Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Doubts and Questions

How many days in a row can you trust God?

For me, the answer is "almost one."

I hope you're laughing, at least a little bit, but it's the truth, right? It's not just me. On any given day, whether things are going well or things are going terribly, I have questions. I have nagging doubts that creep up every now and then. That's the downside of living in the flesh. On the days when life doesn't seem so good, it's hard to fathom how God is working these things together (Romans 8:28). On the days when life is bliss, it's hard to imagine how I could not mess this up. (Which is a doubt in myself, but also a doubt in God because it means, for that moment, I have forgotten that He made me for this.)

This may surprise people. For the people in my life who know me well, I seem like a rock of faith. I am, and I'll admit this, one of the most optimistic people I know. I just don't believe on giving up on anything, or anyone. I always hold out hope for tomorrow even on days that seem darker than days past. This is the truth that I show the world, and it is honest. But the other honest truth is that it's not so seamless as it seems.

You see, I trust God consistently, not constantly. Faith is the overarching narrative of my life; doubt is a minor character. And I think it's beautiful that way.

Moments of doubt bring our faith into focus. They remind us what we're looking at, and with what eyes we see. They give us a chance to shake our heads, to blink, to break our stare. To remember what it's like to see God. 

That's important. A faith that is untested is no faith at all, and these moments of doubt or these nagging questions give us the chance to remember what faith is and why we believe. When God is a constant presence in your life (He is), when you get comfortable with His presence (we do), it's easy to stop looking for Him because we just trust He's going to be there. When we stop looking for Him, we stop seeing Him. When we stop seeing Him, we see more of ourselves. When we see more of ourselves, we become our own god, or at least some version of it, and then we wake up one day and wonder what happened to our faith. Faith that is the substance of things hoped for, things not seen...disappears when we stop looking to see it.

Another of God's beautiful paradoxes.

I write this to you out of the depravity of my own heart. I've had a lot of questions lately, but for the first time in my life, as I look over my questions, I see faith. I see the pattern of trust that I have set up. I see a consistency of belief that is not shaken by doubt. There was a time, not long ago, that any doubt at all would have shaken my faith. Today, I can tell you that my questions strengthen it.

I can't tell you why I believe. I could, but it's all subtext and circumstances and the little whisper of God that only I can hear. The reasons I believe will not be, intimately, the reasons that you believe. And I don't want to do that to you. I don't want you to believe in my God; I want you to believe in the God. But I write this this morning to encourage you:

Questions do not threaten your faith; they strengthen it. Doubts do not negate your belief; they confirm it. Questions and doubts send you searching for the answers your heart has forgotten, and you find them all over again and remember what God is like and you're amazed all over again. You believe all over again. You choose all over again to be God's. It sounds monotonous and tedious, but it's beautiful. I love that I get to choose every day to love God. I love that my faith has enough doubt in it to keep it fresh.

And I love that my doubts do not negate my faith.

Because even in the midst of all my questions, even in my darker days, even in my desperate moments, in those times when I could honestly look you in the eye and tell you I don't believe, when I step back into the big picture, I realize that I do. Consistently, though not constantly, I believe in God. And I trust Him.

Which brings me back to the original question: How many days in a row can you trust God?

For me, the answer is "almost one." And I think that's just about right.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


You've probably heard the five W's - Who, What, When, Where, and Why. And maybe even the H - How. And there's a lot in this world that wants to tell you what this life is about. 

This life is about what you do, they say. It's about the good and the bad and the meaningful things you accomplish within your years. 

Or it's all about timing. It's about when. It's about knowing the moment to move and the moment to pause, the time to go and the time to stay. It's not so much what you do, they say; timing is everything.

Or maybe it's geography. The judgment of a man's life is what he does where it matters. You can do all the good things in the world, at all the right times, but if you're not in the right place then you've missed your mark. If you're five miles away from a community that could have really used you, you've missed it. You have to be on the winning team, so of course, where you serve matters.

Or maybe it's the why. This one's becoming popular in our age of individualism. All that matters is your motivation. If you're trying to do good, regardless of the outcome, it must be good. If you have noble intentions and disastrous results, we'll probably still praise you for trying and convince you that you've done a good thing. 

We even have a healthy respect for how. A man who comes by every dime honestly and gives a certain percentage back is much more highly regarded than a man who swindles and cons his way to the top.

But I believe there is no greater inspiration in this world than who, and there are two ways to come at this question: 

Who God is and who you are.

When you know who God is, you have a healthy appreciation of the depth of His complexity. You understand His heart. You know His character. You trust His word. You believe in the things you have not seen of Him yet because He's told you they are there. And when you understand the greatness, the vastness, and the majesty of God, it necessarily defines what you do, when you do it, where you do it, why you do it, and how you do it. The Who of God answers the remaining questions of life.

The same is true of who you are. Not who you are in the flesh. Not who you are in the mirror. But who you are in the Spirit. Knowing who you are, which generally comes from a sense of knowing who God is and who He has created you to be, guides the rest of your decisions. You don't want to live a life contradictory to your true nature, so you choose your whats, your whens, your wheres, your whys, your hows to be in accordance with your who.

This idea - this answering to a who - is integrity.

Now, it may seem weird to you to say that it depends on knowing who God is or who you are. Shouldn't it just be God? Shouldn't the holy Christian life be defined entirely by God's who at all times? I mean, if you lose sight of God, haven't you lost sight of everything?

How can I get plane tickets to your perfect world?

I've been a Christian long enough to know that as much as it seems it would have to be that way, that's not the way it usually is. At any given time, I can probably tell you who God is or who I am, but not usually both. Both is a tremendous blessing. And no, I don't know why it works that way. But there are times in my life when I've completely lost my concept of God, when I don't know who He is any more, when He seems so far away and so obscure that it's hard to hold onto any part of Him. Yet in those times, there is still something holding me back and that is my sense of who I am. I don't necessarily have to have God in focus to remember who He created in me; it becomes my identity the more I live it and living true to myself, I am living true to God who designed it this way. 

That's a struggle of the faith.

There are other times when maybe God's changing what He's asking of me. Or maybe I'm changing what I expect of myself. Maybe I'm in a growth cycle or a sin cycle or some other kind of flux in development where I can look in the mirror and honestly tell you I don't know who I am. That's okay, too, so long as I have a sense of God. That sense of God will guide me, and I will live a life true to what I know of Him.

That's a struggle of the flesh.

Life is a series of these struggles. A back-and-forth between faith and flesh, between having a clear image of God and having a clear image of you. In blessed spurts, in brief glimpses, I have occasionally had both at once but those are heavy moments of purpose that usually either send me in one direction or another, trying to figure out how I relate to the God who calls me to this or how God relates to the me who is bold enough to go for it. That's okay. Because I find that as long as I have one or the other, as long as I have one sense of Who in my life, my other questions are answered.

There is no other way this equation works. Your what cannot tell you who. Your when cannot tell you where. Your why cannot tell you how. The only foundation for the five W's and the H are the Who. That's why it's important always to know, one or the other. 

It's called integrity. It's also wisdom. And it's beautiful truth. Because I know who, I know everything I need to know. I know what, when, where, why, and how. The only question that's left is will.

Will I dare? 

