We’re going to be spending 5 weeks on the same passage (Genesis 28:10-18), but really focus on verse 16: “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it!” based on Lawrence Kushner’s book, God was in this Place & I, i did not know.
Quite a few times, people have come up to me after church and say things like, “Boy, God was really here today!” (And I know I’m not the only pastor/church leader that gets that). Those thoughts always gets me thinking… Does that imply that God hasn’t been there the other times?
But those kind of thoughts happen outside of the church, too.
One day, after a long (long) hike, when I got to the top, I saw the beautiful surrounding site and I caught myself saying, “Wow. God’s really here at the top of this mountain!” Which made me pause and ask myself, “Wasn’t God with me on my hike up?”
So, for the next 5 weeks, we’ll be talking about what Jacob might’ve experienced that kept him from realizing God was in this place before he fell asleep and had his dream, and how we, as today’s readers of Jacob’s story, can learn from his experience and story.
What is it that keeps us from being aware of God’s presence everywhere we go?
I like Jon Acuff. I think he’s funny. I wish I had his sense of humor.
He’s also the one that came up with one of my favorite Christian phrases: The Jesus Juke which I use often.
I thoroughly enjoyed his Stuff Christians Like and thought it was hilarious, though a few people very close to me didn’t think so. But I tell them, often, that they don’t have a good sense of humor.
He’s coming out with a new book in a couple of weeks called Start. And they were offering a whole bunch of things if you pre-ordered his book. As I was pre-ordering his book, I remembered he was offering something when he released his second book, Gazelles, Baby Steps and 37 Other Things Dave Ramsey Taught Me About Debt: he would take a look at your blog and give you tips, insights, and suggestions.
Well, I did pre-order that book but he never took a gander at this blog. It was no biggie. I honestly had forgotten about it until I was preordering Start.
So, I just tweeted him basically saying, “Hey you never reviewed my blog after I preordered Gazelles” thinking that he’d never see or get that tweet.
Wrong. He responded back immediately and then DM’ed (direct message) me asking for my email address. Immediately, I felt guilty and bad because I realized I basically called him out. But in our short exchange of emails, he was very kind and gracious and gave me these tips:
1. Be careful about the length of your posts. 5 years ago people would accept 800 word long posts but now with twitter and pinterest, the length needs to be shorter. Your last post was over 1,000 words. Shorten them.
2. Think about breaking longer posts into multiple posts. Do a series instead of one long post
3. Figure out a consistent posting schedule. I couldn’t figure out how often you post.
4. Cut your disclaimer in half. I think you can just say, “My thoughts don’t represent …”
5. Help me as a reader know what topics you are going to focus on. Maybe make that clearer in your subhead.
I already took care of #4 and #5. My subhead now reads “Thoughts on Life and Faith and everything in between, like Batman.” That’s a bit more clearer on what this blog is about than the previous one “Loving God and making my mistakes look gracious,” which the second part were lyrics from a Jason Mraz song.
The first tip — keep it short, I think is helpful (or if I know it’s going to run long, do a series) because there have been times where the post just keep going and going and going and I have no idea how to end it. Then I get discouraged, and I store it as a draft to revisit them later. (I have over 10 drafts sitting and waiting to be revisited…)
On the same line of thinking, I once thought preaching for 40-45 minutes was great. Gave me plenty of time to address everything I wanted to. Nowadays, I really enjoy preaching for 20-25 minutes. It makes preparation easier and I think it makes listening easier. I realized the extra 20 minutes in a 40 minute sermon were used for fillers, transitions, and/or various illustrations. I could still get the heart of the message out in 20-25 minutes without the extra stories.
I think shorter posts will also help keep this blog updated in a consistent manner, which brings us to tip #3.
I also don’t know my own posting schedule. I tried to aim for every Wednesday, but that doesn’t really work out for various reasons. I forget; I didn’t know how to end the post, so I store it as a draft; and other various reasons/excuses. I also aimed for two post a week, but that didn’t work out either. But I’m working on it. Having a consistent posting schedule, I believe, will help me stay on track, focused, and disciplined on something I really like doing.
