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“The Danger Of Not Finding God In The Ordinary.” Insights from Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine

I have probably typed out the sentence “radical is embodying the gospel in everyday, mundane life” a thousand times on my obscure little blog.  The reason I try to emphasize the importance of embodying the gospel in everyday life is because I believe we have the tendency to get bored with our average ho-hum existence and begin to wonder what is wrong with us. What if instead of always dreaming about a more dramatic, radical life we joined God in what he is doing in our quiet neighborhood, church, school and workplace? To spin it another way, what if the discontentment we are currently experiencing is a ruse to keep us from living out our faith right where God has strategically placed us?

Sensing JesusI first heard about “Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being” by Zach Eswine from Lore Ferguson on twitter. The book is incredibly well written and I love it (for many reasons) because it encourages us to see routine, everyday life as sacred and to seize the gospel opportunities all around us. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the book that I pray encourages you to embrace your life, right where you are at, as an opportunity to love God, love your neighbor and join in God’s ongoing redemptive work in the less glamorous arena of everyday life.

Exulting in Monotony

A placeless ambition can likewise rob us of the kind of happiness that God intends. J.W. Alexander noted this in his Thoughts on Preaching.

A pastor without care for locality becomes what Alexander called a “ceremonious visitor” of the people he serves. His body is present but his mind is always looking elsewhere for meaning and success. But “the minister of the gospel,” is meant to find the “source of happiness in his parochial work and social communion” that God gave to him. Alexander continues: “The genuine bond is as strong and tender as any on earth, and as productive of happiness. Think of this when you are tempted to discontent. What is it that really constitutes the happiness of a residence? Is it a fine house, furniture, equipage…large salary, wealthy pew holders? Nay, it is LOVE. It is the affection and mutual attachment. It is the daily flow of emotion, and commingling of interest in common sorrows and common joys; in the sick-room, and the house of bereavement, at the death-bed and the grave, at baptisms and communions…The declaration of what one believes, and the praise of what one loves, always give delight: and what but this is the minister’s work?”

Happiness with the people and place we are in confounds many of us. But what if this is what Paul meant when he said that he loved people, that they were his joy and his crown (Phil. 4:1; Thess. 2:19)?

With this thought, a sinking feeling infuriates the pounding within my chest. To dignify the ordinary with glory will require a radical shift in my habitual approach to life. In Chesterton’s words, like other pastors, I will have to relearn how to exult in monotony.

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”, and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.”

And now it dawns on me. Restless discontent is a kind of fatigue. When a finite creature covets omnipresence he loses sight of sight itself. Imagination becomes placeless. Detail loses relevance. Routine becomes boring; arrogance and impatience bid a person to never look twice or long before moving onto somewhere or to something else. To exult in monotony is to deepen roots. To deepen roots is to look twice and long at the smiles that happen at the A&P. Such awareness of life extends the shade we can give. And I remember Jesus of Nazareth-born in Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt, growing up in his particular place. The holy One of God with a local breath. My bloomless battle to give shade without roots, it seems, must be fought at this point. No longer can I imagine great work apart from local places. A global work is a local thing. A local work has global implications. This means I must inhabit wherever I am, differently. P. 66,67

Baby Son-John Mark McMillan

 

We thought you’d come with a crown of gold
A string of pearls and a cashmere robe
We thought you’d clinch an iron fist
And rain like fire on the politics
But without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother’s arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this baby son
Have you no room inside your heart
The inn is full, the out is dark
Upon profane shines sacred sun
Not ashamed to be one of us
Without a sword, no armored guard
But common born in mother’s arms
The government now rests upon
The shoulders of this baby son
Gloria, Allelu
Christ the Lord
We’ve longed for you

The Apostle Paul As A Nursing Mother

Paul is one of my favorite guys in Scripture. What’s not to like? Apostle, church planter, wrote most of the New Testament, courageously faced persecution in nearly every town he visited. Paul is the man.

