It's about the kenosis, stupid

I own a home in Buena Vista. I'm not particularly proud of that.

Amy and I moved to Rockbridge County believing that God had called us to ministry at Washington and Lee University, which is in Lexington. Why, then, did we buy a house in Buena Vista, 15 minutes away, disconnected from the campus? Our decision to buy the house in Buena Vista was a step away from incarnation. Why did we do it?

Well, it's pretty simple, really. We could afford a house in Buena Vista. We couldn't afford to buy in Lexington, in walking distance to campus. We liked the house...and, and everyone knows that the smart move to make with your money is to buy, especially now (that is, in 2006), when housing prices are on the rise. Renting is just throwing money away and you can't just throw money away.

Now, this isn't a huge deal. Don't mis-hear me and think I'm going into some depressive, self-flagellation. God's really blessed us. I'm grateful that he's given us a home and we've used that little, old house in Buena Vista for some amazing, incarnational ministry (think about the 20somethings Group and the LDS community). God redeemed our decision, but I think it was a bad decision.

We all (or at least Amy and I) have these mental scripts that guide our behavior. And our scripts don't naturally lead to incarnation, to the things called for by Ramez, Shane and Oscar: new alignments, changed expectations, caution around wealth, humility, powerlessness, poverty and sacrifice. The incarnational value of emptying yourself, the value that pulses in the heartbeat of the kingdom of God, clashes with the rhythms of the kingdoms of this world.

Throughout the series of talks by Ramez, Shane and Oscar was woven the theological theme of kenosis. In Philippians 2 we see that in the incarnation, Jesus emptied himself, made himself nothing, dove to the bottom so that he could be with us. In his mission, he didn't commute down from heaven every day. He didn't even own a home, much less one in Buena Vista. He had a different script, a script that includes kenosis.

And this is hard for us to hear. The language of kenosis, pried from the hands of the church and plastered on the billboards of the state becomes something ugly: dictatorship, communism, or worse. Kenosis at knifepoint ceases to be beautiful.

But kenosis should be beautiful. That Jesus and his followers would voluntarily empty themselves, make themselves nothing, dive to the bottom to be with the poor and needy and broken and shamed and afraid...that's beautiful. This language of kenosis belongs to the church, to God's people. It's ours. We shouldn't shy away from it. We should lean into it. God calls us to lean into it. We should call eachother to it. Empty yourself, make yourself nothing, dive to the bottom, engage in radical, incarnational kenosis. That's what the incarnation is about.

So, what's the incarnation about? It's about the kenosis, stupid.

The Short Post

Mastering the art of the short post is essential for everyone who blogs regularly.

We all have nights like tonight, where we're just sitting down to the computer, our roommate is snoozing away and we have to be up for a 7:30 breakfast. Wisdom (remember her?) says "Go to bed," so I have to whip out The Short Post.

What hinders us from an incarnational ministry? What gets in the way?

Yesterday, Ramez, Shane and Oscar threw themselves at the task of scraping away the blinding crust from our eyes and digging out the waxy blockages that keep true words from reaching our hard hearts.

Our speakers targeted...
Alignments unchallenged.
Expectations unexamined.
Wealth unwatched.
Pride unchecked.
Power unfettered.
Privilege undenied.
Comfort inalienable.

All these prevent us from following the model of incarnation given to us by our God of grace and truth. They are why we compromise. They are why we fail. They are why I own a home in Buena Vista. Wonder about that? I'll explain later.

This is only The Short Post.

Five steps for Nathaniel

Notes from Ramez Atallah's exposition from John 1:43-46

"Evangelism is all about reaching out to your family and friends."

