Silence

I do “contemplation” pretty well. It’s in my nature to be somewhat quiet and at rest (as my waistline will attest).

But there’s a difference between rest and redemptive silence.

Recently, I have not been able to begin my day in silence the way I have been accustomed to, and I my soul has been paying the price. I’ve realized that taking some time—any time—has a significant positive impact to the amount of peace in my spirit.

It’s easy to assume that we’re supposed to “hit the ground running”. Maybe we’re supposed to hit the ground listening.

Or kneeling. 

To let God speak a word—The Word—to us, before we start speaking back to Him, or to our families.

We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

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43:23 (or Thereabouts)

I recently purchased and downloaded Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Wow.

Considered to be one of the most amazing works of Western music, its power and beauty can be breathtaking. But, as I listened, something struck me about the piece. In case you didn’t know, the 9th is long. Over an hour (that’s pretty rare in our modern world, yes?).

For most of that hour, we—the audience—is waiting; waiting for “that” melody that we recognize. By my (admittedly dodgy) calculations, the musical theme that we identify with comes in at around 3:35 of the 4th Movement. That’s over forty minutes into the piece. 

But you know who waits even longer?

The choir.

A choir—a rarity in symphonic music at the time— sings the theme again even later in the 4th Movement. They have waited for almost 50 minutes to sing; to do their part in the symphony; to contribute to one of the most beautiful moments in symphonic music.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like a member of the choir. We sit with nothing to do, watching others play and develop the masterpiece. We may feel like we’re on the sidelines, or that our gifts aren’t needed. But eventually it will be our time to sing. It will be our time to open up our mouths and to do our part in the music that’s been written. We need to be ready.

Are you in a time of waiting? Are you being called to contribute, but the “way” hasn’t seemed open yet? Is it just that the symphony hasn’t arrived at your part yet? When the time comes, are you prepared to sing?

When it does, rest assured that you are helping to create a work of beauty and redemption.

This vision is for a future time.
It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
for it will surely take place.
It will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3)

Sermon Notes/Sources

As mentioned, here are some resources on scripture from my message on June 24.

Sermon Notes

On Galatians:

Galatians. This a great series of short commentaries. (This is also a medium-length commentary series that’s pretty well done.)

On The Bible in General:

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by NT Wright. A great book about how to thoughtfully and faithfully read scripture.

The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God—Getting Beyond the Bible Wars by NT Wright. A short(er) version of the above book.

Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. A stretching but powerful book on the Old Testament.

On Story:

Story Juicing. a free download on the power of story.

Deeper Wells

An Australian business leader once told me when he shared his faith with a Japanese CEO, the response was dismissive: ‘Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man in touch with another world. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager at home only in this world like I am.’

I read this in Os Guiness’ The Call, and instantly, deeply connected with it.

Around 2006 I was living in Chicago, and saw a poster for this guy named Rob Bell. He was doing a tour called “Everything is Spiritual”, and something about it just struck me. Sometime, if you find yourself anywhere near community bulletin boards, notice how many posters there are for some form of eastern spirituality. Over and over again, you see flyers proclaiming the “secret of life”, or the “path of peace.”

Notice the claims that these practices are making.

Then, the next time you see a poster or flyer for a Christian church, notice the claims they make: “A Comfortable Atmosphere”; “Relevant Messages”; “Rockin Band.”

hmmmmmmm….

It seems odd to me that Christians have abandoned claims to any sort of deep spirituality. Where eastern forms of religion claim—and pursue—deep spiritual experiences, we seem to pursue comfortable atmospheres where people can “hear messages” and “hang out.” What struck me about Rob Bell’s poster was that it unabashedly claimed a depth of spirituality that many in “my tribe” seem to have abandoned.

