All posts by bob@christchurchpca.org

A Life of Greatness is Meant to Appear Ordinary

“Better to be ordinary and work for a living
    than act important and starve in the process.” Proverbs 12:9

In Zack Eswine’s book, The Imperfect Pastor, he writes something similar to this: Long for greatness, dear Christian, but surrender your definition of extraordinary to the one Jesus supplies. To begin with we must embrace this one important truth: obscurity and greatness are not opposites.

Jesus is into the ordinary; He is of Nazareth. Place matters, even if it is small and somewhat despised. He said to His disciples (Luke 7:44): “Do you see this woman?” He saw Matthew at a tax table, a little man up a tree, and noticed the unnoticed in a crowd. Are we so focused on the “great” on our phones that we can’t see the greatness of potential right under our noses?

Jesus seems to avoid fame, yet was great. “Everyone is looking for you,” His disciples declared as if He was in the wrong. He wasn’t tweeting, blogging, or promoting His services. Jesus wasn’t acting important and starving in the process. Whereas I wanted fame, yet was kept ordinary, over time Eswine’s message affirmed God’s grace to us to whom ordinary is fitting.

Do you possess a stamina for going unnoticed by children, children in law, or your peers? Do you possess a spirituality to do a 1,000 unknown acts of kindness in a small place for God’s glory?

Here is what the living take to heart at a funeral of a person, who lived a truly great life: they loved well and faithfully kept their vows day in and out; they showed mercy by noticed the faces of those around them; and they generously gave away their opportunities for fake greatness for the privilege of true greatness – loving well.

How? Great people realized on the front end that the Gospel is true for themselves personally. Let me put it this way: you have already been discovered as the great and adorable person you are in Christ, which frees you up to go discover others in the same light today.

“Better to be ordinary and work for a living than act important and starve in the process.”

See Zachary Eswine’s The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus (Crossway, 2015)

I=Phones and I-dentity: 5 Ways You May be Missing Out

We use social media via our phone, which becomes an extension of ourselves and cared for as our own hand. Why? We don’t want to miss out! When we become slaves to our phones we are missing out on human flourishing. What are we missing out on? These writers and commentators caution us about five ways we may be missing out.

1. Missing out on Identity Formation?

“We spend so much time these days, I think, looking for external validation— with our carefully crafted Instagrams, clever postings, perfect pictures, counting our likes, favorites, followers and friends— that it’s easy to avoid the big questions: Who am I? Am I doing the right thing? Am I the kind of person I want to be?”

“Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed,” Time magazine (May 18, 2015).

2. Missing out on deep conversation and thought?

Alan Jacobs, “I’m Thinking It Over,” The American Conservative, theamericanconservative.com (Jan. 4, 2016).

3. Missing out on freedom of choice?

Andrew Sherwood, “The Sweet Freedom of Ditching My Smartphone,” All Things for Good, garrettkell.com (Jan. 21, 2016).

4. Missing out on the purpose for which we exist?

John Piper, “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning: And a Better Way Forward,” Desiring God, desiringGod.org (June 6, 2015).

5. Missing out on solitude with God for the sake of more loneliness?

Tony Reinke, in his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), summarized how using social media is causing more loneliness:

“The bottom line: technology bends us in a centripetal direction, pulling us toward a central habitat of loneliness and filling our lives with habits that benefit the stakeholders who seek to monetize our attention (p.128).”

Katie Couric seems to agree:

“Social media [and] Constant connectivity can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected. Do not be seduced by the false intimacy of social media.”

“Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed,” Time magazine (May 18, 2015).

#HopeinChrist

I’m on vacation. I played with grandchildren this morning and worked out in a Lifetime Gym, and ended up sitting in a whirlpool counseling a broken man pleading for hope from me.

Back at my daughter’s home, and we just heard my son in law (a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America) is with a couple in a hospital grieving the loss of their one year old daughter. Yesterday we left my oldest son’s home with a hug and a tear after we spent a weekend grieving over the anniversary of the loss of their daughter (my granddaughter; Elizabeth Joy).

