Vampires and Running Water


In Bram Stoker’s Dracula one of the Count’s limitations is an inability to cross running water. I find this comforting and instructive. Comforting because I live on the coast of Oregon where water is running everywhere. Three forks of the Coquille River meet near Myrtle Point. Instructive because it affirms that spiritual stagnation opens the door to all kinds of evil.

Our best defense against spiritual vampires is to make sure the springs of joy and life in our heart have not stopped flowing. Boredom, ennui, and acedia are a few of the modern vampires that suck purpose and joy from us. These bloodsuckers attack people who are basically ponds—nothing flowing in and nothing flowing out.

An important part of river ecology is restoring and maintaining a healthy watershed. The same is true of the ecology of the soul. Our spiritual watershed is what creates the river of life that flows through us. All the spiritual disciplines are streams of grace that flow together: prayer, fasting, silence, meditation on God’s Word, worship. We must live at the confluence of grace where running water surrounds us and protects us from the greatest vampire of all, despair.

Of course, running water must not just flow into us but also out of us. Some flows back to God in praise and adoration. Vampires, I suspect, love darkness and moonless nights partly because it blinds them to the glory and beauty of God’s creation. They are blind as a bat to the splendor of sunrises and sunsets. We can keep our waters running by pouring out humble praise for every sip of water and crumb of garlic bread, the gleam of the sun on a spring leaf.

We also keep the water moving by pouring out grace and blessing to others. Certainly with our words, but also with humble service to others. The living water of God’s Spirit in us must touch those around us with the presence and power of God. This means we can’t withdraw from others and become a catchment of grace.

We should probably avoid being too metaphorical about vampires. Some vampires are people who suck life out of us. They never get enough because neediness has become the way they feed their hunger for relationship and significance. If we give to these people without having a strong flow of God’s life into our life, they can drain us spiritually. Sometimes we need to just toss them in the creek. We need running water.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard the springs of your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” When our waters grow stagnant and scummy, we are vulnerable to vampires. But the dance of water over, through, and around our life drives vampires away.

I am praying that God’s Spirit will flow and overflow in Myrtle Point as freely as the rains have flooded our creeks and rivers this winter. May we have the summer rains of God’s Spirit. We have too many vampires. May all our running waters be holy

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Not Nice!

Have you ever wanted to stab someone in the eye with an ice-pick because they said you were nice?  Me, neither, but I hate being called, “Nice”.  I want to smack people who think I am nice and exclaim, “I’m not nice; I’m redeemed.”

Okay, I understand why that doesn’t work. But I tire of being dismissed as a nice person who happens to be a Christian. Although I am a church kid with no harrowing story of the crime and wickedness out of which I was saved, I have looked into my heart.  Apart from Christ, it is foul and dark—desperately wicked.  I am not nice.  I am saved.

Of course I should resist the temptation to be mean and edgy just to avoid being dismissed as nice.  But there is an offense to the gospel that we shouldn’t blunt with sentimental do-goodality. I want always to add “sin no more” to my “neither do I condemn you.”

In all the church’s good works we run the risk of being seen as just another social service to which our clients are entitled. I want to push beyond niceness by sitting with the hungry and the homeless, looking into their eyes, listening to their stories, and letting my heart beat with theirs.

I want a goodness that is heaven-born and purchased by Christ’s blood. A fierce goodness that sweeps away mere niceness and lays down its life for others. A brave goodness that shatters the strongholds of the darkness. I don’t want to be nice.

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My Jewish Son and the Holy Spirit

Six years ago, my oldest son, Peter, found himself hanging out at a Jewish summer camp in Rhode Island. The job he thought he had didn’t materialize, but he did some work and spent time talking to the rabbi as well as the Israeli soldiers who provided security. In August, I got a call from Peter saying essentially, “I have recommitted my life to God. And, uh, I think I am Jewish.”

In my heart there was a “Hallelujah” followed by a mix of exclamation and question marks. When he was one, I had visited Jerusalem and put a prayer for him into a crevice of the Western Wall. I believed there was a divine connection between him and Israel so the Jewish thing made sense to me.

But Peter has been raised Christian, so I haven’t quite known what to do with his Jewishness. Like many Christian teens, he had drifted from God for several years. His return to God was, of course, an answer to prayer.

Being Jewish in a remote logging town on the coast of Oregon isn’t easy, but Peter has tried. When he was living in Portland, he studied with a rabbi. And he continues to study online. As of now, he isn’t a Messianic Jew—he is drawn more to Orthodox Judaism.

