It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
Book Review: Accidental Saints
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publisher: Convergent Books ISBN: 9781601427557
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
This was the first book I’ve read from Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve watched a few of her talks on the internet over the years, but I had not gotten around to reading her book Pastrix before I had this book, Accidental Saints, offered for my review. I mention this for the point that I had limited personal knowledge to her message and communication style, although I was familiar with internet chatter about her.
It is easy to form opinions from the banter of others and while I try to stay objective in my perceptions about “stuff” and other people, I am influenced by the circles in which I travel. I freely admit that I am a bit more conservative with my interpretation and expression of the Christian faith; consequently, I was a bit cautious of the progressive posture held by Nadia Bolz-Weber when I started Accidental Saints. While I was not surprised by what I read, I was surprised by how much I agreed with and how much I was ministered to by Nadia’s experiences and sharing.
Nadia’s writing style is very open. She’s transparent and bluntly honest or so it seems. If profanity offends you, then this might not be on your summer reading list. The language can be a bit salty at times, but that is also “real world” and the stories in Accidental Saints are real… as are our own emotions, thoughts, responses, and reactions. Similarly, I don’t hold the same theological positions as Bolz-Weber on several doctrinal issues, but then…I can say that about my own denomination as well. Regardless of whether I hold the same theological positions, I was blessed repeatedly by the accounts shared and the spiritual insights gleaned through them.
I received an Advanced Reading Copy for my examination, so I’m not entirely sure the final printing will be in the same format, but I’ll share what I read nonetheless. The book seems to loosely follow a year-in-the-life of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, the church pastored by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Chapter one begins with All Saints Day on the Liturgical Calendar (Nov. 1) and flows pretty much through the high points of the Christian Calendar to the following year All Saints Day. Personal anecdotes walk the reader through the church year and spiritual insights gleaned through the lives of Bolz-Weber and many of the congregants that share community in House for all Sinners and Saints.
The ARC ends with a couple appendices that include discussion questions for group readings and a Q&A with the author, Bolz-Weber.
My overall impressions are very favorable and I’m inclined to get my hands on a copy of Pastrix, as there are several allusions to the book, which incite my curiosity. Profanity does not freak me out, so that didn’t affect my view of what I was reading, but it is something to be aware of in case you are bothered by it. I am also glad I entered into the reading with relative objectivity, because there are some great stories and beautiful spiritual insights to be gleaned here. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read and review the book; I don’t think it would be appreciated by everyone in my circle of influence, but I will recommend it where I think it appropriate. Final ranking 4 of 5 stars.
My Daily Bread: Scripture Meditations
The following is an extended meditation that began with my practice of engaging God’s Word through lectio divina (divine reading). The process follows a few basic steps: (1) quiet, slow, and attentive reading of a short passage of Scripture (2) “listening” in a meditative posture for God’s Word to be “spoken” – a word, phrase or other mental image coming from the selected text (3) focus on the highlighted word or image, praying God will provide clarity on His Word to me/you (4) prayerfully responding to God with gratitude and surrendered obedience to follow His guidance through the Word given for the day. This is the most basic approach in this style of reading, although there are a number of variations. I’ve found this engagement with God’s Word one of the most rich and personally meaningful ways of reading Scripture. Additionally, I enjoy reading in this style with small groups and have found it to be one of the more spiritually insightful ways of listening to God in the current spiritual exercises and devotion that I practice.
5 “Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy.6 Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ 7 For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? 8 And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?
9 “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:5-9 New Living Translation (NLT)
Concerning the decrees and regulations of God:
- Obey them completely
- They display wisdom and intelligence
- They are righteous and fair
- We are to pass them on to each generation (children and grandchildren)
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
It is my desire to make all of the precepts of God my centerpiece of life—they will keep Him at my center and me at His center. The precepts of God are full of wisdom and intelligence…righteous and fair. It seems then, only a fool and a selfish cheat would seek to avoid God and His decrees. They are intended for the flourishing of all humanity.
