Jay Kim Thinks...

Thoughts on God, faith, and other things

What Has Happened To Salt & Light?

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 NIV

Jesus is teaching his disciples on a hillside and crowds are listening in. He begins with a series of paradigm shifting comments about how the spiritually poor and heartbroken, among others, are the truly blessed ones in God's kingdom economy. Then, before moving on to a series of subversive and scandalous thoughts on what it looks like to actually live this way in the world, he sets it up by calling us salt and light. This isn't new to most of you. You've probably heard plenty about being salt and light. But here's a quick reminder, because it's important and also because we live in a social media world designed to make bland, dim antagonists of us all.

SALT flavors and makes us thirsty. When used appropriately, it accentuates the natural flavor of another thing. No one eats their favorite savory food and ever says, Mmm, awesome salt flavor! If it does its job, the salt is forgotten. It's forgotten but its effects are felt. A well-seasoned meal always results in thirst. You can't have good food without good drink. Salty peanuts at the bar aren't a reminder that bartenders are nice; they're a reminder that bartenders are smart. Salty food leads to thirst. But all of this is null and void if the salt loses its saltiness. Without its saltiness, salt can no longer accentuate the natural flavor of things and it can no longer cause thirst. 

As Jesus people, we lose our saltiness when we insulate ourselves from culture rather than immersing in it. And here's the thing - immersion and criticism are not the same. I would suggest that criticism prior to immersion is almost always harmful. Immersion requires listening and learning. It means trying to see things the way they see things, whoever they may be. Criticism can be a part of this process and almost certainly will be but the process matters first. Here's a simple way to think about it: Critical dialogue is helpful. Critical monologue is harmful. And the snarky remarks we make on Facebook and Twitter about this and that? It's almost always monologue. Comment sections are helpful but there's a drastic difference between digital and human interaction.

I love this prayer from Henri Nouwen: God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.

And what about LIGHT? Light illuminates and marks a destination. Jesus is emphasizing the same point with both metaphors. Light, much like salt, exists not for itself but for others. Light is only effective in that it illuminates something else. Jesus further clarifies by using another metaphor to explain the first. He says, A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 

Today we can illuminate just about any environment we're in with the touch of a button or the flick of a switch so we've lost our sense of deep appreciation for the gift that light is. But if you've ever spent any time in a part of the world where electricity is scarce, you know how difficult it can be to function once the sun goes down. This was Jesus' world in first century Palestine. If you were stalled on your journey somewhere and the sun went down before you arrived, your only hope was the flickering light of a home or town in the distance. The light would become your guide, a reference point to keep in front of you as you stumbled through the darkness, moving in whatever direction you needed to keep the light in front of you, watching as it became larger and larger, until you finally arrived at safety. 

That's what Jesus calls us. Light. A reference point in the darkness that invites all people to safe places. The theologian Michael Wilkins says it this way: We not only carry the light of the gospel of the kingdom of God, but we are that light. Because of the work of the Spirit in our lives, our transformation has produced kingdom light in us, affecting every aspect of our being.

And so, before we get defensive or critical or whatever, before we shake our head incredulously at just how quickly society is seemingly devolving into a pagan mess, before we jump all over that idiot on Facebook who posted that thing about that thing we find just so insanely stupid, let's first ask ourselves this question that the late theologian John Stott once asked:

We should not ask, “What is wrong with the world?” for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather we should ask, “What has happened to salt and light?"

The Prayer God Almost Never Answers

God, what should I do? 

That's it. That's the prayer God almost never answers, at least in my life.

For some of you this comes as an absolute shock. Your prayer life works very differently. You're constantly asking God what you should do, about both the big things and the little things and he almost always answers. Many of my friends experience prayer this way. They tell me story after story of how God responded at just the right time in just the right way. If this is you, embrace what you have. It's a unique and special gift, I think. I'm not quite sure, actually. I've never had it.

For others of you, the thought that God almost never answers our what should I do? prayers sounds familiar. In fact, you might even find some comfort in the fact that you're not alone. Yes, it's true. You're certainly not alone. My experience of prayer over the years is riddled with story after story of what felt like complete and utter silence in moments when difficult and confusing decisions were at hand. These were moments when I simply wanted God to give me an emphatic yes or no or this way or that way. And time after time, these prayers were met by ...........

