Beware of False Humility!

“I dedicate this book to all the Saints of the world who, like Joseph, are trying to find their way out of prison and into the palace.”

supernatural ways of royaltyWith those words, Kris Vallotton begins arguably the most impacting book of this year’s BSSM assignments. The title is somewhat self-explanatory: “The Supernatural Ways of Royalty” seeks to persuade every Christian that he/she is created and redeemed to be the King’s children. And this means something.

In fact, it means a whole lot of something!

The book is well worth reading, and the workbook is even more valuable if you must choose between the two. However, allow me to focus on one particularly meaningful facet of the content.

One reason I will long remember this material is the strong reaction it initially provoked within me. Make a note on this: When something offends you, do yourself a favour and at least explore why. My observation? It’s not typically some easy-to-dismiss reason like, “The other person is stupid.” To be sure, stupidity exists. And at times, it offends. But some of the stupidity lives close to home, like melded-to-my-bones close to home. And nothing reveals inner idiocy like exploring my offended feelings.

Here’s one example.

The Gospel uses wildly favourable language to speak about God’s children. You and I are outrageously loved. “Literally” is one of those so-overused-as-to-be-useless-now words. But here, it’s for real. We are outrageously loved, literally. Read Jesus’ parables: The Prodigal Son (Lk 15) and the Vineyard Workers (Mt 20) are particularly maddening, literally cause for full-blown outrage. Road rage has nothing on Bible rage!

Through such nonsensical grace, ultimately displayed in Christ’s death and resurrection, God invites everyone He’s ever birthed to be birthed again. New beginning and new belonging await. And the ID cards of the Kingdom’s citizens are insane! Regardless of background, training, or resumé, they read, “Madly loved child, fully redeemed image-bearer, anointed saint and Spirit-temple.”

And if you’re like me, that ID card seems poorly sized for my pocket, like trying to squeeze an iPad into skinny jeans. Great gift, just unsure how to carry it!

  • It’s uncomfortable.
  • It seems like it’s made for someone else.
  • Perhaps it’s riddled with typos.
  • Or an outright wrong address.

But to all who are in Christ, the Father insists, “No, it’s just right, precisely what I paid for.”

So let’s ask a helpful question at this point: What does it say about me (perhaps about you too) that I squirm with the way the Bible speaks about me as one of God’s children? As I already said: “The Gospel uses wildly favourable language to speak about God’s children.” It’s meant to infuse us with joy and freedom and power and hope.

Why instead does it bend some of our backs and unsettle some of our spirits?

It’s as if we might be more comfortable to be treated as a hobo. We’d rather God merely give us a shower and shave, then slip us a few bucks for a burger and direct us toward a clean doorway in which we can sleep the night.

But that’s not remotely close to what this means:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 Jn 3:1)

And that Father who calls us His own is the Cosmic King, robed in glory and authority and power, all of which He lovingly labours to bestow to us. He even labours with us and within us to train us to steward these in life-filled ways. Some (including a nasty little chatter in my head) will call this wishful thinking, presumptuous at best and arrogant at worst.

I know I’ve often believed such thoughts — unbelief masquerading as caution.

I’ve told myself that it’s because I value humility. And I value humility because Jesus values humility — duh! He “made himself nothing”, encouraged me to take the last seat at the banquet, and told me that the greatest is the one who serves all. Humility is obviously a mega-theme for Christ’s followers.

This is undeniably true, and a certifiable big deal.

So it is vital that we define humility properly.

Because $100 bills are awesome. But fakes exist. And they’re worthless. They can even get you imprisoned.

And humility is awesome. But fakes exist. And they’re worthless. They can even get you imprisoned.

And my observation: Religion is one of the prime settings for such forgeries.

God’s ways are said to be perfect. So is it any wonder that He’d have just the right touch, in giving us our identities? Vallotton says it this way:

“The truth of God’s grace humbles a man without degrading him and exults a man without inflating him.”

The Creator of our souls is the Caregiver of our souls, and His affection doesn’t need my adjustments to better balance it. He’s not in danger of spoiling us. Despite my small-mindedness, the Father knows this healthy dynamic is fully attainable:

“We can be people of humility and still be confident in who we are. Unfortunately, confidence always looks like arrogance to the insecure.”

