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The High Cost of Cheap Words

 

 

I recently ran into this post, written by my friend, Kristen Lunceford, on the occasion of her darling daughter’s 3rd birthday.  It is beautiful and elegant and powerful.  It’s also from three years ago, which is longer than I’ve been following Kristen, so had she not retrieved it from the archives and re-posted, I would have missed it forever.

 

When people ask me for advice on writing, first I look around frantically for someone I perceive to be a Real Writer, and then I realize they’re talking to me and so I give them this answer:  Start by blogging.  A blog is your own little writing universe where you can practice building your skills and honing your craft and you can try stuff out on your “crowd” which will probably be your mom and your best friend to begin with, but it will grow from there.  Especially if you’re good.  Especially if you write consistently, aka: several times each week.

 

And this is exactly what so many would-be writers are doing – becoming actual writers with the push of the publish button on WordPress and I think it’s fantastic.  We’ve never had access to so many brilliantly-crafted words.  An author can write a novel over the weekend and I can buy it for a buck (if I can find it) in the Amazon marketplace by Tuesday. Johann Gutenberg himself couldn’t have seen this coming, when his printing press would seem like  a slow stream of molasses in the publishing world.   And if you’ve hung around America for any length of time, you know that Fast = Good.

 

Except when it doesn’t.

 

Sometimes, fast just equals fast.  And sometimes fast = filler.  And sometimes fast = dumb.  The pressure on writers today to build an online presence is acute and there is no building that essential, elusive “platform” without a lot, lot, lot of words.  I see it on my blog all the time – the stats tell the story.  When I write every day, readership skyrockets.  When I don’t, people just naturally move on to newer, fresher stuff as it rolls through their Facebook and Twitter feeds like sushi on a conveyor belt.

 

I get exactly why this happens, and I still believe blogging is a great way to build writing skill, but I wonder what we’re doing with all these words.  I, frankly, don’t even have to wonder about the worthiness of all MY words.  I can clearly point to blog posts written out of desperation to stay relevant.  I see words rushed out to the world that had not yet spent any amount of time in the furnace of refininig.  They weren’t necessarily wrong words, but neither are they weighty.  Conversely, I know the posts that simmered in my spirit for bit before being wrestled onto the page, where they remain cemented by unshakable conviction and timeless truth.  I’m proud of these, but I know their beauty languishes in the dusty archives of yesterday’s news, surrounded as they are by the packing peanuts of posts created mostly just to hold my place on a tiny, tipsy platform.  Admittedly, I feel far less pressure now that I have publishers who believe in my work and are willing to turn these words into ink-on-a-page, but I’m still a part of the system that often rewards Right Now over Timeless Beauty.

 

Do you want to be an author?  Write well.  Write weighty.  Go back and read your early work and, even if it isn’t crafted well, remind yourself of the concentrated passion that caused you to pick up a pen in the first place.  And pray. Pray and wait for words that are filled with supernatural significance, refined by suffering and celebration, ready to be offered as a feast to a hungry world.

 

That’s all my words today.  I do not take it lightly that of all the blogs in all the world, you happened to stop by mine.  Thank you. I hope I never waste your time.

 

 

In gratitude for the One, True Word-Made-Flesh,

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2014 - 1:50 pm

Kathryn Vai - Gosh, I love your honesty! You rock!

April 10, 2014 - 3:33 pm

Susie - Your words are never cheap for they are chiseled out of priceless material.. Just ask those who have been touched by your words. We usually don’t know how we impact others, but I do know God has us here now in this place for a reason. Thank you,Bo for your beautiful words.

