Thursday, October 31, 2013

Perfect Love

In my work, I meet a lot of people who have to face fear head-on. They or their loved on is in the hospital with serious illness, sometimes even near death, and this brings out a lot of fear. A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a mother who worried about her daughter's fear as her daughter laid in the hospital bed. I noted the cross around mom's wrist and said, "But you know what God says. Perfect love casts out fear."

And for the first time in my life, I had a tangible understanding of that verse.

Because here's the thing - in the throes of fear, love (perfect or imperfect) doesn't practically mean butkus. It means nothing. If my car is sliding off an icy road, I'm not really thinking about love. If there's a coyote growling at my feet ready to pounce, I'm not thinking much about Jesus. If the elevator doors won't open, I'm not singing Jesus Loves Me. This is not comfort. The perfect love of God does not alleviate my fear when I am trapped in fear. Rather, can I be honest? It kind of stings a little. It stings a lot. It smacks me in the face like it's saying, "If you just believed in or loved God more, this fear wouldn't matter." (See yesterday's post for what I think about faith in response to fear.) But fear matters! I'm afraid! Perfect love or no perfect love.

But that morning, I said those words that I've read in the Bible so many times, and I believed them. This morning, I still believe them. My realization is that it's not that Jesus loves us (in saying that He is perfect love) but rather it is how Jesus loves us - perfectly - and what perfect love really looks like.

Perfect love, and if you're married, you know this, is not mutual adoration. It's not that I love Jesus and He loves me and somehow together, that is perfect. It is not two equals coming together in harmony and synchronicity. That's romance. That's lovey-dovey. It can seem perfect sometimes, but it's not what perfect love is.

Perfect love on one side requires the strength and acceptance and embrace that we often associate with love. But on the other side, it requires vulnerability and trust. To paraphrase another teaching of Jesus - how perfect is love if you only love someone who loves you back? It is perfect only when the other is in need of something you can give them.

That's what I see in my dying patients. I see them in this place of fear, not knowing what it will be like on the other side, not knowing what death feels like, afraid to die. And I see just as clearly on what I call "the other side of their world" (the non-physical piece of their in-between existence) Jesus holding them firmly in perfect love. They have nothing but their vulnerability to give Him, nothing but their trust. They must simply come to rest in His arms and in His strength and acceptance and embrace, I believe they finally understand perfect love. When I think about what this must be like, what it must be like to see Jesus face to face and to know the warmth of His arms, I just can't imagine them being afraid any more. It's just not spiritually possible.

So Jesus was right. Perfect love casts out fear.

Then what does that mean for the living? It's easy to see perfect love from one side of the living world to the other, easy to see how we get there when that love is all we have. But what about the times when fear is strong, death is nowhere in sight, and it seems our insecurity is the dominating force in our lives? We have to make perfect love all we have. We have to make Jesus the very thing we have. We have to be the other half of perfect love, if we ever want to find it - we have to be vulnerable, trust, and embrace our reality so that we can feel the embrace of God. In His arms, on this side of our world just as much as the other, we know the words He spoke are true. If it doesn't seem that way, we are not in perfect love. And maybe it's because we're busy trying to a) be too loving in return or b) be afraid anyway. Only when we abandon ourselves to Him, all of ourselves including our very fear, do we understand the strength and embrace and acceptance that is perfect love. And in that moment, when we see Jesus face to face and know the warmth of His arms, I can't imagine us being afraid any more. It's just not spiritually possible.

Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Faltering Faith

I said yesterday that I don't like faith as a force against fear, and that probably took a lot of you by surprise. Don't get me wrong - it's a beautiful sentiment. I feel it in my heart when I sing along with Sidewalk Prophets, "I'm giving You fear and You give faith." And absolutely, yes. Faith can be a fantastic answer to a spiritual fear. (Can be. Not necessarily always is.)

But our problem is that we've overspiritualized fear, and I don't like where that takes us.

Think about the things you're afraid of. Who's responsible for them? Think about what you're actually afraid of. Who's responsible for you?

Let's go back to what I said yesterday about bridges. A common fear. Not the most common, but common enough. Now suppose that before I drive over any bridge, I entrust myself to God and believe, in faith, that God is going to get me across that bridge safely. I have a measure of peace now as I drive. But let's say it doesn't work out that way. Let's say the bridge collapses. Who am I mad at?

I'm mad at God! Gosh darnit, I prayed and trusted God to lead me over this bridge, and here I am in the water waiting to be fished out like some sucker fish and who knows whether I live or die but I'm certainly not praying any more! I can't trust this God. I don't trust this God.

But God didn't build that bridge. Man did. God didn't inspect that bridge. Man did. Man is the one who let me down, by accident or by fault, and here I am wasting my time being mad at God. Now, I'm holding man against Him.

Or imagine I am afraid of, and not simply averse to, snakes. Imagine I pray before I go hiking with my women's retreat sisters that we won't run into any snakes and that we will all be safe from the creepy crawlies. And then imagine that we venture out on the trail and run into a slitherer. God just ruined my afternoon hike! So much for trusting Him! But He didn't lead me into that woods; I chose to go. He didn't put the snake there; that's it's habitat. Because He created nature to be nature, I blame Him for nature and now, I can't trust Him. I don't trust Him.

Do you see how when we use faith as an antidote to fear, we set ourselves up for spiritual disappointment?

The only way this works is if God is not who He is and not who we actually want Him to be. When we use faith to respond to fear, what we're asking is for God to micromanage the world, our world, and take control of everything in order to protect us. We lose a sense of ourselves and loosen our responsibility on our own life, and we lose a sense of community because all of a sudden, everyone around us is nothing more than a pawn God is using to take care of us or to not take care of us. That's a whole lot of not what God is. We praise Him in the good times that He gives us the grace to choose love and the free will to discover Him...and in times of fear, we wish He hadn't given us those things because when things go awry, suddenly, He's not good enough any more.

It's a vicious place to be and a wicked place to put God.

Which is why I go back to what I said yesterday and as a beginning to this post. Faith can be an excellent resource against spiritual fear, but our primary poison against the pervasiveness of fear cannot be faith. It must be awe.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Loss of Wonder

Do you know what the opposite of fear is?

Put away your Sunday School for a minute because the answer is not "faith." It's awe.

I have a kind of fear of bridges. Not really heights, but depths scare the poo out of me. And every day, on my drive to work, I must cross what we call a "flyover" bridge on the interstate, to get from the northbound lanes to the westbounds. Part of the railing is open, and you can see the death-inviting traffic flying by below. (Not all bridges are over water, ok? Ironically, I do cross a river on that very same drive and that bridge doesn't bother me.) For several weeks, every time I would approach this flyover, I could feel myself tense up. I could feel the nerves building miles before the actual thing and by the time I got there, forget it. I'm panicked. Then one day, I remembered, I don't know why, what it was like to be a little girl standing on this or that overlook and what wonder filled my spirit to be able to be so high and yet, feel so safe, and look out over what seemed like forever. I remembered riding through the mountains in the back of the minivan, looking out over the edge at all the changing leaves, and being awestruck by the scenery. So I looked out over three lanes of traffic zipping under me, and I remembered that awe...and I had it again. I'm not afraid any more.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that no matter what I've been afraid of, the answer has always been to recapture the wonder of what it was like to think about such things before I learned to be afraid of them. It's like..well, ok. Here's another example: I've had a lot of exciting changes in my life lately, and these are allowing me to be the woman I always dreamed of being and kind of always thought I probably was if life would ever let me be that way. And when I realized now is my chance to be all that? Terrified. Questioning. Doubting. Afraid. But then, I had this moment of clarity when I remembered what it was like to dream about her, to even pretend I might be her, and the amazing peace and absolute incredulousness of that fantasy. It's come to life. So I'm not afraid any more.

You see, it doesn't matter what it is, whether it's a physical thing or an emotional thing or a spiritual thing. The source of all fear, at least in my experience, is the loss of wonder. When you recapture the wonder, the fear goes away. Now, it's just incredible.

