Spiritual Formation

Living Presently

Well 2014, here I am. Unfortunately, I have had some blog issues recently and I am seeking to get those resolved sometime soon, but in the meantime I thought I would continue writing. Also, there are some new additions to the site that are currently under construction but be sure to check those out in the near future! Ok, now to the topic at hand…

I have been finding that living in present moment has become increasingly arduous. Instead, I have become entranced by an elusive future that my imagination creates and sustains as if that were the antidote to the discontentedness that I am currently facing. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but I am not convinced that it is always healthy.  I am consistently confronted with the temptation to simply escape my current life and swap it for something else. Thinking and praying about the future is not harmful in and of itself but I believe it is when we allow ourselves to live futuristically in such a way that all of our hopes for fulfillment and contentedness are wrapped up in an uncertain future that things can get unhealthy.

One of the most profoundly simple quotes I have ever come across was in The Journals of Jim Elliot, which reads this:

Wherever you are, be all there.

Talk about profoundly simple. I forget the context of Elliot’s writing here, but I think it is safe to say that context isn’t necessarily needed–that is, we get the general point without knowing the context. The point that Elliot is making is that there is no moment like the present moment. He admonishes his unknown readers (considering the fact that he had no idea that his journals would be published) to be all there so that our whole being is engaged in the present moment. 

Again, I do not think that allowing ourselves to dream or have hope that is placed in the future is a bad thing, but when we wish away time because of the difficulties and tensions that life presents instead of engaging wholly then we miss out on  all that the present moment has to offer us. The problem arises when we face a difficulty or a desire that leads us to discontentment and therefore creates the inability to live presently because of the pain that we feel. The same thing can happen in referring back to the past to a time when we felt perhaps more peace, love, and affirmation.

We must learn to be people who engage wholly in the present no matter how difficult or how painful the scenario.

Patience plays a large part in this as well, for we live in a age that tempts us to take what we want for ourselves now! Therefore, whatever we want that exists in the future becomes this commodity that we simply wish to purchase at a moment’s notice in hopes of bypassing all of the present circumstances.

By doing this, we miss the beauty of walking with God and friends on this journey! Yes, even a journey that leads through all the crap!

There is a letter in the New Testament that speaks to this tension rather candidly. James is said to be one of the first letters written in the NT and in chapter 5 James writes this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James gets to heart of our failure to live in the present. We have all these lofty ideas about what the future will bring, but the only time that can be promised to us is the one we currently inhabit. This feels unsettling, as it should I suppose. A few verses later, James writes this:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop front the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call those blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

We certainly are to be future-oriented in our hope to which James refers to here, but it can be an unhealthy endeavor to place our hopes in moments that are not necessarily promised. Not only is the quantity of those moments not promised, but the quality is not promised either. My friend once told me that expectations are premeditated disappointments and it sounds rather cynical, but I think he is right. The expectations we hold in our hearts about the next few months or about the next year have the potential to never actually become a reality.

We must learn to make the most of the time that has been graciously given. As Sleeping at Last states in their song entitled Jupiter:

Make my messes matter; make this chaos count.

In that lyric resides the call to live engaged even amidst the mess and the chaos.

 

The Dynamic of Deuteronomy

As I referenced in my last post, I was privileged with the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan in order to attend a tremendous conference entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am thrilled to report that this conference exceeded my expectations and I am confident in expressing such excitement because I am still (and will continue to do so in the coming weeks) processing through the all the insight, stories, and concepts that were presented throughout the course of the two-day conference.

The conference was a nice vacation for me (which sounds strange to some of you, I realize). Thankfully, I was able to travel with some dear friends with whom I laughed and maintained a consistent dialogue about all that we were learning/grappling with. It was a great conference because each speaker enfolded their hearers into different aspects of the biblical narrative – keying in on different moments, situations, and stories that all participate in this greater story, which they might call The Mission of God in History.