Five steps, five thresholds for Nathaniel
1) Skeptical - Nazareth? sarcastic and doubtful
2) Willing - Philip invites Nathaniel to "come and see"
3) Startled - instead of examining Jesus, Nathaniel finds himself known
----- literally, here is an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob (deceit)
4) Exposed - saw you under the fig tree, in your place of safety
5) Totally convinced - believes from the depths of his heart and makes a remarkable declaration

"You will see even more than this" - angels ascending and descending on Bethel, the house of God ---> they will descend and ascend on Jesus, the Messiah

God specializes in surprising people. Our mission is to take Jesus with us into our neighborhood, our families, and our friends.

Go and make known the One who knows you.

Trust in the sovereignty of God (Patrick Fung and Greg Jao)

I love good interviews. One of the reasons I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is because, whatever else they are, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are great interviewers. In an interview, stuff comes out that wouldn't come out in a talk or a lecture or a sermon.

Last night, Greg Jao (Urbana's chief celebrity) interviewed Patrick Fung, the first-ever Chinese director of OMF. They talked about calling and family, God's global church and our need to trust in the sovereignty of God.

Calling and family
Greg fished a little bit for how Patrick (a succesful medical doctor) ended up on the mission field, first in Pakistan, then with OMF. Patrick told us that he had noticed in Scriputre early on in his walk with Jesus that none of Jesus' followers lived stable lives. This challenged Patrick and threatened the life-trajectory set in place by his family: get a stable job and marry a stable wife. Over the years, as Patrick honored his parents and took risks in missions, he said he saw "God's grace, not just in me, but in my parents."

God's global church
Greg asked a series of questions about learning: what can the church in the North America learn from the church in Asia? what can the church in Asia learn from the church in North America? Patrick said that the NA church could learn two things...
1) That suffering and joy can always go together
2) That God surprises us, that even without leadership or strategy or resources, God can grow his church

Trust in the sovereignty of God
One of the cornerstones of OMF and Hudson Taylor's ministry and, by extension, Patrick Fung's life is this phrase...
God's work done God's way will never lack God's supply

That's something we need to hear. If God really is sovereign, in control, ruling and reigning in the world and in history, we need to learn to trust him.


At conferences like Urbana, sometimes there are so many words and phrases coming at you that you can only grab ahold of a few. On top of that, some phrases grab back. You're grabbing phrases. Phrases are grabbing you.

Here're some of my grab-phrases from yesterday...

Marilyn Ramirez - a Latina student testimony
Giving with purpose, not just giving to give.
While I was at work in Kenya, God was at work in my family.

Cheryl Bear - a missionary to First Peoples in North America
"Kill the Indian, save the child."
The gospel was not given as a gift, but used as a tool of assimilation.
Be strongly Native and strongly Christian.

York Moore - one of InterVarsity's national evangelists
How could my Jesus be relevant in the light of these atrocities?
Preaching Christ and doing justice go hand in hand, you cannot fully do one without the other.

Rahab drama
Remember me.

Greg Jao - Urbana Emcee
I hope you're feeling this tension, the tension between a God who is sovereign and a God who is intimately connected to us, the tension between a sovereign God and the world's brokenness.

Urbana video

Last night's Urbana is available on-line here.

If you're into dance, I'd recommend you check out the Welcome to Urbana 09 video. It made me miss my wife (she loves anything dance-related) and it helped me understand why John started his gospel account with echoes of Genesis (the book of the Bible, not the band).

I'm off to the next session!

Three M's from the Incarnation

There's a part of me that really loves taking notes. Orderly rows, staggered and lettered make me smile. And that's one of the reasons I love expositional preaching. It's usually easy to follow.

Tonight, we met our expositor for the week: Ramez Atallah. Ramez will be working through John 1-4 over the course of the week. I'm really looking forward to his teaching.

Tonight, Ramez focused on John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Ramez movingly talked to us about the wild love of the incarnation. He compared Jesus' being born in an unsanitary stable to missionaries choosing to give birth to their child in one of the world's poor garbage villages. As an expectant father, I can't imagine a love that would be willing to endure those conditions, to take that risk. But God chose to leave the safety and comfort of heaven to dwell among us. That's the Incarnation.

