Knowledge As Idol

A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

I’m quite grateful for my roots in the Evangelical tradition. I have received a deep appreciation for and knowledge of the scriptures that bless me (and I think others) every day. But there are times when such knowledge becomes more an idol than a gift. Listen to this quotation from one of the novels of George MacDonald in which one character highlights this problem to another:

“[Donal Grant answers Lady Arctura’s question, ‘How could all the good people be wrong?’] Because the greater part of the teachers among them have always set themselves more to explain God than to obey him. The gospel is given not to redeem our understandings, but our hearts; that done, and only then, our understandings will be free. If the things be true which I have heard from Sunday to Sunday in church since I came here, then the Lord brought us no salvation at all, but only a change of shape to our miseries. It has not redeemed you, Lady Arctura, and never will. Nothing but Christ himself for your very own teacher and friend and brother, not all the doctrines about him, even if every one of them were true, can save you.” (MacDonald, George. The Shepherd’s Castle. Ed. Michael R. Phillips. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1983, p. 97.)

Here, MacDonald’s character speaks to the difference between ideas about God and living encounter with God. The irony is that many who call themselves followers of Jesus have made an idol of their Christian ideas of doctrine or theology. They worship at the altar of theological accuracy rather than offering their religious intellect at the altar of Jesus Christ himself. One can tell the difference between the two by the kind of fruit that is borne.

Knowledge as idol can be recognized in the company of haughty arrogance, self-importance, impatience and contempt for those who don’t share their position, and harsh ridicule. I’m pretty sure none of these are fruits of the Spirit. I have recently had some self-appointed discernment experts send me some pretty ugly emails. Lucky me. I guess all it takes is writing a book and gaining a little bit of visibility to discover a sign painted on my chest.

Knowledge that builds up rather than puffing up is good friends with kindness, patience, gentleness, and genuine care for others. It knows what is truly central and what is peripheral. It remembers that the greatest commandment is not “have all the right answers as defined by your little theological neighborhood,” but “love God with all you are and all you have” and, of course, “love your neighbor.” There is a variety of knowledge that is miles from that command. 

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Morning Prayer: Living in Jesus’s Life

Icon of the trinity

Icon of the trinity

[Good Saturday morning to you. Remember that I am blogging twice weekly over at The Leadership Institute blog, but only occasionally here. I'd love to have you come visit our leadership community blog. We posted a video there of my conversation at The Church at Rocky Peak last weekend on the theme of An Unhurried Life. You might enjoy viewing it at your leisure.

Meanwhile, here is a journal entry from a morning a little while back. I enjoy starting my day often reading, reflecting on and responding to some passage from the daily lectionary. I find the scriptures very nourishing in this way.]

Passage: John 14:18-31

Reading 1

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:19, 20 NIV)

“That day” will be after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension. The word that so captures me is simply “in.” There is something already true that I will one day “realize.” Real-ize. I don’t make it real. I simply wake up to the fact that all of this mutual indwelling really is the bottom line of my life.

Reading 2

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23 NIV)

Obedience and love go together. In the past, I wanted to figure out which caused the other. I’m not as captured with that question as I once was. Now I’m happy to see obedience as an expression of love and love as a fruit of obedience. I’m not interested in which is the chicken, which is the egg, and which came first.

I feel happy to be loved by the Father. I’m amazed at Father and Son making themselves at home in me. I am never alone, even when I am without human company. Obeying the teaching of Jesus is my way of remaining in him, in his counsel and direction. It doesn’t make much sense to name myself a “follower” but fail to follow. How can I be a “Christian” if my life is quite distant from Christ?

Reading 3

Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” (John 14:21 NLT)

Today, help me to see myself in you, remaining in your mentoring and counsel, following your lead in each task, conversation or engagement. I want to be close enough to see what you would reveal to me, not only for my benefit, but for the good of others with whom I might share. Today, I want to live in the conscious awareness of being beloved by both Father and Son.

I have learned by experience that there is life when I follow you, and emptiness and flatness when I wander away, even for a little while. Thank you for your Spirit’s presence to remind and empower me. 

