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Pray: Learning to be Present to Jesus

pray
For you created my inmost being;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
     your works are wonderful,
     I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
     when I was made in the secret place
     when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
     all the days ordained for me were written in your book
     before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

One of the hardest parts of prayer is the act of being present to Jesus while doing it. Yes, Jesus is always present when we pray, but we’re great at multitasking, especially when praying. I could be praying and simultaneously thinking about the next book to read, idea to ponder, or email draft that needs to go out. (I confess, I have an unnatural desire to plan ahead in such a way that takes me from “being in the moment”).

Instead of simply being, I want to be doing.

We all have an intrinsic desire to produce, to be useful and effective, to have satisfaction from our work, and that’s not a bad thing (in fact, I’m totally for productivity, and I wrote a post about a tool to help you with that here). But most of our work is driven by a sense of self-importance, wondering “if I don’t send out that email and make that work schedule, who will?” It may be true, but why is it that in the midst of those activities, we rarely have the urge to sit still and be quiet before Jesus?

We live scattered lives, driven by the stress we complain about and go to bed thinking, “I should pray more.”

One of the things that has helped me with feeling scattered is the practice of silence. Not just being quiet, but quieting your mind, stopping yourself from thinking about what needs to get done, and reflecting on a word or phrase, like “Jesus” or “God is love” or “you are good.” I’ve been going through a book by Peter Scazzero called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Day by Day, which contain two short devotionals for every day. Each devotional begins and ends with two minutes of silence, stillness and centering before God, with a short reflection on scripture in between. I rarely expect this kind of thing to make an impact on my days, but I’ve seen it happen. I feel lighter, more aware of God’s continual presence, with a new courage to face who I really am and oppose being driven by the dictates of others.

The practice of silence is a like a workout for your brain. Returning to the gym after missing a few days will feel painful on your body. Likewise, when I miss a day or two of silence and reflection, I notice the impact when I pick it up again. With practice I’ve grown stronger in my ability to silence my mind and when I am consistently being present to Jesus in those small moments, it changes the rest of the day and every ounce of self-importance struggle to defend my dignity slowly dissipate into a weightless shadow. As I learn to be present to Jesus, I, like the psalmist, begin to know the true me.

5 Reasons You Should Start Using Evernote Now

Evernote

I’m always on the lookout for the next note-taking, task-making, or time-saving productivity apps out there. If you’re like me, it might take you two or three tries before you get “hooked” to a new app or software. My first attempt at using Evernote didn’t last very long but on my second try I have found that there’s much to gain from this little note-taking app. If you’re a writer, a thinker, a speech-giver, or just a person who loves lists, here’s five reasons you should start using Evernote now:

1) Get focused on what’s important the Evernote way. 

Our day is known as the “information age,” which means we receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986. To put that in perspective, a recent study shows that we are bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers of data a day. It’s hard to stay focused on what’s important when assailed by a sea of information. Evernote works as a tool to help you “note” the pieces worth keeping before you forget about them.

2) Gather your scattered data in one place.

When I first started working for a church plant I had lists everywhere. Information, tasks, and ideas were scribbled in different places; journal 1, notes app, calendar app, journal 2, a random piece of paper, etc. To-dos, ideas, and notes need to be accessible when you need them; and I would often forget which notebook I used to for that special piece of data. Evernote is your all-in-one information zone. Instead of taking notes in different areas, commit yourself to one place and stick to it.

3) Organize your data the way you want.

Evernote’s Notebook and Tag features help you organize your information, whether you’re taking notes following a phone call with a client, jotting down a blog idea, or simply making a journal entry.  The Notebooks and Tags features can be used how you want, and they function as a helpful means to keep your notes and ideas easily findable when you need them.

4) Have access to your notes everywhere.

Evernote works on all your devices; tablet, phone, laptop and web. When you discover the article that would make a great sermon illustration, simply attach the article to a Notebook you might name “Illustrations.” That note will sync to all your devices, giving you easy access across your devices. If you’re in a meeting and all you have is your iPad, the notes you take on your iPad will seamlessly be on your mac.

