But the Light Fades- A Lesson from Thomas R. Kelly

I read this quote in A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly today, and it really moved me:

But the light fades, the will weakens, the humdrum returns. Can we stay this fading? No, nor should we try, for we must learn the disciplines of His will, and pass beyond this first lesson of His Grace. But the Eternal Inward Light does not die when ecstasy dies, nor exist only intermittently, with the flickering of our psychic states. Continuously renewed immediacy, not receding memory of the Divine Touch, lies at the base of religious living. (pg 5)

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Render Unto Caesar: Seek the Welfare of the City

This sermon is the final sermon of a 4-week series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics. You can listen to audio of the sermon HERE.

Today I finish my 4-week sermon series on faith and politics. I have tried to speak truth, but not give my own opinion. I wanted to give background to change how you approach politics as a Christian. It has been funny, as the series has gone on, that a few people have come up to me and said something like, “Jordan, I wish you would just tell me who you think I should vote for?” Now, I don’t think that everybody wants me just to tell me who to vote for, and I am guessing if I told you then you would just ignore it anyway unless it confirmed what you already wanted to do. Continue reading

Put on the New You in 2015

I went to the YMCA yesterday to work out and was reminded that it was the New Year. January is always crazy at the YMCA. All these people who decide for their New Year’s Resolution they are going to finally work out or lose that weight. I can watch their efforts unfold as the YMCA thins out through January and February. By March, I see the regulars there again but none of those new members. I understand these people. I am also trying to go to the YMCA more often to begin the year. I have some things I would like to do differently this year.

resolutions

Why is it so hard to see lasting change in our lives? In our work places? In our churches? In our communities? I wonder if part of the challenge is that we struggle to balance being ok with ourselves and also wanting to change. We can hate ourselves so much that we don’t think we can change. We can love ourselves so much that we don’t think we need to change. We need to find balance.

This is not pop-psychology. I actually think this is routed in a spiritual issue. Do we really believe that God loves us just the way we are and that we cannot do anything to make God love us any less or any more? But that is exactly how God loves us. At the same time, God loves you enough to not let you stay where you are. This tension is all over scripture, but look at these verses for Colossians 3.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

Understand the amazing assumption of this text. We are already God’s chosen ones. We are Holy and Beloved. At the same time, there are things in us that is earthly and need to be put to death. That is a very strong image that Paul uses. Take some things in your life out in the back yard and end them.

There are also things that we need to add to our lives. Paul’s metaphor for these things is that of clothing. It is as if God’s holiness and love is a coat that is given to you but you have to put it on.

This is what makes the Christian faith so special. It is a journey of becoming what you already are. It is being loved as you are but also being loved into the person you could be. So, as you approach your New Year’s Resolutions, try to be ok with who you are now. God is. At the same time, try to live into the person that God sees you as. Maybe that will give you just enough drive to make some lasting changes while also giving yourself slack when you fall backwards.

May you put on the new you with God’s help in 2015!

Develop Your Faith Muscle and Tune up Your Faith Car

You would not go out and run a marathon after not working out for a year.

You would not expect a car that has been parked in the garage for a few years to drive well across the country.

So why do so many people expect their faith to be there when they go through difficult times when they have done nothing do develop or strengthen their faith.

I see it over and over again.  A person talks to me about having a faith crisis after a difficult time in their life and I wonder–when was the last time you were in church?  How is your devotional life?  Tell me about your prayer life?  I don’t think that we can control God.  As if God will be nicer to you and go easier on you if you are in church more often.  But I do think that faith is like a muscle.  It needs to be stretched and worked out regularly.  That way when life throws you into a marathon you have the muscles in place to do the work.  Sure, you might still get sore.  You might still pull a muscle.  But you are better off if you have been working those muscles regularly.

Prayer, Bible reading, spiritual conversation, worship…  All of these aspects of the Christian faith are like tune-ups and test drives on the vehicle that is your faith.  If you haven’t used a car in a while then things don’t work right.  These things might be mundane– like getting an oil change or going to the gym– but you want to do those things before you need them.

How is your faith doing?  Do you need a trip to the gym?  Where do you need a tune-up and a test drive?

What Does a Life of Trust Look Like?

Brennan Manning tells a story that I think captures the kind of radical trust and dependence that God desires of us:

Fourteenth-century theologian and mystic John Tauler prayed for eight years that God would send him a person who would teach him the true way of perfection. One day, while at prayer, he heard a voice from within telling him to go outside to the steps of the church, and there he would meet his mentor. He obeyed without hesitation. On the church steps Tauler found a barefoot ragamuffin in rags, wounded and caked in blood.

Tauler greeted the man cordially: “Good morning, dear brother. May God give you a good day and grant you a happy life.”

“Sir,” replied the ragamuffin, “I do not remember ever having had a bad day.”

Stunned, Tauler asked him how that was possible, since sadness and grief are part of the human condition.

