From Nominal Faith to Holy Obedience

Nominal Christianity.
Convenience/Consumer Christianity.

There is nothing nominal or convenient about Hebrews 4. Theme’s of trusting God, obedience, and praying in a manner that we are honest about our motives don’t give us the option to pick and choose.

Nominal/Convenience Christianity won’t allow us enough time to sit in prayer, becoming aware of our hidden agendas and motives, in the light of God’s holy presence.

Hebrews 4 is the ultimate #checkyourheart. The writer is recalling a story of when the people of Israel did not enter into the promised land because of their disobedience. It would have been a time of rest and trust in a God who called them the beloved, the apple of His eye. Instead, they turned to ideologies and beliefs which were more convenient.

Followers of Jesus are in constant dialogue with the King. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded that it’s about His Kingdom and His will. We pray about everything! For our decisions, kids, marriage, work, finances, hidden motives! Everything!

Relying on God’s work to shepherd us–to guide, feed, protect, and care for us–is to enter His rest. We go at His pace, asking for what He wants in all situations. And how liberating it is to admit that I’m limited in power, wisdom, and humility! I’m not meant to be ruler of my life.

I used to think obedience, trust, and faith were heavy tasks and so demanding. But then life kept smacking me. Failures turned into prayers of help. Seeing my limitations in full display have brought me to my knees. I need a King! I need a Savior. I need the God of Scripture who longs to guide and lead for His good purposes, which somehow end up being good for all of us.

Are you burned out? Stressed? Hiding your twisted motives? Living in constant worry and fear? Lacking direction? The Gospel (good news) is that Christ longs to shepherd us. But it requires an active trust and obedient heart. It’s okay. If you don’t have that kind of mind/heart, admit it and ask God to change you.

Unbelief as Mistrust

Hebrews 3:12,14 (The Message)So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God.If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.

Observation 1: Biblical trust is more than doing a free-fall and letting others catch you. Trust is more like a relationship you build with a local favorite restaurant. The waiter/waitress knows your order and they deliver every time. You keep going back because you feel cared for, the food is good, and the service is worth it.

Observation 2: Unbelief (mistrust) usually causes a turning away. We don’t feel safe. It feels too vulnerable to trust so we hide or turn away. There is an evil force working to create mistrust between us and the Living God. Can we confess our unbelief and how it’s caused us to turn away? It’s caused my heart to be distrusting and skeptical. And this has led to nothing good.

Observation 3: The phrase “Living God” and unbelief would go together. Living God is about a God who is active, present, and cares about us and this world. I don’t always feel or trust that. Nothing good has come from it.

Observation 4: To be in Christ means that it’s the power of Christ that is moving us towards a deeper trust, relinquishing all mistrust and unbelief. Christ is an active reality in our hearts and minds that is renewing us to have hearts of deep trust.

Can I trust that the Living God is present and actively longing to be Lord of my life? To guide, lead, and provide?

Can I confess my unbelief knowing very well that it’s led to hurt and pain?

Can I trust that I’m not missing out on anything because God is active in our lives?

Becoming through Committing

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

“Spiritually and morally he was searching, sincerely and even desperately, for someone or something to commit himself to; but, even as he flirted with faith and church, his restlessness and bad habits made it difficult for him to commit himself to anything in a consistent way.”

– Ronald Rolheiser, source link

The quote is leading towards a deeper truth about contemplative prayer; mainly that through this form of prayer, we are becoming more attuned to the eternal in the ordinary-everyday experience. I get this at some level in my soul. I sometimes feel restless and ask myself, “is this all there is?” It may be, but eternity is staring me in the face and I may not be aware of it…

What struck me most about Rolheiser’s quote regarding Thomas Merton is the principle that we have a need to commit ourselves to something or someone (or both), in a consistent way. It makes sense that one of the original wounds some of us struggle with is fear of commitment and abandonment. We feel stuck, isolated, afraid that “this is it”. But we don’t see how we become more of ourselves when we give our lives away to someone or something.

When Merton gave his life away to the trappist monastery, he was committing to something greater than himself. It was a commitment to pray, serve, practice solitude, and learn to live in community. Our commitments are no less. His life of contemplative prayer helped him to see the eternal in his lifelong commitment.

While I’ve given my life away to marriage, parenting, and being a chaplain, there seems to be something deeper calling me. I’m still seeking a deeper level of commitment; something that will cost me my whole life. I also recognize that my own practice of contemplative prayer is opening me up to see the deep eternal purposes in every day life and my current commitments. Eternity is present in the now to these commitments. I’m just praying for the eyes to see the depth and the ears to hear the eternal in my marriage, parenting, and those I serve. There’s more happening than I realize!

I’m also becoming more sympathetic to those who have committed themselves to a work/vocation of being engineers, sales and marketing strategists, technicians, gardeners, or artists. Many have found their calling in such endeavors. I envy them in some way. And yet, I think we need better ways to honor their calling and commitments.

