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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…

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Book 5 – The Great Divorce

I first read The Great Divorce when I was in college – it was an undergraduate special course that was offered mainly as an excuse to read C.S. Lewis. Seeking any relief I might find from engineering problem sets I dove in and loved every minute.

I heard then that Lewis thought his best fiction book was Till We Have Faces. That book is remarkable. But this one, The Great Divorce, remains my favorite – Here’s why…

Lewis says there is a choice to make and how we choose really matters.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. (p. 90)

In the book, Lewis introduces us to a bunch of ghosts who live in hell, who struggle first to get on the bus from heaven to hell, and then with the invitation to stay in heaven. He writes about young lovers, an artist, a businessman, a theologian, a bereaved mother, a seductress, a domineering wife.

What is remarkable are the number of different reasons that each of these ghosts have for resisting heaven and returning to hell. The various ways they get stuck are simultaneously funny (if you like dark humor) and tragic. At times I found myself speaking out loud to them, urging them to chose joy. But in nearly every case they chose hell because, as Lewis quotes Milton:

The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” (p. 86)

THINGS I LIKED

1. Heaven (p. 52) is the “land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

2. You can’t bring hell with you into heaven. In fact, whatever is not of heaven has to be killed first. Anything – esteem for our God-given talents, desire to know the truth, and even the love of a mother – can become a corrupted idol in need of conversion.

3. The declaration of the shining spirit (p. 54) “We know nothing of religion here: we think only of Christ.” Carl would like that!

3. Hell is small, insubstantial and going from gray to black. Heaven is big, solid and is going from dawn to brilliant day. The description of the gray city where you can have anything by merely imagining it is brilliant and terrifying.

4. The idea of a theological society in hell (p. 56) just cracks me up as does the reference to Napoleon (p. 23) rattling around in his mansion millions of miles away from his closest neighbors.

THINGS I STILL NEED TO THINK ABOUT

There’s only one thing that slightly troubles me about the book – the images of heaven and hell. I realize that Lewis isn’t trying to paint any sort of picture of heaven and hell that might correspond with what might actually be there. That being said, I still have a question about his description. In particular:

• Heaven is pristine wilderness – hell is a dirty city.
• Heaven is above in the sky – hell is down below.
It’s not that I don’t find this description compelling – it is! What troubles me that it doesn’t seem biblical and seems to fit in with the general impression that the city is bad and the country is good. Similarly, it contributes to the belief that God’s ultimate plan is to take us out of this place “way beyond the blue,” as I remember singing in Sunday school.

The Bible tells a different story. Rather than taking his people out of the planet, God’s intention is to renew the earth. It doesn’t happen somewhere in the sky, but right here. Nature is renewed and the earth is restored (Romans 8).

It also doesn’t just happen in the country. In fact the main event seems to be the descent of the city of God – the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21) on the earth. I remember hearing Dennis Bakke saying on numerous occasions, “The Bible began in a garden but it ends in a city. You have an urban future whether you like it or not.”

At the same time I can’t imagine how even C.S. Lewis could write those ideas into the text in a way that seems as beautiful as lines like these…

…the solitude was so vast that I could hardly notice the knot of phantoms in the foreground. Greenness and light has almost swallowed them up. But very far away I could see what might be either a great bank of cloud or a range of mountains. Sometimes I could make out in it steep forests, far withdrawing valleys, and even mountain cities perched on inaccessible summits. At other times it became indistinct. The height was so enormous that my waking sight could not have taken in such an object at all. Light brooded on the top of it: slanting down thence it made long shadows behind every tree on the plain. There was no change an no progression as the hours passed. The promise—or the treat—of sunrise rested immovably up there. (p. 36)


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