Seven: Change Your Life in One Easy List

 

 

Well, shoot.  The great thing about blogging my way through Seven is that it’s kept me motivated and accountable.  The bad thing is that I’ve been stuck – absolutely, unquestionably stuck – in two little chapters in Isaiah.  Which has been life-changing for me as a human, but as a writer,  has me circling the same ground every day which I fear might seem redundant.  And yet – this is the ground.  The Ground. This is the ground where ethereal principle messes with Bo’s to-do list.  For me, there is nothing worth more than these fourteen light bulb verses in Isaiah 58.  So, here’s today:

 

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight…you’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. Isaiah 58

 

 

 

This passage makes me want to cry tears of happy gratitude because it’s chock-full of the thing I love most: answers.  When our lives feel faded and dim, these words tell us exactly how to flip the switch. Exactly. It’s not a bit fuzzy or deep. We don’t need a masters in Hebrew to get it. It’s brilliantly clear.

 

 

 

Feeling in the dark? On the sidelines? Out of touch with the purposes and heart of God? Here you go:

 

 

  • Treat people like people instead of like profit.
  • Stop pointing fingers at other people’s problems.
  • Be very generous with the hungry and hurting.
  • Care deeply about those who are discouraged.
  • Be available to your own family

 

 

Then, says Isaiah (translated masterfully by Eugene Peterson), the lights will turn on. Then you’ll start to see what you’ve never seen before and feel what you’ve never felt before – and these things will be good, like He is good.

 

 

I know, it seems a lot is missing from this list, doesn’t it? No tithing. No quiet time. No attendance charts. But I suspect when we start by doing the right things in the right way, the rest of the doing becomes clear as well. Because this list? Is discipleship. It describes a person who is growing the very heart of the very God inside his chest. It paints the picture of a person ignited by a supernatural spark for the purpose of warming a stone cold world.

 

 

I firmly believe that the more we begin to think and act and love like God the more we…think, love and act like God. Profound, no? The more we give, the more we discover we have to give. The more we love, the more we find worth loving. The more we do life His way, the more we understand His way.

 

 

 

Maybe it’s the hunger talking, but I’m feeling simple enough to believe in this list today. And the only problem I see with it – the only teeny, tiny problem – is that every single bullet point is easier to memorize than it is to, you know, do. I’d rather read the whole book of  James than do James 1:27. I’d rather plunk 10% in the offering plate than open up a room in my home to someone who has nowhere to go. I’d rather speak at conference than put my computer away at the dinner table. So, this is me on Day Seven of Seven saying: mercy, I have a long way to go! A long, long way.

 

 

But I’m so thankful for these days of going without, because they have helped me see the places in my soul that were already starving and I didn’t even know it. And I am determined to weave fasting into my life in a more systemic way. I hate it and I need it. Not for divine arm-twisting, but for personal soul-shifting.

 

 

 

And that, my friends, is a Seven wrap.

 

 

Comments are open – what have you learned, discovered, thought, hit, yelled at during Seven and what are you going to eat when this is all over?

 

 

Flipping on the lights,

 

 

Bo

 

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2014 - 9:01 am

Cindi Dunn - Hi Bo! I have been drawn to Isaiah 58 this week also! Thanks so much for putting into “real life” words, what I have been sensing the LORD saying to me through this tough week! It has been hard, and good, and drawing me closer to being willing to BE who He wants, rather than just “do the stuff”…Love you so! cindi

April 2, 2014 - 9:40 am

Jen Gott - I got myself kind of stuck in Psalm 86 and Isaiah 58, and I was completely happy to stay there. In the middle of praying for a lot of big things, I kept being reminded of all the ways God has provided for me, transformed me, disciplined me, showed me kindness–and that the things He asks me to do are relatively simple, in concept anyway, and that the doing of those things affects the big asks. For me, this has felt a whole lot like a fast of gratitude and remembrance than anything, and I trust that the outpouring comes, even if my small words stay stuck on the thank-Yous.

April 2, 2014 - 5:02 pm

jacquelyn Strayer - EAT!!!!

April 2, 2014 - 5:58 pm

Susie - I have found that by going without, I actually have enough. And then He showed me I am enough.
Enough; no more, no less. Wow!

I have learned what it is like to live in the present moment.

The 6th day seemed harder than the others. Not sure why,but what I know is that the enemy did everything he could to entice me to break the fast -”after all who is going to know?” I prayed James 4:7 and told myself, “I will know.”And now I approach the closure of seven.

