Cross-Centered Days

This evening, after returning from Resolved:2011, I finished reading C.J. Mahaney’s Cross-Centered Life.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with so much content packed into 88 all-too-brief pages.  Simply incredible. There are plenty of take-aways from this little read, but the one that sticks with me the most is as follows:

“A cross-centered life is made up of cross-centered days.”

I’ve also found myself recently enjoying the music of Josh Garrels.  Able to meld profoundly biblically-informed lyrics with loops and melodies that bid the listener to soar, Josh creates a beautiful fusion of ancient and inventive.  Here’s his latest.  And it’s incredible:

In mashing the two together, here are a few takeaways from The Cross-Centered Life and White Owl:

  1. You will live and dream for something.
  2. That dream won’t be like an event, but like a continual thread.
  3. Your dream will impel you.
  4. Your dream will nourish you.
  5. Your dream will embolden you – even to death.
  6. The One who bids you to venture out will catch you at the end.
  7. Faithfulness and courage are what matter.
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Boy Sits Down – Man Stands Up

There’s a scene in Finding Neverland where J.M. Barrie, played by Johnny Depp, turns to one of his young co-stars and remarks: “How amazing. The boy is gone. Somewhere in the last thirty seconds you’ve grown up.”

Just two weeks ago I heard Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University, comment: “There comes a time when the boy sits down and the man stands up.”

Taken together, these perspectives made me ask: What does it really mean to “grow up” in the Kingdom of God?  What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few realities that have been true in my story.  Maybe a few show up in your story as well.

  1. You will accept responsibility for something that demands risk.  A friend of mine felt an incredible burden for the Haitian people.  She thought about it, prayed about it, and acted in faith.   She could have lost.  But she didn’t. God is using her and her family in tremendous way.  She discovered her passion and God is rewarding her.
  2. You will be broken.   Often, this takes the form of simply being told “no.” Disillusionment and disappointment are the birth pangs of discovery.  Ben Folds picks this up in his simple and profound video: “Still Fighting It.” You’ll grow.  You’ll cry.  And (in so doing) you’ll leave room for healing.
  3. You will engage a larger story.  You’ll listen to others’ stories not just for entertainment or because they’re interesting, but because their story is your story.  And because you have the same Author.
  4. You will throw away the map.  Realizing that you’re likely headed into virgin territory, you’ll venture out.  You won’t seek out a prescribed path.  You’ll hear a soft call on the other side of a dense fog.  And you’ll venture into the darkness.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

A good friend loaned it me. It has a cool cover. It’s subtitled “what I learned while editing my life.” All reasons to read a book. In the end, here’s why I needed to read Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (and why I was unable to put it down):

Because I needed to realize that boredom is just fear when it gets lazy.

Because I needed to see God as a watchful and sovereign storyteller.

Because I needed to learn that the only way to keep my dreams from being exhausting is to recognize that they’re God’s.

Because I needed to learn that it’s hopeless to seek resolution this side of heaven. Especially in the Hallmark card section at Walgreens.

Because I needed to learn that trying to be interesting borders on blasphemy.

Because I needed to learn that pain shapes purpose. And that they are both unique to each of us.

Because I needed to hear that story is something recovered.

Because I needed to learn that the word “couch” was probably invented because “where apathy, lethargy, and atrophy live” took too long to say.

Because (as a husband and father) I needed to understand the power of creating memorable scenes for my family to remember.

Jesus Didn’t Open a Buffet

Give sacrificially – Give willingly.  Do justice – Love mercy.  Let your heart break for the lost – Live your life here in reverent fear.

The Bible is full of staccato statements like those. They sound nice. Like bumper-stickers. Or poetry. But digging deeper, these statements create incredible tension. Example: What kind of heart can give both sacrificially and willingly? How can someone do justly and love mercy? I’m learning that the answer lies at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.

For those who want to take Jesus seriously, both realities must exist and they must exist together. Jesus doesn’t afford His followers the luxury of preference. He did not open a buffet for you. Instead, He takes you His restaurant, seats you at His table, and serves you foods you’d never put on the same plate. And if that wasn’t enough, He has the boldness to insist you’ll absolutely love what you taste (Psalm 34:8).

(Incidentally, the “fruit” of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is singular – implying that spiritual growth is more like one giant fruit-bowl rather than unconnected side dishes).

You must give until it hurts and like it. You must delight when wrongs are righted and withhold judgment. You must allow your heart to break for this world while hoping for heaven.

The life that follows after Christ is a life of paradox and tension. Accepting contradicting realities in faith and embracing a life of tension has a curious effect – the gradual formation of a new heart – where sorrow and love flow mingled down and where fear and trembling give birth to a profound freedom.

