I've been preparing my Sunday "talk" on spiritual and inner healing. Pain and suffering are a given in the human journey. How God can "reframe" our inner hurts and memories are a key aspect of what it means to be in a transformational relationship with God and should be normative for Kingdom people. Only when we have experienced God's peace can we be people of peace for others. Giving hope to ourselves also gives us an opportunity to give others hope as a gift. I'm not going to post the entire talk...but I am going to share with you a "handout" that I composed (some adapted from notes I've picked up over the years) to outline some essential personal "beliefs" that keep us grounded in reality and looking for personal, inner "health" in constructive ways. So, here you go:
The Rules of Being Human
You were created to be in relationship with God. Find your identity, purpose and meaning there. All other substitutes will fail you.
You were created to be a relational being. Get used to people…you will be stuck with them for eternity.
You will receive a body as a gift. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for as long as you live as God’s gift. How you take care of it or fail to take care of it can make an enormous difference in the quality of your life.
You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time, informal school called Life. Each day, you will be presented with opportunities to learn what you need to know. The lessons presented are often completely different from those you think you need.
There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial, error and experimentation. You can learn as much from failure as you can from success. Maybe more. Suffering is often the ONLY way that your attention can be pried away from your obsession on yourself. God works in and through pain and suffering bringing about “resurrection” in surprising ways.
A lesson is repeated until it is learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it (as evidenced by a change in your attitude and ultimately your behavior) then you can go on to the next lesson. God’s mercy flows through mistakes and the recovery from the mistake.
Learning lessons does not end. There is no stage of life that does not contain some lessons. As long as you live there will be something more to learn.
“There” is no better than “here”. When your “there” has become a “here” you will simply discover another “there” that will again look better than your “here.” Don’t be fooled by believing that the unattainable is better than what you have.
Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself. When tempted to criticize others, ask yourself why you feel so strongly.
What you make of your life is up to you. You have been given personal tools and resources. What you create with those tools and resources is up to you. It is your responsibility. Be careful not to define your “success” culturally but by means of God's Kingdom. You cannot keep up with the "Jones, Garcias, Chins, or Swensons." Be grateful for what your life is. Jesus says “successful” living is seen in our desire to love God and love others.
The answers don’t always lie inside of you. There are those who want you to believe that you are your own god. You are not…solutions to problems in life are definitely within your ability to grasp but not all solutions. You need to do is ask, look, listen and trust God.
You are only as “sick” as your secrets. Stuff that you “stuff” inside of you will fester and infect your heart. Transparency and authenticity is how you were created to live.
Whatever you pay attention to will get “bigger.” Focus on pain and it will get worse…focus on problems and they get bigger…focus on God and God will be “magnified” as your problems are put in a new perspective.
You will keep doing what you are doing until it costs you more than you are willing to pay. Emotional pain is costly. Overtime it will kill relationships and drag you down. You are in control of what you stop and start in your life.
Learn now that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved. The rest is up to them.
Learn NOW that no matter how much you care some people just don't care back. You can’t force someone to care for you. You can only give care.
Learn NOW that it takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it. Trust is “truth in relationship.” Once that true shatters, it takes a while for truth again to reign.
Learn now that your background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become. “I am responsible for my life”…say that every day. Blaming not only doesn’t help but it is doesn’t do any good. You are responsible for what you do, no matter how you feel.
You either control your attitude or it controls you. Attitudes are infectous so spread a good one.
Yes, we all get angry. You have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give you the right to be cruel. No matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that. All relationships grow in and through chaos and subsequent forgiveness. Accept that as a fact or find yourself very lonely.
Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself. You are actually a person who does not love yourself enough.
Parents, no matter how you try to protect your children, they will eventually get hurt, and you will hurt in the process. You can’t hover over them or protect them from everything. It is true, “no pain, no gain.”
I ripped this off from someone I know...he posted it on Facebook and I was awestruck by it and its profundity. The author is Scott Dannemiller. He is a writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church. He writes the blog The Accidental Missionary, where this post first appeared. I give him credit...HERE'S where to check out his site...and thank Graeme for the posting!
The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying
I was on the phone with a good friend the other day. After covering important topics, like disparaging each other's mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.
"So, how's work going?" he asked.
For those of you who don't know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America. My wife says it's all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.
I plead the fifth.
I answered my buddy's question with, "Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy."
The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald's.
But it was a lie.
Now, before you start taking up a collection for the "Feed the Dannemillers" fund, allow me to explain. Based on last year's quest to go twelve months without buying anything, you may have the impression that our family is subsisting on Ramen noodles and free chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant. Not to worry, we are not in dire straits.
