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Aug 18,2011

"Without a friend you cannot live," said A'Kempis, "and if Jesus be not above all a friend to you, you will be sad and desolate."

Ain't that the truth.

We often don't recognize our desolation for what it really is - missing Jesus. A longing for Jesus. After all, he is our life. Without him, there is no life.

So our basic task, whatever else it is we might be doing, is to find Jesus, and stay with him. Not an easy thing to do, as you've discovered. But here is one thing that will help you immensely both find Jesus, and find a closer union with him: Love Him. Just start loving Jesus. Whatever the emotions you are feeling, whatever it is you are facing, just return to loving Jesus. "Jesus, I love. I love you. I love you."

It will open the door for him to come closer; it opens our heart to experience him with us; it also ushers in his presence into those parts of our lives where we find it most hard to find him. Love Jesus there, in those very places. I literally say, "Jesus, I love you in this, right here, in this. I love you Jesus."

It will help. And having Jesus, well, is the best thing you can ever have. Nothing else even comes close.

12 AM
Dec 08,2010

Last May I had the opportunity, while in London, to visit the National Gallery. Loving art, and being with my son who is an art major, I was excited to spend hours there. I loved the Van Gogh, the Monet, the Rembrandt paintings and many more. But there was one massive disappointment. No, it was more than disappointment. Massive frustration. 

I did not see one portrait of Christ, in all the famous works of him, that came anywhere close to depicting Jesus as he really is. Not one.

They are all wispy, pale Jesus, looking haunted, a ghost-like figure floating along through life making vague gestures and even vaguer statements. The Nativity scenes were particularly ridiculous. The classic art depicting the infant – themes now repeated on Christmas cards and in the creche scenes displayed in churches and on suburban coffee tables – portrays a rather mature baby, very white, radiantly clean as no baby is ever clean, arms outstretched to reassure the nervous adults around him, intelligent, without need, halo glowing, conscious with an adult consciousness. Superbaby.

This infant clearly never pooped his diapers. He looks ready to take up the Prime Minister-ship.

Why did it make me angry? Because when we lose his humanity, we lose Jesus. The Incarnation is one of the greatest treasures of our faith. The world keeps pushing God away, but in the coming of Jesus he draws near. Incredibly near. He takes on our humanity. "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity..." (Hebrews 2:14). 

But we have so sanitized and religious-ized the baby Jesus that most of our imagery of the Nativity now adds to those horrible religious views of him. Jesus becomes a vague though impressive figure with wonder powers who is floating above this life that the rest of us are slogging through. Life was easy for Jesus, right? He barely broke a sweat. O, wait - there was that terrible sweat in Gethsemane. Hmm.

The Incarnation – the beyond-all-doubt evidence that whatever else he was Jesus was surely a human being – it has been stolen from us. And with it innumerable treasures regarding the humanity of Jesus and, therefore, our humanity too.

One of my favorite Christmas meditations comes from this passage by Chesterton. (He is speaking of Bethlehem, and what it held in its hills that fateful night.)

"…as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity."

Savor that last passage for a moment. That feeding-trough-turned-cradle held something more human than humanity? What? Do you think of Jesus as the most human human-being that ever lived? 


01 PM
Nov 19,2010

I don’t even remember the issue we were talking about – it had something to do with Christianity – but I do remember my friend’s response. “Gosh, I'm not really sure," he said. And I thought it a humble and gracious posture to take.

Only, its been five years now. And he's still saying, "I'm not really sure." He has landed in that place. Now I see what happened. He has chosen doubt - a posture very attractive and honored in our day.

Doubt is “in.”

Listen to how people talk (especially young adults). “I don’t really know…I’m just sort of wrestling with things right now…you know, I’m not really sure….” And if in the rare case someone actually says what they believe, they quickly add, “but that’s just the way I see it.”

As if confidence is a bad quality to have. Certainty is suspect these days.  

For one, it doesn’t seem “real,” or “authentic.” It’s human to doubt. So it seems more human to express doubt than certainty. We end up embracing doubt because it feels “true.”

