Friday, June 28, 2013

Strength and Weakness

If you're a friend on Facebook, you know that not that long ago, I began a course of 30 Days of Abs.  And you might also know that I renamed it "Almost 9 Days of Abs" and quit.  There's a story and a lesson to that.  Maybe today, I will share both.

My abs have always been my weak point.  I was born with a significant hernia in my upper stomach that has troubled me for 28 years, a little less so when I've been more consistently active and a little moreso when I push myself beyond my own strength.  I've tried everything to take care of this, but there's not a lot of help out there and the surgeon was unable to repair this structural weakness when he removed my gallbladder a few years ago, so it seems I'm stuck with it.  After two abdominal surgeries, it's only become worse and more vulnerable.

It's painful.  At times, excruciatingly painful.  At other times, dangerously impinged.  And a constant battle.

The truth is that if I'd leave it alone and not worry about it so much, I can do just about anything I want to do.  Things I would actually do in the course of a normal day.  If I take the right care, I can do the things I don't do every day but occasionally have to do.  The truth is it shouldn't be much of an issue.

Except that it bugs me.  Here, amidst the strength that is, is this one spot of perpetual weakness.  Ugh!  So I go through cycles where I decide I'm going after it, I'm going to strengthen my abs.  I'm going to work on my core so that I don't have to fight this my whole life.

It never works.  Never.  This time, I was taking such care to strengthen without simultaneously hurting my abs that I ended up straining my neck and having to throw the whole program out the window.  I never win.

I think that's ok.  It's not ok with me, but I think it's ok anyway.  The lesson I keep learning over and over (and over) again, often painfully, is that some things just aren't my strength.

It's a biting lesson.  I hate that I am not full strength.  I hate that I am not solid rock.  But physically and in many other ways, I'm just not and I probably never will be and I have to learn to be ok with that because, as much as I may not like it, it's how I was created and it's how things are and it's ok.

The lesson is not that you should go after your weaknesses and build them into strengths.  Some of them, sure.  But not all of them.  There are some places in your life where you are never going to be strong.  Some things you will never be able to do.  Some adventures you won't be able to go on, some obstacles you won't be able to tackle.  You were created that way, and it's perfectly fine.  It doesn't mean you're weak.  In fact, embracing your weakness is an invitation to greater strength.  Because in those places, it's not about you.

I mentioned that yesterday when I said that when the lightning strikes, my life roars like thunder in glory to God.  Because He's built into me these limitations but with such grace that all my weaknesses do is show His strength.

So I don't know.  This probably won't be my last time tackling my ab problem.  Or my last time failing.  But there's always enough strength.  May I never forget that.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


The past couple of days have been filled with thunder, and with the summer heat and humidity building in, there's a chance of storms every day for the foreseeable future.  I've got to be honest - I love thunder.

Not a fan of lightning.

I know you can't have one without the other.  Thunder is the result of changes lightning causes in the surrounding air mass thus producing the tremorous boom we all know and love or more lovable, that low gentle rumble like the whole universe is purring at you.  And how cool it was yesterday to sit out on my front porch with my 2-year-old nephew, who was standing in the rain and declaring, "Did you hear that funder???" with the biggest smile on my face.  We graduated to, "Funder is cool."  Trying to train the boy right, you know.

But as I laid awake a couple of nights ago listening to the thunder rumble through the overnight hours, I got to thinking more about the process of thunder.  More specifically, the creation of thunder.

It's a concept I sort of hit on last month after the devastating tornadoes, when I found myself in awe of the unseen God and how He created all these things - like wind - that we're never supposed to see but they are there anyway and how extravagant and how glorious.

Thunder is kind of in the same vein for me.  It's extravagant.

Because God created the storm, or at the very least created the elements of the storm that would react in chaos and create thunder and lightning.  (It depends on how you view God, I guess.  There is a verse I came across recently, which puts it either in Psalms or Proverbs, about God holding the lightning in His hand, and you get this impression that God's just got a quiver full of lightning to throw down as He ordains the storms.) And in the storm, there is lightning and there is thunder.

Do you realize, I mean, have you really considered, what has to happen to create thunder?  There has to be a boundary, a limitation, a certain set of characteristics that define the very atmosphere in order for the storm to breed thunder, in order for the lightning to cause this reaction.  God created a limitation that He was already set up to break.

Doesn't that strike you as awesome and incredible?  It does me.

I don't know what else would have had to change, what other factors and what other life would be at play, for the air to be different.  For God to have created the storm cloud not to interact with the lightning, for the bolt of brilliant, fierce fire to not expand the air mass and cause the shift in pressure and temperature and so forth that becomes thunder.  If the air couldn't thunder, I don't know that we could breathe it.  My science doesn't go that far.

But my faith does.  My faith says it has to be this way, that for everything on the earth to live and breathe, for the climate to be hospitable, for the air to be well, lightning has to create thunder.  And I don't think that's a problem.

On the contrary, I think it's awesome.  I think it's awesome of our God to create a limitation that He knew He was going to break over and over and over again in one of the most powerful, breathtaking, refreshing, peaceful, incredible ways possible - the thunderstorm.  I think it's awesome that God created the danger of lightning - an excess of electricity, fire rained down - to make the earth tremble and roar, to give off that low rumble that makes us notice the heavens.  Lightning can hurt you; thunder can't.  God uses the one to create the other.  That's awesome.

It speaks truth into our lives, too, doesn't it?  We are full of limitations, at least I am.  There are things I cannot do, things that are beyond my strength, beyond my abilities.  Honestly, things that are beyond my creation.  I was built for a certain life, and some things are inhospitable to that.  That's just how it is.  And there are threats out there to my stability, obstacles hungry for my limitations.  There are dangerous things out there that could destroy me, terrifying, disturbing, dangerous things.  I'm not a fan of coming against them.

Yet by His wisdom, God has created a way that these dangerous things make my life tremble and roar, make my life give off this low rumble that makes me notice the heavens.  I can't help but notice them.  I can't help but realize how unhurt I am because God has built into my limitations this grace, that my boundaries can be broken, my barriers can be breached, my stability can be tossed and somehow, all I do is generate more glory for Him in that.  Lightning strikes, and my life roars.

And I think that's pretty awesome and incredible.  Don't you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Contentment

Do you ever read a verse in the Bible that you know you've read a million times ( maybe twenty times, since none of us have read His Word a full million) and you get this mental image in your head and suddenly realize that's not what the verse says at all?

It happened to me again this week.  This time, in Psalms 131:2.

My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother's arms.

If you're like me, when you read this verse, you picture a young baby nestled in its mother's breast and for some reason, in my head, this image has the implied relationship of nursing.  That the child would be eating or having just eaten and now resting against its mother in that contented satisfaction, having received from her its nutrition.  She, having given everything she can to the child, has a smile on her face, too.

It's a nice image, but it is not what this verse says.  This verse says content as a weaned child in its mother's arms.  A child that has not nursed from the breast, has not taken the mother's milk, but rests against her body anyway in contented satisfaction.  And she, having given only open arms to the child, has a smile on her face, too.

This is kind of the relationship we have with God, too, isn't it?  Most of us are content to be in His arms, as long as we're suckling.  As long as He's giving and we're taking and there's a blessed exchange between the two of us (with Him blessing us and us taking it), we of course are content to rest in His arms.  Both of us have a smile on our faces.  

Of course we will stay in His arms when He is our life, when our very nutrition and the source of our strength comes from Him.  When He's giving us all He has to give to us, and we are growing and satisfied because of it.  Of course in those times, we are content in His arms.

The spiritual life is more than this satisfaction of suckling, though, as David points out in this psalm.  This is a psalm of worship, and more than once, David mentions the calm and the peace in his soul as he contemplates and worships the Lord.  To the psalmist, the Lord is beyond his life; the Lord is his love.

Doesn't that change things?  Doesn't it have to?

