The political and theological left and right have become so tired of both shooting each other and being shot at, that there’s little stomach left for honest conversation about ethics, faith, and the relationship of faith to politics. So when you go over the river and through the woods to enjoy a family gathering at Grandma’s house this coming Thursday, what will you talk about? Here’s a little guide to help:
Here’s hoping you embrace your identity as exile so you can relax and live into the confidence of your citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. May you find beauty there, and hope, and may the light of your joy and gratitude radiate at your Thanksgiving table, wherever you are.
You wake up in the morning and scan the news on your phone. Two text messages into your day you already know you’ll be working late. Then you discover you’re out of coffee and realize that you’d stopped at the store on your way home last night for only one reason: to buy the beans. As you entered though, you saw the oranges and thought you should pick a few up since it’s the end of citrus season, and that led you down a different aisle where you picked up a few malted peanut butter balls as comfort food and some oatmeal to counter the effects of the balls. You decided on fish for supper and found a wine to pair with it, and left satisfied. Only now, just when you need the most, you’re lacking the beans so you curse yourself for being so flighty. The presidential debate debrief in the news tells you that every single candidate on stage last night lied numerous times except the guy that will soon need to quit because he has only 3% of the vote. You slam your fist on the table, wondering what’s to become of our country when clowns and mad men are the ones America is clamoring to elect.
While you drink your tea (TEA!!! ugh), you scan your schedule and realize you have three difficult meetings today and then a notification hits your phone for a fourth, slated for that time you were planning a stress relieving run. The traffic getting in is ridiculous, and by the time you arrive at work, you can only think of one thing: the weekend. You grit your teeth and prepare to endure another day in the trenches, just hanging on until you can breathe again.
Let’s hone in on that one phrase: “endure another day” because I’m increasingly convinced that, while there’s a place for endurance in our world, we endure we more than we should. Endurance is what we often choose when we’re facing circumstances that are different than our expectations. When we encounter them, we hang on, pushing through until it’s over. Hard meetings. Company. Meetings. The dentist. Eating our broccoli. There are lots of things we ‘endure’.
I’d argue that everything in life is either OE or OE. Either we have Obligations to be Endured, or Opportunities to be Enjoyed. As I grow older I’m learning that things I once thought of as obligations can just as easily be thought of as opportunities, and when considered in the light of opportunities, they become easier, lighter, and more joy filled, even if they’re things I would never have chosen. Notice I said, “easier” rather than “easy” because let’s face it, not everything is easy. Still, I’ve been a pastor long enough now to have watched people go through unemployment, business failure, cancer, the loss of a parent or child, and relationship implosion. Nobody would choose any of these things, but in this fallen world, these are realities that come our way.
What I’ve seen is that there are people who, though they wouldn’t have chosen their circumstance, manage to be fully present in it, and find enough beauty and joy in the moment to be express gratitude. I know one man who, shortly before he died, said to me, “Richard I am so grateful for all the things I’ve learned through my cancer, and how it’s shaped me to be a better husband, father, and Christ follower.” Then, with tears, he said, “I don’t know if I’d have learned these things without the cancer” Wow!
He reminds me of Paul who, in writing his letter to the Philippians, says, “I want you to know that my circumstances (of being imprisoned) have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…and in this I rejoice.” The capacity to find opportunity and enjoyment in circumstances we’d never have chosen is, I’m learning, a sign of wisdom.
In contrast, I’ve known people for whom the couple is always half empty. Anger over their employment situation; bitterness over health challenges; staleness in their marriage; there are people who are, when they wake in the morning, already looking forward to the end of the day. This is sad to me, because their days are piling up as Obligations to be Endured. Joyless. Lifeless. Stressful. It’s ironic that Paul, in prison, sees an Opportunity to be Enjoyed, and I can’t even handle my commute.
