Focus.

“Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.”

—J.D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary

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-ISMS: Materialism.

Ever been consumed with a product – with the getting of it — that you fantasized about how great life would be once you finally obtained it? That’s the promise and allure of advertizing: your life is incomplete without __________, but would be so awesome and complete with it.

That item for me was an iPad. When they first came out in early Spring 2010, I really wanted one. I thought of all the ways I could justify a purchase of the base model ($500) and present the case to my wise, frugal wife. Knowing our united family desire to simplify life, coupled with our commitments to become more generous, there was to be no iPad in our near future.

So, over the course of the next 12+ months I saved up, sold some of my books, and earned some additional funds through some creative work. This June I was able to purchase an iPad 2. It was a helpful tool on our UK travels, and remains a daily companion as a mobile device, e-book reader, and ubiquitous capture tool. Even still, I must live without it, and set it in our re-purposed “technology basket,” and while home with the kids the iPad must just sit there on the counter.

As American families prepare for this Christmas, starting on or before Black Friday, all sorts of gadgets like the iPhone 4S (with the automated do-everything Siri) will fly off shelves into the “deserving” hands of boys and girls, young and old alike.

Of course, we can stand at the edge of culture and decry all this “materialism” and the commercialization of holidays like Christmas. The real question is, why do we run to material things to meet our unmet needs?
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Influence: beyond impact.

My generation grow up being told we can make an IMPACT. I’m realizing its far better to grow and wield INFLUENCE.

Impact is more apparent, easily measured, and makes us feel better about ourselves. Business people, coaches, and churches all talk about “making an impact.” Few talk about how impactful things cause collateral damage (like meteorites and car collisions). Or how people wanting to make an name for themselves and leave their mark on history do things to compensate for their insecurity like have their face engraved on money — as the Roman Caesars did.

We built up to impact, but then what?

Influential things cannot be as easily measured, but their effect reaches far beyond the moment of interaction. Influential people listen more than talk, give more than they receive. The people who have influenced me the most in life are those who weren’t aiming to make an impact; they were just being faithful and had the courage to persevere in dire circumstances. It sounds so exciting to make an impact, but my money is now on the people who are so compelling by their serving and sacrifice, that their words carry great weight.

Influential people grow towards impact and then disappear, pointing people past themselves. Impact was never the goal, but a byproduct, a result of their steadiness, consistency, courage and generosity. Influential people may feel they haven’t done much or “not enough,’ though those who get caught up in their wake all agree the influence of their life was immeasurable.

Truly influential people have come to realize it’s not great talents that God blesses, as much as great likeness to Jesus.

  • Who has influenced you?
  • Have you recently expressed gratitude to that person?
  • How are you influencing the people around you? 

 

Photo credits:

“The scars of impacts on Mars” by europeanspaceagency

“12 Caesars” by Joe Geranio

“Wake” by Beardy Git

Integrated.

Do you feel like Jesus is a part of your life, and not the center of your life? You’re not alone. What does it mean to “live for Jesus” even when we have all these other responsibilities clamoring for our attention? Does your time with God compete with everything else you must do?

Consider a different approach:

“The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically ‘juggling’ various responsibilities: family, friendships, career, leisure, chores, decisions and money. We could also add social responsibilities like political activity, campaigning organizations, residents’ groups and school associations.

 

From time to time the pressures overwhelm us and we drop one or more of the balls. All too often church becomes one of the balls. We juggle our responsibilities for church (measured predominantly by attendance at meetings) just as we juggle our responsibilities for work or leisure.

 

 

An alternative model is to view our various activities as responsibilities as spokes of a wheel. At the center of hub of life is not me as an individual, but us as members of the Christian community. Church is not another ball for me to juggle, but that which defines who I am and gives Christlike shape to my life.”

—Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community, pages 42-43

-ISMS: Idealism.

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” —George Carlin

Do you call yourself a realist? And do others call you a pessimist? Was there perhaps a time when you were a romantic idealist, envisioning things that could be if only we believed and persevered towards them?

I struggle with cynicism on a daily basis, which is not a surprise confession among those who know me well. Recently I’ve begun to own up to my cynicism, which is really nothing more than pride packaged together with a know-it-all perspective and delivered by way of humor. I like to think of myself as smarter than others, and able to laugh about how things actually work as opposed to the common view of how things should work. Cynicism and its cousin sarcasm are insufferable to live with.

It’s actually not ignorant to be an idealist, as long as one’s ideals are true. Of course, being true to one’s ideals is the next step. We are as much what we do as what we say.

In continuing these intermittent series on “-ISMS,” I thought it helpful to label another one that gets both bad and good press. Ideals set before us as something to aspire toward and attain can be a great motivator, but we get into trouble when we foist our ideals on others, expecting them to measure up. Consider the ideal of community, as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Continuing on to the end of the next paragraph:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“… The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pages 26-27; translated with an introduction by John W. Doberstein.

In the Gospel the real is better than the ideal. Let God shatter your ideals of community, for that is His grace to you to bring you something far richer, more beautiful, and more nourishing for your soul.

Love is a thread.

In the garment of justice, your love is an irreplaceable thread.

The Justice Conference
February 24+25 in Portland, Oregon
thejusticeconference.com

A mark of a maturing believer and follower of Jesus is a growing awareness of the true needs in the world, and a love for those people with a passion to help meet those needs and build bridges for the Gospel message. We see the inequity in the world and are not content to wait on governments to move solely for the sake of the marginalized, needy, poor, and destitute. We give up personal comforts so others can have the basic necessities for health and life.

Justice is about reconciliation, which is rooted in love. We who have been reconciled with God, get to see His reconciling work spread to every area of our lives and all of creation. What began as a personal relationship with God adds a public dimension that becomes a transformational relationship with the world. One day the universe will be set right (final justice), though we don’t have to wait until then to meet the needs that are within our control today. The love of Christ compels us.