The Beauty of an Open Mind

There is a wondrous open-mindedness about children and an insatiable desire to learn from life. An open attitude is like an open door–a welcoming disposition toward the fellow travelers who knock on our door during the middle of the day, the middle of the week, or the middle of a lifetime. Some are dirtballs, grungy, disheveled, and bedraggled. The sophisticated adult within me shudders and is reluctant to offer them hospitality. They may be carrying precious gifts under their shabby rags, but I still prefer clean shaven Christians who are neatly attired, properly pedigreed, and who affirm my vision, echo my thoughts, stroke me, and make me feel good. Yet my inner child protests, “I want new friends, not old mirrors.”

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.

“Unless you become as little children…” [Matthew 18:3]

I fear for the lawyer whose only life is corporate tax, the doctor whose whole existence is someone else’s prostate, the business executive whose single responsibility is to his stockholders, the athlete who puts all his eggs in an 18-inch basket, the theologian who thinks the world can be saved by theology… A closed mind kills marriages and human relations; it deadens feelings and sensitivities; it makes for a church that lives in a thousand and one tunnels, with no communication and no exit.

(Walter Burghardt, Grace on Crutches: Homilies for Fellow Travelers; p. 144)

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either/or–either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both/and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course, the open mind does not accept everything indiscriminately–Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moët Chandon and vinegar. It does not absorb all propositions equally like a sponge, nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.

~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (pp.65-66)

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Book Review: Christ+City (Dennis)

The trend of writing about the city has just begun to catch fire. Books like Tim Keller’s Center Church and Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard’s Why Cities Matter are just a couple of the growing collection of books being written today addressing the trends of the city, significant of cities, and what it means for the Christian church today. Jon Dennis, too, puts his ideas into the growing conversation with his book Christ+City: Why the Greatest Need f the City is the Greatest News of All.

Unlike the other books which try to address the city from many different angles, this book seems to take a particular vantage point on behalf of Christians. Jon Dennis described this in a recent Interview with Um & Buzzard from The Gospel Coalition; he was/is looking to equip his people with a healthier, more biblically-based understanding of the city. Essentially, this book is written with the intention of equipping his believers (and whoever else would care to listen) with a theology of cities and a hope for cities being renewed by the Gospel.

He speaks a lot about the potential for city renewal and building the expectancy for God to do something in their midst. He speaks a lot on the unique opportunities we have with this growing trend and that we ought to be adapting to it to remain effective in the future.

While there are many books on cities & Christianity being published, I think this one is useful and will help keep a particular eye on how the Gospel is the answer to many of the issues unique to cities (and all the issues we ought to be addressing). Take some time to pick it up, read through it, and pray to God what your involvement ought to be; people are headed to the cities in record masses, the Gospel ought to be in their midst as they do so.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Pain, Sorrow, Grieving, and the Gospel

“[We do not] grieve as others do who have no hope.”  ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Grief and sorrow are not wrong (see Acts 8:2 and John 11:35), but in our grief we must not exhibit hopelessness. There are plenty of Bible passages that point to the hope we have as Christians (cf. Job 11:18, 13:15; Psalm 33:22, 42:5; Prov. 23:18; Isaiah 8:17; Jeremiah 31:17; Lamentations 3:24; Romans 8:24; 1 Peter 1:3 just to name a few) and there’s something very real about this hope in our God (see Romans 5:5). It’s not just a concept to discuss but a reality to embrace.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that can sometimes be a truth that feels so far off and distant that it doesn’t feel real to us, right?

I find that term to be extremely relevant to me right now… “brutally honest.”

Without bearing the troubles of my soul for the world to see at the click of a button, let me just say that there is significant pain in my life right now–pain that brings me to my knees and confronts me with deep sorrow and heartache; pain that make me think of Romans 8:26 (out of context or not) when it talks about “groanings too deep for words”. All of us either have or will experience this sort of pain–a deep rooted, can’t shake it sort of pain.

So what do we do with it? How is this hope helpful now?

When looking at those words again–brutally honest–I think of the Psalms. Have you looked at them recently? I used to think they were just happy prayers of rejoicing, disconnected from the very real essence of the emotions that I feel when I am struggling with things deeper than my words could express.

But look again.

In Psalm 22, David is crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (v.1-2)

We can relate to this, right? This sort of deep deep sorrow; a deep pain or impossible to describe struggle where we need God’s intervention; we need Him to step in. So what does David do about it? Does he call out for God to send down angels to take him out of his situation? Does he forsake God because He is seemingly absent in his pain and heartache? Let’s keep reading.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-5)

David reminded Himself of the trustworthiness of God; that God is always true to His character (Hebrews 13:8) and that when man cries out to God, they are rescued.

Now I will make one brief mention that this “rescue” is not always what we had in mind. God is not a genie in a bottle granting us the wishes we ask of Him, but we can trust that if we are going through something.. God has a reason for it. Before you write this off as just another “look at the bright side” blog, know that I have not made it to that rescue yet, but then again neither did David in Psalm 22. He was still experiencing that pain, that sorrow, that deep sense of grieving when he confessed the trustworthiness of God.

That is the hope we can have, and that–I believe–is something that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (listed above) gets at. We grieve. We hurt. We have pain sometimes that just tears us apart, but even in that we have an abiding hope. We can look forward to a time that we are rescued, that it all will make sense. Sometimes this rescue and this hope doesn’t become a reality to some until death when they are united with Christ in Heaven, but please hear my plea:

Christian, there is hope.

I still don’t have all the answers. I still am angry with God for the pain I’m experiencing (I said we were being brutally honest, right?). I still don’t know why this is happening to me. I still wish I could do something to make this go away.