God calls us not to be suckling at His breast forever, not to be content in His arms only when He is our nourishment, when He is our strength, when He is our life.  Only when He is giving us something.  He calls us to be content in His arms when He is only our love.  When, like a weaned child whose mother offers nothing but a place to sit, we are able to sit with Him and know what that love is.  We are able to put our ear on His chest and hear His heartbeat, held strong and firm by His arms around us and listening to the rhythm of the world with not a care but the content satisfaction of resting in His love.

Realizing how many times I'd pictured that wrong, then seeing it the way that David penned it, has changed my idea of what it means to be content in God.  That I don't always have to be nursing, not always feeding, not always getting something in return for being in God's presence.  Most of the time, the gift is the presence itself.  It is the safe place to be, a lap to climb up into, arms to hold me tight, and the shared heartbeat of love that beats between us, Lord and daughter.

Neither He nor I can stop from smiling.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Control Alt Delete

My second book, Prayse (title provisional), is firmly into the editing process.  I am nearly halfway through as I edit the chapters in order and lay them out into book format, just to get a general idea of things.  There is another edit coming after that and probably a final after that.  But for now, I'm in the thick of the "big" edit.

This is where I take all of the individual chapters I've written and try to conglomerate them together to make a book.

What surprises me most about each chapter, as is true of just about everything of my own that I edit, is how fantastically terrible a writer I can be.  I mean, terrible.  Some of these "chapters" are points thrown together without a story to bind them.  Or they are three or four points jumbled together until none of them are coming through clearly.  Or they are just ramblings.  I'm left trying to sort out what I meant when I wrote it and boil things down to what I was really trying to say.

Which, as I mentioned on social media a few weeks ago, is its own joke because if I eliminated every unnecessary word in the new book, I'd be left with just one: Pray.  And that's not really a book; that's a poster.

The trouble I run into with editing is that for the most part, I have great control over my words.  So when I"m trying to edit and find that I've been out of control, I'm stunned.  I'm stunned and disappointed in myself and I try to rein in whatever those words were meant to be and re-exert my control over them to make them work in my story.

When that doesn't work, and inevitably it doesn't always work, I will find myself tearing a chapter to shreds in an attempt to alter its contents and make it workable around one sentence I really don't want to give up, regardless of the fact that the sentence makes not sense in the context of the chapter and may not make any sense in any context, but I'm committed to it and so I'm going to give it a go.

That works even less of the time.

Usually after a few hours of staring at a page, all marked up in grey with the things I don't like, the places I want to clarify, the paragraphs I want to change, I realize I'm just making a bigger mess than I started with and I take a short break.  Or a long break, depending on how intimidating my shades of grey are in any given moment.  Because I know if I push it, it's going to get worse.

A note about the greys.  Most people edit in red.  Teachers always graded my papers in red.  Editors for journalistic endeavors preferred their red pens.  It's a haunting reality, this red, but I won't do that to myself.  I edit in grey because these things I'm marking to go back to, these are not things I've done wrong.  These are not words I've written in error.  These are not atrocities.  They're just grey areas.  They are places where things get a little muddy or a little shady, somewhere short of the strong, defined image I'm trying to create with my words.  So I mark them in grey to know that that's a place I want to clear up.  And I recommend it. If you're a writer, don't red yourself to death.  If you're an editor, consider the grace of grey.

Anyway, when I come back to a chapter I've set aside for a breath of fresh air, I often find the answer to my dilemma and everything I didn't like about the chapter is staring me right in the face: it is so often not that the chapter doesn't fit the sentence as the sentence doesn't fit the chapter.

I can't tell you how many times I've come back to a chapter only to find that my little backspace key is my best friend.  To discover that by taking out even a sentence I've fallen in love with, the rest of the chapter falls together and I find that cohesion I was trying to force with control and alteration.

We can't be afraid - in writing or in life - to get rid of something that's just not working.  We put so much effort and take on all this strife trying to get things to work, but not everything works.  Not everything works together or even on its own, and if we want to come out of it with our best possible product, we have to be willing to cut some things out.

I am shooting for Prayse to come out later this year, although life has already redefined my timetable more than once.  But I won't release this book until it's been gruelingly edited and ripped apart and made as good as I can get it.  Because these words are worth at least that much, as much as I can give them, and because I want you to be blessed by this book.  The subject matter- prayer - is too important.  The stories in these pages are too important.

If you want a sneak peek, check out the Prayse Project's dedicated blog.  I'm throwing chapters around there in various stages of the editing process and am always open to feedback.  (Also open to alternative possible titles.)  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Touch and Go

There is a story in the Gospels about a bleeding woman.  A woman with a disorder of blood which means...I don't know how she lived.  I mean, honestly.  The woman would have been unclean, which would have relegated her to a life on the outside.  In addition to the general grossness of the whole mess.  She would have lived alone and accursed.

In this story, though, we see her as neither.  Not alone, for she is in the midst of the crowds, pushing her way through to get to the much-talked-about Teacher.  Not accursed, for she is full of faith and hope, with a healthy dose of determination.

It was a risk for her even to be there, to risk going into town at all, unclean as she was.  It was a risk to be in the crowd; everyone she touched would become unclean, too, whether or not they knew it.  (And if you don't think the God of the Old Testament was a stickler about such things, read through some of the laws and the stories.  Remember, in those days, God was still the God of the OT.)  She was really putting herself out there to get in there and you can kind of tell by her plan.

Her plan is to sneak through, not be noticed, touch the hem of Christ's robe, be healed, and slink away without being seen.  She had to be thinking that in addition to all of these other innocent bystanders, the very touch she was hoping would heal her would also defile the very Lord whose healing she sought.  She knew in her mind that she would make Him unclean...even as she hoped He would cleanse her.

She's planning on a touch and go.

So as slyly as possible, she sneaks her way through the crowd.  Weaving in and out.  Excuse me....excuse me...pardon me...please step aside....  She probably wouldn't have yelled, as so often we see in dramatic portrayals, "Unclean!  Unclean!" and expected anyone to clear the way.  Had she uttered even half the word, they would have ushered her right back outside of the city to live in her alone, accursed condition forever.

She touches the tip of Christ's robe, just as she planned, and starts to high-tail it out of there, no doubt already feeling His healing power at work in her.  (Have you ever had that moment?  I have.  It's awesome.) Then the Lord turns around.

Who touched me?

His disciples and the crowds joked.  Everyone's touching You, Jesus.  It's not like this is His first crowd; He was used to the jostling and the bumping and the incidental contact that comes with being followed everywhere by the masses.  But someone touched Him and He knew it.  Notice the emphasis.

Not "touched."  But "Him."

Have you ever stopped to consider this?  Have you stopped to think about what this really means?  All of these people touching Jesus and only one is healed.  All of these people bumping up against Him, and He notices the one because that's where His power goes.

We often think about the power in the holy touch of Christ, the way He healed the blind men and the deaf men and the bleeding woman and the sick little girl.  We think about the way He held the little children and know His glory must have gone into them, too.  We think that just by touching Christ, or by His touching us, we are infused with the full healing power and awesome glory of God.

But it's not that simple.

Jesus was not some traveling televangelist show.  The crowds weren't bumping into Him and miracles happening.  All of those people along the road, every one that touched Him here or there, every one who stumbled and sort of fell over their own feet and caught themselves on His shoulder, every one that pushed in to get a closer look and found that all of a sudden, it was Him they were trying to push aside to get to...Him, every one of those people touched the living Lord but did not walk away healed like the unclean woman with the bleeding disorder.  Only she walked away healed because of her deliberate, faith-filled touch.

The same is true with us.  We think it's enough to bump into God, to stumble over our feet and catch ourselves on His shoulder, to bobble around and have incidental contact and that's enough.  It's not enough for me.  I want the full power of God, and that means my touch has to be deliberate and believing.  It means I have to step out of my comfort zone, take a risk, and dare to touch the Lord as He's passing me by, dare to push my way through and do whatever it takes to get to Him and know that when I do, that one little touch will be the fullness of His glory.