Without a focus and intentional connection with God through the Holy Spirit, it is easy for our attentions to stray and easy to forget our commitment to His decrees and regulations. We are prone to seek our own precepts and path…, which often lead in dangerous directions away from “flourishing.”
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget!”
W I S E • P R U D E N T • R I G H T E O U S • F A I R
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
The person who follows the commands and decrees of God exhibits wisdom and intelligence.
“Obey them completely…”
The command to “obey them completely” implies that I must know them well and they have been taught to me “just as the LORD commanded” or as God intended them to be lived out. This further infers that individual interpretations of God’s commandments may not be the essence of obeying them completely. Discernment empowered through the Holy Spirit and the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit-filled people is a necessary component to help insure successful following of God’s decrees. Wisdom dictates that my care is needed in interpretation so I do not infer or impose my own desires or culturally nurtured thinking into God’s commands. I am reminded that I can ask God for wisdom and He will guide me into truth using His Word (Scripture), His People (Tradition), God-centered thinking (Reason), and my own experience in the process of interpretation.
Awake, O Sleeper © 05/25/2015
I am in one of two states,
God is speaking. Always.
His presence is evident;
His Voice is evident;
In all things—In all places,
If I fail to hear, If I fail to see,
I am asleep.
I want to have eyes that see
And ears that hear;
“Pay attention to how you listen…”
Am I awake?
Am I asleep?
I am awake,
Because I AM is awake within me.
For me, there is no silence;
For me, there is no blindness,
As either pertain to the Divine.
In the silence is God;
The Silence is not quiet;
The Silence is not lonely;
The Silence is nothing to fear.
In the silence is God.
This space is un-silence;
This Space is Mystery;
This Space is Divine.
The un-silence is peaceful;
The un-silence brings comfort;
The un-silent silence of God is never
Noisy, distracting, or confusing.
The un-silent silence is respite
And refuge; It is the place of God.
“Pay attention to how you hear…”
I listen; I hear.
I watch; I see.
I AM is here.
I am not asleep;
This sleeper has awakened.
I see the Divine; I see God.
I hear the Divine; I hear God.
I AM – in me;
I am – in Him.
…paying attention to how I listen and hear.
And the Perfect Double Play: a Pre-Pentecost Reflection
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my continuing maturity in the image and likeness of Christ over the past several months. A number of habits (both good and bad) have prompted these reflections and my overall sense has been that of dis-ease. A quick disclaimer is likely helpful, before I proceed with my thoughts. I am in a fruitful season of my Christian journey. There is much to celebrate and be thankful for. My gifts and experiences are being used in profitable, gratifying, and meaningful ways. Still, I am unsatisfied and unsettled. I don’t view this as a bad thing; it is uncomfortable, but not bad.
Discipline is an expression that for me, conjures quite a few word pictures and memories. On the one side, are many memories of corrective action being meted out in response and consequence to some of my poor choices. Conversely, I am reminded of times where discipline translated into practices experienced in the context of sports and military exercises.
The Testing Discipline of God
The past few days I’ve been actively reflecting on a passage of Scripture that has prompted this writing (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. 6 So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
At first glance, there is much here that causes me unrest. For instance, I want the favor of God. I want to flourish, living in the land of promise under God’s sworn faithfulness. I am not always so eager to consider whole-hearted faithfulness and obedience to all the commands of God as my prerequisite to life in the land of favor and abundance. Yes, I want favor, but I want it on my terms and not on the terms of God. I would like favor and promise, but I would also like to negotiate the degree of obedience I must be willing to give up in order to have it. Why can’t my entry to the land of favor and promise be contingent on my desire and best efforts (determined by me)? Shouldn’t I get credit for obedience simply on the basis of “I tried” or “I want to obey”?
Likewise, I do not like the idea that my life might be a continuous trial by fire to test and purify my character. “Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Forty years of testing??? Are you kidding me???!! Why must every day be a test to prove my obedience; didn’t yesterday (assuming I was obedient yesterday) count for something? Oh…what’s that you’re saying, Lord? “My character doesn’t need proving to You, the tests are for my benefit to prove and reveal my character flaws to me.” Ouch.
