Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Making Space to Listen

I had a pretty rare opportunity yesterday: I just got to sit (and ski) in silence for about 2 hours. I spent a few hours skiing by myself, which is always a bit awkward at first but totally enjoyable in the end. It’s shocking how little time I spend with no access to my phone, computer, or human conversation. I just don’t spend much time alone, in silence.

A dozen chairlift rides in silence and solitude is good for the soul.

It was really nice to be able to just sit in peace, reflect on life and ministry, listen for God’s voice, and pray for a whole slew of people and needs that came to mind. It’s insane how easily-distracted I can get. So many people, responsibilities, and devices clamor for our attention, robbing our focus. So many issues are urgent, so many fires need extinguished, and so many calls need answered. The amount of needless distractions that bombard our senses each minute are simply too much to handle.

No wonder I don’t hear God’s voice enough…I’m not actively listening.

I’ve created a system where I can too easily be interrupted by unnecessary and unhelpful distractions, failing to guard my time and energy, and allowing my focus and clarity to be intruded upon. I have habits that steal my attention and distract me from what’s most crucial. And I’m guessing a lot of you are no different.

So, what if we vowed to not let our days, hours, and minutes be cluttered by the unimportant? What if we didn’t pull our phone from our pocket or purse at every free moment? What if we were more intentional about when and how we unplug and disengage from technology? Or what if we were more intentional about when it might be helpful and peaceful to mindlessly and peacefully disassociate? What if there was a time in our schedule that we were simply unreachable? What if we scheduled time into each day (or hour) to unplug, be silent, sit in peace, and be open to hearing the voice of God?

--> I know I need better rhythms around silence, solitude, and active listening. I know I need better boundaries for my time and technology. I know I need moments where I’m not a slave to the urgent. So let’s commit to being people who live life differently when it comes to our time, energy, technology, stress, and work. Let’s make space to actually sit in silence, enjoy solitude, listen for God’s voice, and spend time in prayer. That sounds like a good and peaceful way to live.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The (Peaceful) Hero We Need

In a world rife with anger, retaliation, violence, and war, we desperately need people of peace—both historic and current—to guide us into nonviolent ways of being human together. In a period where the most wealthy, powerful, and famous people in our world too-often ascend to their station through greed, corruption, lies, and deceit, we need new sorts of heroes—from both the past and the present—to demonstrate and steer us toward a better direction.

I’m suggesting that one such historical figure is the biblical character of Esau.

For those unfamiliar with the earliest stories of the Bible, Esau was the oldest son of a man named Isaac…but only by a few seconds. Esau had a twin brother, Jacob, who was born grasping his heel, desperately striving to emerge first. It was this act that earned Jacob his name (which means ‘trickster’), but this trick would pale in comparison to his future hijinks. Two deceitful stories stand out.

The first devious and dishonest deed came in the form of Jacob robbing Esau of his birthright for a mere bowl of soup, as his brother died of hunger. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s desperation, stealing from him the blessings that were promised to the firstborn son in this ancient culture. Jacob’s second fraudulent feat was pretending to be Esau (all the way down to wearing fur on his skin to emulate his hairy brother) in order to trick their father into blessing him instead.

Jacob was a cheat and a swindler—and his actions could have ruined Esau’s life. In fact, Jacob assumed they had; which is why he runs away in fear of Esau’s wrath and freaks out when he’s coming home and hears that Esau is marching out to meet him, with 400 men at his side. Jacob is terrified, devising a plan to split up his camp so Esau can only murder half of Jacob’s family. He trots out to meet his brother, prepared to offer him a massive peace offering and perhaps meet his death.

But instead, when Esau saw Jacob from far off, for the first time in years, he “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

Esau was a person of peace. He had been angry, but he learned to forgive. He didn’t harbor his bitterness, waiting for his opportunity to exact revenge. He showed mercy and love. And even more, when Jacob offered Esau a peace offering of flocks and herds of animals, Esau’s response was, “I already have plenty.” How great is that?! The text doesn’t say anything about the quantity of Esau’s wealth, but that line seems pretty unambiguous about the quality of Esau’s life. He’s living a good life. He’s a person of peace—both internally and with others.

Which is why Esau is such a perfect example of the type of people we need in our world right now. We need people who will forgive when wronged. We need people who don’t seek retaliation, but peace. We need people who don’t avoid in fear, but embrace in love. We need people who aren’t always striving for more, but can confidently and contentedly say, “I already have plenty.” We need more people of peace.

So, may we learn to be like Esau—at peace within our soul; and at peace within our world.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Who Is This God?

The Bible is a lot of things. But one important aspect of scripture is that it is a long, arching, metanarrative about the true nature of God. What is God like? How does God act? How is this God different than all the other gods? How does God behave differently—more just, loving, kind, and redemptive—than us, His creation? It’s one of the major, recurring themes of scripture: who is this God?

The book of Genesis offers us plenty of (often obvious) ways to think about the nature of God, but as I was re-reading the opening chapters of the Bible this past week, I noticed an example of God’s true nature that I’d never seen before.

In Genesis 9, just shortly after the flood waters have receded and Noah’s family has emerged from the ark, we read about a pretty strange, undetailed story. Noah has planted a vineyard, harvested the grapes, become drunk on the wine, and passed out, naked, in his own tent. But here’s where the text seems to leave out some details. Noah’s son, Ham, sees his drunk, naked father and tells his two brothers, whereupon they proceed to moonwalk into his tent, eyes closed, and cover his naked body.

It’s a weird story, sure, but the details we receive in Genesis don’t seem to justify the response that follows. Noah proceeds to curse the youngest son of his youngest son. For some reason, Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, is cursed by his grandfather, Noah. He wishes for him to be a slave to his brothers and uncles. It’s an odd reaction from Noah—a strange story about someone we applaud as a hero of the faith.

But if we fast-forward a few hundred years and stick with this theme of ‘Canaan,’ we catch a glimpse of what God is really like. In Genesis 12, when Abra(ha)m emerges in the story, Canaan re-emerges. When God yanks Abram from Ur and leads him to the land He will show him, that final stopping place ends up being Canaan. The great covenant of Abraham—the promise of great land, name, and people—originates in Canaan. What a crazy twist in the story!

The land of Canaan was cursed by Noah, but blessed by God. God has giant plans of blessing the entire earth through Abram and his family, and it’s all going to begin…in Canaan.

Because that’s what this God is like. He’s a God of blessing, not curse. He’s constantly taking what we mean for evil and using it for good. In all things, He’s working for the good of those who love him. He’s a God who works blessing into all the places we are prone to curse. He takes the so-called ugly, broken, no-good, overlooked, underappreciated people and places of our world and reminds them that was never what they were and they, too, can be people and places of blessing. That is who He is.

So, in our efforts to serve God and follow Christ, may we also be people of blessing—who step into the cursed places of our world and transform them into places of beauty and hope.