Be.

I recently read a book called “Hiking Through” (often I read backpacking books when I have an insatiable itch to go on a long backpacking trip but alas, cannot).  Aside from a man’s journey hiking the 2,160  mile Appalachian Trail, his constant reflection back on his life were all the things he’d missed out on by allowing himself to be busy and pursuing career or ‘stuff’ over being present and enjoying life.  Ironically enough, between managing a few too many things in my life, have been processing that idea for a few weeks.

This week I read a short something called “Your Story and His Story” and consequently it stuck a deeper chord.  The page long article written by Dr. R.L. Pratt Jr., caused me to ask myself some questions; questions I believe we, who call ourselves Christ followers, should consider.

Dr. Pratt presented the story of Hannah and Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).  In reading we see a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of a woman who experienced great pain and great blessing.  Yet in the narrative we see a woman with a deep abiding knowledge that God’s story was bigger than she could see, and further that her story was a part of God’s.  We may not directly relate to the experience of long being without child, then having the blessing of a child only to give him back in service to the Father in the Tabernacle, but we relate unreservedly to the pain of life, the ups and downs.

Every human on this earth (every honest human) can give an account of the ways we have been frustrated, disappointed, then elated, and again felt the sting of disillusionment.  In reality our story may be nothing we would want to admit because it pales in comparison to Hannah’s story.  On the other side, our story may greatly surpass Hannah’s and be nearly unbelievable.  Here’s the beauty, it does not matter how big or small and comparing to others pain doesn’t help.  We still have a scar, we still have our own heartbreak.

But more importantly, how do we see our pain?  How do we see our ups, our downs, our insecure moments of doubt?  Do we allow it to throw our lives into complete turmoil or do we ask God to show us glimpses of how our story is intricately woven into the bigger story He is weaving.  I ardently believe that our stories are part of God’s greater story.  For example,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
— James 1:2-4

There are many other beautiful examples of God using our stories as part of His story, but frankly the entire Bible is a testament to the ways God uses broken, normal, weak people to accomplish His will.  I believe it takes reading the whole thing (over and over) to really understand the depth of this.  Picking and choosing little moments really doesn’t do justice to the beauty within The Word.

In Hannah’s story, along with many other, I am affirmed that God has not abandoned me or gives little consideration to my pain (be it large or small).  He does not promise that He will remove the hurt of the world (remember Genesis & ‘the fall’), but He is faithful to be with me and use the pain to draw me close to Himself and restore our souls — everyone has heard Psalm 23.  Go read it now.

So, with my relative rabbit trails — I want to get back to what I set out to say.  How often do I dwell on my circumstances?  Do I allow myself to compare my story with that of another friend?  How often do I form conclusions that are false?  How often do I believe ‘something else’ will make me happy?  Do I let myself get caught up in dwelling on the worries of this world versus dwelling and abiding with Christ?  How often do I sit an relive the past or worry about the future?

I don’t want, nor do I believe God wants us, to steep in the mire or worry, regret or disappointment.  He has continually blessed us and throughout scripture promises to grow us and pour out wisdom through His Spirit.  If that’s not a blessing I don’t know what is.

I want to be present.  I want to be.  I want my eyes and heart to be open to the ways God is moving around me each day.  I want to enjoy time with my wife, my family and my friends now.  Because we aren’t promised tomorrow or even our next breath.  I don’t want doubt or worry to cloud my thoughts.  I don’t want my ‘to do list’ to keep me from Abiding, dwelling and making my real home in Jesus.  I don’t to make it to 31 years of age and think, “Ugh, what have I even done with my life”, then proceed to list off my pathetic disappointments.  I want to choose joy now.

“You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is FULLNESS of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
— Psalm 16:11

I am going to choose to be.  And ask the Father to keep me. 

 

 

unrelated side note:  In case you were curious, hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is high on my wish list for the future.   I would consider accepting applicants for hiking partners.

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Simplicity

I rather like how you sometimes stumble upon quite profound truths, even in random emails.  Today I received an email from the subscription list for Rend Collective, the Irish folksy Christian group.  They tend to focus greatly on the community, the gospel & what God has called us to as believers in the Truth.  I like that.  But today’s email struck me, and I am thankful to have read it.  They were excited to discuss their new album, a follow up to their previous ‘Campfire’ album.  The first was naturally, recorded around a campfire.  The second installment will also be recorded around a campfire.  For many reasons I won’t go into — I love anything outside, outdoorsy or campfire — but that’s not the point.  In this email, a particular statement stood out in regard to worship and the idea is quite opposite the norm & haunting in it’s depth.  The quote reads,

We’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity in worship.  A phrase that’s been bouncing around in our camp has been ‘simplicity breeds authenticity’.

I personally found this incredibly refreshing.  I am possibly one of the rare folks I know who gets a bit overwhelmed by the flash of modern worship in evangelical circles.  It is not something that appeals to me, and I believe distracts from the core focus we are called to, the Gospel of Jesus.  Not only did I find this quote refreshing, but perhaps indelible.

In regard to simplicity and authenticity — I believe removing fluff helps us as broken people to remove the masks.  I don’t need to pretend to be better or more gifted in order to keep up with the flash of modern evangelicalism.  If the church culture teaches me we have to make everything better, bigger & more impressive — I am left to assume that I must also be better, bigger & more impressive.  Thus negating the Gospel and putting me on track to perform and slip on a mask when I am not measuring up.  Yikes.

