Saturday, February 27, 2010

From a distance

Christianity, from a distance, seems safe. Christ as preached by many in America seems tame, passive, and lifeless. Why have we deluded ourselves into pigeon-holing the Gospel to fit our desires?

It is so much easier to live life with Christ as your self-help coach or "co-pilot" than to let him reign as Lord over your life. When you spend only a few minutes a day in solitude with God, it is all too easy to let the other 23.95 hours be ruled by your own ego. I speak from experience.

What happens when Christ invades your life, though? What happens when you earnestly yearn for a deeper connection with God? What happens when you start immersing yourself in the Word of God?

You become like a seed. You fall into the soil of God's creative power, die, and are reborn as a beautiful, new plant. John captures it in his gospel: "verily I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit".

But why have we confused ourselves into thinking that this decision is merely a ONE-time decision made when we decide to follow Christ? The "moment" of salvation has become distorted in our contemporary context. We have placed so much emphasis on making a decision for Christ that we have failed to properly explain that it is a decision that must be made every single day.

Each day is a creation unto its own. It is not yesterday, neither is it the future. It is a precious gift. The Word also says "Choose you this day whom you shall serve". But we are content with believing that if we've made our one-time decision we've done what it takes to punch our salvation-ticket.

The "choose you this day" version of faith, though, is what we need to learn. We must, as a generation, immerse ourselves in the Word, giving Christ complete Lordship over our lives, praying for the faith to be able to follow where he leads. This is the kind of Christianity that is not safe. This is the kind of Christianity that requires much of me.

No, it requires all of me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

two of my favorite books

I would like to introduce you to Leif Enger. Maybe you've heard of him, but I'm guessing you probably have not. Therefore I'm going to spend the rest of this blog post trying to convince you to read his two books: Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

There are very few contemporary writers who capture the full essence of being human without becoming overly fixated on employing wordy prose in the descriptions of their characters. So many writers, you can tell, are trying so hard to find their voice that it just becomes awkward to make it past a few chapters. So they usually resort to one of the many ready-made formulas for whatever genre they wish to be successful in.

For instance, look at all the magic themed books that came out after the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Or take a peek at the burgeoning vampire fiction at your local bookstore. These are just the big-name trends, but each sub-genre has its own little formula for what it means to be popularly successful in the publishing industry. (sidenote: for the Christian version, just walk through the "Christian living" section of your bookstore and read the different titles. it's amazing how many popular titles have personal pronouns or some sort of need-based marketing gimmick.)

But then there are the few writers who push away from the crowds and go out on their own in search of their creative voice. These are the writers who are few and far between, and sadly, they usually don't receive much attention. Sure, there are the occasional Khaled Hosseini's (The Kite Runner) who write incredible books and are enormously popular, but there just aren't many.

Leif Enger is one such writer who has largely escaped attention. His two novels were well-received and are easy to find in bookstores, but you don't find many people talking about them. They have that elusive quality to them. They charm readers, but people seem to quickly forget.

For the past three years I have hardly read any better fiction. From the classics to popular modern titles, I just can't find another novelist who writes with the ease and gravity of Leif Enger. He writes in a style that makes you forget the time. But the best description for these two books is beautiful. Instead of taking you to a different world, his writing inspires you to see the world in a completely different fashion. He is a writer who has noticed the beauty around him, and his novels, in all their story-telling goodness, also have that added delight of re-awakening your mind to the beauty of the earth.

Please tell me someone has heard of Leif Enger. If you have not, I hope you will take the time to stop and at least read a few chapters of either book. I don't think you will regret the experience.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

7 Words

Challenging. Fun. Colloquial. Inspiring. Brisk. Introspective. Expressive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Scripture as our Playground

Communication creates our interpretation of reality. Words form the very backbone of how we live, think, and express ourselves as human beings. They have power far beyond our understanding, yet they are as commonplace as the air we breathe.

I agree with the social critics who have said that those of us in America live in a culture that devalues the word. It's not that we have lost all sense of what words mean to us, rather it is that we have allowed the visual image to supplant the word as the primary way we find expression.

If it is true that communication creates our interpretation of reality, then the amount of images we take in daily plays a tremendous role with how we perceive our lives. Basically, images shape us more than we realize. And as we are moving, as a culture, to a more image-saturated culture through the mediums of cell-phones, television, and computers, we are losing our ability to communicate through the word.

Words requires our minds and imaginations to form a picture from within, while an image requires no imagination to understand. Both words and images are incredibly powerful forms of communication, but we've let images carry us too far and have thus become word-weary and word-wimpy people.

Some examples, you ask. Certainly. How about our ability to listen to speeches, or in a context that hits closer to home, how about our ability to listen to sermons? It's one thing for a 5 year-old to get fidgety after 10 minutes, but it's another thing altogether when the entire congregation can't make it past 15 minutes. Or what about our ability to sit and focus on reading a book? I often find it extremely difficult to focus for the first 20 or 30 minutes I sit down to read, because my mind has been traveling so fast and needs time to acclimate to a slower pace.