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No Life in Pretending and Hiding

8972007161_e92a2a8e68One of my morning habits lately has been to read and reflect on the lectionary passages for the day and journal any insights, questions, thanks, praise or prayers they might stir in. (I use a website lectionary and read the passages there).  This morning, a few lines from Psalm 32 were what I needed on this cool and overcast Orange county Saturday:

Ps 32:3-5 NRSV, “While I kept silence, my body wasted away
 through my groaning all day long. 
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
 my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
 Selah. Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
 and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
 and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Two selahs. This is worth really stopping and listening well. I need to let this soak in. When I pretend there is nothing wrong in or with me, I cease to abide. I wither and groan. I feel distant from divine favor. My strength dries up. Everything good that comes from communion with God evaporates. Pretending is life-draining.

But, as soon as I acknowledge what’s wrong, I come into the light, experience forgiveness and reconciliation, and enter back into the place of divine life, favor and grace. It’s about my connection or disconnection, nearness or distance from God. Humble confession restores my branch-connection to the vine.

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Thomas Kelly on Unhurry

runner_new_york_city_blog_2614In my morning spiritual reading recently, I came across this in Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion:

“In some we regret a well-intentioned but feverish overbusyness, not completely the depths of peace, and we wish they would not blur the beauty of their souls by fast motion.” (Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 43.)

There is an overbusyness–a variety of hurry–that blurs the beauty of who God has made us. This is a holy and living unhurry, rather than the sludgy, sluggish unhurry of laziness, procrastination or acedia. We keep thinking that the more we do, the more we will produce. But there are plenty of things we might do that aren’t actually productive at all. Go slow enough to express the beauty of your soul—the beauty of the image of God.

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Book: Mansions of the Heart Study Guide

mansions-study-guide-cover-draft-jpegA few years ago, I reviewed and recommended Tom Ashbrook’s Mansions of the Heart, which is a book that helps us understand Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. (Here’s my original review). It’s not exactly “Teresa for Dummies,” but it is a very helpful simplification or perhaps popularization of her spiritual framework.

Last week, Tom sent me a copy of his new Study Guide. Looking through the study guide, I appreciate some helpful additional reflection and discussion questions, and other resources to help individuals and groups take better advantage of the book. This would be a great summer learning process. Enjoy!

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The Trouble With Techniques


Our instinct as leaders is to find ways to do things that are productive and, hopefully, predictable. This is understandable and often helpful. But there is a technique mindset that can move us into an orientation in which we fail to pay attention to God’s guidance. Listen to some thoughts on this from Marva Dawn:

“As Jacques Ellul noted, it is not technology that is a problem; it is the Technique, the technological mind-set that deceives us into thinking that if we get just the right technological fix we will solve our problems. If we choose just the right style of music, we’ll attract great crowds to our churches. If we use the right methods, our youth group will grow. If we develop a good gimmick, our Vacation Bible School will be the fastest growing in the world!” (Dawn, Marva & Eugene Peterson. The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000, p. 97.)

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Spiritual Practice: Scripture Journaling

One of the spiritual practices that I find enriching is to simply journal insights that come as I reflect on a particular text. Here is a journal entry from some recent reflection on the story of Bartimaeus the blind man (Mark 10:46-52). I later used this passage to open a spiritual retreat for a ministry leadership team.

  • 46 – “They came to Jericho.” When Gem and I visited Israel, we drove from Jerusalem down the hill to the Dead Sea and saw Jericho, which is a bit south and east of Jerusalem. We did not visit. Jericho was, of course, a key story in Israel’s history. Through obedience and not through human strength the walls fell.
  • 46b – Bart was at the gate of the city that Jesus and his followers were exiting. A large crowd was also tagging along to see what Jesus would do.
  • 47 – Bart was begging for his sustenance. Apparently, he knew something of Jesus’ reputation because he cried out for more than alms. He asked for mercy from one he acknowledged as Son of David. This was a royal title–a kingdom title. He affirmed that Jesus was a rightful Lord (as opposed to Caesar or Herod).

(Click to read the rest of this post on The Leadership Institute blog. I am posting twice a week over there, FYI)