The Spirit Gives THAT Too?

Hey everybody … Just FYI I’m thinking about changing the rhythm of my publishing, from Fridays to Wednesdays. I’m going to experiment with it for a couple weeks, but feel free to let me know if you have a preference or any thoughts. 

I was listening to my friend preach recently, and something struck me about one of the Bible texts he used.

In a message about going out to do something in the world to make a positive impact, he used 2 Timothy 1:7 to talk about our tendency towards fear. Paul wrote to a young leader, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives up power, love and self-discipline.”

The thing that stood out to me was the last phrase: “a spirit of self-discipline.” The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that in this one little sentence Saint Paul sums up virtually the entire purpose of spirituality (at least, when spirituality is lived out practically and thoughtfully).

First of all, I think it’s easy for us to understand the need for the Holy Spirit to give us power and love: that seems like a readily identifiable need for most of us. Besides that, Paul is contrasting the gift of the Spirit with timidity and fear. Most of this should be “old hat” for any of us pursuing the spiritual life: we want supernatural empowerment for courage, love and power.

But then Paul curiously adds that last statement. Why would we need a spirit of self-discipline?

Maybe I’ll write it this way: Why would need a spirit of SELF-discipline?

If the whole point of the Holy Spirit is to empower us from “outside” ourselves, then why does Paul turn it back on to us at the last moment and seemingly put things back in our lap?

Paul is hinting at something that is mostly passed over in discussions about faith, particularly in our modern western context (our ancestors in the faith had a lot of this figured out, fortunately), namely that our spiritual growth depends, in a much more substantial way than we realize, on us arranging our lives in such a way that we can “make room” for God’s Spirit to work in us.

Otherwise why would we need the Spirit to give us the gift of “self-discipline?”

We need the gift of self-discipline to put patterns and habits—like prayer, service, generosity, worship and confession, to mention just a few—into our lives. These patterns then “make room” for the Spirit to move (and, consequently, to give us the power, love and freedom from fear that we crave and need).

So two questions:

  1. In regards to your spiritual life, what’s your level of self-discipline? How diligently and consistently do you pursue habits of prayer and worship, service and generosity?
  2. Have you ever considered asking God for the gift—not just of love and power (or whatever else we tend to ask for: jobs, healing, relationships, provision, rescue, etc.)—but of structure and discipline?

 

Thanks for reading; as usual, please feel free to share and comment.

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Two Things That Christ Desperately Wants You to Know, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2!

Last week I suggested that there were two things that Jesus wanted you to know, and that these two simple concepts have the potential to jumpstart, restart, or simpley START your spiritual journey.

The first thing that we need to understand about reality (and ultimately, any spirituality worth its salt is in the end about REALITY)  is that “salvation is a life,” and you obviously you can read the rest of that post if you’d like.

The second reality that Jesus would love for his followers to understand is that not only is salvation a life, but we are active participants in that life.

(Or, at least, we should  be.)

Yep… this is the part where Jesus tells most of us to get off our butts and start engaging in our lives in such a way that he can be present in it with us.

Because the life we have to live can only be lived by one person, and one person only…

YOU.

You can’t live someone else’s life. Christ comes to no other person in the same way he has come to you, and what that means is that Christ comes to YOUR job…

… YOUR family…

… YOUR school…

… YOUR financial situation…

This is significant because there’s an insidious tendancy in matters of faith to think that spiritual things happen to, well, spiritual people

(and almost all of the time the “spiritual people” = not me).

But the thing is that the life Jesus comes to save and dwell in is not anyone else’s life. It’s yours.

Not only do you not have to wait until you “get right” with Jesus to start experiencing salvation, you actually can only do what you can do right now, in this moment.

Good spirituality is only ever about how you can experience the Kingdom of God now, in this moment and in this circumsances, not in “someone else’s” life, who is supposedly “more spiritual” than you.

(To be clear: I’m not saying that there’s not more spiritually mature people in the world: I know there are, and I’ve been blessed to experience life with some of them. What I am saying, however, is that some of us use our “UN-spirituality” as an excuse to stay dormant and stuck, when actually God says that

RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE…

                                                    RIGHT HERE,

                              RIGHT NOW,

YOU

          ARE

                    BLESSED.

