The Grace of Failure

19 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

I’ve had a few questions from close friends after the last post about what I’m going to do next to right my lazy and procrastinating tendencies (well, nobody said it quite that way). In truth, I haven’t the foggiest idea where to begin… or even how to begin. I’m 42 years old and I’ve tried to right this ship using multiple methods. I’ve tried multiple self-help attempts as well as trying multiple Christian “rest in God” ideas (which tend to be nothing more than self-help wrapped up in Christianese… but I won’t go there).

So, what am I going to do next? While introspection is a good thing, at the end of the day I must rest in one foundational truth: I am not my own. The truth is that I have been redeemed and, through that redemption, I have been graced with the Holy Spirit. The Bible promises that “He who began a good work will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” () Does this mean I can just sit back and hope God will just fix me? Nope. I must continue to fight the tendencies within me that keep me from moving forward. I must continue to read and struggle and hope and persist… and fail… often. But in my 42 years, I’ve noticed that even failures are a grace. We see our own finiteness and desperation. My finiteness reminds me that I have an end, but God does not. This leads to my desperation for His lasting presence in my daily struggle. The beauty? He never leaves me nor forsakes me… all I must do is stop for a moment and even when I scream, “WHERE ARE YOU!!?” In time I see… He never left. I love Him for that. (ESV)


And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (ESV)

The Procrastinating Mythos

17 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

Many things in my life have come to me very easily. I was naturally intellectual, so for classes that didn’t require homework or practice, I always aced those. I could naturally sing, so throughout life whenever asked to participate in something that required singing, it always came easily and I rarely practiced (and even when I did… it was usually half-hearted). I work well under pressure, so I almost always wait until the last minute to really pour on the steam to complete any project.

I’ve never really worked very hard at anything and I’ve come pretty far in life just on raw, natural talent and providential good fortune. If I felt I could live with the consequences, I always took the easy way. I resist anything that looks like it will be take a lot of time or create a lot of work. I’ve got hundreds of credit hours in four colleges (Central Texas College, McClennan Community College, Clovis Community College, and Mankato State University… I don’t count Community College of the Air Force as there were few formal classes) and no degree. I’ve dabbled in radio and television production, traditional music, commercial music, computer programming, graphic design, aircraft repair (Air Force), and audio engineering. I’m not good at any of those things, because I’ve spent no real time practicing or committing to any of those skills.

I know a little bit of video and radio, I’m a mediocre musician, I can sorta program when I really need to and it’s easy, I know how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, I’m familiar with electronics repair, and I kinda know my way around a sound board – but I could never lead in any of these areas (but I’ve faked it a few times). I can hold my own at vocals, I can usually figure out how to use anything electronic or computer related very quickly, I am able to logically analyze a problem and brainstorm ways to solve it with little knowledge, and I’m an experienced leader… all of these things make me appear to be a person who knows what I’m doing most of the time. This has all just fueled my procrastination.

I’ve always told myself that being able to work under pressure and take care of things at the last minute and produce solid results is an incredible gift. My ability to simply walk through things and feel unchallenged in most endeavors is proof of how smart and intelligent I am (being transparent here… go easy on me). In truth, my natural abilities have done nothing more than reinforce laziness.

“Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm — to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.” – Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I’ve never had to farm anything because I’ve always avoided it. I’ve never had to worry about a harvest because I was always satisfied with the quick fix. I simply don’t know how to change. That’s the cruel, but honest truth.

011: Empty Words and Misunderstood Actions

11 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 011 - 2010One of the more famous quotes from St. Francis of Assisi is, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” There is an important lesson in that statement often overlooked. Until the post-modern revival of social justice, Christians typically said far more than they physically did. Racing to condemnation and stagnation toward action became the hallmark of evangelicals. We were quick to send people out with tracts, street-corner evangelism, formulas, and scripts with little to no life-investment. Heck, we’d even volunteer at a soup kitchen now and then to bolster our egos and show that we were willing to get our hands dirty from time to time.

But it was just noise. We thought we were doing God’s work by preaching loud and long the evils of sin and how morality would save you by coming to the Church (we would say you were coming to Jesus… but we really always meant the Church. Our church, in fact.) This worked for a season… the Church promised hope, fulfillment, and a place to belong. There’s even an entire segment of Christianity that took that whole thing even further by promising wealth and prosperity… I wonder if we’d realized that Charismania was birthed from a man-centered Gospel?

