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May 23, 2017Interviews

20 Truths from 'Break Open the Sky'

Saving Our Faith from a Culture of Fear
20 Truths from 'Break Open the Sky'
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What if our growing unease about truth and the symptoms we feel, whether mere anxiety or full on fear, is actually an invitation take a hard look at our faith? What if our fear, whether corporate or personal, is really an opportunity to reason together, to consider the state of our faith, to reflect on its nature, to sift through its presuppositions and explore its implications? What if truth has been knocking for some time—maybe for years—but ever more furiously now in these urgent times? (22)

Could it be that the message of Jesus has been so muted through the ages that it has left many of us bereft of the joy, peace, and blessing we set out to find? (34-35)

Jesus inaugurated something revolutionary back then and still offers it today. He presents a radically new and disconcerting version of faith, not to offend, but to jolt us sufficiently so that we will reconsider—radically reconsider—what is most important in life and how to live that out. Jesus's version of faith doesn't come naturally. it is hard won, but not by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, self-help style. It is a gift, but accepting it requires courage. It is available to those brave enough to accept God's invitation to take and eat with the confidence that he will neither slap their hands nor send them the bill. (37-38)

By conferring blessing upon those widely thought to be undeserving, Jesus put into motion an idea so revolutionary that today we are still seeking to understand it. He showed us that the reason for divine favor is not us but solely him. (45)

Accepting that we are loved for no other reason than the God of the universe loves us—it's in his very being and nature to do so—is the hardest thing you and I will ever do. Grace is nonreciprocal. (49)

When we join with our brothers and sisters whom the world calls the least of these by admitting we have nothing to give but everything to gain, we unleash a torrent of grace. It floods our souls with supernatural strength. It cleanses our minds with hope. It purifies our words and actions so thoroughly that we are finally able to truly love, offering to others an unanxious presence, an uncommon kindness, a subtle joy. (50-51)

When Jesus lifted up the poor, meek, merciful, thirsty, and persecuted as poster children for blessing, he wasn’t saying that we should seek poverty, sadness, or persecution in order to curry favor with him. No, he was inviting us into a way of life in which grace, favor, blessing, and love are lavished upon the kind of people who don't lay claim to them, who know in every fiber of their being that they cannot earn those things. For such folk, who know from the bottom of their souls to the last neuron in their brains that they do not deserve grace, their only response can be joy. (52)

Like our culture in general, most of us live day to day as if suffering is to be absolutely avoided. Our fears have overtaken our theology on this point. We avoid the subject of death; we hide from its manifestations; we abhor illness, pain, and loneliness. We struggle to find purpose or meaning in suffering. We are afraid. (61)

But what if becoming nothing, simply letting go or laying down your life for God, is not essentially about giving up or giving in, feeling grief or pain or admitting failure, but is rather a grand pathway to freedom, to grace, to authentic faith, to something so extraordinary we struggle even to conceive of it? What is suffering, regardless of its cause, is a tangible extension of God's grace precisely because it functions as an invitation to something more, something grand, something other? (64)

We are all on a journey to overcome the enemy within, the evil that lurks in our hearts. Grace is our remedy, and love, our goal. (66)

Grace and suffering are inextricably linked to form a bedrock of truth: that God's grace is available to the least likely people and in the least likely ways. This truth comes furiously knocking, in surprising ways, calling you and me to rise above our fear. (71)

If grace is the quintessential truth and the crucible of suffering an invitation to apprehend that truth, then love is its proof. (75)

Jesus the helpless child, the sojourner, the stranger to many, the sometime vagabond, the one-time refugee—do we really want to follow that example? Is it even possible? Why can't we leave the notion of kenosis and, for that matter, the idea of living a "dusty" life to God? (80)

Because Jesus paid attention to those suffering on the margins, we should too. (82)

Fear causes us to pack up our tents and retreat from the dusty, sometimes violent, world. (83)

We are at our best not when we turn our backs, demands our rights, and talk of building walls but when we welcome to refugee, the sojourner, the immigrant. We are at our best - as a people, a church, a community, and a nation—not when we fear but when we love with gentle strength. (84)

Instead of literally washing one another's feet, we must transpose the meaning of this dusty divinity into everyday life. The question to ask is this: What needs in our culture are generally left to servants or left unattended altogether? (86)

Faith loses its meaning when it's not anchored in dusty life. Unless we involve ourselves in the problems of the world—whether down the road, across the hallway, or around the globe—our faith becomes shallow, superficial, unconvincing, and even shrill or clangy, like Paul's cymbal in 1 Corinthians 13. “Someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds,’” said James. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (89)

