Dallas Willard on Grace

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“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

Dallas Willard

Thomas Merton Prays for God’s Will

In honour of Merton on his 102nd birthday:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

From the archives: I’m an INFJ

I’ve known about personality typologies for a while now, but over the last year or so I’ve been a little more interested in them. I don’t think they are to be taken as black and white classifications but simply as typologies. They are helpful in knowing who you are, and knowing others around you. As an INFJ, I am the rarest of types, and thus most often misunderstood. I find them quite helpful in knowing why I do the things I do, and think the way I think (the reason for my liking typologies will be explained at number 4). The following are NOT 100% accurate, but provide soundings of who I am, and my tendencies. For one I don’t think I am “extremely intelligent” nor am I “socially inept” – but I do think that the description under those headings  provide an accurate characterization of how I think. Though, being careful of overgeneralization, it’s important to note that behaviour will depend on the context.

Also, I did not write the following, but grabbed it from here:

http://www.squidoo.com/top-10-things-every-infj-wants-you-to-know

Are you an INFJ? Do you know an INFJ?

INFJ is the rarest Myers-Briggs personality type accounting for less than 2% of the population. Because of this, we can feel misunderstood by many. While there is a lot about us that we want you to understand, here is a list of the Top 10 Things Every INFJ Wants You To Know.

10. We are planners

As with many other Judicial personality types, the INFJ enjoys structure and order. Though our intuition can cause our structure to fluctuate, we still thrive best when we can plan out the details of our situations and lives.



Sometimes, however, spontaneity can occur outside of our control. This deeply shakes us and we often respond to this loss of control with anger and frustration. Brandie, over at Little Left of Normal sums it up best when she says, “Sometimes spontaneity leaves us in a position that we cannot plan…, and we find this upsetting. Please understand that we are never upset with you, only the situation.”

9. We are extremely intelligent

INFJs are introverted thinkers and extroverted feelers. Because of this, we can struggle to articulate our thoughts. While we may, in our minds, be able to answer deep meaningful questions, retain amazing amounts of data and debate with the best of them, when asked to speak aloud, we often fumble, stutter over our words and say a small fraction of what we are actually thinking. This lands us the labels of slow-witted and unintelligent.

However, when we are comfortable with a person and situation and are given plenty of time to ponder an inquiry or organize our thoughts into words, we can speak fluidly, clearly and passionately on almost any subject.

8. We only need one person

Because we are introverts, INFJs are completely content being with just one person, whether a partner, friend or family member. When we make friends, it is usually for the long haul and it takes a lot to destroy a relationship. Unlike extroverts or some other introverts, INFJs can spend the rest of our lives with only ever being close to one person and never feel as though we are missing out on other relationships. In fact, we actually prefer it.

When we have many relationships in our lives, we can become easily overwhelmed and feel as though we are not giving our best to each relationship, leading us to feel unhappy, exhausted, and stretched thin.

7. Prolonged solitude kills us

Personality Junkie, INFJWhile some introverts can be all by themselves for every second of the day and feel nothing but contentment, an INFJ needs to be around people. Though we still need time in solitude in order to recharge ourselves, too much time alone can leave us feeling drained, lonely and depressed. INFJs thrive on the emotions of others. We live for bettering others to better ourselves. We cannot do this if we are always by ourselves. When an INFJ does not have a close relationship, they can became depressed and feel empty.”INFJs often feel happiest and most fulfilled when helping others understand themselves and their problems.” – Personality Junkie, INFJ

 6. We are perfectionists

INFJs are never happy with ourselves. No matter how much an INFJ has improved, there is always room to be better. Often times, we can struggle with relishing in our accomplishments since we continue to focus on where we have fallen short and how we could have done better. It can sometimes frustrate an INFJ to see others complacent with their current selves.

“INFJ is a perfectionist who doubts that they are living up to their full potential. INFJs are rarely at complete peace with themselves – there’s always something else they should be doing to improve themselves and the world around them. They believe in constant growth, and don’t often take time to revel in their accomplishments…they have very high expectations of themselves, and frequently of their families.”
– Portrait of an INFJ, www.personalitypage.com

5. We are socially inept

While many INFJs can practice and put on a good show, most of us struggle with social norms and routines, especially if we see little use for them. Since, as mentioned before, we find it difficult to put our thoughts into words, we can feel uncomfortable being in situations that cause us to interact in a spontaneous manner, such as meeting someone new.