Incredible is a heck of a lot easier to live with than intimidating.

But that doesn't mean it solves all of life's unpleasant moments. Wonder can absolutely dissolve fear, but it does little to nothing for aversion. It's important to know the difference so you know whether you're attacking fear at all.

Example: I'm not a fan of snakes. For the longest time, I was afraid of them because I was raised to be afraid of them (by a mother who was afraid of them, and a father and two brothers with the kind of humor that thought fear was hilarious). A couple of years ago, I made myself look at one. And another one. And another one. And I understand now the way they are put together, the way they move, the absolute wonder that is the snake. I'm not afraid any more. But I don't want to run into one any time soon, or ever.

There's a difference between not being afraid and loving a thing. No one expects you to do a 180 and start loving all the things that used to scare you; that's not the point of doing away with fear. We do away with fear because if we don't, it controls our lives. And if fear controls your life, there's no room for wonder. And there's no room for faith.

In a couple of weeks, I'm driving solo to Lexington, Kentucky to attend the wedding of a very dear friend (my college roommate). To get there, I have to cross the Ohio River. If you had asked me at this time six months ago, I'd have told you there's no way I can go. There's no way to get there without a bridge, so there's no way to get there. But you know what? Over the summer, I saw that bridge. Crossed it twice as a passenger, and it's beautiful. I looked out over the river and that old feeling of awe came over me. So I'm not afraid...and I'm going. (Ironically, and this is the way that fear is pervasive, I was traveling over the summer to my grandmother's house and crossed the Ohio River to get there. The day after I arrived for a week-long stay, the very day after I arrived, there was a news story about a collapsed bridge in Washington with cars strewn in the river below. Makes a girl who just crossed the river, terrified, wonder how she's going to get home! But that's how fear is. And not until it is replaced by wonder, by awe, do you have a way to stand against it.)

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk more about fear and faith because I think this is a common misconception in our religious circles, in particular. It's a beautiful image, but there is one very good reason why faith is not really an answer to fear.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fear Week

Welcome to Fear Week.

I was debating for awhile whether I had enough content to fill a whole week with fear, and I suppose by Friday, we'll know for sure. In the meantime, why?

Because this is Halloween, the one time a year where it's appropriate to be afraid. In fact, this week, we will go around trying to scare each other...or trying to be scared. It's the seasons of haunted houses, ghost stories, and things that go bump in the night (which could be three days worth of posts right there if I played my cards right). But plainly, tis the season for fear.

I have another motive. Do you know the Bible has more to say about fear than just about any other subject? Maybe any other subject? Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the Bible speaks more frequently about fear than any other subject because truthfully, it has one simple piece of advice: do not fear. Which is really easy to say if you're God and not quite as easy to say if you're not. Most of us fall into the second category. In God, there is no fear... blah blah blah. Perfect love casts out fear... blah blah blah. Do not be afraid, for I... blah blah blah. Nice words, but not when you're terrified. Not when you live here, in the place where thieves do break in and steal, where rust does destroy, where nothing is today the way that it was yesterday and who knows what will happen tomorrow? So that's another reason to make this Fear Week.

I have another motive. I'm at a time of a lot of changes in my life, and inherent in change is fear, so this is something I've been wrestling with for the past several weeks as things continue to morph and mold and settle into a new pattern. I say that hesitantly because it feels like a growing pattern, unstable in itself, but it's something new. And here's what I'm realizing through all of that: fear is always the thing. I've had all these dreams for many years, maybe my whole life, about the things that needed to change and the way those things needed to change that were going to be the things that changed my everything. I had all these fantasies about how it was going to happen, what it would be like when this or that thing finally came to pass. And off and on, but particularly more in the past couple of months, I have realized that when those things actually happen, when change actually comes, hope and ideation are replaced by fear. Suddenly, this thing I've dreamed of for so long is here, and there's a fear about that. I'm not going to put any other labels on it because it could be any of many types of fear, and I haven't quite figured that out yet, but it's just this general unsettling that comes in that place where I really expected peace. So I'm finding that just beneath all of these things we dream for ourselves, fear (at least for me, and I think I'm not alone in this) is lurking. Which is leading me to some really cool thoughts and experiences and so, of course, there is no better week than Fear Week to share some of those things with you.

I have another motive.... Just kidding. Those are the three. (Although I could insert a good joke here about how this week, we're all pulling skeletons out of closet anyway, so why not add the bones of fear? Oh wait...I just did insert that joke.)

A few other thoughts as we get into some of this, though. First, I keep calling this Fear Week, but it's not going to be so much about fear. It's going to be about responding to fear and seizing it for its opportunities. Perhaps it would have been more apt to call this Fearless Week, but who tunes in for that with goblins running around? It's Fear Week; deal with it.

And second, a confession. Every time I have written those two words together this post - Fear Week - I have had to use my backspace and correct myself. Every time, it has come out "Fear Weak," and I want to assert right now that I don't believe fear is a weakness. It's an obstacle, sure. It's a burden, of course. But it's not a weakness. That's hard to hear if you're afraid all the time, and I've been there. But fear is a catalyst. It's a starting point for something big. It's an invitation to dive into the darkest parts of your soul and put a new light there. Fear so often paralyzes us, but when we don't let it stop us, these fearful times become our opportunities for greatest growth and change.

I hope you will join me for Fear Week. I've got some really cool things I want to share with you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

To and For

I'm going to give you a second because you probably read that title wrong. Read it again because this is about to become a study in words.

I've been rolling this one around in my head for a couple of days now, along with the song that prompted it all. It's a Steven Curtis Chapman tune that's been playing on the radio quite a bit. It's called "Do Everything." Here are the lyrics to which I will be referring:

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you 'cause He made you to do every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face, tell the story of grace, with every move that you make, and every little thing you do.

It was probably way past my twentieth time of hearing (and singing along with, embarrassingly so, at stoplights and on interstates) that it hit me I wasn't singing what I was hearing. If you've been following along, you know this would not be the first time I've come to such a realization. But in this case, not thinking there was much of a difference and not being familiar with these particular words or the way SCC phrases it, I was singing, "Do everything you do for the glory of the One who made you...."

To and For.

If you're at all like me, the difference has already hit you but you can't...quite...articulate exactly what that difference is, which is why I'm writing this post today and not Friday. But I think I've got it.

To is more pressure.

I've done a lot of things in my life, including a lot of things for glory - mine and His. (Just honest, but this is going to be about His glory.) God's glory is an incredible thing; it's the way we know He's here, an intangible God in a tangible world. Through His glory, God is revealed. The question of To and For is exactly how we are revealing that glory, and to what extent it becomes a mission of our heart and not just a mission of our flesh, to do so.

When we do something for the glory of God, we're trying to make sure He is glorified. God glorified is the end game. I do whatever I do so that you will see His glory. The purpose of my work is His glory.

Which is all well and good and certainly a beautiful thing, certainly better than work that would not glorify God at all. But what's missing here is the heart piece. Because that purpose is outside of you, outside of me, as the worker of God. It is this other thing, this outside thing, we are doing and it doesn't get into our heart in the same way as if it were more a piece of us. It goes back to what I said a few weeks ago about ministry and balance - when God becomes something you do, you forget that He is someone you love. Same principle - if we do all things for the purpose of God's glory, that glory is outside of us and we're putting ourselves toward a thing without being into that very thing.

When we do something to the glory of God, that changes. We are still trying to make sure He is glorified, but His glory is not only the end game. Now, I do whatever I do in a way that allows you to see His glory. The process of my work is His glory. Now, I'm not just creating glory for God; I'm also giving it.

It's a subtle difference, but a powerful one. It's the change in perspective that allows God's word and work to get inside you. It's the kind of thing helps create the ministry-worship balance I previously referenced (check out my inner links earlier in this post). It reminds you, in the process of work, that you love Him because you're trying not just to look at His glory but to live it.

