Be still and know that he is God

In a moment I want you to close your eyes. Not yet. I’ll give you the signal. 
Read Psalm 46 first. Read it again more slowly. Do you want to read it again? Go ahead…

When it’s time to do so, I invite you to forget your surroundings and concentrate. Focus on your life as it is now. Here. In this moment. No matter what pressures you face, or the grief that pummels the deep places of your soul, or the self-talk that constantly assaults your dignity and value like an ubiquitous dull ache repeatedly interrupted by penetrating targeted barbs, I want you to rest in the presence of Jesus. 

As you close your eyes, speak his name with an attitude of worship. And wait. Listen. Speak his name again. Listen for his response, keeping in mind God’s message of encouragement for his people in Psalm 46, particularly verse 10, but in the context of the entire psalm.

This is your signal. Close your eyes, not opening them until you are ready, however long that may be. 
Now that you are back, reflect upon your experience. Write it down. Share with a trusted friend. 

Be still and know that he is God. 
  

Yo human, the clock is ticking

As I completed my walk home from work she stood at the entrance to the apartment parking lot, waiting for her children to arrive home from school on their bus. Looking up from her phone, she offered me a brilliant smile framed by a colorful Hijab and a friendly hello in response to my own smile and greeting. The moment was brief but meaningful. 

I see her and her children often in the complex. Yesterday, she followed her daughter as the six year old girl struggled to master riding her bike, albeit with training wheels. It brought back happy memories of my own as my father helped me to  graduate from training wheels to greater freedom as a bicyclist. 
It also reminded me that regardless of the color of our skin, our religious and cultural background, our political leaning, our social status, or our gender, we are human, God’s beloved creation. 

Yea, that’s right. Each of us is created by and loved by God. Imagine that. You may not agree. God loves you anyway. No matter what you have done, or think you have done. He loves you. But I suggest that you not ignore his love or take it for granted. The clock is ticking. Got questions? Ask away and I will reply when I can.

John 3:16-18 NRSV

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Doing life on purpose

As I lurched forward over my small metal cart full of groceries, I instinctively tucked in my left elbow and braced for impact. The birds kept singing, oblivious to my impending doom; nearby cars honked and hurried to important destinations. The approaching sidewalk pavement stared at me with a gritty, menacing smile in the form of cracks and general disrepair. My momentum carried me forward. I felt nothing; then everything in quick succession as I tucked and rolled. Quietness, then pain. Frustration, then gratitude, realizing nothing was broken, although I did sustain minor bruising. In that moment all alone on the ground, with peanut butter and bread spread across the sidewalk alongside cans of soup, a package a skinless chicken, plus bags of spinach and lettuce among sundry other items, a car stopped near me.

A woman rushed to my side. She identified herself as a registered nurse. She insisted I rest for a moment while she ascertained my condition. Then she gathered up my groceries and packed them back into the basket, asking me if I needed further assistance. After I thanked her and pointed out that my home is just a hundred yards away, she left.

It occurred to me once again as it has so often in the past: I am alone, but I am not alone. Although this event happen two years ago, it remains fresh in my mind today. It encourages me to do life on purpose, seeking ways to encourage others and to find ways to enter into community with them. 

So I continue leading kids church twice per month, I enter into conversations with my apartment neighbors, I befriend bus drivers and fellow travelers throughout the city, I know my local grocers, the Starbucks baristas, my hair stylists, the gas station attendants who fill up my work truck, the workers at my local goodwill who wave each time I come in to find a new treasure, the warehousemen and customer service staff at local flooring vendors, fellow truck drivers, and so on. Just now as I wrote this paragraph I shared a laugh and brief conversation with a lady whose dogs were curious about my activities outside this Starbucks.

By doing life on purpose with a view toward becoming a Christlike witness, mission moves from merely marketing Christian information to incarnating the life and work of Christ through authentic relationships which inspire new friends to dare ask of the hope which they perceive in you. 

