Setting Your Sights Higher: Why “Right Intentions” Matter so much

 “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance.  Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”  Exodus 24:1,2

When climbers are headed up to Mt. Rainier through the Camp Muir route, they start in the parking lot of a place called “Paradise” which is the highest point to which one can drive in this beautiful national park.  This turns Paradise, at any given moments, into a weird mix of highly skilled mountaineers, beginners who are hoping to make it to the summit, and masses of people who will never leave the paved paths, ever, as long as they live.  They’re decked out in L.L. Bean’s newest and best, or REI tech gear, or whatever, slurping ice cream in the parking lot.  They’re peering through those coin operated telescopes to get a glimpse of the glacier before snapping a selfie with the imposing massif in the background, and calling it their “outdoor challenge for the year”.

The climbers are in the mix with the masses, but not for long.  They get their permit from a little office, use the bathroom, maybe grab one last taste of actual food for a few days, and that’s it, they’re gone, headed up for the summit.  When the paved path ends, the tourists turn around, while the rest step onto actual soil, and eventually snow, pressing onward, upward.  Even among the climbers, not everyone will continue to the top.  Camp Muir, at 10,400’ is the next common drop out point, as the realities of altitude sickness, sunburn, loss of appetite, cold, thirst, nausea, or any other number of factors will lead yet another group to say “far enough”.

Finally, there will be those who leave base camp the next morning with every intention of summiting.  They thought they’d prepared well enough, thought that riding their bicycle to work and doing the “7 minute workout” app on their phone twice a week would adequately prepare them for carrying 40 pounds on their back up one and a half vertical miles of snow, rock, and ice, into the thin air above treeline, where rockfall, avalanches, and crevasses hidden in the glaciers present a large menu of ways to die.  Somewhere before the summit they say, “this is good enough for me!” and either descend or stay put and wait for their group to go up and then join them on their descent.  The herd self selects out of further progress until only the best prepared, most courageous, and most diligent, make it to the top.

When God’s about to give the law to Israel as a centerpiece of establishing the new nation, a similar culling of the herd occurs.  God sets a boundary around the mountain and invites only Moses and his key leaders to ascend beyond the parking lot.  Then, beyond the high base camp, it’s to be only Moses.  Though he takes his successor, named Joshua, with him some distance, there’s no indication that Joshua summits.  At the top it’s Moses.  Alone with God.

In this story God’s the one who sets the boundaries around the mountain and keeps people away.  There are reasons for that, in that time and place, but they don’t apply to us (as I’ll write about in the forthcoming book, of which this post is a part).

We’re living in a time when summiting the pinnacle of intimacy with God is available to everyone because the barriers to the summit were annihilated at the cross.  Still, the same Christ who broke down the barriers said that the road to the summit is narrow (ref) and, like Mt. Rainier, there are few who actually find it.  There’s a parking lot filled with religion.  Jesus stickers and t-shirts are for sale, and lots people looking “a couple dollar’s worth of God”.  The parking lot is the Sunday meeting, and there are folks there for the photo ops and real estate contacts.  If there’s a little entertainment or even a dose of conviction along the way, so be it.  But they’ve not intention of going farther.  Others will hit the trail until the pavement ends.  Some fewer will keep going a bit further, until there’s more hard stuff than joyful stuff, at which point they turn around, in search of safety, predictability, warmth.

If Christ’s blown up the barriers to the summit, then what’s holding anyone back?  The answer can be found by switching metaphors, because a quick glance at Jesus’ parable of the seed and sower explains why “some seeds don’t produce fruit”, which is the same thing, metaphorically, as not reaching the summit.  And what are the reasons?  O you know; the usual suspects: affliction, worry, the lying seductions of wealth.  There are, in other words, lots of reasons to descend to the parking lot of religious carnivals.

“Up” is about the pursuit of intimacy with God, about Christ becoming, in real ways, a friend, companion, lover even, in the daily stuff of living.  Getting there, Jesus is saying, doesn’t happen by accident, any more than you wake up one morning having run a marathon, or summiting Rainier.  It requires intentionality, prioritizing, and pressing on toward the goal when others stop.  It requires shedding stuff, so that by the end, there’s one true pursuit to which all other pursuits give way.

“Right Intentions” is the starting point: the way of fruitful discipleship.  Making intimacy with Christ your summit goal will be simple because you need to travel light if you’re going to travel at all.  It will be hard because it requires letting go of stuff the majority carry with them daily, stuff like self-medicating when disappointed, and being defined by consumerism and what we own, and feeding on a diet of entertainment rather than creativity.  It’s beautiful because the glory of meeting Christ in thin and unpolluted air will ravish you.  It’s ugly because you want to quit due to pain, more than once.

Where on this mountain called discipleship, are you headed?  If it’s the summit of intimacy, know that it takes more than the right gear.  It takes traveling light, endurance, and a hunger for the summit of knowing Christ like a lover.  Who’s in?  The rest of you?  Enjoy the telescopes and ice-cream.  I’ll see you later.

O God of the summit invitation

Thank you for inviting us to ascend utterly.  Stir in our hearts a discontent for the tourist faith that’s commonplace, where signing a card and signing a song, substitute for radical discipleship.  Fill us with a longing for the summit instead, and teach us to travel light, shedding the fears, bitterness, lusts, and attachments that the whole world seems to carry on its collective back this days.  When we tire, give us the grace to take next steps, and rest, and celebrate beauty.  But may we never, ever turn back short of knowing you fully.  

Amen.  

5 Sentences: The Wisest Advice I’ve ever Received

five wordsIn the avalanche of words that constitute our lives, I hope that for each of us there are particular conversations and moments that stand out as especially meaningful.  Such words remain, long after the vast majority have evaporated, and they remain for good reason.  They’re life giving, and wise.  Here are five sentences filled with wisdom that I’ve received over the years, offered in hopes that they’ll be helpful to you as well.  Enjoy!

1. Make knowing God the number one priority in your life. This was the word spoken to me from Jeremiah 9 when I was 20 years old and I realized at the moment that “knowing God” was at best, a peripheral pursuit in my life, far behind vocational aspirations, financial security, and having a little bit of fun.  I was not only convicted by the truth of Jeremiah’s words, but I was drawn by their simplicity.  In a world where I’m constantly being told to readjust my priorities to include P90X, wise investing, taking a cruise, losing weight, getting an advanced degree, finding cheaper insurance, avoiding cancer, finding my calling, protecting my identity from thieves, and about a thousand other things, the notion that the deepest joy in life can come from simply enjoying intimacy with my creator was stunningly beautiful.  I’ve since come to see that truth in many texts, and have experienced the bliss, at my best, of knowing “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.  This is the North Star to which I return over and over again.

