FAITH RE-VISITED (4): Living and Active

faithAt church, our current series is a discussion of how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

WORDS THAT BURN

I once heard a remark from a highly-esteemed Christian leader, who had observed a trend. Every Christian whose life had deeply moved or inspired him was a lover of Scripture. The pattern was so observable that it easily highlighted for him the vital role that Scripture plays in the shaping of our faith.

Along those lines, nearly every “faith story” that I have heard involves some description of a point along the way when Scripture came alive. Something ignited. Something was birthed. And by the help of a human teacher or the direct impact of Scripture itself, God’s written Word came alive.

Perhaps the best such “a-ha moment” in Scripture is described in Luke 24. The resurrected (and apparently tough-to-recognize) Christ pulled alongside two of his disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perceiving him as an out-of-touch traveler, clueless about recent and monumental events, the two travelers begin to educate Jesus on all that he had “missed”.

Beginning in Luke 24:25, Jesus responds. In an effort to frame what they know firsthand, he begins to weave strands of clarity through their blurred canvas. Moving fluidly through long-known Old Testament texts, Jesus connects the dots. What’s more, he connects not only the dots of ancient texts, but he connects Scripture’s dots to the dots of his listeners’ “today”. So impacting was this powerful time of teaching that the two listeners noted later that they could feel it: to a realize Asian: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24:32)

LIFELESS AND STILL

In Mark 5, Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus; the desperate daddy’s little girl is dying. Jairus was the local synagogue ruler, perhaps something like an executive pastor — first-century Jewish style. Finding myself employed by a church with a house full of little girls, I find this story today far more personal than I used to.

Among the purest pleasures of fathering little girls are the affectionate cuddles and the cozy snuggles that are shared. Cheeks are brushed, hands are held – these life-touches are treasures that represent the tender warmth of life shared. Conversely, death deals in cold hardness. Everyone who has viewed an open casket ahead of a funeral service knows this thought: “Well, that is him. But it is so not him at the same time.” The body may resembles the person, but the body is not the person. The essence of the loved one, to which every memory is tied, is elsewhere. And that is why we feel loss.

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Jairus knows this. Jairus fears this. And before the story is done, Jairus feels this.  But Jesus, in a stunning display of power, whispers life back into the deceased daughter’s ear, and Jairus learns another truth that day.

Yes, it is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

So back to Scripture.

LIVING AND ACTIVE

Hebrews 4:12-13 describes the Word of God with those two adjectives: living and active. Like a supernatural sword, God’s Word is sharp and piercing, capable even of discerning our deepest thoughts and intentions. Scripture is intended to impact us in profound and personal ways. But as we said earlier:

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Most of us have experiences where Scripture seemed far less than living and active; lifeless and still would be closer to the truth. Blame it on poor teachers, dry preachers, or slack devotional habits — whatever the path, there are many ways to reach this unfortunate destination where swords are dull and souls stay hidden under layers.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

Most of us have known experiences where Scripture spoke so clearly, we wondered if someone were spying on us — even spying into us.  That’s just sword-penetration, par for the course for the force of Scripture.  Credit it to passionate pastors, sharp writers, or creative teachers as you wish, but be sure to affirm God’s part in the process. He is the One who packs power into His Word, and He is the One who rescues what humanity might render lifeless and still, to ensure that everyone seeking Him might taste the wonder found in engaging with the living and active Word of God.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • When did Scripture first come alive for you?
  • What do you suppose keeps people from encountering more of the “living and active” nature of God’s Word?
  • Do you have any suggestions for those wishing to experience more of Scripture’s power in their own lives and churches?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (3): It Makes Him Marvel

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

HOW TO IMPRESS

Have you ever wanted to impress someone?

  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier rejection. The dumped date, the traded athlete, the unhired applicant – all want to prove their worth and disprove others’ earlier estimates of them.
  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier praise. The scholarship student, the awarded artist, the promoted employee – such people can feel pressure to live up to expectations.
  • Sometimes the desire is simply driven by admiration. We desire praise from the one whose assessment matters most. We seek to place a smile on the face most dear to us.

Have you ever wanted to impress Jesus? How might one go about this?

checklistMost of us begin to generate a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. Some are likely Scriptural, some are likely additional. But our minds’ hamster wheels spin to determine what would be most likely to grab the attention of Jesus.

