“Give Us (Me) a King!”

The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles. (1 Samuel Ch 8)

That’s a pretty key moment in the long narrative of the nation of Israel. Up until that moment, though they have been “ruled” by men and women called “Judges,” God—YHWH—has been their king.

But then they make a different choice. They look around, at the world around them, and ask the current judge, Samuel, to find them a king.

After all, everyone else has one.

Samuel tells God what they want, and God actually says to let them have one. He knows what this means…

He knows they are rejecting him as their king… 

When I think about this, it makes me pause: what kind of love and security does it take to accept a rejection from someone so dear?

(From my ongoing counseling, I know that these are some very, very healthy and strong boundaries.)

God can take the rejection (though it certainly hurts). What’s more, on top of the shock of knowing that God can allow His people to turn their back on Him, He is also capable of feeling that pain.

There’s a glimpse here, a hint of some deeper reality:

Maybe, rather than God being a distant far off deity who is eternal and unmovable and utterly unlike us…

Maybe, just maybe, God knows what it’s like to be rejected, AND He knows how to feel it. 

HE FEELS IT. 

This little passage of scripture also says something powerful and poignant about us—or, let’s be honest: about me—and that is simply this:

Kings are always the easy way out. 

Samuel tells the people what a monarchy is going to bring: among other things, standing armies (institutionalized violence) and taxes (economic disparity).

But the people say, “Bring it on.”

And so do I.

I recognize something of myself in Israel’s response, namely that it’s always easier to opt for systems and rules rather than the radical grace and love of God. 

It’s always easier for me to turn my back on God’s radical love and on the idea that everything is grace and instead embrace a subtle tit-for-tat existence with God:

… When I “behave” my life goes well; God makes good things happen.

… When I “sin” my life goes badly; God punishes me by “making me” lose my job, or my relationship, etc., etc.

Why do I do this? For the same reason Israel wants a king: because it’s always tempting to want to be like the world around me. 

The world works this way: when you do well, you’re rewarded; when you blow it, you’re punished.

But, just like in this story, God doesn’t work like the world does:

… When I “behave”, God loves me, but I’m not like a star pupil that gets to sit at the head of the heavenly class. God loves me because His essence is to love. He can’t help it.

… When I sin/stumble/fall/mis-behave/etc., God still loves me. He doesn’t punish me by withdrawing His love, or “making bad things happen” to me.

(This is not to say there aren’t human, real consequences to bad decisions: this is just to say you can’t attribute these things to some kind of heavenly system of justice and scales.)

By the way: this “being like other nations” comes out whenever we post something like, “Got a new car today #blessed.”

Because whether you got a new car today, or your car got re-possessed, you are still #blessed.

All of life is a blessing. We just don’t often see it.

Because that’s the way the world works.

And we want to be like all the other nations.

I woke up this morning to a #blessed reality.

My breath, right this very minute, is a blessing.

It’s all grace.

 

Maybe what you can do, right now, is to pause and acknowledge the ways that God is blessing you.

Your home or apartment? Blessing. 

Your friends? Blessing. 

Your job? Your school? … You got it: Blessing. 

Your life? This moment? 

Sure: the world might think you’re crazy to think this way. But guess what?

You don’t have to be like the world. 

 

Under the mercy,
+e

 

As always: thanks for commenting, sharing, etc.

 

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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. 

 

 

2012, Goal-Setting, and Secrets

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that will light those ears
Sick of all the insincere
I’m gonna give all my secrets away…

I’ve set goals for years, and for years beyond that I’ve made random announcements about “things I’m going to do,” things that aren’t quite goals, but somehow end up being public commitments:

  • Spend a whole year in one book of the bible
  • Get a new guitar
  • Give up TV
  • Exercise religiously
  • Etc, etc.

I was always amazed that I could actually begin these activities and make some progress, but the moment I actually told someone about them, I would lose momentum, and quickly stop. It was almost mathematical: start project in relative secrecy and make good progress + announce what I’m doing to some friends = lose momentum and stop.

This made no sense to me, then I stumbled across this TedTalk. Turns out that there’s something set loose in our brain that—and this is significant—equates the announcing of a goal with the accomplishment of a goal. It’s like your own body working against you. We announce our goals in order to gain support from our community, but simultaneously our own physiology may be saying, “Whew! Good job! Glad that’s over!”

So when you’re setting your goals, be discerning. Don’t tell everything. Keep one or two back for yourself. Get support from your community, but also recognize that some things are better left between you and God.

When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you… When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything will reward you. (Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, Ch 6)

“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?

What Goes On…

When I moved to “the big city”, one of the first things that was so shocking to me was how visible and accessible everyone’s home life was. Walking down practically any city street, you are maybe 10 feet away from someone’s living room, and their style — nouveau frat boy to OCD modernist — was on display for everyone to see. For years, frankly, I envied the clean lines and “just so” placement of people’s living rooms, their oh-so-hip furniture and general tidiness.

Over the years, I began to form stories in my mind about what happened inside those nifty spaces. “Surely,” I reasoned, “those folks are the most hip, gentle, intelligent people on the planet; surely the clean lines of their furniture match the nifty efficiency of their lives.” I could see a married couple on the couch, looking up from their copies of The Atlantic and the New York Times to debate the spiritual ramifications of post-modern literary theory while sipping cappuccinos. I saw children getting up after only 3 gentle beeps of a clever alarm clock (probably designed in Sweden), silently but quickly eating their healthy breakfast before jaunting off to a day of classical education.

Now, I like good design. Nothing major (though I do have a subscription to this, lol), just an appreciation for what goes in my living space. After saving for years, my wife and I have finally been able to put “that” kind of furniture in our house; to have “that” kind of kitchen. Though the furniture is still arriving and being unpacked, it is neat and tidy (and some of it, in fact, I believe is designed in Sweden). In fact, our house is pretty darn comfortable to be in, and I think communicates what we like about space, about art, and about life.

But guess what?

+ Parents still oversleep in this house, and have to rush around getting ready for work;
+ Kids need to be practically shoved out of bed in the morning to get ready for school;
+ Dust accumulates everywhere practically every two minutes!
+ Dinners get overcooked;
+ Homework gets struggled through…

Part of me is a little let down: having a comfortable couch doesn’t re-make your life — but part of me also realizes that all of this probably went on behind those peoples’ doors as well.