Reading Now/Listening Now

Reading Now

What I am Reading: I am going through my highlights from Dallas Willard’s Life Without Lack and starring the best sections.

What has Meant Something to Me: Willard describes the movement of faith from sufficiency to abandonment to contentment.

LWL

Something I am Going to Try: A day with Jesus. At the end of the book, Willard maps out how to spend a day with Jesus. I am looking to schedule this and plan for this later in the month.

Listening Now

What I am Listening To: As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson. This is a collection of sermons from the long time pastor, translator, writer, and professor.  I have the audiobook version and I listen to it on my way to work. Unlike the Baptist preachers that I am used to, Peterson’s sermons are usually around 20 minutes long. So, I often finish the sermons on my commute.

What has Meant Something to Me: Peterson isn’t trying to conquer the known world with each sermon. He simply has a text, a word from God, and fantastic use of language. This helps you chew on the message and let it swim around a bit in your head. There are no set of points to map out, just grand, holy ideas to consider and pray through.

Something I am Going To Try: Reading the Psalms in the Message translation in order to get a fresh taste of the full range of human experience and God’s provision in that experience.

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No Pain, No Gain?

When we were told that our youngest daughter would have birth defects, possibly severe ones, did I need that situation to develop a sense of ruthless trust in God?

Would I have ever made Jesus the Lord and center of my life if I didn’t have a breakdown full of darkness, depression, and frustration?

Did I need to be cut from my high school basketball team to know that God can still value me despite personal disappointment and failure?

Did I need to be a lonely college student to take advantage of long stretches at a lake setting with just me and God?

Did my Dad have to die and my friend drink himself to death for me to learn to love God even when I don’t agree with how he has allowed things to happen?

Is pain and struggle a prerequisite for growth?

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Job, in the Bible, needed one catastrophe after another in order to finally make this statement about God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s struggles awakened his spiritual senses to truly appreciate and savor God.

Paul begged for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” but God didn’t. Instead, God told him this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul would then come to this realization, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul needed hardship and difficulties and weakness for God to be his strongest. I don’t know if I can say that I delight in struggles and disappointment just yet but if that is what it takes for God to be the strongest in my life then I will sacrifice my comfort and ease along the way.

For I have seen too much growth, too much of God’s presence, too much of God’s provision, and too much of a change in myself to think otherwise.

Where What God Wants Done Is Done

God acts here among us. He moves, creates, shifts, directs, speaks, and transforms. He restores souls.

Do you believe this?

The place where God gets done what he wants done is called the Kingdom of God. Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God within himself at the beginning of his ministry and constantly taught his followers about the Kingdom of God.

He said the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here, accessible, inhabiting, and available. All he ask of us is for us to repent. Surely, this means repent in the revivalists sense but also in the basic sense of “rethinking.” We are to rethink the way we look at the world because in Jesus the Kingdom is at hand, right here.

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Brooklyn Museum

If I have committed myself to Jesus, I have become “one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” I have access to this ever present Kingdom and can commit myself to what God wants done and join forces with other believers who are indwelt by Christ to expand and strengthen the Kingdom. I Grow Up and the community Grows Up.

But if my view of the Kingdom is that it is for another time and some other place then I will never experience its potential, power, and progress. I will be stuck as an observer and not a participant.

 

What We Care About May Not Matter That Much To Jesus

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Would it bother you if I told you that I listen to the Grateful Dead and a band called the Mother Hips? Would it matter if I tell you I don’t like Christian movies?

What is the first thing you think of when I tell you I would rather listen to NPR than Christian radio stations? That I follow some liberals on Twitter and have voted for Democrats on occasions? That I own a Subaru?

I tell you this not because I think I am cool (I know me and I am not cool) or because I think the people that make different choices than me are stupid or less sophisticated. I am not trying to shock anyone. I am not saying that I am right or better than anyone else.

What I am trying to do is point out the absurd tendency in humans to use cultural markers to categorize, identify, judge, and even dismiss. These cultural markers often have nothing to do with the emphasis that Jesus clearly stated for his followers.

Jesus said that if we are his children, we will obey his commands. What commands? You can start with the Sermon on the Mount. He later said that anyone who follows him must take up their cross and die to self. That is a demand much more costly than whether my kids watch Sponge Bob or not. He also said that the world will know his followers by how much they love. Wow, that takes work and humility and sacrifice and is hard to quantify to impress followers on Facebook.

I have expressed my problem with judgement here, so I am trying not to turn this into a finger pointing session. I simply think that the time has come for Christians to shift their focus away from superficial Christian subculture markers and who is in and who is out thinking and, instead, become obsessed with character transformation, spiritual growth, intimacy with God, and love, in the most Biblical sense.

You may not like my choice of music or politics but in the words of John Wesley, “If your heart beats in love for Jesus, then take my hand and we will walk together in fellowship.” And our focus will not be on categories of cultural adherence but on our love for God and others. If we work on that, then these other things will take care of themselves.