I give the Glory to our LORD. With Him, I am enough.

April 4, 2014 - 1:38 am

Tori's Mom - I love this, Bo! Reminds me that when I lost 50# years ago (dieting, not fasting) I remember feeling, “There’s more room for God now!” But really I think it was that when I stopped stuffing myself with pleasurable food and drink any time I desired it, I could listen and hear His voice so clearly, changing me, remodeling my soul to reflect His glory. Thank you for helping me remember. Love v. 11 as well…one of my life verses!

Seven: Contradictions

 

 

…by His hand the Lords pleasure will be accomplished. He will see it out of His anguish and be satisfied… Isaiah 53:10-11

 

I’m struck by two dueling words in that sentence: anguish and satisfied.

 

They aren’t usually bumped up that close together.  Not in my life anyway. When does anguish satisfy? Only when it produces something better than the suffering. I’ve never known more satisfaction than I did when hours of painful labor turned into a beautiful new baby. While this fast has been hard and humbling, it is producing a deeper satisfaction than I’ve known in awhile.  I think it’s because I know it’s rooted in His will and saturated in His presence. I know He is producing something, even if I don’t know all the details of how that something will look in the end.  He is at work and His work will always satisfy.

 

Be encouraged today, friend – the end is in sight and His love never fails to fill the deep, thirsty places in our hearts.

 

Believing is seeing,

 

 

Bo

 

 

 

April 1, 2014 - 4:43 pm

Adriel Booker - And this would be one of my favorite things I’ve ever read from you. (Not only because the “end is in sight” – just for the record.)

Thanks Bo. Love God’s heart through the filter of yours.

April 1, 2014 - 6:28 pm

Susie - Thanks, Bo. I needed that. I doubt I have had a more challenging day during this fast. I am not really surprised, though. The enemy is quite unhappy with my obedience to our Lord. But, Hallelujah, our God Reigns… Love you and bless you.

Seven: When Jesus Isn’t Impressive Enough

 

 

Disclaimer: I don’t want to pick a fight. I really do not.  But I also really want to say what I’m about to say, so I’m begging for grace here.

 

Isaiah 53 is a startling, beautiful eight-centuries-early description of the life and death of Jesus.  Here’s the verse that’s shaking my apple cart on this, Day 5 of Seven.

 

He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.  He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised and we didn’t value Him.  Isaiah 53:2-3

 

Jesus didn’t look like we thought He would. A people on the lookout for the Messiah – watching, waiting for the One who would be their only hope, redemption and vindication against oppression, missed the signs. And the things is: they saw Him in the flesh. They watched Him work and still disqualified Him.

 

Apparently, it’s easy to misinterpret The Way A God Should Be. We have sketched out in our minds the way majesty manifests and we naturally work to align our picture of Jesus to that.

 

For years, I couldn’t imagine the notion of a Jesus who drank alcohol. It was so far outside my worldview that I almost-subconsciously recreated those sections of His story.  I changed His wine to coffee and His “party” to a small group and His sinners to pre-believers with hearts of gold. I cleaned it all up in my head because I needed Him to look more like me.  More accurately, I needed Him to look more like my parents (who are fantastic people) because otherwise, how could I trust Him to keep me safe?  My parents kept me away from alcohol and sinners and parties.

 

But Jesus defies our expectations. He’s bigger than my worldview.  He’s bigger than my history and He typically blows the doors off our concepts of “safe” while reinforcing in every way His concept of “good”.

 

Here’s where Isaiah 53 comes alive for me (and you are warmly welcomed to disagree in your heart).  Last week, World Vision announced that they  had changed their hiring policy to include those in legal gay  marriages.

 

And all hell broke loose.

