Thursday, September 30, 2004

leading from beside

I've been reading The Wounded Prophet by Henri Nouwen. It's remarkable, actually, how contemporary the book feels, though it was written before I was even born! I thought post-modernism was a 90's thing, but he's already talking about it in 1970. Nouwen so perceptively analyses the culture around him and forcasts the future of Christian leadership. In effect, he says, "Change, or your ministry will be worthless to this generation!" He describes a generation of youth who are no longer enamored with their fathers and trying to please those in authority. Instead, they seek spirituality inwardly and acceptance from their peers. Ministers of the gospel must be unafraid to venture into the depth of their own soul so that they can ably lead others to wholeness in a fragmented world. Leaders who fear what is inside them will be unable to speak deeply to this generation, he says. Rather than speaking as a father, from "above" your listeners, you must be beside them in the fray of life.

Lord, give me courage to see myself as I really am, and to bring everything I find to You. Remind me that nothing is beyond your ability to redeem. Make me the kind of person who can walk beside the hurting and the questioning and be truly present to them in their struggle. I depend on You for living water to fill my own thirsty soul, enough to spill over into the lives of those you've gathered around me.

Friday, September 24, 2004

confessions of a thirsty soul

In the past week I have watched 3 movies - Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Princess Diaries 2, and Seabiscuit. The first 2 were obviously written for high school girls, whose biggest quest (at least according to the entertainment industry) is for personal identity & being noticed by a handsome young man. While entertaining, they were far from realistic. I laughed, groaned, and, of course, hoped for Lola and Mia's eventual success, but it was not a soul-thirst-quenching experience. There was no overlap with my own life.
Seabiscuit was different. An unlikely group of men, all beat-up and disillusioned with life, come together against all odds and learn how to dream again. Perhaps the target audience is all of us who are struggling to make sense out of a life that seems a few fries short of a happy meal. Abandonment, grief, loss, abuse, anger, the lure of escape ... and a cautious hope cultivated through relationships set the scene for a moving drama. Better yet, it's true!
All these movies got me wondering, "What is it I really like in a movie?" For me, a movie worth watching wrestles with real life issues and comes through - not to perfection or utopia - but to a place of hope amidst pain. We all know that life on earth isn't 'happily ever after.' What we need to know is that there is another way to live in the midst of our struggles. Hope is not the absence of problems but the ability to look past them because we know that there is more to life than meets the eye.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

that awful emptiness

A fellow thirsty soul and I have been talking (emailing, actually). We've wondered if what we're experiencing is a midlife crisis. Aren't we a little young for that? Perhaps, then, it's an extension of our adolescent search for identity?

We thought we already found our identity. We left Bible College with big dreams and a desire to really make a difference in the world. Were we kidding ourselves?

She says, "I think before college life seemed so full of possibilities and dreams ... then college was so busy ... but when I married and settled down into 'normal life' I was dismayed to see that I was living that 'boring' (though happy) life that my parents lived. They're great people, but they weren't changing the world as far as I could tell in high school. So when I realized I was/am doing the same thing, I guess I'm disappointed but I'm afraid to really do anything about it. I guess I have a desire to be 'radical', but a fear of actually being 'radical,' and I'm not even sure what it would mean to be 'radical.' So maybe that plays into the restlessness...."

She desribes the restless feeling. "I get this sense of emptiness and restlessness that feels horrible, and that is the time when I crave something pleasurable that doesn't satisfy... for me it's the time I often crave a movie (must watch movie, any movie!!!), but dread the moment that the movie ends because then, once again, I will be aware of that same awful emptiness."

We have both realized that God desires to fill us with His life-giving Spirit, and that we can tap into that resource at any time by cultivating a relationship with Him and by obeying what we know to be our task from Him. But, as she expresses so well, "Even knowing the 'cure' though, too many times I still choose the movie or the chocolate ... believing that common lie that if I just line up enough pleasures in succession, I'll never have to face the emptiness again."

So just how radical do we have to be to make a difference in the world?
Has every generation had to fight against the tide of disillusionment?
What about the days when the idea of being radical sounds exhausting?
When we try to tap into His life-giving power but still feel empty ... then what?
What happens if we face that awful emptiness head on?

We'd like to know what you think.

Monday, September 13, 2004

the invitation

"In the palace in the land of mercy
The King looked out from His throne
He saw the sick and the homeless and hungry
He saw me lost and without hope
And moved with compassion
He sent out His only Son
With the invitation to come
"This is your invitation
Come just the way you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in, this is your invitation
"So I stood outside the gates and trembled
In my rags of unworthiness
Afraid to even stand at a distance
In the presence of holiness
But just as I turned to go
The gates swung open wide
The Kind and His only Son
Are inviting us inside
"This is our invitation
Come sinner as you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in, this is your invitation
This is our invitation
This is the invitation"
-Stephen Curtis Chapman & Geoff Moore, 1999 (from Speechless)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"It is a sign of spiritual maturity when we can give up our illusory self-control and stretch out our hands to God. But it would be just another illusion to believe that reaching out to God will free us from pain and suffering. Often, indeed, it will take us where we rather would not go. But we know that without going there we will not find our life. '...anyone who loses his life ... will find it' (Matthew 16:25), Jesus says, reminding us that love is purified in pain.