Monday, April 28, 2014


On Friday, I asked what makes you think that the prophetic word God has spoken over your life will be the only word He fails to fulfill. It's an interesting question to consider.

But I realized as I wrote those words that there would be people reading them who would scoff at such a notion. What about people, they would ask, who defy what God is trying to do in their lives? What about people who don't even know God? What about people who don't care what God is or isn't doing with them? Or believe...He isn't doing anything? Certainly, God fulfilling the calling on a man's life is somewhat dependent on the man, right? Man must choose to be a part of what God is doing in order for God to do it, right?

Not necessarily.

Think about men and women you have known who have died. Think about funerals you have attended. Think about stories that have been told that might have shocked one of the main characters in that very story! It's hard to make assumptions, of course, but look at the holy work that goes on unknown by some of those involved in it.

I'm thinking about guys who would have asked what good they did in this world. Who spent their last days wondering if it mattered at all that they lived. Who maybe didn't know God until those final moments, then spent those hours in agony, wondering if it was all too late. And I'm thinking about the people that come out of the woodwork when guys like that die, to tell their stories of how this man or this woman touched their life. How this man or that woman changed them. Now, I have never known the word spoken over anyone's life but mine. I don't know what God has whispered or shouted or hinted in another man's heart. But I know the power of a holy story when I hear one.

We've seen it in the Bible stories, too. A few weeks ago, during Holy Week, I asked how the Pharisees missed that they were fulfilling the very prophecy of Jesus when they paid 30 pieces of silver and handed Him over to be crucified. You think at some point, those men wondered, having seen the crucified Christ, whether there was anything holy in them? There was. They fulfilled God's plan for that very moment. His Word was fulfilled in them. They killed His Son.

Here's the thing: God is going to fulfill the prophetic word He's spoken over your life. Your calling, if you want to call it that. Whether you've heard it or not. Whether you've listened or not. Whether you care or not. Whether you have your doubts or not. Whether you buy into the whole idea or not. But there is a benefit to the buy-in, and that is this:

When you buy in to what God is doing in your life, you don't miss it when it happens.

That's really the difference. And that's really the tragedy.

The only thing at risk once God speaks over your life is your ability (or willingness) to be present to it. That's all. Too many among us die wondering what their lives were worth only to have the stories come out at the wake, when people are finally willing to say what another man meant to them. It's because they haven't bought in to what God is doing in their life.

Which, I know, is no guarantee. Many among us will die not knowing, but having sought, our entire lives. We will die wondering if we made it, wondering if we did it, wondering if we did honor to the gift God had given us and the word He spoke to us. Many of us will not have the opportunity to know if we did what God called us to do or not. I think it's often that such things are not discovered in the life, but in the legacy. 

But we can die knowing we tried. We can die knowing we lived present to what God was doing through us. We can die knowing what we did, how we did it, and why, even if we have never seen the depth of the fruit. And if you have seen the fruit? I highly doubt you have seen the depth of it. Holy things run deeper than we can ever seem to fathom. 

I think it still matters, though. I think it still makes a difference to buy in. It makes a difference to believe. Because it gives you something to live for, a way to live, a life to be present to and a word full of promise. It lets you spend your final hours knowing you did your best. Knowing what you were working toward. Asking, maybe, how deep the payoff was, but trusting that you made the investment. Knowing life, to the best of your ability, was holy.

So to the doubters, to the nay-sayers, to the skeptics and the cynics and the unbelievers, yes. God will still fulfill the prophecy He's spoken over your life whether you buy in or not. If you don't, the only one who misses the good and holy thing God is doing through you 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Prophecy and Calling

Even a life of tremendous meaning can remain hauntingly empty if it does not also have purpose. 

That's a little hard to believe, but not once you honestly consider what such a statement means. Meaning is knowing that you're making a difference. It's knowing that what you're doing matters. It's having that sense that what you're doing is both right and good. In a blessed world, that what you're doing is holy. That's meaning, and meaning is invaluable. However, do you see the missing element here? It's you. A life filled with meaning does not necessarily lend any confidence to your heart. It feels good. It is good. But there is some sense that practically anyone could be doing it and it would still be good. That this good life you're living doesn't actually require you to be living it. It could be anybody. 

If you could be anybody and still have this kind of life, then what does it matter who you are? You lose yourself. That's where purpose comes in. Purpose ties the holy work around you to the holy work within you. It's that piece that makes you a part of what's going on. That shows you the absolute necessity that you be working here. It gives you the assurance that all this holy? It doesn't work without you. That's pretty special. That gives your life not only meaning, but depth. We call this depth purpose. And purpose, quite frequently, comes through calling.

Calling is kind of a tricky situation. It doesn't matter if you're called to something you've dreamt of doing your whole life or if you're called to something you've prayed you'd never have to do. It doesn't matter if you've been praying over your calling and longing to hear the very word God gives you or if you haven't considered it at all and are startled by that still, small voice. Calling immediately clamps around your heart in a moment of pure fear, which can sometimes be absolute panic. All of a sudden, that cosmic "Yes" makes you question everything you ever thought about your own heart. That supernatural green light makes you slam on the brakes and seriously consider what you're about to get into.

And if you're honest, you never stop considering it. Calling haunts your hallowed heart every day you're doing it; if it doesn't, you're into the wrong thing, my friend. Once you know what God's calling is on your life, you wake every morning into your expanded smallness and cannot comprehend, as if you're hearing it for the first time, how on earth you were blessed with such a purpose. That's just how it is. (It's beautiful, but it takes a certain strength of heart to remember that.)

So let's talk about calling. Calling is nothing more than a prophecy spoken over your life. That's it. It's the Word of God as it relates to you. It's the divine promise of what God wants to do in you, through you, and because of you. Right? Of course.

And yet, somehow, it is the one word of God we are least likely to believe. We believe many unbelievable, unfathomable stories that God has told us over the years. A prophet in the belly of a fish. A dead man raised to life. A Son born of a virgin, crucified, resurrected. A piece of fruit that started this whole tumultuous trial. I mean, on the surface, so many of the stories of God are unbelievable. Yet they are also the foundations of our faith, and we believe them. Then God speaks a relatively tame word over our lives, and we take one look in the mirror and start shaking our heads. Nope. No way. Not me. This time, You've got it wrong, God. Don't You know me at all?

He does know you. And He knows a lot more than you give Him credit for.

Consider the prophecies of God. Hundreds, thousands of them. Prophecies in the short-term. Prophecies over time. Prophecies for people. For life. For love. Hundreds of years before Jesus even walked this earth, God prophesied things that could have have been possible because they did not yet exist - Abram to be a father of many nations before Abram was even a father at all; a crucifixion, before crucifixion had even been invented!. And every single prophecy God has ever spoken has been fulfilled. Every. Single. One.

So what makes you think the Word God has spoken over your life will be the one in all of history that He has not fulfilled?

That's really it, isn't it? We harbor this quiet fear that somehow, we're going to screw this up. That somehow, this word will never come true. That it doesn't seem possible, or isn't possible, or isn't probable, and it just can't be. We hold off on holding onto the word of God spoken over our lives because we fear the disappointment of yet another thing in this world that is too good to be true. Something else that might be snatched away or worse, fall apart. 

It can't. If God has spoken the word, it is a done deal. He has never been wrong about a prophecy, which means...He cannot be wrong about you.

