Monday, September 30, 2013

Sowers and Reapers

The reason it's easy to focus on the harvest in ministry is because that's where the payoff seems to be. Nobody's impressed by freshly-tilled soil. Nobody rushes to the store to buy seedlings for their salad. No. We want a big, hearty tomato and we don't care how it got here. (Fill in your favorite produce item here.)

That's why it's tempting to focus on how many people follow you into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. That's tangible. That's a number. That makes you feel like you're doing something for God's people. For God.

But the truth about ministry, or anything else you do for God, is that you don't always get to see the pay off.

Moses didn't. Remember him? Moses risked his life to stand before Pharaoh and demand the release of God's people. He put his reputation on the line to lead the people through the wilderness. He led with passion and fought with pride and pulled these people toward a Promised Land, even when they weren't sure they were all that interested any more. Remember what he got for all that work? A look through the binoculars at a holy land he wasn't ever going to enter.

Joseph didn't. Remember him? He got them into the Egypt mess in the first place, by saving them. God put him in position to provide during a family, and Joseph ended up getting a remnant of Israel a place to stay in Egypt so they wouldn't all die out from lack of food. He believed God would save His people and restore them to their lands, but Joseph died in Egypt. Only his bones ever saw the Promise.

Paul didn't. Remember him? Paul was one of the most incredible missionaries whose stories we have been able to read. He traveled. He taught. He graced an entire region with the good news of God, believing that the church was there for the taking if only someone would dare to plant such a thing. Not one of his letters ever read, "Congratulations, guys! You made it! You are an awesome church, exactly what God intended!" (They probably still wouldn't today.) He spent his entire life planting and pulling weeds, never seeing the way the church has grown since his death. He probably died thinking about the strife between the elders at Thessalonika.

Yet you look at these men and you say, of course they did something worthy for God. It's only upon looking again that you realize their contribution was never in the harvest.

So it is with us. We weren't all meant to be reapers. Some of us are sowers. Some of us are tenders. Most of us may spend our entire lives planting and pulling weeds...but you never know what you're creating space for. You never know what you're setting up to grow.

In all of Scripture, I think there's only one figure I would say was a harvester, and that is Christ. The rest were field hands in changing seasons. So what makes you think you're so special? Button up the overalls, grab the hoe (God used a good many ho to accomplish His work....sorry....I couldn't help myself) and get your hands dirty. Plant and pull weeds. Out there lies the Promise, and your work is to help it grow.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Break New Ground

Break new ground. Plant righteousness, and harvest the fruit that your loyalty will produce for me. (Hosea 10:12)

It's a simple formula: break, plant, harvest. Yet we are consistently lacking in the first two steps.

We're pretty good at harvest, or so we think. And when we're not, we're pretty sure harvesting in our problem. We live our Christian lives like people watching us ought to simply see our loyalty to God and, without any back story, should marvel at our incredible goodness and then be directed toward God. We live hoping people will see us pull into church on Sunday morning and pull in behind us, although we'd never actually extend an invitation. We look in the mirror and see brokenness then put on the foundation of God and walk into the world so the world sees goodness, then we think they'll understand. They don't, of course, but that's our hope. That our loyalty and good looks alone will harvest a new crop of believers for God.

We're content to base our ministry on the harvest and ignore the ground and the seed.

You know why? Because here's the thing about new ground: it's hard. Soil that has never been turned is packed together. It takes a great measure of strength to dig in and soften it up, and who wants to bother with that? But God says this is the first step in serving Him - we have to break new ground. Look around, and you know this is the truth.

What do you say about the Christian who looks just like his world? What do you say about the man who bows his head in prayer and then bites your head off when you inconvenience him? What do you say about the woman who talks faithfully to the Lord and just as faithfully about everyone else? What do you say about the guy with the Jesus bumper sticker who just cut you off in traffic or the woman whose filthy words carry across the room and you can hardly believe when you hear her praising God with those lips a few minutes later? What do you say about the Christian who looks just like the world?

More importantly, what do you say about his God?

Jesus was all about breaking new ground. He was about digging in and turning the soil. He was about making people take a second look because here is this guy who doesn't look like everyone else. This is the step that gets people wondering. Hey, they notice, this guy is different. I wonder why.

If breaking new ground doesn't look hard enough, try taking the next step and planting righteousness. This is where the rubber meets the road because now, you don't have to just look different - you have to be different. You have to put yourself in a place to be broken and nourished. Is that not how a seed grows? A seed grows by becoming too big for its shell and bursting forth into fertile ground. When you plant righteousness, you show a side of yourself that is too big for this place. A side that is willing to go beyond its boundaries for a chance at growth. This is faith, among many other things.

Here's the misconception: God doesn't say to be righteous, although that is certainly the goal. He says simply to plant righteousness, to bury yourself in the bigger, life-giving thing and show your potential. That's what the world is looking for in God, anyway - potential. They're looking for something bigger..they're looking to be something bigger. They're looking to break out of their shell. You plant righteousness and show them that it's plausible, if not also possible, by your simple measure of faith. No matter what kind of nut you sprout into as you grow.

Then we get to the harvest. You've dared to be different, given yourself to growth, and now you grow and that is the final testament to living the Godly life - to demonstrate your evolution in His fertile ground. This is the part we want to skip to, to show people who we are in God in the hopes that they will see who they can be. It just doesn't matter unless they've seen the first two steps. Unless they've seen you bold and broken, how good you are today does not impress them. And they are not impressed with your God, either.

And if you show them your God but they weren't ripe for pickin', tell me, friend - have you harvested a single soul? No?

Then maybe it's time to break new ground.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Remember Healed

This is kind of going to be a continuation of yesterday's post. Once you have dared to let go of God's hand, once you have stood on your own feet and realized that He has healed you, the hardest thing to do is to remember that He has healed you.

Let me put some emphasis in that so you read it correctly: The hardest thing to do is to remember that HE healed you.

My niece is a treasure. She's seven, and if you ask her how long she's been able to do something, she'll tell you, "Since forever." How long have you been able to read? Since forever. How long have you been able to talk? Since forever. How long have you been able to walk? Since forever.

As innocent and cute as it is coming out of her mouth, it's not so adorable coming out of ours. But isn't that the way it is? We start walking on our own and suddenly, we think we could always walk. Suddenly, we think never had a yoke. Suddenly, we forget that it was God who brought us out of that place and taught us how to walk and led us and guided us and broke our yoke. Suddenly, we forget He was there at all.

Then we have three ways of looking at things - either we healed ourselves, things just got better, or things didn't actually get better at all.

If we healed ourselves, we no longer trust in God because we do not recognize the need for Him. We trust in ourselves. When trouble comes, we know (or think we know) that we can get out of it. We can handle this. All by ourselves.

If things just got better, we no longer have faith in God; we have faith in circumstance. We start to say things like, "It will work itself out. It always does." We start to spout platitudes like "This is just how things go" and "It will be over soon." All by itself.

And if things never actually got better at all, we no longer hope in God; we no longer hope at all. We resign ourselves to things always being this way because it seems, even when it didn't seem so, that they always have.

That's the danger of not remembering that it was HE who healed you. That's the danger of forgetting that God was there. There's no reason for trust, no reason for faith, no reason for hope.

Becoming a man of God is a delicate balance. It takes the faith to let go of God's hand without forgetting how it feels to be there. It takes being led by ropes of human kindness and cords of love (Hosea 11:4). It takes daring to find your strength to find that God is your strength.

And it takes looking back toward Egypt and seeing two sets of footprints in the sand, remembering what it was when God took your little hand and led you out of there.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Realized Healed

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. ...I was the one who taught the people of Ephraim to walk. I took them by the hand. But they didn't realize that I had healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ropes of love. I removed the yokes from their necks. I bent down and fed them. (Hosea 11:1, 3-4)

I love this passage because how many of us are clinging to the reassuring hand of our Father? I know I am. And while it sounds all intimate and faithful and loving, it's not all necessarily good. Let us devour this story a little.

This is pretty much how God finds all of us - as children. When Israel was a child... He finds us small, captive, captured by circumstances. He finds us little, and a little naive. Maybe even innocent, not knowing or understanding or appreciating just where it is that we find ourselves. We're all in Egypt. We are all slaves when God calls us out. If we weren't stuck somewhere, He'd have no reason to call us out. He could call us in to Him. He could call us forth from here. He could simply call us. But He calls us out...because we're stuck here.