If you want the full power of God in your life, don't settle for traveling near Him or crossing paths; go after Him and touch Him, take a risk and know that He's everything He promised to be.  Just like the woman in the Gospel story, go...and touch.

Friday, June 21, 2013

An Active Faith

Yesterday, I talked about some of the questions I have from a conflicted faith that already knows the outcome but has to fight anyway.  I think part of the conflict is that when people hear you are a Christian and when you assert the promises and truth of God in a situation and when you yourself know how it ends up, everyone expects that to mean that not only should you not have to fight, you shouldn't even think about fighting.

If you've got God and God's got this, then why are you stressed and frustrated and exhausted and worn down and burdened?

The taunting jeers of the world say that if you've got God and God's got this and you choose to fight anyway, then you don't really have God or God's not really got this.  The criticizing looks of some Christians confirm the same - if you're fighting in spite of an absolute faith that the fight is already scored, then you must not have an absolute faith.  You can't win for losing.  (Which is another one of God's beautiful paradoxes because as you'd seem to lose in the eyes of the world, you're winning.  Even in this.)

But the truth is that God's promise has never been in a passive faith.  Never.  The Bible is a series of stories of men and women throughout time who have had to take steps of faith - big steps, little steps, hard steps, harder steps, steps that seem like something and steps that seem like nothing but steps nonetheless.  They haven't had it easy; God has never simply handed anything to His people even though it was promised.  They had to go get it.  

His people have always needed an active faith.

As Israel moved through the desert toward the Promised Land, they knew God had given them this good place.  He kept reminding them of that.  But He didn't eradicate the nations that stood in their way; they had to pick up arms and fight.  Even though He'd already promised the victory.

David was anointed king over Israel, but he spent many years cave-hopping to avoid the persecution of the former king, Saul.  He fought for his life and fought his enemies and fought to stay one step ahead...even though God already promised the kingship.

The people of God were looking for the Messiah, promised by God for hundreds of years.  But they had to birth Him, raise Him, hear Him, embrace Him.  They were under the oppressive rule of an anti-Jewish regime and they had to fight for their Messiah when He got there.  Even though God promised He was sending a Messiah and showed that this was Him.

Jesus...had to die on the Cross, even though He knew He would live again.  The Son of God could not bypass the fight, the very real struggle against death itself, even though He knew the way the story ended.

Faith has always required action.  There's no place in God's story for passive faith.  Because passive faith requires no investment.

Real faith takes action.  It takes getting in there and getting dirty.  It takes sweat, even when you know what's coming is sweet.  Because, and this will make sense I hope to those of you who have lived this, you only really see God moving when you're in motion, too.

The way we move, the way we fight, it's impossible not to see our own weakness.  It's impossible not to see the sobering reality of our size.  We get in there and we realize just how much bigger than us this whole thing is...and then there's God, fighting, too, and we understand how much bigger than that He is.  And that gives us all the more reason to hope, all the more reason to trust, and all the more strength to fight.  In this fight...we've got Him.  And He's got this.

It sucks, this place of conflicted faith that knows the answer and resents the fight but has to fight anyway.  But that's how holy, Godly, God-honoring faith is.  It's an active faith.  So we fight.

Which is, in itself, an act of faith.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Faith and Peace

Can we talk about faith for a minute?

These past couple of weeks have been tough.  I sort of alluded to that last Monday when I wrote about some tough news I received.  What you may not know is that three days later, Thursday brought troubling news of its own.  And now here I am in this awkward place between faith and...who even knows what.

In the story I told on Monday about tough news from the Friday before, I mentioned that I had some peace almost instantly.  After, you know, an appropriate amount of wrestling and praying and irrational overreaction and complete reliance on myself only to come to the end of myself and find more than enough of Jesus.  The same is true about Thursday's news - I had an almost instant sense of peace.  And strength.  And I felt like this was the time to be strong.  Because I already felt like I knew how this ended.

It hasn't ended yet, in either case.  That's ok.  There's nothing wrong with the time in-between, nothing wrong with this place I'm in now.  Except that my faith is kind of conflicted and it's hard to know what the appropriate response of God's child is this morning.

The first bit of tough news really affects only me.  It's my mess and I'm going to have to clean it up or sit in it or work it out or decide, I guess, that it isn't so much of a mess after all.  While I'm playing it through with the other parties involved, as far as my direct life is concerned, it's mine to deal with.  Yet I know that people are watching to see what's going to happen.  And I hope they're waiting to see how God is going to pull this one off.  And I hope I'm not getting in the way of that.

Because I know God's answer to Friday's problem: whether or not He takes care of it, He will take care of me.  While I want to be very clear about the glory of God in this situation, I don't want to pinhole Him into taking care of it when that's not what He promised.  So I'm coming to terms with the idea that God's victory may be a change in me, all earthly circumstances aside.  He may not take care of it; that may not be the glory that the world is going to see through this.  I may be the glory.  The answer is, I don't know yet.

But in the meantime, I am trying to demonstrate faith and not worry.  Confidence and not cowardice.  Easy-going instead of going hard.  I want to show the peace I have about whatever way God chooses to work this out and weave Himself in to yet another one of my stories.  At the same time, I'm frustrated.  I'm tired and I'm ragged and I'm raging and I'm defeated.  I'm wondering why it's not enough to be right and how one little woman fights a system so much bigger than herself.  I want the whole thing to move a little faster - a lot faster - and just resolve already.  I'm not as good at this in-between as I want to be and the longer I'm here, the more I feel myself torn between the sense of peace I have about however it turns out and the exhausted frustration of not seeing how it turns out yet...with absolute, though sometimes quivering, faith in the One who promised to take care of me.

Thursday's news was a little more widespread.  It's not just me.  In fact, it's barely me.  It's news that only plays on my heart, yet here I am finding myself in this place where, again, I feel like I need to be strong and show faith.  Because I know the answer here, too.  I know the words God has whispered in my ear about Thursday's news, and I have a certain measure of peace about what's going on.  But I'm the only one.

And here I am worried but not worried, concerned and involved but not exactly captivated by what appears to be going on.  I am trying to demonstrate faith here, too.  At the same time, I'm stressed.  I'm exhausted.  I'm questioning my own strength.  I'm questioning the way the world makes some people have to be strong again and again and struggle their entire lives...and I'm questioning why some people can't ever seem to have a moment when they don't have to fight.  I'm questioning what I can do and the answer is that I can be strength - I have mentioned before that in the toughest of times, I am this insane ability to remain calm and be a rock - and the answer is also that I'm broken down.  I'm crushed by the weight of yet another bad news, even though I have this firm peace within my heart that bad news will be good news.  Just none of us know when.

The conflict I have with faith right now, the tensions between faith and frustration, between peace and persecution, is that in these two situations at least, I feel like I know the end of the story but I still have to write the tale.  I know where the victory is but I still have to fight.

And that sucks.  Right?  It does.

So my thoughts on faith this morning are this: how do you fight in faith when by faith you know where the victory is?  How do you demonstrate faith and that confident peace that comes from knowing Who's got the win when the very tangible reality is that the fight is breaking you down?  And why do you have to fight at all?  If the victory is coming, what good is there in the fight?  Can't you just wait for the win?

Rhetorical questions, you might have guessed.  Questions with which I have wrestled for the past couple of weeks, this time around.  Questions I think I may expound on a little more tomorrow and tell you what's in the fight in the face of faith and why wins, even promised wins, don't come easy.  In the meantime, my goal today is just to keep the faith. 

And pursue the peace.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Yesterday, I kind of dealt a blow to all those Christians who think God has given them everything by pointing out that everyone gets only a share.  Today, I want to renew your hope and your feeling of blessedness, specialness, and chosenness as I expound on that thought a little and tell you I lied.  You don't have only a share.