Which is a fear, too, isn't it? What if this whole thing is really true? What if God is about to use you just as He promised, and prophesied, that He would? That is too much for my fragile heart to bear most days. I start to shake and nearly break down in tears. It's overwhelming and yet, it's all I ever wanted. You, too?

I want to tell you this morning what your timid heart needs to hear, and that is this: It's okay. It's okay to wholly buy in to the word God is speaking over your life. It's okay to believe He's about to do it. It's okay to hold onto that with everything you've got. God has never, in the history of God, failed to fulfill a prophecy He has spoken; He will not fail to fulfill the prophecy He's spoken over you. The only danger of holding back is that when God's word comes true, it is you who will miss it. Give into it. Give yourself over to it. Let God speak over you and celebrate the sound of His voice. It's okay. He's doing this.

He's really doing this. And He knows what He's doing.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Meaning of Life

So what's the point? What about all of this - that we should love people and not help them, that we should be conscious of doing the Lord's work? What does it matter? What does it change? (These are references to the past two posts, in case you have not been reading along.)

On the surface, nothing. The same things happen. The same people are doing them. The same tasks are being accomplished. But the dynamics are wholly different. The relationships between people are different. The attitudes of the heart are different. And perhaps most importantly, your level of engagement with this world is entirely different.

The greatest single problem people have with their lives is that they are forgetting to live them.

That's why we have so many people wondering what they're doing here. Wondering if they're making any difference. Wondering if they're doing any good at all. Wondering if they matter. Wondering if they're worthy. Wondering what the meaning of all this - the meaning of life - is. 

The meaning of life is infusing your life with meaning. You do that by living conscious to it, by engaging your heart in every little thing you do, and by staying connected to the bigger things. That's it, really.

You know it's true. At least, if you've ever had a fleeting glimpse of this experience, you know it's true. If you've ever been a part of something amazingly holy, however small or large that thing was, you know that it changes everything to have been a part of that. You go into that holy moment with a certain measure of hope, but you come out of it with infinitely more. You take a step of faith forward and your very next step shows immeasurable confidence. You walk in thinking, "This is gonna be cool," and you walk out knowing whatever's coming is going to be awesome. When you give yourself over to a moment with pure meaning, you come out magnified with all the best things in your life overwhelmingly large and your heart filled to overflowing.

The funny thing is, you can never put words to it. You can have this moment once, you can have it a million times, and if someone asks you what a good life is, what the meaning of life is, all you can say is "This." It's this. You can't explain it, but it's this. And then, when you try to figure out exactly what this is, you still come up short. Something incredible has just happened, something tremendous, something holy and the only conscious thought you can actually have about it is how blessed you were to have been a part of it. You don't even have to be able to grasp how truly big the moment was; all you know is that it was beautiful and you were blessed to be a part of it and right now, everything looks different.

That's the meaning of life. It's moments like that. Imagine if you could have that moment every moment, again and again, throughout your days. Imagine coming to the end of your life and thinking back over everything you've ever been a part of and overwhelmingly knowing it's bigger than you ever thought it could be, but at the same time knowing you have no earthly idea how or why. Imagine being asked what you think about your life. Imagine your only answer being a wholly honest, "I was blessed to be a part of it." Imagine living the kind of life that lets you step out of this broken world with more faith, more confidence, more hope than you came into it with. How cool! 

So how do we get there? How do get to the place where our live is infused with that much meaning? Simple. We have to live it. We have to wholly live it, engage ourselves, throw ourselves into these moments by preparing our hearts for them. That's really what I've been talking about this week. Preparing your heart to live your life so you don't blink and miss it.

Preparing your heart to love people because this life is in the hearts of those around us. It's not in the inanimate or the intangible; it's in the indwelt. That is why relationships with people satisfy us on a deeper level than relationships with things, accomplishments in this world, or respects earned. And yet, people are the one thing it seems easy to miss. Which is why you have to choose to love them before you even get there. You have to make each moment fully about the people present. When you don't, the only person you establish a relationship with on this planet is yourself - what it does in your heart to do whatever it is you do - and you will never fulfill yourself. You can't. Your life will be tragically empty, and you'll feel that heavy weight. The missing piece is man. You've got to connect with him. You've got to love him.

And the other way you consciously live your life is to realize its infinite finiteness. It's to be aware of how big your little life can get when you focus on doing the holy work set before you, when you realize this moment is God's moment, when you humble yourself just to be a part of it. And when you know it's so much bigger than you'll ever know. It's a good thing. It is a beautifully good thing to be a part of God's work in this place. Don't ever forget you're doing it or your life will never extend beyond yourself.

I'll say it again: the meaning of life is to live a life of meaning. How do you live a life of meaning? By living conscious, by engaging your heart in every little thing you do, and by staying connected to the bigger things. That's it, really.

That's where hope and faith and confidence and beauty and blessedness and life itself are found.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Lord's Work

While you're busy not helping people, it can sometimes be hard to love them in advance. This is true, for me, when I don't really know who they are. Like when, as a chaplain, I'm on my way to the hospital but don't know what my patient list looks like for the day. I don't know who I'm going to run into, or in what circumstances. And I find that love, if nothing else, must be specific. You have to know who you're loving, if only by name or by some other feature. Love can never be generalized.

If you need proof of this, ask yourself this question: how many times have you determined in the morning to just love people today, and you hold onto that actually run into people that day? Because you have prepared for love, but not persons. You have prepared your reaction, but not to these circumstances. Life is dynamic. It's messy. When you run into something you're not prepared for, it changes what you've decided you will do. Because you haven't thought about it like this.

So yes, I love people beforehand as often as I can because it reminds me to be present to them in whatever moment we're about to encounter. And once I get that patient list? I start loving people by name. 

But stuff happens and circumstances change and that pre-love can be a tricky situation, so there is something else I do to make my days meaningful. And that is this: I consider the Lord's work.

This is what you do when you're getting into something you can't quite put tangibles to yet, but you know you either have to or should do it. It feels like the right thing to do. It is the right thing for you to be doing. But if you don't guard your heart in a moment like this, it quickly becomes that thing you are supremely doing and you start to feel like it's about you. About something you have to offer. And you create that power differential again, before the moment's even begun.

Why do we keep doing that? It's nothing but trouble.

So here's the truth: if whatever you're about to do feels like what you should be doing, and not out of guilt or out of obligation but deep down in your heart, you know it is a good thing for the sake of a purely good thing, then what you are stepping into is the Lord's work. Which means two things: first, that it is you-shaped. It is some vacant spot in the universe that only you will fit perfectly into. And second, God has graced you to find it. Perhaps He has led you there. 

Both are blessings.

When you think about these things on your way in, you take away that power play. You humble yourself so you're ready to walk in beside whatever is happening. Not above it. Not outside of it. You walk directly in and you're in the midst of it, which is where you should be if you hope to do your best work, don't you think?

You realize that there is something created in you that is meant for this. That gives you a sense of confidence, of purpose, of worth. It gives you a sense of belonging in that place and you're not questioning whether you're doing what you should be doing; you know you are. And you realize that God has ordained this moment, that there's something powerful of Him that is present here. That gives you a sense of expanding smallness, that little bit you do in the middle of a great big thing, and of confident hope and good faith that this is going to be worth your while and that it's going to be good. (I hate to even say the former because it shouldn't be about that, but for many of us, it's about that. Isn't it?)

