Go about your business

[Adapted from this week’s sermon: “Have a Little Faith.”]

I’ll be honest: for most of my life, I’ve interacted with God in much the same way that Daniel does in chapter 12, verse 8:

I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’

Have you ever felt like that? “I could not understand.” Maybe you don’t know why you’re even in the place you are—literally or figurative; relationally, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going next. Maybe you don’t even think you’re still on the map!

A little bit of context for these verses: this is the end of the story of Daniel—at least what’s told in the Bible. This passage comes after several chapters of visions and dreams and prophecies that are hard to understand. God reveals them to Daniel, yet they concern social, political, historical events that will happen hundreds of years after Daniel’s death.

So understandably, his response is: “I don’t understand; can you explain it to me?”

Sometimes we like to think that if we only knew more, we’d be able to live life better.

If only I knew what school I’m getting into; or what I’m going to major in; or what job I’m going to get (or that I’m going to get a job!); or who I’m going to marry (or that I’m going to get married!). If I only knew that my kids would turn out okay; if I only knew that I’d be looked after when I’m old. If only … If only I knew, God, what you have planned for me, that would make things so much easier. God, just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Show me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.

Really?

If you’d told me in 1999, when I was at boarding school in Surrey, England, applying to go to university in London to study law, that twelve years later, I’d be working at a church in Washington, D.C., I would laugh at you. If you told me in 2004, when I was studying music and playing in a rock band, that I would end up preaching more than performing, I would think you’re crazy. If you told me even a few years ago, when I was immersed in the world of politics and advocacy, that God wanted me to be a pastor …

If you’d told me that my path would include leaving good friends—best friends—and family behind while I moved across oceans and countries, that it would mean seeing my nieces and nephews only once every few years because we all live in different places, that it would mean almost getting married … and then not, and then enduring several relationships that would be better characterized as “false starts,” that it would mean deep feelings of rootlessness, struggling through the issue of my own self-worth, and learning many, many lessons the hard way, I’d say, “Thanks, but no, thanks. God, would you mind designing something a little less tortuous, something a little cleaner, something a little more to my preference?”

On the journey of life, we all come up against things in life as Daniel did at the end of his–things that we just can’t get our minds around, things we just don’t get–and we say as Daniel did, “I don’t understand. God, what shall be the outcome of all this?”

Sometimes, God tells us; sometimes, we get an explanation. Sometimes things are revealed to us; sometimes we catch a glimpse of what God is doing.

But more often than not, we get the response that God gives Daniel. This is how Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message, from verses 9 and 13:

Go on about your business, Daniel. … Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.

And we can imagine Daniel’s response (as ours often is): “You didn’t answer the question. You didn’t tell me what I wanted to know. You haven’t told me what to do.”

But that’s where the book ends–with God’s answer.

Throughout the story, even leading up to this moment, we’ve seen Daniel “going about his business.” And that doesn’t mean living however he pleases, with no reference to God. That means living according to what he does know, what has been revealed, and with what understanding he does have.

In doing this, Daniel shows us what it means to have faith. He doesn’t have to know it all before acting. He doesn’t have to have the assurance that things are going to work out how he thinks they ought to work out. He trusts.

You see, the point that Jesus is actually making is this, and I said this a few weeks ago, but it bears restating: it’s not about how hard you try, it’s not about how much faith you’re eking out; what’s important isn’t the size of your faith, it’s the God in whom you have faith.

Have faith in God, just a little bit. Trust in him, just a little bit. Put your life in his hands, just a little bit. And see what happens.

Because God has given us plenty to go on already. We are very capable of “going about our business” as Daniel did; God’s given us much of what we already need. Listen to this:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
  • Preach and live out the good news of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to do as Christ commands. (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy. (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16)
  • Pray to your heavenly Father that his kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

That’s all in the Bible already, and if we think about the implications of each of these, that’s plenty to get on with. If we even sought to live out one of these fully, we’d begin to see how much God has already said to us.

God has already shown us and given us his grace and his peace and his love in the person and life of Jesus Christ, and he says, “I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. And I give you my Spirit.” And as the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Rome, this is “the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead [who] lives in you.”

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you.

When you begin to grasp that, when you begin to tap into the truth of that, when you begin to get your sin and self and pride out of the way and truly let the Spirit live and speak and love through you, your life will somehow seem fuller, more exciting, more pregnant with possibilities.

Elton Trueblood, former chaplain at both Harvard and Stanford, said, “The deepest conviction of the Christian is that Christ was not wrong.” And John Ortberg writes, “At its core, faith is trusting a person.”

Trust that Jesus means what he says:

If you have just a little bit of faith in me—just a mustard seed’s worth—even when you don’t understand, even when you’re questioning what’s going on, even when you can’t see the whole picture, even then, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will be so, and nothing will be impossible for you.

Don’t let your fear of the unknown, your clinging to the concept of certainty, your confusion in the midst of chaos, keep you from living life to the full, from loving God and loving people with everything you’ve got. God has things in store that we can’t even imagine, a story so grand that we can’t even conceive.

So … go about your business. And have a little faith.

Faith and technology: who is in control?

Adapted from yesterday’s message, “Who is in control?”

Technology allows me to distract myself by Facetiming with myself and taking a picture of it.

The world today is very different from the one that we were in even ten years ago. Teenagers nowadays share their passwords as a show of affection … yes, really. We’re a generation that has seen immense (particularly technological) change–and have adapted to it pretty seamlessly. We’re good at that. We own cell phones, computers; we’re on social media; we’ve joined the digital revolution without really giving it a second thought.

Because when something is as ubiquitous as media and technology, we usually don’t even think about it. It’s like oxygen; we don’t tend to think about how we breathe, about the biological or physiological processes that are going on; we just do it. And for many of us—I’d be so bold as to say all of us—this is the same with media and technology.

