Finding God in All Things

Seeds growing

A good definition of discipleship might be Finding God in All Things. This helpful insight didn’t come from me. It came from Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and he didn’t make it up either. He was just giving helpful wording to what Christians have done since the beginning. In the Scriptures, God makes it clear that he doesn’t live in temples or buildings made by human hands. He himself is the one who made everything, and instead of God residing in places, all places reside in God! God is an awesome being. God holds all things, and is beyond all things. Psalm 139 puts it well:

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the realm of the dead, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

— Psalm 139

There is no place we can go, no action we can do, no emotion we can feel that is apart from God. Our root faith of Judaism has much to teach us about how to live more deeply in this truth. A central virtue for Jewish faith is to sanctify the daily. We only spend an hour or so in church a week. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t present to us in the other 167 hours of the week. In fact, to have a deep relationship with God, we have to know him more than the 0.5% that church represents in our week.

We need to walk with God not just on Sunday morning, but in our eating, in our working, in the decisions we make. We need to learn how to love God in our quiet, and in our business, in our joys and in our griefs. How do we do this? For today, I want to highlight an image.

The Parable of the Sower

One of the great images that Jesus gives us comes from the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In this story, a farmer sows seed liberally, indeed wastefully. The seed goes everywhere. It lands on good soil and bad soil. Some of the seeds are eaten up by birds, some are choked out by weeds. Others don’t have enough soil, so they grow shallow roots and wither away. Some fall on good soil and there is an abundant harvest.

Jesus uses this metaphor to talk about the human heart. The seed is the word of God, and these ‘words’ are spread everywhere. He is not talking about the word in terms of the scriptures, but a bigger understanding of the ‘word’ as the presence of God in our world. These ‘words’ do not come like the dramatic presence that Israel saw in lighting and thunder at Mt. Sinai. Rather, these ‘words’ are hundreds of smaller graces that God uses to remind us of his love and presence in the world. These ‘words’ are given to encourage and transform our lives so that we live more and more like Jesus.

God’s Extravagance

This story tells us that God is spreading his presence ‘wastefully.’ It is everywhere. There is nowhere that God is not spreading his ‘words.’ Our call is to listen. But we have to have ears that actually listen and eyes that actually see what God is doing. How do we do that? We nurture the soil of our heart. That is the subject for the next article.

Learning to Taste and See

As an adult, my biggest learning about Christian faith is that it is a whole way of life. It is no accident that the early Christians were called followers of The Way.

When I was a kid growing up in the church, I received A LOT of biblical teaching. This focused on God, salvation, atonement, incarnation, sanctification and redemption. Some of the teaching was great; some was much less great. As a child, I missed how the story of God enriched and upheld the story of my own life and gave me meaning and purpose. I learned a lot of facts about God, but I didn’t know God. I didn’t learn how to be a disciple.

Discovering a new vision

When I came back to faith as an adult, it started with an encounter. Through the Catholic writer Thomas Merton, I met Jesus again for the first time, and he ‘looked’ so different than the Jesus I knew growing up. His teaching was challenging and compelling. I saw a vision for the kingdom of God that hit me deeply. It was a vision of a community marked by vigorous peace, love, justice and faith bringing good works and faith to those in need.

Meditating on Jesus’ death, I saw a profundity in the love of God I had never seen before, the miracle of transforming connection with God. In his resurrection, I saw a vision of a world renewed in the love of God. In the Eucharist, in the soft taste of bread, and the sweet taste of the wine, I tasted and felt the deep presence of God within me. All of this stayed with me long after I left the church building.

I found that questions were being answered, and new ones were emerging. At the same time, I was becoming more attentive to other people in a way I wasn’t before. Going to church in the inner city, I started to see human need in a way that I had found easy to ignore before. I wanted to talk to people about my faith and ask them questions about things that were hard for me.

As I started to look at the intricacy of nature as an example of God’s handiwork, I saw beauty where I hadn’t before. As I read scripture, I was meeting Jesus again and again. But I was still dealing with my perpetual weight issues. I still procrastinated and lost my temper at stupid things. I forgot to do things I said I would do. All of that became part of my prayer. I grew to love the quiet time in church before people came. I looked forward to singing, something I had never really payed attention to before.