It's all about putting you in your place so you can begin to be a part of His. Whether it's what I talked about yesterday in that you love people instead of helping them or this point today about being conscious of the Lord's work when you don't know who or how you're loving yet, it's about preparing your heart and mind to be present to the moment that you're blessed to be a part of.

I think there was some misunderstanding after yesterday's post. None of this is about stopping doing the good things. Actually, you're doing the very same things! You're doing the helping acts. You're doing the daily duties. You're just preparing yourself in your heart so that these things are not a drain on you; rather, they fuel you. Because you're actually there to experience them.

All this is coming from my heart, from a place that realizes all the moments I've missed because I thought I was doing something else and I wasn't ready to be in those moments. I'm thinking about the people I have spent all day helping only to come home and realize I didn't love them once. I'm thinking about the things I've done that have just felt like busyness and only in hindsight have I realized they should have been holy. I'm thinking about how it's all too easy to live our way through this life we have without engaging our hearts in the moments unfolding all around us. I'm thinking about how terribly sad that is.

So I encourage you, from one heart that's missed too many moments to another, love someone today. Actively love them. Decide in your heart that you're going to love them before you even get to their doorstep. And if you don't know who you're loving, consider the Lord's work. Let the providence of these moments sink into your heart. He's created you for this, and He's been gracious enough to lead you to this very place so that you get to be a part of it. That's no accident. What you're doing is good work. It is very good.

It is also holy. Don't ever forget that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Love People

Today, I want to give you a little piece of advice that will revolutionize the way you're living and loving in this world. Are you ready?

Stop helping people. Right now. Do not ever help another person as long as you live. Nothing good has ever come from one man helping another.

You've probably never heard that bit of advice before, have you? You've probably always heard the opposite - help as many people as you can. You probably think I'm being sarcastic or writing some piece of satire. I'm not. I'm absolutely serious. And if you listen to the words of Jesus, He's saying the same thing. 

Well, He's not saying it. Jesus never says, "Help people." He never says, "Go out and help as many people as you can." He says to love people. He says to do good to people, to do good for people. He says to pray, to give, to go. He does not say to help.

And here's why: helping inherently creates a power differential. Here you are, the noble helper, giving up a portion of your time and resources and ability for the sake of someone who cannot do such things for him/herself. Without saying as much, you've made yourself better than them. And you consider it good that you are the kind of person who would do just such a thing. You feel good about yourself for helping. 

Until you don't. Until you come to realize there are people in this world who will take advantage of this very ego you don't even notice and enlist you to help until you're all helped out, and then you will feel guilty for not helping because, well, you're so darned good at it! You're awesome at giving of your incredible excess and awesome ability and gracious generosity to people who could never have, do, or accomplish what you can! And then you will realize how much you hate helping, how much you hate being on top all the time, how much you hate being the only capable one on this whole planet, and you will resent helping. You will resent those you have helped. And you will still feel guilty that you're not helping more because it seems, as blessed as you are, that you are precisely the kind of person who should spend your life helping. 

I have helped a lot of people in my life. For various reasons and in many ways. Why? Because I am a good helper. At least, I have been. I have a lot to offer. But you know what? I hate it. I hate helping. There are things in my life that I have to do and to comfort myself, I have often said, "I have the time. I have the ability. I'm going to just go and help for a little bit and it will be good." And I have hated certain things from the start. I have been profoundly overwhelmed by the realization that I don't want to help. I can help. I feel obligated to help. But I don't want to help. I I feel...used. I feel...a whole myriad of things that lessens the experience I'm hoping to have. I regret helping people.

But I have never regretted loving anyone.

It doesn't matter if I know the person or not, if I loved them before this moment or not. If you send me to do a task - some simple little task - and I walk into it thinking I'm helping, I'm bound to resent it. Maybe forever. But if I walk in thinking I'm about to love someone, you can't wipe the smile off my face. I thoroughly enjoy myself and I believe that what I do matters. I believe it makes a difference. And I believe it's bigger than me.

You see, when you love people, there is no power differential. You don't have to be better, bigger, smarter, more capable than them. In fact, you bring yourself onto their level, whatever that is. You come alongside people and that changes the experience for both of you. If you're honestly loving someone, that comes from you. That comes from in your heart. And you cannot walk away feeling used. You cannot walk away feeling cheap. You cannot walk away resentful because it's just love. And love washes away all of those things.

Can I tell you something? Every time - every single time without exception - that I have ventured out to help someone in this world, I have forgotten to love them. That's just how it is. That's why "helping" leaves me wiped out. It's missing something vital. I suspect I am not alone in this struggle. I am betting if you think about it, you can think about people you have helped, but not loved. It is much harder to think of someone you have loved, truly loved, but not helped.

You have to choose love. You have to choose it before you even walk out the door. You have to choose it from the moment you say "yes" to someone else, even if they are just asking for help. You have to take a quiet moment and decide in your heart that whatever's coming will not be about help; it will be about love. Everything you do will be about love.

You have to envision this person, whether you know them or not, in your mind's eye and decide on-spot to love them. You have to build that love in your heart before you even go, before you get there. And you have to let that love be your driving force.

You won't regret it. You can't. It's love.

I'm not saying that any of this comes easily. It doesn't. I'm not saying I've got it down. I don't. There are still days in my life that I spend helping, and when I come home at night and sit down in a reflective moment, I realize how much I hated that day. How drained I feel. And how I long for something better, or at least, to never have to do that again. And like a brick, it hits me that it wasn't the day that was bad; it was the moment I missed. I never loved. That's what was missing.

So please, stop helping people. Nobody really needs your help. Nobody really needs one more person above them in a weak moment, one more person who is better than them, one more person who is so "good" that they can give of their excess for an uncommon good.

What people need more than anything is someone to come along beside them, someone to stand with them, someone to do it together and share in the moment. Someone who gives not of their excess, but simply of themselves for a mutual, but painfully uncommon (see what I did there?), good. What people need more than anything is love.

And if you search your heart, you'll find that love is really all you have to give anyway. So give it. Love people. You may just find you've helped them after all.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Happened

Let me ask you something: What just happened?

We have just come off one of the most sacred weekends in the Christian calendar, and I want to know what you remember of it. Because if you're anything like me, you may have missed something.

Every year, I have this feeling. This nagging feeling like I'm missing something. And every year, it's become Monday comes around and I'm left thinking about Christ on the Cross. It seems to me that this has somehow become the primary theme of our Easter celebrations and really, isn't that Good Friday? The truth is that our entire Christian culture is centered more on the Cross than the grave. 

What's up with that?

What bothers me about all of this is that we wake up Monday morning, just a few hours after the celebration of our risen Lord, and for most of us, what we remember is that Jesus died. We've already forgotten that He lives. We walk around this world with a dead Jesus, no longer looking for Him because, ironically, He "isn't here." The very words of the angel at the empty tomb are the words we use to brace our hearts for a temporal world where Jesus no longer lives because He's gone on to eternity. Where He lives forever. Just not here. And not with us. Until we get there. With Him. 

It's a bit of a mess.

