Bait, Switch. 

I am just coming off of a season where I’ve focused personally an awful lot on Jesus’ death and resurrection (technically, we’re still in the church season of Easter, but you get the point).

However, there’s this thing about Jesus: He’s always one step ahead of you, and just when you think that you have him figured out, there’s another aspect to him and his ministry, and you’re back at the start again, filled with wonder and shaking your head in humility and amazement (ideally, anyway).

Brennan Manning once wrote (more or less, anyway), “The signature of Jesus is the cross”, and I wholeheartedly believe this. It opens up heaven, defeats evil, frees all of us, and continually challenges and motivates me. Additionally, the resurrection breaks the power of death and sin, and unleashes a whole new power into the world (and, by definition, my life).

But Jesus says there’s still even more

If you take Jesus’ words seriously (and, well, I do), then you have to acknowledge the fact that repeatedly Jesus tell people that you have to pay attention to his teaching—the things he says and does during his minitry.

Over and over again, he flat out tells people, “Look the reason I have come is to teach and preach.” (Check Mark 1:38), John 8:31, and especially John 6:63 and 12:47-48.)

We have a tendancy to focus so much attention on the cross and empty tomb, and then his miracles that we can sometimes tend to lose sight or downplay his teaching agenda.

And he taught a lot: 

  • In “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6) he lays out a vision for life that far transcends any “normal” human life (and I fully believe he expects us to be able to live it).
  • In John’s gospel Jesus says things like, “The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life“ (John 4). He also refers to the fact that “Whoever wants to do God’s will can tell whenter my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own” (7:17).

These are challenging teachings because (a) they often don’t fit into the neat little boxes we draw for ourselves regarding faith and (b) they actually challenge the way most of us look at and live in the world.

I think it’s pretty odd that we ignore Jesus’ own words to focus on his teachings.

Sometimes I think it’s because—as crazy as it seems—we get uncomfortable because his teachings expect too much of us. For those of us who grew up in church, it’s sometimes actually “easy” to focus on Good Friday and Easter, possibly because of the “paid for” and “finished” aspect to them (and I believe that).

But when you look at what Jesus taught, you realize that he actually expects more of you.

It’s like—if we were to actually take him at his word(s)—he actually expects transformation.

And that makes us uncomfortable.

We want to go to heaven, but often we don’t want to actually change beforehand. We are just as content to remain angry, pride-filled, self-focused, and addicted and compulsive.

I think Jesus’ ministry was a continual call to transformation that culminated in the cross and then the resurrection, but it’s not like that call ended with the four gospels.

The call is still going on.

What do you need to change?

I’m All About That Bass (But Not Like THAT)…

There was a season of my life that I was fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time in recording studios (and get paid—at least a little bit—for it). My typical method of recording songs was to build a track from the ground up: get the drums and bass happening, then add rhythm instruments, guitar solos and “ornamentation”, then end with vocals.

However, once I found myself working with an engineer who was also going to play bass in the session. We worked together to build the tracks, but at some point the tracks were practically complete—even the lead vocals…

… except for the bass.

When I asked him about it, he said, “I like to leave bass to the last; that way I can craft my bass line around what is still missing from the track.”

Personally, I suspected that it was only because he was a bass player, and he wanted more important of a role than what most bass players have (it’s a prejudice I have, I know).

However, I was reading something recently, and the writer was remarking how he liked bassists and bass lines, how the bass moves the song along and unifies it. 

I thought: “My oh my—how profoundly spiritual.”

The simple question is this: What moves your life along? What unifies it? 

Our spirituality should be more than just a vague set of beliefs or events that we go to. Our spiritual practices (and I suggest you get some if you don’t have any) should do the same thing a good bass line does: it should bring unity and understanding to your life, and it should propel it forward. 

