Professional Faith 3: Muscle Confusion

So P90X is all the rage right now.

From what I understand (ahem), it’s all about “muscle confusion”: when you do certain exercises over and over, your body actually adapts to the routine, and eventually you begin to lose some of the benefits of your workout. In order to avoid this you need to keep your muscles “confused” by constantly varying your workout and introducing new exercises.

A professional faith also needs “muscle confusion” in a way.

One of the phrases pastors constantly hear is, “Well, I’m not a _________ person,” where that blank space is occupied by words like, “Bible”, “worship”, “service”, “tithing”, “solitude”, “community”, etc.

People are constantly identifying and declaring their “natural wiring”: how God has naturally wired them.

This is a good thing.

Mostly.

The thing is, as I hear people say (for instance), “Well I don’t really share my junk because I’m not really a community person,” sometimes I think is our faith really based on, “I’m not really?” Is it only based on who we are, or is it based on who we are capable of becoming

Someone better?

I think identifying our natural inclinations and paths for spiritual growth is absolutely invaluable, but if we’re not careful we surrender growth for remaining comfortable in those paths.

And I don’t think that’s what God intends.

All the great religions—Christianity included—are not based on us merely being what we are but on challenging us to be MORE than what we are.

And to be honest, I want that. I need that.

And so here enters the concept of muscle confusion.

A professional faith demands that we not get too comfortable in our daily or weekly disciplines. Growth demands that we stretch ourselves, meaning we engage in pathways and efforts that may feel alien or strange to us.

So community people: choose solitude every once and a while.

Bible people: make sure you are going on mission trips (both local and global).

Service people: make sure you are reading your Bible.

Make no mistake: these will feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Spiritual activity that becomes too rote and routine runs the risk of losing its effectiveness.

So to review (and to paint in broad strokes), a professional faith:

  1. Isn’t governed by emotionalism, but shows up, day after day, to do the work of spiritual growth.
  2. Has a plan and engages in tools it needs to grow.
  3. Isn’t afraid to occasionally shake things up in order to get out of routine.

Keep on growing.

 

+e

 

Footsteps :: Intro

I was talking with some folks the other day about Jesus, and I had a curious thought: if we are Jesus’ disciples, what exactly are we supposed to do

At our most pure state, it seems that we are supposed to be Jesus’ disciples. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus makes it (almost troublingly) clear that being a disciple means doing what he did.

In Mark chapter 6, we’re told that Jesus called the Twelve, and subsequently, “sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits… So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them” (vv7, 13).

The curious thing about this statement is that the things that Jesus sends the disciples out to do are the very things that he has been doing in Mark’s gospel. In Jesus’ mind, there’s no difference between the things that he does and his expectations for the Twelve.

This is pretty amazing when you think about their track record at this point. Rather than being the star pupils, at this point in the story of God the disciples are a little bit more like the odd kid in the back of the class who may or may not have been eating paste. They’re not exactly hitting it out of the park…

… And yet Jesus does not hesitate to send them out to…

  • have authority over unclean spirits
  • proclaim repentance
  • cast out demons
  • heal people.

The profound implication for this story is simply this:

Being a disciple of Jesus means doing the things that he does…

Whether or not you think you’re good enough… 

These things constitute the short list of what Jesus expects us to do.

But then I got to thinking: what else did Jesus do? Maybe he expects us to do those things too.

So I took a brief survey of the gospels and just tried to look at the things that Jesus did. Some things he did in order to serve people; some thing he did in order to stay connected with his Father.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to lay out some of those things, and see what we can learn from the way our master arranged his life.

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

 

My (Half) Day as a Monk

image via wikipedia.org

All I knew is that I needed a break.

Last week, I found myself desperately needing to hear from God. I didn’t know quite know what to do, so I drastically rearranged my schedule in order to try and put myself, as best I could, in a position to listen. About halfway through the day, I thought, “Hey, I just spent the day like a monk would!”