2. Everyone knows how rotten they are – they need to know how gifted and loved they are.  My friend Jim said this while I was in architecture school, and he practiced it too.  I was a wreck at the time, body, soul, and spirit—and yet felt encouraged and affirmed by this wild eyed Jesus fanatic who also happened to be a great architecture student.  But what struck me most about him was his real, demonstrable knack for encouraging and loving people.  When I asked him about it one day, he said this;  “People know their own shortcomings, but need to know they’re loved.”  At my best, I seek to remind people of this too.  At my worst, I default, not to hyper criticism, but benign neglect, which might even be worse!

3. When you have too much to do and you’re overwhelmed – remember to let the peace of Christ reign in the moment. Breathe deeply.  Do the next thing.  This word comes from Elisabeth Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot.  She no doubt faced an ocean of suffering and questions after her husband’s untimely death at the hands of the Auca Indians, and yet she managed to keep her wits.  Eventually she would return to minister among the very tribe that killed her husband, and after that, return to Wheaton College with the newly saved man who was the killer.  He stood in chapel at Wheaton and declared himself as a Christ follower because of this woman’s faithfulness.  That faithfulness was micro, step by step, in the wake of loss.  All those little steps built a life.  Nothing’s changed since then.  Books are written a word at a time, churches built a sermon, prayer, visit at a time; children raised, a meal, bedtime story, teachable moment at a time. The good life is neither microwavable nor achievable without a million “next things” being done—step by step.

4. If you have a million dollars, but you don’t have a leader, you don’t have anything. If you have a leader and a nickel… you have a significant future. Ray Harrison, founder of the  International Needs ministry our church supports, told me this in response to my question: “When people give you unrestricted funds, how do you decide what to do with them?”  His answer: “Invest in good leaders, because…” and then he said what I wrote above.  The word has served me well in my own leadership role, and has been confirmed time and again.  A good leader will be exerting influence even without money or a title and so, ironically, will likely gain both.

5. Take care of your whole self. You are body, soul, spirit. In all three areas, rest, exercise, and what you eat, matter.  This comes from my friend who runs a Bible based wilderness program in Austria where I teach, and from I Thessalonians 5, where Paul prays that we’d all prosper in all three areas.  I’ve come to see that my life is an eco-system and that body neglect will affect my spiritual life just as spirit neglect will harm my body.  As a result, I try to get enough sleep and also spend time “letting the peace of Christ” rule in my heart.  I try to eat good food, and ingest healthy reading material for spirit and soul as well.  Whole life discipleship is the only kind of discipleship worth pursuing.

It’s an overwhelming world at times, and this is why the wisdom that’s risen to the top like cream and stayed there, is so very important.  We’re at risk in a world where anchors are disappearing daily, of being tossed around, squandering the precious gift of our daily lives because we just don’t know what to do next.  But these words have anchored me more than once, and so I’ll be forever grateful for those folk who spoke them and lived them.

Three Ways Sabbath practice will help you become whole.

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“all who are thirsty…”

Yesterday I spent some time in what is slowly becoming a sabbath routine for this season of life.  My wife and I packed a small lunch and some extra clothes in our backpacks and took off for a day of hiking.  In a normal year it would be a ski day, but this is not a normal year.  All the snow is over in Boston, and here where we normally get over 400 inches a year, the ski hills are brown brush; so we hike.

As we hike, we talk about life.  It’s become maybe the best time of the week for sharing, because we have uninterrupted space for needed dialogue, punctuated by periods of silence for reflection, response, or even just enjoyment of the woods.  The conversations always include remembrances of the past and considerations of the future.  The two subjects feed each other by this time in our life together.  We’ve seen 35 years of God’s faithful provision in our lives; seen many decisions we made with finite information which turned out far better than we’d anticipated, precisely because (we believe) God knew ‘the rest of story’ as only God can.

For example, I was sharing yesterday how profound it was to contemplate that we’d purchased this house in the mountains that had its own apartment, solely with a view of retiring there someday and renting it out as a ski chalet in the meantime, while keeping the small apartment for our own, for skiing, writing, hiking, and such.

Now here we are, living there, with my mom-in-law in the perfect little apartment as life circumstances converged so that it was best for her to move in with us.  Her love of mountains and snow, and our purchase converged to meet a need we didn’t even know would exist when we bought the place.  But God knew, and has provided space.  We tell each other these kinds of stories while we hike, recalling God’s faithfulness in the past.

We speak of the future too; pondering how we can best use the gifts and resources God has given us to live fully into the story God desires to write through us.  We ponder options, and they become matters for prayer.  We speak of our heart’s desires in ways that we don’t during week because the week’s too full of obligations to spend much time pondering deeper longings.  Giving voice to these longings is healthy, appropriate, necessary, if we’re to continue growing.

And of course, we speak of the presentof our own marriage, our children, decisions that need to be made.  We speak of money, car brakes, schedules for the coming week, and of trees, waterfalls, lichen, weather, and rocks.

We share a meal at the top.  We hike out.  We drive home.  Then there’s a meal, and peace, and a sense we’ve connected with God and each other.  We propose to do it again next time.  Sabbath; a gift from God.

Of course, this isn’t always the case.  In many circles, Sabbath is nothing more than a legalistic noose tied around the necks of religious people to prevent them from doing anything the religious elite consider work.  The list varies from generation to generation and place to place, including soccer, shopping, cooking, mowing the lawn, wearing false teeth, and lifting anything heavier than two dried figs.  This is just one of many reasons why people rightly hate religion.  Jesus said you could know the worthiness of a person’s teachings and worldview ‘by their fruits’ and if the fruit of Sabbath keep is fear, withdrawal, and judgmentalism, I for one will be at the front of the line to condemn it.

Another group, seeing this legalist nonsense, has done away with the Sabbath completely.  It’s either spiritualized (“Every day is a day of rest in Christ”), or bastardized into simply a “day off” which means a time to knock oneself out with shopping, or obligations with the kids, or find some sort of adrenaline hit so that we can maintain our stress levels until Monday, though because it’s chosen, it’s good stress rather than distress.

