Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hands and Feet Un-nailed

I have a bonsai plant that I nurtured for several years.  Its nurture wasn’t particularly hard but it did mean I had to pay attention to the water level and pruning and bugs and weeds.  I keep several bonsais.  They remind me of the mountains but mainly I keep them because they teach me.  They teach me to be patient and remind me that caring is not hard but takes a steady hand over time.  I can train an oak bough to bend if I do so gently.  And though I can persuade an oak branch to bend, I can never make it into a willow.  My long work on this particular bonsai was for naught when I neglected it for a couple of weeks this fall and never saw the spider mites that took it over.  Nurture is a long work, however easy it is – “Oh, look at them. They are such nice kids,” did not happen over night.  “Why in the world would he do that?” also has a history.
                I hate to bring up what are now, for some, fading memories of the terrible December day in Connecticut but, truly, it is essential that I do.  The world is not learning and we Christians are not standing up with the answer.  Amidst the endless calls for justice – a place for blame - and the tired pleas once again for gun control and more police in schools, we must reconsider our lives of independence and power and immediacy as those 15 families are forever reconsidering their lives without ones held so dear. 
                The world has cried out that if there is a God then He certainly does not love us any more.  Or, if there could be a God, truly God – big and strong - then evil would not happen.  He must not exist.  What the world (and many of us if the truth be told) wants is a genie-god to fix evil but leave us alone. 
                What the world does not want to hear is that the answer to the terrible crimes we have witnessed in the last few years is the same answer to our own lack of faith and the answer to the diminishing following of Jesus Christ and the answer to our children leaving the faith, following the world.  The answer is not a big dramatic heave-ho as we all are apt to do and which feels good and productive and for which we can hold our breath long enough to do before we get back to life.  The answer, rather, must be a “long obedience in the same direction” as Peterson has titled his book.   The answer is to show up not incidentally but every day for a lifetime.  There is no answer truly for anything except to sit daily with God.  To be with Him long enough every day for His presence to wash away the defilement of our own nature and to dissolve the filth that clings to our hearts from our TV and movie driven culture.  The answer is to sit with God long enough every day so that the corruption tugging on us from the world, bidding us to be like the world is but a pestering snag.  The answer is listening and hearing from God His plan… for today… for you.  Then taking that plan to the street. 
                The answer is someone simply embracing their God-job in the life of a man named Adam Lanza.  This is the answer for December 14ths.  The answer is us.  We are Luther’s “little Christ’s.  You do so, so much.  Yet we must show up even more dedicatedly in God’s presence every single day and then be in the world, as we are told to be, in a long obedience as Christ’s feet and hands no longer nailed to the cross.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Approach Towards Revelation

Boy I wish I had come up with this phrase.  It is from Georg Huntemann in The Other Bonhoeffer.  Everything we do as Christians must eschew the pursuit of anything but revelation from God and our acting on revelation.  If we pursue knowledge of Scripture it must be so that we can know that the revelation we think we have received is from God.  If we pursue understanding it must be so that we can understand God's revelation to us.  If we pursue a woman or a man it must be so that we can act on the revelation from God that we have received.  If we go to work it must be so that we can make money to act on God's revelation to us or to implement His revelation in that setting.  Everything must be "an approach to revelation."  Bonhoeffer was not nearly the first to embrace a "mystic" point of view by any means but he is one of the very few evangelicals who have blessed, sanctioned, taught that knowledge is not the key.  That "a Christian worldview" is not the answer to our ills both in the church and without.  He is one of the few evangelicals who not only accepts "mystery", not as an unfortunate spiritual blindness that we must try to figure out, but as a great grace.  We cannot learn enough.  We cannot understand enough.  There is no system that has God figured out.  There is no theology that is correct.  There is no "squaring" God with our understanding.  We are not equals to God and His revelation, though complete enough to get us to heaven, it does not give us a complete picture of God.  So, we must depend on revelation.  We must humble ourselves and wait on God.  We must, like Joshua, ask God for directions and then respond with a "Yes Sir," with a cavalier disregard for  Kant's "religion within reason".  Hard for westerners.  We want our relationship with God strained through the sieve of analytics so we don't do anything stupid or unseemly.  God wouldn't ask us to do anything dumb. 
Read your Bible again more slowly. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Every Day

Acts 2:46 "every day"

..."it is precisely in retreats of short duration that the human element [desires of the flesh] develops most easily.  Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sound, sober, brotherly fellowship of everyday life.Life Together - Bonhoeffer p39

