one striving for God's reign to come to earth, bringing his peace, wholeness, completeness, and health to all aspects of life.

Lent: focus on Christ or ourselves?

So I didn't grow up with Lent.  My very Protestant churches probably did not even consider celebrating this season.  Despite that, I have come to appreciate it, albeit from a distance.  I have still never been very active at celebrating, though I think it clearly has value for focusing our thoughts on Christ and remembering his journey to the cross (and what it means for our lives).

That said, I have never understood the whole "giving something up" for Lent.  If the whole point of the season is to focus our thoughts on Christ, and ultimately to bow our hearts before the somber sacrifice Christ made on the cross, why do we spend the 40 days leading up Good Friday thinking about OURSELVES and what WE are going to give up??  It seems backwards.  Now I am sure there is value in such ascetic practices, and I am sure I need more of those practices in my life (times of silence, fasting, etc.).  But I feel like we have mixed up what this season is about: it's not about us and our issues, it's about Christ!

Certainly that has implications for our lives, but it seems like from the start we make the Lenten season a time of self-focus instead of Christ-focus.  What if instead of giving something up we spent time each day thinking about a different aspect of Christ's life and death in a structured and serious way?  I don't know--I'm really just throwing thoughts out there.  The basic point is that I think giving something up for lent has the potential to distract us from its point: our faith is not about us, but about Christ and who he is and what he did for us and for all humanity.

I like what Eugene Cho said on this (here), as he said, " I don’t want to think of it as a giving up but rather a season of more deeply ‘giving in’ or ‘giving to’…"  How can we give ourselves to Christ more deeply during this time--through obedience or conversation or study of his Word?  This gets closer to what I am saying, although it is still about us and what WE are giving to God.  Let's focus instead on what God is giving to us, what he has already given to us.  Let's make Christ the focus of Lent...

Thoughts on the Documentary Food Inc.

I posted some thoughts (here) a while back on what we eat and how it is related to the Kingdom, to being Shalomers (see what I mean by "Shalomer" here).  I just watched a very interesting documentary called Food Inc., and it had a lot to say about this very issue.  The basic premise of the movie is that we as Americans have become very separated from our food.  Agriculture used to be part of our lives, whether we worked the land ourselves or knew those who did.  We used to know where our food came from, but today is a different story.  Most of the food on the shelves of our grocery stores is processed beyond recognition, making it terribly unhealthy.  So this movie will make you think about what you eat, and making some changes in the foods you buy.

What it did not convince me of was the need to buy only "organic" foods, which seemed to be one of the goals of the movie.  For a long time I have questioned: what exactly IS "organic," and who defines it, and how do I know someone hasn't just slapped organic on the label to make me think it's healthier so they can charge me more?  These are all still valid questions in my mind after watching the movie, but I would say while I do not feel obliged to buy organic now, I do have serious questions about the quality of the food I'm buying.  Is the chicken or beef I am buying terribly unhealthy because of the terrible practices of the few huge, multinational food companies who control the meat markets?  Some of the images regarding how these companies raise chickens or cows in order to pump out the meat were absolutely disgusting, but so important to see.  Those images, and understanding such practices, will certainly make you think about the foods you buy.

This was the most helpful and challenging part of the movie to me: I am much more aware of my ignorance about where my food comes from, my utter separation from the production of my food.  And I don't think our current model is the way it is supposed to work.

Beyond this, there was a quote in the movie that I really appreciated, and I started nodding my head and saying, "Now you're talking like a Christian!"  They were interviewing a remarkable farmer, a guy named Joel Salatin.  He has refused to sell out to the multi-national corporations, and is passionate about farming and raising chickens and pigs (even slaughtering them) in humane ways.  He said, "A culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design the human can foist upon that critter will probably view individuals within its community and other cultures in the community of nations with the same type of disdain and disrespect and controlling type mentality."  You have to watch the movie to understand what it is that these corporations have been doing to animals (and us, by extension) in order to increase profits, but it was disturbing to watch.  

