Birthday ruminations: Let the wild dancing begin

A few thoughts after 29 years in this party we are all invited to…

“The man who seeks to gain his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for me will gain it”

There is something that taps deeply into what it means to be a human in this statement. The depths of this statement will never be plumbed but here’s a thought it has sparked: this statement finds expression in the necessity for a human being to not take himself too seriously. I’ve been learning lately a little bit more about what this means. And I’ve thought that, ironically, it is the person who takes himself far too seriously that commits suicide.

And so life should and could be more about the fun that you have along the way. Rather than getting somewhere. The adventure is in the journey. And if I’ve forgotten or been too serious about it all to have fun and be silly then I’ve also missed out on a big part of God’s plan for me. Because in fact he is not mostly sad or mad – but I think that he is most glad and happy when he sees his son laughing and silly.

This is the paradox though – you need to invest yourself in all of your pursuits wholly and unreservedly, and yet have the freedom to hold it all lightly, to laugh at yourself and others along the way. Because actually, the one who has the freedom to be silly is the one who is able to invest himself and do the journey most effectively.

And in this party you can mope on the sidelines, or you can suck it up. You can throw your fear to the wind, and begin to step and move your body to the music of the dance-floor. And perhaps you might then throw caution to the wind. And whirl and spin and move and jump. And laugh into the air. Like a wildman. I know what I’m going to be trying to do every year after my 29th.

For there is a pulsing, flowing and freeing melody that a Man 2000 years ago danced perfectly to. And though today some are out of sync, it is a sound that emanates through all things that cannot be ignored. It is a beautiful sound. More beautiful, more alluring, more freeing, more life-giving than anything we have ever heard. And soon, so very soon, every heart and mind and soul and dog and tree and atom and quark of the universe will be dancing to it’s rhythms and flows.

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Person #2

Of late I have been looking inside of myself to find a bit of a jungle. Right and wrong perspectives and ideas, right and wrong thoughts and emotions all intertwined and mingling.

…but for the grace of God eh? At every point in my life. Every moment has been and is filled with beauty, and every day begins with mercy.

And we are much more the affective beings than we understand ourselves to be. For so long, human beings have supposed that health and wealth and life come purely from right thinking, and from knowing the right things. I am suspecting that, fundamentally, this is the wrong way to understand the human being.

And this is what I notice from my introspection – that there is a force at work much more powerful than having the right thoughts in my mind.

It is my emotions.

Emotions are what drive our behaviour regardless of any other factor (our thoughts, our gender, the time of day). For many people their behaviour is actually in contradiction with their thoughts and words – purely because they are unaware and blind of the true driving force. Indeed whether you are aware or not of what you are feeling, sooner or later, you will do and behave as you feel.

And a person with the emotional intelligence to know what they are feeling can only cover it up in pretense for so long (if it is the wrong kind of emotion). It is too tiring an activity to not live from your heart for any extended period of time – and not the way the human being was designed to live.

 

So what if I began to look at life and events and situations through this one priority – how is this making me a more beautiful person?

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

For perhaps this is God’s will for us above and beyond all else: that we be conformed to the image of his Son. My point is that perhaps this is more of an emotional, psychological state than a place of acquiring theology and knowledge.

What if I were to apply this one overarching priority to my life – regardless of the money, regardless of the time, regardless of the cost – if it is making me a better more beautiful person then I will pursue it.

And while seemingly selfish, it is a selfishness that has complete selflessness as it’s end goal. For the beautiful person is not selfish at all.

And what a beautiful paradox. What incredible freedom.

 

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart

 

The Freedom and Purpose found in Humility

A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven (John 3:27)

The bondage and exhaustion of self-promotion and pride
There will be seasons of productivity and seasons of quiet. There will be seasons of ministry and seasons of quiet. If we are so caught up in the quiet seasons, the times God has ordained for us to be small and unseen, then our energy is all expended in our desires to be seen and heard, in inflating our status before men to match our inflated egos. Rather than sitting and receiving, we strive for something that is not sustainable or deeply satisfying, and moreover, will become a cruel master. If you hold anything with a measure of idolatry, including ministry, giving it more significance than it deserves, it will consume you. Not only that you, you miss out on what should have been a God-ordained restful, joyful and peace-filled season of recharging.

