D.A. Carson kicks my butt… again

In reading Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry I ran across this quote:

We have become so performance-oriented that it is hard to see how compromised we are. Consider one small example. In many of our churches, prayers in morning services now function, in large measure, as the time to change the set in the sanctuary. The people of the congregation bow their heads and close their eyes, and when they look up a minute later, why, the singers are in place, or the drama group is ready to perform. It is all so smooth. It is also profane. Nominally we are in prayer together addressing the King of heaven, the sovereign Lord. In reality, some of us are doing that while others are rushing on tiptoes around the “stage” and others, with their eyes closed are busy wondering what new and happy configuration will confront them when it is time to take a peek.

Has the smoothness of the performance become more important to us than the fear of the Lord? Has polish, one of the modern equivalents of ancient rhetoric, displaced substance? Have professional competence and smooth showmanship become more valuable than sober reckoning over what it means to focus on Christ crucified?
— pg 38-9

There are any number of things that I could say about this quote, and any number of directions I could take these present ramblings. But the thing which stands out to me the most is that first sentence. We’ve become so compromised to the idol of performance that we cannot even see it in our own churches. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that there ought to be a stellar level of “professionalism” to the church service (in saying professionalism, I’m seeking to use the term with out the negative connotations), but how many times have I stood on stage and either turned red with embarrassment or kicked myself because I “made too much noise entering or exiting the stage (or even making some noise at the wrong time while on stage) on a Sunday morning.” The feelings I had were not because I ruined someone’s worship experience, but rather because I was not as smooth as I could have been. I had trangressed my idol of performance’s standards.

I’ll just let this stew. Maybe I’ll pick up this theme again in another post. But I think we all ought to take a long hard look at ourselves. Has this particular idol silently worked its way onto our private shines? In possible attempts to clear out other idols have we overlooked this one? Maybe nothing externally will change about our churches, but at the very least we will have investigated our own hearts and made room for God to judge our worship and not an idol.

strung haiku

unknown i step out
in faith i wait for your word
it comes in whispers

it brushed by my ear
though it seemed i was alone
i knew you were there

the holding, the waiting, the wanting more
the calling to greater things than i’ve ever done before
yet for now all i have is hope, selah

action i’m taking
though blinded by my frailty
i act with confidence

with peregrin speed
my life flies by unfettered
yet hemmed by your hand

a flash from the past

Perusing my Google Docs page I ran across this essay I wrote a couple of years ago. I found it to be thought-provoking enough to warrant reposting its link, it is far too long to post here.

A word of background. This essay was written for my family’s website. There was a discussion ongoing about immigration, politics, and the economy. If I remember correctly this was from the summer of 2007, thus some of the predictions about economic collapse may seem a tad prophetic. Parties from both sides of the debate have been/are being proved right about their assumptions. The persons referenced are two of my uncles, Jack and Tim, and my mom, Leah. Apart from that the essay stands on its own. Enjoy.

Essay on immigration, politics, and the economy.

waiting for change

Tom Petty spoke rightly when he said, ‘the waiting in the hardest part.’

All I can say is that the next couple of days are going to be very, very long indeed. Waiting for word from the Orchard. Even though I pretty much know the answer, the official word will make me breath a huge sigh of relief. It means that the next steps can be taken and this season of waiting will be over.tree on a hill

Yet, I’m torn, at the same time, because of the thought of leaving all of our friends. Yesterday at church, discussing recent trips and God’s possible plans, this wave of ending swept over my soul. Orlando has always been a place of transitioning. From the moment we stepped foot out the open door of our then-too-expensive moving truck until now, looking a cross-country move in the face, we have been in transition. Orlando has never been a place which we’ve thought of as ‘home,’ in a long term sense.

Now, in the short term it has definitely become home. Having only been married 9 months when we moved from Safety Harbor we were still very much newlyweds. Ten jobs, five years, four moves, three cars, two degrees, and one child later, we are very different people. We have friends, a church and a family here. Our roots have been planted deep into their soil, the rending of which will leave indellible marks on all. But I know it’s time to go. That feeling from somewhere southwest of the spleen whispers words to heart that the time is right. To stay would be to take the easy way. To go requires faith. And faith has the pesky habit of requiring us to do things we don’t believe we either can do or should do. In our case the former seems the mountain we are called to climb. In either case faith calls us out of comfort and complacency into a life of movement, a life of transition.

Whether it is the small transitions we face everyday, the amalgam of which we call ‘living’, or the larger ones we might call watershed moments, we are unnaturally transitory beings in search of permanency. In a world of change our souls cry out for stabilty.