I have been intrigued by what he found attractive about observant Judaism. After all, he is an Oregon kid and Oregonians are famous for non-conformity and independence. We hate rules and Orthodox Judaism has a lot of them.

Peter said he was attracted to the community he experienced at the summer camp. Everyone celebrated Shabbat, ate kosher, and shared a similar lifestyle. Walking with God was truly joining a family and community.

Related to that community was an approach to God that was all-encompassing. In Judaism, there are 613 mitzvot, or commandments from the Torah. And of those commandments each has, some rabbis say, a thousand related commandments. Every area of life is covered by the Torah and all the rabbinical teaching. There are also prayers and blessings for everything in life. Walking with God is what you do 24/7—not just a set of theological propositions you believe.

When I compare this to the evangelical Christianity in which Peter was raised, I realize two things. First, we don’t do community well. Like many non-observant Jews, we are well-assimilated into an individualistic American culture. In the west, rugged individualism is even more prevalent, so church tends to be something we get out of the way on Sunday morning rather than a gathering of the community we have been connected to all week.

My second insight is that we evangelicals often take a very rationalistic approach to God. We too easily reduce our faith to mental assent to a set of doctrines. This why it is increasingly difficult to distinguish evangelicals from other middle-class consumers. Except for Sunday mornings and a set of beliefs, our lives don’t look much different.

The central belief of evangelicalism is that we are saved by grace—not by 613 Torah commandments that rule over every area of our life. However, we often fail to grasp what this grace saves us into. Of course, we have a short list of things not to do now that we are Christians. And we are supposed to start being nice. But this is not a walk with God that fires the imagination. What’s the answer?

Pentecost.

Only the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit can give the same or greater 24/7 walk with God provided by 613 mitzvot and dozens of rabbis. Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). We often, however, fail to see that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by giving the Holy Spirit who is the author of the all the Law.

At the end of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the Jews to whom he was preaching asked what they should do to be saved. Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The gift of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of all the law. They now had dwelling in them the Holy Spirit who could guide them moment by moment and day by day.

If we read a little further in Acts, we discover amazing community, the other thing my son valued about Judaism.

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. Acts 2:44—46

This sounds like a degree of community that even Crown Heights in New York would find hard to beat.

If we embrace a kind of Pentecostalism that practices the presence of God and results in us living in continual prayer and praise, we will indeed be a people as set apart as observant Jews. If we live as those always listening and led by Spirit, we fulfill all the promise of the Torah and enter into all the blessings that come to those who keep the law.

Paul makes it clear that through the Holy Spirit we are joined together as members of the Body of Christ. God’s Spirit is the common life that makes the Body of Christ one. It is not a list of shared theological propositions that unites us, but rather God’s Spirit blazing in each of our hearts and calling us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

I don’t know if I can persuade my son that the Holy Spirit is the best rabbi, but I am convinced that only the life of the Spirit can fulfill the promise of the law.

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Praying Prepositions

I have been praying prepositions—the prepositions that express different, perhaps essential, aspects of a believer’s relationship with God.  I have discovered some harder to pray than others.

I begin by reading Scripture that expresses truths about God going before us, behind us, and with us. I begin by asking, for instance, God to be with me. I meditate on the ways and places I need his presence with me. I listen for how I might act or speak differently because of him being with me. I end by thanking and praising Him for being with me always. I do the same for God before me and behind me.

I also do this with the ins. I often read John 15 and ask that God would help me abide in Him. Sometimes this becomes a dialogue because I ask Him what I might need to let go of to really abide in Christ—pride, anger, fear, ambition. We talk as I try to settle in and rest in his love, trust in his grace.

The other in I pray is for God to dwell in me. I find this one hard to pray with much faith, but there are scads of verses that speak of Christ dwelling in us through his Holy Spirit. Although Jesus taught his disciples to pray to “Our Father in heaven”, Paul speaks again and again about God and his power dwelling in us. Even so, I think we are reluctant to pray about God in us.

Because I seldom feel Him in me, it is hard for me to celebrate Him in me. And I think there is another more disturbing reason this preposition is hard to pray. If He is truly in me, He should be flowing out of me. The wisdom, fruit, and power of God’s Spirit in me should be flowing to the people around me.

