Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
-Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, MSG)
Last week I watched a surprisingly thought-provoking film called Tomorrowland. It had some major plot holes but still left our family with some worthwhile conversations. One evening, in the midst of discouragement involving the loss of a job and other things, the teenage daughter looks at her dad and tells him a simple story he has told her many times over the years.
There are two wolves and they’re always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which one wins?
(long, very dramatic pause) ……
Whichever one you feed.
I know. That sounds a bit like an inspirational Facebook meme. This story is well known and often attributed (with debate) to Native American origin. But I think there’s something deeply true about it that highlights a deficiency in the lives of so many Christ-followers.
"Think positive thoughts” isn’t nearly what I’m getting at. Walking through life and attempting to be cheerful is far different than living with a core conviction that God is up to something beautiful, even in the midst of brokenness. That’s real hope. And hope tells us that we have a role to play in it all, because Jesus has invited us to be imitators of him as we live each day.
So many seem to be having a crisis of hope lately. We look at people and the world and find it easy to become absorbed with all that is wrong with everything, and everyone. And we spend our time thinking about it, talking about it, and complaining about it. We prepare meals for the dark wolf to eat its fill.
And yet I stood in front of my congregation on Sunday asking them to share what gives hope, and our answers were so beautiful...
"Each day is a new opportunity"
“God’s mercy new every morning”
But the temptation (mine too) is to get up the next morning and forget that there is much reason for hope, because we’ve got work to do and life is stressful and our country is a mess.
So I continue to wonder… which wolf is getting fed?
Maybe we need to uncomfortably admit that much of our hopelessness is often linked to the false belief that our national/political realities are the primary reason to have or lack hope. Fear, dread, and despair are often used effectively to manipulate, and do they ever work on us! But disciples of Jesus will see the hollowness of messages lacking hope, and reject them- both in ourselves, and in the world around us.
If we're going to be hopeless, let's be hopeless about hopelessness.
It’s hard for a follower of Jesus to square all that hopelessness up with a love that casts out fear (1 John 4:9), a hope that can never be shaken (Ps 62:5-6), and an allegiance to Jesus who literally self identifies as the "light of the world" (John 8:12).
What if one of our spiritual disciplines was to proclaim hope to people throughout each day? What if we "hoped with people" instead of complained with them? What if we even were courageous enough to mention why Jesus fills us with hope each day?
We can do a better job of recognizing the beautiful.
We can do a better job of catching people doing something right and telling on them.
We can do a better job of remembering which kingdom is worth trusting.
We can do a better job of laughing and breathing deeply.
That will feed the right wolf. So will remembering that God loved the world so much that he sent his son.
We don’t need to ignore despair or darkness when it hits us. We just need to remember that the darker the room, the more clearly a light will be able to be seen.
What’s one way you can feed the better wolf this week as you dwell with Jesus and others?
Jesus, give me hope.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream."
-The Prophet Jeremiah (17:7-8)
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.
-The Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18)
I was recently walking along a wooded path by a stream a few hours south of Delaware. It was late afternoon and the sun was bright and hot, but the shade was pleasant and refreshing. As our family sat on a bench and took in the peaceful moment, a movement in the tree caught my eye. At first I thought it was a bird or the wind, but I quickly realized that every single leaf on the tree had the same bright, dazzling movement, even though no wind was in sight. The sun had hit the moving water and bounced onto the underside of the leaves, creating a shimmering ripple that made the leaves explode with green shades and come to life (this is the effect I mean). The leaves were simply hanging there, but the sun and water animated them with a compelling beauty beyond anything they would ever have on their own. As I sat back in delight, it made me think of Jesus (shocker!).
Two things are necessary in order for that shimmering reflection to be so beautiful and breathtaking. The tree had to be healthy enough to have green leaves. If the roots aren’t deep and life isn’t flowing through the tree, then the sunlight won’t have bright leaves to illuminate. And secondly, the tree has to be rooted close enough to the water to be able to reflect the sun’s light when it reflects.
