Tag Archives: Bill Stuntz

Invitations from God: Accepting God’s Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More

INVITATIONS ARE POWERFUL. Like tides, they ebb and flow, shaping the contours of our existence. Some invitations we desperately want but never get—”Will you marry me?” or “Would you consider a promotion?” Other invitations we never want to receive but must honor all the same—”We are letting you go,” “The text came back positive,” or “Your baby has Down syndrome.”  Invitations pound away at the coastlines of the soul. They contain a transforming force that can carve our possible and impossible futures.

So begins the introduction to Invitations from God, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. The book is beautifully written, and for or my money anyway, the 19-page introduction alone is worth the price. The rest of the book is equally good and, with each chapter, lines out the invitations that frame our lives,

In order to recognize and say Yes to an invitation from God, one needs to say No to a collection of other invitations from friends, family, school, work, boredom, “the culture,” the (gulp) church, and our own compulsions. The key question, writes Adele, is, “Do the invitations we accept make us more free or less?…Learning to listen and respond to God’s invitations is the path to real freedom. Invitations from God bring healing and liberation from the gnawing lies of the enemy…Only free people know how to say yes and no.”

God’s invitations are formative and shape our character. She writes that, “God’s invitations are meant to mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus. They call us into our true selves in Christ… Invitations from the Holy One serve God’s dream for the world. They don’t call me to become what I produce, what others think of me or what I know. They invite me to be free.”

THINGS I LIKED

1.  GOD KEEPS ON INVITING  “It doesn’t matter,” Adele says, “if you were on the paid staff of hell: God’s invitation goes out to you again and again. No matter how God’s invitations get delivered, they let us know that we are wanted, loved, named and known.”

2.  GOD INVITES US TO FOLLOW  Adele observes, “Jesus doesn’t use the word leader at all, as far as I can tell.”  But the language of leadership is so common in the water in which we swim in places like Cambridge that it’s difficult to consider Jesus’ alternative – servanthood. She also doesn’t have much patience with the superficial spin that is popular today – calling “servant leadership” a rationalization for preserving a “superior heart—a heart that does not identify with the descending way of Jesus” Rather than a strategy for acquiring and wielding power, accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him means we “risk his journey of descent—the journey that will be the making of us. Maturity, humility, patience, godliness—these are all fruit of following Jesus. These are the fruit of following Jesus down.” Consider the practices she suggests:

  • Put myself in a position to take direction, instruction or guidance from someone else.
  • Practice secrecy by keeping my accomplishments to myself.
  • practice being lead servant. Share my perks or give them away. Don’t expect special treatment.

3.  GOD INVITES US TO ADMIT WE MIGHT BE WRONG  One of my dear friends, Bill Stuntz accepted this invitation frequently. Even though he finished his brilliant academic career as renowned scholar of criminal justice at Harvard Law School, I frequently heard him preface a comment to students with, “I could be wrong about this…” It always opened up the conversation. This invitation is like a 2 x 4 across the forehead for those of us who wanto be, not just right – but good.  “The good news,” Adele reminds us, “is that I don’t need to be afraid of being wrong.  Jesus’ death on the cross undoes the lies that tell me I am loveable only when I am right.” As a start, Adele suggests that we practice awareness:

  • Notice where I am unable to let something go uncorrected.
  • Notice when I get into argument over details that may or may not be important.
  • Notice how I listen to and treat those I think are wrong.
  • Notice why it matters to me to be right.
  • Notice what heppens when I don’t defend myself and my opinions.
  • Notice how many (or I add, few) friendships I have with folks I don’t agree with.

4.  GOD INVITES US TO WAIT  “To wait expectantly and with open hands requires a relinquishment of control that gets at the roots of our motivations, fears and idilatries. It is where we learn that God isn’t a genie and that happiness is not a matter of God meeting our expectations. The truth is that God doesn’t come to us in our future. God comes now—while we wait. It’s not up to you to make things happen or to make God show up. What you can do is say yes to God’s invitation to stay alert while you wait… it is in the waiting that things happen in our soulds. In the waiting our character is formed.”  To help myself learn how to wait, I can:

  • Notice when I get impatient and stay in the moment wiht God.
  • Become aware of expectations for the day. What happens when my expectations are not met?
  • Notice what I do when I am not in control.

THINGS I STILL NEED TO THINK ABOUT

Honestly, this book is so beautiful and each chapter such a clear invitation of its own, I was left with few questions.  Instead, I’m working through which invitations are most important for my own walk with Jesus and how these invitations will shape our Rule of Life.  Stay tuned as we figure it out…


Book 3 – The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything

Brian McLaren observes that what American Christians put forward as Gospel (Good News) about Jesus bears little resemblance to what Jesus himself said was Good News. I believe he is right and the implications for, not just the followers of Jesus, but the whole world are profound.