It’s my commute, by the way, that showed me the power of this lesson. I received a fitbit watch for Christmas so that I can now see my pulse whenever I want just by looking at my wrist. The southbound traffic from North Seattle to downtown is almost always bad when I’m heading home, and since I’m new to commuting the time quickly became a source of frustration, an obligation to be endured. I’d fume about the poor planning of our city officials, fume about the endless growth of our city, fume about the tunnel project that I voted against twice! The whole time, I was also thinking, “as soon as I get past Issaquah, I’ll be happy again” thus making my commute through the city an obligation to be endured.
Then I started looking at my pulse while I was sitting in traffic and realized it was way too high, and I’d fume about my pulse, and my anxiety levels, which only made me more anxious, and then my pulse would go up some more. You get the picture. Type A; more than I care to admit.
Then I repented. I begin to see my commute as an opportunity to be enjoyed. The first day with this new perspective, I started paying attention to the views: our glorious space needle; queen Rainier; Lake Union. I’d pray little prayers of gratitude for the privilege of serving the city I love more than any other in the world. I’d thank God for the beauty. I’d pray for shalom for our city, pray for the churches.
After doing this once or twice, I looked at my pulse watch and didn’t believe it. My pulse was 25 beats lower per minute! This has been happening consistently now for a couple of months, so I know it’s not a mistake. It is, rather, a change of perspective. It’s a matter of looking forward to the commute as a time to pray, enjoy the beauty, maybe listen to a staff member’s sermon online to help give feedback. Enjoyment leads to peace, and peace leads to joy, or something like that.
I’ve begun expanding this little trick, applying it to other things. Social engagements I wouldn’t have chosen? The fourth sermon of the day? A report that needs to be written? A salad?
It’s crazy, but when I seek to follow the example of Joseph in Genesis, and Paul in Philippians and the later chapters of Acts, I begin to view most of life as an opportunity to be enjoyed, and the results are an increased sense of joy and gratitude, not to mention better health! If the only thing on your “opportunity to be enjoyed” list, is your hobby and your free time, you’ve got a problem. You’re cheating yourself out of joy most of your waking moments. Repent. Enjoy.
An Austrian monk explains this perspective better than anyone I know. Take a few minutes now and watch this, and then go out and finish your day with the perspective that most of it, as much as possible, is a gift from God, an opportunity to be enjoyed!
Cheers friends, and may the Peace of Christ be yours in full measure as you seek Him.
I’ve not been writing the past few weeks because a nasty little virus took up residency in my lungs, robbing my sleep, turning the act of preaching into a Herculean effort, and leaving me feeling like a limp rag doll most of the time.
As a result, I’ve had time to think, and the convergence zone of some teaching I’m doing for staff at the church I lead, and my reading has directed me toward pondering both the need for peace in our lives and the purpose of peace.
The need for peace
We live in a world where personal peace is becoming as scarce as clean water. The evidence is everywhere: sleep loss, increased chronic disease health crises, such as heart issues and diabetes, and unhealthy addiction to drugs and alcohol. There are a myriad of reasons for our collective erosion of shalom, but analysis of the why can come later, because the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ both offer a clear prescription which, if taken, will move us toward a beautiful sense of peace and well being—not instantly, but surely, inevitably.
Rest gives us peace.
Jesus invites all who are weary to “come unto him,” learn from him, make his priorities ours, because his plans for us surely include the reality of finding “rest for our souls”. Wow! That’s a hefty promise in age of hyper-connectivity, hypertension, isolation, and a sinking pessimism due to politics, pollution, and terror, and the feeling sometimes that our whole civilization is just hanging on by a thread. Still, it’s a promise, so I need to learn how to seek Christ and find real rest in him. I’ve written about this elsewhere in my posts under the category “coffee with God”.
Paul ups the ante when he tells us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer… let your requests be made known to God,” and this is followed with the spectacular promise that God’s peace will become a sort of wall, protecting our hearts. I believe this literally means a greater capacity to overcome the stress of daily living, and this will even mean, in most instances, greater physical and emotional strength.