 

Christians stormed the gates of social media to argue for what they feel is truth.  I’m not disagreeing with this.  In fact, I don’t like this current idea that people of faith (or any people for that matter) should live without opinion or in complete harmony with the culture around us.  Nothing sounds more boring or less intelligent to me, and it’s the spirited debates and anguished wrestling matches with doctrine that built the foundations upon which we stand (have you ever read about the Council of Nicea? It’s brilliant!)  Arguing truth is not out of line and it doesn’t -in and of itself – impugn our ability to be salt and light in the world.   However,  I think it’s our perception and reflection of the character of Jesus inside these debates that hobbles us and so while I’ll defend the right of Christians to speak up, I can’t tell you how much I hated the tone of so many of the comments and articles I read from both sides of the gay marriage debate.  Hated it.

 

Additionally, and almost unbelievably, many chose to withdraw their child sponsorships in order to send a loud, clanging-symbol  of a message to World Vision.  And what was that message?  YOU ARE NOT REFLECTING THE JESUS WE KNOW!

 

I wonder: do we really know Him or are we dog-paddling through the murky waters of Isaiah 53:2 without even realizing it?  Because in all that I have read about Jesus, I cannot conceive of Him choosing to take the food from a child’s table so He can stick it to the sinner who cooked the meal.  Not only does He love hungry children more than that, He loves sinners more than that.  I know this one personally because He has not withheld His bread from me in spite of my constant screw-ups.  The point is:  it’s easy to miss Him.  To miss His way.  To miss His character.  (Of note:  World Vision reversed their position one day later, but everyone on both sides of the issue is still pretty mad.)

 

When Jesus pardoned the adulterous woman, He said, “I do not condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Some that day probably heard, “I DO NOT CONDEMN you, go and sin no more.”  Others heard, “I do not condemn you, go and SIN NO MORE.”  I know I tend to tilt toward one more than the other in every situation (the grace side with my sin and the truth side with others).  But Jesus is the God of both.  All-the-way grace.  All-the-way truth.  Which I think is one reason it’s so easy to get Him wrong.  Our humanity can hardly imagine such a potent combination of contradictory  ingredients, so it’s much easier to emphasize one over the other.  As soon as we do, however, we’ve begun to recreate Him in our own image.

 

Jesus didn’t come to win the culture wars.  In fact, He didn’t come to win anything except US and if that truth doesn’t cause a little face-in-the-carpet humility and gratitude then it’s time for a fresh dose of reality.

 

Isaiah tells us Jesus came for exactly this:

 

My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities.  (v. 11)

 

As far as I can conclude from this life-changing sentence, His goal in coming to us was to carry our sin.  Not to judge, but to justify.  Not to say:  “Clean up your ways, or else,” but to remove the shame that covers over the image of God in our lives and keeps us from getting to Him.  Not to endorse our sin, but to remind us we’re helpless against it without Him.   We’re lost without grace and grace is lost without truth.

 

How does all this apply to fasting?  I’m not sure, except to say that I’m certain in the marrow of my bones that it does. Because Isaiah 58 tells me the fasts He chooses are to make us more like Him and there is no winning the world or changing our city or impacting our culture until and unless we become More. Like. Him.  The one and only Him.  The Him who is so easy to miss and misinterpret.

 

This fast has me on a hunt.  I find myself searching for glimpses of His character and His way in every little word of every little sentence of every little verse. The more I feel some of my own misinterpretations peel away, the more ravenous I become for the full picture of His magnificence. And also ravenous for food, but that’s another story altogether.

 

Thank you for searching with me.

 

Looking,

 

Bo

 

 

P.S.  This post is part of a series as I’m blogging my way through the hunger pangs of our church’s seven day fast.  You can read them here:  Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4.

March 31, 2014 - 10:03 am

Jane Lellman - Excellent!! Signing up to sponsor a child today……

March 31, 2014 - 10:12 am

John Gregoire - Perfect Bo. Simply perfect:)

March 31, 2014 - 10:24 am

Jane Lellman - Probably not your intent in writing the article, but this idea of seeing that Christ probably would not take food out of the mouths of children to punish those who cooked the food is motivating!! So I am sponsoring Moises in Guatemala and I threw in a goat and 2 chickens because I don’t think he would take it out on them either…..Love to you Bo and to Steve too!!