But there is also guilt by association. Dogmatic people – people certain they know what’s what – have done a lot of damage. Particularly dogmatic religious people. Good people don’t want anything to do with that, and so – by a leap of logic - they don’t want to be seen as having strong convictions. Certainty is not something they want to be associated with.

I’m thinking of this quote by Alan Bloom; referring to a fundamental assumption the postmodern makes he says:

“The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

And so Doubt, masquerading as humility, has become a virtue. A pre-requisite for respect. People of strong conviction are suspect.

Now, I appreciate the desire for humility, and the fear of being dogmatic.

But let us remember that conviction is not the enemy. As Chesterton said, "An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth...The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

Enter Jesus, who is always so wonderfully counter-cultural. He knows humility. But doubt (this will be a great surprise to many people) is not something Jesus holds in high esteem. “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Hmm.

I think we've stumbled onto another vital expression of not letting ourselves be corrupted by the world (James 1:27). We breathe this cultural air; we take in its assumptions. So let us remember this truth:

Doubt is not a virtue. Doubt is not humility. Doubt is doubt. Jesus understands doubt, and he wants us to get past it, not embrace it for heaven's sake.

06 AM
Nov 10,2010

My son told me recently that at his Christian college a student has chosen to fly Buddhist prayer flags off the dorm balcony.

Perfect. Of course they did. It is a classic picture of the culture at this moment. A self-revealing snapshot.

Too many years ago to count, Alan Bloom came out with a celebrated (and prophetic) book called The Closing of the American Mind. In it, Bloom - a university professor - observed that the last value held by college students in this post modern world is tolerance. A value held passionately. Almost religiously.

Those college students grew up, had children of their own, and shaped the culture we have at present. We are so steeped in the tolerance=compassion=human rights=all faiths have goodness to them=the important thing is to be sincere mindset now that a Christian student flying Buddhist prayer flags is met with this sort of reaction: "It's kinda cool." "It's not big deal." "It's a symbol of tolerance." "It's a way of standing with the oppressed Tibetan people."

It is, in fact, very naive.

The flags contain prayers (mantras) and symbols to gods other than Jesus Christ. They are, in fact, an invitation for demons to come and take roost. By your permission.

But doesn't my saying so seem just a little...too obsessive? I mean, c'mon. Lighten up. As proof that we are so accustomed to the laid-back paganism of our times, notice than on the whole we are more uncomfortable with someone saying, "umm...that's demonic" than we are with a Christian student flying Buddhist prayer flags at a Christian college. 

It would be a very uncomfortable community exercise to ask, what does James 1:27 mean for this culture right now? "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (1:27). We are really, really big on the social justice part right now. That is super cool. Very "in." But we are unsure if we want to deal with the second half of the passage. That part is not so cool at the moment.

So, the prayer flags summon away.

08 AM
Nov 01,2010

I had a remarkable and unexpected opportunity this last weekend.

I'd gone back to southern California to visit my aging parents. My dad is in a nursing home know and it was good to see him. My mom needed some help around their old house as well, and I was glad to be able to fix some things for her. But the unexpected gift came as I drove around the neighborhoods in which I grew up.

I found myself praying through my past. The loneliness of my junior high years. The rebellion of my high school days. As I drove around I would remember a person or an event, and simply invite Jesus into it. It was extraordinarily redemptive. It felt like Jesus and I were walking back through all sorts of things from the past, and as we did I could feel the emotion or the old way of looking at things, and I could invite Christ into it to make it his own.

I think God actually does this more often than we know. He'll bring up something that will trigger a memory - we might have a dream, or visit an old haunt of ours, we might see an old friend or sometimes all it takes is just a certain smell like cut grass or a donut shop and bam, we are back in some period of our life. In those moments, invite Jesus into it, into that period in your life. And linger there for a bit, allowing his Spirit to show you what to pray.

I found myself asking his forgiveness for the sins of my youth (Psalm 25:7) and the cleansing of that felt very important for my life and freedom now, in the present. (So many of these things retain a kind of hold on us, decades later.) At other moments I found myself inviting Jesus into an old relationship and what I found there was his love re-writing my past, coming into it. But most of all, I found myself expressing gratitude for how he has truly saved me. The contrast of my life from then till now was stunning to me. Change and sanctification take place so gradually that we often don't see how far we've come until we look back.