Have you given your life away to something or someone? How have you experienced the eternal (the depth) of this commitment? How has it shaped you?

Understanding Contemplative Prayer

The difference between meditation and contemplation is predicated on this: In meditation we focus on icons, on God as God appears in our thoughts, imagination, and feelings. In contemplation, icons are treated as idols, and the discipline then is to sit in a seeming darkness, beneath a cloud of unknowing, to try to be face to face with a reality which is too big to grasp within our imagination. Meditation, like an icon, is something that is useful for a time, but ultimately we are all called to contemplation. As the Cloud of Unknowing puts it: “For certainly, he who seeks to have God perfectly will not take his rest in the consciousness of any angel or any saint that is in heaven.”

Ronald Rolheiser, source

I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer (off and on) for the past 10 years. What’s been unnerving is the jittery anxiety I feel during the prayer time itself. If I’m to let all thoughts and feelings ascend to God–even my loving images of who God is so that I might be present to the reality of God–then I feel totally out of control! It’s been a great way to keep surrendering to the Great Other! I see the prayer as an act of sweet surrender to all the God is…beyond the icons, constructs, or images we might have (good or ill). It’s very healing in the long run.

Urbana18 Communion Message

This was a proud a moment in my Urbana18 journey (and career, once I learned that the likings of John Stott had once led communion).

I was more nervous about 10 minutes of celebrating communion in front of 11000 people than playing drums for about 8-10 sets! And communion was to be the last talk of the conference so I had to wait all week in anxious excitement.

I was honored to lead communion and felt a sense of God’s peace and presence. I was asked how I felt after leading: “I felt like myself”.

The message has continued to nourish me. I’m still trying to understand who Jesus is and what it means to remember Him. I’m in a place of seeking where it’s dark so being reminded that not all things are understood or explained from the outset is comforting. Communion has become a “God cares” reminder.

Urbana 18 Recap

URBANA18 Recap

What does it mean to be a faithful witness in a culture that is experiencing so much disruption?  In a church era that is seeing decline and losing influence? In some ways, these were the questions that Urbana aimed to address.  Using the book of Revelation, speakers used its message of Jesus Christ as the Faithful One to convey how God is seated on the throne, ruling and reigning.  

Having an image of God as the model for Faithful Witness gives us a way to give our lives over to Christ Jesus in all circumstances because we know that in the end, all things are made new by his power, authority, and redemptive love.  

It’s in this context that we’re compelled to be a faithful witness in our own settings and purposes so that we might know Christ and make him known.  

WORSHIP

Worshipping and attending the conference with close to 11000 attendee’s was a gift.  While I’ve played drums on big stages, it was the hospitality offered by all the InterVarsity volunteers and team members that most touched me.  Their encouragement, support, and volunteering truly blessed the worship team. The stage managers, production directors, and traffic control volunteers were the real heroes.  It’s the volunteer crew of about 1000+ people that make the conference so special.

The student and attendee’s showered the worship team with love and support.  After the first full day, we fell in love with them and it turned into a mutual partnership of worshipping and communing together.  

We received the following feedback (paraphrased):

  • Worshipping in multiple languages was a powerful expression of all tribes and tongues praising Jesus.
  • Many shared how the worship team seemed like a family on stage and was unpretentious off-stage.  I think that’s because we spent so much time with each other off stage learning to “remain in Jesus” and be as competent as possible on the stage.  We grew in love for each other and that spilled onto the stage.
  • Many long time InterVarsity staffers and directors said it was the best worship experience they’ve seen at Urbana!  I had text messages after the first day with feedback that it was the best start they’d seen. They also said it was some of the most competent musicianship they’d ever had.  
  • The team was praised for how leadership was shared on the stage.  While Eric Lige was our worship director, he had a vocal director, two music directors, a production engineer, sound engineer, and chaplain.  Each singer lead a song or two from the main stage. It was never one single person who dominated the stage.
  • From a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural perspective, we did at least 6 different languages.  We had people asking us how we could go from contemporary Christian music to jamaican music at the turn of a song.  We really did a wide array of styles and languages to capture God’s work around the world.

BAND CHAPLAIN

I’ve been playing the drums since I was a kid and got really serious in my 20’s.  I’ve played at large church and conference gatherings, on TBN, and have done a few albums.  This experience at Urbana was definitely a highlight. What made it deeper was serving as the band chaplain.  Throughout the year, I built a relationship with the members and listened to their hopes, struggles, and fears.  We talked about their roles and their personal lives. We had people who lost loved ones, hospitalization, and new babies!  People had family issues, ministry challenges, and personal struggles that we prayed through.

Getting to be a drummer and chaplain was the perfect job for me!  I was able to express myself musically and also be a shepherding presence.  