Last year was the best year yet for my business.
Things are looking busy in 2014.
But that is not a blessing.
I've noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the "amen" at the end of a prayer.
"This new car is such a blessing."
"Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed."
"Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country."
On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn't I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn't that the right thing to do?
As I reflected on my "feeling blessed" comment, two thoughts came to mind. I realize I'm splitting hairs here, creating an argument over semantics. But bear with me, because I believe it is critically important. It's one of those things we can't see because it's so culturally engrained that it has become normal.
But it has to stop. And here's why.
First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can't help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M's to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it's for our own good. But positive reinforcement?
God is not a behavioral psychologist.
Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day.
You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar "blessing" per day.
During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.
The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.
I'll take door number three, please.
If we're looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly (Matthew 5: 1-12).
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2 And He began to teach them, saying: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a 12b and 12c were omitted from the text.
That's where the disciples responded by saying:
12a Waitest thou for one second, Lord. What about "blessed art thou comfortable," or 12b "blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?" 12c And Jesus said unto them, "Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut."
So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word "blessed" to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith.
And we have to stop playing that game.
The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It's beyond comprehension. But I certainly don't believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It's not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don't believe Jesus will call me blessed.
He will call me "burdened."
He will ask, "What will you do with it?"
"Will you use it for yourself?"
"Will you use it to help?"
"Will you hold it close for comfort?"
"Will you share it?"
So many hard choices. So few easy answers.
So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing. It's not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living.
My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us.
And for this blessing, may our response always be,
Since I had this conversation, my new response is simply, "I'm grateful."
You may not even realize it but when you recite what we know the "Lord's Prayer" (which should really be called the "Disciple's Prayer), you often slip past one of the most powerful prayer requests without giving it much thought. You do! I know, because I do the same thing. We ask, we plead, we submit ourselves to a prayer which calls for God to MAKE HIS KINGDOM KNOWN HERE, not just in heaven. The Kingdom of God is amongst us, that's what Jesus said. He wasn't pointing to the great "by and by"...He wasn't promoting the idea that we should focus our attention on heaven and not on the mundaneness of our daily lives...He wasn't just talking about something to look forward to...what He was talking about, and challenging us to pray for, is that the KINGDOM WOULD BE PRESENT NOW. That's right, NOW!
Here are some thoughts on God's Kingdom. We live in it...it is in places of our lives where we least expect. God is revealing Himself in miraculous ways and we join in His Kingdom restoration. Yes, heaven is real but in many respects, we start to live eternity NOW! Look for God's Kingdom. Pray that the realities of God's Kingdom would be present in your life - TODAY! Join Jesus in what He is doing and let His Kingdom come!
The Kingdom of God is the rule of God. And it rests upon the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God produces the church . . . the community of the King. The church, in turn, submits to the sway or rule of the Kingdom. As it does, the church expresses, represents, and advances God's Kingdom on the earth.
Properly conceived, the church is the community of believers who possess Divine life. This community joyfully enthrones Jesus Christ, expresses His sovereign rule in the world, and as a result, enjoys the blessings of the future age here-and-now (Rom. 14:17; Heb. 6:5).
According to the New Testament, the church is not a building. Neither is it a denomination, a religious service, nor a non-denominational organization. The church is a living organism. It is simply this: A community of people who possess the life of God's Kingdom and who express it together.
Your New Testament contains the epic saga (story) of the early church. That saga centers on how God the Father has made Jesus of Nazareth both Lord and King of the universe.
According to the Gospels, the master thought and action of Jesus was the Kingdom of God which is "at hand." The book of Acts continues this thought and action and tells the story of how the Kingdom made its introduction in Jerusalem and spread to Rome through the church - the community of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God is a dual reality. It is "already," but it is "not yet."
The Kingdom is present. At the same time, it is future.
The Kingdom is today; but it is also tomorrow.
In effect, the future age of the Kingdom is present on the earth even though it is a future reality. With the coming of Christ, the Kingdom that belongs to the future age has broken into this present age.
Consequently, those Christians who gather as a shared-life community under the Lordship of Christ are living in the presence of the future.
The Kingdom of God is also a mystery. It does not set out to destroy human authority in this age. Instead, the Kingdom destroys the powers and principalities in the spiritual realm. Its enemy is the kingdom of darkness and the ruler of this age (Satan).
Put another way, the Kingdom of God does not seek to change the political order of things by fleshly effort. It rather makes changes in the spiritual order that affect the lives of men and women at a deeper level.