You also have a portion.

This is a word I picked up from the old hymn, Amazing Grace, as I sung it anew with Chris Tomlin in my bedroom a couple of months ago.  (No, he wasn't here.  That didn't stop us from singing together.)  In the third verse of Tomlin's version, he sings, "He will my shield and portion be."  Kind of an odd word for God, isn't it?  Portion.  What could that mean?

I could be totally wrong, but I like what I came up with, so here it is.

Portion is an Old Testament term.  It comes from the rules for the Levites and the Priests, and those serving in the Temple.  You see, because of their service to God, they did not get a land of their own.  When lots were cast for plots of the Promised Land, those in service in the Temple did not get any land.  They got a smattering here and there, a town or two in each region, a small place but really?  Not enough to live on.  They couldn't tend flocks.  They couldn't harvest their own meat.  They were at the mercy of the tribes of Israel and as the people of God brought offerings for God, those in service of the Temple received a portion of the offering.  A thigh, a measure of oil, a pouring of wine.  It was what they got for not having anything of their own.  It was what they lived on.

And it was enough.

As God's people, we are to live in service of His Temple.  In dedication to His love.  We are today's priests, serving in front of His altar as we continue the mission of Christ here on earth.  And what do we receive for all of our work?

A portion.

God has given us this portion to sustain us in our work.  God has given us this piece of the sacrifice because we have nothing of our own.  As we give ourselves over to His work and His will, He nourishes us through the portion that He has ordained be given to His priests - us.  And what is that portion?

It's all of Him.  He will our portion be.  He is the part of the sacrifice on which we live.  He is the sacrifice and He's giving us all of Him.  Not just a thigh.  Not just a measure.  Not just a pouring.  The whole thing.  Every bit of the sacrifice.  And what is the sacrifice?  

Of course, it is the Cross.

It's easy as God's people to be deluded into thinking He's given us everything, but we know from yesterday and from the Psalms that each of us is given only a share.  Thank the Lord that we are also given a portion, that provision by which we live while in service to the Lord.  And thank the Lord that portion is everything; it is the fullness of God, the wholeness of Christ, the weight of the Cross.

And it is enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


As God's people, what do you think our share of creation is?  

It's a tricky question.  At first glance, it's easy to say "everything."  Everything in God's creation is our share as His chosen people.  After all, God created creation and then created man and then told man that the creation was His.  But after that, things get a little iffy.

And then again, God chose a righteous man (Noah) and his family and completely cleared the earth for them to repopulate.  It's easy to say God has chosen this man and given him everything, all of creation, and therefore as God's chosen people, as His church, everything is ours as well.  But things get a little iffy again.

Because we read through the Old Testament and we see a clear delineation between "God's people" and "other nations."  We can trace the genealogies back and discover which branch of Noah's family tree remained chosen and which fell by the wayside, but the important point here is that we're now faced with a relatively small nation of God's chosen people....and a much larger minority of, uhm, "not God's people."

There's a sense of entitlement among Christians, and it is this that makes us so judgmental of one another and of "not God's people."  There's this sense that God has given us everything because we are His and that it is our prerogative to rule and to judge and to discern as we see fit just how this creation gets divvied out.  Just how eternity and heaven and hell and grace and love and mercy get divvied out.  If God has given His chosen people everything, then when we run into His not chosen people (or those who have not chosen Him), it's too tempting for us to give them nothing.

This everything and nothing is not Biblical.  Did you know God has not given you the world?  You only get a portion of it...

He always remembers his promise, the word that he commanded for a thousand generations, the promise that he made to Abraham, and his sworn oath to Isaac.  He confirmed it as a law for Jacob, as an everlasting promise to Israel, by saying, "I will give you the land of Canaan.  It is your share of the inheritance.  - Psalm 105:8-11

I don't know that I've ever noticed this before - that Canaan, this Promised Land, was only a share of the inheritance.  It was only a part of what God had to give His creation....and even His chosen people, His very nation of Israel, only received one share.  They didn't get everything.

But they got the best of it, we say.  That much is true.  So maybe as God's people, our share of creation is "God's very best."  We get the best stuff, the best places, the best blessings.  But that's not really true, either.

Because Israel moved into the Promised Land and Solomon started to build a temple and had to send to Lebanon - "not God's chosen people" - for the biggest, strongest cedars.  He had to send to other nations for lumber and labor because those other nations had the very best of that.

Then what exactly is our share as God's chosen people?  What are we, His church, entitled to for being...His church?

Everything He's promised and nothing more and nothing less.  We don't get everything.  We don't even get the best everything but we get what is good and what is promised.  It is what He has set aside for us.

And it might shake some of us to learn that if we, as God's people, have only a share...there are other shares remaining and other nations who are "not God's people" who are going to get them.  Does that change the way you think about grace?  Does that change the way you look at the ragged man or the strung out woman who walks through your church doors?

I hope it does.

And take note of this, too - go through your Bible and read all of the stories whose main character turns out to be "not God's people."  Read about the other nations.  Read about...a woman named Rahab who was a prostitute in a detestable nation that God was about to destroy.  Read her the genealogy of Jesus.  Then tell me what you think about "not God's people."

Read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah how the king of captivity, the leader of "not God's people," provided not only a way but a provision for God's people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  Then tell me how you feel about "not God's people."

Read this blog or thousands of others and think about how this girl right here grew up a heathen.  Then tell me more about "not God's people."

It's tempting in our churches and in our hearts to separate ourselves into "God's people" and "not God's people," to believe that God's given His people everything and the other nations nothing, that at the very least, His people get the best of everything and other nations get the leftovers.  But that's not the story God is telling.

In the story God is telling, everyone gets a share.  God's people and not God's people.  Saints and sinners.  Israel and Edom and Amalek and Babylon and Jericho and the prostitute and the king and the heathen.  People who will play a small role in telling God's story and people who will play a big role and people who will not even realize what story they are telling.

Everyone gets a share.  So it's time to stop looking at what you've got and the person standing next to you doesn't and instead ask how each of you is telling God's story.

Monday, June 17, 2013


It's hard to know where to start this series of posts.  I've got a few things I want to say about today's church - not my church or your church in particular but just the church and where we are and how we're relating to God and just a few things that I guess have been on my heart that I'm going to pour out.  Not necessarily because there are answers or we're going to find them, but because we need to be having these discussions, I think, in the name of Jesus.  I'm not sure these posts will go in any particular order, but let's start with the church herself.

The church, from my pew (figuratively), is in an era of renovation.  I say that coming from what was once known as the Restoration Movement, for at least as long as I've been a Christian.  But we're in this flux right now where we're seeing this influx of new hearts flocking to the Shepherd again and for most of us, we're in a place where we're trying to be very careful and not commit the same mistakes as the church we were even ten years ago.  That is, we're trying to open our doors and be inclusive and be accepting and demonstrate the love of Christ instead of keeping ourselves in our closed societies, setting all of these rules, demanding better things from the riff-raff that come in off the streets (knowing full well we were once either riff or raff but certainly, not in our profound holiness, ever riff-raff).  

That's a good thing.  We ought to throw our doors wide open and welcome every heart that is searching for a Savior.

A few caveats about such things, however.

First, we have to remember that our churches are not the savior.  There's this movement to grow churches right now, and ok.  Whatever.  But if you're growing churches to grow your church, then that's not honoring to God.  The goal of incorporating a new family into your family, a new life into the movement of the church, is not higher attendance and more programs and making sure everyone gets plugged in to serve and to be served in their very right places and that their kids play soccer on Saturday mornings and their parents work out at the church gym and they come to this class and that special event and show up when they are expected to show up in order to demonstrate that you are a big, good, active, involved church.  It's not that those things are bad.  I just think it's easy with so many people walking in our doors these days to think our role has shifted to programming, and that's never the purpose of the church.  We exist to bring people to Christ.  That's it.  We exist to live and to love and to serve and to be as Christ was.  As good as our programs are, we can never redeem one single soul and we have to remember to keep Christ at the center of our programming and bring people not to events but to Eternity.