It is a powerful thing to redeem the past, bring it under the rule of Jesus and invite him to fill it. I think this is why he will bring it up in the present through some reminder of days gone by. When he does, invite Jesus into it, give it to him, let him heal or affirm or cleanse or redeem or return to you some gift of life he gave but you lost over time..

04 AM
Oct 26,2010

Stasi and I ran into an old acquaintance this last week. Someone we hadn't seen in what felt like eons. My reaction was somewhat surprising.

I wanted to throw myself on the ground and thank Jesus for delivering us from that view of God. (Now, that would have been a little awkward to do in their presence. So, I waited till I got home.)

By "that view" I mean a view of Jesus and Christianity that is so very widespread in the church. It goes something like this: You can't really know Jesus intimately. He is about more important things. But you must revere God from afar, because he is so high and lifted up and you are nothing. Humility is best expressed as self loathing. Godliness is available apart from intimacy with Jesus. It involves morality, mostly. But more so, holding the correct positions. Knowledge about God is mistaken for knowing God. Righteousness is purely external, behavioral. The heart is never to be looked at. Jesus is never someone you could hear laugh, or who would be concerned with the longings of your soul. In fact, Jesus isn't used much; "God" is the preferred person whom we address. Using Jesus is simply looked upon as too casual.

I once held to that. And I shudder.

As George MacDonald wrote, "Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of God."

You understand, I trust, that there are many views of Jesus out there in the church. Some are closer to the truth than others. You also understand, I hope, that a false view of Jesus is worse than no view, because you think you hold the right thing you never go in search for him really.

a dear friend heard a sermon recently that basically went like this: You can't really know Jesus, because he isn't like your friends. He is vastly different from us. I think the attempt was to invoke reverence. But the teaching is from hell. You can know Jesus intimately, better than your friends. Or what in the world was the incarnation for? Jesus came for the very purpose that we might know God. Be intimate with him. Everything else is a sideshow.

And so the very best thing you could ever pray is "Jesus, I ask you for the real you; take away every false Christ and show me the real you."

06 AM
Oct 12,2010

I love a good burrito.

Warm, home-made tortilla, carnitas or barbacoa steeped in their own juices for hours, fresh salsa, rice, beans, guacamole - o man, I'm making myself hungry just talking about it. If you've had a really good burrito, you know what I mean.

Here's the problem: you can get something called burritos at any gas station these days. They typically come frozen and you're supposed to put them in the microwave to resuscitate them. Now, they look like a burrito...kind of. They smell like a burrito...kind of. But they are not even close to the real thing. And yet, they are called "burritos." It says so right on the plastic package. Burrito.

This is where we are with the Gospel now.

You can pull into any church or ministry and be offered something called "the Gospel." And there's just enough Jesus words to make it sound like the Gospel...kind of. It looks like Christianity...kind of. It smells like Christianity...kind of. But it isn't even close to the real thing.

And yet, it is packaged and marketed as Christianity.

So here's a simple test: Does it do what the Scriptures say the Gospel will do? Does it heal the brokenhearted? Set captives free? Does it draw people into a genuine intimacy with God, where experiencing his presence is normal? Really?

If not, dump it like a gas station burrito. Go get the real thing.

07 AM
Oct 09,2010

hi gang. I'm back. From my sabbatical. (In case you were wondering "where the heck has he been?" I've been on sabbatical for the past several months.)

It was really good. I was in desperate need of rest and restoration - physically, emotionally, spiritually. And I don't do rest well, so God had me get to the point where I simply had to break away.

A few years ago I was watching a special on the Iditarod and was absolutely intriuged to learn about the sled dogs that can run such a ruthless race. That sled dogs are the most physically fit animal in the world. That they love to run, live to run and the problem with that is...they don't know when to stop.