Isn’t this an image of God's creative way of forming us in Jesus? When we are experiencing the reality of being rooted in God’s love, we find great life there. We are able to withstand the daily struggles of life and relationships, and the larger struggles of pain and loss and fear and disappointment. But that rooted life is not just a benefit to us. Because of our proximity to Jesus, and because the living water has worked its way into our roots, we also are able to reflect something beautiful and noticeable to those around us. This is not about proving ourselves or living with a prideful disposition. And it’s not merely effort or impressiveness.
It is about willingly doing good works that flow from Jesus, so that others can see that way of life and “glorify your father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Our lives become breathtaking glimpses of the living water because of our proximity to Jesus and living within the spacious confines of grace.
A life rooted in Jesus will reflect his beauty onto a world that is in desperate need of the shimmer of God.
Many things catch our eye in today’s celebrity and consumption-obsessed culture. But a life that humbly loves God and lives it out through love of neighbor will always last beyond the eye-catching flashes of the moment.
This is not profound. It’s nature. And it's the nature of God.
When we find life and delight in Jesus, others will notice the beauty and be drawn to it. Of course, some will not, because the Jesus way of life will challenge the allegiances they’ve adopted. But that’s ok. Do not be afraid to actively reflect God’s beauty in the world.
The extended hand of Jesus to the outsider will reveal beauty in our world today.
The ability to trust Jesus and reject worry will appear attractive in a stressed out world.
The choice to speak truth in love will always be more compelling than name calling.
A humble life of prayer will have effects that catch peoples’ eyes.
A heart bearing the patience of Jesus will delight others we meet.
Maybe it’s not a broken record, saying this over and over again. Instead, maybe it’s the key to spiritual health.
Slow down. Get rooted in Jesus every single day. Discover the joy of being planted beside living water…. and don’t miss the opportunities to point people to the light when they see it reflecting off of you.
Jesus, make me an instrument of your peace. May I reflect your Spirit today.
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
A few nights ago we hung out with some little friends of ours for a couple hours. It was a lot of fun.
I really love children, but sometimes…. I can be a little much for cautious babies. They usually start screaming when I look at them. It’s a gift of mine. Is it too big of a smile? Too much hair? Not sure. But they give me the side eye all day long.
This time started with the usual skepticism. But then! After a dinner of cut grapes and noodles and chicken, the little guy was happy and curious and ready for fun, even when mommy wasn’t around!
I mentioned noticing this to my wife, and she responded with a statement was profound to me, but apparently obvious to an experienced mother.
"Well, he just ate with us. That builds trust. Now he knows that we’ll provide what he needs because he’s experienced it."
This is not a shocker, right? We become more content when we’ve been fed. But here's the interesting thing:
We also become more connected to the one who feeds us.
Consider the reality of a mother bonding with a nursing baby. Consider the memories you have of someone’s home cooking, whether a parent, a grandparent, a close friend, or even a special restaurant that you’ve experienced many times. When you’re fed well, you develop trust and positive connections. And that connection is surprisingly powerful.
When we are dependent children, we rely on parents and caregivers to supply us with food. But as we become more and more independent, the bonding experience can be lost because we start feeding ourselves. And in most ways, that’s a positive thing. But when we think about the hunger of the soul, I think many of us have grown too independent.
The scriptures talk of God as an amazing chef:
You prepare a feast before me...
My soul is satisfied as with the richest of foods...
You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing...
How sweet your words taste to me…
Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst...
I am the bread of life…
If hunger satisfied is trust built, then our greatest spiritual practice may be quite simple: move toward God in times of fear and hunger and emptiness, rather than seek out our own ways of meeting those needs. It sounds simple. But truly sitting with Jesus will always be challenging and countercultural in a fast-paced world.
Are you anxious? Take a walk and invite God to fill your hungry soul.
Are you tempted? Remove yourself for a moment and ask God to meet your needs.
