Why Cerulean Sanctum Has Been Quiet in 2017

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Man aloneThis blog has been in operation since 2003. That’s a long time. And in that time, much has been weathered.

A select few readers know my wife has battled mental illness for going on nearly a decade now. I haven’t talked about it much here, since talking about mental illness in a public space can be something of a death sentence. People don’t understand mental illness, nor do they know what to do when someone is mentally ill, so talking about it brings raised eyebrows and that slow drift away. Stigma—it’s still out there. As is a feeling of helplessness. If it were cancer, people would know what to say and do, but with mental illness, no one shows up at the door with a casserole. The person with the illness may seem fine, but when the visitors go away or the event ends, there it is. The spouse and family see it and live with it, but few others must.

Traumatic events can destabilize someone with a mental illness. We had a series of such in late 2016, which led to much heartache and grief, and my wife’s illness flared up. We’ve been battling back ever since. Doctor changes, medicine changes, and on and on. When your spouse suffers, you suffer. This has meant scant time for side projects and pursuits. And between a son trying to get his driver’s license and thinking about college, my work, household needs, helping my wife battle back, and all the various vicissitudes of life, blogging had to take a back seat. Fact is, almost everything that was not core to daily existence had to.

It’s not that I don’t have pressing thoughts to share. It’s that sometimes, you have to choose your priorities.

Winter and spring were rough, but I hold out hope that summer will be better. Maybe that will free up time for Cerulean Sanctum. God knows I want to write, but God also knows that family matters.

Thanks for being a reader.

The Benedict Option, God’s Will, and Why Everyone Needs to Chillax

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The Benedict OptionIn Christian circles, many have been talking about Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Fact is, people have been talking about it for about three years now, because that’s how long Dreher has been doling out bits of his major thesis about why Christians need to form their own remote, intentional communities. Given how much I’ve read of what Dreher has already written online, I will probably never read the book.

Nonetheless, here is my review of The Benedict Option. It’s one word:

Whatever.

Oddly enough, that’s my review of most Christian books advocating for widespread change or action from all Christians. At one point, I used to be keen to grasp and understand this idea of preserving Christian faith from the ravages of rapidly degrading culture. Like many Christians, I had concerns about this thing or that. I had worries. I’m sure you have or have had worries too.

But what I have come to realize in the last few years is that the reasons the Church in America is worried, or needs to worry, or doesn’t need to worry, are not really about what is happening outside the Church, but inside. You can say that’s always been the focus of Cerulean Sanctum: Church Heal Thyself.

But you read all these dystopian nonfiction books about the bad stuff arriving soon to hurt the Church, and what you finally realize is that all these books and warnings, and cautions, and handwringings are all brilliantly reasoned answers to the wrong questions.

We have this strange, self-absorbed idea in contemporary Western Christianity that the most pressing issue for the entirety of the world is that one thing that is most pressing to me. And we wonder how it is that people can be so blind so as not to see X bearing down on us like a runaway train. Why is it that you aren’t taking X seriously? Why aren’t you doing something about X? You must be in sin because X doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me.

And after a while, it all gets silly, this one-size-fits-all approach to discipleship and God’s working in the lives of His people.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Draw near to God.

Hear what God asks of me for my situation alone.

In response to that hearing, do what I can to achieve it with the unique resources God has provided to me.

Be at peace.

It sounds to me that God may be asking Rod Dreher to write a book about intentional communities that create a place of retreat. Maybe God is asking Rod Dreher to even start one.

That’s great for Rod Dreher.

And while it’s great for Rod Dreher, what it does not mean is that I must necessarily heed Rod Dreher’s call and follow the Benedict Option.

What is God asking of me in the situation in which He has placed me? What is God asking of you?

It seems to me that where we have gone astray in the modern church isn’t so much that we lost the culture wars and now must retreat to intentional communities but that we have made it mandatory to follow what some Christian leader, prognosticator, or pundit says. Sure we can listen, but we can also reject if that person’s message conflicts with what we know God is asking of you or of me in the situation you or I find before us.

Possessing no one-size-fits-all approach to life can be frightening. It means there isn’t a uniform plan. I think this scares us because listening to God to find our next steps can be hard. You can’t listen if you don’t draw near, and drawing near takes time and quiet. And we run the risk of getting the listening wrong.

This causes anxiety. Here is where we make our second mistake.

The Bible says this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
—Hebrews 12:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:8-10

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
—Isaiah 45:9-10

Who founded the faith you have? God alone.

Who is perfecting the faith you have? God alone.

Who can force God’s hand on any of this? Not you. Not me. No one.

You and I are not in control. You and I did not start this, and we will not finish it. All that is on God.

So relax.

In fact, all God really asks of us is to show up. That’s it. And some days, we may not even do that. I think He understands that happens sometimes. What God really wants from us more than anything else is to draw near to Him and to talk with Him and listen.