So what are we to make of this perplexing hush? Why the silence when what we need most is an audible word or, at the very least, a strong sense somewhere in our body and bones that God is speaking? Why doesn't God just tell us what to do when we don't know what to do?

Dallas Willard's Hearing God, in my opinion, responds to this question better than just about anything else I've read. At one point, Willard writes this:

Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it. 

Ouch. There it is. Quite the gut punch, isn't it? The reason I can't hear God when I want is often due to the fact that I only really want to hear God when I want. No meaningful relationship works this way. If I told my wife that I wanted to hear her only when I wanted to hear her, I'd be in for a world of hurt. But more than that, it would indicate a serious underlying problem in our marriage. It would reveal that the basic back-and-forth, receive-and-respond dynamic, which is the fabric of all substantial relationships, was coming undone. It would mean that we were two disconnected individuals moving in opposite directions, away from one another, who on occasion make attempts to connect for mostly self-serving purposes. Clearly, this is a recipe for relational disaster.

So back to the prayer itself. God what should I do? It strikes me that when I have similar conversations with my wife, the question is rarely, if ever, posed in the singular, as it is with God. Just about every time I'm contemplating an important decision to be made with Jenny, even if the situation has little to do with her directly, I ask, What should we do? We're in it together, even when we're not. I think that maybe this is how it's supposed to be with God. Willard writes this: 

[...] prayer is an honest exchange between people who are doing things together. God and I are at work together, and I need to invoke his power in that activity. Joint activity is a key to understanding how conversation flows. [...] If you find yourself in a position where you can honestly say, "God has never spoken to me," then you might ask yourself, Why should God speak to me? What am I doing in life that would make speaking to me a reasonable thing for him to do? Are we in business together in life? Or am I in business just for myself, trying to "use a little God" to advance my projects?

Yes, I know. Yet another series of gut punches from Willard. He has a propensity for that sort of thing. OK so bottom line, here's the deal: When we find ourselves praying the prayer, God, what should I do?, we have to remember that God isn't interested in simply telling us what we should do. He's not interested in giving us neatly packaged, easily digestible answers and then sending us on our way. His primary interest is inviting us near, drawing us close, and letting us in on the big grand plan he has for our lives and for the world. His desire is that we would work alongside him, on such an hour by hour, minute by minute basis, that the question is no longer God, what should I do? but rather, God, what should we do? 

And that question, my friends, I have found God just about always answers. 

You Be You

Do you ever compare? Do you ever scroll through your social media feeds and discover that the predominant feeling inside is jealousy? Does the word covet sound like a goofy old term you would never say out loud but simultaneously feel like something intimately familiar? 

Do you ever compete with others in your head, maybe even in your heart? Do you ever compete with others who have no idea that they're competing with you? Do you ever hear your cynical dark side in your mind, rationalizing and explaining how you would do it so much better if simply given the chance? 

Do you ever wonder why you always feel behind? Do you wonder if you'll ever get ahead, if you'll ever make it, if you'll ever be that version of yourself you keep daydreaming about? Do you ever feel angst about your life and begin your responsive thoughts with some version of the phrase, Seriously though, all I need to do is... and then proceed to find as many distractions and excuses as possible to keep you from actually doing the thing you need to do?

I do. I do all of these things. And it's exhausting. Ridiculously, insanely, unbearably exhausting. Do you know why? Because trying to be someone you're not and never will be is exhausting. And so is trying to be someone you're not going to be for a while. Trying to be anything or anyone other than who you are right now, at this very moment, is exhausting. It's exhausting because it's not human. The most human thing you can do is be you. Completely, unapologetically, relentlessly you. And not just any you; the you that you're supposed to be right now, right here, today. 

So do that. YOU BE YOU. Nothing less. Nothing more. Just you. And know that that's enough.

Make A Point Or Make A Difference

With just about every important situation in life that we choose to engage, there is a common, consistent, universal choice to be made.

It's the choice between making a point and making a difference

The path of least resistance is to make a point. We say what needs to be said. We say it as firmly and as loudly as we can. If others respond in the positive, our work is done and we feel accomplished. If they respond in the negative, we volley right back. The back and forth goes on until we've won or we're exhausted. 