The Kingdom works quietly and secretly among men and women. It is not a forceful power that cannot be resisted. The Kingdom is rather like a man planting a seed. Its success depends on the type of soil in which it is planted.
Like a mustard seed, its growth is slow and imperceptible. Yet at a future day, the Kingdom will be manifested in great power and glory. The fact that the Kingdom is fulfilled today, yet it is waiting to be consummated, is indeed a mystery.
In all of Paul's letters, the theme of the Kingdom of God appears. However, Paul's letters were primarily written to Gentile audiences. Thus he speaks more of the Lordship of Christ than he does the Kingdom of God.
For Paul, Jesus as Lord is a synonym for the Kingdom. In addition, terms such as "reigning," "rule," "majesty," "Lord Jesus Christ," "King of kings," "Lord of lords," "Christ the Head," "the age to come" are all Paul's shorthand ways of describing the Kingdom.
Lastly, one of my buddies, Dave Moore, put together a study sheet on God's Kingdom. It is excellent and by posting it here as a download, you'll be enriched with a good study and knowledge of a man who not only "gets it" but is able to share it as a teacher and mentor.
"I love Jesus does He know, have I ever told Him so, I must tell Him everyday, I must tell Him when I pray..." Verse two of the children's song,"Jesus loves me."
You might NEVER consider yourself as a subversive. In fact, you probably hear the word subversive and quickly begin to intellectually entertain images of the 1960's or times in history which have been dominated by revolution. Most Jesus followers are much more apt to think of themselves as a small child in a loving embrace with their best friend, Jesus. To consider Jesus hearing our prayers and listening to our feeble attempts to worship His goodness and grace and giving a few bucks to causes that further what we consider to be His "work" is the extent of our imagination for being a disciple. Yet, have far from the truth could this belief be...from Jesus Himself, through the early followers of the Jesus movement, being subversive was the "main thing" of Christianity...why? Because the faith, because the power and presence of Jesus is inherently counter-cultural. It proclaims that there is a Kingdom that is MORE important than this earthly experience...it proclaims that there is meaning beyond cultural meaning and that there is power inherent in being aligned with God's Kingdom that trumps any power that can be presented by what we experience around us.
Subversives need to know their "stuff." In other words, we need to know what we are up against in order to represent the King and Kingdom to which we have been saved, empowered and released to do Kingdom work. So, here are some "ideas for subversives"...think and pray over these for a minute or two and you'll see what I mean:
1 - Subversives know your battlefield.
Our Cultural Context - We live in a world that embraces:
* Culture of Betrayal - people are suspicious and cynical of all institutions and systems of authority which leads to either rage or numbness.
* Culture of arrogance - people's emphasis on the "I"...that sense of being self-made leads only to self-centeredness and narcissism. The bible was NOT written just for us and our edification. The importance of the written Word of God is that it is just one way that the Living Word (Jesus) reveals Himself in the context of our lives. The living truth/Word cannot be owned or parochially handled. We submit ourselves to "it" (better yet, Him) not vice versa.
* Culture of Suspicion/Incredulity toward all Meta-narratives - I know that is a mouthful, so let me tell this story: people are justifiably suspicious of all the grand stories of the past. Many are seen as destructive lies (e.g. Marxist utopia, Technological progress promise, Myth of capitalism, even the Christian story). They have not freed people but enslaved, oppressed and led to violence.
* Culture of Distrust of traditional human "anchoring" points - things like community, clubs, churches, neighborhoods and families have become dismantled or severely reinterpreted by people with agendas that rob them of personal meaning. Our moral, relational and personal anchors are, in many respects, non-existent.
* Culture of Post-rationalism - nothing can be "scientifically proven" it has to be experientially proven. And because experience is so individualistic, there is no prevailing meaning or purpose.
* Culture of Consumption - we have been defined by our appetites. People are so bored that we fill our world with worldview options and consumer-directed faiths...everything is available to our tasting and consumption. Somebody that I respect called our culture a "carnivalesque"culture, one filled with superficial, entertainment based options without depth and transformational potential.
* Culture of Crushing Despair as well as Naive Optimism. In other words, people are either feeling destroyed or they are living in a fantasy world.
