Lying Dormant

I often feel pressure to do stuff. I want to produce. Make the most of the time. Accomplish things.

I makes lists. Lots of them.

I make lists of things I want to do someday/maybe. That’s the name of the list: “Someday/Maybe.”

I also make lists of books I want to read, places I want to go, and restaurants where I want to dine.

In reviewing my lists I find that I do a lot things. Tasks do get completed and marked off. Some are the necessary things. Some are priorities. Others are routine: life maintenance tasks, healthy rhythms, chores that sort of thing.

That means on days when I’m less productive, when my energy wanes, when I’m just flat out tired, I feel like I’m a slug. Fading. Falling out. The word for that is “languishing.” Austin Kleon writes about this feeling, arguing that maybe languishing isn’t the best term. Maybe dormancy fits better.

Kleon writes: “It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions.”

This doesn’t negate the possibility that we might be languishing. But our bodies, minds, and souls might be telling us, “you need to rest.” “You need to regain your strength.” “You need to be outwardly idle for a little while, solidify some inner growth.”

Then later, when the time comes, burst forth.

The Bible in Light of the Resurrection

Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Timothy J. Keller, in Hope in Times of Fear [affiliate link], writes this about what happened to Saint Paul when he began to look at everything in the Bible (for Paul, the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament) in light of Jesus’ resurrection:

Once Paul began to look at everything in the light of Jesus resurrected and vindicated by God, the Bible fit together and everything in the world and in his life looked different. Certainly he had not worked out all the answers to his original objections to Christianity. But once he realized Jesus was risen, he knew there had to be answers to all those objections. So he believed in Christ, began to preach, and proceeded to work out the details as he went along.

We should proceed the same way. Think of all the objections to Christianity regarding repressive sexuality or the record of the church’s injustices. Do any of these things, if true, mean Jesus could not h ave risen from the dead? That’s the first and foremost question to ask. Have we looked at the evidence for the resurrection thoroughly? All our objections actually hang on this issue. If he did not rise from the dead, who cares what the Bible says about sex or about the history of the church? But if he did rise from the dead, then Christianity and its gospel is true, and while we don’t yet have solutions to all those other objections, we can move forward knowing that answers to those questions exist.

If you are looking at Christianity, start by looking at Jesus’ life as it is shown to us in the gospels, and especially at the resurrection. Don’t begin, as modern people do, by asking yourself if Christianity fits who you are. If the resurrection happened, then there is a God who created you for himself and ultimately, yes, Christianity fits you whether you can see it now or not. If he’s real and risen, then just like Paul, even though he had none of the answers to any of his questions, you’ll have to say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”

The resurrection is not only a vital belief for Christian people, but it is a powerful reality that animates all of Christian life. Hope in Times of Fear makes a case for the resurrection, but also shows the ways it shapes our moral choices, relationships, vision of justice, and our future hope.

Don’t Let the Darkness Overtake You

Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

Words cut like scalpels in the surgery against depression, and vocabulary selection makes a difference. I choose not to say, “I’m depressed.” That centers things too internally and ontologically. It implies I am my emotional state. But we are far more than just our feelings. In fact, we are not our feelings. Our identity is grounded elsewhere. I also choose not to say (out loud or internally) “I struggle with depression.” That feels too even-handed, with the outcome too much in question. I am the victor in this battle or, at least, I need to be. How I see and express things tilts the scales either in my favor or against it. I advance in the battle with words carefully chosen. I don’t just struggle with depression; I push it back. I battle against it. I fight.

Not all Christian discourse about mental health is helpful, but this essay by Randy Newman is an exception.

If you’ve battled depression, wondered how to think about depression in light of Christian convictions, or have a friend you are trying to help as they face depression, read Newman for counsel.

A Grammar for Forgiveness

My kids had a fight back in December.

Molly did not hear the exchange. She only knew that feelings had been hurt.

“Work it out,” she said.

Later, we found a letter exchange.

A great start. Here’s the reply:

Where did my children learn this grammar, this way of negotiating hurt feelings and pain? Where did they learn how to seek, grant, and extend forgiveness?

Home, sure. But anything we’ve passed on at home we learned first from Christianity.

Joy says she is sorry. She admits to having done wrong. She names the transgression. She asks for forgiveness. She expresses love.

David, likewise, admits an error. He says he is sorry. He grants forgiveness. He asks for forgiveness. He expresses love.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

The grammar of forgiveness is learned.

Once learned, it must be practiced.

When practiced, it is wise to remember the grounds for forgiveness, the work of Jesus himself.

Hold Tight

I’ve tuned into this station before.

We have thoughts. We should pay attention to our thoughts. But not every thought is true, or good, or beautiful, or worth a second thought.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Colossians 3:1-4 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

We have feelings and thoughts. Thoughts can lead to feelings, and feelings can lead to thoughts. The wise person is aware of what they are thinking and feeling. And then they evaluate every thought, every feeling, in light of Christ, who is our life.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

We have control over what we meditate on, what we ruminate on. We may not always have control over what thoughts come, but we do have control over what thoughts we hold on to.

Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” 1Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

If the thought is false, let it drift off into the ether. But if the thought is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, or good, if it is of Christ, who is your life, hold tight.

Limited Perception

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”

Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.”

