Friday, November 29, 2013

The Praise of Man

After that brief interlude, back to our story from the book of John. Jesus says, I do not accept the praise of humans. On Tuesday, I talked about what that statement might mean for our praise if that was the God side of Jesus speaking.

But what if, as we more often assume is the case, that was His human side speaking?

It is the kind of thing we say in attempts at humility. We shrug off the good words of our neighbors, friends, family, in order to say that that kind of thing isn't important to us. We outright dismiss those good words, saying we are not worthy or that our feat was "no big deal." We think this sort of thing makes us holy, that it makes us more like Jesus. But that's not what Jesus did.

Jesus didn't say, I deny the praise of humans. He didn't say, I reject the praise of humans. He simple said, I do not accept the praise of humans. So what's the difference?

The difference is that in the latter, He has still heard the praise of humans and allowed it to be. He has given someone the freedom to comment on His work, His personality, His presence...whatever it is they might praise Him for. He gives them the space to speak their response. He just doesn't let that define or direct His work.

Because He still cares what they think. He still acknowledges that His primary work in the world is to minister to the people. It is their response to His ministry that tells Him whether He's getting it right or getting it wrong. It is their response that creates the connection.

Imagine this. You are the blind man in Mark 8. Your friends lead you to Jesus, knowing He can heal your blindness. Jesus leads you away so it's just the two of you. You share this incredibly intimate moment; His hands are on your eyes. You can feel Him touching you. He's tender, loving, present. Once your sight has been restored, you see the Man who has given you this gift, and you naturally start to praise Him. Then Jesus looks at you and says, It was nothing. Ya'll have a good day now. He walks away.

What exactly do you think of this Teacher now? 

He's arrogant, right? Profoundly disconnected from the moment. All of that tenderness you just thought you felt has dissipated as you now realize He wasn't in it for the moment. He was in it for...who knows what. It doesn't seem pure any more. There's something missing about that Jesus. And there's something missing for you.

We are a people who need to process things. That's why we say it out loud. That's why we praise, whether it's God or man that is the object of our current affections. It's how we create connection, by living the moment and then sharing it to confirm the presence. If Jesus gives you a moment and then walks away because He's not interested in what you think about it...that's not your good and gracious, personal, intimate God. That's something far less.

So He invites you to speak. He stands there and listens. He answers questions. He processes moments with us. But He doesn't let our praise define who He is. He doesn't let our praise define His work. He's waiting on praise from the One who sent Him, which will tell Him whether He has served well. He accepts the moment, the connection, the relationship with humans; He accepts praise only from God.

Those of us who would seek to serve would be right to do the same. All of this false humility, however well-intended, in which we shrug off anything another man might say is not the attitude of Christ. It's quite the opposite. It's arrogance. It's disconnection. It takes something away from the moment, and in essence, from our very being.

When we serve, when we engage in the holy work God has created for us, we must learn to stay. We have to hear the words of those that would praise us. We have to let them speak their experience, however embarrassing or ego-boosting it might sound for us. We don't deny it; that creates distance. We don't reject it; that denies it. We embrace the connection it's building between those of us present.

We simply don't accept it. We don't let it define who we are or what we do because such questions cannot be answered by humans; they must be answered by God. We don't let man's words sink into our heart and speak to us; they will only drown out the voice of the One who sent us to do His work in the first place. We turn to God for our praise, even when it seems plentiful in the echoes around us

That changes the way we live. It changes the way we serve. It changes the way we love.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Thankfulness

Today, I am practicing thankfulness. Intentionally. And to the depth of my being.

It's Thanksgiving in America, and this holiday tends to bring this sentiment out of even the most stubborn of us. Not usually me, though. In fact, if I'm being honest, anyone looking at my life would be hard-pressed to find thankfulness a theme - holiday or no holiday. This bothers me (even though it's my own fault) because at my core, I am overwhelmingly thankful.

Particularly in times like these.

Oh, I might call it other things. I might call it humbled - in complete disbelief that such a story could be my story, in awe that God would choose me. I might call it awe - that complete inability to fathom that this is real. I might call it blessedness - the realization that I don't deserve all that I have, but I have all that I need and somehow, abundantly more. I put it in all of these terms so that I understand what my action must be, what I must do in response to such a story.

But underneath it all lies an unspoken thankfulness. So today, I am working on being simply that.

I've already said what my problem is. That is, I'm always trying to figure out what my action must be, how I have to respond to this life that is beyond my wildest imagination. It's a life I don't deserve, and I am fully aware of that. But I feel like I ought to do something to honor it, at least. Which means that all of these things in my life that I'm thankful for have somehow become burdens, to the point that if I am telling you my story, you might think I am stressed, grumpy, complaining, overwhelmed, burdened...and a host of other things that never look like thankfulness. These external manifestations of what is truly grace betray me. This is not how I feel, not most days.

Most days, I just want to cry, Thank you! but it doesn't seem enough. There was a time earlier in this season of my awesome, blessed, developing life, where I stood on the patio overlooking the mountains and the lake and sang from the bottom of my heart with MIKESCHAIR - All I can do is thank You for this life I never deserved. And I meant it. Then I came home to the painting on my wall, which more accurately reflects the way I normally handle such a blessed story. It says this: Live a life worthy... The unfinished part echoes, Of the calling of God on your life.

And that's how I usually respond to the good things in life - by figuring out how to live worthy of them. In all of that, I pressure myself, burden myself, break myself trying to make something out of this when all that it is has simply been given to me. Fully. And I forget to be thankful. And I forget to act thankful. And I forget to look thankful. Because I'm too busy looking busy and trying to look worthy.

I'm not worthy. I never have been. I never will be. No matter what good work I do, no matter what good grace I give, no matter what good love I live, I will never be worthy of the incredible blessing God continues to pour out on my life. Not in this season, not in the last, not in the next. Not in the rainy season and the fertile ground; not in the dry skies in the desert. Whatever I have has been given to me, and I'm working on just saying Thank you. 

Increasingly, I think that's the most honor I can give this story. More and more every day, I realize that's the best thing I can do. And that takes a lot of pressure off.

So today, because there is never a more fitting day to try something new than simply today (regardless of whether it's Thanksgiving or not), I'm practicing thankfulness. Intentionally. And to the depth of my being.

Because I am thankful. Above all else, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Ok, I lied. I told you that today, I'd talk about the human side of Jesus in His words in the book of John, but I think I must interject another thought here first as it relates to yesterday.

It's this word, praise, and many words like it - worship, love, glory, humble. These words...are verbs.

This is probably not the first time you've heard that. Others have had the same thought, and I certainly don't claim exclusive rights (or any rights) to it. But they are verbs. These are things that we do; not things that we give.

It's confusing because it's such a subtle difference, and to be sure, we hear them as nouns at least as much, if not more, than we do as verbs. We give God praise, we say. Or we come together to offer worship. We talk about our love, as if love is something we have. We always give glory to God, but we are oh-so-humble about it. (The last one is an adjective, not a noun, but it still fits this story because it is primarily a verb.)

It's subtle because on the receiving ends, these do become nouns. If we take them as verbs, then God embraces them as nouns. It's the way language works.

I praise God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. And God says, I have received your praise.

I worship God. And God says, I have seen your worship. 

I love God. And God delights in my love.

I glory God. And God receives glory.

I humble myself. And that makes me appear humble.

Whatever I do comes back as a thing. But without my action, such a thing would not exist.

That's why we have to be so careful about the way we talk about these things. Because when we make them things, instead of actions, we think they exist as a simple part of creation - the way a rock exists, the way the sky exists, the way the waters exist. But these very good things are not simple things; they are dynamic things. They must be done in order to exist. And we must be the ones doing them.