INFJs spend most of our time thinking through deep and complex matters, therefore shallow and menial conversations of everyday life can confuse and frustrate us. Talks of the weather and local sports are exhausting for us. We would much rather ask for life stories, sincere problems of which we can offer solutions and therapy session-like conversations. When we ask “how are you,” we mean it on the deepest and sincerest possible level.

 4. Our label means a lot to us

While every person can be pinpointed as a specific Myers-Briggs Personality Type, INFJs tend to cling to our label as soon as we discover it. As we are the rarest personality type, making up an approximate 2% of the population, we spend most of our lives feeling lost and misunderstood. Once we learn that we are not alone and that there is an explanation as to why we have always felt different, we feel overjoyed and almost “normal.”Even if the description of an INFJ does not fit us 100%, it still usually offers us a lot of information for which we have spent the majority of our lives searching. Those four little letters can be life-changing to an INFJ.

 3. We are very open-minded

INFJs have an amazing ability to think abstractly. In our minds, it is easy to see gray areas and blurred lines. While we tend to have strong principles and passions, an INFJ can usually see another persons point-of-view on any situation. Whenever there is a difference of opinion, an INFJ is very driven to ask questions and seek information about the opposing side in order to understand the different perspective. This part of our personality leads to deep compassion and always giving others the benefit of the doubt.

 2. We are warm-hearted

INFJs can outwardly appear cold. Because we tend to be very private and enjoy only opening up to our closest companions, others can see us as cold and detached. This is the furthest from the truth. INFJs are, in fact, extremely warm-hearted and open to everyone around us, but because we are socially inept, we can struggle with making others aware of this. Our compassion knows no limits and we are mostly selfless people. We hope that everyone can open up to us and know that we are there for them, however, we will probably not open up much to them by no fault of their own.

 1. Our intuition is real

INFJs are known for being the most intuitive personality type. We “just know” a lot of information that we can never fully explain. Many sensing types and a few intuitive types cannot fully grasp our level of intuition and easily discredit our knowledge. Without any explanation as to why, we can feel the feelings of everyone around us as deeply as though they were our own.

As An Anonymous INFJ states: “In my experience, the most misunderstood part of an INFJ is how we feel everything those around us feel. We do not sympathize. We do not empathize. We literally feel exactly what you feel. Even if you are trying to hide it or don’t express your feelings, somehow we still know.”

Along with our open-mindedness and compassion, our ability to intuitively feel and sense things around us is a large part of why we can help others so easily. We just know what is best for those around us even if we cannot articulate why.

If you know an INFJ or want to be closer to an INFJ, believing in our intuition is the best thing you can do because it is the biggest part of who we are.

Three Rules for Healthy Bible Reading

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I recently had a conversation with a Christian who confessed her aversion of personal Bible reading. Her reason was understandable: she’s afraid that she’ll misunderstand and misinterpret the Bible, rendering her more confused than when she started. For some people, reading the Bible is an intimidating task because they’re keenly aware of its complexity.  While they are willing to be honest, there are others who read the Bible with a certainty that claims to “hear from God” every time they read it. Two unhealthy extremes are typical: avoidance and arrogance. In a world of competing extremes, here are three foundational rules for healthy Bible reading that you can start applying today:

  1. Accept the Complexity of Scripture: 

Healthy bible reading begins with accepting the complexity of Scripture. Peter speaks of Paul’s writings as containing things that are “hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  The Bible is a collection of writings that encompass a multitude of genres, many of which aren’t in use in our day (i.e. Revelation is a “prophetic-apocalyptic epistle,” and a prime victim of misreading as foretelling of the future).  The Biblical world is “distant” from ours in terms of language, geography and culture, and without a healthy awareness of that distance, we will be tempted to assume a meaning that isn’t there. Matters of salvation are clear in the Bible, but much of the Bible is easily misapplied and misrepresented because readers lack a humble posture towards. Reminding yourself of the complexity of Scripture will help foster an open, listening and humble posture.

  1. Prioritize Your Heart Over Your Head: 

I have devoted a large portion of my life to understanding the biblical narrative and its complexity, so don’t misunderstand the following words: the primary purpose of reading the Bible is not to “understand” it with your head, but to receive it with your heart. If you believe “understanding” the Bible is the primary goal of reading it, you will miss its point altogether. And when you don’t understand it you might think something is wrong with you; it might even deter you from ever reading it again (like it did my friend). Or worse, if we too quickly presume that we have understood it, in an absolute sense, we can easily become “puffed up” (1 Cor. 8:2).