March 31, 2014 - 10:37 am

bo - Oh, Jane – I DO LOVE YOU! :)

March 31, 2014 - 10:44 am

Veronica Hemmerich - I concur Bo. Last night at church as we prayed together I had a strong word come over my heart and it was that we show the grace of God to others at Easter. That song Grace Changes Everything is so true. When people feel grace and acceptance then change can occur. Thanks for this great word today.

March 31, 2014 - 11:21 am

Carol - Wow! So beautiful! Such a better way to think/see…. I forgive you for stepping on my toes

March 31, 2014 - 11:51 am

Ang - My devotional today was on Psalm 50:21. God is speaking! He’s obviously not letting this one go until we get it. Until I get it.

March 31, 2014 - 11:55 am

Terry Hartke - No argument with you on this…just a big “Amen Sister!!” It’s way too easy to judge, criticize & condemn…in the name of Jesus and “being a Christian.” I love the journey of stripping away the old vision of Jesus, and getting to really know him!
P.S. we’re continuing our support of our children through World Vision : )

March 31, 2014 - 1:27 pm

Deborah Penner - This one touched me where I live and gave me hope. I have to tell you that! Probably because it resonates deeply with me … I took a different path than you for many many years … my parents also … how did you say it? “kept me away from alcohol and sinners and parties.” That did not however keep me safe from their “junk” and the hell of growing up never being able to measure up to whatever it was I was supposed to look like.

I need Jesus to look like someone who is unafraid of alcohol, “sinners” [whatever that means] and parties. I need Jesus to look like someone who is unafraid of new age ideololgy, quantum physics, and the outside edge of the envelope. I have a very hard time with “safe,happy clappy inside the church walls Jesus”

So this one … this one speaks deeply of hope to me. Thank you !

March 31, 2014 - 2:02 pm

Kathryn Vai - Ohmygoodness! What a fantastic sermon! Listening to you makes me start to believe, ever so slowly, that there is hope for this world. THANK YOU!

(Besides, I have enough trouble dealing with my own faults; I really don’t have any time to be managing anyone else’s.)

March 31, 2014 - 2:40 pm

Becky Conant - Thank you, Bo. Your posts are so thought provoking. I tend to pass judgement and form my opinions pretty rapidly and I am finding that fasting is causing everything to slow down a little (both physically and spiritually) My metabolism is slowing down and my thinking is a little bit “fuzzy”, so in turn I am becoming a bit more contemplative. The physical “slowing” results in taking time to dig deeper before I pass judgement on something or someone which is so good spiritually! EVERYTHING is slowing down and this is giving the “impurities” a chance to float to the surface where they can just be skimmed off! I am feeling much lighter these days(both physically and spiritually) and am more and more hungry for God!
Thanks, Bo, for your inspiration :)

March 31, 2014 - 2:47 pm

Bo - Becky – I agree! I often find myself feeling that I need to have an opinion about everything and I’m slowly realizing I do not. I especially don’t need to have an opinion right this minute about everything…it’s okay to watch and see how things play out. When I rush to judge, I’m almost always missing a deeper part of the story.

March 31, 2014 - 5:15 pm

jacquelyn Strayer - I have been feeling like this for a long time…you have been gifted with a way to express truth like no one else I know.

March 31, 2014 - 6:13 pm

Phyllis B. - Thank you so much for feeding us while you are fasting.

April 1, 2014 - 5:54 am

Randy M. - I enjoyed reading your post, as always. Your final comment about, what does this have to do with fasting reminded me of a verse.

Isaiah 58:6 – 8 (NIV)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

I would put up more, and the next verses are well worth reading in light of this topic. However, my real point is posting is to show how Christ in you hit the truth of the matter.

April 1, 2014 - 10:44 am

Ragna Shollenberger - This is GRACE in case we missed it…

Seven: Daring to Feel Again

 

Still stuck in Isaiah 58 and the very first verse is shouting my name today in a not entirely pleasant way.

 

Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet.

 

Isaiah goes on to implore us to weep and wail because those with whom we share a neighborhood or a city or a country or a spinning globe, are far from flourishing.