One of the things about being stuck is that there's not a lot of room to move. You know this is true if you have ever felt bound by your circumstances. You know this is true if you've ever had trouble. Your whole paradigm shifts to be a response/reaction to the trouble. You rework your life to not only make room for struggle but to incorporate it into your daily living so maybe it's trouble but at least it's not also hassle. Then anything you want to do, you check against your new definition of normal to see if it fits in your troubled paradigm until one day, you realize you haven't done anything in a very long time. God calls you out, and you check it against your trouble and decide that as much as you want to, maybe you can't and so you don't but you can't get the calling of God out of your head. This is a conflict of faith.

So God teaches you how to walk. He teaches you how to take another step. He takes you by the hand and, one small baby step at a time, shows you what it looks like to walk away from bondage. He leads you through the wilderness, the confusion and inner conflict of leaving captivity. He guides you toward Promise, your hand in His...and suddenly, it's His hand in yours because you've wrapped yourself tightly around His reassuring presence and you're not about to let go.

Not here. Not where it's scary. Not outside of the trouble you knew, which oddly seems comforting in such a free place as this.

Which is how we fail to realize God has healed us. He has taken us, sure. He has guided us. He has put our hand in His. And most of us are content with that. Not just content; we are thrilled. Excited. Energized. We even feel somehow kind of holy. This is spiritual success, to be in God's hand at all times.

Or is it? Let me ask you something: If you find God's hand and never stand on your own, have you answered your questions? Have you abated your fears? Or have you appeased yourself so that for awhile, you can just stop asking?

Unless you let go, unless you trust God's hand to still be there even if you're not holding it tight, you will never understand the way He has healed you. You will never understand strength in place of weakness. You will never understand faith in place of fear. You will never understand confidence in place of questions. You will never understand God.

Which is why, slowly, as you experience your freedom and journey to a Promised Land, you feel God's hand slowly slipping away. That's ok. He leads you with ropes of human kindness, friends and strangers to guide the way. He leads you with ropes of love, so you learn to trust that God is love. He removes the yoke from your neck so nothing has a stranglehold on the way you move - no trouble, no trial, no fear, no failure. You move the way you want to move. And he bends down to feed you. He comes to nourish your soul. He doesn't expect you to always find Him, to look around panicked when you think you've wandered too far. He comes to you. He's always coming to you. On your level. To feed you.

That, I think, is faith. When you let go of God's hand, you find your strength. And your strength is in Him because here He is; He's just not molly-coddling you. He's trusting you. Because He wants you to trust Him.

Or imagine it this way. Imagine you are a child, a real child, and that you treasure your daddy. Imagine that you hold his hand when you cross the street or when you're out for a walk or when you're skipping through the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk (and a little treat) on the way home. Now, imagine you hold his hand while you play on the playground, eat lunch, go to school, go to church, go to the bathroom. Imagine that everywhere you go, you hold your daddy's hand. Then tell me how much you still love your daddy...or how big a burden he's become. 

But imagine you've let go. Imagine you're running free and every now and then, you look up and catch your daddy's eye watching you. Imagine the smile that crosses your face to see him delight in your delighting. Imagine the smile he returns, purely delighted in you. Then tell me how much you love your daddy.

That's what happens when you realize He's healed you and dare to let go.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On Freedom

I wrote yesterday about my intense stillness and extraordinary joy. You know what's weird? For the first time in my life, I really wasn't looking for either.

Don't get me wrong - these are precisely the kinds of things I think I've always been looking for. I know I've always been looking for. I can't think of a single experience I've ever had, a single adventure I've ever gone on, a single step I've ever taken prior to this current experience that I wasn't thinking, "This is going to make me stronger" or "This is something I have to do" or even "This will be good for me." Because I have only given myself to things in this world that were meant to answer any of the deep questions I have been asking. I have always been looking for answers. If it couldn't answer me, it wasn't worth doing.

Somehow, I've always had the questions.

Here's the thing about answers, and I didn't understand until well..until now, but I'm not sure it has anything to do with anything that now is the time: when you go searching for answers, what you find is a specific response for a narrow question and then you find yourself broadening the question because this answer doesn't work anywhere but here. That is...for a long time, I was a student and I used to wonder what it might be like to have just one normal day. Normal was defined by the student experience. One day not fighting my demons or my darkness or my doubts, one day just to be like all the other kids who sat in my classes. I'm not sure I ever achieved such a thing, but think if I had. What would my new question have been? It would have been, "How do I have a normal day not in school? How do I have a normal day somewhere else?"

Our questions are generally limiting in this way. We're willing to settle for a specific smallness for a chance at an answer, but the answer leaves us aching for the bigger things. It's incredibly frustrating. And to tell you the truth, I've spent more than 20 years looking for answers, dedicating my life to responding to my questions, and I probably could have spent the rest of my life asking the same things. Every moment is new. By necessity, it has to be. Unless you have an answer that envelops a dynamic reality, you'll always be asking questions.

I didn't want to ask questions this time, with my chaplain program. With this awesome opportunity God has opened up for me, I resolved early on that I did not want to waste this time asking questions. I didn't want to go just to prove that I could go. I didn't want to do just to show that I could do. I didn't want this time to make me stronger. I didn't want this time to answer me. I didn't want this time to heal me. I wasn't going to waste this time trying to make it work in me in some magical way.

For the first time in my life, I went...because I wanted to. Because I still want to. Because this is the thing that God has put on my heart to do, the place He has called me to be, a portion of the purpose with which He has endowed my life. There's not a day that goes by that I do not feel how blessed and holy this opportunity is - not because of what He's doing in me but because of what He's doing with me. Through me, if you want to say it that way. I don't walk into work in the mornings wondering what awesome new truth God is going to unfold on my life today; I walk in praying for what He will use me to unfold in others.

For the first time in my life, it's not about me.

Yet I am infused with purpose and joy, with comfort and confidence. I have a stillness in my spirit and a spring in my step that is undeniable. Without even asking, I'm finding my questions answered. And you know what? I kind of don't care. I'm just loving this. I'm not going to analyze it to death. But when you see me smile that simple little smile, you'll know I'm thinking about the awesomeness of my God. You can count on it.

All the questions in the world would have never gotten me to this place. All of the answers would not have brought me here. In fact, had I resolved to keep asking, I might have missed this altogether. But God is certainly here and here's what I think it is. I think it's that when you live life asking questions, you've always got your hands full. You're carrying your doubts, your fears, your insecurities. You're carrying your limited understanding, your hopelessness, your helplessness. When you decide for just a moment to stop asking, when you take one bold step of faith into the adventure of God, you drop it all for the chance with one empty hand to touch Him.

And that answers the question. Even when you've decided not to ask.

That...sets you free.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Comfort and Joy

I mentioned last week on Facebook that "there's a certain stillness in my spirit and it manifests as pure joy." Which is true. And cool. And...agonizingly contradictory.

I'm not sure that anyone who has known me up to this point would classify me as high energy. Hard-working, maybe. Diligent, sure. Constantly busy, of course. But not really high energy. I have always had this sort of quiet, withdrawn, reclusive presence about me. On the outside. The inside of me has been screaming. I feel like I've always been running, always been fighting, always been struggling. While maybe I always looked disciplined and calm, I have always felt anything but.

Until the past couple of weeks as I have started on this new journey. Touching God, I have felt the stillness I have longed for in my soul slowly creeping its way in. I find myself relaxed and natural, for the first time in conscious, relevant memory (of course, we are all relaxed and natural as youngsters, until for whatever reason, we know better. That was my last time, but this is not that). It's a very cool experience. Particularly in the early days of realizing this, I could not stop smiling, knowing this was becoming a tangible reality in me. Feeling myself slowing down, settling in, stilling. What an awesome moment!

Except that as my inner world has grown more still, more at peace, my outer world is bustling. I am, officially, high energy. I am confident and exude confidence. I am comfortable and exude comfort. I am talking with people, being relational, throwing myself into everything, and thoroughly enjoying it. It's like as my spirit settles, my flesh is eager to explore, no longer fighting its inner battles but unleashed upon the world.

It's not what I wanted.

What I wanted was an inner peace to match my outer peace. What I wanted was the full depth of stillness in my spirit and my flesh. It's the kind of thing a girl dreams about. For decades.