Second, it's easy to broaden our love and acceptance into blind tolerance and passive affirmation.  So many people have been wounded by our ways, our past ways, that it's easy to tiptoe around these days, to emphasize love over all else and kind of forget all else.  No, we shouldn't greet guests and seekers at our doors and expose their sins and make a statement about what God thinks about all that.  Yes, I think we're getting the love right in saying, Hey - you're gay or you're an inmate or you're a pornography addict or you use drugs or you drink a little too much or you're on your third divorce or you're poor or you're rich or whatever you are...and welcome.  We're glad to have you.  I think we're right in welcoming in love, in opening our doors to everyone and letting everyone in.  But we have to be careful as we walk the line between condemnation and confirmation.  That is, it's not our place to judge and while we are intent these days on not condemning anyone for their sin of choice, we must be equally careful not to confirm that it's ok to keep on sinning.  We're all sinners; none worse than the others.  We are also accountable to one another and to the Gospel of Christ.  We're focused so much on grace and love that it's tempting to let the accountability slide...because "judge not..."  We must remember though that Paul tells us that grace and love are not enough of a cover, not enough of an excuse, and certainly not permission to keep on sinning.  God's love is free - but we need to be teaching people how to live under the burden of that love and that means speaking the hard truth sometimes that we love you, God loves you, Jesus died for you, but what you're doing is not ok.  He had something totally better in mind for you.  Then guiding, not guilting, God's people into that something better.

Third, and kind of piggy-backing off of that, I want to see us stop apologizing for being the church.  That is so common these days that I see it almost on a daily basis.  We are a people coming to terms with the wounds we have inflicted on the churched, the unchurched, the seeking, the found, the lost, the sheep, the Shepherd by our long-held convictions that there is a right way to "do church" and if you can't do church right, then go to Hell (where you might be going anyway, whether we condemn you there or not but because we're pretty sure about such things, you are going to Hell because you showed up in tennis shoes or you forgot to stand during prayer or you didn't know the words to the song or you got a tattoo or you did drugs or you got divorced or you're a woman or you're a child or you're a homosexual nauseum).  For what we have been, for what we have done, for the incredible hurt we have put into the world, we need to apologize.  And do better.  But don't apologize for being the church.

We don't need to apologize for having a Christ that not everyone believes in.  We don't need to apologize for having a gospel that's tough to swallow.  We don't need to apologize for speaking the hard truths, for holding ourselves to a higher standard, for setting ourselves apart from the world.  We don't need to apologize for having a sin long as we use that standard to bring people fully into grace.  I think we're spending too much time trying to show the world we're not that different from them...because we're afraid to offend.  The church is offensive; it was meant to be.  Christ was offensive.  Have you read His stories?  Everywhere He went, He turned society on its head.  In moral conduct, in religious conduct, in social conduct.  In preaching paradoxes like the first will be last and the last will be first and if you want to save yourself, you have to lose yourself.  Jesus didn't cower to the societal norm and here we are, two thousand years later, trying to get this world enamored with us.  In doing so, I think we've lost sight of the very Savior who wasn't out for love, but to love.

To love....  All these things growing and changing and resolving in our churches as a new generation comes to Christ and an old generation takes a new chance on a gospel of grace, and I think we're trying too hard to get things too right - to enhance our programming, to lessen accountability, to apologize for our mistakes.  Is it the way of Christ for the church to mold itself in a pattern after the world and declare that whatever you want to do is right and we have been so wrong?  I don't think so.  I know it's not.  

It is the way of Christ for the church to love.  To love inclusively, to love wholly, to love with reckless abandon.  There's a new generation of people walking through our doors hoping we get just this one thing right - our love.  So let's focus on that for awhile, ok?  To the glory of God, for the gospel of grace, let's get our love right.

Friday, June 14, 2013


As awesome as Friday night was, and it was awesome, it was also highly improbable.  For a lot of reasons:

I wasn't entirely sure I liked Sidewalk Prophets.  By Friday night, of course, I was sure, but that all spawned from the wrong Christmas present.  Around October or November when my sister-in-law, who always gets me what I tell her I want for Christmas, asked me what I wanted for Christmas, tops on my list was Building 429.  Below them, I had a whole host of other artists on my Christmas list - from Matt Redman to Brandon Heath to Tenth Avenue North.  Lord, I was pulling for Tenth Avenue North to come from somewhere.  A few weeks later when she asked for "more" ideas, having secured my top choices everywhere else (I'd hoped), I threw off some more tangible, practical items, and then, still being prodded for more, I remembered Live Like That, which had been frequenting the radio, and threw out Sidewalk Prophets.  And do you know what my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas?  Sidewalk Prophets.  And a jingle bell snowman from my niece and nephew.

It's not that I had anything against Sidewalk Prophets.  It's just that at the time, they were not at the top of my playlist.  God had my heart with other songs.  That's all.  But by January, let me tell you - they were up there.

And I don't like concerts.  For the same reason I don't like movies and I struggle through church - too much sensory input .  I find the experience overwhelming and then it's loud and then it's echoing loud in my head and of course, there are people who stand up the whole time and I'm more of a sitter.  (And totally sat behind the four people who stood up the entire time at the Sidewalk Prophets concert.)  So it would have been completely natural for me to notice the band was playing just 20 minutes away, utter a "that's cool" and go about my life without thinking another thought about it.

I couldn't get this particular event out of my head.

But who has money for concert tickets when I'm surviving right now on odd jobs and salvage missions?  (And thanks to my church, a little woodcarving on the side, which I am sooo blessed by.)  Even at $10, it's not the kind of money I'd spend on something like that.  Something, you know, I don't even like all that much for a band that sure, is prominent in my playlist now but wasn't six months ago.  In steps my friend Andy, who I have known since elementary school, and it turns out his church is hosting the event and he's setting aside a ticket in my name.  "Come and be blessed!" Andy told me in a Facebook message.  Lord, if either one of us had known....

So I had a ticket.  And I went.

I'm not the kind of person to linger.  Normally, I'm in and out.  I think more about beating traffic out of the parking lot than socializing.  Especially on a Friday night.  After the sun has already gone down.  When it's past my bedtime (yes, I'm one of those people).  But this Friday night, I didn't feel any of the pressures of time or place.  I was content to wander around the lobby, not feeling like it was time to go home yet, and wait on a chance to talk to Dave.

And I've never really pitched my book before.  I'm not all about the fame and so I figure people just come across it as they come across it and who am I?  But Friday, I gathered my nerve and decided to go for it.

Which leaves the problem of not having a book.

I wasn't supposed to have a copy of my own book.  I don't keep them in stock.  I don't have a garage full of thousands of copies of Recess with Jesus that I'm just trying to unload every chance that I get.  I literally had one copy of my book in the pocket of my seat because sometime last summer, I was getting so many requests that I offered a deal to family and friends and bought them through my author account to save everyone a little money.  That book had been marked for an older woman who for several weeks following the order, lamented that she never had her money with her and then ended up borrowing the book from a friend to read it and never commented another word to me about her copy after about September.  So I was stuck with it, at my own expense, and had tucked it away for a rainy day.  Whenever I found someone who might be blessed by a copy.

It was actually going to go to the greeter at Wal-Mart, ok?  I had pegged in my mind that this was who I was going to give this book to.  She and I haven't crossed paths in awhile, but it used to be that every time we did, she'd ask about my book and we'd talk for awhile.  But we haven't crossed paths and it just never worked out to give her that book.  (I may buy one more copy and keep it in my car in case we see her again.  I don't know why Wal-Mart got rid of their greeters.  At least, my Wal-Mart did.)

