Thursday, August 30, 2007

Remembering to live soulfully

Today Eugene has me thinking about how easily we reduce one another into something less-than human. In the Hebrew language, the word for soul, nephesh, is a metaphor for the word neck. The neck is a connector, bringing breath from the mouth to the lungs and back again, connecting the head to the body, nerves to the brain, ideas to actions. To remove our neck would be to disconnect us - a head is no good without a body. Soul is a connecting word, implying relationship and connectedness with God, with others. To be a soulish being reminds us that our spirit is not unimportant to our body, and that God is necessary for conversation and vocation, for friendship and service. When we remove the soul from our view of ourselves and others, we are reduced to being consumers, people who are a resource to be used or people who are using others.

Peterson writes, "In our current culture, "soul" has given way to "self" as the term of choice to designate who and what we are. Self is the soul minus God. Self is what is left of soul with all the transcendence and intimacy squeezed out.... Widespread consumerism results in extensive depersonalization. And when depersonalization occurs, life leaks out."

As I thought about what this means for life and ministry, I realized how quickly I disconnect people. I can see the poor as a problem to be solved or a mouth to feed. I can be seen by the poor as a solution to their problem, a resource. InterVarsity students and staff can see new students coming to their groups as a resource to replenish leadership structures or to boost numbers.

And so, when everything in our culture has trained us to consume or be consumed, how do we go about our life and work remembering that people are more than what we see, more than their needs, more than what they can give us? The answer is Jesus and living by the Spirit. Jesus refused to see people as problems to be solved or a means to His own ends. His end was to glorify the Father, and He knew that the Father received glory when children came home, when men and women walked in right relationship to God and one another. Sometimes a meal of bread and fish was a way to move people towards the Father. Sometimes it was a hard word of truth. Sometimes it was ignoring the needs of many and attending to silence and prayer. People were not to be consumed, but to be restored to connectedness, head to heart, physical and spiritual hunger satisfied. Life infused rather than life leaked out.

I don't want life to leak out from me. Jesus has created us for life, life and more life, connected to God, connected to others. Spirit and body connected. Soulful living.

Monday, August 27, 2007

GUPY 2007 Recap in less than 90 seconds

Here is a brief look at our summer!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Spirit living, obedience and discipline

Galatians 5 talks a great deal about the freedom that we have as Believers to live by the Spirit, in the Spirit. Freedom from law, freedom from regulations and religiosity, freedom from things like having to have a Quiet Time every day in order to be in God's good graces. But in the midst of all this freedom, where does discipline come into play? Where is the room for obedience? When you talk about grace and freedom enough, those questions are inevitable.

Discipline and obedience have an important place in life and in discipleship. I'm trying, again, to exercise three days a week. It's not my body's preference to get up at 6:00 am and run several miles - I have to have a measure of discipline to make my body do something that it rebels against. Discipline and training are good, but our question should be, "What is driving it?" I can be proud of myself for getting up in the morning, but the reality is, I am praying that God would help me get up, that He would bear the fruit of self-control in my life so that I go to bed at a decent hour, that the Spirit enable me to get up when the alarm goes off, that in Christ I would press through my sore legs that balk at jogging. Seriously. I believe that jogging in the early morning is a Spirit work.

It's the same with our discipline and obedience in following Jesus. I often worry when I hear young couples talk about their strict dating guidelines to govern physical behavior, not because I don't think that their intentions are good, but because all-to-often their source and motive is their own will power and their desire to have a "Godly relationship." I worry when friends declare that they will spend time with God every morning of every day for a set number of minutes, not because that would be a bad thing, but because that can easily be a self-fueled exercise. When we discipline ourselves apart from the Spirit, it can easily have the opposite effect than what we desire. Our flesh, sin that is at work in us (Romans 7) rebels against the rules and laws that we set up, enticed to act against them. (In fact, Paul says that the law is the power of sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56).

Discipline and obedience led by the Spirit looks like this, according to Galatians 5:6 - "For in Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (religious obedience) has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." So for the couple who wants to be godly in their physical relationship, they have faith that God has called them to love one another, and loving one another means that they guard their hearts and bodies from lust. So they ask the Spirit to show them ways to love each other and love God by bearing the fruit of Self Control in their lives and relationship, and that the Spirit would enable them to live as holy children of the Father who have all their needs met in Christ.
For the earnest Christian who wants to have a daily quiet time, faith says that his sonship is not contingent on how much Bible reading or prayer he does, and that God's love for Him is unchanging and perfect. Faith says that one way to love God is to learn His truth and live that truth in obedience and love, and asks the Spirit to give discipline to spend time in the Scriptures, that the Spirit illuminate what is read, and that the Spirit lead and energize the living out of those truths. Are these semantical maneuverings? I don't think so. Spirit living is not always a feeling, but is often a decision, a remembering the presence of God in every part of life, and a yielding to our need for Him in all things.

Functional atheism where God is a reality in some parts of life but in the rest of our days and ways we make it work on our own, is very dangerous to the Christian life. Life in the Spirit says that every moment is God's to orchestrate and our need for Him runs deeper than we would imagine, and His ability to give us all that we need, whether it is grace, mercy, freedom or even discipline and obedience, knows no limits.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Like a Sailboat at Talladega

Yesterday I was talking with a good friend about his frustrations with work. He used to be in vocational ministry, and now he's in a job that, in his estimation, is making very little difference for the Kingdom. We were talking about his possibly returning to vocational ministry, and he said that he didn't want to run to that like a crutch. But for this guy, I don't think it would be a crutch - I think it's what he was made to do, and so, searching for an analogy, I told him that maybe him doing this job was like building a sailboat and sticking on the race track at Talladega and wondering why it doesn't work right. The boat was made for water, not the 33-degree banking of my favorite NASCAR superspeedway.

