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“But there are many other voices, voices that are loud, full of promises and very seductive. These voices say, ‘Go out and prove that you are worth something.’ Soon after Jesus had heard the voice calling him the Beloved, he was led to the desert to hear those other voices. They told him to prove that he was worth love in being successful, popular, and powerful. Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me. They are always there and, always, they reach into those inner places where I question my own goodness and doubt my self-worth. They suggest that I am not going to be loved without my having earned it through determined effort and hard work. They want me to prove to myself and others that I am worth being loved and they keep pushing me to do everything possible to gain acceptance. They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift. I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire.” – Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son
Over this past year I have learned a new term called “differentiation”. Granted, I don’t fully understand all of the sociological and psychological meanings of this word, but I think I get the gist. Basically, can I be who I am regardless of what others say or think about me, or what I perceive they say or think about me. You may not know it, but this is really hard for preachers to do. So much of our work and its “success” is in the perception of others, and it is easy to think that is who you are and what defines you. At least it is easy for me. This can make you a neurotic and insecure person who doesn’t quite know who you are at times. Trust me, I know this to be true. And I bet some of you do too.
And then today I read this words from Nouwen that speak to my soul, and I’m guessing many people need to hear today. The world constantly tells us we are only lovable and worthy as much as we can earn it. But, God speaks love to us, as is, freely, no strings attached. I think sometimes that sounds too good to be true, and I think sometimes our churches and our version of Christianity has made this hard to believe. Nevertheless, this is the love presented to us in the self giving love of Jesus Christ who dies for us WHILE we’re sinners, or prodigals.
So, I’ve been on a blogging break for awhile, and not really sure why. Maybe I haven’t been inspired to write. However, when I read these words today, I felt the need to write it down and share with others. How different would your life be if you were totally (as much as is possible) indifferent to what others said or thought about you, and your identity was totally caught up in being the Beloved of God?
That’s the goal. And I’ll share with you what Randy Harris told me. The only way to achieve this, he believes, is through intense suffering, or developing a life that practices the discipline of silence. I don’t know about you, but I’ll try the latter.
I volunteered (read, “Got my arm twisted”, “Got suckered into”) substituting an AP Calculus course for seniors for two weeks. As a side note, an engineering degree doesn’t really prepare you to teach AP calculus….anyway.
Thankfully (trust me, they’re probably saying this too) it ends tomorrow for me and they get their real teacher back Monday. One of the things I noticed with this group who is about half my age is how busy they are. Some of their busyness is self induced because they are so connected to their devices and such, but a lot of the busyness is becoming the norm for students these days. They have lots of demands and pressures placed upon them by themselves, coaches, parents, teachers, colleges, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, a little pushing might be good, but at some point they need to learn to rest.
I am convinced (as I preached to them about today) that the current teenagers today(and all people for that matter) who can find a way to rest in God just a little bit each day will have a distinct advantage spiritually over others. Here’s the deal, when you are living under all of these demands and pressures, and you are flying from one thing to the next, and you are texting with others nonstop, you don’t have a minute to pause and remember who you are; the beloved of God. We need to find a moment to stop and reflect on the fact that our identity is in Jesus Christ, a loved child of God, and nothing else.
So today I dropped another letter in the mail to my sister who is undergoing rehab for drug addiction. I can’t even imagine how hard that is, but at the same time I also can’t imagine how freeing each day must be. In one sense she’s working really hard and I’m very proud of her. In another sense, she’s learning to rest in God and surrender to him. And at the end of the note I wrote a line from Jesus: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” After I wrote that down, I reflected for a moment on how good that news must be to someone who literally knows the enslavement of addiction.
Rest. What a beautiful thought.
“When the pressure and pain of addiction is dominating your thoughts, I will give you rest.”
“When your school, grades, teachers, parents, coaches, or whoever makes you feel like you don’t measure up, I will give you rest.”
“When you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, come to me and find some rest.”
“When your kids are rebellious and driving you nuts, come to me and I will give you rest.”
“When you feel like faith and following me is about working yourself to death to prove something, come to me and I will remind you who you are, and give you rest.”
As Randy Harris said in a wonderful chapel speech at Abilene Christian University this week, “Can we find some time to waste with God?” I think if we can, if we can find some time to slow down, pause, be quiet and see that we are the beloved of God, we can find rest like no other. And in a world that pulls me one million directions at a time, that sounds like really good news.
Just a personal post, to vent and complain. And perhaps to share a valuable lesson I learned today.
I’m not a big DIY guy. Today confirmed why. I got tired of paying Petsmart $60 or more dollars to give the dog a hair cut and a bath. How hard could it be? I’ve got clippers, I can do this. Famous last words. In my mind it would be just like cutting grass. The difference is, grass doesn’t move, and grass doesn’t chase bees, and my lawn mower is much more powerful than my hair clippers (which I may have ruined by the way). Now there is dog hair up to my eyeballs, and I may have traumatized the dog for life. Not to mention she looks like she got a hair cut with a flint knife.