And I think Joel is onto something here.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I am the farthest thing from a PETA advocate.  Don't have pets, don't want pets, etc.  But when it is acceptable in a culture to treat animals the way they have been treating them, it is not too big of a leap to assume that such a selfish way of thinking will bleed over into the ways we view and treat other humans.  In fact, the movie did show that it was not a leap at all for these corporations, who have made a business of recruiting Mexican nationals to come and work in their meat-packing plants.  Then when the government began cracking down on illegal immigrants, they helped the government round up and arrest their own employees, taking no responsibility for what they had done.  Further, they made a deal with the government that they would hand over 15 illegal immigrants a day, so that things at the plant could keep running smoothly and profits would not be affected.  Wow!  It sounds to me as if they had indeed made the leap, viewing HUMAN BEINGS working for them as nothing but "a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structure," in Joel's words.  (I don't think he has a medical degree in his future, by the way).  :)  

Here's the point: each action we take says something about the condition of our hearts, about how we view and value life.  What we eat and what we are okay with in the production of our food also makes a statement.  I encourage you to watch this movie, if only to educate yourself.  But more, I encourage you to not let the ends, whatever they are in your life, justify unwholesome, unhealthy means.  

Powell's Introducing the New Testament

So I just read the opening chapter of this work for my New Testament class.  It is a text book, but it is such a wonderful text book.  Great layout, great charts, and most importantly great information.  I have had several New Testament classes before, in undergrad, so much of the information was not new to me.  But lots of it was, or I had forgotten.  And the way he lays out the information is so helpful.

Then the thought hit me that the information in this book could be so transformative for all Christians--it could shape the ways they read and understand the New Testament, thus transforming their faith and understanding of God.  So I wanted to recommend this book, though I've only read the first 30 pages.  If you want to learn about the background of the story of Jesus--what was going on, what it meant to its original audience, and so have a better understanding of what it means for us today--I recommend reading this book.  

I think every Christian, at their baptism, should get a book like this and a book like Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter to read before they start reading the actual Bible.  So get these two books--you won't regret it!

The Olympics, God's Call, and Shalom

As I was watching some of the Olympics last night, some thoughts occurred to me about the goals we give ourselves to, the calling or vocation we dedicate our lives to.  I have been thinking a lot about calling lately, about how each of us has one life and a limited supply of days and months and years with which to "pursue our calling."  To back up and talk about what calling is briefly (you can see the previous posting on primary/secondary calling for more), I believe calling to be all about the Caller.  My calling is what God has specifically designed me to be and to do for him, and I discover that calling in the midst of my relationship with him.  Though we all have the same primary calling, to love and follow Christ, to be Shalomers in essence, our secondary callings are our specific calling from God.  And I believe he knows each of us, and has a plan for each of us, and is calling each of us to something special.

In other words, I don't think we go to seminars and read books on our personality types, fill out surveys on what jobs might work for us, and then choose from an arbitrary list of possible job fits.  These methods may actually help us in discerning what God is calling us to, but we can never discover our true calling outside of our relationship with him, because "calling" assumes a Caller.

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with the Olympics?  Well I was watching the female mogul skiers last night, and each time one of them would get a little too much air in one of her jumps and would fall down, the thought hit me: Oh my goodness--this girl has been training for the past four years, and probably for much longer than that, in order to be at these Olympics and compete.  And she just fell down.  Her dream is over.  All her work has come to naught, at least insofar as she was training with the purpose of winning a medal for herself and her country.  It's over.  Better luck in four years.

How sad is that!  And then the thought hit me that perhaps she has been in training this whole time for something she was never called to do.  Now this is not for me or anyone else to judge: whether someone else is properly pursuing his or her calling.  We each have enough trouble trying to figure out what OUR OWN calling is to worry about others.  But if we want to be about partnering with God in this world to bring his Kingdom, his Shalom, and if we want to be about helping to right the wrongs of this world for God's glory, I think we can say that some things are probably not worth pursuing.

We only get one life, after all.  I was trying to explain to my oldest daughter about age, and about how her sister is not actually 0, but is 5 months old.  She, I explained, is 41 months old, and her daddy is something like 300 months old.  (She was staring at me blankly throughout this conversation, and I realized this was all a little abstract for her 3 year-old mind).  But the point is that we only get a certain number of months, don't we?  And then they are all used up.  Further, we may get many fewer months than we envisioned or planned on.

What does all of this mean?  Well I believe God is calling you and I to something special, something big.  I believe he has important plans for each of our lives, and if we will open our minds and hearts and seek that out, he will lead us to a place we never imagined, but to a place that is so much greater than where we could or would have taken ourselves.  If we will earnestly ask God to make his vision for our lives our vision, I believe he'll reveal a call for our lives that is more dangerous than we are comfortable with, but more exciting and meaningful than we could have imagined!

Let us not seek out a "good job", or a comfortable lifestyle, or a nice salary, or whatever.  Let us seek out Christ, and let us be passionate about using our only life to partner with God to bring his Shalom to this world.  Let us follow after Jesus in giving away our lives for the sake of something bigger than ourselves, so that we will not have bought into the great American lie and lived our lives for ourselves, for something less than eternal, for nothing...

