Peace and Pretend



Peace is a particularly tough idea for me to write about. I struggle with having peace in my heart. We all have areas to grow in; this is definitely mine. So I’m not writing here as a master of peace and contentment. Instead, I’m on the journey toward it and am writing as a sojourner. I follow the Prince of Peace while just trying to experience some peace.
Have you ever sat near a lake at sunrise? There is a stillness there. A wonderful, calming silence. The boats haven’t started stirring. The waves are non existent. A quiet, serene stillness. Water like a sheet of reflective glass mirroring the sky and the soul.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (ESV)
It’s in those moments of stillness that we can totally reflect on God, uninterrupted by the busyness of the world. We can be enveloped by his presence. Transformed. Prompted. Encouraged. Now, you may not have a lake, but you need to nurture that still place. A place where God's presence can feel real to you.
This is nice and all - essential for spiritual development, but what do we do when the waves are there? When the stillness eludes us? Because life sure seems more like the lake with raging waves than the calm stillness that is briefly there in the morning. There are storms. There are boaters. There are waves crashing into the shore slowly eroding it. What do we do in the midst of the waves?
There is a particular fascinating story of Jesus with his main followers. They were traveling together across the sea of Galilee when a storm arose. They were all freaking out. Kind of like we do when storms arise in our life. They should have got it. Jesus wasn't going to let them die in a storm. We should get it to, but we don't. Here's the key part of the story.
“'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:38b-41 (ESV)
Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing? I like the normal language that Eugene Peterson used in the Message. "Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?"
I'm sure if we are honest with ourselves that we have prayed that way ourselves at time.
Jesus can rebuke the waves. Literal waves. So he can also bring stillness to our souls. The sad reality is that we don't always experience that. So what do we do until that truth becomes our reality?
Pretend. That’s right. Totally fake it. As a GenXer, we value authenticity. It's like our generation's rallying cry in the midst of untucked flannels while wrapping ourselves in a smothering and debilitating blanket of cynicism. Valuing authenticity is great and all. It really is, but there are times when we need to let our beliefs override our natural desires and start pretending in order to shape our heart into what God wants it to be. Pretending is actually training. So let’s start pretending. When the waves are crashing and we don't just feel like it, let's start pretending. When we the boat is rocking and Jesus is asleep, let's start pretending instead of freaking out.
We pastors do this all the time. We have a grumpy Sunday morning. Maybe a fight with our loved one. Maybe struggles with our kids in getting them loaded into the van. But then we have to get up there and give a sermon like we are in a good mood. And there is nothing wrong with that. We pretend because we know that we need to do what God wants us to do. The pulpit isn’t the time or the place for me to not be outwardly grumpy despite feeling grumpy inside.
Pretending isn’t only for pastors. All of us have to pretend at times too.
The odd thing about pretending is that when we acknowledge that we pretend, we are acknowledging that we are not perfect on the inside. We are acknowledging that our belief in how we are to behave is important. We are acknowledging that we are going to be faithful to what God wants over our feelings.
So start pretending. It’s liberating in a way. It’s not like you have to be perfect to start behaving in the right way. You don’t have to have perfect desires or perfect thoughts. Just enough of a belief about how you should love your neighbor, your enemy, or whatever else it is that you are putting off doing because your heart isn’t in the right place. You have to believe that what you should do or what you shouldn’t do is more important than what you feel like doing or not doing. Pretending allows you to do what’s right even when you're not feeling it. Pretending is being.
Here is the thing. When you pretend to be that which you want to be but don’t really feel like being, you are actually being the thing that you know you should be. Pretending is actually being. I often get told by people that they have trouble believing in God but want to. They can't figure out what that looks like. Well, just go love someone you wouldn't love. That is a way to believe in God. Just pretend and it will be.
Now, it is best to have our heart match up to our actions. I get that. This isn't a conversation about what is best. It's about when we don't really feel like it. When we are scared, discouraged, or destroyed. What do we do when our heart isn't in the best place? Until that perfect happens, I propose that we just pretend and do the right things. Pretend and avoid the wrong things. Your heart may not be into helping that person you're feeling tugged to help, do it anyway. Pretend to love them and do it. Your heart may not be into praying today. Pretend to want to do it and pray. Your heart may want to just lash out at someone. Pretend and be nice to them anyway. If you don't want to go to work tomorrow and do your job, pretend you want to anyway. Do the good that you know you should do even when your heart isn't into it. Do the good with a smile. Pretend.
To act like we are always in the mood to do what is right seems sort of foolish to me. We're not. Nobody is. But doing what is right is important enough that we should do it even when we aren't in the mood. If we do the good that we know we should with a grumpy face, it will nullify the good. So put the pretend face on and do the good.
When we deliberately choose to pretend (act in a way that our heart doesn't want), we are practicing a sincere faith. It takes a lot of faith to pretend. It takes a lot of faith to do what we know we should do even when we don't want to do it. In our insincerity our faith is sincere.
So take the step that you know you need to take, even if you don’t feel like taking it. You may have to pretend for a while. That’s okay. For some reason, we have been taught to stop pretending as we grow up. Instead, I think we would all be better off pretending a lot more. And as we pretend to love our enemies, we will actually start loving them internally. As we pretend to enjoy our job, we will actually start loving our job. As we pretend to spend time with God, we will actually be spending time with God. It’s time to recapture the abandoned childhood art of pretending.
Jesus taught, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3 ESV)
So let’s be like little children and enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now. If it takes a little pretending for a while before we see the things of God popping up all around us, well, let’s pretend. In the end, it will be worth it.

We Fix The Church By Fixing Our Number One Problem


Read the news. The church is in decline.