Either way is an exercise in missing the point.  Sabbath, when properly practiced as a spiritual discipline, helps create a soil in which several good things can happen.  Here’s what I mean:

A good and consistent Sabbath practice, over time will:

1. Create capacity in our lives – The creation narrative offers a profound revelation that life is intended to be lived in a IMG_7920complimentary manner:  day and night; heaven and earth; sea and dry land; male and female; and yeswork and rest.  God was the prototype of this rhythm, and those who violate it do so at great risk to their own fruitfulness and well  being.  This is because we’re made for a pattern of engagement and withdrawal, and if our Sabbath’s neglect withdrawal, we’ll enter our weekly responsibilities of engagement with even diminishing resources.  The presenting symptoms will be stress related things like sleep troubles, nervousness, fatigue, and/or high anxiety.  When it comes to exercise, we all know that we need to both exercise and rest.  The same’s true with the whole of our lives and the Sabbath is God’s gift to provide for this.

2. Create a context for guidance – My wife and I have made many major life decisions in the context of Sabbaths, because that’s where we make the needed space to ponder God’s faithfulness in the past, and prayerfully give voice to our longings and hopes for the future, so that we can hear God speak and show us next steps.  The worst thing we can do is be reactionary with our lives, both day to day in our obligations and with respect to major life decisions.  It’s far better to be proactive, and this proactivity will come from creating space to pour our hearts out to God and then listen, and then act.

3. Remind you that you’re not the Messiah – One of the practical purposes of Sabbath practice when Israel was in the wilderness was so that they might learn that God will take care of them, all the time, even when they rest.  The more and better anyone learns this, the more fully and profoundly they come to believe that God sustains God’s work and will do so even when we step away from it.  I’ll be blunt in saying that its our sense of indispensability that often turns us into very ugly peoplecontrolling, demanding, fearful, even manipulative; all in the name of “getting the job done”.  The Sabbath, practiced well, will help you get over yourself, and rest in the reality that our participation in whatever work it is to which God has called us, is a privilege, not a necessity.

Make space please!  For remembering; for considering; for sharing; for praying; for restoring.  If that’s not a habit for you, now’s a good time to begin.

Here’s a resource I’ll recommend to round out and develop this discussion further.

 

The Art of Paying Attention, courtesy of Seattle Seahawks

In the morning on Sunday, I preached about paying attention by quoting Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus in Matthew 13 where he says, “Are you listening?  Really listening?”  Jesus says that because stuff doesn’t “just happen”.  Stuff happens, and it elicits a response in our hearts, some mighty Yes, or No!, or tears of rage, or shouts of joy.  9/11 did that.  Sunrises do that, and coffee, and funerals.   Making love?  News of terror attacks?  Conversations with those whose beliefs are different than yours?  Yes.  Lots of events elicit response.  But a football game?  Absolutely…

The touchdown pass in overtime yesterday shook the city.  Literally.  The stadium was equipped with earthquake censors for some tests, and when the Wilson to Kearse pass was completed it was game over, but the shaking had just begun.  Hugs and irrational joy in the basement of my friend’s house where we were watching were matched by fireworks outside and the commencement of a celebration that would last well into the night throughout the city.  Clichés about it not being over ’til its over ricocheted off the walls of skyscrapers downtown, intermingled with the tears of those who left early, or tweeted too soon about boycotting cheese and other nonsense.

I had the privilege of driving all the way home, an hour east of Seattle, late at night when I’d caught my breath, and I did something I never do.  I listened to sports radio.  It was there I learned that the last pass of the game was really a story of redemption.  Kearse, you see, wasn’t always a starter.  He worked his way onto the practice squad, before making his way to first string in 2013, a local success story coming from the University of Washington.

But yesterday’s performance was anything but successful.  In the first half, QB Wilson threw his way three times with the results:  three interceptions.  The ball didn’t come his way again until 5:06 left in the game, at which point the pass once again bounced out of his hands, resulting in an interception.

By any definition, his was a terrible day.  The kind of day that makes you wonder why you’re even bothering to show up.  He said after the game: “There’s some plays I felt like I could have made.  I could have stopped some plays from happening on interceptions. I could have just turned the defender and tried to knock the ball down.”  Yes, and he could have caught two passes too, which instead became interceptions.

Summary:  Not just 0-4.  Each pass was intercepted!

So of course, it makes sense that, after a miracle comeback which led to overtime, QB Wilson would tell his coach during the break:  “I’m going to hit Kearse for a touchdown.”  To quote our local Seahawks radio voice, Steve Raible, “Are you kidding me?” 

No.  He’s not kidding at all.  He’s a believer in the reality that every play is like a new day, that by God, we’re not going to be defined by our failures; that fall we will, but though we fall we’ll get up.

Sound familiar?  Maybe not, if you live in the world of business, the world which says, “past performance is the best indicator of future reality,” the world which drops you when you drop the ball,  the world of performance-based approval.

This, as you may know, is much of our world.  We’re defined, as often as not, by our singular failures, which in a world of conditional love serve to sideline us rather than transform us.  QB’s get exasperated and determine to throw to someone else.  Managers fire us, or move us to a basement office.

And then there’s Jesus with Peter.  No, it wasn’t four missed catches.  It was three outright denials of any affiliation with Jesus the Christ.  It was fear, hubris, lying, shame, defeat.  In the end he’s even worthless as a fisherman.

So what does Jesus do after three denials and a failed night of fishing?  He meets Peter and puts him in charge of the church during its infancy.  “Feed my sheep,” Jesus says, along with some other charges and a prediction that the job will cost him his life as a martyr.  Peter will go on to preach the first sermon with a boldness and fire that was utterly other than the man standing by the fire who didn’t have the guts to even let the servant girl know that he knew Christ.  Cowardice to CourageFailure to Faith.  It’s nearly as good as the football story, maybe betterand equally true.

“But God… being rich in mercy” is how Paul interprets this somewhere.  What he’s saying is that God delights in making unlikely heroes, in writing unlikely stories.  That’s why the game yesterday was more than just a gameat least for those who know how to pay attention.

It was my birthday yesterday too, and as I received kind notes of encouragement for folks in many parts of the world, I felt a profound sense of gratitude to Christ for continuing to throw to me after what seems like a nearly infinite number of dropped passes.

The gospel is a story of redemption, of God intervening in a performance world and writing an unlikely script with unlikely players.  A punter from Canada throws a touchdown pass to a lineman.  A third-round draft pick deemed “too short” by every talking head in the sports world tosses a pass to a guy who barely made the practice squad at one point, and had been, to say the least, “unhelpful” all day today.  And the results?

Are you kidding me?