But even in the midst of all of this.. there is hope. And that is what I can cling to when everything else around me is shaking.

Take a second to read Hebrews 12:26-28; God sometimes shakes up things in our lives–relationships (ie friendships or a significant other), jobs, comforts, life plans–to establish unshakeable truths about Him in our lives; to make them real to us. To remind us that we look towards a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. That we strive, as Romans 8:19 says, with eager longing towards that day.

At the end of the day, we can have this (abiding) hope because Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus bore our shame, our guilt, and our suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2, Jeremiah 33:8). He is referred to as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus is not unfamiliar with our pain and suffering, but well acquainted with it, and because of that, we can draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16).

There is hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Grief and Joy

 

It’s the grief that makes you go to your resources. It makes you go to your roots as a Christian. It makes you go to the gospel. It makes you look at what Jesus has done for you. That’s what it does. The grief pushes you toward the joy, and it enhances the joy. The joy kicks on like a heat furnace and overwhelms the grief, but it’s there. I’ll go so far as to say if you get into grief, if you get into a time of trouble, and you have no tears and you have no problem and you say, ‘I’m just praising God,’ that is thought control. That’s brainwashing. That’s the way the cults operate. That’s some kind of psychological control.

 

It’s not supernatural. It’s not the way the gospel works. Don’t you see? The second principle is that a Christian is both happier and sadder at the same time. The gospel makes you a far more sensitive person, a far more feeling person, but at the same time a person who is feeling because you’re more hopeful than anybody else, a person who is able to sense and see the grief because you have a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

~ Tim Keller

Tradecraft: Being “On Mission”

Why is it sometimes difficult for people on mission to relate to unbelievers? What are good ways to have meaningful conversations?

I think that those of us “on mission” have progressively more and more Christian friends and fewer and fewer non-christian friends. I know it’s easy for me to get into a “holy huddle” and tend to have the desire to reach the others, but don’t often branch out of that because I know it will be uncomfortable and unknown.

To be honest, I play it too safe and selfishly keep it to myself.

——

One way to relate and to have meaningful conversations is to:

1) LISTEN. Don’t just listen with the intent to reply, or to use their words against them to prove your apologetic. Listen out of genuine care for the person, and ask God to open your heart up to them.

2) BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. If you do not have a relationship with someone, little to no trust has been built, and the things you are saying will not hold as much weight. God uses our investment in peoples’ lives to cultivate Gospel Opportunities and chances to not only talk about the Gospel in meaningful ways, but to be living in step with the Christian faith and joyfully serving our brother/sister.

3) PRAY. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. I can modify someone’s behavior with fluent speech, but I cannot change a heart. We don’t need to be “made better,” we need to be “made alive,” and this is something only God can do. Being on mission forces us into a place of discomfort, vulnerability, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, but we can find great comfort in knowing that God has promised to be a firm foundation amidst a world in chaos and constant change (2 Tim 2:19), that in the midst of storms Jesus is our sovereign peace (Matt 8:23-27), and that the Word of God will NEVER return void (Isaiah 55:11).

I can take great comfort in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

May we trust that God is doing abundantly more than all we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21), and trust that it is not our eloquent speech or memorized facts that will draw people to Jesus, it’s the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ Himself.

Book Review: Who Do You Think You Are? (Driscoll)

I am admittedly posting this review before finishing up the book, but I feel that I have a solid enough grasp on the direction, intention, and contribution of this book that it will be just as beneficial.

This book, for me, definitely seems like a little bit of a different perspective than the typical Mark Driscoll books of old. Being a part of the Acts 29 Network, and even using a couple of his books for Deacon School curriculum, I consider myself somewhat educated on the way Driscoll does and communicates certain things. With this book, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air. It’s as if this concept really captured his affections and truly directed the writing of the book.

This book serves as a guided commentary of sorts through the book of Ephesians and examines the concept of identity.

Where do you find your identity? WHO or WHAT may determine your identity? How does your identity affect who you are, what you do, and how you think? And most importantly, how does our identity affect our relationship with God?

All of these questions are addressed and wrestled through within the text.

If you’ve been opposed to Driscoll in the past because of his brash style, abrupt tone, and proud demeanor, I would encourage you to pick this book up and give it a fair chance. He appears to me as tender, caring, and well-versed in this topic, and I would argue that this could be the single most important thing for us to “get” as Christians.

God must be the foundation of our identity or else it’s idolatry, and I believe this book is a much needed contribution to the concept of our identity in Christ and what it looks like to functionally, practically, prayerfully, and devotionally live out of that identity to focus our lives on giving Christ glory.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Contentment and Satisfaction through Suffering

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in self and the world. I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.”

But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with Him has come through suffering.”

The pearl of greatest price is the glory of Christ.

Thus, Paul stresses that in our sufferings the glory of Christ’s all-sufficient grace is magnified. If we rely on Him in our calamity and He sustains our “rejoicing in hope,” then He is shown to be the all-satisfying God of grace and strength that He is.

If we hold fast to Him “when all around our soul gives way,” then we show that He is more to be desired than all we have lost.

Christ said to the suffering apostle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded to this: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

So suffering clearly is designed by God not only as a way to wean Christians off of self and onto grace, but also as a way to spotlight that grace and make it shine. That is precisely what faith does; it magnifies Christ’s future grace. The deep things of life in God are discovered in suffering.

So it was with Jesus Himself: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). The same book where we read this also tells us that Jesus never sinned (4:15).

So “learning obedience” does not mean switching from disobedience to obedience. It means growing deeper and deeper with God in the experience of obedience. It means experiencing depths of yieldedness to God that would not have been otherwise demanded.

Desiring God, Multnomah Books (Colorado Springs, CO), pages 265–267