Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lent, Faith, and Sacrifice

Since becoming a Christian and straying from my more nominally Roman Catholic roots, I've also strayed from the more liturgical aspects of my upbringing such as observing the liturgical calendar.  But, you know, there is something I'm really growing to appreciate about the lenten season.  Namely, I am growing to appreciate the idea of giving certain things up, making a sacrifice.

Granted, there are moralistic ways to do this, and Jesus quoted the Old Testament toward such folks: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."  But what I am coming to appreciate more and more is not what people give up for Friday's or for a week -meat, their cell phones, television, etc.- but rather what the concept of lenten sacrifice, to me, points to:  the respiration of faith.

Eugene Peterson's book, The Jesus Way, has unwrapped the nut of what I'm getting at in the first chapter, where he looks at the way in which Abraham exemplifies the way... the way of faith.  His ultimate point is that faith, the walk of faith, is something that has movement.  We are constantly moving from somewhere to somewhere, and that involves leaving things behind and moving to something new.  Think of how lightly you would pack if you knew you were moving every day!

"Abraham did not become out exemplar in faith by having it explained to him but by engaging in a lifetime of travel, life on the road, daily leaving something of himself behind (self-sovereignty) and entering something new (God-sovereignty).

Sacrifice is to faith what eating is to nutrition... Faith, of which Abraham is our father, can never be understood by means of explanation or definition, only in the practice of sacrifice. Only in the act of obedience do we realize that sacrifice is not diminishment, not a stoical 'This is the cross I bear' nonsense. It does not result in less joy, less satisfaction, less fulfillment, but in more -but rarely in the ways we expect." (p. 51)

The concept of sacrifice is the heart and soul of a life of faith -leaving the old and moving to the new.  It isn't something we do to pay God back nor to stoically punish ourselves.  It is the result of being present before God as He is present before us and walking expectantly toward His brighter and broader vistas.  We do not depart from Ur for the sake of proving our devotion but because we believe God -that He has something better for us.

Following Jesus, a life of faith, calls us to do this on many levels.  This is part of what defines a truly personal, Jesus-based life of faith (the other part being utter dependence upon Him as the righteousness we stand upon).  We rest upon, follow, and love a Person, not an idea or a system or an organization.  It separates it from the many who talk about "having faith" as if it were a thing, merely one ingredient of many toward a happy, self-sovereign life, an object in itself -like having a dog or a hobby or a regular exercise plan.  We are called to sacrifice, toward leaving and going, both on the micro level, in daily decisions, and on the macro level, with the overall direction and passions and desires of life.  Life becomes one grand journey away from our little kingdoms of self, with our lust and self-defined treasures, toward God's kingdom where He and His ways become our greatest treasure.  It is a journey of being called and following, and in the process we leave things behind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Building a Kingdom - More Thoughts on Insecurity

"... [N]ormal desires for love [are] mutated into something very different.  This happened because we made the world about us and our desires.  We want to be admired, respected, and important.  We want fame, as long as it doesn't interfere with our comfort.  We want... glory, glory for ourselves.
What we really need is a changed heart.
There it is again:  Whose kingdom?  Where is our treasure?  Our treasure is the admiration of others; our kingdoms are our own.  The way out begins with what Scripture calls repentance.  In shorthand form, this means that we confess we made it all about us.  We were building our own kingdoms, and now we recognize and state before God that we were wrong." (Running Scared by Ed Welch, p. 188)

Welch is right, and I see it in myself.  My insecurity and fear are built around me trying to build a kingdom for myself.  The bricks are human appreciation, approval, and affection.  The beams and supports are my greatness compared to others.  How do we build it?  What is the work we do to build it?  For me, I tend to live around my performance.  I live around being great at things I do and being everything others, certain people in particular, like.  And if I can't?  If I fail?  If for some reason my efforts turn out to be for naught because their approval is lost or threatened?  I panic.  This gives other people tremendous power over me, for they stand as the gateways to what I desperately need to build my kingdom.

He is also right that the beginning of making our pilgrimage out of this land of bondage comes through repentance -admitting that I've been all about me and my kingdom.  We've been working very hard, yes, but not to build God's kingdom.  We've been working to build our own.  Even good things, good actions, become tinged with the desire to get that something back.  Good actions have been captured as slave-workers for our little kingdom.
We find this quickly when we set out to "love other more than we need from others" but then are confronted with how difficult it is to do that.  We often quicky find that we have just employed the idea as one new strategy of many practical strategies to gain that approval and appreciation.  We come face to face with how much we need Jesus, and it is only through looking to Jesus and looking upon Him that we begin to be captured with the beauty of being lop-sided:  loving others relentlessly for the sake of God's kingdom even when they don't give us back what we want.