Time finds us out though. Yes, there were those who came and found true hope because they actually found Christ, but there were (and probably still are) many who just found the church and found it filled with the same egotistical and selfish people they encountered on the outside, just with prettier talk. Substance was rare. Life-changing faith was rarer still. Empty words.

Today, however, we see a full-on resurgence of social justice and service-minded Christianity. Now we’re talking. Bring the cup of cold water, help the less fortunate, work to better your fellow man, but let’s not confuse everyone with these Gospel words… they sound just like that crap the church has been vomiting out to the culture for decades. Nobody wants to hear more empty words about Jesus loving them and what it means to be born again and what-not. No sir. If we just serve them, they’ll see Jesus and come to know Him and that’ll be good enough, right?

There are a lot of people who are capable of doing “good” in the world through social justice and service. In fact, many who have proven far more capable at it than we are. There are others who show a greater interest in their fellow man than many Christians. Sadly, most Christians still act like they’re looking for a merit badge when they serve (me included). What sets Christians apart (or should) is the Gospel. Acting without ever preaching will just lead to misunderstood actions.

By all means, demonstrate the Gospel. Serve and fight for justice. But words, at some point or another, will always be necessary. In the famous quote from St. Francis, we have to note that he said when necessary… not if necessary. We must both act and preach so that our words are not empty nor our actions misunderstood. The truth of the Gospel must be clear and plain… we do what we do not for ourselves, but because God Himself became a man and died for our sins so that the prodigal can be brought back into His family. God is the One (whose Son we killed) that adopts us anyway. He welcomes us into His family as if we’d done nothing wrong for the sake of His son. We must act, yes, but we must also speak to ensure that the Gospel is clear (with love, grace, humility, and good sense).

010: The Holiness Fight Club

10 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 010 - 2010In today’s sermon, Jacob said a phrase that struck me: “Who is fighting for your holiness with you?” One of the failures of the Christianity I’ve grown up with is showing the battle for holiness as a solo engagement – you against yourself, the world, and the Devil himself. While it is important to recognize the fight as our own, we quickly learn it’s a fight we usually lose. A battle for holiness is a battle against sin in our own lives. Paul clearly teaches us that, as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin but we are now slaves to righteousness. Yeah. I feel that. Not.

Richard and I have made great strides in using each other in our battle against sin – our battle for holiness. We’ve also both learned the importance of incorporating your family in that fight. But it isn’t far enough and, frankly, Richard and I don’t challenge each other on topics of sin nearly enough.

Who’s fighting with you for your holiness? At Soma, there is a serious effort to revealing the importance of a community in the battle for holiness and the life of the Church. I have a diverse background (raised Catholic, became Baptist, became Charistmatic, became a Reformed Charismatic), but the common theme throughout all of those experiences was personal holiness. How you got there varied from denomination to denomination, but a confessional community was never part of the equation. The only aspect of community that existed can be summed up by the phrase “hang out with good people and you have a better chance of being good people.” It’s never worked and, as the saying goes, insanity is continuously doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

Holiness is a personal responsibility, but it is not a battle to be waged alone. Why? Because I can’t trust myself to keep me holy. I won’t do it. I don’t do it. Other people need to know what sin looks like in my life so that those trusted people can help me fight my sin while I help them fight theirs. It’s supposed to be a mutually shared fight. All of us, together, working towards holiness… together.

008: Seen on a neighborhood post…

8 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

Neighbor 1: (listing website for finding Registered Sex Offenders) – make sure you check this and be careful where you let your children play.

 

Neighbor 2: I never know what to do with those lists… seeing as I’m all out of pitchforks.

Self Portrait - 008 - 2010As a parent, I want to be alert and diligent… do I need a registry to help me? Does the registry actually help? I believe in accountability and think it’s an important element missing in a society where the “right to privacy” is taken to extremes. Everyone should be able to live without looking over their shoulder in constant fear of being mislabeled and misjudged; but there has to be a balance. There needs to be some level of reasonable transparency because we all desperately need accountability. The balance is tricky and we certainly haven’t solved it (nor do I have any easy answers), but it’s an important dialog that isn’t happening. Privacy advocates scream at every thing that even smacks of potential intrusion and security advocates scream every time they think civil liberties should take a back seat to “security.”

So… it’s either everybody wears a mask where you control who sees your face (and in what context) or we start handing out pitchforks? Of course not… but how do we manage the balance?