  • Go to church.
  • Don’t go to the wrong church.
  • Read your Bible and pray.
  • Be a hard worker.
  • Be a good share-r.
  • Don’t laze.
  • Don’t lust.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Don’t love money.
  • Honor your parents.
  • Don’t kill your siblings.
  • Love your neighbors.
  • Don’t covet their stuff, not even their donkey.
  • Tell the truth, and keep your words kind.
  • Don’t use your mouth for swearing.
  • Don’t use your mouth for gossip.
  • Don’t use your mouse for eating food off the floor, unless a 5-second rule applies.
  • Be friendly.
  • Don’t forget to floss.

And so the list goes on.

Faithful Jews believed the Torah to contain 613 rules. If there was a way to impress God’s Prophet, you can bet it was tied into exhaustive obedience.

Unless it was tied into something else.

WHAT COULD IT BE?

Matthew 8 records an unsettling encounter for many intent upon impressing Jesus.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Scripture’s only mention of Jesus being positively stunned revolves around a Roman centurion. From the get-go, we note that this cannot be a “rule thing”. No mention is made of the man’s honesty or purity or generosity. No praise is passed for avoiding alcohol or prostitutes or cursing.

The disciples would certainly have despised the centurion for he was a multi-level enemy. As a Roman, he was one of the “bad guys”, an invader and idolater. These uncircumcised heathen were the godless oppressors of Israel, and most held deep conviction that God’s greatest priority must certainly be to devastatingly dethrone this empire and eject them from the Land of Promise.

So how does one summarize the disciples’ shock when Jesus expresses unhesitating willingness to compassionately visit the centurion’s home?

Even further, how does one summarize the shock of hearing the centurion’s reply?

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

One imagines a dialogue:

CENTURION: I’m not worthy to have you in my home.

DISCIPLES: Dang right! At least you have one thing figured out.

C: No, that’s not what I mean.

D: Then say what you mean, scumbag… um… with a sword… [Gulp]

C: You don’t need to come. You can do it from here.

D: Say what?!

C: There is a pile I don’t understand, but I grasp one thing fairly well: Authority. One hundred men do whatever I tell them. “Go”, and they go. “Come”, and they come. “Do”, and they do. I am not naïve. They don’t obey me from love. It is power, and it is not even my own. In the chain of command, I embody the power of Rome. You obviously carry authority, but I confess that it is a mystery to me. Forces of sickness and spirits of evil obey your words. Your teachings impart life, and your influence obviously ripples into invisible-yet-real realms. In light of this, it strikes me as obvious that you have no need to walk to my home in order to heal my servant. You can do it from here.

D: [Strangely silent]

And Jesus marveled (Mt 8:10). He marveled at the man’s faith, at his confident trust. Nothing mushy here, this belief was matter-of-fact. And Jesus was compelled to declare for all within earshot, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this.”

One can imagine the outcry – spoken or silent – of the disciples: “Hold on! You are talking about a pagan power that governs Yahweh’s covenant people. He certainly doesn’t know the Torah; he likely cannot list the Ten Commandments. He would never be allowed in the Temple, and he may sacrifice to Zeus. And you are holding him up as a model of faith?!”

Jesus: “Yep. That about sums it up. If you want a free, on-the-spot faith clinic, this man is leading it right this moment. Note everything you have observed.”

And at that point, Jesus wasn’t the only one marveling.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why is it so easy to imagine that Jesus values meticulous obedience more than complete trust?
  • Why do you imagine that trust receives so much emphasis in this story?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (2): Killer Control

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

TRUST IS HARD.

Whether you learn this doing some silly falling-backwards-into-someone’s-arms exercise or via more intense avenues, I have yet to meet someone who eagerly gives up control. The word “control” is key, for it summarizes the hurdle over which everyone must leap in order to arrive at a position of trust before their Maker.

driving-22959_640We are told that the odds of dying in a car accident are exponentially higher than the odds of dying in a plane crash. Even still, there is an unusual comfort derived from having one’s own hands on the steering wheel. To trust an invisible pilot, whose existence is proven only by an occasional word on the intercom feels far riskier than being at the controls ourselves. But the statistics argue that my own hands are less capable than I might wish to believe.

The statistics are not alone in making this declaration.

In his most famous sermon, Jesus urged his listeners to trust God more than they trusted themselves. His rationale? We are not worthy of that level of trust. He stated this with a simple question: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life or a single cubit to his stature?” (Mt 6:27)

Even in areas of deep convictions, where we possess strong desires, a simple fact remains: We are small. Temporary, finite, limited, fallen – whatever adjective you choose, the same truth emerges. We are insufficient. On an ultimate scale, we cannot be sources or providers of what we need. Said another way, self-trust is not an option.

With that in mind, Jesus provides us an example. Of course, he could have directed our gaze to himself and his before-eternity bond to the Father. Certainly his entire existence was built upon reality-altering faith. But that might have overwhelmed us. So he chose an example from the crowds, a people-of-dust model, so mundane as to be easy to miss.