Then I was sitting last week with my supervisor, having a private meeting, feeling the fullness of stillness in me and attempting to explain to her exactly what it meant to finally be in this place...and while I was feeling humbled and quiet and finally at rest, I suddenly realized that I was almost bouncing in my seat, waving my hands about as I spoke, swaying to a rhythm only my quiet soul can hear, and smiling so big with eyes wide open that I thought my face might burst. Which has kind of become my natural outward state.

This has me thinking about my friends, my family, my mentors. It has me wondering about some of the other people in my life. And thinking contradictory as it feels...maybe this is how it was meant to be. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I've never lived in another man's heart so I cannot really speak for anyone but me, but here's what I see as I look into other lives:

I see people with a quiet presence, the kind of thing I have long admired and aspired to, who can walk in a room without making a noise, who are content to sit and listen, who speak in a softness of voice that is neither reserved nor resigned but is hauntingly real. You can sense their peace when you sit with them; they bring their quiet to bear. But if you talk with them long enough or hit on just the right thing, you watch them erupt in laughter or burst with joy and you know, you just know, there is an incredible inner energy in there that is their fire, their passion. I'm thinking of one of my staff chaplains in my new program, who has this quiet thing down pat but then you unknowingly tap into some joke she shares with herself, some tiny bit of joy she harbors in her spirit, and she busts out the biggest grin and you know it's in there. I'm thinking of a man like David, who has this certain composure about him and you get the sense that he's a quiet kind of guy, but then you read the psalms and understand the dynamic reality of his inner spirit.

I see people with an extraordinary confidence and an energy that lights up a room. They are right in the thick of things without being the center of it all. They are living and loving and serving and you know they are there, but their presence says something bigger than the whole thing and what you sense is something greater. I'm thinking of my fifth grade teacher, who always had this incredible energy and just the right touch to keep you engaged, but you could sense about her that she was incredibly grounded. I'm thinking about Pope Francis, who by necessity has a social persona but when you hear him speak, you hear him speak from his inner peace. I'm thinking about a man named Solomon who had such dynamic personal interactions with God and was so energized by the word of the Lord, yet was known for his wisdom and I guess when I think of such wisdom, I think of it humbly and quietly. 

I see it in Jesus. When you see Him in a quiet moment, you sense His inner joy. When you see Him in a big moment, you sense His inner calm. So maybe there's something to this contradictory feeling, this seeming imbalance. Maybe it's how we're wired.

It's a little early, but maybe these are the tides of comfort and joy. (Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.) Maybe when one ebbs inward, the other flows out and vice versa. Maybe that's just how it is.

Maybe that's just how I am. I kind of like it. It's not the uber-calm awesome stillness I had always dreamt of, but if such is the interplay of comfort and joy, of quiet and confidence, I much prefer a quiet spirit and an extraordinary presence, which should never be about me but fully about the God who has created such joy.

Friday, September 20, 2013


In a quiet moment, or what passed for such things, Jesus took Simon aside and named him Peter. Peter, we know, means "rock." And Jesus proclaimed, "On this rock, I will build my church."

And He did.

Which kind of leaves us intimidated by Peter and at the same time, wanting to be him. We want to have the kind of rock-solid faith that God can build His church on. We want to have the solid steadfastness of this disciple so that God can use us. We want to be the foundation for something bigger. Yet we are keenly aware that we are no rock.

We're no big thing. We're no solid ground. We look in the mirror and see our questions staring back at us. We try to steady our ship only to find we're tossed by the waves. We want to be a big thing, but we're no big thing and the more our smallness shakes us, the more we feel ourselves sifting through God's hands, unable to be used. Unable to be blessed. Unable, maybe, to be loved because we're just a little thing.

Take heart. The word of Amos has a promise for you.

I'm going to give the order. I will sift the nation of Israel out of all the nations as if I were using a sieve. Not one pebble with fall to the ground. (9:9)

Do you know what a pebble is? It's a little thing.

Let's get a little context: God is pronouncing judgment on the nations who have sinned against Him. He is laying out His plan for redeeming the nation of His people, the Israelites, who have been beaten, captured, scattered, and rebellious. What He says in this verse is, "I'm bringing them back. I'm re-establishing my people. And I'm starting with anything that's anything, even the littlest thing."

He wasn't looking for a rock; He was bringing back pebbles. And even on my toughest day, I'd like to think I'm at least that.

Maybe I'm no Peter; I know I'm not. Maybe I'm no rock. But I have a little something solid in me, a little bit of faith that's strong enough even when the rest seems to sift away. I have this little core of Presence in me that cannot be broken. It's solid, even one the days when it doesn't seem like much to stand on. Amos reminds me that that's enough.

I suspect maybe we've always known that's the case. After all, Peter wasn't always Peter. He wasn't always the rock. Before God put that into him, he was simple Simon - the very man I see staring back at me in the mirror. The very man looking back at you. The very nobody. The very little thing. He got to be a part of the bigger thing when he gave his whole thing to God.

We can do that.

It's so easy for us to think that just because we're a little thing, we're a no-thing. That our pebble is no rock. But Amos reminds us that God's all about sifting in pebbles, not sifting them out. God's about keeping every solid little thing, every tiny bit of faith, every strong core. He keeps every one.

So I wouldn't worry too much about being a rock, as long as you're at least a pebble. That's enough for God to build His church on. We've seen Him do it. And that makes your little thing a big thing.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ultimate Grace

One of my duties as a hospital chaplain is to discuss advanced directives with patients and families. There are primarily two that I am responsible for - a declaration of a health care representative and a living will. The first appoints someone to make your medical decisions should there come a time when you are unable to do so, and the second pre-declares your medical decision should there come a time when you are unable to verbalize such wishes in the moment. The first is an exercise in trust. The second, in faith.

Which I did not realize until a few days in when I sat to prepare my first living will with a patient and could not control the holy tingling I felt in my spirit as we discussed his/her dying wishes. It was the same holy tingle as a good worship song, a beautiful sunset, a divinely-purposed moment. And I wondered what it was that made it that way.

Maybe it was a couple of things. It was, in part, this person's faith. This person was willing to sign his/her name on the dotted line and declare that he/she did not wish for this physical body, whose hand I was holding, to be inconvenienced in prolonging life. Inconvenienced! The document actually says "When it would be of no benefit or a tremendous burden." Don't you kind of wish for that kind of faith? That you could look at the evidence and declare, in sound mind and body, that when you are no longer of sound mind and body, you release yourself to be simply of spirit and surrender this body? That's awesome. I am a girl of unfinished business; I think I would always have this idea of something more I wanted to do, someone else I wanted to love, another apology I wanted to make, another relationship I wanted to heal...something, you know, that I wouldn't quite be ready to give up. This patient, without an ounce of resignation to dying, declared a wish that he/she be allowed simply to die.

That's faith. So of course, that struck me.

But perhaps what struck me deeper still was death itself and the ultimate act of grace that is our dying.

This is contrary to most of the teaching I think I've ever heard on the subject. When we talk about dying, we talk about grief. We talk about the tearing away. We talk about the trouble of loss and the difficulty of death. It's troubling for those of us who are left behind, and so often when we talk about it, we are reminded that death was never the intention. That's true, I think. God never intended us to die. When He created Adam and Eve, the idea was that they would live forever with Him. In perfect relationship. In this beautiful community they had, the three of them, although I am certain the numbers would still have multiplied and it would have been the many of us and the One God in perfect relationship in beautiful community forever without the concept of death and only this fathomable idea of life as we saw reflected in cyclical nature, in the bounty of harvest and so forth.

That kind of all got whacked by the Fall, when separation between man and God became reality and we no longer had perfect relationship and we no longer had beautiful community and we no longer even had each other, really, because man was looking for a way to find God again. So here we are wandering, separated and looking for a way back. And here is God aching, mourning and looking for a way to redeem. And it is here we introduce death, and it becomes...

the ultimate grace.

Grace. Think about that. Would you have ever considered the two words - death and grace - in the same sentence? Yet this is true. God could not bear to be separated from us forever. He could not fathom an eternity on the other side of the chasm. He wasn't content to let us spend the vast expanse of time trying to find our way back. Rather than change eternity, rather than surrender forever, God reimagined life. He made our time finite with a smooth transition into the infinite. Death. He gave us a way to get back to Him. He gave us a way to come back to perfect relationship. He gave us a way to restore community after all our wandering and all our wondering and all our world, He gave us death that we might have the comfort of life as He intended it.

