Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I'd like for you to chime in on some musings I've been pondering.
What's the relationship between disbelief and doubt? Are they one and the same? Or are they separate entities?
What kind of doubt is appropriate/part of the human condition and what is not? For instance, if I am doubting God's goodness or his love, is that the same as not doubting that he will give me the new car that I have prayed to him for? Is one kind of doubt worse than the other?
Is simply the acceptance of the way things are (i.e. I have cancer and am dying)a faithless act and a form of doubt? Some believe so. I know of a family whose mother died of cancer and there was a consensus amongst some friends and family members that even attending her funeral was a form of doubting. They had faith that she would be resurrected. So, why attend the funeral? Needless to say, her resurrection has yet to come. Although we have hope that in the last day it will.
Then there is mystery. Sometimes people want to exercise faith by naming it and claiming it (whatever the "it" may be....could be faith in a healing, a new car, a better job or the healing of a relationship). Of course, God wants us to come to Him in faith for our concerns. But, he wants us to come to Him like children. No pretence. No pride. Without a desire to control or coerce His goodness. But, faith saturated with unfiltered naming and claiming seems. . .well, it seems like a really spiritual way of controlling God to get what you want. Sort of like using faith as a crow-bar that we use to pry and gain leverage over God. What ever happened to the mystery of God? If God is simply a cosmic candy dispenser that gives ME what I put in (assuming that what I put in is the the right thing)?
We may ask then, where does His sovereign will fit into my faithful prayers? I would argue that they do fit. But, any human attempt to figure out how this fits is futile. The bottom line is that we must trust God. We have faith. We pray, but ultimately God ways are still a mystery to man.
Sometimes it seems that people lose faith when they claim that they do not see nor understand God and are frustrated because they cannot nail him down. Yet, should not a large part of our faith assume that I will not see or understand the ways of the Creator? Shouldn't faith remind us that even in such confusing moments where there is no trace of Him, that He still is. That he still loves. And, He still is working to renew all things. . .including my present reality. Is our faith big enough to live within the mystery that is God?
As Friedrich Buechner put it, "To say that god is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective".
If God cannot be nailed down either physically or spiritually, perhaps our faith should not be as much about mastery over Him, as humbly embracing the divine mystery that is Him.
Monday, April 26, 2010
About a year ago I picked up Tim Keller's book entitled "Prodigal God" and haven't been able to put it down. I'm three weeks into a four week sermon entitled "Lost" which is a series highlighting the two kinds of lost-ness that we see in the elder and younger brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. And, I'm highly thankful for Keller's contributions and exegesis of this text. Keller pulled some of his material together with the help of middle-eastern and Biblical scholar Ken Bailey. Bailey's book "The Cross and the Prodigal" is both powerful and enlightening.
Some people suggest that Biblical scholarship is the stuff of ivory towers and college auditoriums. But, I continually find that good Biblical scholarship helps me to unpack in a deeper and more real sense who Jesus is. So, I'm thankful for the ways these two texts combined with dozens of readings of the parable itself have opened my eyes up to Jesus' radical message within this parable that challenges me daily.
Check out either of these two books. Both are well worth the read.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
There's this amazing four year old in my life who can melt my heart with her smile. After posting yesterday about my boys, I was reminded while exercising last night how this song below just makes me think of Kate and smile. A true smiling face is ultimately birthed in love.
And, no matter how challenging my day is, Kate's smile does something to my world to turn my frown upsidedown. This song reminds me that sacred music is not simply religious music. Here's an irreligious tune that serves as an instant pipeline into the sacred. A sacred glance that only can exist between a Father and his daughter. This song, like Kate's smile puts me in a grateful mood.
Think of a loved one whose soul makes you smile as you listen. . .and praise God for the wondrous gift of family and friends.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I just got home from a meeting and have to get my boys down, return a phone call, look over some mail and hopefully catch a few minutes of TV to unwind from a hectic day.