And it’s that last part — that last word — that zings!

When I don’t take God at His word regarding who I am in Christ, then I’m left trying to prove myself to myself, and that’s been a miserably tough crowd. When purchased and redeemed people continue to view themselves through any lens other the God’s, then a low view of self is natural. In fact, it even feels proper to spiritualize our low self-esteem. We’d never say it, but the sentiments brew beneath the layers:

  • “I’m suspicious of those Christians who don’t feel defeated and despairing?”
  • “Isn’t it spiritual to feel perpetually aware of my shortcomings?”
  • “Isn’t there some old hymn somewhere that said I’m a worm?”
  • “A rare manuscript of the Psalms suggests this translation: This is the day that the Lord has made, let us find shame and then dwell in it?”
  • “In a way, self-loathing probably glorifies God. It keeps us small, so that He’ll seem big. Don’t want to flirt with dreams or aspirations. Boo on those!”

Sarcasm aside, arrogance should be guarded against. This is obvious. Blatant self-centredness is anti-Kingdom. But the stunner is that one can overcompensate in the other direction, plunge into a false humility, and discover an alternative path to self-obsession. Both authentic arrogance and false humility hinder the grace of God in a life. Both imprison.

Many of us have taken a strange comfort in Romans 3:23, when it affirms that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Whew! At least I know my feelings of failure are par for the course.

But the subtler-yet-undeniable point in the verse is this: We were created for glory.

  • We are designed in accordance with divinity.
  • We are shaped for the sacred.
  • We are honed for heaven.
  • We are crafted for Christlikeness.

As it was in the beginning, so it shall be at the end. For we can be sure that the One who has begun a good work in us will see it through to completion. We’re told that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil.

You can count false humility among his targets.

Thirst for Normal

new normalThe phrase “new normal” typically describes the subtle slide from one standard to another. What was once a fair expectation has been overtaken or replaced by another. Time to redefine “normal”.

However, there are times when “normal” isn’t intended for replacement. Sometimes we’re supposed to insist on keeping it just as it is.

when heaven invades earthBefore the BSSM school year started, we were assigned to read a book by Bill Johnson, titled, “When Heaven Invades Earth”. The problem was that we somehow missed that notice, so rather than read it leisurely last summer, we read it frantically on top of all the assignments that were doled out when school began. For that reason (and some refreshing for this post), I determined to review my notes from the first time through. The book is easy for me to recommend, and most Christians I know (perhaps non-Christians too) will find it challenging and inspiring. It may awaken hunger in your spirit, and more than a few readers have pointed to it as one that served as a catalyst in their spiritual journeys toward deeper experiences of the Kingdom of God.

When we were in China years ago, I paid fresh attention to Watchman Nee. The book I most recall was “The Normal Christian Life”. The provocative problem was that Nee’s description of “normal” wasn’t anything like I was experiencing. Here are a few select quotes for your sampling (with my brief commentary after each one):

  • “I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”
    • Translation: Don’t bother nonsensically longing to feel God with you, if you haven’t actively committed to being with Him.
  • “Do you know, my friends, that the Spirit within you is very God? Oh that our eyes were opened to see the greatness of God’s gift! Oh that we might realize the vastness of the resources secreted in our own hearts! I could shout with joy as I think, ‘The Spirit who dwells within me is no mere influence, but a living Person; He is very God. The infinite God is within my heart!’ I am at a loss to convey to you the blessedness of this discovery, that the Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart is a Person.”
    • The reality of God housing Himself in you is a stunning and overwhelming thought. Nee was bowled over by the wonder of it, and the infinite possibilities that came into existence by God’s indwelling.
  • “It is a great thing when I discover I am no longer my own but His. If the ten shillings in my pocket belong to me, then I have full authority over them. But if they belong to another who has committed them to me in trust, then I cannot buy what I please with them, and I dare not lose them. Real Christian life begins with knowing this.”
    • Lordship is the game-changing truth in the Christian life. Anything less than full-out surrender to Jesus is the playing of games. If we are his, then he is Lord and Master, and all that is his is ours as well. But if he is not Lord and Master, then we are not his. We are merely our own, and we are limited to whatever means we can muster. The contrast between these paths is stark. Scripture says light VS dark or life VS death.
  • “There is nothing stereotyped about God’s dealings with His children. Therefore, we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make watertight compartments for the working out His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. We must leave God free to work as He wills and to leave what evidence He pleases of the work He does.”
    • God does what He wants, apparently feeling free from every pressure to meet our expectations or function within our parameters. To think otherwise would be akin to bird-watching with eyes fixated on a single branch, while griping at every bird that chose to land anywhere other than the spot your gaze was locked on.

