Not Sure What To Call This One

This is an unusual post, considering what I’ve posted lately, but I had to share something that struck me this weekend.

It takes discipline to spend time with the Lord. Extreme discipline. Discipline that I do not have on my own.

I thought of my daily routine this past weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective, of spending time reading the bible, praying, reading Tozer and Ravenhill and Murray. Reading commentaries and scholarly discussion. Reading one verse at a time, and getting stuck at an overwhelming thought found there. Reading an entire book in the bible. Reading a few chapters. The amount of prayer God is calling me to, now, is almost unbearable, more than I’ve ever prayed on a daily basis in my entire life. Often I play my guitar and sing worship songs with my family at night. That’s a really special experience (I really, really like playing the guitar), but it still requires time, in the evenings, and especially when we are supposed to be “winding down.”

But really, when I’m not fulfilling some responsibility, the things in the paragraph above are what fills the gaps of time. It’s an odd, strange, routine.

And I do those things every day, either early in the morning, or in the early evening. And I don’t write that here out of some act of public piety.

I write it here because, honestly, it’s quite difficult. There are mornings that I am tired of going “to the well”, tired of being (sometimes) (mercilessly) convicted, and in those mornings I will attempt to do something else. And without fail, when I try for other selfish choices, I always hear the voice of the Lord say, “Do you really want to do that?” It’s a question that often hurts, and often refreshes. And, at times, I ignore it.

There are good mornings, though. Right now I’m reading through 1 and 2 Samuel (don’t ask why), and can’t believe the audacity of David’s prayers, and the voice of God answering him. So, right now at least, these times are encouraging. They aren’t always, though.

But, honestly, the road to “the well” is outside of my control. That’s tough for me. I won’t/can’t say that the things in the third paragraph “start my day right,” because often I’m wrecked before 7AM, convicted of sin and hopelessly needing the filling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s mostly every day. I approach daily responsibilities depleted, with my mind on what the Lord gave me, sometimes having difficulty thinking clearly because the Holy Spirit’s work in me is so incredibly active, purifying me of so much garbage. And I don’t often want that. But, alas, God doesn’t concern himself always with what I want. (Remember the shade tree God grew for Jonah, only to make it die?)

I am, at this stage in my life, not necessarily accustomed to these deep feelings, even though my life has been filled with this routine for quite some time. I don’t like hearing from people who call this sort of discipline a “healthy priority”, because I feel, at times, it would be easier to read the news, or watch what Fallon did the night before. Easier on me, anyway. Watching Fallon doesn’t require me to think — I can be mindless, as “checked-out” as if I were a thousand miles away, and sometimes (really, a lot of the time), that’s what I would prefer. Being engaged is so exhausting.

But the well is deep. Dark. Mysterious. It has water, but sometimes the water is deeper than I wanted it to be, and God pulls me farther in. And, mostly, I go against my will.

So, yes, it takes much discipline to do this, to walk this path. At least it takes much discipline for me. I wake earlier than I’ve ever done so in my life, because, many days, it just takes that much time. I wonder if Muller and Spurgeon ever felt like this.

But I do know what life would be without this kind of routine. At least I know what my life would look like, because I’ve lived it. Empty. Fake. Out of control. Debt-ridden. Awful choices. Sin. But filled with lots of friends who (I discovered) varnished their lives with Jesus and smiles and music and alcohol and the “latest and greatest” to hide the hollowness. Some of my friends still live like that, and I hurt for them. I know the emptiness because I’ve lived it. I can spot it.

What is even more hurtful, I think, is I’ve tried to share this path with a few, only to be hurt by their words, then ignored because … well, because of whatever reason. I tend to think that my words often betray the level of engagement this kind of life requires, and many just don’t want it. I understand that. I often don’t want it. It has wrecked everything I ever thought I needed, or wanted. And it would be easier to keep friends, at times, than to speak of the honesty that this weird life of mine demands of me.

So, yes, this is a tough, tough, tough road. It defies convention. Goodness, it defies convention. I can’t really write that statement enough.

And this — this previous 900-word essay — is what struck me this weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective. I’m thankful for a blog today, so I can spit it out, and wonder if anyone else feels this way.

I can’t leave this post though, until I at least tell you that it has been the sweetest thing I have ever known. To be in such a constant place of hearing from the Lord, and being constantly convicted of my own sin, is so peaceful. Strangely peaceful. Crazy peaceful. Unconventionally peaceful.

But, man, it’s still tough.

In a Row of Graves

Check out this picture …

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Eran and I took our daughters last weekend to visit all of the headstones of those in our family who have passed away. This row of markers is the row of my grandfather’s family. The headstone, in the bottom left corner, is my grandfather’s. Trace the row to the top right corner, and you’ll see the headstones of his brothers and sisters, and his parents.