So I can't help but tingle when I think about death. It's so beautifully holy. That doesn't mean it's not hard. That doesn't mean it's not a struggle. That doesn't mean I'm necessarily ready to go any time soon (although I suppose if He'd have me, He could have me any time). But I'm reaching an understanding of death that I can entrust my life to and approach with peace the end of my time, whenever that might be, knowing that time is only beginning and holding onto the grace of the God who created the way for me to come home.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First Encounters

I mentioned this in yesterday's post, and until the words actually came out of my fingers, I have to admit I hadn't thought about it much. But now that I have, I realize its incredible importance and so in case you, like me, have not thought about such a thing, allow me to bring this interesting reality of Biblical encounter to your conscious mind:

Whenever God meets a man, it is always first on the man's own ground.

This is true from the very first breath. God formed Adam from the dust and breathed life into the man. That means when Adam first opened his eyes, he saw God. It wouldn't have had to be that way. God could have distantly formed Adam, enlivened him in some less tangible way, and gone about His business in the Garden until the man stumbled upon Him and introduced himself. He could have endowed Adam with a tremendous sense of longing for the holy, like we so often seem to have, then challenged the man to find something to satisfy that hollow place. But He didn't. He breathed life into Adam and stayed there so from the very first breath, Adam's deepest question was answered - a question he wouldn't even have known he was asking. There was God. Face-to-face.

Jacob was camped at the river, waiting to cross with his family and possessions. He sends his entourage across the river and then wrestles with a man who has found him, a man we come to know as the presence of God. It's not like God was washing up in the river and Jacob invaded this private moment or this personal space. This man was coming after Jacob because Jacob was settled there. Genesis tells us that. Jacob was camped out; this man walks into his camp. God comes to him.

Moses is out for his life. He's killed an Egyptian man in defense of a Hebrew man and somehow, this has made both groups of men despise him. He's out wandering in the wilderness, not looking for anything in particular, when he sees a bush ablaze before him. God didn't send Moses into the wilderness to find Him. But He met Moses there.

When David is called to be King, God sends the prophet to the house of David's father, Jesse. He could have waited until a festival day, when the faithful Jewish family likely would have come to Him. He could have put a journey on David's heart to travel to this or that place that might be more holy than a shepherd's pasture. But He didn't. He knew the man He was going to anoint King of Israel, and God went to the place where David was. He went to the man's home.

I say all this because it's so easy for us to think we have to find God. It's so easy for us to buy into the idea that we have to go looking for Him, that it's up to us whether we ever encounter His holy presence or not. That's even the way we phrase it. "I was a deplorable man, and then I found God."

Be honest: have you ever "found God" somewhere other than your own ground? I mean, the first time. I mean, when you were really aching for Him. I mean, when you had a hollowness in your life that you just couldn't seem to fill and you finally found something holy - has it ever been on neutral ground? No. Because that's not the pattern or the promise of God.

You see, the greatest truth about finding God is that He first found us. He sent His Son into our place, into our flesh, onto our ground and even then, people did not have to go looking for God; He was traveling to them. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it still is. God is right here, in the middle of your ground, looking for you. Waiting for you. Watching for you. Hoping...for you. It doesn't mean He won't call you somewhere else; I always hope He calls me somewhere holy. But even then He will lead me. I never have to look for Him.

He's always right here, looking for me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I feel like I need to expound a little more on what I closed with yesterday, that the idea of dying for a man comes when you see the question in his eyes that you know the answer to. That's kind of my ideation of ministry in general; it is the foundation of how I serve my God. I think it's the foundation of how we all serve, if we serve honestly and humbly.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share part of my story with my chaplain group. One of those "new group" exercises. And I think this beautifully illustrates what I was trying to say yesterday, if you'll grant me a small bit of space to share. I'm not going to share the whole thing; just enough that you get an idea of what I mean.

It's things like...I didn't grow up in church, but I went to Christian preschool. The preschool met in one end of this old church building where the lighting was terrible and the cockroaches were plentiful and you could smell the mold as soon as you walked in. Down the hall a little ways, there was a room with big, heavy double doors. They let us peek in there one day, but repeatedly insisted we were not to go in and we were not to speak. They opened the doors and revealed this magnificent sanctuary with pristine floors, polished wooden pews, this open and clean air. That one room was wholly different than the entirety of the preschool area, and I couldn't reconcile that. I immediately sensed it as holy and by instruction and correlation, holy then became off-limits. It was intimidating. It made me question my worth, among other things. Who was I to ever be around anything holy? Who was I to even think about holy things? To this day, I can remember what it was like to stand in that doorway, just a couple feet tall, take in a breath of that air and understand that I may never get this moment again because that was holy and holy was not for little children. Which later translated to holy was not for me.

I've spent years trying to figure out holy. Trying to figure out how to answer that question that's stayed in my heart. Twenty-five years later, I'm starting to get it. I'm starting to understand holy, not that I could ever articulate it or tell you in words. Not yet, anyway. But I look around at people searching for a church home or searching for God or searching their souls, and I see in their eyes the same question. I see them asking what is holy, and who are they to ever think about such things? I see them questioning their worth and this thing that seems so much bigger, so much purer.... And you know what? I would give up myself if I could show them something holy. The answered question in my heart is that heavy. I would give up whatever I'd have to in order that they might not have to ask that question any more.

It's things like...wondering where God is and how long it's going to take me to find Him. I have made no secret of my darkness. I have made no secret of my wandering, my questioning, my aching. For so many years, all I heard was that I needed to take my heart to God. I needed to take my life to God. I needed to go find Him and fall on my knees in His presence. You want to know something? God is really hard to find! I wasted so many years looking for my God. Then I finally settled down in the forest of my darkness and there He was, waiting on me the whole time. When we had that moment, I didn't throw my life on His lap and fall to my knees and bawl like a baby. No. He spoke. He reached out. He initiated the moment, just by being there. Comfortably being there, as if He had no other place in the universe to be.

I wasted so much time looking for God when the truth is that God was looking for me. I spent so much time trying to find God that I forgot to be found by Him. Now that we've seen each other's faces, heard each other's voice, I know where to find Him. Whenever I need Him. The first time, like so many of my Biblical heroes, was on my turf. After that, it's a toss-up. But I see all these people wandering around, wondering where they are ever going to find God. They're asking, begging to know where He is. And they are wasting all this time on a supernatural scavenger hunt that is honestly one of the most defeating "spiritual" practices we have. And you know what? I would give up myself if I could show them the place where God is waiting for them. His face is so vivid in my heart that I'd have to. I would crawl through their underbrush, face their beasts, bleed through their jungle for the chance to take them back into their own ground where God is waiting for them. I would give up whatever I'd have to in order that they would see God's face and realize it was them, not Him, who had to be found.

Those are just a couple of examples, but that's what I mean about seeing my answered questions in another's eyes. I would die for that person to know what I know. And I could only die because I know it. That's what Jesus did. That's the beauty of the Cross.

Monday, September 16, 2013

For a Good Man

If you've spent any time studying the sacrifice of Jesus, you've no doubt run across the verse in Romans 5 that reads, Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (7-8)

The verse is meant to show God's inexplicable love, that He would come in perfect flesh and sacrifice something purely righteous for a lesser man. But if you're anything like me, you have too long read this verse and used it to consider a very important question in your own life:

Would I be willing to die for a good man? I mean, if he was especially good.

It's easy to come off sounding righteous in your head. Like yeah, if there were a really good man somewhere and it's me or him, of course I'm going to go. Of course I'd be willing to die to give a greater man a chance. Sounds noble, right? Not quite. Because logic like this makes you think you are the lesser man. It's not a sacrifice as much as a suicide. It's not giving yourself up for his sake; it's giving up on yourself because you sense in your heart that you have fallen short. You start to twist in your mind these images of all these people who are better than you, magnify your own depravity, and come to the conclusion that a good man deserves another chance and don't.

Do you get how defeating that is? And how contrary it is to God's love?

When Jesus laid down His life, it was not because He considered Himself a lesser man. It was not because you or I were particularly deserving, more deserving, of another chance than the Messiah. It was not because we were about to do something He knew He could not do. It was because He had the one thing that so many of us lack, and His death was mercy to give us a chance at finding it.