Peace gives us strength
Paul implies as much in Romans 8:11 where we read about the spirit of God, fully operational in a human, gives “life to our mortal bodies”. Picture Jesus, at rest and asleep in the storm at sea; or Paul cracking jokes at his trial, or singing in prison. Who does this stuff? People who are strong because they are at peace.
The relationship between stress and physiological decay is well documented, and the pursuit of peace is a multi-billion dollar industry, with everything from yoga to pharmaceutical companies in the game. We all want peace and rest because we know that it’s a key to well-being.
Strength gives us…. ??
So, peace gives us rest and freedom from anxiety, and freedom from anxiety makes us stronger, but why? To what end? This, I believe, is one of the critical junctures where the gospel makes a radical departure from the entire “peace and rest” industry.
Paul’s exhortation that we “be strong in the Lord” here, and the command to be strong found here, are closely linked with a clear purpose. We’re not strong so that we can live robust and healthy self-centered lives, as consumers of culture and recipients of God’s blessing. Instead, we’re always, always, “blessed to be a blessing” as God both promised and called Abraham, and God reiterated to Moses, and Christ charged the disciples, and as the early church demonstrated in so very many ways, including the strength of serving the weakest and most vulnerable, and the strength of martyrdom.
I have known friends, both Christian and Hindu, along with practitioners of Yoga and various forms of meditation, whose goal is vibrant health and peace. This might sound appealing but make no mistake about it—it misses the point utterly because in the end such singular pursuits of health are nothing more than dressed up narcissism.
Jesus made it clear that he’s writing a story of hope in this dark and broken world, and toward that end he’s building a team of light bearers, those who will go into the darkness exuding hospitality, healing, joy, forgiveness, justice, capacity for restoration, and more. So when you have your quiet time, or do your exercise routine, or buy that slab of grass fed beef, or expensive wheat not tainted with roundup, it’s all for a purpose. Christ is calling you to a life poured out—washing feet, serving, and “doing good and sharing”. Anything less is narcissism.
This surely isn’t a call to asceticism. It’s rather, a call to recognize God’s healing us and strengthening us, to the extent God is, for a purpose, and if we receive the healing but don’t engage in our calling of blessing serving, whether in business, or with our neighbors, or on the slopes and rock faces, we’re still missing the point. That’s because the point is a vast family of people living out of resurrection power, day after day.
Are you strong these days, or even pursuing strength? Pursue Christ instead, recognizing that he is the source of the strength anyway, and that the strength he gives us is toward a purpose, and that purpose is to be poured out.
Let the adventure begin!
(I’m happy to introduce my youngest daughter, Holly Dahlstrom, to you. Her joy, courage, and love of people inspire me. Her capacity to hear God’s voice and follow is a reminder to us all that “a better story” awaits, if we’ll but listen for the voice of our Maker and follow. You can follow all her Rwandan adventures throughout the summer here.)
CEZ, OVC, ‘letter of invitation’, MOU, developing world, US Embassy, PEPFAR, cultural assimilation.
These are words I never expected to use in a single conversation. Yet I found myself on the phone this morning speaking with the volunteer specialist for World Relief discussing the final details for my upcoming journey to Rwanda. How did I find myself here? The answer is simple. To some the answer I will give is frustrating and naive. To me it is merely the truth. I would not have found myself using these terms on skype this morning if it had not been for God’s calling on my heart two years ago to do something very new.
I sometimes think that “call” is a term overused in Christian culture. I always wondered how I was supposed to know if I was being “called” to do something or if I just felt like it. Was God going to speak to me from the clouds like He seemed to do in the Old Testament? Would it be through miracles and signs that I knew the feelings I was feeling were from God? I truly never understood the concept of “calling” until I was in the midst of my own call. One night I went to bed living my life as usual and the next day I woke up and realized that my life was never going to look the way I thought it would.
Yes. Of course. Westboro Baptist church is planning a protest for President Obama’s visit to Joplin, Mo., to inflict a little hate and misery, in Jesus’ name. That the rapture didn’t happen this past Saturday was in the news as much as if it had happened. And people are still debating whether Rob Bell is saved.
