What’s in a title?

I’ve never been much of one for titles. I find that they can have a tendency to confine me. Yet, I understand that for you, a title might help to introduce me to you. For example, “Mr.” tells you I’m male, and the title “Director” in the context of my day job would indicate that I’m a manager.

I write this blog in the context of my new title: Deacon.

When I completed my diaconal studies I was asked by my Pastor what my calling as a deacon would be.

Calling?

I really had no idea. I’d not given it any thought at all. True, I’d completed 180 hours of classes. But I’d not really given much thought to the completion of the work. I signed up for the program because of the opportunity to deepen my understanding of what my faith was based on and why it mattered.

So I learned. I learned that being a Deacon is really about serving. Which certainly worked out well for me. I have always had something of a servants approach to life anyway.

So I confronted the questions. How can I serve in a more focused way? Through the process of trying to answer this question I stumbled into many more.

Who am I to serve? What’s the point of serving? What do I have to offer? Why me?

The answer to all of these questions is why I’m here. I don’t know the answer. I’m on a journey to seek answers. I began that journey alone many years ago.

My path of service is to share my journey and invite others to walk with me. After much contemplation I see this as my diaconal calling. I am called to shine a light on my journey and to offer up my experiences and thoughts to those who would join me, and to do so as honestly and transparently as possible.

I Choose to Have Faith. I Also Choose the Faith That I Have.

Recently, a quote from something I wrote was posted by a friend on her Facebook wall. That quote was…

“The smallest ripples generated by an act of faith will produce waves that can’t be ignored.”

Someone else then posted this comment…

‘Replace “faith” with “goodness” and you have a winner. Otherwise you could say the that the Spanish Inquisition was a “faith based initiative.” Your quote would be doubly true in that case.’

I prefer to stand by my original quote.

Acts of goodness don’t require commitment. They can be incidental and accidental. However, an act of faith requires a commitment. It cannot occur accidentally or incidentally to some other act.

I dare say that the Inquisitions – all of them – did in fact produce waves that could not be ignored. These were not acts of mere goodness (or badness!). They were acts that required enormous conviction. The kind of conviction that only faith can produce.

We have free will. We must choose to exercise our faith appropriately.

“You must choose, but choose wisely” 1

We must also learn to be discerning. We must understand that it’s possible for people of great faith to have anchored their faith differently than we have. Just because someone else has great faith, and I have great faith, does not mean that I share their faith.

I choose to have faith. I also choose the faith that I have.

1 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Paradox Validated

As I walked from the office to the train this evening my mind began to compose. This happens to me on a fairly frequent basis. Typically, my morning musings bear the fruit of more shareable ponderings, but tonight I feel that my evening stroll through that odd blend of mind and spirit was worth pondering further. Especially in light of the face that as soon as I sat down on the train and opened my email my thoughtful wanderings were validated by today’s Bible in One Year article by Nicky Gumbel. The title was Turning the World Upside Down and the three main section headings were God can bring success out of apparent failure; God can use you in spite of your circumstances; and God can make the ‘worst of times’ the ‘best of times’.

I had begun my evening walk thinking about the book of Revelation in preparation for my Monday evening study group’s impending discussion. It occurred to me when I began thinking about it, that the biggest difficulty with the book is the question of its source and purpose. Some would say that John’s images were written as he observed them, that the telling of them has been preserved through the ages, and that we can expect those things to play out much the way that he describes. Others would have us believe that all that was written in his book (and in many others for that matter) is subject to interpretation. When we read it we need to read it with an understanding that it was written at a much different time in history, for a vastly different culture, and with a very purposeful motive in mind.

As is so often the case, I was bothered by a feeling that I should choose between these positions. Literal reading or interpretive…

It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that it’s not only OK – but correct – to accept both opposing views at the same time.

As I’ve written before I believe that we exist in a world of paradox that is paradoxical by design. The examples are uncountable and go back as far as the creation of humans ourselves, regardless of how you may feel it happened. ( Of course I think it was a combination of purposeful Devine creation and evolution – what else would I think?).

My thinking goes sort of like this…

I was born both physical and bound by the finite realities of this world. I was also born spiritual, transcending the physical limitations of this place.

Both at the same time.

Opposing truths.

A variety paradox.

Perhaps John writes about what he saw in his visions. And in the process of trying to share a spiritual experience he uses the only tools at his disposal. He uses physical, worldly images to describe a spiritual vision of a coming spiritual experience.

Perhaps some of what he writes about are dreams of what might be in the physical world.

Perhaps John couldn’t tell them apart.

Perhaps he lived in a place and time where the distinction between a physical and spiritual reality was much less important than it is to us today.

Perhaps he lived in a time when it was acceptable to use language that relates to the physical world to describe a purely spiritual experience.

Perhaps, if we keep a really big picture in mind, it ends up not really mattering which truth is real. We begin to understand that we can accept both versions as true and real at the same time.

When I opened Nicky’s email I received a form of validation for my strange musings!

Jesus turned the world upside down!

By dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably humiliating defeat. At the same time; by dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably stunning victory.

Defeat and victory in one act.

Both true.

Both not.

A paradox.

I can’t count the number of times it’s happened in my life as well.

I failed.

But then – out of that failure – success.

Both failure and success.

True and untrue.

A paradox.

Then – when I think I’m not in any kind of position to do God’s work here on this earth – something happens.

I respond without thinking.

I do what I was placed here to do.

And somehow, a circumstance is altered in a significant way.

Often not for me – but for someone else.

I help them without intending to.

One action ends up being something else entirely.

Victory from defeat.

All that from John through his most bewildering book.

