“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Jesus (Mark 1:15)

“Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education, and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And, it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts.”

“Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.”

– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

In this quote, Peterson really gets at what repentance truly is, and what it looks like: It looks like making a decision to live differently.

Repentance is to exchange the ways of the world, for the ways of Christ; to say that following the path of guilt, shame, judgment, power, and fighting for meaning isn’t the path you are called to walk. Instead, you are called to walk a path of peace, life, grace, holiness, and love. 

Repentance is making a decision to live differently, not just feel differently.

So, with all that, ask yourself, “Are there any decisions you need to make today?

Because, you can choose to live differently, starting today.

You are NOT a Layperson

I want to be honest and say I’d like to get rid of the word “layperson.” And, if you’ve never heard it…well, that’s good…but here is what it means: “A person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject.”

At a base level, there is nothing wrong with this idea. That in some spheres or disciplines we might be a hobbyist or an amateur at something – like being an amateur filmmaker or electronics enthusiast or racing hobbyist.

The problem happens when this terminology gets infected with consumerism and spreads into the church. Because, here is what can subtly and quickly happen: We end up with two classes of Christians – the professional and the layperson. And, what can easily happen is that we expect more from the professional than the layperson, or we encourage the layperson to live vicariously through the professional.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “If I can be convinced that layperson designates who I am…then I am wide open-market for experts who are ready to tell me how to live my life and, in some cases, even live it for me…And so, I end up delegating the operations of my soul to the experts. I no longer deal with God myself – I’m a layperson, after all…following Jesus gives way to following Jesus-experts.”

I couldn’t agree more. This is a problem in the North American church. We are tempted to follow Jesus-experts, rather than get out into life itself and follow Jesus for ourselves.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need people who give up decades to studying the Bible and God. Our theologians, scholars and pastors can help us and they matter, but they can’t follow Jesus for us. We can’t delegate the core of following Jesus to experts who are trained in evangelism, knowing the Bible, hospitality or teaching. They can point us to Jesus, help us understand Jesus,  train us in the way of Jesus, but they can’t follow Jesus for us.

I write all this to remind you to not buy into the idea that you are layperson in the church. If you are a follower of Jesus, you ARE the Church. And yes, some of us have been doing it longer than others (and we should look to these people for help!), but they can’t fill our role or our calling

So, we need our models, leaders, pastors and teachers. But, let’s never let “following Jesus give way to following Jesus-experts.” Because the world needs all of us – including you.

Changing Directions During Lent

changing direction blog.pngI’ve recently been convicted of something in my life by God and it’s this: I’m often tempted to use God for godly outcomes. And, here is what I mean by that…

I have noticed a consistent temptation, and even posture, of me using my relationship with God to ensure godly or good outcomes. And, that last part is important. I’m not seeking to use God for bad outcomes – sinful things – but rather for good and holy things – Kingdom things. And, here is what that might look like in the practical, tangible ways I’ve noticed in my life…

1. I spend time in prayer to ensure my preaching is good, but not to connect with God.

2. I serve to see God’s Kingdom grow, but not to find God in the serving.

3. I fast, but do it to ensure that a new project goes well, rather than as a way to sacrifice and focus on God.

4. I rely on God when I need Him, but rely on my gifting and skill at other times.

Do you see how subtle the shift is in practical, but real life ways? And, do you also see how dangerous it can be? Because prayer, serving and reliance can quietly shift from God to the ourselves or the good things God calls us to do. But, the truth is, as soon as the focus shifts from God to ourselves, we’ve lost the point.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “Along the way, the primacy of God and His work gives way ever so slightly to the primacy of our work in God’s Kingdom. We begin to think of ways to use God in what we’re doing. The shift is barely perceptible… We continue to believe the identical truth. We continue pursuing good goals. It usually takes a long time for the significance of the shift to show up. But, when it does, it turns out that we have not so much been worshipping God as enlisting Him as our trusted and valuable assistant.”

That last sentence is what stopped me in my tracks and caused me to really reflect on my motives, not just my actions.