2 - Now, I know that the above list is a bit on the "heavy" side for our consideration in a blog post. But I'm sensing more and more the rising stakes of what it means to be a Jesus lover and follower in contemporary culture. We have to know more than just a few Christian songs and we need to do more than just show up at a building on a given day of the week to nurture our relationship with God. Jesus had something to say to His disciples and He has something to say to you and me - He says, "GO!" Know that you are living examples/ambassadors for another Kingdom. Know that you and me answer to another Lord. Be honest about the craziness of our world. That is why discipleship is inherently subversive. We read a document, we ascribe to a Truth source that is subversive - the Bible is subversive in that:
a. It appeals to the imagination of a new world.
c. It appeals to a reimaging of world with Jesus as Lord.
d. It appeals to us to immerse ourselves in a bigger narrative that can so permeate our imaginations that we can be transformed.
e. It challenges the split-vision worldview that divides faith from life, church from culture, theology from economics, prayer from politics and worship from everyday work. As long as the culture can keep us engaged in pietistic individualism, we will never impact the world. As long as we are convinced that "religion is a private matter" we essentially leave the shaping of public and dominant imagination to culture.
f. It shares with us a worldview that is a vision FOR life (not just a vision OF life). It gives a lens to interpret the world and is prescriptive for the world in that it provides the community with its most foundational values and norms. For example, in a world where truth claims are reduced to power struggles between competing interests, the bible tells us that power games are not worth playing. Jesus is doing something different.
g. It tells us some very significant and dangerous things - here's something to consider, fellow subversives: Christ followers must succeed from one order in order to join another. Succeed from the union of power, money, ambition and ignorance or genius, the disciple of Jesus walks quietly away. Christ followers must bear no other IMAGE but the image of God. We "put to death" the vestiges of culture and "strip off" the old self that was deformed by that culture, with a call to the resurrection life of the new self that is clothed in a different set of virtues. If the story of the broken world no longer has a hold on you, then the good news of Jesus can shape your character.
Parker Palmer put it this way, "to know something or someone in truth is to enter troth with the known...to become betrothed, to engage the known with one's whole self".
Relationship engulfs the totality of a person's mind, heart, soul and strength (i.e. Deuteronomy 6:4ff)
* People ground their identities in possessions, triumphs - "the more we plaster our names on everything we accumulate, the more we cling to surface and style, the less we find underneath"
* While spirituality becomes secularized buying and consuming become vehicles for experiencing the sacred. The infinite longing of the heart has been interjected into objects - the newest, the best, the costliest, and the always interminably improved. Our malls are our new cathedrals...eternity is a cologne...infinity is found in a car. One's heart can be anchored in the promise of possessions.
* Culture - is a cult. It is a system of revelation. It is the entire range of corporate ritual, of symbolic forms, human expressions, and productive systems. It quietly converts, calls for commitment, transforms, inspires heroics, and emits a sense of fulfillment. Culture does not teach, it propagandizes. It is an idolatry - in whose image humans are recreated and diminished.
* A Gospel is a revelation - an ultimate source of reference wherein we find ourselves revealed. A Gospel is a response to the questions of who we are, what we may hope for, how we may aspire to act, what endures, what is important, what is of true value.
* Following Jesus, if it is real and true, does not merely change the way you worship...it changes the way we play, work, buy, sell, love, do life.
* The movement of Christianity defines the ultimate in terms of God's Kingdom breaking into the world to redeem a new global community. Jesus tells us that we will find our ultimate satisfaction not in seeking life but in losing it in service to others.
* We can no longer be adherents to dualistic discipleship. In spite of all the talk about Christ's Lordship, everyone knows that the expectations of the culture comes first. That is the unspoken façade of modern Christianity. Christ followers tend to make decisions like everyone else - based on income, professions and social status. Modern Culture shapes our lives - overwork, single-family detached homes, congested time schedules.
* Following Jesus can no longer be trivialized as little more than a devotional lubricant to keep us from stripping our gears when pursuing our own lives. It has been reduced to quiet times and Sunday mornings...highly privatized and spiritualized and disconnected. Modern culture defines the good life.
* The first community of followers turned the world upside down. They were constantly challenging the dominant values of their culture AND paying the price. The contemporary church often is one of the strongest apologists for protecting the dominant values of the world. The church should be a counter-cultural community.
* Being a Christ-follower is not something that you work around the edges of an already overcommitted life. It is a whole-life proposition...it challenges us to reorder our entire existence. Instead of trying to excuse what Jesus actually said, followers act on what the Lord commands.