5) Evernote is easy to use and works well. 

The only thing worse than apps that are hard to use are apps that have a great concept, yet function poorly. Evernote is both easy to use, and works great. I’m always pleasantly surprised by how fast data syncs, and how intuitive it was to figure out what Notebooks and Tags were. I had no reason to watch any tutorials; it’s that easy to use.

Evernote has a free version and a premium version. The free version is absolutely great, but here’s a limited time opportunity to try out the premium version for free!

Try Evernote Premium by making an account here.

 

Discipleship is More than You Know

Discipleship

Over the last half-decade of church work I have wrestled with what it’s supposed to look like for churches to practice discipleship.

The models of church that I’ve seen most are built on the idea that discipleship means accepting ideas about God.  The more “truth” you know about God, the greater disciple you are. But discipleship is not about having information, because if it is, the disciples weren’t really disciples after all. Let’s just say they didn’t have their systematic theology in order. For the disciples, and for us, discipleship is more than you know.

At the180 we are looking at how there are moments in life that we need the courage to unlearn the bad habits we’ve picked up on our journey. Jesus often calls his disciples and listeners to unlearn something—which is hard, scary, and takes courage.  The sermon that kicked off our series on unlearning reminded me of how we tend to reduce the Great Commission to “coming to church to be a christian”, instead of “going out to make disciples.” The church at large has come to the conclusion that disciple-making means giving people a list of things to believe and then making them do the same.

But Christian discipleship is much more than some heady acceptance of ideas about God.  Jesus didn’t commission his disciples to make us into great consumers of ideas or “absolute truths.” This discipleship thing has to do with our hearts, heads and hands.

Here’s something: discipleship is a word Christians use but it’s not something only Christians do. Discipleship happens to every human. Every person is being discipled all the time—something is drawing us into its way of life, teaching us a way of living that we believe will bring satisfaction. Another word for disciple is learner, but not the kind of learner that sits in a classroom to receive ideas, the kind of learner that follows a person in the way that he/she handles life, relationships, people, money, everything. Ideas play a small part.  Apprenticeship might capture what discipleship entails—being with someone long enough to become a lot like him or her. And it always happens in communal spaces, like with friends around a dinner table or a sports games.

“It’s about life!” my professor Rikk Watts is know for saying. Discipleship is about life in the most comprehensive sense. It’s about being with Jesus in order to do what he does. It’s asking the question (thank you Dallas Willard) “what would Jesus do if he was me?”

One of the things we talk about at the180 is how the church is made up of those who are “called out of the world to go back into the world.” If discipleship is more than cranial consumption, if disciples is more than you know, and discipleship has to do with the way we live, then the church needs to be more than a dispenser of ideas. The church learns to be “the called out ones” in a sacred space to rehearse the life of the kingdom through the practices of singing, eating, and sharing together around a common Lord. And it’s in this space that we learn to be disciples together–learning to live the Jesus-life–so that we can go out and make disciples.

 

 

The Dusty Ones, by AJ Swoboda

A.J. Swoboda’s The Dusty Ones is about the reality of wandering. All humans wander through life, figuring out who they are and where they fit.

Contrary to what many Christians seem to project about God and the Christian life today, Swoboda wants readers to know that Christianity makes sense of human wandering not because it provides an escape but because it tells us why it happens and what it’s for.

Swoboda draws heavily on the biblical narrative as a whole, highlighting the wandering-like stories of Abraham, Moses, and the people of Israel. The people of God have always been a wandering people; indeed, it’s the experience of wandering in the proverbial desert that constitutes the real saving of salvation.

Wandering, the desert, is for God to meet you.

In every chapter, Swoboda confides in the diverse Christian tradition; from John Calvin, Marianne Moore, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He refreshingly draws on poets, singers, novelists, and theologians from every corner of the Christian tradition without prejudice.

Swoboda writes with pastoral candour; you can almost hear him preach what he writes.  His anecdotal style of writing is vulnerable and engaging; he speaks of his own wandering as a pastor, father, and husband. The book itself is a sort of experiment in the art of wandering, frequently offering nuggets of insight on the Bible, singing songs, and  the goodness of a simple life drawn from Swoboda’s own experience.