I’m still waiting for stability. I think I’m waiting for it to come with words this week. I know that it won’t. I may live some measure more into it, but stability, ultimate, unending, certain, stability still lies… just… out… of… reach……

thoughts on providence

I find that my life is a pasticcio of one ‘coincidence’ after another.

symphony

What do I mean by this? For some, it seems as if they have everything planned out and have the ability to follow through with those plans. For others, it seems as if they are free-spirits, floating on the wind of what ever may come their way. For me, I so want to be the first, yet experience some strange confluence of the two. For all my best efforts to the contrary I am dragged along, sometimes kicking and screaming, by the inexorable draw of providence. It is a feeling hard to describe, but one that I am sure everyone with eyes to see inherently knows.

Like I wrote in the previous post, there is a lie I believe which is ‘I can control my life’. I’m not entirely sure as to why I continually return to this idea. It’s never proved itself right. Even in those times when things go exactly as I planned there is always some wrinkle whispering the truth of the matter. Sometimes I can hear this whisper. Sometimes I’m sitting and listening like Elijah. Most times I’m running like Peter, all good intentions poorly placed. “Peter said to Jesus… He did not know what to say…”

Thank God I’m not in control.

The music playing, mixed from here and there, weaves a story of one who’s path is laid down already. Some might call this fate, I call it providence. Is there a difference? You better believe there is. The one is an impersonal, immovable set of events into which one falls without fail. The other is a dynamic, vibrant relational interaction between persons. Even at the etymological level providence implies personality, which is to say, having foresight or precaution requires the ability to interact with varied and varying situations. Though providence does not prove the Christian god, it does provide a context within which to discuss his interaction with ourselves, others, and the world. Providence could be considered the score with which our God is directing the symphony of creation.

I sometimes wish I could know what instrument I play…

I’d like to think of myself as a timpani or first-chair violin, either laying the tempo or leading the melody. But I get the feeling like my part to play is the fourth bassoon, a vital part but never noticed. I should be ok with that. During the interview process for a job I might possibly have in New Hampshire I was asked “Do you think you could be content in a small town place like…?” It was a question which I had thought about, but when asked point-blank by a member of the search committee it took me aback. I answered yes, which was true enough then as is now, but it made me stand up and stare providence square in the eyes. Who’s design for life will I accept? Will some self-wrote, 3 chord lullaby win out over the possible magnum opus? Will the amateur have contempt for the virtuoso? Is there really an option? The theological concept of ‘irresistible grace’ speaks just as well to every choice one makes as it does to the doctrine of salvation with which it’s usually associated. When given a choice between providential grace and our own mud-slung construction we are, thankfully, often gently prodded along by the Spirit. And by gently prodded I mean, grabbed by the collar and lovingly dragged in the right way.

I wonder what the next movement might sound like… something with a bassoon solo perhaps?

a cacophanous orchestral

You see, I’m convinced that idolatry is not merely an attempt to seek justification elsewhere, requiring immediate repentance and belief.  That’s theologically satisfying, perhaps, but psychologically simplistic.  No, I’m convinced we need to listen underneath, to give voice to those parts of us that crave and ultimately enslave.  So, I’ve often told my clients to do this:  Take a pen, and give a voice to that idol or that part of you, for example, that finds security through money.  What’s it saying?  Is a part of what it is saying legitimate?  (I suspect some of it is, because normally our idols are perversions of things that God created good).

If so, do something else (…and this part will really make you think I’m a nut).  Write or speak back to that part of you.  Thank it for desiring something good, and ask if it would be willing to let go of some of its power (repentance), to play its instrument a little lower and in tune with the rest of the orchestra, or perhaps even a little louder and in greater harmony if need be.  Tell it to re-focus its eyes on the Conductor, who wants it to join in the chorus of faith, hope, and love, of an un-divided heart, of shalom.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat

What are my idols saying right now?

  • you’re not good enough to hold your relationships together
  • someone will find out that you don’t work hard enough
  • you don’t/can’t love enough
  • it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll screw it up
  • run away
  • do whatever it takes to keep the peace

I don’t know whether these are multiple idol voices or simply one multitonality singing its own harmonies. Whichever the case, I find it tragically ironic that the points in life where one finds the clearest expression of who one is are often those times when the cacophanous orchestral reaches a crescendo. I’m not sure why this happens. Perhaps because those areas in which we excel are often those which are the areas of greatest weakness as well. What then are the voices saying? What is it, which Chuck has said, that is legitimate and what is straight up the lie spoken to my heart by worthless idols?

Legitimate:

  • things worthwhile in life take hard, dedicated work
  • I, as a sinful human being, am incapable of holding all things together
  • peace is a good thing

Illegitimate:

  • I can successfully run away from my problems
  • I am a failure at those things which desire most
  • I do not have what it takes to be the man I’m supposed to be
  • I can control my life

God help me