There's a popular movie out right now called God's Not Dead. I haven't seen it. But I know that on a day like today, looking around at a world where the majority of Americans went to church yesterday to hear this very story of the un-dead God, I am constantly amazed at how many people have turned from the empty grave and gone back to life as they know it. Hmm...they say, He's not here. Oh well. He must be gone.

He must be gone? Really? That's the best we've got? We wake up on a Modern Monday (because this season puts me in the mood to name all of our days), see that the tomb is still empty, see that Jesus isn't in there, and that's the end of the story? It breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart because anyone who has known Jesus can't accept that answer. Look at Mary. Look at Peter. Look at the disciple whom Jesus loved. They went to the tomb and saw He wasn't there and figured not that He must be nowhere, but that He must be somewhere. If this is where we left Him, and now He's not here, where has He wandered off to? What is He up to? Where did He go?

And they set out looking for Jesus in their world. Sort of. At least, they held open the possibility that they might run into Him.

We don't think that's even a remote possibility. We don't believe it will happen that we'll ever find Jesus here. We have seen the crucifixion; we know He is dead. We have seen the empty tomb; we know He is gone. We have heard the stories, that He's waiting for us in eternity. And we conclude that eternity must be somewhere other than here.

Since when is time a physical place? Since when does Jesus rise from the dead and walk into Eternity? Never. Jesus steps out of the grave and sets His feet to Emmaus Road, where some of the disciples are taking the next steps of their journey. He joins them as they walk along. He puts His grave clothes aside and puts on His tunic and meets them on the seashore, grilling up a fine fish breakfast for His friends because they've had a hard few days and food is great benevolence. He emerges from the lowest of the lows and stands in the Upper Room. He's everywhere you'd need Him to be. Right here. With eternity stretched before Him and one scarred hand stretched out to you.

I'm usually disappointed on Monday. Frustrated, really, because I fall into this trap, too. It's too easy to wake up and remember that Jesus is dead and that the tomb is empty. It's too easy to forget that if the tomb is empty, then Jesus must be somewhere. It's too easy to stand around and forget to go looking for Him. It's too easy to miss running into Him, to forget to keep our eyes open for the risen Lord who walks among us. 

So I'm begging you today, pleading really with the heart that holds on to all such holy things, to stop thinking about the Cross today. To stop standing at the empty tomb. But to open your eyes and search for the risen Lord. Keep one eye open for Jesus. He's somewhere. I promise.

He promised.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Defining Moment

And so we have arrived at Good Friday, although it likely didn't look so "good" at the time. On this day, the eyes of the faithful look to the Cross, but how many of us are willing to go there?

This is overly-dramaticized in the moives. (And I have not seen Son of God yet, so I'm not including that one.) But for those I have seen, it seems that the crowd dwindles considerably from the courtyard to the Cross. The further Jesus travels along the road to Golgotha, the fewer people who are going with Him. Like once this Christ was condemned to die, people lost interest. I'm not sure how accurate this is.

We know there were many soldiers there, Romans responsible for the crucifixion of not just one man, but three. We know Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John were there; we can assume Peter probably wasn't. As much as the Gospels talk about Peter, someone would have told us about Peter's encounter at the Cross had there been one. And we can safely assume there was a smattering of Pharisees who would not just trust this all to go according to plan; they'd want to see it through for themselves. Oh, and two men thick as thieves - one on His right, one on His left.

The Cross was a lot busier a place than I think most of us often take it to be. But most of us would never know that because we do not draw near to this moment.

It's weird, right? We are a people who cling to the empty Cross, who hold onto it as our symbol. But on a day like today, in a moment like this moment, we back away. Thinking, of all things, that a time when God's Son is dying on the Cross is God's time. It's His chance to be doing something big. It's His moment, and we wouldn't want to intrude on that. We shy away, hoping for Jesus to die in peace, and then running to the Cross as soon as His lifeless body is taken away.

We're missing out.

If the story of Good Friday tells us anything, it is that there is space at the Cross for anyone, for everyone. It's that there is something more happening on Golgotha than the death of the Christ. It's that this is not just God's defining moment; it can be ours, too.

Think about the thief, a man actually guilty of his crimes. He's hanging next to the crucified Savior and he doesn't back down. It doesn't cross his mind that this is supposed to be God's moment; he knows it might be his, too. He defends the Messiah against the jeers of the other thief, the taunts of the Hill, and Jesus turns to Him and promises him paradise. The moment of the Cross is expanding. Now, it is two: Jesus and the thief.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John are keeping vigil as events unfold. Jesus has one eye on the Host of Heaven and the other on the man and woman who have hosted Him on earth, and He sees the emptiness already settling into their hearts. He promises them to each other - to His mother, a man to consider a son; to His disciple, a woman to consider a mother. Mary moves in with John and lives out her days in his house. The Cross expands further. Now, it is four: Jesus, the thief, a mother, and a friend.

One of the Romans assigned to the Hill comes to a critical moment in the crucifixion. He's not given much thought to anything. Maybe he's heard the stories of Jesus, but as a Roman, it wasn't really his lore. It wasn't as much of the water cooler talk as it was for the Jews, so it's hard to know what he knew and when. But here he is in the presence of yet another dying man, and this one seems different. In one powerful moment, it's clear: Truly, this was the Son of God. He's a believer, at precisely the moment when it seems to be too late. The moment of the Cross is huge. Now, it is five: Jesus, the thief, a mother, a friend, and an unbeliever.

The weird truth, of course, is that without Jesus on the Cross, none of these moments would have been possible. If these men and women had waited for "God's moment" to end, they would have missed theirs. If they had come to the Cross as simply a place of haunted hallowedness, there would be no paradise for the thief, no mother for the friend, no son for the mother, no faith for the soldier. Two thousand years later, we'd have nothing to tell us this was more than God's moment.

But it is more. It is also our moment. The Cross is a place where people come to be changed. Where they stand on the Hill and look into His eyes and see what it means to be God in the flesh, a God we can relate to and depend on and come to, no matter what. A God who invites us into His moments because that's precisely why He's created them - to share. 

Many of us spend our Christian lives hopping from one place that God has been to another, always seeming to miss Him, always seemingly on purpose. We run to the Cross, long after His body's been taken down and stand in solemn silence at what God has done for us. We run to the empty tomb, abandoned in the hillside, and stand in amazed wonder at His awesome power. We go here and there, embracing God's moments but missing ours. 

Personally, that's not the kind of faith I want. I don't want a museum faith. I don't want a faith of artifacts and place markers and historic sites. I want the kind of faith that looks into the eyes of God, wherever He happens to be, and walks into His moments knowing that I'm welcome there. Throughout all of His recorded ministry, that's the word of Jesus - that you are welcome in His moments. He never says, "Hey, I'm doing something holy here. Gimme a minute." He always says, "Welcome." And lives are changed.

I don't know where you are this Good Friday. I don't know what your plans are or what you're thinking about on this day when we remember how tenderly God was thinking about us. I don't know if you're like so many of us, like I know I have been on many a year, and you're just waiting on Jesus to die, waiting to figure out what you're going to do next. But this year, I'm not waiting. 

If you need me this Good Friday, you'll find me at the Cross. I need to be where Jesus is. And I hope you'll join me because this holy moment is growing. It's Jesus, the thief, a mother, a friend, an unbeliever, and...whatever I happen to be on any given day. Is it going to be you, too?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Sacrifice

Never has a God given more for His people than our God gave for us on this week nearly 2,000 years ago. When we talk about this, we usually talk about the loss of His Son. That God gave His "only begotten Son." We talk about the agony of that moment on the Cross when God turned His face away from the dying Jesus. 

