Monthly Archives: May 2012

I Shall Not Want Want

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

Behind John 3:16, this is likely the second most memorized verse in the Bible.  If not, it’s at least one of the most popular.  Just go to Google and type in “Psalm” and see which Psalm is suggested to you first.  (Spoiler: it’s this one.)

But if you would indulge me, I’d like you to consider how two words, appropriately affixed to this verse, can alter the way that we think about “wanting.”  Consider how your perspective changes when you read the verse like this:

If the LORD is my shepherd,
Then I shall not want.

If, in our mind’s eye, we allow this verse to become a conditional statement, it may challenge us to consider the relationship between our connection to God, and our desire for…desire.

Let me explain how this came about for me.

Last night I was laying on my couch, watching the news out of the corner of my eye, aimlessly fiddling with my cell phone, sitting next to my wife, and I slowly realized that I wanted something.  Food?  No, I had just eaten recently.  Water?  No, I wasn’t thirsty.  Did I have to go to the bathroom?  No, I just went.  Did I need to say something to my wife?  No, we had already debriefed our days with one another and were now winding down for the evening.  So what was it?  What did I want?  I looked at the TV, I looked at my phone, I looked at my wife, and it occurred to me that I was waiting for each of them to tell me what I wanted.  That’s what I wanted; something new to want.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Consider the annual announcement of the newest iPhone.  (By the way, I don’t own a single Apple product, something that has on occasion called into question my eligibility to youth pastorship. But I digress.)  Every year bloggers, news sources, and technophiles speculate and prophecy about the upgrades and updates that will come along with the next “revolutionary” device.  For those of you not paying attention, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S are…pretty much the same thing.

(Primary difference? The letter “S”.)

 

Nevertheless, every year the press line up to get a glimpse of the latest piece of hardware.  But why?  There’s usually a considerable delay between the announcement and the actual release, so it’s not as if anyone is going to walk out of there with a new iPhone in hand.  It seems as if people aren’t  lining up to get what they want as much as they’re lining up to be told what to want.  The desire is no longer the desire for something, but a desire for desire itself.  Perhaps the best business model in the world is not to create a great product, but to create a great desire.  (On a side note, I find it highly bizarre that the late Steve Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which teaches that the desire for material things leads to suffering.  Ok, I’m done ripping on Apple now, I promise.)

It’s Pavlovian in a sense.  We like to hear the bell because we know that it means food is on the way.  But unlike dogs, we soon find ourselves more enamored with the sound of the bell than with the food itself.

But lest you think I’m unfairly critical of Apple fans, I readily and shamefully admit to my own ever insatiable maw of want.  So I as I’m laying on my couch analyzing the desire for desire I sense inside, I begin to question my standing before the LORD.  Is He my shepherd?  If He is, then why do I so often find myself wanting something new to want?  Why do I make it a part of my daily ritual to check certain blogs and websites that try to sell me the idea that I need something?  Why do I watch the Superbowl on mute only to turn the volume up when the commercials come on?  Why does my heart race during the “Coming Attractions” before a film?  Why do I wander aimlessly around Best Buy looking for something that I didn’t even know existed so that I can hope to own it?  Am I addicted to desire?

Lest my rejection of desire sound too spiritually “Eastern,” I want to pause to recognize the importance that desire plays in the Christian faith.  Understanding God’s desire for us is paramount to any type of Christ-centered spirituality.  And our desire for Him is central to a theology of worship.  Human desire for relationship is a key component to Christian community.  Other examples could be given as well, but these shall suffice to show that desire is not wholly evil.

But western culture at large is hardly in danger of eschewing desire to the point of calling these truths into question.  Quite the opposite.  We are in love with our desire.  We celebrate it at every turn.  We allow it to dictate our identity.  So what is the call to the Christ-follower in a culture oversaturated with manufactured need?

The call, as I see it stated in Psalm 23, is to allow our desire for desire to set off a warning signal that we may be wandering just beyond our Shepherd’s immediate reach.  He is making us lay in green pastures and leading us beside quiet waters (which, in keeping with the shepherd/sheep motif leads invariably to a full belly!)  If we are near Him, what else is there for us to want?