Emily Dickinson describes hope as a bird (“the thing with feathers”) that perches in the soul. There, it sings wordlessly and without pause. The song of hope sounds sweetest “in the Gale,” and it would require a terrifying storm to ever “abash the little Bird / That kept so many warm.” Dickinson says that she has heard the bird of hope “in the chillest land— / and on the strangest Sea—”, but never, no matter how extreme the conditions, did it ever ask for a single crumb from her.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash
the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
https://genius.com/Emily-dickinson-hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers-254-annotated
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What Men Avoid

Men avoid shame, but may sense shame whenever our inadequacy or our glory is seen by the eyes we long to be admired by.

Men are passively or actively avoiding the shame of inadequacy (since the curse on masculinity in Genesis 3) and the glory of tender strength (love) required for war against Evil (faith), and required for rescue in a world of chaos and meaninglessness (hope).

The range from passive to active avoidance may be thought of as a continuum of four types of males in search for significance, with a fifth type to circle back the types. (This is commonly taught in various ways in upper level counseling courses.)

(Most Passive)—-Little Boy—-Good Boy—-Distant Boy—-Macho Boy (Most Active)—-(Added fifth to encircle)—-Seductive Boy (the sexual variant).*

All types seek to diminish their shame and to deaden their longings (glory) in order to keep “safe” and in control by some form of contempt – either directed towards others or themselves.

Men, who are passively or actively avoiding shame, must be called out of hiding by the strong voice of kindness and invited into the Gospel-transformation process that empowers men to walk out on to the battlefield against spiritually dark forces at work in a world now marked by chaos and meaninglessness; men are called out to let their tears, longings, and Christ be their strength.

Calling out Masculine Glory: A Significant Life in Christ

Men are best called out by older Gospel men into three directions: first, to cease silence & avoidance in order to speak an honest story with courageous naming of both inadequacy and glory in Christ. second, to repentance, which begins with an invitation to embrace sorrow & grief over the damage done by Evil. Third, to rise up in faith, hope, & love: moving us productively back into the burned over dirt caused by Evil (faith), moving us resiliently forward towards a new day and bright future (hope), and moving us courageously into intimacy and community in the ongoing war to compassionately rescue others (love).

*Dan Allender and Larry Crabb lectures significantly influenced me on this subject ever since I was enrolled in their courses around 1987-1989. They are not responsible for how I express or work it out, but ought to be honored for the way Christians have been greatly helped in the area  of gender shame and glory.

 

 

Gender Strife in a Secular Age

Without God we are left to ourselves to build a name for ourselves, only to scatter under God’s curse like tribes with different languages unable to communicate and get along. We live in times similar to the days after the Tower of Babel construction enterprise failed.

Every month intellectuals meet in my office at church to discuss “knowing the times and what God’s people should do,” as the men of Issachar once did (1 Chronicles 12:32). This month we were discussing Charles Taylor’s “take” on our age and the vacuum left in a a secular culture when the default mode is unbelief and “disenchantment” (Weber) with God and premodern beliefs.

Taylor and other cultural pundits recognize the “subtraction story” of the secularist narrative that promised the good life once Christianity and superstition were subtracted and a time when only pure science remained. Simultaneously, the transcendence of God was increasingly domesticated by Christians (Placher). Now polarization of tribes is becoming more fierce. Political wars, gender tensions, and new ideological battles irrupt daily in this age of exclusive individualism.