Swoboda’s honest and vulnerable expression of the slow and mysterious qualities of wandering will make you appreciate the transforming power of being present in the mundane; be careful, he may even convince you to start your own garden and raise your own chickens.

The Dusty Ones will challenge readers to let go of the clean box used for God and to enjoy the wandering mystery of the desert; the place where God encounters his people.

 

Why Church is a Like Dressing Room

church

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:12-16

Childhood Sunday mornings started with the sound of metal hangers screeching down the pole in my closet. The noise informed me that my mother was arranging my Sunday outfit; the weekend was pretty much done and it was time to get up and ready for (what seemed to be) a long day of church. And it was now my responsibility the put on my clothes for church.

In the early days church was a time to see friends within the confines of  Sunday School and Sunday services. As long as I respectfully attended those events, it was fair game; I could hang out with friends before and after and sit with them during the service.

I didn’t have any theological understanding of what church was for; for me, church on Sunday was time to spend with friends.

Even though church, in my mind, was for spending time with friends, I have no doubt that each Sunday gathering was a place of formation: God was forming me in ways I never could have imagined.
While I was getting dressed for church, God was dressing me for a new life.

The life-long process of becoming Christian is God’s main concern. He wants us to be formed into a certain kind of people; that’s why the Bible often refers to salvation as a “new life.”

Paul lays out the characteristics of this new life in many of his letters, and one of his favourite metaphors to describe it is through the everyday practice of getting dressed.  The Christian life is one where we “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is godly. When you become a Christian, you learn to put on the right clothes; a constant a putting off and a putting on.

Now, it’s easy to know the right answers to most questions about what’s right and wrong, and yet it’s quite hard to live them out. For example, it is easier to preach on 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter, than it is to love my neighbour as myself.  It’s much easier to explain God’s grace to someone than it is to be gracious when mistreated. It’s much easier to sing about surrender than it is to truly surrender our bank account, our time, and our energy. Let’s be real: it’s much easier to receive and relish God’s forgiveness than it is to offer it to those who’ve offended us.

Putting off sin and putting on Christ is far from easy or automatic; at least not at first. Putting on Christ needs to be learned, and it needs to be practiced.

We need help.

Let’s look again at Paul’s clothing metaphor in context. A sermon I heard recently reminded me that getting dressed takes practice. That might sound bizarre at first because you might not remember not being able to get dressed, but I guarantee that you weren’t born into this world with the natural ability to dress yourself. Mom or Dad manipulated your limbs to undress and dress you into the outfit that they imagined for you before you woke up.

Eventually, (I hope), you learned to dress yourself. In fact, you’ve dressed yourself so many times, that now, you don’t even think about it. Getting dressed is second nature to you; you may ponder on the outfit, but the “putting on” takes no thought, it just happens.

Paul chose a brilliant picture: everyone needs to learn how to get dressed. And learning how to do it requires help. And once you learn, getting dressed takes practice, it takes time, but eventually, it becomes second nature, it becomes automatic.

But this is where it gets good: you don’t have to practice alone.

The way we put on holiness, compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience and love is through what Paul describes in verse 16:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness.”

Paul’s talking about what happens when the church gathers.

Sunday gatherings is our practice time: As we gather to sing, to worship, to hear the preached Word, to participate in Holy Communion and to celebrate Baptism, we are getting dressed; putting on Christ. God graciously provides the clothes, and now teaches us how to put it on, indeed, he puts it on for us. “Work out your own salvation,” Paul says, “for it is God who works in you.”

And as the Church gathers, it becomes the place where we practice “putting on” Christ. The place where we learn to work out our salvation.

As the gathered church we absorb the Gospel through our senses: we see each other and the elements of communion with our eyes, we sing and pray together with our voices, we hear God’s Word for us with our ears, we consume the bread and wine with our mouths. Every sight, sound and movement acts together as a means to practice the deep love for us in Christ. Hearing sermon after sermon does something to your heart, even though you don’t necessarily remember every single one.

