Archives For July 2016

It’s a simple but counterintuitive finding.

As Cal Newport tells it in Deep Work, when University of Chicago colleagues Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson invented a psychological testing technique called the experience sampling method, they were eager to find out what kinds of activities truly gave people joy and fulfillment.

The experience sampling method involved giving test subjects a pager and then randomly paging the subjects during a day. When they were paged, the subjects were to immediately record what they were doing and what their feelings were. This method, as opposed to relying on test subjects to keep a diary on their own throughout a day, was found to be far more effective in prompting people to accurately document the connection between different kinds of activities and their state of mind.

Here is what Csikzentmihalyi wrote of their fundamental finding:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s mind or body is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

This prompted him to write the book Flow about that particular state of being. Flow I

Our instincts, of course, are to seek happiness and contentment in relaxation, fun, and doing as little as possible. There is, of course, nothing wrong with relaxing. We need downtime. Even the occasional binge watching of a TV series. Yet, being fully engaged in something – physical training, carrying out a challenging work project, figuring out a complex jigsaw puzzle – that pushes us and stretches us is actually an essential ingredient of a full life.

This, interestingly enough, is what the whole Christian life offers.

When, with God’s help, we commit ourselves to living out God’s love and purposes in all phases of our lives and the life of the world, we are immersed in something both challenging and worthwhile. This will translate into new consciousness of our choices and our habits every day of our life. It may mean taking on projects and challenges at a larger scale. These projects or challenges may well be way beyond what we believe we can handle with the skills and experience we’ve developed on our own.

This is what I believe the Jesus was talking about when he talked about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. He modeled it for us. Committing ourselves to it, paradoxically, can give us our best moments in life. Not necessarily easy. Or relaxing. But it can make us fully alive to who we should be.

This is what I would call the “kingdom flow.”

A great example is Bob Muzikowski. As he describes it, he was saved and made sober on the same day. When he subsequently moved to Chicago from New York to get away from reminders of his former drinking life, he started a little league on the city’s troubled Near West Side that attracted, to his amazement, 300 youth the very first time he put out notices about it.

His dive into a larger purpose did not end there. His professional life continued in the financial world until he began to talk deeply with Bob Buford and then joined the Halftime Institute when Buford launched it. In this process, Muzikowski found that he continued to be drawn to the needs of the communities he had experienced through the Near West Little League he had helped establish. So he gave up his comfortable financial career to convert an abandoned Catholic elementary school on the Near West side into the Chicago Hope Academy, a college and life preparatory high school with a strong Christian faith element. Muzikowski purposefully developed it to be more affordable for poor and minority youth than typical private high schools. He also recruits the best teachers he can find from around the country.

This has not been easy work.

“If I hadn’t had a Halftime journey, my life would have been easier and less stressful today,” Muzikowski says, “but it would definitely be a lot more shallow.”

Not everyone may feel the calling to do something that meaningful on that scale. But in every life I am convinced there are needs and purposes that God is offering us to be engaged with and choices to make every day. Responding will move us beyond our own interests and needs while tapping the talents and skills we have and even those we don’t know we have.

When we move from faith in God and what God offers to us through Jesus to a deep commitment to living with God’s purposes firmly in mind every moment, we go from getting to the starting line to actually running the race of which the Apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25.

This is an essential point of what I mean by the phrase “whole faith.” When Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life, he was not pointing only to life after death. He was, as I understand it, pointing to a true life that begins when we synch our lives with God’s purposes. That true life begins in the here and now, and that God-filled life will never end. After death, it will be even more glorious and complete. This is the new and abundant life that Jesus promised. Being in this kingdom flow give us the sense of flow and challenging, immersive purpose that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described.

Our churches should help us understand this and develp the kingdom flow in our lives.

I know I need that help at times. The brokeness of the world, incuding the dysfunction of how we treat God’s earth, is at times overwhelming. When I don’t hear churches calling us to bring God’s kingdom into this world to the best degree possible, I am dismayed. I even find myself questioning my faith.