And so, I write all this because this is the season of Lent – a season when we are to take a hard and reflective look at our lives, and reveal any subtle shifts that have happened. Because, they can happen and they can be hard to notice, but they need to be revealed and repented of. And, I use that word in the proper way – repentance is not about feeling bad, but about changing direction. We need to repent of our tendency to use God, and move toward worshipping, loving and appreciating Him.

So, I write this because, my bet is, I’m not alone in this temptation. But, becoming aware of it is the first step to changing it. And, it’s something worth changing. It’s subtle. It’s a small shift. But, it can change everything.

The Fallacy of “Prayer Techniques”

1427667_31525848Eugene Peterson writes something brilliant. Okay most of what he writes is brilliant but especially this:

“In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

What Peterson is reacting against is our technique-driven mentality. That if we just get the technique right, the outcome will be right. That all we need to master is the mechanics for us to muster up the right result.

And this is fine in some things, but this doesn’t work in relationships. Relationships aren’t a means to an end. Relationships aren’t about efficiency and effectiveness; relationships are about intimacy. And this matters in prayer.

There is nothing wrong with trying to grow in prayer, and devoting yourself to it. But if all you focus on is the “right techniques, tips, and tricks” your prayer life won’t grow but will become stagnant. Because techniques do not develop a relationship, time does. Tips don’t make a covenant, commitment does. Tricks don’t increase intimacy, interaction does. 

So while there is nothing wrong with techniques, tips, and tricks in some things – it doesn’t relate well to prayer. Because prayer is fundamentally about a relationship. It is a conversation, it is an intimacy, and it is an interaction with God. And Eugene Peterson is right when we come to prayer first from a standpoint of technique, we’ve already missed the point. And I would say we end up missing God. Prayer isn’t a technique but a personal relationship that needs to be invested in, cherished, and grown in. Techniques can help, sure, but they are not a substitute for time and growth.

So my challenge to all of us, myself included, is this: rather than focusing on the techniques, and methods of prayer ~ focus on Jesus and the relationship. Because I think Peterson is right “In our technology-saturated culture, we frequently request help by asking, “How do I pray? Or even worse, “How do I pray effectively?” The question distorts what is fundamentally a personal relation into an impersonal technique”.

God Does Not Compartmentalize Our Lives, Why do We?

573750_74467086I’ve been reading a lot of Eugene Peterson lately. I find so much of his thinking fresh and convicting all at once. He writes this simple but incredibly challenging sentence:

God does not compartmentalize our lives into religious and secular. Why do we?

That’s challenging. God looks at the totality of our lives. He looks at how we live on Sundays, and the rest of the week. But this question isn’t just to be taken from consistency perspective – meaning that our Sunday lives live up to the rest of our lives. It should also be embraced from the sacred perspective. That what you do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday is just as sacred and holy as what you do on Sunday. There is no separation of sacred and secular, religious and not-religious.

So that means that how you live and work during the week is just as important as on Sundays. This is enlivening. Because on Monday you could be a person of justice, on Tuesday an example of the Kingdom, on Wednesday a picture of Jesus, on Thursday a catalyst for forgiveness, on Friday a model of love, and on Saturday a gift of grace. The point is that the totality of our lives matter, so there isn’t any wasted days.

So the question I think is this: are we living in light of this?

And if God does not compartmentalize our lives into religious and secular, why do we?

Its not about you, Its always Been about God

Here is a quote that really got me thinking today:

The Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called deeper life. We are in on it to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action…The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gift, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God. – Eugene Peterson

What do you think about it? Do you think its true? How have you maybe fallen into the trap of religion being about you?

Christianity is Not “Live Up” to This, but “Live Into” this

I want to share one more quote from Eugene Peterson. I shared one last week, and then as I was looking over my notes I came across this one. I don’t really have much to add in way of commentary to this quote – other than it is true, deep, and I hope I live into this true.

The biblical way is not to present us with a moral code and tell us “live up to this”, nor is it to set out a system of doctrine and say “think like this and you will live well” The biblical way is to tell as tory that takes place on solid ground, is peopled with men and women that we recognize as being much like us, and then invite us, “Live into this. This is what it means to be human. This is what is involved in entering and maturing as human being.”