Listen to Your Life

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

-Frederick Buechner, Now and Then 

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Creating Bullet Proof Christians

If our interactions with Christ can move from mere belief to a trusting relationship, then wonderful things such as obedience, holiness, and love follow. We Grow Up.

This kind of trusting relationship comes from knowledge of Christ. In one of his letters, Paul discusses knowledge of Christ and that knowledge leading to endurance, joyfullness, and an inheritance of God’s kingdom. He is not talking about knowledge, as in memorizing some facts and figures to regurgitate later but knowledge that comes from a relationship.

When my wife and I play games like Charades or Fish Bowl we have a way of understanding what each other is hinting at way before others are able to catch on. This is because we know each other well enough to know what is inside their head at a given moment.

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That is the type of knowledge that Paul is talking about when it comes to knowledge of Christ. When I rely and trust Jesus to be who he says he is, then I am not just relying on facts to see me through my days but I am relying on the knowledge I have gained from interacting with Jesus and developing an understanding of what is close to the heart of Christ.

Could it be that the entirety of scripture is not to prove that God exists but to prove that God can be relied upon and trusted? This is a huge difference. When God is unhappy with his called out people, the Israelites, he doesn’t criticize their belief in him, he criticizes their disobedience and their willingness to chase after replacements for what God can bring them. Similarly, Jesus discusses people’s lack of faith, not their understanding of doctrine.

By combining knowledge of Christ, as described above, with trust in Christ we have a recipe for growth that can create individuals that can endure, that can withstand trouble, that can change the world. The early church is proof of this and we can be too.

*This post was inspired by portions of Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel.

My Homeless Beach Weekend

Taking twelve homeless men to a beach house on the Texas coast? What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing. Actually.

A lifelong friend helps run a Houston Homeless Chess Club Ministry and back in March asked if I would go along with them on a retreat to the Texas coast. I didn’t quite know what to expect, who does when it comes to the homeless. But those guys were so welcoming and hospitable. I learned from them what it looks like to be accepting of a stranger and about gratitude. Gratitude for the simplest of things.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept in a bed,” said one man as he thought about the bed that was all his for two nights. This same man also told us that a full night’s sleep was a luxury because the Houston police will come around at 4:30 a.m. and kick him out of his sleeping spot.

As we set up and tried to account for things at the beach house, I couldn’t help running many of the accommodations and particulars through my middle class, spoiled mindset just to quickly be reminded that these are homeless people who have very little and even smaller expectations. Over and over they would tell my friend and I thank you for the food, thank you for the trip, thank you for coming, thank you for taking the time to be with them.

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Additionally, I learned the lesson of just making myself available without turning a charitable thing into a project.

Being present with people, making them feel valued, listening to them, serving them, getting to know them is a worthy effort that is not lessened because you lack a set of steps to take to get them out of their trouble.

I have worked with the homeless before and I am not trying to sugar coat their plight or look past the realities that have caused them to be homeless but what these guys have, that I often lack, is perspective.

When I gave a short devotional for them on Sunday morning and we talked about understanding the fullness of who God is, they went on an on about all that they had to thank God for. Yes, even in their homelessness, gratitude and thankfulness towards a loving heavenly Father was on the tip of their tongues. I don’t have that kind of thankfulness and lack that kind of divine perspective. These homeless guys taught me that I can look towards God with eyes that don’t constantly have to be filtered by my circumstances, good or bad.

As we were about to leave, one guy said, “You coming from Dallas to be with us, that is epic, man.” No, Eugene. Being reminded of what matters most and the true value of loving, accepting community, that is “epic.”

When Your Good News Is Not Good Enough

Scot McKnight says that, “If the gospel isn’t about transformation, it isn’t the gospel of the Bible.”

The gospel I see the most in churches is a reduction to mere statements of belief. Words are important and our beliefs need to be verbalized and stated confidently and with conviction. But, what we truly believe is demonstrated by how we live. That is the true test of our belief.

How we live is the part that needs to be transformed and mere statements of belief are not enough. When Jesus encountered people in need he expected and planned on transformation occurring. Zacchaeus was so taken by Jesus’ generosity and care for him, he decided to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back four times the amount to the people he had swindled. The woman caught in adultery, after being rescued from execution, was told to go and sin no more. Transformation was expected not a bullet list of new beliefs.