I was thankful to have the chance to meet some of these speakers and even talk to them ever-so-briefly. The main argument (perhaps the assumed argument) of the conference was that the mission of God is the main lens through which we look in order to understand and experience the entirety of the biblical narrative. All of the speakers are convinced that the mission of God is the premier narrative of the Bible and thus gives form and understanding to every story, situation, and crevice that the Bible puts forth. I have previously been slightly skeptical of a “one – main – narrative” reading of Scripture, but this conference has furthered my assurance about the mission of God being the main lens through which we read all of Scripture. If you have questions or comments about this, please let me know – I would love to discuss this with you (and it would be helpful to me)!

As I stated before, there were four main speaker sessions and there were three workshops and for each workshop slot there were three options from which we chose. I chose the following workshops: Church for the Thriving World: Preaching Deuteronomy Missionally, Missional Plurality: A Hermeneutic of Christian Witness, and Missional Spirituality. I enjoyed all of these workshops thoroughly and they were all equally challenging in different ways. I especially appreciated the workshops on Deuteronomy and Missional Spirituality mainly because I felt that they spoke specifically to the season I currently inhabit.

A guy named Mark Glanville  taught this workshop and I sincerely appreciated the combination of his tender personality and academic rigor that were apparent during the course of the workshop. He supplied all of the attendees with an outline for a sermon series on Deuteronomy and other notes for which I am very grateful. The main thrust of this workshop was about framing Deuteronomy in a particular manner. Glanville explained a three part dynamic that we see in Deuteronomy that, he argued, is evidenced throughout Scripture and directly applicable to the church at large today. The three part movement that he explained was as follows:

  1. God has given generously
  2. His people with respond with thanksgiving and rejoicing
  3. Thanksgiving results in generosity, justice and inclusion

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

This was the three part movement that Glanville proposed as the central theme to Deuteronomy and the rhythm that our churches need to recover. This dynamic is expressed in Deuteronomy through a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel concerning land, the flourishing of Israel, and ultimately that God would “bless Israel to be a blessing” to the surrounding nations. This is evident in Deuteronomy and in a lot of ways, evident in the rest of Scripture too! Deuteronomy is all about Israel being put on display for the sake of the nations. The law, the land, and God’s blessing were not an end in themselves, but instead were for the sake of the nations. God’s intention was that the nations might know God through Israel’s witness to him as the one, true God… Amazing stuff.

I am now reading through Deuteronomy once again (by the way, when I first became a Christian, I remember pronouncing this book as “Dutronomy” – things like that are funny to look back on) and I am continually finding the themes that Glanville proposed. Today I read this verse in Deuteronomy 12:

There in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

In verse 7 of chapter 12 we see God’s blessing, Israel’s rejoicing, and Israel “putting their hand” to justice and generosity. This verse is a timely message for our holiday season. As we approach the eve of Thanksgiving and draw near to the season of Advent, be sure to meditate on all that God has blessed you with so that you might respond with rejoicing and generosity.

Opening to The Valley of Vision

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. I recently purchased a copy of this collection and was struck by the simplicity and profundity of the opening prayer:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live int he depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in thy daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

Ascribing Worth to that which is Most Worthy

At H2O (our church community) we are going through the seven “I AM” statements. If you have ever read them you know that the undercurrent to each dialogue/proclamation is Jesus’ claim that He is the one God in humble human flesh. We are in our third week of our series and for the past two weeks our congregation has sung the song, which is not-so-accidentally called, “The Great I AM”. The song is lyrically rich and the arrangement is stirring indeed. I was impacted by a phrase in the lyrics tonight which states,

Who is worthy?