Instead, attend Bible reading with a heart ready to be convicted and corrected. Prayerfully anticipate that you would be cut to the heart, and be made aware of the many ways your life doesn’t align with the way of life that Jesus is calling you to. You’re not looking for “universal laws” to add to your bag of ammo, but listening for the voice that’s speaking to you. The great Catholic theologian Joseph Ratzinger wisely captures this when he says “the meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most indelible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out.”

  1. Read with Patience

If you’re like me you might expect to experience something special whenever you read the Bible—a vision, an insight, a unique revelation. We sometimes approach the biblical text with the expectations, (or heaven forbid, the demand!) that God will open our “spiritual eyes” so that we can discover deep life-changing truths!  That could happen sometimes, but it’s not the norm. Our expectation for quick results is more so informed by our perpetual-entertainment-culture of Netflix and Youtube than anything else. Learn to read with patience and endurance through the mundane and boring bits.  Bible reading is a lot like brushing your teeth; you can’t expect to have healthy teeth all at once. Healthy teeth comes from brushing two minutes twice a day for the rest of your life.

Foundational healthy Bible reading that produces fruit will always include these three things: a humble acceptance of the complexity of Scripture, an openness to be convicted and cut to the heart, and a willingness to read with a patience that endures even when nothing special happens. With these three rules, you can trust that the words of Scripture will truly become “indelible”—it will truly “take root”, endure, and bear fruit in its time.

 

Thomas Merton on Faith and Doubt

“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. For every gain in deep certitude there is a corresponding growth of superficial “doubt.” This doubt is by no means opposed to genuine faith, but it mercilessly examines and questions the spurious “faith” of everyday life, the human faith which is nothing but the passive acceptance of conventional opinion. This false “faith” which is what we often live by and which we even come to confuse with our “religion” is subjected to inexorable questioning… Hence, is it clear that genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not mere passive acquiescence in the status quo, as some would like to believe – for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia.”

  • Thomas Merton

on learning to finish

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I started writing what you’re about to read 5 months ago, but it remained unfinished until now.  I have an honest confession to make about the pain of creativity in a world of shortcuts. As part of the Millenial generation, we’re immersed in a world of technological advancement that trains us to value the speed and efficiency of things, and therefore devalue that which seems slow.

So, I ask, what does it take for you to be creative? What does it take for you to finish?

Take an honest look at yourself: How good are you at reaching your goals? Do your Monday goals get forgotten by Wednesday? Do you start things with excitement but forget about them shortly after? Are you a master of finishing the projects you start? Do you ever get excited about something new–a hobby, a sport, a project, a goal, only to neglect it after a few hours or even overnight?

I’ve learned this about myself: I love to learn, and I love to get excited about learning new things. But what I know too well is that I prefer the novelty of learning, the idea of it, than the hard work it takes to truly learn. I am, I guess, a compulsive learner. I’m becoming aware that the interests that plague me today, will likely be boring old news tomorrow. I move on.

I have tons of examples from my life. Recently I found tutorial videos on a topic that interested me so I started to binge-watch them. After an hour of watching, I started to  watch the videos at twice the speed to hurry the learning process. I crammed as much as I could in a short period of time. Why? Because I seemed to have known that I’d lose interest the next day. I knew that tomorrow, I won’t real be motivated to explore this subject the way I do today. Tomorrow, the subject will lose its shining novelty.

Another example: A few weeks before my tutorial binge, I found a syllabus on a topic from a well respected school and told myself that I’d fulfill all the reading and the assignments, totally on my own. I had a second, more sober thought, which said: “no, that’s too lofty of a goal… how about you read just the articles mentioned in the syllabus. ” I thought, great, that’s what I’ll do. Then closed the syllabus and moved on. I never opened up the PDF again.

I do the same when it comes to creating.

Have you been there?

There are tons of unfinished projects sitting in the no-man’s land of computer folders, and basement closets. There’s always something new and more appealing to get on with in our information age, whether it’s something we’re learning or something we’re making. I often believe the myth that “I’ll go back to that,” but I rarely do.

Perhaps one of the problems is that I like a lot of things, but don’t really love any of them. I’m over-curious, over-distracted, undisciplined, and too easily bored. But how will I learn to love? The problem is with my expectation of love to be something I discover rather than work towards. This is something that stood out to me so powerfully in a talk given by Simon Sinek which you can listen to here.  Love is not something we simply “fall” into, nor something we discover. It’s something that emerges because of commitment, endurance, and all the small moments of attention we give it.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn is to be willing to meet the boredom head-on and drag our feet through it.

