It’s Still About Surrender

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Soul-work is hard.

Since my Sabbatical began, I’ve been going inside myself to see more, learn more, and ultimately heal more.

What I’m finding hasn’t been pretty.

For now, I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but this one thing has been coming up, over and over again. This one aspect of my life that, even though it is essentially Christianity 101, I have managed to radically lose sight of. 

It’s the idea of surrender.

It’s the question of who is ultimately in control, not just of “my life” but of the pieces of my life as well.

Does that make sense?

Long ago, I’d bowed my head to the idea that my life is in God’s hands, but what I’m coming to terms with now is that even though I’d done that on a grand scale, on a day-to-day scale I still very much prefer to remain firmly in control.

And that wasn’t working anymore.

Right now, seemingly everywhere I look in my universe I see evidence of how I’m attempting to play God and stay firmly in control of people, situations, ideas, myself. When I can’t (because, um, I’m not God), it brings up such destructive thoughts and ideas.

I’ve really come to understand Paul’s words: “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?” (Romans 7:24 CEB)

Fortunately, I’m also on the road to understanding the second half of that thought: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Even though I thought I’d gotten this a long time ago, I’m learning (again?) that the beginning of freedom and peace is to release of the idea that I control anything in the first place.

If I could, I could save myself.

My job is not to control anything—it’s to cultivate the deep presence of God within me, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Guess what #1: it feels like dying. 

Guess what #2: dying is what we’re called to do in order to let Jesus live his life through us. 

For me right now, the only anecdote to pathological control is to seek God ruthlessly each day and cast myself on Him.

I’m finding that this doesn’t occur in a shotgun prayer as I hurriedly get in my car.

It doesn’t happen between shots of espresso.

It doesn’t even necessarily happen in the moments of desperation when I’m careening off track.

It happens in slowness. Stillness. Purposeful silence. Prayer. Meditation.

Which is, I guess, the way it’s always been.

God is our refuge and strength,

a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

when the waters roar and rage,

when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

Come, see the LORD’s deeds,

what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

burning chariots with fire.

‘That’s enough!

Now know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations;

I am exalted throughout the world!’

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

(Psalm 46)

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Baptism, Belovedness, and Brené Brown (See what I did there?)

My bible study has started one of our epic journeys again, this time through Mark’s Gospel. Last week we spent some time in chapter 1, and we talked a bit about Jesus’ baptism:

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

There are a few interesting threads going on here, but for where I’m at right now the thing that has always stood out to me about this story what Jesus hears from his father before his ministry begins.

Before the healings.

Before the feeding of the multitudes.

Before the transfiguration.

Before the cross.

Before all of that is, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Those words precede Jesus’ ministry, and—I would suggest—were so deeply woven into his identity and his spirit that he was able to live out his ministry that they were (and are) in a sense Jesus’ ultimate identity.

He is the Beloved.

And the Father is pleased with him.

I’ve seen and heard Brené Brown’s name recently, and though I haven’t yet read her book Daring Greatly but if the 20 minutes of this TEDTalk are any indication, I think it’s going to be an important one.

She is ultimately speaking on vulnerability, but she begins with a concept that grabbed hold of me. In speaking about people who are have a healthy sense of what she calls “worthiness,” she says that “The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believed they were worthy of love and belonging.”

She goes on to explain that this sense of worthiness, what she calls being able to “wholehearted”, flows from this belief, and ultimately allows people to live with courage, compassion, and connection to others.

Doesn’t that describe Jesus?

The courage with which he embraced his mission and vocation, the compassion with which he dealt with the hurting and broken, and the deep sense of connection that I believe he had with his disciples, all of these things flowed—in a sense—from that statement in Mark 1v11.

“You are my son…

“Whom I dearly love…

“In you I find happiness.”

Does that describe you? 

It actually does. 

The words that the Father spoke to Jesus He longs to speak to you; the difficulty is that sometimes we are either too scarred or too distracted and busy to hear it.

But this statement needs to proceed anything you do or want to be.

Because otherwise you’ll be unable to have the courage, the compassion, and the connection that you could possibly have.

And it takes time: trust me. I know I still fight to hear these words sometime.

But they will be spoken; they will come.

If you’ve never tried, you can begin to open up your heart and life to this by just setting aside a small body of time—even just 5 minutes—and begin to repeat that verse to yourself:

“I am God’s son/daughter; I am dearly loved. In me God finds happiness.

It’s not a quick fix, but most good fixes aren’t quick. Say it long enough, and it will sink down deep into the rhythm of your life…

And you will believe.

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Weekly Wonder

Hey everyone! Today I’m starting a new weekly series, “Weekly Wonder.”