None besides thee

God Almighty, The Great I am

Unknown

I was struck with these lyrics and wondered to myself, “Why do I give my heart to that which is not worthy of it?”. It is incredibly convicting question. Each day our culture swarms us with messages that encourage us to give our hearts to things or people that don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve it because they inevitably leave us disappointed with the expectations that we place on that thing or person (an expectation they he/she/it was never meant to fulfill). Attributing worth to that which is ultimately worthy is the call that stands opposed to the trivialities that our culture places before our heart. There is only One who is deserving of our love and it most certainly is not the “mud-pies” that our culture seeks to coerce us with. God is deeply concerned with our love, but yet so is our consumerist culture. Our love is misguided if we are caught up in giving our hearts over to that which is not most worthy.

I am reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis in his sermon entitled “The Weight of Glory”:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

 

 

Our Attempts to be “Somebody”

“Our worst sins arise out of the innate human fear that we are nobody” -Stanley Hauerwas

I read this quote a few weeks ago in a book by my friend, Stanley Hauerwas. This quote hit me like a ton of bricks when I really began to think about the truth imbedded in these simple words. Are we deathly afraid of being nobody? For me, the answer is an over-resounding yes. Maybe the more apt questions in regard to this inquiry begin with the words what and why.

What/Who the heck is a nobody? Perhaps this is what you are thinking right now. What comes to mind for you? Is it the person who has few friends, makes little money, and works at a job that is hardly desirable? What I mean by somebody is probably obvious to most, but if it is unclear let me begin by briefly explaining what I mean. This ever-elusive somebody is usually described in our culture as someone who is known by a wide array of people, but not just known, but also valued or esteemed in some way, shape, or form. Celebrities and politicians are a good but extreme example that give form to this abstraction. Not many of us will attain the “value” that celebrities and politicians evoke in our culture, but we will try to seek it out in smaller ways through self-promotion and by refining our image for the world to see.

The reason for this? One author writes that humans tend to operate out of scarcity. By saying this he means that our soul operates out of needs (be it for love, attention, care, value etc…) that are often left unsatisfied or only temporarily sustained. Thus, people increasingly invite their identity or sense of self to be determined by those around them. We are sick with this fear that everyday we have the potential to be a nobody and we desperately want to escape that by being deemed a somebody by our culture. The same writer who talks about scarcity also says that we are a culture of people with a case of hurry sickness. Ever heard of it? I have a case of it myself. It is this busyness that finds its roots in a lost sense of self. We have become professionals at conquering the fear of becoming a nobody by making sure that we are always doing something and never allowing for rest and recuperation because we are afraid what will find when we sit still. Perhaps we will find what we truly are in those silent moments, but who needs that…

We want someone or something to tell us that we are valued and we often will fixate on that goal until it comes to fruition or until we are left disastrously disappointed and lonely. We are confused about who we are and simultaneously afraid to wonder what we might find. We want to be a somebody and Hauerwas speaks to this by saying that our worst sins are actually attempts to be a somebody. We will lie, cheat, scheme, and lust in order to feel the fleeting warmth of someone who validates us and justifies us before all of creation. When stated in this way, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. One pastor says that “we want someone who we think the world of, to think the world of us!”. This could not be more true, but we are still left striving and in bondage to those who we think the world of and their opinion of us, which is often not what we hoped it would be.

I am not sure what you think of Jesus, but let us just assume that he was indeed who he said he was for one moment (that is, very God and very man). The apostle Paul wrote this about Jesus, “who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul goes on to write that this Jesus humbled himself and was obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus, who was very God and very man, made himself a nobody. He intentionally became a servant to humanity even while being the form of God. If there ever was a somebody, it was Jesus. Yet, in this text, we find that he made himself nothing and a nobody. Yes, it is indeed nonsensical.

Perhaps our attempts to be a somebody are not only arrogant, but also a result of a misplaced and misguided sense of who we are in an age that tries to define us through materials, accolades, and what numerical value others place on us. We need someone who we think the world of to also think the world of us and only then will our hurry sickness and our fear that we are a nobody slowly begin to heal.

Jesus became a nobody. What might that mean for us in our attempts to be “somebody” in this day and age?