In fact, I’d be so bold to say that over the years we’ve chosen to embrace a form of faith that focuses on the acceptance of our “sales message” (convert people) rather than the call to take up your cross and follow Jesus (discipleship). Acceptance of a sales message involves understanding it and deciding that you want to buy; a life of discipleship and transformation in to Christ-likeness involves a thorough rearranging of our life practices. Make no mistake: we are called to be salt and light, to go into the world, but I wonder if over the years this emphasis on “proclamation evangelism” hasn’t begun to exalt certain expressions of our faith (extroverted, systematic, and focused on a “point-of-decision”) over others (quiet, meditative, shepherding).

(Full disclosure: I consider myself on the quiet(er) side…)

The results I often see are pastors who are in fact, more at home in the managing world than in the spiritual world. This expression is no doubt necessary and effective, but I think we slip into error when we abdicate other forms of expression and then allow other faiths to occupy them.

To say it another way: The Christian faith is a profoundly spiritual, even mystical experience. The Eastern religions have no monopoly on meditation, peace, and a spiritual “presence.” We (the pastoral leaders of Christianity) have simply abandoned many practices that produce this way of life (or just abandoned talking about them). The result is that a lot of people in our modern culture assume that if you want a spiritual experience, look to the East. If you want “salvation”, look to the Christian church.

Over and over, in my interactions with young(er) Christ followers I tell them to “seek the deeper wells.”

  • Rather than merely reading the latest Rob Bell/Francis Chan/David Platt book, instead seek thoughts and books and practices that have decades—even centuries—of impact behind them.
  • Learn to pray.  And by “learning”, I mean learning. We assume we know how to do this, but we still feel awkward and tepid at “prayer time.” Why not get a book of prayers from the Puritans? or from the Church Fathers? People who knew what prayer was, and did it for hours. If you want to learn a skill, learn from a master, not from a hit-or-miss amateur.
  • Develop practices in your life that take you away from people, noise, and voices. Solitude, silence, and secret giving are transformational in ways that other, more prominent behaviors simply cannot touch.
  • Seek the people in your community who have walked—peacefully and humbly—with Jesus for a long time, and sit down with them to ask, “How do I walk a long time in the footsteps of Jesus?”
  • One more thing: listen to Emmylou … she’ll set you right.

THE Prayer Pt. 5 :: “Daily Bread”

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

The first century had no ATMs.

The first thing I notice about “daily bread” is the sheer immediacy of the request.

In Jesus’ culture, daily bread meant just that: food for the day. In that culture, people more or less literally lived “hand-to-mouth.” If a worker didn’t get paid for a day’s work, they couldn’t use their checking or savings account to go the market… because there was no checking or savings account.

For that day, there would be no money, and more than likely no food.

“Daily bread” is a willingness (and an invitation from God Himself) to desperately go to God for our daily needs and say, “God I need this, and I need it now. Tomorrow’s bread will not do, Lord. I need this today.”

Now, sometimes prayers are answered. Sometimes they are not. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to speak to that. But regardless, God invites us into this immediate, urgent prayer.

Ironically, some of us don’t take God up on his offer to pray for “daily bread”, simply because we have become immune to the necessity of it. Another part of praying for daily bread is us waking up to the fact that we are much more fragile than we think we are.

We go through great pains to insulate ourselves from this fragility. We buy houses in certain neighborhoods; we buy safe (and large) cars; we buy expensive insurance and alarm systems; we vocally support national security. All of these things—in and of themselves—are good things, but we can never leave behind the thought that in an instant everything can change. As much security as we pursue, we are still frail creatures. A recognition of this frailty, of this relative poverty is necessary to respond to the invitation pray for “daily bread.”

  • Do your prayers have “daily bread” urgency?
  • What does it mean that God invites us to pray prayers of urgent desperation?

The Sin of Narcissism, The Narcissism of Sin

Narcissus, by Caravaggio. Image from Wikipedia Commons

In the legend of Narcissus, a youth who is consumed with his own beauty is tricked into gazing at a reflection of himself. Unable to leave the beauty of the reflection, he eventually dies.