Already 17 minutes past the boys bed time and I haven’t even begun reading yet. As they recognize my familiar footsteps nearing their bedroom, I hear the all too familiar mantra: “Daddy, Daddy, read to us!” Tonight, reading is the last thing I want to do, and I’m racing against time. I’ve got more stuff to do tonight, so I better get right down to business.
As I enter their room I’m greeted with simultaneous bear hugs. Instead of returning the hugs and meeting them eye to eye, my gaze is fixed elsewhere. The bookshelf. “Hmm, what’s the shortest book in here” I wonder. “If I pull this off right”, I think to myself, “I can have the lights out in 13 minutes”. Within seconds I’ve yanked the skinniest book in sight off the shelf and have begun reading. To meet my goal I realize that I’ve got to pick up the pace of the reading and give them an edited version (which of course, they never fall for). As I continue my speed reading, I throw in a monotone voice hoping that if the confusion doesn’t get them more tired, the sheer boredom will certainly cause them to doze off to sleep. “With some luck, maybe I’ll be out of here before 9:30”, I internally scheme.
The clock is still ticking, and I’m reading like a man possessed. “As I flip to page 12”, I think to myself. “Only 24 pages more to go. Haven’t we read Go Dogs Go about 786 times anyway?” The boys interest begins to wane and their eager eyes turn to blank stares. My strategy is working. “Maybe if I skip a few pages, the boys won’t notice.” With each page I become more and more emotionally detached from their little souls and am seemingly unaware of the fact that I am missing a golden opportunity to be their dad tonight.
As, I reach the final stretch, the boys too have become uninterested in the story, and truth be told, uninterested in their dad as well. Needless to say, I'm secretly glad when they doze off before our prayer time because it leaves more time for me to unwind tonight. I turn off the lights and quickly scurry out of their room without a hug or a kiss (after all, why risk waking them, right?) Mission accomplished. And all of this before 9:30. Well, I got want I wanted tonight. I beat the clock. . .and loss something sacred in the process.
I’ve found in my own life that saturated-living often robs me of sacred-living. Saturated-living is a life driven by the stuff of life, overcrowded schedules, random events and the thousand miscellaneous things to get done.
These days I must often remind myself, that my kids are not just another "thing" to get done...they are little, unformed beings created in the very image of God. My highest calling is to love them, nurture them in Christ, and to simply be present with them in and through the ordinary events of everyday life. This is sacred-living.
The clock is ticking. And, soon the day will be gone when I have this wonderful opportunity to lie alongside my boys in bed (do you realize this is a sacred privilege?), read to them about the Lord and pray for them as they cuddle with their dad. Today my oldest son Jackson, if he reaches with his tip-toes, can almost touch the foot-board of his bed from where he lies at night. It seems as though just yesterday he could barely climb into that big bed. God has entrusted parents with an appointed amount of time to pour into their little lives. The grow up too fast.
Very soon our kids will be lying in their children’s beds reading stories to their own boys and girls. And, they will have become a certain kind of person because of us. Their life will either resemble a saturated-lifestyle marked by its tendency of being filled and flooded with stuff, or a sacred-lifestyle characterized by intentional investments in deep relationship with God and others.
Time is fleeting. So, I am attempting to become more and more the kind of person who embraces the sacred life by intentionally nurturing my kids hearts in the way of Jesus. For me, this begins in the bedroom at night where I have the opportunity to look into bright eyes and open hearts and to tell ancient and modern stories about good and evil. . .to kid around and to laugh. . to share my day with them. . .and to whisper strength into their open, attentive hearts.
This is the stuff of parenthood and of embracing sacred-living. So, my encouragement as a fellow parent and a pastor is to be committed to becoming this kind of person to your kids. It’s a big responsibility, but is fleshed out in small ways like simply reading and praying with your children. And, the time to begin is tonight. After all, the clock is ticking.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
There is one who attends your group. He sits and listens and makes himself available each week in your small group community. His name is Jesus Christ. He wants to take your small group some where. He's always led communities. And, he wants to lead your community too.
