Where the Action Is

During my songwriting years, I thought the action happened in the recording sessions and on stage. During my time as a church planter, I thought the action happened in the constant growth and success of the church. During my stint as a running coach, I thought the action happened with excited athletes and winning teams. Now as I have gotten older, I have come to believe the action is somewhere else entirely—in fact, in the one place I would have never expected:

Silence is where the action is. What do I mean?

In a recent men's retreat I led for a church, the closing comments from the participants did not center around the teaching or the discussion but around the guided times of silence. The extended space given to them to journal, pray, and listen ended up being the place of real refreshment and challenge. Something important happened when they sat in the quiet. They were learning that silence is where the action is.

I too have felt the power of silence. A week ago, I was reading the story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand. As I was meditating, I was struck with my own resistance to Jesus' work in my life. Deep down, I have always tried to manage my redemption and healing, partly because it keeps me in control, but partly because I don't know what it means to trust someone that much with my heart. I was gently confronted with the sin of trying to save myself and the need to let Him to heal me in HIs own way. To be exposed and loved that way could only happen in the quiet on my back porch. I was learning again that silence is where the action is.

Finally, I just finished an article about silence from a molecular biologist in which the numerous spiritual and emotional benefits of silence were detailed. But what caught my surprise was a study of several groups of mice, each exposed to differing types of noise (white noise, ambient house sounds, classical music, etc.) except for the one exposed to silence. It was this latter group that experienced the most growth and retention of new neurons in the brain. If this is parallel to our experience as humans, it seems that our brains experience physical transformation in the quiet. Again, silence is where the action is. 

But what is it exactly about silence that makes it so compelling? For one thing, you can keep the mask on at work or at home. You can keep the front up with your friends or church community. But you can't bring the false self for long into the silence. At some point, the quiet pierces the posing and your deep longings and pains surface. But there is more. The Bible is the story of God's abiding presence and persistent work on our behalf. When we stop and enter the silence, we become more attuned to how God is present and working in our lives, right here, right now. In doing so, our lives unexpectedly become part of the Bible's continuing story. Finally, in the silence we discover that our being is not rooted in activity but in quiet communion with God. We humble ourselves and allow Him to serve us there, empowering us to go out and then serve others. 

In the end, silence is where the action is because it is where He is. Find a way to enter that silence today—and keep entering it. It is your peace, your strength, your very life.  

"The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him" (Hab. 2:20).

 

 

 

Searching For Heroes

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While attending a party over Christmas break, I started looking at some of the books laid out on the tables. One immediately caught my attention, simply titled The Greek Heroes. I opened to read, and for the next ten minutes, I was so absorbed in the pages that I forgot where I was. I knew I was supposed to read this book, even if it was one written for children. With permission from the owner, I borrowed it and began to read further. What seemed like innocent tales of Greek mythology awoke a sleeping lion inside. The story of Jason and the Argonauts and their journey to get the Golden Fleece touched the longing to be trained for a great work and do it with other men. The story of Theseus's wish to do something courageous to win his father's love pierced me with regret and hope in my own relationship with my father. The tale of Perseus and his slaying of the Gorgon spoke to the desire to do something worthy in life even if it means facing death.

Perhaps I read these stories when I studied Greek myths in the 8th grade, but many years later, they now take on an aura of something transcendent and true, something that gleams through all the errors of Greek polytheism. And that something is encapsulated in the title: The Greek Heroes. There it is—heroes. Whether we are aware of it or not, much of the story in our hearts is centered around searching for heroes and being disappointed in what we find. Even if we try to discount and suppress such a confusing desire, it still erupts when a movie catches us in tears over a heroic deed portrayed. This is exactly what happened in my reading of the Greek myths. I am still looking for a hero whom I can both worship and emulate.

But the real surprise is not what happened to me with those myths. The real surprise is discovering that the man at the center of the New Testament is the Great Hero, the Hero of all Heroes. How Jesus lived and died is heroic by every possible definition of the word—and even more so. All He did was for the sake of others: teaching them the truth, healing their diseases, and freeing them from their sin, and He kept doing this even when it cost Him His life. Jesus is the One we can truly worship as the Great Hero who will never disappoint. But there's more. We don't just emulate Him. Jesus calls us to follow so that He transform us into Himself. That's the whole point of our faith. We are to become like that Great One, that Epic Hero. We are to be turned into those who also gleam with a noble heart and do heroic deeds for the sake of others. We are no longer just to read about the heroes in myths or watch them in movies as a spectator. We are to enter and become one. 

Of course, saying it this way may sound amazing or inviting, but there is a fair warning given in all the stories and Scriptures. Heroes are asked to give their lives away for the sake of others. What I long to be, what you long to be, is hidden beyond reach, accessed only through the portal of self-sacrifice and death. Only love can hold us on this course. Only Jesus can guide us on such a course.

But if you ask Him, He will take you there.

That's why He came.