"Prayer, therefore, is far from sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God's intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion. To the degree that our prayer has become the prayer of our heart we will love more and suffer more, we will see more light and more darkness, more grace and more sin, more of God and more of humanity. To the degree that we have descended into our heart and reached out to God from there, solitude can speak to solitude, deep to deep and heart to heart. It is there where love and pain are found together."

-Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 149-150, emphasis mine

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


A friend asked me this morning, "When you get to the end of your ministry year, how will you know you have been successful?"

My first thought was that my definition of success has really changed because of this valley. Perhaps I would have said: linguistic fluency, converts, thriving programs, captivating prayer letters, a growing ministry team. But I've learned that there is little I can do to control these things. More importantly, I've learned that even if all these goals were realized I may still have missed the mark.

So what, then, would success look like? Perhaps it has more to do with my heart. Am I depending on Him? Loving others from a pure heart? Will I be more patient and self-controlled than I am today? Will I be known for gentleness and joy?

These goals are possible no matter what my circumstances. No matter where I live, what I'm doing, how people respond to me, or what tragedy befalls us.

Will I still be thirsty? I sure hope so.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

taste and see!

This one has been great to chew on ...

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."
I Peter 2:2-3

Unless I satisfy my craving with pure spiritual milk (where will I find that?) I will remain spiritually immature. It's time to grow up! I have truly tasted the Lord's goodness. How could I turn anywhere else to fill my craving? It's unthinkable. But yet I do.

I'm engaged in a personal experiment this month: memorizing I Peter. (The goal is a chapter a week for the month of September.) It's been years since I've attempted to memorize Scripture. I always preferred study over memorization. But I'm in a different season of life, with fewer opportunities to study and more moments to meditate. So far it's been so rich! When I feel that thirst coming on, I have pure spiritual milk available no matter where I am. Anyone want to join me? Taste and see!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are
- no more, no less.
That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners
of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God.
He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."

-From Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Matthew 5 (The Message)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

God is all about kingdom-building, right? And we're supposed to find out what He's doing so that we can join Him in it, right? Why, then, are most of the people I know who are committed to doing exactly that disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged and entertaining the very attractive alternative of delivering pizza in North Portland? This isn't exactly what we pictured. Our graduation from Bible College ushered us into a promising future where we could see God's Word transform people's lives and get to be part of it. We learned to be organized, responsive to people's needs, and competent interpreters of Scripture. Not only that, we have first-hand experience. What a recipe for success!

Why, then, are good teachers drowning in too much administration, while talented administrators in other organizations have a hard time drumming up enough work to do? Others feel constant disappointment over teammates who do not share their vision. Still others struggle to make ends meet. Why are trained Bible Translators fighting cancer? Dynamic preachers carrying the weight of their own strained marriage? Church planters battling depression?

Are we aiming for the wrong target? Have we missed something?
Couldn't God have arranged things more satisfactorily? You would certainly think so!

I'm not sure where we got the idea that things were supposed to click along smoothly for those who obey God. (But it sure is rooted deep within us!) Consider Elijah's ministry experience ... years of lonely isolation followed by a major power encounter, after which he sunk into a deep & fearful depression before he retired. Hmm .... Or Paul? "we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8; see also 11:23-29). These are spiritual heavy-hitters we're talking about. And we imagine our life to be any easier?

Larry Crabb has wrestled with these same questions. He says, "It's so natural to think the Presence of Jesus has no greater purpose than to improve the quality of our journey though life - with quality defined as a pleasurable, satisfying, self-affirming existence - a journey where certain things don't go wrong or, if they do, they correct themselves. Marriages should work, biopsies should come back benign, ministry efforts should succeed, and we should feel pretty good about the way most things go."

Crabb continues, "If dreams never shattered, we would continue to believe that lie and value only what God can do for us now; we would value neither His Presence nor all that He intends to do later. And we would not be willing to pay the devastating price required to experience His Presence now." (Shattered Dreams, 157)

In other words, God IS building His kingdom, in an astonishingly upside-down way. He builds by tearing down, humbling, dismantling, and surprising. The borders of our new homeland are not secure. Unemployment is about average. The economy has ups and downs. It's hard to say if things are gradually improving or slowly getting worse. But He lives here. With us. In the mess. His methods of kingdom-building are awfully hard to predict but His agenda is unchanging. He wants us to look more like He does.