* "if we say Jesus Christ, then we are called by him to a life of simplicity, a life without racism or vengeance, a life of compassion and trust, a sharing of our goods, a consciousness of and attention to the world's poor, and a committed covenant in faith, hope, and love. In a culture that increasingly demands the "thingification" of human life, we are called to struggle with the "personhood" of the universe. A saint is a true revolutionary". John Kavanaugh
Sometimes in struggling what to post, I find sweet relief! Why bother to be creative when I can exhort you to read this? So, here's to you...from Walt Mueller
“I MISSED IT”. . . A TRAGIC PARENTAL LAMENT. . .AUGUST 12, 2014
By Walt Mueller
When I was the father of young children. . . several years ago but not really that long ago. . . I heard my friend Ken Davis say something that hit me like a brick and has stuck with me ever since. Ken said, “One day I was holding my little baby in my arms. . . and then I blinked. . . and she was heading off to college.” Message received.
Ken was warning us that time does indeed fly by. Now that I’m looking in the rear view mirror of my own life and my kids are all adults, I realize just how right he was. Ken’s intent was to prompt intentional parenting. The days go by so fast that we don’t want to miss any thing, any moment, or any opportunity. Again, so important and so, so right.
I was thinking about Ken’s words early this morning as I looked out our back window at a swing set that’s sat dormant for years. It used to be filled with playing and laughing kids. . . my kids. . . who are now all adults. The wood on that swing set is faded, worn, and splintered. Quite honestly, it’s not fit for children to climb on anymore. But I can’t bring myself to take it down. Too many good memories. I’m thinking I’ll fix it up sometime soon so that my grandchildren can enjoy it.
Time flies. And I’m glad that I heard and heed Ken Davis’s advice.
distracted parentingHow could Ken’s statement be re-stated in today’s world? I’ve been thinking about that as well. We live in a day and age where we regularly see families, as Sherry Turkle says, “alone together.” Mom and dad are buried in their screens while the kids play, live, and grow through life at breakneck speed. We hear terms like “texting while parenting,” “primary maternal preoccupation,” ” tech neglect,” and “distracted parenting.”
Maybe we’ll hear Ken’s statement contextualized in ten, fifteen, and twenty years as regretful parents utter the lament, “One day I was holding my little baby in my arms. . . and then I looked down at my smartphone. . . and when I looked up he was heading off to college.”
Hopefully, we won’t be hearing those words uttered from our own lips.
I don't know where I picked up the following words...all I know is that they were in my devotional folder on my computer. Maybe they are there anonymously because I needed to be blindsided by this topic in the future...maybe they are there because somebody "inserted" them into my computer without my knowing as a "hint"...maybe they are there for some other unknown reason that is ONLY known to God. No matter what, I need, better yet, YOU and I both need some encouragement on humility.
Most Christ-followers that I know are more likely to joke about humility than they are to pray for it. In a culture that tells us it's normal to be selfish to the point of excess, humility almost seems like some kind of personality disorder. Overtly humble people are deemed worthy of medication in some circles. Even so, people who follow Jesus are unavoidably confronted with humility in the teaching of Jesus. One of the basic problems with many of our "versions" of a faith journey is that we talk a great deal about Jesus but we don't want to be like Jesus or live in imitation of Jesus. We need to answer the question of why Jesus tells us to humble ourselves and that that command is so often ignored.
Why is humility important in the Kingdom of God, in our relationships and families? Jesus' words about humility are ALWAYS pro-active. Jesus doesn't talk about a humility that we adopt when we've been humbled. That kind of humility is valuable in life, but it isn't the kind of humility Jesus is teaching. He is teaching us to choose humility when there are other options. He wants us to believe in a Kingdom where the humble are exalted by the One who humbled Himself for us. Jesus wants us to choose humility now. Humility needs to be a prevailing value in our lives as Christ followers. Yet, and you know this to be true, it smacks inconsistent with how many of us feel on a day to day basis. Do a gut check...how can you be happy if you aren't the center of attention? How can you be satisfied if people aren't making much of you? How can your life have significance if you aren't on the front row and your picture on the front page?
You see, Jesus is asking us to make a different choice in regard to happiness, satisfaction and significance. He asks us to begin subverting the world-system that's taken root in our minds, homes and bank accounts. Perhaps the best application for this point is to stop right now and ask the Lord, "What is the step of humility that is in front of me now? Show it to me." I do not doubt that if you pray that way, and meditate in silence open to the answer, God will show you what you've seen and passed over many times. Some move in the direction of humility that you've simply avoided, but Jesus is pointing to as the place where humility begins for you.