If our imaginations were athletes, they'd be out-of-shape. But not dead. Not dead. We still have the ability to recapture a truer sense of imagination even though we are surrounded by a culture that is doing everything it can to force-feed us pre-processed images. We can do our best to re-acclimate ourselves to the written word, tearing ourselves away from the televisions, computers, and cell-phones in our lives that keep us away from face-to-face interaction. We can do our best to re-learn the importance of reading good books, the kind that stimulate us to think and imagine the world in different ways.

And ultimately we can re-learn the significance of the word in our lives by digging into the Scriptures and communicating with God through prayer. By reading His Word to us and learning to communicate with him through prayer we will be enrolling ourselves in the greatest class of all time, where the teacher is God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. In this classroom we will learn how to be shaped and moved by the Living Word, and we will see the beauty of worshipping through the spoken and sung word.

God is at the center of this endeavor as Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. By focusing in on, and communing with the Trinity, we will come to the fullest understanding possible of the power of the word for our lives. The Scriptures are our playground in all of this--the best possible place for our imaginations to reside.

Let the word come alive!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Deep Waters

"Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me." - Psalm 69: 1-2

This is what most of us feel at different points in a given week without being able to articulate just what "it" is. Sometimes it's sudden, hitting you like a strong current. Other times it's gradual. You wake up and just feel down. The kind of expression David is talking about here can be either sharp or throbbing.

Where are the waters coming in to your life? Where do you feel the current swirling around you, with no dry ground nearby or life-raft in sight? I think sometimes we do a good job articulating our daily fears and concerns to others and experience the relief of having someone else share a burden with us, but if we're honest, I think most of us do an even better job hiding these fears deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts.

We as a generation are not very good at listening. I am a pretty bad listener. I don't exactly know why we're just not very good listeners anymore, but maybe it has to do with all the distractions, both internal and external, that crash around in our minds like hyperactive bumper-cars. Listening requires presence. It requires attention. Both of which are hard to do when you have a cell phone in your pocket and a list of things to do begging you to attend to them.

We're just pretty distracted, when it comes down to it. And these distractions are tools the enemy uses to keep us busy when we know we need to slow down. These distractions in our lives are like sunglasses that dull the magnificence of the hope found in the promises of God. When we are distracted, we don't pay attention to the foundational promises of our faith. Like the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. Or the promise that God's wisdom is better than our wisdom. Or even the life-altering promise that God has a plan and purpose for our lives.

We need to learn to meditate on these promises and there find deep wells of encouragement. These promises are the lifeblood of our hope as Christians. They are what enable us to face the coming waters and stand steadfast. I love how David ends this Psalm:

"For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners...For God will save Zion"

He is standing in the turmoil of the present but rejoicing in the hope of the promise of God. This is our way forward. Not glibbly shutting our eyes to the struggles around us, but standing in the midst of them and proclaiming the truths of God's eternal promises to us. There we find encouragement and strength strangely not of ourselves. There we find the Risen Savior. And He is all we need.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Like Fire

I watched the movie Dante's Peak last night, in its entirety, on AMC. So I saw more commercials than I needed to see for the entire week. I muted a few of the commercial breaks, but ended up passively waiting through the rest of them to get back to the movie. Some observations:

We are told two things when it comes to our image/appearance/self-worth. Either A) we do not look good enough or are not good enough so we need a product or service to make us look and feel better, or B) don't let people determine your worth, you are amazing just the way you are. Both options are lazy misconstructions of how we are really supposed to handle ourselves. They've both got enough truth in them to make us want to go in their direction, but they are dangerously flawed as well.

There's something about love that makes it like fire. You cannot come into contact with real love without being changed. I don't have to tell you that for you to intuitively understand what I'm talking about. Love changes you.

Now, the beautiful thing about grace is that God does not require us to clean up our act before coming to him. He just wants us to come to him. And since most of us are screwed up in so many different ways, there aren't many people who end up coming to God with white robes on. We come to God as we are, but the love that we come into contact with changes us.

I too often shy away from the hard task of sanctification. I end up either relying too much on my own strength or thinking that it's just a needless attempt at doing something that's not really possible. But sanctification is not something we can choose to ignore, because in so doing we cheapen grace. Coming into contact with God's love changes us, every day, transforming us into people that are more Christlike.

It's why we keep getting back up when we fall down, because of the strength of the grace of God. His love compels us forward, and every time we make mistakes he calls us closer to himself.

You and I are called to be holy, to lay ourselves before the altar of the Lord. Sure, God is full of grace, but living with the mantra of "i'm not perfect" is just an immature way to live out a relationship with the living and active God. It comes down to this: do we really believe God is powerful enough in his love and grace to change us, to really transform those deepest parts of our lives where we do not let anyone else go? Are we willing to come completely before him and ask for his help? And are we really ready for the consequences of such a radical step of faith?