Forgiveness

“Who do you need to forgive for not being God?”

The question stuck me the first time I read it in a book on spiritual direction…and the second time I read it…and the third time.  On one hand, it is clearly ridiculous; why would we assume that anyone could live up to the divine?  On the other hand, it is all too easy to subconsciously presume that another person should surely, well, do better!

The temptation to impose expectations on others which are best reserved for the only One Who can fulfill them leads to all sorts of unhealthy things.  In this case, the irrational nature of the question points out our own faulty thinking.

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Nourishing Hunger

To hunger for God and not eat is better than to not hunger…

…God must be really great, ’cause He’s the one food that to even be hungry for is nourishing.

What must it be to actually get Him?

-Dr. Timothy Keller

The more I long for Him, the more I pursue Him, and the more I pursue Him, the more I long for Him.  It’s the best life cycle I’ve found.

Would you like that this was possible?

Yeah, the grammar is driving me crazy too.  It’s easily forgivable, though, since this was left on the edge of the water in Thessaloniki, Greece.  My Greek would be, well, not worth posting.

This sign sat amongst a bunch of broken-down pseudo-buildings.  It looked as if a carnival or street market had previously occupied the area, but was now on to a more exciting venue.  I wondered who had written it originally and what the initial “this” had been.

The question remained: Would you like that this was possible?

Almost two years ago, I read it for the first time.  The question pops into my head unexpectedly every once in awhile, accompanied by several others:  What do I dream about?  What do I wish was possible?   What I am doing about it?  What does God think about it?   Have I asked Him?

When I first read this sign, I had a heart set on a number of dreams.  They weren’t bad in and of themselves; some were really good.  Many of them have not come to fruition as I hoped they would, but in their place have come a few replacements.  These dreams are a bit more tentative, and much more surrendered.

And yes, I would like that this was possible.

Declining Abundance

I heard about a concept in conservation biology the other day that got me thinking about how the same truths could be applicable in the body of Christ.  After a weekend in the town of my childhood complete with amazing stories of God’s work there in the last 100 years,  I have fewer answers than ever.

From what I understand, declining abundance is a well-documented phenomena in the natural world.  With various species, the number of organisms in a particular area can decrease due to any number of factors, human and not.  Over time, the measure of “abundance” can also change.  What is considered an abundant population now may be half of the population 20 years ago.

As I sat and listened to story after story of incredible healings and restoration over the last 100 years, I wondered if it is possible for the church to experience the same sort of change.  Is it possible that our perception of God is different enough today to significantly alter our expectations and faith for what His abundant life and work could look like?

If so, my guess is that such a slide occurs over time, slowly enough that we don’t notice it.  It’s only in taking a look back or sometimes, by looking at another believer, that we notice it.  Self-reliance creeps in and our default shifts from trusting God to show up to trying to make life work independently.

So I pray for eyes of faith to see the abundance that God would gladly provide.

What do you think?  Have you seen changes in the body of Christ in your lifetime?

Suffering: The first fall leaves

I’ve been thinking about the first fall leaves for a bit, and the timing happened to coincides with our youth group study of James.  Most of us experience some suffering of some kind; some experience a lot of suffering of many kinds throughout life.  James (and Peter) describe how suffering has purpose:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1: 2-4 from The Message

One of the joys of the Northwest is the beauty of fall.  As lovely as the summer sun and warm evenings are, there’s a comfort in the gentle change (this year!) toward cooler temps, colorful trees, and hot beverages of fall.  The tree are one of my favorite parts, and I have been noticing the increasing number of red leaves lately.

The cooler temperatures of fall bring out the true colors of leaves.  Suffering in our lives seems to reveal what is truly there or what God intends to be there.  The red in a leaf, I learned in school, is there all through the spring and summer.  From the time the leaf is formed, the potential to be red (or yellow, or orange) is there.  It just takes cold weather to force it into sight.

I guess the good news is that suffering doesn’t always lead to death for us as individuals, though fall means death for the leaves we see changing.  The challenge remains: In any sort of suffering, do I try to get out of it prematurely?  (Most often, yes!)  What does it look like practically to consider every test and challenge a gift?

I’m still asking those questions…and still on the journey.

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In time: Redemption for the Helpless

For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.- Romans 5:6

At the right time, Christ died.  