Anyway, I’m grateful for Jon’s tips (and still a bit apologetic for my tweet). This blog gives me joy and an outlet to share my thoughts (though at the end of the day, that’s a bit egotistical. But, so am I, I guess) and so I do want it to be the best that I can make it.
So thanks, Mr. Jon Acuff for your help. And as always, thanks for reading.
An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside of us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealously, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
As Dr. Cox said in the clip from the link above fear is good, you just can’t let it paralyze you.
And yes, fear is good. It is a good motivator. It can bring about much needed change. It can help people accomplish great things.
But fear also can motivate people to absolutely hold their ground and not embrace the new things that are happening.
Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. They can hold a church hostage. Instead of propelling us forward, it anchors us to the ground of yesteryears. I guess that’s what Dr. Cox would mean by having fear paralyze us.
And we’ve all experienced being paralyzed by fear. Like, you’re about to perform and the spotlight hits you and you forget all the words or lyrics or what you’re supposed to do. Or, you know what the best decision is, but you’re afraid to make it so you let the moment pass.
However, as a church, fear should not be our greatest motivator. We shouldn’t use fear to make people believe in God. We shouldn’t use fear to bring about the changes that we want. What kind of church would we be if we employed scare tactics?
Especially if we believe that perfect love drives out fear.
Grace. Hope. Love. Those things are compelling enough to bring about the best in people and in churches. Not fear.
After all, Jesus used hope, grace, and love to draw people to him. Not fear.
I recently started reading a book of writings by Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled, “I Asked For Wonder.” Samuel Dresner, the person who compiled the writings and wrote the intro, wrote about a conversation he had with Heschel after Heschel suffered a near fatal heart attack.
“Sam,” he said, “when I regained consciousness, my first feelings were not of despair or anger. I felt only gratitude to God for my life, for every moment I had lived. I was ready to depart. ‘Take me, O Lord,’ I thought, ‘I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.’”
Exhausted by the effort, he paused for a moment, then added: “That is what I meant when I wrote [in the preface to his book of Yiddish poems]: ‘I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And you gave it to me.’”
I had to pause a little bit and ponder that phrase: “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder.”
I recently finished another book by a different Rabbi and was so inspired by it, it’s going to be the main resource for my next sermon series about Jacob’s Ladder. In that book, there’s a story about two Israelites who were walking on the ground of the Red Sea that was split by God to escape the Egyptians. But all these two Israelites could see was the muddy ground that made it difficult to walk. They complained and complained about the muddiness of the ground that they failed to see the wonder of the miraculous thing that was happening around them. They were walking on the ground of the Red Sea — an option that was non-existent just a moment before! If they would’ve looked up, they would’ve seen the the wall of water at either side! They missed the wonder. They failed to see the miracle.
The other day, while both the Red Sea story and Heschel’s “I asked for wonder” quote was simmering in my head and heart, one of my parishioners came over to graciously help with something in the parsonage. He brought his son with him and when I asked if I could help with anything, he simply asked that I keep his son occupied and away from the tools — which I was more than happy (and capable) of doing. So while he went to work, I took his son to the park across the street from the parsonage.
While we were playing, he heard the garbage truck. He stopped in his tracks, tilted his head and asked, “Truck?”
“Yea, dude. It’s a truck.”
We walked to the sidewalk to see if we can actually see the truck. And lo and behold, there it was! A garbage truck!
“Yea, buddy. It’s a garbage truck.”
The truck pulled up right in front of us and stopped to collect the trash bins on the curbs.
The kid stood still with eyes wide open, mouth slightly ajar, silently staring at this garbage truck. It’s the longest I’ve looked at a garbage truck that I could remember.
Once in a while, he’ll look over, eyes sparkling, and say with excitement: “Garbage truck!”