Such stories aren’t just for football.  They’re the gospel.  Illustrated.  If we pay attention.

‘O Lord Christ

Thanks be to you for inviting us into your story, for keeping us on the field when we want to quit, for teaching us through failure, for believing in our capacity to live into your calling in our lives even when we don’t believe in ourselves.  Give us the grace to say yes, and open our arms, and receive.  When we respond with delight and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’  You’ll say, ‘Not at all – this is the gospel.’  And we’ll rejoice.  Amen.

The gains that come from loss

As the cemetery comes into view on this spectacular January afternoon, I feel as if I’m being transported back in time, because this little piece of geography is so ripe with memories that all the feelings attending those memories flood to the surface, unbidden.  I see the canopy where the graveside service will take place, but we’re early; early enough that we’ve time for a little drive.  I head out, a bit further from the center of Kingsburg, to the land my grandpa farmed, the place where we’d put grapes on trays to dry in the scorching sun when we were kids.  He had grapes and peaches, but now everything’s gone.  All the cropland has just recently been stripped of any vestige of tree or vine, so empty soil, ready for a new generation of fruitfulness, surrounds the house.  The soil’s the same, more or less, only now empty, which is somehow fitting for the occasion.

Just down the road a bit more, is where my aunt had a peach farm. Her land, too, has changed.  Where the farmhouse that felt ancient fifty years ago once stood, there’s a modern ranch home complete with a bevy of solar panels leaning up against the south wall. Beyond the walls of the cemetery, it seems that life goes on; new crops, new houses, new families…new.

Returning to the cemetery though, all that’s new on this day will be an addition: Betty Nadine Dahlstrom, who died just before Christmas, at the age of 95.  There are a few family members present and the service is short, a bit understated perhaps.  I can say that because I was the officiant.  The gold of the day came after the service. I’d wanted my youngest daughter to see some of the other headstones of family members, but they were all covered by the cheap artificial astro-turf that’s placed, temporarily, under the canopy, in order to provide solid footing for guests as the pass by the coffin before it’s lowered into the ground.

Image 2 “I didn’t come this far to miss showing my daughter her family story” I said to myself, and so asked the landscape guy who would soon be putting mom’s body in the ground if we could peel away the AstroTurf to look at the other stones. A strange request, no doubt, but he accommodated, and soon we were looking at all the names, with their year and month of death:

Oscar Stokes – February 1972

Lillian Stokes – April 1973

Romaine Dahlstrom – October 1973

Esther Dahlstrom – 1975

Dorothy Stokes – April 1976

I’d known the “what” of my own story quite well. Right in the midst of that dark time of losing all my grandparents, I’d graduated from high school.  The festival of death that reigned down on our family plunged me into a depression and faith crisis, hidden from most, but nonetheless real to me.  At the time of my dad’s untimely death I’d decided that nothing was nailed down, no meaningful relationship secure.  The same thing happens, of course, when there’s infidelity, or abandonment, but at least then you can rage at the perpetrator. In my story though, God was the perpetrator (or so it seemed at the time) and I was in a church with precious little space for honest to God grief, as Sundays were filled with praise music that seemed absurd, or dishonest, at least for me in that time and space.

So, instead of getting angry, I got depressed, but determined, at the same time, to leave a mark beyond the brief matchlight of my life by designing cool spaces as an architect. I was running from God, as sure as Jacob, or Jonah, or Moses, or any of the other graybeards of old. We all had different reasons, but the results are the same. It’s my life, and I’ll do what I want with it, so leave me alone.

Ah, but it didn’t work out that way at all, because in my pursuit of autonomous plans, I made my way to a state school, so called secular, and there met Christians robust with joy who drew me into their circle through love. I was doubting, they believed. I had health problems related to my depression. They didn’t care. I was confused about everything. They had a faith that believed God changed lives, swapping out anxiousness and replacing it with peace, or despair with hope. You get the picture.

And then, already drawn to the light, I went to a retreat up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, solely because a cute blonde invited me. Looking back, I can see that the stars were aligned for a mega shift in my life. The Christian students in my dorm had loved me well and I was not only finding my way out of the depression, but was experiencing a strange growing longing to share this same kind of love with others because it was working such magic in healing my own soul.

Yes, but how? I was still angry with God for stealing my dad.  Every time I thought about my mom, and the reality that she lost both her parents, her husband, and her beloved mother-in-law in the span of two years, the doubts and anger grew. “No loving God would steal everyone in that short a time, so maybe God doesn’t exist at all” was one line of thinking. I was caught between hope and despair, and honestly, being pulled in both directions.

Then it happened.  At that winter camp, in pursuit of that cute blonde, I made my way into the chapel for the evening talk. It was on Jeremiah 9:23ff, about how the only thing in this broken world that’s worth boasting about is that we know God.  The word had a ring of truth to it even though the God I thought I knew a bit about might not be worth knowing.  Still, I knew enough to know what I didn’t know, and when the preacher pointed directly at me and said, “There are some of you in this room who need to make knowing God the number one priority of your life,” I knew that I knew that I knew God was speaking to me!

I didn’t know what would change by making knowing God a central goal of life.  I didn’t even know if I’d like what I found.  But I knew I wanted to know God better, and so after the talk I went outside on a starry night, and knelt down in the snow to pray.  I told God that I wanted to make knowing Him the central priority of my life. I didn’t know what would happen because I prayed that prayer, but I didn’t think it would be anything dramatic.

I was wrong.  Seven months later I was packing my red Ford Mustang with my few possessions and driving north to Seattle. Having never been north of Sacramento in my life, I was heading to Seattle Pacific University to study music, with an eye toward somehow entering ministry.  What happened after that retreat was that the big deal in my life became sharing with other people that knowing God was worth the effort.  This is because inexplicably, something started immediately inside me.  I surely didn’t have all the answers to all the questions; still don’t.  At the same time, the gaping void of loneliness in my soul was being filled with God, and more strangely still, a sense of companionship with God.

As a result, I found myself more interested in my role as piano player in the Sunday night bible study my friends were leading than I was in designing apartments for my drafting class.  I was sleeping better, more fully engaged with people, less worried about the future.  The poisonous introspection that had attended my depression and insecurity was replaced by a quiet confidence that, come what may, God would be my companion in this journey called life, and the reality of that gave me a joy, confidence, and peace that had been missing for about a decade.  By the end of the school year, I knew that I needed to share this good news with others as much as possible, and so I changed majors and changed schools with an eye toward some sort of ministry.