Love does not exist unless love is done. If God says, "I give you My love," that's a nice sentiment. But there's something missing. If He tells you, "I love you," that's a different story. Your heart feels that a different way. Try it on - see if I'm wrong. And the same is true in reverse. If you were to tell God, "I give you my love," what would that look like? Would it look even half as good as if you said to Him, "I love you"?

Praise does not exist unless praise is done. If you say to God, "I give you praise," do you even know what that means? But if you actively praise Him, then praise is created. Now, it's a thing.

They are words, but how we use them matters. Because how we use them defines how we live them. And in all of these good things - and they are good things - we must remember they are only things because we've made them that way. They only exist because we do them. Not because they are, but because we've created them. We live knowing they are verbs and treating them as such.

And that makes them a thing.

So go. Live. Love. Worship. Praise. Glory. Humble yourself. And let's make this - this active living, this recognition of verbage, this idea of doing - let's make this a thing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Praise

Praise is an integral part of our spiritual experience. It is an act of worship, an offering of thanks. It is a gift we give in glory to God, hoping to honor Him. And while God is a God worthy of praise, He is not a God who requires it. Or even desires it. Or even embraces it.

I don't accept praise from humans. John 5:41

That's Jesus talking, on the streets of the region. That's Jesus, addressing the faithful. That's Jesus, boldly declaring He does not accept the praise of humans. So of course, it begs the question: was Jesus speaking as a man or speaking as a Deity? I'll address one of those today; the other, tomorrow.

But what if He said those words as God? It's not that hard to imagine. In all of the sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament law, there's not a prescription for praise. Sin offerings, burnt offerings, freewill offerings, thank offerings. People did praise God back then, but it wasn't in the official law that they must, or even that they should. Praise is a concept of man because we needed a way to respond to our God.

And how many times has God said this: "You praise me with your lips, but your hearts are far away?" (Or something similar.) He's not much interested in the praise of humans. He'd rather have obedience, devotion, relationship, love. He'd rather have fellowship than feeble words.

And yet something happens when we give God those things...we're not quite human any more.

Paul said so himself, numerous times. In Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come. When you give yourself to God in the ways He desires, you become a new creation. And a new creation human is vastly different from an old creation one.

Rather than separation, there's a beginning closeness. Rather than sin, there's an attitude of surrender. All of the things that make God say our lips can praise Him while our hearts are far away disappear in a new creation, which makes us more than mere humans; now, we're His.

It changes the nature of our praise. God is no longer the promise of the things that we hope for; He has become the presence of all that we are. Now, when we praise God, it is because we are consciously aware of His indwelling in us, His presence in our lives, His intimate relationship with us as an individual, which has made us who we are. Still human, but wholly His. That is the basis by which we can truly offer praise.

And the condition under which He may accept it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Heard Him Ourselves

Have you ever noticed how much Paul talks about Jesus? Have you noticed the way the disciples told the people about their Teacher? Do you realize the whispers as the people told each other about this Man? Jesus spreads like a vicious rumor. People all over the world, since the beginning of time (yes, even before His time) have been talking about Him.

But a woman from Samaria did perhaps the best job of really hitting the heart of evangelism and capturing the essence of the Christian faith, which wasn't even a thing back then but simply a Man.

The story is in John 4. Jesus and the disciples are traveling through the Samarian region when the disciples leave Him outside of town while they go in search of food. He slides down near a well and bides His time. Then a woman arrives to draw water, and He asks her for a drink. Her story here is not important, except to know it was the kind of story that everyone in town knew the details of, which is how she came to draw water in the middle of the afternoon, alone.

After they've talked awhile, Jesus says something that excites her heart. The words we have are, "I am the one you've heard about, and I'm speaking to you," but I'm not entirely convinced those words would have done it. The disciples come back and interrupt the moment, and the woman takes off running toward town, carrying a healing word and an unbelievable story.

Then the woman left her water jar and went back into the city. She told the people, 'Come with me, and meet a man who told me everything I've ever done. Could he be the Messiah?'

Most of us do a lot of talking about Jesus, but we stop short of telling people how to find Him. Like we don't want to push. Or we don't think they'll find Him the same way. Or whatever it is. The way we talk about Jesus, we sort of put Him out there as a mystery - we drop enough hints to hopefully make you wonder, then we leave you sitting in your questions and trust you'll find your way out. I mean, in 2013, it's obvious, right? If you want Jesus, go to church.

But it's not that simple. As churchgoers, you and I should know that nobody just finds Jesus at church. You still have to be shown what the Man looks like.

Which is why I love what the Samarian woman has done. Rather than run into town and profess her new faith, explain her new belief, tell her new story, and try to live her new life, she runs excitedly into the very city that's rejected her forever, forgetting her hesitations about the place, and shouts, "I want you guys to have this, too! You have got to meet this Guy!" And she says, "Come with me..." She's going to show them the way to Jesus. She's going to make introductions herself.

The people left the city and went to meet Jesus.

They followed her! She invited them to come, and they came. She led the way back to the well, where her water jug lay discarded by the side of the road. She held out one hand: "People, this is Jesus." She held out the other: "Jesus, these are the people." They struck up a conversation, and then a friendship, and then Jesus stayed in town with them for two days.

Many more Samaritans believed because of what Jesus said. They told the woman, 'Our faith is no longer based on what you've said. We have heard him ourselves, and we know that he really is the savior of the world.

And isn't that how it's supposed to be? 

We think it's enough to tell people about Jesus, to ask them to take our word for it based on the evidence of our lives or the Scriptures of our Bible or the rumors going around about Him. But what if we were more diligent in convincing them to come? What if we were more intent on showing them the way? What if we brought them to the very Man and made introductions? Friend, this is Jesus. Jesus, this is my friend.

What if they heard Him speak?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Confirmed Crazy

After all that, and if you haven't read yesterday's post, I encourage you to do so, there's this;

I might actually be crazy.

It's every broken person's worst fear, I think. Or at least one of them. We think that our brokenness is unique, that it's somehow more disastrous than everyone else's, that the inner workings of our minds as they center around our brokenness might actually be crazy. And so, of course, if we share our brokenness, then all of the unbroken people listening (because that's what everyone else in the world is - unbroken) will know for sure that we're crazy.

At least if we pretend, the most they can do is suspect that might be the case.

Second to that, I think we're also afraid that if we shared our coping strategies, our thoughts, our personal reflections on what brokenness means and how we deal with it, someone might tell us we're doing our brokenness wrong. As if there's a right way to do it. And frankly, most broken people already tell this to themselves. We watch interviews with broken people on television and see how they're coping, and it's nothing like the way we're doing it so we figure we must be wrong.

Let me put your mind at ease: there is no right or wrong way to be broken; there's not even a right or wrong way to be healing. As long as you give your brokenness to God and invest yourself in the process and the outcome, the process cannot be wrong. And you're not crazy.

Most of you.

Yesterday, I had an hour's meeting with my supervisor on the education side of the chaplain program. During our time together, she asked me to respond to the events of Monday with my group, and I did. After quite a long time of back-and-forth, I found the right words and dropped a bomb. She sat back in her chair, put her hand up to her mouth, thought in silence for a moment, and then said, "Nobody's ever told me anything like that." Then admitted she didn't really know what to do next.

This is a woman who has decades of experience interacting with broken people. As a chaplain. As an educator. As a woman religious. As a human being. And she's never heard that before? Confirmed. I'm crazy.

But I didn't feel crazy. Well, I felt comfortably crazy. Because even though her response was one of not really knowing, it was not a response of surprise. It was not a response of shock. She wasn't judging me or placing any qualifiers on my experience. She didn't tell me that was wrong. She didn't recommend a better way to do it. She allowed my statement simply to be, affirmed me in the midst of it, confirmed that she had heard and, to the ability of her spirit, even fathomed the truth of my statement. And between the two of us, we simply let it be. And I loved that in that moment, even my crazy mind was perfectly acceptable as a part of me, as a part of my process, as a part of my growing. 

