WELLSPRING: Generosity in Relationships

A response to the "small group questions" for the 17 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you...

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the Epistle to Philemon [2]

What new insights did you gain from our study on the book of Philemon?

I was reading a commentary on Philemon [3] in my study tonight:

If the New Testament were simply a book of doctrinal teaching, this Epistle would certainly be out of place in it; and if the great purpose of revelation were to supply material for creeds, it would be hard to see what value could be attached to a simple, short letter, from which no contribution to theological doctrine or ecclesiastical order can be extracted. But if we do not turn to it for discoveries of truth, we can find in it very beautiful illustrations of Christianity at work.

Recently I've been trying to be more intentional about the way I profess my faith; not just to nonbelievers, but to professing Christians in my community. It's no secret that I have been forcefully frustrated and often discouraged by the discongruity between the teachings I was raised with and the behavior that I see from many that I once considered elders. In previous meditations I have reflected on the tone and heart with which I've approached such conversations, and purposed to be more charitable--in a sense, more generous--in such conversations.

Here, Paul (at least, as presented in our message today) presents an example of how better to exhort Christian behavior among believers. In a sense, it comes off to me as passive-aggressive: a tact that I very much try to avoid. However here, where presumably Paul is being genuine when he calls Philemon "beloved" whose "love has given me much joy and comfort." It speaks to a point made in the sermon: Paul is generous with his assumptions. He expects Philemon to act rightly, even if he is, it seems, guiding Philemon to do so.

I have much to learn from this.

This weekend, we explored for examples of what generosity looks like in the context of relationships: be generous with your words (v4-7); be generous with your time (v10); be generous with your resources (v18-19); and be generous with your assumptions (v21_). What would you add to this list?

I hesitate to call the list complete; but I also don't have anything to add. I very much appreciate this insight into various aspects of generosity in our relationships with others (particularly as it relates to our relationships with fellow Christians); and I further appreciate that, during the message, these examples were called out with specific reference to passages in Philemon. (I have added these referenes inline with the questions.)

Considering the four examples listed above: in which area would you say you are the strongest?

I always struggle with self assessment, particularly when it comes to my strenghts. I find that it is often when I think I am strong that I find my greatest weekness; because where I think I am strong, there I am overconfident [4].

But if I were to rank my strength in these four examples of generosity, I would at least put generosity of time and resources above words and assumptions. I would like to think that I prioritize time with others above most other concerns, even if I fail to seek or arrange it myself. And then, whenever I have been asked to help in some physical way, I believe that I have always been willing to share what we have, even if I am sometimes anxious beforehand (and I hope that this anxiety has never prevented anyone from asking for help). We have been blessed to embarrassment, and I have no pretense that what we have is the result of my hand, but God's in our lives. I only worry about my ability to discern between being generous and thinking of myself more hightly than I ought.

Which one represents your greatest opportunity for growth?

If time and resources represent my strengths of generosity, than words and assumptions represent my weaknesses. If not my immediate assumptions, I am often quick to write-off the intent and heart of people who have disappointed me; and while I generally consider it a value that I am direct and honest with the people around me, I often loose sight of how my words will be received. At the very least, I should spend more time in prayer over what I will say, particularly if I pretend to look to the Epistles as my example.

Daniel, in his message this morning, exhorted us to "be liberal in our praise and conservative in our criticism." I relate this to the "robustness principle":

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

Jon Postel, regarding the implementation of TCP

While I do try to be liberal in my praise, I often use this as an excuse to be equally liberal in my criticism; but I see value in trying to ensure that the one is more prevalent than the other.

What one relationship in your life could really benefit from so4me extravagant generosity at the moment?

I'll refrain from calling out any specific person here; though I will not pretend that the Spirit has not brought people to my heart.

I will, however, change context and admit that these principles of generosity--or lack thereof--apply to my relahionship with Andi as well; and even my children, to a certain extent. Andi and I both often fail to be generous with our assmptions of each other; and I also often fail to be generous with my words, particularly failing to ensure that my praise outweighs my criticism.

What is one thing you will do this week to be more generous in that relationship?

I am often a critical person, and I mean this in the strict sense that I view the world through a lense of what could be made better about it. In my relationships at home, and particularly with Andi, I will endeavor to use my habit of criticism to prompt me to look for more charitable interpretations of what I experience, and to be more generous with the words I use, hopefully through prayer and the leadership of the Spirit.