(And that, my friends, is called GRACE.) 

 

The actual question is, what are you gonna do about it? What will you do with this life that is given to you?

Jesus wants to live his life in your life.

IF you want that, if you want to experience Jesus life in the midst of your life, what you actually have to do is arrange this life of yours in patterns and rhythms and experiences that actually resemble Jesus’ patterns and rhythm and experiences.

(There’s an old cliché here that actually is appropriate: If you want to do the things that Jesus did—meaning his miracles and such—than you have to do the things that Jesus did… meaning his rhythms and patterns and habits of life.)

A lot of us don’t think that way.

We’re stuck. We’ve been trying this “faith thing” for a while now, but instead of Jesus’ life of love, peace, transcendance we still seem to have “Eric’s life” of jealousy, laziness and too many chips and salsa.

It feels mundane, and definitely not spiritual.

We pray for something, and we try harder, but if we haven’t actually arranged our lives to look more like Jesus’ this practically amounts to a Christian version of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

In just the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are told that Jesus hangs out in “lonely places” to be with God. He rises before dawn to pray.

That’s just a hint of what we’re getting at: Jesus is able to do the things he does and experience his Father the way he does in because he makes himself available to the Father.

(It’s not about Jesus “working” for his father’s love, and it’s not about that for us either. God gives His love freely; it’s about what to do with this life that we are living.)

To put it yet another way, salvation is a life, and we are invited to practice it in particular ways, ways that Jesus (and other spiritual masters throughout the years) are very familiar with.

Metaphors and examples from art and sports serve well here:

You can call yourself a “musician,” but if you don’t practice the necessary skills to make music, it will be largely hit-or-miss as to whether or not you can actually make a piece of music.

You can call yourself a Christian (and remember, God does love you, regardless; His love is not optional here), but if you don’t practice the skills necessary to do live the life that Jesus wants to live within your life, it will be largely hit or miss as to whether you’ll be able to respond with compassion, peace, and love when the time comes.

You can call yourself a decathlete, but if you don’t practice … 

(I think you get the point.)

The “training regimen”, or practices that Jesus engaged in are historically called “Spiritual Disciplines.”

“Discipline” has now taken on a largely negative connotation in our culture (being sent to the principal’s office for “discipline”, usually involving—in my day—a swat with a board), but it’s original meaning has much more to do with instruction or knowledge, and even now in some contexts it can still refer to the idea of training yourself to do something in a habitual way.

We want to habitually respond to life the way Jesus would. We want to make it a habit to allow him to reign and rule—to live—in our lives.

The group of training habits and practices (disciplines) are fairly well defined. They include:

  • prayer
  • solitude
  • silence
  • celebration
  • service
  • worship

There are more, but these are a foundational core. (Actually Dallas Willard would say that an even more essential core would be: prayer, solitude and silence. You can see these lived out constantly in portrait of Jesus’ life that we see in our four gospels.)

This is our training regimen.

This is our practice. 

This is the life that we are called to, in order to see the salvation life that God holds out for us.

These two thoughts—that salvation is a life, not an “after-life promise”, and that we are called to actively participate in this life through practice and training—consistently have taken people beyond their circumstances and more deeply into the Kingdom of God. If we let them have a tangible impact on our day-to-day lives, they actually bring about the Kingdom within and among us. Jesus saw it and lived it in his day, and he wants us to know that we can see it and live it in ours as well.

That is a wonderful, subversive, revolutionary invitation, and one that is still desperately needed for the world today.

 

blessings and peace… as usual, please comment, like and share…

under the mercy

+e

 

 

 

Two Things That Christ Desperately Wants You to Know, Part 1

I don’t know if that title qualifies as “click bait” or not, but whatever: that’s the title that came to me, and what’s more, I believe it.

On one hand, I think Jesus lived in an utterly different reality compared to most of us. I think he dwelled in what might be called “the sacred now.” He lived in a dynamic, living interplay with his Heavenly Father, and I think that reality and relationship was on of the defining characteristics of his life and his ministry.

On the other hand, one of the things that I have come to understand through the years of seeking the Kingdom and pursuing Christ is that Jesus came to show us that we can live in that same reality. 