A Call to Exegesis

Right now I'm reading Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book.  It started slowly but makes some excellent points.  I just finished chapter four, which was a great discussion of the form of Scripture, story.  All of Scripture, the different genres and styles, are all part of a meta-narrative, one grand story.  And Scripture must be read within this framework.  So often we want to take a verse or a chapter and dissect it for the meaning, the important nugget, the principle, and then move on.  And we do great violence to the text in this way.  Peterson says that the form in which language comes to us is as important as its content, and if we misunderstand the form we will probably respond wrongly to the content—we must understand the form of story if we are to rightly respond to the Bible.

A couple quotes on this crucial point:
“We are caught off-guard when divine revelation arrives in such ordinary garb and mistakenly think it’s our job to dress it up in the latest Paris silk gown of theology” (43).  
“We do violence to the biblical revelation when we ‘use’ it for what we can get out of it…When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s” (44).  

Part of understanding Scripture as story is coming to grips with the different viewpoints/ideas/content present in the different authors in Scripture.  This has caused great grief for many, as they try to get their brains around why there are seeming discrepancies in Scripture.  However, in the context of Scripture as story, this becomes  an aid in helping us wrap our brains around the meaning and direction of the story.  Peterson says that the many voices and points of view present in the Bible give it coherence; “instead of attempting to iron out the wrinkles of inconsistency and disharmony, we have to listen for the resonances, echoes, patterns—the swarming complexity of lived truth, not pinned-down and labeled facts” (47).  When Scripture is a story instead of a text book of facts, we can see the overlapping nature of different books in this context of the swarming complexity of lived truth, and allow the story to speak without needing every detail to match up in our modern scientific way...

There is so much in this chapter, but I want to move to the final piece as it's crucial.  Peterson calls for all of us, all serious Christians, to engage in exegesis, which is defined as a careful and serious reading of the text.  Or Peterson defines it by saying: “Exegesis is simply noticing and responding adequately to the demands that words make on us” (51).  Many think that this task is for clergy or for academics, but Peterson makes a clear call for all Christians who want to follow Christ to engage in serious study of the text.  Further, he says, we cannot rely on our “spirituality” or listening to God and skip exegesis; the more mature we become, the more attentive we must be to exegesis.  So buy some commentaries, people!  

Wondering why your "devotional life" (whatever that means) is stale?  Wondering why you can't seem to get anything out of the Bible?  Wondering why your "daily devotional" doesn't seem to lead to real spiritual growth??  It's because you aren't digging into the text, which is not the role of pastors and professors, but of all Christian people!  So, seriously, buy some commentaries!  If you need help with what kind of commentaries, or with where you might get them, I can help you or point you in the right direction.  But I think if you do this, you'll find it begins to deepen your interaction with Scripture immediately.  I'll close with some more of Peterson's quotes on exegesis:

“Exegesis is the furthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love.  It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get the words right.  It respects the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right.  Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says” (55). 

“Exegesis does not mean mastering the text, it means submitting to it as it is given to us.  Exegesis doesn’t take charge of the text and impose superior knowledge on it; it enters the world of the text and lets the text ‘read’ us.  Exegesis is an act of sustained humility: There is so much about this text that I don’t know, that I will never know.  Christians keep returning to it, with all the help we can get from grammarians and archaeologists and historians and theologians, letting ourselves be formed by it” (57). 

Without exegesis spirituality gets sappy and soupy, and all the words are defined out of the context of our own experience.

May we all do the hard work of exegesis, digging into the text and the world behind it to understand its meaning, so that we may be built up into mature and complete followers of Christ...

The Ridiculous Blessing of Parenthood

The title of this post gives away its punch line, but that's okay.  So I've had a frustrating day with my oldest today.  I was home with her during nap time, while my wife took our youngest to the doctor.  Suffice it to say it was more of "battle of the wills afternoon with daddy" than nap time.  Then this evening, on the heels of a day without a nap, the attitude and lack of listening were not good.  After all of this, I was a little frazzled as I prepared to put her to bed.

While I was sitting on the floor facing her, brushing her teeth, I looked into her face and the reality of the situation hit me.  I have an absolutely beautiful 3 year old little girl.  She is incredibly healthy and ridiculously smart.  She is fun and a joy.  And I stopped brushing her teeth right then and just smiled (which I realized in the moment I had not done much of during the hectic day), and gave her a hug and kept telling her how much I loved her, and how precious she was to me.

