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Descent to the Heights PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Friday, 08 November 2013 15:29

At the north end of the Dead Sea basin, on the Jordan side of the Jordan River, is a partially excavated area where John the Baptist spent much of his ministry. It doesn’t look like much—you wouldn’t expect John to have nice accommodations in an upscale city—but it’s a hugely significant place in biblical history. It’s where Joshua led Israel’s people into the land of promise, where Elisha watched Elijah leave this realm, and where John likely baptized Jesus (John 1:28).bethany-beyond-jordan

I stood in this spot recently and pondered its rich symbolism. Behind me was Mount Nebo, where Moses had longingly looked into the land before he died; before me was Jericho, where Joshua won his first and most unlikely victory. I imagined Elijah and Elisha coming my way and Elisha then going back across into Israel alone—with a double portion of Elijah’s power—after watching his mentor disappear into a whirlwind. And I pictured John among the reeds witnessing history’s first clear picture of the Trinity—the Father’s voice rumbling while the Spirit came on the Son like a dove. It was beautiful and more than a little overwhelming to stand on the same earthly soil where such unearthly events took place.

I couldn’t help but notice the aching tension between ends and beginnings. Is this the place where dreams die and ministries fade away? Or is it the place where promises are fulfilled and hope takes flight? For Moses, Elijah, and John, it was something like the former. For those who succeeded them—Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus—it was more like the latter.

Think about it: After years of leading his people, Moses died within sight of the land; after years of calling people back to true worship, Elijah left a nation still steeped in idolatry; and after living in hardship and preparing the way for the Messiah, John withdrew from the stage before his imprisonment and beheading. All frustration and futility, at least on the surface. Yet in this exact same place, Joshua ushered in a new era in Israel’s history, Elisha reentered the land with new grace and power, and Jesus began a ministry that would change the course of history. Rebirth took the place of futility.

There are plenty of signs around the Dead Sea basin, both in Israel and in Jordan, to remind you that this is the lowest place on earth. As I stood there with both dreams and disappointments swirling around in my head, I found the depths—and potential heights—immensely symbolic. It’s a powerful statement from the God who orchestrated earth’s landscape and the story that played out on it. What is he saying in this topographical drama?

In order to go up to your promised land, you have to go down.

To encounter God, you have to let go of self.

To begin a new life, you have to leave the old one.

Jesus’ teaching was filled with these kinds of conditions and paradoxes. You want to be great? Become a servant. You want to receive? Give. You want to be exalted? Humble yourself. You want life? Carry a cross and die. These are jarring, glorious truths. Painful but purposeful paths. Experiences we don’t want for the sake of those we do want.

In God’s kingdom, it seems that you have to walk through the depths in order to dance on the heights.

At any given moment, you and I have a dual perspective: a vision or calling that we’re pursuing, as well as disappointments we’re trying to leave behind. In other words, we stand between promise and fulfillment, old and new, death to one thing and life to something else. God knows that process intimately and graciously leads the way—along a path that takes us down in order to take us up. Embrace that path. It leads to beautiful things.

Click to tweet: To encounter God, you have to let go of self.

Click to tweet: To begin a new life, you have to leave the old one.

Click to tweet: In order to go up to your promised land, you have to go down.

Click to tweet: In God’s kingdom, you have to walk through the depths in order to dance on the heights.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 15:39
Yes, I'm Positive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 13:31

I’ve never been known for positive thinking. For as long as I can remember, my mind has far too easily embraced negative patterns. I’ve struggled with discouragement and even depression at various times in my life, and I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time retraining myself to be hopeful and optimistic.

I’ve been pretty successful at that in recent years. Change is hard, and old mental pathways can’t be redirected without a considerable amount of persistence. But over time, they can be—and should be. We are told to be transformed by letting our minds be renewed. I’ve taken huge strides in that process.

So when I wrote Unburdened a few years ago, I recommended a lot of positive thinking—not the convince-yourself-of-what-isn’t-true positive thinking, but the kind that focuses on actual, biblical truths that are good and encouraging. I wanted readers to embrace the realities that, according to God’s promises to his children, are unrelentingly good and redeemable and hopeful.

Well, imagine how this historically negative thinker felt when his book was criticized by some for “positive thinking theology.” Apparently, some people out there assume that if you’re convincing yourself of something hopeful and encouraging, you must be convincing yourself of something that isn’t true—as if the positive is fake and the negative is more real. As I’ve learned in the last few years, being more “realistic” is, according scripture, often completely out of touch with reality. And if biblical truth is positive—take the first few verses of Psalm 103, for example—then you'd better learn to think positively.