And so it just so happened that Friday night, I had one copy of my book that I was able to give away.  To a band whose CD I accidentally got for Christmas at a concert I wasn't going to attend in a time and place I would have vacated long before on any other night to talk about myself, my least favorite subject.

Friday night was absolutely improbable.  And it was absolutely awesome.  Whenever anyone asks me why I love God so much, it's for this very reason: all of the improbable things.

My life is full of them.  In fact, my life is wholly improbable and I love it that way.  It reminds me every day what God is doing in me.  Even if I don't know the specifics, I know the word: it's the improbable.  And that's really cool.

I'm heading back to regular content next week, and I have some awesome thoughts to share coming out of the Scriptures, but I wanted to take this week to share one long story with you because this is my God, as I experience Him, and I want to give glory to that God.  As much as I can.

While waiting on the next improbable thing He's about to do...(and I've got a few specifics in mind)...

Thursday, June 13, 2013


So here it is Friday night (not right now, but in the continuation of the story), and I'm a girl unexpectedly filled with the promise of the Lord all by the process of forgetting to remember and I don't know why exactly, but I decide to do something I've never done before.

I decide to talk to Dave.

Dave is the lead singer of the group in concert, the band in worship, which was - I know I haven't told you yet - Sidewalk Prophets.  Through the power of social media, I've been following these guys for a bit and you come to know them as Sidewalk Dave and Sidewalk Cal and Sidewalk Justin, Sidewalk Ben, Sidewalk Shaun.  Which is cool because it kind of makes them sound cool, right?  But it's pretty easy to think of them as big names when you see them like this all the time.

When you're sitting in their audience listening to Dave talk about this or that aspect of life as we know it, hearing him praise God for being awesome, letting the word Jesus echo through the auditorium without it sounding awkward and uncomfortable, you forget all that so-called fame.  He's just a guy.  A nobody like you.

That's rare.  I mean, that's really rare.  There are guys in my life that I've heard speak or worship or pray or whatever that I have wanted to have a conversation with, but they come off so contrived on stage that it's hard to think 1) they are a real guy at all or 2) they'd want to have anything to do with a nobody like you.  There are guys I know who won't give a common person the time of day and then declare themselves, you know, so uber busy that they could never even say hello to you in passing.  And they make it sound disciplined and righteous...when to the watching world it's more self-righteous.  Anyway, Dave was the anomaly.  He was just a guy.

I don't know whether that came from my profound realization of just how many nobodies were in the room, myself included, or whether it was the way things were or who knows what specific set of circumstances came together to make this happen, but I was so intoxicated by the presence of God that I found myself standing in a high school hallway waiting until every adoring fan had an autograph, every family a photo, every person a chance to have a minute with these guys, these band members, who are used to such press.  When everything settled down, I gathered my nerve and said, "Hey, Dave.  Can I talk to you for a minute?"

I hadn't planned this.  I'd never done this before.  I was still working out the details in my head when Dave walked over to talk with me.  See, I'm the kind of person who wants to have it made.  I want to introduce myself as somebody so that I can be nobody...if that makes sense.  I feel like I have to have it before I ask and then acknowledge as often as I can that I don't really have it.  I don't have it.  But here was Dave, and I had this moment.

"Dave, I kind of picked you because you're a fellow Raven," I began, playing on our mutual ties to our undergraduate education.  He smiled and we talked for a bit about the college life.  Then I continued, "And, well, because you strike me as the kind of guy who believes in what God does through nobodies."  Yes, yes, absolutely, he said.  "Well, I'm a nobody."

I'm a nobody, I told him, whose first book came out about a year and a half ago and currently has a five-star rating on Amazon, so I guess it's at least decent.  The problem is, I continued, "I've kind of gone as far as my nobodiness can take me.  Can I borrow some of yours?"  The deal was this: I had one copy of Recess with Jesus in the back pocket of the passenger seat in my car.  I would run out to my car and get that book, give it to Dave and Sidewalk Prophets if they would agree to take it, read it, and if they like it - only if they like it - tweet it.

I couldn't believe myself when he agreed.  Nor when he said he'd be honored.

It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen to nobodies and the kind of risk I'm not prone to taking.  Like I said, particularly with this, it's easy for me to feel like I have to have a name before I can ask for someone else's, but that night, I got a name.  It's Dave.  And whether he reads the book or not (I think he will) and whether he likes the book or not (who doesn't?), that night was about a risk for me.  While some people think the risk is only justified by the reward, I don't believe that's the case.  Sometimes, you just have to go for something that's on your heart and step out....reward or rejection.  Sometimes, it's just about the risk.

Because who knows when you're going to have this moment again?

And this moment, this late-Friday-night, hollowed halls of a high school, two nobodies coming together, was a moment that shouldn't have happened for more than a few reasons.  Tomorrow, I'm going to wind up the story of an awesome Friday night by telling you all the little details that had to come together, starting more than six months ago, to make an impossible, improbable moment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I am so thankful that I forgot to remember Friday night was supposed to be about the fight.  Had I remembered, I might have missed the promise.

And ya'll, I was overwhelmed by the promise.

The opening band took the stage, and I wasn't even sure who these guys were.  I'd never heard of them before, and when they walked out in their various leather clothings and started strumming a guitar and banging on a tom-tom, I was skeptical.  These two seeming-nobodies, maybe wannabes?  These two kids with the chance of this stage....and they ROCKED it.  (They probably wouldn't like me calling them kids.  They were probably at least my age, if not slightly older.)  But they totally rocked it and are definitely one of my favorite new sounds coming out in Christian music.  If you have the chance to look up Love & the Outcome, do so.  You won't regret it.

Then, darkness.  A dim light coming in and out as the main band set up their stage.  As they were dragging out their guitars, pulling the covers off their set, walking around in semi-darkness to get situated, you could feel the anticipation in the air.  The absolute excitement of an auditorium full of people who had purchased a ticket not for Love & the Outcome, not just to sit in a high school auditorium for nostalgia's sake, not for the chance to visit the merchandise table, but for the chance to hear these guys worship.  These big-name guys.  The place was vibrating in the stillness and the collective breath seemed to just linger....  Everyone was ready for these guys.

As I looked around at the smiles on the faces of young and old alike, it just kind of hit me.  Who are these guys anyway?  They're kind of nobody.  Not to offend them in any way because they are incredible at what they do, but they're not really anybody special.  They are just guys with a chance to take the stage.

I sort of half-knew that was true before I walked into that evening.  I knew that two of the guys from the band went to the same college as I did.  It had just never occurred to me, I guess, the discrepancy between knowing they had gone to that college, knowing they had sat in the same chapel, knowing we were there at the same time for at least a year....and realizing what an awesome platform they have now.  It had never occurred to me the indescribability of how a couple of small-town, no-name guys and their friends now had an auditorium full of people anxious to hear them worship.

But it hit me then.  And in the same indescribable moment, for just a second, I wondered what it must be like to be a nobody with a stage.  Then I smiled because I'm getting there.  I grinned because in that second, all the promise God has put in my life for such things came full down on my heart and I couldn't help myself.

Not....not because I'm some incredibly great anything.  Not that at all.  Simply because...because I want to be the kind of artist, the kind of gifted creation, the kind of humble worshiper that has people on the edge of their seats with anticipation for the word of God.  For the presence of God.  For the worship of God.  I want to be the kind of writer and speaker who brings God to life in such a way that a whole group of people is waiting to hear that word for no other reason than that it brings them to Life.  I want to give God so much glory that everyone else wants to come and do it with me.   Fully aware, of course, that I will always be a nobody, stage or no. 

That doesn't bother me, this being a nobody.  I am one, and I hope always to be.  There's just no reason I can't also be incredible - an incredible nobody, good at what I do.  Blessed with the chance to take the stage (whether that is ever physical or only ever metaphorical).  I am looking forward to the promise of God in my life.  For that chance to bring others to worship.  To bring them to God.

