Keep Knocking

Some words just stay with us. No matter what we do or where our lives take us we just can’t get rid of them. They appear out of nowhere and find us in the middle of the night, only to stay for a while in the times when we would rather think about anything else.

You can read some of the words that like to torment me in the fourth chapter of Ephesians.  They interrogated me all those years ago when I first considered Jesus and they have returned with a vengeance lately:

“I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

It’s hard out there for everybody, it seems, and certainty for those of trying to lead in and through the church. People are angry and overwhelmed. We see it most clearly online around politics, but that’s far from the only place. People are generally scared and overwhelmed. And so we lash out and we tell people what they have to do. We long for a better way but we also seem to have given up the belief that such a way is possible. We once believed in exceptionalism. Now we settle for inevitability.

I, like seemingly everyone else, am anxious too. I wonder what it means to take on a ministry of reconciliation in a world that gets more fractured and pulled apart every day. I search for answers as I read and pray in a sea of problems that seem too large for me to solve. I keep looking for a way beyond despair from powers and principalities that seem much too large for me to influence or confront.

What does it mean to be faithful to the Gospel I trust right now?  Indeed, those old words are back. What is required of me to live a life worthy of the calling I have received?

Jesus once told a story to explain prayer and action. He talked about someone going to a friend’s house late at night in search of bread. The moral of the story was this: keep knocking.

He said that if you keep knocking the door will be opened. He said that if you keep knocking someone will listen to you. He said if you keep knocking even though someone’s first instinct is to keep the door shut and pray the knocking will end, if you keep at it the door will eventually swing wide open.

Living a life worthy of the calling means to keep knocking. So even when it feels like it doesn’t make a difference, we are going to keep gathering people to read our Story that says God is preparing a table for all the children of the world. When it seems like no one is listening we are going to keep telling the truth as we understand it. When the shouting is only getting louder we are going to make space to listen because we know that God hates a divided world and is making a better one. When we are hungry for a better way we are going to gather around a Table because we know the one thing we have in common is a desperate need to be fed. When we wonder if there is anything we can possibly do to make a difference we are going to work and pray because we’ve come to believe that without God’s help, it might be impossible.  But we have seen that when God gets involved justice does roll down like waters even if the water hasn’t reached everybody just yet.

To trust in the God of the Bible is to trust that truth – that God is with us. And so as followers of Jesus we trust that the best way to transform the world is to do the things Jesus told us to do. After all, he said he came not to condemn the world or even to leave it alone but to transform it and renew it with love.

It is because we know that we aren’t alone that we can keep knocking. We can keep knocking because we know we don’t have to take on the powers all by ourselves. We can keep working at reconciliation because we know God is at work in it with us. We can advocate for justice again and again because we know that we aren’t working on our own. We can do the seemingly innocent but actual radical work of reading and living in this Story because we know God is still writing it in and through us. After all, Jesus told us that we were to be his witnesses, and that God was giving us the power and the wisdom to do it well, despite ourselves.

It is easy to get discouraged and to feel overwhelmed. It is easy to believe that your work and your life don’t have the power to make anything change.

But you aren’t doing this stuff on your own. You can live a life worthy of the incredible calling you have received.

Don’t give up. Keep knocking.

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Survival Guide: Four Strategies For Thriving in a Summer of Discontent

The counter in the fellowship hall serves as the de facto water cooler in my church. It is the place where we talk shop – where the teenagers inform me of my latest fashion missteps, where the old men taunt me with ghost stories about the Cubs’ impending collapse (not going to happen this year), and where everyone seems to want to find anything to talk about but the upcoming election.

A study of our zip code would lead you to assume that we are a pretty reliable voting bloc for the Republicans, but we’ve got some blue dots in an otherwise solidly red district. In some cases, blue and red even manage to live under the same roof.

None of us are political or cultural experts, but we have come to agree on one thing – we are dreading the summer.  With both major party’s candidates sporting higher negative ratings than any in recent memory, we are battening the hatches and preparing ourselves for a summer of negavity, a prolonged season of personal attacks, and a stretch where locating hope and inspiration will require an exhaustive search.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Christian call to resistance.  Although the easy access to information and the daily drumbeat of analysis and criticism won’t make it easy, it is possible to resist the trap our broken political culture wants to set for us.  It is possible, even in an election year, to love God, love people and shine God’s light in a hurting world all while keeping your sanity.

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Here are four practices that can help us do just that.  I’m going to do my best to embrace them. You might find them helpful too.

