Tag Archives: Andy Crouch

Sermon Notes: The Spiritual Journey of the 40’s

Here’s the next “installment” of sermon notes from Grindstone church’s current series, “Understanding the Spiritual Journey.”  These are from my February 23rd message looking at the spiritual journey of the 40’s.

A Snapshot of Life in the 40’s

Paula D’Arcy: the 40’s are about “saving relationships.”

The 40’s is a “Hinge decade” of one’s life; decisions you make during this decade will determine the next 30-40 years.

Remember the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7?  Often in our 40’s the “storms of life” really begin, and we find out what our foundation really is.

Specifically, in relationships.  Our 40’s is where the foundations of our marriage and key relationships begin to show.

Because of our social capital (wealth, education, support systems,) we’ve likely been able to navigate life fairly well through our 30’s.  But for many people the 40’s confront us with a new set of challenges that many people don’t feel prepared to handle.

When you talk to people about their 40’s, these are some of the common experiences of that decade:

  • Feeling like you’re being pulled in 100 different directions!  Exhausting! (sandwich generation!)
  • Discontentment or boredom with life or with things that have provided fulfillment for a long time.  Feeling restless and wanting to do something completely different.
  • As reflective space opens up, many begin questioning decisions made years earlier and the meaning of their life.  “What have I really done with my life?”  So there is confusion about who you are and where your life is going.
  • 40’s often struggle with disillusionment between with way things are vs. what they expected them to be.
  • Health stressors start (not indestructible!).
  • Often you’re raising teenagers in your 40’s (very stressful!

Taken together, all of these factors lead to many in their 40’s feeling like they’re losing control and that their life is unraveling.  Which is ironic, because in your 40’s you LOOK like you’ve peaked.  You appear to be strong to those around you.  But internally you feel like you’re in a very fragile place.

 

What are the major spiritual challenges?

THE Major Spiritual Challenge: Navigating the Mid-life Transition (Transition vs. Crisis!)

Jung/Rohr’s/Scriptures “Spirituality of Two Halves of Life”

-There are two halves to the spiritual life.  The “rules” for what leads to growth and maturity in the first half are different from those in the second.  And it’s usually in one’s 40’s that they begin to transition from a first-half to the second-half spirituality.  It’s not something you do, it’s more something that’s done to you.  You can’t control it, you just have to recognize it and lean into it.

And how you handle that transition is by far the most important challenge of the 40’s.

The first half of the spiritual life is defined by Rules and Wilfulness. 

The habits that lead to maturity and growth are:

  • Structure
  • Routine
  • Morality
  • Black/White thinking
  • Discipline
  • Hard Work
  • Ambition
  • Idealism
  • Self-control
  • Personal success

If these values and habits get embedded during the first-half of your life, you’re likely to be a healthy, maturing person into your 30’s.

Together these values act as a “Container” that allows you to go deep in  one place; to be rooted and grounded in healthy, productive habits.

The second half of the spiritual life is defined by Grace and Willingness.

 

The values of the first half aren’t discarded, but they are softened.  They just don’t matter as much.

They begin to give way to the 5 major characteristics of the second half of life

  1. Deep humility (lack of ego)
  2. Deep simplicity (lack of attachments)
  3. Deep faith (lack of control)
  4. Deep grace (lack of legalism/moralism)
  5. Deep generosity (lack of “personal success”)

 

“Jeff, is this biblical?”

For those who have eyes to see, yes!

Think about the general distinction between the Old and New Testament.  There does seem to be a more rigid, focused, disciplinarian emphasis in the Old Testament, while a more gracefilled, generous, loving emphasis dominates the New Testament.  Why?

Galatians 3:24 the law was our guardian/custodian until Christ came!

  • Servant whose responsibility was to accompany, protect, and sometimes discipline his master’s son until the boy reached maturity. These custodians supervised their charges’ moral conduct and general behavior. Their methods of persuasion varied from physical punishment to shaming. Paul regarded the Mosaic law as a “schoolmaster” (kjv) or “tutor” (nasb) to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24-25).

Another level.  Think about the tension between Paul and Jesus.  Paul leans much more in this direction, and Jesus much more in this direction.  Some scholars even try to pit one against the other, framing things as if there are competing “kinds” of “Christianity.”  That misses the mark of what is going on.

Paul = first half of life teaching.  Makes sense, his mission focused on Gentiles!

Jesus = second-half of life teacher. Makes sense, his mission focused on Israel!