The day at the cemetery to bury mom’s body was preceded by a day at the camp in the mountains, a pilgrimage of sorts, to thank the good Lord for the landscape of my life.  It was the convergence of these two spots on the planetSugar Pine Camp, and Kingsburg Cemetery, that showed me that the life I live is precisely the fruit of new life born out of loss.

And this, dear friends, is the glory of the gospel. It’s not that we’re granted immunity from suffering.  Far from it.  The grand hope that is ours in Christ is that in this broken world, where loss in a thread woven into the fabric of everyone’s story, God’s wisdom is able to turn every loss into gain.  It’s still loss; of that there’s no doubt.  We can mourn, must mourn, because loss, and loneliness, and betrayal, is what happens in a fallen world.

But loss needn’t define us, because every loss opens a door for new facets of God’s character to be experienced in our lives.  Of course I wish my dad had been at my wedding.  Of course I wish he’d known his grandkids, and the fine folk they married.  Even more, I wish they’d known him.  But no.  It’s a fallen world, and numerous bouts of pneumonia as a child meant dad had weak lungs that would catch up to him and steal his life at 55.  The loss though, prepared the soil, and the life I’ve known, the wife I’ve married, the places I’ve travelled, the friends of madeall of it has sprouted in the soil stripped bare by loss.  Wow.  That’s a story a worth telling.

My daughter Holly is bent down, in tears, over my dad’s tombstone.  I kneel down with her and cry. “I wish you could have known him,” I said. And yet I wonderif she’d have had the chance to know him, would I have ever lived in Seattle?  Ever met my wife?  Would Holly have ever been born?  And that’s when it hits methe glory of the gospel is its profound capacity to turn loss into gain, as evidenced by the cross itself.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  Romans 11

 

 

Lessons and Gifts from my Mom at Christmas

IMG_7747 A few years ago I sat with my mom and punched “record” on my iPad before I asked her about her childhood on the farm, in the searing heat of the San Joaquin Valley.  She told me that when electric power became available, back in the day, her folks had decided it would only be affordable if they moved the house out to the street in order to save money on the trenching costs.  Imagine that: easier to move the house than dig a trench!  And so, they moved the house; picked it up and moved.  I think it was easier to move houses back then because there was no indoor plumbing, but still…it’s not the kind of thing you do today.

The story exemplifies the spirit of many who lived through the Great Depression and fought a World War in Europe and Asia at the same time, with all that entailed (buying war bonds, food, gas, rubber, rationing, separation, suffering, death).  They came home and built lives, schools, interstate highways, and got on with life.

IMG_7752The way my mom got on with life was to start a  family, but the baby died shortly after childbirth, and nearly cost mom her life.  The ensuing surgery meant she’d never have children, so adoption became the plan.  Enter Susan, in 1952, and me four years later, in 1956.  The convergence of suffering and loss in mom’s life was precisely how I ended up being raised by this woman who died yesterday, and so I’m spending part of today remembering the gifts I’ve been given by her, and the family to which I belonged.  In particular, I’m giving thanks for these three gifts:

Our family had faith –  If you go back in the archives of First Baptist Church in Fresno, you’ll find my dad on the building committee, on the board, on the finance committee.  You’ll find my mom doing something called “circle” where women gathered, apparently in a circle, to work on projects that would somehow support missionaries.  The only time I was ever recused from the Wednesday night programs at church was when the San Francisco Giants were in town to play a spring exhibition game.  Dad had his priorities, and he picked me up from school right after lunch so that we could be there in time to watch Willie Mays take batting practice.

Their faith though, wasn’t really about involvement in all these church activities.  Those were just the fruit of their lives being rooted in Christ.  We prayed as a family, read the Bible together, talked about God as if God were real, because we believed He was.  When Billy Graham came to town in 1962 we were there every night.  I was six, and knew the tug of God on my heart, even then.

This wasn’t “church on Sundayand then swearing, drinking, and raising hell” the rest of the week, behind the religious curtain.  Nope.  This was the real thing.  I saw it, absorbed it, wanted it for myself.

So this Christmas I’ll celebrate having grown up in a family that, for all its flaws, believed they were known and loved by their Creator.  Mom’s biggest joy in life, her primal prayer at some level, was that her kids would know this too.  That we did, and still do, is a testimony to her legacy.

Our faith served –  Mom knew a lot of loss in her life;  the death of an infant; infertility; a good dose of poverty too, and then later, the untimely death of her husband in 1973, and her daughter, my sis, in 1995.

Still, for all that, mom’s paradigm for living seems simple to me in retrospect.  She’d look for a need and meet it.  I don’t even know how I was related to Aunt Josie, who looked terribly old and frail when I was a small child (she was probably in her 50’s), but I remember being annoyed that, after my little league games, we’d need to go visit this woman.  The same thing was true when we visited her sick friends, Bug and Edie, while we were on the coast for holiday.  She always found people with less than her, less energy, less family, less joyand she’d go spend time with them.

When mom was 80 she’d drive over to the rest home where she ultimately lived for ten years, in order the “pick up the old people and take them to church.”  Who does that?  Mom did, apparently.

One way of dealing with loss is to sink into a cycle of bitterness and self pity, but I’ve come to believe that my mom’s faith buoyed her and propelled her outward, with eyes to see needs and a heart to serve.

Though I’m very different than mom in this realm, I can connect the dots too.  When I had a profound encounter with God in 1976, it quickly became apparent that drawing concepts of buildings wasn’t going to be “service enough” for me, that I needed to be with people in some way, helping them discover and live into the grand adventure of knowing God.  For me this led to a life of church leadership, pastoring, and teaching.  Surely though, if you’d asked me where I learned about the possibilities of serving, in spite of loss, in spite of health challenges, in spite of insecurities, in spite of questions, I’d point to my mom and say:  “Blame her… she showed me how…”

Our family laughed – in spite of everything.   Mom was more often the butt of jokes than the initiator (just like my wife, Donna) but she laughed along with the rest of us when dad bought a rubber hot dog and she tossed it into the garbage disposal, where it shot out like a rocket, leaving us all on the floor laughing.  We laughed when a 10-year-old guest was reading a morning devotional passage and when he came to the word “misled” (i.e. “He misled his sister) he paused, having a bit of trouble with pronunciation.  Mom glanced over at the book and said, “MY-ZELD” as in “My Zeld is better than your zeld”)  Dad says, “No.  It’s mis-led” but mom wouldn’t bend, and soon we’re laughing as she tried to justify her mispronunciation, even though we all knew that she knew.