This is especially problematic in the American Christian Church. We’ve been raised in a privacy culture (for good reasons), but do we go too far? Our faith challenges us to eliminate sin and utilize the aid of our fellow brethren in this ever-present battle. Truth be told, I don’t trust most of the believers I’ve encountered over the years to know the intimate details of my own personal horrors because many of them have proven that they’re quick to use the information against me or use it to justify their own sin rather than use it as a help for us both to battle our personal sin together and to draw us closer to Christ.

So, how do we balance this in life if we, the Church, are apparently just as incapable of creating the balance? Sin cannot be tolerated, but we all commit it. We must not be judgmental, but we all stand condemned but for Christ’s sacrifice. We must fight sin, but it will be with us to the end.

There is but one answer: the Spirit of God at work in our hearts. We have to begin, each of us, personally, to seek the aid of our brothers and sisters in our battle against sin through confession and repentance and, yes, some transparency in our daily lives. We must also, each of us, commit to recognize that sin exists in each of us and our goal should be to help fight it – not judge the one who has committed it. Truth be told, for most of us, what people don’t know about what goes on in our heads is far, far worse than that “thing” we’re afraid to talk about.

Note: I missed yesterday. I was not feeling well… and, well, I didn’t have anything planned. I now realize step 2 of this daily writing commitment is to actually make a plan. Yeah. That would be a good idea.

006: Fighting with My Own Worst Enemy

6 Jan 2010 In: Me Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 006 - 2010I grow weary of doing good. It’s true. I hate to admit it, but there you have it. There are days when I feel like I’m just doing as little as I can to keep everyone believing I am a good person. (Now, Calvinists… yes, I know that none of us is truly good… but let’s table that for now, eh?)

Each of us is our own worst enemy. Just when I think I’ve started a plan to succeed… I give myself a solid head-butt to put me back in my place. How dare you believe you can do more than this! If you actually succeed… the bar just gets higher, you moron! Do what it takes and stay working just a little more than the next guy and give it a rest!

The truth is, I know that goodness is unsustainable in my own strength. The longer I cruise on my own will power and stamina, the more that my actions are a mere shell… a facade… an outright lie. I cannot sustain any attempt to be better than I am… after all, like a master logician, you are what you are and you cannot be more than that or you wouldn’t be what you are.

But Christ promises more, doesn’t He? By adding the Spirit of God to the equation we truly are more than we are because it isn’t just about who we are in our own strength. As my pastor, Jacob Vanhorn, reminded us this past Sunday, this isn’t simply about getting out of the way – no it’s about allowing the Spirit of God to redeem every facet of my being: my personality, my desire, and yes, even my quirks. Everything that makes me who I am is better when that facet of my being is empowered by the Spirit of God.

So, I’m reminded that when I grow weary of doing good it’s simply because I’m once again, relying on me. I’m trying in vain to be my own redeemer. I’m desperately banging my cymbal so that everyone notices who I am. May I once again rest in the Spirit and allow Him to lead and empower my steps so that I truly am more than I would be in my own strength: better, stronger, faster… for His glory.

005: Staring Into the Void

5 Jan 2010 In: Um... dunno Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 005 - 2010Do we ever really know what tomorrow brings? Tomorrow is filled with hope, but tomorrow could also bring tragedy. It is clear we should plan our steps, but it is also clear that the Lord Himself is the one who actually orders them. God never intends for us to sit passively waiting for our legs and arms to be moved as if we were mere automatons; however, it would be foolish to believe our future is written by sheer acts of personal will.

So, in essence, we plan while staring into the void. This fact quite often paralyzes me. I end up struggling with the minutae of now rather than focusing on the planning and implementation of tommorrow. While I can see the forest, I find the trees to be incredibly distracting.

Moving from the void to the tangible is something I’ve never been good at. I cannot decide what is most important tomorrow or what will be most beneficial: IT certifications, writing songs, writing articles, guitar playing, job progression, getting fit – it all seems important, but it all takes a lot of down in the dirt with rolled up sleeves kind of effort – day in and day out. What if you put in all of that effort and in the end you’re no better off than you were before? Or, worse, you now realize you’ve applied yourself in the wrong thing altogether and you’ve now wasted years of effort on something that is not really part of the Big Picture.

What I know in my heart to be true is seemingly impossible to get through to my head… if we apply ourselves to the glory of God, trusting Him to guide our steps… nothing we do will be a waste. Nothing. Everything we do will cause greater satisfaction and will be used as a means of sanctification. But I still can’t figure out what to pick.