And like I said yesterday - I am perfectly okay with always growing.

In the course of any given day, each of us comes into contact with more broken people than we notice. It's hard to know what to say or what to do or how to help. We want to do something, but we don't quite know what. Some of us are fixers - we dive in and try to work your life out for you in the hopes that once we put it back together, you won't break it again. Some of us are gurus - we know how you should put your life back together again and we're more than happy to tell you the steps you need to take. Some of us are scorners - we don't know what the big deal is anyway, and besides that, you're doing it wrong. Some of us are scoffers - we don't know why you're broken in the first place.

But those aren't helpful. What we need is to be affirmers. We need to be willing to simply sit for awhile, to take in a story without judging it, to embrace a person's journey, and to say, 'I don't have to understand. I just have to know, and to tell you, that it's perfectly okay. It's absolutely acceptable that you are broken in the way that you are broken and that you are healing in the way that you are healing.' We have to say, 'I've never heard that before, but that's a reflection on me and not you. And now, we get to figure out together what to do with that.' And we need to know the answer may be...nothing. Maybe we just let it sit. Maybe we just let it be okay. Maybe we just let it grow.

Sometimes, letting the broken pieces lie is the greatest healing work we can do; greater, even, than putting even two pieces back together.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Perpetually Broken

I'm a woman who doesn't have a lot of "real" conversations. Because like nearly all of us, I am a woman with a story, and a human woman at that, and these two things combined make me a perpetually broken woman, something I've always been kind of ashamed and kind of scared of.

The way my mind works most of the time, I'm always thinking something. I am always reflecting, always pondering, always wondering what life might be like if this or that one little thing was different. Not in the past, but very much in the present. For every answer I ever give you, there are at least two alternate answers playing their own conversations in my mind - more authentic answers, usually, but at what cost?

I have spent my life afraid of my brokenness, ashamed of still being broken after all of these years. In the times and the seasons where that brokenness seems almost mended, I inevitably run up against something that reminds me this isn't Eden. It's still there, just not in the ways that it used to be.

As such, people generally have a lot of misconceptions about me. Some people think I'm arrogant, since the way I feel about my story makes me project an air of infallibility. Some people don't think I'm funny (me! not funny!) because they notice I joke more when I'm trying to get away from something. (I'm not funny, but sometimes, I can be.) Some find me to be untruthful, which to them makes me untrustworthy, because they sense they aren't getting the full story. Yet if any were actually to know me, they'd understand these things could not be further from the truth.

I was having this conversation with some of these people recently (which is what prompted this post). It was a beautiful broken moment.

Because here's what happens - we, I, get so afraid of our own stories that we start trying to shield others from them. We have a way to handle the brokenness, but we aren't sure whether or not they do. We don't know whether they're going to look at us with sympathetic eyes and then mother us to death for the rest of our lives. We don't know if they're going to look at us with disdain, that we could be such a people who would even dare to be broken. We don't know if they're going to look at us with scorn, that we're still broken all these years later. We don't know if they're going to look at us with disbelief, not understanding how we could have been broken by that. It's this delicate balance of how they are going to react with how we are going to react to how they react, and how they'll react to that and it's simply better, and easier, for everyone if we keep our struggles private and present only our resolved self to a world around us.

As a result, no one ever sees us. And it gets to where we look in the mirror and don't even see ourselves. If you're not who you are, then who are you?

I'm not suggesting we all just spill our guts and walk around relishing our brokenness. That's not always a safe thing to do, and I understand that. But in the right context, how incredibly freeing and gracious it is to be able to be your broken self. You start to see things differently.

I spoke frankly with a group of my peers earlier this week. They asked; I decided to answer, half-figuring they wouldn't ask again. But I answered without false pride in my brokenness. I answered without masking my heart with humor. I answered with tears falling down my face and the complete inability to look at anything but the floor. And they...sat engaged. They weren't running away; they were diving into my mess and sitting with me for awhile. And all of those fears that were still caught in my throat - that I was about to become the child of the group, that they wouldn't understand, that they would be burdened by my story, that they'd somehow see me as different or lesser, were unfounded. In the environment of that intimate group, I spoke aloud things that sound crazy to my faux-resolved self, and I was met with love, heartbreak, and absolute acceptance. I later asked how they were able to do this, how none of them thought less of me after that extended time of sharing, and the very idea of thinking less of me for this was so foreign to them that they did not understand my question. I am blessed to have such people in my life. I thought for a moment in their silence and with a tear on my cheek, I asked, "Do you know what a gift this is? Because you have not thought less of me, I don't have to think less of me." It was a holy moment.

For most of my life, I've thought there had to be one of two things - a broken woman who was always going to be written off or cast down...or a resolved woman who was normal and involved and functioning as a productive member of society. As a perpetually broken woman, I created the other as a figment in order that I might one day not be so alone.

But there is a third option, which I have discovered this week, and that is to be a healing woman. It's being someone who does not deny my story but isn't stuck in it either. Or at least, if I am stuck, I know that I'm stuck and I'm working on a way out. Rather, a way through. It's to embrace that I am perpetually broken, that there's always going to be something I'm working on and to present myself neither as broken or perfect, punctured or patched, but always as growing.

That takes a lot of pressure off, and that's really what the world wants to see. Not that you're broken. Not that you're whole. But that you're somewhere in the middle and you're working on it. You're growing. You're taking initiative and investing in yourself, working your way toward something glorious that God has created in you. All the better if you're doing it with God. All of a sudden, people can see it. They can see what God created you to be. And you look in the mirror, and you can see it, too. And you're getting there. You're getting toward that glorious thing.

But here is kind of glorious, too. At the very least, it's holy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our God

Yesterday, I said how detrimental I think it is that we have so personalized God. We believe in, hope in, and even love "my God," but many of us have forgotten "our God." That is why it is far more likely today for God to drive us apart than to bring us together.

It has to do with the story with which we are either engaged or not engaged. While Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, My God, My God.... in what was both a very intimate and also very communal moment. Everyone who was watching or knew about the crucifixion was thinking the very same thing - my God, my Him. Because they were invested in and engaged in the story of Jesus. This was not just a man hanging on the cross; this was their hope. They were all hoping to see God, praying for the miraculous, longing for their hopes to be confirmed. They wanted to see that this was really Him, that all they had dared to believe in was really true. When Jesus uttered, My God, my God, it was permission for everyone else to reflect on their God. Everyone at once mumbling, whispering, wishing my God makes this the bigger story of our God.

Now imagine that those very words were not uttered by Jesus. Imagine instead that either of the thieves had cried out, my God, my God. What now? We're not invested in their story. We don't much care what happens to thieves. We don't imagine God's going to answer them, but if they really believed in God, they wouldn't be thieves, so who cares? We can easily write that off as personal faith because we're not engaged in the story of the thief.

We write off too many things as personal faith. What we need is our communal God back. What we need is our God.

So how do we do that? By getting back into the story. By engaging in and investing in the bigger story, the one we were created to tell.

Yesterday, I used the example of the storms, which was the catalyst for my starting to ponder some of this. When my God saved my house and my family from the wrath of nature, that creates a divide between believers. We don't know who my God is, but we know He doesn't look like the God that I have because I'm sitting here in a pile of rubble that used to be my life, wondering what just happened and where that tornado took my prayer. That raises big questions about my God, your God, our God. 

But think about this - I heard a report, and I'm not sure whether this was a local report or storm-wide, but hundreds of homes were destroyed, many schools and places of business were hit hard...but not one church. On a Sunday morning, when most people would be at church, severe weather devastated a community...and the people were safe in God's house. That's our God. Does it answer why we both leave church and one of us has a home to go to and another one doesn't? No. But it gives us a bigger story to get in with a God we can both agree upon. Now, that God is bringing us together instead of driving us apart.

