Busy but Bored

I’ve read two authors whose books end up having more underlined than not, leading me at times to…dare I say…dog-ear pages (gasp). But I can’t help it. They’re both priceless. Their words are salve for the soul, especially the soul of a Christian leader. I am speaking of Eugene Peterson (whom I’ve blogged about before and before) and Henri Nouwen.

I have just begun The Dance of Life by Nouwen and already applied multiple sticky notes to mark sections, underlined, written lines to write about later, and so forth. The following is what made me go daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, Henri. Tell me this doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies of your soul:

“It is remarkable how much of our life is lived without reflection on its meaning. It is not surprising that so many people are busy but bored! They have many things to do and are always running to get them done, but beneath the hectic activity they often wonder if anything is truly happening. A life that is not reflected upon eventually loses its meaning and becomes boring” (p.46). 

Remember that old Rascal Flatts song “I Melt”? Yeah, me neither. But I did.

Especially upon reading the phrase busy but bored. What an apt description of my life, so often due to a lack of reflection, a failure to frame experiences and responsibilities with purpose or intentionality.

If you’re busy but bored, perhaps it’s time to create some space to sit in silence, to stop the chatter–both internally and digitally, and to ask What’s the point of what I’m doing? How does this fit into God’s design? And then sit with it. It’s sometimes terrifying what we hear.

Grace be with you.

Real Life is (often) a Better Education than Seminary

Real life–that’s the life you actually live in case you haven’t been there in a while. It’s not the one on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest where everybody is having an awesome day and their hair never looked so good.

Real life on my end also excludes the imagined life that professional theologians pontificate about behind their blockade of black-rimmed glasses. I mean can’t someone buy tortoise shell?

Real life, with some common sense and wisdom attached to it, teaches more about theology than I ever learned in seminary (which makes me miss that $20,000 all the more).  I’m not discounting seminary, but I am saying it isn’t the be-all and end-all of theological training or ministry preparation.

I say that because on a handful of occasions I’ve processed something for a long time, years even, in the theological realm, and confidently asserted my position to Lindsey (my not theologically trained common sense, wise wife). And I reached a conclusion, or at least a satisfactory resting place (such as with predestination or with what life looks like for someone who is saved). And on these occasions, I stand on the other side as my wife.

But on these occasions, I’ve ended up on her side. And it was real life that led me to reexamine my otherwise studious position(s). Staring into the eyes of my first child, fresh out of the womb, undid all that I’d surmised about predestination.

No w283193_528197791803_7519239_nay…no way God looks into these big blue eyes and says, “To hell with you!” no matter what you wish or will.

The point of this post is to say that Jesus entered the real world, not simply to die. He became incarnate to show that the real world matters. That life communicates truths about the Source of life. That all of our theologizing has to be done through Jesus, the embodiment of God’s purpose and personality.

To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you were damned before the creation of the world”? To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you’re beyond the reach of the Father’s grace and mercy”?

I think part of maturing as a believer and theologian (they can’t be separated, by the way) is being willing to ask, “Is there something I’ve missed?” “Is there something to other position I haven’t considered or have mischaracterized?”

Rural Recuperation

ruralMy surrogate writer, Jen Hatmaker, again took the words out of my gut. This time in Interrupted (pp. 72-3): “The path of descent becomes our own liberation. We are freed from the exhausting stance of defense. We are no longer compelled to be right and are thus relieved from the burden of maintaining some reputation. We are released from the idols of greed, control, and status. The pressure to protect the house of cards is alleviated when we take the lowest place.”

Home has been Los Angeles and St. Louis. In the burbs, of course. But big, nonetheless.

For so long, especially in the machinations of megachurch world, I longed to be known. To grow a ministry. To get noticed. To amass a Twitter following (using Jesus to do so, but fully expecting them to follow and probably worship me to be honest). To answer the call from the unknown number and–FINALLY!!–an invitation to speak at _________ conference or _________ church. I could’ve filled that blank with so many names, sexy names.

Enter rural life.

There’s no being known, except for the people you see face-to-face. Mainly because they’ve been burned on Facebook and only engage the faces in front of them. Rural doesn’t care about Twitter–most don’t even know what it is and are suspicious when you use the word.

        “Hey Earl, you see that tweet?” “Boy, why you talkin’ bout birds? You wantin’ to go               huntin’?” (There are no g’s on the ends of words in rural)

Rural has been healing for my spotlight-hungry, bigger/better/brighter soul.

There’s little to defend in rural. It’s rare that anyone is on the offensive. It happens, but not much. About as often as I see the horseman riding down Highway 19. There’s no need to project an image. People can tell if you care. And if they can’t tell, they don’t care. Success shmess. No house of cards to protect here.

You can still be an arrogant, prideful jerk in rural. But it’s harder. The feeling of superiority you get at the local grocer eventually becomes shame that you feel such things, and you (I) start pondering what stories those faces are hiding (and drowning out with copious amounts of Mountain Dew). See, even that was judgment. But seriously, nobody needs that much devil’s brew.

I’m not fully recuperated and don’t expect to be this side of the River Jordan. Jesus is still working. He’s saving me from myself. Rural has been an irreplaceable agent of sanctification and has provided the space needed for recuperation.

