Monthly Archives: November 2014
The pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, were almost decimated after the Winter of 1620 killed half their community.
The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)
Historically, Thanksgiving refers to a kind of absurd generosity.
A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.
Thanksgiving comes from generosity.
But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.
When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?
Paul says that true thanksgiving comes not from our generosity, but from God’s.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).
This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.
This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.
Thanksgiving is born in people who have experienced life in Christ.
And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.
I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,
O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.
“I think I know what’s wrong with me now: I’m spirituality mature, but emotionally immature. I have a lot of spiritual knowledge, but I’m not very good at managing my emotions.”
To give you a little background, I was in a season of my life where I was trying so hard to be spiritual and productive for God, yet feeling more stagnant and disconnected from him than ever.
His eyes widened as he replied, “You need to read this book right now.”
The book he recommended was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS), by Peter Scazzero.
Until this point, I’d never really heard about it, even though it’s been around for a while. I was curious about why the good doctor seemed so convinced I needed to read it. When it came in the mail, I took one look at the subtitle and laughed. It said,
“It’s impossible to be spirituality mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Before cracking open the first page, I knew this book was written for me. Chances are, it’s probably written for you too.
You only have to look at the title to guess that EHS is all about emotional health.
Broadly speaking, emotional health has to do with expressing or managing the emotions we feel. Practically speaking, it plays out in the way we interact with others. Scazzero’s entire premise is that without emotional health, you have no spiritual health either. The two are inextricably woven; really, the book is about both emotional and spiritual health. For a person to grow into a healthy disciple of Christ, they need to be concerned with managing emotions and cultivating their spiritual life (contemplative spirituality he calls it). The unambiguous diagnosis that emerges from the book, however, is that many contemporary Christians neglect either emotional health, or contemplative spirituality in the process of discipleship. But if you lack either of these, you aren’t growing in a meaningful way at all. What is absent in most Christian’s lives is not contemplation–otherwise, this would be a book about the spiritual disciplines. What’s missing is a Scriptural plan for managing emotions. Says Scazzero,
When we do not process before God the very feelings that make us human, such as fear or sadness or anger, we leak. Our churches are filled with ‘leaking’ Christians who have not treated their emotions as a discipleship issue. Grieving is not possible without paying attention to our anger and sadness. Most people who fill churches are ‘nice’ and ‘respectable.’ Few explode in anger—at least in public. The majority, like me, stuff these ‘difficult feelings,’ trusting that God will honor our noble efforts. The result is that we leak through in soft ways such as passive-aggressive behavior (e.g., showing up late), sarcastic remarks, a nasty tone of voice, and the giving of the ‘silent treatment.’ (143-144)
Scazzero’s book structure is simple.
In the first half of the book, he explains “what an emotionally unhealthy spirituality looks like” (p.2). You won’t get far in the book before you know whether the book is for you or not. In chapter three, he offers a clear solution: a marriage of emotional health with contemplative spirituality. This is the hinge of the book. The remaining half of the book offers a pathway to EHS. One that actually works.
Of the various pathways to Christian spiritual formation, there are two streams from which I have thoroughly benefitted: the Reformed tradition, with it’s panoramic view of God’s glory and emphasis on the Scriptures; and the Contemplative mystics, with their emphasis on the indwelling presence or God. One thing that always struck me about these two streams is their respective vernacular when it comes to growing in Christ. The Reformed tradition often speaks of looking outward to God who is holy other, and the contemplative stream often uses refers the believer inward to God who dwells within. One of the things I appreciated the most from Scazzero is that he marries these concepts together, as mutually compatible. He isn’t the first one to do this—there is a rich history of Reformed contemplatives at our fingertips who teach these things. Unfortunately, many of today’s books on spirituality are weighted in only one of these directions. It is refreshing to hear both “inward” and “outward” coalesce in Scazerro. For example, when he explains how emotional health keeps us from “self-absorbed narcissism” (61), while contemplative spirituality keeps us from getting exhausted as it “binds us to the living God” (155). In other words, emotional health keep us from imploding; contemplative spirituality keep us from burning out.
But it’s not for everyone.
The draw of this book lies in the problem it’s attempting to discuss. If you are emotionally stable, deal with conflicts well, have a rich inner life, processed your past hurts constructively, and are deeply self-aware of your own weaknesses, it’s probably not going to impress you very much. But if even one of these things rings a bell, you need to get this book.
As the beginning of my post betrays, I have experienced firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to grow in my relationship with Christ. In most cases, it’s because attention is brought to bear on only one area of life, such as the intellect, or habits. But the human personality is complex and beautiful. As the Psalmist said, “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Ps. 64:6). While emotional health is not all that makes up a person, it is an important and deeply-encompassing part of the human soul, and ironically, one of the most neglected areas of discipleship in the church. For that reason, I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels spiritually dry, spiritually stagnant, or on the verge of burnout. I also recommend it for anyone that just wants to walk deeper with God and others.
Where to buy it.
In my last post I talked about the beauty and importance of simplicity.
Now, a few suggestions for practicing this. In his acclaimed book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster offers 10 principles for simplicity. It was written a decade ago, and yet is surprisingly relevant. I will mention each one, followed by a fitting quote. Then I will punctuate each of them with a successful personal experience, or a personal failure. Since some of these points connected with me more than others, the length or brevity of my “punctuations” will reflect that.
1. Buy things for usefulness rather than status
“Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.”