     Events are such a draw for people.  They are fun and exciting.  They give us a new spirit of engagement.  They get into our memories and stay there.  One still remembers what was on the table for Thanksgiving three weeks ago but no one knows the breakfast of last Thursday.  So why is Bonhoeffer so hard on short events?  "Fatal"? 
     We can hold our breath for a short event.  We can agree to disagree for a few days.  We can make it through Spring Break with Uncle Fred because we know that it will end soon.  We can "be nice" during the reception because we are headed home.  The trouble is that we fool ourselves into thinking that since we can do this for a few moments or even days that we are redeemed.  Our souls have been changed.  And our ministry is done for the year.  We have sacrificed our lives for four hours a day for a week.  That is enough on the time clock.  And we have been pleasant besides.
     "What care I for the number of your sacrifices.  I have had enough of whole burnt rams and fat of fatlings; in the blood of calves and lambs and goats I find no pleasure.  Bring me no more worthless offerings.  Your incense is loathsome to me.  Your new moons and festivals I detest."  Isaiah 1:11
     However small your daily time with God is, it is better.  If all you can do is one minute while on the john, telling Him that He is still God, it is better. We must attend to the God of the universe every day, every day, every day.  It is no use to think that a fun date once a week or month is a relationship.  It is a lie.  Worse than that.  It is a disease that will kill you.  Every day...say something to the lover of your soul.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Ever looked in a circus mirror?  Ever looked through an antique window pane?  Ever tried on someone else's glasses?  What we look through to see the world is critical to how we act.  Les Newsome from Ole Miss frames it this way, "a person's behavior will match the reality they live in.  A person whose reality is being underwater will behave in a certain way - swimming and not breathing."  If we think our true "reality" is the now and the circumstances around us, then we will act like the world.  If we see reality through a lens that is distorted then we will reach for our Coke and knock it over instead of picking it up.  One of the major tasks in our life is to un-distort our lens, to learn the true reality of the Kingdom of Heaven so our behavior can be congruent with who we are in God's story.  The problem with this is that when all you have seen has been distorted then you think that is normal.  An abused young girl that I worked with could not accept that I cared for her because all the care she had ever known included being beaten.  Since I did not beat her as her mother and father did, I must not care for her, she assumed.  It is a long therapy to move her from her "reality" to the truth.  It is a long transfiguration to move from an earthly perspective/lens/reality to God's true one.  Generally, you cannot do it by yourself because you see what you have always seen.  Even new information is not helpful because you process that through your old lens according to your old reality.  Another reason that community is essential.  However, in order for the community to be helpful, the people in the community must also realize that their lens is distorted as well.  Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is with us and can...will step in if you let Him.  The upshot of this then is to let Him.  How?  The main transfiguring experience in our lives is worship.  Most people want Bible study to be the transforming experience because that is easy and clean and predictable and we can control it.  The problem again is that all we get is processed through our perspective/lens.  In worship, sitting with God, orienting ourselves to Him, we get a tan, as it were.  We cannot, of our own will, tan ourselves but we can step into the sun.  The same with our transfiguration.  We cannot control the re-formation of our reality or lens but we can allow God to do that.  So worship Him.  Spend time with your attention on Him.  This does not mean singing worship songs necessarily though it can.  It does not mean giving God your laundry list of wants - even unselfishly for others' healings or well-being.  It does not mean showing up at the church when the doors open.  What worship is is telling God He is great and worthy of you telling Him that He is great.  Tell Him in all the ways you can that He is wonderful.  Not because He made giraffes or healed Aunt Sue.  Not because He gave you a beautiful baby.  Not because He got you home when the car was acting up.  Not because.....  Telling Him that He is good even when you don't understand how that squares with what you see in the circumstances around you is what He desires.  Acknowledge Him as powerful, loving, just, right, patient in every way you can think of.  This will change your lens and you will begin to see aright.  Then truth will be your reality and the life you are longing to lead will be congruent with His plan and you will be amazed at who you are and more and more and more amazed at Who He is.  Worship... the lens changer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

You've lost that loving feeling....

We have all experienced coolness with our friends, neighbors, family, lovers.  Sometimes it just hits you in the face.  Other times the warmth slowly ebbs away.  Then things warm again (hopefully).  This happens in our relationship with God, too.  You should be encouraged when it happens because that very coolness indicates that you once had warmness and also that you are engaged with a personal God and not a philosophy or head trip. Though we can't control emotions directly, emotions will follow experiences.  For example, if you and your flame are not so warm any more, some time together having dinner and watching a movie can help.  Remembering past good times can re-ignite things a bit.
One of my standard remedies for a coolness in my relationship with God is from a man who lived in the 1500's named Ignatius.  His idea was to spend time in prayer looking at and then trying to "be" in specific moments of Jesus' life.  Spending time with Jesus in this way almost always helps me to re-engage my heart with my mind and beliefs.  Just as one must recognize as a married couple, that even though the ooey gooey isn't there all the time, the relationship is not over, so must Christians recognize that feelings of passion are icing on the cake and not the meal with Jesus as well.  But it is nice to feel something.  If you get down and discouraged and have lost that loving feeling with God you may want to take some time to try Ignatius' prayer method.  An example:
I set aside 20 minutes.  For a few minutes I try to still my mind - like getting a child with a cut finger to be still so you can put a Bandaid on the cut.  Then I choose a theme like joyful events in Jesus' life.  I choose one moment and consider 10 things about it.  The presentation of Jesus at the temple.  I look around.  The temple walls are light colored stone. It's a bit dim inside and smells dusty.  A little cool.  Simeon takes the baby Jesus carefully but firmly.  Simeon is old but his age seems to dissipate as he talks about finally seeing the Messiah.  Mary and Joseph are a little worried about what this means and lean into each other.  Could this really be true?  Why them?  Jesus is a real baby...asleep.  He's wrapped up in a fairly nice cloth but Mary and Joseph aren't rich by any means but it doesn't matter at all to them.  I am there.  Watching from the corner.  They notice me and nod with a nervous smile.  Me too.  The Messiah.  Really?  Time's up.  I go into my day but that was cool, to spend a little time in the temple with the family.  And now I feel something.