  1. Find the tensions (there are plenty more than those listed above).
  2. Ask which side you instinctually prefer (this will help you learn more about yourself).
  3. Deliberately look for opportunities to learn the other side (this will stretch you).
  4. Find someone whose instincts are different (this will allow you to live in community).

The Right People

We have the ability to surround ourselves with people who will agree with us and support us. Blindly.  Advice: Intentionally avoid them.  Instead, have the courage to ask the right people to evaluate you.  Here’s a brief guide to finding them:

The right people:
have nothing to gain by lying to you and nothing to lose by being honest. They are not concerned with amassing poker chips.  A paradox: They can get along fine without you, but enjoy your company.  They are therefore people marked by unashamed honesty.

have a unique perspective formed by experiences that are profoundly different from yours.  Family differences – cultural differences – religious differences.  They are not like you. This is uncomfortable.  And this is good.

recognize that their value to you is not bound to themselves or what they’ve done.  Knowing that name-dropping or accomplishment-touting can easily inflame your pride, they listen to you more than they talk about themselves.  They are humble.

selflessly slow their own productivity for your growth.  They are highly relational.  They’ll gladly put their projects on the back-burner for you – if you show courage to ask them.  Their investment in your life will be the irreplaceable reward of your courage.

The right people are out there. Watch them.  And then ask them for their insight into what you’re creating, how you’re thinking, who you’re becoming.

Things Boring Christians Say

I’ve been plowing through David Platt‘s book Radical this week.  Holy Cow.  Somewhere in chapter 6, entitled “American Wealth and a World of Poverty,” it struck me that I’m a pretty boring Christian.  And I’m beginning to think that what keeps me boring just might be sinful.

Those attitudes usually surface when I’m alone.  They’re the quiet under-the-breath asides that are meant for only one audience.  In reading through Platt’s thoughts, another possibility has surfaced: What if these asides aren’t merely inner monologue, but divine dialogueWhat if God is bringing things to light in my life that I want to keep hidden?  And what if those things (“blindspots” as Platt calls them) are the tools that God will use to sanctify me?  Sad thing is – for most of us, a God that wants us to be uncomfortable is probably a major paradigm shift.

Sad.  Boring.  And bored.

If you think about where to drawn the line between conservative, boring, and sinful, here’s some things that boring Christians (like me) often find themselves saying:

I can’t do everything, so I won’t do anything.

I’m just waiting for God to call me to ______ .

If I do ______, then I’ll lose ______ .

It’s just easier to stay where I am.

I’m not ready to ______ – but someday I hope that I will be. 

But I can’t relate to those people.

I’m not sure what will happen. (or its cousin) What if it doesn’t work out?

What’ll happen to my (insert stability idol here) if I ______ .

I think it was Anne Lamott (always a good source for slightly controversial quotes) who said, “Grace will take you as you are, but will refuse to leave you that way.”  And then there’s that nagging Brennan Manning reminder: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians – who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbeliveable.”

It’s likely you’re too boring.  What keeps you that way?  Does it really all just boil down to fear?  How has God made you aware of (and then hopefully worked with you to remove) your blindspots?  P.S.  If you haven’t bought this book yet, I think you should.  It would be good.

Changing Culture through Prayer

Nearly everyone prays. But I’m learning that most of us miss the point. There is a profound difference between planting a few trees in your back yard and changing the landscape. The difference is asking for great things (not bad) versus creating a culture conducive to great things happening (much better).

The apostle Paul understood this. He encouraged his churches to change their landscape:

Philippians: “I pray that your knowledge may abound more and more in love and in depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best” (Philippians 1:9).

Thessalonians: “we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling” (2 Thessalonians 1:11) .

Colossians: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9).

Paul isn’t targeting isolated needs. Why? Not because they didn’t have any. But because real change – at least the kind that’s valuable and consistent – comes when the landscape is changed. Because limiting prayers to a task list is like asking God for dating advice – not how to be a better husband. We’re essentially saying: “I don’t really want to be someone better, I just want to do something better.” And that’s just not good enough. Not for the kind of change we need.

There’s a lyric from an Over the Rhine song that gets this: ” You can’t put no band-aid on this cancer / like a twenty-dollar bill for a topless dancer / you need questions forget about the answers.”

Consistent acts of love will flow out of a culture characterized as loving.

Churches will predictably act with bravery and intent when the church culture is characterized as courageous.

Instead of praying for the specific acts – we ought to aim higher. While there’s always a place for specifics (“If any of you is sick…”), I think we often miss the point: large-scale spiritual renewal. Don’t pray for courage. Ask God to make you more courageous. Don’t ask God to help you love a difficult person. Ask Him to make you more loving. Transforming culture – either personally or corporately – will take longer, but will create a sustainable culture.