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

gratitude

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.

on how busyness is laziness

“I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice – that I am important. …I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed. …Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It’s filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s action. It’s taking charge.”

Eugene Peterson, from Contemplative Pastor

 

Be A Farmer: How to Experience Transformation

TransformationIf you’ve been a Christian for longer than a week you know that you can’t transform your heart through sheer determination and willpower.

The Bible talks about sin as a condition so deeply ingrained in the heart that it works its way out through the body (Ro. 7:5). Jesus spoke of this as well when he said that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He was addressing the external righteousness of the Pharisees, telling them that “every careless word” will reveal the true nature of their heart (Matt 12:34-36).

In other words, what is inside will always come out. If you are full of anger, full of lust, full of bitterness, no force of willpower and determination will keep the heart from being revealed.

There’s two typical ways we go about dealing with this reality: the first is to try harder and do better, give will-power another try. The second route we take is to believe that there is nothing we can do so we must idly wait for change to happen automatically. In the meantime, thank God that you are “objectively” righteous, and soon enough the real righteousness—the change of heart Jesus spoke about so often—will eventually come. These are the two options: will-power or idleness, and both are wrong.

Paul gives us a third option: learn to be a farmer.

He says, “he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8). Richard Foster comments on Paul’s farming metaphor and how it relates to the process of transformation:

“A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain.  He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain” (The Spiritual Disciples, 7).

Paul gives us the picture of the farmer to resolve the tension of transformation, and it’s a paradox: there’s physical work you can do that has no power in creating growth, yet is necessary for maturity. Like the flourishing garden of a farmer, transformation takes bodily discipline. When the Christian practices of prayer, study, solitude, silence, service, and many others become a regular part of our diet, we are creating the right conditions to experience something supernatural.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that there is some kind of power inherent in the disciplines, there isn’t.

No seasoned farmer will boast about what grows from his garden, he is well aware its mystery, and thankful to be invited into the process. The disciplines simply create “the right conditions”—they create the environment for God to do his work. They are his chosen means of grace for transformation—for taking what we believe in our heads, and webbing it deeply into our hearts.

Transformation happens not through willpower nor idleness but by learning the skills of the farmer who takes the time, the patience, and the effort to cultivate, plant, and water, creating the conditions for God do his mysterious work. It is a slow, long, but life-giving process.

 

 

 

Learning to Lament in the Midst of Tragedy

Lament

Christians need to learn to lament. We live in a culture that prefers to hide sadness, and too often, Christians have been found doing the same.

Every day, we encounter people who are suffering because of loss, instability, pain or regret and they lament because of it. And every day, Christians offer intellectual answers to the emotional turmoil that so many victims of tragedy experience, bypassing any need for lament.

We look up our favourite suffering-will-make-me-a-better-person verse and stamp them on the victims of tragic turmoil.  I hear it said all the time that since “Jesus will use your suffering for good to make you a better person,” you shouldn’t be sad.

Though the statement about Jesus is true, the conclusion about emotional repression is absolutely false.

Here’s a question that might be worth asking: How should Christians  respond to tragedies that involve violence, hate, suffering and death without disqualifying the reality and immensity of their grief? How can our faith in Jesus as Lord ultimately be a source of joy while being honest about the dysfunction of suffering and death? How can we point to something worth hoping for without giving pat answers about “sanctification” and how suffering will “make you a better person”?

It’s easy to miss, but there’s something mistakenly unhealthy about this common scenario because it fails to take into account the complexity of the biblical narrative and how Jesus himself responds to tragedy.

On the one hand, the Bible is full of claims that God redeems suffering. He reveals himself as the Redeemer of his people and the whole of creation. Indeed, the entire biblical narrative is largely about the how God promises to redeem a creation inked with suffering, violence, and brokenness.

Despite this, nowhere in the Bible do we get the idea that a victim of tragedy should silence their cry, hide away their tears and pretend that it’s all okay.

Nowhere in the Bible is the suppression of honest feelings equated to holiness.  Instead, an entire book in the Bible is dedicated to the very necessary human response to Lament.

Learning to lament is part of what it means to be human. And we see this throughout the Bible:

The great psalmist David expressed every emotion in his psalms and in the midst of tragedy and grief invited his people to lament with him (2 Samuel 1). Not only did he sing this lament but taught his people to learn and live in it, despite God’s faithfulness to redeem the situation.  When Mary and Martha lose their brother, they lament. Mary laments with particular gusto, expressing her wishes that Jesus should have been there sooner. Was she wrong? 

The narrative of suffering for many Christians doesn’t fit with the next part of the story. For many, Jesus should have just told Mary and Martha to stop being sad.