 

 

The One Thing The American Church Must Not Be Fueled By

Twelve years ago, I quit one of the great joys of my life. I had enough. I was disgusted and embarrassed and I felt hoodwinked, used, and deceived. So I quit.

Baseball, this great game that had captured my imagination and heart since I was in junior high, had become bloated, monstrous, and impure. Steroids had turned the game into a chemistry experiment and the players barely resembled their true selves. Worst of all, every sense of pure fascination and enjoyment I experienced as a fan became a fool’s errand because surely none of these players had achieved transcendence and great heights without taking a short cut, without cheating themselves and the game. So, I was done.

In the last few years, I have started to feel the same way about the American church. It seems to be taking short cuts and injecting itself with a substance that makes it swell and produce unusual results. This substance is fueling the church and has increased its power and significance. But this substance is anything but Godly, only serves to achieve results while corrupting the body with a toxin that looks just like the rest of the world and dismisses the purity of the Christ that it proclaims.

This artificial and harmful substance is anger. Somehow, anger has become accepted as a means for the church and its members to handle life in the 21st century. And it keeps holding on to it because it keeps getting results even though it reveals a heart that is corrupted, unchanged by Christ, and linked to false power, deceit, hate, lying, greed, and oppression. I don’t want any part of this acceptance and complicity with anger.

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Jesus was so against the use of anger that he described three different levels of punishment due the angry person. He says they are worthy of judgement, arrest, and even hell, simply on the basis of their anger. A wise man once said, “Anything that could be done with anger can be done better without it.” We may think that anger is the only way to get results and that we have to join the ways of the world to be significant in the world but all anger is doing to the church is poisoning any real value it might have; any real word it might bring that is loving, hopeful, merciful, faithful, gentle, kind, and peaceful.

Jesus continues his emphasis against anger in the passage referenced above by saying that our worship will lose its meaning and purity if we still harbor anger. He knew how anger corrupts and he makes quite an effort to get his followers to eradicate anger from their lips and from their lives.

I don’t want to quit the church or my affiliations to it but I will not participate in a steroid version that barely resembles Christ’s intent for it or turns it into a bloated, ugly, malformed entity. May we all assess our methods of fueling the body of Christ, the church, and end our love affair with anger. Christ will have nothing to do with it and we shouldn’t either.

Hearing God? Not Just For Super Christians

Does God speak to you?

If you are Growing Up into a wise and courageous follower of Christ, you should be surprised when God doesn’t speak to you. Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, quotes E. Stanley Jones, who says:

“He that made the toungue and gave us the power to communicate with one another, shall he not speak and communicate with us? I do not believe that God our father is a dumb, noncommunicative impersonality.”

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If Jones and Willard are to be believed than we should move God speaking to us out of the sensational category of spiritual experience.

What if our mature and Spirit-filled life with Christ is more like Samuel? He approached tasks in an ongoing conversation with God. Samuel didn’t always interpret situations and directions correctly but that didn’t stop God from continuing to speak to him. We too can hear from God and, in fact, we should expect to and not be surprised when we do.

God speaking may be a still, small voice or may be an audible one or be simply words that someone else speaks that seems to reach you from a depth only you recognize. The point is that it is not just Samuel or Moses or Elijah that hear from God but you and me. God is not checking our credentials.

As long as we are seeking him with all of our heart and mind, we will hear from God. He wants to speak to us as much as we want to hear from Him. Let’s start that conversation today.

My Journey of Grief

This month marks a year since my Dad died. I thought it might be useful to note some observations I have had about loss, grief, and recovery:

Individuality of Grief – Until you have been through the death of a parent or someone very close to you, there is no way of knowing what it is really like to go through grief. I was ignorant of grief’s twist and turns and ups and downs. I had been guilty in the past of expecting people just to snap out of it and move on. Now I know how insensitive and arrogant that mentality was. Grief is a real thing and there isn’t a clear formula for how it progresses.

Loneliness – When you lose someone so close to you it is like a part of you has been severed off, never to be replaced. I miss that part that was lost and never getting it back is a lonely feeling. There were months of just deep loneliness despite the great love and belonging I have around me.

Letchworth State Park, one of the incredible scenic locales that I have experienced over the last year. 

Counseling helps – I was blessed enough to have, on my campus, free counseling that allowed me weekly conversations about the grief process and all that was associated with my particular situation. As an introverted, contemplative thinker type, I am much more accustomed to the conversations I have with myself. Yet, here was a trained person blocking out an hour a week to listen to me and help me through my issues. At one point, my counselor asked me, what do you think has been the most beneficial part of our time together? We agreed that it wasn’t any of the activities he had me do or the strategies we worked out, it was the chance to talk about my dad, my sadness, my loneliness, and how I try to cope with these situations.