But when I come across Christians like Bob Muzikowski, my spirits rebounds, and my faith grows. I am encouraged, too, that there are growing numbers of Christians in the kingdom flow who are working in their own ways to change how we treat God’s earth in the process of growing food from it. Like Bob Muzikowski, they have taken on missions that are challenging and require of them tremendous sacrifice. Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin, and Ray Archuleta are just some of them.

The testimonies of their lives and the impacts of their lives say a great deal about what the whole Gospel offers to you and the world and about its truth beyond its words.

Have you found yourself coming to walk in the same paths as your parents without consciously choosing to do so?

My father has long treasured the book of Proverbs and has quoted his favorite verses as long as I can remember. As I recently made my way through Proverbs as part of my morning meditation and prayer routine, I found rich wisdom in it. It’s becoming one of my favorite books of the Bible.

The twenty-seventh chapter’s nineteenth verse has begun to put down particulalry deep roots in me:

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

What kind of heart are our lives reflecting?

The Bible refers to the heart a great deal. The word “heart” is referred to in the Bible, depending on the translation, easily over 500 times, according to Christian Bible Reference.

There are also many definitions of the heart as it is used in the Bible. I would suggest that it is a combination of one’s character, will, and emotions. It is the center of who we are.

Read the Bible carefully and you’ll see that the nature of people’s hearts is at the center of many stories.

When David reacts in anger to Nathan’s story of the rich man who has stolen and then cooked a poor family’s beloved lamb, it is David’s heart that is on display. When the story leads David to then confess his own sin of adultery with Bathsheba, it is David’s heart that has been moved. And the fact that his heart would respond to the crushing realization of what he had done in the context of God’s moral framework is one of the reasons we sympathize with David. Our hearts resonate with his heart.

As you read the Gospels, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is sympathetic or antagonistic to people depending on the orientation of their hearts.

People who are humble and who recognize their own failings or whose hearts are full of adoration for God receive his kind attention.  On the other hand, Jesus jolted people who had allowed their hearts to become cold and selfish. People who had become bound up in preserving institutional power or in pursuing purity without being balanced by mercy find themselves exposed to Jesus’ anger and criticism.

Jesus models for us the hearts we should have – full of love but also tenacious and passionately committed to God’s will and kingdom and intentions for this world.

In his book Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, Dallas Willard wrote a profound statement about Jesus:

“The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul.”

Much of my life I have heard little of this from churches I have attended as there is a focuse on holding true to correct doctrines on grace, sin, the Trinity, and other topics. But there is little or no attention given to encouraging membrers to honestly and carefully examine the state of their hearts and to helping them deliberately open their hearts to transformation by God.

I am 100% convinced that a whole Christian faith must also be rooted in what Dallas Willard calls the revolution of the heart. A whole faith church would be intentional about this in its worship, instruction, and culture.

If Jesus is renovating, remaking, and revolutionizing our hearts, then our lives could not help but reflect that. And not just the lives we live in public, but all the spheres of our lives. At home. With our families. With our friends. On business trips. In our politics. On the Internet.

And, without doubt, in our relationship with the life of God’s earth.

How could it be otherwise?

How can one be loving, compassionate, patient, and possessing of self-control and yet deliberately and unnecessarily maim the land, water, and living things around us? How can one be fiercely, self-sacrificingly loyal to God’s desire for how all of life should be in this world and go along with systems and culture that methodically destroy what God has given us to carefully shepherd?

More than in any other area of our lives, we have put blinders on our hearts when it comes to our relationship with non-human life around us.

Our human tendency, of course, is to resort to rationalization when there is an aspect of our life in which we do not live by the values to which we say we are committed with our hearts and minds. This is easier to do when the mainstream culture and even the mainstream church culture around us accept and even promote those rationalizations.

But God wants our whole life, our whole heart.

And when you open yourself to God’s love and God’s spirit, your heart will begin to be remade and your life cannot help but show it.

Every corner of your life.

What kind of heart is your life reflecting?

What kind of heart is the corner of God’s living earth that you are impacting with your life reflecting?