Discipline and Repetition
I remember a class assignment from elementary school I used to despise. I would even go to extreme efforts to devise ways to circumnavigate the assignment or cheat my way through it. The efforts I would engage in would often be more work than the assignment itself; I suppose this confession reveals a something of my nature and character. The exercise was writing spelling words…over, and over, and over again. I hated it. It seemed pointless and physically painful to me that I would have to spell out words ten or more times a piece, especially when I could prove to spell them correctly after one or two attempts. It was worse that this exercise was sometimes administered in the context of correction or punishment for minor infractions of misbehavior. I might be told to stay in from recess for talking out of turn and made to write out my spelling words while the other kids played. Discipline. Repetition. Correction. Behavior modification…
Discipline can be found and practiced in and with acts of repetition. It (discipline) is often and possibly only learned through those repeated practices. Although I rebelled against most acts of repetition during my youthful years, I have learned the value of repetitive acts especially where they are related to behavioral changes, and specifically in the area of spiritual formation. For instance, the repetition of writing out my spelling words in elementary school is not wholly unlike the repeated and disciplined acts of faith I practice now that leads to a godly life. I have learned and I continue to learn that the body and the mind are both strengthened through “healthy” acts of repetition.
Echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters five and twelve) are central themes to the disciplined life. There is even the mention that Jesus, in obedience learned through suffering, was made perfect through his discipline. How much more then, do we need to learn discipline and obedience. Likewise, as Christ, our perfection comes through discipline, testing, purging, pruning, and repetition leading to our consummate maturity where we will lack nothing reflecting the nature and character of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16, Eph. 5:1, James 1:2-4, 12). Anything less than perfected maturity in the life of the Christ-follower is not an option. Discipleship is discipline to the perfected image of Christ in me and in you.
I get by with a little help from my friends…
It needs saying that I’m not promoting a canon of self-works. I cannot make myself perfect no matter how disciplined or how hard I might try…at least not perfect as it relates to the image and nature of Christ. The discipline and spiritual exercises I refer to assume the empowerment and partnership of God, the Holy Spirit, in every life of the practicing believer. It is impossible to produce Christ-like behavior on our own, but God has given us all we need to live a godly life even sharing with us His glory and the Divine nature (Romans 8:30, John 17:22, 2 Peter 1:3-4), and with His help and partnership we are able to pursue and live a Christ-perfected life. This is Good News. We are God’s dance partner, waltzing the perichoretic two-step in time with the Triune perfection of our God to the to the tune of perfected obedience and melody of Christian maturity.
As I pondered these things, another memory was wrestled from my past. I used to play baseball at a fairly competitive level. I cannot begin to count the hours of practice that we used to joyfully endure. I think, literally, hundreds, maybe thousands of ground balls and fly balls fielded and played out. One of the main plays we would practice from a defensive posture was the double-play. Ground ball after ground ball was fielded and fumbled for the sake of preparing for the eventuality of making the double-play out in a real game. It is impossible to know when the situation might occur or where the variables might line up for your team to make the double-play. You must be ready for every possible outcome. Practice, practice, practice and repetition helped to create a deep muscle memory of how to field the ball, determine the play, and make the following throws and catches that would ensure the success of the double-play. It was rare for anyone to witness the countless fumbles and foibles committed in practice and connect those trials and errors with the beautiful dance of completion and perfection that would happen on game night.
And we come back to where we began… This is the desert experience I think we might understand from the Deuteronomy Eight passage. It’s repetition. It’s testing. It’s faithfully showing up and trusting the outcome to participating with the persons of the Godhead. It’s all there. It’s not always fun. Discipline requires work and sacrifice, but there is a harvest of benefit and glory. Sometimes you jam a finger…sometimes a hard grounder to the chin, but those always seem worth it when you turn the perfect double-play with Jesus as your teammate.
This is something I think might be helpful for me to remember… Discipline often is, but should not always be associated with punitive correction. I think the better understanding of discipline could be associated with proactive conditioning, the kind that leads to healthy behavior and habits producing a fruitful and abundant lifestyle, the kind of life that Jesus came to offer us. Healthy spiritual practices + repetition = Abundant Life.
