Thursday, May 16, 2019

Joy in the moment

Every morning, almost without exception, I start my day reading Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest along with a few other readings. I was telling a friend the other day that for me, reading Chambers isn't like reading the Bible; rather, Chambers becomes a good sparring partner, a fellow saint who often sees things differently than I do and we have interesting and challenging conversations about what it means to follow Jesus.

Today, Chambers was on about God's provision, and how we need to recognize (among other things) what it is God has given us. We are (I am) too prone to self pity, and that attitude leads inevitably to a cesspit of ... well, here's how he says it:

If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we banish God’s riches from our own lives and hinder others from entering into His provision.

He goes on to say that no sin is worse than self pity, because it "obliterates God and puts self interest on the throne." I started thinking about this and realized yet again how richly blessed I am:


  • Just in the last few days I've had multiple conversations with good friends about important topics -- conversations laced with humor and grace and joy. I've had the privilege of hosting some of these treasured friends in my home, cooking and eating and relaxing together in this very peaceful place, and I anticipate more of that tonight. Among the most important of those excellent encounters are regular in-depth conversations with each of my daughters and my son-in-law. Those relationships are incredibly rich these days.

  • I get to work both my mind and my body in the most amazing combination of physical, mental, and spiritual exercise that enriches me and blesses others and feels like a tangible way to do what God commanded Adam -- to steward the earth and tend it well. It doesn't hurt that for me, that work has lately included putting in a couple of docks here on "my" lake, driving all over my almost 70 acres of Eden in a beat up old pickup (not to mention getting farther back into the woods on a 4-wheeler) to do acts of service to make others' ministry possible, and watching deer, squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, bass, a surprising catfish and innumerable birds. The fruit trees are blooming these days and flowers are poking up through the detritus of winter all around. 

  • Since early April when the church I serve re-ordained me into official pastoral roles, ministry has been a growing thing. So I balance the more physical groundskeeping parts of my life and living onsite at Decision Hills with building communities that meet in homes and pursuing that passion, working like a sheepdog for the health and beauty of this particular congregation, and -- this is one I really love lately -- developing a new format for our Wednesday night worship called "Growing Deeper" that gives me a chance to teach at a deeper level each week around topics that are, biblically speaking, really important, and designed for people who want to grapple with intellectually challenging facets of Christianity. (BTW if you're interested in listening to those teachings, we're posting the audio as podcasts on iTunes -- just search for The Open Door Christian Church and you can find us.) 

  • New opportunities to have a "voice" in this world abound. Yesterday I had a conversation about maybe going to Colombia in August to explore mission opportunities, so I need to resurrect my rusty Spanish. I'm in conversation about bopping off to the Philippines next winter to explore new relationships and renew old ones. I'm working on my writing at a new level these days, getting over some of my inherent sloth and disengagement in intentional ways. I'm learning and growing in multiple ways that are deeply satisfying to me and that have the potential to increase that ability to speak into the world.


There are more examples of God's abundant provision in my life, and I could go on. Does this mean everything in life is delightful and I'm content? Not hardly. I could easily make a list of challenging things, unpleasant things. I could enumerate all the ways life is less than satisfying. That's the point of writing out this list, at least in part. There are times when I get down in the weeds of things I wish were different. Sometimes my longing, my sense of brokenness and alienation and loneliness and deprivation and dissatisfaction makes me want to tear my teeth out. If I allow my focus to become myopic on those parts of my life, I can swirl down into the cesspit pretty quickly. It's important to recount for myself the incredible ways God has provided for me. As Chambers says this morning, "What does it matter if external circumstances are hard? Why should they not be!" It's a good reminder that just because God invites us into "good pastures" (Psalm 37) doesn't mean we have everything we desire and it certainly doesn't mean that we will be content.

Recounting the good God has done is an important spiritual discipline. Recognizing provision in the moment -- even if there are elements of God's provision we still long for, completely unsatisfied -- provides perspective and opens the possibility of joy in the moment, trusting God for joy in the future.




Thursday, May 9, 2019

Luke 22:63-23:16

In his excellent book, The Day the Revolution Began, N.T. Wright asserts that the crucifixion of Jesus initiates a revolution. The revolution, he says, is that self-sacrificing love is taking over. In fact, he makes a powerful argument that self-sacrificing love is the most powerful force in the universe, and that Jesus' life, death and resurrection start setting the broken, sin-sick universe back in line with the character of God whose nature is self-sacrificing love.

Most of us have a soft spot, however deeply hidden, for stories of "true love." While we may trivialize this term with tales of overblown heroes and heroines, there's something in us that loves a love story.

This section of Luke's gospel brings us into such a story, the most true love story of all time, and we may be surprised what love looks like. Jesus stands, in turn, before the temple guard, before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate (and Caesar, whose power is the foundation of all Pilate does), before Herod, and before Pilate again. In short, Jesus stands in apparent weakness before the greatest powers ruling over that part of the world. What power does he bring to bear in this contest?

Weakness. Jesus brings the willingness to sacrifice himself. Why? Out of love. "Greater love has no one than this," Jesus said, "that he lay down his life for his friends" (see John 15). Jesus stands without making a defense in the presence of those who have made themselves his enemies, and he goes to the cross for their sake and for the sake of the world. The New Living Translation of Romans 5:10 says that "our friendship with God was restored while we were still his enemies." Jesus sacrifices himself in love for Pilate, Herod, the Jewish authorities, the temple guard with their whips and their crown of thorns, the Roman soldiers tasked with flogging him within an inch of his life, and us.

But is it reasonable to say that Jesus' self-sacrificing love is a greater power than all these worldly authorities? Isn't that just insipid idealism?

Look at the results. The temple guard and the Roman soldiers are nameless to us. Herod is remembered by history as an egotistical tyrant in a long line of egotistical tyrants who bore that name. Pilate washed his hands to avoid guilt and is remembered for little else today but this one action. Tiberius Caesar's empire endured the ravages of history for another four hundred years before the Visigoths sacked Rome and brought the empire to a whimpering end.

In comparison, the impact and influence of Jesus has just continued to grow. This bleeding man, sacrificing himself before the authorities and powers of his day, sparked a revolution that has expanded from that day to this. The irreconcilable divide between Jews and Gentiles was bridged within a generation and continues to pull together what the world keeps trying to split apart. Jesus' followers stood loving in the face of a Greek and Roman culture that discarded the handicapped, aborted and exposed unwanted infants, and abandoned the sick. Christ-followers willingly gave up their lives to protest the grisly spectacle of gladiatorial games and needless violence simply for the sake of entertainment. When Europe descended into darkness and ignorance after the fall of Rome, tight-knit communities of Jesus' followers preserved learning and invented western science. Similar communities created large-scale health care and hospitals. This movement that Jesus started became a refuge for women who were normally viewed as property.

The record of Christianity has been far from perfect. Far too often those who claim the name of Jesus act more like Herod or Pilate. But compared to what the world was without Jesus' self-sacrificing love, the changes wrought by this Galilean and his followers are staggering. Looking at the broad sweep of history, Jesus' movement has indeed been a revolution.

It is a sinking feeling to stand in the face of power, willing to be brutalized for the sake of love. But I am convinced Wright has expressed this accurately: In the long run, there is no power in the universe capable of greater things than self-sacrificing love.