LITTLE ONES

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14)

cute-child-1920x1080-1In the “real world”, children represent all that is insignificant. Of course, we notice their innocence, envy their purity, and squish their chubby cheeks. But those things are quaint, holding no weight in the adult world. Or so we think.

Yet addressing the adult world, the Anointed One declares, “You want to know how to trust? Look down. Consider the small ones who neither conceived nor birthed themselves. They are fed and cleaned and carried by another. They survive and thrive under the watch of eyes and provision of hands not their own.  And they are fine with this. They live out this position with confident acceptance, both appropriate and beautiful.”

And you?

  • Are you at peace with your puniness?
  • Are you content to be carried?
  • Are you satisfied with being satisfied by Another?

Those are little, large questions. And they reveal whether the spirit within us is capable of grasping the kingdom which God offers. It is not that He withdraws from those who aren’t childlike in faith; rather, it is those clinging to competence or confidence or control who will subconsciously withdraw from the kingdom He offers.

Simply put, one cannot take hold of a wondrous gift if his hands are occupied with gripping the controls.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How has God challenged your desires for control and independence? How has your trust in God blossomed as you’ve granted Him access to your life?

 

Great Worship Music from the Loft

bethel-music-the-loft-sessionsOne of the finest worship albums I know is an unplugged offering by the leaders at Bethel Music. Called “The Loft Sessions”, this beauty is musically pure and spiritually powerful!

The videos take the experience up several notches further still, in my opinion.

Here are two samples of what I’m talking about.

 

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (1): Can One Be Faithful Without Faith?

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS

A question in our last Small Group asked us who we considered a great example of faith. Who exhibited an unusual level of confidence and trust in God?  I confessed that I found that hard to answer. If it was looking for FAITHFULNESS, I had an easy list of names. Somehow FAITH changed the discussion for me. It seems riskier and more adventurous than the plodding and dutiful flavour of faithfulness.

Of course, the two concepts are linked (linguistically at the least), but I confess to experiencing more disconnect than I likely should. As said, faith appears more outrageous — it’s the believing of things unseen, the aggressively confident holding to God’s outlandish promises.  Certainly, faithfulness (in its full sense) is the act of exercising faith. However, it rolls off my tongue far more frequently as a term of steady responsibility, the long-term execution of what you know you should do.

A couple thoughts sum this up:

1) Faithfulness is likely under-valued. This “long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson’s priceless phrase) is not for the faint of heart. Fleeting affections and flighty commitments will never sustain the steadiness demanded to live by faith.

2) That said, any form of faithfulness truly worth something must be rooted in a deeply trust-filled relationship with God. Responsible task-ticking was the way of the older brother (Luke 15), yet he was revealed to be disturbingly distanced from the Father he “faithfully” stood beside.  Trust is linked to intimacy, and because of that fact: Anything less than faith-filled faithfulness comes off as mere duty, akin to a marriage that “celebrates” landmark anniversaries while being undesirably dead.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How do you observe the link between FAITH and FAITHFULNESS? Who has inspired you toward greater faith?

 

It Works!

poetry_imageI’ve always wanted to love poetry.

Many people I admire are poetry-lovers; I feel certain there is something to this. Already, I appreciate well-honed language and acknowledge the superior-to-the-sword sharpness that text can wield. However, apart from limericks, Silverstein, and Seuss, I confess to being a poetry failure. I struggle to enter and enjoy it as I wish I could.

But Daniel Ladinsky may be changing that.

An acclaimed expert on mystical poetry of the ages, Ladinsky spends many of his words translating these provocative pieces or creating his own, based upon the classic works he discovers. His book “Love Poems from God” is one of the only poetry books I own, once I get past Green Eggs and Ham and Mother Goose.

Over a year ago, he blogged a typical-for-him piece titled, “Maybe the Best Lay in Town is a Poem”, a title that strikes me as a hard-to-ignore invitation into poetry-land! Below is one of his offerings.

It Works

Would you come if someone called you

by the wrong name?

 

I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms;

then one night I was told a secret:

 

Perhaps the name you call God is not really His,

maybe it is just an alias.

 

I thought about this, and came up with a pet name

for my Beloved I never mention to others.

 

All I can say is–it works.

 

Before dismissing Ladinsky’s poem as a non-sensical invitation to creating names for the Creator, consider a few portions of Scripture:

Remember that when Moses asked for ID, God’s choice of revelation revolved around the name of Yahweh. The strictest Jews still utilize the vowel-less and un-pronounceable YHWH to speak of the Divine One. In Moses’ burning-bush encounter, the emphasis hangs on the name’s meaning: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I am all that I am, and you can’t conduct it or control it”. (That last one is my loose translation.)