Key: Both halves are necessary for maturity in Christ! Jesus “full of grace and truth”

 

The 40’s is a time when the transition usually begins.  And the transition often begins in response to “a great Defeat.”  i.e. (usually a loss–friend, parent, child, job, marriage).  The loss of something integral to your identity.  It’s a defeat that confronts you with your limitations and powerlessness, often for the first-time.  Up to this point you’ve been able to leverage your social capital and growth, climb, achieve, and succeed.  But the great defeat puts an end to that.  The defeat forces you to confront things about your life that are neither easy or comfortable to face.  Some people choose not to face these things.  This leads to a mid-life crisis where they regress back into first-half of life values—only this time “harder” and “more determined.”  The results are always sad.

The major task of the this time in life is to recognize that a transition is taking place, and shift your life to align to these values and postures of the heart.

This is much easier for women to do then men (due to much better social support systems)

 

Jesus’/Scripture’s counsel to this demographic

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

40’s are an opportunity to take stock of which yoke you’ve been wearing.

40’s time to exchange that yoke for Jesus’, and to move deeper into God’s grace.  It’s a time to learn to enjoy God and create space for these

  • Deep humility (lack of ego)
  • Deep simplicity/generosity (lack of attachments)
  • Deep faith (lack of control)
  • Deep grace (lack of legalism/moralism)
  • Deep generosity (lack of “personal success”)

 

How do we navigate the mid-life transition well?

  1. Re-centring on the gospels.  Take on Jesus’ yoke!

How?

2. Practice disciplines of “secret defeat” (Andy Crouch).  These prepare us for the transition, and help us navigate the transition.  Found in Sermon on the mount.

  • Deep humility (Fasting)
  • Deep simplicity (Tithing/generosity)
  • Deep faith (prayer and contemplation)
  • Deep grace (repentance and restitution)
  • Deep generosity (joy in service to others—especially poor)

 

Practical Advice for the 40’s

Inner world/life is undergoing a huge shift! males = from outer world to inner female = from inner world to outer

So I want to address each individually.

Men: “There must be more to life than this.  There must be more to me than this!”

In 40’s, often realize what they’ve been chasing after doesn’t really deliver what they thought it would.  Men often discover they have lost their identity in their service of wrong things! (money, power, sex, ego, etc.)

All the titles and prestige don’t mean much.  Personal ambition starts to fade.

“What are you going to do with that tower?”

  • Men: From “making your mark” (striving and success) to relationships and reflection
  • A radical re-commitment to service and the common good is mandatory, while an increased attention to the inner life.
  • It can look like hesitancy, “giving up”, softening
  • From Warrior to King
  • Share your inner journey with someone

 

Women: “There must be more to life than this.  There must be more to me than this!”

Often, women have lost their identity in their service of good things! (family, relationships, etc.)

Women often transition from relationships and reflection to “making your mark” (striving and success).

Often the best Christian leaders and those making the biggest impact are usually second-half of life women

Husbands need to open up space for your wives to explore and expand

Women: it’s your time, get out there!

 

How can the church support those in their 40’s?

  • Acknowledging the mid-life transition and giving them tools.
  • Create spaces of lament (for The Big Defeat)
  • Be patient and gracious.  Life is exceedingly difficult in the 40’s due to interior shift.
  • Create safe spaces (small groups) where men can process The Big Defeat.
  • Create spaces for women to step into 2nd half of life calling/passion.

 

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One-Minute Review: “Playing God” by Andy Crouch

Just finished reading Playing God by Andy Crouch.

Here’s my one-minute review:

 Capture

 

“What’s ‘Playing God’ all about?”
Playing God is a book that explores the complex issue of power; its uses, abuses, and potential for redemption.  Crouch’s overall thesis is that power is a gift from God that should neither be uncritically embraced nor fearfully avoided by Christians.  True power, Crouch believes, holds tremendous redemptive potential when channeled through humanity’s deepest calling to be image-bearers of the true God.  Playing God explores how corrupt and abusive  power is always rooted in idolatry and injustice, while making it clear that Scripture provides us with an understanding of power that can lead to life and flourishing for all.

