As I approach the “Big Sixty” (a little over a year away!), I find myself resonating more and more with Father Richard Rohr’s words, “I don’t need to push the river as much now, or own the river, or get everybody in my precise river.”
Frankly, on many occasions, I’m not even sure there is a river!
But that is not how it was most of my life. I had a handle, so I thought, on the truth. Life on the ground, however, has a way of humbling one. It’s like the old saying, “I once had six theories but no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.”
I’m just not as smart as I used to be.
I’m not suggesting ignorance is the desired destination. Careful thinking matters. God calls us to love him with all our mind. Intellectual laziness and cowardice (more on that below) is irresponsible.
But there are more negotiables at this stage in my life. Less hills to die on.
We are all products of time and space, subject to cognitive biases. Culture, gender, class, race, educational background, religious heritage, family upbringing, coupled with our age and psychological makeup and a million other variables, cause us to see (and not see) in particular ways.
Our understanding is and always will be fragmentary and provisional.
The Truth is always bigger and better than we can imagine. Systematic theologian Kevin Vanhoozer writes (I’m substituting Truth for “Christ”): “Truth is no tame lion: truth cannot be domiciled in and domesticated by any single church or denomination.” In our pursuit of knowing the Truth, I think there is much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant traditions if we believe in “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”
Much of my own theological journey was built on fear . . . fear of the unknown, fear of being wrong, fear of failing, fear of ambiguity, . . . fear of doubt itself. To venture into unknown “neighborhoods” was a precursor to getting lost (i.e., losing my soul).
While my neat and tidy theological formulations created a sense of security and safety (and, I’m embarrassed to admit, superiority), that world was becoming stuffy. I was feeling claustrophobic. And the manifestation in my life was a less desirable fruit.
I am having to let go.
Of being right. Having the last word. Being the authority. Needing certainty.
In the field of addiction-recovery, new approaches, procedures, and treatments are being conceived faster than I can count to ten. I am excited and cautiously optimistic about the fresh possibilities for healing available.
Judgment will have to wait right now. Time alone will reveal just how good and helpful these new pathways are. There is simply too much gray at present.
The late Brennan Manning shares a story from his book, Ruthless Trust, that has helped me over the years:
“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at ‘the house of the dying’ in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, ‘And what can I do for you?’ Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
‘What do you want me to pray for?’ she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: ‘Pray that I have clarity.’
She said firmly, ‘No, I will not do that.’ When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”
I hope you don’t mistake my ramblings as the rantings of an old, grumpy, disillusioned man. I actually feel like a child again. I think I am being born again . . . again.
Of course, beliefs matter, but they take a distant second to actions. On the Day we stand before God, we will be evaluated not by our doctrinal positions but by whether we loved.
Becoming better lovers is the essence of Christianity and, therefore, Christian addiction-recovery.
Wherever we land on some of some of the finer points of theology, may it in the end lead us to love Jesus and others more. If it doesn’t, I submit, it is worthless.
While I am less settled on many things these days, there is one statement upon which I am firmly settled: Jesus is the Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
I cannot prove this assertion any more than I can “prove” a mother’s love for her child. Notwithstanding, I have staked all “bets” on it.
Such is the nature of faith. Pastor and author Brian Zahnd writes, “Christianity is a confession, not an explanation. We will always attempt to explain what we legitimately can, but we will always confess more than we can explain.”
To those of you who have supported this ministry, be assured: We at Life Challenge believe in Jesus the Christ. Our hope is that the precious men and women we serve encounter the love of God through his one and only Son. We believe this alone is the ultimate “cure.”
“We can see and understand only a little about God now,
as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror;
but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face.
Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly,
just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.
There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—
and the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12-13, TLB)
Thank you for sharing. Without Christ I believe there is no recovery. I will be forever grateful to Life Challenge for bringing us to Christ. The transformation in our lives is truly amazing. We just want to give back what was given to us. So I’d just like to say thank you for what you do.
Thanks Carrie! Regards to Chuckie!
Very good article. I can relate. I keep finding unnecessary baggage that I need to get rid of.. than God Jesus is so patient and faithful.
Thanks Steve. Hope you and yours are well.
