Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Comfort of Purpose

Posted by Michael

There is a well-known story in the Bible about a man named Peter who was a close follower of Jesus. During the trial of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion, Peter, fearing for his life, denied even knowing him. This came after three years of close community with Jesus where he witnessed miracles and heard countless teachings. This was also after Peter had bragged that he would never leave Jesus’ side, at which point Jesus predicted the upcoming denials. Many are quick to judge Peter for his fear and his betrayal, but a closer look at the passage shows that all of the disciples made similar promises to Jesus (see Mark 14:31). The disciples broke away from Jesus for a while due to the fact that the actions happening in front of them didn’t match up with the expectations they carried in their heads. “Jesus wasn’t supposed to die like this! This was supposed to be the start of something big.” 

This is the precise reason that many of us pull away from Jesus from time to time in our own lives. What we expect of Jesus doesn’t match up to what we experience in our lives. “I thought Jesus loved me, why would he let me get sick? Why would he allow my friend to lie about me and betray me? I just want to provide for my family, why won’t he give me a job?” It’s at that point that we run away angry, fearful, and confused. We expect that Jesus will make our life work, when the Bible and our own life experiences teach us very clearly that life doesn’t work. Our world is broken, as are our relationships, jobs, and bodies. As comforting as a nice predictable path through life might seem, it’s not something that Jesus ever promised. He promised His presence and He promised that He would make our lives matter. He wants to use us to bring hope and mercy to the very broken world that we wake up to every day. It’s in this way that our own hearts are calmed. Purpose offers much more comfort than predictability. It’s not as immediate, but it’s deeper and longer lasting, and purpose is what we are promised. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Books I Love: Part 2

Posted by Michael

Thanks for all of the feedback on books that have impacted you. I can’t wait to read some of the books you’ve recommended! Keep the ideas coming!

Another book that impacted me in my Christian life was “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster. Foster was heavily influenced by the Quaker tradition, but his writings apply wonderfully to all Christians. It is difficult to find a book about spiritual growth and disciplines that isn’t legalistic or driven by guilt. Foster writes with grace and mercy and his breakdown of various Christian disciplines is encouraging. I enjoy books that tend to propel you into action, and “Celebration of Discipline” is just such a book. It invites you to be intentional about your growth, and offers straightforward advice in how to begin. It’s a great book to have on the bookshelf to return to periodically.  It is enjoyable reading and is also a catalyst for growth. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Books I Love Part 1

Posted by Michael

For some time I have been trying to work out some blog posts about “Books Every Christian Should Read” or “The Most Important Spiritual Writings of the Past Century” but the more I work on it, the more ridiculous it sounds. I believe that you should read what interests you. That’s how you find the really great books. So, instead of a list of books that I feel ought to be read, I am dedicating a couple of posts to books that have impacted me spiritually. I would absolutely love any feedback you have about books that have shaped you. I’m always looking for a good read….

If I had to only pick one book that has impacted my in ministry and in my personal life, “The Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen would be near the top of the list. It is a short and straight forward book that comes in the form of Nouwen passing on advice to a younger man. Nouwen contends that the fact that we are loved by God is the core truth of our existence. It’s what gives us hope, courage, and allows us to receive mercy and forgiveness. The only way that we are able to have a meaningful relationship in life is to first know that we are deeply loved by an unchangeable God. Who I am isn’t defined by my successes or failures or by any of my behaviors or belongings. I am defined by the God who created me, and He loves me completely. “The Life of the Beloved” is a wonderful book, but so are several others by Nouwen, who taught at Yale and Notre Dame before leaving to serve disabled people at the L’Arche community in Toronto. “In the Name of Jesus” and “Reaching Out” are among those I would recommend. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Stumped