If the LORD is our shepherd, then I suspect that we will find ourselves wanting less.  And as we walk with our Shepherd, we will find our needs largely met (always spiritually, and often materially) and we will certainly find that we have a decreasing desire to desire desire or want want.

So let us frequently fast from our desires long enough to discern what desires lead us in the way of our Shepherd and which lead us to more meaningless wanting.  And may we find that desire has a role in our spirituality; but it is not as central a role as our culture might have us believe.

-Tim-

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The Parable of the Youth Pastor

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Once upon a time there was a youth pastor who lived in a house that he had built atop a rock.  He had lived in the house for as long as he could recall.  The rock upon which the house was built was large and beautiful.  Although there were many rocks cut from the same stone, his was one-of-a-kind; worn and beaten by years of terrifying waves and winter storms, it had gained a unique luster and sheen that added to its beauty.  It was not perfect, and the youth pastor did not understand it completely, but it was his, and he loved it.

Young people from the surrounding area would come to inquire about the rock.  “Where did you get your rock?” they would ask.

“It was a gift,” the youth pastor would respond.

Many would ask about the rock and then go on their way.  But one day a boy came along and said, “I’m building a house.  Will you show me how to get a rock like yours?”

“I’m glad you asked!” the youth pastor responded.  Before either could utter another word, the youth pastor ran to his supply of stone and began carving away.  Chipping the brittle corners, sanding the rough edges, and carving out nooks.  After a time, he called the boy to come behold the rock he had shaped for him.

“What do you think?” the youth pastor asked proudly.  The boy surveyed the rock thoughtfully for a few moments.

“It looks just like yours,” the boy finally said.

“Of course!” The youth pastor responded.  “I’ve spent years watching my own rock get worn and shaped by the storms and waves of life.  I figured I’d save you the trouble of having to go through all of the long worrisome winters that I’ve endured.”

The boy apologized, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I’m looking for.  I’m not even sure my house will fit properly.  Thank you very much for all you’ve done, but I can’t use this rock.”

“I don’t understand,” the youth pastor said with dismay, “I thought this was what you wanted.”

“No,” the boy said.  “What I wanted was for you to show me how to get a rock like yours.  Instead you gave me a copy of your own rock, which I cannot use.  You have shown me nothing, and I have nowhere to build my house.”

The boy and the youth pastor were both very sad for neither got what they wanted.

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I Logically Cannot Find God

I cringe every time I hear some well-meaning apologist attempt to “prove” that God exists.  It is my firm conviction, as a Bible-believing Evangelical that, no, in fact, they cannot prove that God exists.  If they could, there would be a planet full of logically minded theists, whereas in reality we see a rapidly growing contingent of atheists and agnostics, many of whom cite logical reasons for not believing.  So what is going on?  Does logic lead us away from God?

Maybe. Probably.

At very least, logic, when viewed as the exclusive claim-holder on Truth, will lead us away from a Chistocentric worldview.  I’d argue that logic (at least post-Enlightenment logic) will at best serve to inform us about God’s creation, and at worst will lead us away from Him. But it will never prove Him.

These are very hard words for me to write, as I have been described by many of my friends (and myself) as a logically-minded individual.  And I want very badly to hang on to the idea that if only I could acquire more empirical information, I would be left with no choice to worship the Lord! But it’s time for me to give up the ghost on my logical search for God.

As a teenager, I was terrified of discovering some damning evidence that would finally close the coffin on my faith in God.  (This was the beginning of my struggle with anxiety, mentioned in my first post.) As a result, I spent many hours pouring over well-meaning books that claimed to be able to logically bolster my faith in God or even prove God’s existence.  At that formative state in my life, these books did provide a service in that they gave me new perspective, albeit perspective that I would later largely come to disagree with.  But they most certainly did not prove that God exists.  And I’ve come to accept that I’m unlikely to find such proof.

So why am I not an atheist or an agnostic?  Why do I still believe that Christ is who Scripture claims He was?  For me, it seems to boil down to language.