I think the reality of God in us is earth-shaking and life-transforming. It means where I go, God goes. Where I go, salvation goes because the Savior is abiding in me. Where I go, the kingdom of God goes, because the King lives in me. Where I go, healing and deliverance goes, because Jesus lives in me and I live in Him.

Yeah, this is a hard preposition to pray. If I keep God in heaven and ask Him to do stuff for me, I am off the hook. But if He is in me then He is wanting to do something through me. Through may be one of the scariest prepositions because it means obedience and risk. It is always easier to have faith in God to do something for us than through us.

Praying prepositions is a potent weapon against fear. When our hearts and minds are filled with the reality of God going before us and behind us, of him always being with us and even in us, and us in Him as tower of strength against enemy–well, it’s hard to be afraid.

Of course the enemy will try to tell us of all the reasons God can’t dwell in us or work through us, but we must simply put on the full armor of God and drive Satan out. We can put on Christ and the armor of light.

 

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Praying for Mom

Beneath the crinkled paper that had become my mother’s skin, I could feel her bones and tendons. Since her stroke she had lost a lot of weight. Her left-side weakness had stolen her ability to swallow and the use of her left arm and leg. On the small chance that a feeding tube might give her time to recover the ability to swallow, Mom chose to have one inserted. Teckla and I prayed faithfully for her recovery, not because we could not accept her death, but because starving to death or drowning in one’s own fluid seemed a terrible way to die. We prayed she would end strong, in God’s way and in His time.

But in the last weeks, holding her hand or arm felt like touching a husk—a ragged shell about to be laid aside. Her stroke came in the midst of my own pilgrimage to faithfully pray for the sick. Once I was half-way out of the hospital when I remembered I hadn’t prayed for her. I went back and prayed. I often asked Mom if she wanted me to pray for her. She always said, “Yes.” Sometimes with great difficulty she would croak, “Pray for me.” After prayer, I often asked if she felt better. She always nodded yes, but I could seldom see any improvement in her condition.

Whether it was the stroke or just approaching death I don’t know, but at night she would suffer the restlessness common to those with dementia. She would pull at her hospital gown and covers. Her arms and legs would jerk. Twice this restlessness caused her to pull out her feeding tube. The second time this happened, I had to go to the emergency room and ask her if she wanted to die or have the tube put back in. She said she wanted it back in for “a while.” She seemed to have some sense that it was not yet the right time. During this time, my brother Larry flew out from Massachusetts and spent many hours with Mom. He too prayed for her healing and for a strong ending.

Toward the end she because less responsive to questions. Sometimes I would wrap my arms around her and say over and over, “I love you. You are a good, good Mommy.” For a while she had the strength to pat my back gently. Each touch broke and healed my heart.

The night before she died I laid my hand on her forehead and prayed again for the strength and life of God to enter her body. She had been restless so I spoke peace to her body. I had clear sense that beneath this husk, there blazed a spirit strong and peaceful. Her body relaxed and her breathing got slow and easy. About five the next morning, she died.

So were my prayers for her answered? I don’t know. She did not end as strongly as I had hoped, but we avoided any long state of unconsciousness that would have required us to decide to end her life. She was until perhaps the last few days aware of our love and presence. She didn’t suffer much. All of this good.

Also good and maybe important is that her sons ended strong. We prayed for her and loved her until the end. Larry and I share the conviction that Jesus still heals and desires his followers to heal. On this journey toward doing the works of Jesus, it is clear that we have to move past all our need (sometimes demand) for answers.

Both Larry and I are analytical to a fault. We can debate theology and philosophy until stupid. Nothing shuts up theory and opens the heart like praying for your mother. Our experience with Mom has helped us to faithfully obey Christ’s command to pray for the sick even if we don’t see the sick healed every time. Obedience is better than perfect understanding.

We must be willing to say, as I have here, “I don’t know.” I am simply clinging to my heavenly Father and saying, “I love you. You are a good, good Father.”

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In Memory of Beatrice Wilson

What words can capture Mom’s life? I need orchestras and choirs, the roar of the ocean and the sound of her lone violin in a country church. But here are my words—my loaves and fishes broken, and I hope, blessed.

Mom knew how to be the mother of boys. She let life flow and boys play. She let the house fill up with the snakes, lizards, and spiders we caught. She was a camping Mom who baked pies and made jam on a Coleman stove. She let us, or at least me her youngest, fill my summers with fearless tree climbing, fort building, and hide-and-seek until the last gleam of the sun. She blessed our summers with homemade root beer and popsicles.

