The older I get, the more I’m tempted. Tempted to be:
I have to admit, the more I mature, the harder it is for me to worship. To trust. To pray.
Today I have more control over my life than I’ve ever had. I have more financial security. More independence. More freedom to make my own decisions and choices. But with more control comes more temptation. The temptation of power and pride. The temptation that I can do it on my own. The temptation that I don’t really need God.
The older I get, I sense God calling me to be younger.
Here's my audacious goal: By the end of this post, you will be younger.
There is a beginning and an end for everyone.
May I be faithful in the span between.
Not successful or spectacular.
Not popular or wealthy.
There is not enough time to meet all of the demands.
You wonder if this is what burnout is.
We think that the answer to being overwhelmed is better productivity. Find the best "life-hack" blog. But there's a secret weapon that very few are talking about. Instead of being more productive, be less.
Instead of adding things, subtract some.
There's a spiritual discipline formed around this philosophy. Fasting. And it's not just about food. Here are four "fasts" to use when life is overwhelming.
My 10-year-old daughter surprised me with a simple question. We were driving to church when she asked why we celebrate Easter year after year. It wasn't a rebellious question, rather a curious one. "It's the same story every year. If we know it already, why do we do it again and again?"
It seems a simple and practical inquiry. Why keep doing something if we seem to "get it already?" In our school systems, after you master one lesson, you move on to the next. This could be applied to Christmas as well. Or for that matter, weekly worship.
Why do we keep gathering around the same old story again and again? I've heard:
What is the baseline of knowledge for a Christian? Martin Luther referred to three components as "the minimum of knowledge required of a Christian" (Large Catechism). Just as a craftsman knows the fundamentals of his craft, every Christian ought to know:
The Ten Commandments
The Lord's Prayer
And not simply to recite them, but practice and grow in them. Meditate, pray, live, explore their implications, institute them in daily life.
The Creed ("I believe") states who God is and what he does.
The Ten Commandments are God's intended picture of what it means to live a human life.
The Lord's Prayer is how we are to relate and communicate with the living God through all of life's challenges.
Two factors of modern society make these three baseline components evermore important.
1.) We live in a complex society. Therefore simplicity provides a focus that cuts through the overwhelming volumes of information that exist.
2.) We live in an increasingly post-Christian society. So the basic tenets of Christianity take on greater significance. When "everyone went to church," the creed was less provocative. As fewer people speak the creed, it grows more profound.
Luther recommended weekly examinations on these three components. Tell me how that goes in your home. Even if you don't quiz yourself or your family, his point was to never believe that you've mastered the basics. The basics are a depth to be mined for a lfietime. A well with no bottom.
We are always living with what we believe (creed), how to live (commandments), and how to call on God through the trials of life (Lord's Prayer).
Luther noted, "These have been the heritage of Christendom from ancient times . . . so that all who wish to be Christians in fact as well as in name, both young and old, may be well trained in them."
At my church, we begin a series on the Ten Commandments on April 19th. "Set Free to Live Free."
This is Holy Week. Each day, a reflection from an "old dead guy" - a church father. For Tuesday, here is Augustine (354-430AD).
You carry the cross of Christ on your forehead. The mark stamped on you teaches you what you should profess. He was hanging on the cross, which you carry on your forehead. Do not delight in the sign of the wood but in the sign of the one hanging on it.
When he was hanging on the cross, he was looking around at the people raving against him, putting up with their insults and praying for his enemies. While they were killing him, the doctor was curing the sick with his blood.
He said, "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing." These words were not futile or without effect. Later, thousands of those people believed in the one they murdered, so that they learned how to suffer for him who had suffered for them and at their hands.
Brothers and sisters, we should understand this from the sign, from this stamp that Christians receive when they are baptized. From this, we should understand why we are Christians.
This is Holy Week. We narrow our focus to the suffering of Jesus. For each day of this week, I'll provide reflections from "old dead guys" - church fathers. Meditate on their perspective of Jesus. Today, Marin Luther, 16th century reformer.
"On his soul lay the sins of the whole world. All the anguish and fear of all other human beings are, by comparison, much, much too slight, because the sins of the whole world are resting on Him alone. And He is to pay for them with His death, whereas everyone of us has only his or her own sin to deal with.
Yes, human suffering is slight when compared with that of this Man: all the world's sins - committed from the time of the first human being, Adam, until Judgment Day - burden the back of this one Man."
From a modern marketing perspective, Jesus' strategy would be considered unorthodox if not ineffective. In business today, you have to tailor your product to the consumer. Give them options. Make it easy to want what you're selling.
By contrast, Jesus says, "Follow me," and proceeds to make the way difficult. Has he "sold" you on following him? He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24.) The way is singular, without all the options and choices. Are you sold yet?
I've been wrestling with Jesus' "narrow" statements in Luke's gospel. Here are four observations on the "narrow way" that actually inspire me to follow him.
In December I had lunch with six college students. I wanted to hear what challenges they face and what hopes they have for the future. A common thread in each of their reflections was an intense burden to succeed. It’s no longer enough to have a diploma or even a high GPA. I’m sounding like an old man, but I feel like "things are harder for kids these days."
I believe the Great Recession intensified an already hyper-competitive and status-seeking society. We are conditioned to strive after bigger and better. Positions of prestige. Jobs that are lucrative and well-compensated. Offices of honor. Places of admiration and influence. We live in a status-seeking society.
If you're in a small group, an Advent Bible Study I wrote is now out from Creative Communications. It's a short four-session study. I get no kick backs from the sale of this product :).