I am so thankful Friday night that I forgot to remember.  Had I spent my night fighting, I never would have heard the whisper.  I never would have known.  And I never would have done the completely crazy, unexpected, unplanned, first-ever thing that I did when that group of nobodies left the stage.

That part of the story tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


The continuing saga of an awesome Friday night...

Friday night was supposed to be my victory, another part of it anyway.  It was the kind of night I wouldn't even have thought about for the past several years, the kind of event that I'd tell myself didn't sound fun anyway so that I wouldn't feel bad about not going.  Although I was never short of excuses for not going.  But through the incredible grace of a friend, there was a ticket waiting at will call in my name and I determined to go.

Not just to go, but to win.  To make that night a victory.

I've been kind of all about that lately, as my flesh clings to the past and my heart clings to the Presence and I so want the Presence to win.  I want God to be strong in my life.  Not just strong, but stronger - stronger than the fears and the worries and the faithfulness that too often holds me back.  I have been waiting on God to show Himself in this one little area that if I'm not careful seems like a big area with thousands of excuses for why it has to be.

Excuses but no truth.

My trip to Tennessee earlier this month and my awesome Friday night were both set up to be victory over that one little area, just like many other things have been set up for such a win over the past several months as I have hungered to come out victorious.

The problem with the victory is that if you're looking for the win, you lose.  The truth is that the way I was going into it, I was watching my weakness.  I was watching my failure points.  I was watching the little cues here and there that would tell me I was going to lose, and I was doing everything I could to overcome those nuisances one at a time.  In the process, missing these awesome opportunities entirely and realizing that while on paper, it may seem that victory scores the win, in actuality, my own brokenness, fear, and failure still dominated the night - forefront in my mind, constantly on my thoughts while I told myself I was overcoming them.  With a smile on my face.

It's so easy for us to think that the key to victory in our lives is standing against.  That we have to muster our strength and stand firm, that we have to refuse to give ground to the broken things that would try to take over our minds.  They try to take over our minds because that's how they sneak into the rest of our lives until one day, you realize you haven't thought about anything else in awhile and even when you thought you were winning, you were losing.  Then not only have you lost the victory, but you've lost a whole series of moments you'll never get back in which you were still more focused on your brokenness than the blessing two feet in front of your face.

I don't know about you, but I've lost too many moments trying to win.  There has to be a better way. 

And there is.  Instead of standing stronger, choose simply to stand.  And for once in your life, forget.  Forget to remember that you're fighting a war.  Throw yourself into the moment.

Thank the Lord that Friday night, I forgot to remember.  That's the key, I think, to the victory.  Forgetting to remember.  Forgetting to fight.  With the recent Tennessee excursion and Friday's awesome night, I forgot to fight.  I got so wrapped up in the moment, so involved with what was happening around me and in front of me that I forgot to recognize the war waging within me, which magically called a cease fire in a moment that I wasn't listening for the next ricochet.

I was standing there Friday night, worshiping in this awesome opportunity before me, and I wasn't thinking about the win.  I wasn't thinking about how long it's been since I've done this.  I wasn't thinking about the blessing of being there.  I was just there, just present to what was unfolding in front of me, and not wrapped up so much in the victory.  It felt like I resigned myself to, "Win or not, I'm here.  And I'm staying.  And I'm going to have a good time."

And then I won.  Without thinking about it, without fighting for anything, without taking a stand, but rather simply standing to worship, I won.  All of the trouble I brought with me Friday night, all the doubts and fears and insecurities, all the hauntings of a memory that remembered things like this just don't go well for me any more...all of that was silenced and I had that night.  I had an awesome Friday night in which to experience life as it is meant to be lived, not in the battle or in the victory or in the win or the loss, but in the moment.

Purely in the moment.  Forgetting to remember that tonight was supposed to be anything more than this.  Forgetting to remember that I had higher hopes on the battlefield for Friday night.  Forgetting to remember it was a battle; totally lost in the blessing.

The truest form of victory is to fully engage in the moment and not give footing to your enemy.  You can't even think about it.  Just live.

When I think back on Friday night, I'm not thinking about the victory.  I'm not thinking about the win.  I'm thinking about the incredibly awesome things that started to unfold before my very eyes and my very heart because I forgot to remember.  Not consciously, of course; there were just more pressing things on my mind.  A moment that I didn't want to miss.

Somewhere in forgetting to remember, I opened the space for God to show up in a night I will never forget.  And that makes me stronger.  

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's a Girl!

Late Friday evening, just as I was on my way out the door for an awesome night, I got a bit of bad news.  Severely disturbing and completely unexpected bad news.

Because I thought I took care of this 8 months ago.

The truth is that I thought I took care of this because I have grown a bit too comfortable in my own skin, a bit too satisfied with the gifts God has put in me, and it seems that 8 months ago when I penned a few words in my own defense, when I tried to handle the situation myself, I thought there was no way on earth that this world was going to tell me no.  I have a unique ability with words and for the most part, I've been able to talk myself into or out of everything I've ever wanted/needed/thought I deserved.  As I have grown and matured, I have stopped using this gift for evil (or ego) but when the world came against me 8 months ago, I turned my powers back on to do all I could for the sake of myself, thinking God has given me such words for such a time as this and thanking Him for creating me to take care of this.

So imagine my disappointment Friday night when I discovered that the world has adjudicated and I'm not so able after all.  They don't care how fancy my words or how legitimate my point.  There is this one little place in my life that's set out to screw me over and you can't argue logic against ludicrous.  They just don't listen.

"My disappointment" is the light way of putting it.  I was devastated.  I was discouraged.  Shaking and almost shaken as I tried to figure out how I could possibly have failed, how God could have let this come crashing down so hard.

And I responded as any red-blooded individual would have - I started crying.  I started screaming, and then crying some more.  I let my mind wander into the worst-case scenario, something I hadn't done in a long time.  I overjudged my own worth and undercut the world's ability to judge.  I stood by myself and declared my righteousness while condemning the whole rest of the world.  I raised a fist to the sky, pounded it on my desk, spewed my hatred toward a few friends who would listen, and talked to a lawyer.  Who agreed with me, which only fueled my flesh all the further.

Then I got in my car and drove off for what I was hoping might still, somehow, be an awesome night. 

As I sped east on the highway, abandoned on the road all by myself (and ya'll, I wasn't even running late and I made record time), I took a deep breath and prayed:

Lord, I don't know why this is happening.  It really sucks, God.  I mean, I try to do all these things and I just want the world to play fair and I don't know why I can't seem to get one good thing going right now and I don't know why they are being jerks about this.  I've tried to be nice.  I've tried to be calm and reasonable and nice...

And at this moment in my prayer, I realize that for the past 45 minutes of my life, I have not been nice.  Or calm.  Or all that reasonable.  But rather, arrogant and mean and impulsive.  So I continue:

God, I'm sorry.  I know I shouldn't react this way, but dammit, Lord!  This sucks!  ....I'll tell you what, and I guess this is the best this is gonna be because I'm all out of everything and I'm all out of ideas and I can't handle this one more minute and this sucks.  So here it is:  I'm going to be what I'm going to be.  I'm going to be impulsive and reactional and irrational and emotional.  I'm....I'm gonna be a girl.  (laughing a little at this realization; He totally made me a girl and that's just like Him!) And You...You're gonna be God and do all of that peace and promise and presence and provision thing that You do really well.  And then I'm gonna be ok and this is gonna be ok and everything's going to work out because I'm going to be me and You're going to be You and there's nothing to worry about.