It may be that in any given day, all I can do is go to the grocery store, buy some Pepto, and help a sick family member get over an upset stomach. Is that what God is asking of me? Perhaps it is. Perhaps that is the extent of today’s focus.

Perhaps that is what I am hearing from God when I draw near to Him today. And if that’s all there is, that’s OK. My eternal security does not rest on what I get done today but in whom I rest, the Lord.

It may be that God is calling some Christians to live radical lives on the fringes of civilization.

Or He may be calling some to care for the sick in hospitals or to build airplanes.

Or He may be saying to some to cease from their labors for the moment and just rest in Him.

Or He may be asking some to write a poem or a letter of encouragement to someone else.

Most likely, whatever it it is He may be asking of you or me, it may be something small, something for this moment.

Our mistake is to criticize another Christian for what he or she may or may not be doing based upon what we think we should or should not be doing. Yes, the Bible does lay out a few clear boundaries, but within those boundaries reside entire worlds of conversation and opportunity. And the conversation you had with God and the opportunity it created is unique. I won’t criticize you about mine. Don’t criticize me about yours. When and if possible, let’s do what we can to help each other make each other’s possible.

So as a review of The Benedict Option, I say, whatever. Maybe it is God’s word to you about your next step. Or maybe it’s not. Whichever answer it becomes to you as you draw near to God and listen, God is thankfully in control.

What God Asks of the Christian

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I think most Christians are overburdened.

busy, frantic, moving peopleBeyond needless guilt and shame that were instead eliminated forever by Christ’s finished work on the cross (“Christian, you are free!”), I think too many of us are crushed under the weight of all the religious work we think we must do—and some religious moralists can’t cease telling us we should be doing.

When you examine the actual lives of Christians in the early Church, little is said about what ordinary Christians actually did. Sure, the apostles seemed to be active and involved in missionary voyages and church management stuff, but for the most part, Joe Christian just went about his daily tasks.

Daily being key.

Jesus showed his disciples to pray thus:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
— Matthew 6:9b-13

What was the bread? Today’s.

Later in that same chapter, Jesus adds this in verse 34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”

What is the focus on? Today.

He also said this in Luke 9:23:

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

When is that cross taking-up? Daily.

The more I study the Scriptures and live them out in this life, the more I am struck by the truth that what God asks of us is to live in today. Leave tomorrow to tomorrow.

The immediacy of the Christian life is an attention to this moment, this present, this person before us, this situation now, and these resources we have in hand. By forcing Christians to live in the present moment, God becomes more real, and our dependence less on what we have stored up and more on what He can do through us, despite our lack of preparedness.

This is not to say that Christians should never prepare. Only that our preparedness be rooted in the now, in the daily putting of one foot in front of another based on where God is leading us at this present time, even if we cannot see the desitnation. That is the essence of walking by faith, not by sight.

What we can always do in the moment:

  • Pray
  • Love others
  • Have a good word at the ready
  • Use our spiritual gifts
  • Use our natural gifts
  • Commune with the Lord
  • Be faithful

You and I can always do those things. And we should always be ready to do them.

But beyond that, we can say little about where we will go and what we will do.

In many ways, what I have learned of God is that He expects nothing more of me than the use of the natural and spiritual gifts with which He has given me, used in conjunction with the resources currently before me, for the purposes He has put before me in this moment. When viewed that way, the life of the Christian gains an immediacy that keeps us rooted in the present and the now God has placed us within. So much of the weight of doing great things for the Kingdom falls by the wayside in light of the immediacy of what is before me at this second.

The cashier at the grocery store who seems harried—can we speak calm joy into her life in this present moment?

The elderly women who can’t wrestle the bag of cat food into her car—can we do it for her?

The youngster who is crying—can we listen to her story?

The door left open on that person’s car—can we close it?

The customer service rep who deals with hotheads all day—can we be the one respite of peace in his day?

The angry arguers—can we be the mediator of their battle?

Can we?

And what about our own families? In what ways are we serving them in the present? In the little things. In what way is doing our job well a help to them? Or attending to their needs in the now?

I find that so many of us Christians are so geared to do ginormous things for God that all the little things right in front of us go ignored and forgotten. And yet that is sometimes the only thing asked of us.

Amid all this doing is grace. God is full of grace for us, his broken, flawed, clueless people. He is always giving us opportunities, and sometimes we get them done right, and other times we blunder on. He loves us nonetheless.

Christian, I believe that what God asks of us is simply to live in the here and now. The day’s own trouble is sufficient for the day. Do what you can in the moment with what you have been given, and do not second guess or lament missed opportunities. You are dust. That dust can do anything at all is miracle in itself.

Rest in God. Lay down all your troubles. Do what you can, when you can, with what you have, and leave the rest to God. Know grace. Be at peace.