The quote of the year for me from Donald Miller,
“It’s not a hard, fast rule to be sure, but the idea is that sitting around looking at your spiritual belly button isn’t going to provide an object lesson for your faith. The idea is that faith makes sense in the context of some other pursuit.“
Read the rest of his blog to give this quote some context, but the better we church leaders are able to communicate to our people that growing closer to God and discovering more about God and falling into a deeper love of God is done in the context of every aspect of life not just what we term “spiritual contexts” like Bible reading, study, meditation, prayer, etc. If I am paying attention God will reveal Himself in how I feel about Chocolate Chip Cookies, especially warm gooey ones…Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.
The Context for Spirituality is not Spirituality
I don’t read very many books about faith. And I don’t listen to very many sermons about faith. I’ve not known exactly why for some time, or at least until lunch yesterday. Those books were fine (I may have even written one or two) but they didn’t seem to be very applicable to my life. And it’s never actually helped me to “work on my spirituality or my relationship with Jesus” either. What has helped me is finding myself lost in the woods and calling out to God, looking for wisdom in the scriptures.
Yesterday, at lunch, my friend David mentioned he’d spent some time in Colorado with the guys at Ransomed Heart. David used to work with them and went back to hang out with them for a weekend in the mountains. He mentioned that one of the guys reminded him that spirituality was not a context. I asked David what the guy meant, and Dave said what he meant was that you learn about God while learning to fly a plane or raising a child or planting crops in a field. It’s not a hard, fast rule to be sure, but the idea is that sitting around looking at your spiritual belly button isn’t going to provide an object lesson for your faith. The idea is that faith makes sense in the context of some other pursuit.
And that might be the reason I don’t migrate toward conversations specifically about faith.
In the Bible, God guides people through stories. Stories is how He teaches people about themselves and Himself. He doesn’t get the children of Israel out of Egypt instantly. God drags it out, creates plagues, guides them through positive and negative turns, all to shape their faith. He does the same with Joseph, giving him a vision, then immediately letting him be thrown into a well by his brothers.
If we think we are going to grow in faith by sitting around at a Bible study, we are wrong. That stuff is fine, but without a story, without diving into something really difficult, something that requires us to look to God for support and wisdom and comfort, it will be more difficult to become a person of great faith.
Thanks to Rob Bell’s book, God wants to save Christians, and the yet to be published book from the folks at the other Mars Hill, Redemption, as I read through the Bible this year I am more sensitive than ever to the prevailing theme of Exodus throughout scripture.
After God sends Moses to lead his family out of slavery in Egypt – granted it’s over a million family members, but they are family none the less – the family becomes a nation with an organized form of government, laws, and religion in a relatively short amount of time. After this critical moment in God’s interaction with us God continually references the Exodus events as his identification and as proof that He cares.
When God has had enough of the rebellion and a turning point is necessary for these people He uses Exodus language to announce through His prophets how He will discipline and how He will redeem.
I just finished Hosea, a prophet who lived 2000 years after the Exodus who announces the future destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Israel,
“5 They will return to Egypt
Assyria will rule over them
because they refuse to repent!” (Hosea11:5, NET)
The Northern Kingdom will again be taken into slavery because of their rebellion. It seems a cruel punishment. God even declares that pregnant women will have their wombs cut open and their babies heads will be dashed against the rocks. Wow! Pretty violent, and if we remove this discipline from the context of 2000 years of patience shown to the Israelites by God I think we might have an opinion of God as merciless. However, He’s given them 2000 years to follow Him. He rescued them from slavery in order to follow Him. Instead the people of the Northern Kingdom and especially their kings disobeyed the law and worshiped other gods. I think 2000 years is about 1999 years longer than I would have given them.
What about you? Is God patient, merciful, gracious, kind, and just? Or is God some kind of malicious, jealous, and enraged ogre?
Detroit Pitcher Armondo Galarraga threw a perfect game. Through nine complete innings, he struck out or was sloppily hit by twenty-seven consecutive batters to complete the twenty-first perfect game in the history of baseball. But he won’t get credit for it. On the last play, Galarraga ran over to cover first and clearly hit the base before the baserunner Jason Donald arrived, and the umpire blew the call. Galarraga knew it, the fans knew it, and even Jason Donald knew it. Jim Joyce, standing within a few feet of the base, called the runner safe. Replays clearly showed he missed the call. The Tiger’s manager stormed first base irate, but Joyce stood his ground. It wasn’t until the game was over and Joyce saw the replay that he realized he’d blown the call and cost the young pitcher a coveted place in the history books. What happened next, in my opinion, is what really made this game such a great story. Both Galarraga and especially Joyce responded, well, perfectly.
It is rare to find a person with the strength to admit they were wrong. Joyce is under no obligation to apologize for a missed call. The human element gives baseball it’s charm. But after he saw the replay, he went to Galarraga and apologized, with tears in his eyes. Galarraga gave Joyce a hug and offered forgiveness, and in a subsequent press conference expressed deep sympathy for the umpire, saying nobody in the world felt worse than him. The next day, as Joyce went onto the field to call the game, Galarraga came out and handed him the batting order as a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness. Perfect.
Because Joyce was not defensive, and because he did not make excuses but took responsibility for his actions, players, fans and even the harshest people in the world, sports radio personalities, sang his praises on the radio for the rest of the week. Joyce had made a mistake, for sure, but asking forgiveness, showing remorse, not making excuses, that’s the stuff of the supernatural, and when we see it, there is something in us that recognizes the exceptional.
If you’re a leader and you’re wrong, admit it. People will respect you. Admit it and show remorse. And if you follow a leader who struggles admitting they are wrong, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM. We all make mistakes, and people who admit their mistakes are in touch with their humanity, and those who don’t are simply delusional. And if they are not willing to pay for their mistakes, you better believe they are going to make those around them pay.
Congrats to Armondo Galarraga for his perfect game and to Jim Joyce for his perfect response to making a mistake. I was more inspired by what happened in that game than I’ve been in, perhaps, any contest I’ve seen. Remarkable stuff.