Grace abounding

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
In high school I was going through a particularly difficult time, wondering if I could continue to do the right thing. While speaking to my Dad over the phone (I was at boarding school at the time), he encouraged me by sharing this Scripture passage with me. It has continued to be a source of strength when I feel I just can’t take another step. Over the years, I have shared it with many others, and recently it came across my radar again in an email. Lately, I’ve been pondering the whole concept of biblical grace, and what it means for humanity—for Christians and others. What I believe this passage is saying is that God desires and gracefully equips us to sacrificially give our resources and selves for the Body of Christ. When we do this, when we love each other in a radical way—the world takes note. Check out verse 9 in the NLT:
As the Scriptures say, They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.
We love each other, and then our witness starts to mean something. Do you love your Christian family? Do you love your Catholic brothers and sisters, your Baptist neighbors, your Charismatic relatives? Do you treat your local church as a treasured family, or an exclusive club?We are called to share the Good News and make disciples of all nations. The first step is to tell the world who we belong to, and the Scripture is clear.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

3 reasons you should be observing the Christian Calendar

As a kid, my family participated in Advent through a liturgy that I assume my father created, drawing from various sources and scripture. Each Sunday night in Advent, we would turn off the fluorescent bulbs in our dining room, light a candle on the Advent Wreath, and pray together through Scripture. As we did this we traced the biblical prophecies of the coming Messiah, culminating in their fulfillment in the birth of Christ. From the first time we did this on, something about the liturgy—and especially the Church Year—stuck with me.

There are a multitude of reasons that all Christians would benefit from engaging with the Christian calendar, but here are the Big Three for me:

1) The Christian Calendar brings us into the drama of God’s redemptive story.

As we recall the longing for Messiah in Advent, the joy of Christmas, the penitential Lent, the victory of Easter, the thankfulness at Pentecost, etc., we re-enact God’s True Story. Each year we join together as a church, players for an audience of One, literally ordering our lives by the Gospel narrative. As we do this we proclaim the Good News to the world that watches and to each other in a way that places Christ at the center of our lives.

2) The Christian Calendar provides a time-tested spiritual formation strategy that works.

Just as an actor or actress can’t help but be affected at least in some way by the character he or she plays, we too are shaped by our actions and thoughts when we pattern our lives after Christ’s. It is simple enough to be understood by children, but flexible enough that there are endless avenues for creativity. And no matter what, by holding to the outline of the liturgical calendar, you’ll hit all the major discipleship points: repentance, faith, belief, redemption, walking in the Holy Spirit, waiting for the Lord, rejoicing in God’s majesty, grieving in sin, everything in the Nicene Creed. At the very least, the Church Year is a proven tool for teaching the Gospel story in a very participatory, immersive way over time. At its best, the Christian Calendar provides a way for us to order our lives around Christ, instead of secular holidays and the American academic year.

3) The Christian Calendar connects all of us to the Church Universal across time and space.

Some form of the liturgical calendar has been in use for at least 1,600 years, and possibly even more. All our Christian ancestors practiced the Church Year, most of today’s Christians across the world will participate, and many Christians in the future will also join the the rhythm of Holy Feasts and Ordinary Time. It reminds us that our faith is one that is about God calling a people out for himself, and that his plans are much, much bigger than any one person—yet each of us is loved, known, and called individually by God to be a part of Christ’s Body on Earth.

If you’re already familiar with the Church Year, there’s a possibility that it’s become old habit. I’d like to encourage you to take a step back, pause, and reflect on the timeless majesty and usefulness of this great Christian tradition. If you’ve never really given the Christian Year a thought past Christmas and Easter, consider observing the major feasts this year, starting in Advent. You don’t have to go to special services or anything (although these rhythms are designed to be observed in community)—just make yourself aware of what’s happening on the liturgical calendar, and pause each week to meditate on the Scripture that the season is based on.

I believe you’ll be blessed.

Further reading:

Notes on Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Although the Internet Monk went to be with the Lord just a few months ago, he continues to be a spiritual mentor to me. Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity (published posthumously) is a gem that aptly confronts the need for evangelical Christianity to stop with the nonsense and get back to what he calls “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” This book is for those tired of church, those wondering where Jesus is in the landscape of contemporary evangelicalism, and those that just want a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. I loved this book, and I plan to re-read it many times—I hope I can give some copies to those that would benefit from it. Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

Behind the Jesus Is Here sign is a health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel” that removes God from the status of sovereign Lord and turns him into a convenient vending machine…I wonder if Jesus mentioned promises of earthly goodies to the repentant criminal hanging on the cross next to him. (p. 23)
The Christian life isn’t a denial of the prodigal son parable, with the prodigal suddenly becoming a good boy and making his father proud. It is lived at the point where the empty-handed, thoroughly humbled son kneels before his father and has nothing to offer. (p. 126)
I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like, and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple. (p. 69)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Becoming a Minimalist

Many of you (even those that know me pretty well) wouldn’t characterize me as a minimalist. I don’t have a modern-style home, my desk is sometimes pretty cluttered, and I tend to buy more stuff than I really need. Yet, I am becoming a minimalist. Minimalism as a philosophy has really stuck with me lately, and I am genuinely trying to apply it many areas of my life. A few things that I’ve been keeping in mind:

  • Minimalism isn’t necessarily about a chic decor or ridiculous extremes that limit you from living life to fullest. It’s about appreciating what you have and learning to identify what you really need.
  • Minimalism is a process. No one can just a flip a switch and become something they’re not. Minimalism is another part of life’s journey that I’m embarking on. I’m not the perfect minimalist, and I’ll never be the perfect minimalist, but I’m getting better at it, and I’m looking forward to where it takes me.
  • Minimalism has a spiritual component that is highly compatible with Christianity. In fact, my decision to intentionally pursue a simpler, more minimal life flows directly from my Christianity. I don’t want to be defined by materialism. I want to make time to sit in silence before God. I want to never lose sight of the “mere” basics: That we are saved by grace through faith in the resurrected Jesus, and that we are called to love God and love people. I want to make Proverbs 30:7-9 my prayer.
My current favorite places to learn about minimalism:

Everyone Has a Calling

I’ve struggled a lot over the years with the idea of calling…that very specific sense from God as to what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’ve never had a “light from heaven” moment where my grand purpose in life was revealed to me. Rather, I feel like God teaches me slowly and methodically as I strive for a life of daily obedience.

Although I think God has been faithful to communicate his will for me in this way, it is sometimes discouraging when you hear all of the talk in evangelical circles regarding everybody else’s “call”…especially when you’re in vocational ministry. You start wondering if there’s something wrong with you, because you didn’t have a dramatic, ecstatic experience of divine communication.

Because of these struggles, I’ve become fairly recently interested in doctrines of vocation. Who knew Christendom even had such a thing? But as I learn about the historical Christian perspective on calling and vocation, I’m deeply encouraged, and I feel confirmed in my sense of how God is revealing my vocation to me.

One Sunday, my pastor preached on this idea, and his statements really resonated with what I’ve already been thinking. He said that in general, your calling from God probably exists at the intersection of your greatest passion, your gifts and abilities, the world’s need, and God’s glory. What a great way to think about vocational purpose.

How have you discerned God’s calling on your life?