There’s a myth out there that our capacity for service, laughter, love, are proportional to the ease of our lives.  So there we go, trying hard to live the good life, by which we mean the life insulated from difficulty.  This insulated life, though, creates fear, walls, anxiety.

Mom and Dad showed me a better way.  They showed me that, regardless of setbacks, we have our faith, our intimate relationship with Christ.  Regardless of our suffering, there are those with less, and we have chances to serve.  Regardless of our losses, we can laugh, and love generously.

I’ll miss you this Christmas Mom, but these are some of the many gifts you’ve shared that are still giving.   Thanks!

Ambition or Temptation? How to tell the difference

“What is that in your hand?”  God

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”  The Preacher in Ecclesiastes

I’m sure you’ve been there.  You want something to be different in your life.  Maybe it’s a vocational success you’re after, or a new house, a remodel, a spouse, (a remodel of a spouse? nope), a successful and meaningful retirement.  Or you want things to be different in the world because the racism, injustice, human trafficking, environmental destruction, or whatever it is for you, just incenses you so much that you’re “mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore.”

It seems that all of us, at times, are on the hunt for the “next big thing” in our lives.  I have a friend in his twenties about to move overseas; a friend in his thirties about to make a major job change; and a friend in his seventies who’s trying to figure out what to do with the time he has left.  All of them are looking for the next big thing.

This last guy, the older one, taught me a great lesson when we met recently.  I’d seen him a few days earlier and he said, “we need to catch a coffee” and, with a grin on his face, “I’ve found the answer to the question of what to do with the rest of my time!!”

We met in my office recently, late in the afternoon, and he walked in with a gleam in his eye.  He’s always been upbeat, as long as I’ve known him, but this was different.  This was a gleam of settledness, contentment, purpose, calling.  “Well,” I asked, “what’d you find?”  He pulls a sheet of lined paper out of his pocket and holds it up in front of me.  It’s filled, or nearly so, with names.

“See this?” he says.  “These are the ‘kids’ I’m meeting with.  All of them are in their twenties and thirties.  I’m meeting them for coffee, walking the lake with them, having them over to my house.  Whatever it takes.  I’m investing in young kids!”  He’s giddy with joy as he tells me about the newest name on the list; how they met, what they’re doing together.

I’m happy for him, of course, and curious.  He has a contentment and enthusiasm that’s a refreshing contrast to the common “striving” mindset and posture that so many of us have so much of the time.  I ask him how he came to the discovery of this calling.

He smiles and says, “I was already doing it! That’s what’s so funny!”  He goes on to tell me that this new chapter isn’t as much new, as it is going deeper into what he’s already doing, what’s already been bringing joy to him and life to the young adults with whom he meets.  “It was there all the time,” he said, and this got me thinking about calling, contentment, and ambition.  Here’s what his story can teach us all:

1.  If we don’t start where we are, we’ll never move successfully.   You know the story from Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation about the weird unemployed uncle who’s living in a trailer?  Fat, unshaven, and with all the emotional intelligence of some “real housewife” on TV, he’s “holding out for a management position.”  He’s waiting for something better is another way of saying it, but whether you’re waiting for something better, or going after something better, the message is the same:

Don’t neglect “what’s in your hand” because according to this story, it’s what’s in your hand today that God will use to direct you to God’s preferred future for your tomorrow.  One of the greatest forms of temptation many of us face, is the mirage like opportunity that’s “out there” somewhere.  Its existence entices and, like the new wool sweater, we’re sure we’ll be more fulfilled if we can get there.  So we go after it, with gusto, and sometimes with the side effect of neglecting what’s in our hand.

I’m presently working on two books and leading a large church in Seattle, along with needing to prepare for speaking at some upcoming things.  At the time I met with my friend though, I was determined to get a magazine article published.  I’d started writing it, and was researching the query letter when we met and the meeting was like a bucket of ice water, snapping me back to reality:

“Get a grip man!  You already have a life.  Do what’s in your hand now, with a whole heart, and joy.  Quit looking over the fence, because where you go tomorrow is my responsibility, not yours.”

2. There’s a time for tossing projects in the trash.

Thank God.  It’s a good word, and I suspect, not just for me.  Discontent, at its worst, is a paralyzing mindset that strips our joy, inviting us to believe the lie that what God’s given us to do today isn’t worth doing, so instead we’d better spend our time creating a different tomorrow.  Goals have value, surely, but they’re dangerous too, and just for this reason: they can make us neglect today in our pursuit of tomorrow.

I’ve literally thrown the query letter and article in my little virtual trash can on my computer, and taken out the trash.  It was liberating!  I’m back in the groove, focusing on what’s already on my plate:  the church I lead, the writing on which I’m already working, the teaching for which I’m preparing, and the fantastic family with whom I’ll spend a glorious Christmas.

Sometimes we need to toss what we think are ambitions in the trash because they’re not ambitions; they’re temptations and distractions from the present.  What have you let go of lately, or need to let go of,  so that you can focus on what God’s already given you?

 

 

Beauty and Brokenness – Living in the Tension

image

I’m happy to offer a repost today of something offered earlier this summer during my sabbatical because it seems so very appropriate during the holidays, when sometimes the tension between beauty and brokenness is so great we’re afraid we’ll snap.  Here are some observations about that tension and living in it.  Enjoy!

We’ve been without internet or phone access for four days, no doubt the longest period in our adult lives to be without updates on the Seahawks, Sounders, and the state of the world.  During this hiatus, we’ve been baptized in stunning beauty, rich fellowship, and simple prayers about the weather, safety, and wisdom for each step of the journey.  These prayers for wisdom, endurance, provision, are very real because one false step on wet stone might become a turned ankle, and then, at best, a major change of plans, and at worst, a night immobilized in the high country, with threats of lightning strikes and nothing more than a rain poncho propped up by poles for shelter.   For these reasons, we pray, and pay attentionstep by step.

These prayers, though, are also very provincial.  They’re about our real situation because mostly, this is what we know about when we’re up there, cut off from global news, as well as Facebook, and news from friends and family.  We caught news of a very close friend in the hospital with a serious infection just before our media exile, so we prayed for her and her family throughout, along with a few other situations we know of that are ongoing, but mostly, our journey is a sensual overload: spectacular beauty, and uncharacteristic (for us) suffering (little things like blisters, heat, tired and achy muscles, and the chronic stress of not knowing what’s around the corner that is the lot of we who love to be in control of everything).

