I try to bang out a blog post from start to finish. I didn’t do that this Wednesday. What did I do instead? I researched and filled out my NCAA Tournament brackets.

Is there value in play as a spiritual practice or is that just a 21st Century American Christian way of rationalizing their addiction to entertainment and superficiality?

My life has been full of heavy thoughts and difficult situations of late. So many mornings and times throughout the day, I have things churning and churning in my mind. Plans I am trying to make and situations I am attempting to solve. I have been praying and reciting scripture but I recognized that I sometimes need to give my mind a break and just play.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Surprisingly, when you are in a difficult time, this can be easier said than done. Dallas Willard describes play as “creation of values that are not necessary.” I remember playing nightly with our kids. We created all sorts of value that wasn’t necessary and it was great. Still, in my grumpier moments and with a sense of scarcity, I would demand that our play time be limited to 10 minutes. I, apparently, am not very open to play.

Still, you may be wondering, what does this really have to do with my life with God? Play helps practice abandonment to God. Watch a kid and it is apparent that they are wired for play, it is in their very nature to play. They do not let the worries and cares of the world crush out their sense of play. Nothing is too heavy to diminish play. Willard says that, “Creation was play for God, and so when we play, we experience that same sense of creation.”

One of the appeals for me of studying spiritual formation is the chance for discipline in my life, even control. But in my control, I lose that sense of abandonment to God that play provides. So, yesterday, I put aside my troubles, I laid down my prayer list and my devotional materials and played something that I have enjoyed most of my life. I created something that was not necessary but it is valuable to me.

What is God wanting you to create or play or listen to or read that isn’t going to impress spiritual gurus but might actually draw you closer to the God, who like you, plays.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Wait For Eternal Life

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have eternal life right now. We don’t have to wait for eternal life later. Don’t believe me?

John’s gospel says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

If I know God then I have a clearer sense of what he is doing in the world and in my own life and I get to participate in that activity. That is eternal life – participation in God’s kingdom and doing what God wants done.

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If we only think of eternal life as what happens the moment we die then we twist this life into a mere holding room or worse – a form of Christian nihilism where nothing real means anything because we are promised something else after we die.

No one in the early church belittled our life now the way that many modern Christians do in thinking and discussing eternal life. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave his life for me.” Could he have used the word life or live anymore in that verse?

What is the life you now live? Is it an eternal one in God’s kingdom, where what God wants done is done? Or is it barely living because you are just pursuing your own agenda and doing what you want done and counting on the promise of eternal life to do its thing when the time comes.

Start living your eternal life now. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand, it is here. Our life with Christ is an interactive, yoke sharing, abundant existence far beyond a common life. Why do we settle for some narrow, limited version of eternal life when Christ’s promises express something greater, more fulfilling, and full of his presence?

When you put on your new life in Christ, you put on an eternal life that starts now. It will take its full form at another time but, in Christ, it starts to develop and exists and reward now.

The Story of the Three TVs

I have wanted to tell this story for years but have hesitated because I was afraid that it would reflect badly on me and make me appear superficial and immature. I was afraid that others would think that the gospel could be reduced to just God granting wishes and providing prosperity. I think those versions of the Gospel are dangerous and have done great harm. Still, this story did happen to us and I did learn great lessons from it and maybe you will too.

I wanted a HD TV and I had started to stop in at Best Buy on a weekly basis to look at and price small HD televisions. I started to try to justify the expense and figure out how to fit it into our budget.

At the same time, I was reading Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity. In the book, Foster discusses the hold that material things can have on us and how practicing frugality develops our trust in God. Foster has some very practical ways to approach these material wants that we have. One suggestion is if you think you need to purchase something to wait 24 hours and see if that desire or need is still present. This way, you shake off the impulse buys and bring a more measured response to your purchases. Another suggestion is to actually ask God for the item and wait to see if he will provide it for you.

Even though I wanted to sweep in and buy that TV, I decided to take Foster’s suggestion and ask God for it. If he provides then great, if not, I have my answer on whether we should have the TV or not. I did force God’s hand a bit when I asked for a TV for Christmas that year. This is where the story starts to get crazy.

That year, my side of the family decided to have a White Elephant exchange. Through faulty game management on my part, I failed to obtain the giant item in the corner and ended up with a hat or something while my 19-year-old nephew walked away with a large HD TV. I was so irritated. This is what I had been asking for and my parents put it in a White Elephant exchange? And my nephew gets it? OK God. You don’t have to provide a TV for me but do you have to rub it in my face? But, after I calmed down, I took the hint from God and resigned myself to quit obsessing over it and move on.

Even though I wasn’t pleased with the results, I felt like I had approached my wants with a level of maturity and some faithfulness and learned that God does want to be included on the day-to-day workings of our lives and has something to say about our use of money and our attachment to material things. Though, I wasn’t going to get a new TV, I had learned an important lesson and felt closer to God in the process. I was glad that I hadn’t jumped the gun and, instead, had tried to let God be in charge for once. But then March came and everything changed.

First, my Mom, who does great interior decorating, came to work on our bedroom. The entire room got an overhaul and the sad, small, boxy CRT TV we had sitting on a dresser was not going to work with the new decor. My mom decided to buy us a new small HD TV for our room. Wow, this just happened. I didn’t ask for it but I had finally gotten the TV. We were now enjoying our TV and I learned that God provides in ways we wouldn’t expect.

But then, a few days later while I am at work, my wife calls me and ask, “Did you order a TV?” I told her no and asked why? She said that there was a TV that had just been delivered to our house. We thought it was a mistake and I tried to check to see if this was something that was delivered to the wrong house and whether I needed to return it. My efforts were not fruitful and the customer service guy just said, “Well, it looks like you have yourself a new TV.” Someone had anonymously ordered a TV for us and had it delivered. I just laughed at the comedy of this;  that in the matter of days, we had gotten two TVs as gifts. God was having fun with this one but he wasn’t done.

The following Sunday, I was walking our dog while one of our daughters was riding her bike. I got to a corner house and I see two big screen TVs laying by the curb (in our community you lay out stuff by the curb for garbage collection or for anyone that wants it). I tell my daughter to stay with the TVs while I went and got my car to haul these TVs back to our house. I got both of them home but I didn’t know if they worked or not. I plugged them both in and sure enough one did not work but the nicer one, a Sony Bravia HD 46”, worked great. Though my wife wasn’t pleased with me bringing home other people’s garbage, I convinced her to let me bring it in to our living room. We now had a big screen TV that the whole family could enjoy and I just found it on the side of the road! Every week, I think about how God gifted us with not one, not two, but three TVs in a matter of days.

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The TV found on the curb in our neighborhood

The ways these things showed up were absurd and were hard to believe but yet I knew what was going on. God was teaching me that he not only wants to provide what we desperately need but sometimes he wants to provide what we don’t need simply because he is loving and joyful and likes to show his power in creative and even humorous ways. I learned, when it comes to material things, I don’t have to rush out in haste to make a purchase. Most of the time, that is not the right course of action. I also learned to include God in all of my decisions, big or small, and to give God space to work. Sometimes he might convict us of our materialism and greed but other times, he might just provide three TVs in 7 days.