What is that thing? Absolute faith.

Total confidence. Unshakable assurance. Complete contentment. He lived His life in His Father's hands, and He knew where He was going when His flesh was broken. He knew what was coming after this. He knew Who was coming after Him. He looked around at the eyes in the crowd, and He understood that not one other man in the crowd could say that. Not one other man knew what laid on the other side of the Cross. Not one other man was in a position to die.

(And if you think you're so righteous thinking you might die for a better man, consider this: the Bible gives us no stories of men or women who offered to take Christ's place. No one fought to the hill of Golgotha. No one stepped in the way. No one sacrificed himself to save the Lord. The closest we come is Peter, who was willing to kill for a good man but was not willing to die in His place. If ever there was a better man....)

Christ was unafraid. He was rock solid. He didn't think less of Himself; He thought of Himself less than He thought of the questioning eyes that stood before Him. In faith, He died and left a witness to the world. Not only showing how to live, not only showing how to die, but showing how to trust. That's the part of Jesus we struggle so often to define or describe - His absolute trust in His Father - but this is that moment. This is trust. I'm not sure there's another way to teach that.

Imagine this: Imagine a man taking God's place. Imagine a man shouting from the crowd, "I surrender myself...if only you will let Him live." Imagine Bill carrying the Cross. Imagine blood pouring from Bill's hands. Imagine Bill's naked body hanging on a tree. And tell me you're not thankful to Bill for putting himself in that place and allowing Jesus to live longer with you.

But what is Jesus going to teach you with another few days, another few months, another few years? What is He going to tell you that He hasn't already said? What isn't covered in His absolute love? The answer is the demonstration of His faith. Because we all know people who can talk a good game, but unless you can do it, your words are hollow. Jesus hallowed His words by dying. He willingly gave Himself up, the better man, for you, the lesser man, because it was the only way you would see faith. And He could see in your eyes you didn't know it.

That's what I try to think of when I wonder whether I would die for a good man. I don't know that I would. It sounds unholy, maybe, but it's never that the better man should live and the lesser man should die. What I'm looking at is your eyes. And if you still have the question that I know the answer to, then I surrender myself in the hopes that you will find the answer. That's really what it is, I think.

Because I'm no better man. I just have faith. And I love you.

Friday, September 13, 2013


One of the things I've noticed when I go through my several boxes of items in storage is that I seem to accumulate things to remind me of other things I've done -The T-shirt from the environmental summit I taught when I was 13. The ticket stub to the symphony. The frisbee from the...I don't even remember off-hand what that was. Sometimes, I look at these things and remember and smile, but it's the remembering that makes me smile. The things, I find, tend to make me sad.

Because outside of my memory, they remind me of things I no longer have. Times that have passed. Chances that have come and gone. There's a certain sadness in that. I look at them longingly, like, "Remember how awesome that was?" without actually remembering how awesome that was.

I realized this profoundly when I decided not to get too attached to my white chaplain's coat this fall. They won't let me keep it.

That is a blessing. Because the truth is that I was already wondering what I was going to do with the "stuff" I might accumulate through this opportunity. I was already thinking about what it might be like in a year, two years, five years, to run across these things again and have that certain sadness and longing and pain for what once was, what I might remember without remembering. Thankfully, so far, I don't have anything that I don't have to give back.

Which is forcing me to live this experience fully and create my own memories, which is really how I'd rather do it anyway. It's reminding me that there's not going to be anything to remind me; whatever I want to take from this, whatever I want to hold with me forever, whatever is going to remain when December what I make of it between now and then. It's what I get from having this moment.

So I'm making momentos.

I'm making moments that I can go back to, places in my head and my heart that will always feel more like this than anything I could ever pick up with my hands. I'm reminding myself every day that I don't want to forget this and that I never want to look back with that certain sadness, thinking about how awesome this was without actually remembering how awesome this was.

It's the best way for memories, I think. Five years ago, I lost my basement in a flood. There were tons of photos and items down there that were my dad's. Tons more extended family memorabilia. Things that you can't replace and when you lose them, you feel like that part of you is somehow gone forever. I have known families who have lost everything in a fire, digging through the ash to find just one thing. That's the trouble with things - in the blink of an eye, they are gone. How do you remember to remember? But nobody and nothing can take this moment from you.

And here's what I think it is. This is just me talking. This is my hope for this moment and for many of thousands to come. I think it's been so easy for me to keep things because I'm scared to forget. Because I think I might one day need to be reminded of another day and what if there was nothing there to spark my memory? What if there was nothing there to point to another day? It's scary to think about. A momento is the chance to create the tangible intangible that will always remind you.

You see, it's not about having a good time. It's not about taking a mental picture. It's not about studying and surveying all the details so that you have this perfect image of this moment forever. It's about being transformed. You put yourself into this moment as wholly and fully as you can, without a thought to preserving this moment. You surrender yourself into the tide and let this wave take you wherever it's going, and you wash up changed on the other side. Then you look in the mirror and notice the difference. Sometime later, you see just this tiny little glimpse of something new in you that you'd never considered, and you wonder out loud, "Where did that come from?" And you smile because you remember. That was in this moment. That little hint of anything takes you back and there is no certain sadness; there is a tender joy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On Prostitutes and People

I want you to start today thinking about Rahab, the woman in the walled city who aided the Israelite spies and by doing so, saved her own family. I want you to think about Gomer, the woman God led the prophet Hosea to marry as a symbol of His holy love for His people. And I want you to think about how quickly, when you hear these names, your mind races to "prostitute."

It's fair. God tells us in His story that's what they are. But have you ever noticed He only really tells us once?

He tells us in the story of the spies that in that city, there was a prostitute named Rahab who helped His people survive, escape, and return to capture that place. From that first introduction on, she is known simply as Rahab. He doesn't start calling her "the prostitute." When the army of God reaches that place and they remember her by the scarlet rope, nobody cries out, "Oh right! Somebody go get the prostitute." No, the Scriptures tell us that Rahab and all those in her household were saved by her faithfulness.

Because God was there for Rahab. Not some nameless prostitute.

Gomer is only mentioned really at the beginning of the book of Hosea. God instructs His prophet to marry a prostitute as a symbolic union, and Hosea then tells us that he chose Gomer. He never even directly calls her a prostitute. And nowhere else in the book is her prostitution recollected. There's plenty of talk about our whoring around with other gods, but we hear nothing more of Gomer. And we know her by name.

Because God was using Gomer to illustrate His love for us. Not some nameless prostitute.

I chose the prostitute because it's easy to see her story in Scripture, but we all have names for ourselves. Characteristics or characterizations we've heard probably all our lives. Things we think about ourselves when no one is watching. Things we see in ourselves when we look in the mirror. Things we are ashamed to say we are, or have been, or maybe will always be. True or not, I think we all have these things about us that feel like such heavy labels that we'll never get out from behind them.

Are you thinking of yours?

Good. Now I want you to think about Rahab, and I want you to think anything other than "prostitute." I want you to picture Gomer and see something besides a loose woman. Because that's what God saw in them. He tells us they were prostitutes, maybe so that two thousand years later, we would still be amazed that God uses prostitutes. Maybe so that two thousand years later, we would be encouraged that our own filthiness could somehow be saved. Either of those would show us something about God. But maybe He tells us they were prostitutes so that we could identify with them. I know I can.

When we say God is a good God who even uses prostitutes, we still have room to say He won't use us. We still put our own label, whatever it is you're thinking of yourself right now, into an entirely other category and say He may use prostitutes, but He can't (or won't) use us! But if we let ourselves step into the high heels of a street walker, maybe we start to get it. Maybe we vicariously understand what it's like to be broken, dirty, beat up and still used for God. I like to think of these stories as an invitation for me to put myself in a place where God can use me, instead of passively waiting on Him to pick me out of a walled city or off the side of the road. I put myself not in the prostitute's shoes, but in Rahab's. In Gomer's. In this place where these were real people who happened to be prostitutes but were not used simply for that reason. They were used because they simply were, as humans. As people. As persons with a heart and a passion and a faith.