If evangelists understood and embraced what he calls the Secret Message of Jesus they would tell a very different story and engage the world in very different and much more transformative ways.

In many ways The Secret Message of Jesus continues the conversation that James Choung brought us last week. Namely that the gospel according to Jesus is:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15 ESV)

The rest of the book articulates what this kingdom is, how it is announced, who it’s citizens are, and where it is going. Virtually every page challenged my imagination and invited me to take a fresh look at what Jesus was actually saying. I loved it!

THINGS I LIKED

Several phrases stuck out and are helping me reframe the message of Jesus and my own response:

1. I really like what he says about worldview (p. 77) – Not just that it is a “way of seeing,” but his advice that we are “wiser to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ worldview rather than drag him into ours.” Jesus worldview is better than ours (p. 87). The story he tells about an imaginary TV reporter in Chapter 7 is brilliant.

2. Eternal Life he says (p. 63) doesn’t refer to “life after death” burt rather “an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God.” Naturally, this sort of life would continue on and on, but the focus is on life here and now.

3. Signs and Wonders are real “touches of God’s grace” (p. 82) and serve to free us from the Tyranny of the Impossible – I LOVE that phrase! He describes the significance this way:

But when the kingdom of God comes near, when we experience it, the word impossible deconstructs. It melts and evaporates, and its tyranny over us ends. (p. 83)

He says that signs and wonders are a sign of the kingdom – namely that the King is present (at hand) working all around us from the inside.

4. The purpose of parables is to hide the message (p. 71-74). Jesus says this plainly in Mark 4:9-12

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, 
and ever hearing but never understanding; 
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ 

Those of us in InterVarsity tend to draw attention to the danger of being an outsider, emphasizing the importance of asking questions. We say that the secret of the kingdom of God is given to those who ask questions – or maybe, ask questions of Jesus. But Brian suggests that the intention of Jesus is to hide the message in such a way that it transforms hearts.  He keeps it away from the “know-it-alls” who never ask questions and reveals it to those who have nothing but questions, i.e. children. I’m not sure this is good news for me or the people I hang out with at Harvard…

5. The Five Moves for immigration to the kingdom (Chapter 13) are brilliant:

1. Repentance – Hear from the heart and think deeply about what you hear

2. Faith – of believing, of trusting

3. Receptivity

4. Going public with repentance, faith and receptivity – Baptism

5. Learn to follow Jesus every day for the rest of your life

Amen!

THINGS I STILL NEED TO THINK ABOUT

1. The scandal of the kingdom (p. 100) is that it needs to fail to succeed. This is a shocking idea and I’m sure he’s right. It reminds me of a talk our faculty advisor Bill Stuntz gave at the Law School a few months before his death. Bill said that God’s law is designed to fail. Spot on!

2. Brian says that it is necessary to exclude from the kingdom – namely those people who are themselves exclusive! At first glance this seems like some sort of logic problem. What he’s saying is that, if someone rejects the fundamental character of God’s inclusive kingdom, for the sake of inclusion, then they must be kept outside the territory and community. This is hard, right? I understand that he is trying to protect those who have come in for reconciliation and want to be reconcilers. At the same time, I wonder where I would be today if my inclusion depended on my satisfying some criteria of inclusiveness.

3. He doesn’t attempt to solve every theological problem around the eschatology of Jesus and some (maybe many) of my friends might be nervous about his  ideas about the future and the end times. He comes down sort of hard on “prognosticators” – and not just those who are looking for the world to end on August 22. It’s not that I have a better summary of Revelation (cf. p. 223). I mostly don’t know how he holds onto hope that the kingdom will someday come (really come) in fullness in the midst of all this realized eschatology.

4. Brian writes that the kingdom isn’t about making people nice – good news for me! – but rather to help them become secret agents of another realm. He goes on to mention a variety of jobs (including military service!) that can be engaged as agents of the kingdom. But what does this really mean? And what jobs are outside the boundaries of kingdom work? Tobacco framing? Brothel management? Partner in a hedge fund? (a friend of mine from the Business School says that today this work is outside what Jesus would approve) I believe this is an area for prayer, honest conversation, mentoring, accountability and Spirit-guided-creativity.

It is true as he said of Jesus’ secret message:

…if we take it in and manage not only to look at it but also to learn to look through it, our world and our lives will look different to us at the end of our exploration. And if that happens deeply enough for enough of us, everything could change. (p. 19).


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