Category Archives: Maturity

Oops…

Would you believe I just deleted an entire post that I wrote this morning? True story.

I just wrote a pretty intricate post about how much of a problem superficial attitudes and priorities are in our culture. Then I re-read it. Then I deleted it.

I didn’t delete it because I was wrong. I didn’t delete it because it wasn’t good quality. I deleted it because my attitude stunk. I was being judgmental and harsh. I was pointing at all the “other people” shallower than I am and calling them out.

That’s just wrong.

Not just wrong in the sense that it’s mean, but wrong in the sense that it’s inaccurate.

Let’s deal with both of those, shall we?

It’s wrong because it’s mean. Yeah, mean like mean-spirited. It’s accusatory, belittling, and nowhere close to believing the best of people like we’re called to by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians. I’m convinced (and super convicted) that if what we have to say is from God it will be marked by the Fruit of the Spirit. You know, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If what is being said is spirit filled, then it will be full of these things. Judgment, condemnation, pride, bigotry, and everything else that goes with them will not be present.

If what is being said is not full of the Fruit of the Spirit then it is not from God. Even if I’m saying it and even if I’m right.

Inaccuracy was my other problem, right?

See, it’s easy to call out other people because their problem is obvious to me. It’s harder to diagnose myself and be honest about my shortcomings. Ironically, that was my point! I was making a call for a deeper inner-life and more self examination. I need that as much as everyone else I was frustrated with, I just need it in different areas…most of the time.

Why is it my natural response to conviction to point to everyone else who has the same problem? And then call them worse than me?

I want desperately to be filled with the Spirit. I want people to know this because I ooze the things on that list above. I want that to be the case because I’m seeking God and he’s dwelling in me and overflowing out of me into everyone around me. That’s what I want.

I don’t want to be right. I don’t want to be convicting. I don’t want to be important.

I want to be like Christ.


This Farm is a Mess

Community is a messy thing.

At least, it better be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for things being done decently and in order. To everything there is a season and all that rot. But please, let’s deal in some reality.

Lives are hard, complicated, messy things. Community is an intentional sharing of our lives with others. Guess what? That means we’re getting our mess all over other people and they’re getting their mess all over us. This is how it’s supposed to work.

One of the primary reason why I stepped outside of a normal expression of the “Western Church” is because I felt like there wasn’t much (if any) real connection between people there. We all just showed up at the appropriate service times, smiled politely at each other, shared the occasional prayer request if our lives didn’t feel perfect, and then went our own ways until the next service time. I want something more. I want reality. I want genuine people. I want community.

Well, you know what they say about being careful when wishing.

I’ve learned a lot over the last year or so. To the point, I’ve learned that what I want isn’t always as pleasant as is sounds in a blog post. When we involve ourselves in other people’s lives we get directly involved in their messes and it effects our life too. We get real, raw emotions; but those come with tantrums and bigotries. We get deep conversations and life changing potential; but it costs us our facades and carefully maintained images. We get reality like we wanted, but we also get reality  like we never knew existed.

Please understand, I don’t regret my decisions, nor has my desire for community abated at all. I’m simply looking at this through more experienced eyes. I’m starting to look at all of my relationships with the insight of new truths. I’m seeing family differently. I’m identifying the communal experiences in grief, joy, and life. I’m starting to feel the messes I’m wading through in more lives than just mine.

Life’s a mess. Might as well clean ’em up together, don’t you think?


That’s Fantastic!

My worldview has mostly been shaped by fantasy.

Read that again; it’s very strange. Not only is it strange, it’s also infuriating to the realists in my life. Yet, as strange and potentially infuriating as it may be, it’s absolutely true.

As a very young child I was introduced to such classics as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Wind in the Willows”. As I aged, “The Magic Bicycle” and “The Book of Three” held my interest. Sadly, it wasn’t until my teen years that the marvelous worlds of “Redwall”, “Middle Earth”, and “Star Wars” came into my life. With growing maturity came the fantastic creations of authors like Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole. To this day, Robert Jordan can hold my attention for hours at a time. I say all of this to help you understand that fantasy has always been a large and important part of my life. Also, this will hopefully give you an idea of what I mean when I say “fantasy”.