The only deeply sustainable thing on this earth is our character and who we are (big statement, and I haven’t thought through it enough, but there it is), and God is always at work on that, everything else comes and goes. The test of the purity of one’s heart – is how you hold ministry/money/status when you have it, and how you hold these things when you don’t have it. On our character will this rest. On the purity of our hearts will this rest.

So the most important thing continually, is steadfastness and obedience. Do to all things well (including the small and secret and unseen things), at all times. I believe this is what it means, in part, to be a humble person. And in His time, we will be lifted up, not that that even matters any more. Following Jesus was never supposed to easy, but it is remarkably simple – it is simple steadfastness/faithfulness and obedience.

Here we see the nature of Jesus’ testing in the desert – Satan wanted to give Jesus his destiny, but not in the way or timing that God would want it. Instead Jesus quietened his soul, rested in complete obedience and trust in God’s plan. And perhaps it was more costly (in the short term), but it was also infinitely more beautiful and right and produced fruit that will last an eternity. So the humility of Jesus – his obedience to death on a cross was used by God to redeem a race from the ashes. Something which we will wonder at for 10 000 years, and 10 000 after that.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul (Psalm 131:2)

The freedom and identity and rest found in humility
And so begin to see that the humble person is not someone that does not have a sense of identity or purpose or worth. But rather he/she is someone whose identity/purpose/worth is rooted and grounded in something far more substantial, far more sustainable, far more steadfast than the prideful, striving and idolatrous person. Neither is the humble person someone who cannot be successful or productive. Actually, he most probably is very successful…or he mightn’t be, and it matters to him not an ounce. And in that, there is so much freedom and so much peace to be had for a person walking in fullness of humility.

At risk of introducing too much, but for the sake of clarity, here is a statement that may seem contradictory to everything said so far, but it really isnt: the humble person will pursue the fullness of their passions and deepest desires with a fullness of tenacity. To do anything less is to live under a false humility which is ultimately prideful because you are saying that you know better than your Creator how you were supposed to live and function. To do anything less is selfish because you are depriving the body and the world of the critical part you were supposed to play in it’s redemption and perfect function.

May he give us the grace to walk in the steps that only he has walked in before us. May we see a generation living in fullness of humility, with quiet souls, living in fullness of trust, and fullness of simple obedience to the only wise and good master.

A primer on humility: (mis)Conceptions in beginning to think rightly about humility

The Truth about the Truth

Truth? What Truth?

Before I even go on to talking about truth, perhaps we need to talk briefly about it’s existence.

The position that there is no absolute truth, and that everything is relative, that whatever is true for you is true for you and doesn’t necessarily have to be true for another person is dangerous – for the simple fact that human beings are fundamentally finite beings that require a reference point wholly outside themselves. We are followers. We are drifters. Which would be fine, except that there are very bad places for us to drift into.

Human beings require a definite anchor wholly external to themselves.

Until we have that anchor or that reference point, external to the human heart we end up in meaninglessness and madness/depression. We all understand and operate on this level because we all, to one degree or another, live for something beyond ourselves and outside ourselves. The more selfish and internal we become, the more we lose hope and meaning.

In retrospect, Nietzsche’s understanding of humanity, where the anchor was removed and where the existence of right and wrong got blurry, led to nihilism and the Third Reich. Nietzsche said that madness was inevitable for “superior men irresistably drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality” in his book ‘The Dawn’ and himself went mad towards the end of his life. Cases in point.

The freedom of Christianity is that it provides the human being with meaning and a frame of reference outside himself/herself. You could argue that any other religion does this also, but that’s not my point here currently.