I mean, a garbage truck isn’t something I’d pay any special attention to. I wouldn’t hesitate or think twice about passing by a garbage truck if it was stopped in the street doing its business. In fact, if anything, I think I try to avoid garbage truck.
But here was this boy, in awe of this truck.
He looked at it with such wonder.
That’s when it struck me: Is that what I’m missing in my life? That I’ve grown up and now understand how the world works and probably a little jaded with certain aspects of the world, so much so that I can’t look at normal, regular, ordinary, everyday things with wonder?
Am I becoming (have I become?) like those two Israelites so consumed with complaints that I’m missing the miracles and wonders that surrounds me?
And there’s this really adorable video with a 3 year old about to ride the train for the first time.
I don’t think I can remember when I was that geninuely awed and wonderstruck by something so… mundane and… normal and… ordinary.
There truly is something really precious about the innocence of a child and the child-like curiosity and wonder of how everything works because everything seems so new and magical and wonderful.
But, the wonder and magic of it all sort of fades as we grow, doesn’t it? Because as we grow, we learn. We start knowing how things work. And when we know how things work and operate, the wonder of it all (most of the times) fades. It’s like that famous scene from that famous movie: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Once it was discovered that Oz was just a man behind a curtain, well Oz wasn’t really Oz anymore, was he?
Now, I know that I live in a world filled with miraculous and wondrous things. But, I don’t think I take time to recognize it. Or acknowledge it. Or even just simply live in it. Instead, I think a lot of times, I (and many others) choose stare at the ground that we have to walk on and wonder why it’s so muddy and difficult to walk.
The (great) comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes ended it’s run with Calvin saying to Hobbes, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ‘ol buddy… Let’s go exploring!”
Yes. It is a magical and wonderful world. I guess it’s really up to us to choose what to ponder on and wonder about.
We can choose to look at the muddy ground and wonder why we have to walk through such difficult conditions. Or, we can choose to look up and see the miraculous sights that surround us… and be in wonder.
I hope you and I choose to do the latter.
May you ask for wonder, and may God give it you!
Last week, I was surfing around the Internet for sermon stuff and also for stuff to make me giggle uncontrollably. I don’t know how those went hand in hand, but I’m always looking for a good laugh.
For the record, I can’t figure out which, out of the two, is my favorite so here’s both:
During my surfing, I ran across Rob Bell’s tumblr. I did not know he had a tumblr page. But he does. On his tumblr, he said that Barnes and Nobles had asked him about his favorites reads.
This guy has always fascinated me. And I know he’s a polarizing figure in the Christian circles. But, then again, who isn’t? There are people who adore John Piper and those who don’t. Same with Mark Driscoll. And Francis Chan.
… And Jesus…
The way he communicates has always impressed me. I went to his Drop Like Stars tour and realized that he had spoken for almost 2 hours. Yet, it didn’t feel that long. Sometimes, I sit through my own 20 minute sermons and it feels like eternity and I want to personally apologize to everyone who had to endure that on Sunday morning.
I went to the link and ordered 4 of the 6 books he recommended. More than anything, to see what inspires him. To see what helped mold his thoughts and theology.
I finished his newest book, and started on “God Was in This Place and I, i Did Not Know” by Lawrence Kushner. So far, it’s been a great and eye-opening read.
Then I remembered what my preaching professor told us over and over: As a pastor, you have to always study. That’s why the pastor’s office is not called an office, but the pastor’s “study.” (He also always repeated, As a pastor, you need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice!)
The word “study” has never been a friend of mine. Neither has the title “student.”
But I am (re)learning the importance of reading and consuming and digesting and discerning information, thoughts, theologies, ideas, writings, challenges, and so forth.
There’s a difference in having something to say vs. having to say something.
The more I “study”, the more I’ll have something to say on Sunday mornings and other moments vs. saying something because I have to say something.
So here’s to reading and learning which has to be partnered with doing and practicing.