Friday, March 29, 2013

Were You There?

On this Good Friday, I am thinking of the old hymn, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"  And I'm wondering - were you?

Jesus was a man who had to climb a mountain for some alone time to pray.  He had to walk on water to get some peace with His disciples where the crowds couldn't find them.  He had to catch a few zz's in a boat in a storm because that was His definition of down time.  The crowds were always pressing in on Him, always hanging around, always staying long past what might have been prudent - He fed the 5,000 because they had been there for three days and would be too tired, without food, to make the trip home.

Then we paint this picture of holy week, of the days leading up to Easter, and I wonder what happened to all of those people.  I wonder where they went.

Because the way we tell the story, there were throngs of people in the courtyard - supporters with their whispers, watching to see what was going on, and gaggles of the religious shouting for His crucifixion.  The shouts were louder than the questions.  Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  It's the sound of a thousand voices, yelling in an angry mob, begging for the King of the Jews to face the cross.  And Pilate gives in.

Jesus is taken into the public square, stripped and beaten.  Flogged until His back is breaking open.  And there's still a crowd.  They are jeering, taunting.  Laughing as the Roman soldiers beat Him one more time.  And more whispers.  More of the quiet few standing near the back, anxious to see what will happen to this Messiah but not daring enough to get caught worrying about Him.

They throw a cross onto His weary shoulders and as He steps off down the road to Calvary, the crowd starts to thin out.  A few onlookers line the streets, maybe a few deep in spots and one man falls into the road and is forced to help carry the beam.  But the closer we pull to Skull Hill, it seems the people are all but gone.

There, on what we call the lonely hill of Golgotha, Jesus is crucified and from this point in the story on, we see Jesus, two thieves, a small battalion of Roman soldiers playing dice games in the dirt, Mary the mother of Jesus, and John, the disciple whom He loved.  That's about it.

And I can't help but think that's about wrong.

Crucifixion was a public death; Golgotha, a common hill.  The people would have come just for the spectacle of a public execution, the way in more recent times, the masses have come for hangings.  There was no, "OK, we are leading Jesus into the secret death chamber now."  No.  They put Him there in public for anyone and everyone to see.

You mean to tell me you believe that the masses just left?  That for three years, they followed this Teacher who spoke such wisdom, challenged authority, cast out demons, healed the infirm, and fed the  thousands...and all of a sudden, they're not interested any more?  That they heard Him speak about His death and coming resurrection and that even though they didn't understand what that meant, they were content to let Him die quietly?  That they had hounded this Messiah throughout His entire ministry and they would just walk away?

You mean to tell me you believe that the people who had followed Jesus, who had listened to Jesus, who had been touched by Jesus, who had been fed by Jesus, who had been loved by Jesus, who knew without a doubt in their mind the authority, the power, and the awesome love of Jesus...had no interest in hanging around to see what this Messiah was about to do with a Cross?

I don't buy it.

Three days later, we hear that the women journeyed to the tomb.  The disciples were walking toward the place where Jesus was buried.  So what?  He dies and that's just it?  They are all so quick to walk away and leave Him there?

I don't buy it.

I don't buy that there weren't masses at the foot of the Cross.  I don't buy that when the Romans taunted the holy man and told Him to bring Himself down that there weren't at least hundreds of listening ears, some jeering along with the soldiers and some muttering under their breath, "Yes, Lord.  Please.  Show them!"  I don't buy that there weren't dozens, if not more, dedicated followers who could not walk away even though they had to turn their heads.  I don't buy that Jesus just dies, alone on a public hill, is placed in a tomb and that's it.

I believe there had to be people there.  I believe there had to be masses there.  I believe there had to be people waiting at the Cross....standing near the tomb.  And I think it's a better story if we have them there.

I think it's a better story if the climax is not, "Then Jesus went alone and something happened to Him and it was kind of this but only two people were there, so it's hard to confirm and then I was walking on a road to Emmaus and He happened along."  I think it's a better story if we have people at the Cross - doubting, jeering, hoping, watching, waiting, wailing.  I think it's a better story if people keep coming by the tomb - leaving flowers, keeping vigil, watching, waiting, wailing.

I just don't think we can get away with a public Jesus who died a private death on a public hill when for no apparent reason, the masses decided not to follow Him.  When for once, they decided to leave Him alone.  When they seem so willing to buy that a death sentence overwhelms the miracles they've seen Him perform.  I just don't see a Jesus that carries His Cross to Golgotha and nobody....nobody at all...goes with Him.

So I'm thinking about the crowds and wondering...were they there?  Did they really en masse turn away and leave Jesus to His own death after relentlessly pestering Him for three years of miracles and ministry?  Or did the crowds press on, waiting to see what would happen?  Watching?  Wailing?  Pressing in on every side.  Trying to touch His robe one last time.  Daring to cry out as He passed them by one last time.  Thirsting to drink in every second of Jesus.  Whispering for a miracle.  Hoping He would show them all.

I think I would have been there.  I think I would have gone.  I would have wanted to see.  I would have wanted to know.  I would have turned my face away, but I don't know that I would have turned my back.  This was the moment Jesus was about to do something.  If there was ever any moment, this was it.  After three years of really cool stuff...this....this could have been the big stuff.  And it was.

Are you content to turn away?

Or were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Thursday, March 28, 2013


There's always one straggler.

One man left behind.  One woman left out.  One sock somewhere between the dryer and the drawer.  One last piece of pizza.  The remnants.

I love remnants.  They're always the best, aren't they?  They sort of feel like a bonus, almost.  Except in those cases where you are the remnant.  Then you can't help but feel a little lost.  A little neglected.  A little unwanted, maybe.  Or maybe a little blessed.

You ought to feel blessed.  Because God does incredible things with remnants.

I'm thinking about a baby by the name of Moses, caught in the reeds.  As Pharaoh systematically destroyed every young Hebrew, Moses floated down the Nile in a basket, only to be scooped out, saved, and taken straight to Pharaoh's palace as a child of the king.  The only boy to survive the genocide.  The remnant of a generation gone.  And when the time came, Moses led God's people out of Egypt, away from slavery, and en route to the Promised Land.  (Exodus)

I'm thinking about a woman named Rahab, who was a prostitute in the city of Jericho.  God handed the city over to His people with the instruction to kill everyone and destroy everything.  Except Rahab the prostitute and the family she had taken inside with her.  Except Rahab....  Rahab gets to live.  She became the remnant of her people, the last reminder of a strong city demolished by God at the sound of a ram's horn.  And she became a distant grandmother of David, the king after God's own heart, and a more distant grandmother of Jesus, the Messiah of God.  (Book of Joshua)

I'm thinking of a crippled little boy named Mephibosheth, who wasn't crippled, I don't gather, until his daring escape in the arms of a slave who saved him from the annihilation of his entire family.  Mephibosheth was Saul's grandson, Jonathan's son.  David and Jonathan were the best of friends until in a fit of jealous pursuit, Jonathan was killed alongside his sinful father Saul in battle.  David had made a pact of goodness with Jonathan, and now his friend was gone.  To make things worse, two hitmen in  Saul's descendants set about to wipe out every remaining child in the family line...and only Mephibosheth escaped.  He became the remnant of his family, of Jonathan's line and of Saul's.  And when David discovered the only living son of his friend, Mephibosheth sat at the king's table for the rest of his life.  In addition to receiving his family's inheritance.  (2 Samuel)

I'm thinking about a man from Edom named Hadad.  Edom, the family of Esau, Israel's brother but not God's chosen son.  Hadad, the only Edomite to survive the slaughter of David after he conquered their city.  He was the remnant of his people in a long line of leftovers.  Yet when God pronounced judgment on Solomon and decided to tear the kingdom away from him, Hadad the remnant Edomite became God's chosen rebel-rouser and leader of the revolt.  He carried out God's judgment, knowingly or unknowingly, and his name is written in God's storybook.  (1 Kings 11)

Remnants.  All of them.  They are called so in Scripture.  But therein lies the beauty, too - each of these remnants has a powerful place in God's story.  Their names are there, along with their descriptors: remnants.  Leftovers.  The last ones.

When we look at their stories, we see clearly how God uses them.  Look a little deeper and you find the hidden, yet obvious, truth:

God uses remnants to make or keep a promise.

He used the remnant of Moses to keep a promise of the Promised Land.  The remnant of Rahab to make the promise of the coming Messiah.  The remnant of Mephibosheth to keep His promise to Saul while also letting David keep his word to Jonathan.  (Double promise!)  The remnant of Hadad to keep a promise to Solomon.

Some days, I feel like a remnant.  Like I'm the last one like me or maybe the only one like me in this whole big world.  Some days, I feel like a leftover.  And I wonder about my shelf life.

But on those same days, I often find myself encouraged by what God has put in me to do.  What He has enabled me to do, and the incredible opportunities He opens up to me even on days when it looks like nothing's coming.  That strengthens me.  And no, I don't always know what God's up to, but I feel purposed on those days.  Exceptionally so.

Then I smile and wonder what God's really up to.  Because I know what He uses remnants for.  I just wonder what He's promised through me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


In a season of renewal, I keep having these glimpses of what's wrong with my life - at least as my heart would live it.  And the answer is that there's too much of my head involved, but perhaps that's another story for another day.  As I'm glimpsing what this could be, what arguably it should be, I am blessed to have these flashes of moments that remind me what that might be like.

Because your best life - my best life - contrary to popular belief, is not something to be created; it is something to be remembered.

I think.

The thing about our best life is that we've somewhere been convinced that it's something we build.  Something we do.  A series of things, maybe.  Accomplishments, activities, events.  Memories to be made.  Yet every time I'm making a memory these days, I have this thought of: "I remember this once...and this is not how I want to remember this."

Life is not about the things we do, the ways we do them, the reasons we do them.  Life is about the way we experience those things, and if your heart is right in the moment, I'm finding it doesn't much matter what you're doing, how, or why.

I take great joy in writing; you probably know that by now.  Some days, it's a task.  It's a chore.  Something I have to check off my list.  Some days, I want to take my journal and wander outside and sit on my new sittin' stump (I made myself a sittin' stump when I took down part of the tree last week) and write like I used to.  You know, when I was a kid and it wasn't anything and it wasn't even really a thing except that I loved to do it and I had all these words.  And some days, I want to still do that and I look at my calendar and I look at my clock and I look at the shelf where I keep my journal, the pen lying next to me and I think, "It's an awful lot of work to get there, and I have other things to do today."

I love driving in the country or wandering outside or just roaming around.  And all too often, it's easy to come back inside and forget everything I saw between my front door and my front door.  It's easy to go to worship and sing the songs and then crank up the radio in the car on the way home and wonder what songs we sang at church that morning.  And...was there even a sermon?

We do all this stuff on autopilot, it seems, because we're so distracted by the details of things.  Distracted by the thoughts we're having about our thoughts, and the thoughts we're having about thoughts we know we're going to have later.

When I think about my best life, it's moments I remember - and it's not a single thing I was doing.  I remember the moment.  I remember the experience.  I remember what it's like to have all of the details taken care of and to have one responsibility: show up and be there.  Just show up.  Just be there.  Just be into it.  You know, like when you're a kid and you're not thinking about the disgusting things people do in the streets you want to play in.  You're not thinking about what time it might be because when it's time, someone will call you home.  You're not thinking about responsibilities and deadlines and duties because you have them (I had them.  We called them "chores," although I'm finding that it's hit-and-miss whether kids today know of such things) but you have this moment, too, and when you're a kid and you've got nothing on your schedule, this moment seems like just the perfect one.

So I remember what it was like to play the piano and not wonder if the window was open, not think about who might be walking by, not agonize over whether you've practiced this piece enough for someone maybe to hear.  I remember what it was like to run and jump and let out a yell because it seemed nobody was listening, and if they were, you didn't notice them.  (A few weeks ago in the Walmart parking lot, I "rode the cart" to the cart corral - like I used to do when I was a kid, but as an adult it seems so wasteful, such whimsy.  As I kicked off and soared down the row, an elderly gentleman looked at me for a second before letting out a "Wheeeeeeeeeee!" and I looked at him and smiled and he smiled back, and I said, "That's right!"  It's moments like that.)

I remember what it's like to dance like no one is watching, to run around the yard with the dog, to work and not take credit for it, to love and not leave my name.  I remember what it's like to not think about what I think about that.

Perhaps most importantly, at least to a heart that's looking for its best life, I remember what it's like to raise a hand in worship without checking to see if I'm the only one.  I remember what it's like to close my eyes in prayer and not have the faded image of everyone around me haunting my quiet time.  I remember what it's like to give myself over to God and experience the moment He has for me.  I remember what it's like to cry out without wondering if I've got it right.  Heck, I remember what it's like to cry out without analyzing whether I've exhausted the extent of my own capabilities first.

I remember what it's like to worship, to pray, to trust, to love.  I remember what it's like to experience God, just like I remember what it's like to experience this life.  And I think that was my best life.  When I was just there and not busied in the details, not buried in the distractions.  When I knew that every little thing was taken care of and all I had to do was show up and be there.

That was my best life.

And it can be this one.  Because it's never been more true that every little thing is already taken care of, that I don't have to dance with the details, that I don't have to disco with the distractions.  God has created this awesome space for me, this awesome life that would be my best life if I could do just one simple thing and show up and be here.

Which ironically, I think, would be a life worth remembering.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


As my brother recently said, if you ever hear me say I got something for free, it's a good bet I need a shower.  Because that means I've been in somebody's trash.

He said it with a disgusted look on his face, like we're too good of people to be dumpster diving, but I think if someone is going to set something out on the curb and it's good enough to save, I ought to do my best to save it.

It's something I've done quite a bit of, particularly lately.  I raided my neighbor's house after he moved out, hours before the movers came with the new neighbors' belongings.  For Christmas, I found an old chair and turned it into a cow stool for my nephew.  The family across the street was throwing away a toddler basketball hoop and baseball set, so I picked those up because that same nephew is going to want them.  He's just about big enough.

And a few weeks ago, a family was obviously ridding their house of everything "radioactive green" and put an absolute trove of treasure out at the street.  I restrained myself and came home with a hexagonal wooden table, with hidden storage (the kind my mother had paid good money for at a flea market a few years before) and a shadow box.

Except for being radioactive green, there's not a lot wrong with them.

I'm looking forward to getting to work on that table.  I'm looking forward to stripping it down, building it back up, finishing it smooth and putting it under my window with my bromeliad on top - and my cd collection inside.  If you've been reading very long, you know that I love this kind of stuff, this labor of love, this work of my hands that builds something.  Whether it's something old or something new or something about to be made new again.

I come by it honest, as they say.  The recliner in my living room has my dad's receipt from the lumber yard stapled to the back, still on the 1x2 he bought so many years ago to tack that chair back together. And my mother has a three-legged vanity lying in storage until she can find a fourth leg for it (or her daughter can turn her one).  She brought that home last year.  It's just how I am and how I've always been - if there's still life in something, bring it back.  Restore it.  Refinish it.  Reclaim it.

I count myself very blessed at the awesome, cool, quality things I am able to have by salvage.  Because Lord knows I could never afford them on my writer's salary.  (Yet.)

At the same time, as I sat the other day and thought about my new green, but not for long, table project awaiting me in the basement, I experienced a tinge of sadness followed by an agonizing frustration.  Sometimes, I think, I just want something that I don't have to make myself.

I want something that's already ready for me, something I don't have to save.  I want something that doesn't need taken apart and put back together.  I want something that doesn't need stripped down and polished up.  This old stuff is awesome, but I want something that nobody has ever had before.  Something that is mine - that is mine by its nature, that I don't have to make mine.  

I want something new.

I think we all have these times in our lives where we're just looking for something new, something special, something awesome that is ours.  I hit that place the other day, for a fleeting moment, although the feeling kind of lingers.  It's nice to think about - something new.  Something uniquely mine, made and meant for me.  Even, it seems, if it was mass-produced and I just plucked it off a shelf.  That's how desperate I am sometimes for something new.

Then I wake up and there's something new every morning.  There is a God who has created this morning just for me - for my eyes, for my ears, for my hands.  He has created something special, something unique, something made for me that I do not have to make my own; it's just mine.  It couldn't be anyone else's.  So I'm relishing these days taking that in, too.  Wrapping myself around the "new" God's created just for me.

Which starts most days in the mirror as He makes something new in me....and ends most nights in the same place as He promises the same for tomorrow.  And in between, something else entirely - this beautiful mix of old and new that becomes mine, is somehow mine, and somewhere the line blurs between old and new and about to be made new again.  And it all just is.  And it's all just mine.  Because it's all Him.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Good Sense of God

Last night, I was watching a rebroadcast of The Bible miniseries, episode 2, when I saw a wicked Philistine gouge Samson's eyes out.  Samson responded by saying he saw God more clearly now without his eyes.

I don't know that I could ever say the same.  I mean, if for any reason I were to lose my eyes.

God is overwhelmingly a sensory experience for me.  Head knowledge just won't do; I never every one of my six senses to experience, to know, to trust, to love God.  Every sense gives me a unique way to know God, and it is through these six tangible ways that I find more of Him every day.

Without sight, I wouldn't see the awesome way the sun kind of dribbles through the clouds on a day like today, creating these incredible rays of sunshine that fall, but not too harshly, on the earth below.  I wouldn't see the way a flower blooms, how a sal beetle curls into its protective posture, how a butterfly flaps its wings.  I wouldn't see a worshiper with reckless abandon throw his arms into the air at the goodness of God...or a mournful woman throw herself at His feet in tears.  If I couldn't see these things, I am not sure how I could ever see God.  Let alone more clearly, as Samson attested.

Without taste, I wouldn't know the bittersweet taste of an apple, a fruit (or was it?) so worth man's betrayal of perfect love.  I wouldn't know the way the bread and the wine, the sacrifice of Jesus, is somehow satisfying even though on an average day, neither would be my choice of lunch.  At least, not the way we do it in our churches.  I wouldn't understand why the Israelites were so drawn by a land of milk and honey if I could never taste the honey on my lips.  And I could never understand why Jesus prayed against a bitter cup if I had never soured my own face in response to something so tart.  If I couldn't taste this world I live in, I'm not sure how I could ever taste of God.

Without hearing, I would never know the thunder that follows the flash in the storm.  I wouldn't appreciate the way the wind makes the windows rattle, or hear the melody of the chimes on the front porch.  I would never wake up to the sound of the birds chirping or cringe at the sound of crickets in the basement.  I would not know the song we sing to worship or the rhythm by which we praise.  If I couldn't hear the earth and the people sing, I'm not sure I could hear the whisper of God.

Without touch, I wouldn't know the warmth of a baby as it lay across my chest.  I wouldn't appreciate the callous of a hand that has worked too hard or the softness of a wrinkled one with many tales to tell.  I wouldn't know the gentleness of the grass beneath my feet or the hardness of the rock, which became the cornerstone.  I wouldn't have a way to tell what is pain and what is pleasure, what is pleasing and what is penetrating.  I wouldn't have an idea of what it means to leave a footprint in the mud or what it would mean to see footprints in the sand and have been carried.  If I couldn't touch my world and know that it was touching me, I'm not sure I could feel the hand of God.

Without smell, I wouldn't know the cookies are almost ready or the garlic is just about there.  I wouldn't have an inkling of how the rain washes the world and leaves that awesome fresh aroma that you recognize but could never capture.  I wouldn't know when I needed a shower...or when anybody else did.  I wouldn't be able to detect fire or skunk, and I wouldn't know when a sacrifice was pleasing to the Lord.  If I couldn't smell the world around me, I'm not sure I could recognize God's sacrifice.

Without my gut, without that sixth sense, I would never dare.  I would never take a risk or stand against fear because I would never know if it would be ok.  I would never trust.  I would never love.  I would never journey or venture or go, but probably would I never stay.  I would have nothing to guide me nothing to say yes or no, this or that, today or tomorrow.  If I could not trust my gut, at least every now and again, I'm not sure I could ever trust my God.

God is a sensory experience for me, and I need all six of them.  Otherwise, I feel like I'd be missing something awesome of my God.  I imagine if I had to, if it ever came to such things, I would find a way, but it wouldn't be the same.  It wouldn't be the bounty, the beauty that I am blessed with today.  Maybe, as Samson said, it would somehow be more, but I can't even fathom that; today is enough.  Today is overwhelming.  Could there ever be more?

Lord as my Shepherd, may I never find out.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Into the Storm

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do.  As of Monday night, I am officially a National Weather Service Storm Spotter.  (I capitalized my new title, and made it a title, to make it sound more official than it really is.  But it's still awesome.)

There's just something about a storm.

One Memorial Day weekend, I was walking through the woods at a family get-together when lightning from a still-far-off storm struck a tree about 70 feet in front of me.  The incredible blend of yellows, orange, and white with that quick afterflash tinged red is burned into my eyes; what a sight!  And what incredible power when just last year, I was lying in bed and felt shockwaves through my whole body just before I heard the crash of lightning hitting something.  Something close.

One morning in April a few years ago, the earth quaked and I wondered how it did that.  I mean, my science mind knows, but have you thought about it?  That the earth could quake?  God says so often that it does...and that it will.  And my niece panicked when I walked outside in a hailstorm to clear the storm drains because nobody on this streets wants a repeat of the flood of 2008, which would have been cooler only if it hadn't taken my whole basement.

I have stared at a green sky and watched the clouds start to twirl, then cut a path toward the ground only to pull back up at the last instant.  And in 2002 when a series of tornadoes tore through the area, I convinced my teachers to let me stand at the door with them and watch.  If they hadn't agreed, I think I would have cried.

Because the last place I want to be in a storm is inside.

(Kids, don't try this at home.)

Storms amaze me; they are just so awesome and when you dive down into the science and figure out how a storm works, it takes the scary out of it and just makes it incredible.  This breathtaking show that the world is putting on from something so simple as a change in the winds.

That's pretty much all it is - a shifting of the winds, a clashing of fronts, a heaviness in the clouds that can only be relieved by the rain.  I try not to let my mind wrap too hard around it because if I break it into pieces, I think I'd miss the majesty of it, but at its heart, this is the storm.

So I wonder why it's so easy to seek shelter from a storm of the heart.  It's easy to run and hide, to pull inside and duck for cover and wait until these winds pass.  I've spent so much of my life on storm-tossed seas, hiding in the hull of a boat and feeling the waves but being unwilling to watch them.  I've spent so much of my life with my head between my knees and my hands over my head and my eyes closed because too many days, the storms have seemed too much.  And then it really thunders, and I run outside to watch the changing of the winds.

Storms of the heart are no more than the ones out the window.  They are a shifting of the winds, a clashing of fronts, a heaviness that can only be relieved by the rain.  They are the moments when something needs to change, and it's about to.  They are the moments when we run up against ourselves and have to war it out.  They are the moments when something inside us needs poured out or washed off or maybe both.  And the only way to do it is in the storm.

I'm learning the grace of walking into my storms, not for the adventure or the thrill or even the National Weather Service, but because there's something about a good storm.  And because I've learned the hard way that honestly?  The last place I want to be in a storm is inside.  Trapped in my own heart.  Trapped in the things I'm afraid might change, the things I'm afraid might blow away or blow up or wash over.  Trapped in the things that seem steady...but inside, I cannot see the wind.

Outside, I am shaped by it.  I am changed by it.  I am blessed by it.  And I am inspired by it.

It's simply amazing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Room for the Night

It's been a crazy busy, but pleasurable, week as my grandmother came to visit and stay with me again. I've written before about some of the things I love about having her here, but it seems that I learn something new with every visit.

This week's lesson was hospitality, but it didn't really sink in until after she left this morning.  Let me tell you what I mean.

When company's coming, we make this incredible effort to make room before they get here.  We tidy things up and lay things out and shove the dust bunnies back under the couch (because who has the time to get the vacuum out?) and basically make this emptied space so that when we open our door and they walk in, there is a place ready to receive them and whatever they might bring.

And as the time goes by, we do our best to be gracious in hosting - helping with a loved one's baggage, showing them around the kitchen, pointing out the little things they might need during the course of a stay.  We do our best to make our home like their home so that they are comfortable, even if for a few days, it doesn't look like our home any more.  (And that's ok.  It doesn't seem to matter much in the exchange - what an incredible gift of love it is to have someone comfortable enough to stay with you.)

We consider that hospitality.

But as I helped grandma load her car this morning and saw her out of the driveway, I came back in and looked around at this place that has kind of become our home.  Mine and hers.  This place that we've had together.  My normal instinct is to clean up (again) even though nobody's coming home now but me.  My gut says to put things back the way they were before I made this extra space that, let's be honest, I'd already filled with stuff.  I mean, that's how life is - it expands to fill whatever space you've got and if you want to make space, you really have to carve it out.

Today, I didn't.

Oh, I could have.  My computer was corrupted by the powers that be and it took more than 8 hours just to get the darned thing turned on.  Between reboots and reloads and the mess of all that, I had plenty of time to get things done.  And I did.  I worked on some crafting I needed to do, a few things outside that needed to be tended.  I ran a few errands, wandered the block for a bit.  But I didn't "un-grandma" the house.

Because it hit me in that first little moment of silence that I kind of like this.  I like having the grandma space in my home, even if she's not here right now to fill it.  (She'll be back, I hope.)

I wonder how often we do this very thing, how often we're hurried to get things out of our lives so we can get back to normal.  We're pretty good at making space for the things that come up now and then, but how good are we at honoring that space once those things are gone?  Do we close back up and swallow the hole and find something to fill the emptiness?  What would life look like if we took the opportunity to leave the space there, to open up something new, to find a way to live honoring what we already made room for and could make room for again but so often fail to have room for now?

There are so many things that come along that I feel like I make room for, things I carve out time in my schedule to take care of or to be with or to do.  Things that are good, honorable, wonderful things that I enjoy in the moment...and then close my life back up around them instead of letting them carve into my life.  Because I don't know, maybe life seems dark with this empty space.  Maybe it's hard for a time to have a place that I don't know what to do with between what I did with it and what it might become.  But I miss so many moments.  I miss so many things that could be after I finish whatever I thought was.  And the moment's still there.

I give up so much that I wish my heart would hold onto because it changes me...and I give it away for the sake of going back to my space.  When the true space lies before me.

When that shadowed hour falls that demands I decide what to do with that special space, I'd be better off to make more room for the night.

And still one room for grandma.  I mean, she cooks when she's here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inferiority Complex

In case you can't tell by now, I have sort of a wicked inferiority complex.  It doesn't matter how many times you tell me I'm good at something; I always think you're lying to me.

I have this idea that people let me try.  That they give me the chance and then get someone qualified to come in behind me and sweep up the mess, someone to come in and do it "right" after I've given it everything I've got and still come up short.  I appreciate the opportunity, though.  Really.

It's dangerous thinking because it can easily be twisted into a devastating inner dialogue.  And, at least for me, it was precisely that for the longest time.  Thinking that the world just kind of makes space for you without making any actual space, thinking that people let you try without expecting anything from you except more can make you expect a great deal less out of yourself.  Until you wake up one morning and you expect nothing.

Then not even God can convince you there's anything good in you.  Not even God can expose your created side.

You won't believe Him when He does.

The funny thing is that the less qualified, able, or valued you feel at whatever it is that you do (or try to do, if you're being honest with yourself), the louder you are about your absolute ability to do it.  You get this mock overconfidence, this false bravado because there's this place deep inside your heart that wants someone, anyone, to expect something more of out of you.  Or expect something at all.  And you want to dare to expect something of yourself.  Although you wouldn't dare.  So you're loud about how well you can, even when your heart is resigned that you obviously can't.  Even when you know that nobody really expects you to.  Even when you don't even expect it of yourself.

It's dangerous because there comes a point in all of this when you think yourself nothing at all.  And you lose the ability to touch anything, let alone everything, that God has put in you.

It seems kind of noble on the surface, doesn't it?  That you would think yourself nothing at all?  That you could be so devoid of ego that you can't get lost in even a shred of goodness in you because you're not thinking of it?  That's not noble.  It's not even good.

God does not ask us to think ourselves nothing; He tells us to think nothing of ourselves.  Therein lies the difference.

It's a hard switch to make, a hard thought to wrap a wounded mind around.  You get this inferiority complex in you and you spend your life trying to prove yourself, trying to prove that you're something, desperate to believe that you're anything at all.  Then God gets in you and you realize you are something and all of a sudden, it doesn't seem worth proving any more.  So you sink into the quiet life you could have had if you'd just figured all that out in the first place.

Yet, something in you still wants to scream that you're something, you are in fact something!, so that a world that thought you nothing will notice that it's different this time.  And you end up shooting your gift in the foot and wrapping it in ego, which just days ago it seemed you didn't have, and everything is tarnished and spoiled and stained and now that you know you're something, your insecurities make you feel even more of nothing because nothing's really changed and there's still no place for something, only nothing, and you ought to expect more of yourself but you don't and then for awhile you do and then that seems tainted and you get lost in this cycle of being something and being nothing and wondering what anything means and trying to figure everything out.

Is it just me?

I don't think so much about me doing the things I'm doing any more, although if you give me a quiet moment, the demons are still there.  I don't think about me saying the words I'm saying, writing the words I'm writing, drawing the things I'm drawing, creating the things I'm creating.  I'm thinking more about the writing, the drawing, the creating itself and the incredible gift it is to be able to do what God has created me to do.  I don't worry so much about being something, and I don't agonize so hard over whether I'm anything.  I am someone, and I am Someone's, and I like just being that.  Just being someone created.  It's really cool.

I still don't believe it when someone says that I am good at this or that thing that I'm doing - leading prayer, as I've been talking about for a couple of days now, writing, crafting, cooking, playing.  Whatever it is, I still don't believe you.  Because I am keenly, painfully, agonizingly aware that I am not qualified to do any of this.  Not for the grace of God or for anything else.

I am just very, very blessed.

And I appreciate the opportunity.  Really.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In What Language

Yesterday, I wrote of the awkwardness of leading prayer in my congregation.  It's a delicate balance, it seems, between an honest prayer and familiar words because it's easy in that moment to feel responsible for whether or not another heart in the church can, or is, or will, or might pray, as well.

It depends on what you think you're doing up there.  And I'll admit - I'm still kind of bouncing back and forth and trying to figure that out myself.

Is the prayer I offer a prayer for the people?  Is it a prayer on behalf of the people?  Is it the starting point of the people's prayer?  Or is it a call to worship?  It matters.

God often asked His prophets to pray for His people; His people often asked the prophets to pray for them.  People came to men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and the chief priests to request prayers on their behalf.  We still have these prayers in our church - we call it the prayer list.  If you venture to pray over the prayer list in a moment of communal petition, in which language should you pray?

Sometimes, we offer a prayer on behalf of the people - a prayer that we would all pray except it's more convenient for one man to have the microphone, for one voice to speak.  These are the kind of prayers we pray before Communion and yes, before a pitch-in.  Blessings for the food.  Thanksgiving for the sacrifice.  Honor for the gift.  When "we" come before You now, Lord, in which language should "we" pray?

There are other times when we'd hope only to start the prayer, then open the space for another to finish.  This is an invitational prayer, the kind of thing we get into after a good sermon or a touching song when you can just sense from the stage that the people need a moment.  They need space and time and silence and just a moment to themselves to process with God whatever is going on in their heart.  Can you box them in with a Dear Lord?  If you are creating space for an aching heart, in which language should you pray?

Tough questions.  Really, the same question again and again.  Lord, as we stand before You and try to do justice to this discipline of prayer, in which language do we pray?

It's easy to get caught in thinking that depends.  In thinking that changes whether we are coming before God or whether we are bringing others before God.  Are we saying prayer...or are we leading prayer, expecting others to follow?

It just doesn't depend that much.

The single greatest thing you can do with a moment of prayer in your simply to pray.  Pray as you would pray by your bedside at night.  Pray as you would pray with your family around the table.  Pray as you would pray with your foot caught in a tractor.  Pray as you would pray when the rain falls, when the sun shines, when life is good, when life is tough, when life is life and you are you and God is God.  Pray as you would pray.  Pray in your own language; speak your own heart.

In a moment like this, standing before your family and your God, your prayer is not a prayer.  Your prayer is a call to worship.  Your prayer is an invitation.  Your prayer is the aching for the church to pray.  (And if you're honest, you kind of pray that someone else would pray with you....because it's awkward, people!)

Listen, I've been there.  I've been in the congregation, bowing my head but with one eye open, counting the prayer.  Counting the seconds that tick away.  Counting the "Father God"s that come from the pray-er's mouth.  Counting the prayer list as names are read off.  Counting the stumbles, the trembles, and the tweaks.  Counting the repeats and the did-you-really-say-thats.  Counting the times I bet the guy really wished he could do that part over again.  Counting the times he awkwardly tried to do just that.  And now that I'm on the other side of the counting, I'm keenly aware there's a snarky teen or two (and maybe a bunch of other folk) counting my prayers.

But I've got what I've got, and that's it.  The thing I'm learning in leading is the same thing I learned sitting in the pew (or purple church chair, as the case may be).  It's this:

Your entire job in that moment is the same as in any other moment - and I don't care whether you're praying, preaching, or playing the guitar - your job is to love Jesus.  Your job is to love God.  And live like you're doing it.

The thing that gets me in our time together, in our Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and small groups and special breakfasts, is when someone just comes before God with all they've got and nothing more.  When they aren't putting on a show but instead, they are just loving.  When that authenticity echoes through the room and it doesn't matter what mood I'm in or what I brought in the doors that day; I am watching someone love God out loud and it makes me want to worship.  It invites me to worship.  It invites me to stand, to raise a hand to the heavens, to shout 'Amen' in the middle of point number three.  It invites me to pray.  Not because I "have" to but because when my heart meets Jesus in another heart, I can't help myself.

It's a delicate balance, it seems, but it depends on what you think you're doing up there.  You can't ever let yourself be burdened by thinking you've got to bring another heart to Jesus.  That's never your job.  Your job is to bring Jesus to another heart.

You do that by bringing fully yours.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Just Say Amen

Two Sundays ago, I was honored to share another Communion thought with my congregation.  Later that week, a woman approached me and asked if I would be willing to lead the prayer at her upcoming event because "you are so good at prayer."

It's not the first time I've heard such a thing, nor the first time I've refused to believe it.  I actually laughed out loud when she said it, looked up from what I was doing at the time, tilted my head and said, "Really?"

Yes, really, she said.

You guys, nothing makes me feel more inadequate than praying in public.  I don't know if that's just me or if that's a general complaint from those of us who have the burdensome honor of doing so on a regular basis.  It's tough!  And the truth is that when I pray a group prayer, it's not anything like my personal prayer.  It's not even anything like the prayer I'm mumbling to myself in the back of the auditorium before I walk to the front of the auditorium to lead the prayer.

Which isn't to say I'm all that confident of my private offerings, either.  It's why I'm writing a book on prayer (not the book on prayer, just a book).  It's because I need to know this stuff.  It's because, for me, prayer is this beautiful but overlooked discipline of the Christian life.  I mean, I read the prayers in the Bible and I want to pray like that.  I want to pray the kind of honest, raw prayers that hide nothing from my God.  I want to pray the kind of eloquent prayers that make a wretched, wrecked heart seem like the most beautiful offering in all of creation.  I want to pray the kind of prayers that God actually answers instead of listening to the platitudes of my culture that say, "God always answers; just sometimes, the answer is no" and "God answers in His own time" and other nonsense like that.

There are a million books on prayer out there and some days, kneeled by my bed, it seems I've read them all and my prayer is still woefully inadequate.  (Hmm...I just had a thought on prayer and prayers.  Let me make a mental note of that.  Ok.  Done.)  The truth is that most of the books out there don't answer the nagging heart-question I have about prayer, which is, how am I to pray?

I don't want to pray like Jabez.  I don't want to pray the heart of David.  I don't even want to pray like Jesus because not a one of these guys had my heart.  Not a one of these guys had my aching.  Not a one of these guys had my relationship with God.  I want to know how my heart would pray.  Or should pray.  Or might pray if I ever just set it free to say to God what it needs to say, whether that's Thank You and I Love You or Life is stupid and You suck.  I want to know that it's ok to say whatever I want to say to God even if I'm not so magnificent a poet as David or so bold a man as Isaiah.  I want to know that He hears me.  I want to know how He hears me.

Hence, the Prayse project, which is about five chapters from drafted (maybe six after that mental note I just made.  Mental note.  Ok.  Done.).  It wasn't going to be a book on theology and prayer; it was going to be a satire called "Holy Bajeebus," but in the process of that, all this prayer stuff just hit my heart and I realized that if I want to know how to pray, I need to know how God hears.  I need to know how God answers.  I need to know how God responds.

Prayse rocks my heart every time I read it.  Because these are the answers to the longing of my heart.  These are the words on how I am supposed to relate to my God.  Not how to pray like Jabez or Jesus or David.  Not the right posture or the right prose or the ritual of it all.  Not even how to pray like Aidan. to pray.

And all of those questions hit me every time I'm standing in front of a microphone trying to lead my congregation in prayer.  Knowing the honest, authentic prayer I just offered in the back and wondering what it is about being up front that makes me fall into a "Dear Lord, Amen" pattern that grates against my anxious heart.  I want more from my Father than a Dear Lord and an Amen and yet, there I am again, praying the same words because....because I don't know.  Prayer is so intimate; it's hard to institutionalize it like we so often do.  Would you understand if I prayed like I really pray?  Would you be able to pray if I was praying as Aidan prays?  Would you be offended if I never said "Dear Lord" again?  I don't know.

And as much as I plan, to some extent, what I might say about whatever I'm saying about, I never - never - script a prayer.  Not ahead of time.  I'm just shooting off the cuff, giving what I've got, and letting the track in my mind play, questioning whether it's enough.  Although if I'd read my own book, I'd know that it would be.

So there I was with another woman telling me how good I am at prayer, and there I was laughing out loud.  "You want to know the truth?" I asked her, then continued without waiting for a response.  "I feel like I just get up there and start with what I've got and then I run out of words and tack on an 'amen.'"

It's not the scripted, polished prose I'm used to offering.  It's just...what it is.

She smiled and said no, not at all.  It sounds good when it comes out, and she really appreciates my prayer.

I hope God does, too.  I have to trust that He does.

Because I may always feel inadequate offering one.

At least there's always amen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A New Thing

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Pope's resignation.  Even though I'm not Catholic, don't really understand the whole Pope thing, and it has no bearing on my actual life...I had a holy moment watching his final few minutes.  This week, the Catholic church elected a new Pope.  I'm still not Catholic.  I still don't really understand the whole Pope thing.  It still has no bearing on my actual life.  Yet I find myself inspired.

It's another holy moment.

I was too young (and too heathen) to have any honest impression of John Paul II.  Benedict was quiet and, to be honest, I just wasn't impressed with him.  But I already like Francis.

Francis is, I think, the way Jesus would have done it.  I mean, he lives a quiet life.  An honorable life.  You know that one of the first things he did after becoming Pope...was to go back to the hotel he'd checked into when he arrived for the conclave, pick up his bags, and pay his own tab for the rented room.  We have all heard the stories of his time in Argentina, taking public transportation to meet the people.  There is no sense of entitlement in this guy, and I love that about him.  In a world where it seems everyone thinks they are worth more and more or deserve more and more or that we owe them something, Pope Francis is an honestly humble man, looking to serve more and love more and do more for God.

I think that's the way to do it.

When he walked out on the balcony for the first time, I laughed out loud at the look of stupor on his face.  "I'm the Pope.  I'm...the Pope?  This is weird."  You could see him thinking that.  You could see him at the same time overwhelmed by the honor of the highest calling of his order to serve God...and also burdened by the throngs of people already gathered in St. Peter's Square, cheering a man they'd met only two seconds ago.  You could see the humility, confusion, and unworthiness cross his face as his eyes kind of went fogged and you just got this sense that he didn't think this moment was about him at all.  He was taking it in just like everyone else was and while we'd think it should have meant the most to him, you got the sense watching that he was kind of a spectator, too.  That he was waiting with the same anticipation to get a glimpse of the new Pope.  That it hadn't really sunk in yet, and maybe didn't even much matter, that it happened to be him.

I think that's the way to do it.

He is a man with one lung, having faced a serious illness, which means he stands before the world as an example of God's healing.  He stands before us as a testament to what God's strength can do in weakness.  Testifying to what wholeness can be through brokenness.  Declaring the goodness of the Lord who heals, who strengthens, and who carries and at the same time, showing a new faith from mankind because where else in the world are you going to pick the cripple (for lack of a better word) to be the big cheese (also for lack of a better word)?  Where else are you going to pick the guy with one lung and ask him to be the spokesman?  It's not going to happen.

I think it's so cool that it has.

But here's the thing I love maybe the most - Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Francis.  And when they said that, I waited with everyone else to hear: Francis the what?  Benedict the Sixteenth.  John Paul the Second.  I was waiting on Francis the what.  Then they said it:

Francis the First.

I didn't believe them at first.  I thought someone had missed on their fact-checking.  There has never been a Francis?  Not one?  In more than two thousand years of church history, no Pope has ever taken the name Francis?

I love it.  I love it because it says that more than two thousand years later, God can (and is) still do a new thing.  There is more to be discovered, more to be lived, more to be loved, more to be praised, more to be honored, more to be given, more to be received from God than we could ever imagine, more even than is in the Book He gave us.  Two thousand years later, God is still doing a new thing.

And I think that's awesome.

So here's this new Pope, and he doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on my life.  But I am inspired nonetheless.  Because Francis reminds us that there is a place in this world for a humble man, a simple man, a quiet man who honors and serves and treasures those around us, who pays his own way and doesn't expect (and won't accept) a handout, who can show healing in sickness, strength in weakness, wholeness in brokenness, who reminds us that God is still doing a new thing...that He is always doing a new thing....and a man who waits just as expectantly as the rest of us for that next big thing God is doing, without suspecting it might be him.

It's kind of everything I'd hope for in my own simple, quiet life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The journey of artistry is a hard one, I don't care what your medium is.  You get this fire in your spirit that just drives you into creating this thing you were created for, this art, this worship, and the bigger that fire burns in you, the smaller you feel in a world of people who have already "made it," people who are already living the journey that you're just starting on.

I've been blessed in my artistry to have another passion kindling nearby and that has been the passion of my worship minister, songwriter, and friend - Terry Waggoner.  Terry and I don't sit around every week talking artistry or worship or anything like that, although we probably could, but just knowing that he's been out there taking these first steps, too, has been a comfort in a world that seems so much bigger than even Terry and I put together.

And now that world has exploded as my buddy Terry finally (yes, FINALLY!) released his first EP last month - Fringes.

Fringes - Ep01

Here's what I love about Fringes: it's kind of a good mix of everything.  You have these songs that kind of define your life for a period, this genre that speaks to you for a season, and then all of a sudden, you're itching for something more or something different, at least, because whatever had your heart has kind of moved on.  With Fringes, it feels like there's a song for every season, something generous for every heart that you could bring into this worship.

There's a song about rain.  A simple soundtrack, but if it happens to be raining outside, you understand what it's like, this thing called rain and Terry doesn't say it's holy but it sounds holy all the same.  And if it doesn't happen to be raining, it still sounds holy and you get this sense of washing in your heart that's hard to ignore.

There is a mix of worship that is me-centered and God-centered.  You know because sometimes, you want to bring your heart to God and just say, Lord, this is all I've got and this is all I am and I am empty and I am not enough and I am thirsty, but it's all I've got for you and so there's the chance in Fringes to bring this heart before God as Terry invites us not to listen, but to worship, with lyrics like, "In my weakness, you are here.  In my failing, you forgive.  I am running to You, God."  But the music doesn't make you feel like you're running; it makes you feel like you're falling in surrender and then there's this beautiful chorus where you know God has answered.

On the flip side is the incredible worship that is God-centered in "You are Love."  This is an invitation, too, but for the heart that is singing, the heart that is praising.  And the congregation that has gathered to worship.  It doesn't matter if you're hearing this song in the crowded auditorium on a Sunday morning or in the quiet of your office by your lonesome, you raise a hand and don't think twice about it.  "All Creation sings Your praise" - and you feel like a part of Creation.  You feel like a part of this beautiful, majestic thing that praises the Lord.  It's a little more upbeat than the other tracks, but it works for this song, and it doesn't overshadow the gentle invitation with a bunch of noise.

Kind of the anomaly in all of this is the title track - Fringes - which is included as both a "plugged" version and an acoustic track.  (I am a sucker for acoustic tracks.  I think you really get a sense of an artist when there's nothing between his instrument and his audience.)  It is...I guess what you would call the unexpected track on the release.  Every CD has that one that you can't decide whether you like it or don't like or exactly what.  It's the song that doesn't really hit your heart but instead just kind of nudges it and makes you dive into this thing that you weren't expecting maybe to dive into this afternoon, but here you are and you go with it.  The integrity of this song is easy to miss if you're not willing to put the work into it but when you give it your heart for a minute, it's got you.  I first heard Fringes in a park on a late summer night and honestly?  It was forgettable.  (Sorry, Terry.)  I didn't have the energy that night to invest in it.  This week, as I listened to the EP again and again in preparation for saying something about it, can I tell you?  I woke up in the middle of the night singing Chris Rice and transitioning into Fringes, complete with this awesome internal-music-video playing in my head.  This song's got me.

Terry makes authenticity seem effortless.  As an artist, I know how painful it is to pour yourself into the work of your heart and how it's so easy to come off contrived or contorted or a whole myriad of other things.  I'm honestly jealous of the way Terry makes it seem so easy, although I know that behind the curtain, it's not so simple as it seems.  When you listen to the EP, you get the sense that he's just at worship and someone happened to be there to pick it up.  When you watch his video interview about the project, you get the same sense.  That this is just Terry being Terry...and it's awesome that he would share his gift with us (finally) and release the work of his passion and not let the agony of the artistry and the questions of committing to putting something out there get in the way of the very real invitation in this release that you just come to worship.  Whatever your heart.  

Fringes is a passionate, agonized, tender, inviting set of worship that maybe a few, yeah, you'd find in your church on Sunday morning and some that are better suited to an evening in the park or a night by the bonfire, but you find every single one of them in your heart.

You can download Fringes from Amazon or iTunes.  Support this guy in what he is doing because he has an incredible gift for this, and God's people are better off for having him share it with us.  That said, let me also say this - I am privy to some of his yet unreleased works and feel kind of gypped that a few in particular weren't on this release, but one day, they will be.  (Please?)

By federal regulations, I am required to tell you that yes, I know Terry but that I was not compensated in any way (or bribed) for this post.  I am doing this of my own good will and volition (and because more of my friends like him than like me, according to Facebook (Terry Waggoner [Musician] vs. Aidan Rogers [Author], so maybe his popularity will rub off a little) and I even forked over the dough for my own copy of Fringes.  So basically, I got nothing for this...and if I had, I would have given it back.  It's good.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples saying, "Take this and eat, for this is My body."  Then He poured the wine and passed it around, saying, "Take this and drink, for this is My blood."  And I've seen the painting of the Last Supper, and that wasn't all the food Jesus had to choose from.  

So why the bread?  And why the wine?

The answer is in the offering.

In Old Testament times, the people brought offerings to God.  Sin offerings, burnt offerings, guilt offerings, grain offerings.  Freewill offerings and offerings for the festivals.  They brought lambs, rams, goats, and sheep, one-year-old males with no defects, mourning doves or pigeons, whatever they could afford.  They brought the first of their harvests - grain and grapes and olive oil.  And with each offering, they brought baked rings of unleavened bread and a measure of wine.

You think of course, the bread and the wine were part of the offering.  They were part of the guilt, the sin, and the burning.  They were part of the festival, part of the feast.  But no.  No.  The bread and the wine were much more.

Bread, brought by itself, was a fellowship offering.  (Leviticus 7)  And Bible scholars suggest that the wine was an offering of good will or good faith.

Fellowship....and faith, along with the offering for the atonement of sin.

Isn't it cool, then, that as God prepared the sacrifice of a Lamb, a male with no defects, to be offered on the altar of the Cross, He also saw fit to send to us the bread and the wine.  Fellowship...and faith.

It's awesome, at least to me, that God would choose to die so that we might live.  It's amazing that He would figure out a way to bring us the sacrifice that we would normally bring to Him in order to have that sacrifice mean more.  But it's absolutely awe-inspiring that in all of that, He would also see fit to bring us the rest of the offering.  That my God, who willingly died for me, who sent His Son to be my Lamb, the atonement for my sin...also offers me fellowship.  And also offers me faith.

I've seen the painting of the Last Supper, and Jesus had quite a spread to choose from, to hear the painters tell it.  He could have chosen the fish - He did remarkable things with fish.  He could have chosen the fig - we know how He felt about the fig tree.  He could have chosen anything on the table.

But my God chose the bread and the wine.  I think that's incredible.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Agony of the Cross

A sinless man died for the redemption of sinners.  God Himself ventured into a broken world to bind its wounds and mend its tattered heart.  As Christ lay on the cross beam, nails waiting near His hands, we think this...this is the agony of the Cross.

Not so.

God has told us time and time again that He was gloried to die for us.  That if it had been for the sake of only one sinner, He would have done it all.  He humbled Himself and died, and that was ok with Him.  Nail-pierced perfection was never the agony of the Cross.

The pain Jesus endured was this:  one nail through His right hand meant that hand could never touch the world; one through His left said there was no more here He could reach; and one through His feet forced the Messiah to stay when His entire mission had been to go.

Nothing to touch, no way to reach, nowhere to go, and what this God-Man is able to do in this world seems done.  He's got no way to give more, to serve more, to live more, to love more.  This...this moment on the it.  It's all He's got left, and it doesn't seem like a whole lot.

Think about it.  Here was a Messiah born to touch His world - to give sight to a blind man, to heal the deformity of the cripple, to help the paralytic to His feet.  Jesus had spent His ministry touching men and women and by the power of one nail, the Cross pierced that touch.

Here was a Messiah born to reach the unreachable, to extend Himself beyond His body in order that men and women might know more of God.  He dined with the tax collectors, brunched with the sinners, preached to the broken, forgave the vile, cleansed the unclean.  Jesus had spent His ministry reaching everyone, every heart and by the power of one nail, the Cross cut short that reach.

Here was a Messiah born on the move, never having a place to call His own and never needing one.  His feet took Him throughout the region, to mountains and shores, to valleys and villages, down a palm-covered road and out onto a storm-ravaged sea.  Jesus had spent His ministry going and by the power of one nail, the Cross made Him settle.

That is the agony of the Cross.

But the beauty of God is this: the agony of the Cross is crushed by the glory of it.  In one pierced hand, Christ was able to touch the whole world.  In the other, He was able to reach beyond the region of Galilee, beyond the fertile crescent, beyond the confines of time and into sinners' hearts for generations upon generations to come.  By the nail in His feet, He took a stand and there is nowhere the message of Christ cannot go.

The people thought they nailed a Christ to that Cross.  But the truth is much more revealing: they gave a Cross to that Christ.  Three little nails weren't about to stop Him; He was just getting started.

Monday, March 11, 2013


One of the most common misconceptions about God is that He's here to mess everything up and that, as a vengeful God, He cannot wait to get His wrath on you and teach you a lesson about how great He is by punishing you for how miserable you are.

People who have this image of God get that picture from the Old Testament, which is basically a series of stories about God destroying things - good things, bad things, things He once loved that have gone astray, things He will love again, things He will love anew.  And we see these stories of God destroying, cursing even His own people, and it's easy to think there's a certain danger in being one of God's people.

If you mess up big enough...God might destroy you?

True.  Or no.

I was reading a few weeks ago another one of the stories of God vs. God's people in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28.  He is leading them into the Promised Land and in the moment, it's good to be one of God's people.  The Israelites are reaping His blessings and His favor, and they are staring at a land just across the Jordan, a land flowing with milk and honey.  A land Promised, full of promises.  Just before they begin their siege, God takes a moment to remind them of the blessings of being His people...and the curses of turning away.

The blessings and curses were recited among the people.  They were to be recited again, standing on separate hills in the Promised Land, so that all among them would hear and remember.  This was a generation who hadn't been present for the parting of the Red Sea, who maybe thought manna just happened, who had followed God for forty years but didn't know what it really meant to follow God because it had just been how it had just been.  Things in the Promised Land would be different.  Decidedly good, but different than these wanderers had ever known.  God wanted them to remember that even when they settled down, they still had to settle into Him.

And in the midst of these curses, God tells them what will happen if they forget.  Other nations will come against you.  You will be slave people.  You will not have money or goods or flocks or herds; you will beg for everything you have, and it will not be enough.  You will turn against your friends, your neighbors, and your own families.  I will turn away from you because you will have turned away from Me.  And all of this land, this good and Promised land, that you are warring to inherit in these days will be warred away from you by stronger armies.  

But here's the thing: we think when God says all this, when our enemies come to crush us, when God comes to teach us a lesson and convince us to repent from our wayward wanderings, that He just storms in with sword and steel and starts slashing things, crumbling things, tearing stuff down and looting our lives for His glory.

Not according to this chapter.  No, in Deuteronomy 28, God tells His people: 

The Lord will bring against you a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth.  ...They will blockade all your cities until the high, fortified walls in which you trust come down everywhere in your land.  They'll blockade all the cities everywhere in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  

This was after, of course, the raiding nation would eat all the crops, destroy all the grain, and strip all the vineyards.

A blockade is not a siege.  It is not a destruction.  It is a desperation.  As the enemy blockaded the cities, the supplies on which God's people survive would dwindle.  They would eat the last little bits of their food, drink the last little bits of their water, use up the last threads of their cloth....because nothing could go in and nothing could go out.  They would find that the walls they had built to protect themselves were now holding them prisoner.  By their own making, they had allowed an enemy to so easily hold them.  And then, God promises in His curse, the people would turn on themselves.

That is the curse of God.  That is His answer when you turn away from Him.  He's not about storming the gates and tearing down walls and taking prisoners; that's not His style.  It's not love.  It's not grace.  It's certainly not mercy.

God, when we turn our backs, allows our enemies to trap us in our cities.  He blockades our hearts until we are hungry, thirsty, unraveled.  Until we are naked and empty, desperate for Him.  He lets us be locked in our prisons, in the walls we thought would protect us that we find now only hold us and keep us from the greater Promise, which is beyond this place, although we were once comfortable and confident enough to think this was it.  The Promise is the pasturelands, too, and when we're trapped inside ourselves, we cannot get there.  Not even for a drink.

God's curse is that we would stay shut inside, agonizing over our dwindling life.  Agonizing over the things that are running short, which were so abundant when we had the full land, too.  Before we thought this was better.  Agonizing, aching over our empty hearts.  Hungry.  Thirsty.  Naked.  Desperate.  Until inside these walls, we turn on ourselves.

Then, God says, maybe you will do everything that is right, everything that the Lord has commanded you.  Maybe you will turn back to Him.  And He will hear you.  And He will answer.  And He will help you tear down those walls, which by this point, is a work you have already begun.

He's not about to storm your city and take you prisoner.  That's not God.  God shows you your prison, the walls you've built around yourself.  He makes you hungry so that it's you who comes back to Him. Because He never left.

And that is mercy.  That is grace.  That is love.

That is God.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fire and Fog

God's people have a history of feeling a little lost.  Or really lost, sometimes, as the wilderness experience in Exodus reminds us.  In those times of wandering, it's hard to know really which way to go, what to trust in, what to hope for, what to believe in, which way to turn.  The answer, so far as we can surmise from God's word, is simple but more easily said than done:

Walk toward the fire and into the fog.

Now, that doesn't seem right.  That doesn't seem comfortable.  That doesn't seem logical.  That doesn't seem fun.  The fire and the fog?  That's worse than the wandering!  In all my wandering, I'll admit - I spend most of my time trying to escape the fire and trying to find a way out of the fog.  So this...seems counterintuitive at best, kamikaze at worst.

Yet this is precisely the way.  Because as the journey of God's people tells us - it is by the fire and the fog that He led them.  It is by the fire and the fog that He leads us.

In the night, by fire.  In the darkness, by flame.  In the hard times, by trial.  When it seems things can't get worse - we've got no rest, no shelter, no place to lay our heads.  No security to shut our eyes.  Nowhere to call home.  Our stomachs are growling.  The day's manna is gone; the quail is rotting; we wonder what we might eat tomorrow.  In those tough times, God says, walk toward the fire.

Walk toward the hard times.  Lean into the trouble.  You will find enough.  You will find providence.  You will find faith.  You will find trust.

You will find God.

It's what happened in the desert.  In the toughest of times, in the darkest of nights, God's people didn't know.  They didn't know how long this would go on, how they would make it.  Their provisions had long run out.  They were scared.  They were weary.  They were wondering.  They were wandering.  And when the darkest nights had fallen, they cried out to God - have you brought us here to die?

Then...manna.  Bread from heaven like dew drops on the ground.  Water.  Out of the hardness of the rock flowed a refreshing stream.  Enough for one day.  This day.  Tomorrow, they would have to trust again.  Tomorrow, they did.

Over the course of 40 years, they learned what it meant for God to provide.  They knew what it meant to trust Him.  They knew what today meant and what tomorrow would have to mean again.  Each man ate until he was satisfied; each woman had her fill.  They found enough.  They found providence.  They found faith.  They found trust.

They found God.

And in the day, by fog.  By a cloud of smoke that blocked their view.  By a haze so heavy they couldn't see the Promised Land.  They didn't know where they were.  They didn't know where they were going.  They thought for sure they had passed that rock already...twice?  Three times?  They probably longed just to see.  But God says when you don't know where you're going, walk into the fog.

You will find rest.  You will find guidance.  You will find trust.

You will find God.

This, too, is what happened in the desert.  In the fog by day, the camp settled.  They found rest.  The column of smoke guided their journey; it told them the next step even when they couldn't see the destination.  They learned to journey one day at a time, one tiny step at a time, from camp to camp until one day, they looked up and saw the Jordan.  On the other side of the Jordan, they saw the promise.

We all feel a little lost now and then.  Sometimes, really lost.  But there is something to do when we wander.

Walk toward the fire and into the fog. God.

And the next thing you see could be the Promise.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

So Sue Me

You can tell we are a people who are arrogant about our woundedness (and undeserving-to-be-wounded nature) by how ridiculously busy our civil court system is.  We sue each other at the drop of a hat, taking our beef to court because we think we're getting shortchanged any other way.

After a gunman broke into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the family of a slain 6-year-old filed suit against the school district for not protecting their daughter.

Passengers aboard the crippled Carnival cruise ship refused the company's generous atonement offer so as to preserve their right to sue...then promptly sued Carnival for the disastrous adventure they were forced to endure.

We don't want to be wounded.  We don't think we deserve to be wounded.  And if we are wounded, someone is going to pay - whether it's their fault or not.  Whether they've already offered to pay or not.

And see, that's the problem.  We think that every time we're wounded, someone is at fault.  There are no accidents.  No random mysteries of the universe.  Someone should have always foreseen, and always prevented, pain wherever we find it, and if they failed to....they should pay.

In 2008, I slipped on a slick patch of sidewalk in an ice storm and seriously damaged my shoulder from the landing.  I went back into the building (I had been on my way out) and explained what happened to the lady working the front desk.  I told her they might want to put a bit more salt down out there, and I turned to leave.  She was panicked - was I ok?  No.  My left arm was shooting with stingers, but I smiled at her and told her I just wanted her to know so that no one else got hurt.

Some argue I should have sued!  They ought to take better care of their property than that!  But the truth is that most of their sidewalks were well-salted and the area in which I had fallen was sort of small ramp built in where I had just happened to step awkwardly as I was side-cutting the sidewalk to get to my car.  It wasn't their fault I fell; it wasn't my fault.  It was just one of those things.

The family suing in Newtown - they claim they don't want the money they're asking for.  They really just want changes to be made so that other children are protected in their schools.  But that gunman shot through the door to get into that school.  He killed the staff in the front office that stood between him and the children.  The same parents would be outraged if we locked our children down.  So where's the blame?  Dead, with the gunman.  With all reasonable security, the school had done its best; it's not their fault a man with an axe to grind and bullets to waste decided to tear through their security to get at their children.  It's one of those things that just happens.

Carnival cruise lines offered refunds to all of their passengers.  They added bonus cash, money toward a future trip, and transportation home from the wounded ship once they reached shore.  They were sincerely sorry for what had happened, something no one had seen coming, and wanted to make amends for the experience.  But people rejected the generous package only to turn around and sue.  Does the court make Carnival more at fault?  Less at fault?  Do the courts make compensation somehow more satisfying?  No.  It just ties things up.  Because accidents happen, and Carnival did their best to make amends for torturous amenities.  It's not a cover up.  It's not a scam.  It just happens sometimes.

Things happen sometimes.

And I think we need to be a people with more grace for those things.  We weren't given a perfect world; we inherited a fallen one.  We weren't promised that things wouldn't fall apart; they already have.  God never said this is a place not to suffer; He guaranteed there would be suffering here.  God told us things would happen.  God told us thinks would break.  God told us we would hurt.  God told us this whole thing was falling to pieces, us included, and that's part of the package.  It's how things are.

Our security does not come from a court system that puts everything back together, that divvies out justice and money in order to appease the woundedness we suffer.  Our security comes from knowing we have a God who promised things would fall apart then promised never to lose the pieces.  Our security comes from knowing that God protects us, defends us, redeems and restores us.  Our security comes from knowing God's got this - He's got every little thing that just happens.  And every little thing is going to be ok.

Because God's got the pieces, and though it's hard sometimes to feel all of our cracks, He'll never lose a single one.

I'm dismayed sometimes at how much we think this world owes us beyond what God has promised and beyond what God has provided.  The world doesn't owe us anything, wounded or not, and there's not one dime I would take that would make sense (get it?  cents?) of anything that happens down here.  Stuff just is.  Let it be.

Then if you really have a beef with something, take it to God.  Run to God when your heart aches.  Journey to Him with all the beef you have with this broken, fallen world He's put you in...and offer that meat as a sacrifice on His altar.  It's the only good and holy thing to do with it.