[1] WELLSPRING: Generosity in Relationships (iTunes)
[2] Philemon
[3] MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture, Philemon
[4] 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

WELLSPRING: Intent

A response to the "small group questions" for the 10 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the book of Genesis [2]

What can you recall about the life of Joseph that may have led to a life of more generosity? Or perhaps less generosity?

I don't really accept the premise of the question. Joseph's generous spirit wasn't the result of life circumstance outside of his control; but his response was an act of faith irrespective of his life or circumstance.

When Joseph says "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." he is declaring his faith in God's plan for his life. It is faith in God's character as shared by Jeremiah:

"I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." [3]

Faith in God is not a response to blessings in our life, nor is it in spite of trouble. As it was for Joseph, faith is the source of perspective. It is faith that led Joseph to see his circumstance as the work of God, and for good; not the serendipity of the end result.

What are the circumstances in your past that may be negatively effecting a life of generosity in the present?

From the literal intent of the question, there are none. I am blessed beyond reason, and have tried to live generously.

If there is a tangential critique for me here, however, it may be that I have become more hardened, less charitable, and (from a certain perspective) less generous with those who, thought I once saw them as mentors in the faith, have fallen short of our outright rejected the teaching that I received from them.

How does Joseph overcome his own circumstances, and what are the lessons he has learned the we meet be able to apply to our own situation?

Joseph did not so much overcome his own circumstances as he remained faithful to God, and God used Joseph for his own purposes. By God's grace Joseph was saved through faith, and so are we. [4]

If we did apply those lessons to your own situation, how would it alter your generosity and sense of abundant living?

It's difficult to express without seeming to think of myself more highly than I ought; so I will say that I should try to live more often by Romans 14:1-23 than by Luke 11:37-54.

We suggested three things from Joseph's life that may help our own generosity regardless of circumstance (careful stewardship, extra-ordinary service, and bountiful grace). Where do you already exhibit these things, and where do you need to take a deepening step?

I will abstain from puffing myself up by congratulating myself for success; but I will simply say that my stewardship is pretentious to care but often ultimately lazy; my service is ordinary, but I generally accept that as my calling, at least for right now; and I will, as I said before, be trying to be more gracious than I sometimes become.

[1] WELLSPRING: Intent (iTunes)
[2] Genesis 50:15-21
[3] Jeremiah 29:11
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9

WELLSPRING: BTBAB

A response to the "small group questions" for the 3 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated i t to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the book of Genesis [2]

Consider the life of Abraham: Called out of comfort into the unknown, received a promise he could not see, shaped his life around it. How does your own life follow a similar pattern?

I've talked about it a lot already, but I'm actually pretty happy with the history of my response to God, and it only seems undermined in my narrative by how blessed I've been. Even going as far back as choosing where I would go to college (itself already a luxury) I remember that my mother had already wanted me to attend Olivet Nazarene University. I don't really understand why. But I resisted, probably mostly because I was a teen and I didn't want to do what my parents wanted me to do. But I still remember the moment, at one of their introductory weekend events, when I was standing in the quad and feeling confident, despite my cynicism, that I was where I was supposed to be. Clearly the rest of my life—my wife, my career, and everything that followed—would not have happened otherwise. And I love my life.

It was at Olivet that I met Andi, of course; and as tropishly as possible: at a small groups Bible study. And it's actually true that what first attracted is to each other was the way we discussed scripture and theology. It'd be ridiculous if it wasn't true. And our earnest pursuit of wisdom and understand in the Spirit remains so central an aspect of our relationship as to be under-appreciated.

It was at Olivet that I first heard about SULI, a federal internship program that gave me a summer at Argonne National Laboratory. There I first learned about High Performance Computing, and from such figures as John Valdez, Susan Coghlan, Bill Allcock, Cory Lueninghoener, Craig Stacey, Tisha Stacey, Andrew Cherry, Daniel Buettner, and Loren Jan Wilson. These people taught me, mentored me, and took a chance on me after I graduated. Many of them even came to my wedding.

The guy who introduced me to SULI lives in my neighborhood now, a thousand miles and three states away, ten years later.

My SULI internship was difficult, and now because of the program itself. I felt overwhelmed by and under-prepared for the work, but that's how you grow. What was difficult was the timing: it was at Argonne, sitting on the floor of the student lodge where I could barely get cell reception, that I learned that my mother had leukemia. I didn't know what to do: should I, as she always had, prioritize my education? Or do I go home to be with her and our family? At the time I rationalized proceeding as normal. It's what she would have wanted, right? Besides: she was obviously going to recover. This wasn't that big a deal. It would all be fine.