When you say, “In the field of addiction-recovery, new approaches, procedures and treatments are being conceived faster than I can count to ten. I am excited and cautiously optimistic about the fresh possibilities for healing available” can you offer some substance? With a degree in philosophical theology, I am keenly aware of people who tout new methods and ideals of recovery. Even the State of Michigan makes this claim – pushing “recovered addicts” to take top positions of recovery without the reality of new birth/regeneration/spiritual resurrection. More than anything, I see psychology and skewed philosophies advanced as “correct” without confirming evidence. If I am convinced of two things in Christ, it’s biblical Grace (Eph 2:1-10) in New Birth (John 3, 4; 2 Cor 3:16-18, 5:17)! I struggle with the perceived elevation of “recovery” without these two realities. I am not as optimistic as you appear to be. Respectfully, please send something to convince me of your non-conviction. Thank you. In His Grace, Tim
I love your letter and perspective. When you talk about ignorance not being a destination, the thought occurs to me that an “awareness” of how little we know is. I am soon to turn 73. In the past year I have seen more activities in the Kingdom than in 51 years as a Christian. Last March, the Lord spoke to me, saying, “You ain’t seen nothin yet.” (God speaks in every language, including Detroit vernacular.)
While I hear many around me talking about retirement and passing the baton, I approach this issue from a different angle. For years I have been saying that I want to live to be 103 and die with my boots on doing exploits for the Lord. While in the prayer room at The International House of Prayer the thought came to me; what if I did? What if I have 30 years of productivity and growth in Jesus Christ left in me? Would I be obedient to the call? In August of this past year We started a new organization, The Master’s Table, providing protein rich food for widows and orphans and children at risk. We had been helping 4 groups on a regular basis before that. Now we are up to 8 and praying for increase. I have been traveling quite a bit and am planning on returning to South Africa in April, adding Uganda to the schedule. As I am sure Steve Malek told you, the honor of seeing these little ones and holding them is not easily forgotten.
As you go forward in your life’s decisions, I pray that God grants you wisdom from above, exploding passion for the work He has called you to, and a progressive vision of His glory. Since you have always worked to fulfill Matthew 5:16, I salute you!!! You are a hero of the faith in my book. The fruit you have borne continues. I am a direct witness of it in my work with Gateway to Glory. Your fruit lasts. What you have added of eternal value to the kingdom is immeasurable. Truly, when the time comes, rich will be your reward. For now, I pray that you receive the strength of Caleb.
Serving at the Master’s Table,
Bob, your encouragement is so very much appreciated. I love you and value your ministry. God bless!
Great article Pastor Jeff! We have been feeling many of the same things. Looking at Jesus life here on earth we are saddened and shocked people had been waiting for the Messiah for decades and many missed Him based on preconceived ideas, tradition, assumptions, pride. Our prayer is that we don’t miss Jesus. Thanks for being a faithful servant to a community that needs the Hope of Jesus and an opportunity to experience the freedom He has for them.
Thanks Susan! Hope you and your growing family is well. Give my regards to Marty.
Beautifully written… brought tears to my eyes…
Trusting in God and the wonderful peace of heart and mind and spirit that goes with it.
My prayers are with the ministry and all of you who serve… and all who are recovering… which includes me… I remember one of your sermons at Fair Haven church and you said in reality we are all in recovery… so true.
Thank you for mentioning the unity of the body of Christ throughout all denominations… hits home… was raised Catholic, Catholic high school, led to the Lord by a Baptist… filled with the Spirit at the home of a Methodist… and landed in an Assembly of God church… yet now also attending a Baptist and a Catholic church part time… God is good and amazing and bringing us all together.
God bless you all,
Betty, you are kind. So good to hear from you. Blessings to you and yours.
I LOVE it!!! I love how you express your humility and uncertainty with complete honesty. And fall back on the truth that Jesus and love are the only true answers. I see you growing all the time through reading your writings and I am very proud of you! Mother Teresa is one of my most very favorite people and actually when recently asked who I would I like to meet (dead or alive) she was second only to Jesus and tied with Tom, because of course I can’t wait to see him again! You are in a great position and doing a great work for the kingdom and struggling addicts of this world! God bless you and yours Brother Jeff!
Beth, thanks for being a “rooter!” You (and your late husband) have always been so encouraging. I miss Tom. He brought so much joy to all of us here at the center.
Thank you for your reflections. Wait til you hit 75. Your can really reflect
Hey Ron! So more good things to come in my 70s! (I don’t want to push things too fast!)