I know that I have read the following passage many times before, but I was blown away when I read Paul’s description of himself in 1 Thessalonians 2:6-8…

“Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Did Paul really just refer to himself as a “nursing mother”? There are lots of interesting names that leaders come up with for themselves these days, but “nursing mother” is not one I have heard before. I’m kinda doubtful if “How To Lead Your Church Like A Nursing Mother” is hitting the Christian bookstores anytime soon. No conferences or even break out sessions with that kind of theme. That’s a shame.

When I think of a nursing mother I come up with words like loving, patient, kind, and selfless all for the sake of feeding and nourishing their precious child. This is how Paul thinks and feels about the church at Thessalonica!

We find this same type of sentiment in other places in 1 Thessalonians.

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…” 1 Thessalonians 2:17

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19

“For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3: 8-10

As a pastor I love to think about the future, make strategic plans, vision cast and work with others to achieve goals and objectives. Visionary, catalytic leadership is important for the spiritual health of the church, but without love it will all sound (and feel) like a clanging cymbal.

How does this metaphor of a nursing mother challenge the way we are doing ministry? How should this inform and shape our ministry philosophy? Do we feel the same about our church family?

Through Paul’s life and ministry we get a glimpse of Jesus and how he relentlessly, passionately loves each one of us. No matter what our role in the church might be, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians that deeply caring for and loving others is always priority number one.

How Can It Be-Lauren Daigle

Anesthetize: Overcoming The Desire To Numb The Pain Of Unmet Longings

“Thank God I got sober now so I could be hyper-sensitive for this series of humiliations.” -Meryl Streep in Postcards From The Edge

I still remember the conversation I had with a man who had gone through quite a few trials in his young life. He struggled with an addiction to cocaine but eventually he gave up his addiction and got clean. Not long after that he found out that his wife had a terminal disease and was going to die. After his wife died he needed to learn how to honestly deal with the pain of life without numbing himself with drugs. He was telling me about a time when he was at home and was contemplating having a beer. He was prisonnot thinking about getting drunk, just having a couple of drinks. From his perspective, nothing overtly wrong with a beer or two. What got me is that he, in that moment, sensed that the Holy Spirit was telling him not to have the drink. Instead of having a beer he was being told that he needed to stop self-medicating and actually feel the pain present in his life. He knew that his propensity was to do something, take something, to help him cope with the pain of life. He put the beer down and began the lifelong process of embracing the pain of life and looking for how God was going to meet him, heal him, where he was most deeply broken.

It makes me wonder how often we anesthetize ourselves throughout our daily lives? It may not be cocaine, it may be prescription medicine, alcohol, entertainment, food, shopping, pursuit of romance, career advancement, money, etc…

Here are a few thoughts I have when it comes to our tendency to escape our pain rather than meet God in it…

  1. Most likely we have tightened the stranglehold of an addiction in our life. Every time we turn to something other than God to deal with the pain of life or unmet expectations we enslave ourselves to something that can not possibly deliver what we need. Every compromise with sin makes it a little easier to give into it next time.
  2. We are telling God that he is not enough. When we give into an addiction we are making it very clear to ourselves and anyone else in our life that we do not believe that God is enough for us. We may not say that God is not enough out loud, but the way we live reveals what we truly believe.
  3. We are quenching (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieving (Ephesians 4:30) the Holy Spirit and keeping him from healing our brokenness. God loves us no matter what. Time and time again in Scripture (Luke 15) we see that God’s love for the prodigal knows no boundaries. Yet Scripture does warn us that, even as Christians, that there are repercussions if we continue our sinful habits. If we feel distant from God or that there is a serious lack of spiritual power in our lives it may be because we are trying to manage the sin in our lives instead of treating it like a cancer that wants to kill us.
  4. We keep from seeing how God was going to care for us and love us in our moment of desperation. We read in God’s Word that Jesus is (John 4:14) the living water that satisfies our deepest longings and thirsts. Perhaps we have gotten into the habit of giving into our temptation instead of patiently enduring the trial and experiencing God’s gracious provision in Christ.
  5. We may have given the devil a foothold in our life (Ephesians 4:17).  The Bible is clear that we are in a spiritual battle (1 Peter 5:8) and it would appear that continual, habitual sin may give the devil an undesired influence in our life.
  6. We keep from seeing and understanding why we are feeling the way we do. Our pain may be revealing something that we love too much. Is it possible that we feel desperate, angry, bitter, depressed, anxious because we love something or someone more than we should? If we numb ourselves instead of dealing with the pain we may never see the the many idols that are present in our lives.
  7. We reveal that we fail to understand that God uses hardships and trials (1 Peter 4:12) in our life to shape and mold us into the image of Jesus Christ. It is rather easy for us to dismiss the prosperity gospel as truly awful theology. Yet, how many times do we we demonstrate that we harbor a little gospel prosperity theology in our lives when we question God’s goodness in the middle of our trials? The Bible tells us that God redemptively uses suffering in our lives to spiritually transform us and make us more like his Son Jesus Christ.
  8. We fail to see what God is doing in mundane, everyday life. Is it possible that we have unrealistic expectations about what it means to walk with God? If so we may be tempted to escape and look for a quick fix to our unmet expectations. For some people following Jesus will mean giving up everything and moving to a new country for the sake of his kingdom. Sounds radical. Sounds exciting. For most people living as a Christian means living out our faith in the grind of everyday life. Jobs, raising children, sports, neighborhoods, friendships, hobbies are all a gift from God and his desire is that we live as salt and light in the middle of it all. Have we taken for granted what we already have been blessed with in Christ?

