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 na├»ve, 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 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

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

A spontaneous thought about spiders and the meaning of life

Today I sat for a while looking out from a height over our neighbourhood and into the distant sunset. I enjoy taking some time at the end of the day just to recollect my thoughts, and mostly, to switch them off. It is in these times that I actually catch up with myself and with God. It sometimes feels as if I am like a coral reef submerged beneath the ocean of life, and all these movements of my soul at the end of the day are like bubbles rising up from the deep and breaking open on the surface. It takes calm waters to notice those bubbles. Today I was enjoying them as I just allowed myself to float. Something caught my attention today though – a little spider weaving its web near my head. This triggered another release of bubbles. I wondered if this spider noticed the view at all – whether it knew or cared how big the world was out there. In some ways I pity the simplistic life of such creatures, but I also envy it, in a way. It looked so content, blissfully unaware of the amazing beauty in the sky, the human mess below it and the collision between it all on the horizon that we have to deal with. I wonder whether it also has such questions and longings bubbling up from within. I guess not.

SpiderWhat this makes me realise, is that spiders were created to be spiders – to make their webs and catch things in them. When they are doing that, they lack nothing. Perhaps a spider sitting in someone’s glass jar somewhere, with no web and nothing to catch in it, would have longings and disillusionment. Perhaps then it would look out into the wide world and wonder what was out there and why it was in there. Today I looked at the spider and considered her ways. I decided that there are many things I was made to do that I am not doing, and many things I am doing that I was not made to do. I’ve decided I want to be like that oblivious spider in the web, that lives like it was created to. Maybe you need to do the same. There is no discontent and no glass bottle there, and perhaps also fewer bubbles…

Conversations on morality: what about emotions?

There are times when I experience toxic emotions that can lead to sinful behavior. In the past, I used to battle distinguishing the emotion from the behavior, which meant that in an effort to avoid bad behavior I ended up avoiding bad emotions. I guess that having bad emotions made me feel like a bad person, and so I began to strive to be an ’emotionally’ good person. On the positive side, I think I learned good self control, which is a fruit of the Spirit after all. I wanted to obey God’s commands to rejoice, to be patient, to not be anxious. In some ways it worked. I didn’t allow myself to entertain or indulge unhealthy emotions. On the negative side, by moralizing my emotions I actually closed the curtains on the window to my soul. I treated bad emotions like sinful choices, and forgot that there was something under them. So in some ways I lost touch with myself. Lately I find that I am becoming more ‘real’ instead of ‘right’ with my toxic emotions, and I feel more authentic. Yet there is this nagging feeling that it might not always be a good choice.

ARE emotions choices? Are they moral in God’s sight? Or are they merely like the lights on a car’s dashboard that He designed to let me know what’s going on under the bonnet? What is the balance between being real and being right?