You never see a character in Scripture who has the same stranglehold on God that we have. No one considers Him exclusively my God. Though the psalmist may cry out to my God, he also draws on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He draws on the community's experience. He understands that God is, and I am God's. But God is not mine.

When Jesus taught His followers to pray, the prayer begins, Our Father. It never says, My Father. Because God was intended to be a communal experience.

That's why we have to live out the bigger stories, the ones we're all invested in. If we do that, I think we come together on sacred holy ground again and God gets to be who He intended to be - He is. And we are His.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My God

Two days ago, a series of powerful storms ripped through the Midwest. Crews are still assessing damage. Families will be cleaning up for days and weeks to come. Communities will be rebuilding for months, maybe longer. And in the midst of it all, believers will continue to distort the name of God.

This is one of the things in our culture that pains me whenever I see it, maybe the most painful after a day like Sunday. In our postmodern, egocentric, 21st-Century culture of individualism, we've taken "My God" too far.

I can't tell you how many times over the past two days I have heard from friends or seen on Facebook praises to God for sparing this person or that family from the storms. Praise God my family is safe! they will say. Or Thank God for sparing us the storms! Or worst yet, My God is so good! No damage! 

Which is all well and good when that's your God, but it's a tough pill to swallow when that's our God.

This kind of thinking sets believers up against one another. It sets us in a battle of faith that quite frankly, isn't productive for anyone and isn't honoring to the name of God. It sounds honoring, with all those words we put in there like praise and thanks, and awesome God. But as I sift through the rubble of my home (figuratively, for I, too, was spared the brunt of the storm), I can't help but grow bitter at your God, who until two days ago, I thought was also my God (which would have made Him our God) except that now, He obviously favors you and while I'm trying to figure out just what in the world happened to my life as I knew it, now I'm trying to figure out just what happened to my God.

Who was busy protecting you while the winds whipped my shelter to shreds.

So in the midst of an already trying time, now we have a world wondering. What happened to my God? Where is my faith lacking? What did I fail to do, or what did I do that I shouldn't have done, that caused my home to shake and not yours? What makes my God inferior to your God, that such devastation comes on me? And the answer could be any number of things - that my faith is not strong enough, that God does not love me, that God is not good, that I don't know God, that God doesn't know me. The list goes on and on.

Now, I hate you. And I'm not sure about my God. And at the very moment when I most need community to rally around, something to hold onto, I'm direly alone and cut off because it isn't ours any more; it's mine and yours.

That's true, I notice, when persons rush in to help their neighbors, too. Every once in awhile, the news will show a community coming to help someone pick up the pieces, and they always talk to the helper. And the helper always says something like, "Well, I was very fortunate, and my house and family are ok, so I wanted to come and help someone else." My...and your.... Forget the fact that we share a post office and a gas station and a Wal-Mart. It's still mine...and yours.

Whatever happened to ours?

It's a tough balance. I get that. In a world in which we've emphasized a personal relationship with God, it's hard to figure out how He could ever be both mine and yours. How are we supposed to celebrate the communal God? How are we supposed to worship what is ours, when the most powerful connection we have with Him is that He's mine - a byproduct of our culture telling us that is what He is supposed to be.

It's a horrible mess, and I can only begin to sort things out. Bear with me in the coming days as I sort of think out loud in this space to figure out how we get what's mine and yours back to what is ours. So that God always draws us together rather than tears us apart.

And if you happen to be near one of the areas hardest hit by Sunday's storms, or by any disaster or misfortune, go lend a hand. Not out of gratefulness, but out of grace. Because that's our brother, that's our sister, and this is our community.

Monday, November 18, 2013

...But Not By Man

On Friday, I shared with you the story of God's willingness to heal and the record that shows He never turned a broken man away. I think about this kind of thing quite often, since I'm working in what we might call a "healing profession." There's just kind of an interesting interplay here that I often find myself reflecting on.

Jesus healed everyone and guaranteed His healing to anyone who asked for it. Ask, and you shall receive. Seek, and you shall find. He healed every type of infirmity and disease, and He charged His disciples to do the same. Which means...He's given us the ability and the authority to heal. I do not take this lightly.

At the same time, I have to be honest and tell you I'm not sure I've ever healed a man. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never healed a man. I've seen God do it a few times, and I'm always amazed by the work of the Spirit, but I'm keenly aware that it has never been the result of my ability or authority, even God-given.

So what gives?

When I think about this, I think about the disciples having been sent out. They've seen Jesus heal. By His own lips, they've heard Him speak the authority and ability into them to do the same. He's present in their ministry, even if He's not right by their side, and then a man comes to the Teacher and informs Him that the students were unable to cast out this particular demon. They couldn't heal. With all the power and authority of Jesus given to them, they could not bring His healing to this one case.


Jesus takes care of the demon, and the disciples are awestruck. How, they ask, could You do that so easily when we were unable to do it at all, even in Your name? And Jesus answers, "This kind of demon requires prayer and fasting."

He doesn't mean prayer and fasting. I don't think. Because this guy came to Jesus out of nowhere, and the Gospels don't tell us that Jesus was fasting, that He was praying, or that He took the time to do either. It would be rather odd and out of character, wouldn't it? "A man came to Jesus and asked for the demon to be cast out, and Jesus responded, 'Return to Me in three days after a period of My fasting, for such is required for this type of demon.'" It makes no sense.

Then what do these words mean? Fairly simple, if you read them as the words of a God who loved metaphor.

Prayer is conversation or communion with God. It's being fully present to the dynamic between Creator and creation. It's having that intimacy and that close relationship with the One who created you, the One whose name you are acting in, the One whose authority you are acting on.

Fasting is the denial of self. It's getting rid of even your most basic instinct in order to pursue something righteous. Something holy, if you want to say it that way. It's making room within your flesh for the Spirit of God to move.

That's what I think Jesus meant by prayer and fasting. Not that we should fold our hands and empty our stomachs, but that we should take God's hand and empty ourselves. That's how Jesus was able to handle that demon in that moment - He was fully communed with God (prayer) and emptied of Himself (fasting). He had but one agenda - God's power and authority prevailing over the powers of this world. It's that simple.

Right. Simple until you actually have to do it. Yet I find that this is what works. Every good thing I have seen God do through my healing work is not by my ability and not even by my authority (given by God) to do such work. It's been by God's presence and the full measure of His intent in any situation. He has sent me to do healing work, to bring His healing to bear on the broken among us, but I cannot do it without Him. If I could, I might forget the meaning of His name in all of this. Rather, He's asked me to do it with prayer and fasting -

Wholly with Him, empty of me. So I always remember exactly who the Healer is.

Friday, November 15, 2013

All Healed

One more thing this week that I love about Jesus, which is this:

When we read the Gospels, we read about the people that Jesus healed. Blind men see. Lame men walk. Deaf men hear the voice of their Lord. Demons are cast out. Poor are welcomed in. There's nothing that Jesus cannot do, no infirmity He cannot heal, no brokenness He cannot mend. And I think that's the lesson most of us take from these stories - that God is able.

I only sort of love that about Jesus. I mean, it's nice,'s missing something.

The real story of the Gospels is not that Jesus was able to heal all infirmity, but that He was willing. That's what I love about Jesus.

All of these men and women come to Him, broken and beaten down, burdened by whatever it is that curses them. They cry out from the sides of the road, "Have mercy on me!" And He never says no. He never says He shouldn't. He never says they don't deserve it. He never says that some people have to be blind, have to be deaf, have to be lame, have to be broken. He never apologizes, then tells them they have to stay that way. He heals everybody who asks Him. Even some who don't.