Are you building a kingdom for yourself?  What is it made of?  What are the bricks and beams made out of?  How do you try to build it?  How do you react when you sense it is being threatened?  When it is obliterated?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts on Insecurity

I struggle with insecurity.  Most people, if they are honest, will admit that they do.  I'm not really sure why, but I sorta always have.  Some experiences in life certainly haven't helped.

The Lord has shown me how my insecurity is laregely pride, a quest for my own glory.  I feel insecure about how I compare to others, but I simultaneously am compelled to do things which show how great I am when I am put in a position in which I believe I perform better than someone else.  I feel insecure about what others think of me

The result is simple.  It's called "slavery."  I'm either pulled with intense gravity to boast, or I'm intimidated by others, in comparison to them or terrified of their disapproval.  The closer they are to me or more important they are to me, the greater the effect.  Yet, it is slavery -I'm bound in service.  The worst thing my insecurity can handle is to not be great, to be insignificant, to be worthless.  And with all of that self-preoccupation, it is pretty difficult to think of and love others.

I've read enough and talked to enough counselors to know that a very common way to deal with this, from the aspect of Christian counseling, is to focus on my identity in Christ and my justification -that I am righteous in Christ, perfect and complete... that I am God's child, Christ's Bride, a priest unto God.  This is good, and it is true enough.  Maybe if there was some kind of powerful encounter with God where He really drilled these things into my soul, I would be "cured."

Is it really just a matter of finding my affirmation from God instead of people, or is there more to it?  I think there is more going on.  See, I never actually addressed something:  why am I so preoccupied with my own greatness and "glory" to begin with?  Maybe I don't need more affirmation, per se.  Maybe I need to look at the matter of my preoccupation with myself rather than my preoccupation with the Lord and others.  Granted, it is nothing I can flip a switch and change, but if I put my eyes there, at least I am perhaps being more honest about the issue.

See, Jesus gave us a totally backwards, upside-down way to look at "greatness."  He said that to be first meant to be last.  The greatest is the servant of all.  The one who is really "great" is the one who cares so little of his own greatness that he is preoccupied with serving others and being used faithfully by his God.  Jesus, Himself, exemplifies this, and He did so on our behalf.  The second chapter of Philippians reminds us of this.

Even though I still battle this, I do see something slowly working and brewing in me.  When I stop looking for methods to "fix myself" and I start looking at Jesus, drawing near to Him as a Person rather than an idea, I see in Him something beautiful.  I see One who had real greatness and glory, unlike me, and gave it up voluntarily to serve, to be an instrument.  As I gaze upon Him and enter in with Him, I start to love that about Him more and more... so much that I want to be like Him.  I start to love that about Him and see the true greatness of casting the opinions of others into the wind for the sake of being used by God in service to others.  I start to want to follow Him in that capacity, to walk in that way, even though I am so poor at it.

Lord, it is great to be used by You, to follow You no matter what because of who You are.  That is great and glorious.  I see in You that it is great to be counted as nothing by others for the sake of being a part of God's elaborite plan of redemption, working in the ways You have ordained for me, to path You have set for me.  It is great to be less so that You can be more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Following the Way...

I've been reading a book by Eugene Peterson called, The Jesus Way: Conversations on the Ways that Jesus is the Way.  So far, I'm really enjoying it, although some of it is a little slow -I want it to get going.  But it has been used by God to remind me and connect me more deeply with how Jesus is the Way and how that way includes following Jesus.

I find it funny how the simple things get muddled through our pursuit of things.  A good goal swallows up the means of the true Way of life.  Suddenly, life is about feeling better or changing my circumstances or growing in emotional stability or getting things to be how I want them to be, under the guide of Jesus and using Jesus to get them.  But returning to the concept of following Jesus, which in itself cannot reduced to a concept, changes everything.

And one of the things that Peterson has been reminding me of is how the metaphor of Jesus as the Way is just that -a metaphor.  In fact, it encompasses more than my words can delineate.  It is the difference between looking on a map to discover where I am and looking around me and taking in the view of the mountains and the grass and the streams and breathing in the sweet air.  The point is, while there are aspects of it that I can describe in words, I don't have to because it is something apprehended by faith... something known with more than the intellect, something known by the Spirit of God.