But the more difficult path is to make a difference. This usually requires humility, patience, conviction, and sacrifice. Making a difference always costs something. Time, money, energy, pride, ambition, plans. All sorts of things can and will be tampered with when we choose to make a difference rather than simply make a point. So why do it? 

Because nothing of lasting worth or value has ever come as a result of making a point.

Because every moment in human history that ever really mattered has come by way of an individual or a group of individuals choosing to make a difference.  

I am an expert at making points. I've become adept at throwing my fair share of social commentary out there in 140 characters or less. I'm almost Shakespearean in my ability to quickly type out clever little quips about all that's wrong with the world, laced with just enough ambiguity to keep me out of too much trouble. 

But sadly, I'm still a novice at actually making a difference. It's exponentially easier for me to stand in front of hundreds of people and eloquently make the point that making a difference is important than it is to actually make a difference, even in one person's life. I'd like to change that. I've been trying. Three distinct reminders have been tremendously helpful in my attempt to make less points and make more of a difference.

TALK LESS. LISTEN MORE. Making a point is all about talking. It's all about rhetoric. It's all about the loudest voice in the room. We've all read and heard plenty by now about the various pitfalls of social media so there's no reason to get into it here but I will say this: comment feeds and like buttons have become the drug of choice for those of us who live amongst the make-a-point masses. But digital dialogue always fails to provide the necessary nuance and depth required for meaningful, thoughtful conversation. Digital dialogue leaves us deaf and mute to the depths of others stories. And making a difference always begins with truly hearing others. Making a difference inherently requires that we begin with the posture of a learner, listening intently in order to immerse ourselves in stories that are not our own.

CRITIQUE LESS. AFFIRM MORE. The old adage goes, there are two sides to every coin. This word picture is helpful but it falls a bit short because real life situations have a few more dimensions than the quarter in my pocket. Most of the situations we find ourselves in have many sides. And depending on which particular side we're looking at, there's always going to be something or someone to critique. It's not hard to be critical of things. Criticism comes easy and natural. The difficult thing is to affirm. Not to patronize but to genuinely affirm, to do the hard work of excavating a situation until we find something that we honestly agree with. In order to make a difference we must put in the effort to find the good, even in the disagreeable. This humanizes us and all others involved and until we see others in the fullness of their humanity, making a difference will be just about impossible.

(OVER)THINK LESS. DO MORE. I have a tendency to overthink things. It's much easier for me to live in the confined spaces of my own thoughts, safe and sound from the influence of anyone and anything who might disagree with me. But this leads to intellectual elitism and in my experience, intellectual elitism always leads to functional atrophy. We become so satiated with our own thoughts that we never get up to actually do anything about them. Let me be clear. I do not mean that we shouldn't be thoughtful. We absolutely should. We must. But if being thoughtful is the end of it, again, we'll end up simply making a point rather than making a difference. My friend Steve talks about what he calls the 10-second-rule: If you sense that God is asking you to take action in a particular situation, take action within 10 seconds. This has been a great challenge but an even greater help as I attempt to make less points and make more of a difference.

What are some things that have helped you make less points and make more of a difference? Comment below.

Can We Disagree And Still Be Friends?

Can we disagree and still be friends? Can we work toward common understanding, agree to disagree, hold varying positions on a variety of issues, both big and small, and still care for one another in genuine and meaningful ways? 

Can we extend kindness instead of malice, even when malice seems justifiable, even when the idiocy of the opposing view compels us to attack in no uncertain terms?

Can we be selfless instead of selfish, even when self-preservation and proving our point seems to be of utmost importance, even when winning the argument at hand feels crucial?

Can we be generous with our words and our actions instead of being vengeful, even when vengeance seems to be the most fair course of action, even when only full retribution will do, even when they deserve it? 

Can we work hard to assume the best about each other instead of so quickly assuming the worst?

Can we ask more questions beneath the questions that help us get to the heart of the person rather than simply the heart of the matter?

Can we try and give each other the benefit of the doubt before we so aggressively give each other the finger?

Can we be civil instead of mean?

Can we be patient instead of short?

Can we work toward embrace instead of exclusion?

Can we choose love instead of apathy or hatred or any number of other destructive options?

I hope we can. I really do. 

Original image courtesy of Huffington Post

Original image courtesy of Huffington Post