I sing this song with the right lyrics now, but they still catch me. They catch me because I recognize this subtle difference, and I want to hold my heart accountable to what I am doing - and why. I do everything I do to the glory of the One who made me...for the glory of the One who made me.

** As far as I am aware, Steven does not know this post exists, and although I make no official endorsement, from one music lover to another, I have always appreciated his style and lyrics. You can find this song on his Re: Creation CD at Amazon. As an affiliate, I do earn a small bit through Amazon for every purchase through this link. (Legal stuff, you know?) **

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Packed Up

And here's the thing - those old fishing nets, that collection box, when you pack away the things of your former life thinking one day you might have to go back to them, you never get away from them. Put them in the corner of your closet, and you forget about them. For awhile.

But one of these days, you're going to move. Lord willing, you are not today where you will always be. Even if you've found your calling, found your niche, may God continue to move in you and so, yes, you will face this moment. You will come to the day when you're moving and you will pull those old fishing nets out of the closet and you'll wonder.

What am I supposed to do with this?

You'll hold those nets in your hands and remember all the times you cast them over the side of the boat. You'll remember the catches, big and small. You'll remember the life you used to live. And for a few minutes, you'll think.... You remember what it was like to be there, and this far removed, it's pleasantly nostalgic. The days without a catch seem fewer and further between in your memory; the big hauls take center stage. You even remember the day you laid the nets aside, the biggest catch of your life just seconds before the same voice that led you to the fish called you to the fellowship. There are a lot of good memories tied up in those nets.

So you take them with you. Not necessarily because you think you might go back to that one day, not with the same sense of keeping yourself ready for the old life should you want to return, not so much for keeping yourself from having to make a new investment if you ever wanted to fish again...but simply because you remember those days fondly. Because it seems like such a big thing, who you were.

And then one day, you move again. Lord willing, you still are not where you will always be. He is always moving in you, and here you go. Once again, you pull those old fishing nets out of the closet and you wonder.

What am I supposed to do with this?

Incredibly, it's more powerfully nostalgic now. You remember the conversation you had with yourself the last time you saw these, the last time you dragged them out and took them with you and tucked them away in a new place. You remember how this is the thing that has tied you not just to one place, but now to two places, and you wonder if it will also tie you to a third. You're not ready to let go, not because you're going fishing any time soon but because this seems like such a big part of you. Even bigger now. And what would it be like to let go? So you take them with you.

And then one day, you move again... Do you see the pattern? Every time you make a move, you have to decide whether to take your old self with you. And every time you pull out those old things, the memory of them is deeper still because these old things have been so many places with you. Then you get to the end of your life and a new generation comes to sit on your knee and asks about the box in the closet. So you answer, "Once upon a time, I was a fisherman."

Wow, cool! You were a fisherman! Why did you ever stop?

Suddenly, you realize you never did. You've always been a fisherman. Even when you've been a follower, even when you've been in fellowship, even when you've been in mission field, you've been a fisherman because you haven't been able to let go of it.

It's not so easy to see in the old nets, but what about the snares in your own soul? What if it wasn't fishing gear you were keeping in the closet, but fearfulness? What if it wasn't a boat, but your broken heart? What if it wasn't the hints of just an old job, but the evidence of an old life? What if you just can't let go of who you once were?

You'll never fully know who you could be.

Because the thing you've got that's tied to the most things, the memory you've stored that's been the most places with you, is not the greatest thing; it's just the thing you could never get rid of and the more you took it with you, the deeper its roots grew until it became the thing that tied you to all other things. And hasn't that tainted all other things? Necessarily. Because it is not what God called you to be.

Isn't it weird that so far removed from familiar waters, high atop the mount of transfiguration, in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, on the road to're still carrying your net? What good is it here?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


No doubt, having read the Gospels, you know these words: "At once, they left everything and followed Him." We're talking, of course, about the disciples.

I don't know what kind of mental image these words have created for you. For me, when I read about the two sons in the boat who hear Jesus calling out to them, I think of them jumping out without second thought and swimming to shore. I think about Simon and Andrew gingerly laying their nets on shore and walking away. I think about Matthew closing up his collector's box and leaving the table. That's my gut reaction, anyway.

The Scriptures indicate that I can't be far off. This morning in Luke, I read about the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John. They hauled in a great catch of fish and were washing their nets when Jesus called them. Luke says, "They left their nets on the shore and followed Him."

Do you understand the implications of that? I didn't, not until this morning. I always thought it was a cool measure of faith, an awesome image this painted in my head, but I didn't get it until I started wondering about the way I follow and realizing how entirely different it is.

Because here's how I would have been, assuming I would have been a fisherman:

I'm in my boat and haven't caught a thing all day. (Now, this sounds like me fishing!) Suddenly, a guy tells me to try one more time, and I do, primarily because I don't like to feel like I've wasted a day or like I've failed at the very thing I'm supposed to be doing. So I cast out my net again and it's full. Together with my crew, we haul the nets to shore and start cleaning our catch. We don't bother washing our nets because we're just going to throw them back in the water tomorrow. Isn't that the same thing? And then this very man says, "Leave that and follow me." And maybe my crew goes, but I'm busy. When I'm done being busy, I'll come find you. But not until I carefully fold my net, return it to my home, and tuck it away because I may need it again one day and nets are expensive. Once all that is done, I'll come find you, Jesus. Promise.

Or suppose I were a tax collector, better known as a tax cheat. I've invested a lot in getting the monies in my little box and this man comes along and says, "Forget all that. Follow me." Sure, sure, I reply. I'm coming. But not before I close my little box, carry it to the bank, and invest the monies I've skimmed my from fellow Galileans because that's my money and I may need it one day. Then I will fold my table, stash my chair, and I'll come find you, Jesus. Promise.

You see, my life when I follow is not abandoned. My life when I follow is tucked away. I'm not proud of it, but that's how it is, and I'm guessing I'm not alone in that. The problem is that when I've got my former self tucked away, I cannot make a full investment in God. Because He's not everything I've got.

The beauty of the way the disciples did it is that if they decided to leave, if they decided to go back, if Andrew and Simon, James and John wanted to fish again, they'd have to start over. By whatever time they left, their nets would be long gone, taken up by other fishermen just trying to make a wage. They'd have to buy new nets. Their boats would not be safely tied in the dock where they left them. They'd have to buy a new boat. Their waters, their "spot" in the sea, would have been taken by a new crew, someone else trolling the waters for a measly day's pay. They'd have to find a new sea. When they left everything as it was and abandoned life as they knew it, they freed themselves to fully invest in something. And if they ever leave that, they'll have to make another investment. It's beautiful.

And terrifying.

But the truth is that even if you're like me, you'd never use those nets again anyway. You'd never go back to just fishing. You couldn't. Like I mentioned yesterday with Brooks Hatlen - it's familiar, but it doesn't work any more. If I pulled that folded net out of my closet, pushed a carefully-docked boat back out to sea, went back to my familiar waters, it would somehow now be missing something. Something vital. Something...holy...that for the life of me, I couldn't shake the memory of. Because now I know better, and even if the Jesus thing didn't feel like it was working, this isn't either and I have to make an investment in something new anyway, even after all the care I took to have something to go back to.

Why not make that investment now, in the life God is calling me to? Fully and wholly, this former life not tucked away, but abandoned. Left on the shore for some other fisherman to pick up and set out.

While I set my feet to a new journey. I'm a fisher of men. No net required.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Not to Stay

Yesterday, I wrote about standing on wounded feet, a reflection on Truth and spiritual transformation based on The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. You can choose to stay if you so desire, but until Truth works in you, you'll have to stand on wounded feet.

The alternative, of course, is not to stay. And in that case, you end up like Brooks Hatlen. (How are you all liking these pop culture media references? I promise it's not going to be a thing.)