Peterson gave a vivid picture of how the Lord's table, or the eucharist and the eucharistic liturgy, metaphorically portray what I will describe as the Gospel coming to us as life and spreading life through us (i.e. what the Christian life is).

"God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together. And here is how we are in on it: we become present to what God intends to do with and for us through worship, become present to the God who is present to us. The operating Biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice - we bring ourselves to the altar and let God do with us what he will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table and enter into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving - the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken, and distributed. That eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing." (from the Introduction)

In fact, to say this is "the Gospel" coming to us and doing anything is, at the outset, somewhat incomplete.  It is true, as far as it goes, but to say it is "the Gospel" doing anything is impersonal in itself.  It is not solely an idea or a message that comes.  That is true.  But it is a living, breathing Savior who comes to us and then comes into us.  It is personal.  He doesn't give us a fact.  He didn't leave us with bare assurances.  It is not merely a "doctrine," though it is.  It is Him.  Personal, corporate yet personally connected to us each.

I love the way Peterson describes it.  Jesus comes, is blessed, broken, and distributed.  On Him I feast, on Him I am sustained, and then His life is spread through me to others as I, with Him now living in me, am blessed, broken, and distributed to others through service.  And that is where following comes in.  This is my purpose, shaped by the reality of Jesus Christ.  It is not to primarily find some kind of self-actualization.  It is to find what I find so beautiful in my Savior working its way out in my life as my eyes leave myself and my life, as I follow and embrace Him and what is so beautiful about Him: how He was blessed and broken and given.

And so I follow, and I learn how to follow, and I learn what it means to follow, and I learn why following Him is better, why being broken and distributed in following Him is better than having a great reputation or thinking I am righteous or being appreciated or having the applause and approval of others or getting all this world has to offer.  "Follow Me," He said.  "Yes, Jesus.  May I count everything as loss for the sake of knowing You and having You..."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reinventing

I notice how I am. I tend to reinvent myself when I come across some new, ground-breaking knowledge, when I find a new favorite teacher or preacher who really brings something to life that I've never seen before. And I create new, vast ideas. Since I like to write, I sometimes create new blogs. A new idea comes into my head, and it becomes a new blog, a new "ministry" to save one minscule corner of the world.

But why? I realized that many times it is because I want to leave behind who I was. That was the old Tim, the one who didn't have this new knowledge or new insight or new found confidence or depth of intimacy with God. So, create a new platform, create a new forum, a new arena to put my ideas out.

Yet, they were fresh ideas once. There was a point in time where those things I wrote were real. They were felt, they were chewed on, they were struggled through -sometimes painfully. They were wrestled with. They enlightened me or pierced my soul. They were relevant to where I was at the time, even if now, looking upon them, I think, "Wow, he really missed what was most important." I'm certain I will look back on this some day with the same awkwardness -like when you look at your dorky yearbook pictures from when you were fourteen.

But the truth is, those are me, too. My past, my past thoughts, my past experiences, my past mistakes, and my past ideas -whether good or bad, enlightened or foolish, on-the-mark or scattered, prideful or humble, make up who I am and make up my journey of faith with Jesus Christ. If we have no past to look back to, we have not moved, we have not grown, we have not made steps forward.

It dawned on my that all my attempts at coming up with new blogs and editing who I was before... it is foolish. I should be able to look back upon where I was and either laugh or cry, smile or wince, but it would still be real. I came to see that no matter what I might think of who I was or what I wrote in the past, it is still part of who I am and part of my journey, and to have it chronicled for me is a good thing. It is a way to see myself as real, to see myself from the outside as a living lump of clay being formed in the hands of my Master. There I am... in all my imperfection. There I am... the one that the Lord loves and holds, the one He knows personally and intimately, the one He stooped to claim. That is a great thing, an amazing thing.

So, I'm shutting down my other blog, Gospel Identity. I'll probably transfer some posts over to this blog, but in the future I intend to contribute on this blog which represents me, personally.

Besides, is it my job to try to save you with dazzling insights, even if (in the moment) I think I've found one? Hardly, although I've acted that way, before. I've been a prisoner in my own thoughts to know, the hard way, that it is not more insights I (or any of us) need... it is only my Savior. It is Jesus, simple and complex, above and yet imminent... with the Father and yet right here with me, keeping me, walking with me, walking ahead of me. If any of my thoughts can be used by Him to point another to Him and to connect with someone wherever they are in life, then that is a gift in itself -one I cannot produce. Praise be His.

Keepin' it real...

-Tim