Turning differents, let alone enemies, into friends can seem idealistic, romantic, or even dangerous. How can we possibly live out such a sociological impossibility? Perhaps the more important question is this: Why would we want to? (95)

We know we live in a world that is increasingly afraid. When we are afraid, we tend to pull away, isolate ourselves, and sometimes nurture suspicion. We justify this behavior under the guise of protection. But our souls crave communities where we can trust, discover, and contribute. We long to give away ourselves to one another, yet we are often unaware of this fundamental need. So we live in a great tension between what we fear and what we love. (100)

The invitation? To exchange your life with Christ's and to live out his power and presence here on earth through your thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds. The apostle Paul summarized it with a profound statement: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Theologians call it theosis, an oft-misunderstood word that simply means participation in the life of God. When we tap into this idea, even momentarily, everything changes. Our motives change; our perspective shifts; we change. As a result, we begin to want to reach out to people who are different from us. Our fear dissipates; we no longer fear losing what we've “attained.” We experience a love for others that surprises us, not to mention those around us. (104)

Seeing people as people - not as "the poor," "victims," or mere objections of compassion—can turn the conventional idea of charity upside down. The people closest to the problems have the highest potential for changing their own communities, neighborhoods, and families. Inviting them into the problem and empowering them toward solutions make all the difference. And once we encounter and experience their joy in influencing their world, there is no going back to old ways. (111)

When we define the problems of the world in terms of people—real people who belong to each other—everything changes. No longer is justice only about repairing what's broken; it’s also about “fighting for your own.” When we reframe righteousness and justice as relational in nature, the rules change. The expectations and patterns of family or friendship now apply. Unlike charity, friendship is mutual. Both parties give and both receive. Friendship is transformational, not merely transactional. It requires commitment, not merely a one-off interaction. Above all, the motive that drives the friendship and holds it together is love. Love is fierce, stronger than activism, justice, or even righteousness. It contains the power to sustain our commitment well beyond the problems, success, and even failures. (124)

In order to genuinely serve others, especially the most vulnerable, we must first admit our own vulnerability. We need to grasp the unfathomable love of God that is lavished upon us despite our glories, our regrets, and our failures. We need to saturate our souls in grace, plunging our shame, our dreams, our hopes, and our insecurities into the depths of an acceptance not conditions upon merit or performance. In that still, sometimes barren place, we need to listen to what God wants to say to us. (126)

When we consider how many people are living in the shadows merely because of where they were born, their gender, the color of their skin, or the life they inherited, we are talking about billions of people. When we include these brothers, these sisters, these friends as agents, leaders, even trailblazers in their neighborhoods, villages, and communities with the full potential to bring change, and when they recover their God-given dignity along the way and discover their divine purpose in the world, we are talking about a wholesale liberation of more than half the planet...If this isn't breaking open the sky, then what is? (128)

Tedious, mundane, and sustained activities matter. Small, often hidden, actions make risk possible. And just like faith, mustard-seed risks can grow up to become the largest trees in the garden. Faith and risk go hand in hand. (135)

When our faith is passive, safe, void of risk, it loses its witness to a world that is increasingly jaded and skeptical. It forfeits its potential to awaken, or reawaken, a dying culture. Safe religion becomes self-absorbed, sentimental, esoteric, or, worse, superstitious. (138)

The people who demonstrate the most grace are also the ones who freely speak about the lessons they've learned. If, then, there is no grace without mistakes (or at least no understanding of grace), and if there is no genuine faith without grace (as we noted in chapter 2), then there is no genuine faith without risk. (158)

Following Jesus is not ultimately about resources or education or even theology, as useful as those things may be. It is about taking risks to live out the presence, values, and truth of Jesus, together, in community. It is faith expressing itself in love. (169-170)

But the world cannot laugh when the sick are healed, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life. When we follow Jesus into streets and alleyways, dusty villages and urban sprawls, office complexes and university campuses, he does extraordinary things through people like you and me. (176)

We face a crisis of identity, a question that affects the soul of our community and our witness to the world at large. We are experiencing a referendum on our faith, whether we realize it or not. We are being forced to answer the most basic questions about who we are as followers of Jesus. Will we surrender the heart of our faith, to the vulture of fear, which hovers over the ailing body of the church? Or will we reject fear as our organizing principle and rediscover the bold faith delivered to us by Jesus himself, a faith that expresses itself with extravagant love? (184)

So often we expect someone else to change the things that we know are desperately in need of reformation. And in one sense it's quite natural to think there are better people than us to tackle such grand projects. But over and over again history tells of common folk, people like our friends on the other side of the world or down the street, people like you and me who take small steps of faith. I am convinced it is these unlikely souls who end up changing the world. (186)

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20 Truths from 'Break Open the Sky'