Book Review: What Your Body Knows About God
Author: Rob Moll
Publisher: IVP ISBN: 9780830836772
This has been without doubt, one of the most fascinating and brilliant books I have read in years. I may be putting a lot of trust in research that I have no background or knowledge of, but it seems that the claims and data presented by Rob Moll in What Your Body Knows About God is sufficiently supported in the notes section of the book for fact checking. Why would I make a statement like that? I make a qualifying or disclaimer statement because the information shared is almost too fantastic to fathom. On the other side of fact checking, is intuition and experience, and this is where I have made the connection with What Your Body Knows.
Here are some salient details about my experience. I am a former addict. Although I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt and taught the Christian faith most of my life, for many years I was living my life very far from God. Quite a few years ago, I made my pilgrimage back to the Christian faith with hopes of finding a deep connection with God that I could never find in some of the earlier forays into Christian spirituality during my younger-self life. Somewhere around ten years ago, I was introduced to the ancient and classic methods of spiritual formation, engaging in spiritual exercises and disciplines practiced by souls for centuries who were on the Way of Jesus who sought whole life transformation in the image and nature of the Christ they follow. Ultimately, these practices were supposed to help facilitate deep reconciliation, restoration, and union with Creator God and many, many of those practicing this lifestyle of devotion did report deep personal transformation…with equal affirming reports from witnesses and peers to the same. My testimony is similar. I have found peace with myself, peace with God, and realized a renewed mind and changed heart. My spiritual life was not the only thing that changed with me through this process. In addition to my spiritual health, my emotional health, my intellect, and aspects of my physical self have changed… in some cases, these changes have rendered me unrecognizable as the man I was formerly known. I am, in every sense of the word, a new creation. I know others will attest to these changes in me as well, but the challenge has been quantifying and validating the process and methods. This is especially true of my Christian tradition, which remains highly skeptical of any efforts that might resemble “works” or self-effort on the way of spiritual recovery.
I have struggled with language to articulate my experience, but that struggle is ending due in large part to the work Rob Moll has done in this most excellent book. While I have known the changes in my life (and others’ lives) have been real, I have needed something more to help communicate the rationality of what has happened. The reality of living in the information age and the age of reason dictates a language the culture can understand. What the Body Knows About God is providing me this language. Moll produces deep science and medical studies to corroborate the experiences of those who have been spiritually transformed. Evidence that supports the “renewing of the mind” and rewiring of the emotions (think fruit of the Spirit) are all included in this magnificent study. Verifiable connections to the disciplines of spiritual formation and life transformation producing “abundant living” are all recorded and explained in terms non-science person like myself can understand.
I am beyond grateful for the work put into this book and know it will be a game changer for me as I continue to share my testimony, now in ways that might better communicate the miracle of God in a life transformed. We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and made so that we might be in faithful fellowship with one another and with the God who created us. What Your Body Knows About God helps to make all of this clear. A must read!
Book Review: Pilgrim’s Progress
Author: John Bunyan
Publisher: ANEKO Press
Pilgrim’s Progress is likely one of the greatest works of literary allegory that exists. I realize how bold that statement might be, but one only read the book to find the truth steeped in that boldness.
While Pilgrim’s Progress charts the arc of the Christian journey, I don’t think it is limited to the Christian experience. Truly the brilliance of John Bunyan is realized in his astute understanding and the following portrayal of the human journey as seen through Pilgrim’s (Christian) eyes.
Originally written almost three hundred fifty years ago, the version I review has been updated to include both the actual Holy Bible Scripture verses and the Scripture references in line with the text of the story. This is a great benefit to the reader who may want to understand the theological reference from whence Bunyan develops his story (an example follows).
“What does this mean?” Christian asked.