Look at it this way: if God tells me I’m a completely new creature and I keep focusing on my mistakes and regrets, am I being “realistic” or denying the truth? If God assures me that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I choose instead to emphasize the difficulties that also seem to follow me, am I not denying the hope of the gospel? If God gives a promise in his Word and, in applying it to my life, I say with great tentativeness, "I hope so," am I not questioning his integrity?

If someone believes cynical or skeptical thinking is an accurate reflection of truth, then positive thinking would certainly be worthy of criticism. That’s fine for someone who doesn’t believe in biblical revelation. But a Christian who claims the Bible is true and then fully embraces discouraging thoughts about his circumstances or his future is denying his own beliefs. Even if he thinks he's being “realistic.”

I realize it has become somewhat trendy in Christian circles to “be honest” (translation: negative). And believe me, I’m all for honesty. There's nothing wrong with being transparent about your struggles. I’ve written whole books about wrestling matches in prayer and the problem of pain. I’ve fought many of my inner battles on the printed page for all to see. I get the whole authenticity thing. But it’s not inauthentic to choose to think good things. A plastered smile and a “praise the Lord” while you’re dying inside may be inauthentic, but hope isn’t. No matter how trendy negativity is, it still doesn’t line up with biblical revelation.

You see, negative minds—and fallen human nature is usually negative by default—have to convince themselves of what’s true. “Positive” doesn’t come naturally. That means we have to train ourselves to believe all the hopeful, encouraging truths that don’t come to us easily. And that renewal process, believe it or not, is . . . dare I say it? . . . positive.

You are not called to think negative thoughts. None of us are. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness, dread, pessimism, bitterness, and discouragement are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ever. Instead, we are called to relentless hope in God's goodness and enthusiastic affirmation of the good news—which, if I may be so bold as to point out, is actually good.

So a word to those out there who think positive thinking is shallow: if it’s based in biblical revelation, it’s reality. And it may be a whole lot deeper—and require a lot more maturity and strength—than you think.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 13:40
What Are You Saved For? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Thursday, 29 August 2013 14:35

I know quite a few Christians with a brutal past—a pattern of bad decisions that took them into deep, dark places, or abuses done to them that created horrific wounds. All have experienced quite a bit of healing and are in a lifelong process of beautiful restoration. Like many of us, they have no trouble acknowledging what they were saved from.

But it bothers me that I don’t know nearly as many Christians who realize what they were saved for.

Think about it. I can remember hearing tons of testimonies and singing tons of hymns with pretty specific language about living in futility, shame, rebellion, purposelessness, sin, and captivity. But when the same testimonies and hymns turn to the wonders of the new life, they get really general. They usually stop at, “Thank God I’m free!” It seems that we focus a lot on what we’ve come out of and not very much about what we’re coming into. (One exception being churches that miss the boat on what we’re coming into by emphasizing all the demands of the Christian life, which really doesn’t sound very liberating and, in some ways, not much better than the futility and frustration we used to experience.)

I’m well aware of how human beings have fallen short of the glory we were created for. And I’m extremely grateful for being rescued by grace. But why do we act like our past is a bigger deal than our future?

A while back, I grew pretty tired of focusing on where I was stuck and decided to focus more on where I’m going. That means I no longer obsess about being “a sinner.” It isn’t that I’ll ever forget the fallen nature we all inherited. But if the new nature isn’t a whole lot bigger to me than the old one, I’ll never get past the old one. Whatever picture we focus on tends to be the picture we live up to. A person who is always dwelling on overcoming his shortcomings will always struggle with them. Why? Because that’s his focus.

The gospel of grace promises ever-increasing glory. Focus on that. A fact of human nature is that you’ll grow in whatever direction you’re looking. Or, as is often said, you become what you behold.

So what are you becoming? What impact were you designed to make in this world? What dreams were divinely planted within you? Asking (and answering) those questions is a really big deal. You can’t step into a vision you don’t have. But when you cultivate the art of envisioning, you begin to realize what you were saved for. And you find yourself growing toward the vision.

Lessons from Catsquatch PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Tuesday, 20 August 2013 17:07

Buddy was a feral cat. A wild, untrusting resident of crawlspaces. A savvy predator of rodents. He kept his distance from people at the apartments. He learned that the hard way; many of them had not been kind.

So when Buddy used to watch our poodle, Gus, on his walks, he did so from a distance. But one day when Gus was out for a walk, Buddy came close. The next day, he came a little closer. Soon he was walking with Gus almost daily. He befriended the one creature who seemed to be completely harmless. And that’s how he got his name: Buddy.