According to Ramez, John 1:14 and the Incarnation provide us with three M's:

The means by which God reaches out to us
In the Middle East, where John's gospel is based, you honor someone not by inviting them, but by visiting them. Think about where you're more comfortable: at your home or at someone else's? You would honor or reach out to someone by going to where their comfortable, their turf. And this is how God reached out to us, reaches out to us. He doesn't demand that we go to him. He comes to us.

The message which God wants to communicate to us
In the Incarnation, we see the glory of God, Jesus is the new temple. In the Incarnation, we experience God's grace: both undeserved favor and beauty. In the Incarnation, we are challenged by God's truth, not in a philosophy, but in a person. This absolute, the truth that is Jesus, God the Word, is for all people.

The model for how we minister
The Incarnation gives us values for ministry. So many of us use business tactics and strategies in ministry - and that's okay - but we start to value business values, and that's dangerous. The Incarnation displays the values God carries in ministry, Philippians 2 values: vulnerability, identification, weakness.

God has given us the means, the message, and the model when he came in the flesh. Let's live lives that reflect the One who has moved into our neighborhood.

Your neighborhood is much smaller/bigger than you think

How big is your neighborhood? God calls us to love our neighbor, so this is an important question.

Jim Tebbe welcomed us to Urbana tonight. His short talk followed a poetry, hip-hop, tap-dance interpretation of John 1:1-5, 9-14.

He started off by telling us that why we came to Urbana doesn't have to matter, urging us to set our pre-made agendas aside and let God do what he wants to do. I found this particularly challenging. Task-oriented, comfortable running around, I find the idea of setting my agenda aside, putting my expectations on hold is tough.

Jim then moved on to a short teaching about God's mission: your neighborhood is much smaller/bigger than you think. This is one of Jim's big themes. Talk to him for just a little while and you'll hear this, this bigger/smaller awareness that he tries to pass along.

God's mission is tiny, next-door, to the person you talk to next, see next, would normally overlook. And God's mission is global, historical, cosmic, so much more than you can imagine that you'll look back on your life in awe five, ten years from now when you see where God has brought you, who he has connected you to.

Jim closed his talk with a warning: "You will be asked to say 'Yes' to God at Urbana...don't take that lightly."

Yes, Jim, let us take seriously our "yes'" to the God who calls us to love our neighbors, to the God who sends us to our neighbors, for our neighborhoods are much smaller and much bigger than we think.

Urbana memories

Urbana is here again!

Over the next week, I'll be posting some highlights, as I hear them and as I can get to the computer.

Here're some teaching highlights from my previous Urbana experience...

At Urbana 2003, John Stott's talk was amazing. He was too ill to attend, so it was read by Joshua Wathanga, an IFES representative...
How then should we respond to the spirit of pluralism? I suggest with great humility and with no tinge of personal superiority, we must continue to affirm the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ. He is unique in his incarnation (the one and only God-man). He is unique in his atonement (only he has died for the sins of the world), and unique in his resurrection (for he has conquered death). And since in no other person but Jesus of Nazareth did God first become human (in his birth), then bear our sins (in his death) and then triumph over death (in his resurrection), he is uniquely competent to save. Nobody else possesses his qualifications. We may talk about Alexander the Great, Charles the Great and Napoleon the Great, but not Jesus the Great. Jesus is not the Great, he is the Only. Jesus has no rivals and Jesus has no successors.

At Urbana 2006, Oscar Muriu stunned us all with his talk on the Global Church. Two quotes, in particular, are burned in my memory:
The center Christianity has moved south.
If Western models of church are not working in the West and the church is in decline, should the church in the Two-Thirds world copy the models of the church in the West or embrace Western theology? If we do, will we not end up in the same problem? Could it be that to drink from the cup of Western theology is to drink from a poisoned chalice? This is a changing world in which you must go out in missions. Of necessity, because our world is changing, our models for mission must change.