I feel bad for the Spirit. How agonizing it must be to humble me without killing me. I’ve been prideful for as long as I can remember. Mostly out of insecurity. Terribly insecure. Terrified of not being smart or witty or fit–house of cards.

By the power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and the sweet patience of my bride, I have hopes that humility might stick. I feel like things would get pretty nasty if I started trying to climb the ladder again.

This post is what happens when my wife says, go take some time to yourself. Thanks, babe.


Self-Righteous Scheming…for God!

I was talking with a friend and coworker yesterday morning about Jesus’ interactions with  people, particularly in the first several chapters of Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 3:1-2, Jesus is in the synagogue and in walks a man with a deformed hand. Mark records that “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” They are the Pharisees. Pharisees are easy targets for us in the 21st century because that’s who Jesus got after.

The not-so-obvious irony in wanting to join Jesus in this crusade against self-righteous legalists who impose slavish expectations on people is that we, yes we, are all too often the self-righteous. As Andy Stanley said recently, “The self-righteous are rarely self-aware.” I am not really concerned what you think about Andy; the statement is true. If you disagree you’re just proving the point.

But what my colleague and I discussed was the fact that the Pharisees watched Jesus, not to discern what the Lord might be doing in Him or through Him, but to accuse Him. They were, in pious posture, rooting for Jesus to fail, to trip up, to finally fulfill the expectations they’d had for Him all along so that they might, well, win. Self-righteous people want to win. They have to win.

And if we aren’t self-aware we too will keep tabs on people in hopes they’ll fall. We will want to have our suspicions confirmed rather than work for the good of the person(s) and others around us.

Down in verse 5, Jesus is both angry and grieved by their hardness of heart. Jesus sees straight through them, into their shadowy hearts where  the light of grace has yet to take up residence. And the Pharisees go out to the Herodians in hopes of finding someone to agree with them.

When you find yourself looking for accomplices in your self-righteous scheming, you’re one step away from shouting, “Crucify Him!” All under the guise of righteous motivation.

Children’s Songs for the Childish Christian

If you’ve grown up in or around church, you’ve learned the same songs over the years…

“Jesus Loves Me”…really? Me?

“This Little Light of Mine”…should it shine, like, all the time? Can I hide it ever?

“Jesus Loves the Little Children”…which ones? ALL the children of the world.

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”…still? Yep. 

It turns out I have the hardest time believing and living out the songs deemed most suitable for children.  I fundamentally believe Jesus forgives me, but loves me is a different story. I know my light should shine, but how often I put it under that danged bushel or let Satan blow it out. Jesus loves all the children of the world, but I struggle with some of the folks around me.

Then there’s the mother of all kids sing-a-longs…God has the whole wide world in His hands. He does. I know that. But over the last 10 years I haven’t lived like it. I’ve tried to control. I’ve manipulated situations to ensure they turn out the best for me. I’ve tried to play the role of Geppetto the puppeteer in my attempts to steer others in a favorable way. It’s quite childish.

Yet every time I try to hold the world in my hands, I’m riddled with anxiety, fear, and a palpable sense of inadequacy. Turns out I make a horrible Sovereign. My hands aren’t big enough…which is true literally as well–I have smallish hands.

The prophet Isaiah reminds me that I’ll never be up to the task: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Isaiah 40:12, HCSB.  Answer: Not I.

God has been so gracious reveal to me that I know way more than I believe and believe way more than I live. So I’m learning to believe and live the songs I’m singing with my kids. And with #4 on the way, I have a lot more late night concerts to come….

Good vs. Great — The Toughest Battle

Business strategist and author Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great that “good is the enemy of great.” In short it means the majority settle for what’s good instead of striving for what’s great or what’s best. 

Instinctively we know that’s true because a lot of us have done some good things. But there’s an aching to do something great. 

Yet here many of us sit, reading the blogs of those who’ve done great things, scrolling through tweets of those who’ve done great things, listening to their podcasts, and fantasizing away most days–about doing great things, of course. 

John Piper is one of the guys in the world I admire. Some theological differences aside, I can’t discount his contribution to the world of pastoral ministry and pastoral training. Beyond that, he is a man of simple means and steadfast single-mindedness. This is what pastor John wrote about the good and great tension:

            “The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” 

Not surprisingly, that quote comes from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Don’t waste your life with a bunch of goods and okays and acceptables. The point is not to say that you can only do one thing your whole life or have a sole interest like Dr. Frankenstein.

Rather, the point is to say, if you are mastered by an unending devotion to carry out God’s will no matter the kickback or obstacles, then you’ll make a durable difference in the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll be invited to speak at a conference or get a book deal (it’s possible), but it does mean you will influence and inspire those in your circles of influence. 

And what that person who inspires you has done for you, you may well do for others. It could be for co-workers, for your children, grandchildren, church members, who knows…

But be mastered by the most important thing, by a sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s leading. That will serve you and God’s kingdom no matter the endeavor you choose. Nothing will count more in the end beyond the blood of Jesus than whether the Lord is able to say to you, “I spoke. You obeyed. Well done.”