It's kind of a foreign idea to us, isn't it? We are a people who judge. We are a people who look at someone else and try to figure out if they are worthy, or able, to be healed. We look at them and wonder what the possible benefit of healing would be for them, and for us were they to live among us healed. We pick and choose what we heal and don't heal, who we help and don't help.

Cancer is a big fight right now. Wouldn't we love to eradicate cancer? Apparently yes and no. On a broad scale, of course, but look at where funding goes and you see we're primarily fighting just a handful of cancers, hoping to maybe one day branch those answers into the broader question. And we're primarily fighting for adults. Just the other night, the news reported that only 4% of all cancer research funding goes to research on children's cancers. Seems we're picking and choosing.

Or look at the money we're pouring into Multiple Sclerosis, a mere fraction of some of the other diseases that plague our world and yet, exponentially higher than the funding for, say, fibromyalgia. 

It doesn't even have to be medical. We put money into urban and suburban school programs at a much higher rate than we invest in rural education. We set up funds for the poor, but only a certain set of the poor. We provide food for this family, but not for that one.

We run into people every day who have a measure of brokenness in their lives, and we pick and choose who we help and don't help, who is worth our time and efforts and who is not. Jesus never bothered. People came to Him, and it didn't matter the question or the questioner; the only thing that mattered was the answer. And Jesus was the answer.

He still is.

Knowing the way He responded to so many different men and women with so many troubles gives me the confidence to stand before Him with my own brokenness. I'm not worried about going to Jesus and appearing weak; I know He is strong. I'm not worried that my problems might be too big; I know He is able. I'm not worried that I might not be enough; I know He is willing. He died for me, for crying out loud. Of course He wants me to truly live!

There's some message for ministry in this story, too, and I'm going to share that with you on Monday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jesus Asks, Knowing

There are just so many things I love about Jesus and the way He lived. This is another one:

He wasn't afraid to ask questions.

I'm not talking about the antagonistic, fishing questions He is best known for. I'm not talking about the way He often answered questions with questions, although that is certainly a valuable way to interact with someone who thinks they are teaching the Teacher. I'm not talking about the opportunities He gives Peter and the other disciples to affirm His identity or confirm their faith. I'm talking about this, from Luke 2:46 - 

Three days later, they found him in the temple courtyard. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.

And I guess when I read this passage, I don't get the impression of Jesus that we see later in the Gospels, who asks questions in order to catch persons (mostly Pharisees) in their own logical fallacies and spiritual webs. One of the reasons maybe that my mind doesn't go to that is that in this case, the teachers have not sought Jesus; He has sought them. It would be inconsistent with His personality for Him to seek out the temple in order to prove His own competence and authority. It would be arrogant and self-serving, and Jesus was neither. So I have to believe as He sat in the temple courtyard, His questions were pure.

Which is interesting because He had all the answers. Right? Jesus knew everything there was to know. He not only knew the Scriptures, He was the Scriptures. There was no question He could have asked to which He did not know the answers, and in fact, we know that He answered some of the questions because Luke goes on to say that His understanding and His answers impressed all who were present.

So if His questions were pure - that is, if He wasn't setting the teachers up to fail and wasn't setting Himself up for glory - and yet He purely had no questions and yet He also sat answering those questions, what are we to make a Jesus who asks anyway?

It's this: He's inviting us into the conversation. That's what He's doing, just as God has always done with His people. He's inviting us to be a part of His developing and unfolding theology, which makes Him a loving and compassionate God, a personable God, and a collaborative God.

It makes me love what He's doing in this world.

Because now, God is not this omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent control freak getting things to go just His own perfect way, but He's a collaborator. He's one measure of input with the vision to take us where He wants to go, but He's not so bogged down by His own agenda that He can't give us the freedom to see another scene and then figure out how we synthesize the two. 

It makes me love what He's doing in me.

Because all of a sudden, I am not this being that God created and purposed and destined, which we think is such a nice thought. But in truth, I am a being who is still being created, with mutual input from my heart and my God and now, I feel like a player in my own story, which is woven into God's story, which makes me a willing, conscious player in God's story. I love what that does to the way that I live, the way that I serve, the way that I love.

So I like a Jesus who asks purely without any pure questions because I embrace the invitation to conversation. I love that He would let me in on it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Known Betrayer

Continuing in the "things I love about Jesus" series, there's this: Judas.

It's a sad story, really. Jesus calls this man, Judas, to be one of His disciples. One of His core twelve. Judas spends years in the ministry with Jesus - going where He goes, doing what He does, eating the fish He eats, breaking the bread. And somewhere along the way, the selfish man gets a bitter idea: he will betray the very Man who has given Him this adventure. For a mere thirty pieces of silver.

Most of us have been betrayed. We know what it's like to have someone turn their back on us. We know the sting of the place where the once-strong friendship has been ripped from our hearts, this open wound bleeding with the pain of betrayal. And we often interject that into this story. How betrayed Jesus must have felt! How terrible for one of your best friends, one of your twelve, to just turn on you like that! 

Except...John 6:64. Jesus knew from the beginning those who wouldn't believe and the one who would betray him.

Jesus knew all along. Before He uttered the fateful words, "Judas! Come follow me!" He knew that Judas would betray Him. 

But He called Judas anyway.

That's what I love about Jesus. He doesn't invest His time solely in the faithful. He doesn't guard Himself against those who would have less to do with Him, who would even hurt Him, who would sell Him out. He doesn't protect Himself from what might happen, but instead always wholly gives Himself to what might be. I think that's what He was doing in Judas.

He knew Judas would betray Him; there was no changing that. According to the Scriptures, it must be done. But He also knew that three years' time with the man might be of some benefit to Judas' soul. After all, how can you betray a man you don't love? If you don't love him, it's tattle-telling at best. With love, it becomes betrayal. It was love that made Judas regret his action. It was love that drove him away from those final hours of Jesus, which ironically brought him back to his Lord.

Have you thought about the parallel? Judas betrays Jesus and is overcome by remorse for his actions. It draws him away to a quiet place where, by force of love, he cannot tolerate the separation he's just created between himself and the Teacher who has faithfully guided him these past few years. By love, he gives himself up, hoping for relief from that separation.

Meanwhile, Jesus is betrayed and is overcome by sorrow for the world. It pulls Him toward a quiet place where, by the force of love, He cannot tolerate the separation between Himself and Creation. By love, He gives Himself up - alone, separated, abandoned on a cross - with the hope of relieving that separation.

By calling Judas, in a way, He created a way for the sinner to come back to Him, too. The same is true today.

He calls us, not because we are faithful but because simply we are. He calls us knowing that some of us will betray Him, that some of us will turn our backs. He calls us despite our flaws and gives us the chance to love Him, knowing that at any moment, love can turn away. That's the freedom of love. Yet He calls us and welcomes us in and makes us part of His inner circle and it is only by our love that we are able to betray Him. And then by our love, we are drawn back. 

And by His love, He receives us. It's just beautiful.

So on the days when I feel like I've let God down, in some way, shape, or form, I think about Judas, who was called anyway. I look in the mirror and see the Known Betrayer, who has been called anyway and invited in, so that in love, I can feel the separation...and by love, He has made a way back.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In the Boat

John tells the story of a great storm that tossed the tiny boat the disciples were in. He talks about this Jesus, who came walking to them across the water. And then he tells us the part of the story we too often miss; I know I missed it for the longest time. Let's go into John 6:

When evening came, his disciples went to the sea. They got into a boat and started to cross the sea to the city of Capernaum. By this time it was dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. A strong wind started to blow and stir up the sea. After they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea. He was coming near the boat, and they became terrified. Jesus told them, "It's me. Don't be afraid!" So they were willing to help Jesus into the boat. Immediately, the boat reached the shore where they were going.