We walk away from the creative projects we start for a lot of reasons, sure. But how dreadfully tragic to walk away from from creativity because of boredom. Our romantic notions of love can be so tragic. True, deep love experiences moments of boredom; it takes endurance through the boring bits to experience the transcendence of love. To love something or someone is to give oneself to it despite the desire to be stimulated by its novelty. This isn’t just about creativity anymore, this is about being a human being in relation to others, and learning to love them with a love that is divine.

So don’t just start your projects, but stick with them and love them until the end. Be willing to endure the boring stages of creativity, and fight through them.

What are some things that keep you from finishing your projects?

On being alive 

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

– Ernest Hemingway 

Reflections on Gratitude and the Holy Supper

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Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

Eucharisteo is the Greek word for gratitude.

The posture of thanksgiving is what the biblical narrative points to as the proper posture of the imago dei in man. This stands in contrast to our North American culture of excessive hoarding and addiction through the gratification of insatiable desires. Hans Boersma makes the observation that this is quite understandable since our words is astonishingly beautiful: “When we smell, when we taste, when we hear, when we see, when we touch—the pleasure that follows can be overwhelmingly powerful.” But the purpose of our lives is not for increased gratification of the instinctual sort. What separates us from animals and what makes us rightful candidates of the imago dei—that uniquely human calling to image the Creator—is a posture of eucharisteo: gratitude. But not just any gratitude, but the kind that leads to self-giving, the kind that recognizes that all of creation—all that we can taste, touch, smell, hear and see—is merely a gift to be offered back to God.

In response to Jesus’ instructions, christians have made what has come to be known by countless names (holy communion, eucharist, holy supper, etc) as the definitive marker of the Christian identity.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Then word “communion” refers to the greek word, koinonia, which is also translated as fellowship, and participation. This special Christian act is precisely that: fellowship, participation, a unique and unexplainable mystery of entering into the Trinitarian life. And as we enter into the life of the Trinitarian God, we are launched into a life of eucharisteo.

To be authentically human, according to Christian faith and practice, is constituted by the posture of thanksgiving that leads to self-giving.

Paradoxically, and in opposition to everything we’re told by a culture of rampant consumerism, a life of gratitude is the life that is most satisfying of all.

Studies have shown that gratitude in itself is a healthy posture, and daily practices of expressing gratitude will contribute to happier life. But who are we to thank? How we answer this question will determine whether or not we will move from thanksgiving to self-giving.

God’s Plan For You is to Be a Gardener

A couple of weeks ago I had a sudden impulse to have a garden.

I bought some soil and some planters and the next you know I was in my garden gloves, watering basil, tomatoes and cucumbers in a raised garden bed made of an old bookshelf. The idea of having a garden sounds nice, but unless I learn to prune and water it, it’s going to die. If I want it to flourish, I will need to be intentionally present to it.

The beautiful thing about gardening is that it’s the primary image used in the Bible to describe what humans were created to do: to be gardeners of the world.

In the first pages of the Bible we’re introduced to God as a gardener: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8).  And like any gardener, God’s desire for His garden—His creation—was that it would flourish. In other words, when God created the world, He created it with the intention that it would be a place where goodness, truth and beauty would abound. The Hebrew word for this was shalom.

The surprising part of the story is that God did not choose to do this by Himself. God’s plan was for man and women to be co-gardeners with Him. Humans, made in the image and likeness of God, were created to join God in His creative work to care for the world in a special way.

All the pain, hurt, suffering and shame we’ve ever experienced is a result of our failure to be responsible gardeners of God’s creation.

The good news of God becoming a man and entering our world is not that we get a ticket to escape the world, but show us the way to be proper gardeners of the world.

Unfortunately, salvation is often misunderstood as a story of escaping this world because it is just too damaged and corrupt for any hope of redemption. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. See, God did not become flesh to get us out of the world, but so that we would be fully human, fully alive, in the world and for the world.

Because of Jesus, a new creation has penetrated our world.

One of the earliest Christian teachers captured this idea when he said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” What he meant was that in Jesus, we find our true human fulfillment. This is why Jesus often talked about offering “abundant life” to his followers. It doesn’t mean that he gives us a lot of things but that he makes it possible for us to recover our human calling to be co-gardeners with God.

This has a lot of implications with how we view and inhabit our world. Christians are called to be the shapers and makers of culture. We’re called to be present, like a gardener is present to his garden, caring for our world, our city, our neighborhood in ways that reflect the ways of Jesus.

When we follow Jesus into the way of life he calls us to live, he will make us more human than we could ever be without him.

Following Jesus means that we learn to be present to people, places and things in every sphere of culture we find ourselves in for the sake of cultivating shalom.