Six-Pack (61)

Welcome to the latest edition of the Six-Pack, delivered right on time! Grab your coffee, choose your comfy chair, and settle in!

This week’s collection features the usual mix of ministry, faith, and anything else that piqued interest. I think you’ll be pleased, provoked, and pushed.

If six ever feels overwhelming, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move out from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Dallas Willard Changed My Ministry Forever (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Dallas Willard’s books (particularly “Divine Conspiracy”) will forever hold spots on my “best of” list. Looks like Chris Nye might agree as he reflects on the late author and teacher impacted his life and work.

2) The Secret Pain of Pastors
For Churchleaders.com, Philip Wagner considers some of the challenges faced by those in ministry roles. Friends of mine have faced every one of these in huge doses — I know a few firsthand myself.

3) Are Sex and Religions Natural Enemies? (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
I like to think about religion. I like to think about sex too. Naturally, this article struck my chords then. I think some of the basic premise is a bit goofy, but there are fascinating bits in here, all the same.

4) Here’s How Maria Popova Writes
I’ve long been fascinated with how creative people create — artists, musicians, writers, whatever. Here, CopyBlogger caught up with writer Maria Popova. There’s some great stuff in this interview.

5) The Disney Recipe
When Jeffrey Katzenberg became the head of Walt Disney Studios, he was given the task of fixing what was broke. For direction, he turned to archived wisdom from Walt Disney himself. He learned a few things. You might too.

6) How Much Can an Extra Hour’s Sleep Change You?
This study, summarized by BBC, says: Quite a lot!


May your week ahead be filled with life, as you seek the One from whom it flows!

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Which link above was today’s best-of-the-best?
  • Why that one?

Direct others to the best of the bunch with a quick comment.

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Losing Faith VII: Trading It In

This is the seventh post in a series called “Losing Faith”. All posts can be viewed HERE.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, it was a blogging friend who originally dispatched this train of thought for me. He observed how travel had played a part in the unraveling of a faith he once held.

I would echo that sentiment with an alternate angle.

TREASURE OF TRAVEL

farawayExposure to faraway lands and interactions with the folks of those places have led me to lose much of my faith as well—particularly faith in my culture, in popular Western thought, and more specifically in myself. However, those undoings only served to intensify my felt need for some form of Anchor, some Foundation upon which to construct.

There is a special pleasure to deconstruction. Who has ever carried a tool more fun than a sledgehammer? But at some point, there is need for some skilled builder to enter the scene. Creating rubble is fun, but it hardly provides a place to live.

This is my metaphor. others can grasp at their own well-fitted images. But for me, this is glove-like.

For I love to play the cynic more than most. To feign enlightenment through critique, this is the safe and satisfying life of the skeptic.

At least, it is until it isn’t.

Safe or satisfying.

My travel experiences and other life-tastes have at times fed that cynical, skeptical streak with a fresh spread of questions and rebukes toward the status quo that had both nurtured me and numbed me up to that point. Some of this caused me to grow; some just caused me to grump.

When it comes to religion, Christianity in particular, I often chuckle. I can recall a handful of conversations where speakers in attack mode unveiled their “faith-destroyers” to me. Typically, these “questions” ended with periods, rather than question marks. But punctuation aside, the tone carried a whiff of superiority silently declaring that the statement being made was surely news to me, and perhaps everyone else who ever “mindlessly” fallen into faith. In fact, it appeared certain to at least one in the room that surely no human in history had ever formulated this ground-breaking assessment of reality.

Feet in SeaNow to be sure, I learn things every day, from sources and angles of every sort. But these types of encounter cause my chuckle to rise because they suppose shallowness.  To discover that my feet touch the sand on the bottom hardly means that I’ve plumbed the depths of the sea.  It merely means I can touch where I am.  To crucify Christianity for its smallness when the “great big world” enlightens is one form of losing faith.  To move my feet in pursuit of deeper and purer waters was mine.

Though I didn’t foresee the amount of seawater I’d have to swallow along the way!

I SAY THAT TO SAY THIS

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI can state with confidence that the faith I have lost along the way was a small faith.  Perhaps that is exactly why I lost it. It is easier to lose coins than cars.