The Wonder of Newness

The beginning of a new year feels somewhat like the first day of school, the start of a job, or the commencement of a sports season. Except for the new year fireworks, they are all uniformly filled with possibility, opportunity, and untrammeled dreams. Resolutions are made, plans are delineated, and goals are set. The fresh gusts of hope set our hearts a-sailing. But the journey into newness at some point runs aground on the shoals of reality. Life as we know it now taints the best of hopes, tarnishes the best of dreams. Our longing for newness never matches our experience...until...

Until we meet the God of the New: "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Cor. 5:17). The trajectory of the Bible's story is always toward the new, not an annihilation of the old, but a re-creation of it, refurbishing with all of its original luster and shine—and even more so. But how do we enter such newness? How do we make this our experience? I got a taste of just how recently.

I have been meeting for some time with two young men, once former students of mine, now with their own families and jobs. The purpose of our meetings was to help them become more aware of God's presence and work in their lives. The classic term for this is spiritual direction. This week we met to review the year and what we have learned. I was astonished at what I heard. One of them shared how he is coming to see how much of his life has been run by shame and fear, shame over his failures and fear of failing others. Yet in that very place of raw awareness, of feeling like an abandoned orphan, God has been working powerfully to help him feel loved and accepted as a son. The other told how he is overcoming self-loathing and learning to feel comfortable for the first time in his own skin. He is allowing himself to be loved by the Father and that in turn is affecting how he interacts with others. He is both much more direct and honest and yet at the same time much more willing to love. 

As I listened, I felt the connection of hearing in them so much of my own struggle to leave the old and enter the new. Shame, fear of failure, self-loathing—all of these were once imbedded constructs in my old way of being, seemingly impervious to change, Yet, like both of them, I too have experienced the miracle of newness in all of these places. And so with the growing connection I felt with them, I also sensed a joy tinged with something approaching awe. I was listening in on the wonder of newness, the newness that God was creating inside them. We were all being ushered into a landscape of glory, light, and love. 

How did the three of us begin to enter such a landscape? By doing something really, really simple. Instead of making promises to work harder and try more, we simply began to note how God was already working in our lives. Each morning we went back through the previous day, noting both where we felt God's presence and where we slipped back into our old ways. One called forth praise and thanksgiving, the other confession of sin and prayer for healing. In so doing, we found that God had already been diligently at work to make us into new creatures. The problem is that we so often hadn't seen it and thus couldn't cooperate in the process.

So instead of making promises for the new year, maybe a better idea is to try to see more clearly how God is already at work, keeping His promise to make everything new. After all, His great business is newness: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43:19).

Christmas Rejection

Ever been rejected? Outright, in-your-face rejection? It hurts. It scalds. It stings. When I was in college, I pledged a fraternity my sophomore year with high hopes of joining. I had two close friends who were members, and they really wanted me to be a part of it. But as the pledge process continued, the fraternity at some point voted on whether or not to accept each pledge. I was rejected. I remember feeling as if I had been punched in the chest. I blew it off as if it didn't really matter, but that was just my way of coping. Deep inside, it solidified a pattern that I felt for years: I am the one on the outside never allowed in.

We all have our stories of rejection, from playground taunts to dating break-ups. The sting of them can now help us understand one of the great truths of Christianity: the rejection of Jesus. It began before he was even born with Joseph and Mary being turned away at the inn, necessitating labor and delivery in a cave used for animals. But the most piercing rejection (and perhaps the saddest verse in the New Testament) can be found in the opening verses of the Gospel of John. Here John paints an epic picture of the Son of God before His actual birth: He was the Word, the exact communication of what the Father was like; He was the agent behind creation, stamping His fingerprint on all matter; He was the brilliant light to all men, overcoming and conquering the darkness. With such a spectacular biography, the next description of Him strikes like a death blow:

"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1:10-11).

The Creator comes into the world and is not recognized by His creatures. The King of Israel comes home to His people and is not accepted by them. It is tragic, crushing, unthinkable, yet it happened. This is the rejection of the Incarnation of God in Jesus, the rejection of all that Christmas celebrates.

Think for a moment about what Jesus must have felt. Put yourself in His shoes. What would it be like to come home and have the door slammed in your face? What would it feel like to walk into your workplace and have everyone avoid you? Think of the sting He felt, the haunting hurt, the unremitting pain. The Incarnation begins with the joy of the angels and ends in the joy of the resurrection, but in between is this bruising and incalculable rejection. What does this have to do with our Christmas celebrations? Here is one answer:

To enter the joy of Christmas, we must also enter its sadness. I suggest this may be why we often don't enter this joy or why our holiday joy feels superficial, airy, and easily blown away. The deep joy of the angels at His birth and the disciples at His resurrection comes by walking through the tunnel of sadness over how sin has warped everything.

I have one suggestion for you this Christmas. Take some time to be still with the living Christ. Try to feel what He may have felt as He was misunderstood, rejected, beaten, and killed. Read John 1:10-11, but make sure you finish with verse 12: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Our acceptance of Him is not just joy for us as God's children, but joy for Jesus as well. Try to imagine how He may feel as One finally understood, accepted, and received.

Here is the true magic of this season, the true joy of Christmas. May it be yours this season.

Merry Christmas to all!

Bill