To wrap up our devotional today, here's a prayer for humility, and frankly, it's a hard prayer to pray. Trust me, as you follow along you are going to feel the resistance in your mind and emotions. But PRAY IT ANYWAY...let the Holy Spirit guide you NOW in saying this prayer (even if you have to say it with a debatable amount of sincerity). It will give you a clue about humility...it will give Jesus a foothold in your heart that will make a difference...it will invite the Holy Spirit to do what the Spirit does best, transform you and me into the likeness of Christ. So, here we go:
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being loved, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being honored, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being praised, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being approved, deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being despised, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me Jesus
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
May the Lord Jesus grant you GRACE as you learn to live in His nature of humility and love.
I was wondering what to post this week on my blog. As is my "pattern" in life, I spent about 30 minutes yesterday wondering if there was something "fresh" that I could write or something that was setting my mind at ill ease on which I could comment. Alas, too busy to be fresh, bold, or mindfully responsive. So the next best thing? Borrow! And that's exactly what I'm doing today. Many of my bible students ask questions about that which is discussed below. As Scot McKnight says, some of these thoughts he explores more deeply in two of his fine books (listed in the article). For now, the BIG issue here is not so much the obvious topic but rather the hermeneutical (in other words, interpretive) paradigm behind the topic - action (praxis) and belief. It is important when making any "conclusion" about biblical teaching to be very clear on which is which. Pulling verses out of context and/or neglecting to weight them against the full scriptural text will not serve a faithful interpreter of the bible well. So, enjoy Scot's article from his blog today. As I said, as usual, Scot rocks!
We believe and how we behave are not quite perfectly matched, at least not this side of the kingdom, but it is not unfair to say that what one believes is seen in how one lives. If you say you believe in God but never pray, or if you say you believe in forgiveness and hold grudges, or if you say you believe God loves all but your circle of friends is restricted to folks like yourself — well, your acts reveal what you really believe or you have acted outside the bounds of your beliefs. Sometimes, however, it works another way: sometimes what we believe needs praxis to reveal what the beliefs entail. Sometimes the beliefs are such that the actual practices of those with those beliefs reveal that what we thought they believed is not how they understood their belief.
Take, for instance, women, authority, church, teaching, and leading. We have a few statements in the Bible that we might call the beliefs, and then there are the practices of women. I contend the practices reveal that what some think the Bible “believes” is not in fact what the Bible actually believes. Here are the principal texts that one might call the beliefs:
Genesis 3:16: To Eve God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This is taken by some to mean the man’s “role” is to “rule” and the woman’s “role” is “to be led by her man.” Subordinationism for the woman, governance/headship by the husband.
Or, another so-called “belief” text: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Proper church order then is for a man to speak and a woman to be silent. The same kind of “belief” text is found here: 1 Timothy 2:11-15: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
These two silence texts are taken by some to mean that women are not to be elders or teachers or pastors or preachers or stand behind the pulpit on Sundays in front of a mixed congregation of males and females [here all kinds of gymnastics have been created, like "adult" males or "Sunday services" etc].
One more. There are texts in Paul’s later Pastoral letters that give guidelines on the character and qualifications of elders and deacons. Here’s such a list:
1 Timothy 3:1: Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Most importantly, it is argued from these instructions about elders and deacons that Paul believes they must be males since he speaks to males, which he very clearly does. He clearly assumes the elders and deacons are males. But does he teach that only males can be elders and deacons? Many think Paul believes and teaches that elders and deacons must be males. OK, to test what we think the Bible believes here, let’s examine the praxis. [I have some of this in my book The Blue Parakeet and some other stuff in Junia Is Not Alone.]
The praxis texts of the Bible, I contend, prove that many are creating “beliefs” out of texts that were not meant to teach those beliefs. The praxis reveals that the beliefs are otherwise. The praxis reveals that hierarchicalism in marriage is not intended, that female subordination to men in all social conditions is wrong, that total silence in the churches is wrong, and that women were deacons and that if there were female deacons then the assumed readings, creating those beliefs, are also wrong. Here goes with the praxis texts:
1. Deborah judged all of Israel — which puts here at the top of the nation, over all things, including military, political, legal, and therefore also “religious” dimensions of life in Israel. Judges 4–5. This woman was subordinate to no man in Israel. She was above them all.
2. Huldah was a prophet, which means she spoke for God to the whole people of Israel. 2 Kings 22:14-20. She spoke for God. There was no male intermediary between her and God. That’s what prophets do — they hear a message from God and they speak for God to the people of God.
3. The Woman of Proverbs 31 did not work in the home (as it is said) but in the public sector. To be sure, she honors her husband. She buys and sells out of her own monies (surely this does not refer to her allowances). Her husbands “praises” her. She gets public honor for her work. I see precious little here that indicates hierarchicalism; instead, what I see is a man who loves his wife and a wife who loves her husband and who both work for the good of the family.
