Category Archives: Spiritual Lessons

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?

 


“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.


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.


It’s Complicated

I’ve been thinking a lot about complexity recently. I grew up in wonderful little conservative churches being taught great answers to tough questions. I say this not because I still believe they were great answers, but because they made sense, were easy to explain, were easily understood, and were easy to memorize. In the worldview of most people I know, this constitutes a great answer.

However, my worldview refuses to behave itself and get with the program.

Everywhere I look I see incredible complexity, and spiritual matters are no different. If anything, adding a spiritual or theological element to a thought makes it more complicated and harder to wrap my mind around and explain. I never seem to have simple answers anymore. Every question I try to answer is laced with nuance and apparent contradiction. Thinking about and trying to understand God, a task I’ve been told over and over is a simple thing, has become incredibly hard. Not hard like a chore or a construction job, but hard like a puzzle. It’s rewarding, often fun, and well worth the trouble, it’s just  so complex that it’s anything but easy.

I think though, that this is what it should feel like when we try to comprehend an infinite God with a finite mind. We shouldn’t be able to put him in our nice, neat little boxes and label him accordingly. He shouldn’t fit into well laid out categories, and we definitely shouldn’t claim to be able to predict what He will do.

I was reminded of one of these complexities the other day when I heard a pastor quote C.S. Lewis from, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” When the children are first told of Aslan and hear that he is a lion they ask if he’s safe.

“’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, but he is good,. He’s the king, I tell you.’”

It’s a great quote, and it’s true.  Not only does it illustrate the complexity I’ve been talking about, but on it’s own it’s a concept I would like to explore a bit.

Our human understanding of God naturally wants to make Him linear, and His goodness is no exception. We usually feel like good equates not only to safe, but to our cultural definitions of protected and prosperous.

We think that if God is being good to us that means he is prospering us in the way our culture defines prosperous, protecting us in a way that we feel safe, causing our children to turn out the way that we want them to, and guiding our lives to be all that we have ever dreamed they should be.

The truth is so much more complex than that.

Scripture is full of the reality of God’s goodness. It’s there right alongside the descriptions of the destruction of Job’s life, the captivity of the Children of Israel, the persecution of the early Church, and the thorn in Paul’s side. We are given a picture of a God who is good to his people through incredibly un-good things.

None of this fits if we look at God linearly and culturally. If we step outside of our expectations and fleshly desires, it works though. God’s goodness is expressed through His love and His growing us toward Himself. It is not expressed through earthly protection or prosperity because often the very things that draw us to the heart of God are things that make us the least comfortable or safe in this life. Often these are things that will never go away. God often works with lifelong lessons, not a one time course in patience and then we’re good. Remember Paul’s thorn? That’s what I’m talking about here.

More than that, God often works in eternal, infinite ways that we simply can not understand. Think of Job’s children. What was the endgame for them? Or how about the Philistine people? Was God loving and good to them? If we believe that God doesn’t change and what he says in John 3:16 is true the answer has to be “yes”, but how do we explain that? How do we understand it?

No, He’s not safe, and He’s not simple, but He is good.

He’s the king, I tell you.


“He is De-vine, I am de-branch”

“Have patience
Have patience
Don’t be in such a hurry
When you get impatient
You only start to worry

Remember
Remember
That God is patient too
And think of all the times when others
Stop to wait for you.”

Any other Music Machine fans in the house? Let’s hear it for Herbert the Snail as voiced by Frank Hernandez.

Life has been interesting for me these last couple months. Not bad, just stressful and full of waiting. Because of this, I’ve had a chance to live in something I’ve been thinking for a bit now.

Fruit grows naturally when a tree is healthy and functioning as it should. The Fruits of the Spirit grow and become more evident in our lives when our relationship with Christ is healthy and functioning as it should. None of the fruits of the spirit are things that we can just grit our teeth and force into of our life. They are fruit. They grow naturally when the conditions are right. 

There will always be scenarios in our lives where patience, joy, or kindness would be useful. Yet, if we’re not abiding in Christ, that’s not what we (or those around us) will see when we hit those rough spots. Inversely, if we are abiding in Christ it doesn’t need to be a conscious decision to be patient or loving in a tough situation; it’s just what will naturally come out of us. This is why it’s called the Fruit of the Spirit. It just kind of grows on you; and out of you; and into others; and then we find ourselves growing on others even during times when our lives are tough.

I’m not saying I’ve responded great each time I’ve had to be patient or kind this summer, but I see growth and I feel peace. It’s a good feeling. It’s especially good because it’s nothing I’ve done. It’s just who God is molding me into; a kinder, gentler, more patient version of me. A me that is abiding in Christ.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23, The Message