What Really Matters

No one needs another opinion right now, right?

It seems as if social media has inadvertently made everyone an expert in politics, social issues, and now infectious diseases.

God bless us for our good intentions.

I am not interested so much in offering another opinion on our current global pandemic. I know my skill sets. I will instead leave that for those who actually spend their lives researching, doing clinical work, and treating patients. They are the ones to whom we should be listening right now. And we are grateful for the important work they do.

Many of us have studied the words of Father Richard Rohr over the years and have always come back to one of his most profound insights- that great love and great suffering have the ability to create the potential for spiritual listening and larger seeing. And it is along these pathways by which a person, a family, a community, or even a world may be transformed.

There is no question that we find it so much easier, and so much more desirable, to move along this pathway when it is by the means of great love.  Conversely, we have a much more difficult time discovering anything redeemable, or of value, when it is found down the road of great suffering. Suffering can very easily break us down and move us into a place with varying degrees of worry, anxiety, helplessness, or despair.

This isn’t a judgment on how any of us individually process suffering, or even a judgment on those who suffer emotionally or psychologically. Six weeks ago, I went to my family doctor because I was experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life. Changing variables in my work life had produced a tightness in my chest and a feeling of being strangled. Fortunately it wasn’t a heart attack, but the reality of how anxiety can consume a person and it was a real experience for me. So I truly understand how deeply situations and our mental health can deeply affect us.

But despite where we may be internally, learning to listen and see in our suffering, or choosing to be fully present in our suffering, there is always a continuous invitation of the Spirit open to everyone, all the time, even and especially to those who have been deeply affected at the physical, emotional, physiological, or even spiritual level.

So no matter who you are, where you have been, what trauma you have experienced, or what you are currently experiencing in your life, this invitation welcomes you into a safe and quiet space where you are allowed to breath and then patiently listen and see amidst your suffering.

But while many of you may already be suffering, the potential for greater suffering always exists, which will necessitate more safe spaces and more patient guides to walk with people through the chaos and along the path of suffering.

There is no question that closings and cancellations, limitations on social functions, the loss of business or savings plans, the loss of employment and mounting bills, and the potential hospitalization or death of loved ones who have been infected will all certainly create varying degrees of suffering among us.

You may know exactly what I am talking about right now.

But I wonder if in this suffering, we will begin to walk together, truly walk together, to discover opportunities to learn, serve, and be transformed, rather than be consumed by our collective despair and antipathy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not the canceling of events, large social gatherings, and other disruptions as personal assaults or attacks on our personal liberties and livelihoods, but as selfless moves we can all make together to protect our most vulnerable.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the services that have been disrupted or how we no longer have everything at our fingertips or how inconvenienced we have become in some things, but all of the great opportunities we have to come together and use our resources to help our brothers and sisters who have reduced hours, who have lost jobs, who are losing business, or who are having a hard time making ends meet.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ugliness and divisiveness of politics and everything that works to divide us in our most difficult times, but all the ways we can unite without labels or affiliations to serve the greater good.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ways we have been, or will soon be, isolated and quarantined from each other, but all of the ways we can still be with one another and creatively reach out to talk, encourage, pray for, or maybe even sing with one another, like our brothers and sisters in Italy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not lives with significantly limited options, isolated at home and on social media all day, but the opportunity to spend real face time with family around the table or to breathe fresh air in nature, while rediscovering our hearts and natural rhythm once again.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see that this time is teaching us, through abstinence, to appreciate all the things we had previously taken for granted.

It’s true that not every experience of trauma or suffering can easily be diverted by perspective or prayer. We will have to endure the anguish and pain of some traumas and sufferings head on. But in even that, we will have hopefully learned that we are not alone in this thing and that we truly have each other. We will have come to the realization that there is so much goodness in our lives and we will see it differently moving forward. And maybe, just maybe, through this suffering, we may learn to see each other differently, to learn to respect each other despite our differences, and to uncover a humanity below the surface that we may have forgotten was there.

Walking with you in this,

Brandon

are you listening?

 

I had a thought last week- With all of the people who are speaking and writing about how messed up, misaligned, and disconnected the Church is from Jesus Christ… is there anyone within the walls of the Church even listening?

That has been a question I have been wrestling with over the last three years.  And, it is ultimately what prompted me to write a book about how disconnected from Christ the Church has become, but more importantly what it begins to look like for the Church to discover the Kingdom of God and then to begin embodying it.

The beginning point, of which I wrote about last week, for the Christian and the Church has to be Jesus Christ, centrally and unequivocally.  Oddly enough after that post, by buddy wrote a note to me and asked, “I would love to know what inspired your most recent blog post?”  This was my response:

I think the thing that sparked it this morning was seeing tons and tons of people on Facebook and Twitter continually posting the same old, tired articles about how broken the Church is…and never engaging the Church on what it would actually look like to begin changing.  I hope some people will read it and actually have a conversation about it.