Brooks was a long-time inmate of Shawshank prison, the man who ran the prison library for many years. After decades behind bars, he is paroled and goes to live in a halfway house. The world has changed so much since he's been locked away from it, and nothing he knew in prison works out here in the real world. One night, after trying to stand on wounded feet, he makes the agonizing decision that he just can't do it. Part of him wants to commit a crime, just so he can go back where he knows, but he understands something else I mentioned yesterday: that wasn't working for him, either. So in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the movie, Brooks narrates a letter he's written to his prison friends. As he closes the letter with, "I've decided not to stay," you see him climb atop a chair and place a noose around his neck. He kicks the chair away and hangs himself, below a fresh carving in the beam that reads, "Brooks was here."

That is the inevitability when we decide not to stay.

It's hard enough to be here, not knowing how to live. Not knowing what works in a place like this, in a life like this. It's hard to get our bearings, to understand just how much everything has changed in that time that we've been locked away in spiritual darkness or in personal Hell. It's hard to stand on wounded feet long enough to figure it out, long enough for this place to work in us and make us feel like it's not just a place, but it's our place. That's why I said yesterday that spiritual transformation is so hard - so many of us cannot stand.

At the same time, once you've seen this place, it's hard to go back. You suddenly realize all that wasn't working there, either, and while maybe you know how to live there, you wouldn't want to do it any more. You couldn't give that much of yourself back to that former place to make it work the way it did. You've seen too much. You know too much. As happy as those days seem looking back, looking forward, they seem like Hell. You see that now. You can't go back.

So what is left when you cannot stand and you cannot turn back? The answer is stifling. The answer is a stifling. It's this feeling of things just closing in around your neck, and you can't breathe. Something inside you is breaking. Something inside of you is gasping for air, but there's none to be found. You can't stand, so truth isn't working in you. (Truth is never passive; you have to be present to it.) You can't turn back, so safe haven isn't an option. So you lay down and die because there is no other choice, and you feel the paralyzing fear choking the air right out of you. Call it fear. Call it doubt. Call it exhaustion. Whatever it looks like for you when your wounded feet fail, that's what it is.

It's an agonizing death. It's like life is slowly being cut off from you at this very moment when you are most in a place to receive it. It's like if you could just reach out one more time and sense something that is real, something that doesn't cut right through you but something you can actually connect with, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it wouldn't be so much. But it is, and you can't, and you're dying and all that's left of you is this inscription:

_____ was here.

You were here. You were right here in this place with all of this truth, all of this freedom, all of this ability to be the very thing you were created to be. You were here in this place where real life pierced your phantomed soul. You were standing right here on wounded feet, trying to make it work, and you just couldn't stand any more. But you were too broken by truth to turn back. You were too transformed to go, not transformed enough to stay. And in the in-between, in the tragically in-between all-too-close place, you died.

It's heart-wrenching. As a person in ministry, I see this all the time. Yes, already. People who are so close to touching this absolute truth that is working in them when they decide they cannot stay. And I just want to scream at them, BUT YOU'RE HERE. I want to look in the mirror and scream, BUT YOU'RE HERE

For the man who cannot stand, that doesn't seem to matter. For those of us who see how painfully close you are, it's excruciating. So I guess my word today for those of you trying to decide right now whether you stay, please stay.

I know it hurts. I know it's scary. I know it's hard and your soul is broken and the truth seems to hard to swallow and the weight of the world is heavy and so much has changed and yet so much hasn't seemed to and it's the toughest place to be, but please stay.

To the girl in the mirror, please stay.

I mean, you're already here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wounded Feet

I have never been a huge C.S. Lewis fan. As a kid, I wasn't into imaginative books so never got into the Narnia series. As a teen and young in Christ, one of my first small group studies was the Screwtape Letters, and I didn't get it. So I figured I just didn't (or wouldn't) like Lewis. But when he's right, he's right.

And actually, one of my favorite theological books of all time is Lewis's The Great Divorce. It's what I'd call a reflective theological novel. It's a story in which a man takes a field trip to Heaven...from Hell. When he steps off the bus, the grass is so real that it cuts his feet. The light is blinding. The apples are so heavy that his phantomed hands cannot pick them up, and you get the sense that if they could, the food would be too solid for his hollow stomach to digest. It's this agonizing experience he's having in Heaven because for long enough, he has been in Hell. In addition the heavy reality of what is Truth, one of the overarching questions of the book is, can a man decide to stay? Will he?

It's the choice that faces all of us when the truth of God penetrates our phantomed lives. Can we decide to stay? Will we?

It's not so much a question of can; of course we can. In the book, there is no rule saying the man has to get back on the bus. He is free to stay if he so chooses to do so, and God gives us the same choice. We are free to stay if we so choose. But some people need to be reminded that they have that agency, that it is up to them to choose whether or not they stay. No one will make them stay. ...No one will make them go.

Then the question is this: will you stay?

The choice is harder than it seems. On the surface, you'd say, of course. Of course I'd stay. But have you been there?

Have you been in this place where the heavy reality of truth is too weighty to pick up? Have you been in this place where your soul craves nourishment, but the apple is impossible? Have you been in this place where the soft blades of grass literally slice through your flesh? Grass, for crying out loud! Plain old run-of-the-mill green stuff cutting through your very soles.

How long can you stand on wounded feet?

That is the question.

That's why it is so difficult to make a lasting spiritual change in your life. That's why it's hard to stand on truth. Because at first, it's piercing. Even wounding. It cuts through the very core of your soul. You reach this place where truth is so real that you can't fathom it, that you don't even know how to stand. When you stand, it hurts. When you hunger, there is nothing to feed you. The things that seem like obvious nourishment are locked away and what you have before you is truth, but you can't stomach it. You look around and it seems like your world, like everything you've ever dreamed of, but nothing you know is working here. Nothing you've done works here. The way you've been living...doesn't work here. And that's the dilemma:

Do you live where you know how to live? Or do you live in a place that isn't working, so it can work in you?

Because had the man chosen to stay, had he not gotten back on the bus, the implication is that his body would have adjusted. The grass would not always cut his feet. The day was coming when he could eat the apple. There would be a time he could take the sunglasses off and not be bothered by the light. He'd adjust and figure out how to live here, if only he could stick it out. Out of all that wasn't working in his life, this place was ready to work in him. All he had to do was stand on wounded feet.

That's all we have to do.

It's hard, and it hurts and there are days the pain is just too much. It seems impossible to stand. It's a burden. It's a brokenness. There's this part of you that is searching for something that works, something that still happens the way it used to happen, something that still does in the new place what it did in the old place. But you can't bring the lie here. This is Truth. And if you need another measure of truth, consider this: why would you board the bus in the first place? Only because where you were wasn't working, either.

Then the question is this: how long can you stand on wounded feet, allowing truth to work in you, before you run back on crippled legs to a place that never worked at all? Are you willing to stand?


The Great Divorce was written by C.S. Lewis. Whether you are a Lewis fan or not, this book is worth the read. You can find it on Amazon and probably other fine retailers.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fire and Essence

You've met these people, right? The ones who are super-excited about Jesus all the time, are super-excited that He lived and died and that He lives again, are super-excited that He already knows the most intimate parts of your heart...and are super-confident that He's here doing everything perfectly and wonderfully and awesomely because He is so perfect and wonderful and awesome.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that necessarily (there's something disconcerting about it; that's for sure), but when you run into these people, don't you think - man, I wish my faith was like that. I wish I was on fire for the Lord that much...or even a little bit, all the time...or ever. And so, at least in our heads and particularly for still-maturing Christians, that kind of fire becomes the definition of faith.

If you don't believe Jesus with that kind of gusto, do you believe Jesus at all?

That's the question we ask ourselves; it's a question I've asked myself many times. Always thinking my faith could be better, my confident assurance more confident, more assured. Always thinking that if I really loved Jesus, I couldn't help but be so explosively exuberant about it. He would have to burst out of me like candy from a pinata. Isn't that the essence of faith?