4. Junia is an apostle (Romans 16), and this term refers to missionary church planting, including evangelism and equipping the saints. I have big doubts that this term “apostle” is equivalent to what it means when we refer to Peter and Paul, but it surely refers at least to church planting missionary work. Not just supporting a husband church planter, but apostle-ing. (Missionaries have always done this; if on the field, so also at home!)
5. The daughters of Philip were prophets (Acts 21:9; to call someone a “prophetess” might diminish her gift so I prefer to use the same term), and a prophet spoke for God to the people of God. They did this.
6. Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). It does not say she taught in subordination to her husband; it says “they” taught him.
7. Phoebe, and this is a text that deserves some consideration, was a deacon (not just “servant” as in 1984 NIV, but “deacon” as in NIV 2011). She “deac-ed” — which means she did the things in 1 Tim 3 pertaining to deacons.
What I’m getting at is this: though 1 Timothy 3 assumed both elders and deacons were males, this text definitively proves that women could be deacons too. Which means this: our assumptions that only males could be deacons are wrong. Paul’s rhetoric seems to offer a set of beliefs that indicate women could not be deacons, when the praxis shows they were deacons. Praxis shows what Paul meant when he said what he said in 1 Timothy 3. Our interpretation of 1 Tim 3 must fit Paul’s actual praxis of deacons. Now a question: If this is the case with deacons, what prevents us from saying the same of elders/overseers? Nothing other than our assumed interpretations. If with deacons, so also with elders. The beliefs are seen more accurately when the outworkings of those beliefs are visible in practices.
Anne Lamott: “I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
This past Sunday in our faith community, I spoke on subject of grace. The topic had snuck up on me at a gathering of friends a week ago as we were reading a “soon to be published” book by author Deanna Nowadnick. Grace is something that is so surprising…so out of the ordinary…so outrageious that one needs to stop every so often and delve into its healing waters once again. This idea of grace…just when you think you’ve got everything in life figured out…your little religious system working just right…God comes along as says “hey following me isn’t about systems, rules, accomplishments or seniority…it’s about grace. Life is about God’s undeserved, unmerited favor and love. Remember, Grace is always about God’s action, character and nature of love but it is “targeted” directly and personally toward you and me.
So, just in case you need a bit of reminding, here’s my quick list of three things to never forget about God’s grace:
1. Grace is undeserved
You can’t do anything to earn it…you don’t deserve it. Grace isn’t a right; it isn’t something God is bound to; Grace is free - God’s love? Free! God always takes the initiative, moving toward us with His grace to show us again mercy and love despite anything or anyone around us who wants to tell us otherwise. We don’t deserve Grace. What do you and me deserve? Here’s a question for you…since most of us who are reading this devotional have God in the overall picture of our lives, what can you and me actually demand from God? What do we deserve from God? I’ve thought about that question a lot lately so without getting into a big long story on the subject that would probably bore you and make this devotional lot longer than you are praying it is, let me say this: We don’t deserve anything! We can’t demand anything!
Turn on the news sometime and see for yourself…it’s not as if we are doing a good job in this world and we have some sort of earned right to stroll up to the throne of God and say something like, “hey Jesus…we’ve been doing pretty good lately…have you noticed?” I don’t know about you, but I’d say we flunked the “we’re doing pretty good” test. And even when we do try to clean up our act or straighten up or live some sort of stellar life, we eventually do mess things up royally. You know that to be true! And what does God give us as a result of all that? What does God give us even when we consistently prove that we don’t deserve a darn thing? Nope…He doesn’t shell out judgment or punishment…HE GIVES US GRACE. You see, what we deserve from God isn’t the issue – it is what we GET…we get grace!
2. Grace can't be earned.
So many people over the years I’ve talked to…so many have said almost these exact words, “Robin, of course God accepts me, I know that…yet He still expects me to live up to some specific level of spiritual performance, doesn’t he?” Performance based religion has been the bane of humanity since the beginning of time. For some reason, while Adam and Eve were still wiping their mouths from the juice of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, something clicked in humanity where WE GOT THE IDEA that we could pick up the slack of our lives on our own. And, as we are apt to do, we took it further because then we started to take some very good things like prayer, worship, serving God, the bible, friendships, etc. and twist them into sort of checklist of performance.