  1. Seeing God’s People: Although the candidates and their teams will segment people by voting bloc, zip code, priority issues and other data points, we know that for God everyone is funneled into another category – people God created and loves unconditionally. No matter how strongly we might disagree with someone or think they are wrong about the direction of the country, God thought enough of that person to send Christ to die for them.  When we keep that in mind, it becomes a lot harder to divide people in ways that are sinful and reject the words of Genesis – that male and female, God created them in God’s image.
  2. Citizenship Matters: Although I vote in a particular state and county, in my baptism I received a citizenship in another country and a charge to serve another kingdom – the kingdom of God. That citizenship and that commissioning come with a higher purpose and higher stakes than those of any interest group or political party. In short, the most important commitment I will ever make is to become a follower of Jesus Christ.  If we can remember that, we can avoid the temptation to forget our life’s purpose and the One who is the true source of our hope and salvation.photo-1456409977730-84bb5dbf5503
  3. Thy Will Be Done: One of the implications of Incarnation, that in Jesus God became human, is that God cares about what happens in the world.  For God so loved the world, John 3:16 begins.  As Christians, regardless of our political preferences, we believe in a different kind of politics that leads us to pray in every part of life that God’s will be done. Although we do take the election seriously and we do earnestly study the candidates and make the best choice we can, our ultimate prayer is that these events would reflect and bring about God’s will for our families, our nation and the world.  After all, Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that political rulers and authorities are ultimately servants of God, and the Bible is full of examples where God uses secular rulers and authorities to achieve God’s purpose and mission. 
  4. Tuning Out: God called us to work for six days and on the seventh day rest.  Citizenship isn’t for wimps – it requires us to pay attention, to grapple with issues and leaders, and to listen and talk with wise friends about the kind of leadership we need.  Like life, sometimes citizenship can be overwhelming. That’s where sabbath comes in. The practice of sabbath – resting from the drumbeat of the process – can restore perspective, provide needed rest, and remind us of the truth Christians believe about any aspect of the world – that God is still God and we are still not. Sabbath isn’t just a day apart, but is a way of life. We can practice sabbath and receive holy rest by letting go of things that are consuming us – our phones, our fears and in this season even our politics. So, eat lunch with a friend, enjoy a good book, or go for a walk in the woods.  In short, do whatever you need to do to relax. You can take a break, it will be OK. Sabbath is God’s way of reconnecting with us and healing what ails us.
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Resist or Perish: The Faith of Scratching and Clawing

Zadie Smith is brilliant. And she’s British, so when she opens her mouth and releases those wise and eloquent words, she sounds so, so smart.

It’s really not fair. 

A good friend introduced me to her writing a few years ago and I was reminded of the depth of the gift of this introduction on Friday night at the Festival of Faith and Writing. 

She had so many good things to say as she issued a prophetic call to resist becoming part of the market-inspired creative class. Instead, like a preacher who refused to be moved off the truth that would not let her go, she challenged us to pursue the radical act of crafting good sentences born out of lives of integrity, intelligence and conviction. 

After all, she reminded us, writers care about forming sentences. That is what we do. Although there were plenty of good ones to take in, one particular arrangement of words has been taking root and messing with me this week.

“Thinking differently necessitates some kind of resistance.”

Those words remind me that although we want to see ourselves as individuals who act on our own terms, most of us live and move and have our being as part of systems that push us towards a bland, anonymous sameness.

And unless we fight it, seriously and with everything we have, our lives will become tragically less about living into our God-given uniqueness and inevitably more about being jammed into pre-determined systems and processes with very little concern for who God is making us to be. 

We know this so well that we’ve stopped being bothered by it. We know it in the places that matter most.

You and I desperately want a rich and joy-filled family life chock full of meaning and purpose. Instead, most of us settle for a desperate and panic-filled rush to get everything done and everybody taken care of in just enough time to watch a few minutes of TV before we sprint to bed so we can get enough sleep to hop on the wheel again tomorrow. 

You know exactly why resistance matters. But there’s just one problem – I have a really hard time seeing myself as a resister.

When I think of resisters I think of the protestors who force us to consider the gap between our ideals and the way we actually live. Even more I think of the kids we all knew in high school – you know, the ones who batted aside our need to claim status from an expensive label by mocking us with their smirks and tweed jackets littered with pins of conscience. 

But the reality is, whether I like it or not, that in order to live the life I want to live – a life as a conscious and committed Christian – I have to become a resister. 

Becoming a person of Christian faith –  a person who lives by a different code and makes decisions rooted in the identity of one trying to be faithful to the way and life of Jesus – both implies and demands a lifestyle of  committed and continual resistance. 

Instead of allowing my mind and body to be shaped by the best marketers and most creative advertising campaigns,  I am called to resist by making intentional decisions about the sources and people who get the privilege to influence my thoughts, and therefore, my life. 

Instead of blindly accepting the slogans peddled by politicians and preachers, I am called to resist by examining every would be truth under the light of the One who is the way, the truth and the life – and that always involves resistance.  

Instead of believing the lies that tempt us – that our value and worth can only be defined by the size of our family, the title on our business card or the security of our bank accounts, I am called to resist by living in the truth that, regardless of the numbers, my identity comes from God and is always secure.  