It’s available to us. Now. 

(As opposed to later, when we die.)

Throughout the stories and reports of his life, Jesus makes these remarks about the potential of life here and now, on this earth: 

One of his favorite “pronouncements” is that the Kingdom of God—a way of life that is soaked through with divine, loving potential—is available and present now, in and among us (Matthew chapter 4, Mark chapter 1, Luke chapter 17).

In John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly refers to a life that is characterized by a “stream of living water” (that is, water that is flowing and moving) that is, again, available to human beings in their present reality, not distant. 

So, what if Jesus was telling the truth? 

I know for myself, much of my life has been marked by anything but that type of reality. Most of the time I found myself either waiting for a “magical” transformation (that never seemed to happen), or a simple resignation that I could/would never change until I died and then I could go “be with Jesus in heaven”, at which point I would:

  • get a harp to play and a toga to wear
  • sing some sort of vague worship song while living on a cloud
  • finally” be changed

This reality seems pretty counter to what Jesus was saying. According to Jesus, “salvation” is actually a life: a God-bathed, Spirit-directed life.

“Salvation is a life.” This is one of two closely-related ideas that I think Jesus desperately wants his followers to know. Furthermore, I think that if we had a conversation with him right now, he would tell us that to the degree that we can make this (and next week’s) truth a present reality in our lives, we would find ourselves radically, revolutionarily changed.

In fact, I think that one of the important reasons we have these “Gospels” (“Good News” stories about who Jesus was and what he did and why he was our long-awaited Messiah) is that they show just what a “salvation life” actually looks like.

(Hint: it looks like Jesus’ life: helping other people; healing others; being radically compassionate to the hurting; experiencing a joyful dynamic intimacy with his Father; the ability to endure setbacks and suffering; and finally the willingness to offer the totality of his life and body as an instrument to be used for the sake of others.)

The Biblical, Jesus-exemplified salvation is a life, not a death.

It is potentially now, not then. 

It is potentially here, not there.

I don’t know how that strikes you, but I remembered that when I began to wake up and open up to that reality a couple of things happened inside me:

First, I realized how much I had “settled” for something less than the Kingdom of God here and now. My sights had lowered, and I had given up hope that change was possible. I had nearly completely resigned myself to the idea that I would limp and stumble through my earthly life, repeating the same old mistakes and sins I had always committed, experiencing relief only when I breathed my last, and could finally “lay my burden down.” (Don’t get me wrong: I will be happy to lay aside some of my burdens, but it was really about where and how I was settling in my current spiritual life.)

Second, I realized how desperately hungry I was for this life. If Jesus really was offering me a life that looked just like his, and he was offering me that now, rather than later, I wanted it. I needed it. I was beginning to leave a trail of destruction, both in my personal life as well as in the life of those who were closest and most important to me. I wanted and needed this change.

So I guess the questions this morning are:

  • What does “salvation” mean to you? Is it “here and now”, or is “there and later”? 
  • What is your life capable of becoming? Do you believe that Jesus thinks you are capable of living a life like his?

Next week: the other thing that Jesus wants you to know.

Under the mercy,

+e

I’m so grateful for each and everyone of you. As usual: please like, comment and share. 

 

 

“The Game is On…”

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Recently, my son and I have been watching the recent BBC version of Sherlock together (it’s become a bit of a family tradition: we did the same with my daughter a few years back). It’s just excellent in so many ways: innovative directing and camera work, great storytelling, impeccable acting, and enough “Easter eggs” and clever references to keep us all entertained.

In the “old school” Sherlock stories, whenever the detective sprang into action he would declare to Dr. Watson that “the game is afoot!” The modern version updates that phrase to “the game is on!”, and whenever Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) exclaims it, the action always takes a great leap forward and the characters move into the story, the mystery, and in a variety of ways proceed to confront villains, solve problems, and in a general way bring some justice and resolution to the storyline. It’s a great time, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A few years ago, I was reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography when I ran across an exchange that gave me a pretty significant pause. Merton is talking with his friend Robert Lax. Lax asks Merton what he wants to be, and after Merton replies that he wants to be a “good Catholic,” Lax tells him pointedly, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

Merton protests, declaring, “I can’t be a saint, I can’t be a saint.”