This is their family. Once upon a time, my grandfather was a kid, in a house full of kids. His parents were in the middle of parenting. There was once a lot of noise in their house; memories were being made, and exhaustion was being fought. But the kids grew up. They left their house, fought a war, had a family, and had their own grandchildren. And now, he and his family are together again, next to each other in their graves.

The time we have with our children is precious. And it’s fleeting. Don’t waste a minute with them. Don’t emphasize petty things like sports and movies. Emphasize, instead, God’s love and grace and mercy, and how God wants to use them to heal a broken world.

Read the gospels together.

Pray together.

Speak to them of how God is testing you, and how he is blessing you.

Remind them that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are just illusions of community.

Teach them how God wants his church to be a kingdom — the kingdom — on earth, and not an organization with great things to do, and with fantastic personalities to hear.

All of this has been especially heightened for me, though, in my two experiences in the past month serving the families of children with cancer. To say that I was humbled, and overwhelmed, at the serious tests these families endure is a vast understatement. These parents truly know the value of family, and they embrace it to its fullest experience, every day — in ways I cannot.

So again, I say, the time we have with our children is precious.

Because one day, regardless of our health and wealth right now, each of our families will only be known by the words etched in the stones at our graves.

This Is Who We Are

Blessings to you today, and thank you for joining me. This is my forty-third straight day reading through the New Testament, and you are reading my forty-third straight blog post over those readings. It has blessed me tremendously.

Today’s reading is Romans 4 through Romans 6. These three chapters are powerful, but I must confess that while reading them, I could only think of a preacher that preaches way too long.

And I mean no disrespect there. It’s really what my mind is willing to handle. Paul has a powerful theological argument, but it’s hard to digest these three chapters. Maybe you’ve found the same thing to be true.

Nevertheless, after switching translations (I linked to The Message above) and reading it fresh, the three chapters made a bit more sense to me. There are powerful words here that speak to us. This letter, in these three chapters, makes it clear that we — me and you and anyone you know — are mere followers in life.

We are powerless. We constantly rely on opinions, consultations, friendships, and counsel. We are born into a world, into a reality, designed for us to live together, in community, and we suffer greatly apart from it.

Culture, though, has seriously polluted community for us. We find illusions to it, now, in social media, where our online connections make us feel whole, even though it is illusory. Genuine community has become the victim to a personalized world. We’ve been taught to follow no one, isolating ourselves in our own hand-built world.

In this letter to the Romans, though, we find who we really are. We find our deepest created tendencies as followers. I find this comforting today. I hope you will, too.

We want to believe.

Belief is powerful. It is the blood of our anticipation. It is how we cope with our own smallness. We want to believe someone can do something that seems impossible to accomplish.

This letter to a disheveled Roman church tunes our ears to this very human instinct, and places our desire to believe squarely in the arena of faith. We want to believe that God will make us right, even against our own failures. We are made to believe that. It is our ultimate belief. Our own guilt is not the byproduct of cultural stipulations. It is the God-given signal that there is, genuinely, a right way to live. And we want to believe that.

Yet our own failures make this an impossibility. Temper, lust, anger, deceit. All of those, every day, prove to us our own inability to just be right — to just live right.

God, though, made Abraham someone he couldn’t become on his own, because he believed God could. God made him a father. He energized Abraham’s physical body to produce a child with his wife, Sarah, whose womb was dry with age. All Abraham had to do was believe it was possible, and then he became the father of us all. His life is a testament to the very power, and very necessity, of belief.

And Abraham believed even before there was some overbearing law that dictated right and wrong. Abraham knew what was right, without any written or taught standard. And his belief was rewarded. Ours is, too, through the awesome miracle of reconciliation.

Not only does God accept our belief, but validates it, every time we sin, by completely restoring our relationship with him. He restores this relationship to the pristine, pre-sin condition. Every time. Even when …

We still want to sin.

But even in the shadow of our own dreams, we are reminded, again, of our complete brokenness. We want to sin. Even writing that phrase, here, makes me shutter. Even my best attempt at holiness is met with my own failure.

Because we share the same desire to sin that was given to Adam. We share the same desire to become our own god. That is why God’s grace is necessary.

Grace is the only thing that can defeat our own tendency to leave God.

This is the verse, this morning, that energized me:

But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. (Romans 5:20, 21; The Message)

Even our own sin is matchless against the force of God’s grace.

We want to follow.