 

The Truth about the human heart

And if we view humanity now in the framework of the existence of absolute truth, the next point is that human beings are incredibly good at acclimatizing to our present environments. We’re followers, We’re drifters.  So if we approach the pedophile and try to understand what is going on internally, you will notice that he/she doesn’t wake up one day from being a good person to being a pedophile. You move into that way of thinking slowly and then your actions and behaviours begin to follow. At which point the person doesn’t actually think what they are doing is that bad.

The reality is (if we were to have some amount of clarity/honesty and understanding about our hearts) that we have nothing good in and of ourselves. Left to our own devices and what we truly desire to do the world would be in total and utter anarchy and chaos, and suffering as a fundamental result of our evil.

The reality is, there is potential inside us all to be Hitlers and Pol Pot’s but it won’t happen overnight. There is incredible freedom from high-ground judging in this assessment of things, and yet an enabling for making real steps towards morality and goodness.

 

The Truth that we think we know but we really don’t

But here’s the other thing about truth that we often fail to realise: the trick about truth is not that we don’t know it – it’s that we need to keep it at the forefront of our consciousnesses. Daily. Again – my point that human beings are drifters and acclimatizers.

In one sense, we all know what the right things are, but it’s actually being reminded of them, and in so doing believing them and then acting upon them that is key. propositional truth learnt once upon a time does nothing for the human being.

 

The blessings of Truth and the reason for Worship

Which leads me to 2 key applications:

Too often, we who call ourselves Christians actually don’t have a right understanding of who God is. I.e. on the one hand we know that God is FOR us, ALL the time, that God is GOOD, ALL the time, that God is FAITHFUL. But we don’t really function in the joy and peace and freedom that should result in ‘knowing’ such truths. So we’re really quite terrible at living out the realities of these ‘truths’. In some ways you could say that all Christians are plagued with currents of atheistic thinking – not thinking that says God doesn’t exist, but thinking that says that God is not really who he says he is in his Word.

And so, here we can now understand the beauty and the function of worship and prayer and bible reading. Not just as a Sunday morning service activity, but as daily, hourly, moment by moment activities that are necessary for the living and right functioning of the human being. And we can understand the wisdom and beauty of why God demands worship from his people – not because he is an insecure, attention seeking egomaniac, but because in order for us to live in the fullness of what God has called to as human beings, we require such constant reminding and the placement of such truths in the forefront of our minds – so that they seep through to our hearts and bodies and dreams.

Only in that place will we find true life as Jesus said he came to give, and the true freedom as he intends us to have.

 

P.S. I don’t know if I’ve presented is the most logical or articulate argument for the necessity of absolute truth and God and the application of it into our lives, but if one thing could be said about such thinking and such philosophy/anthropology: it is deeply freeing and empowering for a human being. At least it has been for me.

 

Radical as the new Normal

WHAT IF we stopped theologizing away the teachings of Jesus?

WHAT IF we read them and followed them literally?

WHAT IF we stopped making excuses for why it isn’t possible?

WHAT IF we began to see that everything that Jesus calls his people to walk into is for the sake of our freedom and peace and joy and nothing less?

WHAT IF we understood discipline and obedience as pathways to freedom?

And I suppose what I have presented before you appears a mountain so high it cannot be possibly be climbed.

But as with every journey – it begins with the first step.

And at every step there is a river of grace and mercy that finds us and enables us to take the next

And in fact after a ways on such a journey one might look back and realise that we have been carried all the way thus far.

And so it will be for a generation with

Clean hands and

Pure hearts,

Ascending,

The hill of the Lord.

An alternative to a generation of Biebers and Mileys

More than any other generation before us in history do we have the potential to impact/change/affect the spheres in which we live (our immediate contexts to our cities, to our nations, to the world). The human being has always been a creative, productive, hungry, and desiring creature. What sets this age apart from any other is the platforms and technologies available to administrate and project these qualities or gifts…

…for the greatest amount of good human history has ever seen

…or for a great deal of bad.