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Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

The rich young ruler had all of his beliefs down to the letter but he didn’t have the transformation that comes from making Jesus his Lord. He wanted to have Jesus without the transformation. It doesn’t work that way.

What is your life saying about your beliefs? Are you satisfied with your beliefs and patting yourself on the back for them but go on living with bitterness, lazy thinking, anger, worry, and longing? Let Christ transform you from the inside out, let him take residence in your self from top to bottom and change your mind and heart. That is the gospel, the good news of a life transformed by the power of Christ.

 

Moves Like Jagger

When I was in college, I was part of a Summer Staff position at a Conference Center. Throughout the summer, we would have various activities among the staff. One of these activities was a Lip Sync contest. My buddies and I decided to enter and do a Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

I was tasked to fill the role of Mick Jagger in the group. I was prepared for this because I was a huge devotee of the documentary, Gimme Shelter. I had probably watched that film 50 times and could quote you the majority of the lines. I had also become a student of Jagger and his frantic moves on stage. I could imitate his facial expressions, the way he likes to strut, and his ridiculous hand gyrations.

The day of the contest came and we did our thing. I was Mick Jagger. One fellow staff person said that, “I was a better Mick than Mick is.” I embodied the movements and style of one person doing one thing. I have no intention of being Mick Jagger. His hedonistic, material, free love, and self indulgent ways didn’t then and doesn’t now appeal to my Christian worldview (Though I would love to sing “Honky Tonk Women” in front of the full band one day).

My imitation of Jagger was light years away from being Jagger. And so it is with our imitation of Christ.

For example, take the story of the woman caught in adultery , where Jesus diffuses her execution. If, by some chance, we found ourselves in a similar situation, we could say the words and take the action that that could make a difference but still not have the same heart as Christ. Jesus had no condemnation towards the woman but I could still condemn her and judge her in my mind. My point is, imitation alone is just half the work.

A transformed heart takes deep work of the Holy Spirit, intentional development of our mind and body, and the encouragement of others. One time, Jesus’ disciples failed to heal a demon possessed boy and his dad had to appeal to Jesus for him to do it. Jesus said that the reason the disciples couldn’t drive it out was because of their lack of faith. These disciples knew the words to say and the moves to make and the prayers to recite to heal most people but they hadn’t built up their faith in order to embody Jesus’ power.

This could sound discouraging. “What? I can’t even fake my way to Christlikeness? Why even try?” But, our imitation is a sign of our faith and a level of trust that our practices will make a difference. And if we possess Christ within us and are indwelt by him, he is going to do the work to turn our small faith into a transforming faith. In just a short time, these same bumbling, lacking faith disciples were healing crippled people, miraculously busting out of jail, and speaking in tongues.

Christ’s power will use our small imitation of him and make it work.

 

 

Every Morning Is Different

I like my schedule and I am a creature of routine. I have even shared my Morning Routine here on the blog. But, I have learned to be okay with my rather varied practices and to not be so rigid that I turn every morning into a legal practice that has success/failure outcomes.

For example, on the mornings I run, I will listen to a daily entry from the Pray As You Go app. The mixture of song, scripture, and reflection hits all the marks for me – from scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. When I am not running, my mornings might start with a video meditation, or a reading of scripture, or short time of prayer. Sometimes, I just need more sleep and I unashamedly close my eyes for another 10-15 minutes. Some mornings, I just write on the blog and bang out an entry and do nothing else.

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As someone who has previously mapped out an hour and a half schedule each morning full of exercise, reading, prayer, and writing, to not have these constraints and more importantly, be okay with not having these constraints has been freeing. I am not advocating less discipline or that our prayer time or scripture reading doesn’t deserve our utmost intention, what I am presenting is the permission to lighten your spiritual load, not to be lazy but to be more fruitful.

By letting your routine have a little flexibility, you create grace with yourself and you start to see the big picture of your spiritual growth rather than the minute to minute pass/fail. Growing Up in Christ is a lifelong endeavor; we won’t miss out on Christlikeness if we fail to read the Bible for a full 15 minutes today. But if we throw out the entire practice because we can’t ever seem to get our schedule or motivation to work out right, then we are not Growing Up.

