7 by Jen Hatmaker


(Photo credit:korrey)

Could a book about fasting really be fun summer reading? 7 by Jen Hatmaker is – though it’s only sort of a book about fasting. It’s not a traditional book about traditional fasting; it’s a bit silly, an artificial, even commercial, reminder that we Americans are spendthrift wastrels of galactic proportions.  (Thanks. I needed that.)

Hatmaker chose seven areas of life, including clothing, food and stress, devising seven month-long experiments in minimizing. While some months met the usual definition of ‘fast,’ (e.g., wearing only seven articles of clothing for an entire month), other areas required more of her rather than less (e.g., gardening, composting and recycling in a month devoted to the concept of waste). However, each area involved giving up a luxury, suffering some form of discomfort, and dealing with God as a result. While an American would call her choices a fast, a third-world citizen might call them a comfortable life.

This young author is clearly a generation behind me in terms of her paradigms, her speech patterns and her consumerism. It’s good I can feel smug about these things, because otherwise, her book makes me realize how small and mean I am. And I’m no global ignoramus. I’ve traveled quite a lot. I’ve lived for several months in several other countries, including Mexico. I know Americans are arrogant and so drunk on daily choices that we don’t understand our own selfishness. It’s just a whole lot easier, living here, not to think about it.

This book could be viewed as an exercise in behavior modification, but for me it is more about changing the heart. That’s how a fast generally works. On the other hand, I would expect some change of attitude and practice to stick in Hatmaker’s family. Will it stick in mine or yours as a result of reading 7?  I rather doubt it (though I did buy a fair-trade hat from Ghana today). So I am trying to convince a small group of friends to come up with some version of 7 that we could explore for ourselves.  I need doing and discussing and accountability to work this kind of voluntary suffering into my psyche. It also sounds kind of fun – in a hair-shirt, Prohibition sort of way.

Fun summer reading. Genuine food for thought. Win-win.


Ordinary Days

I cry to the Lord when I am hurting or exhausted. Even in my crises of doubt, He is the first place I turn for reassurance. I also remember Him in celebrations. I’m not grateful enough, to be sure, but I say, “Thank you, God.” Sometimes even out loud. It’s the ordinary days when I forget Him. It’s the hurried chores I can do in my sleep, the jokes I share with a friend, the errands, the mindless hours of television – that’s where He is most absent from my thoughts.ppg

I love The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. More than any other tool, his story has shown me how to maintain some consciousness of God in the ordinary moments. I have found God at my ironing board, in a crowded room of party-goers, and with me in the shower, as a result. A few years ago, after reading the book again, I determined to tell God that I loved Him once an hour every day. It’s harder than you might imagine. Humbling. I think I will try it again today – on this ordinary day.

It’s Not Easy

We’d really like life to be easy, wouldn’t we? I know I would. We’d like to be married to someone with telepathy who only lived to please us. We’d like to parent children who resembled cuddly robots, executing our every command and over-achieving our goals for them. We’d like to find fulfillment in excellent, creative work, accomplished in about two hours a day with a minimum of sweat and no actual frustration. We’d like to be wise without being old, to grow strong without working out and to acquire several languages in our sleep. We’d like to be loved in every relationship, fully supported and understood, without conflict or confusion or struggle. Because we live in a broken world, it just doesn’t work that way. But we know God better as a result.

Noah's ArkThe Bible story of Noah and the Ark can be found in Genesis 6-9. You will also find it illustrated in pastel colors on nursery walls everywhere. The dove has come to symbolize peace, in large part, because of this narrative. And the rainbow has been used to represent the beauty and variety of Creation in all its forms. We’d like the story to be that easy, but it just doesn’t work that way. The story of Noah is a horrific story of evil, terror and destruction. The word “peace” isn’t found in these chapters, and the rainbow is a weapon of war. The story of Noah isn’t God’s offer to live in peace with mankind. It’s God’s covenant to live at enmity with mankind.

Peace for God would mean flooding the world constantly, purging every bit of sin, suffering and rebellion from the planet. But in Genesis 8:21 He agrees not to act on His righteous impulse. God agrees that He will suffer the continued existence of evil and sin in order to save a few – hence the bow which is aimed at Heaven. The same principle is illustrated again in the Genesis 18 story of Sodom when God agrees not to destroy the city for the sake of only a few. This idea comes to full fruition in Jesus Christ. God is willing to suffer the sins of the many for the sake of the One. He is willing to live in discord with the entirety of Creation for the sake of His Son and those who find salvation in Him. What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory? (Rom. 9:22-23)

Every time we are subject to frustration and conflict, we know God a little better. Every time we forebear the difficulty of living in a broken world, we reflect His patience. Every time we cultivate the ground despite its thorns, fight for integrity in a world of deceit, love a difficult spouse, child, friend or enemy who doesn’t really appreciate us, we look a little more like God Himself. We look a little more like the Father who agreed to live in long-suffering enmity with the world in order to save some, like the Son whose work was to bear the sins of His brothers, constructing their lifeboat from His own body, and like the Holy Spirit, that peaceful dove who nests with violent, broken people that they might know His power for living. Now let’s go show that kind of love to this damaged world. It won’t be easy.