This is the stuff that generates tweets, blogs, Facebook fodder, debates, ill-will, and the general opinion that people of faith are more interested in their own internal squabbles than doing much that’s meaningful in the world. It’s the stuff that’s good for readership because everybody loves a scandal, a controversy, a debate. The cumulative effect of this, though, has been to give our larger culture a caricatured view of Christ followers, painting us as self-absorbed, combative, fearful, arrogant—and painting all of us with these colors, as I shared here.
This not just a terrible pity; it’s a terrible lie. The truth of the matter is that God is making His good reign visible in some rather remarkable ways these days but, as is usually the case, the real redemptive work doesn’t get much press. It’s hidden, like a mustard seed. It’s there though: I think of my friend Walter, who’s focused on freeing women from sexual slavery in Ghana. Then there’s Curtis and his band, who make beautiful music and donate some of their profits to International Justice Mission. Let’s not forget Laura, whose movie has spawned the Rwanda Initiative. World Relief? One Day’s Wages? Aurora Commons? I could go on, and on, and on.
…and those colors aren’t personal peace and prosperity (“give me my stuff and leave me alone”), individualism, and “heaven when I die.” Or perhaps I should say, those aren’t God’s primary colors. I love how God has taken all the complexity of religion, and boiled it down to the essence, down to three imperatives, three colors:
Do justice – like my friends at International Justice Mission who are working to end human slavery, or my friend Walter who’s saving women out of slavery in Ghana, or my friend Eugene, with his One Day’s Wages campaign, or our church’s Spilling Hope campaign.
Love mercy – like Gahigi, whose story is told in this movie. He’s lost 142 family members to the Rwandan genocide, and yet, he’s now not only forgiven the perpetrators, he’s become a pastor who mediates reconciliation between perpetrators and victims in Rwanda. I met him this winter, and he’s one of the most joyful men I’ve met, wealthy in ways we simply don’t understand. The Mentoring Project is another picture of the color of mercy.
Walk humbly with God – With the debt and dollar crises, war and terror, unemployment and loneliness, it’s terribly easy to get caught in a web of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety these days. Others just withdraw, waiting for Jesus to come fix it all. I’m convinced that those who are yoked with their Creator are granted gifts, insight, and capacity to live not only fearlessly, but creatively, blessing this world with the colors of hope.
It’s time for people who follow Christ to get beyond arguments about emergent church vs. neo-Calvinist, and arguments about heaven and hell. It’s time to get beyond the polarizing language adopted from political dialogue, with people withdrawing into the their corners to shoot Bible grenades at the other side. It’s time to move beyond our reputation as being only AGAINST things, and become a people of hope, known by our passion for justice, mercy, and intimacy.
This is what my new book, available today, is about.
There’s a better way…a better story…better colors. Join the conversation here: click on like and download a free chapter.
The canvas of our world? It’s waiting for the right colors.
In about 11 hours our team from Seattle will board a flight that will take us (eventually, by the 5th airport) to Seattle, and we’ll be home, our exploratory trip of this region completed. We came here in order to meet some people who are doing marvelous development work and to visit the sites of wells our church has funded, some of them completed already, and one just getting started on the day we arrived in Uganda.
We encountered so much in the previous 8 days that it seems like a lifetime ago when last I was in Seattle. Before we leave, I wanted to gather my thoughts for a brief few minutes and share them with you. Woven into the fabric of this trip there have been cords have new friendships, amazing conversations, wrenching poverty, and infectious joy. I hope to share much more from these categories in the days ahead. But above all else, this has been a trip of receiving, learning, and being challenged.