The men and women who win the Iditarod have calculated down to a science the best way to run their dogs. Now for the part that blew me away: they have discovered that the perfect formula is to rest the dogs more than they run them. (That was completely unnerving o a guy who loves to run, lives to run, and doesn't know best when to stop.) Of course, the dogs won't adopt this formula on their own. They have to have good masters who make them rest. Otherwise, they'd just run themselves ragged.

(Hmmm. I am a sled dog.)

It brought new meaning to the 23rd Psalm: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he restores my soul. We all want the restored soul part. But it only comes when we accept the lying down part. So, God makes us...if we will cooperate.

Anyhow, that is where I've been. Seeking rest and restoration. 

And, its great to be back. I have SO much to share, I hope to get back into a regular rhythm of blogging.

Meanwhile, where does your soul need restoration? And how are you seeking God's plan for that?

06 AM
Aug 07,2010

I know. I know. In the world of blogging I have been gone since, like, the 17th Century. I woke up this morning and realised, "You just disappeared, John, and didn't tell them where you were going."

As soon as we returned from the epic Wales Boot Camp in late May, I began a sabbatical. Part spiritual, part medical, this sabbatical was longgggg overdue and desparately needed. So, I sorta ran out the door (literally) with a bag stuffed with clothes, books, journals, cigars, fishing gear, granola bars and yep, pretty much fell off the planet.

at least you now know why I've been silent as a blogger.

Now, truth is, I thought I'd blog through my sabbatical. You know, honest thoughts about how important sabbath is, and raw stuff on what taking sabbatical is like. Then I realised, how twisted is that? I mean good grief. The whole purpose of a sabbatical is major unplug for restoration.

Part of what I needed to deal with on sabbatical was this irony of "be productive, keep your voice out there, have something to show for this" stuff. I was even going to video some of it. Whew. Pretty wacked out. I mean, the opposite of sabbatical, right?

so, that's why I have been offline. And will be for a bit longer.

But I did want to say hello, and I'm doing well, and sorry for dashing out the door and leaving my cereal bowl on the counter and my socks on the floor.

Hope you are well, too. Do sieze what you can of summer joy before the rush of the fall demands swallows you up in its momentum.

07 AM
Jun 22,2010

So, yesterday was the official "first day of summer," if you hadn't noticed. Summer has begun. 

Though my hunch is, most of us have already jumped the gun and embarked on summer like intentions. The bar-b-que is out, we've gone to the lake once or twice, or enjoyed eating outside or working on a tan or got our tomatoes planted or maybe only (at least) begun to think about what we'd like to do with summer.
I, for one, am trying to get a bit of sabbath rest this summer. To help me, if not get the rest than at least think about sabbath a bit more than I do, I've been reading Dan Allender's wonderful book entitled (waddya know) "Sabbath." In it Dan recounts a conversation he overheard, two people "boasting" about the amount of email they get and how much work they have to do. A very common conversation, on I bet we've all been a part of. Dan then notes this:

"Boasting about work is a national pastime. The one who works harder, against greater odds, and with fewer resources to gain the greatest ground wins. We are proud that we shoulder such immense responsibility..."

Yikes. We say we don't like to be so busy, but the truth is, we are absolutely addicted to it. Just trying slowing down a little and you'll see. Try ignoring your cell phone for 24 hours. Don't use facebook. Don't check your texts or emails. You'll see.

Anyhow, we went to the beach for a few days to relax and drink in warmth. I was amazed at the amount of activity was going on in a place of "down time." Folks were surfing, kite boarding, windsurfing, running on the beach, doing yoga in the park, paddle boarding, activity everywhere. Classic. Folks were spending their precious vacation sabbath going hard at it, just like they do the rest of the year. Intense about vacation, how ironic is that?

It got me thinking about how much we feel our worth through what we do, what we accomplish. How we also derive a sense of security through frantic activity, by getting on top of things. And then God says, commands even, that we take a genuine sabbath, and we don't know how.

I, for one, want to find it. So I'm going to continue this wonderful book of Dan's, and stop blogging. Just wanted to throw the thought your way that work might be in the way (even play as work) and suggest a little summer sabbath.
02 PM