When we moved to a house, we took Buddy with us, fully expecting that after seeing an unfamiliar neighborhood, he might run into the woods and never come back. But he did come back—dinner has a way of doing that to a cat—and he has been with us ever since. Buddy the feral cat isn’t quite as feral as he used to be.

Still, he has his wild side. Sometimes I call him Catsquatch because, like the shadowy beast of the Northwest, he has a knack for disappearing into the woods and causing you to question whether you actually saw him.

And sometimes I call him Skitty because he’s a kitty with a serious case of skittishness. I guess that comes from his early years of being a survivor of teasing, tormenting apartment dwellers. But that was years ago, and he still sometimes jumps at the slightest move.

There’s his daily routine of getting right in the path of the car, for example. He looks shocked that the car is actually coming toward him, repositions himself further down the driveway where the car is headed, and then when the car comes closer, acts all persecuted because obviously you’re following him with the intent to run him over.

Or that morning when he and I were both in the driveway, and I let a very modest burp escape—don’t judge; it’s a normal bodily function, and no other humans were around—and Buddy bolted into the woods and didn’t come back until evening.

Sometimes after I’ve fed him and gone back inside, I’ll open the door again to go back out for one reason or another. And he runs away like I’m dangerous. “I’m the guy who just fed you, Buddy!” I say with the slow, emphatic enunciation you might use for the hearing impaired or someone who doesn’t speak English very well. He doesn’t listen.

This cat desperately craves human affection. But he’s desperately afraid of it too. He pokes his head in the open doorway to see what the humans are doing and then darts away if the humans come near. He flees what he most needs.

The baffling thing is how perfectly friendly he is at times, rubbing against me while I’m standing in the yard, weaving in and out between my feet because he can accept the affectionate touch of a stationary leg. But if my hand reaches out to pet him with any sense of suddenness, he’s likely to jump back and stare at me with accusing eyes. It’s reflex.

Sometimes I try to reason with him. “C’mon, Buddy. Really? I feed you, give you water, and don’t overreact when you leave uneaten squirrel organs on the doormat. Haven’t I proven I’m not going to hurt you?” (There was that one time when we stuffed him in a crate and took him to the vet to have him neutered. But it took him two days to get over the sedation, so I’m thinking he shouldn’t remember. Bygones, obviously.) Apparently, some reflexes don’t respond to reason.

Anyway, news flash to Catsquatch: You’re part of the family. It’s okay to act like it. Relax.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad message for us humans either. According to sacred texts, we were adopted from the every-man-for-himself streets into a very loving family. Our Father showers his affection on us, yet sometimes when we see him coming—whether in unfamiliar circumstances or sudden changes—it looks threatening. We jump. We aren’t sure of his intentions. Is he good to us today? Can we trust him? We know the right answer, but the reflexes take over. Even after all these years, we act like we aren’t sure.

I imagine it’s the same when street children in third-world countries are adopted into loving, generous families. There may be plenty of food on the table, but if you’re used to fending for yourself to survive, I suspect the temptation to stuff a few rolls in your pocket might be overwhelming. Your next meal may not be a sure thing—even though you’ve been assured of it. Learning to trust a generous heart doesn’t come easy.

No one adopted into God’s family has to rely on survival skills. We don’t have to earn our status in the family or wonder if the next meal is a sure thing. We can go to the fridge whenever we want and sit on the furniture like we own it. Because we do. We’re part of the family. We can relax.

Buddy/Skitty/Catsquatch has taught me a valuable lesson. He has given me a glimpse of how God might feel when I’m skittish in his presence, unsure of his intentions toward me, suspicious of his movements. I’ve seen how silly it is to dart into the woods, spiritually speaking, whenever God gets a little “too close” for my comfort. I know what it’s like to flee the affection I most need because, even though I desperately crave it, it may require too much surrender of my own survival skills. I’ve seen myself as a nervous adoptee.

So it’s come to that, apparently. Catsquatch and I are a lot alike. I hope both of us fully learn to trust, rest, and simply be loved. After all, we’re part of the family. And it’s okay to act like it.

Getting God's Heartbeat PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Monday, 22 July 2013 19:28

sync-quoteThose who know me well are familiar with my aversion to what contemporary Christianity has done with the concept of “obedience” – all “doing” and no “being,” as if God is just interested in getting everyone to behave. I prefer instead to talk about how to line up with God’s heart. He wants friends and lovers, not robotic servants. Several of my books take up this theme, the most emphatic being Feeling Like God. If a person’s heart syncs with his – its loves, passions, dreams and desires – actions take care of themselves. No one needs to tell you how to live if your heart is beating with God’s.