But Lax drives the point home: “Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” 

Does that strike you as much as it struck me?

(For the record, Merton bounces Lax’s idea off of another wise, monk, who verifies the truth of it.”

Forgot all the challenging traditions and baggage you might know and feel about “saints”: the occasional over-emphasis on relics and veneration; the supposed miracles that are associated with old bones and mystical visions. Set all that aside for just a minute and think about what (or who) a saint actually is. 

What images come up?

What names come up?

Francis? Mother Theresa? Paul? Peter? John?

The_Apostle_Paul_-_Rembrandt

“The Apostle Paul” – Rembrandt (courtesy Wikimedia)

Maybe there are some unofficial, modern ones as well: Martin Luther King Jr.?

I always think of “saints” as men and women who had essentially learned to live out of the radical reality of God’s love.

They had grown beyond the masks and identity traps that we fall into, and simply grasped the simple fact that they were/are “The Beloved” of God (just like Jesus).

After that, they just started to work out the implications of that reality in their own context…

“If I truly AM the Beloved… 

… Then I am free to live in poverty

… Then I am free to fearlessly look at my “shadow side” 

… Then I no longer need to hype God up, or scare people into the Kingdom of God

… Then I am free to speak truth to power

… Then I am free to see people the way God sees ME: as broken-but-beautiful; cracked-but-precious

… Then I am free to be compassionate to all 

… Then I am free from the fear of death

… Then I am safest in the arms of my Father in heaven. I have nothing to fear. 

(A note about one of those implications: I used to think that being a “saint” somehow meant that you somehow floated above life, and you no longer had to worry about things like “brokenness” or “sin.” However, the more I learn about the men and women who have achieved sainthood—officially or unofficially—the more I learn that they were actually incredibly in touch with their own limitations and brokenness. However, they were able to relentlessly place those limitations in the context of their Beloved-ness, and therefore resist the guilt and shame that plagues most of us. Rather, that awareness helped to unlock new levels of gratitude, appreciation and understanding of God’s free gift of grace, which in turn spills over into ever-increasing compassionate love for and service to the world that God loves so much.)

So now, think about that: God wants to make a saint out of you (no matter what Mick Jagger might say).

Now, make no mistake: when Robert Lax tells Merton, “All you have to do is desire it,” there is an awful lot packed into that phrase.

Because if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we desire an awful lot before we desire sainthood.

Here’s just a short list of my “desires”:

guitars

chips and salsa

pizza

quality music releases

a richly satisfying marriage

books

safety and maturity for my children

a secure retirement

a good vacation this summer

a healthy church

better leadership out of myself

a better workout habit

a richer prayer life

grass that mows itself

a teenage son that cleans up after himself

a book project that effortlessly writes itself

3 more hours in my day to be productive

3 more hours in my day to sleep

a 24 hour, free, soccer channel

comedy specials that actually make me laugh

a community that governs itself

(… and all that is BEFORE 9AM!)

But make no mistake: there is something that stirs in my heart sometimes, that gnaws at me, and that just sticks with me constantly.

Maybe it’s the growing desire to be MORE. It’s the growing desire to let God “make what me what He created me to be.”

And that thought has begun to stir my soul. It gets me out of bed in the morning (or rather, HE gets me out of bed in the morning), and into the presence of this God, this Love, this mystical and mysterious Presence that wants to grow me into something that He always intended me to be.

So I pursue prayer.

I pursue worship.

I pursue confession.

I pursue submission to a spiritual director.

I pursue service.

I pursue community.

I pursue study.

I pursue meditation.

Yep, as Sherlock would say it, “The game—of growth, of maturity, of spiritual evolution, of transcendence—is on.”

Where are you at with your spiritual growth? Do you believe—and trustthat God wants you to be a “saint”?

 

Thanks for liking // sharing // commenting.

Under the mercy.

 

 

40 Words: “Alone” (02. 19.2016)

Part of the design and purpose of Lent is for us to turn down the noise in our lives so that we can more clearly see and hear God. In turn, part of the purpose of that is so that we can come to terms with possible areas of brokenness and rebellion in ourselves that we need to bring before God in order to get His help.