Beyond Moses, you have Jesus adding the consistent call to address the God of the vowel-less name as Abba — Daddy, the One your trust more than any other because His perfect love is evident in every dealing.  Most of us (even those of us with great fathers) need to bring our imaginations into that equation, to redeem “Daddy” as a name void of disappointment or worse.

Then toss in Paul and his urging to trust the Spirit’s translation skills when we pray.  Paul would argue that every one of possesses desires, urges, and longings that reside beyond language. Carry inexpressible cargo might stress some; Paul says, “Sweat not! Just groan.”

When I swirl together these experiences and teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, I find myself arriving somewhere near to Daniel Ladinsky, with an awareness that my names for God often limit, more than free, my interactions with Him.emmanuelle

[As as example: We were recently discussing God with our kids, pointing out that “Daddy” is a name He loves for us to use because He is like the father of everyone. Our five-year-old accepted that easily enough but asked, “Why isn’t there a special Mom too?” So we described the body-less God whose qualities are beyond “boy or girl”. At age five, she’s already noting the linguistic limitations of even a small word like “Him”, in speaking of the Holy One.]

So for today, get on-board with Ladinsky. Recognize some of the names you use as nicknames at best, and draw close to God as the One who will be exactly Who He will be. Groan if you need to, and whisper confidently, even affectionately, to the One who is nearer to you than your breath.

With Ladinsky, you just might agree: It works!

Life Beyond Ourselves (Part II)

Peter-on-waterIn my last post, I noted a connection between Peter’s walking on the water and a great typing groove.

At the moment that his feet felt his weight supported by the sea’s surface, Peter entered a supernatural experience. And for all of a few moments, he lived comfortably in a realm beyond himself. But it all ended as quickly as it began, and the unraveling began with something perfectly innocent and natural: some logical questions.

WHEN FINGERS > BRAINS

As I commented last time, typing at its finest involves fingers flying faster than brain waves. In that moment, the act of analyzing my movements is the wrecking ball that destroys the speed and ease. There’s nothing implicitly wrong with thinking – it’s just that there are realms beyond understanding, where mental clutching and grabbing snuffs out the beauty and power to which we’ve gained access.

In his later years, Peter wrote (perhaps even typed at break-neck speed 😉 ) that in Christ, we are invited to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1). He speaks explicitly of being freed from the corruption that saturates the fallen order. But I can’t help but wonder if his mind didn’t wander back to his brief taste of water-walking. Certainly, those were some participating-in-the-divine-nature moments! And surely he recalled the ease with which he lived in those moments.

Until he began to think.

And it was his very logical thoughts forming very reasonable questions that ended what he might have later labeled as the very normal expectation of Christ’s people: Participation in the divine nature — life beyond ourselves.

MORE THAN NATURAL

By grace, God invites us into a life far too big for ourselves. As children, our mothers bought us too-big clothing, assuring us that it was really just too-big-for-now clothing. The mom-mantra was spoken over us: “You’ll grow into it.”  And we came to know that, quite naturally, we would.

But grace is hardly natural.

To be sure, God calls us into a life too large for who we are. But unlike childhood clothing, there is no natural guarantee that we will grow into what He is giving.  In fact, left to our own soundest thoughts and stablest tendencies, we will wiggle ourselves out of it.  Our doubts will be well-founded, and our concerns will seem wisely-conservative — and they will do exactly what Peter came to learn: They will lead us from the supernatural to the natural. They will do away with “beyond ourselves”, in exchange for “within ourselves” — and we will feel the loss immediately.

We live in the afterglow of the Resurrection, the age in which the Spirit responsible for the original Creation hovers over the depths once again, eager to bring order and form to every life where faith awakens.  And within my spiritual schizophrenia , my gets-it self offers my frightfully-slow self a few words of counsel:

TRUST. And direct that trust toward God’s power before you direct it toward your ability to comprehend. Getting this backward creates a bottleneck in one’s spiritual life.

GRACE. God gives it freely, but be active in pleading for receptivity to this logic-defying gift. Any efforts to create formulas or square equations will be decimated by divine grace, so let them go.  Or you can do it after God breaks your calculator.

GRIP. Loosen it. None of us are big enough to be main characters in the grand Story. There is only One of those, and we find our wondrously appropriate identities solely in relation to Him. So breathe. And listen. And respond. God is good, and you are His.

YOUR TURN: How does Peter’s sea-standing experience speak to your life of faith? What have you learned about living, by grace, beyond yourself?

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