Ever read a “Christian book” that made you wonder if you were even a Christian at all?! Nee’s book was that type of challenging. So trust Bill Johnson to open his book with a chapter by the same title: “The Normal Christian Life”. And in the early going, he drops this thought:

“It is abnormal for a Christian not to have an appetite for the impossible. It has been written into our spiritual DNA to hunger for the impossibilities around us to bow at the name of Jesus.”

I can hardly recall the start of when I began longing for “more” in my Christian life. Key words in such prayers often included freedom, joy, holiness, power, delight. My inner critic, always alert and often vocal, would accuse me: “You think you’re special? You think you deserve more than you’re already getting? You think you’re better than others?” And on it would go. But another voice, I believe informed by Scripture and engaged by Holy Spirit, would quietly stutter, “I think I’m supposed to want these. I even think God wants to grant these. I think Jesus died for exactly such gifts to be given.” And so that desire remained — weak at times, but like crispy grass in days of drought, it always hung around just alive enough to persist.

Today I’d say it this way: If ever your experience of the cosmos-sized, resurrection-ignited Kingdom feels like a hunt for decency based on human intelligence and ingenuity, you can be sure a massive rip-off has occurred.

Said another way: When a movement starts with a miracle, mundane can never be accepted as a “new normal”.

So when your spirit longs for “more of God”, don’t be duped by the cynicism of others’ or the feels-so-small scope of your own experience. Of an Infinite One there is always more to discover! And if you ever feel like your spiritual hunger is misunderstood or judged or mocked, Pastor Bill offers this word of courage:

“Biblical passion is a mysterious mixture of humility, supernatural hunger, and faith. I pursue because I have been pursued. Lethargy must not be found in me. And if the average Christian life around me falls short of the biblical standard, I must pursue against the grain.”

Re-reading this draft, I’m fearful that someone somewhere could read that last section as a veiled bit of griping that my spiritual pursuit has felt lonelier than I’d have hoped. That’s not the case. I’ve been unusually blessed by a long list of others who have nurtured and nudged me since before I was old enough to be properly grateful for their efforts. For every such season, be thankful and gracious.

But allow it to be said, some of the miles God calls you to walk will be walked alone.

Some of those miles will be walked utterly alone.

At least it will feel like it.

And how does one handle those legs of the journey? Again, by being thankful and gracious — thankful for God’s persistent-even-when-I-don’t-feel-it presence and gracious toward all those around you, ranging from curious inquirers to cautious observers, from caring friends to critical opponents.

salt-lickThank you, Father for all that You’ve shown us of Yourself. Thank you also for all that still awaits our discovery. How magnificent to encounter You as the Living Water. How gracious that You insist on first being salt on our tongues, driving us to thirst for the fullness of “normal”!

Lick wildly, my friends! 🙂

BSSM Basics

As I look back on our time at BSSM, I realize that the vast majority of you aren’t even aware of the basic rhythms that have governed our lives this year. Allow me to use this post to share some of those details:

Our school schedule revolved around a steady hub of large-group (1300 people) sessions Monday-Thursday, 12:00-3:45 PM. That block of time was a blend of school-wide prayer (30 mins), a class/presentation (75-90 mins), worship (45-60 mins), and another class/presentation (whatever time remained). More of these days than I can count were exceptional — intellectually stimulating, emotionally stirring, and spiritually challenging. Many a day, Shannon and I walked to the van together at the end, with one of us feeling compelled to say, “So how was that day for you?” The other would simply reply, “I’m going to need some time before answering. Can we just be quiet together for now?” And the first would reply with a nod of unspoken and relieved agreement. 🙂