Just as you learned to get dressed, church is the dressing room where you learn to put on Christ, and eventually Christ’s too becomes second nature.

Paul began the letter to the Colossians with the prayer that they would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). 

That’s what church is for. It’s the dressing room, where we put on the clothes that God provided for us, the place where we can learn together what it means to put on Christ. Week by week we are putting on God’s love, God’s patience, God’s humility, meekness and compassion, so that we can get back into the world with right kind of clothes.

 

 

Can We Know God’s Will for our Lives? Part 2

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In my last post, I suggested that a Christian should be able to answer the questions, what is God saying to me and how do I know that he’s saying it?

Unfortunately, some Christians feel they need to discern God’s will about what they eat for dinner. What we eat for dinner is not something that God is really concerned with, provided we eat with gratitude. An important reality, often overlooked in our anxious searches for God’s will, is that many life decisions are left for us to make freely. Some Christians walk with an enormous weight of uncertainty, worrying about every jot and tittle of their lives, when God has allowed a certain degree of freedom.

Through Scripture, we know enough about God to make most decisions. Some questions have been answered with a “no” and others with a “yes,” while many other questions are left to up to us. Imagine God gave you a watch. Would you honour him more by asking him for the time or by looking at the watch? I know that I ought to practice kindness and patience towards my wife, and I know that I ought not hate or judge my brother. However, what I eat for dinner is my choice.

Still, some decisions require more than logical reasoning and biblical knowledge. Some decisions we face beckon us to slow down and listen carefully to God’s direction. Maybe it’s prioritizing tasks for the week in order to make decisions well, or considering a career or relational opportunity that might change the direction of one’s life completely. There are certain matters we know the answer to, other matters in which we are free to choose for ourselves, and still other matters that require thoughtful and prayerful discernment.

Let me illustrate:

Pretend a coach of a soccer team has drafted you into his team. When it’s game time, it would be silly to ask about the rules of another sport, or whether or not you should try to work as a team with the other players. The first question is irrelevant and the second is obvious.

Likewise, to fret about God’s will for my dinner or whether or not I should be “kind” to my neighbour misses the point of discernment. In the first instance, we’re asking a question that has nothing to do with the game or even the sport, and in the second instance we’re ignoring the rules of the game we’ve already been given. There are also moments in the game when passing the ball to player A or player B will be your choice, and to ask the coach for his instruction in that moment would be detrimental to the game.

I know the rules, I know the point of the game, I know that there will be moments where I must depend on my reflexes and choose accordingly. In this way, we can understand “God’s will for my life” as referring to my position on the field and how I can best use my strengths to win the game according to the strategy.

In order for me to play well I will ultimately need to know myself: how am I built to play this game well? This is the task of discernment.

Seeking God’s will for my life does not dismiss everything he’s already revealed in Scripture, but seeks to understand my fit in it. What are my “gifts” in the context of the team and the strategy already given?

The particular will of God we seek is in the context of our participation in the life of the church.

One of the early challenges the church had to wrestle through was individual gifting, or vocation. Every individual equally contributed to the life of the whole, just like every part of a body contributes to the life of the body. And that body, being the church, exists for the common good of society. The question is: what is Jesus saying to me personally (now comes in the individual, the parts that make up the whole), in the context of our calling to be the church in our world.

We must learn to listen to the voice of Jesus for ourselves, but not apart from our team. So how will we do it?

Here are five voices we must be listening to in the dance of discernment:

1) We listen to Scripture, which speaks not only to our heads, but to our hearts as we contemplate its stories and teachings. Scripture has an authoritative power, not because it has special secrets about how old the earth is, but because it has a special way of igniting faith, hope, and love in us. In an overarching sense, Scripture tells us of the gospel news of God’s rescue mission to bring the world to its intended harmony. It tells us the rules of the game and the strategy for winning. But to know how we fit in the game we need to learn to read the Bible personally: how is a passage, a verse, a story speaking to you, in this moment?  When we take the time to slow down, listen, and contemplate God’s word, it has a special power to speak to us in a personal way, because the Bible always brings us to the person of Jesus who is the Word of God in the flesh. Sometimes this means sticking with one word, one verse, one parable or psalm or story that sticks out to you, and letting it resonate with you until your heart catches guides your head. Perhaps you’ll receive a picture, an invitation, a sense of gratitude, or a memory. This isn’t an easy discipline, but a very rewarding one.