The beggar explained, “You wished me a good day, and I replied that I cannot recall every having spent a bad day. You see, whether my stomach is full or I am famished with hunger, I praise God equally; when I am rebuffed and despised, I still thank god. My trust in God’s providence and his plan for my life is absolute, so there is no such thing as a bad day.”

He continued, “Sir, you also wished me a happy life. I must insist that I am always happy for it would be untruthful to state otherwise. My experience of God has taught me that whatever He does must of necessity be god. Thus, everything that I receive from his loving hand or whatever He permits me to receive from the hands of others—be it prosperity or adversity, sweet or bitter—I accept with joy and see it as a sign of his favor. For many, many years now, my first resolution each morning is to attach myse3lf to nothing but the will of God alone. I have learned that the will of God is the love of God. And by the outpouring of His grace, I have so merged my will with His that whatever He wills, I will too. Therefore, I have always been happy.                                                                                                                            (Ruthless Trust, pg 162)

If you read Matthew 6, you find that Jesus emphasizes this kind of radical daily trust in God.  He wants us not to worry about what we will eat, drink our wear.  I think this position of dependence and trust in God is the thing, more than anything else, that God desires of our response to His love and grace.

What Does it Mean to Trust in God?

Brennan Manning tells this story that captures what it really means to trust in God:

Dennis Rainey tells the story of a missionary family home on furlough, staying at the lake house of a friend. On the day in question, Dad was puttering in the boathouse, Mom in the kitchen, and the three children, ages four, seven, and twelve, were on the lawn. Four-year-old Billy escaped his oldest sister’s watchful eye and wandered down to the wooden dock. The shiny aluminum boat caught his eye, but unsteady feet landed him in eight-foot-deep water.

When the twelve-year-old screamed, Dad came running out. Realizing what had happened, he dove into the murky depths. Frantically he felt for his son, but twice, out of breath, he had to return to the surface. Filling his lungs once more, he dove down and found Billy clinging to a wooden pier several feet under. Prying the boy’s fingers loose, he bolted to the surface with Billy in his arms.

Safely ashore, his father asked, “Billy, what were you doing down there?” The little one replied, “Just waitin’ on you, Dad, just waitin’ on you.”

 (Ruthless Trust, Page 94)

 How often in our lives do we try to save ourselves.  We struggle, we worry, and we try to find our way out ourselves.  But the way of the Christian is ultimately a way of trust.  This is what Brennan Manning calls “The Second Conversion.”  The first conversion saves us from the land of sin and death.  The second conversion saves us from the land of worry and self-hatred.  We need to learn simple and child-like faith that lets us cling to Christ in all circumstances at wait for our Loving Father to come to our rescue.

 

How Religion Can Make You Less Spiritual (and what to do about it)

I read the story of a man who bought a painting for around $170 at a second hand shop. He did not care for the painting but really liked the frame. It sat in his attic for some time. It was only later that he noticed the name Cezanne and the year 1854 in the corner.  If authentic, this painting would be valued at over $68 million dollars.  He only wanted the picture for the frame, when the picture itself was worth millions.

Pictures need frames. They protect pictures from warping and losing their beauty. But the value is not in the frame. The value is in the picture.

frame jesus

Christians have the greatest painting that every existed.  It is a picture of Jesus- God become human being and saving all of humankind from themselves.  It is a picture of grace and mercy.  The early church wrestled with what this story was and how to talk about it.

The early church and Christians throughout the ages understood that the painting needed a frame.  It needed structure so that it did not warp and become a misshaped version of itself.  This structure the Bible, worship practices, theology, and Christian practices. In today’s vernacular we call this “religion.”

Somewhere along the way we fell in love with the frame.  We started to prioritize the frame over the painting.  We lost sight of the beauty of the picture.  Stopped looking at an experiencing Jesus and started living the frame.  Like the man who bought the painting for its frame, we lost the value of what we had.

What is the answer?  The popular one today is to get rid of the frame.  Become “spiritual but not religious.”  I have heard so many people say that they feel closer to God on a run or in their own study than they do in church.  They want to take away the structure so that it does not distract from the picture.

I agree with the sentiment.  I too want to see Jesus become the center.  But the problem with dropping the structure of religion is the same as a picture without a frame.  The picture will get warped and lose its true beauty and in the end cannot be shown to others so that they can appreciate that beauty.

What we need to do in the church is rediscover the picture and rebuild the frame.

We need to focus on Jesus and on the salvation story.  We need to read it, preach it, and think about it so that we can fall in love with Jesus again.

We need to look at our religious systems and reevaluate them.  We need to understand why we do what we do and be open to rewriting those traditions.  We need to do our religion in a way that helps us connect with God.  That is actually why they were created.  They need to function that way again.

So don’t reject religion.  The picture needs the frame.  Rediscover how it can help you connect with God.