Recovering from Conversion

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

-Paul the Apostle (according to Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve never been comfortable with the phrase accept Jesus as your personal savior. It smacks of narcissism, conjuring in my weird imagination cartoons of God as a kind of trophy or idol. I picture a small, squat talisman whose belly is rubbed for good luck or a tickle-me-personal-savior-god you might find on the shelf of your favorite toy seller. The phrase smells of consumer marketing. Step right down and get your very own personal savior today. Act now! For a limited time, you too can have a personal Jesus! Is he a product we’re selling? A new philosophy? Some form of iconic personal deliverance? Or is there something far less appealing behind the shiny bottle of snake oil? Something the marketing experts might want to cover up? Jesus-as-personal-savior seems to me a remarkable contrast to the call of Jesus who asks us not to “accept” him but, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “bids us … come and die.” From the personal savior angle, death to self must be a part of the fine print. Continue reading “Recovering from Conversion”

Exposure: the Vulnerability of Trust

“It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.” – Brennan Manning (in Ruthless Trust)

Philip Yancey’s grandma said, “Not to risk is not to really live.” What keeps us from risking anyway? Some may say fear, and some may say a lack of clarity, the clarity that God is calling us to a particular risk (my hunch is it’s a little of both). I was struck a few years back by a story I read in Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust. He tells the story of a man who visited Mother Teresa. The man asked Mother Teresa to pray for him. He wanted to have clarity. Mother Teresa refused to pray that for that man and said instead, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” Surprised, the man asked Mother Teresa if she had clarity. “I have never had clarity,” she answered, “What I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Trust. Trust that God is good when it doesn’t appear to be that way (like Abraham on Mt. Moriah or Job upon the destruction of his life). Trust that God loves you. Trust that his love for you is not just some blanket, universal love of his creation but a personal and intimate love for you. Brennan Manning’s spiritual mentor told him, “You’ve got enough insights to last you 300 years. The most urgent need in your life is to trust what you have received.” Quit looking for more insight, more wisdom, he seems to be saying. Trust what you have received. That is really the great need at the bottom of all this searching. Continue reading “Exposure: the Vulnerability of Trust”

8 Things to Trash Today

  1. Grasping for something better
  2. Excuses
  3. Worrying about what someone else thinks
  4. Trying to be perfect
  5. To-do list items that are older than a week
  6. Avoiding the difficult
  7. Negative commentary
  8. Unintentional living

Three Square Feet

The average human body takes up 3 square feet of human real estate on this planet. In the year 1950, the average 3-square-foot American consumed 292 square feet of house. By 2008, the same American increased his consumed space to 900 square feet. He takes up 300 times his size.

In crowded Hong Kong in the early 1900s, government policy mandated that each person have at least 35 square feet per person. I have 295; and even though that’s only a third of the U.S. average, it’s over 8 times the minimum required by the Hong Kong mandate.

Americans, Canadians and Australians report the most square feet per person. Japanese report the least.

Continue reading “Three Square Feet”

Signature of Jesus Found in Ecuador

Ecuadorians called them savages, but they are the Huarani people. A primitive tribe, they lived in the shadows of the jungle in Ecuador, launching savage attacks against one another, attacks that went on so long, no one remembered what rift had begun them. They were well acquainted with death but not with the outside world until, in 1956, five American missionaries went missing after making contact with them. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Peter Fleming packed a small plane with gifts and began making inroads with the tribe in hopes of reaching them with the Gospel. After just a few days of contact, the Huaorani killed the five men. A handwritten journal chronicling the contact was left behind, as were five young widows and their children. News of the deaths spread worldwide. Continue reading “Signature of Jesus Found in Ecuador”

A Mosque at 9-11

No need to read an article. The headlines are clear. A hot dispute continues: is building a Muslim mosque near the site of the 9-11 bombings of the World Trade Centers right or wrong?

Because the arguments center on the question of right and wrong, I can’t help but remember a statement made about that question many years ago. In China in 1952 a man was imprisoned for his Christian faith. He spent 20 years in prison before his death in 1972. He was Watchman Nee and, “Right or wrong,” he said, “is the principle of the Gentiles and tax collectors. My life is to be governed by the principle of the Cross…” He then went on to tell this story. Continue reading “A Mosque at 9-11”

Dying Well, Thank You Dr. Hawthorne

My former Greek professor died yesterday morning. His last great test on this earth is over, and though a painful and swiftly progressing cancer made for intense suffering in his final days, the battle for him is won. He has passed on to glory.

I knew him for such a short time, but as beloved professors can, he marked my scant four years in college with sweet memories. He used to show up to class in cowboy boots. His wife would have us all over for meals. He had a heart for students who struggled with Greek, an uncanny patience with the lot of us. In the upper level exegesis courses, he used to give us copious notes on the text, all handwritten (I still have them). He wrote books and edited commentaries. He was highly respected and admired both by his colleagues and his students. And he was also amazingly approachable and personable. Continue reading “Dying Well, Thank You Dr. Hawthorne”

Waking from Slumber

The trumpet blast sustained for a time as the herald cried out, “Awake, you who sleep. Arise from the dead!” I did, roused slowly by the trumpet’s sharp tenor as it finally broke the spell of sleep. I came to, rubbing the crusts of sleep from my eyes only to find in my stupor that I sat amidst a terrible battlefield. The slain were to my right and my left. Some mounted on beasts were horribly wounded but still slicing the air with their weapons. Some wielded long, shimmering swords. Others covered their heads with only bare hands, trying to absorb the blows of an enemy I was blearily trying to make out through the fog of my own daze. I was so astonished at the idea of a battle, so stunned at the thought of an actual enemy that for a long time I could not move. Until the horrific stare of its eyes turned towards me.

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Whispers through the Veil

I have met many Christians who speak confidently about God’s conversations with them. They are likely to say things like, “God told me to go down one more aisle; I did, and lo and behold, there was a parking place! Isn’t that just like God,” they ask. I have never had God tell me that, and I have trouble relating to it. I have wondered if they are really hearing God as well as why I don’t seem to hear such things.

Most of my Christian experience is with a veiled God. I can talk to him, but if he talks to me it is not as he did with Adam in the garden. His voice is a silent one, heard in the timbre of my own voice as I read the written words of scripture. On those special occasions when I am praying and unique words spring to my consciousness, I sometimes think it is God, but I don’t always know with clarity those words were his and not just my own imaginings.

Then there are days when I do know, when the words that form in the quiet of my being are unmistakably his and uncannily personal. Though they’ve never pointed me to a parking place, when these moments happen, the words are as intimate as a whisper. They penetrate the veil, and for a moment, the light of God’s face touches mine and reveals his heart to me in a way I cannot deny.

Continue reading “Whispers through the Veil”