To live “from Christ” // Some thoughts for the first week of Lent

Hey Bloom family (and anyone else listening in) –

If the snowstorm hadn’t knocked out our gathering on Sunday night, we would have met together as usual and I would have had the pleasure of getting our Lenten journey rolling with a meditation on a marvelous little text: Mark 1:9-15–A text that, in my opinion, has great significance on the appropriate ethos for our pilgrimage to Easter.

The story is simple enough. Jesus is baptized. The heavens break open and the Father declares his affirmation of the Son. The Spirit descends. Jesus is sent into the wilderness to be tempted, and emerges preaching and demonstrating the kingdom of God.

If you listen closely, you can hear echoes of a much, much older story–of Noah and his ark. A story in which Creation buckles under the weight of human failure, and out of which a new earth, and a new humanity are born. You might remember that as the waters of the Flood began to recede, Noah sent out first a raven, and then a dove, to see if there was dry land anywhere. When one day the dove did not return, Noah knew–they had found terra nova. History could begin afresh.

Mark’s point seems to be precisely the samein the Dove’s descent upon Jesus, who rises out of the watery chaos, a new earth, and a new humanity are born. No wonder that the first narrative recorded after this episode is the temptation of Christ–the New Man will succeed where the Old Man failed.

The reason that the Church inaugurates the Lenten journey with this story, in my opinion, is in part to safeguard us against thinking that the point of this is simply the exertion of more moral and spiritual effort to make ourselves right. It certainly DOES involve effort, don’t get me wrong. But what the great spiritual masters down through the ages have discovered is that the secret of this whole thing is learning to abandon ourselves to the New Man who has come to dwell in us, letting him exert his life and his energy in us so that our own humanity may rise to the Father. Paul’s words drive the point home: the mystery, the secret, is “Christ IN you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). From him and through him we find the resources to live in authentic freedom and hope.

As I’ve grown in faith, I think that I’ve come more and more to grips with this. Just last week I sat with a guy who had listened to my teachings for several years and said (in slight exasperation), “I just want to be able to pray like you do” (meaning that he wanted to be able to pray with confidence that God can and would do the things he asked). I tried to theologize a bit with him about that, and at one point attempted to make it as simple as I possibly could by saying, “You know, sometimes what I try to do–for instance, when I’m praying for someone to be healed–is that I imagine Christ laying his hands on them through my hands. I know that Christ has total confidence in his Father and command over the illness. So I pray through him.”

I am not sure the comment totally sunk in with my friend, but later I reflected on what my capacity to make such a remark represents for where my own faith has come. I remembered how, when I was younger, I would pray for folks and all the while be analyzing the “state of my faith”–whether my faith felt strong or weak. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t feel the need to analyze my faith. At all. Ever. I just pray from the Christ who dwells in me. I trust in and pray through He who trusts his Father. It’s as simple as that.

What I know now that I did not know in my earlier years is that the energy to live any part of our calling well comes from the Christ who dwells in us. Christ does not doubt his Father. Christ does not quail before the Enemy. Christ loves his neighbors and has compassion on the hurting. Christ’s heart breaks for his enemies and begs his Father to forgive them. I can live from that, if I choose. For there is grace for it. He dwells in us. And over time, if I choose to live from that, it will no longer be conscious choice. It will be habit. My “person” will have been totally integrated into Him upon whom the Dove rests–the New Man in the sight of God who makes all of us New Men.

I say all that to say, I hope that you will not make this Lent merely about personal effort. I pray that you will make it about the adoration of the Christ who has come to dwell in you, who is animating your person so that it rises in love and obedience to the Father. If you love him well, and rest in him deeply, and live from him and through him each moment, you’ll find yourself changed. That’s grace. That’s what this journey is all about.

Love to you,

Andrew

PS – If you haven’t yet, be sure to snag my ebook “Only Where Graves Are” on Google Books. I wrote it to be a companion on your Lenten journey. Check it out here.

“Only Where Graves Are” ebook available next week

Hey friends –

I’m super excited to let you know about a project I’ve been working on for Lent this year.

I’ve been talking for years about doing more substantive writing, and several months ago I decided that now was the time. I wanted to work on a project that would be fun and natural, and manageable in its scope, and so I decided to put together an ebook for Lent.

The title of the book is “Only Where Graves Are”, borrowing from the famous Nietzsche quote: “Only where graves are are there resurrections.” It’s ten (modest) chapters long, and each chapter is essentially an extended meditation on the lectionary readings for the key moments in Lent–Ash Wednesday, each of the Sundays, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

only_where_1

My hope with the book is that, by serving as a bit of a companion to you during Lent, you’ll find yourself drawn more deeply into the story of how God has come to us in the obedient, suffering, and finally resurrected Christ–who illuminates for us not only who God is but also the nature and destiny of our own humanity. In the adoration of Christ, we find that his story becomes our story.

The book will be available for purchase over at the Bloom website early next week. I hope you’ll buy and enjoy and tell all your friends 🙂

Grace to you.

Andrew

An open letter to our beloved Bloom // On giving the Spirit our “yes”

Good morning Bloom –

Following Sunday’s gathering, in which I preached out of Mark 1 (“a new teaching–and with authority”) and talked about how the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of the rich reality of God in our midst to utterly transform human life–a reality that includes phenomena typically characterized as “charismatic” (signs and wonders and miracles and what have you)–and that God’s desire for his people always is that they would make their way into bigger and deeper “yes’s” to the Spirit’s work so that God would arise in fresh and powerful ways among them, a gal came up to me and said, “You know what really scares me? It’s not giving God a ‘no’, but really giving him that ‘yes’ you spoke of… because giving him my yes includes the possibility that I’ll be hurt or disappointed or let down. If I lower my expectations, it’s easier when God seems to do nothing.”

I felt so much compassion for her, and really deeply resonated with what she was saying. What she was talking about was the risk involved in giving ourselves utterly to God, casting ourselves upon the impossible possibility that maybe, just maybe, it’s all true–that the New Testament may in fact be merely the tip of the iceberg of the total work of God in the world, that there really might be a God who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were”, that the friends of Jesus really may be called to “greater works” (whatever that means).

To involve ourselves with such a God and with such a story is scary. The risks are many. We risk disappointment, we risk what can feel like failure; but we also risk the possibility that in all this yielding, the Spirit will drag us out beyond the places of our comfort. We won’t be in control anymore.

I really want that. For me. For us. And I really believe deep down that God has much more for us than what any of us have ever seen or known.  

The beautiful thing about a congregation like Bloom is that we’re capable AT ONCE of holding a ferocious desire for more of God AT THE SAME TIME AS we acknowledge the mystery and complexity of this whole thing. Many congregations can’t do that. And so when God doesn’t do what they thought he was going to do, they find convenient explanations–sin, a lack of faith, judgment from God; you name it.

We’ll never do that at Bloom. We don’t feel the need to explain all of this away, since the truth is that none of us can ever have any definitive notion of why things turn out the way they do anyway. But neither will we back off of longing from God all that he’s capable of giving us. We’ll keep coming at him with pure hearts, like children, expecting his highest and best and then resting in his arms when things don’t happen like we hoped they would.

To me, that is one of the highest forms of faith–being able to sit in the tension, without surrendering once inch of territory on either side of our ache and the mystery of God’s total work.

Anyway. I just thought that was worth saying. I’m so encouraged by all that God is doing in our midst. I hope you are too. Let’s keep running like banshees into the new creation…

Grace, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

Andrew