Actively Passive

When we knew God was leading us away from Russia, we began to ask “Where to?” God was silent…actually silent for awhile. There were many times I sat down with my spiritual director or a “soul friend” and lament. Lament is something we have forgotten in our North American church culture…but that’s another post. My laments were of sadness, the reality of grief of the loss of leaving somewhere we thought we’d be for a long time. And then there was the lament of frustration, the colorful language of fear, confusion and disorientation coming out. This was a calling out of God to be true to Who He said He was in His written word-a lamp shining on my feet and a light shining on my path. I forget that a torch, or an oil burning lamp doesn’t cast a very bright light…nothing like my LED backpacking headlamp does. No, a torch is just a few steps….

Anyway, my frustration led me to do what I know how to do…actively seek out where it is, hoping something would stick. Not quite throwing a wet noodle on a wall to see if it would stick, but close enough. I am a big believer in throwing things to the wind and seeing what happens. You don’t know unless you try is my philosophy, and so I did. Cold calls to churches in Canada, emails to churches in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Sweden. Conversations with friends and friends of friends in Paris, the States and other places. And yet, nothing took. My active seeking out was becoming fruitless. As much as I am this active way, Iris is just as much the other way. Waiting to see what drops in our laps and then follow through on it is more her way of seeing where it is God is leading.

In these two seemingly very opposite approaches, you might imagine a massive amount of conflict. And, yes, that would make logical sense. But for us it is tension. Not tension in that we’re at odds and we need to walk on eggshells all the time. No, I mean good tension. Tension  like that of a keel and the sail of a sail boat. The sail catches the wind which pushes the boat. The keel however, catches the water and uses it as a ballast to keep not only the boat upright, but also to keep the boat from being blown all over the place by the wind. This way, the sail and keel work together to harness the wind to move it forward in the most effective and efficient way possible. They work in tension at all times. And both of them are completely utterly passive. They simply are there, at tension with one another, and allowing the wind to move them.

Last time I wrote about being passively active, the idea that we can be constantly active without even realizing it. This can mean coming to God with an agenda of our own when we make time for Him, and/or it can mean that we are living out our agenda all the time, simply asking God to bless it. I asked Iris the other day if she could sum up how she approaches God’s leading and she said it like this, “It’s watching for where He’s leading and then walking towards that, as opposed to going after every avenue and waiting for Him to close doors.” That latter part, that’s me. I’ve learned to follow my gut, and usually that works for me. However, there are times that I’ve learned I need to become actively passive. That is, simply wait on God and see what falls in my lap. Sure I earnestly seek Him in certain areas, but I’ve come to a point where I usually come to Him expecting…..expecting Him, and nothing else. Since I started living this way simply being, and I don’t do it all the time, but since I started approaching life this way, there have been far more unexpected experiences, lessons, encounters and Truths I’ve been met with than I would have ever expected. It’s the active decision to just be. There is an incredible amount of peace in that, that surrender and release. Believe me, I continue to experience it.

Perhaps today is a day you need to become actively passive, stop the doing and and just be. I know it’s super hard, but what would happen if you tried that today, asking for awareness of God’s presence and allowed Him to do what He does?

be blessed today

How Do You Measure The Infinite?

Structure. Structure has several meanings. There is the structure in regards to a plan, structure in regards to a rhythm of life, and then of course, structure in regards to the actual building structure. We build portfolio’s, planning for years or even decades to come. This fund and that fund, all in hopes that we can plan out everything in our future and have no worries. We put dependence in that, and therefore, we are worry free. At least that’s our hope. That’s structure in regards to a plan. We have administrative assistants, or worse case scenario, the leather-bound day planner that structures our our meetings, practices, workouts, lunches and birthdays-structure in regards to rhythm. And, we have our business buildings, shopping malls, apartment buildings, homes or even tents-structure in regards to physical place.

These different structures are meant to aide us in our lives. Help when we are too aged to be able to take care of ourselves, help so that we make time for those things we deem important and needed and help in making life easier, warmer, more comfortable. And these structures aren’t bad in and of themselves. They exist to aide us. But far too often, I’ve noticed in my own life, that instead of aiding me, I begin to live for these structures instead of theses structures existing to aide me. My reliance upon God is replaced with reliance on these things. When these things are out of line, I scramble to put them back into place, forgetting God in the midst, only to return to Him when my structure, in it’s various forms, is restored to a “liveable” state.