Some old, dead guys share why we have Christmas

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it.

Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.

For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.

That passage from Athanasius' De Incarnatione Verbi Dei hints at why we get to experience the "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing." John 1, which we will be studying at Urbana, does likewise...
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

Adoption. Redemption. Revelation. "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing."

So, that's why some old, dead guys think we have Christmas.

Here're some other opinions:
How December 25 became Christmas - the origins of the date and festival

O Holy Night...sort of - "Jesus was born and so I get presents"...Eric Cartman's take on Christmas

Advent Conspiracy - These folks think that since it's Jesus' birthday, he should get the presents and that having this attitude would help us, especially in America, to recover what they call "the scandal of Christmas."

Why I dislike religious people (one of several reasons)

I can almost year this friend's voice: "...and that's why I dislike religious people." Actually, he would say 'hate' rather than 'dislike' and would modify 'hate' with a word that started with 'f' (you can guess which word).

I also find myself, at times, gripped by an intense dislike of religious people. Sometimes those people are people I see on TV; sometimes they're my friends; sometimes they are me. Sometimes I catch myself acting self-righteous, looking down on people who aren't as "Christ-like" as me, who are foolish. Sometimes I find myself rolling my eyes at my friends' earnest pursuit of the Christ-life, mumbling to myself "quit being such a Tebow." That's religiosity and, man, do I flippin' dislike religious people.

We become this sort of person - close to the kingdom, but, oh, so far away - when we lose perspective. Here are three ways we lose perspective:

1) We fail to see God doing anything while we're "training wisely." If our perspective is so narrowly focused that we can only see our own efforts, why wouldn't we become the arrogantly, self-righteous down-the-nose-looking religious nut jobs that we all dislike? We can take credit for our own holiness, our own good deeds.

If, on the other hand, if it is "God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" and we are truly "God's workmanship," then we should expect some healthy "fear and trembling" and the refreshing awareness that "no one can boast." (see Ephesians 2:8-10 and Philippians 2:12-13). It is following this train of thought that Paul eventually winds up saying: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

2) We fail to see God's command to "train wisely." If our perspective only notices God's promise to perfect us and is only aware of his grace, we miss out on his frequent commands to work for the kingdom. In our efforts to fight and re-fight tired, old Reformation battles, we end up with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls a "cheap grace"
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin...

But over and over again, God says, from Leviticus to 1 Peter, "Be holy". God wants us to live in raging pursuit of spiritual discipline, to train wisely, to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. So, my eye-rolling and exasparated grunts betray a perspective-failure, a perspective that fails to see God's command.

3) We fail to see why God wants us to "train wisely." God isn't just cracking the whip because he wants obedience. God desires relationship. This is a huge part of the story of Jonah, if you remember that series. In our pursuit of discipline, we are connecting with and getting in on what God is doing in our lives and in the world. This is something that we can do together.

And this is why the religious person in me is so horrible. He pushes God away. "I've used you already." of "I'm doing it on my own." Both of those religious perspectives cause us to miss this huge opportunity, to connect with God. Someday, God will perfect this work. Maybe it will happen while we're sleeping. We will have worked with him on this project for days and weeks and montha and years and decades and one night while we're sleeping, he'll finish it. It's not the glory of getting the work done that we're after, but the relationship and intimacy we experience along the way.

The right perspective makes a huge difference

What is God doing while we are "training wisely"?

If God is working while we are "training wisely," why don't we just cease working and let him take over?

Why does God require us to "train wisely" if he's just going to finish the job himself in the end?

The answers lie in the concept of Perspective.

Something's missing

Something's missing
And I don't know how to fix it
Something's missing
And I don't know what it is
At all

This song, Something's Missing by John Mayer, captures one of the emotions that I frequently feel when I'm trying to work any difficult discipline into my life.