Needless to say, those hugs and words were the brightest part of our day together.  How often I miss it!  I am blessed beyond words with this wonderful little girl (and now two wonderful little girls), and I am often too busy parenting to see the joys that parenthood (and the Giver of life) has bestowed on me...

If there is one thing I want my children to know from their years with me, it is that they are a part of a bigger story, the story of a Creator who has made everything--even them--and they get to know Him and follow Him and partner with Him to right the wrongs of the world.  And the second thing I want them to know is our deep and unshakeable love for them.  How unfortunate that I get caught up with emphasizing manners and other such things that are important but peripheral...

May our breath be taken away by the wonder of parenthood, and may that wonder lead to a renewed focus on shepherding and loving our children the way God shepherds and loves us...

Bill Kinnon's review of McLaren...

Kinnon wrote a scathing review of McLaren's new work, albeit before he actually read the book.  :)  But here is a sampling of what he said:

"I'm sure it's rather unfortunate for you, but you don't get to decide how the rest of us engage with your book. Let me be blunt, your approach is reminiscent of the divisive politics perfected in the nation you call home. Where people who disagree with your president are labeled as racists - or those who agree are socialists."

And again:

"Let me offer this piece of advice to you, Brian, if you don't want to receive reviews that question your ideas then simply stop writing. It really is that simple. Otherwise you will simply need to deal with the reality that the days of the idea gatekeepers are over. Welcome to the networked conspiracy."

See Kinnon's blog for the whole article (  

Ouch.  Apparently Brian has been calling those who critique his work closed to new ideas and fundamentalists.  Not a great idea.  So early reviews for this work are not good, but then again, he hasn't read the book!  I think all of this underscores the fact that you can say the most wonderful things in the world, and you can even say them well, but if you have not love, if you have not humility, if you are not open to constructive criticism, no one wants to hear it.  Period.  May we all strive for the humility we need so that when God lays something on our hearts to share, we can be heard.  And may we all strive to receive feedback and even criticism with grace and patience, knowing we don't have it all figured out...

Thoughts on our primary calling

Today I started a book by Os Guinness called The Call: Finding and Fulfilling The Central Purpose of Your Life.  It's pretty good, and I wanted to share a piece of it that really struck me.  He spends some time describing what the meaning of calling really is, and describes the two types of calling as primary calling (our general calling to follow after and serve and love God) and secondary calling (however specifically God calls us to live out our primary calling, often what we do for a living).

In the midst of this discussion, he brings up the struggle many of us face, the temptation to replace our primary calling with our secondary calling.  We begin to base our relationship with God on what we do for him, and there is nothing else to our "relationship" other than works.  Guinness states:

"We must restore the primary calling to its primary place by restoring the worship that is its setting and the dedication to Jesus that is its heart.  There is no surer guide here than the devotional writer Oswald Chambers.  'Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ,' he wrote.  'The greatest competitor to devotion to Jesus is service for Him...'  Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off-center?  Do we put our emphasis on service or usefulness, or being productive in working for God--at his expense?" (41).

I love these thoughts, and have found myself answering yes to those questions more often than I want to admit.  So often I have found that I equate my relationship with God with my job when it is a "Christian" job like pastoring, or I equate my relationship with what I do for him on a daily basis (the way I love people, do work for him, etc.).  But the work we do for God is meaningless if it does not flow out of our primary calling, loving and relating with Christ.  Through that relationship he leads us and shows us what to do for him, so this also keeps us from spinning our wheels and doing things for Him he never wanted us to do.

Anyway, this was challenging to me and I wanted to share it.  It reminds me of the last chapter I read in Francis Chan's Crazy Love, a chapter called "When You're In Love."  This chapter talks about how our relationship with Christ should not be a chore, or something we do out of fear or guilt or obligation, but something that we long for and are passionate about.  One of my favorite quotes from the chapter says:
"When you are truly in love, you go to great lengths to be with the one you love.  You'll drive for hours to be together, even if it's only for a short while.  You don't mind staying up late to talk.  Walking in the rain is romantic, not annoying.  You'll willingly spend a small fortune on the one you're crazy about.  When you are apart from each other, it's painful, even miserable.  He or she is all you think about; you jump at any chance to be together" (100).  He goes on to relate this to our relationship with Christ, calling us to honesty in this relationship.  If he is not our deepest longing, he already knows!  We ought to express this to him and ask him to help us love him more and desire him more.  Chan closes with a beautiful prayer that I will close with too--may this be an encouragement to you to find again your primary calling, the main thing God wants from you:

"Jesus, I need to give myself up.  I am not strong enough to love you and walk with you on my own.  I can't do it, and I need you.  I need you deeply and desperately.  I believe you are worth it, that you are better than anything else I could have in this life or the next.  I want you.  And when I don't, I want to want you.  Be all in me.  Take all of me.  Have your way with me" (111).