This is cutting advice considering the city of Santa Barbara (or any part of Southern California). We are known more for image than we are for utility. And it’s hard to separate the two sometimes. I’ll admit, the jackets I wear to keep warm at night, also look really good! Rather than beat ourselves up over this one, I think it more helpful to rephrase this point in this way: “Do the things I own promote my quality of life or just my standard of living?” I hope for more of the former.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
“Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control…How do you discern an addiction? Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions” (91).
I gave an exhaustive sermon on Alcohol and the Christian back in 2013. It’s my most viewed sermon to date. I suspect the reason for its popularity is two-fold: Santa Barbara really likes their alcohol, and no one has ever given a full-blown sermon on alcohol here before. Now, there are countless Christians who can imbibe without sinning; there are also many other who cannot. I think it’s at this point that a careful distinction needs to be made about what we are free to do. Christian liberty means you have the gospel-freedom to partake (if you can), but it also means you have the gospel-freedom to abstain if you should! Some Christians drink too much (Eph 5:18), or against their consciences (1 Cor 8:12), or against their health (Isa 5:11), or against a weaker brother (Rom 14:21) when they, in fact, need to stop. They are deceived if they think drinking, for them, is a freedom. As the apostle Paul posits, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12, NIV). If you are mastered by anything, it’s not freedom. It’s slavery. In this case, true simplicity prevents you from developing a bondage to an otherwise good thing.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away
“Masses of things that are not needed complicate life…most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice” (92).
This is a hard one, because I like my stuff. But we are graciously forced to downsize periodically because of the size of living in Santa Barbara. There’s simply not enough five bedroom homes to accommodate our love for things. This makes life easier, and, well…simple.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry
“Timesaving devices almost never save time.”
I was one of these guys. I stayed in lines during the Steve Jobs era, waiting to be one of only thousands with the next best thing in their hands. Even though I knew the feeling would dissipate in a month, it was worth it to be among the select few in the world that had something most others did not. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t shake it. Then one day, I took Abby into a pool. With my iPhone in my pocket. For forty-five minutes. I tried to resurrect that thing using every Pinterest solution imaginable. From sticking it in a jar of rice for seven days straight, to laying it on a bed of rice in an oven at low heat. Nothing. I looked up my contract to see if I had any upgrades available. Fall of 2015. Ugh. Someone graciously lent me an older version. And I’ve been learning to slow down. I had to cut out most of the apps that used to take up so much of my time, due to the lack of space. Social media stopped running as fast as it used to, and I found myself wondering if it was worth waiting five minutes to check Facebook statuses that I know are just going to be about food, ex-boyfriends, and photos of people’s babies. Because of the pool accident, my life has gotten simpler–albeit in a small way. However, the magic was in the two weeks before my friend lent me a phone, and I had nothing. No way to search social media. No phone calls. No texts. No email. I hated it at first. But within days, I felt like I had come alive. I know that sounds sensational, but it really was true for me. I spent more time in the Scriptures than I have for a long time. More time in a contemplative posture of prayer. More time with my daughter. And wife. And God. I’ve since gotten a phone back, but with some semblance of simplicity to go with it. And it’s been worth it.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them
“If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure” (93).
No one owns much in Santa Barbara, so I have nothing to say about this one, haha.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation
“Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof'” (Ps. 24:1).
I’ve been surfing a block from my office. And there is nothing that will silence the unending flow of emails in the brain than being in the ocean. Catching a wave is pretty darn intoxicating too. What’s your “creation” experience?
7. Look with healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes
“They are a trap.”
When I was a teenager, I racked up thousands on a credit card, because I didn’t know any better. Those cards are payed off, but the memories remain. My friend, Gerald Torres once told me, “If you live within your means, you’ll be happy. It’s as simple as that.” I’ve found those words to be true.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech
Passive aggression. That’s when you are indirectly hostile towards another person. Perhaps through a backhanded remark, an irritated comment spoken below the breath, or a Facebook status that doesn’t name anyone yet is clearly intended for a specific person to see. This is not how Jesus ever spoke. He was clear, direct, and honest. The reason we are not, is because we are too insecure with ourselves to be honest in conflict. Or because we fear. We fear the tension that will escalate when we deal with the hard issues in an interpersonal relationship. So we cover the truth, mask our feelings, and don’t say anything. Then we attach some level of piety and self-righteousness to our (in)action, thinking we took the high road. But we didn’t. This is evidenced by the fact that we cannot let it go. At least in our minds. We play the scenario over and over in our heads, thinking of what we could have said, or should have said. And we get angry while we do it. All of this anger is directed towards that person who originally upset us. We could have dealt with it at the beginning, but not it’s building up steam. Then when said person enters the room, we release a little passive-aggressive steam, couched in a note of sarcasm. And both sides of the relationship suffer for it. All of this can be prevented by being honest and forthright. Go figure.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
Welp, that’s almost everything in my kitchen, my closet, my car, and my office. To do this with any shred of integrity, you’d have to make your own clothes, ride a bike instead of a car, buy organic veggies, free-range meat, and American products. Guess how much that would cost? Do any of us do this? Why or why not?
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God
Imagine a life that looks like this. Not an individual life, but corporate. Imagine everyone in your church free from status-envy, addictions, stinginess, the race to be cutting-edge, the obsession with belongings; or if we all developed a care for our surroundings, an aversion to debt (except to owe love); if we were easy to understand, and said what we meant, and if we all worked together to free the oppressed, and ran from anything that did not look like God’s will. I think our church would start to look set apart in Santa Barbara, yet, strangely alluring as well. Why? Because we don’t need anything except what we already have. What a glaringly different and attractive way to live. Such is the power of simplicity. No wonder Paul’s quirky instruction…
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)