2) We listen to people in our lives who can help us see our blind spots. Who are we reading the Bible with? Who are we worshiping with on Sundays? Who knows you enough and loves you enough to be honest with you about who you really are? But beware of people telling you what God is telling you: they may be able to guide, to advise, and even to offer an opinion, but only you can know the inner witness of the Spirit.

3) We listen to the friendships we find in the church, the local and the historical, the present and the past. Scripture has a personal and concrete word for us, yet keeping ancient friends from our Christian heritage will help us keep from making Scripture fit our own designs. Let the creeds of the church be the boundary markers of the soccer field, telling you if you’re in, or if you’re out. The creeds can also help you make sense of where you are on the pitch, providing you with an orientation that helps you know if you should pass or shoot. Our forefathers were at a different level in their prayer lives. Find an old prayer book to help you discover  new ways to foster intimacy with God (Augustine’s Confessions is one of my favourites).

4) We listen to our circumstances: how has God provided the context you are now in? Pay attention to the circumstances of your life. How are you to be faithful in your current circumstances? What do you like or dislike about your circumstances that you would like to change or not change? These questions force us to be honest about what is possible and what isn’t. But don’t eliminate the apparently impossible option, because God may indeed be calling you to something that in this moment, feels impossible. This listening is merely a matter of seeing clearly how God has been at work in your circumstances. Oppositions and obstacles need to be considered, but don’t be quick to take them as signs that this isn’t what God wants: God may very well be asking you to walk through a closed door.

5) We listen to our emotions, which help us identify what we love and what we dislike.   We tend to be suspicious of emotions, for fear of emotionalism, and end up putting too much weight on our rational abilities. However, Descartes was wrong when he proposed that humans are merely thinking beings. We are thinking, loving, and acting beings, far more complex that what Descartes suggested. Emotions are at the heart (no pun intended) of what it means to be human and in order to properly discern the voice of Christ, we need to develop the capacity to articulate what is happening to us emotionally.

All of these activities happen in the context of a life devoted to prayer. Prayer is the glue that helps us make sense of each sphere of our lives. Prayer is our response to God’s initiation; in prayer, we are always responding to God’s YES to us in Christ. Prayer is constant dialogue with the coach, cheering and guiding us on as we play the game.

Seeking the will of God is not as simple as a question and answer session. Discernment is a process, it is a game, or a dance or like being part of an orchestra. We attentively listen and watch the conductor move his baton towards a harmonious composition. As we learn to play in sync with the voice of the coach, God’s team defeats opponents not by beating them but by winning them over to a new way of playing.

Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences on discernment and seeking God’s will below.

Can We Know God’s Will For Our Lives? Part 1

God's WillRegardless of one’s stage in life, a Christian should always be able to answer the questions: what do I think Jesus is saying to me and how do I know that he’s saying it to me? These inquiries were advised unendingly by Gordon T. Smith; a scholar who taught at Regent College where I recently graduated. I can still hear him say it from a recent lecture I attended on God’s will.

Before graduate school I frequented a more-than-usual-charismatic bible college that echoed the importance for individuals to “get” God’s will for our lives. I tried, so hard, and for the most part, felt like I failed. I would spend hours on my knees, in silence, in prayer, in Scripture, begging God for a dream, a picture, a word–something for me to share with my peers who, to my wonder, could speak of God’s revealed plan for their lives with beaming grins. Everyone seemed to know their divine blueprint for their lives from start to finish.

I knew there something wrong with the whole endeavour, even though I wanted to believe that God worked that way. One of the reasons for my skepticism was simply because it wasn’t working for me, but another reason, more importantly, was that this way of conceiving God’s way of dealing with us discounted the possibility of being surprised by him. In retrospect, it was evident that the “God told me” language helpfully put accountability from friends, family and peers out of reach.

