Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Much Ado

August 10, 2008

I’m an introvert, so doing something in public that might call attention to myself causes me a to experience fairly high level of anxiety. 

Well, I went to the grocery store last week and saw a police cruiser in the parking lot with the officer sitting in the driver’s seat. I thought , “I ought to go tell him, ‘Thanks for doing what you do.’” But the little anxiety shot that comes with the thought of talking with “strangers” was enough to stop me. Besides, I was thinking thankful thoughts. Isn’t that enough?

I thought about why I didn’t say something for a while and scolded myself for letting this stupid personality quirk stop me from doing what I know is the right and good thing. And when I had scolded myself enough to make the guilt go away, I forgot about it.

Until this week.

Same grocery store, almost same parking place, maybe the same officer and cruiser.

I have the same thought, same anxiety, almost same reaction. Except this time I say to myself, before I walk past him, “Well, he looks busy. If he’s still here when I come out it means I’m supposed to say this to him, if he’s gone then….” 

I no sooner walk in and grab a cart when his partner walks right in front of me not ten feet away. But there’s people around and I freeze up. 

I walk on for about thirty seconds and decide I’ve got to do this. So I turn around go in the direction he was headed to find him. I find him, only he’s talking with a couple of people. Abort! Abort! 

I turn around.

Five minutes later, the first officer, the one that was in his cruiser, comes in and walks right past me.

This is getting ridiculous. 

I’ve got my groceries and I’m headed to the car. He’s back in the cruiser. I go up to him, say, “I just wanted to thank you for what you do.” He says, “You’re welcome.”.

I go on to the car.

No big deal. 

What a small thing. How hard I sometimes make small things.


What are we afraid of?

May 21, 2008

Several years ago Brant Hansen posted a list of the most influential people in American Christianity, the ones who’ve had the most influence in the way Christians here think and act.

Jesus came in tenth. (tied with one of the Wesley brothers)

His point is that we seem to want to listen to (and maybe be followers of?) others, and what they say about Jesus, rather than to Jesus Himself.

It’s a good point.

Why do we do that? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but the first one that comes to mind is that we’re afraid.

And there’s good reason to be afraid. When we ask God to speak we fear at least two things.

One is that we’re afraid he won’t show up, that he’s not there at all. That the god (small “g”) we’ve prayed to doesn’t exist. Which, in some sense, is true for all of us (at least to some extent) because as Rousseau said, “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” The god we imagine and the God of the universe are two different beings.

The other fear is that he’ll actually show up. Things (and people) are never the same when he shows up. And that can be pretty scary.   The Israelites asked Moses to go listen to God and report back, for fear they would die if He spoke directly to them. Isaiah fell down as though dead when confronted with the presence of the King of Glory. Paul’s life was a little different after his trip to Damascus, and after pentecost I’m pretty sure Peter didn’t go back to fishing full time. The real God doesn’t always act like we think he will, or come when we think he ought to.”Did you think I was a man like yourself?”

It’s safer to listen to someone else, than it is to listen to God.

Scripture says that the people were amazed because Jesus spoke as one with authority, not like the religious leaders they knew. Apparently he could say, “I am” and folks fell to the ground.

But but it’s more than that, what he said was dangerous. What he said made folks afraid for their way of life.

Kingdom talk gets you killed. Offer forgiveness to the “wrong” folks and you’ve just made enemies. Challenge “the way things are” and see how quickly things get ugly. Be a peacemaker and see who both sides chew up and spit out. Start thinking in the ways of the Kingdom, and you’ll quickly find out why it’s such a radical life.

Eugene Peterson says, “If Christ is the King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus… A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things –what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’– is required.” ~ (The Jesus Way)

What if….

May 2, 2008

Is there a more dangerous game in all the world to play than the “What if…” game?

What if…

… I won the lottery?

… I had that house?

… I got that job?

… I could do that?

… I didn’t have to do that?

Or a little deeper and darker.

What if…

… I hadn’t done that?

… I had done this instead?

It plays both ways, it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing. It can make you dream big. It can make you dissatisfied with what is. It can make you fearful of what could be.