1. Development is different than Relief – Our team read the book “When Helping Hurts”, and learned, even before landing, of the substantial distinction between relief and development. Development consists of initiatives which will move people towards sustainability and independence. Relief is an intervention to stem a crisis. This is an important distinction and conversation, because as the book “Dead Aid” addresses, too much relief creates a dependency mentality and can ultimately have the effect paralyzing communities rather than empowering them. Armed with this simple principle it was tremendous to see local initiatives, supported by local village churches (usually working together ecumenically), to change the culture, leading their communities in next steps, not towards entrenched dependency, but empowerment. This doesn’t make relief an unimportant matter, but it’s vital, whether working on Aurora are in Rwanda, to see that the ultimate goal is empowerment.
2. Poverty is complex – One village stopped drinking from their new well because their poop suddenly became solid. For the first time in their lives they didn’t have diarrhea, but since diarrhea was their “normal”, the new normal was perceived as wrong. Getting to the “New Normal”, whether that means fidelity in marriage, drinking healthy water, brushing one’s teeth, practicing genuine democracy, or moving from self-interests and independence (our American normal) to interdependence and communitarian values, doesn’t just happen with a snap of the fingers. Whether it’s the poverty of relationships in our own country, or the material poverty we’ve seen these past days, it’s vital to understand that many factors have created the culture, that long term solutions take some time, that change is challenging.
3. Joy is available everywhere. In the midst of poverty beyond description, our team gathered for worship this past Sunday. After the offering, some began singing and within minutes most of the congregation was up dancing including me. Three little boys, less than 7 years old, made their way over to me and we danced together – pure joy on their faces as they lived in the only moment they know or care about – this one. Without the trinkets of civilization, I’m guessing billions know what we have a hard time perceiving, let alone believing; that joy comes from relationships. Without skiis or bikini waxes, without even a bicycle for transport, without sanitation or infrastructure, joy’s still available. Every time I travel outside the US I’m reminded of the truth that my material wealth blinds me to the reality of my relational poverty, and I’ve a feeling I’m not alone.
4. Step by step – The complexity of it, the immensity of it, the slowness of progress, the powerful interests that are threatened by movements towards wholeness combine to potentially paralyze our hearts. Yesterday I, and the rest of our team, were sitting on the platform with the 1st lady of Uganda (another story for later) and while she gave her speech (which included a thank you to Bethany Community Church for the wells we’ve provided) I was able to look, behind a thousand African faces, out to the hillsides beyond, where my eye caught two women walking, with loads on their heads. In all likelihood, they’ll never see anything within more than a five mile radius of their huts, maybe ten. As they walked with their loads, patiently, step by step, I realized that whether you are addressing global poverty, trying to live more simply yourself, seeking deeper friendships, or simply trying to pray five minutes a day, nothing happens fast!
There’s a saying: Americans are on time. Africans have time. Indeed – they’ve time to laugh, dance, sing their hearts out in joy, time to live. Movement and progress require patience. They’ve got it. I need it, maybe you do too.
See you, hopefully, soon.
Over the past two years, the church I pastor in Seattle has invested well over 300 thousand dollars in providing clean water for villages in Africa. We do this through the excellent work of “Living Water International” because they don’t just provide water, they provide it “in Jesus name.”
I hope you’ll pause now and celebrate with me, as you look at this brief video that offers thanks to Spilling Hope (look, especially, at the 2nd half, with specific messages to Bethany Community Church), which is the ministry of providing water in Jesus’ name that our church began in 2009. It’s appropriate, at this season of gratitude, to pause and think God, not only for the rich blessings many of us have received, but to thank God, as well, for the profound privilege of living generously! Jesus said it this way: “Freely you’ve received….Freely Give”
As I look around the world today and ponder the work God is doing in reconciling enemies, healing bodies and families, imparting forgiveness and joy, transforming lives, giving water to the thirsty, and so much more, I realize that all of it – all of it – pours out of the abundance that is the risen Christ. His news is gladder, holier, more generous, more transformative and life giving than we can imagine, even in our boldest dreams. This profound change in the trajectory of persons, families, and even history itself began, not with a highly publicized launch party – but in the humility of a willing womb, and a cave on the outskirts of nowhere.