Because of Mom’s practice with her sons, she got a reputation as being the teacher at Myrtle Crest that could handle boys other teachers couldn’t. One day, a couple of boys hid a snake in her desk drawer. Mom calmly grabbed the snake behind the head and preceded to chase the boys with it.

Not only was Mom a wonderful mother to her boys, she was a devoted wife to my Dad. She and Dad were lovers and best friends. She would always rather be with Dad than with anyone. After her stroke it was difficult for Mom to speak. Once while talking to her about camping with Dad at Cape Perpetua, I noticed a tear streaking her cheek. I asked her several times if she hurt anywhere. Finally, I asked if she missed Dad. She nodded yes. I have been blessed to see the beauty and richness that marriage can offer. The example of Mom and Dad’s marriage has richly blessed my own.

Mom also taught me how to love the church—God’s people. Much of her life she was a pastor’s wife and therefore got to see the good, bad, and terribly ugly in the church. She never got bitter and never embittered her children against the church. Like Dad, she was authentic—the real deal for 94 years. I say 94 because she couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t a Christian—a time when serving and pleasing God wasn’t her heart’s desire.

Mom has been a model of courage. Dad died in December of 1993—twenty-three years ago. Despite her loss and grief, Mom faithfully continued to serve God and was soon busy helping Teckla and I raise four boys. She continued to love, give, and serve while keenly missing Dad. She prayed faithfully for all her children and grandchildren—some of whom may be alive today because of her prayers.

There is not much we can now give Mom—a woman who in Christ now has everything. Her riches have long been in heaven. She needs neither flowers or stones as a memorial. But I want to invite you to give what she found most precious and prayed for most often: radical obedience to Jesus Christ. Our own surrender to God and devotion to His Son is really the only thing we can still do to increase her joy and bless her heart.

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The Oliver Twist School of Theology

I am a prodigy. At age 16 I finished an advanced degree in the Oliver Twist School of Theology. I possess an M. I. degree—a Masters of Impertinence. Like Oliver Twist at his workhouse, I have learned to say, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

I had lived too long on the rationalistic gruel handed me by Enlightenment theological paradigms. One of my professors has been John Wimber, who has taught me to ask impertinently, “When do we get to do the works of Jesus—heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead? When do we do the stuff?”

Yes, many in the workhouse warned me not to ask such questions. It could lead to Pentecostalism—even worse, speaking in tongues, something akin to handling snakes. Those who, like Oliver Twist, ask for more are not welcome in the workhouse. They have not learned to be properly grateful for gruel and talk too much of grace.

It takes courage to ask for more. Oliver’s temerity and impertinence shocked Mr. Bumble and other custodians of the workhouse. For the “impious and profane offence of asking for more” Oliver was made “a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room.” Asking for more can get one in trouble.

Indeed, asking for more of the Holy Spirit and for a church more like the one in Acts is often met with surprise and outrage: Why aren’t you content to simply read about the power of Jesus to heal? Aren’t you sophisticated enough to see that the healing is not literal—but metaphorical, emotional, spiritual—anything but physical?

Your piety will be challenged: Is your faith so weak and immature that you need to see miracles to believe? You should take the higher path of believing in Jesus even though the blind remain blind, the crippled lame, and the captive in chains! Be content with the Word of God—and quit asking for more of the Spirit.

But Oliver did not rise from the table and approach the master of gruel just for himself—he stepped up for the other hungry boys at the table. He was “desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery,” but his impertinence was also intercession. And it is not from the weakness of my faith nor for only my own hunger that I ask God for “more”—I ask for the gaunt and longing faces I see at the workhouse table.

I am now done with the Oliver Twist School of Theology. I still have the impertinence to ask for more, but I have moved out of the workhouse. I am not longer an orphan and am working on my doctorate. It may take a while to unlearn being an orphan and complete my D. S. degree. But my Doctorate in Sonship is progressing steadily. Whenever I ask for more, I hear no gasps of outrage—just, “Of course, Son.”

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The Sweet Spot

My father played tennis well. I don’t, but I do remember him teaching me to hit the ball in the racquet’s sweet spot—that place in the center of the racquet where the vertical and horizontal strings cross. I think that the church and all our ministries also have a sweet spot where our vertical ministry to God and our horizontal ministry to others cross.