 

If I’m honest, I have some trouble here. My emotional tank is pretty much empty – or, maybe not empty – maybe just used up on things closer to home. I’m spending a lot of energy dealing with the stuff inside the walls of the Family Stern. It’s hard to move my heart outside to other places and feel for them as well. I stay away from sad movies. I’m careful with the news I read. I know it’s cowardly, but it feels like survival. Fear and self-absorption, dressed up like wisdom.

 

The thing is, it hasn’t always been like this. I used to care so much about orphans, brutalized in other countries, and a generation of American teenagers being beaten up by our culture. They were wedged in my heart in a way that kept me up at night, dreaming of solutions and strategies for change. Now, I push aside the heavy thoughts, certain I can’t afford to feel sad about anything else and I only have enough to take care of my own people. Only enough bread for my own house.

 

Through this fast, however, God has been whispering to me something dark and stormy and dangerous and it’s this: It’s okay to feel again. In fact, He’s telling me it’s more than okay – it’s right and wonderful and, though it seems like it will break me, it will not. It will actually strengthen and expand my heart in ways that let me breathe deeply again. This singular focus I’ve had on the sorrow in my own world is like daily submitting to water torture – the constant dripping of one drop in one spot leads to miry, myopic living. Today, I can feel Him gently lifting my head to look around at our beautiful, broken world and saying, “See it. Feel it. Serve it.”

 

Without the willingness and supernatural ability to feel the pain of those sick with hunger and poverty and loneliness, we will never have the passion to become the healing we are called to become. Christ in us, the hope of glory. That counts for something. That ought to matter. Jesus, make it matter more to me than ever. I can’t do everything, but I can do something, and I want to hear my something today. I want to be re-called and reclaimed for this grand adventure of bringing hope to a hurting world .

 

Part of a prayer I love by Walter Brueggemann makes a bold ask, and I’m shouting it up to the heavens for myself and my church:

 

We are listeners, but we do not listen well.

So we bid you, by the time the sun goes down today

or by the time the sun comes up tomorrow,

by night or by day,

that You will speak in ways that we can hear

out beyond ourselves.

It is your speech to us that carries us where we have never been,

and it is your speech to us that is our only hope.

So give us ears. Amen.

 

Amen.

 

Bo

March 30, 2014 - 9:05 am

Ross - Thank you so much for sharing your daily struggle with a struggling world. We are both saddened by the Stern Family dilemma, and encouraged by your constant seeking of God’s strength and the hope that comes from that search. What you write has become a part of my daily devotional.

March 30, 2014 - 9:20 am

deborah gentry - Dear Bo,

This so speaks to me today. I too have begun to hear His sweet voice to wake once again and get out of the security of my isolation.To once again have a voice and get out into the world.

Thank-you!

March 30, 2014 - 2:59 pm

jane gooch - Thank you Go for your sharing and growing in his grace. We are praying for you, Steve and the family. We know that God is with you all and working His purposes in your lives.

March 30, 2014 - 3:06 pm

Cliff Murray - Hi Bo,
this is Suzanne’s dad. Loved your post. Anyway laying in bed last night at like 10:30 and Georgina, my wife, says lets pray for Steve, so we did. He had been on her heart all day as she was putting her song together to lead worship. I preached on “The Why Question” and used your chap. on the God who knows all. That is not the name of the chapter as I left the book at church, but it starts on page 51. put the last section up on the screen for all to read and it really ministered to people. The book Ruthless. That chap. really, really helped me a lot. Any, just wanted to let you know you and your family are in our prayers and thoughts. We stand with you for a miracle!!! Cliff

March 30, 2014 - 6:21 pm

Lanelle - Bo,
I wanted to say hello this morning. Knowing your walk of faith now, I instead stepped close to pray. To pray for the family I was with and to pray over yours. To pray bold prayer of endurance, of peace, of hope, of joy.
It was such an encouragement to see you this morning.
I was thankful to introduce all of our girls (five between two families!) to a woman who showed me first that women can preach, women can stand strong, women are called. Thank you for Selah many years ago, and thank you for today.