And I'll say it again: no.

The essence of faith is not the show you make of Jesus; it is what you invite Jesus to show. Said another way, it's not how you believe in God; it is how much you believe in God.

I'm thinking of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who walked into the blazing furnace with quiet words: "If our God would save us... But if He would not...." Isn't that beautiful faith? And the only fire of note is the one seven times hotter in the corner.

I'm thinking of Jesus's quiet words: "Father, into your hands, I commit My spirit." Tremendous faith. And the only fire is the intense pressure and scrutiny coming from the crowds.

The three men in the fire never committed God to anything; they committed themselves to Him. They weren't making a show of what God was about to do, proudly declaring that God would save them. Instead, they said, "If He does, good. If He doesn't, that's ok, too" and in doing so, invited God to show Himself. And He did.

Jesus under fire never declared what God was doing or about to do. He's already said it, but in the moment, He surrendered. It wasn't the way He believed in what God had going on, but how firmly He believed in what God had going on that make these such beautiful words. It's ultimate trust, and God proved faithful.

It's easy to look at faith on fire and think that's what man must be like, that this is the standard of believing. But just the opposite is true.

We must look at man on fire and think that's what faith must look like. Indeed, it does.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not Knowing

I'm inspired that Judas would ask, knowing the answer (knowing I wouldn't ask because who needs another convicting voice?) but I can kind of relate to Peter a little bit when, just a few verses later, he declares, not knowing.

Let's go back to Matthew...

Peter said to him, 'Even if everyone else abandons you, I never will.' Jesus replied to Peter, 'I can guarantee this truth: Before a rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you don't know me.' Peter told him, 'Even if I have to die with you, I'll never say that I don't know you!' All the other disciples said the same thing. - 26:33-35

Jesus is still talking about His coming crucifixion as they enter Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover. He's talking about the night that is to come, and Peter declares his absolute adherence to the Christ. I'm never running away, he says. I'm here. I'm right here with You through it all. To the end. It's me and You, Jesus.

He can't fathom that Jesus tells him that's not quite the case.

He can't fathom it because in his spirit, Peter means the words he is speaking. He absolutely believes he will be there forever, that there's nothing that could turn him away from Jesus. He probably also thinks that as long as he's with Jesus, nothing bad can happen to him and that this "death" that Jesus speaks of cannot be a literal death or a physical persecution because so far, they haven't seen that in their ministry and if Jesus dies, then how could He fulfill the role of the Messiah? Peter feels like he's probably following Jesus into a holy moment and he's ready to be there to defy the odds.

Even though that's never what Jesus says will happen. Peter is not hearing what He actually says.

Which is why it shouldn't surprise us that Peter doesn't hear what Jesus actually says to him. Jesus is trying to warn him, trying to clue him in on this place in his spirit that the disciple is not even considering at the moment. Jesus is trying to tell him what's going to happen in him while these things that will happen in Christ are also happening, and Peter is both oblivious and defiant. I can't help but wonder what Jesus might have gone on to say if Peter had at all entertained the notion. If Peter had stopped and said, "Wait. What? How am I even capable..." what healing word might Jesus have spoken to a soon-to-be-denying heart?

It's the same for us. So often, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment by not hearing what Jesus is actually trying to speak into our lives. He tells us what He's doing, and we think He can't possibly mean that in the literal sense. He's the Son of God, for crying out loud! He's got some trick, some secret, some miracle up His sleeve that will make what He's saying not actually what He's saying, that will show the world what He really is. We forget that when He said He was dying, He went to the grave for three long days. We're focused on day 3. We're focused on when He pulls it all back. We forget about the torn curtain, and we look toward the empty tomb. So when He tells us what He's doing, we wait on the turnaround. We wait on the redemption. And we're disappointed when He really dies.

We try to play our faith off this way, trusting in the Sunday when Friday looms over our heads, and He's standing right here telling us what is in us and we don't hear that, either. We don't hear Him telling us we're prone to doubt or denial, that we're stuck in ourselves, that we're missing the love. We don't hear Him say that we could turn our backs. We don't hear Him say that we're missing the mark. Because in our hearts, we mean every word. We have no intention. Yet He's trying to warn us.

Then inevitably it happens, just as He said it would, and the rooster crows and we realize we missed that in the mirror. We didn't even see it in ourselves. And...we remember the moment He tried to tell us. But now, it's too late. The haunting memory we have is of the moment that Jesus knew this would happen and we didn't heed His warning, and now here we are, total failures, disappointed in ourselves, and wondering if He might have said more had we had the courage to pause for just a second and say, "Wait. What?..." 

Like Peter, we want to stand bold in our faith and we want to believe the best of ourselves, but sometimes...God is trying to tell you something that maybe sounds disappointing today but might keep you from future heartache. He might tell you something today that preserves your tomorrow if only you're willing to listen...both to what He's doing and to what He's doing in you. It's crucial.

So from Judas, we learn to ask, knowing, so that God's truth can convict us and create a changing moment. A few verses later, Peter shows us to listen, not knowing, so that God's truth can comfort us and create a changing moment. The answer, then, whether you know or do not know, is to let God speak...and hear His word.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ask Knowing

One of the most awkward scenes, for me, in the Gospels is the moment at the Last Supper where Jesus has declared that one of the men among them will, and already has, betrayed Him. One by one, the disciples ask, "Is it me, Lord?" each man afraid of the darkness that may lurk in his soul (I assume). I mean, that's why I would ask - because I would wonder if I was doing something offensive or betraying without realizing it, or if I was set up to do such a thing. I would want to know if it was me.

But then Judas pipes up, full knowing it is him, and asks, "Is it me?" Let's look at the text:

While they were eating, he said, 'I can guarantee this truth: One of you is going to betray me.' Feeling deeply hurt, they asked him one by one, 'You don't mean me, do you, Lord?' Jesus answered, 'Someone who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going to die as the Scriptures say he will. But how horrible it will be for that person who betrays the Son of Man. It would have been better for that person if he had never been born.' Then Judas, who betrayed him, asked, 'You don't mean me, do you, Rabbi?' 'Yes, I do,' Jesus replied. - Matthew 25:21-25

Can you catch this scene? Here they all are, sharing this quiet meal that we still celebrate in our churches day (oooh! note to self: Communion thought) Each man in turn asks if he is the one who will betray Jesus, unsure if he is the man, and Jesus responds by telling them that for sure, one of them will and it will be terrible for that person. Now, by this point, we can guess that several have already asked, which means Judas was waiting, not wanting to put himself out there to be known as the betrayer. Then after Jesus declares harsh judgment against the yet-unidentified man, Judas asks, knowing the answer, "Do you mean me?"

Yes, of course I mean you, Jesus answers. I know that I mean you. You know that I mean you. I know that you have betrayed Me, and now you know that I know that you have betrayed Me. Sucks to be you.

But I think this is a turning point for Judas. I really do. Because I think there had to still be some doubt in his mind about just what Jesus understood, about just how much the Rabbi knew. And I find it interesting that when Judas asks, he calls Jesus "Rabbi" instead of "Lord," a term of affection rather than deference. He's trying to draw close to Jesus and maybe throw the Son of God off his scent a little. Dearest, beloved, most precious and gracious Teacher, you couldn't possibly be talking about me, could you?


But I really think Judas was thinking he might still get away from it. I think he was testing to see how far Jesus's prophecy mind goes. Ok, the Scriptures say the Son of Man will be betrayed, and that will be the cause of His death, but does the Son of Man necessarily know the betrayer? Is there a way to weasel out of this? In Judas's mind, his saving grace is that Jesus knows He's being betrayed but doesn't know by whom. Then, I mean, then it could be anybody. And if it could be anybody, it could also not be anybody. And by anybody, Judas is thinking himself.