There are a couple of things that strike me about John's telling of this story. The first is the next-to-last-sentence, where it says "So they were willing to help Jesus into the boat." This seems to imply that if anyone else had been walking across the water, they might not have let him into their boat. A storm is brewing, so the hospitable thing to do would be to let a man without a boat into yours. They're three or four miles from shore, so the incredible thing to do would be to think there must be something special about anyone who is hanging out on the water that far away. Don't you think if this were you, if you were in the middle of a dark, storm-tossed sea, and someone was coming to you against the waves on the water, don't you think you wouldn't stop to assess whether this was a guy you knew or a guy you didn't know, whether it was worth the risk to let a stranger on board? Don't you think, in such miraculous circumstances, you'd just let the guy in?

But the other thing that strikes me, more profoundly, is that Jesus needed help into the boat. Or at the very least, He permitted it.

Here is the Son of God, defying the wind and the waves to come to His disciples in the middle of the sea. Here is the Son of Man, walking on water to get to them. Obviously, He can do anything He pleases to do...but He can't get into the boat by Himself?

This is what I love about Jesus. He was never so much God that He forgot that He was human. This is one of those beautiful moments where, in the middle of what is purely a supernatural, divine manifestation of Himself, He steps fully back into the flesh. "Help Me up, boys," He says to the disciples, and then reaches out for them to take His hand. And it's not for their sake that He does this; their hands were probably plenty busy with the whipping winds. He does this because He was created in the flesh, and He's honoring that piece of His creation.

I love that. That's what I want to do. I don't want to be so wrapped up in my strengths that I forsake my weaknesses. I don't want to be so capable, so competent, so full of myself that I can't reach out and let someone take my hand for the next little step of the journey. I don't want to believe that just because I can do what sometimes seems impossible, that I can do everything...because I wasn't created for everything. I was created for some things. I want to remember that, and I want to honor that part of me.

I want to honor the part of me that can walk on the water and still need some help climbing into the boat. Because God created that, too.

I feel closer to God thinking He would let me help Him into the boat. I feel closer thinking I would let Him help me. There's something about the quiet humility of that that just makes it seem so beautiful.

Monday, November 11, 2013


For the past several months, indeed for most of the year, I have been secretly working to put together a tremendous honor for a woman who more than deserves it. She doesn't know it's happening...but it's happening, and the more family that I've brought into the mischief, the more people are really excited that this is finally happening for her.

The story doesn't matter much, not for the sake of today's post, but here's the gist: I have a very dear family member who means so much to all of us, and several years ago in passing, I heard that this sweet woman has only one regret in her whole life. And it's been a long, full, good life. So of course, if you tell me a thing like that, I'm going to do what I can to take care of that one thing for her. It only seems right.

Well, it's coming together, and people are coming to tears over how much this is going to honor her. I'm excited. I'm still not sure whether her face is going to light up in joy...or she's going to light up my backside at all the trouble and spectacle for this humble old woman. (Those would be her words, not mine.) Either way, it's bound to be a great moment.

So as the day draws near, I find myself smiling more. The pieces are coming together, and it's not just work any more; we're back to joy. The other night, as I spilled the beans to yet another member of the family, who also broke down in tears, I had this moment of pure ministry in which I thought, "Yeah. Because this is what I was created to do. You want me to be the one working to honor you."

As good as that thought felt in revelation of my ministry and the work I'm doing every day to honor people where I meet them, those words also stung a little. Ok, a lot. Because the truth is that as hard as I work and as good as I am at honoring other people, at loving them well, in that moment a stark reality came over me: I have not honored and loved myself in the same way.

It's kind of a double-edged sword. It sounds arrogant, right? To even think about honoring or loving yourself with the same deep sense of giving and blessedness as you would honor or love another?

I reflect that part of it is my unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to feel honored and loved by someone else. It's still a block, a personal defense, for me and I deflect such things as fervently as I can (without, of course, disrespecting or meaning to disrespect the person who has seen fit to love on me). But I'm easily embarrassed, so I kind of push that aside.

But then it hit deeper and I wondered if I even could accept such a gift, from anyone, let alone myself. Which is perhaps a reflection for another day. Because what it led me around to is this:

It's different when you honor yourself. Necessarily, you do it in a different way. It's quieter, more gentle. It's less of a show. I mean, certainly, if I had put into myself the same level of production that I have put into my family, I would feel arrogant. And I would not feel honored. I would feel as though I was against myself, not for myself. That small reality led me to Jesus and the quiet ways in which He honored Himself, and others, by the way that He lived.

I think that's the difference. When we honor someone else, it's ok to make a show of it sometimes. It's ok to make it a big thing because you know what? Maybe it is. But when we honor ourselves, it really just is a smaller thing. It's not about this thing we're doing any more; it's about this thing we're being. We honor ourselves by being as God created us to be, just as Jesus did.

So I have some more thoughts about Jesus, and I'm going to be sharing those throughout this week. I want to share stories of how He honored others, while humbling and honoring Himself as He was created, all in the process of something so simple as living. Stay tuned for some of those stories.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Substance and Essence, Bread and Wine

This story kind of piggybacks off of something I wrote recently for Faith and Football (book 3. Sorry - no sneak peeks this time). But that's why I've chosen to post it today. It comes from the story of the meal with the disciples in John 6.

I am the bread of life. ...I can guarantee this truth: If you don't eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don't have the source of life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will bring them back to life on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

As I was reading this passage the other day, what struck me was that the flesh and the blood are not one and the same. I'm not sure I bothered to realize that before, at least not in such a profound way. And maybe it's not profound to you, but here goes nothin'.

The flesh of Jesus is true food. It's something of substance, which was the realization I had when reading this passage this time. What is substance? It's something tangible. It's something with a little meat on its bones. It's something that has a measurable existence, a weight if nothing else. So of course this is His flesh.

His flesh is the substance of His being with us. The substance of Jesus is that He was the Son of God, in the flesh; He was the Son of Man, walking among us. That's powerful stuff. That's something with a little weight to it, that God would come in full flesh to be among us and be present in our world. It's something tangible, this very substance of Jesus living like us.

And for that, I praise God in one way. In the ritual of Communion, I use the bread to remember His body in this way, in the substance of His being.

But His blood is true drink, which is not the same as the true food of His flesh. When I think about drink, I think about something that's refreshing but not quite tangible. You can't grab onto the drink in the same way as the bread; it moves around and molds around the form of your hand reaching in. There's not quite a whole lot to it, and yet without it, you would die. Your body consists primarily of drink, of liquid, of water - you spirit, of living water - and it's crucial but not..substantive.

His blood is the essence of His being with us. It's not that He lived and walked among it; it is how He lived and walked among us. It's the way He served, the way He worked. It's the way He taught and heard and answered. It's the way He loved. It's not quite so substantive; we can't hold onto it the same way we do the reality of His flesh, but it's absolutely essential to our being able to function as beings of the spirit. We have to have this essence. We have to understand the essence of God among us, and in us, in order to let God show through us. We exist primarily, on a spiritual level, as living water, and this is the blood that He offers us as true drink.

And for that, I praise God in another way. In the ritual of Communion, I use the drink to remember His spirit in this way, in the essence of His being.

So that struck me this week, and I wanted to share it with you. It changes the way I think about Jesus. It makes me more deliberate in remembering both sides of the Son of Man, and love divided only multiplies - I love Him all the more for both.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Earlier this week, I learned a lesson in posture. It's one of those freak chance moments in the universe that I can't stop thinking about.

As most of you know, I am currently serving as a chaplain in a large hospital system in a diverse metropolitan area. It's not uncommon in this circumstance for me to come across patients whose language I do not speak...and who do not understand my language. My hospital has a fantastic solution to this problem. It's called a blue phone.