God provides – In the midst of my grief and inner turmoil, God provided the Apprentice Experience to give me resources and capacities to grow in the midst of my grief and not to be swallowed up by it. I have incredible co-workers who provided support, prayers, and practical acts of service that made me feel loved and strengthened my resiliency. I had unusual opportunities to travel, see some beautiful sights, and breath in God’s wonderful creation (see photo above.) It was life-giving and soul restoring.

Why is True Community So Difficult?

Community is hard. Building camaraderie takes time. Establishing unity and a bond among a group of people is complex and requires many variables.

If I had a frustration with God about what he is up to it wouldn’t be about some internal struggle of mine; it would be the failure and lack of potential in the groups I have been a part of or am a part of. My nature is to just say forget it and throw up my hands and curl up with my books, my music, and my thoughts and leave the challenge of building community behind.

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Even in the Apprentice Experience, noticeably filled with 30 maturing and serious believers, there were marks of serious relational problems and the inability to move beyond our default selfish state to achieve connection and loving community. If this group of well read and committed followers of Christ couldn’t establish something consistently peculiar and unique then how was a lesser developed group going to manage real community?

Where I have found a great sense of community is in a weekly breakfast I have with a good friend of mine. It is just the two of us but we hit on all of the marks of what Keith Matthews calls an “Incarnational Community.”

We are intensely local, living in the same region of our city. Our meetings are face-to-face and eye-to-eye. We discuss, share, disclose, admit failures, and listen to one another. Though I have some spiritual maturity on him, I learn just as much from him as I hope he does from me. We are intentional about growing and changing in Christ. We don’t see much need to meet if this isn’t happening.

We are just two people. I am not skilled enough or capable enough to transfer what we have to a larger group. That is okay because what we have is special. The rewards have been too great to diminish the fact that we are just two and not a growing, multiplying group.

I pray that you, too, can find that one other person, or a few persons, that bring you community and a sense of unity and depth and growth. If you find it, don’t waste it, that kind of community is hard to find. Thank God for it and work to cultivate the very best out of it.

Surrender: The Great Forgotten Word

My tolerance for other’s tomfoolery, for disobedience, for not taking things seriously is not very high.

My friends like to remind me of the time in High School when we were organizing our first Fantasy Baseball Draft and I grew impatient with their lack of adherence to the rules and structure of the proceedings. I stormed off and sulked in another room. There was a old baseball bat in the room that I grabbed and started messing with. I just needed something to do with my hands in my frustration and irritation. I still had the bat in my hand when I went back into the “draft” room. I was not intending to use the bat for harm, I just was carrying it to carry it. My friends, though, thought in my anger, I was ready to use the bat to go after them or destroy some unsuspecting furniture. Their misunderstanding made me even more mad.

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This story illustrates the problem I have with surrendering myself to God. You see, I desire to have every situation work out the way I envisioned or to have a positive outcome, or to make sense. If I get a sense of things getting out of hand or something creeping to a less than desirable result, I start to loose impatience and begin to worry and fret over meeting my expectations. I am often unable to surrender myself and situations to God’s provision and will.

In my humanity, I somehow think I have control over how my life will turn out and even have control over how other lives will turn out. One of the best signs of us Growing Up is our surrender of control over the outcomes of our lives to God. Then, we can move to surrendering the outcomes of other people’s lives to God as well. We need to work towards the ability to say, “Lord, you can have anything, ” “Lord, not my will but your will be done;” “Do with me what you will.”

Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

As a follower of Christ, I am called to a complete surrender of my life to God. This sounds daunting, and if we are planning on doing it in our own power, it is. But we can start by saying and praying these simple words:

“Lord, I want what you want. This is all that I want.”

Life, But With Godly Wisdom

A Psalm based on James 3:17-18

Father, give me heavenly wisdom because the wisdom of the world is bankrupt.

Your wisdom is pure. The only thing that is pure in my life is my pure willingness to seek after my own plans.

I need that peaceable wisdom because as a card carrying member of the human race, my tendencies lean toward conflict and disruption.

Your wisdom makes me considerate and gentle. That is funny, so many people who have “wordly” wisdom bring pride and arrogance with them.

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That heavenly wisdom makes me want to give up on my way or the highway. Others can advance, others can achieve, others can have their time. I don’t have to be in charge.

That knowable, Godly wisdom is overflowing with mercy. That element that even while I say the word ‘mercy,’ I know it is not common to myself or many around me.

So much good comes from a wisdom from above. And the goodness spreads. I just want to be a part of that kind of goodness.

Why would I need to be partial or be insincere with those around me? What would that bring me? That is a song and dance, that is manipulation. I can live without these things because God’s wisdom brings an alternative to all forms of deception or taking advantage of others.

I am like a farmer who plants peace, waters it with wisdom to reap a harvest of righteousness.

This is life, this is living. Oh that I can receive this. Pour your wisdom on me.