“Should I read it?”
Maybe.  Given my personal passion for the topic (I devoted an entire chapter of my book Mere Disciple to the topic of power!),  as well as the depth and breadth of Andy’s insights on this topic, I wish I could offer a yes without hesitation.  However, Playing God is not a light read.  It’s very dense in parts, and I’m not sure it’s quite as accessible as I would have liked.  While Crouch does a remarkable job of dealing with a spectrum of issues tied to power, I’m not sure if Playing God would be a good starting point for someone looking to wade into the immensely important topic of power and our use of it.  I would never discourage anyone from reading through Playing God, but if you pick it up just realize that it’s going to feel like work some of the time.  That’s not the end of the world, but I could see some people not having the fortitude to push through some of the more philosophically dense chapters, and deciding to leave Playing God unread.  Which would be a shame, because Playing God offers inspiring, uncommon, and dynamic insights into how Christians in all spheres of life should understand and use power.

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Icons Of Who We Can Become: Synaspismos

I’m reading through Playing God ahead of an upcoming event next week featuring Andy Crouch.  The book is fantastic, and is filled with memorable stories and illustrations that shed new light on what it means to wield power in ways that restores the image of God–in ourselves and others–instead of diminishing it.

One of the most beautiful pictures I’ve come across so far is in the chapter “Icons.”  Building on the idea that an icon is a trustworthy image (as opposed to an idol, which is an untrustworthy image), Andy recounts a trip to the Greek island of Patmos where he discovered a unique icon.  The following are a series of excerpts from p. 94-96 of the book, highlighting some powerful ruminations by Andy on the artwork.

icon1

 

Most icons show one saint; this one showed two, Saints Peter and Paul.  And they were embracing.  Indeed, they were nearly kissing; their faces were pressed up against one another in an intimate greeting, presumably something like the “holy kiss” that Paul refers to in his letters.  The traditional circular halos behind their heads overlapped, forming a kind of heart shape.  The icon was a series of symmetries from top to bottom–their halos, their hands on one another’s shoulders and forearms, their overlapping garments of deep green, crimson, blue and gold all combining in a moment of balanced but dynamic harmony.

I ended up paying several visits to the icon during my week of Patmos, drawn back to it by the tension between its harmonious beauty and the complicated historical moment it portrays.  The icon, as a visiting Greek scholar did his best to explain to me using his limited English one day as we stood in the dry cool air of the gallery, shows the moment when Peter and Paul meet for the first time.  “Synaspismos,” he said emphatically.  “At yes, synaspismos,” I responded, pretending that my four years of classical Greek were not wasted.  For many years I though he was telling me the name of the icon; only later did I learn that the word refers to an ancient battle practice of advancing with shields overlapping one anther, just as the saints overlap in this moment of greeting.  It is a word for shared strength, comradeship, and partnership–the sharing of power that enabled both Peter and Paul to fulfill their vocations as ambassadors of the gospel across the Roman Empire.

But while Peter and Paul are indeed greeting one another with a holy miss, fellow warriors lending one another their strength and blessing, the longer I looked at that icon the more I suspected that Peter and Paul’s feelings about this meeting were, well, complicated.  The express on each of their faces is somber, even a bit suspicious.  Indeed, as they embrace they are quite conspicuously not looking one another in the eyes the way I do when I meet a long-lost friend; they gaze across and out of frame of the icon, each looking at something beyond the other.  These are not old friends reunited after a long journey.  They are, in fact, very recent enemies meeting shortly after Paul’s conversion from persecutor of the church to energetic defender of the Way of Jesus.

Peter and Paul were alike in some ways.  Both seem to have been bold if not brash, both were evangelists, both seem to have had an instinct for seeking out and training young leaders like Mark and Timothy.  Yet they were also undeniably different.  Paul, the cosmopolitan Pharisee and student of Gamaliel; Peter, the fisherman with the Galilean accent.  Oddly, the Galilean outsider become a leading figure in the Jerusalem church and ultimately was thought of as the apostle to the Jews; the Pharisee insider ultimately made his greatest contribution to Christian history by embracing a mission to the Gentiles.  The iconography of the Synaspismos icon plays up their differences even as it brings them together in their embrace–Peter with his traditional bushy head of hair, Paul darker in complexion and already balding (the iconographer thoughtfully gives him a little tuft of hair on top of his head–fortunately, the combover seems to have bee a later invention).  It also emphasizes, if not exaggerates, the difference in age between the two men: Peter is portrayed with gray hair and beard, oso that Paul, in spite of his premature balding, looks like the young man.

So the Synaspismos icon has become for me a picture of fellowship, partnership and community, and also of difference, distance and difficulty.  Ultimately they are all part of the same thing.  It is perhaps the best portrayal I have seen of the reality that love is as much an act of the will as an impulse of the heart.  In the Synaspismos we witness two strong leaders willing to submit to one another–to embrace the gifts the other brings and to join together, shields overlapping, in a shared mission.

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