Over the last week or so, since that challenge was issued to blog more frequently over break, I've been blogging about discipline and "training wisely." There have been posts about Resources, Timing, Community and Rhythm. It's been fun to think about.

But something's missing.

Even if we use resources wisely, bite off exactly as much as we can chew, involve other people wisely and pay wise attention to our ups and downs...something's missing.

What's missing?

Here's a hint:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - Ephesians 2:8-10

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. - Philippians 2:12-13

Sunday church feature: Abingdon Bible

We love and appreciate Abingdon Bible Church.

Amy became a Christian in ABC's Children's ministry and jumped into the mission field with their support. She learned to value Scripture under Pastor Greg's leadership. And this summer, when Jane was in the hospital and Amy and I were struggling for hope, Pastor Paul and Jane's Care Group were there for us. We think that Abingdon Bible is a special church, the sort of church you should look for when you're looking for a church.

Here are at least 3 special things that you'll find at ABC:

1) A commitment to God's Word: the
sermons are biblically-based and expositional, Sunday schools study Scripture, they wrestle deeply with God's Word.

2) A commitment to share the gospel with the whole world: they value evangelism, support missionaries, and really want people to come to know Jesus.

3) A commitment to community: their Care Groups engage God and each other, they pray for each other faithfully, and they love spending time together.

Churches like Abingdon Bible are intimately linked with our work on campus. They support us with prayer, personal encouragement, and financial support. And our hope is that the folks we get to work with will leave W&L and bless churches like these with their maturity and leadership.

God loves local churches, and so do we!

God-given rhythms

God gives us rhythms.

We don't pay a lot of attention to life's rhythms. We work from home, eat food shipped from around the world, use birth control. And all this makes life a little more comfortable.

Until you hit a day like today. We've had almost two feet of snow in Lexington. Everything but the wine shop in Buena Vista is closed. Life is slower. Boring.

Proverbs 19 talks about gaining and cherishing wisdom, seeking out instruction. I've been thinking about that today, as I've been experiencing the forced slow-down caused by the snowy rhythms of God's Nature.

My mentor - Bill - jokes that there are three different ways to learn...
- you can go to school
- you can learn from your mistakes
- you can learn from my mistakes

I think Solomon wanted me to listen to Bill (and folks like him). And Bill says that God gives us rhythms. And I believe him.

It was Bill who introduced me to the question "How are things with you and God right now?" The implication behind this is that God and I have a relationship, one with ups and downs, moment of intimacy and distance. The ancients carried this idea in their themes of consolation and desolation. (Note that this is the subjective plane of which we are speaking. Objectively, God is always present and the relationship is never truly at risk).

So, then, "training wisely" would require an awareness of our God-given rhythms.

These rhythms are caused (in the proximate, not the ultimate) by things as natural as how we sleep, what we eat, the frightful weather outside, and seasons and by things as unnatural as sin. Some days, we are more able to pray. Some days, God's words leap from the text and shake us with power. Some days, even the small act of smiling at a stranger requires Holy Spirit power. That's how rhythm impacts discipline, our "training wisely."

I wanted to leave you with a quote from my old, dead, never-met friend CS Lewis. In his book Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes to his friend Malcolm Muggeridge about rhythm. Unfortunately, I can't find the book (story of my life). It might be lost in my truck or it might be in the good hands of Luke-the-wonderful-and-wild-west-virginian-bear-scarer-Ellis. I'll leave you with this attempted re-creation:
I go wrong when I make the mistake Pascal called "The Error of Stoicism": thinking we can do always what we can do sometimes.

Rhythm is a dancer

I've had that song stuck in my head all day. Actually, it's been alternating with Rosemary Clooney's "I want to wash my hands, my face, my hair with snow".

I have to confess, I have no idea what they're singing about in "Rhythm is a dancer," nor (I suspect) do I want to. I mean, anyone who would say "I'm as serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer" in early 90s pop-rap, can't be saying something helpful.