Synchronizing with God is essentially this: We see what he is like, fall in love with him, and, like a kid dressing like his favorite athlete or performer, grow into that love. We take on his nature, his thoughts, his desires. That doesn’t require a to-do list. It requires only a picture of what we’re becoming.

Lately I’ve been further exploring what it means to sync with God. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with. I’ve posted/tweeted a few already, but the list is growing. You can probably think of quite a few others to add too. There’s nothing wrong with this being a lifelong process. In fact, it needs to be.

To sync with God . . .

• Ask for his heartbeat and expect him to give it to you.
• Ask him for his thoughts and expect him to give them to you.
• Fear absolutely nothing.
• Have enormous dreams, visions, and goals.
• Be relentlessly positive. Always see hope.
• Give yourself to repairing and restoring his world.
• Refuse to be discouraged.
• Don’t let your environment change you to its expectations. Change your environment instead.
• Be relentlessly merciful.
• Let yourself feel things deeply.
• Seek and expect miracles.
• Overflow with goodness.
• Speak life-giving words.
• Dance, laugh, rejoice, live, love.
• Fall in love with people. Even the unlovely ones.
• Don’t wait to enter his kingdom one day. Bring his kingdom to earth now.
• Be passionate about all that’s good, true, and beautiful.
• Hate everything that violates his goodness.
• Be exceedingly generous.
• Offer your strength, love, joy, and glory to others.
• Speak good news—and be good news—to those around you.
• Be wildly creative.
• Never, ever give up.
• Relentlessly oppose the kingdom of darkness.
• Heal and comfort the brokenhearted – i.e., nearly everyone.
• Laugh at the futility of his enemies (and yours).

The list could go on and on, pretty much forever. Like I said, you'll want to come up with many more of your own. There’s no shortage of ways we can connect with him.

Last Updated on Monday, 22 July 2013 19:42
Risk in My Heart PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Monday, 15 July 2013 12:17

One of my favorite board games used to be Risk because it involved a lot of big-picture strategy on a geopolitical map. I love both—maps and strategic thinking. But Risk took hours to play, which I guess makes sense, since world domination doesn’t happen overnight.

I only have experience in the game, not actual world domination, and it’s a drawn-out, back-and-forth power struggle. It only ends when someone takes all the territory there is.

I think that’s what’s going on inside every human being. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s true at least for me and quite a few other people I know. There are two opposing forces vying for territory, and neither one wins until the other is eliminated.

One force is a fundamental sense of wrongness: “I know I’m messed up.” We call that shame.

The other is a fundamental sense of rightness: “I know there’s more. I was made for something bigger than this.” We call that glory.

Both are vying for the territory in our minds and hearts. And one, either shame or glory, will inevitably suffocate the other. But we get to choose which one.

The problem is that a lot of religious teaching maximizes shame and minimizes the potential for glory. But as image-bearers of God—the “icons” in the temple of his world—we were made to reflect and carry glory. That’s where redemption takes us, from shame to glory. We really were designed for something bigger.

That thought needs to win the internal battle for domination. At some point, we need to stop focusing on what we were rescued from and start focusing on what we were rescued for. In the lengthy struggle for power, our longing for glory has to persevere relentlessly to take all of shame’s territory and win this game. Because it doesn’t happen overnight. And it isn’t a game at all.

Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 12:20
The Always Surprising Kingdom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Monday, 01 July 2013 12:14

The Always Surprising Kingdom

People used to think the kingdom of God was the domain of earthly governments. Hence the crusades. Now many think it’s only about salvation, only spiritual, only a church thing. In truth, it’s neither. Or actually some of both. But different and a whole lot more. It’s a story, a really big one—an enormous epic written by the hand of God himself. It’s always and forever increasing. And our lives are defined by how thoroughly we step into that story.

I began writing a new devotional last week on the kingdom of God, so over the next few months I’ll need to find 365 distinct thoughts on that theme. That shouldn’t be hard—it’s a big deal in the Bible, and the Bible is a big book. It doesn’t spell out for us a definition of the kingdom. It simply tells the back story and announces its coming. And it raises lots of questions. Is it political? (Not exactly, but it certainly impacts politics.) Is it the church? (No, but the church is part of it.) Is it spiritual? (Yes, but so much more.) Ultimately, it involves every area of life.