——————-

As I wrote a few weeks ago, in a very real way I think the key to spiritual growth is found in Colossians 3:1-16, particularly verses 1 and 2:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

I really do believe that the source of spiritual growth is in fixing our hearts and minds on  “realities of heaven”. This “prime mover” drives all of our disciplines—meditation, service, confession, etc.—and keeps them from disintegrating into mere outward motions.

But what happens when we stumble, when we sin?

One of the unexpected effects of brokenness in our lives is that it short circuits Colossians 3:1-2. Instead of focusing on critical things like “tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (3:12), we instead focus on us, specifically our brokenness and shortcomings. Ironically, this may lead to more difficulties, because we’ve turned our gaze away. We ponder our own shame, the consequences of our sin, what we might do differently.

But in all of this we’re looking at ourselves, not God, not heaven, not Jesus. We’re not listening and/or watching for the Holy Spirit.

We become sinful narcissists.

Sin surely should trigger sorrow and regret. Our repentance surely should involve a conscious “turning back” towards God, and a renewed appreciation of the cross and God’s mercy.

But we should be determined to not let our confession and repentance descend into narcissism. As we make our confession and repent (turn), we need to make sure we don’t become consumed with our brokenness, our mistakes, our sin. We need to get our eyes back “up”, back to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We don’t live and grow by focusing our depravity; we live and grow by fixing our eyes on the realities of heaven and following God’s Spirit, even through our mistakes and brokenness.

Between Two Visions

apologize ahead of time for the length of this, but this has been on my mind for a while now, and I wanted to share it. Hopefully it all makes sense. 

I’ve worked for churches now for 14 years.

I know I’m supposed to say something higher, and more important sounding, like, “I received a call into full-time ministry at 29, and have been in vocational ministry ever since.”

I know that’s what I’m supposed to say, but I’m not sure that I can, at least with any honesty. At the very least, I’m not sure that I wasn’t doing ministry when I wasn’t working for a church, and I’m not sure that all the things I’ve done in a given week working at a church were actually ministry.

Does that make sense?

So I’m hesitant to call it more than what I think it is. I’ve worked at churches—on and off, full-time and part-time—for 14 years. During that time, I’ve planted churches, done music, taught, shared sorrows and joys with folks, and had a few hard conversations. I’m sure ministry “happened,” but I’ve always been challenged with my role and activities in the context of a church, specifically….

Am I a pastor? 

Most of the time I think I am. I try to be the best shepherd I can be, and try to counsel, encourage, and challenge people as the Spirit leads.

But I know that there’s this other side to me: the side that is gifted with very public talents (we call them “up front” gifts): singing, playing guitar, teaching.

These two sides of me struggle. One side is bathed in humility; the other is extremely comfortable in a spotlight (did the 1st century church have spotlights? never mind.) 

This is a really important place for me to be—between two visions of my “work”—and I think more than a few of us “in the business” of ministry are there as well. I’ve heard stories lately of a few really gifted church teachers and communicators who have left behind their positions. Some of them have left their church communities entirely, others have merely changed their roles to allow them more time to pursue the creative endeavors that they are amazingly gifted at. They’ve tended to couch their reasoning in language like this, “We want everyone to be free to pursue who God has called them to be; something has been nagging at us for a while, growing inside, and we’ve come to believe that we should be moving into (insert “movie making”, “drawing”, “screen-writing”, “book writing” or whatever here), and we need to follow that call of God on our lives. Since that’s what we believe should be happening with you, we should model that.”

Trust me: I know this language. Deeply. I know that God gifted me to communicate through music, and I’m grateful for the chance to have pursued it. Relatedly, there are things around my church that just “need doing”, and I have to, well do them. I wish I didn’t have to. They have little to do with my “calling”, in terms of talent. If I could get rid of them, I would, in a hot minute.