Recently, I’ve dealt with a number of Christians who stand rather strongly against fantasy as a genre appropriate for consumption. This stance confounds me.

Before I really dig into this, let me get one thing clear. I’m not going to defend fantasy. I don’t feel like it needs defending and the accusations against it are rarely consistent anyways. If you want to discuss what is and is not witchcraft, let me know and we’ll go at it, but that’s not what I’m writing about now. This post is me explaining the value of fantasy as I see it.

First, in fantasy we see a very common theme of good vs. evil. Now, to be fair, this is a two edged sword. I think we have a fondness for over simplifying problems in our modern culture and this plays into that, but it’s not all bad. In the shaping of a young child’s worldview, it doesn’t hurt to give some very clear-cut distinctions. This is especially true when a story goes out of its way to emphasize things like honor, truth, etc. Again, this is a very strong theme in most fantasy, especially the type aimed at children.

Second, fantasy gives us an appreciation for the mystical all around us. This is the point that makes people wonder about my sanity and my orthodoxy most often, but it may be the thing about fantasy that has effected my faith the most. In fantasy worlds we see the plausible impossible all the time. We see the work of higher powers, the manipulation of forces beyond science and reason, the acceptance of things that can’t be understood or even sometimes seen, and so much more that points to the mystic. As a child (and I’m not ashamed to say as an adult) these ideas went incredibly far in helping me define and be comfortable with my belief in the divine.

Let’s face it, we serve a mystical being. Whether you’re comfortable with that word or not, it’s true. Even if you do mental gymnastics to avoid that thought, I promise you that most of the people in your life don’t. That’s exactly how they see your faith; as mysticism. The more comfortable with that you are, the more honest you will be with yourself and others about your relationship with God. We can’t understand God. We can’t even define Him. How can He not be mystical to us?

I don’t think this was an intended effect of the authors I read, but it has been profound in my life none the less. We live in a world clamoring for empirical evidence of everything we believe and serve a God that says simply, ‘Trust”. In the pages of fantasy novels I found attitudes, worldviews, and thought processes that reasonably deal with this discrepancy. Perfect and reliable? Not a chance. Encouraging and thought provoking? Absolutely.

Dragons are real, they just don't look like thisMy last point can be said better by Chesterton, so I’ll let him.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
– G.K. Chesterton

This is by far my favorite thing about fantasy. Some would call it an escape, some a reprieve from life, but those who truly understand this life we live know better. Fantasy gives us a framework to think about our own lives in. Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes it rocks. We need tools to deal with both and we need encouragement that this life will work out. We’re not the only ones who have ever dealt with hard times. We’re not the only ones who have striven to conquer our fears or our adversity. Sometimes real life just isn’t enough to show us that.

Of course we escape into fantasy, but we take our reality with us. We already know that our lives are filled with dragons. Hurtful relationships, fear, anger, illness, injustice and a myriad of other winged tyrants fill our lives daily. When those with temperament and taste like mine “escape” into the fantasy worlds of our favorite authors, our dragons follow us because they are always present. Yet between the pages, between the lines, and outside the words of that book we find metaphor, allegory, and truth. We discover that courage trumps fear, determination will finish any journey, and honor does make you a better person even if it’s hard.

I know fantasy isn’t for everyone. I know that taste is like personality. I even understand that fantasy can be a temptation for some to delve where they know they shouldn’t. Yet when I look back on my life, on my formative years and my recent ruminations, I find the threads woven by fantasy authors pervasive in my consciousness. So much of what is valuable in my thinking can find its roots or at least its close cousin in ideas I learned from fantasy.

Besides, we serve a God who works miracles. Isn’t that fantastic?

 


Learner’s Permit

Learning has an interesting effect on me.

Please understand, I say this as an educator. I’m very familiar with the idea of learning. Yet ideas and reality so often differ. This is why this blog has been so quiet recently. I’m learning a lot right now. That’s really impressive for a guy who’s spent most of his life believing he already knew everything he needed to know.