I always feel pressure to do my own projects. Replace my own floor, remodel my own kitchen, etc. I’m a man, I should be able to do these things. My brother and dad do this stuff, but for some reason I can’t. I can cut grass, I can kill weeds, I can tear stuff up, but anything else should be left to the professionals.
So, time is money they say. Now I’m trying to calculate the value of the 3 hours I killed, and the value of the stress I created for myself. Bottom line, DIY is over rated. There is a reason there are professionals in this world.
“If we are to figure out what Jesus would want us to think, be and do here and now, we must know the Gospels forward and backward.” – Michael Frost in Surprise the World
Last week in our Wednesday night class on “How to read the Bible”, we discussed practices like Lectio Divina and Dwelling in the Word. The short version of this is that we want to read the text not for informational purposes only, but for formation into the image and likeness of Christ. To read in a participatory manner where we are invited into the story of God, to find ourselves and our part in that larger story. Frost is spot on with this idea of knowing the story of Jesus, forward and backward. Not in order to know ABOUT Christ, but to KNOW Christ and what he is calling us to here and now.
So I want to encourage you all today to learn Christ. Pour through the gospels. Not to obtain information or to study, but enter into them and find your place. Let us be filled with Christ, to then go and be Christ in our homes, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, where ever we find ourselves today. Let us, as the book title calls us to, surprise the world.
(By the way, check out this little book by Frost on developing missional habits. It’s VERY good and easy to read.)
I have had a lot of fun the past few weeks teaching a Wednesday night class at Hunter Hills Church on Scripture. What is it? How are we to read it? What is its purpose? In my preparation, I’ve read several books through the years, but the most recent I mentioned in a previous post was Eugene Peterson’s masterful work Eat This Book.
One of the things I’ve learned over the last 5 years has greatly changed how I approach not only the Bible, but my faith in general, and that is that the Bible is not the object of my faith. The Bible is not God, is not the object of my worship and love, and when it becomes that, then the Bible has become an idol. So what is the purpose of Scripture then? Revelation. The Bible points us to God, reveals God, invites us into his world and his way of life for us. That is different than a book of legal commands, or even a book of cute inspirational quotes.
Listen again to the wonderful words Peterson shares:
“But it was to make us followers of Jesus that this text was given to us in the first place, and if either the large story or the detailed sentences are ever used for anything else, however admirable or enticing, why bother?” Eat This Book pg 59
I love that. The Bible was to make us followers of Jesus. The Word reveals God, hints at him, gives us a story of his interaction with the world, and invites us to participate in that story. That is a far cry from the excavating of the text to support or create doctrine to further build our walls of division. This is reading for transformation into the image and likeness of Christ, rather than information about Christ (though that can be and is helpful). This isn’t a reading to organize churches (though we find some of that), but a reading to organize our lives as disciples.
I’m thinking more and more that the goal of faith isn’t to master the text, nor to master God, but to let him master us. The goal of reading the Bible is to invite us into deep faith and trust in the One revealed in the text, not faith and trust into our interpretations of the text. Let us not confuse the means with the end.
So today, read the text. Eat this book. And as we read, let’s let the story unfold as an invitation to participate in a different world and different way of life. Let’s let the story be an invitation to following in the way of Christ.
I just started reading Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book, and boy do I wish I had started it years ago. So often we approach the text in our church as if it is a dead text. It’s read like a legal document, history book, or any other text. But to approach the Bible this way is to discount the idea that it is living, breathing, and active. Listen to what Peterson says:
“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” Pg 18
I love that image. Scripture gets metabolized and produces fruit in our lives.
So often I read the Bible it seems just to gain information, or to study. None of this is inherently bad, but the text isn’t here for us to master it. It masters us. In fact, what kind of Holy Scripture do we have if we can totally sort it all out? What kind of God do we have when we have him figured out. We are always hinting at God, capturing images, praying for more. God cannot be mastered.
So, today I encourage you to do what Peterson recommends and eat this book. Let the text get down inside of you, shape you, transform you, convict you, teach you, move you into more deeply loving God and loving neighbor.
How would it change if we went to a text, read it, meditated on it, and asked a different set of questions. Instead of the classic factual questions, what if we asked things like: What am I learning about God here? What am I learning about the world? How might God be calling me to act in light of this text?
Eat the book. Digest it. Let the Holy Spirit work through the text to transform us into the image of Christ.
“The fruit of Silence is Prayer
The fruit of Prayer is Faith
The fruit of Faith is Love
The fruit of Love is Service
The fruit of Service is Peace”
It starts in silence with our Lord, but how neglected is this practice in our fast past, hurried world? Our calendars are full, our brains are busy, our phones are in our hands while our computer and TV screens call out to us. And then we wonder why we can’t find peace.
Make room today, slow down, listen, and be silent. I think those that can find silence and stillness in this busy world have a spiritual advantage over those who don’t. Be attentive today. Be silent.