Okay let’s be honest: my understanding of a monk’s life is informed mostly by television, movies, and a few books, but this represents my best guess as to what it would be like. 

  • Monks get silence. St. Benedict wrote that Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times.” After I dropped my daughter off at school, I stopped talking (Full disclosure: In order to keep from being rude, I needed to say, “Thanks,” to a couple people). I turned the radio off, put away the iPod, and just. shut. up.
  • Monks get solitude. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “Christ the Lord is a spirit before your face, and he demands solitude of the spirit more than of the body… To follow the advice and example of the bridegroom, shut the door and then pray… He spent nights alone in prayer, not merely hiding from the crowds but even from his disciples and familiar friends.” I hid my phone and turned off my mail app, in order to be fully present and not distracted.
  • Finally, monks get work. Though the purpose of a monastic life was not to work and “produce” stuff, the fathers of the church knew the value of working with your hands and contributing to a community. In the midst of my silence, I went out and mowed the lawn, continuing to direct my thoughts towards God (and also continuing to remain silent).

Silence and solitude don’t come easy or naturally in our society. Even our spirituality can be shot through and through with activity, busy-ness, and distractedness.

Dallas Willard bluntly writes that, “the life in tune with God is actually nurtured by time spent alone… It is is solitude and solitude alone that opens the possibility of a radical relationship to God that can withstand all external events up to and beyond death. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 101)

Because I believe in the power of a secret, I won’t divulge all of what I heard from God that day, but I will tell you this much:

He spoke, and I heard. 

A lot of you might say, “I could never take the time to do that,” but I wonder…

  • a lot of us take regular trips to the beach or to the pool…
  • a lot of us carve out time to travel hours (because in Tallahassee we have to) to go see a great band…
  • a lot of us take days full of friends, shopping, and voices…

So why not take some time to seek some silence, and quietness. Take some space to get away from the constant voices in your life to sit at the feet of God?

p.s. to read a little more about the rule of St. Benedict, you can go here and here.

The Rule Behind the Freedom Behind the Rule…

I don’t know about you, but there is a constant tension in my life of faith between my efforts to grow, and the call to rest in God’s love, forgiveness, and grace (“unmerited favor”). Most of us would readily say that Jesus came to set us free from “rules” and works-based faith, but the reality is much more subtle than that simple platitude.

In the first place, most Jews of Jesus’ day had no illusions that they (just like the Christians) were children of grace. They knew that their very existence—as a people—was as a result of God’s preemptive action in the Exodus. The law came after God set them free; their obedience came out gratitude for God’s liberating action. They knew that YHWH was a God of lavish mercy and forgiveness, and they rejoiced and celebrated that forgiveness.  So when Paul (or Peter, or the Gospel writers) proclaims that God freely forgives, and that forgiveness is based not based on our works, he is not actually proclaiming anything radically new to a Jew.

But there’s more.

Paul has a troubling habit of talking a lot about “works”—these works from which Paul is (supposedly) telling us we have been freed. Paul never really says, “Don’t do works.” However, he does constantly say, “Don’t trust your works to save you; work, but still trust in Jesus’ saving work on the cross, and God’s faithfulness.”

A great example of this tension is in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, particularly in the section between 2:6 and 3:18.

In this section, Paul constantly emphasizes our freedom in Christ. It culminates with verses 20-23:

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Paul certainly wants us to avoid relying only on rules and “discipline” to transform us. But it’s not quite that simple, because shortly after telling us to not rely on “rules”, Paul reminds his readers (and us) that we do need to do a few things, and one thing in particular.

For Paul, it all revolves around 3:10: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”

In other words, though we should not rely on rules for our salvation, it is our responsibility to:

  • Put on our new nature
  • Learn to know our Creator
  • Become like him

Paul goes further in the verses before and after this one (all from chapter 3):

  • set our sights on—and think about—the realities of heaven (vv2-3)
  • put sinful things to death (v5)
  • get rid of anger, rage, etc. (v8)
  • don’t lie (v9)
  • clothe yourself with tender-hearted mercy, etc. (v12)
  • make allowance for each other’s faults (v13)
  • teach and counsel each other (v16)
  • sing psalms and hymns (v16)

Actually seems like an awful lot to do!