I contend that it is bolder to befriend a person with an attitude of genuine interest and posture of listening and learning, than it is to preach at her with no clue as to her story.  Likewise, it is more redemptive to inspire questions from her about your hope in Christ, then it is to proclaim your doctrine in a manner disrespectful to her struggles, however unintentional it might be. 

Proclamation is important, yes. But base it on relationship, preferably friendship. Evangelism should not be like a marketing call center which is satisfied with a 2% success rate based on voluminous contacts. It should be committed to long-term conversation as providence supplies the opportunities.

This requires commitment to doing life on purpose, particularly despite criticism from some within the Church leadership establishment who prefer their paradigms and programs to real relationships in a messy world. It calls for vulnerability. It will probably cause pain. Mission was never intended to be for our pleasure or comfort. It’s intended to proclaim Christ and alleviate spiritual, emotional and physical suffering.

Are you in?

safety is over-rated

In many ways, the unreached aren’t so different from followers of Jesus. They work, play, smile, bleed… They may even be seeking for meaning in life. But how will we know to sense their cues if all of our attention is inwardly focused?

For the last two years I’ve actively engaged people in my new community, making friends, listening, sharing laughs all within the ebb and flow of daily routines. Bus drivers, drug addicts, laborers like myself, business people, parents, kids, and so on. A divers sampling of humanity. Outwardly appearing normal, but on a deeper level struggling through life. 

Connecting with others powerfully is done most effectively in the context of real life through regular interactions. It’s intentional, not accidental. It’s active, not passive. Their terms, not ours. 

This is why I choose to live and work primarily outside of the Christian sphere. While I value the teaching, influence and covering of my local church, my primary ministry is outside of its walls and in the community.

It’s not a safe space, which is why I depend all the more on The Lord God to order my steps in the days ahead. God isn’t safe either, to borrow Lewis’s observation about Aslan. But he is infinitely good.

Please Don’t Give Up On Your Art

This piece is what I might have said if I would have had an opportunity to speak at the 2015 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference. In a future post or two I will write specifically about the conference.

——-

My dear creative friends: bloggers, authors, poets, painters, sculptors, lyricists, editors, comic strip creators, and so on. Please don’t give up on your art.

Did you know the words you wrote would invade my world, giving wings to my imagination? Did you realize that your drawings, paintings, and sculptures would speak to my heart in ways that defy words?

You were there as a gentle guide when I first attempted to read. It was hard; I was an active child with more interest in my physical surroundings than words on a page. You conspired with my second grade teacher to breach the walls of resistance. At the first crack, tendrils of joyful imagination shone through, penetrating my heart. Your words made that happen. For this child. For millions in every generation. 

The Cat in the Hat and so many others were my friends. You comforted me in the coming years as I continued to struggle. While classmates mocked me for my placement in a lower reading level, you gave me refuge in imaginary worlds I could understand. When they hurled abusive words at me for wearing hearing aids, you listened to my broken heart as I resonated with the travails of your characters. Deep in the twilight between silence and muted sound, your words rang clear, penetrating my emotional fog and defense mechanisms. You showed me love. Understanding. Compassion.

You did that.  

As childhood gave way to adolescence, you welcomed me when few others cared to do so. Junior high was a war zone. I navigated it with the brave help of Bilbo, Frodo, and Samwise Gamgee. Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver, Silver and the rest of their displaced friends gave voice to the confusion and fear I often felt.  

I paid closest attention to the ordinary details of your characters. Their flaws, insecurities, fears, stubbornness, hope. 

At eighteen years old, I clung to their hope even as I swam in depression and stood at the precipice of suicide on a cliff face somewhere along the Washougal River.

They helped to expose my choices and the resulting hurts, allowing healing to begin.

As I entered adulthood, your memoirs silenced fears of telling my personal story; well, mostly. Didn’t it hurt to be so–well–vulnerable? When you wrote of your pain, my scars throbbed, my tears flowed. 

When you revealed your failures, I remembered mine and wondered if I could be so brave as you. There is no adversary so potent as the one we allow residence in our thinking and in our hearts.

You also made me laugh as the T-Rex chased Calvin through a ravine, as Alice explored the marvelous wonders of her cul-de-sac, and as irony slapped uptight religious pharisaism on its backside, whispering for it to relax.