Reliance on those things replaces relationship with God. I’m assuming, again at least for me, that I put reliance on those things because I can touch them, feel them, see them. They are tangible, measurable, containable, etc. But God is not measurable. And therefore, we cannot fully understand.

If we cannot fully understand and contain, how can we then trust? In the evangelical world in America (I don’t say “West” because the West is not just the United States and Canada, or Western Europe, but Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other places; incredibly diverse), we have come to a place where we have to “prove” God. We have to give scientific evidence, and argue and debate from a “prove it” offensive. Yet, God never called us to do this. We took this upon ourselves because it was too hard to believe in a God that, like the wind, blows where He wants, when He wants, how He wants. The wind is un-containable, and therefore we cannot master it. Otherwise, no pun intended, it would blow our mind. We put our reliance in our schedules, structures, in our scientific “facts” about God. But what if those were to crumble? A few posts ago, I began writing a series of posts talking about desire and dependence. I’ve been mulling over for sometime now (by time I mean a few years) about our relationship to God and where our desires have taken us from where we were to where we are now. It’s a wrestle in the mud kind of idea. But reliance and us having to build constraints to feel that we can rely on Him, have been apart of the journey we have been on as a Church.

What’s funny, is that we also cannot fully understand each other. I’ve been married to Iris for 15 years, and I still learn more about her each day. I come to a more fuller understanding of her each moment. I know I will never come to a complete understanding of her and I don’t want to. I want to continue to learn about her and learn from her. Because If I ever find myself in a moment when I have come to a complete understanding of her, a moment when I can “measure” or “contain” her, what kind of relationship would there be? What desire, need, hunger or even interest would there be towards her?

God is infinitely more “complex” than we are. There is security in Him, but not in the ways we think. Not in the ways we can measure, contain, encapsulate into a tidy, neat package. I want to serve a God…and love a God like that. That I can explore the height, depth and breadth of His love for me for all eternity…..and never reach the end.

be blessed today

 

 

The Break

I had a pretty heated discussion a while back with a friend. I had spoke with them in great detail about some private things, and had assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal for them to hear it. After hearing it, they began to push that I give them permission to share this with with other people. I calmly replied back that I would appreciate it if they didn’t say anything. And then, then came more pressing. Pressing and pressing, and me in shock that my friend would have pushed this hard to share something so private. My trying to keep calm and trying to wrap my head around why they were pushing so hard, I finally said firmly yet sorrowfully, “Listen, I cannot control you. If you want to share these details, it’s your choice. But I have asked you repeatedly not to and would hope that you would honor that request.”

That was the end of the conversation. We said our goodbyes, and I got in my car and just sat there, dumbfounded. The damage had already been done. No, not the damage of sharing private information, they had decided to not do that. No, the damage was the break in our once close relationship. That encounter caused me to hold them at arms length, and the intimacy we once shared, was no longer present. Eventually we made amends, but it took awhile for that to happen as I was so incredibly hurt.

God allows us the desires of our hearts. Either those desires are in alignment with His, or they’re not and He allows us to pursue them anyhow. He won’t control, instead He gives us the freedom to choose. But, it comes with a cost. It comes with the price of a broken relationship with the Creator, the Builder.

That is exactly what happened with Adam and Eve. He allowed it, sure. But it cost them something we have been trying to get back to as a human race ever since. And we’ve tried to fill it with everything we can, but not with God.

The next few posts, I’ll be sharing something I’ve been wrestling with and have not come to an end conclusion. But it does have some pretty significant impacts on how I view God. Not my original thoughts, but ones I think that are worth wrestling in the mud with.

But for today, it is simply the acknowledgement of a gracious loving God, who even when we are pursuing something that will hurt our relationship with Him, He still allows us to simply so we are the ones who choose Him for who He is. Romans 1 is a very clear picture of that. And, because He is just that gracious, kind, compassionate and loving, when we get into the pit of our pain from those choices, He is still there willing to carry us on His broad shoulders, with gentle hands and strong feet on solid ground. What a blessing that truly is. I hope we all can reflect on that picture as we go through the worries of today and try to save off the worries of tomorrow.

be blessed today

 

The Beginning of the Cycle

History tends to repeat itself. At least that’s how the saying goes. I have seen this in politics, family decisions and behaviors and even in “new” innovations. I think it’s true. We may not do exactly what has been done before, but it is usually something similar. It’s cyclical and different aspects of our lives have cycles to them.