A blue phone plugs in like a regular phone, but instead of one handset, it has two. As a provider, I pick up the handset on the left, press a couple of buttons, and I am connected with a service where I need only tell them what language I need to speak. They then place an interpreter between the two handsets so that as I speak into one, the translator hears me and speaks into the other so the patient and I can have a conversation. It's a beautiful process; I love the honor it gives to an individual that they are able to be heard even in a place that doesn't always understand them.

The problem is that this week, just a couple of minutes in, the translator in the magic of the blue phone decided to leave the conversation, leaving me with a now-smiling (minutes ago, sullen) patient in the middle of a story about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Energetic, joyful, hopeful...all in a language I could not understand. (The translator actually told me she was hanging up and thanked me for using her service, then clicked off before I could protest. She did not say goodbye in the other language, so I'm not sure how much the patient understood.)

So here I was with this woman looking up at me with hope and sparkle and life in her eyes, feeling engaged and jabbering away, connected to me as though I could still understand her. At that moment, the only thing I had to communicate with her

It was awkward for a moment. I'm sure you've seen comedians talk about this sort of thing, how when we're talking to a person who doesn't understand us, we slow down and say our words both slowly and loudly, as if that's going to suddenly make this woman understand English. She doesn't know what I said (which was: "I'm really sorry. I cannot understand you. I do not know your language," except of course, I used the actual name of her language. As if that mattered). But with my body, I think I was able to convey something.

I did my best to look apologetic. To bend slightly forward and over in humility and deference, to raise my hands a little with openness to acknowledge my short-coming, maintaining eye contact so that she would know at my heart, I was still engaged with her even though our conversation had ended.

It was the most powerful thing I did all day.

It's got me thinking about the way I carry myself, the way other people might see me, the way I use my body when I interact with someone. It's so important in our culture, and we are trained, that we need to show confidence and competence. As a chaplain, I kind of default to that. I want people to see that I believe in what I'm doing, I believe in why I'm doing it, and I believe in whatever is about to happen between us. I want them to see that I'm solid in my faith in God, that I'm not going to be shaken by their questions. There's a lot that confidence says.

What it never says, though, is I'm connected with you. Never. So as I think about what I was trying to say in that room, beyond words that were spoken in vain, I'm thinking about the other people in my life who don't need to see me confident and comfortable in myself; they need to see me connected with them.

Because the truth is there are some people who are never going to hear my words. I can scream them in their face, and there will be no recognition. There are a lot of reasons for that - broken relationships, general dysfunction, unforgiveness, or something as simple as a difference in personalities, relationship styles, or personal needs. And I wonder what I'm saying to those persons. I'm wondering if I'm showing them what I mean despite the absence of words. I'm wondering beyond the concept of language, what I'm communicating in the human language.

Isn't that what it is? Our bodies are the human language. Certainly, certain things have different interpretations by culture, but for the most part, if I were to show you by my posture what I was saying, you'd generally get the idea. You'd understand that I'm apologizing. You'd understand that I'm engaged. You'd understand that I'm sorry we're in this place, that there's a barrier between us that makes words impossible. I have found that across cultures.

I just haven't been using it effectively in my own. It's something to think about.

So how does the story end? After my physical apology, my posture of connectedness in disconnectedness, my patient began repeating one word to me in her native language, which also happens to be a loud language. I didn't know what she was saying. I didn't know if she was yelling. I couldn't tell by her face exactly what was behind this. I stayed connected with her for a few more seconds, though it felt like nearly forever. I hoped she felt the same sense of presence that I did, that despite our language barrier, we were still here with each other. Then with my apologetic posture holding, I smiled and made my leave from the room, repeating that one foreign word in my head.

I went straight to my phone and dialed a friend from church, who had been a missionary for us in that region of the world for quite awhile. I knew she would probably know what the word meant. I was trying to figure out what it was that this patient wanted from me, what it was I needed to do to respond to this word. Did I need to go back into the room and dial another interpreter? Had I left something hanging that the woman desperately wanted to say to me? Agonizing questions. Between the two of us - me not having any reference for the language but what I was phonetically able to take with me and my friend having a slightly different regional dialect - we were able to figure out what it was that was so important for this woman to say to me, what it was that she wanted me to hear.

It was "Thank you."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rolling Stones

Can I ask you something about the Jesus story? My question this morning is this: who rolled the stone?

At the end of the Gospels, the Christ has been crucified and His body is placed in the tomb. A stone is rolled over the entrance and guards placed near the stone to ensure that the disciples don't try any funny business. Three days later, the stone is rolled away (as I have already suggested, likely from inside the tomb) and the Son of God walks out.

So I ask you again: who rolled the stone?

Every time I've heard this story, it's crafted in the way above, with periods and breaks in very deliberate places, whether written or spoken. And I've always had this impression that obviously, the guards rolled the stone. The stone was, after all, the primary barrier to keep Jesus in and the disciples out, so it must have been a construct of the Roman army. Mention of the stone, the way we tell it, always comes with the mention of the guards, so it's easy to assume this was an external obstacle, another pushing back between cultures, that God was going to have to overcome if He wanted to rebuild the temple in three days.

Then He comes walking out and we say Wow! They did everything they could to keep Jesus in the grave - including placing a giant boulder over His only escape - and He still walked the road to Emmaus. How awesome is our God! Such a stone was a part of every tomb, not just the Lord's. There are other Scriptures that talk about men in the grave and the stones rolled across the entrances there, too. I suppose on the practical side, this was so that any unsuspecting hiker seeking a little exploration or shelter wouldn't run into a decaying body...and also to protect the body from scavenging animals who might desecrate the man.

Sucks the life right out of the story, doesn't it? Although the stone would have been customary, a part of any traditional tomb burial, we are told something else about the Savior's stone. The Bible tells us who rolled it. It was Joseph. (Matthew 27:59-60)

Joseph of Arimathea, the disciple of Jesus who with a grief-stricken heart petitioned for and received the body of Jesus. With tears in his eyes, took that body and wrapped it in the traditional burial cloth. With sadness in his heart, placed his beloved Teacher in his own new was this man who rolled the stone.

That makes the act of love.

That changes this story for me. A lot. And I'm not sure I can articulate all of the little ways that it does. We don't see anyone else asking for Jesus - those who have followed Him are mostly long gone, and those who are there (Mary Magdalene, for instance) would not have known what to do with the body had they taken it. Where is Mary, who lost years of her life to demon possession, going to put the flesh of the Messiah? She has no tomb. I am struck by the absolute aloneness of a Man who, when living, couldn't get away from the crowds if He tried. They praised Him in His living, bowed down before Him, deferred to His wisdom, begged for His healing, and now who will honor the crucified Christ? They all seem long gone.

What does it even mean to honor the crucified Christ?

We see this rich man give up his grave for the Lord. It's easy to say now that Joseph was content to let Jesus borrow the tomb, but that's not was Joseph was thinking. He didn't know Jesus was going to walk out of there. He gave His Teacher this gift freely, for no other reason than the customary honor of His body.

What of myself, or of my possessions, or of my riches, or even of my poverty, am I willing to give in the honor of the Lord? (Not in His honor, but in order to honor Him.)

We see this same man, no doubt anguished by his own grief, taking a deep breath, maybe a last wish, a last whispered prayer, and then completing the burial process by rolling a large stone over the entrance of the tomb, sealing off forever (or so he thinks) the dreams, the hope, the promise that he'd thought for sure would come from this man, the very things he'd spent the last few years of his life chasing as a disciple. All because that was where Jesus needed to be, whether Joseph understood or not that as the Sabbath approached, God's place was there were the man from Arimathea had placed Him.

It's probably this last scene that strikes me the most. I wonder how many of my dreams, my hopes, my plans, my promises that I am willing to close the door on even when Jesus says that's where He needs to be tonight. I'm aware of the heaviness in my heart just thinking about it, all of these things that I have worked toward, followed, prayed for, hoped for, all of these inklings that I have based my life on and gone after...what would it be like to roll the stone and shut them away, even with the promise that it had to be that way?