Thanks be to God, for this great gift!
May you enjoy the fulness of Him in these next days…. Merry Christmas!
Looking for a better way of being together than “Christmas Vacation”? read on:
“Dwelling” is a great word. It can mean the space in which we occupy our lives: “My dwelling was built in 1928, and leans a little bit downhill” (true statement). Or, it can mean something we do: “we’ll all be dwelling together this Christmas, 8 of us, a full house!” (also true).
There’s also a third way to use the word, and it’s tucked away in a prayer of Paul’s where he asks that “Christ would dwell in (our) hearts through faith“. How is this third use different, and what does it mean for us as we celebrate Christmas?
When my oldest daughter comes home from Europe today, she’ll leave the past days of motels and staying with friends in Germany. Finally, after days of snow delays, she’ll be home, and home will feel like, well, home. She’ll know where the chocolate is, where the extra sheets and towels are. She’ll know the password to connect to the internet. She’ll feel free to wake up early or stay up late, making French press coffee, watching movies, baking.
But there’s something more to it, even than that. There’s a relational sense of comfort, of belonging. Laughter, tears, honest conversations, are free to happen here because it’s safe. There’s an atmosphere she feels (I hope) that says, “we’re for you”, even as my wife and I know she’s “for us”.
I’m not romanticizing, not making this up. This is what “dwell” can mean, though we all know that, in our lesser moments, we miss the mark, even with those we love.
So here we are, most of us, getting ready to either “go home” or become a place of hospitality for those coming to our home, and the question that hangs out there is this: How can we “dwell” together is this way where grace, truth, laughter, tears, are all mixed together so that “home” is a place where we “dwell together” in the best sense, Paul’s sense, of the word, “dwell”?
1. It begins in the interior, in our hearts. It’s there that Paul invites us to learn how to ‘dwell’ with Christ, which means nothing other than learning to become perfectly comfortable with Christ, believing that he’s not only with us, but inexorably “for us”, that we’re “in the family”, and that we’re utterly free from fear of condemnation, even though we’ve crossed God’s boundaries and stepped into greed, lust, fear, rage, or so much more, time and again. Yes we’ve blown it. Yes, Christ still loves us. But the light is on, the coffee’s waiting, along with a good conversation.
We need to start here. Lots of people are trying to fix the outside, the relationships with children or parents that are mucked up, but haven’t yet learned to dwell with Christ. I’d suggest that becoming at ease with the only one in the universe who loves perfectly is the best possible starting point for creating good dwelling places. Jesus doesn’t need us to clean the place up before he feels at home. After all, he was born in a cave! Just start – right where you are, having coffee with God: a verse or two, a prayer, a moment of silence, or maybe reciting the Lord’s prayer in rhythm with your breath, slowly, as your force yourself to inhale and exhale deeply. Just get started.
2. After praying that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith, he goes on to exhort us to live together, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” This kind of humility, grace, and tolerance makes safe places for transformation, but they don’t happen accidentally. He goes on to say that we need to work at “preserving the bond of peace”. Know that Paul isn’t talking about being phony or covering up hard conversations. Rather he’s saying this: work at showing demonstrable love, encouragement, and affirmation whenever and wherever you can. This will provide the safe background for the hard conversations that each of us will inevitably need, not only to deliver, but to receive.
Soon our homes will be filled with people, real food, and lots of conversations. Capturing the vision of dwelling with Christ, and out of that intimacy, creating space of “dwelling” to bless others, can make this season rich and joyous.
Merry Christmas… may Christ’s life be your dwelling place, and may you be a dwelling place of grace for those you love.
Blogging has allowed me to meet people from all over the world, and I’m happy to introduce one of them to you in todays guest post. Joshua Becker is a blogger who is deeply involved in his church on the east coast, and writes a marvelous blog called, “Becoming Minimalist”, filled with challenging and encouraging thoughts about living simply. I hope you’ll check it out. Here’s his advent contribution to Fibonacci Faith. Thanks Joshua!