When I visit a foreign country, I’m always reminded of how difficult it is to communicate with someone whose language you don’t share.  Something as simple as asking for an extra napkin can become a frustrating and humiliating game of charades. My mom once told me a story about a time when she was in Taiwan and a co-worker attempted to thank someone in Taiwanese, but instead he made a comment about “a little boy’s peepee.” Common language is pretty essential, especially when attempting to convey important ideas.

So what language do all humans share? Well, definitely not spoken language, as there are about 6,500 languages actively spoken today. And definitely not written language, as there are about 6,000 of those floating around. What about drawings or pictograms? These vary wildly based on culture, time, location, and origin. This would be a very poor method of universally conveying information.

Even some of the brightest minds of the previous century had a difficult time coming up with a method of communicating information in a universal manner. Take, for example, the Voyager Golden Record. Intended for an alien culture, the record is designed to convey simple information about life and culture on Earth. But considering we have no way of knowing the preferred method of communication of its intended recipients, the fact that it contains images, words, and sounds, is almost laughable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for space exploration, and if there is life out there, better we send something rather than nothing. But considering that we have no way of knowing if alien life forms have any means of processing visual or audio input, we can scarcely hope that they will be able to make heads or tails of our attempt to communicate.

Ok, back to Earth now. So what is the only common language that humanity shares? None, really. At least not any spoken, written, artistic, or cultural language. Humans, divided as we are by time, space, and culture, maintain no universality. With one important exception: we are all human. Humanity is the common language of humans. We might not “get” someone else’s spoken/written language or culture, but we understand what it means to be human. It is, perhaps, our only shared characteristic.

So what of God’s language then? Why, if God were out there somewhere, would He not have sent definitive and logically demonstrable proof that He is in fact God, thereby putting all speculation finally to rest? Why is God, at least as far as logic has shown, not discoverable? Perhaps we’re speaking the wrong language.

We must be humble enough to remember that logic (especially as it manifests itself in the scientific method) is not a universal language. It does not transcend culture and time. It has not been employed throughout history. It is not the preferable method for conveying information to all cultures. This is not in any way an attack on logic or the scientific method, both of which stand to do far more good than harm. It is simply a recognition of the fact that neither have been universally employed throughout human history.

Perhaps God chose not to reveal Himself through logic because it would not have been the most universally understood language through which He could have spoken. It is, possibly, arrogance on the part of the modernist Western mentality to believe that God is in any way obligated to be logically discoverable. Logic is wonderful and we are better off with it, but it’s simply not a language to which most of human history would be tuned. Perhaps God chose a more universal method. A method which reaches to all humanity without bias to education, location, time, gender, ability, etc. The method of humanity itself.

This, in part, is why I continue to believe that Christ is the incarnation of God; because above and beyond any other language God could have chosen to speak, He chose to speak the only language common to all humans.

Humanity.

I cannot conceive that such a perfectly orchestrated and beautifully consistent method of communication between the Divine and the human could have been concocted by the latter of the two. I believe it is too far-fetched.

And there’s the subjectivity; the reason that this blog post can’t be used to “prove” God’s existence. “I believe.” I cannot prove it, and I won’t attempt to. But neither can I reject it.

Christ the man is the language that God chose to speak. A beautifully human and perfectly intelligible way to speak. Finely tuned to be discernible to any human who has an ear to hear. The language of the Divine. The language of the human. God as a man.

And to think; I used to wonder why Scripture called Jesus, “The Word.”

-Tim-

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The Lost Art of Praying Angry

Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying with a soundtrack.  I like to pray with music in the background because it gives me something that helps to drown out some of the noise that I find otherwise distracting.  Here’s one of my favorite songs to pray to: Spoiler Alert: It’s just a dude screaming.

How can I feel comfortable praying to breakdowns and blast beats?  I found it difficult to understand myself at first.  Before I get to an explanation, let me back up a bit.

You see the first sentence in this post?  Allow me to truncate it to an equally true statement:

“Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying.”

Prayer is new to me.  Or at least it feels new.  The truth is, I’ve always hated praying.  It required me to slow my mind down to a submissive pace.  I hate that.  As such, I have grown to find prayer to be a nuisance to my otherwise busy and well-occupied spiritual life.  I even began to feel quite bad for the people who brought their prayer requests to me, knowing that my “lifting them up in prayer” would probably be something along the lines of: “Dear God, please help __________ with _________.  Amen.”  (And I’d usually be saying this in my head as they were talking to me just to get it over with).