McLaren's new book

Tomorrow McLaren's new book comes out, A New Kind of Christianity.  I cannot tell from the small snippets I've seen so far if this book is a sequel based around his previous books with similar titles, without much new information, or whether it is going to be a groundbreaking and important work.  It's always hard to tell--I am going to listen to the reviews before I go out and buy it.  But those pesky marketers sure have done a good job at making the book look and sound appealing.  Here is the small snippet McLaren posted this morning on his blog about the book:

"We’ve gotten ourselves into a mess with the Bible. First, we are in a scientific mess. Fundamentalism again and again paints itself into a corner by requiring that the Bible be treated as a divinely dictated science textbook providing us true information in all areas of life, including when and how the earth was created, what the shape of the earth is, what revolves around what in space, and so on." (68)

The tagline for the book is Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, and I'd sure like to know what those ten questions are.  Usually McLaren is a deep thinker with important things to say, so I have a feeling this is going to be a good book.  Just wanted to give you a heads up in case you wanted to run grab it tomorrow, or the link to order it now through Amazon is below...

Professor Rah and race issues

If you've never heard of Professor Rah (Soong-Chan Rah), he is one you ought to check out.  I have not read his book The Next Evangelicalism yet, but I plan to.  He is a professor at a seminary in Chicago, and if you want to read some of his thoughts you can check out his blog (see my blogroll).  He is an expert on race issues, particularly related to the church in America.  In a recent review of the movies Avatar and The Blind Side (and how they relate to race), he said this: 

"Last year I was speaking at a mission conference comprised mainly of white suburbanite participants. I was listening to the speaker before me, when he dropped this little gem: “It’s not about a handout, but a hand up.” Actually, it’s not about either. A handout means you think you’re better than me and you’re handing me something (something I probably don’t deserve). A hand up means you think you’re better than me and you’re trying to lift me up from a bad place to your wonderful place. Actually, if it’s a choice between the two, I’d rather have the handout. If you’re going to be condescending, I might as well get a direct benefit out of it instead of being told that I need to become like you.  Forget the hand out or the hand up. Just reach a hand across. Let’s be equals and partners. I don’t need you to rescue me just like you don’t think you need rescuing by me. My rescuer is a Jewish carpenter. I want to be a co-laborer in Christ with you, not your reclamation project."

I thought these were great thoughts, and certainly relate to the ways we pursue God's Kingdom as Christians and the ways we "do" church.  I have heard conversations about how to "expand" particular churches racially, about how to attract people of other races, and this viewpoint makes me nauseous.  As Rah says, how about we actually stop seeing ourselves as the central figures in the story, as the heroes who need to rescue those of lesser financial means or different ethnicity?  How about we start actually seeing all people as our equals, those who speak English and those who do not, those who have a high school education and those who do not, those who are black or white or Asian or Latino?  I do not believe we would have much a race problem if we truly did not see "the other" through any lens, but only saw all others as fellow humans we can reach a hand across to, humans we can partner with and love with the love of Christ...

More thoughts on Donald Miller; thoughts on Shalom

So this blog is founded on my passion for being a part of the mission of God as I understand it: to bring wholeness and healing to all aspects of human life, and even to the earth itself--to make things right.  I believe God calls us to partner with him to accomplish his biggest task, the one he's most passionate about, redeeming humanity from our sin and rebellion.  Shalom, in case you didn't know, is a Hebrew word found throughout the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament as Christians.  It is a very large idea, but at its core it means wholeness, completeness, health, equilibrium.  The way things were supposed to be.  It has come to be equated with peace.  At least this is how I understand this huge word/concept.  An example of this can be seen in a prophecy from Ezekiel about the coming of the New Jerusalem: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore." (Ez. 37:26).  This everlasting peace is Shalom.  

Anyway, I have come to believe that it's the role of every Christian to join this vast mission of God to restore his Shalom to this broken world, particularly in redeeming lost humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus.  It's our job to help people find the way to Christ, the narrow way.  Beyond that, bringing God's reign to earth means restoring our lives and our world to what they were intended to be in every way.  We ought to be about fixing the broken pieces of our world in the name of Jesus; this is what I mean by being a "Shalomer."  