In complete fairness, these thoughts are subjective — being my opinions, observations and preferences.  They are in no means brilliant and are probably not of great divine inspiration.  However, when I read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), when I read Acts and all the letters of the early church — rarely do I see mention about making sure our worship is anything more than simple.  The main focus is Jesus, the great Love of God the Father and the works of the Holy Spirit.  The emphasis lies more on humility, surrender, abiding in Christ, relying and trusting the Spirit, loving others, protecting the unloved and forgotten and being set apart and not captured by the snares of the enemy.  Do we really focus on that in our worship?   Or is it more about, “finding ways to draw people in…”?

Psalm 149 & 150 certainly speak of the instruments used to praise God, and things for which we should praise God, but I don’t get the impression it was meant to impress outsiders — it was meant to glorify God.  And in the Spiritual Kingdom established by Jesus that we dwell in, it is about worship in Spirit & Truth.  I cannot read John 4:23-24 without getting excited chills,

“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
— John 4:23-34 HCSB

I love that verse, worship in Spirit and Truth, true worshipers — wow, isn’t that what we really long for?!

Resoundingly in the New Testament I read a narrative, a fervent teaching that the Gospel is enough to compel people to true worship, Romans 12 worship (Romans 12).  And don’t we want true worship?  If we are seeking to pull people into the Body of Christ through ‘excellent programming’ and ‘killer experience’ and ‘relevant sermon topics’ are we diminishing the grandeur of the Gospel?  Are we taking the power of God into our own hands?  Are we not confident enough in the Gospel’s power?

To me, worship is getting ourselves out of the way to adore God for who he is, without our issues or agendas.  But the flash of modern worship ‘feels’ like an excuse to add more between us and God, rather than remove and draw near to the Father.  When is the last time you heard that in church… “draw near to the Father”?

I was fortunate enough to bounce this ‘mental chewing’ off a co-worker today and was given a very interesting perspective.  Upon giving him the statement “simplicity breeds authenticity”, he provided the response, “authenticity can breed simplicity”.  I wish I was eloquent enough to unpack the thoughts in my mind, but my co-worker’s reversal of the words is very profound.  I agree upon further thinking that he is indeed right, meanwhile I still agree with the original statement too.  I suspect they are interwoven, which is typical of most things I have learned of God.  They are rarely as surface level as we may initially think, they are always richer, deeper and more beautiful than we would dare to imagine.  This is something I dearly love about God.

Simplicity breeds authenticity. 
Authenticity breeds simplicity. 

Perhaps this is all rather naive and idealistic, but if there is some truth to it, I want to take it seriously and draw nearer to God & His word to help me unpack it more.

When it comes down to it, none of these things — lights, impressive music, beautiful sets, professional production and/or created experiences are by any means wrong or bad — but if they detract from truly worshipping God, they should be sacrificed to Glorify the only one deserving — our Heavenly Father.

Heroes

Our world, our culture perhaps, is increasingly focused on ‘Heroes’.  Whether it’s the major resurgence of action hero movies, whole entire series of comic characters brought to life on screen, larger than life political characters or even social activists.  Whatever, or whomever the heroes may be — we are looking for something or someone larger than ourselves.  There are probably countless reasons for this search, but I believe the most simplified answer is that we want to know someone else is more powerful, more in control, more ‘on-top-of-things’ and possibly can rescue us or ‘make things better’ from the seemingly difficult position we may find ourselves.  It’s not always an easy thing to discern, to see in our lives, because it requires humility to verbalize that we aren’t as independent or self-sufficient as we’d like to portray.

As such, we end up pledging our allegiance, hanging our hopes on our heroes.  This hero may be a political figure, religious authority, but maybe even a father, brother, grandmother, cousin or even a friend.  The heart breaking reality of so many of our heroes is that they can inevitability disappoint us.  Take the example of a young boy who somewhat ‘idolizes’ his father.  He loves his father, follows him everywhere, mimics Dad and wants to be like Dad when he’s grown up.  Sadly as life and time often do, we see a more complete picture.  Our father is not perfect.  Our friend disappoints us over and over.  Our political leader doesn’t deliver the grandiose plans they promised.  The significant other in our life isn’t the ‘larger than life’ savior we hoped they were.  It’s dashing, devastating and can end up causing resentment, bitterness and a jaded outlook.

We desire to have a hero — one who will protect us, advocate for us, comfort us, save us and if necessary redeem us.  We want to know something outside ourselves is big, powerful and present.  Our earthly heroes can never completely satisfy this desire.  Our comic book heroes (who are by the way fictional) also cannot meet this in reality.  But nonetheless, this fascination with heroes points to a greater need — and if we accept it, a greater gift.

Jesus is that hero.  Jesus is bigger.  Jesus is stronger.  Jesus will redeem.  Jesus is worth imitating.  Jesus is ‘on-top-of-things’.  Jesus promises and delivers comfort.  Jesus is present.  Jesus is faithful.  Jesus wins.

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
— Romans 8:37 NASB

The part about this that so many folks struggle with is that this kingdom, this reign and majesty don’t necessarily exist in the physical world within the terms we’d prefer.  Jesus doesn’t exactly cater to our human expectations and desire to fit in neatly and orderly into our particular box.   Jesus clearly was helping us to understand through His words while he was here on earth that His Kingdom was not of flesh and bone or brick and mortar — it was of a Kingdom of Heart and of Spirit.  Which in a rather poetic realization, is a Kingdom that can NEVER be destroyed.  Nothing done to us physically, politically, emotionally, etc. can defeat or tear down the walls that Jesus has built in the Kingdom of God.  And that is ‘Amen’ kind of good news.  It doesn’t always feel like Jesus conquered the world — but that’s because His Kingdom is SO much greater than this world.

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
— John 16:33 HCSB

Jesus has defeated the world and established His Kingdom.  Jesus has already won.  He is indeed the hero we long for, that we look for earthly examples of.  We should look to Jesus, He is the hero our hearts long for desperately.  Jesus is that hero.