For better or for worse, this often means getting—and remaining—alone. Sometimes this can be literal (retreating into silence and solitude) while other times this can be more symbolic (such as keeping a private fast).

Most of our culture is trained to treat “aloneness” as something bad, to be resisted and avoided.

We can check messages, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., for the constant reassurance that others are “with us” (thought it often seems as if they are living such extravagant and exciting lives online, while our life is just humdrum and boring).

We are constantly pushed and pulled to “never be out of touch.”

And yet, part of this “being-in-touchedness” is the very thing that is holding back our growth. From seeing the reality of who we are and who God wants us to be.

Being alone is not bad. Far from it, “alone” is exactly the remedy for our hyper-connected, hyper-active world that we inhabit.

There is a saying of the Desert Fathers, that one day someone came to Abba Moses to get a word (of wisdom? of assurance? of connectedness?). Abba Moses said to the man, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

There are two aspects to this:

  1. Your “cell” (silence, solitude, and various ways of being alone) is necessary for you to hear the word you need through the noise of your life. Trust me; this is true. What we think are the answers to our questions are more often than not tapes that we play (from our brokenness, from our upbringing, etc.) in our heads, or they are just glittering images from culture that attract our eyes and ears.
  2. Being alone is often remarkably clarifying in regards to what we think we need the answers to. We get consumed with anxiety, with the desire to know (which is really just the desire to control). So many times, space apart—again, being alone—reveals that we really actually don’t need the answers we thought we did.

“Alone” is a healthy rhythm of life. Embrace it and cultivate it.

 

 

Into the Silence

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In just a few days, due to the amazing generosity of people in my life, I am driving up to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, for a few days of solitude and silence.

This particularly monastery is a Trappist (or Cistercian) monastery. Now, there are different monastic orders: Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. From what little I’ve learned, the different orders have different emphases: study, poverty, service, etc. Broadly speaking, the Cistercians are focused on prayer and silence. They are not the “most silent” monastic order—my understanding is that the Carthusian monks get that distinction—but silence is a major theme of their life. When you are at the monastery, visitors are generally expected to eat in silence and to talk very quietly, and then only when necessary.

In other words, this is not a place that  is interested in reinforcing my life “as it is.”

If you know me at all, you’d think that my introverted self would be chomping at the bit for this: silence and solitude! No people! Woo hoo!

Well, you’d be wrong.

In a way, I am absolutely eager and ready to go. I am hungry for this, and have been trying to get something like this to happen for months now.

But in other ways, more than ever I know that (a) wherever you go, you bring yourself (or your SELF), and (b) when you really get alone and quiet, you can easily encounter some of the uglier parts of your soul.

As I’ve written before, the “solitary chair”” can be terrifying, because most of us subtly surround ourselves with enough noise to keep us distracted from the real issues in our lives: our brokenness, our deep emotional/spiritual struggles. There are simply things we do not want to see, confront, or deal with.

Silence exposes those things.

On one hand, going away to someplace like a monastery or a campsite or wherever seems like an easy exercise in getting away from the noise of life. But for me, I need to be honest with myself and admit that I can easily carry other “noise” with me: books, music, and my “monkey mind.”

Noise doesn’t always look like Netflix and McDonald’s.

So next week, I am traveling with the absolute bare minimum: no computer, a journal (handwritten!), only the Bible and 1 other text.

My choice is to let God speak and to not distract myself. To try and go deeper, to the next level of foundation in my spiritual life. I want to see more clearly: both God, Christ, other people, as well as my own brokenness and shortcomings.

This is not necessarily something to look forward to.

But I do know that I need it.

(You do too.)

I’m hoping for a deeper revelation of love; a deeper experience of healing and peace; and more centeredness, loving detachment, and clarity in my life.

But I also realize that what I carry into the monastery (including expectations) is not what might be waiting for me. So I hold all of those things loosely, and say (as Mary did), “LET IT BE DONE TO ME.”

If you’ve never gotten quiet and taken the time to really let God speak to you, I’d say (1) I understand; it’s probably pretty scary, and (2) what are you waiting for? 

As C.S. Lewis said of Christ, “No, he’s not tame: he’s dangerous… but he’s good.” 

 

+e

 

Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?