Anyway, all of this came up in the few chapters of Donald Miller I read tonight.  He was talking about how we as humans are always looking for something to complete us.  Most of us are looking for that perfect person, our soul mate, to fill us and finish us.  Once we find that love, we'll never be the same.  Our longings will be fulfilled.  Then we find out that is not the case.  We still feel as empty as we did before, even after we are married.  He went on to talk about how in Christian circles we have talked for a long time about how Jesus fills that hole in our hearts that only he can fill.  He comes into our hearts and makes everything better.  But then he challenged that whole notion, saying that he follows Jesus and believes he will make everything right, but not here and not now.  The holes in our hearts, our deepest longings, our feelings of incompleteness and inadequacy, will never be quenched until the end, until the feast and the wedding, until the culmination of all things in heaven.  

This really hit me and I believe it is true.  I long for that day.  I long to see the face of Jesus.  I long to know fully that it's all okay, that everything is better, that the pain of this world is gone.  I long to be hugged by my Maker, for it all to make sense.  But I am so appreciative for the reminder that no matter how hard we work to bring God's Kingdom, no matter if we give our lives to God's mission, no matter how we long to restore Shalom and redeem humanity, things will not be perfect on earth.  True Shalom will not come until that New Jerusalem, when things are set right once and for all.  

Still, while we long for that day we live in this day, and we live in it fully.  We give our lives for the Kingdom, for the sake of Christ, for the redemption of our fellow broken humans.  Because that's what Jesus did, and that's what he has called us to.  While we long for the feast in heaven, we remain fully present in our broken world, loving people to Jesus...  

May we remember this day that nothing and no one can fix all the broken pieces of our lives and hearts.  Jesus can redeem us, but even in him the scars will remain.  But may we also remember that God is calling us to bring his Kingdom and healing to the earth this day, to the people around us, even through our broken hearts.

Reflections on Donald Miller & thoughts on children

So I am reading two books right now, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.  Perhaps these two guys should not be mixed, because my brain is on overload with all sorts of thoughts.  Good thoughts though.  I am sure I will post several thoughts about Chan's book over the next few weeks, and if you haven't read it you really should (just push through the first couple chapters and then he really starts raking you over the coals).  But Donald Miller struck a chord with me tonight.

The quote won't make sense to you if you haven't read the book, but you'll still be able to follow where I'm going.  So I won't ruin it for you or anything, but you'll just have to trust me that I'm going somewhere with it.  So here's the quote:

"Bob and Maria's kids, now grown and in high school and college, each have a quiet dignity and confidence.  They also have an informal charm, as though they just know they would like us if we'd take the time to get to know each other.  It is obvious they'd played the roles in the story their family was living, the roles of foreign dignitaries, traveling with their parents on the important assignment of asking world leaders what they hope in.  Their story had given them their character.  I only say this about the children because I used to believe charming people were charming because they were charming, or confident people were confident because they were confident... The truth is, we are all living out the character of the roles we have played in our stories" (Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, 166-67).

This was quite challenging for me in relation to myself and in relation to how I am raising and will raise my kids.  If I want my story to be about caution and safety, never getting hurt and making sure the bills are paid, that is what kind of character I will arrive at the end of my life with.  My story will be boring; not only will it not bring God's reign to earth, but it will distract and detract from the shalom he intends, because our lives were never meant to be safe and boring.  I can TALK all I want about living a great life for God, making a difference, being on a mission, etc., but if this talk does not translate to my actual life, to living like a missionary, to taking risks, my life will never be the abundant adventure Jesus was all about and wants me to be all about.

The talk about children, and specifically about how we raise them, struck me even more.  Nearly all parents love their children.  A lot.  And from the time they come out of the womb we are trying to take care of them the best we possibly can.  What does it mean that he hasn't pooped in three days?  Why does she keep spitting up like that?  She won't eat her vegetables--how do we make her?  He won't take his nap and it might stunt his growth.  And on the worry goes.  It seems that the main goal for many parents somewhere along the way becomes the safety and security of our kids.  Just keep them safe, and eventually they'll be an adult and will be able to protect themselves.

I think this thinking disappoints God terribly.  He has created us (and our kids) for a wonderful adventure, and we strive for safety!  He has created a massive and wonderful ride, and we tell our kids they can't get on because they might get hurt.  This might be a little harsh, but I know I am often so guilty of over-protecting.  I don't want my daughter to play with the neighbor kids because they might be mean to her and hurt her self-esteem, and this might begin a downward spiral of self-doubt and low self-esteem, and eventually she will doubt even the love of her parents and of God and will engage in all sorts of rebellion, or she'll never be able to truly love others because she never really loved herself.  And all of this will trace back to those neighborhood kids who were mean to her.  I've never really had these exact thoughts, but this is sort of how the logic goes in parent brain, isn't it?  And it's sad.  As Donald Miller would say, often we are not allowing our kids to live out their best story, the story God has for them.  And all because of OUR fear.