So, despite what may be going on this day, I try to make the following a priority during the week: meditation, prayer, scripture reading, writing, reading a book on Christian living or Spiritual Growth, and music. I may not get to each one every day but by the end of the week, I will have read a couple of chapters in the Bible, written a blog post, reflected on scripture or a truth about God, intentionally listened to music to quiet my soul and mind, and prayed for specific needs and growth.

For your purposes, make a list of your own spiritual priorities and schedule these things out if you find it helpful and it keeps you moving toward a goal. Just make sure the doing is more important than the scheduling and be gentle with yourself.

Staying Put: Why I Remained In My Church Tradition

What am I to do?

I am an introvert in a church tradition that adores extroverts and looks with suspicion on the quiet and the silent.

I embrace the spiritual in a church tradition that has pushed more and more to the academic.

I like to listen to my life for signs of God in a church tradition that thinks faith begins and ends with the Bible.

I am fascinated by 2,000 years of the best practices of the church in a church tradition that thinks church history started with C.S. Lewis.

I want to help develop community and find ways to serve my neighbors in a church tradition that says that these things don’t count for real evangelism.

I like my politics to reflect the Jesus I read about in the gospels in a church tradition that seems to back one side, Christ’s teaching be damned.

So why have I stayed in this tradition? Why have I been in the same church for more than 10 years and the same tradition that I grew up with? I can point to three ideas that have kept me tied to my church tradition and developed my sense of calling within that tradition:

Spiritual Heritage: One of my favorite books is Dakota by Kathleen Norris. In the book, this noted writer and poet with ties to the New England literary elite discusses her heritage in the Great Plains but also her Spiritual Heritage as a Christian and protestant. I loved the way she voices the idea that to be cut off from your spiritual heritage is to be cut off from your identity and your sense of place. I first read this many years ago around the same time as my spiritual breakthrough. As I began to search for deeper and more profound religious experiences, I was intrigued by other traditions and strands of faith as the way I must go but Norris’ sense of spiritual heritage just seemed like a worthy value to hold on to and pursue. It made me appreciate the finer points of my own tradition.

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Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Balanced Faith: Also at the time of my spiritual breakthrough, I began reading Richard Foster. His book, Streams of Living Water, establishes the idea, from a scriptural and spiritual stand point, that the church established by Christ, was not meant to be an affinity group based on doctrine and personal preference but was meant to include six “streams” that have surfaced in various traditions. Foster envisions these streams coming together in a balanced, strong, and vibrant church. What if Charismatics became a little more Word-centered, what if the Christian social activists were a little more contemplative, what if Evangelicals were a little more concerned with social causes? By combining the best of all of these traditions, the Church finds its best footing and is better equipped to do what God wants done.  This made so much sense to me. I didn’t want to abandon one affinity group for another, I wanted to be a part of bringing the best practices of Christ’s church back to my own church for the betterment of all the churches.

A Sense of Calling: Dallas Willard says that spiritual formation is becoming who Jesus would be if he were I, with my same background, context, and giftings. If this is true, then I am not called to be another Jesus, as we know him, but one that he would be if he had lived my life and participated in my history. This has brought out a deep sense of place and time for me. Instead of chasing some ideal of Christlikeness that “must” include starting my own church, or attending a certain type of church, or running off to an exotic location as the only real way of living out my faith, I began to realize that perhaps I was called to my church and my tradition to bring more balance to the faith, to bring more heart than head, to introduce practices that may be foreign to some, and present a different approach to the Christian Life that just might help others grow closer to Christ. I felt called to minister to my own church using the tools that I had learned from my readings and trainings in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. This hasn’t always been easy, but time and time again, I have felt the tug of this call.

I’ll Take The Blame

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.

 

 

What Brought Me To Tears in California

If you were present the last full day of our Gathering in California and looked over at me that afternoon, you would have seen tears flowing down my face. It was the only time that week that I had reached that level of emotion.