How do we fix it?

I don't quite know the answer to that problem. I don’t know how to fix the church in your community. I don’t know how to fix the church in America. I don’t even know how to fix the church across town if it even needs fixed.

But I do know what we need to do in our church. We need to be living out our lives loving God and one another. Together. That looks like church for some. For others it doesn't although it still is church. But when that “together” part disappears - when we start loving God alone and not loving one another, we mess it all up. That push toward an individual spirituality to the exclusion of the collective spirituality is what got us to this point. The church in decline.

These days with our new technology, we have the option of digital church experiences. We can turn on the radio, head to a website, download a podcast, or just hop on over to Youtube and watch the best speaker in the nation give an amazing sermon. It will be way better than all of the sermons that we can possibly hear in a local church near us unless that amazing speaker’s local church is our local church. The same with worship songs. We can worship to whatever style we prefer with whatever leader we prefer – all with just the click of a button. And there are advantages. You don’t need to give. You don’t need to serve. You don’t need to deal with people who may frustrate you. You don’t need to compromise or live in community with anyone else. It’s the perfect individual spiritual experience. Spirituality, your way. Who could ask for anything more?

We, church leaders, feed it. Maybe we even should, for it isn’t wrong to help people grow spiritually. I don’t have it totally figured out, but it makes me question things. We want to reach out more and minister more, so we put our messages online (I get the irony of sharing this online too). We want people to encounter God because we know that encountering God changes us. One cannot encounter God and remain unchanged.

But in doing ministry this way, are we feeding the beast?

Is physical interaction necessary in a digital world? Are in real life relationships necessary for us to follow Jesus?  I think so. There are elements of following Jesus that just can’t be done alone. We won't have people alongside of us when we serve. We won't have that someone to love and to be loved by in return.

Then there are benefits to being part of this community of people meeting together in real, physical space. One big benefit of faith is its ability to carry us through crisis. This doesn’t happen in isolation; it happens with encouragement from others. Without a faith family (or a healthy biological family), we won't have someone to just be with us when things are tough.

This is where the faith family is superior even to the biological family. It’s the place where Jesus’ radical teachings to abandon biological family for spiritual family comes together. A brief disclaimer: This doesn’t make sense if you aren’t coming at it from a place where you have surrendered your life to the leadership of Jesus. Biological family is great. It is a foundation to support and success in the world. But for those who don’t have that biological family to support them, the spiritual family is there for them. The dilemma is that the spiritual family is not there for the outsider if people are just focused on their biological family. Some get the benefit of both families being intermingled, but others don’t. For those who don’t, the spiritual family can only be a benefit if the person who claims to follow Jesus takes Jesus’ family seriously -- if they are willing to make their spiritual family more important than their biological family. That’s a radical calling. Probably just as radical today as when Jesus challenged people with it back before his death on the cross.

If we disconnect from Jesus’ family, the church, the body of Christ won’t be there for others when they seek out its support. For the seeker when they seek a church for spiritual answers.

We have done a disservice to the kingdom of God when we have made it all about individual spirituality rather than a spirituality we share together. It is true that we must be growing individually to be a help to the group. We need to be part of the local body of Jesus from a place of overflowing in our relationship with God. Where just being around us is refreshing as the love of God overflows from us. But that won’t always be the case. There will be days, months, maybe even years, where we are the empty ones. Where we will need to be carried along. This is where a selfish, individualistic approach fails. It’s not enough to carry us through, except for the strong, super spiritual people in our midst. But even for them, they are strong and super spiritual -- if that sort of person even exists -- to help out others on their spiritual journey too. They are not strong and super spiritual to be proud of how far along they are. They are there to help.

The news and policies percolating through the media should convince all of us that we are not a Christian nation. That view should be easily discarded at this point. Discarding it isn't such a bad thing. Let me explain because you may think that being a Christian nation is an extremely important goal. If we accept that we are not a Christian nation and recognize that making our nation Christian is even a worthwhile goal (as if a nation can ever be Christian), we can just focus on living out radical lives together, devoted to God fully, rather than try to win a political battle. This is sort of a new era for the church in America. Or maybe we just deceived ourselves in the past by believing we are more Christian than we actually were.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The church must be reminded that it’s not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority” (A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967).

This starts with us being that spiritual kingdom together. Living out the kingdom realities in a way that we are an expression of God’s kingdom as much as we possibly can here on earth. Taking seriously our prayer that God’s kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven. And then, like our individual spiritual life overflows into our spiritual family, the life of the kingdom will overflow into the community, state, and nation around us.

We get it all wrong when we make that end result our goal and not the process though. Our goal is not a perfect America. Our goal is to love God and to love our neighbor.

Springtime



So I sit here. Waiting. Looking out the window at the barren earth. The leafless trees. The cloudy sky. The biting cold. Springtime is coming. I know. It’s never failed me yet.

But at this point, it’s not here. It never helps to just sit and wait. It won’t come faster just staring out this aged glass, longing. With the way time seems to move, lingering idly will cause it to arrive slower.

There are things that I need to do for spring to come.

So I do what I’m supposed to do now. Remembering that the world around me always flourishes into something beautiful, eventually. I seek the things that God wants me to accomplish. To change. Convinced by reflection that it is never fruitless to pursue the way of God, not just in the world around me but especially in my own heart.

The path to spring. Planting seeds of peace. Tilling up mercy to give out. Resting through the night by being humble and living meekly. Working to be pure in heart. Sweating. Effort. Prayer. Grace. Work. For a better world. For a better me.
I look out the wavy glass and know that springtime is coming for our souls. It doesn’t matter the way the world looks out there this moment. Springtime is coming. It always has. It always does.