Dear God, please tell these people to stop asking me to pray for them.

Recently I was encouraged by a local sage [read, “woman who works in my office”] to probe the reasons behind my aversion to prayer.  I had a long drive into LA recently, so I decided to dedicate that time to meeting her challenge by praying about…prayer.

My prayer began similarly to most prayers I’ve prayed in the past.  Praying about prayer, (or as I like to call it, “metaprayer”) is an interesting thing in that there really isn’t a formula for it like there is for so many other kinds of prayer.  And, as a subject that I rarely reflected on, it took a level of introspection on my part.  Following the direction of my office mate/spiritual director, I began to explain to God why I don’t like praying.  I tiptoed around the issue for a bit, still praying the way I’m used to, (i.e. “Dear Lord, I don’t understand why I don’t pray.  Please help me pray better.”)  But after a while I got frustrated.  Actually, I got angry.  After trying unsuccessfully to pray a proper prayer for a while, I just gave up.  That’s when I heard these words come out of my mouth:

“You know why I don’t like prayer, God?  Because I think it’s a huge waste of time!”

Suddenly, as if scales fell from my eyes spirit, I was…you know…actually praying.

Now I’m sure I’ve prayed real prayers before.  But this prayer seemed somehow different.  It was as if all of a sudden God was actually listening to me.  It was like the second I decided to take my “spiritual filter” off, God began to believe what I was saying.  This was the first time I could ever remember “praying angry.”

Let me pause because I’m sure that there are some who could misconstrue my attempt at honesty as irreverence.  In no way am I encouraging insolence or disrespect, especially to God.  In fact, if there’s something I’ve learned quickly in my journey of prayer, it’s that each prayer ought to begin with a humble recognition of God’s holiness (i.e. “hallowed be thy name“).  No, I feel quite strongly that I am endorsing exactly the opposite of irreverence.  When we pray, I contend that we show a lack of respect for God’s omniscience by muting our emotions, language, ideas, frustrations, etc as if He weren’t already aware of them.  When we run our lives through a filter before they reach God, we lose the ability to bring all things to God.  And yet this is what we do so often; attempt purify our prayers before bringing them to the God who purifies.  We scrub away any offensive ideas, harsh language, anger, bitterness, and then pray a spit-shined prayer, which, in my opinion, is no prayer at all.  How can we possibly “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2. Cor. 10:5) if we can’t bring Christ every thought?

If anyone is having trouble embracing this idea, I encourage you to read the Psalms.  You don’t have to look far to see people being brutally honest with God, even complaining (sometimes whining).  Some decent examples would be: Psalm 13; Psalm 22; and Psalm 74.

Sometimes the Psalmists even ask for things that we would consider immoral to pray for today like asking Him to break people’s jaws or kill people.  These are the “R Rated” uncensored prayers of imperfect people bringing themselves fully to God.

So why do we sanitize our prayers?  Probably through years of learning to “pray proper,” we have lost the art of praying angry.  But not just angry.  Praying happy!  Praying frustrated.  Praying tired.  Praying grumpy.  Praying hopeful.  Praying worshipfully.  Praying delighted.  Praying in anguish.  Praying scared.  Praying silly.  Praying imperfectly.  Praying clean.  Praying dirty.

Praying honest.

I’m not arguing against form.  So if you pray with the “thees” and “thous”, by all means keep it up!  As long as it’s real.  As long as you mean what you say.  As long as your prayers are uncensored.  Let God censor your prayers.  But if all of the dirty, grimy, day-to-day stuff that makes up our lives never makes it to God, then how can we expect Him to intervene?  How can we expect to show God to our world, when we’re afraid to show our world to God?

So I listen to aggressive music sometimes when I pray because it reminds me to be real.  It reminds me to be angry when I am angry, and to be at peace when I am at peace.  It reminds me to let my words be few, but be weighted with meaning.  And it reminds me to let God direct my words, thoughts, and emotions, but always as a result of bringing my words, thoughts, and emotions to God.

-Tim-

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