But here's something helpful:

Your spiritual growth has a rhythm.

Want to know more? Well...there's a foot of snow on the ground already, so I guess I'll be writing tomorrow.

It takes a village to raise a Christian

Sometimes I hate English.

Who decided that "you" (second person singular) and "you" (second person plural) would be the same word? I easily read through my Bible and assume all the "you's" are directed at me, reading the Bible, alone, somewhere private. Now, some would interject here "That's why you should read it in Greek! in Espanol! in context!" And I would reply "I really want to, but..."

The context of Christian discipleship is the Christian community. Most of us were never intended to go off like Rocky and train into the Russian wilderness to train. We don't pursue spiritual growth and the Christ-life apart from the body God's given, the body of Christ, the church.

Proverbs 16 indicates that "a perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends". Our communities are meant to be harmonious, close friendships nourished. But often our attempts at growing into a godly life pushes us away from other people.

I was talking to a friend today - a student at W&L - and was sharing with her a little bit about how I've seen her grow in her relationship with God this year. One of the things that really stood out to me (and that she's noticed in her own life) is that she seems to have developed a healthy balance in the way she relies on her Christian friends to help her live life as Jesus taught and modeled it, to "train wisely."

When she first became a Christian, she relied on folks too much (they started to replace God). When she realised this, she unplugged, but went a little over-board (I mean, these people were given to her by God to help her live the Christ-life). Now, she's in a healthy place. And I'm excited about that.

There are tons of reasons people shy away from the church. Surprisingly, one of them is that they want to follow Jesus and they feel that the Christian community gets in the way. (Check out this book for a thoughtful, productive approach to this phenomena).

No matter our reason - whether it's growth, shame, or arrogance - leaving the church behind always hinders our following of Jesus. Leaving a particular church can help (though not as often as we leave), but leaving the church never does.

Jesus loves the church. He changes the world through the church. You cannot be in him and not be in the church. This is the deep, body theology of 1 Corinthians and Ephesians and John. You may not go to church on Sunday, you may not like any of the various Christian communities you know, but if you are "in Christ" (united to him through the gospel), you are - mysteriously - "in the church".

The context of Christian discipleship is the Christian community. It takes a village to raise a Christian. And not just any village, the village in which dwells the Christ.

As we "train wisely", let's pour our lives into the church. It is the only place we were meant to grow, for it is the only place we were meant to dwell.

All in the timing

I love buffets. Today, I went with Will to Crystal Chinese Kitchen ("a shining jewel of pseudo-Chinese fried deliciousness" or an "inauthentic slop heap" depending on which review you read). I always leave Crystal stuffed to the gills and I'm always hungry a few hours later...the rice, I know.

In Proverbs today, I read about buffets...or at least about that dance of plenty and want.
Better a little with the fear of the LORD
than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred.
I couldn't help but think of this on-going, mostly (but not completely) one-sided (thanks, Larry) conversation we've been having on the blog about discipline and "training wisely."

Some of us rely too much on resources. Some of us don't use them enough. As mentioned here, we need more than resources to "train wisely."

We need the right timing. So often, our attempts to pursue discipline fail because we try to do too much, we go to the buffet and put too much food on our plate, we over-reach.

I remember the first time I tried to read the Bible every day. It didn't work. I tried to read too much too fast. My timing was off. There's nothing inherently wrong with reading the Bible for an hour a day or owning a fattened calf. Some people can do it. Maybe someday, you and I will be among those people. But what usually happens when our timing is off is that we go great for a few days and then crash. We read for an hour, then don't have the time, then drop the discipline. We get the fattened calf or the great wealth and experience turmoil.

Timing matters.

In some cases, too much, too soon can be worse than nothing at all (see 1 Tim 3:6). Let's be realistic about our timing. What disciplines can we realistically incorporate into our lives today? What would be too much?