I was talking with a good friend, Brenda, a few years ago and was lamenting about how in my walk with Christ, it seems that things I thought were done and forgiven continue to keep coming back up in my life. A struggle with this or a temptation to that. I was frustrated because I felt like I couldn’t ever get ahead. I was frustrated because it seemed like once I had victory over it, at some point it would come back. She asked more and more questions, simply allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me in my moment of frustration. For whatever reason, the picture of an onion is what came to my mind.

An onion (I wish there was something better than an onion). Like peeling an onion, God desires to continually uncover the depths of our fallen nature. In revealing them to us, we have a choice, either lean into God more or stop and stay at this level of dysfunction. If we do stop, it is usually because it’s either too hard to go any deeper or we’re too scared of the unknown of going deeper. Or both. However, in removing these layers and by moving inward, we are not only seeing the depths of our sin, we are also seeing the depths of God’s love, grace, mercy and holiness. Learning more about ourselves allows us in turn to learn more about God. Becoming more intimate with ourselves, allows us to become more intimate with Him.

When we have a community of people that is open and honest with each other about God removing their layers, we can also have intimacy with each other. But often times we’re too guarded, afraid of what others may think or say.  Intimacy with God requires intimacy with ourselves. I’ve met several people over the years who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and are afraid to go deep in the recesses of their hearts. Freedom comes when we dare to go to the darkest places and walk through the pain. Those dark recesses are no different than the seemingly open valleys of the shadow of death David writes about in Psalms. God will be present with us there as well as in those darkest places in our hearts.

Will you allow Him to shed light on them?

be blessed today

Poverty- Timber

It was black. No color, no light, simply blackness. It took me a few moments to figure out and process what had just happened. This was due partly from the concussion and partly from the oddity of the event that took place…… wait, what did just take place?

I was cutting wood with my brother and dad in my parent’s woods. I was flipping over a small dead tree so that it could be easily cut into smaller, more manageable chunks, and so that it would be easier to fit all the wood in the wagon we were using. As I flipped the tree vertically, the top of the tree broke off about 20 feet up, and came plummeting back towards the leaf covered ground…all 10 or so pounds of it. With my eyes looking down at the ground and not paying attention, the chunk struck my right temple, and I instantly hit the ground.

My dad seeing what happened, threw the chainsaw down and ran over asking if I was ok. But like I said, all I saw was….nothing. My glasses had flung off when I was hit, and so all I could see was brown and yellow blurs from the leaves…out of my left eye. But out my right was black- the empty, hollow darkness of nothing. Over the course of a few months, my vision would regain, mostly. I am still slightly color blind in that eye and have blind spots, but they are minimal.

From my experience, we in the West tend to look at the world only from the perspective we were born and raised with. This is not the truth for everyone, but more often than not this is how we view the world. We get comfortable in our worldview. And like a really good sofa, when we get comfortable in it, it’s hard to get out of it. social-icons-01

I mentioned a few posts ago that I believe all of us are truly impoverished. Maybe not financially, but I do believe we can be impoverished in our understanding of God. In the last post I mentioned that in the parable of the Widow’s Mite in Mark 12, that maybe the story revolves more around the scribes and pharisees than it does the widow herself. They created systems that oppressed those below them to the point where, financially, those lower classes were in poverty. But I’m not sure they actually saw it. Blinded by their own greed and lack of generosity, they couldn’t see the system they had created. And I wonder how much we are like that today.

We have massive amounts of information. Far more information than they did in biblical times. CNN, FoxNews, BBC, Google news feeds, newspapers, journals, magazines and more, are constantly presenting information for us to digest. We have so much information, yet in terms of understanding, it seems that we can’t see the poverty that we are in. We are blinded by the log in our own eyes, only focused on the specks that everyone else may have. We cannot see that we don’t understand what the pain of a war across the ocean, or the stink of the squatter town in the dumps, the fear of the minority or oppression of the label of terrorist. We are in poverty in regards to ignorance.

Either we want to remain ignorant of these different perspectives, or we simply are so stuck in our own ways we can’t see…I’m not sure. But, from my experience, we have a hard time understanding that the way an Asian (and even that is a broadly different term depending on where you are in Asia) looks at God or culture or politics or love, is different than white Americans. Or how an African (and again, that varies differently on what cultural microcosm, religious beliefs, gender and country you are talking with) views community development programs. Or how a European (lots of different ethnicities, in Europe as well) views nationalistic pride.