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World

What does it mean to be “radical” in everyday life? Is it possible to live a radical life for Jesus in the middle of daily chores, sports, parenting, school, etc…? Pastors, do you ever feel the weight of being someone you are not (in an age of celebrity pastors)? “Radical” is living everyday, mundane life with gospel intentionality. With that said, I found this podcast very interesting. Give it a listen! You will find the LINK below. (Trust me, you will be ENCOURAGED!!)

ordinary

Join Michael Horton on Steve Brown, Etc. for a freeing discussion of his new book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. You just may find that God has called you to be exactly where you already are.

Michael Horton is host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The White Horse Inn. He’s also the author of more than 20 books and a professor at Westminster Seminary California.

Here is the LINK.

Have we lost our awe?

I was recently reading through the book of Colossians (a book saturated with the gospel in nearly every verse) and was struck with absolute amazement regarding this passage:

[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [18] And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. [19] For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The way in which these two paragraphs are related is what brings me a sense of awe.

[21] And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, [23] if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

This may be one of the most beautiful Christological passages in all of Scripture. In verses 15-20 Paul is singing the praise of Jesus; the image of God, first born of all creation, creator of the entire universe, preeminent over everything, all the fullness of God dwells in him and through the cross he will redeem the world that he created. Breathtaking…

Then Paul makes a transition in verse 21, “And you…” The connection that Paul makes is that Jesus, powerful beyond description, has come to earth, died on a cross so that he can make us “holy and blameless and above reproach…”

Jesus (preeminent Creator) has done this for me. For you. How does that make you feel? The way we answer that question may reveal, more than we know, the condition of our spiritual life.

I am glad to say that as I was reading this passage I was momentarily caught up with a sense of awe about Jesus coming to die for a sinner like me. Paul’s writing in Colossians made me think of something Paul Tripp wrote in his book “Dangerous Calling.”

“Awe of God must dominate my ministry, because of the of the central missional gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give people back their awe of God. A human being who is not living in a functional awe of God is profoundly disadvantaged human being. He is off the rails, trying to propel the train of his life in a meadow, and he may not even know it. The spiritual danger here is that when awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced by our awe of ourselves. If you are not living for God, the only alternative is to live for yourself. So a central ministry of the church must be to do anything it can to be used of God to turn people back to the one thing for which they were created: to live in a sturdy, joyful, faithful awe of God.”

Allow me to be transparent for a moment, I find it to be incredibly challenging to live in this world with a deep sense of awe for God. There are things all around me that clamor for my affections, worship and awe. I do believe this is why it is so important for Christians to daily immerse their hearts and minds in the truth and power of the gospel. When we daily reflect on the gospel we are empowered to say no to idolatry and to live a life that truly reflects the immense value and worth of Jesus Christ.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” -Albert Einstein

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