Too often leaders mistakenly think THEY must take the people of God some place. So as leaders we panic or fret over issues, needs or the direction of the group. We convince ourselves that unless we "run things" correctly things may fall apart. I remember one small group gathering several years ago that could only be described in one word: grueling. It was one of those nights where I would have just as soon stayed home at watched a PBS documentary on scrap metal than have gone to group. Driving home from group, I looked over at Ann and bluntly said, referring to the night, "What was that???" Annoyed by the shallow responses, the lifeless stares, and the luke-warm coffee, I felt frustrated and alone. Where is the sense of God's presence? Where is discipleship? Isn't this supposed to be the community of God's redeemed? I remember crying out to God, "Lord, if I don't hold this community together, who else is going to?" In the moments of silence that followed over the next few days I gently recall the Lord reminding me, "I will hold it together. I will."
It is Jesus who holds the community of God together. Jesus teaches that where two or three are gathered together in his name, he is there, right in their midst. Ultimately, our small group leadership is really about follower-ship. We must remind ourselves that the Rabbi is in the room. He is always in communion with the Father, and he desires communion with us. He wants to lead our groups into a deeper, more spiritually minded, unified awareness of the Father. But, in order for this to happen, we must follow His prompting.
Leaders must learn to follow before they can truly lead. Learning to follow Him can come in many forms. However, for those of you who are leading this week, I suggest this simple prayer to prepare yourself for your small group:
Jesus, remind me that you are a member of our group.
You want us to follow you and to experience all that you experienced with the Father.
Help our group to follow where you want to take us.
Protect my heart from anxiety, frustration, agendas and expectations.
Prepare my heart for your leading
And open my eyes that I might see You in our midst tonight.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Wendell Berry has been significant source of encouragement for me in recent years. He's a poet, a prophet and a philosopher. Most of all, I find in him in a kindred spirit. The stress of last week brought to mind this simple poem. It's reminiscent of Jesus' teachings on the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. I was reminded that there is a "grace of the world" crafted in creation. If only we have eyes to see and the hunger to embrace it.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Great athletes listen to their bodies. They know when to work the body and when to let it recover. They realize that over-usage often leads to under-performance. In the same way, solitude allows us to flip our “on” switch to “off” for a while so that we can learn to sit and listen to what we really need. In I Kings 19 Elijah is so juiced up that he believes he needs a coffin. “I have had enough LORD, let me die.” But, in solitude God reminded him of what he really needed. A nap and supper. Often I have no idea what ails me until I permit myself to do nothing and waste time with the Lord.
Are you panting uncontrollably? What are you it need of? Rest? Laughter? Friendship? Silence? Hearing God’s voice? Without solitude you might never know.
Monday, April 12, 2010
The faster we move the blurrier life becomes. Remember those rides at the state fair that were essentially merry-go-rounds on steroids? Round and round faster and faster. In such moments reality quickly becomes blurred and we lose perspective of where we are and what’s going on around us. All you can do is simply hold on and pray for the ride to end! For many of us life is just spinning way too fast. We think we have perspective, but in reality do not. Recently, after a few long days of non-stop activity I was hit by what I thought was a tidal wave situation. The following day I spent some time alone in prayer and got a full night of sleep that evening. Much to my surprise, the next day that tidal wave situation became a mere ripple. The situation had not changed, but my perspective had. Solitude benefits our lives by placing our body in a posture of stillness and refreshment long enough to get a clearer, healthier perspective on life.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
I am NOT the sum of my relationships or achievements.