So there’s this:

But better yet, there’s this: 

When the Weather Can Radically Change Your Life

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain www.wikipedia.org

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain http://www.wikipedia.org

A couple of my favorite “odd” history books were written by a guy named Erik Durschmied. One was called The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed HistoryThe other book was called The Weather Factor: How Nature Has Changed History. Both were about how seemingly “unrelated things” (random chance or weather patterns) can forever and unalterably change the course of history.

Before Jesus is crucified, he tells his followers that he is going to send them another “counselor” who will help them in a variety of ways (John 14-15). He’s talking here about the Holy Spirit, who comes in fantastic power in Acts 2, and at that point takes up residence in God’s people (the church). If you read Acts, and even most of Paul, you find that the Holy Spirit is really the thing for us today. It’s the presence of Jesus with us (and in us!), and is the power for the church to achieve his work in the world.

When the Spirit is at work in our lives, we are able to see more, be more, and do more than we would otherwise. As Paul says, this is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. 

And we have access to that.

Wha?

Sadly, it seems that most of us don’t even approach that level of power and freedom in our lives. Instead, we limp around in our sins, content to screw up, confess, and repent, and wonder when (or better yet, ifwe will ever “get better” and be able to live a life that we see occasionally in the New Testament: a life that can suffer gracefully, that can forgive lavishly, that can give freely, that can dream radically.

Where do we start to get that kind of life?

Recently, I heard a professor give this metaphor.

One of the Biblical images (and words) for the Spirit is “wind” (Hebrew ruach). Now, Wind has a pretty peculiar, but somewhat predictable, behavior. Weather systems are made up of “high pressure” and “low pressure” systems; these variable levels of pressure force weather and wind around the environment in a constantly moving and evolving system.

Now here’s the interesting part…

Weather, or “wind”, always flows from “high pressure to “low pressure. The absence of volume, or pressure causes air to flow—sometimes quite intensely—into the area of low pressure.

If you want the wind to flow into your life, you have to create a low pressure atmosphere in your life. 

So, what creates low pressure atmosphere?

You have to get rid of what’s occupying the space. 

You have to get rid of yourself. 

Self—our ego, our preoccupations, our demands, our agendas, etc., etc.—keeps our lives in a “high pressure situation.” There’s simply no room for the Spirit to come in.

This is repentance on a whole different level.

This a willing abandonment of our need for security, esteem, approval, and anything else apart from God.

Confess your sins? Yes.

Repent? Yes. Absolutely, but make sure your repentance involves an abandonment of your ego, and your demand to have your way in the world.

Then the wind can come in. Then the Spirit flows in. It’s as if God says, Finally, this is something—someone—I can work with.

… Like a Hurricane

Recently, I made a mistake.

A big one.

Those are enough details for now, but it left me thinking about love and forgiveness.

Now, my wife is not perfect, but repeatedly I’ve been blown away, overwhelmed, by her ability to forgive and love me in spite of my faults. She is a fierce lover, and when she is loyal, she is loyal. 

It’s a withering love. And it’s difficult to stand.

In the midst of this, I realized that there is something inside of me that absolutely wants to flee this kind of love. I have a hunch I’m not the only one. I have a theory that this condition is more human than I’d like to admit.

What is it inside of us that makes us flee this kind of acceptance?

It’s obviously similar to the love that Christ has for us/me. To look into the face of a love that is totally accepting and forgiving is excruciating sometimes. We want to hide and run because of all the bad that we have done, but there is something there that says we must stand in it and take it, like a fierce rainstorm.

That’s what love is. That’s what love can be… A hurricane. 

Love him, or hate him, Saint Paul must have learned to stand in that hurricane. Here was a man who had people—innocent people—killed, and then later sought those people out in community, as one of them. Moreover, before that he had to stand in the face of Jesus and accept that love.

He could stand in the face of that storm. He was no longer a man with blood on his hands, with the lives of men, women, and children (!) on his conscience. He was simply a man who was now “In Christ”, and was inviting others to experience this same storm.

I know I’m not naturally wired for it. It makes me want to hide, to go numb, to retreat.

