40 Words: “Humility” (02.22.2016)

Humility is one of the most powerful concepts in English language.

It’s also sorely lacking in most of the world.

As my spiritual director reminds me, “Humility is being right-sized.”

It’s not about thinking of ourselves as a only dirt, or only broken. It’s more about having an accurate view of ourselves: we are created in God’s image, just a little lower than angels…

and we often do really crappy things.

Capable of so much, both good and bad.

My Lenten journey has been such an opportunity for, well, humility.

My fasts are not always perfectly kept.

I’m not always the most peaceful, willing pilgrim.

Right when I think I’m about to scale spiritual heights, I lose my temper (usually in traffic).

It’s a great reminder of what it means to be human.

40 Words: “Dirt” (02.20.2016)

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Farm in Hainan Province, People’s Republic of China by Anna Fodesiak http://www.wikimedia.org

I’m no farmer.

Nope; I’m no farmer. Though I was born in the country, and spent at least a few spring and summer days with dirt under my nails from weeding a vegetable garden and pulling up carrots and digging for potatoes, ultimately I’m a city boy, more at home strolling down sidewalks than with driving a tractor.

But I do understand the basics.

I understand that in order for things to grow, the dirt needs to be tilled.

To be dug up, turned over, plowed.

It’s easy to wonder why we subject ourselves to Lenten disciplines.

It’s easy to claim that we are focusing “too much” on our brokenness, that we should stay focused on the resurrection life that is ours through Christ.

It’s easy to accuse us of being too morbid, too depressing, too melancholy.

Fair enough.

My only reply to that is nothing grows if the dirt isn’t turned up.

In a way, Lent is about reminding ourselves of what our sin cost God and His Son (and the Holy Spirit as well), but in another way, the disciplines of Lent are about something more grand and long-term.

It’s about digging in the dirt so that we can grow. It’s about tilling the soil of our lives not for the purpose of shame and guilt, but for the purpose of preparing for growth.

So we can heal.

So the light can shine into the broken places.

Lent is certainly somber, but the long-term prognosis is hope, hope, hope.

But it has to start with dirt.

Peter said it so well…

 

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.

 

 

40 Words: “Human” (02.18.2016)

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Leonardo Da Vinci, Vetruvian Man 

In a way, this is a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts on hunger.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

As we go through our own 40 day journey, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus did not sail through his time in the desert without hardship. The text clearly says that he was hungry. The writer of Hebrews confirms this thought when she writes that Jesus was tempted in every way, just like we were and are.

I think this aspect of Jesus—his humanity, and the true impacts of that fact—is one of the most explosive and neglected aspects of our faith.

Actually, I daresay we are terrified of it.

Though every Christian creed and central belief of the faith clearly states that Jesus was 100% human and 100% God, and though we see it clearly in Scripture, I think we shy away from the human part because of what it could mean for us.

It’s easier to have Jesus only exist “up there” in his perfection, in his “God-ness”. That means that he’s up there to help us in our times of need.

(And he certainly is.)

But…

He is not just “up there.” He’s “down here” too. He’s walked our earth, breathed our air, encountered our troubles.

This isn’t just so he could get crucified.

It’s so he could show us what a human being is capable of. 

And that scares us.

Because it means that we are capable of more.

The incarnation not only says that it’s okay to be human, it actually says that our humanity—it’s brokenness, unpredictability, it’s fragility, etc.—is where salvation takes place.

Not in heaven.

Here.

Now.

That challenges me.

In a way, I’d rather have Jesus as some kind of distant God that I could never aspire to.

But that’s not what I got.

I got a Jesus—a human being—that was hungry. 

I get hungry.

But the incarnation says, “Don’t wait; God wants to redeem and change and grow you—I almost want to say evolve you—into something more Christlike right now. 

Not when you are “spiritual enough.”

Lent reveals your humanity. Revel in that. And then seek ways to grow to be more like Christ, the ultimate human being, the “2nd Adam,” who has come down in order to raise us up, not only when we die. 

BUT RIGHT NOW. 