Monday, April 23, 2012


K. Norris says in The Cloister Walk that often the people who know the exact cost of something, have no idea of its value. 

Who knows what the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive nard was thinking?  She wasn’t preparing Him for burial as Jesus Himself suggests.  She was not, as some authors have suggested, breaking open and emptying her dowry, hoping for a spouse (though that is what she ultimately got spiritually).  She was not even giving Jesus a gift, for surely she knew that this man poorly appreciated the world’s treasures.  There was not even extravagance in this gaudy display.  She knew, as we all know, that extravagance relies on the audience and Jesus is not impressed…with the oil.

What did she bring?  Fragrance. 

This money is being wasted, sending all those people to Africa.  With that much money we could build a school there.  Why, we could put in twenty wells with that much money.  A van.  They really need a van.  Why wasn’t that money given to the poor?

The world looks and never sees.  The world listens and never hears. 

A child’s tin can phone conversation across the dining room table or her gathering of weeds to garland your hair carry an unseen weight of glory to which the world is forbidden or is unable to bear.  The world in its poverty can only see what could be and not what is. 

The fragrance of nard filled the room.  Missionaries’ hands hold foreign dirt and hands.  Missionary fingers plait honey brown hair into peace and loved-ness.  Missionary feet miss the goal with balls of rags and all feet rejoice that no one fails alone.

Fragrance.  The fragrance of love is much too dear to be sacrificed for houses or vans.  The weight of a forehead kiss brought 5000 miles for a sleeping child in acacia shade trumps many schools or wells.

Don’t weary yourself with the world’s concerns.  Bricks and mortar can never sweeten a sad and desperate world.  Let love walk beggarly and empty pocket-ed if it must into other’s darknesses for a ragged love will fill more stomachs than bread.  Speed the missionaries on.  If they need more money to dig the well, there is enough to go around… if there is love enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

God's Absence

Though God's absence is a common experience for most Christians, it is always fresh and frightening for those in the throes of it.  Mother Theresa prayed to truly enter into Christ's passion on the cross and spent the next 50 years feeling God's abandonment.  For most of us, God's kindness is that we feel His presence more than not.  For me personally, though, it is more often the depth of the emptiness that assures me that I was made for filling. Today, well, for months now actually, Jesus is asleep on the cushion in the back of my boat.  It is a gift to sail alone - with Him nearby - though I would like some conversation.  It is a great disciplining to pray to a empty ceiling, to pray to a God with flat affect.  It is important for me to pray though, learning again that I don't require His feedback to believe that He hears.  It is a comfort to pray knowing that He doesn't require my affect or gyrations or goosebumps or heavy heart or goo-ness for Him to be moved.  It is nice to be a part of the swell when worship explodes with such inward force that expression just happens.  It is nice to be able to surf down the face of that wave, exhilarated and free with a power behind you that is huge and scary and so amazing that you go after it again and again.  The bigger those incredible waves, the sadder it is when swells still.  When you just sit there.  And sit there.  And sit there.  Doldrums.  The ocean is still just as deep.  The water is still water.  There is still surf somewhere.  But it is hard to keep believing that swells will come  It is disheartening to look toward the horizon and see calm.  Time to swim, I guess.  And hope.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bread, Word, Music

A way of looking at the way people have historically engaged with Christ is, per Robert Webber, threefold.  In the first 1400 years or so, the focus was on breaking bread, mainly in the Catholic tradition.  The next way of engaging Christ was around and following the Reformation from the 1400's to the 1960's with the focus on the Word, Scripture.  The current buzz in the church is that engaging with Christ is predominantly through music.  When people talk of "worship" these days, they almost always mean singing.  
While this distinction is obviously artificial, with many exceptions, it certainly feels correct.  One of our challenges in modern Christendom is, while building new wineskins that encourage a new generation to approach God, is to constantly call people back to worship in Acts.  You don't need music.  You don't need the bread.  You don't even need the Word.  All you need is a heart turned towards God.  Every denomination has its focus and ground for its worship but every Christian must build their worship on bringing themselves humbly before god to offer their soul to His service.  And we must all learn that the tools we use to get ourselves there are, after all, simply tools and not the work itself. 
Worship is what we were made for.  It is our purpose.  Our destiny.  Do not be trapped but thinking that the avenue of worship is one street. Find YOUR expression of worship.  It may be painting, or sailing or writing or weaving.  God needs the gift He has given to you to return to Him with your fingerprints.  That is what He longs for.  It is what you long for.  Worship, in fullness and truth.