Any parent knows the tremendous heartache this was; any child knows the incredible pain of this moment.

But is that all there is? I mean, really?

I know, I know - Christ hearkens back to Isaac, God to Abram, on Mount Moriah. It's one of those experiences that bridges the gap between Old Testament and New. An almost-sacrificed son to One freely given. And blah, blah, blah. It's just that, it seems, something must be missing from this story.

About six or seven weeks ago, I was reading something (the Bible? Another book? I really should take better notes) when I ran across a sentence that phrased it this way: God sacrificed Himself.... That's it. That's the part that hit me. And I started wondering what exactly that means.

Besides His Son, what did God have to give up to save us?

I've been rolling this thought around in my head since I first had it, saving it for Easter and hoping that by now, I'd have something more concrete or at least better-sounding to say about it. I mean, it's a big concept. Especially for a people who have been taught to believe the big deal was His Son. (Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't.) We have David saying, "I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing;" can we really expect less from the Lord?

So, just off the cuff, let's think about this. God first gave up His original hope for Creation. He gave up everything He ever wanted out of you, out of me, because by this point, He realized it wasn't happening. He gave up every plan about our walking together, about our living in His presence. He sacrificed His "good" Creation for 2.0, a reworked plan that was never in the plan at all. That's a sacrifice.

God gave up His perfect nature. In the flesh of His Son, He embraced imperfection because you can't live in an imperfect world without having a few imperfections yourself. (Yes, we say Jesus was perfect, but I have had this thought before, too - that He simply couldn't have been. Not and live in a place like this. Rather, Jesus was Unbroken.) He came into a fallen flesh, and no longer can our God say that He doesn't know what imperfect feels like. We know He said that "My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts," but now, He has been in our ways and in our thoughts. By default, His are still higher, but no longer are His wholly separate from ours. Rather than man coming to think like God, God has come to be able to think like man. That's a sacrifice.

Those are just a few. There are many, many more. Good Friday and Easter Sunday cost God more than simply His Son, although that cost would have been high enough; they cost Him some of His very God-ness, the very essence of who He is and who He always wanted to be. He willingly gave that up for us.

The cool thing, as anyone with love lost knows, is that He didn't just give them up. He gave them up for a chance to get them back. For a chance to restore the relationship where we walk with Him and sin does not come between us. For a chance to come back to a re-Creation that is simply "good" again. For a chance to be a perfect God in an imperfect world. And on that one, He got a bonus because now we know He does get it. He knows what this is like. He even gave up His Son for the chance to get Him back.

But that doesn't diminish the sacrifice. Because not even God, to some extent, could know whether this would pay off the way He desired. After all, this is the same God who gave man the world, save one tree, and we failed Him in that moment; now, He gives man salvation on one tree...who's to know if man will take it this time? Who's to know if man won't find some way to reject even this? God gave of Himself, lowered Himself, humbled Himself, and gave up His Son knowing He would get it all back but not knowing if He'd get us, too.

That's sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Glaring Oversight

The time is coming when Judas begins seriously looking for his chance to betray Jesus. And when he does it, he runs to the Pharisees, the religious elite, the leaders of Jewish law and Torah. These are the guys who have been after Jesus His entire life, primarily because He mocks their law. 

Now, we all know the Pharisees. These are the men (exclusively men) who knew the Scriptures better than anyone. They made their lives a study of the law, to secure their supremacy in the Jewish culture. You could not, or so it was told, out-obey a Pharisee. Like lawyers, they knew the ins and the outs and the loopholes and they had an answer for everything.

Except...don't you think they would have caught what was happening?

The Old Testament Scriptures tells about a coming Man. A Messiah. They tell about the things that will happen in His lifetime, about the things He will do, about the things that will be done to Him. They prophesy that this Man will be betrayed by one of His own, that the price will be thirty pieces of silver, and that He will be crucified - many generations before crucifixion was even invented.

So in walks Judas, one of Christ's own, to betray a Man who has claimed to be this very Messiah. And alarms are not going off in their little Pharisaical heads. They gather amongst themselves to discuss the deal, and they come up with a price of thirty pieces of silver. Again, nobody notices they are, themselves, fulfilling the prophecy about Jesus, if He is who He says He is. None of these scholars of the Scriptures stops and says, "Wait, you guys. I know this story. We're about to play into the very thing, and if we do, we'll never get our Law back. Let's go thirty-one or twenty-nine; thirty is out." Nobody says a word. They hand Judas thirty pieces of silver, and the deal is done.

And then when they've caught Him, when they finally have "control" of the whole Jesus situation, they lead Him to the Roman authorities and have Him crucified. Another fulfillment of the prophecy that goes right over their heads. 

These men who spent their whole lives trying to fulfill the Law have just fulfilled the prophecy and they are completely unaware. It's a glaring oversight, don't you think, for a group of men who claim to be experts in this subject matter.

But the hard truth is that these Pharisees were not experts in the Scriptures; they were experts in the Law. They knew the prophecies not at all because the prophecies, they thought, could be of no benefit to them. Each of these men likely knew they were not the promised Messiah, and if you're not the Messiah then all the words about Him are a threat to the man you think you ought to be. Each man was trying to be his own prophet, his own authoritative source on all things Jewish, so whatever God said about the Promised Prophet was irrelevant.

Not only that, but let's say this Man comes. The Word says that when He does, all your law will be useless. All your good deeds will be worthless. Everything you are will pale in comparison to all that He is. Who wants that? What power-seeking, status symbol of a man can tolerate such a thing as a Messiah? No wonder these men who had invested their lives in the Law did everything they could to divert the common man's eyes from the Son of Man. If He is who He says He is, then you can't be who you say you are. Something's gotta give. No wonder these men did all they could to silence the Son of God.

The irony, of course, is that in doing so, they walked right into His story. They played right into His prophecy. They fulfilled the Scriptures that took an outsider. These men, these learned men, these experts in the Law made the Messiah the very Christ they so feared.

That's one of the things I love about God, this paradoxical God that we serve. Without fallen man, we wouldn't have needed the Christ. But without fallen men, we wouldn't have had Him.

The funny thing remains how very little they noticed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

To Serve

In one of the final scenes Jesus shares with His disciples, we find Him on His knees, tunic wrapped around His waist, washcloth in His gentle hands. He's washing their feet. And He tells them this is their example.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve....

Now, here is where it's easy to get this message a little twisted. The question this raises is simply this: who is Jesus serving?

On the surface, one would say the disciples. He is, after all, washing their feet. He is doing them a service. On the broader scale, we might say that Jesus has come to serve man. Have you paid attention to His ministry? He heals the blind men. Frees the demon-possessed men. Raises a dead man. Men, men, men, everywhere you look. Every time we see Him, He appears to be serving a man. (A human.)

But oh, what a slippery slope that is. And far too many of us have gone down it over the years. Because we read that the Son of Man has come to serve, and we see Him seemingly serving man and it's easy to think that He has come to serve us. God sent Him to us, didn't He? God sent His Son to us. His Son is a servant. Therefore, God sent His Son to serve us.