Or even more profoundly, more aching in my heart, I wonder if I'd have the strength to put my Savior there. This is the hardest part of faith for me most days, accepting that sometimes God has to be somewhere I wouldn't expect Him. And He asks me to let Him be there. And I wonder if God told me, I have to die, if I could be the one to love Him enough to let Him. If I could be the one to honor His plan. If I could be the one to honor Him. If God says to me, It has to be this way, and I don't understand, could I be the one to roll the stone?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Galilean Idol

I've thought it odd for quite a long time that we, as Christians, wear the cross around our necks. The cross, after all, is the mechanism of death of the very God we claim to be praising with the emblem. Had Jesus lived and died a criminal's death today, would future generations (or perhaps even this one) wear a little syringe around their necks?

It's easy to see how the cross may have become our idol. But maybe that's what it was always meant to be.

Let's look at some of the text from the book of John. From 3:14:

As Moses lifted up the snake on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

Familiar with the story? You can find it in Numbers 21. The nation of Israel is in the midst of their wandering, and they are rebellious, not to mention whining and complaining. God's had enough. He sends poisonous snakes among them. Many are bitten, many die. The people run to Moses, repent, and beg for the Lords' mercy. God's answer is as follows:

The Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake, and put it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' (8)

It's kind of odd when you think about it. Here, we have an admittedly jealous God who has already told His people to have no other gods before Him, who has criticized and cursed idolatry, and He is telling the people to look not to Him for their healing, but to a snake. Not just any snake, but a snake made by human hands - an idol by every Old Testament definition of the word. And they were healed.

Flash forward a few thousand years, and here we are again with a people of God feeling bitten. There are snakes among them, and no man understands how to live. They are lost somewhere between the law and the Promise, just as the Israelites had been in the wilderness. On the one hand, they have the law and the teaching of Moses; on the other hand, Jesus continues to reform and remake that law in the image of the promise of the Messiah. But they aren't quite there yet. Nobody is. In the in-between, there is a treacherous trap and they are weary of trying to figure out which way to go. They whine. They complain. They feel bitten.

Then God raises up an idol - His own Son on a pole. Anyone, He says, who is bitten, can look at it and live. Anyone, He says, who is stuck between the law and the Promise can look to the crucified Christ for the answer. So we fix our eyes on Him.

It's a fine line, I know. It offends our sensibilities to consider the cross an idol. It's the cross, for crying out loud! But I think that's the point. The cross does not encompass the entirety of God, not by a long shot. It shows a large part of Him, but it's not the whole deal. And any time we are looking at something that is not the fullness of God, even if we connect it to the Holy Himself, it is less than He, and that makes it merely an image. And an image is an idol.

See, God is not defined by the cross. It shows us His undying love for us (in that dying sort of way). It shows us His sacrifice, His surrender. It shows us to what extremes He would go to reconcile us to Himself. But it doesn't show us either of the things we're dying to know about - it doesn't show us the law or the Promise. It is the life of Jesus that shows us the law; His resurrection shows us the Promise. This neither.

This image is the wilderness. It's the wandering. It's the sight that's supposed to tide us over from here to there, in this place where we feel bitten by the world. It's this glorious show of God's tender care for us. Like the snake, this is the image of God made by human hands, hands that were content to crucify Him. He's given us this image to heal us, but by our hand, we created this God. We created the crucified Christ. To do any justice to the suffering of the cross, we must know that. We must understand, as God has laid out in His word, that this is an idol. He said it, not me.

Not all idols are bad things; it depends on what you're worshiping...and how. We have to remember this is God's healing for us, for now, for the in between. This is God's mercy in the desert. Between the law and the Promise, there is the crucified Christ. It's an idol, sure, but a holy one, and this image of God is our healing. That's how He planned it. That's how He gave it. That's how we made Him - lifted up, so that all who see the crucified Christ are healed.

The idol of Christ, for those days when we need an image of God to hold onto as we journey toward the Promise and the God who holds onto us.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jealous of Jesus

Within the past week, an idea kind of seeped into my head and now, it's consumed my thoughts. I'm jealous of Jesus. It's not that the jealousy is overwhelming; it's why that has me thinking about my own life in relation to my God.

It's kind of an interesting thing to say, I know, and now that I've got you thinking, let me start by telling you why I find myself more than a little envious. It's not really the obvious things that your head might be jumping to right away. It's not that the Man was perfect. I don't sit around longing to be so perfect and sinless. (Sorry. I don't.) It's not the tremendous size of His following. (I have some encouraging blog statistics this year, but number still are not my priority.) It's not the closeness of His relationship with God. (Although, of course, that is admirable and aspiration-worthy.) It's not even how perfect His hair always looks in the portraits we paint of Him.

What makes me jealous of Jesus is His absolute confidence in who He was and the way He was so comfortable with that.

My mind goes to the scene when Jesus is about 12 and His family has ventured to the city for the Jewish festival. On the way home, they suddenly realize their emerging young man is not with them, and they set out in search for Him. They find Him in the temple, and His response is a confident, cool, "Of course this is where I am. Why would I be anywhere else?"

What were you doing at 12? Heck, what were you doing last week? What are you doing right now?

One of the reflections I have on my life, particularly in this exciting time of growth and change, is that I have spent a vast majority of my life asking for, and waiting on, permission to be the very thing that is so clear in my heart that I am created to be. I've been feeling things out, trying them on, waiting on someone to tell me whether it's ok or not ok to be this way. I have been harboring my heart, holding it close, protecting it from the idea that it just might not be ok to be fully who I am, although it's agonizing to be stuck just outside of the fullness of what God has put in me.

I imagine I'm not alone.

I think about little Jesus walking into the temple, taking a seat among the teachers and not expecting anyone to ask Him to move to the children's table. And not moving if they did. I think about how long He might have waited to speak, whether His holy humility would have given some deference to those for whom this had been a life, or if He was anxious to begin His riddles and revelations, to show them that this could also be a calling. I think about how there wouldn't have been one tinge of arrogance in His voice, because He wouldn't have needed it. I think about why He wouldn't have needed it, which was only because He never felt the need to prove Himself. 

I wonder what that must be like.

As much as I spend my life asking for permission, I think I spend equally as much of it trying to prove myself. Like I just keep digging holes that I then somehow have to fill. Like the world may be tolerably accepting of my desire to be here, to do this or that thing that God has put in me, but like if I have any hope of staying, I have to earn it.

But now, I'm thinking about my Savior's beautiful life and...I wish I had His confidence. I wish I had His comfort with Himself...with myself. I think about what it might be like to trust my heart, to lean into this keen God-sense inside of me and decide simply to be as I've been created to be and decide that it's perfectly ok to be that. I think about what it might be like to be such..without arrogance, without feeling like I have to defend or to prove myself in that identity. If I could be like Jesus and just know, and be ok in knowing, and simply live, and be ok in simply living.

It seems kind of a mild aspiration, I know. If you could be anything that Jesus was, why wouldn't you want His sinlessness? Why wouldn't you want His grace? Why wouldn't you want His teaching ability or His power to build a name?

I guess it's because I know I wasn't created for that. I'm never going to be sinless. I'm not sure I can imagine what perfect grace looks like; I have a hard time finding it even for the girl in the mirror. I have my own way with words, but I don't think much about big stages or small hillsides. And in the eternal scheme of things, my name is only a name; it doesn't have the power of the name of God.

But I was created to be me. I was created a certain way and of all the things that Jesus had and that He did so well, I think that's the one that we have in common - we were each created to be a certain way. That's the one thing we can both touch, and I'm longing right now to be able to touch that with the same confidence and comfort that He did. I want to know that powerfully who I am. It's the makings of a beautiful life.

And truth? I wouldn't mind His portrait-perfect hair, either.