An immediate sense of peace washed over me, and I could almost hear God proclaiming, "It's a GIRL!"  At that moment, I realized the night: I had run completely out of myself for the first time in a long time.  I had come into a place where I couldn't take care of me, and it stung.  It ached.  It defeated something in my heart to know that to the best of my ability, I couldn't.  But I was able, in that moment, to understand powerfully, honestly, fully, that God can.  And He will.  And He is.  And for that moment, that one simple moment in the car, even while I used a few colorful words about the people who had put me in this place, I realized that for that one beautiful moment, I remembered...

I remembered what it was to be His.

It's so easy, I think, for us to live in this place where He is ours.  He is our God.  He is our Savior.  He is our Father and our Friend.  We think about all the things we do for Him, all the things we can do for Him, and some of the things He does for us, but we still think He does them because He is our God.  What an incredible moment, an awesome peace, a powerful shift to realize, even for just a second, that we are His.  That He was not created because we needed someone to love, but that He created us because He needed to love.  And He loves us so.

Then I laughed, wiped my tears, and walked into my evening.  I didn't have another thought about the terrible news until a couple hours of later, and then it was simply this fleeting thought:

God will take care of it.  Just breathe.   ...No.  That's not right.  God never promised to take care of it; He only promised to take care of me.  And He will.  And He is.

I smiled and sank back into my seat to enjoy the evening.

More on that evening coming up this week.  You won't believe the unexpected way God showed up in one simple night...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Least of These

A note about the "least of these" that Jesus references in Matthew (as mentioned yesterday when we discussed the lost):

They are not now, nor have they ever been, the least of "those."

We've done a pretty good job at making such a distinction as Christians.  We are the Christians, the righteous good, the servant-minded, the well-off and rich and helpful Christians.  They are the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned.  No longer do we count the least as these, but those.  Those over there.  Those far removed from us.  Those whose world we hardly understand but dare step down and try to touch every now and then with our vast goodness.  Those.

We like to compartmentalize, to say that here, where we are, there are these - these Christians, these comfortable people, these fairly-well-off.  And over there, in the mission field, far away, on the other side of the tracks, there are those - those who become the object of our outreach, those we feed and clothe and shelter, those we are sent to serve.

Jesus says no, not those.  These.  The least of these.  You can imagine Him pointing a finger, waving a hand to indicate the encompassing nature of the word.  These, around us.  These, in our midst.  These on this very hill, on this very street, in this very town.  These right next to you.  These, included; these, a part of "us."

The least of these are among us.  Right here.  Right now.  Today, tomorrow, and forever among us.

I ought to know.  I am the least of these.

The least of these are hungry, and I have known hunger.  The least of these are thirsty, and I have known thirst.  The least of these are naked, and I have stood naked.  The least of these are sick.  Lord, have I intimately known sick.  The least of these are imprisoned, and I have been locked down.  (No, I have never been in jail.  Never even had a speeding ticket, but I know imprisoned.)

It would be easy at this point to get into my story, and there is a day coming when I'm going to do a little bit of that because God's burdening my heart maybe to do so, but that day is not today.  Because this is not a story about the least of me; this is a story about the least of these, and I don't want you today to see my story; I want you see Jesus.

Because that's who I see.

When I have been hungry, I have been fed.  Thirsty, I have been given drink.  Naked, I have been clothed.  Sick, I have been encouraged.  Imprisoned, I have been visited.  And never - I want you to hear me on this - never have I received any of the above from any of "those."  It's always been "these."

It's been people who never thought of me as a mission, as a project.  It's been people who didn't believe their calling in life was to send an aid package and take a step back.  It's been people that I have been honored to fellowship with day after day after day, year after year, people who have invested more in me than the tangible needs of the least of these; they have given their time, their hearts, their homes, the fullness of themselves and the incredible goodness of God to meet me where I've been.  Today, as so many days in the past, as so many days as the least of these, I stand with them.  We are these.  And we're bringing more people in.

That is the mission of Christ.  Not that there are ever these and those, but that there are only these - each and every man as a part of one body of Christ.  Each and every man on this very hill, on this very street, in this very town - we are these.  As easy as it is for us to distance ourselves by serving the least of those, Christ's mission for us is that we understand and love the least...of these.  That we know we are all one, we are all together.  That we stop dropping in and dropping off supplies and taking a step back.  That we instead bring in and bring together and build up and give place so that even the least of these know that at least, these are these.  These are among us.  These are a part of us.  These are us.

Even if I had never been hungry a day in my life.  If I had never been thirsty or naked or imprisoned.  If I had never been sick (one can only wish), I would still consider myself the least of these.  Whether there is depravity in my living or not, there is depravity in my heart.  It is the harsh reality of living this side of Eden, this side of Heaven.  But at least I am these, I am among us, I am sitting on the hill listening to Jesus talk about one such as me.

And I am knowing His hand that reaches out to feed me.  His Living Water that gives me drink.  His righteousness that clothes me.  His presence that visits me.  His strength that encourages me.  Through His word and His love, and through His children who are also these.

The least of these.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lost in Translation

I'll admit - I have a shelf full of Bibles, all in different translations.  For awhile, I was reading exclusively out of the New Living Translation, but switched a couple of Christmases ago to the God's Word version, but I keep the others around because sometimes, you know, the Word is just more beautiful in different words.  Or more poignant.

The other day, I was reading one of those verses about how we are supposed to care for the widows and orphans, except the translation I was reading in did not call such children "orphans."  It called them "fatherless."  Doesn't that change things?  It does for me.

As Christians, we are pretty good at nailing down the specifics and then distancing ourselves from the service.  Admit it.  We see a verse to take care of widows and orphans, and we start donating to charities building orphanages in Africa.  That's where the orphans are, we say, and we could never go there, but here's a couple of bucks for your Kingdom work.  Then we think we've done what God has asked us to do - cared for the orphans - without actually investing ourselves in caring for the orphans.

But what if those orphans are nothing more than the fatherless?  Rather, the Father-less?  What if we were to read God's word about the very lost He came to save and understand, yes, the social realities of the widows and orphans but understand, too, the spiritual realities.  The Father-less are all around us.

And the widows.  Yes, we ought to care for women left behind, women fighting alone in the world, women who had left their father and mother, cleaved to a lover, become one and had their other half ripped away from them by the violence and violation of death.  Absolutely care for the widows.  

But what if the widows are also those who were once the bride of Christ?  What if Christ is dead to them now, and they are fighting alone in the world?  These widows are all around us.

It's easy to think we have to solve the tangible, social problems of the world.  That a Christian doing good is a Christian doing physical good.  We donate to orphanages in places where too many children have no one to care for them.  We take some time out of our week to feed, to fellowship, to friend the widow down the street because no one else seems to be checking in on her all that often.  We break these commandments and these problems down to their visible need, but as much as God calls us to the visible (He does), He also calls us to the invisible, to the spiritual reality.

You go to the homeless shelter and volunteer your time.  But what are you doing for those who have no concept of where Home is?  You cook a meal and serve the hungry.  But what about those who cannot live on bread alone?  What about those hungering for something more than carbs and calories?

Jesus said whatever you do for the least of these....  The hungry, for whom food is not the answer.  The thirsty, desperate for living water you can't draw out of a well.  The naked, longing for the wardrobe of righteousness that comes with the Cross.  The stranger, who isn't looking for a place to stay but a place to be.  The imprisoned, who are trapped in the failings of a fallen world and a broken heart.  The sick...those who can't take one more minute of this brokenness and need the power and the presence of the Great Physician.

The simple answer is to look at these verses and think, ok.  Food.  Drink.  Clothing.  Shelter.  A visit now and then.  Medicine.  Simple things.  Simple things we must absolutely be doing as God's people, as His church.

But it's not enough.  It's not the whole thing.

God came to save the lost, a work He calls us to aid Him in.  And that calling includes the translation.  The new words.  Not just the orphan, but the Fatherless.  Not just the widow, but the once-beautiful bride of Christ.  All of the lost - in this word or that - through His Word alone.  In any translation.