Jesus looks the betrayer square in the face and says, "I know it's you" and that's the first time I think Judas considers the magnitude of what he's done. That's the moment his heart turns away from the money for a minute (because we know Judas was a penny-pincher, a miser, and a shrewd steward of resources) and onto the betrayal. He understands the relationship with the Lord looking him in the eye. Suddenly, this isn't collateral; this is Christ. A Christ he's just betrayed. A broken-hearted Savior.

Isn't it the same moment for us?

Of course not. When we know the answer, we don't ask. When we know we are the betrayer, we avoid the question. We chime in with Jesus's words and say, "Yup. Sucks to be you...whoever you are..." but we don't see in ourselves what the Lord sees in us. We answer to His generalities, but we don't ask the question, "Is it me?

Yet we need to. That is the heart of our relationship. We have to be willing to ask - Am I betraying you, Lord? And we need to be ready to hear the answer.

Because it is in the eyes of our Savior that we see that it's not just that our Lord is betrayed; it is that we are betraying Him. We see what it means to Him that we have turned our back. We understand exactly what it is we were selling out, exactly what it is we were selling ourselves short for. We see where our love is lacking, where our grace is guarded, where our forgiveness fails. We see the ways that we - yes, we - have turned our backs and suddenly, it hits us. It's not that we didn't know; on some level, we did. But this is not collateral; this is Christ. 

And I don't know why, but just knowing that is not enough for us. Judas knew. It didn't stop him. It didn't guilt him. It didn't change him. But when he asked, knowing, and heard Jesus say the words, that was his transformational moment. That's when it hit him.

So as painful as it is, we must be willing to ask. We must ask, knowing the answer, and let our Savior speak. It is there that redemption begins.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


It's kind of funny to me that on the day that our Lord returns, everyone will know without a doubt it is Him. We will see what He looks like. Why is that funny? 

Because the men who arrested Him had no idea.

Throughout His ministry, for three years, certain divisions of the population and sects of the synagogue were after this man. They were trying to trap Him, planning to capture Him, hoping to stop Him, desperate to kill Him. They wanted Him gone. He was teaching love, healing hurt, and drawing crowds away from the tried-and-true.

They'd catch Him in the streets and pose a tricky question, hoping to fool Him into saying the wrong thing. They'd follow Him into the synagogues to debate the leading theological paradigms of the day. They called together the people trying to figure out how to persecute, and prosecute, Him.

Then a breaking moment - a disciple is set to betray Him. Here's a snippet from that scene, from the book of Matthew:

Just then, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve apostles, arrived. A large crowd carrying swords and clubs was with him. They were form the chief priests and leaders of the people. No, the traitor had given them a signal. He said, 'The one I kiss is the man you want. Arrest him!' (26:47-48)

Here's this man who was ruining everything. He was a nuisance, a disturbance. Everyone was talking about Him. People were lining the streets for the chance to see Him. Yet the very people who most want to destroy Him...need Judas to show them which one He is.

Here's a hint: He's the one everybody else is looking at.

Here's another hint: He's the one with all the sick people around Him.

Here's another hint: He's probably the one talking.

Need another?

How did these guys not know which guy it was they wanted to kill?

Because they never bothered to look at Him.

Isn't the same true today? There are so many people in this world, at least in my culture, who would be content to wipe Jesus out. You don't need to pray, they say. You don't need to evoke the name of God. You don't need to worship in public or spread your "propaganda." You don't need to bother them with your Jesus. ...Yet so few of them know what He looks like.

Oh, they think they know. They see this or that thing that we do, that we say reflects our Jesus. They see us using curse words like "fudge" instead of the real word. They see us singing songs and moving in the Spirit without twerking. They see us judging them. They see us condemning them. They see us distancing ourselves from them in the name of our Jesus, and I just want to scream - That's not Him! That's ME!

It's me that's broken, me that's not getting this thing right. You haven't seen my Jesus. You haven't seen the one who gives sight to the blind, who gives speech to the mute, who gives hope to the hurting and grace to the godless. You haven't seen my Jesus who is healing the sick and raising the dead. You haven't seen my Jesus who loves you. All you've seen is me, failing miserably at living up to that name.

Yet we lead them right to Him. Don't we? The harder this world tries to come against our God, the more we try to show them who He is. We take them into the Garden and say to them, the one I kiss is Him. The one I worship is Him. The one I praise and pray to is Him. They come with evil intention, and we take them straight to Him thinking this is going to make things better. It only deepens the revelation of our hypocrisy, and it falls back on Him.

What I might say, and this is just me talking, is that maybe it's time we reveal our God before we get to the Garden. Before we drag others into that quiet space, maybe we ought to show them who He is in the tax collector's house, seated around our table. Maybe we ought to show them what He looks like on the seaside, catching a few fish and frying them up with friends. Maybe we ought to show them what He looks like in Nazareth, in Bethany, in Bethlehem, in the streets. Maybe we ought to show them what He looks like before Gethsemane, where promise meets the pavement and hope abounds.

That is the place to show them which one He is. By the time they get to the Garden, it's too late.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Son of Man

The Son of Man is returning. Now, before you go all "here goes the crazy Christian" on me, hear me out. Because this is not that.

But have you read some of the descriptions in the Gospel of Matthew, the words Jesus says about His return? He says things like, "Many will come saying they are the Messiah, but don't believe them" and "They will say, 'There He is! I saw Him over there!' but it will not be Me, so don't bother going to look."

Think about this for a second. If the Messiah won't be able to tell you who He is when He returns because He already told you not to listen to anyone who says he is the returned Messiah, and if other people can't tell you the Messiah has returned because Jesus Himself told you not to listen to them...then how are you going to know the Messiah has returned?

And if you ever figure it out, how are you supposed to tell anyone else? They've been told not to believe you.

Nobody in the world, not even the Messiah, can talk about the return of the Messiah when it happens. In our current paradigm, doesn't that strike you as odd? His entire ministry was word-of-mouth. It was rumors and reputation. It was stars in the sky and tearing of the curtains. His work today is heart-to-heart, hand-to-hand. In that day, none of that will work.

It's hard to imagine.

It's also really cool and awesome to imagine. Because it means that when He comes back, He's going to show you what Messiah means.

Oh, we think we know what Messiah means. It's steadfastness, but tenderness. It's the heart of a servant. It's this quiet presence, except, of course, when it needs to be loud. It's unassuming and kind of quiet but completely irresistible. It is healing and merciful and glorious and giving. Above all, it is love. And it is sacrifice. That's a nice Messiah.

I'm not sure that's what we will see on that day, though. Maybe it is, but I don't imagine that. In the life of the Messiah, there was strife. There was conflict. There was backbiting and conniving. There was a certain sect who stood against Him because they didn't know who He was, didn't believe He could be who He said He was. But that was Jesus talking.

When He returns, it will be undeniably so. And it's hard for my feeble brain to wrap about what it will mean when He no longer tells you, "I am the One," but shows you, "This is the Truth." I can't imagine what it's going to be like when everyone knows - they'll have to know. They will see with their eyes, hear with their eyes, feel with the very deepest parts of their presence because it's not going to be rumors and reputation. It's not going to be stars in the sky and tearing of the curtains. It's going to be tangible, able to be experienced with the senses and the heart, not processed in the mind.

It's going to be the full glory of God.

I imagine it will still be gentleness, the way your spirit gets in just the right place and hears just the right word to break the last little bit of resistance you're holding onto. I imagine it will be overwhelming, where you'll look around and wonder if you even are who you thought you were because all of a sudden, He is (whether you thought He was or didn't). I imagine it will still be a quiet presence, a sense of peace, except of course in the places in which it must be loud. I imagine it will be unassuming, but definitive. Not cocky, but confident. It won't be a moment in which we hear, "I told you so." It will be a time when He will say, "I promised." And we will know that is true.

I'm not really going anywhere with this, more like rambling. It's just that I was reading those passages in Matthew that warn not to listen to anyone who says they are the Son of Man returning or anyone who claims to have seen Him in one place or another, and I couldn't help but imagine what it might be like, knowing even He won't be able to tell us.