I guess I’m TRYING to learn to withstand it, but it is difficult.

Musically speaking, not that it is anything like this:

But maybe, it’s a bit like this:

peace

2015 Lenten Reflections

Well, we survived.

(At least for the most part.)

We have walked our walk, and made the 40-day journey. It began with Ash on skin and ended with an empty tomb.

We have reflected and yearned, gone hungry and sat in silence.

Some of us have woken up to even new areas of our lives where we are still “in bondage.”

But it’s over. We’re done. It’s Easter now, and time to engage with the power of God’s Spirit in a “resurrection life.” I’ve written about that before, but what I wanted to do for now is to jot down a few notes about my own 40-day journey, and maybe hear from you about yours.

MY SACRIFICE

When we started this journey, I encouraged you guys to thoughtfully choose something to give up, to “limit yourselves” in some way…

… I also encouraged you all to keep it a secret. 

I did that. I didn’t really tell anyone about my fast; however, since we are on the other side now, here’s what I did..

I decided to give up all media. That meant that for 6 days a week I watched no TV, listened to no music or podcasts, and visited no “news or entertainment” websites. Now, I had to do some of this for my work, so exceptions had to be made from time to time, but for the most part I was able to make this work. In the time that I gained back from this, I tried to add more prayer, and more reading of spiritual/theological books. On the “seventh day”, I “feasted,” meaning I listened to and watched whatever I wanted for 24 hours.

Here’s what I learned:

NO JOURNEY IS PERFECT

It’s hard to keep this up! As I said, I have to take in some media for my job, and sometimes that spilled over into mindless surfing for a few minutes until I could re-center. Further, sometimes I had to make decisions to be with my family—who were watcing a show of some kind—rather than maintain my fast.

There are always bumps in the road, but you have to constantly re-adust, re-commit and keep pesevering. It’s not going to be perfect, but you can still finish. The point is to not give up. Stay on the journey.

It’s easy to live in an “all-or-nothing” mentality, but spiritually-speaking it ultimately won’t get you very far. Spirituality is seldom (if ever) about “all or nothing.” It’s about staying centered in the midst of failure and disappointment. It’s about continuing to move forward even when you haven’t been perfect. It’s in the “in-between” places that we tend to grow the most.

YOU’D BE SURPRISED WHAT YOU DON’T MISS

As I began to “quiet down”, I was shocked with how much I simply wasn’t missing. Normally, I’m pretty addicted (maybe that’s the key word) to news websites, Tumblr, NPR, ESPN, etc., etc., but as I began to lower those voices, I was shocked with how much I didn’t miss those voices.

My normal life—my everyday conversations, interactions and all the challenges that sometimes accompanies them—were plenty to occupy my mind.

Sure, I missed some “big stories” (that somehow seldom seem to be as big as they first appear to be), but by and large people caught me up as was necessary.

I really didn’t miss all that much, and this was actually pretty surprising.

FASTING SOMETIMES EXPOSES MORE NEED FOR FASTING

When I first pulled back from some of the media I was engaging in, I dove into some fun theology books. However, a week or two into my journey, I suddenly had a nagging thought: “You know, books are a form of media as well.”

Well now…

What I began to realize was that sometimes ”surrending and getting quiet before God means really surrendering and getting quiet before GOd.” 

It doesn’t mean reading more Henri Nouwen.

Pulling back just a little sometimes exposes our need to pull back even more. We discover new ways in which we are distracting ourselves and refusing to listen to the deepest voice in our souls, the One that is calling us to our deepest, truest self.

There’s probably more, deeper things that happened during my time in the desert, but they may take a little time for me to process (and I may not even share them all here), but those were just a couple of things that I learned.

What about you? What was your Lenten season like?

Architecture Teaching Theology (Lessons My Mother Taught Me)

In his excellent historical examination of church worship, Robert Webber points out how the architecture of Christian worship spaces changed as the theology of worship (particularly around the eucharist) changed.