The most interesting effect that learning has been having on me is humility. No, I’m not bragging on my humility. I do love irony, but not quite that much. No, I’m just explaining why I haven’t been writing a lot recently. In so many areas of life I really don’t feel like I’ve got it all together intellectually right now because there is so much I’m being taught right now. As such, I find myself pouring time into listening to people instead of talking or writing to people. I ask a lot more questions right now than I give answers. I look to learn more than I look to teach.

That doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. I am, after all, still a teacher. I can see my current education coming out in what I am teaching and sharing with my students. I still have ideas and new discoveries I love to share with others. I’m just spending so much time learning and digesting that teaching and sharing has taken a back seat for a while.

So, by way of a resolution, I want to say that I intend to keep learning. Not only that, but I intend to get back to writing, sharing, and teaching more as I learn. You know, kind of digest all of this stuff out loud. I think that will be good for me and maybe a little bit good for whoever can read this too. Who knows, maybe this humility will have a good effect on my writing. Stay tuned and we’ll see.

For anyone interested, here’s a quick list of topics I’ve been learning a lot about recently in no particular order:

– Hebraic Roots
– Constantine’s Effect on Christianity
– Atheism
– Philosophy
– Jewish Festivals
– Biblical Concepts of Church
– Salvation (Or at least how it’s explained and what it means practically)
– Youth Ministry
– Heaven
– Hell
– Divine Inspiration (Past and present)
– Charismatic Christianity
– Christian Community
– The Relational Nature of God (And his creation)
– Love
– Pacifism
– Technology’s Effects on Culture and Spirituality
– Holiness
– Sin

Yeah, I know. I’m intellectually ADD. It’s okay. Life’s more fun when we tackle it head on. You should join me. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Growing in the garden of His grace,
Jonathan, a servant and follower of the Son of God


“My Lord…”

“…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

“…ask Jesus into your life…”

“…give your life to Christ…”

All of these phrases are common in the Church today. Yet somehow, I think we don’t really think about them very often. Let me explain.

Let’s start with the first one. In our western, church-y culture, we have a tendency to separate the Lordship and Salvation of Jesus. Most of us are very okay with the idea of Jesus as savior, but we don’t like Jesus as lord. A savior without lordship is easy. It doesn’t require much, it doesn’t greatly affect our life, and allows us to feel a lot better about ourselves.

Jesus as lord…now that’s different. Lordship implies authority. Authority implies obedience. Obedience implies submission. Submission sucks in most of our minds. Yet, inspection of the scriptures (specifically the writings of Paul) reveal an incredible influence on the idea of Jesus being Lord of our lives. Paul even said that declaring the lordship of Christ IS salvation.

Which brings us to the last two phrases. I strongly dislike the first one. I love the second. Here’s why. The first one makes Christianity into something we can do while keeping the rest of our life intact. Christianity, in a true sense, will change your entire life. That’s the effect of lordship in our life, or it should be.

We need to be very careful how we talk about and share the idea of salvation. It’s not about pie in the sky, it’s very practical and immediate. It’s not about asking God into what we already do, it’s about the fact that God invited us out of what we already do and into what He’s doing.

Just some thoughts. Peace.


Searching With Our Eyes Wide Shut

I’m going to do a little bit of a double-down post here. About a month ago I posted about the way we treat truth. Here we are a month later and the same issue is still irking me. So, here goes another dose.

Most people want to be right. No, I think all people want to be right. This isn’t a problem. In fact, I’d call it a virtue. The problem arises with how we seek truth.

In our very educated society, everyone has an opinion on everything. You’d be hard pressed to find a person who has made it to adulthood without at least an inkling of what they think about any given topic. This is especially true of Christians. We have so many issues to discuss, dissect, and disagree on that we practically have to pick a side in order to be considered a good Christian. We can’t all be right, but that’s where the fun comes in.

This should take the form of seeking. You know, all that quest for truth stuff. Sadly, it doesn’t.

We say we’re searching. We call ourselves seekers. We even speak often of revelations or rhemas. Surprisingly, we almost never see people switch sides.

It would seem to me that a genuine seeker would at least occasionally come across truth that would be so powerful it would drastically change his perspective. We are all fallible humans, right? Do we really think that our perspective is so spot on to begin with that the only thing seeking more truth will do is reaffirm what we already know?