I noticed something with my oldest the other day.  She prays my prayers.  I hadn't noticed it before, because my prayers are so often drivel, so there was nothing to notice.  She prays at meal times, and she says the same thing every time: "Dear God, thank you for this food, and thank you for this samich, and thank you for grapes, and thank you for string cheese, and thank you for this day, Amen."  And this is really cute, because she's three.  And I think it's great that she's praying.  But I realized the other day that she's not really praying.  She's just repeating a bunch of words she thinks she's supposed to say so that she can get to the important part, the food.  That's not her fault, it's mine.  Because that's what I do when I pray for meals: I say the same thing every time, basically, so that I can get to the important part, eating.  When was the last time I really paused before a meal, and breathed God in, and praised him for the blessings of the day?  It's been a while.

Anyway, the other day she prayed, and this all hit me because her prayer was different.  She said, "Dear God, thank you for this food, and please be with all the hungry people and sick people, and thank you for this day, Amen."  Wow.  I had prayed the night before with her, and I had prayed a real prayer.  We were praying for the child of a friend of ours who is sick, and we went on to earnestly pray for all those who needed God right now--those without homes, those who were hungry, those who were sad.  And she got it.  And she prayed a different prayer, and I believe she meant it.

When our lives are about keeping our children safe, when they are boring, our children will live boring lives.  Worse, they'll think that's the goal.  But when our lives are about something special, about the Kingdom, about Shalom, about making this world right, about taking risks for the glory of God, and when we bring our children into that story fully, helping them to live out that story with us, our lives and the lives of our children will be far from boring.  They'll be exciting, and intoxicating, and life-giving.  People will wonder at their grace and love for others, at their wisdom and dignity.

May we live in such a way, and may we give up our fear for our children.  After all, "who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life [or the life of his child]?" (Matthew 6:27)

Diet, Haircuts, and Shalom

So I've been going through some changes in my life recently, mostly related to what I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat.  I've done this before, when I was in a "Biggest Loser" competition a couple years ago and lost 40 pounds or so.  But this time is different, and probably because I am approaching it less like a quick fix and more like I know from the start that many of these dietary changes must become permanent.  You see, after the first round I had gone back to my normal routine for what, when, and how much I eat: whatever I want, whenever I want, and however much I want.  I'm not one of those guys who will go back to a buffet 5 times, but I eat a lot, and I eat fast.  Anyway, I had not relapsed in every way, and some changes I had made from the first round had lasted: I only drink diet sodas (albeit probably 5 of them a day), I only eat wheat bread, etc.  But very few of the changes that had helped me lose the weight had lasted.  And since my blood pressure had slowly inched back upward, along with my weight, I have realized recently that I need to make some more permanent changes to my diet and lifestyle.

Through this round of "dieting" (which I hope becomes a lifestyle and not a diet), I have realized more than I had previously that what goes in my mouth is a profoundly spiritual issue.  Just like in life I like to have what I want when I want it, so in my food consumption.  Just like I do not like to deny myself anything, so in my food consumption.  Just like if I cannot have what I really want, I will fill that gap up with all sorts of other things to make up for it, so in my food consumption.  What I eat is almost a metaphor for what is going on in my life and heart: how content I am, how much peace I have, how connected I am with the One who made me...

Beyond all of that, my wife and I were discussing the other day how much money we have probably saved by not going out to eat as much.  It's incredible if you think about it.  We Americans are in a so-called financial crisis, and yet somehow we find a way to go out to eat two or three times a week and spend an average of $10-15 per person, per meal.  We are well aware that we could eat at home, even a very nice meal, for $3-5 a person.  But it's fun to go out, and it's convenient (because we don't have to cook or do the dishes), and the food tastes good.  The fact that we are literally throwing away money for these reasons while the rest of the world struggles for rice or beans is flabbergasting.  Now I don't want to be legalistic.  A friend of mine named Josh called me on legalism the other day, and I guess there is just a fine line between speaking the truth and being legalistic.  Was Jesus being legalistic when he spoke the truth about the Pharisees being legalistic?  I don't know--and it's probably beside the point.  I am trying to say that I don't mean to be legalistic, and I don't think going out to eat is sinful.  Of course it's about moderation.  But I just don't think we are very moderate!  Even if we have the money to go out, perhaps we shouldn't, and perhaps we should be conscious of where that money could go instead.  Maybe we could all make going out to eat a treat instead of an every other day deal...

