A low floor and a high ceiling

There are two characteristics that I really admire in people. Firstly, some people just have this amazing capacity to endure in tough circumstances. They can be taken anywhere or put through anything and they don’t crack. They take it in their stride, get on with life and make it happen. I really admire this kind of never-say-die perseverance through stress and suffering. I call it ‘having a low floor’ in their capacity. Things can get really low, and yet they can still handle it and maintain a good attitude. Secondly, you get people who have what I call ‘a high ceiling’. These are the people with a flair for life. They are dissatisfied with living on the level of day-to-day survival – they want to prosper. These people bring excess and creativity into a situation, always striving for the best possible experience – to master the art of living well. If you think about it, which one is more like you?

Often a weakness or blind spot comes with these strengths. Those who suffer well also tend to suffer needlessly, or they have no desire to put effort into ‘unnecessary extras’. To them, life should be lived humbly – those practicing the ‘art of living’ are met with the suspicion of superficiality or arrogance. These low-floor people also have a low ceiling – a war-time mentality. Conversely, the high floor in many high-ceiling types would render them quite useless in a war. Their happiness and functioning are often very fragile, being based on external things. To them, life must be lived for the pleasure of it – and those who do not seek this passionately are met with the suspicion of cultural bankruptcy. Interestingly, I have met many people with either a low floor or a high ceiling, but not too many with both. Christians, too, seem to relate more to either the high ceilings of Abraham and Solomon or the low floors of Job and John the Baptist! My conviction, however, is that God aims to stretch our personal capacity in both directions. In Jesus, the King and the Suffering Servant, our inheritance is both a high ceiling and a low floor. We can live out both His glory and his humility.

ceilingfloor2Let me illustrate this with a personal story…

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A short thought about expressing wonder

Have you ever walked past a bakery with an empty stomach and yet been forced, after taking in all the treats with your eyes and your nose, to walk on by? The initial sense of wonder quickly deteriorates into unfulfilled longing. It’s like a parable of life – eating is almost always better than window-shopping hungrily at the bakery. I experience the same thing while staring out into a beautiful landscape, listening to an inspiring piece of music or watching a small child exploring the world. Somehow just observing something wonderful doesn’t satisfy our hunger for joy – it’s only in the expression of that wonder that we can taste it. It is as if praise is not just joy coming out. It is joy happening, joy that is incomplete without communicating it to someone else. We seem to be wired this way. Perhaps that is why God encourages us to be thankful, to sing, to shout and give praise when we consider Him – and to participate in it together… because if we only stare on through the window silently, it may be wonderful but we’ll still walk away hungry.

A thought about reading the bible: how do you get to the meaning?

Have you ever thought about the different factors at play when you trying to understand the bible? It’s actually quite interesting. Perhaps you are reading a passage from John chapter 4. Here is Jesus, talking to a woman at a well, but what does it all mean? There are many different approaches people might take in answering this question (please forgive the boring colorless diagrams, one learns to love them I promise).

Reading 1Most people would agree (I hope) that John 4 is describing an event, and that the event has some amount of meaning (see above). A simple approach would be to assume that the meaning is somehow obvious and that we can just understand it at face value (Jesus was thirsty and saw an opportunity to combine a drink with a tutorial on conversational evangelism -duh). This is naïve, of course, because the full meaning of the event is dependent upon the historical and cultural context. For instance, if we don’t know eastern culture, will we appreciate the significance of a man speaking to a woman, or a rabbi speaking to a sinner? If we don’t know Israel’s history, will we feel the shock of a Jew speaking to a Samaritan, or the Messiah ministering outside the nation? Clearly not. So once we have obtained our Masters degree in ancient history, our process of interpretation might look something like this.

Reading 2This is better, but there are still other more subtle barriers to understanding. Firstly, we cannot assume that we have direct access to the event.

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A thought about certainty: is it the enemy of wisdom?

What is your idea of wisdom? Socrates said that the more he learned, the more he realized that he didn’t know anything. People call that Socratic wisdom, throwing off “childish” certainty and embracing uncertainty. Is that your view of a wise person, someone who has more questions than answers? Or do you see a wise person as someone who has all the answers, someone who has figured life out completely? If so, then wisdom brings certainty right? The other day I was reading about the difference between biblical faith and “certainty-faith” and the author said a thought-provoking thing: “Sometimes certainty is the enemy of wisdom”. That got me thinking – what am I certain about that I shouldn’t be, and what am I uncertain about that I shouldn’t be? Think about that. It affects how you relate with God, with people and with yourself.

between-suspicion-and-certaintyThere are many possible reasons why we would be inclined towards a black and white view of the world, or a more grey and ambiguous view. To some, this has its origins in our biology. For example, some people’s brain chemistry might make them more predisposed to fuzzy, intuitive concepts while others gravitate towards more concrete analytical ones. This makes me wonder about our natural preferences for different ideologies and theologies. Of course, much of this may be expanded from our biology to our psychology, because our personalities have been formed along different lines due to our environment and experiences. Continue reading

A thought about guidance: inquiry vs divination

I have had many conversations with Christians about how to know God’s will for our lives. One of the things that I have noticed is that people have very different ideas about the Lord’s guidance and how to find it. Getting perspective from the divine is a very old idea, stretching back deep into the Old Testament times and out to all the pagan religions. In some ways I wonder whether we haven’t picked up some wrong ideas from the Old Testament and paganism about finding out the will of God as New Testament Christians. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to share some initial thoughts about the topic and hear your responses.

It comes across to me that many Christians feel a certain amount of pressure to be guided by God – whether it is for big decisions like work and marriage, or daily. After all, they are taught that spiritual people are led by the Spirit. That all sounds wonderful until you get practical about it. That’s when all the problems and differences in people come out. Continue reading

When (last) were you filled with the Spirit?

Many of us have had someone ask us before; “When were you filled with the Spirit?”, but have you ever been asked “When LAST were you filled with the Spirit?”? Paul would have:

Ephesians 5:18-21
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Levra in a previous post. It reminded me that it is one thing to RECEIVE the Spirit for the first time and another thing to REMAIN filled by Him daily as Paul pleads here. Unfortunately, besides “read your bible and pray every day”, PRACTICAL teaching on how to be continuously filled with the Spirit after conversion is not common in my circles. Yet it seems that Paul spent much energy prioritizing this very issue with his young converts. My feeling is that many of the things which we need and desire as Christians are not in us but in Him – not default privileges but rather dependent upon whether or not we are filled with His Spirit. Do you agree?

I would love for you to share your experiences in this regard to encourage each other. What has God taught you about how to remain in the Spirit in real life? In a very practical sense, what has worked and what has not? Looking forward to sharing…

What kind of knowledge of God?

What is the knowledge of God that we so often read of in scripture? Paul spoke about it often, yearning for us all to grow in it, but what was he speaking about exactly?

Jesus said: “you will KNOW the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall set you free”. How we understand this sentence may help us answer the question above. To our modern ears, Jesus may have sounded like He was saying:

“You will HEAR the FACTS, and the FACTS shall set you free.”

Or

“You will UNDERSTAND the DOCTRINES, and the DOCTRINES shall set you free.”

Or

“You will MEMORIZE the SCRIPTURES, and the SCRIPTURES shall set you free.”

Or

“You will GRASP the THEOLOGY, and the THEOLOGY shall set you free.”

I don’t believe this is what Jesus was saying. Continue reading