 

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40 Words: “Hungry” (2.17.2016)

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If you are fasting, you are going to get hungry…

(that’s kind of how this deal works)…

So we shouldn’t be surprised.

When I fast, I use the hunger pangs to remind me of my brokenness, of how much I don’t long for God. How much I numb my true desires with things like food or entertainment or unhealthy emotions…

Distractions.

But when you fast, you get reminded of what true longing and hunger means.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 61:1 NIV)

We, on the other hand, live in a land that is decidedly not dry and parched.

At least on the surface.

We satisfy every need. Or so we think.

We eat and drink and entertain ourselves into a state of half awake, half dreaming, and then try to convince ourselves that we have found “life.”

Lent—and fasting—brings an opportunity to wake up and discover what true life, true food and water really look like.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

If you are fasting today, don’t dread the coming hunger; the approaching desires for a sandwich.

Welcome them as signs of a truer, deeper hunger and longing that is within you.

Offer your hunger up as a prayer to God.

He listens.

40 Words: “Darkness” (02.16.2016)

“The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud…” (1 Kings 8:12 NIV)

The Bible is full of “light and dark” metaphors: light is mostly good; dark is mostly, well, you get the picture…

This is so consistent that it can be tempting to make a rule of “light and dark”, and assume that darkness always equals some kind of negative or uncertainty. Then, when we get confronted in your life with something that somehow corresponds to darkness, or unknowing, or a cloud, we can too quickly jump to the conclusion that “this is not God.”

And yet, the Bible is also pretty clear that God is not always to be found in the light; sometimes, God is found in clouds, in darkness, in obscurity.

(The Bible tells me so…)

Following Jesus through Lent sometimes means following him into uncertainty. Jesus gets to the point in the Garden of Gethsemane when he cries out to God to take the impending cup of suffering from him.

God says, “No,” and Jesus faithfully accepts his path, believing that his God will ultimately vindicate him.

But there is that moment where he asks… There is that moment where it’s dark, and not light.

Twilight.

Choosing disciplines like silence and solitude means often to opt for knowing and experiencing less, not more, which is a kind of darkness, and in that darkness of our own we sometimes think that this a time of neglect or punishment or distance from God.

Yet, as Solomon prays in 1 Kings, God dwells in a dark cloud (or “deep darkness”), which means that when we enter the clouds…

…of Lent

… of suffering

… of loss

… of confusion

… of doubt

… God is not less present to us. He actually may be more present, if for no other reason than darkness deprives us of some of our human efforts. 

When we can’t see, we need to trust. 

And in the realm of faith and spirituality, trust tends to be a good thing.

Embrace the cloud. You may be surprised what (and who) you find there.

40 Words #2: “40” (2.11.2016)

UnknownSo, I’m blogging every day (except Sunday) of Lent.

Don’t expect too much.

I just want to put some thoughts out there; thoughts that resonate with me, and that might resonate with you.

Hopefully, they’ll give you something to think about.

Maybe they will draw you a little closer to God, and to your true self.

Today’s word is “forty” (okay, or “40”).

In other words, the length of our Lenten journey.

(Also, a pretty cool U2 song.)

Forty is a pretty significant number in the Bible: it’s the number of years Israel wanders in the desert, and the number of days Jesus, who is re-enacting Israel’s journey, spends in the wilderness.

Days or years, it’s a long time. Jesus got hungry in the wilderness. Israel got angsty.

But it occurred to me that 40 is significant for another reason.

Experts—people who know a lot of stuff—will tell you that it takes somewhere between 30 to 60 days to form a habit.

I’m no mathematician, but 40 falls somewhere in between both of those.

This is important because Lent is (potentially, anyway) about much more than giving up chocolate, or ice cream, or Netflix.

Lent can be about getting over brokenness in our lives; about shining a light on areas of our lives that we need to face.

So many of these areas of brokenness started out as habits.

And habits can be broken, and/or replaced by new ones.

Which takes about 30-40 days.

Which means that Lent is a great opportunity for you to sow some new habits. Which means you can sow some new character traits.

Are you willing to surrender your old habits? Are you willing to embrace something new?

These 40 days are your gift. This season is an opportunity.

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