We will  never be able to fully understand in complete entirety of everyone’s perspective in this unraveling world, just like we will never fully understand the depth, width and height of God’s love for us. But…..we need to try as hard as we can to understand better day by day. Not gain more knowledge…no. That’s what the Enemy would like. No, I mean gain in understanding…in empathy…in love.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

My Reading list since December 2015, What’s Yours?

I know you’re probably looking for some deep insight and great spiritual wisdom (snickers silently to himself), but not today. Today, I want to share the books that I read over the last 12 months. Perhaps you have a book worm in your life or you’re looking for something that is going to challenge you. Take a look at this list and perhaps you’ll find something. As you look through this list, you’ll notice that some of these books are not about spiritual formation, per say. I do believe that learning is still learning, and we can always learn more, so I would encourage you to look at all of them on the list (I should get credit from Amazon or something for recommending books…hhmmmm).

Anyhow, what I would also like is suggestions from you. We all learn from each other, after all. I don’t usually read fiction (except the Shusaku Endo one at the bottom), but if it’s intriguing, I might be up for it!  I hope if you do read one of these books, that God uses it to speak to you.

be blessed today

Discernment: Reading the signs of daily life-Henri Nouwen

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith- Seth Haines

Rising Strong- Brene Brown

Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development- Bruce Demarest

Contemplation And Midlife Crisis: Examples from Classical and Contemporary Spirituality- OSU Rosmarie Carfagna

Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the year- Philip Reinders and Eugene Peterson

Life Together- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let Your Life Speak: Listening For The Voice of Vocation-Parker Palmer

The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith-A.J. Swoboda

On Loving God-Bernard of Clairvaux

The Making of a Leader-Robert Clinton

The Search For God and Guinness: A biography of the beer that changed the world-Stephen Mansfield

Crossing the Chasm, 3rd edition- Geoffery A. Moore

Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There-Leonard Sweet

Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People- CJ Casciotta

Run With The Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best –Eugene Peterson

The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey-Henri Nouwen

The Needs of the Heart-Chip Dodd

Water To Wine: Some Of My Story-Brian Zahnd

Silence- Shusaku Endo

 

 

How to Better Understand Others

A friend of mine and I had a long discussion a while back about looking inward at ourselves. We were talking about whether finding our faults, taking personality profiles, mode of operation analyses, the Enneagram studies, genograms and other evaluations where actually important. And why we as believers in Jesus, focus so much of our time on them as opposed to “just the Word.”

Up to this point, there had been a wave the past decade or so prior, of spiritual formation and focusing inward on ourselves…”the journey within,” I’ve heard it called. Though I perhaps dabbled in it growing up, asking God to search my heart, and then ask for forgiveness for those things, it was never an intentional desire. The intentional, continual and consistent inward journey only began about six  years ago. I’ve talked about it before in other posts, but it really was a stripping away of falsities and untruths that were either put on me or I had accepted as truth.

I have had many conversations the past few years on the idea that we just need the Bible and nothing else, and all of these extra things were a waste of time, taking away from the Truth of the Gospel. Some have said those very words and, sadly,  weren’t open to the idea that perhaps other things may add in our understanding of Christ, ourselves and ourselves in Christ. I also used to be this way, until I came to a point and began to realize that there is a great journey both inward and upward in my soul.

Marjorie Thompson said in her book, “Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life,” that  “One of the most precious results of self-knowledge is greater compassion.   The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others.” I’ve also found this to be true. The moment I am quick to judge, I also quickly remember when I acted similarly and suddenly have more grace. I am human, so it doesn’t happen all the time, but I hope it has become more frequent (that might be a question for Iris 🙂

Looking at scripture we see the same pattern. The more the disciples began to understand themselves and those around them, the more compassion they began to have towards others. No more talking down to those sick, in need or children. In the early church and church history we also see this pattern. The early Desert Fathers and Mothers, missions to help the poor, sick and destitute all understood this concept as they practiced daily times of silence and meditation on scripture .

 The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others. -Marjorie Thompson 

As with anything, this life of following Jesus requires a change of perspective from what we know. No matter what culture, social strata or color of skin, we all need to see life from  different perspectives in order to have a fuller understanding of ourselves and the God we serve. When we have a better understanding of ourselves, we then are able to come to others in humility, to learn from them and about them. To better understand them and give grace as grace as been given to us.

Nothing earth shattering here, I know, but a reminder to us all as I was reminded this past week as to why I desire to have a better understanding of myself. May our journey inward be upward focused in order to better love ourselves, those around us and our Creator.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https://plus.google.com/105843274581171636167/posts