An old but relevant celebration of the mind!

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Over 1600 years ago St. Augustine wrote on the power of memory and its role in our relationship with God.

Great is the power of memory, a fearful thing, O my God, a deep and boundless manifoldness; and this thing is the mind, and this am I myself. What am I then, O my God? What nature am I? A life various and manifold, and exceeding immense. Behold in the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and enumerably full of innumerable kinds of things, either through images, as all bodies; or by actual presence, as the arts, or be certain notions or impressions, as the affections of the mind, which, even when the mind doth not feel, the memory retainteth, while yet whatsoever is in the memory is also in the mind–over all these do I run, I fly; I dive on this side and on that, as far as I can, and there is no end.

So great is the force of memory, so great the force of life, even in the mortal life of man. What shall I do then, O Thou my true life, my God? I will pass even beyond this power of mine which is called memory: yea, I will pass beyond it, that I may approach unto Thee, O sweet Light. What sayest Thou to me? See, I am mounting up through my mind towards Thee who abides above me. Yea, I now will pass beyond this power of mine which is called memory, desirous to arrive at Thee, whence Thou mayest be arrived at; and to cleave unto Thee, whence one may cleave unto Thee. For even beasts and birds have memory; else could they not return to their dens and nests, nor many other things they are used unto: nor indeed could they be used to any thing, but by memory.

I will pass then beyond memory also that I may arrive at Him who hath separated me from the four-footed beasts and made me wiser than the fowls of the air, I will pass beyond memory also, and where shall I find Thee, Thou truly good and certain sweetness? And where shall I find Thee? If I find Thee without my memory, then do I not retain Thee in my memory. And how shall I find Thee, if I remember Thee not?

The Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Tenth Book.

Augustine’s celebration of the mind and memory moves me to consider the purpose of the mind in my experience and knowledge of God.

Jesus intends to create pathways of memory to bring us to Him.

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” Luke 22:19-20

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  John 14:25-26

The Psalmist cries out that his memories are useful for identifying his thirst for a new and current encounter with the Living God.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like parched land.” Psalm 143:5-6

I’ve been thinking about some friends who are new believers in Jesus Christ. If you are a new believer in Christ Jesus you have a short memory of God’s grace towards you. Grace is God’s activity on your behalf to do for you what you could not do apart from Him (Dallas Willard). You do not yet have a lengthy history with Jesus and His grace. So your mind like all believers must be renewed and the Holy Spirit is working to that end. I want to daily recall the Gospels and see Jesus again. The reading of His Word in the Gospels is not a mere activity to dutifully complete. No, the reading of His Word is the work of my mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit that can usher me again into the very presence of God. So it is with many of our disciplines:

The reading of His Word is an act of remembering drawing us to Jesus.
The listing of His blessings and giving thanks remembers and brings us to Jesus.
The confession of my sins is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The lament for what I grieve is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The giving of the tithe is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The gathering with other believers is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The singing of a song is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The telling of a testimony is an act of remembering bringing us again to Jesus.

All these acts are meant to engage the mind not for the production of sentimentality or condemnation. Instead our growing memory of God’s grace towards us is meant to usher us again into the reality of His Kingdom, the promise of His full redemption, and acknowledgement of His Presence with us as Lord.

Remember.

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Its what you do next…

conversation - photo credit - David Marcu

Whether its at work, at home, or in your social circle, when you realize that you are the source of another person’s pain, its what you do next that matters. Truly I hate that moment. Most of us who are conscientious hate it too. These are the moments when our self-defence rituals kick in: blaming, shaming, and fear dancing! We don’t want the conflict. We don’t want a share in the pain. We want it to be the other person’s problem. And so if you are at all familiar with that script it probably means you are going to argue with God when He interrupts your worship.

23“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.  Mathew 5:23-24

When self-justification takes over as our lens for relationships it makes us confident that the real problem is someone else’s problem. “They” have a problem because “they” are wrong, “they” are too sensitive, “they” are too reactive.

But reconciliation is our problem. Jesus wants us to see conflict and pain through the lens of reconciliation not self-justification. When self-justification is our lens for seeing people and conflict then even our worship will be framed by self-justification. We will turn the worship of God into a moment in which we are self-justifying ourselves before Him. We are using God instead of loving God.

That’s why Jesus shows his disciples how God interrupts worship. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you… leave… Go… and be reconciled…” Why would we suddenly remember? I believe the Spirit of God calls us into the ministry of reconciliation. The Gospel shows us the King’s Mission of reconciliation and brings us into it. A true worshipper saved by Jesus is going to have moments in which worship is interrupted by Jesus for reconciliation within the realm personal relationships.

This passage is one of the reasons why I think our worship gatherings are meant to be way more dynamic and active than they are!

The good news: obedience to Jesus leads us into new options for relationships. You are not in charge of what the other person does next after you approach them. You are only in charge of what you are “doing next” because God approached you in worship and reminded you of the pain another is experiencing in relation to you.

So what are you going to do when you go to them? Try this:
1. I was meeting up with God and He reminded me of you.
2. I think you may be pained by me in some way.
3. Would you like to let me in on what you are feeling and thinking?
Then wait, listen and respond appropriately.