To sum up a very long argument, Webber points out that when the Eucharist was highly participatory, churches tended to meet in informal, interactive spaces, at times almost in the round. As theology of the Eucharist became more and more “elevated,” and as the Eucharist became more and more sacred and separated, worship (and the interaction with the body and blood of Christ became more and more something “that the priests did,” while the congregation observed. Architecture responded accordingly, with higher and higher altars that were more and distinct and separate from the congregation. The areas for

Amiens cathedral floorplan

Amiens cathedral floorplan

priests/“holy people” and the “normal folks” became more and more delineated. Worship threatened to become something that the congregation watched, accept for the moment that the wafer went on the tongue and the wine hit the mouth.

Nowadays, we have stages and platforms, and our worship (at least in most evangelical contexts) is really limited to “song time.” However, most worship leaders of quality do their best to get people involved, and build in times of congregational singing (the singers don’t just sing at the congregation, they sing with them).

However, a friend of mine just recently started attending a mega-church. He’s a musician, and has begun volunteering in their music ministry (needless to say, the musicians are all excellent). One day, we were talking and he remarked that while the musicians were amazing, and the church placed a high value on ministry, nobody seemed to care too much whether anyone was actually participating in worship From his perspective, the band was there to be amazing and inspiring, but there was seldom (if ever?) a call for people to actually sing.

It makes me wonder if we are going through the same “drift” that our mother (The Catholic Church) went through between the early 300s into the medieval era. I wonder if we are becoming content with worship becoming a “spectator sport” as opposed to a participatory event. (NOTE: I understand that not everyone will always participate 100%; this is more about what we, as leaders, are content to accept as normative.)

Worship need not be opposed to excellence. We can (and should) strive to be the best musicians we can be (both on Sundays and on Monday-Saturday); however, our goal, our target should not be only excellence, relevance, or sacredness. It should be participation. We are not worship performers; we are participants with the congregation.

Lent 2015: “The Long Quiet”

So, Lent starts Wednesday.

(We’ve been through this before.)

The Basics: 

  • “Lent” is a season of the church; it starts 40 days before Easter.
  • Historically, this time was set aside for people to prepare join (or, in many cases, rejoin) the church, which they would do on Easter Sunday.
  • To prepare for that really, really joyous day (membership/baptism or restoration), people would take the season of Lent to reflect on the areas of their lives that are in some way “sideways” or somehow out of whack.
  • To address these areas (or in many cases, to help identify them in the first place), it’s helpful to quiet down, to give up some parts of our lives (called “fasting”). Sometimes these things are luxuries (chocolate was always popular in my house growing up), but sometimes we give up—or at least significantly limit—every day parts of our lives too:
    • Coffee
    • Meat
    • Alcohol
    • Television
  • Another way to “surrender” during Lent is to just drastically reduce the amount of food we eat. The idea is to “waken” our spiritual senses by heightening our hunger (literal or otherwise). Sundays are considered “feast days”, meaning you can have the thing or activity on that day, but during the week, you should strive to keep your fast.

This isn’t about a performance. In fact, the most effect Lenten practices are kept secret.

It’s about shaking (or shocking?) ourselves out of our comfortable, anesthesized existence to face (and maybe begin to deal with) things that are wrecking our lives. We fast because most of the time these things are hidden from our face, and we need something to wake us up.

Like being hungry.

Or not watching TV (including Netflix, etc.).

A Few Suggestions:

  • Try it. Prayerfully consider giving something for 40 days and just see what happens. 
  • Share it, but not with everyone. Talk some members of your small community, but don’t necessarily broadcast it on Facebook. “Public Fasting” can feed our egos just as easily as a selfie can.
  • Feast. On Sundays, reengage as an act of worship and celebration.
  • Journal it. Note what God reveals to you during this time. (Note: this does not necessarily mean “blog it” (see above).

May your Lenten journey be rich.