These are just random things—mostly short—that have captured my thoughts, heart and attention this week; things that are drawing me deeper into the heart of God, or inspiring me to work, or be a better leader/husband/father…

So let’s get started…

  • Thomas Merton. Wow. I’d waited until my Sabbatical to begin reading New Seeds of Contemplation, and all I can say is that this writing is so simple and profound, so laced with peace and grace that it makes me hungry for more of this in m life. Here’s something that just rocked me this morning:

Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you don not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.

  • The Gospel of Mark. Okay I know it’s a Sunday-school answer, but as I journey through this Gospel with my community, I’m blown away again by Mark’s vision of Jesus. He is forceful, courageous, human and compassionate. If you haven’t spent time with a gospel lately, maybe give this one a try (p.s. I’m also using The Common English Bible translation for the first time, and I’m really enjoying this translation).
  • The Daily Office. I have always struggled with prayer, but praying the Daily Office has helped me give form and structure to my prayers, and also helped to center me.
  • Just this guy: Tom Petty.
  • My daughter choosing Jesus as her topic for her history fair project. The girl is a budding evangelist in her own unique way.

What has inspired you this week?

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The Second Shot ALWAYS Comes

I was listening to the Fresh Air interview with Ben Affleck (it’s really good, IMO), and he was talking about some advice he received as a first-time/inexperienced movie director. Early in his career, he was told, “Know what your second shot will be.”

Affleck explains that a first-time director always knows what his first shot on a movie set will be; in order to avoid looking like a fool, you map it out, you agonize over the details, you go over everything in your head so you can gain the amount of respect and collateral that you will need to complete the film.

However, as Affleck explains, the first shot gets over pretty quick, and it’s at that point that everyone turns to you and says, “Well, what now?”

ffffffft……………..

I believe that this is where a lot of us get hung up. When we are starting something new—a recording project, a teaching series, mentoring someone. We focus tremendous amounts of creative time and energy into the first meeting, the first writing session, the first song, etc., but then something remarkable and troubling happens.

The second meeting/song/Sunday comes rolling around.

And we are shocked, and then sent scrambling to try and write and prepare and execute.

Whenever we start a new project, put some muscle behind what is going to come second as well.

(Incidentally, this is also helpful to remember whenever someone asks you to get involved in a project or movement… There’s always a second shot/meeting/song/gig. Oftentimes, we have the resources—time, energy, ideas, etc.—for the first meeting, but before you become involved you should ask yourself, “WHEN this project continues, will I have the capacity to remain committed? Do I have the resources to help with the ‘second shot’?” 

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Sabbatical Learnings :: A Bit More Than a Nice Idea

By Jekuthiel Sofer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jekuthiel Sofer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Exodus 20, God gives the Israelites some basics for living in response to his act to set them free from slavery.

Known to most of us as the “Ten Commandments” or “Ten Words”, they are pretty much the bare essentials to living as faithful human beings. They include prohibitions against idolatry, cursing, murder, adultery, and stealing. Most folks—Christian or not—would consider these pretty baseline guides for living. Most everyone could agree it’s a good thing to not murder; most would agree that societies can’t exist in trust if everyone is allowed to steal from each other.

The fourth commandment, however, is another story.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughter, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. (vv8-10 CEB)

hmmmmm…..

As I began my sabbatical, one of the things that was immediately apparent to me was how pathological my life was in regards to sabbath. As a pastor/church worker, I am already struggling against the notion that when everyone else is (supposedly) experiencing a sabbath, I am working.

But I realized there was something more.

As soon as I forced to slow down, as soon as I was free from time commitments and was forced to examine my spirituality without regards to my vocation, I realized that I had grown to see the Sabbath as something optional, something that I would do if I could just manage to get all my other stuff done in order to rest.

What’s more, I’m a part of a North American ( slash-evangelical-Christian) culture that tends to tacitly admire, even reward, those who have the most packed schedules. I constantly hear myself saying, with a slight self-satisfied air, “I’ve worked about 15 days straight, but I’m doing okay; gotta do what needs to be done.”

Let’s think about this for just a minute…

Because keeping the Sabbath isn’t optional…

It’s a commandment. 

What would it feel like for a pastor to say, “I had to embezzle some funds; sorry, I needed the money, you just gotta do what needs to be done.”

In other words, we wouldn’t treat any of the other commandments with the same disregard that we seem to treat the Sabbath.

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

In short, keeping the Sabbath needs to be elevated to the same level as the rest of the commandments, busy-ness or not.

And there’s an art to it. It’s not just about watching extra football or eating extra pork (BACON!) on the Sabbath. It’s about leaning into joy and delight.

To be blunt,

  • Are you upholding the 4th commandment?
  • What are some practices that you’re engaging in to do so?