I've never been a prostitute. It's not, pun intended, in my bag of tricks. But I've been a lot of other things and I wouldn't want to be classified by any of them. I wouldn't want to be defined by my descriptors. I don't want to live by my labels. And I don't want God to choose me because I just so happen to be....whatever I happen to be. I want God to use me because simply I am.

And that's the way He does it. When God calls you, He calls you by name. Maybe He mentions what you are, what you have been. Maybe he says that you're a prostitute, but He only says it once because that's not crucial to His story. It's a sidenote of His grace. His story is that He's using you. His story is what He's using you to do. His story is that He's using you to love.

I want you to think of your name. I want you to look yourself in the mirror. And I want you to remember a story that has nothing to do with how you might be described. Consider yourself for awhile and come up with something that extends beyond "prostitute" or whatever your label might be. Think about the way God is really using you in your story.

Think about the way that no matter what you think about yourself, no matter what you think it is that defines you, when God calls you, He uses only your name. He calls you. Not for what you are but simply because you are.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Most High

If God's going to make you crazy enough for this place so you can see the glory of the Lord Most High, don't you think it's high time we admit He's actually the "Most"?

As opposed, of course, to simply "More High."

Admit it. There have been times in your life, maybe right now, when you've seen the masterful handiwork of God and thought perhaps, just perhaps, it was only a little higher than you could achieve. You've thought maybe you could pull this or that thing together, work out this or that situation, heal this or that circumstance if things were just a little "more" right to do so. When we conceptualize of our world and our abilities in this way, God doesn't seem so supernatural. He doesn't seem so grand. He doesn't seem so miraculous.

He's almost...mundane.

Because hey, a few miles away from here, and we could probably do it, too. Whatever "it" is. This is our God-complex talking, the stubborn piece inside of us that still wants to fend for ourselves, that doesn't take grace well, that isn't ready to surrender wholly to the Unfathomably High. We're still trying to figure God out, thinking it can't be so hard. He can't be so complicated. Trying to work around in our heads how the pieces must fit together so that one day, we can make that decision without Him. We can create that thing without Him. We can live, maybe even love, without Him.

That's the danger of God simply being "More High." We continue to dumb Him down, break Him down in our attempts to understand Him until He's irrelevant. Until He's not so good. Until He's not really anything. Then we say we don't need Him. And if that's all you ever think of God, then you're right - you don't need Him. If godlikeness seems within your reach, what use do you have for the real thing?

But if you're willing to live in the mystery, if you're willing to admit and accept that you just can't figure Him out, if you're willing to declare that there is nothing nobly godlike in you, if you make Him untouchable and cast Him into the eternal where He belongs, you have made Him "Most High."

Do you see the difference? If God is More High, the pressure's on you to get there. To be more. If God is Most High, the burden is on Him to be bigger, better than everything we come across down here. If God is Most High, He gets to be God.

I think He appreciates that.

And it's a relief to us, too. It's easy to think that if you can't understand God, you can't love Him. If you can't fathom Him, you can't serve Him. If He seems too big, too wise, too glorious, too high, you think you're about to lose that intimacy you long for with Him. You think He must be too grand to care about little ol' you.

But the exact opposite is true. When you worship God as Most High, you recognize His place over all of this. You learn to trust Him in a new way. You learn to appreciate Him in a new way. You see His wisdom, and it makes Him glorious, but it makes you smile thinking about the awesome way your God wove such things together. The Most High is something you can put your faith in. You don't have to understand exactly how He does it. You don't have to figure Him out. You just have to know that He is Most High, and that puts Him above everything; there is nothing that is not under His dominion. When God is Most High, you feel Him wrapping around you and you kind of lean into Him a little, then a lot, as you find this place to rest...a place where things are taken care of because there is not, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be a "Mostest High." This is no toddler ones-upsies. This is God, and He is the Most. He is the Most High. Nothing will ever be higher than He; everything will always be lesser, lower.

Which means...He's got this. He's the Host (of Heaven) with the Most.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crazy Grace

Sometimes, it takes awhile to catch on to a verse or a story you've read a thousand times in your Bible. Or you'll read something and then a few verses later, something else and it's not until the thousand-and-first time reading it that you actually connect the two. Such was the case for me in the book of Daniel, chapter 5.

Sorry. Let's start in chapter 4.

Before the words came out of his mouth, a voice said from heaven, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to this: The kingdom has been taken from you. You will be forced away from people and live with the wild animals. You will eat grass like cattle. And seven time periods will pass until you realize that the Most High has power over human kingdoms and that he gives them to whomever he wishes.  - 4:31-32

This is the part of the story I think I have always understood. It's a curse. It is a promised curse from God that the king of Babylon's time is up and he will spend the next many years living like a wild animal, with no place to call his home and no farm to sustain him and just the scrounging and scavenging that animals do. Sounds pretty bad, falling from king to beast in the blink of an eye. Certainly, that's a powerful curse.

But that's not the curse. Now skip ahead to chapter 5.

But when [Nebuchadnezzar] became so arrogant and conceited that he became overconfident, he was removed from the royal throne. His honor was taken away from him. He was chased away from people, and his mind was changed into an animal's mind. He lived with wild donkeys, ate grass like cattle, and his body became wet with dew from the sky. -20-21a

The curse is that his honor is taken away. The curse is that he doesn't get to rule the kingdom any more. But do you see the grace?

The grace is that God made him crazy enough to not notice.

God didn't just cast Nebuchadnezzar into the grasslands and abandon him there to fend for himself. No. The Lord gave him the mind of an animal to live there, to survive there, even to thrive there without, perhaps, the conscious thought to process his current state. God was taking Nebuchadnezzar away from the people, to purify the people. He was taking the people away from Nebuchadnezzar to humble the king. And He was taking Nebuchadnezzar away from himself to exalt the Most High. It wasn't at all that the king was rejected and despised; he was actually...set aside.

That's pretty cool because, news flash, I'm kind of crazy. As I'm growing older, I'm kind of leaning into my crazy a little bit and finding that when I do that, I have a lot less tension with my world. Can you imagine the distress the king would have had if he'd been in his mind to know he was a royal man eating a wild grass? I've had that feeling. But when I lean into my crazy, when I just accept what's in my head, I find that whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, feels completely natural. It's freeing. Somewhere in that natural state, I find what Nebuchadnezzar had to find, which is a way to see God. (5:21b)

I am humbled and honored as I embrace more and more of what God created in me. There are days I feel crazy and it feels like a curse. Then I read stories like this one and laugh. This isn't the curse; the curse is that I don't get to be king any more. The curse is that my god-complex doesn't get me anything. I mean, I'm human. My flesh has that aspiration some days. But do you see the grace?

The grace is that God made me crazy enough to not notice. He made me crazy enough for this place. He made me crazy enough to feel like what I'm doing here is completely natural, the very thing I should be doing, and not the accursed fate of a fallen man. You know what? I love it here. Maybe that only proves that I'm crazy.

But thank God I've lost my mind. Otherwise, I might not feel like I belong here, in the very place He has formed me to be.

Monday, September 9, 2013

On Trials

If you ever want to know how big a player you truly are in God's story, try doing your created thing for His glory. You will discover very quickly how many forces will come against you to try to keep you from your Kingdom work.

I know because two weeks ago, I started a journey into ministry. Chaplaincy, particularly. And you would not believe how crazy these weeks have been.

Let me start by saying: this is my created thing. I have talked before about finding that Aidan-shaped hole in the universe that just seems to be the place that I fit, and how I have always hoped it is out there somewhere. It is. I've found it. I feel like I've slid into this space like a glove, like this place has been carved out just for me. It's where I belong. Which is cool. Except...

I spent 1.5 days of the first week sick, one I had to call in completely and the other I had to take off early. After so many years of being on so many medications, I am now down to one and unfortunately, there was a delay in refilling that one medication this time because it fell on a weekend and then my doctor was at a different office and then blah blah blah until that medication was a week and a half late, and I had a problem in its absence. I wasn't "sick" in the purest definition of the word, but I was unfunctioning as a result of not having that medication on schedule.

Fast forward a week, and I was sick. What should have been my first day of full work on my unit in the hospital was instead a second sick day as I woke up with a fever. I shifted around my schedule, thankfully and by grace (not mine; I've never had much grace for this kind of thing) and was able to see my doctor, whose schedule has changed, and get on some antibiotics for a wicked sinus infection. At which point, I discovered almost laughably that I haven't seen my doctor since last September. A whole year. That's pretty cool for me, just a few years after I would have seen a doctor more than 20 times a year. Routinely. But it's little comfort on your second sick day in a week's time.

