Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: repentance

What if I didn’t have to be myself all the time?

Your self is hidden in Christ with God. You are not done yet. I hope you find freedom in that today—I hope you find a lightness in knowing that.

Source: What if I didn’t have to be myself all the time?

Resolving not to suck sucks

candle I love New Years resolutions.  Any opportunity to change is my favorite, because my whole life is about transformation.  Walking the narrow way that Jesus recommends to us requires some healthy self evaluation on a regular basis.  I spent some time in my twenties “just trying to do better,” constantly plagued by a dissatisfaction I couldn’t shake.  I wanted to live up to my potential.  I wanted to serve God in a big way.  It wasn’t until I got specific about how I needed to change and what I would do to change that I got out of a cycle of self defeating criticism that crippled my capacity.

We can’t just resolve not to suck anymore.  A vague sense of dissatisfaction is deadly for the plans that God has for us.  Feeling bad about ourselves for our sin or our shortcomings usually makes us sin more and come up even shorter.  Shame cycles us into inaction and in our idleness we are rendered inert and evil prevails in us and in the realms that we might have triumphed (I’m sounding really conquistador-ish here). Exposing our darkness and our weakness to God’s healing light is the best way to escape cycles of self -defeating shame and move forward.  This requires identification of specific patterns that we would like to change.  How do you think you suck?  (Saying you suck at anything probably isn’t very self-loving- just for the record).

candle onAnd that’s why I love New Year’s resolutions.  Just making the resolution exposes whatever the opposite pattern may be to the light.  For example, I resolve to not hit the snooze button in 2015.  This reveals my laggardly waking habits and resultant abridgment of prayer time.  I want to change that.  I’m seizing the opportunity to change my behavior.  The Roman calendar is an arbitrary but for some reason very motivating event for me.  In 2015 I will not suck at waking up!  I have a couple of other resolutions because I really like to pile them on.  Luckily, Lent, a much less arbitrary event, comes on February 18th, and if I’ve failed at any of them by then (which I certainly will) I will be ready for a reset.

Like a Thief in the Night

I was doing something very dangerous yesterday- flying down Pine Street on my bike listening to Rich Mullins with my headphones in.  It was dangerous in 4 ways:

1) The obvious safety hazard of riding a bike without being able to hear 2) The scorn I could receive from my musically cool friends for listening to the often “cheesy” christian recording artist from the eighties 3) The potential embarrassment when people notice the tears that I burst into 4) The crumbling darkness around us as I saw God’s light breaking through.

Here’e the lyric and video of “A Steal at Any Price” from Pictures in the Sky (1987).  If you really want to go with me here, listen though to the first chorus and read along with the lyrics.  Then keep reading more of my experience as rich sings on.

rich mullins

He sees a frozen shadow
Cold in the neon flash

He sees the ghost of a chance in her eyes

He longs to take her away

To a place where love can last
Without all these memories
Of all the emptier loves in her life
‘Cause He knows how bad it can get
And He sees her lose
Though she pays her dues
She still winds up in debt
And the night cracks
Like a whip in her heart
She looks into the light
He takes her out of the darkness
He’s a thief in the night

As Rich hung on the “Heeeeeeee’s” I was bursting across 18th street. (“A thief in the night”)  All of a sudden the world opened up into the light.  I was exhilarated- the unseasonable freshness of the morning, the speed of the bike and the reality of God’s love for me- all of it- coalesced in a revelation.   All of a sudden tears were streaming from my eyes and I remember having the thought as I even surprised myself with a couple of sobs that my sweat was masking the tears and saving me from any undo attention… and yet, at the same time I was glad to be a fool. (“His love is a steal at any price”)  I was so glad to look around and see all these others on Pine Street on whom God could also sneak up to take away from our desperation and darkness.

Rich went on to the second verse and reminded me “‘Cause he knows how bad it can hurt.”  I know how bad it can hurt.  Jesus knows how bad it can hurt.  Do you know how bad it can hurt?  I think you do.  By the time I was crossing Broad Street my moment was passing and I was stunned in gratitude for a minute or so of God’s grace sneaking up on me.  I was thankful to be reminded that Jesus is with me and all the people around me, and I am with Jesus when I am with them.  I felt the longing that Jesus has for us.  I felt my own longing to be made new–to be stolen from the emptier loves in my life–and confident that many others feel it too and might turn with me to the light.

So I share this revelation with you.  Jesus’ love is a steal at any price, and apparently we are too.  The price Jesus paid for us is greater than any other.  No other death has resulted in light.  So, “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3)  Respond to the light that is shining in your darkness and the darkness around you.  Cherish the costly gift you have received.  Give thanks for the thief in the night, because if we had to make this stuff up on our own it would never happen.

What sort of self do you have?

A Balkan born theologian and philosopher, Miroslav Volf, knows how to write a cogent argument!  I’ve copied a rather lengthy quote because it just had to be shared and I think it speaks to our work of inclusion as a community on mission.exlcusion and embrace

“Through faith and baptism the self has been re-made in the image of “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” Paul writes.  At the center of the self lies self-giving love.  No “hegemonic centrality” closes the self off, guarding its self-same identity and driving out and away whatever threatens its purity.  To the contrary, the new center opens the self up, makes it capable and willing to give itself for others and to receive others in itself.  In the previous chapter I argued that Paul locates the unity of the church not in the disincarnate transcendence of a pure and universal spirit, but in the scandalous particularity of the suffering body of God’s Messiah.  Correspondingly, Paul locates the center of the self not in some single and unchangeable–because self enclosed–“essence,” but in self-giving love made possible by and patterned on the suffering Messiah.  For Christians, this “de-centered center” of self giving love–most firmly centered and most radically open–is the doorkeeper deciding about the fate of otherness at the doorstep of the self.  From this center judgments about exclusion must be made and battles against exclusion fought.  And with this kind of self, the opposition to exclusion is nothing  but the flip side of the practice of embrace.” -Miroslav Volf p.71 Exclusion and Embrace

We are prone to exclusion as a way to preserve our identities.  Some post modern people might claim that the self doesn’t have a center.  Volf argues that it most certainly does but that the center of the self is not as important as what sort of self we ought to have.  His argument is that our selves need to be de-centered by the presence of Christ inside us.  The point from this hefty paragraph that most struck me was that pursuit of self enclosed identities “drive[s] out and away whatever threatens its purity.”  Especially in the church, we are with purity.  We want to maintain the good that we have and–mostly unconsciously– exclude those trying to get in.  Much of our identity formation as individuals, and as groups, is in some way violent.  This is as true in Volf’s Balkans as it is in any high school, and even within our church.  We can’t help but keep people out.  Including people then is an expression of Christ inside us and a way to keep the binary star system of our interior universes properly balanced.Binary-stars

Only a de-centered-by-Jesus self can open and include as naturally as we need to in order to grow into the next generation of Circle of Hope.  I am thankful for how God has achieved this in us to a degree and hopeful for how God will proceed.

How do you guard your identity?  How does your self’s center respond to threats against its primacy?  How might we act to be more de-centered?  How will this effect us as a people?  These aren’t rhetorical–let me know what you think!