It’s common, even for non or non-practicing Christians, to “give something up for Lent.” Fasting during this somber season is an ancient Christian practice. What is fasting? Why should (or shouldn't you) give something up for Lent?
Last year I walked in Armstrong Woods, a redwood forest in northern California. It is home to Colonel Armstrong, a giant tree estimated to be 1,400 years old. It’s a humbling experience to stand before a living tree that makes our nation's history seem infantile. How do these trees come to be?
A little further is a sign about redwood forest regeneration. It states:
"Redwood seeds cannot penetrate the thick layer of decomposing plant material that covers the forest floor. Crisis, such as a forest fire, allows the tiny seeds to reach the layer of mineral soil required for germination; overall the best way for redwoods to reproduce."
If things go on as normal, the seeds will never get below the duff to the soil. Redwoods only regenerate in crisis, by severe disruption.
Disruption is a popular word today. It is used to describe forces of change in economics or technology. I've been pondering Scripture and life through this word recently. What role does disruption play in the life of faith? What do you do when you experience it? Let me suggest five responses to the disruption you may experience.
Social media has provided an odd phenomenon. You get to see pictures of friends at parties you weren't invited to. We hear regular reports on the increase of loneliness in our country. Much of it is tied to this sense of being "uninvited," and then the "fear of missing out."
This "uninvited" feeling seems to be on the rise. "I'm on the outside." "I don't belong." "I'm forgotten." "Everyone ignores me." "I'm out of place."
Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton once wrote:
“Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”
“The ship is safest when it is in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”
There is a time to harbor and rest. And then there is a time to set sail and face the pounding surf. It is easier to dock at the port in a static state of comfort and ease. It's crushing when the compass points you to a white-capped field of landless horizon.
Sailing is perilous, and so is the Christian life. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) set our rudder toward the tempest. Love takes us into open seas that require the sailor to be relentless and brave.
Are you suffering for a call God has placed on you? Has he pointed you in the direction of gale and gust?
Set your face to the wind.
For you know the harbor from which you come and the Captain who leads on. Hold fast to his promises. "Fear not." "I will never leave you." "I am with you always." He is our Refuge and Strength in times of trouble, our Harbor in the sea.
Rev. 1:17, 2:3
Although he also traveled by water, walking was the primary mode of transportation for Jesus of Nazareth. As a child, we know Jesus journeyed with his parents to Egypt. Outside of that, most of his life took place in a small territory in Palestine. His public ministry spanned a region no further than 100 miles.
I love these four words from John 9:1: "As he passed by . . ." A great many events in the gospels happened, “as he passed by,” along the way. On the road. In the marketplace. Out in the countryside. By the city gate. On the shoreline, by the water. In a home, at the dinner table. Very little of Jesus' ministry took place "at church," in the temple. Jesus’ ministry happened while he walked, “as he passed by.”
Speed is an ultimate asset in our culture. We have a lust for expediency. Orders from Amazon come faster. We eat fast food. Microchips in computers and phones get exponentially faster. (See Moore's Law.) We want to make money faster, retire faster, finish a degree faster, get projects done faster. Life is done in a rush. We get to the end of a day and it’s a blur. We think, “I did a lot today, but what did I do?”
I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night. (Yes, I'm an old man.) There was a segment on an upcoming documentary about Pope Francis. 60 Minutes interviewed the unique choice for this project, German “art house” director Wim Wenders.
Wenders is a lapsed Catholic. He’s known for his eclectic body of work which includes U2 music videos and “Buena Vista Social Club,” a documentary about a group of aging Cuban musicians. I was interested in Wenders' perception of the Pope, for he would not be enamored like a devout Catholic. Nor did he seem to bear the stinging criticism of an anti-religious secularist. He made two observations of Pope Francis that struck me.
"Holy Week is when the s#*! hits the fan," a pastor and friend told me. It was not a gratuitous application of a cuss word. He was strategic in his use of a vulgar reference. From a pastoral perspective, it always seems that Lent and Holy Week come with an increase of funerals, crises, and tragedies.
In our church, Holy Week has come with plenty to hit the fan. My colleagues and I are responding to multiple traumas (on top of 14 services). A man in hospice care is breathing final breathes. A young father died of cancer, leaving a wife and two girls. A member was murdered over the weekend, her family left in shock and misery. A young man is in significant legal trouble. Add to these the list of ongoing issues: divorce, troubled youth, addiction, kids without a dad, unemployment . . .
You should never pray the Lord’s Prayer without considering what you're asking. It’s the most dangerous prayer you can pray.
Consider “Thy will be done.” Jesus prayed this in a dark night of agony in a garden called Gethsemane. Staring down the danger of devil and death, he fell to his knees and pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We often pray, “God, I want this . . . Now help me get it.” Jesus’ prayer is the opposite, “Father, not what I want. What do you want? You have your way. That’s what I want.”
“Thy will be done.” It’s a most dangerous prayer because Jesus prayed it and it got him killed.
One year ago I was nearing the end of writing a book. I had invested 500 hours into it, and I was about to scrap the whole thing.
I took out a loan for $12,000 to self-publish. I was afraid of the debt.
I was weary after months of writing in the dark hours of the early morning.
I suffered from self-doubt. "It isn't really that good. No one will read it."
I felt naked with the choice to be transparent in my story-telling.
I had writer's block near the end. I couldn't find an effective conclusion.
It was like standing at the end of a dock on a lake. Should I jump in? The water is so cold. I was about to hit "delete" on the whole project. But first, I went for a walk. And the words on this note card came to me.
With these words, I was possessed. I had to keep going. This line became my prayer for the remainder of the process: "Lord, I'll just keep writing and trust that you will give the words."
So I jumped. Writing became an exercise of faith. To leap without knowing where I'd land. To walk without being certain of the path.
Today, I'm approaching 5,000 copies distributed. For a little self-published book, all expectations have been exceeded.
Every week, I hear from strangers around the country. Loved & Sent is being used in small groups and book clubs. For leadership development, new member classes, and sermon series. See a list of churches and organizations here.
The book has been used to raise thousands of dollars for causes. An immigrant and refugee agency. An urban after-school ministry. Christian Camps.
A pastor in Wisconsin wrote me, “I gave gave the book to a truck driver that kept coming to me with questions. I encouraged him to read it. After the chapter on grace, he asked me about baptism. He was baptized last Saturday night.”
What's your dock? Is it time to leap? Why aren't you jumping?
"Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."
"Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith's rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her great Guide." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Major props to these people for their love and encouragement.
"The road may be foggy, but trust there is a road."
I've been on numerous boards and committees that have engaged in the strategic planning process. I have enjoyed the analysis and assessment, collaboration and discussion. Personally and professionally, planning is a good thing.
But I have found one problem:
The best things in my life have been unplanned.
The woman I married.
The city I reside in.
The job I have.
The house I live in.