Daily Living

Changing Our Stripes in the New Year?

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I found this to be encouraging today. It stands in stark contrast to the kind of thing we usually tell ourselves this time of year, and is an excellent reminder:

In truth, we cannot become anything other than who we already are, if we wish to be fulfilled in our lives and vocation. We must stop trying to “become” something else, or to “develop” or “cultivate” some trait that we fundamentally lack, and instead start being who we already are by identifying our giftedness and living it out.

Our gifts and talents all come from the hand of almighty God. We can’t claim them as our own, as if we created or designed them by ancestry or practice. But each of us has a responsibility to know what they are and lean into them with an earnest desire to develop them throughout our lives.

-Stephen A. Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way

It doesn’t mean we never try to do better, or we never try harder, or we don’t try to form better habits. But notice his wording — we must not try to cultivate some trait we ultimately lack. Deep down, we know some things just aren’t in our DNA. It’s healthy and shows wisdom to say, at times, “this is me, and I accept it.” As several self-help and Christian-living authors and  are starting to admit, it’s a shame we tell each other when we’re young, “you can be anything you want to be.” That’s not really true. We were each created to be a certain person, and the challenge is to figure out who that person is, and be the truest version of that person possible. (See also Mac Lucado’s book, Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot)

Part of the problem we run into with “I want to be this kind of person” or “I want to do this/that/the other thing” is the first word in those sentences — I. What about asking who we were made to be in the first place?  What about going outside our perspective to that of the One who made us? What about taking inventory of the things we’re already good at, what we love to do, what we’re passionate about, and putting those things together like a puzzle? If I can’t spell or form complete sentences, maybe God didn’t plan on me becoming an editor at a publishing company. If I can’t remember names and faces, maybe I wasn’t intended to be a salesperson. If I’m not mechanically inclined, maybe I wasn’t meant to fix cars. The fun part is asking “what do I enjoy doing?” and then realizing, well maybe there’s a reason for that! What if, instead of wishing we could spend time on the things we like to do when there are too many other things we have to do, we ask if we’re doing the right thing in the first place? What if, in this new year (and with wisdom and prayer), we looked at how we could change the things we like to do into the things we do the most often, and saw those as our primary responsibility? What if we’re doing the world a disservice by not doing our favorite things, being happy doing them, and doing those things better than anyone else since it’s what we were made to do?

 

 

Daily Living

How Then, Should We Live?

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Here’s something fellow Bible-readers might relate to — as a big fan of absolute accuracy, sometimes I’m not too crazy about the more liberal/paraphrase translations of the Bible; they seem “cute” or sometimes sentimental, but I don’t always appreciate what seems to me like in-line commentary (here’s what I think it means, vs what the original language actually said). But with translation of any language, it seems to be more of an art than a science — even if the words are strictly “accurate,” does their intent come across? In Spanish, you don’t say “you’re welcome,” you say basically “it’s nothing.” But the meaning is the same — “I’m happy to give this to you.” So with all that in mind, I’ve got to say the Message version of Romans 12:1-2 really hit home for me this morning in a way that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, in the original, “accurate” wording:
 
Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life— and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
 
That’s a whole lot different from the NIV:
 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The first brings a whole new level of practicality and insight, and I can appreciate that. Don’t we often wonder what it means exactly to live as Jesus lived, or to live a holy life? We know in general, and ask questions like What would Jesus Do? or more accurately, What IS Jesus Doing? But it’s tempting after a few minutes to eventually answer I really don’t know in this case. I’ll think about it later. The Message version cuts to the heart of how to live with Jesus. We Christians call ourselves Christ-followers, but do we really follow? Or instead do we just act like kids at summer camp, writing to a home far away, periodically saying “send money” or “doing ok, will write more later” or “did you get my last letter?”
Maybe it’s not the best version from which to preach a sermon (at least without telling the audience the passage is from a paraphrase translation). But I’m reminded how helpful it can be in magnifying the contents and intent of the passage. Definitely a lot of value for personal bible study and devotional time. Some people advise we should just “plow through” scripture if we want to accomplish one of those “read the Bible in X Days” programs, and I suppose there’s value in that; in getting the overview and keeping the big picture in recent memory. But “plowing through” usually means glossing over the meaning for the sake of recognizing the words. I continue to be amazed at how almost every Bible verse seems to be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg — there’s so much more under the surface, we just have to spend a little bit of time and look for it. Or better, yet, ask a Tour Guide (like the Author) to show us what we’re missing.

 

So in summary: well played, Message version. Well played. I withdraw my complaint. I need to re-define “accuracy.”

 

Daily Living

The Holiday Season – Love it, Hate it, or Both?

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cornucopiaSome people can’t get enough Christmas music. They would listen to it all year ’round. Others don’t want to hear a single note of it until the day after Thanksgiving. Some people LOVE shopping and bargain hunting on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Other people can’t stand the commercialism of the holidays and don’t want any part of it. Some people see Thanksgiving as a reminder of how European settlers mistreated Native Americans. Others see it as a chance to gather family and give thanks, regardless of the origin of the occasion.

Whatever your feelings about this time of year, I would suggest three things:

  1. Pray about your perspective, and see if your thoughts and your heart are in alignment with Jesus’ commands for love and tolerance — see Romans 12:14-18.
  2. Be humble enough to listen to God as you pray, as he guides your heart to make any changes necessary
  3.  Embrace your conclusion. That may sound odd, but often we come to a perspective and then feel threatened or angry when others don’t share it, feel the need to defend it, or quietly sulk that we’re the only one who sees things “clearly.” Whatever you decide, that’s between you and God. None of us has all truth — we instead “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).  Be at peace with your conclusion, just as you are with what you choose to wear, what you choose to drive, or what sports team you follow.

clasped-handsDoes this mean it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about the Bible, and all interpretations are equally true? Of course not. There are whole fields of study dedicated to rightly interpreting scripture — exegesis and hermeneutics. However, there are things that simply aren’t abundantly clear and are left up to each person’s conscience. Want to celebrate Christmas? Great! Don’t want to? Great! Do what’s right by your conscience and give others the same freedom to work out their beliefs and conclusions with God.

Besides, if you’re anything like me, you may change your mind on any particular practice over time. Then you may regret giving others a hard time over what you used to believe. Live and let live? Yes, with one addition — live and let live is very passive and means “I don’t care what you do.” I think Jesus would have us live and let live with love. That means “I see you think differently, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.”