Content

I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing. I’ve got a perfectly brewed cup of coffee to my right. A beautiful balance of earthy aroma dancing with a sweet acidity that makes me relish the warmth hitting my stomach. I’ve got music playing in my earphones, but not loud enough to drown out the ambient noise of conversations and the coffee machine. I just turned on my phone to check the time and saw the picture of my family on the home screen. God, their beautiful.

I’m feeling one thing…

Gratitude.

Gratitude for the life I live. Gratitude for the family I have. Gratitude I have for the comforts I am afforded. Gratitude for the abilities I have. Gratitude for the work I am called to. Gratitude for the grace extended me to experience all this right now.

Gratitude.

We move fast. Furiously fast. Fast enough to never be content. As I slow myself down a bit today, I can’t help but wonder, “Does contentment escape our grasp because we move too fast to catch it? Can contentment only be obtained when one slows down enough to grab hold of it?”

I think of all things I am trying to grab hold of. Some of them are honorable, others, not so much. I’m not sure the couch that makes bacon at the press of a button is an honorable desire, but it would be awesome. But all of the things I chase after are things I believe will bring me contentment. If I just get this….If I just obtain this….If I just get to this point…. The reality is grasping for another thing will not bring me contentment. To grasp contentment I need to grasp for contentment. Not another thing. Not another recognition. Contentment.

Which means looking at what I have to drink deep of those things now. My life is filled with good things and, unfortunately, I do a half-assed job of enjoying them. No wonder I am not content! I don’t even fully enjoy the things I have!

But here’s the insidious thing. To not be content is to not live in the present. Presently there are beautiful things in front me. And I could miss out on this, not even noticing the beautiful taste of this cup of coffee I am drinking, if I am thinking about what is next. Discontentment is simply a sign that we are not fully present to what is in front of us right now. In this moment.

This song.

This cup of coffee.

This conversation.

This person.

This grace.

Fully present, deeply enjoying these things, I am grateful.

And content.

What we do

This past weekend I spent a lot of time playing with my son.  Sarah had to work, met with some friends and took sometime to herself (which mother’s deserve!) and that meant I got to spend time with my son.  Let’s be clear, in no way am I complaining.  I thoroughly love spending time with Luke.  We play with tractors, we (he) goes down the slide we brought in the house during the winter months, we listen to a lot of music, we dance (in case your wondering he inherited my Dutch dancing ability), we wrestle and read books.  As his ability to learn has begun to match his curiosity the world, for both he and I, has become a lot of fun to explore.  I relish these times because I know this season will lead to another season.  That season will be good and full of joy, but it won’t be this season again.  So I will drink deep of this one now.

But that’s not what I want to write about.

As I was reflecting on my time with Luke I was struck with this thought.  For all the activity we did this week, none of it made me a father.  Playing tractors with Luke, hiding under the covers of the bed with a flashlight, reading books and changing diapers; none of it made me Luke’s father.  A babysitter could have done all that just as well.  And they would have been a babysitter, not a father or mother.  I am Luke’s father, not because of what I do, but because God saw it fitting that we should be blessed with Luke.

In the same way, I am not a Christian by what I do.  I am a Christian, a Christ follower, a disciple, because of God’s divine love towards me and the Spirit’s softening of my heart to be stirred with affection for Christ.  And that shapes what I do to be the things a Christ follower does.

This seems so straightforward, and yet, for all it’s simpleness we continue to return to the idea that what we do determines who we are.  If I stay away from rated-R movies, don’t drink beer, don’t cuss, don’t cheat on my spouse, don’t listen to certain music then I am a Christian.  Or maybe we should say it in the positive.  If I do go to church most Sundays, if I do volunteer and serve at church, if I do give some money to church, if I do go on a missions trip then I am a Christian.  But what we do (or don’t do) doesn’t determine what we are.

This isn’t to say that what we do is of no importance.  The reality is that if I am a follower of Christ, then I am going to do and not do a lot of those things.  But outward actions are not determinative of my heart’s affections for Christ.  Rather it is reverse.  My heart’s affections for Christ are determinative of my outward actions.  This is what James was getting at when he says, “I will show you my faith by what I do”  (James 2:18).  So the truth is that what we do is of extreme importance as it is evidence of our saving faith.

For some, this means they need to stop trying to become something by what they do.  Still for others it means they need to start doing.  And then for many it means we need to stop trying to judge who is in and who is out.  Because here’s the thing, I can’t see the heart.  Which means the only thing I can see regarding someone’s faith is their outward actions.  And sometimes those actions are done because of the heart’s desire for Jesus.  And sometimes those actions are done because they are trying to earn approval from Jesus.  But I cannot tell the difference.

I can only give grace.

Which is exactly what has been given to me.

 

Courage to not know

This post is largely inspired by the talk given above.