You see, this is what performance religion is all about:
• We can be our own God – do it ourselves
• Life depends on what we do, how well we perform, how good our efforts are
• What we receive in life comes from what we have achieved on our own
• Our culture reinforces this thinking with reward systems, raises, approvals, success stories…when the tragic thing is that, in the long run, it only messes with our mind and heart
The biblical story is a story, in many respects, not only about God and His grace but the story of humanity’s unsuccessful attempt to save themselves. We can’t save ourselves from ourselves, and believe me, its right there in black and white. People have tried to FOR CENTURIES. What’s going on now is NOTHING NEW. That’s why you can’t earn grace. God’s love and approval of YOU is completely detached from what YOU do or can do or should do or would do if given enough time and information. God’s love is given to you freely and uncontrollably…it’s just true and it’s just there…for you and me!
3. Grace is not part of a bargain, in other words; some people try to turn the love of God into a deal.
“If you do this for me God, I’ll repay you…” ever done that? “If you get me out of this jam…pay my taxes…get me healed…fix my husband or wife…give me a better paying job…I’ll repay you.” Are we called to offer ourselves back to God in response to His love and grace? Yes, by all means! But let me tell you straight…Jesus doesn't say I love you because…or since…or if…or when…or after…or provided…or presuming…He just says I LOVE YOU! That love is not a loan, it is a gift! You can refuse it but you can’t stop it. And I know that there is always someone in some room who is a cynic who will be tempted to say, “well, if that’s true, what if I blow it? Doesn’t that affect God’s love for me?” Well, the truth is, yep; we are all going to choke on some aspect of life. But let me tell you something that you can take to the bank. It is so powerful, so you have to read this slowly:
“If our failures could stop grace, it wouldn’t be grace”
Jesus loves you. He accepts you. He willingly comes to live with and in you. He grafts you into his life. Jesus calls you His son or daughter not because of, but just because. Many times in my life, I’ve felt like a failure. And I’m sure you have as well. And many times in my life I get the sense that God isn’t happy with me. It doesn’t matter how much of the bible I read, how many times I pray, how many times I try to listen to God and serve God, sometimes it never seems to be enough. Unfortunately, little do I truly understand that when I’m thinking like that, I’m in inescapable bondage. When I believe that a better performance would please God and prompt him to give me something I don’t already have in abundance, I’m in trouble and caught in a trap. And when you are in that type of bondage, it will, I guarantee you, pull whatever joy out of your life and love of God that you have experienced in the sum total of your days.
Performance based religion will chew you up and spit you out. You’ll be trashed. But if you can just wrap your head around, or better yet, wrap your heart around God’s grace, well, then you are in store for some massive healing. You will FEEL worthy because God has deemed you worthy to receive His love and grace. And God can give you that relief, that sweet relief we all need from keeping tabs on ourselves. When we try to always keep up the good performance…when we have that inner critic taking shots at us all the time telling us lies about how much we mean to God, when we are truly relieved of smoldering resentment and building anger against a god who always seems to demand more than we can possibly give, we can truly find peace. But that can ONLY BE in God’s grace. And trust me on this too, when grace brings you relief, you will find that you have some grace left over to give to others. You see, my experience tells me that UNGRACED PEOPLE have LITTLE GRACE TO GIVE. And when grace isn’t given, yes even and especially on a daily basis, you can bet that broken relationships, anger, resentments are sure to follow. That’s why GRACE can impact you and when it does, it spills over to others. TONS of people I know need to know more about God’s grace and the only way they might see it is from YOU! But you have to let it wash over your soul and continue to wash over your soul to the point when you pick up a cup of what is always there, leftovers, and you pass it on to another person. So, surrender to God’s grace and do it NOW!
Here are some closing words from Father Richard Rohr to encourage you to “let go to God’s grace.”
To Western or comfortable people, surrender and letting go sounds like losing. But it’s actually accessing a deeper, broader sense of the self, which is already whole, already content, already filled with abundant life. This is the part of you that has always loved God and said “Yes” to God. It’s the part of you that is Love, and all we have to do is let go and fall into it. It’s already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment and compassion, you realize that you’re drawing upon a Life that is larger than your own, and from a deeper Abundance. Once you learn to do that, why would you ever again settle for some scarcity model for life? But sadly, we continually do just that. The scarcity model is the way we’re trained to think: “I am not enough. This is not enough. I do not have enough.” So we try to attain more and more, and climb higher and higher. Thomas Merton said we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to discover that when we get to the top our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the Big Truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness! Your spiritual journey is about living more and more in that abundant place where you don’t have to wrap yourself around your hurts, your defeats, your failures; but you can get practiced in letting go and saying “That’s not me. I don’t need that. I’ve met a better self, a truer self.