Posted by Michael

I am constantly amazed by the creative ways that God uses to remind me of His love. Not long ago, I was flipping through magazines awaiting my annual eye exam.   I noticed with me in the waiting area what appeared to be a teenager with special needs and his grandfather. Many special needs kids develop a task or skill that they are really good at. It’s a safe place for them that offers both comfort and confidence. The young man across from me had a passion for solving Sudoku puzzles. He had a thick well-worn book of puzzles that occupied him that day. He would work on a puzzle, solve it, turn the page and begin again. He was well into the book and moving quickly through the puzzles, when it happened. A clear sense of discomfort registered in his eyes and his body tensed. He rubbed his forehead and focused again on the page in front of him. The next puzzle in line didn’t operate by the same rules that the others had. What had just moments ago brought him comfort was now a source of stress. The confidence he enjoyed had disappeared into self-doubt. I wasn’t the only one to notice this change, his grandfather recognized that that something was amiss and leaned over to glance at the puzzle his grandson was working on. When he realized that this young man that he loved was stumped, he began to slowly and patiently explain the new puzzle. The boy didn’t understand at first, the panic in his eyes didn’t allow him to think clearly. But then as the grandfather continued to calmly talk through the problem, his body relaxed. The numbers began to connect and a comprehending smile stretched across his face.

As I sat there that day, I realized that I too have ways of handling life that make me comfortable. As long as things are going according to plan, I can be confident and relaxed. But sometimes life produces a new challenge that doesn't look like the ones I am used to, and the predictable patterns disappear. The way that I understand things breaks down, and doubt begins to creep in. The answers that used to bring me comfort now seem empty and weak. That’s when God slowly and patiently speaks to my heart, walking me through the new problems. His patience overcomes my panic and I’m able to face the new challenge. I am grateful that I am loved by a God that is bigger my understanding, who patiently expands my horizon, even when it's uncomfortable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Asheville: Filo

Posted by Michael

I was driving through Asheville a while back, and was in need of a place to crash and work on some upcoming talks that I was going to be giving. I searched through a list of available coffee shops and landed at Filo. I am really glad I did. Filo is everything a local coffee shop should be. Their coffee beans are locally roasted and their pastries are freshly baked. (If you operate a coffee shop and find yourself unwrapping store bought pastries to put behind the glass, you should probably consider finding a different line of work.) I am a sucker for scones, and ended up going to with a Granola scone. I have high standards for scones, and have yet to make a really good one myself, but Filo met and exceeded expectations. If you are ever travelling  through Asheville, I absolutely recommend making a stop. Also, if you have a really good scone recipe, I could use that as well.....

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Response to a Public Suicide

Posted by Michael

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Rick and Kay Warren’s son. Their 27 year old son took his own life, after what appears to have been a prolonged battle with depression.  Rick Warren has pastored a sizable and influential church as well as written several books (The Purpose Driven Church, The Purpose Driven Life etc…), so I was not totally surprised to see people use the tragedy as a forum to voice their opinions on suicide, parenting, and the Christian faith.  The overwhelming majority of posts were positive and respectful, and many people committed to pray for the family in their time of loss. There were unfortunately, other posts that were not as positive. One that stuck out to me said (forgive me for paraphrasing), “If you spend time with your kids, home school if possible, and train them up in the way they should go, they will NOT commit suicide”. I became very angry at the insensitivity of the post, and of what I perceived to be complete ignorance. After I calmed down, I realized that the writer of the post was simply doing what so many of us do every day. The writer was trying to find a way to guarantee that something bad would not happen to their children. His or her recipe included quality time, home schooling, and training the child the way they “ought” to be trained. Surely, if they could do this, then it would be impossible for the tragedy that visited the Warren home to ever visit theirs. The stark truth however, is that none of those things will prevent their child from committing suicide, or getting hit by a bus, or developing terminal cancer. We all have our recipes that we hope will allow us to avoid disaster: attend the right schools, read the right books, eat the right foods, avoid the wrong places, people, and Happy Meals. None of these things are bad ideas in and of themselves. There are wonderful benefits to eating well, exercising, being well read, and avoiding dangerous places. It’s just that none of those things will guarantee happiness or prevent evil from eventually dragging us to the grave. We are fragile creatures. Our hope can not be that we will never be attacked by evil or that we can somehow forestall death, but that the God of the universe is bigger than the worse evil, and stronger even than death, and that one day, in His timing, He will set everything right. God forgive us for what we do to each other with our fear and judgmental attitudes.