Henri Noewen writes, “We remove our scaffolding in solitude”. That is, I no longer allow the things of this world to “prop” me up giving me a distorted view of who I really am. In solitude, I let everything down. I go into a quiet place with nothing other than, well, . . .ME. And, in doing so, I am reminded I am God’s child, not by way of merit, popularity or charm, but because I am his created work. Because Jesus accepts even me. I learn as I still my soul, to differentiate myself from my achievements. I am liberated from the notion that we are the sum of my to-do lists and the sum of my relationships. I embrace the ME that Jesus has already embraced. And, on most days, that's not easy. But it is freeing. And, solitude will impress this kind of freedom upon you.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Solitude, ample time spent alone doing “nothing”, is a great remedy for the driven-virus. Now, right away us driven folks will utter, “I’d love to get away alone, but I have so many things to do!” If you find yourself nodding your head right now and completely agreeing with this statement. . . you got the bug. It's pulsing through your veins.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Several years ago I purchased my first hunting dog. She was a bird dog. An English Setter, sired by Havelock Blacksmith a national champion pointer out of North Dakota. I named her Maggie, but called her a lots of other things in the three years we had her (things I better not put into writing here). She could have been the poster canine for a magazine entitled “Gun- Dogs Gone Wild”.
I quickly realized that pointers as a breed, and particularly English Setters, are unique dogs. Their insatiable desire to find birds combined with their unending desire to please their owners create a powerful hunting concoction that often results in great days of hunting, yet at the same time, can be disastrous to the animal. Believe it or not, in some cases, these dogs are so driven they will literally run themselves to death in hot weather.
I can. I have a feeling that English Setters aren’t the only breed that struggles with exhausted bodies that are left gasping for breath at the end of the day. I can say with certainty that the need to achieve in my own life and has left me panting and licking my wounds on multiple occasions.
I encourage those of you who are out in the field of life running and panting far more than you should to build in some much needed “down time” in your life. Most likely your body, conditioned for activity, may initially resist and even detest the stillness of solitude. You might feel the way Maggie felt when I locked her in the kennel for her own good. That’s okay. Lots of good remedies taste bad going down the pipe, but given time and patience, do their work well.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Friday, April 02, 2010
Because all was not yet finished.
Lord, you were given a mock trial where injustice ruled the hearts of treacherous men in the night. I would have screamed “unfair” and lost heart. But you did not utter a word to your accusers
Because all was not yet finished.
Lord, soldiers took you and had their way with you. They whipped you, slapped you and spat upon you. Worse yet, they mocked your royalty by dressing you in a crown of thorns that they violently pressed upon your bleeding brow.
I would have sought revenge in that moment to crush them and render them impotent. But, you. You willingly received their torment. Instead of retaliating you endured the pain of rejected love
Because all was not yet finished.
Lord, they placed a heavy wooden beam on your bruised back. They herded you, like an animal, to the place they had assigned for you. The insults and murmurings of the crowds. The soldiers insults…roughly goading you onwards. You stumbled and fell and rose again.
I would have given in. I would have given up. But you, You got back up and pressed on to the place of the skull
Because all was not yet finished.
Lord, they stripped you naked. You were stripped of your dignity, stripped of your honor, stipped of your diety…They stripped you too of your clothing. Any act of decency and humanity gone. Must they take everything? You layed bear before the world.
Had they taken everything from me. I would have given them something in return. I would have offered insults at all the on-lookers, I would have cursed and screamed damnation on them. But, you, you forgave your oppressors further leaving yourself vulnerable to those who would strip the King of Kings
Because all was not yet finished.
I would not have made it to where you did Lord. I would have said “It is finished” long before you. I would have said it in defeat, in disguist, in disappointment, in despondency. But you O Lord, went all the way to the end. In that last sacred moment, when all had been given Lord and nothing more could be expended as you gave your life you uttered
It is finished.
You are Jesus the Christ. You God’s servant.
You are the one who accomplishes what I could not and can not
You complete what is lacking in me…you complete what is lacking in us.
You have finished what we started.
And, brought resolution to our calamity.
We praise you Christ!
Because of you our faith begins not with a big DO, but a big DONE.
You have done what we could not do for ourselves. You became sin for us. Once and for all our sins are atoned for and we are reminded today that it is not what we do Lord, but what you have done and what you accomplished on our behalf when you cried the words,“It is finished”.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Meditate and associate yourself with His sufferings as you take in this song.