Imagine that!

All In (Part II)

I was recently asked to write an article for my church’s e-devotion series. I was assigned a theme. I was pretty surprised when I learned that the theme was “Go All In and Make Waves”. I’d written my original thoughts about going “all in” back in July. Now I have another shot at it with a particular slant – a stewardship campaign.

Interesting combination!

The concept of “going all in” is something I’ve given a lot of thought to though so I figured what the heck. I’ll just post it here too.

John 3:5-8

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

——————————————————————

While there are subtle advantages and disadvantages to going “all in” in Texas Hold’em, the broad meaning of the phrase seems particularly compelling in the context of this campaign. Going “all in” can mean to wager one’s entire stake.

John seems to understand this without having played any Texas Hold‘em. Wagering a portion of our faith won’t cut it. Being partially committed to our Lord won’t do. As much as I’d like to hedge my bets and hang back, I’ve come to realize that the only winning hand in this life is to…

…wager it all…

…put all my chips on the table…

…“go all in”.

In the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade there is a scene where Indy has to cross a cavernous void. He can see that the path he’s on continues on the other side, but he can’t see how he would get there. It just looks as if the path ends with an empty void before him. However, as he contemplates his predicament he begins to understand that the challenge he faces is that he has to take a “leap of faith” and step out into the void. He has to “go all in”.

I can’t help but think of the words from 2 Corinthians 5:7…

“For we walk by faith, not by sight”.

Stepping forth spiritually to live out the promise of our baptism requires the same kind of blind faith. It’s not what we “know” through our experiences in the physical world that matter. It’s what we “understand” of our spiritual promises that prove to be the key to overcoming our challenges.

When we give of ourselves completely; when we “go all in”; we are walking by faith – not by sight. We’re living the reality of our baptism; Spirit giving birth to spirit; and placing what we “understand” before what we “know”.

For example; if we adhere to the realities of our physical world that we “know”, we might believe that when we give something away we end up with less.

But…

When we live the “understanding” of our spiritual existence, we come to see that when we give something away we actually RECEIVE MORE.

It’s counter intuitive. But so was Indy’s step into the void. Yet, the only way for him to move forward was to believe first and validate second…

…To walk before seeing…

… To “go all in”.

Going “all in” can be thought of as the expression of total spiritual commitment. It’s an expression of faith. It’s walking by faith rather than sight.

Anytime someone gives of themselves with complete spiritual commitment that they are walking by faith those around them will notice. The smallest ripples generated by an act of faith will produce waves that can’t be ignored.

Go ahead. Go all in. Take that step. Walk by faith, not by sight. Live the promise of your baptism.

Aside

One of my deepest desires is to be a better person in private than I am in public. Only then will I have achieved true integrity.

In the end, how I behave (even what I think) when no one is watching is more important than what I do or say when I have an audience. I seek integrity when no one is watching.

All In

I’ve often contemplated potential life changes. The reasons for doing so vary. In the end, I suppose I have some deep understanding that the change would be appropriate.

Yet, I hesitate. I find ways to commit to the change partially, managing to hang on to a piece of my prior way of living. I manage to convince myself that the old way is in some cases a product of the times we live in – certainly not of my making – and thus … unavoidable.

But is it? Really?

I think of the story where Jesus responds to a question about how to gain eternal life by saying that you should sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, then follow Him. (I’m paraphrasing of course!)

I’ve often gotten hung up on this notion.

I think my problem is that I’m being too literal. When I think possessions I think stuff. You know… the house, the cars, the material goods that I surround myself with. I don’t really choose to have these things. It’s just a product of the times we live in, right? I mean… I’ve got to have a place to live and transportation, and clothes, and golf clubs, and stuff… right?

The problem with thinking this way is that I can’t possible go “All In”. I can’t commit. I do need to provide for myself and my family so that we can live. That’s the reality. So, I have to find a place to draw the line somewhere, right?

Maybe not. Maybe my problem is with my notion that “possessions” means “stuff”. What if it doesn’t? What if a more accurate interpretation is that by “possessions” He means something else we “own” and hold close to us. Maybe He’s talking about our baggage.

Perhaps to be truly free to follow, what I need to do is let go. Not of my possessions themselves, but of my need for them. I need to let go of my baggage. Any maybe it’s not just my need for stuff either. Maybe I need to let go of my need for other types of baggage.

My need for acceptance, for example. If I’m honest, I have to admit that my need for acceptance drives a whole lot of the choices I make in life, and many of those choices put me on a path that is apart from where I feel I need to be going.

So what’s my point?

My point is that I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to go “ALL IN”. I have to quit thinking that I can keep my baggage with me and just carry it along. I have to walk this path without possessions. I have to leave the baggage behind. ”ALL IN” is the only way it will work.

So…

I’m going all in. I’m sure I’ll have to repeat this process in many ways. I’ve carried these bags for a long time. I’m not even sure that I’d recognize myself without them. But… perhaps that’s the point. I need to be me, instead of me with baggage.

I’m all in.

(originally published on July 18, 2012 on my Tumblr version of this blog)

Constant creation?

I once had a professor who emphasized the point that God’s creation is not static. He continually creates. For some reason I had trouble with this concept.

The world we live in seems pretty static to me. Think about it. In the traditional creation stories God is creating some rather big stuff. Earth, wind, sky, water, fire, plants, animals, the heavens, the physical laws of the universe… Once done… He rests. So how is it that He continues to create?

Through us… In us… When we allow it, He shapes our lives to His purpose, and that is a continual act of creation.

(originally published on July 17, 2012 on my Tumblr version of this blog)