This is the foundation of a shaky faith. This is the lie by which we start to pray for God to do for us, rather than for Him to simply be for us. This is the deception by which we pray for more than we need, for all that we want, and then declare God unfaithful when our beat-up old junker still sits in the driveway with no Ferrari in sight. We pray, expecting God to serve us, and when our requests don't come answered on a silver platter, we start to question everything He's said.

Didn't the Son of Man come to serve? Then serve me, Jesus! For crying out loud....

Do not be deceived. 

Just as frequently as Jesus has reminded us that He came to serve, not to be served, He has made it equally clear that He has come to serve God. He heals the blind men not simply so they can see again; He declares it for the glory of God. He casts out demons, not just to free a man from bondage but to demonstrate God's supremacy in the spiritual realm. He raises a man from the dead, not because the man is His friend (although he is) but to show God's primacy over life itself.

And He washes His disciples' feet. Not because they were dirty (they were). Not because the disciples wanted their feet washed (they didn't). But because this, too, was a message from God to the men who would take over the mission.

For three years, these men have traveled with Jesus. And their feet are covered in the mess of ministry. The dirt of streets that have rejected them. The muck of the places that have accepted them. A whole mess of the world has come to rest on their feet, and now as their feet come to rest for a minute, Jesus kneels down to wash them. a message from God.

It's a reminder that says, You're about to get dirty. It's a reminder that says, It's going to be tough. It's the culmination of three years of training but a promise for tomorrow. That when the road gets rough and life gets dirty, God is going to be there to tenderly care for them. That as they are doing the big things for Him, He will be doing the lowly things for them. Caring for their every need. Providing for their every necessity. Healing their aching wounds. Washing their feet.

It's a role reversal, for sure, but one that is meant to encourage these men in the day that is to come. For three years, they have been the little guys. Second always to Jesus' name. In just a few days, they're about to become the big guys, but they will still have little guy worries. God uses this moment to switch places with them, to show them what it means to have God at their service. 

It's not that He does the things they think He should do. They didn't think He should do this. It's not that He does the things they think they need. They didn't think they needed this. It's not that He gives them everything they want. They wanted Him to stop this. Rather, it's that He does the things that strengthen them. That is His service to a man.

And why? For the glory of God. 

When you do the little things for a man, you empower him to be the bigger guy he was always meant to be. When you take away his pedestrian (get it? pedestrian? foot-washing?) worries, you give him the space to focus on the bigger things. When a man grows into his larger self, he always finds God waiting for him, wanting to do big things through him. And without the little guy worries, he's free to do them. Then a man becomes who God has created him to be, and God is glorified.

So that's what this is. It's not just Jesus washing feet. Rather, it's a bit of a power shift. Jesus says, I have come not to be served, but to serve. Not to give you worries but to take them away. Not to do your bidding, but to do God's work. 

And to give My life as a ransom for many, that you may not have to worry about the little things any more. That you may grow into your larger self. That you may do the things God has called you to do, knowing, trusting, that I am taking care of the little things. That through it all, God may be glorified.

For I have come to serve My Father.

Monday, April 14, 2014


It's Holy Week - the days leading up to Good Friday, Solemn Saturday (I just made that up. You like?), and Easter Sunday. All this week, I will have some thoughts stemming from the original Holy Week - Jesus's final days in His first flesh.

Starting with INRI.

We still use INRI over our crucifixes to this day. Even my atheist sister-in-law, when I asked if she recognized INRI, said "Isn't that the Jesus thing on the cross?" Indeed, it is. The letters are the shortened version, the initials, of the sign that Pontius Pilate placed atop Jesus' cross - Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The problem is...these are the Latin letters.

We know the words atop the Cross were written in three languages - Latin, which was the language of the Roman ruling class; Greek, which was the language of the cultured; and Aramaic, which was the language of the Lord. When we write INRI on our crosses, then, we are hearkening back to the ruling classes, the Romans, the centurions who drove the nails.

I suppose there can be merit in that; it's a reminder of the men who did this thing to him. It's a reminder of the presence of the Romans and the influence of Rome that developed the cross and the soldiers that nailed Him to it. It speaks to who we are in the story, the condemners. It emphasizes the tension between the Lord and the laity, for lack of a better word. 

But on a deeper level, I find this troubling because it is perhaps one of the greatest struggles of the religious today. Perhaps of the religious across time. And that is this - we so often fail to talk about Jesus, or even to regard Him, in His own language.

We write about Him in our words. We think about Him in our paradigms. We relate to Him through our language. Somewhere in the Bible, it says that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways, and perhaps a part of the reason for that is that His language is not our language. We've tried to box Him into our dictionaries, and He doesn't quite fit there. It's no wonder there's so much we don't understand about our God.

It's how we come to have a toned-down Gospel, a Bible where what God says "couldn't be what God meant." Where we spend our time trying to dig through His words and translate them into ours so we can put some kind of measurable understanding on them. The hard truth is that if you looking for the English (or whatever your language) understanding of grace, you will never come near to the holy meaning of it. If you're trying to conceptualize love through a word, you'll miss it entirely.

I think this is what John means when he wrote, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was flesh." You can't put God into words; you have to put Him into action if you ever hope to come close. Faith is not a thing you define; it's something you life. Love is not a noun; it's a verb. Actually, most of the words of God are verbs and it's not until you live them that you understand them at all. And when they get into your heart and you just about think you've got it, they vanish; the things of God cannot be tamed by language.

It's impractical, to an extent. We need the words to discuss such things. We need the words to be able to teach about them. To tell our kids and our friends and our neighbors about the things of God. But it's wise to remember that these are our words; they are not God's. Anyone who has ever lived grace, or mercy, or justice, or peace, or love, or understanding, or patience, or joy....anyone who has ever lived a thing of God, for however fleeting a moment, knows that the things of God go beyond our language.

He speaks His own Word.

So as we look at the Cross, this week in particular, and notice those four little letters - INRI - I wonder if we might stop to consider what that Cross looks like in God-speak. What it says beyond our language. What it means outside of our words. I wonder if we might consider how it would change our faith to stop speaking our tongue and start speaking God's. 

It would be quite a switch for so many of us, that's for sure. Because when you're speaking the Word of God in His own language, so often you find that you're not speaking at all; you're living. You're extending grace, offering mercy, pursuing justice, breathing peace, building understanding, spreading joy. You're simply loving. In God-speak.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Impractical Theology

There's something else about all of this, about the features of Christ's face and the form of God's spirit (going back a few posts). I've said before that the people who know me best would tell you that one of my gifts is practical theology. I mentioned this in conversation with one of my ministers the other day, in passing, and then joked: I prefer impractical theology.

But ain't that the truth? The problem that so many outsiders have with Christianity, and indeed, that so many Christians have with Christianity, is that it seems to be full of impractical theology. That is, the question we're all asking boils down to "What good is your God?'

The answer is tricky, which is why we keep running up against the impractical. Because when you talk about what good God is, it's easy to connect Him to circumstances. To tell about the tangible things God has done for you, or does in your life. It's easy to stay on the surface. 

It's not that hard to see. It's the woman that tells you that God brings joy, but you haven't seen her smile in 20 years. It's the man who talks about the God of peace, but he hasn't slowed down enough to even breathe. It's the guy who talks about the love of God while he holds a picket sign of hate against the hot issue of the day. It's the girl who says that God is gentleness then locks herself in the bathroom with a razor.