Now in my middle years, I remember your influence through paintings of words, sculptures of poetry, and breathtaking excursions into your story.

Thank you. May the joy you’ve given me fill your heart also as you continue to pursue your craft. Someone–no, many someone’s out there need your art. Enter their story through yours even as God orchestrates your journey.

The Grand Paradox: a book review

IMG_4809-0
Ken Wytsma has done it again. His first book, Pursuing Justice, instigated deep awareness and powerful conversations concerning social justice, especially among evangelicals. The newly released volume, The Grand Paradox, invites readers into the current conversation on Christian spirituality with mature pastoral wisdom. The subtitle, “the messiness of life, the mystery of God and the necessity of faith,” aptly describes the interdependent threads which together strengthen the message of the book.

The Paradox of Faith provides a much needed fresh trailhead into the theological and philosophical undergrowth of these threads by refusing to offer patronizing anecdotes or simplistic solutions. Life is hard, often confusing. And that’s where faith has opportunity to blossom. Wytsma writes, “Faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion.” This is a long overdue corrective to the pervasive teaching (both within and outside the church) which declares clarity and certainty as a sign of faith.

In American church culture we make much of finding God’s will for our personal lives, our churches, our families. We devise mission statements, concoct lists of core values, and develop action plans which reflect those values. Then tragedy strikes, or something goes awry, or things simply don’t work out the way we envisioned. Did we miss God? Or are we just now being presented with an opportunity to meet him more powerfully than we ever thought possible?

Wytsma writes,

“We pray and seek God’s will as though He has a specific will for each of us–for each of the seven billion people alive today. I think it’s more accurate to understand Him as having one will that involves separate roles for each of those seven billion people. Rather than seeing myself as the central figure, I need to learn what the whole puzzle looks like so I can find where my little piece fits.”

So then, what is my role in his will. What is yours?

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Early in the book Wytsma reminds us of our first year Greek. Despite being commonly translated righteousness and interpreted as referring strictly to personal or corporate moral purity, the underlying Greek word has a dual meaning. Justice is the oft-forgotten doppelgänger. Such an understanding does not change the meaning of Jesus’ words; it does radically challenge our long-held interpretive assumptions, especially within evangelicalism.

It’s the sort of thing Jesus commonly did in his earthly ministry, creatively upending world-views which were contrary or divergent to his person and work. God is using Ken Wytsma to be that kind of gentle, but piercingly targeted messenger in my life and in the lives of those God is influencing through him.

There is far more to The Grand Paradox than what I have time or space to share here. I treated those items I felt were most meaningful to me. And in doing so, I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider buying the book. It has my heart-felt appreciation and endorsement.

I received a copy of this book from the author for free in exchange for providing an honest review. Thus, the opinions above are my own.

he saw that it was good

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a9f/4366019/files/2015/01/img_3343.jpg
Photo courtesy Nasa.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). For six days he created. He spoke and there was light. He separated the waters from the land. Plant life and creatures filled the earth and waters. And then on the sixth day he created humans, first the man, Adam; then Eve from Adam’s rib. At the close of each day of creation he saw that his work and his creation was good. On the seventh day he rested.

I introduced my young friends in kids church to the account this morning. For many of them it was their first time reading and hearing it. They looked up the text for themselves in the Bible. I pointed out to them that God created, but that he himself was not created. Several looked at me in amazement.

God, the all-powerful, loving, good, creative One created all of this out of his goodness and love.

Next week they learn more in detail about how God created the first man and woman, and why.

Because he is loving and good.

He created you out of his love and with his breath brushing your innermost being he affirmed, “It is good.” Even now his thoughts toward you are for your edification and well-being. He remembers your first wiggle in your mother’s womb, your birth, your first steps, your first words, your first prayers, your first hopes, your first failures, every detail, every moment of your life to the present and into the future for all eternity.

He knows all your days from before the foundation of the world. And he loves you. Because he is infinitely good.

Now then, how will you respond?