  • When we watch TV, we aren’t necessarily tuned in to what’s happening as we watch this show or that movie.
  • We’re a culture where we “like” somebody’s link or picture or comment on Facebook if it takes our fancy.
  • We post things online about our lives, and sometimes about other people’s lives, without thinking about the ramifications or the consequences.
  • When we see, hear, or read an ad or even the news, we often just receive it.

We don’t tend to actively think about how something impacts us or how we interact with it. And we don’t tend to think about how our faith might impact the role these things play in our lives.

At The District Church, we’re going through a series called Mustard Seeds. The background is from Matthew 17:20, where Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will be so; and nothing will be impossible for you.” We want to talk through what it looks like for us to have faith to move mountains (and it’s not a lot!) in our everyday lives.

Yesterday, I talked about the impact of faith on technology, and framed it with the question, “Who is in control?” Technology is all around us, enabling us to do more, to see more, to experience more. The world of media and technology that we inhabit is not in essence good or evil. These things can be used for good or for harm.

  • We can send emails that build up or we can send emails that gossip and tear down.
  • We can be manipulated by the way a news channel spins its reports, or we can seek the truth and point others to it.
  • We can allow advertisers to tell us what we’re missing and how their product will make things all better, or we can laugh at the lie that is being told and remember that what we’re all missing, what we all need at root, is a Savior to rescue us from the disease of sin and selfishness.

Who is in control?

Sherry Turkle has this interesting story to tell, and I think it may resonate with many of us:

I check my e-mail first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night. I have come to learn that informing myself about new professional problems and demands is not a good way to start or end my day, but my practice unhappily continues. I admitted my ongoing irritation with myself to a friend, a woman in her seventies who has meditated on a biblical reading every morning since she was in her teens. She confessed that it is ever more difficult to begin her spiritual exercises before she checks her email; the discipline to defer opening her inbox is now part of her devotional gesture. (Alone Together, 154)

My friend John calls this, “the first battle of the day.” And it’s a battle I fight every morning too. Who is in control? Whose voice do I want to hear first thing in the morning and last thing at night?

It sounds really basic, right? I mean, we’re really talking about Facebook and the gospel? Email? Twitter? Texting?

Yup.

Because it’s in the basics where the rubber hits the road. It’s all well and good to say, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but it’s in these basics–in the simple things–where that’s really worked out. One of the greatest disconnects that people outside the church see, and that people inside the church feel, is the disconnect between Sunday and the rest of the week—that what we hear and say and read and experience on Sundays doesn’t always slide very easily into the molds of Monday through Saturday. Well, it’s not just in the big things; actually, it’s faith worked out in the small things that in time forms the character that works itself out in the big things as well.

And so it matters what we do in the small things. So what does it look like to live out the gospel in and through your technology-saturated life?

  • Maybe it means taking a step back and turning up your sensitivity to how you engage and interact with technology, even just for a week, at first.
  • Maybe it means that when you get annoyed with somebody for not being present (because they’re checking their phone constantly), you also ask yourself, “Do I do this to other people?”
  • Maybe it means building structures or maybe even rules in your life for the ways and the places you utilize technology so that you can be more intentional—both in interpersonal relationships and in your relationship with God.
  • Maybe it means that, like Sherry Turkle’s friend, you choose not to check your email until after you’ve spent some time with God.

You can—you need to—figure out for yourself what it looks like for you to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were asked by a serpent, “Who is in control?” They answered, “Us,” and ate the forbidden fruit.

Three thousand years ago, in Babylon, three young men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were asked by a king on pain of death, “Who is in control?” They answered, “God,” and were thrown into the blazing furnace–in case you don’t know the end of the story, God came through for them.

And two thousand years ago, a man in Palestine named Jesus hung on a cross and was asked, “Who is in control?” He answered, “God. Forever and always, God. Even when it doesn’t look like it, even when you don’t understand it, God.” And this Jesus gave his life to take the sin of the world on himself, so that we might be liberated from the cycle of brokenness and death, to right relationship with God and with others. And in case you don’t know the end of the story, three days later, this man Jesus rose from the dead—that’s how you know God was in control. That’s how you know that God is still in control.

Here in 2012, you and I are asked the same question, “Who is in control?”

What’s your answer? And how are you going to back it up?

You can check out the full sermon online here.

UPDATE: Thanks to the Washington Post for picking this up in the local faith section.

I’m on Aslan’s side

This Sunday, I’ll be preaching from Daniel 3. I’m always challenged by the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in response to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat of death by blazing furnace, because they demonstrate the kind of trust and faith I aspire toward:

If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. (vv.17-18)

C.S. Lewis, through the character of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair (book six in the Chronicles of Narnia series), draws this out yet further:

Suppose we have only dreamed or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four [or more] babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia … Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

More questions at The District Church

What a week! Earthquake on Wednesday (I lived through five in California and never felt a single one; I move to DC and feel the first one!). And outside my window, Hurricane Irene is making life very, very wet and windy. (But prayers definitely going up for the folks who’re getting hit much harder than we are/have been.)

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to blog about church this past week but that got squeezed out by the events and general busyness of this week. On Sunday, we finished out our “My Most Important Question” series, and got to hear from Daniel — “Why is it so hard to trust in God’s provision?”, Heather — “Is God good?”, and David — “What do you want me to do?” As with the week before, it was so good to hear from folks in our community; and once again, the honesty of their stories, the passion in their telling, and the presence of God in the midst of the struggles shone through. Heather, in particular, is a dear friend of mine; and while I’d heard her story before and talked with her about some of the things she talked about, it was so moving to see and hear her sharing it with the church community.

If you have time–actually, I’d strongly encourage you to make the time to go listen to the podcast; you can find it here.