This letter, in chapter 6, tells the story of humanity, though, even after it shows us our own created tendencies to believe and sin. Ultimately, we are sheep. We want, earnestly, to follow something. Even great leaders in our own human systems rely on opinions and consultations of a larger group. No person makes great decisions on their own.

A baptism into the life of Jesus gives us a way to follow, though. This way changes our desires. It changes our actions. But do we completely understand that?

Our preferences change. Or at least they should, A baptism into the name of Jesus is a baptism into a completely different life. We no longer want to do the same destructive things.

Instead, we sacrifice those desires to live a completely whole life, free of guilt. That is radical.

To a city filled with slaves, Paul wrote about intentional slavery in this letter. Most slaves were held against their will, but the historical record indicates that, in Rome, some families intentionally became slaves for the guarantee of security and food.

Our life is an intentional life of slavery. We will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will destroy us, or we will intentionally be enslaved to a lifestyle that will always resurrect us.

And this is who we are.

__________

All through today’s reading, I kept playing this song in the back of my mind. It’s got a great guitar hook, but the lyrics are spot on. By a band called Hyperstatic Union, the song is called Slave. You can find it here.

There Is Room Enough for All of Us (Day Eighteen)

We are now on our eighteenth day in the New Testament. It’s been an amazing journey, especially to see the variations of the gospel accounts. Today’s reading is Luke 4-6.

And it is here where freedom begins.

Jesus has a unique mission, through the pen of Luke. And it’s simple.

Here it is, in Luke 4:18, 19:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

A powerful vision. In a synagogue, at the beginning of his ministry, he reads from Isaiah 61. Yet he omits the final part of this passage.

Here is the passage in Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God …

Jesus does not tell this synagogue audience that he would proclaim the day of vengeance of our God. He was holding the scroll. He saw that very line, and chose to omit it.

There were a host of pagan, Gentile enemies the Jewish people needed to be defeated. They fully and constantly expected a Messiah to deliver them from those Gentile enemies, and do so violently.

Yet Jesus, with his great omission, opens the door to great possibilities, and to a different view of salvation. His holy mission of freedom was available to everyone, Jew and Gentile. And, by doing so, his mission is attacked.

Because the first thing that happens to him, after his declaration of freedom in the synagogue in Nazareth, is a confrontation with a demon.

And this demon, speaking on behalf of all the evil spirits, is extremely bothered by Jesus’ teaching. Understand, Jesus was in the synagogue (now, in Capernaum) to teach — he was not in the countryside to heal. He wasn’t looking for a fight. Yet, with just a simple word from Jesus, the demon leaves the man, and Luke, known to us as a doctor, makes a careful note to let the reader know that possessed man wasn’t hurt at all.

So Jesus, through our reading today, continues his mission of freedom, first by freeing the possessed man. Then he freed a man from leprosy (5:12ff). Next, in Luke, he freed a man from paralysis (5:17ff). At the end of Luke 5, he freed a man, a tax collector, from being a social outcast (5:27ff).

Luke invites us on a journey with Jesus, then, as he fulfills his mission of freedom. Jesus frees people from demons. He frees them from illnesses. And he frees them from a broken human society.

He is making a community of those who have been freed. And this community is open to everyone, regardless of who they are, where they are from, or how they are seen by others. No power of hell, and no scheme of man, can keep these people from Jesus.

It reminds me of this song, by Nicole Nordeman, called “Please Come.” Take a listen, and use this as a soundtrack as you read Luke 5.

So take heart. There is room enough for all of us.

__________

You can click here for all of the posts. Thanks for reading!

Blue

Morpheus holds out his hands, with two pills.  One blue.  The other red.  His sunglasses cannot hide his smile, his look, as he knows his offer to Neo would not be rejected.  Lightning screams with violent cracks, and flashes through the curtained windows, and the glass of water on the table beckons.

Morpheus then speaks.  “This is your last chance.  After this, there is no turning back.  You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

__________

I think of that quote often.  I wrote a discussion guide for our small group leaders a couple of weeks ago about our online identities, and the more I read, and researched, the more alarmed I became.    

The story was about the decline of privacy through the increasing wave of the digital world, as it sweeps over our lives.   An entire American generation has taken the blue pill, and has become part of a stream of information, in a cyber world, that is never-ending, chosing to remain a part of what could very well be called the matrix.

Every data, every text, every tweet, every status update, every email, every uploaded picture or video, is now cemented in the vaults of servers, from individual IP addresses.

Every bit of digital information is thought-based, though.  Everything uploaded has to be premeditated, which means even the awful things we put online must undergo some thought process.  Stories emerge constantly of people regretting their online posts.  And I think more and more people will, one day, wish they had taken the red pill.  Because as our world grows more and more comfortable with avatars and tweets, in the chance that we could have greater connections with others through a digital world, we are also growing more and more disconnected.  Life is now lived on a computer screen, with children spending, on average, six hours in front of some kind of screen every day.