But there’s this other voice inside of me that rails against this whole paradigm. The “other guy” in my life—the one that believes that sitting across a table in a coffee shop and weeping with someone is one of the highest privileges in life—calls, “foul.” That guy’s conception of his job leans heavily on duty, obedience, faithfulness, and humility: things learned at the feet of people like Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, and folks that just “followed the call”—and in some cases faced down their demons—long before the book deals came (in some cases, they never came). That guy believes that self-actualization and “pursuing who God has created me” can veer dangerously close to an individualized, westernized version of the Gospel.

Does God call us to self-actualization? I’m not so sure.

To be blunt, I wish their announcements would’ve gone something like this:

“Hey everyone. I’ve really valued the time I’ve had to be a part of this community, to lead you, to teach you, to shepherd you. But there’s been something that’s been brewing in my heart, and in my family’s minds, and it’s come to this: I no longer want to be a pastor. I want to go into movie-making/music-making/design, because I feel that there’s vital, important work to do there—even God-breathed, evangelistic work. I’ve valued being your pastor/leader/shepherd. I will never forget it, and you will always be a part of my life, as we will be a part of you. But this season of pastoring is over. We are no longer responding to that call.”

Again, If I’m being harsh, it’s only because I live in this same spot. I know what it means to want to be free to do more of what you naturally want to do.

I’m just not totally sure that’s the gig. 

Eugene Peterson says that a pastor is someone in a community who has been set aside to pay attention. I love that. I try to do that. For me, that’s not really sexy, in fact, it’s not really about me. Contrary to guitar playing, I don’t think I’m very good at “paying attention”. What’s certain though, is that I’m not paying attention to me; I’m paying attention (or truthfully, trying to pay attention) to the Holy Spirit in the community here.

I’m trying to stay faithful.

I’m not sure if God will release me from the call to “pay attention”. Right now he hasn’t, so…

… for now, my eyes are open.

p.s. The following (LONG) excerpt from Eugene Peterson’s Working The Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Ministry has impacted me more than probably any other group of words in terms of what I believe a pastor is called to. It’s long, but there’s true weight in these words (they are couched in a fictional letter from a congregation to a pastor).

If you’re a pastor, read them and see if they resonate with you; if you part of a body of believers, consider what you’re asking your pastors to do.

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We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us. We believe that God’s Spirit continues to hover over the chaos of the world’s evil and our sin, shaping a new creation and new creatures. We believe that God is not a spectator in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history but a participant in it. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage is material that God is using to make a praising life. We believe all this, but we don’t see it. We see, like Ezekiel, dismembered skeletons whitened under a pitiless Babylonian sun. We see a lot of bones that once were laughing and dancing children, of adults who once made love and plans, of believers who once brought their doubts and sang their praises in church — and sinned. We see the dancers or the lovers or the singers — at best we see only fleeting glimpses of them. What we see are bones. Dry bones. We see sin and judgment on the sin. That is what it looks like. It looked that way to Ezekiel; it looks that way to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to think; and it looks that way to us.

But we believe something else. We believe in the coming together of these bones into connected sinewed, muscled human beings who speak and sing and laugh and work and believe and bless their God. We believe that it happened the way Ezekiel preached it and we believe that it still happens. We believe it happened in Israel and that it happens in the church. We believe that we are part of the happening as we sing our praises, listen believingly to God’s word, receive the new life of Christ in the sacraments. We believe that the most significant thing that happens or can happen is that we are no longer dismembered but are remembered into the resurrection body of Christ.

We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don’t trust ourselves — our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know that we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and that there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to help us: be our pastor, a minister of word and sacrament, in the middle of this world’s life. Minister with word and sacrament to us in all the different parts and stages of our lives — in our work and play, with out children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.

“One more thing: we are going to ordain you to this ministry and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know that you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know that your emotions are as fickle as ours, and that your mind can play the same tricks on you as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know that are going to be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like we are believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know that there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it. There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vow of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of word and sacrament so that you will be unable to respond to the siren voices. There are a lot of other things to be done in this wrecked world and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don’t know the basic terms with which we are working, the foundational realities with which we are dealing — God, kingdom, gospel — we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives. Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation