Friday, August 31, 2012


I need a vacation.

Commons words in our days.  Many of us are probably thinking those words right now, and if we weren't - well, now that I mention it....  It does sound nice.  A simple getaway.  A day, two days, maybe a week away from these walls, from these schedules, from these routines, from these stresses. A day, two days, maybe a week closer to the beach, the mountains, the canyons.

Pull away from your daydreams for a minute.  Close your Travelocity window.  Think about what vacation really means.

It's getting away.  We even call it that - a getaway.  It is vacating our daily grind and taking on a new adventure.  Think about the fantasies you have about what vacation is, what it does for you, where it takes you.  Think about how you imagine yourself once you get there.  Are you...breathing?

That's it for me.  It's getting out of here, getting to a place where for a minute, I feel like I can just breathe.  Where I'm not staring at the same computer, the same walls, the same list of chores, the same commute, the same everything for a little bit and this crushing weight of mundanity lifts off of me and there, in the expanse, surrounded by the bounty of something entirely other and entirely breathtaking, I can suddenly breathe again.

It's basic psychology, really.  It's the fight or flight response.  We fight as long as we can, push ourselves through, get done what needs to be done, and take on a new day until we just can't stand it any more and we've worked, done, and lived our lives to the point that we have to get out of here for awhile or we're going to we book a flight and get away from all this for awhile.

But vacation ends, time draws us back to this place we were so desperate to escape, this rut, this routine.  Rarely is our vacation long enough; rarely does it refresh us to walk back into the way things daily grind against us and it's just this again.  Sometimes, we get a new energy, but it seldom lasts as we realize that here we are again.  Yup.  Here we are.

God has been working rest into my heart; I've been sharing a part of this journey.  And in all my flesh, there is this place in me that nods, smiles, and dreams of a distant place.  A getaway.  You know, You're right, Lord.  I could really use a vacation.  I smile a little, and the day seems lighter when I can imagine myself actually breathing again.  Fresh, clean air.  Somewhere not here.  Somewhere...out there.  Just me and Him.  Road trip!  You're a genius, Lord.  Vacation sounds nice.  Ahhhh.....

If I go, I'm never coming back.  If I could ever breathe that air, I wouldn't want to breathe this stuff any more.

Then He just gently sort of whispers, "Aren't you tired of running away?"

And He's right.  I don't think I'm alone in this, but I've spent a lot of my life running away.  Away from pain.  From fear.  From questions.  Away from love.  From grace.  From mercy.  I'm thankfully at the point where when I let my spirit hit the road, I'm practically dragging God along with me - I've got to get away from here, Lord; I can't handle this place.  But You've got to come with me because I'm not losing you again.  Like somehow, it's more holy if I convince God to go, too.  More holy-sounding, maybe.  But not holy.  And not rest.

Yet He's asking me to take this journey, to embark on this quest for rest.  He's solidly leading me away from this place, and in my flesh, I turned that invitation into what I knew - another chance to run away.  To vacate.  Under the guise of vacation and the daydreams of fresh air.  When I came to my senses, I came back to Him.  And I simply ask, Where am I supposed to go?

You want to run, He says.  Try running toward something.  Try running for something.  Try running to something.

How about an altar-cation?

It's going to be contrary and confrontational.  You're going to get into a mess.  You're going to encounter these places in yourself that have been so resistant to this, and you'll have to face that square on.  But if you want to run, if you want to get away from here - and child, you've got to get out of here - won't you come running to My throne?  Ask Me to help you breathe Me to be your rest.  Daydream not about the mountains, but about the Hill.  Think not about the canyons, but My cross.  Because here, and only here, is where you'll find what you're looking for.

When we choose an altar-cation instead of a vacation, when we run to Him instead of away from here, we open ourselves to this opportunity for a new life.  Not a new locale.  The scenery doesn't have to change, though we can often see it with new eyes.  What happens is that He breathes into us, and we can breathe again.  The mundanity lifts; the heaviness of here seems lighter as where we are, what we do, and even who we see in the mirror is invigorated with new energy and a sense of purpose.  We develop this place inside of us, this new scene, this new set on which we let our hearts live and suddenly, when we close our eyes and dream of anywhere but here, what we see is there.

There, where we can breathe again.  There, where we feel refreshed.  There, where here takes on new meaning by the simple refocusing of our heart and our spirit.  There, where some place else meets us somehow here and changes everything.  There, where we don't have to run away.  But there, where we find ourselves running to.  

There, where if we go, we're never coming back again.  After breathing that air, it just wouldn't do to breathe this stuff any more.

There, not a cozy bed and breakfast in the mountains but the base of the cross on a hill.

As tempting as a vacation sounds right about now, I think what I really need is an altar-cation.  So the next time you catch me running, it won't be away from here; I'll be running to His throne.  (Of course, there's nothing in the fine print that says His throne can't be somewhere near a beach.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Therefore Go

Therefore, go.  Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As we know in our churches, this is "the Great Commission."  Go, Jesus told them after rising from the dead.  Go, He chose as His parting words before ascending to sit at His Father's right hand.  Go.

I've always thought that perhaps it was this "go" that was the greatest commission.  The disciples would have known about making disciples, spreading the name of Jesus.  They'd been doing that for three years; that was old hat.  The problem was going to be getting them just to go...without Him.  To stop sitting around in the Upper Room or wandering the streets of Galilee like lost sheep looking for their Shepherd, waiting on His return (which was, yet again, what He'd kind of told them - wait here, I'll be back in three days and come to see you).  Now, they had one last command: go.  There was no coming back for further guidance.  They just had to trust, and go.

Even the baptizing might have been a little old hat, though I think there's some room for debate here.  One of my minister friends likes to talk about the way we got some of these made-up religious words we us, and baptize is one of them.  It is a rough transliteration of a word that means immersion, and that may play a role in what Jesus is saying here.  Immerse them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Bathe them in what it is that I am.  Because while baptism was by this point fairly common, or at least conversational, the Spirit hadn't quite made its documented appearance.  We see the debate and the distinction drawn between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus - one in water and one in blood/fire/holy spirit - but they both just used physical water as the representation.

So was Jesus really saying, "Go everywhere.  Call everyone to follow me, and dunk them in the water"?

Maybe.  I wasn't there.

This morning, though, I was reading in the new translation I received for Christmas last year.  I've finally worked my way through to Matthew 28, and the verse there read:
So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit.  Teach them to do the things I have commanded you.

This got me thinking, and what honestly I settled on is that this sounds more like the Jesus we see throughout the rest of the Gospels.

Not go, storm through the towns, and make disciples out of everybody.  That's not what I read into this translation.  What I read here is: wherever you go, wherever you find yourself at any given moment, invite those around you to follow Me - regardless of their creed.  Regardless of their background.  Whether they are gentile or Jew, saint or sinner, friend or foe.  No matter where they've come from, wherever you find them, invite them to follow Me.  Immerse them in Love, which is My Father's name.  Teach them - not by a book, not even by my book, but by your example to do the things I have commanded you (which kind of requires that you be doing them first, for if I commanded you and you cannot do them, why should those watching you feel obliged to obey?).

That sounds like my Jesus.  No Bible-thumping.  No doorbell-ringing.  No overwhelming mission to search out everyone everywhere and school them in sanctification.  Just, hey.  Wherever you happen to be, know there are hearts around you.  Seeking.  Watching.  Thirsting.  And love them.  Immerse them in everything you know and everything you trust and everything you believe of Me by living it, as I've taught you to live for three years.  It's what you're doing now; it's just that I won't be beside you any more.  I will be in you instead.  So...go.  Stop waiting around for me, for this is what I've promised you and now I'm headed to what My Father promised Me.  Go.  And pay attention.  And do good.  And love.

That is truly the Great Commission.  Go.  Not out of your way.  Just wherever your journey leads you, and wherever you go, live Me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are You Ready...?

For some FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ok, sorry; there has been a lot of talk of exclamation points this week.  Perhaps I just exceeded my quota.  (For life, some might argue.)  But who cares?  Football kicks off a new season in eight days!

Now, I'm a Colts fan.  That does not mean they are the only team I like or root for.  Like any good football girl, I've got a handful of teams I'm die-hard in love with, a handful of teams I rejoice in obliterating, and then a bunch of teams that are somewhere in the middle.  But I'm excited about this year's Colts, and here's why:

They've finally taken the steps necessary to build themselves into a world-class, sustainable team.  They have finally caught on to good teambuilding and leadership practices.

I know you're saying, Wait.  Didn't they win the Super Bowl once?  And play in it twice?  With Peyton Manning?  And isn't that enough to make them world-class?

Not really.  See, the team got progressively smaller over the past seven or eight years as the franchise poured more money into some big-name, top-producing players and kind of scuttled on the rest.  We had guys on our team that, on the off-chance they actually contributed to the game, nobody would recognize their name.  We had draft picks - first-rounders, even - that saw no playing time for at least their rookie season, sometimes longer.  We had a handful of stars who rocked the field, and a bunch of guys at positions we never invested in - financially or in training.

Which is kind of why we didn't win more Super Bowls.  We didn't have an offensive line who could protect Peyton all that well or hold the defense to build any sort of running game.  We had a few key names on defense, and other guys who kind of came in and out and let the opponent run right through them.  That's why we went 2-14 last season with Peyton out of the picture: we were measuring the dust on our backup quarterback in inches, dusting off his shoulders, and he didn't have the ability to scramble behind a line that couldn't protect him; without practice, he had no rhythm with any core of receivers; and our resulting lack of offense put our defense on the field more than they'd been in two-a-days and they had no idea how to keep up.  From the outside looking in, it was clear to see that the whole locker room centered around what the powerhouse, invested-in, name-recognition offense could do and everyone else had a bit part.  If you need more evidence of that, look at the way we gave a Super Bowl ring to our former running back after we'd traded him away and won without him.  Bit players.  I hate to say it, but it kind of stings of "participation ribbon."

Except, of course, the ring is much cooler.

Questions about Peyton ruled last postseason, and we cut him.  Much to the dismay of many blue-blooded fans.  Now, I love Peyton Manning.  He's got a good head on his shoulders, a generous spirit, and a great heart.  He is humble and articulate.  He even gave up part of his salary to make sure the team could keep all the guys they wanted a few seasons ago and be under the cap; he wasn't playing for money.  But I also know that in order to do what we've had the opportunity to do right now, in a way that so seldom comes in the NFL, this was precisely the time to let him go.  Sad, but necessary.

And now we have the chance to build a team.  To stop throwing our salary cap under a few keys names and broadening our base to grow talent at every position.  Investing in everybody.  Bringing in a largely new team means these guys get to work together.  Andrew Luck, probably the biggest name, isn't going to be built into a strong(er - he's pretty rockin') quarterback unless he's got a line to protect him, a running back to carry part of the load, a core of receivers whom he's built chemistry with, and a cast of tight ends and fullbacks to fill in the gaps.  The line isn't going to work harder to protect him unless they think he's going to produce.  The receivers aren't going to discipline their hands unless he's throwing them the ball.  The running backs aren't going to gain any yardage unless they see something in him and trust him enough to hand off.  These guys now get to come in and do what they do, and building them up is part of building greatness into Luck, and everything we're doing to get Luck ready and at peak performance hinges on our also getting the rest of the offense strengthened, trained, skilled, honed, and sharpened at what they do.  Everybody's depending on each other; it's a team.

On top of that, we brought in new leadership with a powerful vision and the courage to go after it, while our new head coach has the specific set of skills necessary to work on our defense, which has taken on an entirely new formation this year and is looking sharp for the first time in recent memory.

So that's what I'm looking forward to about my Colts - the fact that right now, we have this chance (and we're taking it) to build a team.  Not a headline.  That we're in this place where every guy on that field knows what he's doing, and strives to be his best because that makes the other guy be his best, which in turn helps the first guy achieve something greater.  And nobody's lost in the big names.  And chances are, yeah, some of these guys will make a name for themselves.  But the chances are greater that before we start talking about Andrew Luck's completion percentage, T.Y. Hilton's brilliant catch, Reggie Wayne's veteran leadership, Freeney and Mathis vicious from the outside, or even Vontae Davis bringing power to the corner...we're going to be talking about simply "those Colts!"  Can you believe them?

That's the goal of any good team; that we wouldn't talk about the players so much, but about the team. About what this group is doing.  Right here.  On their field.  In your field.

We rarely get the opportunity to rebuild our lives, but we ought to take whatever chances we get to invest in everybody.  At every position.  By doing our best at our slot in the formation so that they can excel in theirs.  So that when people look at us, they aren't picking us out by name or contribution; they're too busy catching their breath and saying, "Wow!  Look at those guys!  Can you believe them?"  Because we're not really ever "I."  We're always "us."  We're "those guys."  Let's start looking like it.  Maybe start by bringing in a new Coach, a Man with a powerful vision and the courage to go after it with the specific set of skills necessary to work on our defenses.

Eight days to kickoff....eight days to kickoff....eight days to kickoff....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grace in an Empty Heart

Sometimes, you have to swallow your pride.  I don't know about you, but that makes me choke a little.  I come from a long line of strong women who can, and have, done whatever necessary to take care of themselves and their families.  I'm a good steward of what little it seems I have most days, and I'm not the kind of person to ask for help.  Or accept it.

It ties into that workin' know, in the absence of rest.  Which I'm still just not very good at.

And it's true that in all I do, I have learned a thing or two about grace.  God's been able to pack some into my always-busy schedule and make sure my heart recognizes it, though that's usually delayed.  I like to think that I give a lot of grace, as best as I am able, but I'll tell you that He's given me even more.  But it's one of those things that's really hard to see when you're too busy to blink.  You figure it out later, and it makes you smile, and you are thankful that He's been there but you get this really deep sense of regret at having missed it in the moment.

A few weeks ago, another blogger published part of my story - and interview I did with him about where I've come from, in whatever detail the brevity would allow.  What I said there was true, that my story has been told by grace even when I didn't know it and that now, I'm just trying to tell His story with the same grace.  

The problem is that when you only see grace in the rearview mirror, it can be difficult in some tough moments to remember how blessed you actually are.  When you never catch it as it is happening but only catch on once the moment has passed, you kind of have a sort of idea of what grace maybe almost looks like, but you're missing out on what it really is.  That feeling in your heart when you realize God has been there?  It's an aching that if only you could have been there, too....

And I think this pushes us into a greater danger of missing all of the future moments.  Because we come to know a God who has always been there, and we start to assume He always will be and trust that even while we're busied over here or over there, God is present and working it all out and so it (and He) doesn't need our attention.  We can just do whatever and let God do His thing, and when we look back, hopefully we'll call that grace.

So having been blessed and even fully knowing that tempts us to see less and less of God right now, to be looking less for Him and just trusting that He must be here.  Then we kind of have a sort of idea what God maybe almost looks like, but we're beyond the point where we can touch it.

Grace...and whatever God wants to pour into our a gift best received empty.  I'm learning that the hard way.  See, I'm kind of in that moment where I've had a choice to make.  The pride and ego and strength in me that doesn't ask for help or accept it thinks on the one hand that it can handle this, too.  In fact, I know that I can.  And then I pray that one day down the line, it won't be a messed-up decision, a point where I should have made a different choice....I want today to be a day that I look back on and see where God was working.  You know, after I go ahead and do it my way, my busy way, the way my heart is sure it can take care of.

It's a double-edged sword.  This part of me says that to take this moment and work from my strength, from my hands, pushing myself as I always have to take care of myself and not depend on anyone and to know that God is going to be there and that I will look back and see trust.  That means I trust Him.  It means that I have seen the pattern of His grace in my life, and I trust that it will be there. This is probably true.  That is, it would work out that way if this was the path that I chose.  I trust fully in Him for that.

However, there is another part of me that realizes this pattern leaves me always trusting God for tomorrow while I take care of today.  It means I put everything I have on the line today, all of my resources, every bit of my heart, and then trust God for tomorrow.  Then tomorrow comes, and it is today and there is another tomorrow that I'd still be trusting God for while taking care of my own today.  In this scenario, do I ever learn to trust God at all?

You see, we could make either sound righteous.  Or make either an excuse.  God says not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of its own.  So you say then to give Him my tomorrow.  Jesus also says that people were looking too far down the road, waiting on this Messiah to show up when He was standing right in front of them.  So you say then to look for God today.

And God's definitive word is that He is here today and tomorrow, so why the fuss?

The fuss is in my own heart.  Because I treasure the grace He's poured into my life, the Him that I see looking back over 27 years.  But I'm also thirsty for the God that I have to trust with today...for the one who shows up now, who meets me here, who is in this moment.  The only way to find Him, though, is to pour out my today.

I have to empty myself, to give up what it is in me that says I am a strong woman, that says I have the resources, that says today is possible...and believe that today is impossible.  Believe that today has nothing apart from God.  Believe that today is all there is...because that is true, too.  What would I know of God if I never made it to tomorrow to look back upon today?

It's a whole new way to taste grace, but it can only come when you swallow the hard pill of your pride and pour yourself out so He can touch your thirsty heart.  You have to cleanse your palate, and it's this wild new flavor.  Grace that He sneaks into a jam-packed life, that you only see when looking back is incredible.  It's humbling.  But humble yourself in this moment, in today, and grace in an empty heart becomes this crazy, indescribable, undeniable power and presence of a right-now tangible God who's got this.  He's got this.  He's got today, too.  Trust Him for it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Whispers in the Crowd

Have you ever thought about the crowds that gathered around Jesus?

I know that until this week, I really kind of hadn't.  At all.

The story we're reading, the story we're letting soak into our hearts isn't the story of the crowds; it's the story of the Savior.  But now that I've brought it up, don't you just wonder?

Here was this Man who brought these mish-mash, hodgepodge, ragtag groups of people together and yet, so few times do we hear about disagreements or disruptions or disgust of the people around Him.  The crowds gathered around Him weren't formal.  They weren't polite.  They were pushing, shoving, screaming, clamoring to get closer to Him, and most likely had one of just about every person you could imagine:

They probably had the smelly guy.  And we know there were a few questionable women around (the sinner, the prostitute, the woman on her sixth husband, the one with the bleeding issue).  Screaming kids.  Arrogant types.  Quiet types.  Carpenters and businessmen.  Tax collectors and teamsters, or whatever would pass for teamsters in the labor of the day.  There were people who probably showed up and said, "Oh.  Joe's here.  Well, I guess I'll go home."  Because, of course, they didn't like Joe.  People who thought they should be closer to the inner circle.  People who claimed they were the inner circle, even though according to our current gospels, they weren't even close.  People who had honest stories about past encounters and people who were anxiously awaiting their first glimpse of the teacher.  And of course, people who were making stories up to sound like they had been a bigger part of anything than they ever were.  Depressed people.  Sick people.  Joyous people.  Contented people.  People who would follow Him anywhere; people just passing by.  People who wanted to be there.  And people dragged there by friends.  Guys with pure motives and seeking hearts.  Men with deceit within them just trying to bait a trap.

All of these different types of people, these different professions and lifestyles and personalities, and these groups kept coming together and not killing each other and not doing anything that detracted from the narrative Jesus was living among them; when judgment or disgust at the presence of one individual or another did come up, He simply drew it into His story and used it to prove His point.

That He is love.

It just amazes me that we don't hear more of the whisperings.  You know there had to be some; probably a lot.  There are still those whisperings today.  What's he doing here?  I can't believe she had the guts to show up.  Will someone get those screaming kids out of the sanctuary?  Scorn.  Disgust.  Disruption.  When certain people show up, it's just there.

That's been true in my life.  People I don't want to be around.  People who I know don't want to be around me.  People offended at my presence, and people whose presence I have been offended at.  You, too?  Start making your list.

This division among the people starts young.  I can remember as an elementary school student, straight out of the gates, we sat around and talked amongst ourselves about kids we didn't want to be in a class with the next year.  Like the kid who magically always had bright green snot hanging out of his nose and never seemed to notice.  Or the boy who threw up every year.  Every.  Year.  Having those kids around would ruin our experience, we decided; they detracted from our otherwise-pleasant learning process.  You couldn't help but contemplate boogers with that kid in your class.  You'd never hear a word the teacher said!

Yet here are these groups of people, these crowds around Jesus, and none of the writers tell us of these whispers.  A few, yes - the sinful woman comes to mind.  (And how she just walked right in to someone else's house and headed straight to Jesus amazes me; more on that perhaps next week.)  But for the most part, nothing.  But think about the guy who spies the tax collector across the room.  Think about yourself when you see that person at church that grates against your every nerve, that lives contrary to your every philosophy.  Think about the way you fill up with self-righteousness if it seems they're getting anything at all.  Think about how you can't hear anything else but the thoughts in your own mind in that moment as you try to figure out what right in the world that person has to be in the same place as you.  (We've all done it; don't pretend you haven't.)

Then think about the story you're missing.

There's this thing grander than any of our petty differences, and it's happening right before our eyes.  It's the story of Love and the grace of God and the narrative He's writing right now.  Can you imagine being in the room with the sinful woman?  Every person in there who couldn't push past their own self-righteousness missed the words that we get to read - they missed the way Christ honored her.  The guy somewhere near the back, growing impatient and unable to figure out what the hold-up was and why they were stopped so long up there at the cemetery and fuming about all of these people who stood between him and the Lord...wouldn't have even seen the formerly-naked-crazy man clothed and conversational as they finally passed by.  We get this one-track mind about what's right and what's our right and we get to this place where other people are just in the way.  And then we miss the story.

I'm thinking about all of this because grandma's here.  Actually, she's been here for several days and will be for a few more, and she's staying with me.  Aside from her cooking, what I love about grandma being here is that it brings the whole family in.  Everybody wants to see her while she's here, as she is the only one of her generation that lives out-of-state, and so her brothers and sisters (she's one of eight), her nieces and nephews (uncountable), her grandchildren (there are 6 here, 10 if you count the four cats that her childless daughter calls children), her great-grandchildren (at least 6), countless generations extending from cousins and great-nieces and -nephews and however many branches of the family tree you can draw, as well as friends from times past - everyone gathers and drops by and stays awhile to see grandma.  Since she's staying with me, I get to see them, too.

It's just really cool.  And it gets me thinking about people and how we come together...and more than that, why we stay apart.  This family, at its nuclear and extended levels, is just like any other.  There are problems.  And feuds.  And handfuls of individuals who aren't talking to one another at this time or that.  And arguments.  And conflicts of schedule.  I mean, a lot of these people are people that I haven't seen since...well, since the last time grandma was here.  For no other reason than that there's simply not that thing bringing us together so powerfully as it is this week.  (And I resolve to change that, because these people make me make sense to myself...and I gotta keep them around.)

Then she's back and everybody kind of draws together again.  Yes, there are still the holdouts who wouldn't get into this story for anything, members of the crowd who won't come because that person might be here.  But for those of us that do gather, none of that matters.  We all get here and there's this bigger story.  This one that we're telling where the whispers don't matter, and when they sneak their way in, they're just a chance for love and a way to weave that into our bigger story.  It makes me sad to think about the people we're missing, the relatives who aren't around this table - because this is our story and how much cooler would it be if they would come and be a part of it.

Then I think about how much better we'd do at getting the world to see His story in our churches if we could cut out the whispers.  Don't you get that to the unbelieving world - to those looking in - even to those seeking - we've made our whispers His story?  Don't you see how the way our self-righteousness comes in and we pull ourselves out pushes the world away from the greatest narrative in all Creation?  There will always be the whispers, but this isn't our story.  It's His.  It's messy.  There's pushing and shoving and screaming.  But Christ is that guy.  He is that one guy, that one central hub that has the ability to draw everyone together around Him.  He's grandma.  When we all pull together around that, do any of these petty differences matter?  Is it worth pushing people away from this story?

I'm telling you - our story would be so much cooler if everyone could come and be a part of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gifted and Talented

I'm stealing today's post from a comment I wrote on a friend and fellow artist's blog yesterday after he posted about finding your creative voice.  What I answered him with was something that, as I wrote it, I was keenly aware had kind of been a part of my artist's struggle (and I think is a part of the struggle with anything any one of us does) but I had never quite been able to articulate in such a way as I did off-the-cuff last night.  I wanted to expand on my thoughts a little.

Like most people, I'd always thought the words "gift" and "talent" were interchangeable.  Whatever you were talented at, that was your gift; and similarly, whatever you were gifted at, others would see you as talented.  In new words, I'm not so sure that is the case.

What my friend was writing about was how easy it is when you're working in your own craft - whether that's music, word, construction, business, service, whatever is your craft - to find yourself slowly slipping out of what is purely you and entering into a mimic of some of the artists that inspire you.  I've been there.  You're just moving along doing what you're doing and you suddenly realize that your offering is buried in there in someone else's voice.

That's where the interplay of gift and talent comes in.

Your gift is your heart.  It is your way of thinking, of processing things, of connecting with the world around you and the heart of God.  It is everything He pours into you for the sole purpose of your pouring back out.  It is what erupts from your heart in moments of humbled glory.  There's no effort in it.  No work.  No labor.  It is that thing that simply is and that comes out raw.  Pure emotion.  Pure heart.  Pure pour.  And usually, purely a mess.  That's your gift.

The balance to gift is talent.  Talent is your craftsmanship.  It is the work you put into your gift to transform it.  It's what turns the song of your heart into a song for the church; the story you're blurting out into a story worth reading.  It's the polishing touch that is a combination of discipline and skill.

In the same way that we know faith without works is dead and works without faith is wasteful, gift without talent is wasted and talent without gift is futile. 

The mark of a great both.  This is true from the novice painter to the Creator of the universe. God's gift is His love poured out; it is His heart.  It is everything He wanted to give us.  His talent, though, is His majesty; it is the work of His hands all around us and the craftsmanship with which He created this world.  Can you imagine one without the other?  A world where darkness is not separate from light, where there are no trees or birds of the air or creatures that crawl along the ground, where we are amorphous consciousnesses in a sea of something so intangible as His love?  By contrast...a sterile world of science and molecules and impersonal processes of creating mechanical 'beauty' from petri dishes?

Talent takes discipline.  It takes practice.  It takes throwing yourself into the mess your heart can make when it's trying to say something and making some semblance of sense of that mess so that it can speak.  And yet it cannot be whittled down to a process.  It's not something you're doing to do the same way every time and find the end result you're looking for.  True talent - while it is both discipline of the heart and inclination to skill - incorporates a vast amount of grace.  It treats the offering you're trying to bring with tenderness.  It embraces what God is pouring into His world through you and honors what you're offering.  It does not simply assign a lyric a note; it assigns a lyric the only specific note in the scale meaningful for that lyric.  It does not simply put any old word to a feeling; it chooses the one word that both says what you know you're saying and implies what you can't quite put your finger on.  It brings the attitude, the passion, and the truth to the offering of your heart: your gift.

That's part of the place I think we can get a little lost.  I know I can.  I get the two confused sometimes and I'll find myself trying to put discipline into my gift instead of my talent, thinking it's the words that roll off my heart and the inspiration that I have to search for.  Then I find myself backed up, blocked up, and completely shut down and that only makes me work harder for the gift.  On the off chance I get it - get something - from my backward endeavor and the words do pour out of me as though my talent were my gift, I'll be honest and tell you that when I read it again, even I don't understand it.  But when I let my heart break free and let my true gift start to fill me up, I know I am back in this place: gifted and working toward talented.  Angsty and on the edge of my seat, thirsty to get this offering out of my heart in a language that makes it meaningful to what He's doing here.  And that throws me back into the discipline of talent, pushing myself and practicing and developing the inclination toward skill He's put in my hands that makes me the artist - the create-r - He created in me.

So as I told my friend as he pondered the challenges of finding his creative voice, and I say to you as you contemplate your gift and talent:  Our job is to pour out our hearts.  That is our offering.  That is our gift.  Just pour ourselves out.  Then use our skill, our discipline, our talent to polish that up and make it worthy of our calling.  That is our art.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rest (continued)

A few days ago, I wrote about rest.  About needing rest.  About not knowing how to rest.  About the way I strongly feel God calling me to something so simple - and yet so bold - as rest.  And while I don't normally subscribe to the idea of blog as journal (or diary, as you might prefer to call it), I do believe in living out loud.  That post struck a chord with so many, really unexpectedly from my end,  and I think if I am that much not alone in this battle over rest, it's important to do what I can to wrestle out loud in the hopes that maybe those who are wrestling alongside me will find strength to do the same.

Because you see, it's happened again.  And that's how this wrestling thing is.  When God wants your heart, He wants it.  When He is pursuing something specific in you, He is dogged about it.  He's not going to give up; He's not going to let go.  And once your heart is clued in to what He's trying to do in your life in this moment, every whisper screams louder.  Every invitation wails.  Every missed moment grates at your very core until you know.  You just know.  Your life screams in disobedience and tears in torment as you're pulled toward this thing that you know God wants of you (and you want to, but are so intimidated by) and ripped away from what you previously knew as comfort, security, safety, steadiness, strength...whatever it is you have known.

So here it is.  I'm sitting in church on Sunday morning, just as any other Sunday might be except that this time, there is an after-church, "if you are able" project: moving all of the chairs to the outer walls in preparation for holy carpet cleaning.  As I sat there, working on another piece of my heart during communion, something I'd been holding out on that is going to become a communion thought at some later point, I noticed I was visibly tuned out.  Tuned out from the worship.  Tuned out from the sermon.  Tuned out from the fellowship.  Just tuned out.  Then I noticed that I was also very tuned what was going to happen after services.  I was scouting out the rows, calculating the spaces, looking ahead to of all things chair stacking while the congregation worshiped around me.  Their eyes were on the heavens, and my mind was playing church chair jenga.

Work is in me.  Like I mentioned in my last post on rest, it's where I know I can find my God.  It's where my questions are answered.  It's where I feel like I'm something - when I'm busy.  When I'm doing.  When my hands are dirty.  When I'm in there.  Sitting in the back row this past Sunday morning, I had this heavy feeling that my worship experience would not be complete until every chair was stacked, my brow dripped with sweat, I felt that satisfying burn, and I got to look up at my God and say: This is it!  

Then I had this even heavier feeling that my true worship experience was passing me by, and the whisper of God screamed through my heart: THIS is it...and you're missing something here.

He wants me to rest.  He wants me to trust Him enough to rest.  He wants me to love Him enough to rest.  To engage in the moments where I don't feel like I'm offering anything because I don't have anything to do and to know Him in those moments, too.  More than that, to believe in Him in those moments as strongly as I do in the sweat and the blood and the ache and the mission.

The truth is that though I can't put my finger on it (quite literally), I do have an offering to bring in those moments, as well.  I give Him something my hands never could; I give Him me.  In all the work I seek to honor Him with through my hands, I can't hand me over.  I can't pick myself up and plop myself down in His arms.  I have to simply put my hands down and let His take me.  So that is my offering - the fullness of me.  Not what I can give Him, but what He can take of me.

The problem is that though I've found this place where my questions are answered, where I know who I am and am certain who He is and that is enough (more than enough), the truth is that I'm still living in unanswered questions.  That's what is intimidating about rest.  Rest, for me; for you, it's whatever that situation is that He's calling on your heart to answer but you hesitate, because you don't know about that place.  It's intimidating because I know He's right; that is still a place of unanswered questions.

That is the place that, though He is calling me, I am scared to go because every question I think I have figured out in this place will come streaming back into my heart in that place.  While here, I know that I am enough, will I be enough there?  Here, I know that He is enough.  Will He be enough there?  Will anything about my worth, my image, my gift, my opportunities, my calling, my mission, my purpose, my promise mean something in that place as I've finally found it to mean something here?  Will HIS gift, mission, promise, answer about me mean not just something but everything in that place as I have found it to mean here?  I'm holding on to here because I like these answers.  They encourage and inspire and strengthen me.  I know they are enough.  If I am in that place that I just don't know and am surrounded by the questions, will I find the answers are enough?  I don't want to be asking again.  I'd rather just know.

And unfortunately, I can't.  I can't know until I go there.  I can't know until I ask the questions again.  Until I let them overwhelm and surround and burden me and I let my heart cry those painful words again, those questions that I've finally gotten Him to answer here and I'm just praying, Lord, that You will answer them in a new place, too.  Because the more I think about it, the more I'm willing to say that I don't want to be stuck here.  I don't want to have only this one place where I know.  I don't want to be stuck in this rut, as nice as I find it and as confidently as I live here right now...because right now can change and then where will I be.  This is a good place, and I like what I have here.  But it's not forever.  At least, I hope there's something more for me, too.  If I want to know that, then I guess I have to ask the questions again and invite my heart to live in whatever that is.

Even if it is rest.

In my previous rambling, I concluded that the answer to the question "Am I anything if I'm not doing something?" is clearly, "I am His."  And now here I am stuck on this place called work, this place called doing, still not sure about rest because this place, as I define it, is the one where I know.  The one where I know God, trust Him, believe in Him and what He's doing in me, and simply know.  And God answers this by telling me it isn't this place.  This place makes sense, sure, but it isn't because of what I think of as here.  

This place that is answered, this place that knows....this place where I make nowhere more than in Him.  Not in work.  Not in dirt.  Not in sweat.  Not in the garage.  In Him.

So the answer to the dilemma of my heart, as God invites, calls, and insists me to rest and my life screams in disobedience and hesitation is simply this: what am I?  I am His.  And where can I know?  In Him.  His "be Mine.  And be in Me."

Can I do that?  Can I really just do that?

Monday, August 20, 2012


To hear us talk, you'd think our highest goal as a people is to be...well, a perfect people.  Maybe not collectively but certainly individually, we see no reason why we shouldn't be perfect.  That's the goal.  However, as a recovering perfectionist, take my word when I say that this only leads us to failure, disappointment, and depression.  Because as much as we want to be perfect, we're just not.  And the more we try to be perfect, the further we seem to get from it.

But let me also say this: we don't want to be perfect anyway.  As much as we say we want to be perfect.  As much as we punish ourselves for being anything less.  As much as we labor and yearn and burn to be perfect...we don't really want that.  This is not some bold proclamation that we shouldn't want that; I am telling you from my own words and from yours, we really don't.

That truth hit me yesterday when I was thinking about heaven, and it blew my mind.  At first, I thought that at some point, maybe I or someone else had....nope.  We just don't want perfect.

Let me prove it to you.

When you kick off your shoes and change into your pajamas and get ready to hit your bed, and you look back and start thinking about your day...have you ever thought you had a day that was just about perfect?  Certainly.  We all have.  You get this content little smile and something inside you nods just a little and you know this day has been it.  It's been just about perfect.  We might even tell our friends - Today was perfect!  Or...yesterday was perfect!  (particularly if we're of the mind that if we declare today perfect before it's over, we're inviting imperfection into its remaining few minutes or hours)  So...what made it perfect?

In all the perfect and near-perfect days you've ever had...and for each of us, there are probably at least a many of them were because you were perfect?  None?

I know that for me, the answer is none.  For every person who has ever ventured to share a perfect day with me, not a one of them, either, has said the day was perfect because they were perfect in it.  It's perfect because it's perfect around us.  It's the weather we walk in, the company we keep, the experiences we have, the opportunities and chances and blessings and moments.  Everything that's perfect about a perfect day is around us.  And we're able to throw ourselves into it, get sucked in, let go, forget to think about it, simply enjoy it, taste all its offerings, and then later realize that it's perfect.

On the other hand, we have those days, too, where we're pretty sure we're perfect.  Where we nailed it.  Where we really did awesome.  Have you had your handful of those, too?  And how did those make you feel?  ....for me, unfilled.  Angry.  Bitter.  Unrecognized.  Offended.  Because when I've been just about perfect, when I've rocked it as only I can and as I believe I was meant to, I know that it's really easy for me to wonder why the rest of the world is not stopping to acknowledge my awesome.  I mean, I've made it!  For one whole day, I achieved 'perfect,' and certainly, this should mean something.  To everyone else.  To God.  To me.  But it's lonely and hollow at the top of perfect.  

We never really want our own perfection.  We want those aforementioned perfect days.  The ones that aren't perfect because we were perfect in them but were perfect simply because we were able to be in them at all.  Days that seemed built just for us, for all our imperfections and for simply how we are.  Days that seem to have met us right here and exploded into awesomeness not because of but in spite of us.  That's perfect.

So I got to all of this when I was thinking about heaven.  When a thought popped into my mind of the Garden of Eden, of the world as it was created to be and as creation will one day be again.  I thought about Adam and Eve, who lived perfect but would they have ever known that such was perfect?  No.  They had no concept of perfect; God had not laid that out for them.  God looked at the work of His hands and never said it was perfect.  He said it was good.  What Adam and Eve had was 'good.'  That's what they knew.

That's what we know, too, but seldom find the words to say so.  'Perfect' is in the 'good.'  Intellectually, we look at the Garden of Eden and the promise of heaven and we see perfect.  We will be perfected there, we are taught.  And we believe.  Yet every vision we have of either place has nothing to do with what we might consider our own perfection.  When we dream of heaven, we dream of the perfection all around us.  Of the untarnished, created world restored to its perfect state that we are then blessed to live in.  We think...of good.  As it was originally intended.

The same is true when we think of our perfect days.  When we sit back and look at the days that make us smile, the ones that like Mary, we hide in our hearts, or the ones we could talk about for weeks - when we pore over the days we'd proclaim as perfect - something within us knows that they weren't so legalistically, imperfectionlessly, flawlessly perfect.  They were just good.

You'd think, then, we could take it a little easier on ourselves.  Stop pushing toward this imaginary goal we're never going to achieve and that, even when we're working from the Promise that says we will be perfected, makes us think more wholly of simply 'good' than anything else.  We need to wrap our heads around what our hearts already know: that perfect is a myth and we wouldn't want it anyway.

What we want, both here and there, both now and forever, what we see in our hearts when we picture perfect and nothing more than 'good.'  But 'good' is perfect.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Controversy of the Cross

One of the things I've noticed trending on my Facebook this week has been the controversy over the 9/11 cross at the memorial in downtown New York.  Atheists are upset about its presence at this national place of remembrance, as they are often upset any time the cross shows up in some grand scene.  Last week on the news, they reported the story of a small town somewhere in Indiana that has a cross on - *gasp* - public town property and is therefore being sued by an out-of-state atheist group with no interest in the town except that it stop displaying the cross.

And I noticed that one of my friends commented on one of the 9/11 pictures with something to the effect of: "I don't get it.  Why are atheists so offended by the cross?"  So offended by the cross that they throw a tantrum every time they see one and demand it be torn down.  Offended by something they don't even believe in.

As someone who grew up heathen, devoutly atheist and decidedly pagan (did I get all your preferred words in there?) and is now humbled, devoutly Christian and decidedly still not perfect, I find myself in a unique (though not exclusive) position to offer a bit of an answer to this kind of question.  Because I have both rolled my eyes at yet another cross popping up...and rolled my eyes at those rolling their eyes at yet another cross popping up.

So here goes:

An atheist is offended by the cross in a place like the 9/11 memorial or the town square because that's not the story they are telling.  That's not their cross.  That's not their story.  It's just not.  And in a way, having that cross there is an invitation to exclusion.  Exclusion is our greatest fear - not belonging, not having a place, not being a part.  To an atheist, that cross symbolizes the way the faithful responded to the terrible things that took place on that site.  Then the world is looking to the faithful, searching for the story of these two beams that held together, while the percentage of survivors (hint: it's more than 1) who have not chosen the cross yearn to tell their stories, too.  Stories the world isn't looking for once they see those crossbeams.  Stories that are now marginal, at best; useless at worst.  Hearts left on the outside because though they were there and felt every bit of that pain, the burning, the heartache, the fear, the terror...don't seem to have a story any more.  The cross changes the story, and in doing so, it leaves out those who deserve to be a part of it.

That's what the atheist knows.  The atheist knows that with that cross standing there, everyone's waiting for the stories of those looking to God in those terrible moments.  And they are afraid they're now excluded...because they weren't looking for God or crosses; they were looking for the exit.

Imagine if you were part of the women's Gold Medal-winning Olympic soccer team.  You'd been with these girls for years, practicing and perfecting your game for this big opportunity and the details of things like personal belief and politics never really came up.  You win, and ten of your teammates run to the sidelines and pick up the Rebel (Confederate) flag and start running onto the field in victory.  Now, you're on the outside.  You want to share your absolutely bursting heart with the world, but the only story people want to hear is about that flag.  But that's not your flag.  That's not your story.  ...And that doesn't matter.  By an emblem, the story has changed.  Now you get to spend your post-Olympics interviews talking not about the game, but about a flag you don't believe in and its polarizing story.  Your story?  Your game-winning goal?  It's somehow less now.  

It's a terrible thing to be trapped in your aching heart.  It's hard to feel like you don't have a right to your experience, to your pain, to your opinion or memory or story.  It's awkward.  Like people might listen to what you have to say, but it would only be an interruption.  They would smile and nod and pretend like they heard you, but you haven't been heard.  Your perspective is so bizarre, so out-there, that they can't relate to it and so the world is only being polite while your heart is absolutely imploding, longing to be a part of what you were a part of in the first place!  Before the story changed.

And we know the cross absolutely changes the story.  It always does.  It always has.

Now, from the Christian side of the coin, the problem is this: we still kinda want to tell the cross story. It's not that we're trying to offend or exclude anyone.  We're not demoting the relevance or deservingness of anyone's being there.  We're just trying to tell our story, too.  By the atheist protest, now we feel like we're on the outside and our story isn't relevant.  Why do we have to leave the tale to just history, we wonder, when we want to tell the story of hope, too?  We don't understand why it has to be one or the other, why we can't have our place alongside.

And that's the rub.  The clash of wounded hearts on both sides seeking to keep their place in the story, even if neither is able to articulate that that's what this is really about.  Wounded hearts afraid of being left out...laboring to leave out other wounded hearts to protect their own woundedness.

I'm going to say this and this is where I know that I'm going to lose some of you (if I haven't already with the Rebel flag reference): This is where Christians have failed.  It is.  This is where we have failed to love well, and it's showing in the turmoil and the tension between atheists and Christians.  It's showing in the controversy over the cross.

We have failed to be a people who are willing to tell a side-by-side story.  We have failed to show the unbelieving world that we're just as engaged in their world with them as we are in God's world with Him.  We have labored and sermoned and door-knocked to death trying to convert the whole world, turning our backs on the "heathens" still on the other side, and looking down on the percentage (hint: it's still more than 1) of this world that doesn't believe in the same God that we do.  That doesn't believe in our cross.

The love of God is free, and we have been free to receive it.  What we must also remember is that we have also been free to reject it, and there are many among us who have exercised that freedom.  The God who created love responds to them the same as He responds to us - with tenderness and mercy.  So where do we get off giving unbelievers any less?  I have seen and, yes, been a part of (repenting....) in the Christian world our faith denying the stories of the unbelievers.  Excluding them.  Feeling superior and therefore, exclusively worthy.  We think this story we're trying to tell, this God we're trying to follow, this Jesus we believe in is so much better than any other story out there (it's true; it is a fantastic, deserving, and wholly good story) that no other story deserves an ounce of attention.  We've shut out unbelievers, and now they're pushing back.

The truth is that their stories need told, too, and it is grace to embrace them.  It is love to hear them.  It is honor to draw them into us.  The stories of God's people have always been told from both sides - from the camps of the Israelites to the wayward town of Nineveh to the wicked colony of Babylon.  From the Jews to the Gentiles to the Jew-killer-turned-apostle.  There were unbelievers at 9/11 who cried just as hard, screamed just as loud, and fell just as fast as any who looked up and saw that cross...and as any who didn't get that chance.  They're offended by the cross because they know it's trying to change their story, and all they want is to be acknowledged as having been there.  To not be trapped in their hearts and their memories and to know they still have a place in the footprints of those towers, even if they're not bowing at the foot of the cross.  

And while no, that shouldn't allow them to prevent Christians from telling their stories, too, we have to remember that wounded hearts pushing against each other are only going to break both.  Somewhere in the midst of it, as has always been, there is grace.  There is love.  There is mercy.  And yes, there is God..

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Branching off from the Sabbath theme of yesterday, I think it's important to mention that while I Sabbath deliberately (and yes, I assume 'Sabbath' is a verb), I do not do a fantastic job of resting.  Ever.

Where to go from that statement is unexpectedly difficult.  I thought I knew what I was going to say and as I try to write any of that number of words, they just aren't right.  The truth is that this is something God has been working on in me - rest, stillness, quiet - for quite awhile and whatever words I'd say to "explain" myself would be more an attempt to "excuse" myself.  And the last thing I need in my life (how about you?) is more excuses.

I sense very deeply that God is persistently inviting me to rest.  He would love for me to rest.  Not simply to stop, but to rest.  And to rest in Him.  To let myself nestle in His being enough and let that envelop me and be enough in my heart, too.

Earlier this week, my neighbor came to chat on my porch and brought up that she had a new light for the outside of her garage that needed installed, but she was so weary of bothering our mutual neighbor (a contractor, my boss) to do such things for her.  I told her she could bother me, and about an hour later, I popped over with wire strippers, a screwdriver, and a roll of electrical tape.  I breathed one heavy breath as I bent over to sort through the installation packet that came with the new light, and she, concerned, said, "You're tired.  You don't have to..."  And in my incessant, obstinate, disciplined fashion, I immediately responded without looking up.  "I'm not tired.  I'm just..."  then settled on "tired" as I looked up and smiled that shy little mission smile I have.  Until that moment, I hadn't considered that I would be tired and I wouldn't have considered admitting that, but she nailed it.  As soon as I said the word, my heart sighed this resounding "yup" and I was overwhelmed with tired.  Not the kind of tired necessarily that requires sleep; just tired.

That's been God's cue to start coming after my heart all over again, pursuing my rest with this blatantly blessed invitation.

Oh, it's tempting!  I'm in this place where the sight of my heart can wrap itself around this image, this beautiful scene of my letting myself enter into His rest.  Into His arms.  Into this place where I can hear His heartbeat.  And all is still.  And all is rest.  And all is enough.  He is enough.

Then I kind of panic a little.  Because it's nice, but it 1) is an invitation to a deeper moment, one of tears and surrender as I admit in that moment that He is enough and I am totally not and 2) feels like I ought to be doing something!

It's not that I have some grand to-do list, some endless roster of tasks to complete, or even anything all that important.  It's's that my life has never been quiet and even when it seemed that way, it was screaming loud in my own heart and in all the time I've known God, I've found it almost easy to know Him, to find Him, to be fully in Him when my hands are dirty.  When I'm into something.  Or yes, when I'm up to something.  When I'm looking around and there's a little burn in my muscles and a little grease on my hands and I wouldn't dream of washing up because I feel like this is it.  This is something, and I'm fully in it.  And there's my God, and He's in it, too.  And together, we're, these moments are beautiful.  Every question I've ever had - about myself, about my world, about my worth, about my God - is answered.  In the noise, I know how to find my God. 

But in the quiet?  In rest?  I dunno.  I feel burdened by the moment.  By the questions.  By the...lack.  When I'm busy, when there's noise, I am something.  I am...a neighbor, a friend, a minister, a writer, a carpenter, a mason (oh, let me tell you how much fun I'm having with masonry this week!), an assistant, a worker bee, a servant, a missionary...I feel like I'm something because I can clearly see what I am at any given moment.  Those dirty hands give me away.  But when I'm quiet...when I'm not pinpointedly, clearly, obviously, evidently anything, all these questions come back up of...what am I?  And in this heart, bruised and battered as so many of us are from this fallen world, that's not an easy question to ask, let alone answer.

Of course we know the answer is this: In stillness, in rest, without a speck of oil or dirt or grease or mortar in sight, without a project or a to-do list or a mission..what am I?  Am I anything?

I am His.

And that's why He's persistently after my heart right now to rest.  Because He knows - and I know - that if I can embrace that moment, that invitation to rest, it is a moment in which I am nothing but His. Simply His.  He wants that to be enough for me.  While the echoes in my hollowed heart scream and cry and demand that I must be more or that at least, I must be worthy, the truth is that I want that to be enough for me, too.  So much so that now, I'm looking for rest.  I'm deliberately looking for that place He's called me to and trying to figure out how to drag my heart along.  Because I want that.  And what's more - I want in that place what I have in the noise: I want rest to be a place, too, that I know is something and that I'm fully in it with my God and a place where every question I've ever had - about myself, about my world, about my God - is still answered.  

As my heart cries out, " I anything here?"  I need, in the rest, to hear both my answer: I am His.  And His answer: I Am.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Old Testament Overtime: Sabbath

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful dischordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Today:


The day of rest.  The seventh day.  On the seventh day, God rested; He commanded His people to do the same.  For one day, stop working.  Stop creating.  Stop toiling.  Trust.  Honor.  Worship.  Rest.

I'm amused by a God who, so many thousands of years ago, knew that today, I needed to be told to rest.  And I know there are a lot of people who overlook the Sabbath command these days.  In the 21st Century, it's not practical to take a day off.  Not only is it not practical, it's not "kosher," as we'd like to say.  What kind of bag of lazy bones takes a day off - even a Sunday?  And what in the world would you do with a day off if you didn't use it to catch up on things you'd been putting off?

We don't know any more how to be still.  How to rest.  Part of that, sadly, is directly related to our inability to trust and to honor, with an (un)healthy dose of inflated self-importance thrown in.  There are people among us - and I know because for the longest time, I was one of them - who believe that if they take a day off, the world will stop turning.

Let me let you in on a little secret: if God set the world in motion and trusted His creation enough to take a day off, it's certainly gonna be just fine without you and me for a little Sabbath rest.

I'm not saying that what you and I do here is not important.  It's just not deathly important, and that's where we're pushing ourselves when we refuse to take a little time off.  And no, time off doesn't mean you switch to an alternate to-do list.  It means you stop.  Trust - the world to be ok without you and  what you've invested to not need your constant supervision.  Honor - the inherent wisdom in creation around you to take care of itself.  Worship - the One who created Creation and imparted wisdom.  And rest.

Sabbath is something I practice, though I'll admit it looks different today than it would have four thousand years ago.  Nights and Sundays are set-aside.  At night, I power-down.  I turn off my computer, disconnect.  There's not a residual hum from a hibernating PC to tempt me or test me; my devices are off.  When I wake up Sunday mornings, I don't even turn it back on.  I spend my mornings reading my Bible and whatever other book I'm working my way through on a given week, enjoying breakfast with the sun peeking in my window, and preparing for church.  After church, I do whatever Sunday-things are on the schedule (there's no schedule; it's an expression) - small group, shopping trip, football....  Most definitely football.  And I usually cook a large meal on Sundays.

It's one of the ways I've set aside time to let the world run without me.  To let my Twitter log and my Facebook feed run on and not worry about missing out on something.  To not be tied to email or blog reports or book requests or content reviews.  To not have one window running job searches (for one of those "real" jobs I'm perpetually looking for) and another window chatting with a friend and still a third window popping up this or that that would like to think it needs my attention...all while forgetting to look out the real window just behind my desk.  Sabbath is the day I remind myself that this world turns without me...and remind myself that I turn on more than this world.

E-Sabbath is something I have to be deliberate about.  Everyone knows they won't be able to reach me by email or social media or chat on Sundays.  They know if they need to reach me for some reason, they'll have to call or stop by.  (And I'm not one of those who says you have to call first; stop on by.)  But it's important for people to know what's going on and how to still reach me because 1) you don't want people to worry (and if you suddenly go a whole day in digital silence, people will worry and you'll log back in on Monday to a flood of concern over something so silly as not posting a status!) but more importantly...that's not what Sabbath is about.

Sabbath is not about cutting yourself off from the world; it's about cutting yourself off from the world you likely forget can't run without you.  It's not about removing yourself from everything around you; it's about pouring yourself into it.  It's about reconnecting with the beauty and wisdom and incredibleness that's so easy to find yourself unplugged from.  It's about finding...and remembering...the very things that God honored in His Sabbath, content to sit and simply enjoy the world He'd created - the world that's trustworthy, honorable, wise, beautiful, and wonderfully created.  A world created to captivate you but not to hold you captive.  A world in which you are invited - commanded, even - to rest.

Is Sabbath a time to not do anything?  Is a day of legalistic laziness without lifting a finger in anything that looks like work?  No.  It never was.  It's always been simply a time to not do everything.  To be more deliberate about life, more disciplined, more focused.  

I'm a lot like my Lord, and even on Sundays, I love hard and that looks like work.  It looks like it couldn't be Sabbath, but it absolutely is.  I root hard for my beloved Colts...and grumble under my breath at a fumble (and root just as hard against the wicked Patriots) and that looks like work, too.  Or at least, it looks like less.  It looks like it couldn't be Sabbath, but it absolutely is.  I'll slave over an aromatic dinner on a hot stove for an hour or two, simmering and sauteing and seasoning (and sampling), and this also looks like work.  It looks like it couldn't be Sabbath, but it absolutely is.  And I do my fair share of resting, too.

My Sabbath, a lot like Jesus's, looks a lot like work, but it is meticulously, deliberately, obstinately Sabbath.  It is not the legalistic rule-keeping of an Old Testament seventh-day, but it is purely and simply this: taking myself away from the "work" I get trapped into thinking is so important that I do and throwing myself fully into the work of HIS hands.  Then letting that be whatever that is...any given Sunday.

What would you do if you let yourself rest and discovered that the world was still turning?  How could you incorporate Sabbath practices into your life?  What would your day of rest look like?  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Old Testament Overtime: Good

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful dischordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Today:


For six days, God created.  (Genesis 1)  At the end of each day, He sat back and reflected on all He had brought into this world - indeed, reflected on the world itself.  And He saw that it was "good."  That's all we're told about His satisfaction.  This...was good.

Every time I read that, I think of God kickin' back with a deep sigh of contentment and a smile on His face.  It brings a smile to my face and I find myself nodding.  As an artist, is there anything better than "good"?

There is not.  In creation, "good" satisfies me more even than "great" and certainly more than "perfect" - because perfect is a misnomer, for nothing ever is.  When I was working construction (and I'm temporarily unemployed again, as we've run out of contracted sites for the moment), I'd fabricate a tough spot or come up with a conserving solution or just cut a tricky piece of siding around a window, and when it worked, my boss would look at me, pause, and say, "Beautimous."  And the truth is that in these days, I preferred beautimous to good.  Had he told me it was good, I would have looked at him and asked, "What's wrong with it?"

Good is a word that, as an artist, I use with myself and am satisfied.  But in today's world, it's a word that's been warped to mean almost its opposite.  It's only "good"? we'd ask.  Why isn't it great?  Or fantastic?  Or excellent?  Or spectacular?  Or perfect?  Or even beautimous?  Why isn't it better than good?  Good is almost an insult.

It's because, I think, we think we're not anything unless we're better than someone or something else.  We'll never climb the corporate ladder if our performance evaluations are not superior.  We aren't a good friend at all if we're not the first friend you call.  We're not "doing good" in the world unless we're great at it.

Yet we know that when God created the world and said it was "good," He wasn't harboring any tweaks in His heart.  He wasn't waiting on another chance to change a few things here and there.  (Even after the flood, He did it the same way.)  He wasn't resigned to what it was; it was His, and He liked it that way.  It was good.  Good was contentment.  Good was satisfaction.  Good was...perfect.

Good was more than you or I could have pulled off.  It was more than we could have come up with out of thin air.  (Oh wait...He came up with thin air, too.)  And today, we think we're more than good? We think we're better than good?  What arrogance!

It's not just our work, our passion, our hands, or our love; we want more than good in our lives.  When we reach that place that life is good, we settle in a bit and let ourselves breathe.  But only for a moment...then we want to know what's next.  It's good...but there has to be something more than good.  Right?  Then even when we find it, in the most extravagant of lifestyles, the most blessed of experiences, the mountaintops, the unbelievables, the can't-stop-smilings, we describe ourselves as "living the good life."  Not the great life.  Or the perfect life.  Or the incredible life.  Just the good life.  Our hearts know, even when we try to convince them differently, that the best there possibly good.

And isn't that great?  That there's this place inside of us that remembers good and reflects it in our life, our love, and our language by pure instinct?  

In embracing good, we allow ourselves to embrace grace.  We separate ourselves from a culture that demands we be more.  From a world where "good" means something's missing.  We declare that maybe by the world's standards, something is lacking, but by a higher standard, this is it.  This is how it was created to be.  Whether it is who we are or what we do, embracing good allows us to stand meager in our offering and let good be good enough to let God.  In all our imperfections, in all our shortcomings, just as we are...God, by His hand, created us and declared us to be good.  Still.  Just like this.  Just as we are.  This is good.

When we know that, when we know good and put it into every place of our lives, we know grace.  And we know God.  Isn't that beautimous?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Testament Overtime: Get Lost

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful dischordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Starting with..

Get lost.

Coming out of Egypt, the Israelites got just past the Red Sea, sinned, and spent 40 years lost in the wilderness.  Forty years.  For what some experts would say should have been an eleven-day trip.  And yet, they were so thoroughly lost in what should have been a simple journey that we have not one record of anyone asking, "Didn't we already pass this rock?"

I'm fairly good with directions and can fabricate a general sense of where I'm going most of the time - follow the sun by the time of day or the sky at night to figure out, approximately, what is westward or northward or eastward or southward.  If I knew I was headed to Canaan, to a land flowing with milk and honey, and I had some reasonable idea of where Canaan was...I'm pretty sure I'd get just about there.  In somewhat less than 40 years.  After all, I can find my car in a parking lot, find my way home from wherever I manage to find myself, and figure out how to get around a detour and back to where I'm going.  These things come naturally to me.

The truth is that in the 21st Century, I'm less and less alone in being directionally gifted.  We have maps and MapQuest and GPS and Siri to guide us wherever we're going...or get us back from where we've gone.  We have satellites that, if you try to disappear, can pinpoint you and tell people where you're at or at least, where you were last known to be, which should give them some idea of where you actually are.  Security cameras and traffic cameras and eyes in the sky, all designed to keep tabs on things but actually keep tabs on us.  Our lives have trackers all over them.  You have to be deliberate these days to get lost, and even then, it's not so easy.

People have tried.  They still run away.  They still seek solace in the mountain refuges or the vast expanse of a national forest.  They still look to go off the grid, as we would say, even though today, the grid is almost everywhere.  I know there are times I'd like to just go, to get away from all of this, to not tell anyone where I'm going and not even know myself when I'll be back.  But if I ever up and disappeared, like so many others who have tried the same, worried parties would employ all the law enforcement and facial recognition technology we have to offer to track my movements to a truck stop in the middle of nowhere (Egypt, as we ironically call it), then send out the hounds from there.  To avoid all that, I'd have to make an announcement that I was leaving and would maybe be back, but there would be questions about my plans and destination that then, if I didn't answer, would only worry people all the more because 1) it's a dangerous world out there and not safe for no one to know where you are, 2) there might be an emergency that requires I be contacted, 3) I might be up to something.  (I'd probably be up to something.)  You may have other reasons that prohibit you from getting lost.

But here's what I love from the story of the Israelites: You can know exactly where you're going, exactly how to get there, and still get lost.  And I don't think we're doing that enough.

We're too focused on getting there.  We're too focused on the next thing.  We're too focused on the goal, on the promise (whether it's of the Promise or the culture's convention), on the land flowing with milk and honey.  If we know where we're going, let's get there and move on.  Let's get there and find out what's next.  Let's not dilly-dally; let's not waste time, for we believe for some reason, we have no time to "waste" on things like lost.

Look again at the nation of Israel.  They wandered forty years for a week-and-a-half trek, even though they knew where they were going and roughly how to get there.  Left to their own devices, they would have arrived safe and sound and well, alive and young.  In THIS generation.  But they weren't just going; they were following.  That took them on a detour, and they lamented their time in the wandering.  But it wasn't a journey they were willing to make without God.

I'm amused that in all their frustration, in every time they cried out against Him, turned against Him, hated what they were going through, nobody said, "Hey...forget it.  Let's just go to Canaan."  I'm surprised nobody broke off from the group and went it alone to the Promised Land.  Maybe they did and Moses just didn't tell us; I don't know.  But they followed His winding path even while they turned from His ways.  Remarkable!  They embraced the gift of following even when they were weary of the wander.  And that generation never got there.

We need to understand that though in our eyes, our lives are finite and this is our one chance to do in the world what we aspire, time does not stop at this generation; time marches on.  And maybe we'll never get there.  Maybe this generation will pass and the next will be the one to get "there."  Maybe we'll reach a mountaintop and see what's just slightly next but not for us...and be ok with that.

It's easy, sure, to say that we don't have time for lost.  That lost takes too long.  We wonder why we wander when we know where we're going.  It's easy to turn and say, "Forget it.  I know where this headed, so let's just go."  It's easy...but it's not blessed.  Blessed is a life open to wander.  Blessed is a life open to lost.  Blessed is a life that knows and trusts that God is leading us somewhere - just as He's promised - but embraces the joy that is in the journey, even if we know we've passed this rock before.

Blessed is a life that loses itself but is never lost because it's simply following.  Wherever the road may lead, even if we can never put a tracker on it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Livin' It, Old (Testament) Style: Circumcision

The Old Testament encourages and inspires me. Though I am not bound by many of its laws or customs any more, there's a lot of beauty and timelessness in some of these ancient ways that teach me how to live under the new covenant.  Today, a few thoughts on...


This was the command given to Abraham at the first covenant: circumcise yourself.  You say that you love Me, Abraham?  Cut off a piece of your anatomy you would never have considered removable.  Then do the same to your son, and all males born from this point forward.  And convince the other men of your family, your tribe to do the same.

Great idea, God.  Sounds

Circumcision was the mark of a committed man.  You could tell a man was a man of God by whether or not he carried a foreskin.  Now, I don't know why God chose the foreskin.  Really, it could have been anything.  Like a Nazarite, don't cut your hair.  Lop off your baby toe.  Pull out your left thumbnail.  There wasn't a precedent for a covenant; it literally could have been any command, any piece of the body that the Lord asked to be dedicate to Him.  He chose the foreskin, then told the nations this was the sign.

But let's be honest - who was looking?

We're well beyond the invention of clothing here.  Several generations removed from fig leaves in the garden.  Men were covered up.  If you wanted to see a man's "covenant," you'd have to ask him, pants him, or kill him.  How awkward are those options?

We also know that when a man was asked to prove his godliness or his faithfulness, he gathered a testimony of witnesses or handed over a personal item of value to authenticate his word.  He didn't just pull his pants down and say, "See?"

So if circumcision was the mark of a man in the covenant but it wasn't an outward sign or the greatest witness of faith, then what was the point?

That was entirely the point.

Circumcision was a communal declaration of the covenant - "We, the nation of Israel, stand before God and dedicate ourselves according to His desire."  But after the wound healed, it was the intimate, personal reminder of a personal covenant with an intimate God who wanted more than the foreskin.

I have two nephews.  One is circumcised; the other is not.  Neither choice had anything to do with covenants or religion.  I've heard the testimonies on both sides of the health and cleanliness battle, as well as the argument for aesthetics.  None of these were God's primary concern.  What He wanted was exposure.

He wanted these men to remove their covering.  To bare a sensitive, tender place of their flesh and leave it open.  To expose an embarrassing spot and be unable to change their minds about it.  He wanted them to uncover this place where both urine and semen flowed out of them.  Waste and life.

God wanted nothing to stand between them and their pouring out, what He was pouring out of their lives - passion and excess.  He didn't want them to have to push anything aside; instead, He wanted a direct connection.  He wanted their rawness exposed so that He could use it and they could know it...and between He and they, that's all it was.  Expose yourself to Me so that you can expose Me to the world.

We can know this with fair certainty because God's Word uses the analogy of circumcision again and again, when God says to circumcise our hearts.  (Deuteronomy 10, and many others.)  That is the takeaway for a New Testament life, one that doesn't require a foreskin but requires exposure.  Circumcision of the heart.  What He's saying is: Uncover your heart.  Expose the raw place beneath whatever you've built up.  Stop blocking yourself from pouring out, from letting me use you.  Whether it's excess or life that's about to come out of you, let it flow.  Both are to my glory.

Circumcise your heart so that nothing stands between you and the way I want to use you.  

You know you're exposed so that you can expose God through your life, but you don't walk around exposing yourself.  It's just between you and God.  Something you know when you stand naked before Him.  The mark of the new covenant, a piece of your heart given for Him.