I tried to focus the band on Jesus as the prize–that in January, we were still going to get up, go to our regular jobs, and our hearts were to be turned towards Him as the Faithful One.  Mountain top experiences are very periodic and fun in nature. But most of our lives are lived in the valleys of life. That’s where we learn how Jesus will never leave or forsake us

COMMUNION

When I was asked to lead communion, I didn’t realize who had been leading it in past conferences.  My friend Cory Willson quipped that I’d be sharing the same stage and role as John Stott! I was really nervous after that.  

It come about that the person who was going to lead communion didn’t feel comfortable because she was not fully ordained yet.  Out of respect, she bowed out. The program director knew that I was a chaplain and commissioned to do so. They had conversations about who should be the celebrant and my name kept coming up for reasons I’m still not sure about.  They heard the work I was doing with the worship team and felt that the attendee’s would know me based on the coverage I was getting on the stage.

I submitted my communion homily and it was approved.  I rehearsed it on the big stage the day of and then waited.  It seemed like eternity. I was more nervous about ten minutes of speaking than hours of playing.

When I got up to the podium, the attendee’s cheered and were supportive.  I proceeded and when I got off the stage, my phone blew up with messages from friends watching online or in person.  I was so overwhelmed by their love and encouragement. People asked me how I felt. I told them, “I feel like myself”.

THE STATS

Here are a few telling stats:

  • We rehearsed as a band for at least 24 days.  
  • We rehearsed each song at least 20 times each.
  • 24 hours of studio time
  • 6 straight days of dress rehearsal
  • One original song written that will be a hit (Faithful unto death-Weep no more)
  • Traveled to Orlando twice, Wisconsin, St. Louis, and Pasadena for rehearsals or conferences.  
  • Urbana was streamed online and about 5000+ were watching
  • We played about 7 different genres (latin, black gospel, contemporary, r&b, etc)
  • I facilitated about 20 devotionals for the team.
  • Close to 11000 people attended Urbana

Here are some links to the conference:

https://urbana.org/urbana-18/general-sessions (video sessions)

https://urbana.org/urbana-18/photos

https://vimeo.com/309327755 (original song we wrote for the conference)

Search instagram #urbana18

THANK YOU

I’m deeply grateful to Bill Hoehn, Bob Hoehn, and the people at Hoehn Motors for their support and giving me the flexibility to be a part of this conference.  They made it possible for me to do this.

I’m grateful for the worship team and all the work everyone put it.  It was gift to see them all shine! It was a great learning experience for me and learned a lot about music, multi-ethnicity, team dynamics, and about own self.  

I want to thank Una Lucey Lee for trusting me to celebrate communion and for all her encouragement throughout the year.  She is a force to be reckoned with. 🙂

I also want to thank Ruth Hubbard for her constant support.

Lastly, I’m grateful for Christina and my boys.  We made a family decision to do this and they supported me 100%.  Oh, and I’m grateful for Ernie and Lindsey LeDuc. He’s my basstie!

I imagine that this team will be lifelong friends and that we’ll conspire together in the future!

Barbara Holmes on the human task

“. . . As I see it, the human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. . . .”

Barbara Holmes

Understanding Male Depression in Midlife Crisis Stage

Hitting my 40’s has wrought up some deep feelings that I imagine many men feel but aren’t aware of. I think it’s important to pay attention to this stage of life. It’s trying to gift us, if we can do the hard work.
 
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“In its essence, the midlife crisis is part of a life stage. Sooner or later, as one ages, a time comes when one engages in a process of reassessment. It’s a time to explore and test new choices, generally evoked by a deep pessimism about one’s present existence or future prospects. This pessimism emerges in full force when youth is over and maturity starts to take its place. One becomes discontent about one’s lot in life and begins to believe that what is left is not going to be much better…Men in their midlife crises are usually unaware of being in a crisis. They think they are just making natural changes. And, even if they feel depressed, irritability ity and dissatisfaction usually mask it. They gripe a lot, but don’t see it as a crisis time when they are doing some deep soul-searching.”
Archibald Hart, Unmasking Male Depression

Depression and Mid Life Crisis of Faith

“For the majority, the midlife period may mean a crisis of faith of lesser proportions. You question your values, but there is no risk of abandoning one’s faith or family. You struggle to ignore your disillusionments, and your spirituality may suffer a little, but you plod on hoping that all will come right in the end. What is needed here? Hang on. This, too, will pass. Pray for a deep sense of understanding of what is going on within your spirit. Periods of doubt are normal for humans who “only see through a glass darkly.” Remember, this is your crisis not God’s. God hasn’t abandoned you. This is a time for Him to do His finest work in you, if you cooperate.”

Archibald Hart, Unmasking Male Depression

During this period of time, we need a spirituality of “hang in there”.  God will never leave us or forsake us.  Our values, senses, and beliefs are being refined.  Hold on!