On top of that basic flow of schedule, these pieces also existed:

Monday: Small Groups met 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  Shannon was in a group of five women, and I was in a group of four men. (All of these groups were comprised of people from our RG — that will make sense a bit further down the page.) At the beginning of the year, every group member was assigned to lead their Small Group once, after which the group “elected” one of their members to lead for the rest of the year. Both of us held our leaders and groups in high regard. Both of our groups also had to battle through experiences of misunderstanding or disagreement. I simply say that as a word of encouragement that any relationship worth nurturing will have rough patches. If you’ve ever been a Small Group that felt less-than-glorious, then yay! You were experiencing the real thing — working to see broken lives redeemed, yours and others’, in the sacred space that can only be created by genuine relationships. Those times of rubbing? Those are the perfect opportunities for the most significant growth. We are wise not to waste them by clamming up or chickening out or moving on.

Tuesday:  This was our day for “elective courses”, with every student adding a 90-minute session to either his/her morning or afternoon. Each student was permitted four different selections throughout the course of the year, and each course ran for five weeks. Through the year, I had opportunity to be involved in these classes:

Union with God: This was something of a Christian history class, with special focus on some well-known and unknown mystics. I’ve long loved that stuff, but this was likely my least impacting class of the year.

The Writer’s Eye:  This is the first “creative writing” course I’ve ever taken. Each week we were given different assignments to awaken our creativity and push us to compose pieces of different genres and flavours. Then we’d share them and receive feedback. I found it to be a fair bit of fun. 🙂

Growing in Intimacy through Prayer: This course was led by Leslie Crandall, a woman that I greatly appreciated throughout the course of the year. I would be among those Christians who desire their prayer lives to be “better”. This class was designed to help; I think it did, though I still have plenty of room for growth.

Preaching:  This was a class I waited for. Space was limited for all of these classes, and the online sign-up process could be fairly intense once it opened. I was grateful for the chance to study under Dann Farrelly, our primary Bible teacher for the year — one of the finest Bible teachers I’ve had anywhere. And I’ve had a lot of great ones! The class aimed to provide every student a chance to present a short sermon and then to receive feedback from classmates. While I completely appreciate that goal, this particular student would have happily forgone that opportunity for more instruction and discussion on the subject of preaching. Still well worth the choice.

Wednesday: This was the morning when our Revival Group (RG) met each week for a ninety-minute gathering. Our RG was led by a Revival Group Pastor (RGP) Katrina and her six interns (3rd Year students). This was an extraordinary and special group of people — many of whom I will remember fondly many years down the road. Honestly, I considered RG my highlight most weeks. I’d have had to been near death to ever miss a Wednesday! The group was comprised of sixty-three people plus the seven leaders mentioned above, and no two meetings were ever the same. However, the tone of the group was consistently warm and welcoming, safe and stretching, affirming and challenging. Openness and vulnerability were modelled and called forth. I recall one meeting early in the year where our RGP shared her story with noteworthy grace and honesty. Group members were then invited to share in response, as they felt led. As stories poured forth recounting abuse, addiction, pornography, cutting, depression, same-sex attraction, and more battles that were being waged by those in the room, I remember thinking, “Okay. This is for real. We are putting our cards down with one another and seeking healing and freedom for one another. Let’s go!” Other weeks ranged from joyful silliness to sweet worship to intense prayer to risk-filled sharing to peaceful rest to more! Tears, hugs, and laughter were steadily present, and I confess already: If I miss any facet of BSSM today or in the future, it may well be RG. It was a precious group to be a part of, to be sure. Here’s a photo from our last meeting. Shannon and I are in the top-left corner.

Revival Group

Thursday: Every BSSM student was signed up for some form of City Service. These were ministries and efforts aimed at blessing the city of Redding in a host of ways. Every Thursday afternoon, I rushed from class a sliver early to get to my City Service.