And don't think that's all. Oh, no. There is much more.

There's the fact that on a foggy morning during week 1, I turned on my windshield wipers to clean my windshield and the darned things broke. They were stuck in the "halfway-up" position until I had the opportunity to stop somewhere and push them back down, but I couldn't run them again. A couple of days later when I remembered the problem (it occurred on my way into work, so by the end of a long day, I had forgotten), I was blessed to find it was nothing more than a loose bolt that I could easily fix...for now. I may need to find a thicker bolt, though. That's still up in the air. Today, however, they work.

I had one family member, whom I love dearly, return to the hospital several weeks post-surgery with complications. A mutual relative went to help out and ended up in the hospital herself after a serious car accident. Another family member, whom I also love dearly, passed away. This last one means that now, on top of everything else, I have to deal with some of my family issues, which is always complicated.

A recently-announced road construction project closed down a stretch of road I don't even take, but sent the tens of thousands who do take that road onto my route as a detour, which doubled the amount of time it takes me to get to and from the hospital. (My program has been gracious to work with me and rearrange my hours so that I am now beating most of the terrible traffic.)

Some of these things have been somewhat healing. I have had a couple of days of extended times of prayer as I come face-to-face with long-held beliefs that I didn't know I believed in and questions I've had that I didn't know I was asking. I have had moments of incredible sense of purpose and deepest passion and incredible humility. And I've already declared that God will have to drag my dead body kicking and screaming away from this opportunity (yes, I went to the extreme of ridiculousness) because nothing is going to make me run. This is where I belong.

But I have to admit I was still kind of hoping this whole experience would be more perfect. I mean, when you find your perfect place, you kind of hope it just all falls together and you don't have to deal with all this....stuff...that just seems like life as you used to know it. I figure I must be doing something right, though, to have so much go so wrong. Things I have no control over because the things I get to decide every morning, I hold captive to the Lord and the world knows they can't have those. So this place is taking everything else.

Which makes the whole thing less-than-perfect, a frustration and aggravation. However, I also see in the muck that I am being perfected. So there's that.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't Tell It On the Mountain

Is faith any more than simple words? Is the love of God any more than a good idea?

It's our job, as Christians, to proclaim the word of Christ. We think this means we're supposed to speak it. We think this means we're supposed to sermon it. Neither is the case.

I'm going back to Ezekiel 44, just a few verses after the passage I quoted yesterday. Here is God's further instruction for His priests:

They must teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is unholy. They must show the people how to tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. (23)

When we see that word "teach," particularly as we grow into our more adult Bible studies, those sophisticated Sunday mornings we spend together philosophizing about the Lord and what this particular passage might mean, I think so many of us see that word teach and interpret it lecture. We read the second part of the passage and think it must be some sort of educational display, a diorama maybe that we set up at the theology fair where on one side, we have the clean sock and on the other side, we have the unclean sock and we use this poignant visual aide to explain the difference between clean and unclean, holy and unholy.

You guys, our world has been lectured to death about holy. But they haven't been taught. They haven't been shown. What we've been offering for far too long is nothing more than what Noah Webster provides - a simple definition of the word. A good idea, at best. The lost world is looking back at us with contempt, saying they know the definition of our word holy but they've never seen such a thing in all their lives. Certainly not from us.

It's that selective reading of the Bible we're so fond of. We read a passage, and whatever sticks out, we take as our lesson without putting it back in. This verse from Ezekiel? It may strike you as the thing you are supposed to do - teach and show. It may leap off the page. But take a second and put it back in. He's talking here about the holy, faithful priests who have continued to serve the Lord honorably. Verses 15-31 are all about what a priest must do, or may do.

They must not shave their heads or let their hair grow long. They must keep the hair on their heads trimmed. None of the priests may drink wine when they enter the inner courtyard. They must not marry widows or women who have been divorced. They may marry only virgins from the nation of Israel or widows of priests. Then here is our verse from before - They must teach my people the difference between holy and unholy. They must show the people how to tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. (20-23)

He goes on to list several other things the priest must do - be fair in judging, be humble in serving, be faithful in serving, etc. It's easy to read "duty, duty, duty, duty, duty," but maybe a more accurate reading is "example, example, example."

They must keep their hair trimmed, not shaved or shaggy - this is discipline It is attentiveness to a set of criteria, a certain way of being. Discipline is a major attribute of living holy.

They may not drink wine in the inner courtyard, that is, in the presence of the Lord. This is sobriety. This is not allowing anything else to interfere with your experience of the presence of God. It's letting nothing get in the way. It's coming naked before Him, knowing full well what is going on. That is a huge part of being holy.

They may not marry widows or divorcees - this is purity. This is holding oneself pure for the right things instead of chasing after desires of the flesh. It's being able to set aside what looks good or seems good now for the sake of the better thing, the honorable thing. Holiness requires purity.

I could go through all sixteen verses and show the example God is trying to set through His priests as He gives these words to Ezekiel, but I think by now you get my point. Each of these things, it's easy to read as a duty (particularly when you'd rather not be invested in the nitty-gritty or the dirty work), but read it in depth and see the example. If it's just a list of what you do, what does anyone ever know about holiness?

Holiness must be a clean-kept head of hair, limited liquor, an approved marriage.... But what if instead of doing these things, you lived these things? Then holiness is discipline. It is sobriety. It is purity. It is a whole host of other things that right now, people aren't getting from our mere definition of the word.

It's easy to stand around and lecture on holiness, but the people in our lives have been lectured to death about good ideas. What we to live it. And love them.

Don't tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born. Show it through your life that He lives.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


When [the priests] go out among the people in the outer courtyard, they must take off the clothes that they wore as they served. They must leave their clothes in the side rooms of the holy place and put on other clothes so that they do not transfer the holiness from their clothes to the people. (Ezekiel 44:19)

This seems in direct contradiction to everything I ever thought about holy clothes. As I typed that verse for you, I was thinking about other verses earlier in the Old Testament, before the Temple at all. I was thinking of the Tabernacle and the special garments used by priests entering the Holy of Holies. There was never instruction for a priest coming out of that holy place. And so I guess I always assumed the holy clothes were set aside to be forever ceremonially clean clothes, honorable enough to enter the presence of the Lord. Never tarnished. Never torn.

Maybe that was the case and by the time of Ezekiel, some things had changed. Maybe by Ezekiel, we are entering a turning point in God's story and in His relationship with His people. It's hard to know, and I don't have the time in my schedule right now to exegese it, but I'll mark that one for later because now, I'm asking.

But I always thought the clothes were what made a man presentable to God, what made Him worthy of serving in the holiest place. It was part of the ritual; I get that. I just thought it was...part of the ritual. Then I read a passage like this one in Ezekiel, and I start to think about other things. Like holiness.

It seems kind of stingy of God, don't you think, to hoard His holiness? We live in a culture that likes to say God is gracious and generous and all-giving, that He's giving to you even when you don't know He's giving and don't recognize Him as the giver. We talk about a God who we envision sprinkling down holy blessings out of His mighty right hand like confetti at the ticker-tape parade. Graces, graces, graces for all! And it's really hard to reconcile our post-modern, 21st Century view of God with a passage like this one where He doesn't want His people - His general, not-set-aside, average-worshiper people - to have His holiness.

That's kind of what we want from Him. More than His love. More than His grace. More than His mercy. We want His holiness to rub off on us so that maybe, just maybe, there might be something good about us. Something redeeming, whether or not we are redeemed.

Which is the problem and also the point. There's certainly a Biblical precedent for the giving God, the God who shows up and offers something awesome that is perfectly needed in an imperfect moment. He is the God who knit fig leaves for Adam and Eve to cover their shame. He is the God who rained manna on a struggling, wayward nation. He is the God who walked into the fire to bring His son Daniel out. And He is the God who came in the flesh of a man to bring the world back to Him. We know God comes.

But look at these things. Look at what the people gain when God is present - comfort, shelter, food, water, sustenance, presence, even grace. Not a one ever gained holiness being visited by the Lord.

No, to get holiness, you have to do the visiting.