News of Justin Bieber’s arrest last week reinforces what we have seen and continue to see consistently from a generation of young and old. Here is a generation of people with more influence, power and money/resources of most human beings at any point in history. And the exploits we hear again and again, are of individuals in trouble with the law, indulging in excess, waste, drugs and etc. Why does greatness in this world seem to come hand in hand with hedonistic, narcissistic, meaningless behaviour?

And here I would like to raise the possibility of an alternative. An alternative that is not simply behaviour modification – simply because if what I really want to do is to satisfy myself in ways that ultimately do damage to my body, and to those around me, YET by sheer force of will and self-control, I do the right things – that is actually bondage. No, that is too superficial and restricting.

So what if our very natures could be changed? I don’t want to exist doing what I really don’t want to do, but doing it because I know it’s the right thing to do.

No, I want to DESIRE and SEEK the good of myself and those around me. Then my good behaviour is actually a hedonistic pursuit of a fundamentally good and altruistic nature. That is what I want to call true freedom. Freedom in its fullest and best sense, because it is freedom for me in the sense that I get to do what I want and it is freedom for others and for the society in which I function because of my good deeds.

This ‘beautiful alternative’ would CHANGE THE WORLD. This phrase “change the world” is thrown about all too easily today and it has lost meaning, but I want to emphasise that mean it in it’s actual sense.

The world would be changed.

I want to suggest that this is what Jesus meant when he said ” I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That the kingdom of God in its fullest manifestation is filled with people who only ever do what they want to do. The kingdom is filled with people  that they are completely hedonistic but those in whom the hedonistic desires and behaviours are deeply altruistic.

Some thoughts on what Christianity is, and what it is not (and some ruminations on freedom and authenticity)

Christianity is not a “religion” in the sense that we define the word today.

It is not a set of rules/restrictions that we place upon ourselves and others.

It is not an addition to our lives that helps us be nicer people.

It is not something we turn to in tough times to help us through.

It is not a nice standard by which society can run and crime can be reduced. Although, probably more correct is that society sees Christianity and it’s ideas today as wrong and intolerant and bigotted.

Christianity is life, or rather the way to life – life to its fullest and deepest sense.

Christianity is freedom in its truest sense. And along with freedom, authenticity. For Christianity does not impose itself as a set of holy or moral laws upon a sinful and broken human being whose nature is forever in conflict and opposition to it’s standard. Christianity changes the human being at the deepest level, so rules and regulations need not apply. And so we are left with a nature that follows the rules and regulations because it desires to and not because it is told to. And that is freedom in the truest and deepest sense.

Human beings do a great deal of pretending, and it is said that the greatest pretenders are in the church. This is not a function of true Christianity, but rather the broken nature of human beings who gather for church. It is the pride within us that wants to present ourselves to others as someone that is great and someone who has it all together

Authenticity and the liberty to be oneself in it’s reality (in all it’s messiness and brokenness and sinfulness) is intimately linked with the concept of freedom.

To be authentic takes honesty with oneself and a measure of humility. Christianity provides those means for humility – for when you are faced with an infinitely holy and supreme God, our messiness and brokenness is starkly illuminated.

In this illumination of what and who we are in our brokenness, the playing field of humanity is levelled. What we have over another person in our good works is utterly pathetic seen in the right light. We like to build ourselves mounds of dirt to see how high we can build them and then compare our mounds with other peoples mounds, while we stand at the base of the ‘Everest’ of God’s rightness and goodness.

And in that right assessment of the situation – there is the freedom to be authentic. To be authentic to God and to others, but ultimately to be authentic to ourselves. For no one is good enough, nor do we have to be. For while Christianity gives us sight of our true condition, it does not leave us there. The coal from the throne is taken and placed upon our lips. And Christ does for us what we could not, and cannot ever do – he makes us beautiful and pure and holy just as he is.

And in the heart of someone who is truly free and authentic, there flows forth rivers of joy and peace. Oh what a beautiful thing this ‘religion’ is!

And there is and shall be a generation who shall rise from the ashes of brokenness and sinfulness. They shall be clothed in white robes and they shall exhibit a depth of freedom and authenticity, joy and peace the world has rarely seen.