Some of your possible responses: Agreeing with them. Acknowledging their pain. Sharing in their sorrow. Asking forgiveness. Confessing your own. Granting forgiveness. Making amends. Making restitution. Praying together. Creating new boundaries. Waiting. Worshiping God together through Christ.

Reconciliation is a miracle work through the grace of Jesus and it cannot be rushed, but it must be started when the Spirit of God interrupts your worship. When God interrupts your worship, its what you do next that matters.

Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. Ephesians 2:16-18

Photo Credit: David Marcu

Make a difference against hate

http://www.preemptivelove.org

Its my birthday today. And I’m astonished to be 48. Thanks already to all who have reached out across our digital world to say hello and give me a happy birthday greeting.

Before you get to far along in your day I’d like to ask you to do something to mark the day with me. Join the coalition over at Preemptive Love and make a donation to assist with the needs of people fleeing Fallujah. Jeremy Courtney and friends are doing a great work, a peace-making work. They are undoing violence through love.

Today they are organizing heart surgeries and making food drops and giving aid and care and comforting words to a people in dire need.

I’m asking you to reach across the digital world and make a difference by giving.

Someone else will be glad too that you were born!

#happybirthday

Three aspects of healthy community

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15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Before the man in the Garden had fully experienced the joy and delight of human community, God set out for him the necessary framework for healthy community: vocation, permission, and prohibition. I appreciate Walter Brueggeman’s identification of these from God’s instructions to Adam.

Vocation: The Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it.

Permission: You may eat freely of every tree in the garden…

Prohibition: Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Healthy, life-giving community responds to God by keeping all three of these in tension.

Vocation is meaningful work and purpose. From our rest and relationship with God we discover and live into the callings of work, stewardship, service and contributing.

Permission is freedom, choice, and preference. We give freedom and permission for people and ourselves to discover and partake in the community and this world without condemnation.

Prohibition is the divine establishment of God’s “no” for our good. We maintain a moral boundary to our lives and relationships in which we restrain ourselves and our power in acknowledgement and love of God.

 

Consider these perversions of community

Vocation without permission becomes slavery and legalism.

Permission without prohibition becomes slavery and license.

Prohibition without vocation and permission becomes bondage and despair.

These contraptions of community are toxic and abusive, lacking God’s grace and truth. Each hollows out the soul of a person. Today we live with varying degrees of these depending on the common response to God’s grace and the human conscience. However, in the first human community pictured in the Genesis Two narrative, all three aspects where present for the man and the woman — and in their relationships they were without shame. For a time they lived fully in the gift of God’s “Yes” and “No.”

 

Life outside The Garden with Christ Jesus

Now, we live outside the garden and it seems to take tremendous effort to reestablish vocation, permission and prohibition in our communities. Although I believe the human condition is longing for the fulness of communion with God and each other we are often reluctant and even  resistant to the pathway of love and holiness set before us by Jesus. He is calling us to Himself so we may receive these good gifts through His Spirit today and participate in the redemption of all things. The Gospel changes everything including our response to the needs we posses by design for vocation, permission, and prohibition.

Ephesians 4:17-31 NLT

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

From Fans to Followers. Jesus calls us out of the crowd.

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Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

 

Its great to blend in and disappear in the crowd sometimes. There is an almost cellular compulsion to just be like the other. Part of maturing is the acceptance that I’m a lot like and a lot different from folks in a crowd. I can be a part of crowd, enjoying the music, the art of another, or the vibe of a public event. Most artists are going to be just fine with that. But, when Jesus gets in front of crowd he calls people out. He doesn’t seem to be content with “fans.” He wants followers.

His invitation is winsom. He truly does assume the best about the crowd. “If any of you wants to be my follower.” I like that. Jesus knew that being about the Father’s love-work would create attraction. You like hanging around together in this movement? So, you want to be a follower? Jesus is actually looking to move people from being “fans” to becoming “followers.”

Jesus also clarifies what its going to take to be a follower. Followers of Jesus have a disruptive calling: “You must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me.” People who have become fans like to look at and observe The Gospel at work. People who have become followers like to become participants in The Gospel work. It starts in them. Jesus transforms all of life and relationships through HIS life, death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel changes everything.

I’m naturally resistant to the Gospel changing everything. We all are! We are all infected with this resistance. So it does take the work of the Spirit to move us into a sacrificial, submitted-to-God, kind of life. There is an ease to the Christian life — Jesus said it himself — “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly.”  But there is also a narrowness to the Christian life that does constrain against my selfishness— “Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many enter through it.” Selfishness — the desire to be lord of my life when Jesus is the Lord — will be against what Jesus wants. Fans can do what they want. Followers do what Jesus wants. So, when I’m trying to live the Christian life in my own strength because “its what I should do” its really going to be a slog! On the way to the new life that comes from Him, I’m going to have to also attend to the death and burial of a “thing” resisting Jesus. That’s the cross of discipleship — the movement into obedience. There’s so much blessing on the other side of being aligned with Jesus! There’s no other way to be in His joy.