You don't obtain holiness because God endows you with holiness. Holiness comes through bloodied knees and dirt-covered hands as you crawl your way toward Him. It comes when you take yourself through this place and out of this place with one goal in mind: the very throne of God. It comes when you enter the Holy of Holies, which isn't just a room any more but a presence. Holiness comes in the presence of God - your presence before God, not His before you.

Which is why I think He told Ezekiel not to let the priests wear the holy clothes into the courtyard. He didn't want anyone getting a cheap imitation. He didn't want His holiness - and the priests, by nature of being in His presence, would have been covered in holiness - to rub off on someone who had not and likely would not make the journey. Why go to the God when from a far-off, distant place, He gives you everything you could ever want anyway...without the entanglement of an actual relationship? He wouldn't get to be God any more, and I think that would break His heart.

Of course, the rules were different back then. It wasn't like these average joes could line up and wait for admittance to the holiest place. There wasn't a sign-up or even a sign-in sheet; not just anybody could come into the presence of God. But by the power of His presence come into ours, this is not "back then." This is now, and the presence of God is here and open for all who would come.

I really want more holy in my life. Sometimes, I lie awake at night wondering if there's anything good in me, anything holy at all. Sometimes, I wish God would just drop in and sprinkle me with holy while I sleep so I could wake up a better woman than I was today or yesterday or the twenty-eight years before. But I read a passage like Ezekiel 44:19 and I realize I don't want a holiness that just rubs off. Who knows when it might rub off of me? What I want is a holiness that is lasting, that comes from the incredible presence of God at whose feet I fall, bloodied knees and dirty hands and thirsty heart aching for holiness. Aching for one ounce of redemption, which only comes by being redeemed. Hungry for the holy....

And it's there, but it's not just going to happen. I have to go get it. I have to go stand in the presence of God. In His presence, I can't help but be covered by it.

But I'm still not sure how holy I'll ever feel.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


For the past couple of days, I have been talking to you about Mary and asking you to consider whether she more than loved Jesus, whether she was in love with Him. It's probably silly, maybe even sacrilege, but I promised I was going somewhere, and today, I want to tell you where I was going.

Do you love Jesus? What does it look like for you to love Jesus?

It's something that's gnawed on me for awhile, something I've reflected on in worship, something I've touched on in my new book (just released - have you read Unfolded Hands yet?). All of our worship, all of our acts of devotion, the interactions we have with our God are largely disconnected from Him. We have all these forms and structures and ways of doing things when we come before Him that keep us from actually seeing Him.

Think about when you pray. You bow your head. Then what are you looking at? Right. Nothing, because you have also closed your eyes. You've folded your hands. How can you touch Him? In worship, you see someone standing in praise. They raise a hand to the Lord...and close their eyes. Can you even see Him? In painstaking moments, we come before the Lord and bow down before Him. He's starting to look an awful lot like carpet, isn't He? When was the last time you even looked at Him?

That is what I'm really talking about. I'm talking about a culture that claims to love Jesus but never sees Him. I'm talking about a people who love Him from a distance, from a form and a posture and a holy structure but not from a holy presence. And I think that's why it's fun to think about Mary being in love with Him.

It reminds me to be in love with Him.

When you're in love with someone, you're looking to him. Or at least looking at him. You're hoping to find that he's looking right back. You're hoping to have that moment of silent exchange, eyes for just a second locking on another set of eyes and knowing that at that very second, you are each thinking of each other. Even if just in passing. That's the kind of love that sends shivers down your spine. That's the kind of love that makes you tingle. That's the kind of love that's really love and more than worship.

Which isn't to say we aren't supposed to worship God. We are. But if you only worship Him, He is nothing more than an idol in your life. He's not your God; how could He be? He's the object of your affection, but you have forgotten that you are His.

When you're in love with Jesus, you're looking at Him. You're seeing Him looking back at you. You understand that He sees you, He notices you. Maybe you're trying to make Him love you, trying to make Him notice. Maybe you're putting yourself out there specifically so He will see. That's not the point. When you catch His eye, you know all of that was unnecessary. Because when you see Him looking at you looking at Him, when you share that silent exchange of eyes locked on one another, you realize He was already thinking of you. At that very second, you are each thinking of each other. It sends a shiver down your spine. It makes you tingle. It's love.

And you see it in His eyes, too. You see in Him the same look you've been practicing in the mirror, the same coy smile you've been working on, the same glimmer of hope that one day, He might notice you. Might even love you. You see Him looking back at you with that very same look, smiling just a little but sheepishly, wanting to coyly look away but taking those few seconds to linger on your eyes until He knows you've seen Him, hoping to hear you speak but trembling at what your voice must sound like. He's in love with you, and He's dreaming of that day when your eyes will catch and He will know that you're in love with Him.

That moment changes everything. When you see in Him the hope of love as you exude that same hope and your eyes come up to meet and you're looking into each other's very souls and sharing that moment and in an instant, He knows, "She loves me," and in an instant, you know, "He always has." It's indescribable.

So I think it's important to love Jesus, sure. But I think it's more important to be in love with Him. It reminds you to look up more often, to keep your eyes on Him, to keep watching to see what He will do. It invites you into this holy moment where your eyes lock for just one second and you know, deeply, with a penetrating truth, that He already loves you back. In fact, He loved you first.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why Love Matters

Yesterday, I asked you to look with me at the story of Mary and the way that maybe more than she loved Jesus, she was in love with Him. I'm not the first one, by any means, to suggest this type of infatuation but it still sounds sacrilegious to most of us. You can't say that about the Messiah. You can't say someone was in love with Him. How dare you!


Because here's the thing, and here's what I take from having this occasional thought about Mary - maybe in love is a better way to love Jesus than simply to love Him.

Love is a funny thing. It can be a dynamic relationship or a stagnant feeling. It can be the most penetrating of all truths or the most fleeting fascination. Whenever you love something, you have to ask yourself why. What is the purpose of your love?

When we say we love Jesus and read all these stories thinking everyone loved Jesus in the same way we think we're supposed to love Jesus, it kind of stagnates the relationship. It raises the Son of God to this awkward status of being deeply loved, but that detracts from the interaction between He and we. Think about the way you read the Gospels. Maybe it's just me, but when I read the stories thinking of the ways in which Jesus was loved, I get this mental image of men and women coming to Him. I see them bowing down, kneeling, popping a squat to hear Him speak. I see them bringing gifts and gathering around Him, following Him from here to there. And I get this idea that Jesus is the story.

Jesus is not the story.

(Blasphemy! I know. Hang with me.)

The Son of God walking the earth as an object of affection and a target of love is not the story. Jesus just being here is nothing. If He doesn't get the love thing right while He's here, it's all naught. Do you understand that?

God loved us first so that we could love, and so often we look at our relationship with Jesus or with God in terms of how much we love Him. That's not the story. The story is how much He loves us.

Which is why sometimes, I like to think of Mary being in love with the Lord. I like to think of her as I described yesterday, sitting at His feet to get His attention. Lavishing gifts upon His feet so that He will look at her. Doing her best to make Him notice her, maybe even love her.

Because that's the story. The story is not, although we so often tell it this way, that Mary loved Jesus. It's nice and all, but it's not the story. The story is that Jesus loved Mary. I don't think we'd see that if she wasn't in some way trying to work herself into His love. If she wasn't seeking Him out not to worship Him but to elicit His response to her. When you read the story of Mary thinking how much she maybe longed for Jesus to love her back, you can't help but think about your own story and wonder what it would mean to go after Jesus in love not only because you love Him and you think that's the way you're supposed to love Him but because you hope, in the deepest part of your being, that He will love you back. You can't help but think about the longing in your heart for Him to love you.

It's too easy to lose that when we think we're supposed to love Jesus. (We should. I mean, it's really hard not to love the Guy.) But when we come before Him in worship, in idolization of all He is, when we always come bearing gifts and bringing presence and bowing down, it's easy to think we've got it right. We're loving Jesus. It just feels...hollow.

But if we would come before Him in love with Him, hoping that He notices us, longing for Him to see us, waiting on Him to love us back, we position our hearts to receive His love. We put ourselves in a place to feel, know, and live His story. We open ourselves to the possibility, however painful the hope may be, that Jesus just may one day love us. It's a lot to hold onto, but it's an exhilarating hope. And it's important to the way we experience Jesus, we interact with Him, even the way we love Him in return.

More tomorrow.