Upon graduation I went on to listen to what others were saying on the topic. I came across a little book called “Just Do Something,” by Kevin DeYoung. The point was simple: stop waiting for a special “word” from the Lord and get to work–the Bible is enough! The Bible gives us plenty of direction for our lives, so stop “obsessing” over the future. That made sense to me and it made my problem much simpler. We don’t need to waste time waiting, listening, slowing down; just be obedient to what God has shown in Scripture, everything else will follow. And when you have to choose between moving to California or Italy, or studying science or art, as long as you’re not sinning, either decision will be fine.

I have sympathy for those who approach the God’s Will question this way. This answer tells my generation of millennials that our life is vastly different than the lives of our grandparents, and we just need to learn to be grateful for the (too) many choices that we do have, and to stop being cowards who look for fulfilment in the “most ideal choice.” I get that. I too am tired of the millennial problem (or let’s just say realization–it’s a universal problem that we’ve only just seemed to have discovered and named) that humans including myself are in some degree or another ungrateful. Suck it up, make a choice, stop being paralyzed by the fear of not living up to what’s expected of you through your phone. Fair enough, some people need to hear that.

Sadly, this approach is much like the first in that it puts the possibility to be surprised by God out of reach. In both approaches what is complex and difficult is simplified and made easy.  In the first approach we get a clear blueprint for the rest of our lives from the mouth of God himself, and in the second approach we get nothing with regards to our particular context or calling. They’re both minimalist attempts to make a difficult burden go away.

The problem is that life is not as simple as we’d like it to be. And it’s not a new problem. God’s people have always had to wrestle with the question of God’s will for their particular, day-to-day lives. We see it expressed in the Psalms, we see it in the life of Abraham, David, Samuel, Paul, Barnabas and John; we see it in Jesus and in the church and its history. The stories of Gideon’s fleece, and Jacob’s wife aren’t exactly imperatives but certainly attest to the universal human longing to hear from God for direction and the far from simple predicament of our lives.

And in the New Testament, we’re told to do things like this: “discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” and “Listen, I am standing at the door, knocking…” and “my sheep hear my voice,”  and similar direction. The Gospel holds more than the promise of heaven or right standing with God; in it we are promised that Christ is present with us by his Spirit. And living as a Christian is to intentionally respond to the God who speaks.

But the Spirit is not merely present in some general fashion as the sun is present to everyone for whom it is day. The Spirit’s presence to the Christian is in the details of our lives, like the heat and light we feel and see from the sun. The God who takes on ordinary human flesh and institutes a meal to act as a means of worshiping him is the God who encounters us in the earthly realities of food and drink. And the particularity of the voice of Jesus means that the way he encounters person A will likely be different than person B, even though their situations are very similar.

Take for instance the stories we find in Luke 18 and Luke 19. The first story is about a rich young ruler who has obeyed the law as a good Jew. He approaches Jesus to know about what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus throws a curve ball and tells him to sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. The man walked away, saddened by Christ’s words.

The second story is about another wealthy man named Zacchaeus, who is just the opposite: a tax collector known for cheating people in his own town.  Zacchaeus, the tree climber, was surprised to see Jesus approach him and invite himself over. Spending time with the tax collector, Jesus announced: “salvation has come to this home” which propelled a promise by Zacchaeus to give half of his money to the poor and pay back those he had defrauded.

What if the rich young ruler saw Jesus’ interactions with Zacchaeus?  What would he say? Perhaps he would wonder why Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus to sell all his money, or why he neglected to mention money at all?

The answer is quite simple and yet quite concerning: there is no single rule applied to both men.  Jesus knew what was in the hearts of both and spoke to them accordingly. He spoke the words they needed to hear. God’s will is not that simple.