Proverbs 21:2 says, “All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

The fourth citation is often misunderstood as an exhortation not to offer judgements at all. But if that what true, why does Jesus tell us to “first take the log out of your own eye?” The statements which follows implies that this first action then enables the person to be of true help. Dallas Willard, I think rightly, says that it is wrong for us to condemn but it is not wrong for us to offer a judgment, so long as a judgment is offered prayerfully and humbly, from a posture of love. Our confusion regarding what Jesus says here stems from a mix up: condemnation and judgment are not the same thing.

This bit of artwork has helped me, in that I’m reminded that I am limited in what I see. God, however, does see.

Don’t rush to judgment. Pray. Ask God for wisdom. Remove the log from your own eye. Ask God to help you help, and be humble. God sees more than you do.

The Prayer in Chris Farley’s Pocket

Photo by Islander Images on Unsplash

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more happiness than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.
Never let me become so indifferent
that I will fail to see the wonder
in the eyes of a child
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.
Never let me forget that my total effort
is to cheer people, make them happy
and forget – at least momentarily –
all the unpleasantness in their lives.
And, in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
‘When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.’

The Clown’s Prayer

The closing words offered in the 2015 documentary “I Am Chris Farley” are “The Clown’s Prayer,” words Mr. Farley carried in his wallet that he would recite before auditions and shows. They are read by Mr. Farley’s friend and fellow actor Pat Finn.

I cannot imagine a more fitting, more perfect ending.

There is a prayer for every vocation, words that might be spoken as one pursues any good endeavor, that God might bless those efforts toward eternally good ends. Even for the comedian. While there has been a great deal of material published in recent years on faith and work and many sermons and talks given besides, I suspect the need to pair these two in the Christian imagination will not soon fade, and that we will need further reminders that the work of God is undertaken by the whole people of God in the fields, offices, workshops and warehouses of our world.

Our Need or God’s Pleasure?

Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Waco, Texas

J. Hudson Taylor, the Baptist missionary and founder of the China Inland Mission, wrote a small commentary on the Song of Solomon. He read this book as an allegory of Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, his bride.

In this commentary, Taylor observes that our relationship with God is often driven by our needs. Our seeking after God is done in hopes of what we might receive, rather than for God and the joy that comes through faithfully response. Taylor writes:

Are we not all too apt to seek Him rather because of our need than for His joy and pleasure? This should not be. We do not admire selfish children who only think of what they can get from their parents, and are unmindful of the pleasure that they may give or the service they may render. But are not we in danger of forgetting that pleasing God means giving Him pleasure? Some of us look back to the time when the words ‘To please God’ meant no more than not to sin against Him, not to grieve Him; but would the love of earthly parents be satisfied with the mere absence of disobedience? Or a bridegroom, if his bride only sought him for the supply of her own need?

Union and Communion, 14-15

By all means, do not sin. But go the next step. Serve, and share in the joy of relationship with God.

The Friends of Friendless Churches

Waddeson Hill, a Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel

Alan Jacobs shared about The Friends of Friendless Churches in his newsletters, and I love the concept. Who are The Friends?

The Friends of Friendless Churches was set up in 1957 to save disused but beautiful old places of worship of architectural and historical interest from demolition, decay and unsympathetic conversion. Working across England and Wales, we are an independent, non-denominational charity which cares for over 50 former places of worship and has helped hundreds more.

Believing that an ancient and beautiful church fulfils its primary function merely by existing, we preserve these buildings for the local community and visitors to enjoy. Without us, all of these buildings would no longer be here, or open to the public.

Maintaining and repairing churches is a considerable financial challenge. We rely on the generosity of our members and on the willingness of groups of local Friends to fundraise and to act as our eyes and ears.

The church is a people, not a building. But the buildings do tell a story, they have a formational aspect, they reflect commitments and values, and the grounds upon which they are built do, in a certain sense, become sacred spaces, saturated as they are with prayer and worship and the memories and experiences of human beings who gathered together in such spaces in hopes of encountering the divine, of meeting with God.

Gratitude in the Wilderness

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

For us in 2020 we are in a different sort of wilderness. Things are not the same as they have been in the world, in our families, in our neighborhoods or our churches—and there’s no telling what things will look like in the future. On top of the pandemic we’re dealing with political division, economic uncertainty, and the heightened awareness of racial injustice where many continue to lament, long for, hope, and work for change.

Many of us as individuals and communities have experienced other times of wilderness in our lives, as well.

The remembrance we practice in these times is not always cheery and optimistic. Gratitude in the wilderness is a hard fought practice. It recognizes and gives thanks for what God has done in the past, cries out in pain for the way things are now, and calls God to act in the present in accordance with how God has in the past.

So when life gets hard and times get dark and confusing, remember how God has been at work in your life, in your family’s life, and in the life of your community in the past. Continue to give thanks for it. Cling to it. Be a witness, pass it along, and hold each other up.

And do the difficult work to look for where God is at work in the present.

Emily Beth Hill, “A Table in the Wilderness

If you were to choose a biblical motif to attach to this year, I suppose you cannot do much better than wilderness.

Hill is right: the people of God have always been a community of memory and remembrance, witness and testimony. We look back. We look around. We look ahead. We learn how to do this in and through the biblical story.

The biblical story provides us with markers, clues, schema, ways of understanding and meaning making, ways to make sense of what is taking place in our present moment. The biblical story, as has been said, is not only something to look at but to look through. As God has been faithful in the past, God is now faithful in the present, and will be again in the future, for God is eternal, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Without being glib or dismissive, without minimizing present sufferings, without diminishing the hurts and burdens we’ve endured this year, look for those things for which we can be thankful, both great and small, and name those things with gratitude, giving thanks to God.