40 Words: “Relinquish” (03.02.2016)

How is your fast going?

As I wrote yesterday, mine is definitely up and down. In many ways, it’s a daily struggle for me, and sometimes I just don’t win.

Every once and while, though, there is a victory. Small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but a victory nonetheless.

I’ll take it.

This Lenten journey is an opportunity for me—for us—to participate in Jesus’ own story.

In a way, it’s easy to think of Jesus as a victim: arrested and tortured by a corrupt religious system, and then executed by an uncaring empire.

Ultimately, I don’t think that’s the whole (or even the majority) of the story. Repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus talks about his decision to go to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the cross. In John’s gospel, he clearly says (and Jeff Tweedy sings), “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down.”

I think that all the time Jesus actually knows exactly what he is doing, and his journey is ultimately a journey of relinquishment.

In turn, as we relinquish our rights in Lent—

… our right to be satisfied

… our right to be distracted

… our right to be comfortable

… our right to be satiated—

We walk part of Jesus’ journey with him.

One of the key reasons Jesus undergoes this journey is to show people what God ultimately looks like.

People think that to be God means to have ultimate power and therefore to get what you want, when you want it.

Jesus’ subversive, even counter-intuitive story says that actually to be God means to surrender. It actually means to set aside your rights and, rather than be served (i.e., get what you want), it means to serve. 

40 Words: “Brokenness” (03.01.2016)

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image from longingforhomedesigns.com

“To be alive, is to be broken.” -Brennan Manning

I forget simple things, like that statement, over and over.

As I’ve said repeatedly, Lent is this season for reflection and contemplation, a time to clear space in my life into which God can speak…

… and I can listen.

At my church, we have been going through a sermon series called “SE7EN”, which is a journey through the Seven Deadly Sins and their effect on our lives. I’ve preached two of the sermons, and each time I have counseled people to get honest with someone and admit their failings.

There’s no shame in having cracks and faults. We all have them; that’s what it means to inhabit this body of ours.

(Of course, the earth-shaking, universe-changing idea is that God decided to inhabit a body just like mine and live a 100% God-centered, God-focused life. This means that brokenness is not an inhibitor of God’s work. It means that brokenness and limitation is a place where God is willing to make his home, in some form or fashion. My job is to recognize that fact and live out that reality.)

Well, I want to get honest with you.

I’m lousy at fasting.

Last week, my wife was out of town, so I was being a faithful house husband: fixing dinner, reheating leftovers, supervising homework and in general running the monkey house.

I consistently blew my fast for 5 days in a row.

I don’t know what it was: the change in routine, the stress of being alone, etc., etc.

The reasons go on and on, but the bottom line remains the same: I failed to control my own self, my ego-driven desires and urges.

By the way, this is not beating myself up; this is merely taking responsibility

Never mind that I was writing daily about the importance of fasting.

Never mind that I had just delivered a message on fasting on Sunday.

This was not my vision for the week.

But here I am, at the beginning of another week. Shana is again traveling, and so I will, again, be faced with my own limitations and temptations.

Part of the spiritual life is an exercise in accepting your limitations while at the same time being doggedly determined to change, progress, and evolve over time.

I believe that God wants more from me, because He has more for me.

Much of my reading recently has come from ancient spiritual masters, from both the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church. More than modern authors, they seem to recognize two key things:

1. The offer of transformation, of *theosis* or “divine union”

2. The inherent limitations of being human.

Because of these limitations, they don’t pull punches when it comes to arranging your life for spiritual growth. Essentially, they say that we *must* learn to discipline and control our egotistical, self-driven urges in order to give ourselves more completely to Christ.

I’m buying that. 100%.

To be alive is indeed to be broken. But to be alive is also to participate in the divine mystery of God-With-Us.

Back to the fast.

40 Words: “Family” (02.23.2016)

Despite what you might think, Lent isn’t only about giving things up. Overall, it’s more about making “space”—spiritually or otherwise—to reflect on our lives and God’s love.

In other words, if all you do is give up chocolate (why do I keep picking on chocolate?) without making that space through service or prayer or meditation or community, you’re only get half of the story.

My particular Lenten journey definitely involves surrendering something, but I also added in reading, and not only reading, but a commitment to read with my wife and family during the evening (whenever possible).

Lent isn’t just about “you and Jesus”; others are on your journey as well. Bring them in; share this with them.

My personal desire is that the space I carve out for God can be filled, not only with my personal spiritual activities, but also with conversation and interaction with people who not only love me but with whom I can have honest conversations.

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. 

 

+e

 

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.