Let's train wisely. Timing matters. We don't pursue Jesus in a vacuum. We need to be aware of our current limits if we are going to challenge them with growth. And since we're not in a vacuum, we should probably think about how the people around us, our community, impacts our training wisely...

That resource card might not help you get that development card

Wandering off of the Way of Wisdom can be hazardous. In Proverbs 14 we hear warnings of beatings, loneliness, poverty, death and (perhaps worst of all) becoming an oppressor of the poor, someone who shows contempt for their Maker (Prov. 14:31). These dangers lurk in the darkness that surrounds the path.

Many of us have been exposed to resources that are designed to keep us on the Way of Wisdom. Quiet time guides, prepared prayers, Bible studies, Christian books and music form guardrails for many of us in our pursuit of a Christ-like life. These resources are their place.

In high school and into college I carried one of these resources with me everywhere I went, strapped to my wrist: the infamous WWJD bracelet. My friends held me to a higher standard because I wore the bracelet and I actually went several years without sinning. Yeah, I never once wandered from the Way of Wisdom while I wore my handy-dandy WWJD bracelet. When it started smelling really bad and the white lettering took on a yellowish tinge, I removed it my horror...started sinning and wandering again.

You see through that, right? Resources can help us live life as Jesus taught and modeled it, but they are not enough. We ignore them to our detriment, but they are not enough. I'd recommend using a Bible reading plan, committing God's Word to memory, and singing quality worship songs in praise to God...but this is not enough.

Resources fail. This is a tough truth. You can read your Bible every day and not live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. Does that sound crazy?

One of the main reasons folks don't want much to do with Christians is because they see us as hypocrites, people who claim a relationship to God and yet fail to live the Christ-life. We've all known those people...heck, somedays I'm those people. No, resources aren't enough.

We need more. What do we need?

My Weekend Update (12/12)

Here're two helpful quotes by John Ortberg that I've found helpful this week:

Discipline: Any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort.

Spiritual discipline: Any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it.

And in the reading from Proverbs for today (12:1 in particular), we see discipline connected to correction (loving discipline is contrasted with hating correction). This is a very versatile concept!

Pity the Fool

Before we really dive into what it means to "train wisely," it might be helpful to describe wisdom. In a way, that's what the book of Proverbs is all about, this description of wisdom.

One of the main ways Proverbs describes wisdom is by contrasting it with foolishness. Proverbs 11 exemplifies this technique. The author rattles back and forth between descriptions of the wise (or righteous or upright) and the foolish (or wicked or unfaithful). Readers of Proverbs are pushed, we are pushed to walk in the way of wisdom. Psalm 1 echoes this contrast. Let's not be fools, here.

So, part of our resolve to "train wisely" also involves refusing to "train foolishly."

Here are 10 ways to train foolishly...

1) Depend too much on resources
2) Reject available resources
3) Try to do too much at once
4) Plan to do too little at once
5) Rely too much on other people
6) Fail to rely on other people
7) Ignore your God-given rhythms
8) Obsess over your God-given rhythms
9) Exaggerate the importance of your effort
10)Downplay the importance of your effort

Maintaining a healthy balance in these categories - resources, timing, community, rhythm and perspective - has proven vital to my pursuit of discipline. That narrow way that runs straight through those extremes of foolishness, that is the way of discipling, the way to "train wisely."

Fight like a man beating the air

I made a decision recently.

When we found out that Amy was pregnant, we were overwhelmed with joy. We starting really thinking about what life with a child would be like: where would we put the crib? Who will we trust to babysit? How can we prepare Jiffy and Cinco to welcome the child?

This thought of preparation slowed me down. Our friends, April and Zach, just had another child (Emma with the supermodel hair). They are great parents. And they are exhausted. Being a parent, or maybe being a great parent, requires a lot of energy: late feedings, frequent changing, games and rocking and singing.

I realized that I'm not least, not in that way. I don't have the energy to parent. I can try. I will try, of course, you have to. But an honest evaluation reveals that I'm on pace to fail.