As we continued to talk, the conversation turned to living in the flesh versus living by the Spirit. Living by the flesh (i.e. "making life work" apart from dependence on Christ) can be OK for a while. We can be successful or we can wink and nod at our sin or we can get proud of how religious we are. But eventually, things just don't feel right. We have a nagging sense that we are not operating the way we were created, that we are going against our soul's design.

Which takes us back to the sailboat on the racetrack. We, as Christians, have been recreated in Christ to live in dependence on the Father, through the Spirit, created to sail in water. We have been freed from making life work, from trusting in our own resources, and have been freed to living as God intended, yet we often choose to beach ourselves. Most times when life doesn't work we blame our circumstances or the people who just aren't meeting our needs, but for Christians, conflict and frustration are often God's mouthpiece, reminding us of who we are (and who we are not). Sure, there are rough waters even when we live by the Spirit, but there is a sense, even in the storms, that we are living life as we were created to be.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spirit living, Eugene style

On the recomendation of my friend Doug Flatherty, I re-started Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, whose first chapter deals with the work of God's Spirit. At the same time, I was reading Romans 8, looking for God's leading in living by the Spirit. Living by the Spirit is such a balancing act, walking between two unhealthy extremes. On the one hand we have the obvious unhealthy extreme of blatant sin, indulging our "sinful nature" (NIV's translation) with all sorts of sinful things. On the other hand we have self-righteous moralism, in which we are in control of and in charge of keeping our heart and soul on the straight and narrow, managing our own sin. The Spirit leads us away from sin and away from self-reliance, leading us to.. dependence on God in all things.
I love how Peterson translates Romans 8:5-8: Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

When I read this passage in the NIV, my focus tends to be on the words "sinful nature" and, really, on the "sinful" part. Don't we tend to think of being in the flesh as doing sinful things? But Peterson, bless him, doesn't define the flesh as "sinful" (though it certainly is). Instead, he equates it to a self-focused life. Self-focus inevitably leads us to measure our moral muscle without exercising it, which inevitably to making life work apart from God, either by sin or by religion. Thank the Lord that God's Spirit leads us into an open, spacious, free life. The trick is to believe that this freedom is true-er and better than the self-satisfaction of moralism or the fleeting pleasures of escape into sin.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You have to watch this

I don't often link to external, You-Tube-ish stuff, but you have to see this. In this video, a herd of buffalo comes back to rescue a baby buffalo that has been taken down by a pack of lions. It does have a happy ending (unless you side with hungry lions).
Hungry Lions Stay Hungry

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back on the horse

Our time in Mexico at the end of GUPY was really wonderful. Even though most of us spoke little to no Spanish, we felt surprisingly at home in a strange culture, and felt very loved by our church family there. But coming back to Glenwood was surprisingly jarring for a number of us on the GUPY team, myself included. My neighborhood didn't feel like home - it felt scary, dangerous again, and it was strange. Perhaps it didn't help that our church van was flagged down on my street at 2 am on our back from the airport so that we could be offered crack (my weary reply was, "No thanks, man, we just got home from a missions trip"). For some reason it was strange for me to be around African Americans again (I saw only one person of African descent in our 10 days in Mexico), and I felt old fears come back.

And so I felt tempted to revert back to old ways of hiding out in the house, going to other parks rather than my local playground, and just not feeling at peace. But, as the saying goes, when you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on, and I knew it was important to get back out in the neighborhood, walk the streets, meet the neighbors. So I took my kids to the park around the corner to play. I went to get veggies from the community garden. I walked home from my church. Simple things, normal things, but things that can be avoided in the course of "normal" life.

Why was I not comfortable in my home of 7 years? Some of it has to do with the power of assumptions/fears/stereotypes about race and class that are still latent in my heart. Some of it has to do with the ways poverty plays itself out in America versus in Mexico City. Some of it has to do with spending our time in Mexico surrounded by Christians who loved us, laid down their lives for us, gave us their food, their beds, their homes, whereas in Glenwood, often times those that you try to help respond with a shrug at best, an insult at worst - not much payoff there.

I think that Mexico helped exposed further work that God has to do in me, and I hope that it awakened the GUPY's to the need right in our backyard for love and service to go out, received or not, in proclaiming Christ's love and presence.

Monday, August 06, 2007

You Run the Risk of Weeping if you Let Yourself Be Tamed

(this post did not, in fact, post, on Friday, so I am retrying; I'm feeling better today)

The heading is a line from “The Little Prince,” and describes the cost involved in loving deeply. In the book, the prince meets a fox on another planet, and eventually they become friends. The fox begins to cry when the prince has to leave, and when the prince tells him not to be sad, the fox replies, “One runs the risk of weeping when he lets himself be tamed.”

The GUPY students left yesterday, and I’ve been crying intermittently since Monday (when we left Mexico City). I have really loved these student and given them my heart (and they have done the same), and now it’s just too quiet here at the house without them coming in and out. Right now I don’t want to have GUPY 2008 because I don’t want to feel this sadness again next year. But I know that in time, the sadness will pass and what will remain will be the memories of how God used our 6 weeks in mighty ways, both in Greensboro and in the students.

For now, driving around town reminds me of all that we did together, and I wish that the students were still here with us, learning and growing, laughing and loving, being stretched by God to live out His word in faithful ways.

While tears are no fun (and having them come at random times, such as while taking out the garbage or walking into Harris Teeter, is inconvenient), they are a sign that I was tamed this summer, making 10 new friends and being a small part of God’s bigger work in the world. It is small price to pay, and there will one day be much celebration of the ways God continued to use GUPY 2007 long after this summer.