Visions of “what if” sometimes lead to great advancement. Business, nation, and individual have all moved forward by playing the “what if” game. All innovation, all creativity, all invention at base come from someone saying, “What if…?”

There are also visions that make us wake up in cold sweat. What if I lost my job, there were an accident, my marriage falls apart, a bad test result comes back?

Scripture both tells us to take up something like a version of the game, and tries to help us not take it too far.

Luke 14:25-32

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Counting the cost is quite a bit like asking the what if question. “What if…

… I start and can’t finish?”

… I don’t want to die daily?”

… it’s too hard?”

Jesus does it again with the rich young ruler. But he doesn’t let him even play the game, he spells it out for him. He makes him count the cost.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Playing the game in this sense isn’t playing at all, but a sober, assessment of what is likely to be required, or in this case what is actually being asked of us.

What I tend to do, however, is change it from a sober assessment to asking “what if” about things that might possibly be required, or asked of me.

I see Abraham asked to sacrifice his son, “What if I…?”. I see Mary’s reputation ruined, “What if that…?”. I see Paul’s multiple stonings, afflictions and persecutions, “What if I were…?.

In short, I see in scripture the lives of the saints upended and changed forever, and try to imagine myself in their situations. “I don’t have that much faith.” “That scares me to death.” I begin to brood about what God might take from me, and how I would react. It’s all fiction, but it makes me fear tomorrow. “What if…?”

God knows I”m prone to this, so here comes the help I need to try and put this stuff in perspective. 

“Don’t fear, little flock, the kingdom is yours.” “Don’t worry about how you’re going to live, your Father knows what you need.” “Don’t worry about tomorrow (“what if”), today (“what is”) is enough.” “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray, and give thanks, asking your Father, and he’ll supply your need.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “You didn’t receive a spirit of fear, but of adoption, and power, and love, and self-control.”

Lord, have mercy.

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 5)

April 9, 2008

   I was going to write the next post, in this series, on solitude, but I just got back from meeting with a friend of mine who reminded me of the importance of spiritual direction in it’s many forms.

He and I are roughly the same age, and (I would like to think) roughly in the same area of spiritual maturity. We talked for about an hour and a half telling our own stories, asking questions and listening to responses – both from each other, and from the Spirit of God.

My friend said something in the course of our time together that I know was from the Spirit. It was a word that spoke to my heart and my circumstances. It was a word that came from listening to me, and then listening to God, discerning where he was at work in me. He simply asked me a question, “Did I see any connection between this thing and that one? I hadn’t, really, until then. But there it was as plain as day. And boy, did I need it.

Now, I won’t go into details about what we were talking about, both because it was about my own personal circumstances, and because I don’t need to for this to illustrate what I am talking about.

My friend had done what any good “soul friend”, or spiritual director does.

1. Listen. Both to me, and to what the Spirit was pointing out.

2. Ask questions. Questions prompted by things I had said, asking for clarification, expansion, and connection.

3. Not have all the answers. And even if he thought he did have the answers, having the good sense not to share them, letting me come to see it myself, and then…

4. Let me think it through with God.

I need folks in my life like this. I need folks who know how to listen and discern where God is at work in me and around me. So do we all.

If you don’t have someone like this in your life, stop whatever you’re doing and find one. Pray that God will bring one into your life ASAP.

Yes, it really is that important. But don’t take my word for it. Edward Sellner tells this story of St. Brigit,

A young cleric of the community of Ferns, a foster-son of Brigit’s, used to come to her with dainties. He was often with her in the refectory to partake of food. Once after going to communion she strikes a clapper. “Well, young cleric there”, says Brigit, “do you have a soul friend?”. “I have”, replied the young man. “Let us sing his requiem”, says Brigit. “Why so?” asks the young cleric. “For he has died”, says Brigit. “When you had finished half your ration I saw that he was dead”. “How did you know that?” “Easy to say, (Brigit replies) from the time that your soul friend was dead, I saw that your food was put (directly) in the trunk of your body, since you were without any head. Go forth and eat nothing until you get a soul friend, for anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head: is like the water of a polluted lake, neither good for drinking nor for washing. That is the person without a soul friend”.

Quote Of The Day

February 11, 2008

Here’s a good one. Ouch.

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

-Soren Kierkegaard