Gods at War by Kyle Idleman

Titan Mascot with Trident and Crown Graphic Vector IllustrationAlthough I read a lot of self-help books, I’d rather read an adventure any day. Give me lost travelers, hidden treasure and epic battles. Figuratively speaking, that’s exactly what Kyle Idleman does in Gods at War. He introduces the reader to many of the villains secretly fighting for our moral allegiance. Using a casual style replete with personal and Biblical examples, this is an easy read which is also psychologically and theologically sound. It held my attention like a great adventure and challenged me to fight God’s battles in my own heart. [Clarification: this is a nonfiction book and is not written as an adventure story ala Peretti.  It’s a straightforward, in-your-face challenge to take a look at the idols in your life.]

Christians automatically recognize some priorities as troublesome, like money and success. But Idleman includes others which may seem wholly good, such as family. In talking about “disordered loves,” Idleman recounts the story of a woman who realized her kids had become too powerful in her life: “Her children, and what was going on with them, determined whether she had a good day. If they behaved themselves and didn’t throw any tantrums, she could feel good about life. Otherwise, she could not… She realized they were controlling who she was as a person…This is exactly what a false god does” (p. 216). I must tell you that this resonated with me, and it wasn’t the only paragraph which did.

I am giving this book my highest recommendation. Buy one copy for yourself and another to give away. If I could only recommend one book on idolatry, I would choose this one – even over Tim Keller’s excellent Counterfeit Gods. Kyle Idleman’s first book is entitled Not a Fan. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to. If Gods at War is any indication, I am a  fan!

Calling Versus Passion

Ian Charleson (foreground) and Ben Cross (left...Eric Liddell ruined the well-being of a whole generation of Christians.

If you know who Eric Liddell was, then I probably have your irate attention.  In case you don’t (and you haven’t already used Wikipedia to find out), he was also known as “the flying Scotsman,” the gold medal winner of the 400 meter race at the 1924 Summer Olympics.  He died while a missionary to China during the Second World War.  There is much more to his story, and I would encourage you to read one of the several biographies available and to watch the wonderful 1981 movie entitled Chariots of Fire.  Actually, it’s the script-writers of that movie who stole our peace, not Eric himself.  In the movie, Eric is urged by his sister to give up his running career in order to leave for the mission field.  He tells her, “I believe God made me for a purpose [China], but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Somehow, the first half of that line has gotten lost, and only the second half, the part about feeling God’s pleasure, has become the motto of Western Christians trying to find their calling in life.  We now associate feelings of pleasure with God’s presence and ‘call.’  We want an assignment which will give us that sense of pleasure, achievement, blessing and satisfaction which Eric-the-actor was apparently talking about, and we have somehow assumed that it is out there for everyone if we can only find it.

The Bible uses the word ‘calling’ a bit differently.  Primarily, it uses the word to mean our salvation (Rom. 11:26, 29; Eph. 4:1; Heb. 3:1; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Peter 1:10).  Second, it uses ‘calling’ to indicate the good works which flow out of our salvation (Mark 6:7; 2 Thess. 1:11).  Finally, the same word is used twice to indicate our unchosen situation in life (1 Cor. 7:20, Heb. 5:4).  Our ‘call’ is that to which we have been called by a sovereign God – nothing more and nothing less.  There is no promise that we will like those things.  If you are married, then you have been called to love your spouse well.  If you are a parent, then you have been called to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord.  No matter your job, you have been called to do it as though you were working directly for God.  You have been called to evangelism, to serve the church, to abide in God’s word, to pursue holiness, to be a good steward of the gifts and resources God has given you.  These things ARE your calling, and they give God pleasure.  Occasionally, they may coincide with something that gives you pleasure, but often, they will be difficult and burdensome.

We have redefined ‘calling’ to mean a mission for which we have a great desire.  I think the modern word for that is ‘passion.’  Too many Christians have absorbed the idea that God will give them a mission and a passion which coincide, and until they find it, they have not found His calling for their lives; they have missed it.  That’s miserable American idolatry. 

It’s American because this country may be the first in history to give its citizens an absolute expectation of free choice in their vocation, their leisure and their relationships. Jesus was a carpenter because his father was a carpenter.  Few women had any vocation outside the home.  Jesus’ parents most likely had an arranged marriage.  The number of children they had was out of their hands.  Any leisure consisted of family gatherings and worship services.  And that was for free men, to say nothing of the many slaves who came to Christ.  In that era, it was only the Roman nobility, with their games and orgies, who had real choices about how they spent their time.  And within this rigid framework, the Apostles told the faithful that they were called to follow God’s leading, to honor and serve Him in all things.

It’s idolatry because we are looking to find our fulfillment in a thing rather than a Person.  God is pleased when we look more like Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, not when we look more like the fictional version of Eric Liddell who found an exceptional ability that he loved.  I am not saying it’s wrong to pursue something we love.  I am a counselor, and I help people discover the things that they love. We do have choices today, and if our passion happens to coincide with an exceptional ability or with a job which provides for our family, then that is an incredible blessing for which we should be eternally grateful.  However, it is neither an entitlement nor even a common occurrence.  In fact, even those things we name ‘passion’ have a way of succumbing to the Fall.