He's got to show us.

What do you dream of on that day? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ministry and Worship

Here's where I think so many of us make our mistake in ministry, and again - I don't care if your ministry is the pastorate of a church, a ladle at the soup kitchen, or a friendly face you walk across the street. This is what I think it is that makes us so susceptible to exhaustion/burn-out/loss of focus:

We kind of expect ministry to be self-sustaining.

That is, we want it to be the thing. We want our ministry to be the thing that fires us up and if we walk away from a time of service, whatever that service looks like, we want to walk away with the feeling that we could do that thing forever. We want our ministry to feed itself, so that the joy of good ministry is what keeps inspiring us to good ministry. And if you don't love what you're doing enough to keep doing it, then at some point, it doesn't feel worthwhile any more. That's where the burn comes in.

It's a fallacy, this idea that ministry can be self-sustaining. It was never designed to be. Nobody, and I say this with absolute confidence, loves what they do every moment that they are doing it. Nobody, even if they love their job, loves their job every day. We all have off-days. We all have hard days. We have days where it just feels like a grind. That's the nature of the beast.

So the key to healthy service is not to love it or leave it. The key to healthy service is to let the thing you're doing drive you toward the reason you're doing it...and let that bring you back to the thing you're doing.

This is the cycle of ministry and worship. And it really takes the weight off. Let's look at this in the context of my current ministry - chaplaincy - simply because I can only speak to my ministry. And this has been true of other ministries I've been in over the years, which is why I am confident it can be true in yours.

As a chaplain, I make contact with a multitude of persons every day. And some of those encounters are awesome. And for awhile, it's easy to walk away from an awesome encounter and think, "Yes! This is what this is supposed to be!" Then you move forward with the energy to make every encounter just that awesome. But they all aren't going to be. What then? 

Say I have one good encounter, one conversation where I feel like the Holy Spirit has moved through me and I've somehow found something good to bring into a hard situation. Say that after that one chance moment, I have sixty people that I introduce myself to who want nothing to do with me on that day. That one good encounter is never going to be enough to sustain my passion for serving as a chaplain.

But if I leave that one good encounter and instead of thinking, "That was awesome. They should all be like that..." I instead turn toward the thing that brought me to this ministry in the first place - that is, God - that changes everything. If I walk out in awe of the way God moved in that space between me and another, the way that God moved in me in that moment, the way He showed up and used me and showed Himself, then I'm not walking away thinking I have to create another moment. I'm walking away praising Him for this one...and inviting Him into the next.

So the thing that I do has not driven me to do the thing that I do; it has drawn me back to the reason I do it. And now, I'm connected to God. Sure, maybe those next sixty encounters will be flops, every one of them, but that first one is no longer a standard; it's pure glory. I can't help thanking God for it. I can't help remembering every bit of His presence there. I can't help thinking about what it felt like in that moment to be so surrounded by the holy that I could hardly believe it. Now, I'm praising God. And begging Him to do it again.

Generally, He does. As I turn my heart to praise and prayer and plug back into the very God who created that first moment and created it in me, I am energized to do more for Him. And look! Here it is - another chance encounter with another chance son or daughter of the living God. Another opportunity for God to show up.

Generally, He does.

It's too easy to believe that our ministry is the thing, that we keep doing it because it's the good thing and it needs done and it's incumbent upon us to do it. This may shake you, but consider this truth: your ministry isn't the thing. It never has been. It never will be.

Your God is the thing. And what you do - whatever you do for the sake of His name - will never sustain itself. It must, it has to, drive you back to Him so that HE energizes and empowers you to do it again. That's sustainable ministry. That's how it's supposed to be.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

For Ministers

The following are words I want to share with those who minister, whether you lead a church, a small group, a community ministry, or you simply lavish the love of God on those around you:

It's something we're all aware of it at one time or another, maybe more often than we'd like to admit. We call it many things. We call it burn-out. We call it exhaustion. We call it a spiritual struggle. It's that moment that comes when you're not sure you have any more God to give. And here is, for most of us, where it comes from - -

When God is something you do, you can easily forget He is someone you love.

I've hit this point a few times in various stages of my service. After four years of serving weekly in the sound booth, always worried about coordinating the technical aspects of the service, I woke up one day and realized I couldn't remember the last time I worshiped. I have spoken with worship leaders who can't remember the last time they weren't on stage. Most recently and personally, I got so energized by the work of chaplaincy that somewhere without even thinking about it, I realized I'd convinced myself that I'm with God all day, whether I'm thinking about Him or not, and that for some reason, that passes as a personal relationship.

But I was feeling it. Hard.

What's odd is that you get to a certain point of ministry - and I don't care what it is that you do - where even when you're not doing that, you're thinking about doing that. Or at least, thinking about the mechanics of doing that. When I stopped working in the sound booth, I kept one eye on the new tech every Sunday. Most Sundays, I still do. Because there's a certain part of me that knows what's going on back there and is still orchestrating in my head. When I leave my chaplain work, I'm still thinking about the chaplains that have taken over. I'm thinking about the patients I hope they are following up with. I'm thinking about the families that are likely about to come in. I'm thinking about the work I'm not doing, and I'm still not thinking so much about my relationship with God.

It's kind of a vicious trap, really. The very thing you are doing for God is this thing that you have been created by Him to do. It's in your blood. It energizes you. It strengthens you. It connects you to Him in this way that you cannot explain...

And then one day, you look up and realize you've been talking about God a lot but you haven't talked with Him in a long time.

You realize you've been singing His praises, but...when was the last time you praised Him?

You've been loving in the name of the Lord, but it's been hauntingly long since you've simply loved the Lord.

Don't feel bad. Because the truth is - we've all been there. Some of us are there today. We even talked about this in our arts team workshop last night - that sometimes, we just reach this point and it's unhealthy. On every level. But also that it's ok.

Do you hear me? It's ok. As long as you recognize it, humble yourself, and take the divine breath of fresh air you need to start breathing again.

The world will keep spinning without you.

I'm not going to tell you the answer to this trouble; I won't claim to understand how you connect with God. I know what works for me, but that's neither here nor there. But my advice is this: Wake up every morning and love God first. Don't worry about loving what you do for Him. Just love Him first. And don't worry about turning God on every day; let Him turn you on. When you find yourself in this disconnected place where you do a lot of God but you don't love a lot of Him, embrace that moment. Take some time to remember what it was like when you first got into this place, into this ministry. Remember the energy? Remember the way you felt like God was so close and ever-present, like you were finally in the very place He created you to be and He was standing right there with you, rejoicing? (If you haven't had that feeling, you haven't found it yet and you're in the wrong business. Sorry.) But remember that early energy. Remember that deep connection you had with God when you met Him at the place where you're supposed to be. And connect back to that. Connect back to the God who created you to be here...and the God who created this place for you. Fall in love with Him again, and you will remember your love for this.

Then do good work.

And love well.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Here's the thing about rocks, and I know you're probably thinking you'd still like to be one. (Please, I hope you're content with your little thing by now.)

When you throw a rock into the water, it makes an awesome splash, a pretty cool noise, and sinks with a resounding *thunk*. A big sploosh, if you want to call it that. And then it's there, and that's nice. There's a rock in the water.

Have you known people like this? They take every bit of their strength, throw themselves into Jesus (the Living Water) and you can hear the *thunk* a mile away. They make a big splash, a cool noise, and now they're there. You can see them in Jesus. But what's the point?

It does a man no good to see another man in Jesus. It is no encouragement to the soul to see someone else being a Christian. Because when I see you in Christ, I'm looking at you. I'm looking at the way you live. I'm looking at the way you love. I'm looking at the way you function in this world as a person living in Christ. I'm looking at you in the water, and you're just kind of sitting there. You're a rock in the water.

But a pebble...