How this all relates to the Shalom of Yahweh, the perfect balance God intended when he created this world, might seem unclear.  But I think it does relate.  I think God created us not to be mastered by what we put into our mouths and stomachs, but rather he created food to be a side note, a necessary energy source to keep our physical bodies going.  Clearly he didn't want food to only be an energy source, because he gave us taste buds and made food taste good.  He wanted us to enjoy it.  So while he could have made fueling our bodies a boring, time-wasting, or even painful process, he made it really enjoyable!  However, this enjoyment has been twisted (as every other good gift has) into something different, something that even masters us, something we ruminate on and become obsessed with.  How we have distorted what our Creator had in mind!  I have heard others talk about how if we took all the wasted food in America in a year, we could feed all the hungry people in the world for years to come!  It just doesn't even make sense, does it?  For us to be bearers of the peace, the health, the balance of God, we must be on the front lines of the battle with food.  And I believe we must strive to diffuse the battle so it's not a battle.  We must come to grips with what food is, and how we are supposed to view it, and we must bring our lives into alignment with those truths.

At the very least, I think this will mean we eat less, and we eat healthier, and we eat out less.  It could also mean that we count up the money we save in a year and devote all of that money back to food, but to offering food to those who are hungry.  Maybe through a place like Compassion International.

One more thing: yesterday I gave myself a haircut with my new Oster Fast Feed Clippers (see link below).  The clippers cost me $50 with shipping, but the haircut was absolutely free.  I figure it will take me four haircuts to pay for the clippers, and after that I'm stealing haircuts!!  It got me to thinking about how we spend our money.  Ever since I started getting haircuts my parents were paying for me to get one every couple months, and since I have become an adult I've been paying for haircuts--usually at $10-15 a pop.  Think of all the money I've spent paying someone to cut my hair!  What if all that money was also not spent but dedicated back to hair, but in a way that brings the peace and wholeness of God?  Like  through buying wigs for kids with cancer, or just donating it to the families dealing with this disease?  It seems like that would be a very cool way to be a bearer of Shalom--to be a Shalomer...

Again, let me emphasize that I do not mean to be legalistic.  I know people who make the salon their mission field.  This is excellent, and another excellent way to bring Shalom.  I just want to push myself and any others who are listening away from easy answers, away from assumptions about how we "have to" spend our money.  I want to make myself think about all the ways I spend my time and money and energy while I have breath, and begin becoming a Shalomer in each action I take...

Can I call myself a "Shalomer"?

So clearly the name of this blog is a made up word.  I wish I had made it up because I'm really clever, but in reality "Shalom" was taken.  However, after much thought I am glad it was taken; I like the term "Shalomer."  I think I should get a royalty every time someone uses the term from here on out.  

The question at hand is: if this term can be defined the way I have defined it, as "one striving for God's reign to come to earth, bringing his peace, wholeness, completeness, and health to all aspects of life," can I rightly describe myself as such a person?  Can you?

If I were seeking reasons to answer in the affirmative for myself, I could come up with a fairly impressive list showing why I should be considered such a person.  However, am I, in my heart, truly striving for God's reign?  Am I striving for his wholeness and health in all aspects of my life?  Allow me to create a brief list off the top of my head of attributes which might describe a "Shalomer":

- Radically submits all areas of one's life to God, doing the hard work of submission (confessing sin to others, giving up enjoyable habits, changing attitudes, repenting)

- Regularly works to counteract existing structures which are oppressive in order to liberate those who need wholeness the most

- Is not content with personal wholeness, but longs for the wholeness of others, and even for the health and wholeness of society

- Sees God's reign as applying first to people, but not only to people; realizes that God's reign and peace and wholeness must come also to this physical world

- Does not tolerate in oneself or in others an unhealthy bifurcation between soul and body; recognizes that God's reign and health applies to all of life, as much to our workouts as our prayers, as much to our actions in the supermarket as to our actions in church

- Passionately seeks out relationships with other human beings, valuing them above all tasks or desires or roles, and longing through those relationships to bring health on every level to others and to strive for greater health and wholeness in oneself

That's the quick list I was able to come up with.  After considering it, I am now quite sure I am not a Shalomer.  Do I long to be?  Absolutely.  But I have a long way to go...  How about you?  Which of these are a struggle for you?  Which am I wrong about?  What aspects of being a Shalomer am I missing??  (Since I just made up the word, we really can make it whatever we want, don't you think?)  I welcome your comments...