For the first half of the year, I was part of a Treasure-Hunting team. I had heard of such a “game” years ago, and my curiosity overpowered my fear to sign up. What’s Treasure-Hunting? In short, it is this: A team of six to eight of us would spend a few minutes in listening prayer. We’d basically ask God, “Show us who you want us to bless today. Give us some clues about the ‘treasure’ that you wish us to find today.” Then each member would quickly write down any “clues” he/she was perceiving. These could be anything: Names of people, details of appearances, locations in town, body parts needing healing, along with any random words/images/details. We’d then share our lists and work quite quickly to discern any patterns in what we’d written. We’d set off for a hinted-at destination and proceed to fan out in pairs “looking for clues”. If we found someone, we’d quietly pray and kindly approach, trusting that God had set up the meeting in the first place. Over twelve-plus weeks, we offered comfort and encouragement to dozens of strangers, saw a number of healings occur, and led some folks toward decisions of commitment or recommitment to Jesus. We also got rebuffed outrightly and not-so-subtly dodged more times than one could count. We battled inner fear more than I’d wish to admit (let’s say nearly every single time), and persisted in showing up again next week to keep learning about prayer and trust and listening and loving. I was grateful to be part of this experience, even when I wasn’t. 🙂

For the second part of the year, I was part of a team that did “yard work” for a beautiful park area in Redding. I thoroughly enjoyed the team I worked with, and the physical labour was a welcome change during what was likely my most exercise-deprived year of life. However, children’s schedules, sicknesses, travel, and the occasional need to trade in an absence for some “breathing space” led me to be about half-regular in this effort.

Evenings: Nearly all weekday evenings were spent doing homework after we tucked in the kids. I’ve done six years of post-secondary education, along with several courses on top of that. I love learning, and school suits me well. But suffice it to say, I was surprised by the homework load. It wasn’t wildly academic: No exams or research papers. But lots of reading and writing, much of which was far more heart-level than the average course of study. Soul-searching isn’t fast or light.

Friday: This was a no-school day each week for the two of us and our preschooler. Most weeks saw us split the day into shifts with each of us spending some one-on-one with a fun four-year-old, while the other rested or read or whatever.

Saturday: Our primary family day typically saw us around home, where kids played with friends and adults did all those keep-your-life-working-well tasks that need doing at some point. We travelled less than we thought we might, rarely venturing more than twenty minutes from town.

Sunday: Every BSSM student was assigned to one of Bethel’s eight services each weekend. We had ID cards that we had to swipe at school each day to track our attendance; those were used to track church attendance too! As a family with kids, we were granted some stability to attend the same one all year, rather than rotating through different times/locations. So every Sunday, we’d head to Twin View (the smaller Bethel campus, not the one you’d ever see featured on online videos) for 11:30 AM. Many afternoons were spent picnicking or visiting with friends at a local park or lake, where kids could busy themselves and adults could chat. Then we buckled up to do it all again the next morning.

This post has been largely logistics. For those who were curious, now you know. For those wishing for deeper details, they’re coming. If you’re wondering something specific, leave a comment and ask a question: If I see a potential post as a possible reply, I’ll go for it. Otherwise, I’ll use upcoming posts to press into more personal reflections from the year, as they come to my mind.

Much love to you all. Thanks for every bit of support and encouragement and care that you’ve sent our way this year.

Blur

blurredNine months ago, I posted about our entry in to a sabbatical period that would see both Shannon and me studying at BSSM in Redding for the upcoming year.

The steady but stealthy flow of time has turned “upcoming” into “nearly over”. At the beginning of this season, I felt compelled to share a series of posts (starting HERE) that sought to answer to then-frequent question: “How did this plan come about?”

As my last two posts mentioned, I had an intention to regularly blog through the school year, as a means to both processing for myself and sharing for others who were interested to follow along. However, let’s say that I seriously underestimated the intensity of the schedule during this span. Anything beyond school and family stood little chance of inclusion. I’m a bit disappointed by that, but I wouldn’t play it differently even if I was given another chance.

However, now school is over. And I still feel a strong need for both me-processing and you-sharing. We will be home in Canada in three weeks, so this window of time involves that combination of tying up loose ends in one location while shifting brain cells ahead to another awaiting location. In between those two wave lengths, I hope to do some of the blogging I intended to do in the past months as well. If both you and I are lucky, I even hope to pull Shannon in for a few “guest posts”.

There. Now the intent has been expressed.

Time to get typing. 🙂