High mountain sunrises; rainstorms in the middle of the night; unspeakable joy attending the beauty of summits and the capacity to get there; fellowship with newfound friends who share our love of the mountains; rich conversations; glorious silence; deep sleep.  Yes. This was round one.

We made our way out yesterday in the rain, and the result was a similar assault, in a different direction.  We learned the extent of Ebola’s rapid expansion, and of a black teen about to enter college shot to death in  St. Louis.  Bombing in Iraq?  Ukraine?  Syria?  Fires still burning.  Refugees.  And this morning, just as our west coast friends were going to bed, we awoke to the news of Robin Williams’ suicide.  My God.  Is this the same world?

Yes.  The same world indeed.  What are we to make of the disparity between candle lit meals with wealthy, healthy people at 7000′ in the Alps and refugee camps on the border of Syria, or the shooting death of another teen by police, or the spread of a disease in a place where everyone is already living on the edge of death most of the time?

My friend Hans Peter, who died nearly one year ago, said once that the world is both more stunningly beautiful and tragically broken than most people are willing to see.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot during my days of walking step by step through the Alps, partly because the incredible beauty up there comes at a price.  There’s some physical suffering, surely in comparison to normal days spent in the comfort of climate controlled offices and instant access to food, shelter, and entertainment.  The greatest beauties in life are always like that; they come at a costvulnerability, honesty, suffering, truth telling, self-denial.  That stuff’s present wherever beauty is seen and tasted.

But this kind of suffering is paltry compared with Ebola, or a dead teenager who, earlier that day was making plans for his freshman year in college.  I have no answers for how the same world has room for Alpenglow, and beheadings, for making love with a faithful spouse who you’ve known for 35 years, and the rape of a child, for the brilliance of a comedian who challenged and blessed us all but who, nonetheless, saw no reason to keep on.

imageAll I can say is that the wisest people are open to all the beauty and all the suffering.  Choose to see only the latter and you become angry, cynical, frightened.  Choose only the former and you become an expert in denial and fantasywhether that takes the form of  porn or religion matters little, it’s still denial.

Jesus’ heart broke over the fact that people had eyes but didn’t see, had ears but didn’t hear.  He knew, as Simone Weil also knew, that if we open ourselves to the full spectrum of beauty and ugliness, tragedy and glory, laughter and tears, we will, time and again, be brought to the door of intimacy with our Creator.  “There’s a time for everything,” is how the preacher said it in the book of Ecclesiastes.

For us, it’s time to return to the high country for a few days.  We’ll learn things, be stretched, hungry at times, maybe cold.  We pray, we’ll be safe.  We think we’ll see more beauty, meet more great people.  But, the Lord willing, like Moses, we’ll come down from the mountain again, and when we do, the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering will cause us cry out once again, “Lord have mercy on us,” for having seen the heights of beauty, we’ll once again be broken by the depths of suffering, and this very polarity is part of what makes me hunger for Christ, the one I believe to be the source of justice, hope, and love.

“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror.  Just keep going.  No feeling is final. ”   Rilke

 

 

 

Rhythm: Why You Need it – How you get it.

Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life (and) learn the unforced rhythms of  grace.   Jesus the Christ – Matthew 11

I’m sitting here on my weekly day of Sabbath, staring out the window at fir trees laden with wet, dripping life down onto the soil and melting snow below.  There are candles; a fire in the wood stove and choral Christmas carols fill the room.  Warmth.  Good coffee.  Beauty.  Shalom.

I’m thinking, “Wouldn’t it be good to sit here bathed in this kind of peace and beauty the rest of my life?” until I remember Jesus’ words a little bit later, after that bit about the “unforced rhythms of grace.”  Jesus had taken the disciples on a little wilderness therapy outing, up to a high mountain where he  transcended earthly dimensions and his disciples were able to see him in his pure unfiltered glory.

Jesus’ friend Peter likes this location, this revelation of glory, this peace, this mountaintop, enough to blurt out, “It’s good for us to be here Jesus, so just say the word, and we’ll start building.  We’ll make some places for you and your buddies, and then we can just stay up herebecause to be blunt, I don’t know if you know this or not Jesus, but we like this peace, this beauty, this joy.  Preferred future:  staying right here!”

The version of the story is that Jesus goes down.  The disciples follow.  Shortly after that there’ll be the week from hell, where Jesus goes from universal popularity to the whole world’s object of pure hatred scorn.  He’ll be executed.  The disciples will scatter, and wrestle with their doubts, disillusionment, and fallibility.

After that there’ll be a resurrection and things will get better.  Later still, a powerful success.  Then some arrests, and fighting, and martyrdom, with success and joy mysteriously interwoven into the thick fabric of trials.

Success.  Joy.  Peace.

Failure.  Loss.  Suffering.

The rhythms of unforced grace.

Embrace the reality that a life with Christ will overflow with everything, and by everything I mean there are times we’ll be drunk on joy and other times sorrow and suffering will take our breath away.  We’ll have Sabbaths, if we’re fortunate, and days of laughter and beauty in the forest, or at the beach, and meals with good wine and laughter.

But we can’t stay on that mountaintop because there’s poverty, and homelessness, abuse of power and abuse of spouses.  There are a million children who are refugees, and people of great wealth who have the freedom to travel the world, but are trapped in a prison of upward mobility.  Beheadings.  Injustice.  Racism.  Cancer.  Ebola.

We need to get down off the mountain and into the thickness of this dark world.  It’s not just that we’re called to be there as light, though God knows we are, and it feels more and more like high crime to me when the church becomes a gathering whose sole goal is the emotional and spiritual well-being of its congregants.  The reality is that we need to get down off the mountain because nobody is ever shaped well by pure sabbath and shalom, not in this life at least.  “The testing of your faith produces endurance,” is how James writes it, and Peter says, “Even though now, for a little while, you’re beset by various trials…”  and Jesus himself says, “In this world you will have tribulation.”

All this stuff down there below the summit is shaping us for the better, or can at least.  That’s because in the wisdom of the way God has created the world, it’s not just the beauty and rest that brings healing and transformation, but the suffering and loss too.  The enemy of our souls can throw everything at us, but our glorious hope is that no matter the stuff, though we may have scars, even the scars will become part of the beauty in our lives.

How do we open ourselves up to both deep beauty and deep suffering?

1.  Actively seek both engagement and withdrawal.  Jesus is a good model for us here, as you’ll find him alone in the wilderness a fair bit, as well as in the thick of things in the city, confronting religious hypocrisy and control, casting out demons, gifting people with forgiveness, healing, restoration, and teaching too.