Here’s the problem: we’re not actually seeking truth.

Yeah, I said it.

It’s harsh, but it’s honest. When we research a topic, we categorically dismiss all opposing opinions as “ridiculous” or “biased” and stick only to those that are already on board with the way we see the world. True, we’ll entertain new ideas and perspectives of an issue, but only if they don’t shake the foundation of what we already believe about it. We’re not looking for truth, we’re looking for affirmation.

I’m pretty convinced that most of us do the same thing when we say we’re seeking God’s will. Be it in relation to a career choice, a family decision, or a discussion regarding what church we should attend, we usually walk into it with a general idea of the “right” choice and then look for affirmation. What if God doesn’t want us to make a “good” choice? What if He’s intending to show himself strong in our life through something we would consider a horrible idea? I say we ask Hosea what he thinks.

Regardless, walking into a decision with our mind already closed to certain outcomes doesn’t leave much room for God to work through that decision and seeking truth without being willing to change doesn’t yield much truth. Worse, looking for affirmation of what we already think just isn’t being Spirit-led or truth seeking. It’s just not.

If we want a life led by the Spirit of the Living God, we have to trust God. If we want to understand real truth, we have to be willing to change. People rarely find things with their eyes closed.


Show Me What You Mean

I don’t think I believe in worship services anymore.

Yeah, I know, I’m doing that thing where I start with an inflamitory statement and then back up and make it reasonable. It’s okay, I’ll explain and it’ll make sense. I promise – maybe.

Mostly, I’m convinced that we present worship with the wrong definition and that a correct definition wouldn’t fit inside what we currently see as a “normal” worship service. Let me explain.

Growing up in the Church, I understood that worship was when we focused on God. Specifically, worship was when we sang or spoke adoration to His name. This made sense to me. It still does, honestly. This is why pastors would say that we worshiped God in song, then we would worship Him with tithes and offerings, and then we would worship Him through the study of His word. All of this is very good, but still lacks something.

This lack has grown in my consciousness the last few years through my involvement in more modern churches and services. In most of these settings, the worshiping through “churchy” actions isn’t normally mentioned at all. Generally, the only part of the service called worship is the singing. Don’t get me wrong, I love worship songs. I love worshiping through voice, music, and even dance, but this is an incredibly incomplete picture of worship.

Check this out. When we see the word “worship” in the Bible it means to, “Lay down before”, or, “Kiss the ring of”, or, “Give gifts to” depending on which word in which passage we’re dealing with. In each case the motivation for the action is to show reverence or give honor. Worship, by definition, is an action – an action meant to show honor and reverence. Words alone can not be an action. We would call that “lip service”. I’d argue that even actions such as raising your hands and falling to your knees fall into the same category as words. They’re purely symbolic actions that don’t truly accomplish anything. This doesn’t make them bad, but neither does it make them worship.

I’ve heard it said that worship is “putting God in His place.” I like this thought. It’s definitely on the right track. The problem is that words, songs, and hand motions can not truly accomplish this. We have to put our money where our mouth is.

Just as an earthly lord would not be pleased with a vassal who kissed his ring and swore fealty at ceremonies but never showed up to defend his lord’s lands, I don’t believe our heavenly Lord is worshiped by words that aren’t backed up by a life lived toward his priorities. There is so much more worship in the choice not to be angry at our fellow man than in a tear filled rendition of “He Loves Us”.

This is the crux of it. The sacrifice that God desires is our life. His priorities and causes are not the ones that are natural to us. Every time we choose His way over our own, we are worshiping. Be it behind our desk at work, in our car dealing with moronic drivers, at home interacting with our spouse and children, or at a corporate meeting of the Church, every decision to put Him first instead of ourselves is worship in the truest sense.

We should worship God in song – absolutely. Every day if possible. We have to understand though, that is only the symbol that represents worship. Without a life that backs it up, it ceases to be worship at all. I don’t want to tell students that worship is singing or emotion. I want them to see me worship daily as I make my Lord’s priorities my own.

We should sing His praises together often. We should worship Him with song services. But we shouldn’t have worship services. We should have worship lives.