Are you tired? Sit with Jesus and be honest about the things that are emptying you.
Are you discouraged? Reflect on God’s forever faithfulness in the scriptures.
Are you angry? Wait on God to fill your heart with love for the other.
And the impact? When we slow down enough to be present with Jesus, we not only will find contentment and fulfillment, but we will also experience deeper connection with the one who provides good sustenance. Literally, we bond with God. Fear will dissipate. Trust will be built. And the next time you are alone and worried, it will be easier to move toward the One to trust, who can lead you into the journey ahead. This is such good news, because our mechanisms to cope with the stress and pain of life often leave us longing for something more lasting.
On a side note, this trust-building opportunity is also why we need to make sure that not all of our spiritual “food” is coming from another person (a pastor/author/blogger/podcaster). That can be helpful, but a relationship of trust only develops fully when we engage with Jesus personally.
This week, let Jesus speak words of contentment and nourishment to the hungry, fearful, and anxious parts of you. Experience the peace that comes from being filled with the riches of foods.
Jesus, fill me with your spirit and love, so that trust can be built and I can be fully satisfied in you.
Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
So earlier this year, MIT Technology Review magazine ran a story about why all hipsters look the same, calling it “the hipster effect.” The idea behind the story is that the people who say they oppose mainstream culture…well, they are all kind of looking the same, which is the definition of mainstream. Irony.
Anyways, the guy on the cover picture of the article got a lawyer and threatened to sue the magazine for using his image without permission and “slandering” him by labeling him a hipster. There was only one problem, though.
The picture wasn’t actually him.
It was a stock image of a model that had full usage permission. The reader was angry that his picture was used to prove that all hipsters look alike… but then he realizes the image isn’t him.
You can’t make this stuff up.
As disciples of Jesus, I wonder if we tend to think that we’re more different from the world around us than we actually are.
What does it mean to truly be different in the world? Nobody likes to be categorized. We all fall into categories (fairly or not) that we don’t appreciate being put into. It takes the combination of intention, action, and grace to be an alternative to the way the world works. Otherwise we just blend in in all the wrong ways. So our constant question… how can we surprise the world by actually being different in the ways that Jesus was different?
We love thinking we’re different. But it’s got to go beyond thinking.
We want to be generous, but often our consumption habits are highly materialistic.
We want to be loving, but our vindictive words about those people in the other political party sound just like what everyone else says.
We want to practice deep community with other people, but we’ve got a million reasons why it just can’t happen in this season of life.
We want to have deep connection with God, but we often fail to take any time to be grounded in prayer and scripture. And therefore, when stress and crises come, we respond no differently than anyone else.
The general consensus in our country is that most Christians aren’t particularly different than anyone else, except that they tend to be a bit more judgmental and uptight than most.
That’s the difference that people see???? Mayday!!!
This is not about guilt tripping or feeling bad about ourselves. It’s about realizing that we have truly good news available to us, and if it takes root, it will lead to a completely different way of being- that’s all encompassing, forever. The more we are immersed in Jesus, the more our way of existing in the world will be unique and beautiful.
So let’s move beyond "mister hipster’s" complaint about being tagged as the same as everyone. Let’s actually be noticeably different.
The good news is that Jesus is renewing us daily, giving us new insight, fresh strength, and new creativity about how to live in a way that awakens ourselves and our world to the goodness of life with God. Will we take hold of that and let it lead us to beautiful and surprising actions?
What would happen today, if you did something that wasn’t normal, but that was absolutely beautiful? What if you started a conversation with someone living on the street as you walked by? What if you did a radical act of generosity? What if you decided to commit yourself to sharing a meal with others on a regular basis? What if you stood up for someone on the “other side” of any number of divisive issues when others are labeling their worth? There is no end to the creative possibilities of life with Jesus! Have at it.
Jesus, help me move beyond desire and into action, so that I might resemble the same difference you lived on earth.