Dad explained that to hit the ball with power and control its direction, it was important to hit the ball in this sweet spot. Over the years I have seen several kinds of radical Christianity that have emphasized either the vertical or the horizontal strings on the racquet. A failure to emphasize both means missing God’s sweet spot. The result is a lack of power and a loss of direction.

For instance, I have seen movements devoted to the passionate pursuit of God in prayer, intercession, and worship. I have loved, and still love, the emphasis on wild abandonment to God in adoration and worship. Prayer and praise that God inhabits is precious to me. I love the vision of our praise rising like incense to God.

I have also been a part of radically horizontal Christianity that emphasizes community and personal sacrifice for others. In my life this has meant Teckla and I seldom having “our house” but almost always living with others or having others live with us. It has included adopting four boys and us enjoying all the blessings they have brought. I still believe in community and ministry to the poor is a way we radically follow Jesus.

However, something new is in my heart. I am experiencing a fresh call to radical obedience and discipleship—a passion to live and minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. But when I return to my usual expressions of radical faith, I realize that what is truly radical is ministry from the sweet spot where the love of God and love of others perfectly mesh.

Too often Christian radicalism emphasizes only the vertical devotion to God or only radical service to others and the poor. Churches with only the vertical emphasis can fail to nourish friendship and community. The people may feel led, but not pastored. People may experience God but there is little help living out that experience in the grind of daily life. A church with great worship can still be filled with lonely believers.

On the other hand, a commitment to community and the shared life of faith can exhaust the spiritual resources of believers. Love never fails, but it is significant that I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, is sandwiched between to chapters about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need power to love, and we need the power of God to be expressed in the context of love. Otherwise, this kind of horizontal radicalism will end in burn-out, disillusionment, and retreat.

Let me be clear, this is not a plea for moderation. The sweet spot works only if both the vertical and horizontal strings of the racquet are strung tight. The balance I seek is in middle where both vertical and horizontal radicalism meet. I want ministry to others fueled by communion with God. I want every sacrifice for others to be first a sacrifice to God. Every time I enter God’s presence in worship, I want my heart to long for all those who should be entering with me.

Dad taught me that the key to hitting the ball in the sweet spot was to move my feet so I was in the right position. I would space myself from the ball, get sideways to it, and give myself time to make a big C with my backswing. He taught me to follow through with the stroke and come over the ball to keep it on the court.

In a similar way I am trying to move my spiritual feet so I minister out of God’s power and not my own, share His wisdom with others, not mine. This means taking time to pray. No lazy hacks at the ball accompanied with the dull thud when the ball hits the corner of the racquet and flies out of the court.

True radicalism ministers to God and man from the sweet spot. Of course, being radical just means going back to the root (radis). “Sweet-spot radicalism” is simply being like Jesus whose love of the Father and love for us led him to the cross—the place where the vertical and horizontal meet. Here humankind is saved and evil eternally defeated. It is the sweetest spot.

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Four Ways to Be an Edgy Christian

Critics often call avant-garde movies and books “edgy”. Unfortunately, this usually means they are obscene or morally offensive, but “edgy” can mean cutting-edge and innovative. In this latter sense, it is good to be an edgy Christian.

I must admit, however, I have been tempted to be an edgy Christian in some foolish ways. I like to prove to non-Christians how culturally relevant and hip I can be, that I’m not prudish or illiterate. But this stuff can easily move me to the edge of holiness and purity when I should be pressing further in and further up.

Edges, however, can be the place where we discover life. This is certainly true in the natural world. Where the forest ends and meadows begin is where wildlife is most abundant. Along the shore, life covers every rock and teems in every tide pool. In a similar way there are edges where believers will discover abundant life.

I want to live on the edge of faith and presumption. Think about the centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith (Matthew 8:5—13). Jesus said he would go to the centurion’s house and heal his servant, but the centurion tells Jesus that he need not come to his house, he can just speak the word and his servant will be healed. It seems a little presumptuous to tell Jesus how to heal someone, but this is the only time when someone’s faith amazed Jesus. This is edgy.

Peter’ request to walk on the water to Jesus is obviously presumptuous. Even today if we say someone thinks they can walk on water, it isn’t a compliment. Who did Peter think he was when he asked Jesus to call him out onto the water? But Jesus said, “Come” and that blessed word gave Peter the courage to step over the edge of the boat. That’s the kind of edginess I want.