In preparation for writing, I’ve been reading a few books on the kingdom. I like to read a few foundational books to make sure I’m covering all the bases, but not so much that I feel compelled to cover everything everyone has ever written on the subject—or that I begin to parrot other people, many of whom I may not normally agree with. But one book that’s resonating with me right now is Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel. I find myself thinking “yes!” to most of what I’ve found in the first few chapters, as he articulates a lot of what I’ve long believed. Whether he and I go in the same direction from there, I don’t know—I haven’t read the second half yet. But it’s a great start.

Bottom line is that, contrary to the belief of many, the gospel of salvation and the gospel of the kingdom are not the same thing. The gospel of the kingdom is broader, fuller, deeper. Salvation is certainly part of it, but most of the church for the last few centuries has equated the two. The result is a reduced message of the kingdom cut off from its fuller meaning.

For anyone wondering how the good news of salvation and the good news of the kingdom are different, you’ll just have to wait for the devotional to come out. (Or you can start by reading McKnight’s book or anyone else’s that draws a distinction between the two messages.) My thoughts will come out in indeed magazine over the next year and in a book in fall 2015. And no, the kingdom will not come before then. In fact, it many ways it’s already here.

I Tweet, Therefore I Am PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Monday, 24 June 2013 13:00

It’s always a little awkward when you have to promote your own work. All kinds of questions come to the surface, especially about motives. Am I, like all other affirmation junkies on the planet, just looking for another fix? Or is this a legitimate effort to increase influence and impact? Am I trying to build a personal kingdom or contributing to the lasting one? And even if you answer those questions for yourself, you can’t answer them for anyone else out there. What if people perceive me as “all about me”?

You hardly exist as an author today if you don’t have a web site and blog, tweet, and Facebook a lot, so this is a real dilemma for low-key introverts who don’t naturally insert themselves into public conversations—and who scrutinize themselves with the above questions. So I had mixed feelings when the Chris Tiegreen site finally went live last week. Regardless of my comfort zone, however, truth isn’t meant to be secret. Kingdom discussions should involve all of us and be frequent, full, and fruitful. And for me, participating in those discussions involves putting my books in front of people. So be it.

But enough about me. (Well, for now.) Let’s talk about you for a moment because this issue is bigger than books and web sites. Like me and everyone else, you have a message and a mission. Your gifts, perspectives, and passions are needed in the ongoing conversation about life and truth and purpose. You are designed to offer your glory to those around you. (Yes, you have glory. More on that in another post.) Few people realize how vital they are to the larger story because they only see their own circle of influence. But your circle of influence longs for a demonstration of life, meaning, and destiny. Whether they know it or not, people are looking for some aspect of the image of God in you.

The world needs what God has put within you. It doesn’t have to be on a web site or social media, but it does need to be somewhere. And you need to offer it unapologetically. Even if it seems a little awkward.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 12:24
True Fiction PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Saturday, 15 June 2013 12:30

I used to have very little interest in fiction. I wanted truth, not stories. It took a wave of rediscovery of powerful stories to jolt me out of that illusion. Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Les Miserables. Braveheart and Gladiator. All have some expression in them of the larger story, the great epic of God and his creation. And oh, by the way, the parables of Jesus are pretty powerful too. Oops. What was I thinking?

So now I have something of a dilemma. As a writer, how should I invest my time in the coming years? Should I continue with straightforward commentary about God and the world and human beings? Or instead of talking about truth, should I invest my time in compelling stories that demonstrate it? Both can change lives but stories have a way of changing them more radically and memorably.

Regardless of the direction my writing takes, I'll forever be enamored with the ability of a story to capture my heart and express things that words can hardly describe. And, unlike I used to do years ago, I won't apologize for watching a good movie or reading a good book. Truth is everywhere, if we know how to see it. And I love how it shows up in a story.

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 12:32
God's Highest Priority PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Tiegreen   
Friday, 04 March 2011 18:50

If you ask people what God's highest priority for us is, what would they say? Some would say worship, others perhaps missions and evangelism. But it's pretty clear what God wants most from us: love. He told us to love Him with everything in us, and Jesus called that the greatest commandment. It's worship, yes, but more than that. You can declare God's greatness (or any other attribute) without telling Him you love Him for it. So even worship can fall short of His highest goal.

Of all the things we do each day, explicitly and specifically loving Him doesn't always make our list. Yet that's our highest purpose. Don’t let a day pass without spending at least some time actively adoring your Father. Not only tell Him the things on your heart, ask Him about His. Ask Him to unveil more sides of Himself, attributes and characteristics you’ve never seen. Above all, tell Him not only that you love Him, but what specifically you love about Him. As you do, His heart will be blessed—and so will yours.


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