I have certainly been one who has taken the Church to task over the years… and I will continue to do so, in love, because I believe the best days of the Church are ahead of us as we begin to look and speak like the Jesus we follow.  But my commitment is to go out of my way, not just to address the issues, but to help Christians and churches understand what it begins to look like to embody Jesus Christ in our community and the world.  Generalities only go so far.  We have to get specific.   

Our beginning point is Christ and Christ alone- with his spirit being submissive, gentle, loving, peaceful, humble, forgiving, and graceful…and his path being at the bottom, below everyone else in the world, so as to come up from below in humility and service.  The way of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom does not assume the position of honor at the front table rather it humbly takes the unassuming table in the back of the room.  It is an attitude of the last will be first and the first will be last.

There cannot be enough emphasis on this truth for Christians and the Church:  we must become people of the bottom; people who are below; people who are last; people who are in the back; people who are the least.  We are people who put the interest of others before ourselves becoming a servant to all- our friends, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, those wildly different than us, and our enemies- in order to demonstrate the love of God.  We are not to be loud, showy, boisterous, obnoxious, or holier-than-thou.  We simply follow the low and humble way of the suffering servant and we do it in every situation and every context, for the low, humble, submissive, and loving way changes hearts and minds.

As such, we are to be transformed like Christ to the unfair boss, the slow store clerk, the rude or obnoxious salesperson, the junkie on the street, and the antagonistic loudmouth.  We are to be loving, patient, and long-suffering to those who offend, trespass, or violate us.  God’s love is to burst forth from our lives in such a remarkable and profound way that the world is drawn to this Christ whom they have never known before because they see Him demonstrated through us.  In our own power we do not have the capacity to act in such profound ways; it is only by the power of God working through us that we are able.  It is never us, only God.

Let’s get even more specific- too many times I believe that we as Christians become so identified with the culture of our churches and “the way we have always done things” that we leave the way of Jesus in the dust without ever thinking much about it.  We have enabled, rather than confronted, the small, petty antics that hardly look like Jesus and His Kingdom.  Think about how misaligned and feeble our ways are and how petty our ways look compared to the awesome, transformative, and magnetic ways of Christ and His Kingdom.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you judge people by who they are, how they are dressed, how they look, or how much money they have?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world divide people into classes and judge them for who they are, what they have done, and what they have or don’t have. In the Kingdom of God there is no judgment because we only see others as the children of God.  We also recognize that we are the “chief of all sinners” not any better or any worse than anyone else.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you easily hurt or offended by your brothers and sisters in your church- or- by people in general?  Rather than walking the pathway of humility, peace, and reconciliation do you run away to other churches and hide from your issues.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world encourage pouting and resentment when one gets his feelings hurt.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward humility, submission, and forgiveness with anyone and everyone who speaks poorly of us, hurts us, offends us, or even strikes us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you get your feelings hurt if you are not officially recognized by the preacher for your service, or accomplishment?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote accomplishment, recognition, and accolades for a job well-done.  In the Kingdom of God we are happy and joyful when we can serve our God in secret; in such a way that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you withhold your offering in protest or organize to force your own way and agenda when you are not in agreement with a decision?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world are bent on political power and influence and teach us that it is best to manipulate in order to get what we want.  In the Kingdom of God we pray together in unity for the Spirit of God to be our guide, so that we may bear with each other in grace and love.  We carry each other’s burdens while seeking God on our knees in prayer together.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you negative about someone or something in the church (or outside of the church) and work to divide one person against another with your words and/or actions?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to fracture, hurt, and divide individuals and relationships, pitting one person or group against each other.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward the uplifting, encouragement, and building up of each person in his or her life and relationships.  We work toward the healing and the restoration of people, relationships, and church bodies.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you always demanding the way you like things, forcing your own individual way and your own individual agenda on others and on those within the church?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world teach us to look out for our own interests, the survival of the fittest, and the necessity of taking care of “numero uno.”  In the Kingdom of God we work together in unity considering the interests of others before our own while making sure that each person is taken care of and ministered to…most especially the weakest and most modest parts of the Body among us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you neglect the cause of the poor, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, or the oppressed?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to ignore, push, and marginalize those already on the edges of society further into isolation, destitution, and misery.  In the Kingdom of God the outcasts are met where they are at in mercy and grace and welcomed into loving, whole, and healed community that gives worth and value to every single person despite their circumstance.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you still dislike or hate those whom you have labeled as enemies…seeking to avoid, not forgive, and/or get revenge against them?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world label and divide and actively pursue retribution against anyone who is seen as an enemy or adversary.  In the Kingdom of God every person in the world is a beloved child of God and a brother or sister to whom we extend grace, love, and forgiveness as we embody the way of Christ equally to friend and enemy.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you a “minister” who seeks attention and puts your way before others in order to receive special recognition from the congregation.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote and give special attention to great leaders for their accomplishments and accolades, celebrating the achievements of one man.  In the Kingdom of God each part of the Body is equally important with no one part being any more important than another.  Each part of the body uses his or her God-given gifts, with all praise and attention going to God.  As a result, each of us ought to submit to one another, washing one another’s feet in humility and service as Christ would do for us.