For me, discipleship happened accidentally. I met Jesus, and he has been changing me for the better ever since. And I am so grateful for this path. May I walk it every day of my life (or at least most days.😊)

Refining Discipleship

Refining Discipleship

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

— Jesus giving his followers a mission and a purpose (Matthew 28:18-20)

The 21st century is an incredibly exciting time to be a Christian. This is not to say that there are not huge challenges. Even before the current pandemic changed the way we do everything, we were dealing with institutional decline and the rapid change in how we live. But from those challenges come amazing opportunities.

Perhaps the most exciting part of being a Christian today is that we have gotten a lot of clarity about what is and is not essential to living our faith. For instance, I believe we have gained perspective over 2000 years of Christian practice about both the dangers of clericalism and dogmatism, as well as the dangers that come from having no structure and no beliefs. We also have a tremendous amount of scholarship available alongside new insights about Christian history and scripture. Because we are far more ecumenical, we have the freedom to draw from a wide variety of scriptural prayer practices.

Making Disciples

But most importantly, we are relearning the importance of making disciples. It is clear that Jesus really only gave the early church one task: to make disciples. What is a disciple? The word really just means a student. But this is not like the student in a classroom we think of today. To be a student in Jesus’ time wasn’t about getting information about the world. It was about forming one’s whole life around a teacher. You became a student because you thought that the teacher obviously knew something about life and how to live well. Being a student meant learning how to live like the teacher.

Here is something to consider: why did Jesus send his followers to make disciples rather than to build churches? The answer to this question is the key to what being a Christian in the 21st century will be about.

Climbing the Ladder of Love

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

— Jesus (John 13:34-35)

Jesus gives his disciples this famous commandment to love one another. Can you command someone to love someone else? That just doesn’t seem right! There are some people in my life that I don’t necessarily have a lot of good feelings for, let alone love. I am not sure I can summon up the necessary feelings to love on command.

Continue reading “Climbing the Ladder of Love”

Faith and Belief

Call no one teacher.

— Jesus (Matthew 23:8)

God has no grandchildren.

— Evangelical saying

They don’t make you check your mind at the door.

— Anglican Saying

Christianity has gone back and forth through its history. Sometimes, it emphasizes the value of having an educated clergy teaching the faith to an often illiterate laity. At other times, it values the need for universal literacy. This includes the responsibility for all Christians to read the scriptures themselves and learn to discern God’s purposes in the world and in their lives. With the rise of near-universal levels of literacy in North America and Europe, we are well into a time of emphasizing the need for all Christians to read and discern for themselves. As the institutional forms of the mainline churches diminish in the years to come, I foresee a time of revival as Christians take ownership of their faith and live it out in creative ways in their lives and in community.

I was raised in a Christian tradition that took belief very seriously. It was a tradition that was skeptical that you were a real Christian if you didn’t hold their beliefs. Growing up, I learned that the central task leading to salvation was ensuring that you had the right beliefs. Therefore, much of my Christian training was learning the correct understanding of Justification by Faith, Atonement Theory, the ‘correct’ creation timeline, the ‘proper’ understanding of the schedule of events of the end of time, and so on. However, as I got older and found major disagreements even within my own narrow tradition, I discovered the need to go to the scriptures to see for myself, and figure out for myself what they meant.

Faith Grows with Wrestling

There were two important wisdom lessons I learned from this. First, my faith in God actually grew by leaps and bounds as I wrestled with questions. I didn’t always find answers, but I found God personally. I didn’t just learn what my parents and teachers taught me ABOUT God, but I found the living God in the wrestling. It is no accident that the word Israel means “One who wrestles with God.”

Faith Grows in Community

The second lesson I learned is that I did not grow as a Christian alone, but in community. Part of it was in the community of the church of the ages. There, I read great saints who challenged me deeply. I found both commentaries on scripture and rich daily devotional practices that opened my heart. This is the inheritance of centuries, alive in the present-day community. By having conversations, praying with people, being helped by compassionate saints, and by watching their lives, I learned and grew. I laughed, prayed and learned with hundreds of people over the years. In all of it, God spoke to me and continues to speak to me to this day. I love God in Christ so much.

Discipleship for All

As we move into a new chapter in the life of the universal church, all of us need to take a greater and greater ownership of our faith. God is doing new and amazing things bringing the Gospel of hope, mercy and love to people around the world. This is a difficult time, and God is calling us to be the church in the world, not just in our building. For that to happen, we all need to know deeply how much we are loved by God. We need to know that God calls, forgives, renews and transforms us. It is not enough for me to tell you about the love of God; you need to pray that you would know deeply that you are a child of God. And that changes everything!