I stood in the middle of the room. I turned to my friend Kris and said something like, “what did we do to deserve this?” Both of us had our life changed and turned upside down and wouldn’t have even been in the same room with one another if it wasn’t for the writings, thoughts, and example that was on display in front of us.

Jane Willard, the widow of Dallas Willard, had just spent the last 30 minutes speaking to our Apprentice Experience Community about what it was like living with Dallas, how he came to write his books, and some of the challenges he and she faced over the years. This was all so fascinating, but then she brought out her personal collection of items from her home – things like Dallas’ personal Bible, letters from Richard Foster encouraging Dallas to write his Christian books, a copy of Mere Christianity, complete with Dallas’ notes, that reads like a conversation between Willard and C.S. Lewis. She had pictures of their wedding and their family through the years as well.

Dallas Willard’s Bible

Of course, when I picked up his Bible, like many of us, I turned to Matthew 5 and 6, the Sermon on the Mount, to see the notes and highlights on the passage of scripture that inspired the book, The Divine Conspiracy. This book was Dallas’ most profound and influential work and the piece of writing that I found 18 years ago that turned me from a devotee of Christ with little direction and purpose to a disciple of Jesus, willing to be led by him to be the Christ I have been called to be.

When I had my spiritual breakthrough many years ago, I began to seek out voices that could feed my desire for continued growth and stoke the inspiration that I had received from a life-giving God. The primary voice that I found was Dallas Willard. I really can’t put into words (though I have tried) what his writings and example has meant for me. His was a life that showed and taught the grand possibility of Christ’s transformation in an individual’s life. Without this message, I would have still had faith but it would be lacking in hopefulness, in vitality, in real examples of growth and transformation. Willard inspires and awakens the reality of Christ and the potential of the Kingdom of God like no other writer, speaker, or pastor I have ever come across. I owe so much of my Christian experience over the last 18 years to the influence of Dallas Willard and in that moment in California, God let me behind the curtain to be with that legacy in an intimate and unique way.  I felt unworthy.

So there I was, feeling the impact of Christ’s work through one man to help point me to Christ as Savior, Christ as teacher, Christ as friend, and Christ as an indwelling presence in my life. God’s abundance and generosity and foolishness overwhelmed me in that moment. What did I do to deserve this?

How To Handle Irritating Church People

Some people just can’t handle it.

An irritating person is in their Bible Study. A socially awkward man likes to speak up at all of the church meetings and eyes roll all over the room. A mentally disabled person makes weird noises at weird times and that is all people can think about as the sermon is being delivered.

My father in law, who is a pastor, says that because the church is supposed to be light, the light will attract bugs, in the form of strange, kooky, and difficult people. And he can tell you many stories of these bugs he has had in his churches.

I once heard a pastor speak with pride about asking a notoriously difficult and church hopping couple that they were not welcome at his church. He didn’t want their drama and peculiarities junking up his congregation.

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It can be too easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback with some of these situations but I was struck recently by a phrase found in David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship.  Augsburger says that Christian community is, “a web of stubbornly loyal relationships knotted together into a living network of persons.” I love that phrase “stubbornly loyal.” When was the last time we were stubbornly loyal to anything much less our church?

Augsburger expands on the stubbornly loyal idea and describes what this might look like in a church setting.

Recognizing that community is a place where both good friends and predictable frustrators are present, needed, valued, respected, incorporated, and indeed learned from in genuine dialogue, stubbornly inclusive participants do not give up on the irritating or withdraw into the conforming, but rather welcome both.

Augsburger thinks that we should welcome the irritating and even learn from them. Jesus’ disciples were always trying to shield Jesus from the irritating people around them but Jesus seemed to seek them out. He asked that the children come to him instead of pushing them to the margins. When random people touched him in a huge crowd, Jesus sought out some of those people much to the annoyance of the disciples.

What does it say about us when our instant intolerance overwhelms our willingness to welcome and include? What might God be asking us to learn from this situation? Do we think we are so good that we can’t humble ourselves to be a little uncomfortable?

Christ has been stubbornly loyal to his church, despite all of its division, brokenness, corruptions, and scandal. Maybe it is time for us to practice a little stubborn loyalty ourselves.