This list of questions could go on and on forever, but don’t miss the point.  As followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit, as those who operate by a new set of standards in the Kingdom of God, we must confront and die to the wicked ways of the world and be the Church God has made us to be.  For His salvation has allowed us to embody presently, not the old, worn-out, and self-interested ways of the kingdoms of the world, but the Life-givingKingdom of God.  And this is the way we ought to live every second of the day.

Praise God that He can move in such spectacular ways in spite of our lack of cooperation.  Praise God that He does not give up on us when we continue to fall so miserably short of His ways.  Praise God that, even now, that He continues to patiently wait for each of us to surrender our hearts and our lives to His reign and His rule and His Kingdom!

peace…

Brandon

solitude and silence…

I sat down in front of the computer and put the first slide on the screen. Plainly and directly it read, “Please take a seat and remain quiet.” Amidst the conversations and music on that Sunday I heard someone say after seeing the instruction on the screen, “Yeah, good luck with that one.” But as the music faded and the conversations hushed to less than a whisper, everyone slowly began to take their seats as the room became completely silent. The room had settled into silence by a simple instruction on the screen, but the participants had no idea why they were being silenced. Even more, they did not realize that we were going to sit together in complete silence over the next forty-five minutes while I taught just using words on the screen about the importance of the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence. I believe it took us experiencing it before we realized how much we needed it.

But let me be very clear at the outset. The practice of the spiritual disciplines does not have anything to do with earning your salvation. The disciplines are simply a means through which the Christian learns and then teaches his or her body to become subject to the Holy Spirit. It is the “beating our bodies into submission” that we learn to become less, so that the Spirit may become more in our lives. The disciplines are the means through which we enter into active discipleship daily. But many of us have just not taken the time to consider how desperately we really need discipline in our spiritual lives.

It is an understatement to say that our lives are full of chaos. We do not take the time to stop and realize how dependent and addicted we are to the noise and the rush around us. Every minute of the day is full noise and busyness. It is the television, music, conversation, kids, and incessant chatter. When we finally come up for air we gasp, “God, where are you? This hardly feels like the abundant life you promised. Where is the peace?” We don’t stop to think how our minds have become so conditioned to the three second snippet or the fast paced motion of life. It is no wonder we are so anxious, impatient, discontented, addicted, and medicated. My God, where is the peace?

Think about how this affects us. We do not stop to listen to others. We are constantly thinking about what we are going to say next or do later or the next thing on our schedules. We are unable to concentrate and sit in silence and just listen. We have to speak. We have to turn up the volume. Is it not true that we live lives that make it seemingly unable to quiet those things around us and those things in our heads? We are unable to just sit still and breathe, contemplate, find peace, and hear God.

In solitude and silence, we intentionally remove ourselves from everything and everyone for a period of time. We cut ourselves off from everything we have become dependent upon or addicted to…standing still and alone with God. Solitude and silence strips away everything that we have filled ourselves with and leaves the infinite void of our soul wide open and exposed…preventing everything but God to fill us. In solitude and silence we realize that there is no thing or no one to trust in but God alone, and this is an excellent beginning point for all of us. It is in this place that we are able to see ourselves more clearly because there is nothing left for us to hide behind. In solitude and silence there is introspection and self-examination. We metaphorically come out from behind the bushes and trees and finally stand naked before God…exposed. We are left with nothing but God…and God alone.

Being able to experience the full presence of God uninterrupted and in the quiet is the beginning point of experiencing real and unconditional love. It is in this place that we begin to understand and experience peace and contentment. It is here that we take a first step toward life to the fullest. When we teach and train our bodies to be still and quiet and fully present with God, we can enter back into our social lives with a new found peace, contentment, and dependence…not on those things that we were previously dependent upon and addicted to…but on God alone.

Do yourself a favor…take time each day and each week to cut yourself off and find retreat with God alone. Be quiet and just listen to what God is telling you and what God is revealing to you. Make this a normal part of your spiritual life and you will begin to experience how peace and contentment find their way into every situation and circumstance of your life.

brandon