I want to live on the edge of generosity and foolishness. I want to be edgy like Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see Jesus. When Jesus said he was coming to his house, he said, “Look, half my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” I want to this to be my response to Jesus being in my house—and life.

I also love the woman who broke the alabaster jar and poured expensive perfume on Jesus. Disciples, especially Judas, criticized the waste of money—money that could have helped the poor. Practical considerations were ignored. We don’t know whether the woman was wealthy or poor, but either way, she gave an extravagant gift that had to set her back financially. Jesus told the critics to “leave her alone” because she had done a “beautiful thing.” I want to be wasted on Jesus. I want to be edgy enough to do a “beautiful thing” for Jesus.

I also want to live on edge of grace and obedience. I want to fling myself into energetic obedience to God’s Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit while staying completely at rest in the free gift of salvation. I think this is the edge where life is abundant, but I know there are dangers. Obedience can slide into legalism, then pride or condemnation. Resting in God’s grace can slide into complacency and barren passivity. But when radical obedience is powered by a revelation of the depths of God’s grace, we experience the abundant life God intended.

Paul embodies this kind of edginess. No one understood the grace of God better. Paul knew he has been loved and sought by God even when he was busy persecuting the church. He knew his salvation was a gift of grace. And yet his response was to live a poured out life for God and others.

I want to live on the edge of contentment and spiritual hunger. This is hard, but important. I desire a heart that is always overflowing with thanksgiving. I do not want to be blind to all God’s blessings. As I cry out to God for more of His kingdom and more of his Holy Spirit’s power, I do not want to despise “the day of small beginnings.” It is important to treasure every whisper of His Spirit.

But those desperate for more of God risk being accused of ingratitude by others. I like the Syro-Phoenician woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer and had the courage to tell Jesus that even the dogs get crumbs from the table. And no-longer-blind Bartimaeus who just wouldn’t shut-up. And Paul who near the end of his ministry declared, “I press on to take hold that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

These kinds of edginess can make a Christian truly avant-garde–God’s advance guard. Not one who waits to catch a wave of the Spirit, but one who makes waves.

 

 

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I Feel That

“No one cares about your feelings,” I cruelly tell my writing students. I am always on a holy war against the expression, “I feel that . . .” in persuasive essays. I was therefore delighted this morning to read Proverbs 18:2 “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” In the Hebrew the word for mind is literally “heart”.

I am, of course, exaggerating for the sake of emphasis. I want students to write with emotion and passion. My students’ feelings do matter to me. But I have three objections to the use of “I feel that” when expressing convictions or opinions.

First, students often use the expression to avoid responsibility and full ownership of their ideas. After all, we don’t have to defend our feelings. We feel what we feel. Sometimes when asked to explain why they “feel” a certain idea, my students say, “It’s just what I feel.” When applied to ideas and beliefs, not actual emotions or intuitions, “feel” is a weasel-ly word. We say, “I just feel” to head off any challenges and criticism of our position.

Second, because we do not need to justify our feelings, presenting our ideas as feelings can keep us from delighting in understanding (the first part of Prov. 18:2). If we say “I think” or “I believe,” we feel a greater obligation to explain why. We begin to examine our ideas and seek to understand whether and why they are true.

I blame my generation for this bad habit. Baby-boomers and counter-cultural types have dominated the fields of writing and rhetoric for the last 40 years. We have tended to make the individual the center of truth and therefore taught that the central purpose of writing is self-expression. Authenticity became an essential value of good writing. Clarity, craftsmanship, and critical thinking were sometimes pushed to the side. No idea was “wrong” if deeply felt.

Proverbs clearly presents the cure and the balance. First, we are called to value wisdom and delight in understanding more than self-expression.  This means valuing correction and wanting to learn from those who are wiser. Understanding should precede declarations. Our passion for self-expression should be matched or exceeded by our passion to understand.

We should also embrace the high view Proverbs has towards communication. This same chapter of Proverbs declares, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Expressing ideas is not less important than understanding. The two must work together. What we express (truth or error) actually matters.

It’s like an archery student asking what’s more important: aiming the arrow or shooting it. It is tempting to say, “Just shoot! Let’er fly! Embrace the joy of the arrow racing through the air! Ignore those screams!” After all, aiming the arrow takes discipline, a proper stance, some muscle, and humble attention to instruction. We need both, but aiming comes first, then shooting.

I think our failure to first delight in understanding explains why so much of our communication misses the mark.

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