David Brooks highlights an example of this by showing how young “men who feel fatherless, solitary, floating in a chaotic moral vacuum, constantly outperformed and humiliated by women, haunted by pain and self-contempt” are drawn to cultural icon Jordan Peterson. Peterson sets men against women, calling men out of victimization and blame-shifting. Although Peterson fills a gap where men are without fatherly advice, he increases the excarnational and impersonal order that replaced Jesus’ incarnational and loving revolution. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/opinion/jordan-peterson-moment.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

#Humility

“His fame grew far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong; he grew proud, to his destruction.”                  2 Chronicles 26:15-16

There was a king whose name meant “the Lord is my strength.” Uzziah sought the Lord, learned the fear of God from a prophet, and grew very strong in his long 52-year reign. Then in 52 minutes he destroyed it all, trading a legacy of fame for shame.

Whoever exalts him or herself will be humbled, but whoever humbles him or herself will be exalted. ~ Jesus

“In those days I will give shepherds after My own Heart.” Jeremiah 3:15

Every generation alive in the USA has experienced their personal identity becoming increasingly disengaged from honoring old virtues to being concerned with something much more shifting and elusive. This process heightened when Boomers personal identity became increasingly associated not with the narrative of one’s private life but with the projection of one’s public image. Indeed, in the popular perception, image and authentic life were separated from each other. Great emphasis was placed on the skillful presentation of one’s “image.”

We’ve seen, by way of the sexual harassment exposure of late, how people become performers who stage their own characters and accomplishments. This is an art that often requires one to transcend the need to tell the truth in order to practice techniques of management impression, even at the cost of losing a self in order to please an image-maker or breaker.

A whole industry has now grown up to teach people how to market themselves by creating appealing and desirable images of one’s favorable identity.

In this new world, you are not someone that is; you can be someone that is constructed.

Jeremiah 3:15 is a promise to trust God for in prayers of faith; namely, that in these new covenant days we may expect God to raise up new leaders among His people.

The reason for hope is that God, truth, or reality is part of the warp and woof of who we are in His world – made in His image – however strong we may be at suppressing Him, truth, and the reality of who we truly are. I have great hope in the new prophetic leaders among the millennial age, who will disrupt spin and spinners. These new prophets in contemporary culture but not of it are also priests, who are priestly with their invitations to grace in Christ. This proclamation group of God’s excellencies will equip and lead like kings and queens a mighty kingdom of Gospel-lovers against the forces of worldliness, the war-raging attacks of our sinful natures, and the demonic powers aimed to shame people into fear and hiding. This, however, will only take place by God’s Spirit poured out in greater measures in our time.

#Ecclesiastes for our Time

My dear friend, Dr. Zachary Eswine, has written an excellent book in a fine series on the Old Testament. I fear both Ecclesiastes and Zack’s book may be overlooked, even though they are very suitable for readers today.

Here is wisdom on our relationship to money, health, church, life in a fallen and ordinary world, leadership, and purpose. Zack is wise, and his writing style is captivating. It was such a pleasure to read, and I am sure you will be glad you spent your money on this more than a sandwich or movie rental.

You’ll be surprised, and capture what the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying to our culture.

#GodintheWasteland: David Wells

The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.

The fragile self adrift in the relentless tumult of modernity inevitably begins to experience the weariness and emptiness to which post-modern writers, composers, and artists have so uniformly pointed. This agonizing sense of weightlessness that we once thought only God would suffer in modern culture now turns out to be ours as well.

David F. Wells. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Kindle Locations 402-402;1157-1158). Kindle Edition.

#Intentionality for Christ at Midlife

Midlife, for most of us, is a season of routine and endurance when retirement and ease seem more and more attractive. We will experience a noticeable decline in health and at least a slight increase in weight. By forty-five, the body’s metabolism slows down, causing weight gain. It is a great time to take aim and to get serious about diet and exercise. Our middle years are our best decades to make our greatest contributions in our callings, but it is a season marked by loss. There is a common loss of health, hope, parents on earth, children at home, friendships nearby, and more. Although this will vary according to the individual, these losses are a common part of life. Only an intentional approach to overcome these challenges will make this season transformational for the subsequent spiritual formation season of legacy.

Robert Davis Smart. Intentionality for Christ: What’s My Aim? (Kindle Locations 223-228). WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.