No one can deny this simple truth: the world we inhabit is amazingly complex.  Think of everything going on around you right now.  Think of the sounds you hear, the things you see, the complex reactions happening enabling you to see; the light hitting your retina and cones, the signals being sent to your nerves and to your brain, the brain processing that information allowing you to see.  Simultaneously, your brain is telling your sympathetic nervous system to send signals to your heart to keep it beating and your diaphragm to keep you breathing.  There are complex chemical reactions happening to metabolize the food you had for lunch so your body has the energy it needs to do all the things it does.  This is just your body.  Now if you are sitting next to someone double it.  And if you are sitting on the lawn add in photosynthesis.  And if you check your phone add in the signals being sent back and forth…..

You get the point.  Our world is wildly complex.  And part of the complexity is the interconnectedness of everything.  Never before in human history has the world been so connected.  Just pay attention to our stock markets.  What happens in Japan or Europe has immediate implications on US markets and vice versa.  This increasing connection simply adds to the complexity.

The complexity of the world we live in makes it impossible for us to know how everything works with any certitude.

In the video above, Harford very clearly makes this point.  And I believe his conclusion is spot on.  The complexity of the world is such that no one can really know how to fix problems.  Hartford uses the example of Unilever’s process of developing a nozzle to create detergent to illustrate this point.  Unilever hired an expert to create a nozzle that would perform the necessary function.  But it didn’t work.  Unilever resorted to a trial and error method that eventually led to a working nozzle.  And no one knows how or why it works.

Apply this idea to bigger problems.  Can a single person fully understand the depth of the global final crisis to be able to solve it?  Or even the American recession?  Of course not.

The solution according to Harford?  Trial and error. Built into the system of trial and error is room to accommodate what it is that we don’t know.  Especially what it is that we don’t know we don’t know.  When you assume that trial and error is necessary to solve a problem you aren’t as discouraged when you fail.  In the failure there is learning.  We learn something we didn’t previously know, so we create a new trial and do it all over again.  However, if we operate with a god-complex, assuming we know all there is to know and have come up with the lone solution, our ability to adapt to new information dramatically decreases.

(As a side note, his example of a politician who would voice this and refrain from the god-complex of “I alone fully understand and have a solution to X” would indeed be extremely refreshing.  Maybe even restoring my hope in politics.  But I digress)

This idea isn’t groundbreaking.  But don’t we see the antithesis of this everywhere?  I think of how often I hear someone in the church say they have the solution to all the problems.  There is a part of me that finds it even more laughable when those who confess to love Jesus claim to have the answer.  We claim God alone has wisdom and full understanding.  We believe “there is a way that seems right to man, but in the end leads to death”  (Proverbs 14:12).   And yet we claim with confidence, “If people would just read their Bibles more” as if that would solve problems.  Let me be clear, it won’t hurt, but the idea that it would solve all problems is a little oversimplified.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much we can know and understand.  We can know the person of Jesus, the love exemplified on the cross, the power of the resurrection, and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit on a life.  But there is much we don’t know.  We don’t know why God allows devastating diseases like cancer to ravage a child’s body.  We don’t know why God permits destructive tsunami’s to destroy so many lives.  We don’t know why a husband leaves his wife and children.  And claiming we do is nothing short of claiming to have the  mind of God, and that is a dangerous claim.

As pastors, the pressure to have a god-complex is even greater.   People want certainty.  People want to make sense of the world around them.  People want answers.  The pastor is in a unique situation where they can provide people with answers and solutions and certainty, and when we do, the adoration can be intoxicating.  Crack cocaine may not be more intoxicating than adoration.

Or perhaps, because there is a desire among the people for certainty, it is much less scary to provide them with some band-aid presented confidently as the antidote to an epidemic than to claim you don’t know the cure.  It is so much easier, and satisfying, to say, “I am a god and understand everything perfectly” than to say, “I don’t know.”  It is so much more comfortable to not fail, to not be seen as imperfect, or to not be seen as someone who knows than it is to say, “I haven’t a clue.”

Admitting uncertainty, fallibility, and failure comes with pain.  There is a necessary humility to live publicly with one’s own inadequacy.  One has to have given up any pretense of rightness in order to be wrong again and again and the fail towards a solution.  But isn’t this grace?  Isn’t this what we as Christians hope so fiercely in?  Do we not believe that despite our bumbling, despite our fallibility, despite our shortcomings, despite our missing the mark again and again there is grace enough to cover a multitude of mistakes?  Yes!  And yet, sadly, we fail to practice what we preach and resort to a prideful, “I alone know” response when faced with the complexity of life.

The courage to admit uncertainty, to be fallible, to make mistake after mistake is exponentially greater than the courage to be right.  Being right is easy.  Being wrong is hard.  But being wrong might just be the first and most essential step in being right.