In exchange for my feather-weight faith, heavy on its need for certainty and control, I am receiving a more substantial faith, rooted in dependence upon the eternal Spirit of God and a recognition of my need to keep step with Him.  This need is driven by neither fear nor threat, but by the simple recognition that moving out of rhythm with the beat that drives the universe is clumsy and costly.  I would rather sync myself to sink myself into the groove awaiting those whose stride is guided by the All-of-Life-Giver.

LOSING THINGS

I hate losing things. Misplacing keys or phone drives me almost mad. Part of that is driven by the fact that I am typically very careful with my things, seldom losing track. So when I do, it cracks my composure. Losing my faith, even the small version, has felt like that. It had grown dear to me; it was worn and comfortable from years of use.

But it no longer fit.

Perhaps it never did.

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Losing Faith (Part V): Invaded by an Uninvited One

This post is the fifth in a series on Losing Faith. All previous posts can be seen HERE, if context might prove helpful.

Somewhere near the end of our time overseas, we were home to visit. I must have been expressing some aspect of my changing perceptions on the Christian life. My slightly-older, significantly-wiser friend responded with a question.

O_Come_Holy_Spirit_by_LordShadowblade1“You’re not a cessationist, are you?”

The term felt awkwardly unfamiliar upon my ears, and my face must have said so. He clarified.

“You don’t believe the gifts of the Spirit ended with the New Testament, do you?”

For the first time, my mouth stated with my spirit had long sensed.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

This confession surely sent a unseen tremor through my tightly-wrapped-in-rationalism faith—a suspect form of faith, if there ever was one.

A Spiritual Sprinkling

Far more recently, it has dawned on me that my past version of a “Christian worldview” was actually a thoroughly naturalistic view, with a side order of God. According to Wikipedia, “naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe.”

abstract-word-cloud-for-naturalism-with-related-tags-and-termsMy particular version of naturalism was more personal in nature than Wikipedia’s. I have always been suspect of evolution as an adequate theory of how life originated, and I have long voiced that life’s richest realms are (relationships, art, love, dreams, morality, emotions, and more) fall somewhere beyond the horizons reached by verifiable facts.

My naturalism was a mutant.

I was convinced enough that God was real that He HAD to be part of my diagram, but I had no idea how to position the I AM within my tidy sketch.  So I simply placed Him on the fringe, where He wouldn’t mix up the other pieces.

And He had grown tired of that treatment.

Breaking Me by Breaking Free

In short, I have been forced, by a growing list of experiences and encounters, to acknowledge that my largely logical and rooted-in-reason approach to life is an insufficient processor for the reality in which I live. Its substance is too superficial, and it lacks the weight to grapple with life as I now know it. My former framework held fast so long as God respected my boundaries and operated within the office I had set up for Him. When He began to interact intimately with me and to surprise me through the lives of better-tuned instruments than myself, profound paradox unfolded. Logic imploded upon itself, as I was forced to admit my irrational inconsistencies, surely ever-present but now painfully exposed.

God of the Emoticon

In light of recent revelation, it would be intellectually irresponsible to insist upon the validity of my long-held worldview.

God has revealed Himself as undeniably present. In a shocking twist, the Supernatural invaded my naturalistic worldview, the world view that handed Him a long list of all He could not do.

In response, He has broken the door’s hinges with a one-line declaration: “Your naturalistic view is not nearly naturalistic enough, for it fails to handle life as you now know it. You will recalibrate, or your head will blow up and your spirit will bellow against you. But it’s your choice, right? Because you’re so in charge of what’s real and what’s not. ;-)”

(Yes, God used a winky emoticon.)
Imagine the unsettling nerve!

God showed up in ways that I could not explain and began threatening a cozy worldview, which had safe—and harmless—spots reserved for Him.

I have not simply lost my long-held faith; it was ripped from my hands!

 

Spring Renewal

Last weekend, our church held a sharply focused prayer evening. It was aimed at last night, when we kicked off Spring Renewal 2013 with a night of significant worship and seeking of God. Full details of the event are HERE; if you’re in the city, it isn’t too late to join us.

The past week has been absorbed in the final preparations for this weekend, so no Six-Pack will be posted today.  Back to normal to next week. As well, my series of posts on Losing Faith will continue in the week ahead.

Blessings upon you, loved people!

Sunday Six-Pack (34)

Saturday escaped me, but the Six-Pack is rolling out before this weekend passes me by, all the same!