Finally, it’s miserable because so many people believe they have missed God’s direction for their lives.  Either they have failed or God has failed because they don’t have a miraculous experience of God’s pleasure in their activities.  If you do a Bible word-search on pleasure, you will find that God takes pleasure in His gospel and our obedience, and that the pleasure of man is often associated with sin (e.g., Prov. 21:17 or 2 Peter 2:13).  Please don’t use the measure of pleasure – how can you know if it’s God’s or your own? – to decide whether you are on the right path.  Do what is right and then pursue something that you love, but please don’t name that your ‘calling.’  It is only your passion. 

Instead of trying to find a passion we can make into our calling, perhaps we should spend more mental energy and prayer time making our calling into our passion.

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Nobody’s Savior

Superheroine in CityI’ve been sitting in a counseling room listening to people’s deepest struggles for almost five years now.  In that time a lot of voices have accumulated in my head, and some of them are talking trash.  Like the one which constantly tells me that I have do something, say something, make something happen to FIX IT – that if I don’t, I will have failed myself and the people who are counting on me.  The truth is, I could spend every daylight hour (not to mention those wee, morning hours) researching, brainstorming and praying for people and still hear the urgent voice of worry.  But there is a simple, two-part truth which allows me to sleep at night, to grieve appropriately and to avoid foolish pride.  Here’s what I tell myself: “They have a Savior, and it’s not me.”

First of all, I’m nobody’s savior despite the guilty self-talk I hear in my head.  The Lord may choose to use me in someone’s life, and that would be wonderful, but I can’t save them.  If I think I can, then it’s my soul which is in greatest peril.  Even if I took a bullet for someone else, I would not have saved them.  I would only have prolonged their earthly journey, and I doubt I’d even try to take that bullet.  I don’t have the wisdom of a savior.  I don’t have the courage of a savior.  I don’t have the power of a savior.  To think that my responsibilities include saving anyone, even my own children, is to steal the honor which belongs to Another.

Second, the world already has a Savior.  All these suffering, broken, limited people have a remedy.  Some of them know it, and some of them don’t, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  (1 John 4:14)  I can talk about the remedy, but I can’t manipulate God’s will for anyone, and I can’t thwart it.  I can only yield to it, accept it, trust it.

What about you?  Is there a voice in your head which urges you to fix everyone in your life?  Or maybe just one person?  Do you ever worry or preach or run screaming from the room carry unwarranted guilt?  If so, then you can have my motto to use for a while yourself, no extra charge.

“They have a Savior, and it’s not me.”  That kind of self-talk can quiet a lot of trash talk.

I’ve re-posted this blog from more than a year ago because I needed to hear it again.

Say You’re Sorry

Angry little girl grinning“Tell your sister you’re sorry you shoved those Legos up her nose or you won’t get any dessert.”

“Sorrr – rry.

Those of us with conventional parents learned the value of social conformity as toddlers. We learned that life works out better for us if we say those magic words, “I’m sorry.” You don’t have to really mean them – in fact, we may not even be sure what it means to really mean them. Does it mean we regret getting caught and suffering the consequences? Does it mean we wish we’d thought of a more subtle, acceptable way to get what we wanted? Does it mean we recognize the pain of the person we have hurt? Or does it mean even more than that?

Repentance was Jesus’s first message (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32; John 5:14), and it’s a significant theme in both the Old and New Testaments, yet, we rarely stop to consider its implications. We can all recognize a fake apology, but what makes repentance real? Scripture gives us at least three markers for sincere contrition: a broken heart, a humble spirit and a changed mind.

“You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17b, NLT). Real repentance is heartfelt repentance. It is accompanied by genuine and vulnerable emotions of sorrow.  Plastic conformity and bare intellectual assent are disqualified. A broken heart looks like grief; it looks like Christ’s tears shed for wayward souls (Luke 19:41).

“I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts”  (Isaiah 57:15, NLT). A humble spirit is ready and willing to receive whatever consequences may come, knowing that God is in control. Humility sets aside selfish motives and the natural tendency to defend oneself.  Humble repentance looks like Jesus, silent and meek before His accusers (1 Peter 2:23). [Note: I am not saying that Jesus was repentant – Jesus had nothing to repent of. He simply showed us what real humility looks like.]

“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (Matthew 3:8, NLT). Repentance implies a 180-degree turn away from sin. One of the two Hebrew words used for repentance in the Old Testament has this very meaning. The Greek word most often used in the New Testament means to change one’s mind. This is an active meaning which includes, but goes beyond, heart-change.  It means that if God gave you a do-over, you would make a different choice. I have known people who tried to claim forgiveness ahead of time, saying that God would forgive them after they have their fun. By definition, this is an unrepentant attitude. A changed mind begins to resemble the mind of Christ. A changed life begins to look like the life of Christ (1 John 2:6).Mirror

So the next time the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin (that’s a whole different. blog post), I will ask myself whether my heart is broken, my spirit is humbled and my mind is changed. If so, then repentance has done its work – making me look more like Jesus.