This rhythm is best sought by paying attention to the way God made the world, with that day of rest each week, and that continual rhythm of sunrise and sunset inviting us to both work and rest.  You need all of it if you’re going to be fully in God’s story, and continuing your journey of transformation.

2. Don’t shy away from the edges.  A favorite book of mine posits that if you’re afraid of great suffering and as a result, build walls around your soul so you don’t see beheadings, don’t give a damn about ongoing racism, poverty, or a million child refugees, you’ll also become numb to great joy on the other side of the spectrum.  The result will be a bland middle, whereby we not only don’t let the news of our city and world affect us, but we also fail to pay attention to the profound beauty of art, music, and creation that could have filled us with the confidence and strength of Christ to continue shining as light in the midst of darkness.

Don’t let yourself settle for the middleunmoved by  Van Gogh, or Rainier, or human touchresistant to hard or painful truth and conversations; avoiding solidarity with the suffering of our planet.  The middle ground knows little suffering and little beauty.  The boredom, though, is soul killing.

Better to be on the lookout, always, for the inbreaking of beauty, whether art, music, generosity, creation’s glory, or intimacy.  To go there, though, requires a willingness, too, to come down off the mountain and enter into the thick of suffering, loss, sickness, death, injustice, and hard conversations.

Rainer Rilke puts it this way:

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

All right then – let’s go.

 

All I want for Christmas is: A Vision for Unity

It’s Advent, and that means there are daily reports on the success of our national goal to “shop ’til we drop”.  Black Friday’s off a bit from previous years, and the experts declared over the weekend that it was because more people would be shopping online, on “Cyber Monday”.  That also came and went, with less than expected results, and so now new theories are being spun, about people waiting for “super deals” closer to Christmas.  Whatever.  I no longer carebecause as a pastor, I have bigger concerns.

That’s because I live in a different world.  I live in a world where I know more and more people who are coming out of closet; they’re gay, Christian, and wanting to find the grace and acceptance of Christ in their churches.  I live in a world where black people love Jesus but also feel on the outside of things, not because of Ferguson, but because 400 years is a long time to be sub-humanized, bought and sold, denied the chance to vote, and o so much more, and they’re a bit tired of white people just telling them to “get over it” while the distrust continues.  I live in a world where women who have gifts of teaching and leadership can use them in lots of places, but still not in some churches.  I live in a world where people I know are deeply divided on how the church should respond to all kinds of things, including mental illness, poverty, and gun violence.

In all these matters, the church is divided, but not just divided, deeply fractured, as evidenced by blogs and discussions this past week about Ferguson, World Vision’s challenges earlier this year, and the inflamed language associated with any attempt at a good conversation around the issues of gun violence.

It’s this deeply divided faith world, with its attendant hateful, sarcastic, and derogatory language aimed at the other side, that’s the biggest issue on my plate these days.  This is because I serve in a church that has sought to live faithfully for many generations on the basis of this declaration:  In Essentials Unity.  In Non-Essentials Liberty.  In all Things Charity.

Finding unity seems harder and harder these days, because the list of essentials seems to be growing for most people.  Real people of faith need to be for gun control or against it; for same-sex marriage, or against it; for the police, or for Michael Brown.  And its vital these days that you not just be FOR or AGAINST but that do so with enough dogma that the true faith of those on the other side is called into question.

This is not only rubbish, but really very alarming to me for several reasons:

1.  Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 4:13 says we’ll keep growing “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” which implies (as reinforced here) that we’re not in a state of unity yet.  What’s more, that’s apparently OK, because Paul indicated that in this moment, we see through a glass darkly.  That means we don’t have perfect knowledge yet, so we’ll need to keep at this; keep dialoguing, growing, learning, praying.

2. Our division into self-referential communities kills our testimony because Jesus says that it’s our unity that is the best evidence that our faith and life in Christ is real.  There’s a unity that comes from uniformity of agreement on ALL things, but this is, at best, an ideal to which we aspire, rather than an experience we’ll be able to attain in this fallen world.  But there can be a unity that’s willing to say, “Look.  We don’t know all the answers about every doctrinal or ethical issue that comes from following Christ.  But we do know this much:  Jesus is Lord.  He’s the hope for this shattered world.  He’s the One we’re committed to proclaiming, loving, obeying, and serving.”   Living through this lens, World Vision phone workers wouldn’t have been sworn at and been the objects of cruel hate in the wake of their initial decision last spring.

3. Our self-referential communities allow us to prematurely think we have the moral high ground because, in our smaller worlds of Fox News, or MSNBC, or whatever is the denominational equivalent, we’re in an echo chamber where all our reasoning, assumptions, and conclusions are airtight.  As long as we stay inside the echo chamber, we’ll be happy, resting in the delusion that our way is, and always will be, the right way.

How can we approach unity?

1. Get out more – meet people different than you.  (By the way, one of the very best reasons to travel.)

Our view of things is all good until we actually meet a person with a different view who, just like us, loves Jesus, prays regularly, and desires nothing more than to be a vessel filled with the life of Christ.

Suddenly, we’ve meet the ones we vilified, and have come to see that we have more in common than we’d ever have guessed.  We see that we’d made a caricature of those whose view is different than ours, and that “the other,” looking at the world through a different lens, differs with us for reasons that (gasp) make sense.  We’re not persuaded, necessarily, to change our view, but having met the other, we find it harder to label them and shoot them.

2. Embrace the humble belief that you’re not yet perfect.

It’s not that we don’t believe in absolute truth.  It’s just that we don’t believe that we’ve yet understood it perfectly, communicated it perfectly, received it perfectly, because our understanding of the world is filtered through the lens of not only the Holy Spirit, but our fallen humanity.

A quick view of history reveals that there have been about a thousand blind spots among Christ followers.  We’ve wrongly predicted the date of Christ’s return at least 500 times, taught that blacks aren’t human, justified land theft and colonization, barred women from having a voice in the church, taught anti-semitism, persecuted Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Anabaptists, all in Jesus’ name.

I wonder what our blind spots our today?  If you say you don’t have any, then I already know your blind spot, before even meeting you:  it’s pride and self-righteousness.  So let’s relax and enjoy the dialogue, giving each other space to let Christ continue to teach us without doubting the authentic faith of the other who claims Christ as her own.

“Really?  How long should we do that….?”

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith..”   which will take “a little while.”

 

 

Moving towards wholeness and hope – step by step