The Interpreter answered, “This is Christ who continually maintains the work already begun with the oil of his grace in the heart. By this grace, in spite of what the Devil can do, the souls of his people still prove to be gracious.” (My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather glory in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. -2 Cor. 12:9)
Other than the Scripture helps and modernized language, the book remains faithful to the original writing published in 1638. Although some of the concepts may be a bit complex for very young children, I wouldn’t hesitate to read it to those even as young as second grade. In fact, I read the story to my children when they were between the ages of seven and twelve years old. Even if some of the ideas and situations found in the story or “big,” it can serve as conversations starters and discussions about the nature of life’s journey. This work should be on everyone’s “must read” list… perhaps to revisit and read again and again.
I received a complimentary copy of this book with no obligation to post a favorable review.
I’ve take a “less is more” approach to my Lenten Season this year. I am still active in my participation and devotion, but most of my devotional practice is quiet, still, and intimate. It has taken some getting used to and there is still some awkwardness I’m having to work through, as my normal practices are heavy on “do-practices” rather than “be practices,” especially during the season of Lent. I think it is working well overall despite my occasional feelings of awkwardness.
Today is the Third Sunday in Lent. My devotions the past few weeks have been powerful, intimate, and very clear. This morning as I was meditating and praying through my Scripture readings, an uprising of gratitude and praise bubbled up out of soul, over my lips, and spilled out onto the pages of my journal.
God, I am thankful for the truths you reveal to the hearts and minds of those who seek you. But why should I be surprised? It is something you promise and we see those promises delivered again, and again, and again. We see them delivered throughout Scripture, we see them delivered through the writings of your saints through the ages and we see them delivered in the verbal-audible confessions of our spiritual brothers and sisters today. Breathlessly amazing is what it is. Life-giving assurance is what it is. The power of God unto salvation is what it is.
Thank you and praise you, O Lord my God, for rescuing me and showing yourself to me. Thank you for moments of inspired clarity that bring into focus the mysteries of the universe that are the tapestry of your eternal kingdom. To you I ascribe all glory and honor as I tremble with delight to know that I am yours, truly and eternally yours.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.
I was gathered yesterday with my faith community. At one point during our worship, we were guided in prayer and I heard the words proclaimed, “In a world where nothing seems right…” And my heart and my mind were gripped in pause. Now, I should confess that I too have spoken those words and likely on more than one occasion, but this time my soul was arrested with these words ringing in my ears.
“Nothing seems right?”
The context of these words was in proclamation of a world disordered around us. It is true; all around us there are swaths of chaos, turbulent waves of discontent, poverty, famine, pestilence, pollution, dread, and dis-ease. All this is true, but even in the midst of this broad brushed generalization, can we say with certainty… should we say with certainty “nothing seems right?” I question if this is a true statement.
I think and believe there are many things, perhaps most things that are truly right. I’m afraid we miss the deep truth as a result of our blurry, self-absorbed, and shallow perspectives. When we view the world, the cosmos, and all of creation through the narrow experience of our own self-realized being, we inevitably see all things tarnished by our own frailty and brokenness. Does our brokenness though, translate to all things being broken? Does our inability to be what we were created to be translate to “nothing seems right?”
There are many things right; in fact, most things are right.
Rocks are right. Gravity is right. Osmosis is right. Photosynthesis is right. Stars, suns, planets, and galaxies are right. Plants, animals, insects, fish, and fowl, all express perfect being. They are all complete expressions of what they were created to be. Not one is outside of its origin as God intended. A rock rocks as a rock was created to rock. Birds bird as they were intended. And so on. None of these created entities are in rebellion to their created being. Counting all created things, only man rebels against his created essence. Because of this rebellion, nothing seems right…
I wonder…I contemplate the possibilities and consider, what if man submitted to the order of his creation—surrendered to the command to reflect his Creator—would it be possible for us to see and even realize how much is right? Amidst the chaos and dis-ease, might we see the hallelujahs sung by the waves, might we hear the crescendos of the rising and setting sun? Is it plausible that we might witness the incomprehensible Divinity that sustains each atom that binds this universe together? I think we might. I’m sure we can.
It was narcissistic coordinates that landed us on planet ME and self-centered perspective leads me to see the world through my own corrupt lens. Jesus Christ prescribes the course correction: “Pilot, adjust your coordinates 180° and set your course for Deny Self.” Herein we are privileged to take in scenery that assumes the likeness of its Creator and suddenly…everything seems and looks right.