If He did the most life-changing, history-altering, kingdom-building thing He could have done at the right time, why would I think He would do anything at the wrong time?

If He did the most apparently horrible, miserable, painful, hard-to-watch thing He could have done, why would I think He would do anything that was wrong?

If He did the most beautiful, gracious, sacrificial thing He could have done when I was still helpless, why would I think that His beauty, grace, and sacrifice were in response to an illusion of goodness?

Because I am human, I have thought those things.

Because He is God, His Word reveals truth and correction.

Because He loves me, and you, and the ones we love (and the ones we struggle to love), Christ died for the ungodly.

On the relationship between trust and following

“Are you ordering me to trust him?”

“I’m telling you to follow him.”

Do you ever have that odd experience of random quotes provoking thought like a burr between your sock and shoe?  Maybe I’m an odd duck, but it seems to happen quite regularly; this was the latest.  A quote from a TV show led me back to the book club discussion around the fire pit Saturday night on trust and love.  Trust flows from sacrificial love and compels us.

We can follow Jesus because we trust Him- for salvation, for life, for direction, for daily grace, and so much more.  Out of His love, He gave us reason to trust and follow Him.  

Following is certainly easier where trust is present, but it is not precluded when trust is absent.  In the work context of these quotes, the follower must follow out of obligation, but he is unlikely to trust his boss without assurance of trustworthiness and proven leadership.  On one hand, in the context of intimate relationship, following without trust is a slap in the face.  However, in the context of much of life, such following seems necessary.

What do you think?

Knowing…or not…aka “Sunday School answers”

Socrates wasn’t a big fan of books.  In fact, he was pretty much anti-written language.  Due in part to his own deep investment in oral culture and the development of the mind that accompanied deep conversation, he feared the dumbing down of people.   He argued that you could “know” something by reading it that you didn’t truly understand.  After all, if you can simply read it, what impetus drives you to think through it?

He had a good point.  You’ve likely read, and possibly even remembered to some extent, information that you didn’t completely understand.  You may even have spit it out for someone else in conversation or on a test.  We call this “regurgitation;” teachers consider it to reflect the least complicated (and least valuable) form of knowledge possible.

I recently discovered this tidbit from history through Maryanne Wolf’s book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.  This sentence ties up Socrate’s fears into a neat little package:

Socrates warned us against a society of decoders of information, whose false sense of knowing distracts them from a deeper development of their intellectual potential.

This brings me to the aka of my title.  I have experienced first, second, and third hand the challenge of getting “Sunday School answers” to difficult questions as both a leader and follower at times.  (As a side note, I have attended Sunday School for most of my life, taught Sunday School at times, and have no bias against Sunday School as one tool for spiritual formation.)

That said, the term “Sunday School answers” is rarely used with a positive connotation.  Generally, these are the simplistic answers– the ones that may bring a nod from a teacher in the classroom but fail to stand up to the scrutiny of real life.  In that sense, they are the type of knowledge that Socrates feared; they give the illusion of knowledge without the thought and understanding that true comprehension demands.  

For example, consider an “easy” question: How do we know that God loves us?  Sunday School answer: We know that God loves us because He sent His only begotten son, Jesus, to die for us.

Is it correct?  Absolutely!  Can it be regurgitated without a life-changing, surrender-inducing understanding of the love of God and the sacrifice of the Father and Son on the cross?  Quite easily, yes.

So what is the answer?  Should we quit reading, and return to an oral culture?  To accept that solution, if it were possible, would be to deny the great progress allowed by the record of knowledge over the past two millennia.  Instead, discipline is required to wrestle with the implications of what we read.  Similarly, discipline is required to wrestle with the implications of the simple-but-deep truths of Jesus.  You can pass a theology test and not be changed; Sunday School answers do not insure salvation.

Instead, let’s walk as children of light, taught by the Holy Spirit to live the new life of love.  It’s harder than just answering the questions correctly, but it’s much more satisfying, too.  Finally, may our easy access to scripture not become a crutch that allows us to be readers but not doers of the Word.

not enough

to use kind words

to be polite

to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”

to tell the truth

to memorize scripture

to quote it

to teach it

or preach it

to pray

to give

to go to church

to lend a hand

is nice,

but,

in the end,

it’s not enough

without love.

Love is active.

But action is not necessarily

love.