But as I read this passage this morning, it seems it all flows from the three things in 3:10 (put on our new nature, learn to know our Creator, and become like him). That verse struck me as the culmination of the passage; everything—the lists that Paul writes before and after—flows from that.

Still, that’s no small thing.

In summary, I’d say that, even though entry into God’s Kingdom and His people is utterly free, with the only requirement being humility and a belief in Jesus’ work and faithfulness, God (through Paul) actually does expect His people to have a character and presence in the world.

He expects us to be different, specifically by putting on our new nature (identity in Christ), learning to know Him, and becoming like Him.

So, today:

  • are you willing to embrace the notion that God wants to partner with you in your change?
  • are you willing to orient your life around the three things in 3:10 in order to allow Him to change you?

Ira Glass, pastor.

Well, not quite, but take 2 minutes and watch this.

 

Now ask yourself, “What if instead of ‘creative work’, Ira Glass was talking about the spiritual life?”

Does this change the way you view growth, sin and “failure”?

It should.

Three quick thoughts.

  • We don’t necessarily need to be “people of taste” in order to determine what God might want for us; rather, we are a people of “The Book”. The scriptures tell us what God wants for us; that’s where we find the vision for our lives.
  • Knowing that there’s a “gap” between that vision and where we are at, we should expect to fail. We won’t be perfect. Not for a long time.
  • That being said, the point is to keep doing the things that pull and push us toward that vision. I’m not talking about merely “exterior”/visible things like service; I’m referring to the quiet, secret things like prayer, meditation, scripture study and reflection. These “creative” things make room inside us for God’s Spirit to take hold and begin to mold and change us.

The point is to allow God’s Spirit to “close the gap” between where we are and what He wants us to be.

To become “Gospel Artists”

To “ship” our lives.

“Low Frequency Living”


There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, like hearing a master drummer lay down an amazing groove…

When it all comes together, it’s amazing: the drums become a groovy, powerful symphony that is practically irresistible to any listener. The cymbals, snare, toms and kick all blend together across a wide dimension of frequencies to make this happen. Each drum has its own space in the sonic landscape: from the high peaks of cymbal crashes to the thud of the bass drum. In turn, each of these frequencies have certain characteristics and effects on a listener.

High frequencies (high hats and cymbals) capture our attention instantly—like the whistle or chirp of a bird or the cry of a train—but they diminish quickly. The sound waves are small and tight, and do not travel far in the air.

Middle frequencies (snare drums and toms) are the “bread and butter” of the drum set—like our normal every day voices. Their sound waves travel farther distances then the high hats and cymbals.

The bass drum occupies the lowest frequency. Though they don’t always capture our immediate attention, low notes travel the longest in the air—like a fog horn, or the low moan of a tuba.

Each instrument works together to provide a sonic voice, a sonic message…

What if our lives have the same potential? I was thinking: there are things that I do that get great attention in the short run (playing and singing on stage), but ultimately don’t “travel that far”, spiritually speaking.

In the “middle frequencies”, there are things such as “every day conversations”, with friends and family over meals and coffee, that have much more resonance, much more power to linger. They may not grab the attention that singing and playing do, but they have more “legs”, sonically speaking.

Finally, there is “low frequency living”: things that may elude the notice of most people, but have tremendous staying power. They boom through my life, resonating for days, weeks, maybe months. What’s more, the sound usually carries over to the world around me. Things like…

… fasting

… secret giving (is it still secret? uh oh)

… prayer

… solitude

… silence

This is “Low Frequency Living”: doing things that escape the eyes of most people, but that “boom” throughout the moments and days that we live. We need the cymbals, and snare drums, but it’s that resonance, that reverberation, that makes the groove all come together, and makes it irresistible for everyone who is listening to our “song.”

What does low frequency it look like for you?