I carried this attitude all the way to the next semester, when I received an urgent, early-morning call to come home. I stopped by my 7am gym class to make sure it was ok for me to be absent. My mother passed away that weekend.

But it was the people I met at Argonne who introduced me to KAUST: the Saudi Arabian university that would define so much of our lives from that point. It was Andi that was just crazy enough to go with me. It was in going to KAUST that Andi and I developed our habit of goading each other into doing the things we wanted to do but were otherwise too afraid to do. It was at KAUST that I first felt like a professional. It was at KAUST that I first experienced church outside of a framework that had already been constructed for me. It was at KAUST that our first child was born. And it was because of KAUST that we were able to grow out of some of our midwestern xenophobia. (We lived in a house built by Saudi Binladin Group, for goodness sake.)

From KAUST we moved to NYC, and for a time this was a disruption in my narrative. Because when we left NYC, life was hard. I was unhappy at work. We were stressed about money. I was working a lot, and Andi felt like there was no space for us to be a family. And we had our second child, Miles, on the way. We had little community and no family, but leaving felt like giving up.

It wasn't until a couple years later that I truly felt peace with it:

We were visiting friends on Long Island, and got a bit turned around on our way out. Suddenly we found ourselves, at 7pm on a Friday, driving through Times Square. Andi was a bit stressed, but all I could do would laugh at the absurdity of it all: clearly God was there with us, because the situation was too comical for it to be an accident.

We found our way through and out of the city, and started driving through New Jersey in an absolute downpour. And I started crying, I so closely felt the presence of God in our lives at that moment. I realized that I had not been afraid to be in the city: that God had brought us there, and had brought us back out again, both when we lived there and when we briefly found our way there again. When my son woke up in the back seat and asked in wonder at the lights where we were, I could tell him, "This is New York City. We used to live here. This is where you used to play." To him, and to us after having lived there, the city will not be a frightening "other" place to be avoided: it is a real place where we've lived and worked, where we've met friends and worshiped God.

My perception of God's call is relatively mundane, in an Evangelical sense; but I consider it an expression of faith that, in all these things, I have seen God's plan in effect. Sometimes, like when we sojourned for a time in New York, I have felt that we were wandering; but I know that God is ahead of us, and I only pray that we continue to keep our eyes on him.

In examining your own life, what promise have you shaped your life around? (Is it spiritual, cultural, material, or something else?)

I pursue the promise that, while creation is broken, it was not created so, and that God's plan for me is working out its redemption.

Looking back, there is no doubt that God has been faithful to his promise to bless Abraham to be a blessing to others, especially as we remember the work of Jesus. What blessing did someone first receive that has now been passed on to you? How many generations back did that blessing begin?

What first comes to mind is the blessing of my parents' faith, which really begins in earnest with them. There is the blessing of our friends, the Malones, who's passion for Christ was the beginning of the house church system at KAUST, and shaped my perspective on church through today. There is the blessing of the three day movement, and the serendipitous day a family friend invited me to attend Chrysalis, and that blessing extends back to Cursillo in 1944 and earlier.

Where might you be invited to be part of the wellspring of generational blessing?

Materially, we try to prioritize sharing the blessings of our life with others; but more specificly in adulthood I have tried to speak confidently about my faith, whatever the circumstance, so that the common discourse will not be so dominated by a certain destructive corruption of the gospel.

[1] WELLSPRING: BTBAB (iTunes)
[2] Genesis 12:1-9

Game Older: Quern

An Early Neolithic (3700 - 3500 BC) saddle quern and rubbing stone, image courtesy of wiktionary.org

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Myst, Andi and Jonathon discuss their history with the Myst franchise, games that remind us of Myst, and their experience playing the 2016 game Quern: Undying Thoughts.

Media used

  • Cyan logo soundtrack, Windows 3.1 release
  • Myst Theme, Myst OST
  • Moiety Theme, Riven OST
  • Finale, Myst OST
  • Adventure, Fez OST

Games mentioned

  • Myst (franchise)
  • Breath of the Wild
  • The 7th Guest
  • Lemonade Stand
  • Quern: Undying Thoughts
  • Obduction
  • Fez
  • The Witness
  • SOMA
  • Celeste
  • Gone Home
  • Tacoma
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Dear Esther
  • The Journeyman Project (franchise)