So when I read this article, all of these thoughts washed around in my head.  There is a trend now, of people unplugging, or going offline, or, in essence, taking the red pill, and are wanting to disconnect from this strange world of keyboards and screens and updates. 

Be warned, though.  The story is a little bizarre, but the intent is interesting. 

‘Anti-social network’ claims to be a Facebook killer app
by Rory Mulholland
AFP.com/ Yahoo news

Facebook makes you despair? Social networking makes you want to end it all? You may be ready for online ritual suicide with the aid of a new website that helps you kill your virtual identity.

“Impress your friends, disconnect yourself,” is the slogan on www.seppukoo.com, a site that aims to subvert Facebook by offering its millions of users a glorious end and a memorial page to match.

“Rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, ancient Japanese samurai preferred to die with honour, voluntarily plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving it left to right in a slicing motion,” the site notes.

This form of ritual suicide was known as “seppuku.”

“As the seppuku restores the samurai’s honour as a warrior, seppukoo.com deals with the liberation of the digital body,” the site says.

Today the enemy is not other bands of noble warriors but corporate media who use viral marketing to make huge profits by connecting people across the globe.

“Seppukoo playfully attempts to subvert this mechanism by disconnecting people from each other and transforming the individual suicide experience into an exciting ‘social’ experience.”

The site, which uses its own viral marketing strategy to lure in disgruntled social networkers, is part of a protest wave that sees Facebook as a potentially dangerous entity beholden to corporate interests. 

It offers ritual suicide for Facebook users in five easy steps.

Willing victims must first log in to seppukoo.com by typing in the same information they use to go on to their Facebook profile. 

They then choose one of several memorial RIP page templates before writing their last words, which the site promises to send to all their Facebook friends when they have taken the final step.

Once the user has made that fatal final click, his or her Facebook profile is deactivated.

But in what might be seen as a bit of a cheat, virtual life goes on after the ritual suicide.

It comes in the form of testimonials friends can write on the memorial page or by rising in the seppukoo ranks by scoring points with every former Facebook friend who follows your lead and commits hara-kari.

The top scorer in that game is currently a blonde woman who uses the name Simona Lodi and who passed into the post-Facebook world on November 5. 

But seppukoo.com has some way to go before it attracts anything near the more than 300 million users Facebook currently boasts. On Wednesday it pulled in only half a dozen Facebookers ready to end it all.

Its owners — whose website says are an “imaginary art-group from Italy” — told AFP by email that over 15,000 people had done the deed and over 350,000 Facebook users had received an invite to follow suit.

Facebook did not immediately reply when contacted by AFP to ask if it saw seppukoo.com as a threat and if it planned any action to block it.

To reinforce the tongue-in-cheek approach of seppukoo.com, the group’s art director — who uses the name Guy McMusker — replied when asked if he was a Facebook user: “Of course. We’re not Luddites. We’re incoherent.

The group is called “Linking The Invisible”‘ and its website says it is made up of media artists Clemente Pestelli and Gionatan Quintini whose work explores “the invisible links between the infosphere, neural synapsis, and real life.”

“Seppukoo admits that it is in reality a social networking group but seeks to distinguish itself from Facebook by noting that it will store no data and its server will not sell data to any third party.

“If you’ve trusted a merciless company (Facebook) until now, we hope you can also trust an imaginary artist group,” it says. McMusker said the site was not set up with a view to making money.

The RIP memorial page it offers Facebook dissidents could easily be mistaken for a real memorial for a real deceased person. But McMusker rejected suggestions it was in bad taste and said that no-one was likely to be upset.

“Just take it easy,” he wrote.

In the real world, suicide is obviously a one-way trip. But in the virtual world even a would-be subversive site like seppukoo.com cannot prevent your resurrection.

If you realise that leaving Facebook was a mistake, all you have to do is log back on again and your profile is instantly restored.

__________

Eventually, real life was too heavy of a burden for Cypher, and in the movie, The Matrix, he killed and sabotaged to find his way back to the land of make-believe.  His preference for the online world was no match for the truth of his situation.  For us, our online world is in a steady merge with reality.  But that is a reality that should all scare us.

For we become beholden to the machine, enslaved by the fake world of a light blue aura that shines into our eyes in the middle of the night, from a flat screen, or a handheld phone. 

So many people want genuine community, that the flat buzz of a monitor is too enticing, and offers community, though skewed as it is.  Because if people are devaluing real interaction, then all of our institutions which offer genuine community are headed for a change we may not want.