So, that’s why I started with what I consider three meager goals… write everyday (disciplined writing), take a picture of myself everyday (forced creativity), and begin a basic exercise program (habitual reboot). None of these is huge, but already, in just five days I’m beginning to see some fruit (miserably failed at exercise so far though). The daily grind… just have to keep at it for the glory of God and allow Him to use both my successes and my failures to draw me nearer to Him.

004: Allergies are Killing Me

4 Jan 2010 In: Me Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 004 - 2010On New Year’s Eve while I was at First Night with my family, an insipid darkness joined the unexpected arctic wind… that darkness has been mercilessly relegating me to an array of allergy symptoms that is relentless. Violent sneezes, eyes that itch so badly you want to rip them out, and an interminable headache… misery.

Tonight, I am at my worst. I’m not sneezing as much and my eyes don’t itch… but my throat hurts and I have dry mouth and I feel generally miserable. So… I’m drinking tea (no that’s not coffee in the picture) in hopes of soothing my irritated throat.

I actually feel sick – truly ill as if I’ve come down with something (which I guess is a possibility) – only time will tell I suppose. So, I’ve got little to say and I can’t seem to bring my brain to come up with some clever bit of nuance or tidy little analogy of how this is just like the toil we face on earth… our bodies still mired somewhat by our flesh, we are no longer dead, but alive in Christ. He is our Great Physician and the Spirit is the medicine we need on a daily basis to keep the sickness (our flesh) at bay… now, if only he would heal me of this blasted allergy… but, again, this is evidence of my need for grace. So, I pray in faith for healing while loving Him for the reminder that I need Him… would seem masochistic if it weren’t for the beauty of faith.

003: Disappointment… Oh How I Loathe Thee

3 Jan 2010 In: Me Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 003 - 2010I quite often sabotage myself by allowing myself to be disappointed before something actually occurs, thereby ruining the moment because I’m no longer living in the reality of now; instead, I have subconsciously chosen to let the possibility of “what might come” dictate my mood for the present. This is most common for me on Sunday night… you know, the last night of freedom before you have to go an earn a living again.

The odd thing is – I actually like my job for the most part. Like any job, there are frustrations, but honestly, as far as jobs go, I’ve not had any I could honestly say I prefer to this one (and I’ve had a good number of crappy ones).

So, this causes me to think about this more philosophically… what is this fixation to be so disappointed that these are my last few weekend hours and it’s back to work in the morning? The logical and productive thing to do would be to enjoy these hours and capitalize on them… which I’m trying to do right at this moment by writing instead of moping.

So, here’s to my continued attempts to battle this insanity and actually enjoy my Sunday evenings.

002: The Precarious Balance of Patience and Anticipation

2 Jan 2010 In: Friends, Me Please use the trackback url if you link

Self Portrait - 002 - 2010We all have hopes and dreams… even if we think we don’t. The church plant I was a part of for these past three years (Veritas Fellowship) has closed down and we’ve all collectively joined another church plant (Soma – mentioned in yesterday’s post). In this particular church I am one of the oldest members (possible the oldest). While that’s a strange fact, it really has done nothing to damper my enthusiasm for my involvement at this plant. In fact, I believe it’s giving me a greater anticipation for what God has in store.

Now, I’m not a traditionally patient person (yeah, that’s me on the left waiting for my toast to be done), but I’m even less patient when I’m anticipatory. In this plant, my role is completely unknown… I will sing a little, but I’m not the primary worship leader; I hope to be an aid to discipleship for those discovering Christ, but I’m not an elder or pastor; Jana and I hope we can be of some aid to those young married couples having children for the first time, but we’re not involved in the children’s ministry (nor do we have a calling for that)… so we have roles awaiting definition. That’s actually pretty doggone exciting. We actually have to trust God to see what He’s going to do rather than walking into this thing knowing exactly what our jobs are gonna be… that’s a pretty new feeling for me and I’m finding that I really like it. I like it a lot.

I just wish He’d hurry up and show me already… you know? ;-)

 

Hopefully, you see in these writings a man who is staying The Course and pursuing The Path amidst the pitfalls and selfish ways of being a son of Adam. I pray earnestly that my writing would encourage some of you by showing you that this journey - though arduous and sometimes tragic - is a journey of great satisfaction. A satisfaction greater than our greatest imaginings. The trials and refining fire of tribulation are to be recognized as a small shadow of the suffering of our Savior so that we can rejoice, as Peter and the disciples did, to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.


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