Instead of believing that our response to injustice is limited to to either praying without doing or to acting apart from the work and presence of God, I am called to resist by living out my belief that the work of prayer and the work of justice are always bound together.

I’ve learned the most about the necessity of resistance in trying to seek and find a life of prayer and presence. Maybe part of the reason prayer often feels like it comes in fits and starts is that it is, or at least feels like it is, impossible to nurture an actual relationship and real connection with God while racing to meet a never-ending list of demands that insist upon being checked off. 

Instead of believing that every single moment of my life has to be productive because we are what we produce, the practice of pursuing this kind of life with God while sometimes doing nothing and making nothing – that is a serious act of resistance to and rebellion against the culture at hand and the powers and principalities. 

Resistance is ultimately rebellion.  Because if you want to live differently – you begin by thinking differently.

Be not conformed but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.  

It begins by paying attention and making choices based on the ideals you strive for and the values you hold dear.

So, regardless of whether you look like you belong in the Sons of Anarchy or the Brooks Brothers catalogue, this life is always forged by resistance. 

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

Resist or Perish: The Faith of Scratching and Clawing

Zadie Smith is brilliant. And she’s British, so when she opens her mouth and releases those wise and eloquent words, she sounds so, so smart.

It’s really not fair. 

A good friend introduced me to her writing a few years ago and I was reminded of the depth of the gift of this introduction on Friday night at the Festival of Faith and Writing. 

She had so many good things to say as she issued a prophetic call to resist becoming part of the market-inspired creative class. Instead, like a preacher who refused to be moved off the truth that would not let her go, she challenged us to pursue the radical act of crafting good sentences born out of lives of integrity, intelligence and conviction. 

After all, she reminded us, writers care about forming sentences. That is what we do. Although there were plenty of good ones to take in, one particular arrangement of words has been taking root and messing with me this week.

“Thinking differently necessitates some kind of resistance.”

Those words remind me that although we want to see ourselves as individuals who act on our own terms, most of us live and move and have our being as part of systems that push us towards a bland, anonymous sameness.

And unless we fight it, seriously and with everything we have, our lives will become tragically less about living into our God-given uniqueness and inevitably more about being jammed into pre-determined systems and processes with very little concern for who God is making us to be. 

We know this so well that we’ve stopped being bothered by it. We know it in the places that matter most.

You and I desperately want a rich and joy-filled family life chock full of meaning and purpose. Instead, most of us settle for a desperate and panic-filled rush to get everything done and everybody taken care of in just enough time to watch a few minutes of TV before we sprint to bed so we can get enough sleep to hop on the wheel again tomorrow. 

You know exactly why resistance matters. But there’s just one problem – I have a really hard time seeing myself as a resister.

When I think of resisters I think of the protestors who force us to consider the gap between our ideals and the way we actually live. Even more I think of the kids we all knew in high school – you know, the ones who batted aside our need to claim status from an expensive label by mocking us with their smirks and tweed jackets littered with pins of conscience. 

But the reality is, whether I like it or not, that in order to live the life I want to live – a life as a conscious and committed Christian – I have to become a resister. 

Becoming a person of Christian faith –  a person who lives by a different code and makes decisions rooted in the identity of one trying to be faithful to the way and life of Jesus – both implies and demands a lifestyle of  committed and continual resistance. 

Instead of allowing my mind and body to be shaped by the best marketers and most creative advertising campaigns,  I am called to resist by making intentional decisions about the sources and people who get the privilege to influence my thoughts, and therefore, my life. 

Instead of blindly accepting the slogans peddled by politicians and preachers, I am called to resist by examining every would be truth under the light of the One who is the way, the truth and the life – and that always involves resistance.  

Instead of believing the lies that tempt us – that our value and worth can only be defined by the size of our family, the title on our business card or the security of our bank accounts, I am called to resist by living in the truth that, regardless of the numbers, my identity comes from God and is always secure.  

Instead of believing that our response to injustice is limited to to either praying without doing or to acting apart from the work and presence of God, I am called to resist by living out my belief that the work of prayer and the work of justice are always bound together.

I’ve learned the most about the necessity of resistance in trying to seek and find a life of prayer and presence. Maybe part of the reason prayer often feels like it comes in fits and starts is that it is, or at least feels like it is, impossible to nurture an actual relationship and real connection with God while racing to meet a never-ending list of demands that insist upon being checked off. 

Instead of believing that every single moment of my life has to be productive because we are what we produce, the practice of pursuing this kind of life with God while sometimes doing nothing and making nothing – that is a serious act of resistance to and rebellion against the culture at hand and the powers and principalities. 

Resistance is ultimately rebellion.  Because if you want to live differently – you begin by thinking differently.

Be not conformed but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.  

It begins by paying attention and making choices based on the ideals you strive for and the values you hold dear.

So, regardless of whether you look like you belong in the Sons of Anarchy or the Brooks Brothers catalogue, this life is always forged by resistance. 

Thank You So Much For Sharing...