The best ministry-minded or faith-focused articles I could find this week? Here they are, with some grace space for a bit of who-knows-what.

If six options stuns you, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and pick up steam from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Providential Accidents
Edward Fudge was writing about the doctrine of hell long before it became trendy. Here is an interview, with Scot McKnight, on his path and findings.

2) 42 Successful People Share the Best Advice They Ever Received
The Business Insider offers this pile of wisdom, much of which your mother may have shared with you back before you were paying attention.

3) Three Ways to Go Further, Faster (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Michael Hyatt offers the single most important move he’s made toward gaining on, and accomplishing, some of his life goals.

4) Why are Some Words More Persuasive than Others?
Lifehacker offers this piece on the psychology of language. Fascinating read for any communicator who cares about getting their point across as effectively or powerfully as possible.

5) The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In this short piece, Rick Warren reminds of a simple, easy-to-forget characteristic that should never be forgotten.

6) John Wesley’s Secret to Making Disciples
Gary Thompson‘s post shares the list of questions that used to guide Wesley’s “accountability groups” before the term even existed. Could this still work today to mature followers of Jesus?

Blessings on you, my friends.  May the week ahead be filled with God in ways that you can sense. Tune yourself in, and walk on!

YOUR TURN: Add a line below to direct other readers to the best stuff above or to highlight the piece that gave you something worth keeping.

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Jesus Calls You to Be Selfish

I confess, that title may be slightly misleading.

But only slightly.

All or Nothing

There is a common belief that anything less than absolute altruism somehow clashes with pure religion. While I understand the sentiment, how is anyone less than Mother Teresa expected to take even a step forward if this is true?

Desiring God (Piper)I believe the answer lies in “Christian hedonism“, a provocative phrase coined by John Piper in his 1986 book “Desiring God”.

If one can get past the shock of binding the terms “Christian” and “hedonism”, a wonderfully disorienting teaching awaits.

In one sentence, Piper lays it out like this: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Jeremy Taylor, a 17th-century Anglican cleric once said that “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” The concept has also been linked to Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards, among others.

Tuck away the historical figures that you may or may not care about. This post’s title suggested that Jesus himself promotes such a teaching. Is that true?

14-biltmoreMusical Chairs

Luke 14 depicts Jesus giving seating advice after observing wedding guests eagerly jockeying for the seats of honour. A surface reading would suggest that Jesus was teaching them how to be more effective in their selfish pursuits, as if to say, “If you really want to sit at the head table, let me show you a trick that you may have missed with your small-scoped view.”

This is where the “purity police” show up. If the driving motive behind an act is a desire to receive reward or get ahead, doesn’t that undercut the act’s honour from the get-go?

I think Jesus would say, “No.”

And here’s why.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

stock-footage-old-stopwatch-clock-gears-mechanism-with-tick-tick-soundOur Maker knows how we tick.

He is not shocked to learn that we are hardly altruistic. In fact, I will be hard-pressed to have one such moment this week, maybe even today.  Most would agree that a will to survive or succeed appears to be our first nature.

Even more certain is this fact: God wants to lead me. He wants to direct my life and form me into a man more centered upon Him than upon myself. How to do this?

Harnessing our Selfishness

I believe God taps our self-centeredness as a tool toward redemption. It would not be the first time that God has used something lesser for something greater.

If this rubs you wrong, the key truth to remember here is that this hardly makes obedience any easier.  It is not as if God lowers the bar by allowing us to “function selfishly”.

In treating my self-seeking nature as His classroom, God requires a leap of faith so great that most will never draw near to its edge.

Invisible > Visible

I can only pursue unseen treasure if I am willing to release what appears to be already in my grasp. The promise of rewards for goodness–either in an afterlife or in due time–has no power to motivate those who prefer “living for today”. This is delayed gratification to its max. Putting money away for retirement, saving sex until marriage, reading books rather than watching movies–these, and a thousand other examples, highlight the intense struggle humanity has with delayed gratification. To imagine faith as an ignoble pursuit because it contains offers of unseen and untouched reward–this is out of touch with the challenge of the spiritual life.  Such a critic has never tried to live by faith.

Following Christ’s call requires unbelievable guts. Most cannot muster them. It demands a constant loosening of one’s grip and a willingness to settle on rewards that often uncertain and counter-intuitive.

That is the life of faith: Crushingly costly and richly rewarding all at once.