So, I made a decision.

I wasn't going to just "try harder". I will "train wisely". I will pursue discipline in order to honor the responsibility that God has given me as a potential parent. So, I hit the gym: one day a week in October, three days a week in November, four days a week in December...slow, intentional, incremental steps. Training.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about training. He encourages the church to "not run aimlessly" and "not fight like a man beating the air." That image, the image of a man beating the air, flailing his arms, the scattered whirl of limbs that exemplifies the schoolyard brawl...that image stands in stark contrast to the image of the boxer, standing steady and ready to apply focused violence.

And Paul's not talking about exercise here, not really. The analogy is good, but the stakes are higher. As Proverbs 10 says: "The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot." We train with long-term, impactful, eternal consequences on the and blessing on one hand, the sorrowful rot on the other.

How, then, do we train wisely?

Fighting for my love

I've been wondering today how discipline relates to status. How does our status as men and women who have been united to Christ and adopted as God's beloved does this status connect with the biblical call to "train wisely" (ie. discipline)?

There seem to be many ways to approach this, but one angle might be to ask: "What is God doing while we're training?"

I was sitting and praying about this today, avoiding the gym showers after a long workout, and I experienced this special moment of connection with God. I had my iPod on and a song came shuffled in: Fighting for my love by Nil Lara. I wonder if that phrase - "fighting for my love" - captures the essence of God's activity while I'm training.

It's so easy to abandon God-love while pursuing the way of discipline. Routine sets in and the checklists, well, they satisfy and substitute for real relationship (at least for a while).

That image of Lady Wisdom from Proverbs 9 was so vivid today. "Let all who are simple come in here! ... Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding."

I think that God, like Lady Wisdom, invites and pursues (see Luke 14), fights for our love. And His fighting shapes our practice of "training wisely." We pursue discipline because it will help us love the One who loves us.

Discipline prevents The Slide

No great company sets a goal to slide into mediocrity. No newlyweds, madly in-love, plan to divorce down the road. No fit, muscular athlete figures how to put on a hundred pounds ... in the next few years. No neighborhood holds a meeting to outline steps toward a rundown community. No committed, vibrant Christian dreams of a day when he or she will reject and curse and simply walk away from God, living a life of joyless compromise.
- Jose Barreda

One of the reasons we "train wisely" and pursue discipline is because our story contains The Slide. We live in a slidden world. Small, incremental slips(not spectacular sins) hold us captive. We die the death by a thousand cuts. I mean, kinda.

We believe in the gospel and rely on the Saviour. Though we are dying, held, slipping and sliding, we are solid and stable and free and alive. We pursue discipline, not out of desperation, but as a strategy.

Reading Proverbs 6 highlights this. A little sleep, a little slumber and poverty will come on your like an armed man. Constant vigilance is necessary. But how do we reconcile this with constant grace, constant providence, constant security in Christ?

Does our status in Christ remove our need for "training wisely" in order to prevent The Slide?

Training wisely, not trying harder

There is a huge difference between "trying harder" and "training wisely."

At Leaders' this week, we talked about this distinction. Many of us long to have a deeper relationship with God and a more disciplined spiritual life. We identify areas of sin and brokenness in our lives and resolve to turn from them. We single out areas of sin and brokenness in our communities and resolve to put an end to them.

And this is all good. But ill fated.

Our resolve falters and sin creeps back into our communities and into our lives. Our strength fails. We yo-yo. We try and try and try and give it our all and then collapse.

We need a better way.

The way of Christian discipleship is way of "training wisely." We take small, intentional steps toward transformation. Abby and Crystal and Salley are reading one Proverb a day. Just one. For now. That's how it works, that's how discipline always works. More on this later...

For a deeper discussion of Training vs. Trying see John Ortberg's chapter on the topic in The Life You've Always Wanted. And yes, Google Books is awesome.