A pebble makes ripples. There's no sound, no glory. Not much of a splash to talk about. But it sends the water moving out in the gentlest of motions until suddenly, you're mesmerized by the sea and you've completely lost track of the pebble, which is settling in nicely in its own little place.

That's the difference between a rock and a pebble. If you're a big thing that you give into Jesus, then I'm looking at you. But give God your little thing, and all of a sudden, I'm watching the water move. I'm watching the little ripples spread out from your life. I'm watching God work as He moves across the waves. I'm watching Living Water, moved by your little thing. And I'm not distracted any more by you.

And there you are, settling into your own little place, coming to rest in the depths of the water. And do you know what you've started? Do you know what you've set off?

It's the gentlest of motion, an amazing grace, a humble invitation, a quiet peace.

Whoda thunk it?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


A few weeks ago, I wrote about Pebbles in the context of the naming of Simon Peter and the word of the prophet Amos. Then over the weekend, I hit that very passage in Matthew in my yearly devotional study and came across another encouraging word about Peter the Rock.

He was really Peter the Pebble.

It's too easy to get attached to the strong language of Jesus, to these beautiful images He paints in the mind with His words. We look at a scene like this one, and we see Him christening a questioning, somewhat reserved Simon into Peter. We see Him calling a meager man a "rock," and what a glorious image that is! Jesus does that. He uses strong words like "rock."

But if your ancient Greek is any good, you know that "rock" was only half of the sentence. The other half is "pebble."

It's another one of God's classic plays on words, which He is so incredibly fond of throughout Scripture. In Greek, Peter's name is petros. That is the exact word for "pebble." Jesus is punning around with the disciple when He calls the man a rock, petra. But it's an incredible image of what God does.

He takes this man, this questioning man. This man who often stands in his own way. This man whose faith is wishy-washy at best, between his moments of fighting against the divine plan, denying the Messiah, and obstinately declaring his belief. He takes this regular guy, brother of Andrew, man named Simon and He says, "Your name will no longer be Simon. I am calling you 'pebble.' And on this rock, I will build my church."

I think so often when I've thought of this story, what I've seen is God making a man a big thing. What I've read is God anointing Peter and offering him a way out of the trap of his wavering personality. What I've believed is that somehow, God was endowing Peter.

With the Greek context in mind, it's far more likely (and easier to see) that God was indwelling Peter. He called the man like he was - a pebble - a small piece of faith that's solid amid a lot of silt. He found the one tiny piece of rock in the disciple, and He called it like it was. He said, "In you, I see this solid piece of faith. And it's enough. On this rock - this tiny pebble of Peter - I will build my church."

Which kind of echoes what He was doing in Amos 9:9. If you've got a little bit of the glory of God in you, it's enough for Him to work with.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Every New Thing

What do you do when everything changes?

If you're like me, and I think like most of us, wholesale change is overwhelming. I'm talking about those rare moments when even your inner dialogue changes and you feel like a stranger in your own mind because everything is that new and that exciting and that...intimidating. (Which I only say because I already said overwhelming.) It's like for one reason or another, life snaps. And I guess today when I say that, I'm thinking of the times when life snaps into place.

It's the kind of thing we dream about, at least I do. It's the kind of moment I've had only in my head for far too long, and I have to admit that I always envision myself handling it better than I do when the actual time comes. I imagine diving in, swimming in the deep, giving myself wholly over to a new creation, relieved of the burden of the old one. But then that moment hits, and I hardly recognize myself, let alone know what to do, let alone know how to live.

So here's what we do - we find the one thing. We find the one thing we can hold onto and drag with us into the newness, one thing we can have that reminds us who we are. We do this even when we've dreamt of not being that any more, even when it is contrary to the very answered prayer that's open before us. Then we're torn between all we've ever wanted and all we've ever been because we can't seem to just let go.

I could not articulate for you the things I hold onto. I'm not sure I quite know myself. I could not articulate why they seem so important. I'm not sure I know. I can't even really describe the tension, but if you've been in this kind of a moment, you understand exactly what I'm talking about.

But what I want to tell you is: I think I've got it. Maybe.

We dream wrong.

When I dream about the life God is calling me to, I am filled with the Spirit. But I am most aware of what it might feel like to be me when that day comes. I feel what it might be like to be running toward that dream, to be swimming in that deep, to be smothered in that love, to be powered by that purpose. My entire reflection of the experience is what that must be like. Then when I get there, I'm disappointed.

Because by the time I ever get there, I'm not who I was. By definition, I can't be. And if I don't know me, I can't recognize the dream, which leaves me feeling lost and overwhelmed and desperate for something familiar to cling to. Which I inevitably find in who I once was and therein lies the tension between where I was and where I'm called to be. It throws everything out of whack because suddenly, my life spins on the one thing I've found to hold onto.

What if that one thing was Jesus?

What if when we dream, we dream about what God is going to be like on that day? What if we dream about what it must be like to be in His will, to be all of the things we already think we feel - swimming in the deep, smothered in love, powered by purpose - but we drew those feelings from what He was doing instead of what we were doing? And what if we could make Him so central to our being that He becomes the thing we cling to from who we were to who we are called to be? What if we made our lives spin on Jesus?

What if I made my life spin on Jesus?

Friday, October 4, 2013


I've been talking for two days about the story of Peter and his attempt at water-walking. Today, I want to take you deeper into Peter's head - and yours - to dig out one more detail that I believe is critical to this story.

Intent. Or put another way, Decision.

Let me ask you something. Why have you ever wanted to walk on water? If you're like me, the answer is something akin to "Because it would be cool" or "To prove that I can." After all, this is the measure of faith. (If you still believe that, go back to Wednesday and start over. Please.) But isn't that the truth? We want to walk on water to show our God - and our world - and maybe even our reflection in the water - that we can. As if that matters.

I want to say that Peter was a man, that he had the same thoughts we have looking back on this story. I want to say that he saw Jesus walking to him on the water and thought, "That would be cool. I bet I could do that." And then he asked for the opportunity to prove himself. If that's the case, I go back to the point I made yesterday, which was: even if you've asked for the proving ground, you have to wait for God to call you to it before you go. (I probably didn't make that point this clearly yesterday, so here it is again: You have to wait for God to call you before you try walking on water.)

But suppose Peter really is this noble guy with better intentions and stronger God-confidence than most of us have. Suppose he wasn't thinking how cool it would be or about his ability to do it. Suppose instead, he was thinking what I would hope to think - that's my Lord out there, calling me to Him, and I've got to go. Maybe he's thinking one step deeper - there's a raging storm, and I hear my Friend's voice. He's calling me to Him, and I'm going.

Isn't that a beautiful - and pure - thought? I aspire to such pure thoughts.

So let's say that's what Peter was thinking - that there stood His Lord, and if it took crossing the water to get to Him, then for Christ's sake, he'd be a fool not to go. The question then is this: what did Peter have to decide?

Did he have to decide he was going to walk on the water? Was that really the choice? He's standing in the boat with eleven other guys. The waves are crashing. The Lord is calling. Am I supposed to believe that Peter was standing there, contemplating the water walk, letting this moment hang in the air while he debated how exactly he was supposed to set his foot on the sea?

Been there. Just writing that, I'm thinking of all the holy moments I've left hanging. ...and then missed.

Peter didn't miss his because he didn't stand there trying to figure out the impossible. He didn't waste time in the details. He didn't get caught up trying to decide whether or not he was going to, or could, or should walk on water.

He just had to decide he was going to Jesus, to the place where he was called, however he had to get there. He only had to decide to go.

The same is true for you and I. God never asks us to choose whether we will walk on water. He asks us to choose to go to Him, as He calls us, where He calls us, when He calls us.

We spend so much of our time trying to figure out if we can, should, would or just how we might do what God is asking, go where God is calling. But that's just distraction. The longer you linger, the heavier the holy moment hangs until you may miss it altogether while you're trying to decide whether or not you've got the details. If you want the holy moment, go back to the simple choice:

Jesus is calling. Will you go?