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The Terrifying Chair

photo-5 copy 2What lengths would you go to in order to hear the voice of God?

Assuming first that this word spoken, this whisper is actually the most important thing in the world—more important than our frenetic activity…

… more important than our church involvement

… more important than our spiritual gifts,

… more important than our agendas…

After all, Jesus heard this word spoken to him prior to anything he did. At his baptism, before his public ministry began, Jesus heard the words that I believe we are all ultimately longing to hear:

 “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11 CEB)

In order to hear that, I’d like to believe that most of us would say, “Well, I’ll do anything!

And so that’s what we do. We sign on for the latest book, the latest bible study, the newest church, the best set of spiritual friends we can.

But lately I’ve been disturbed by something else.

In order to hear the voice of God, would you be willing to sit in a chair and do nothing for 6 hours? 

4 hours?

1 hour?

10 minutes?

Because most of the time that slowing down, that resting, that ceasing is what we need to do in order to hear that voice, that word, that whisper.

And most of us don’t want to go there; I know I hesitate.

Truth is, I hesitate because before I hear God’s voice, I know I’m going to hear a lot of other voices that aren’t nearly as pleasant….

… And they aren’t the least bit interested in calling me dearly loved. 

What I have found is that all my ministry activities and running and laughing and meetings and small groups and “churching” and serving and traveling and worship orders and presentations and writing(!) and one-on-ones and lunches and phone calls and coffee and committee meetings…

… are actually keeping these other, nastier voices at bay.

And at the first sign of me slowing down, they come roaring in.

This is terrifying, and I am tempted to start running again.

But one of the promises of faith that I am struggling to hold on to is the thought that God wants to speak—indeed already is speaking—this first word of belovedness to me and to you. 

I just have to hear it. I just have to hear it, and sometimes that means fighting through all these other voices, these shouts of death and destruction, in order to get to God’s voice. These other voices lie and tell me that they are my “first words”, but they’re not.

God has the first word in my life, and in yours…

And that first word is “In you I find happiness.” 

The invitation is…

  • slow down
  • fight through the voices
  • embrace the first word in your life

peace

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… In Which Eric Embraces Chris Tomlin

Literally!

Literally!

Since I began my sabbatical a few weeks ago, my family and I have been attending a neighborhood church. The experience has been refreshing, most of all because I am getting to experience worship again as, well, a worshiper.

As we prepared to worship, I was trying to grasp onto the culture there: How many songs would there be? Would people raise their hands? 

Most of all, I was wondering, Would I know the songs? 

Refreshingly, they played a couple that I was familiar with. E3 has been doing  “Our God” for around a year, and I’ve sung “Revelation Song” here and there.

As a worshiper, I loved this familiarity: I knew the melodies; I knew the lyrics; I knew the message.

As a church leader, it provoked my thinking in some interesting ways.

As a songwriter and a pastor, I’ve been adamant about original worship music. I have believed—and still do—that the local church should be as diverse, unique, and fresh as our God. The local church should have an infinite amount of expression and variation to it.

Seemingly opposed to this has been the national flattening and “Walmartization” of the Christian music. Just like the broader culture, a few select companies are dominating the national landscape, and consequently drowning out vital local expressions of music and art. Rather than attempting to unleash the creativity that surely lurks somewhere inside their own body, churches seem more content to turn to Chris Tomlin and David Crowder, Hillsong and Lifeway to provide them with the “freedom songs” that we all sing on Sunday. I resonate with Thomas Merton when he writes, “There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular—and too lazy to think of anything better.”

However, I’m wondering if there’s not another dynamic to consider…

In my opinion, liturgical worship has many different benefits including the idea that wherever a believer goes in the world, the liturgy is the same. She can engage immediately in worship, no matter whether she is at her home community or halfway round the world.

In the interest of creativity, is it possible for a local church to become too insular, so that its musical worship is only intelligible and accessible to its immediate community?

Should a church maintain an eye towards global expression—the “Big C” Church—when it prepares on Sunday?

And, given that the most evangelical, non-denominational churches don’t employ the liturgy, should we embrace that the “Big Three” (Tomlin, Crowder, Hillsong) are, in fact, as close as we can get to a common worship language? 

I don’t advocate picking songs based on the iTunes worship charts (I actually freelanced at a church that did that—quite distasteful), but as a worshiper who had come from another community, I can tell you that I appreciated the fact that I “understood the language” of this church (they also used the Lord’s Prayer and a couple familiar liturgical elements).

I also don’t think the local church should shy away from fresh songs and creative diversity; however, I think we should maintain a certain eye towards both the transient nature of our culture and the global expression of our faith.

Anyone have any thoughts?