The concerning implication is this: there is no formulaic voice of Jesus that works for everyone nor is there a divine blueprint provided from start to finish. My first experience in the Pentecostal tradition was right in its emphasis that God does speak today, but it was weak in providing boundary markers and accountability. My second experience with what has been called the Neo-Puritan movement put an important emphasis on grace and the aim of sanctification as God’s primary word to us in Christ, but did so at the expense of the important christian task to discern God’s will of direction in the day-to-day.

Jesus is a person and will speak personally, and he is God thereby speaking precisely what we need to hear in order for us to become what we need to become. There is no blueprint, nor is there a formula. The word of Christ brings new life, and Christ always speaks into a particular context that is always new and always unique. In my next post I’ll unpack how we can listen to the voice of Jesus when we take the time to listen to Scripture, the church, our community, and our emotions, in the context of the Gospel.

 

Mirror Dimly

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We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 1 Cor 13:12 (MSG)

In the “love chapter” Paul provides a beautiful metaphor to explain our earthly limitations. As long as we await Christ’s second coming, life is experienced as through a mirror dimly.

Paul is talking about the different parts of worship that revolve around scripture; singing, tongues, prophecy, preaching. These are gifts to the church to foster and serve love.  If love for God and for one another is not the motivation and goal of worship, then it is nothing more than a clanging cymbal; an out-of-place and misleading distraction.

Paul goes on to say that we see through a mirror dimly because we are still infected by sin, despite our standing with Christ. The metaphor calls attention to the act of seeing, not to the mirror itself:  we do not see a “dim mirror.” It is the act of seeing which is limited by dimness-a foggy overcast that beckons us to humility.

A mirror is used to see a reflection–of yourself, of others, of what’s around you. Scripture is the mirror that we see in order to know God and to know ourselves; it is the breathed out words of God that are without error and profitable for training in righteousness. But my reading of Scripture is faulty and broken, and until I come to grips with this reality, I will not serve love. Without an awareness that I am unable to know and interpret Scripture in its entirety, I will be a clanging cymbal.

Today, Christians are bombarded with skepticism around Scripture. We are told not to trust the Bible because it’s archaic and erroneous. The temptation will be to defend the Bible’s reliability in ways that ignore human limitations-we insist on the certitude and clarity of Scripture; we simplify what is complex and ignore the impaired capacity of a dim vision.

Some are afraid of the uncertainty of what I am proposing. Don’t we want people to be confident in the reliability and authority of Scripture? Yes. But what is the purpose of the authority of Scripture but to form God’s people into who they were called to be? What I want for Christians is to trust in the power of Scripture to shape their lives; and that we don’t need to know all the answers for that to happen. Perhaps the power of the Scriptures–its authority to shape our lives–is only effective when we approach it with humility. Uncertainty is what compels faith, and it is in the uncertainty–in the dimness of our vision–that God encounters us and we begin to really, and truly see. That alone will serve love.

Learning to Trust in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without the delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability–and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually–let them grow, let them shape themselves, with undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Barth on incarnation

“God goes into the far country so that man can be brought into the history of the three persons.. He becomes what He had not previously been. He takes into unity with His divine being a quite different, a creaturely and indeed sinful being. To do this He empties Himself, He humbles Himself. But, as in His action as Creator, so in the incarnation: He does not become man apart from a basis in His own being, in His own inner life. What He does by going into the far country corresponds to the history in which He is eternally God. He does not need to deny, let alone abandon and leave behind and diminish His divinity to do this. He does not need to leave the work of reconciliation in the doubtful hands of a creature. He can enter Himself, seeing He is in Himself not only the One who rules and commands in majesty but also in His own divine being, the One who obeys in humility.”
In short, in going to the far country and being obedient to the Father as the Incarnate Son, the Son “does not change. He simply activates and reveals Himself in the world for what He truly is. He is in and for the world what He is in and for Himself. He is in time what He is in eternity, and He is what He is in time because of what He is in eternity. He is in our lowliness what He is in His majesty, and He can be what He is in our lowliness because His majesty is also lowliness. He is as man, as the man who is obedient in humility, exactly what He is as God. This is the true deity of Jesus Christ, His obedience in humility, in His unity and equality with the One who sent Him and to whom He is eternally obedient.”