Instead, Jesus does what nobody could have guessed: he weeps. The God who makes himself into a man reveals how deeply he has tied himself to the creation he loves with real, physical, tears. This is the character of God; one who responds to tragedy not with a simple answer, but with his humanity.

The Gospel is not about a God who takes all the pain away with the click of a button, but one who enters in with great compassion and empathy, making a way possible for a redeemed and resurrected world.

In our pain, in our suffering, when we experience violence, abuse and exploitation, the God of the Bible does not stand afar, but enters into the suffering, offering his tears. Only when we see a tearful God, could we begin to hope for a redeemed future.

This is part of what it takes to become a mature human being: learning to grieve with those who grieve, to cry with those who cry, and to mourn with those who mourn. When we learn to lament with one another, we are learning to take up our cross as a communal act, and only then will we be ready to experience the miracle and mystery of the resurrection.

 

The One Thing You Need to Stop Doing with the Bible

Bible

It’s become increasingly clear in our day that people would much rather use the Bible  than be used by the Bible.

The Bible has become a book for anyone to dissect and use for their own purposes. Though it has been used to inspire good in the world, it has also been falsely used as a means to justify violence, racism, slavery, hatred, and murder.

Even today—through the impersonal means of social media—we would much rather use the Bible to argue with those we believe are wrong, rather than let it have its impact to redirect our misguided lives. Some of the worst and most poisonous uses of the Bible are when Christians use it as a weapon to fight with other Christians. One version of the Bible against another.

Indeed, this unfruitful way of using the Bible does little more than increase the wedge of division in the church, providing ample reason for unbelievers to remain unbelievers—something Jesus warned us about. Rather than be transformed by our interaction with the Bible (because it points us to the One who can transform), we use the Bible to assert our opinions and forward our agenda.

There’s this important doctrine that developed in the history of the Church regarding the special authority of the Bible. How that authority is understood and applied has varied, but its essence has always referred to these two things:

1) authority to reveal the character of God and his intention for his creation and

2) authority to bring the Scripture-reading community (i.e. the Church) into participation with God in his plan to redeem the world.

The Bible’s Authority has to do with God’s sovereign plan for the world and his desire to use a broken humanity for that plan. 

This means that the “authority of Scripture” is most truly taken seriously by the Church, and by Christians, when they get to work in the world on behalf of the Gospel news that Jesus has defeated that powers of sin and death and has begun the work of New Creation. The Authority of Scripture has to do with God’s invitation for humans to participate with him in his work to bring healing and wholeness and shalom to his world that he has neither forgotten nor abandoned.

That means that the authority of the Bible has a lot less to do with our opinions about facts, and much more to do with the lives we live. 

If you think you have a high view of the Bible’s authority because you argue with people who don’t agree with you, you’re missing out on the meaning of the Bible’s authority. If you find yourself repeatedly promoting your  arbitration of what is true and false theology on social media, it is likely that you don’t have a high view of the Bible, you have a high view of yourself.

The Bible’s authority refers to a way of life, and it wasn’t enough for God to give us a list of traits or rules to reveal this way of life. He chose instead to model it himself in the person of Jesus, revealing and making possible this way of life that the Bible’s authority points us to.

When we use the bible as a sword to slay others rather than an invitation into the life modelled by Jesus we grossly misuse the Bible and subvert its authority. You want to know if you have a high view of the Bible’s authority? Take a look at what you desire: do you increasingly desire Jesus and the way of life he embodied or are you more interested in proving a point? How do you remain in a posture that avoids using the Bible, and begins to be used by the Bible?

Luc Ferry on Salvation

“I would like you to imagine that you own a magic wand which allows you to arrange matters so that everyone in the world today begins to observe to the letter the ideal of respect for others embodied in humanist principles. Suppose that, everywhere in the world, the rights of man were scrupulously observed, with everyone paying respect to the dignity of everyone else and the equal right of each individual to partake of those famous fundamental rights of freedom and happiness. We can hardly begin to comprehend the unprecedented revolution that such an attitude would introduce into our lives and customs. There would be no wars or massacres, no genocide or crimes against humanity. There would be an end to racism and xenophobia, to rape and theft, to domination and social exclusion, and the institutions of control or punishment – police, army, courts, prisons – would effectively disappear. So, morality counts for something, and this exercise suggests the degree to which it is essential to our common life; and, at the same time, how far we actually are from its realisation.  Yet, such a miracle would not prevent us from getting old, from looking on helplessly as wrinkles and grey hairs appear, from falling ill, from experiencing painful separations, from knowing that we are going to die and watching those we love die. In the end, nothing will save us from getting bored and finding that everyday life lacks zest. Even were we saints, immaculate apostles of the rights of man and the republican ethos, nothing would guarantee us a fulfilled emotional life.”

  • Luc Ferry, atheist

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.