I shared this devotional thought a few years back, but as I am about to enter into a new season of forming discipleship groups in my local church, I thought it a timely piece to share again.
The Gift of Community: It’s a Family Sort of Thing
Hey, uummmm… you’ve got a booger hanging from your nose.
I know, I know; “ooooh gross!” But really, who hasn’t heard these words at least once in your life? I know I’ve heard it more than once myself and it is never any less embarrassing than it was the first time I ever heard it, but in the end I’m always thankful (after the initial horrifying embarrassment) I was made aware of my “booger.”
Something I’ve realized about publically exposed boogers, there aren’t lots of people who will tell you about them. Strangers, casual acquaintances, and sometimes even close friends will hardly ever take the time to advise you of your “hanging chad.” There are rare exceptions, but that’s why they are exceptions…they’re rare. Family, on the other hand, will almost always tell you about your “sticky little friend.” I come from a family with brothers and sisters; none of us ever hesitated to share with one another about a potentially vulnerable “exposure.”
This is the gift of true community; family familiar and intimately comfortable community. Speaking generally, family love and family friendship is a working paradox of the exquisitely beautiful and grotesquely messy existing side-by-side and all the time.
We talk much about our Christian experience being one of community, but I think we have lost something in the translation. I read something not too long ago that talked about our lifestyles being overly connected through the advances of technology (email, IM, Facebook, etc.), but we are more disconnected from intimacy than at any point in the history of mankind. My experience in the Christian community has been largely disconnected even though we speak of connection. It’s not often that I have had someone share with me about an exposed booger… and when I’ve pointed out boogers to some of my brothers and sisters in the church, some of them have become offended to the point that it was catastrophic, but enough about boogers…
I am becoming more and more of a believer in very small communities of faith. As well, I think these communities need to live in close proximity to one another and spend much time together… really doing life together; eating, playing, learning, laughing, crying, and praying… all together. This is how families live and this is how we grow comfortable with one another even through the screaming frustration that being in family creates sometime. I know that my biological family had some serious knock-down-drag-out matches, but that never stopped us from being family. Truth be known, it was the laughter and the tears that taught us about unfailing beauty and assurance of unconditional love. There needs to be more of this same experience in the Christian family (in my honest opinion).
I think another illustration might be helpful. We are sometimes stubborn about admission of our faults, especially when we spend so much time making ourselves look and smell good. What do you do when someone tells you that you might be wearing too much perfume or cologne? I know my first response is that it might be that person’s issue. Maybe that person who told me has sensitive smell or doesn’t like my cologne; that is their problem, surely it isn’t mine. Right? Well, in a large family a parent, brother, or sister might come to tell me I’m wearing too much cologne as well. Maybe this happens three or four or eight times (my family might be as big as the Walton Family). Maybe now I am inclined to think the remotest possibility could be a reality; maybe my cologne is on a little heavy. Now, I might be persuaded to ask one of my most trusted family members if they think I’m wearing too much cologne… They, of course, being a brother who has nothing to lose or gain (unconditional love works that way), tells me; “Of course, you’ve got too much cologne on. You didn’t notice people passing out from lack of oxygen whenever you entered a room?” Armed with new information and valuable insight, I am now able to adjust the amount of cologne I use so that it enhances my presence instead of overwhelming everyone who comes in contact with me.
On the other side of this “family coin” is the confidence of privilege a family member has in speaking truthfully to a brother, sister, mother, or father in the family. Consider yourself; how comfortable do you feel about telling someone you randomly pass in the shopping mall their perfume is too strong, or how about someone in your workplace, school, or church? Now, consider the same about a member of your immediate family… If your family is anything like mine, you feel comfortable about saying, “Hey Sis, you need to back off a bit on that Miss Dior Chérie and by the way, you may wanna blow your nose.” This is the value of true family and true Christian Community.
I hope my playful illustrations provide something for us to think about on a much more serious level… and we might just want to check our nose before walking out the door today… just sayin’