Even worse, it's the woman who tells you about God's comfort when it's plain as day she's simply ignoring her grief. It's the man who talks about God's truth but it's obvious he's in denial of the facts. It's the person down the street who tells you that God is above all things when that person is under so much burden. 

It's all of these grand ideas we have about God that we've connected only to circumstances and not to our hearts. It's all of these concepts of God that ignore the heart of God and keep us a safe distance from the God of the heart.

It's impractical theology at its best. Because the God of circumstance will fail people. Stuff happens. Things happen. Circumstances happen. If God is in your circumstances, you're setting Him up to fall. If God is not a presence in your heart, He cannot be of any good to you. If He isn't touching that which is most deeply you, then He's not God at all. He's an idea. He's a figment.

This is what bothers people about God. I think it's what bothered me for so many years. All of the Christians I ever ran into, all of the religious that I ever talked with, had a lot to say about God but nothing to show for Him. 

So what is a practical theology? It's quite simple. It's the God that gets at the heart of things. It's connecting a man's raw heart to the pulse of God, drawing the life of God into the life of man and making Him relevant. Not about circumstances and not above circumstances but beyond circumstances. Beyond any face this world might want to put on Him.

The true face of God is revealed in the woman who speaks of God's joy and can't stop beaming it with her beautiful, un-self-conscious smile. It is shown by the man who talks about peace and isn't shaken by hurry or time. It's shaped by the guy who talks about love and embraces a brother with whom he has a fundamental disagreement. It's in the girl who looks in the mirror and finds grace staring back at her.

The face of God is shown in the eyes of a grieving woman who is torn but not tattered. In the lines of a man who holds onto truth without ignoring the facts. In the person down the street who is raised up by the God who is above all things and learns to stand on her challenges.

Practical theology is the God of the heart, and it brings us to the very heart of God. It brings us the place where God is good again, where He is not only good but He is of good to His people. Where God makes a difference and matters in this place. Where God changes things.

And where the face of God is revealed in our own, as we show in striking rawness just who God is. And what He means to a people like us.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


It's time to tell you the truth: I've spent my whole life practicing.

Now, when I say that, the natural question is to ask: "Practicing for what?" That is the natural question, but not the important one. The important question, rather, is why.

My brother has always had a bit of a musical ear. Ok, an incredible musical ear. And from the time I was big enough to listen, he's had the ability to sit down at the piano and pluck out a song, even a classical tune, and even if you don't know what it is, it certainly sounds like something. He took lessons, but he could never really sit still long enough to get the discipline of music down. Although he was (is) a brilliant musician. I took lessons, too. Because I wanted to be like my brother.

To this day, I'll tell you - I play more often than he does. I have scores and scores (and literally, scores) of music haunting my hallways. In boxes in the closet, for those I've grown out of. In a magazine rack near the foot of the piano. Stuffed into the piano bench, for the stuff I play often. New stuff, old stuff. And to this day, if I happen to be playing when my mother walks in, she shoots me a weary look and says, "It just doesn't sound like anything." (You should know I'm more likely to be playing Steven Curtis Chapman and Chris Tomlin and some good ol' fashioned ragtime than the more "traditional" piano fare) but the pain is the same. I work and I work and I work, and I truly love to play. But here I am 26 years after I first tickled the ivories, and the contrast is still there.

When my brother plays, it's magical. When I play, it's noise. It doesn't sound like anything. A couple of months ago, however, she finally said this a different way. Rather than her standard "that doesn't sound like anything," she instead said, "It always just sounds like you're practicing."

I considered that and, after the initial sting of still being compared wore off, I realized you know? She's right. It always sounds like I'm practicing. Because...I'm practicing.

Practicing for what? For nothing, really. For the sheer joy of playing. For the end game of simply getting better. That's all it is. I love to play the piano, and I want to do it well, and so I'm practicing. If I was any good at what I was doing, if I was simply just good at it and it didn't take much to be or to stay that way, I don't imagine it would be as much fun. I imagine, rather, that it would get old after a time. A girl always needs a new challenge. For me, music is one of those challenges. I'm always practicing. Always tackling something new. Always getting better at my craft while expanding my repertoire.
Now, I say all that to say this: isn't this also the work of faith? (Yeah, I'm a "Jesus blogger." I had to go there.) Most of us seem to have this idea, especially for the on-fire new-to-the-faith crowd, that faith is supposed to be easy. That we're supposed to be really good at it. That it's supposed to be noticeable in our lives, that it should show itself, that it should just be this thing we do without having to think about it and that other people should appreciate how magical our faith is. 

But let's be honest - for most of us, for most of our lives, faith is just noise. It's something we're working on. It's a mess. It's a bunch of stumbled-over fingers and tryings again and piles and piles of stuff just lying around our space. Some old, some new. Some we mastered long ago and some we're still working on. Those of us who have been around the faith awhile know this is true. It's just a mess. It's a work in progress. Faith...takes practice.

We kind of allude to this in some of our vernacular. We call someone a "practicing" Christian. Or a "practicing" Jew. Or a "practicing" Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. We say someone is practicing their religion and we don't have a second thought about it. We don't really mean practicing, in the sense of preparing and getting better; we really just mean they are doing something that is overtly, or routinely, of that faith. We ought to focus more on the former.

I'm practicing my faith, just like I'm practicing the piano. Practicing for what? For nothing, really. For the sheer joy of Jesus. For the end of game of simply getting better. That's all it is. I love my Lord. Getting better at the faith isn't going to get me anything with Him; He loves and forgives and redeems me all the same. But I want to be better at it. I imagine the day when prayer is my first thought and not my last resort. I imagine what it will be like when I fall to my knees before I fall down. I imagine what it would mean if I believed without seeing, or believed without doubting, or trusted with all my being. I don't even know if these things are possible, but I'm practicing anyway. I want to do faith well. That's all.

And you know what? I can't imagine if faith was any easier. I can't imagine loving God without the challenge of practicing loving Him. If I was just good at it, if I was any good at it at all, I don't know that my love would be as deep. There's not a lot of payoff, to me, in the easy things; it's the challenge that makes my faith what it is. And I'm okay with that. 

What I hope, however, what I hope beyond hope is that one day, my faith will sound like something. That one day, someone will look at my life and muddle through the noise and figure out that it sounds like something. It already does to me, or I wouldn't be playing this song.

A few final words. First, my mother has also been encouraging over the years. For awhile, I would sit down and blast Michael W. Smith's worship CDs and play along with them. She still asks why I don't do that any more. (I do, just not as much as I used to.) She says, "You were really good at that."

And second, because I have been encouraged for years by a few very dear friends to share my music with the world, and in conjunction with this post, I have uploaded some of my stuff to NoiseTrade. Which can download for FREE some of my original compositions. These are not studio-recorded. These are not professional by any means. But if you've ever been interested in what it sounds like to practice, maybe this is your thing. To get it free, just ignore the tip. (Please, ignore the tip.) Just click the link above and it will send you right to my page.

Now get out there and practice something.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Your Own Thing

One of the troubles we get into in our society, and perhaps the reason it seems so much easier to hate than to love, is that somewhere along the way we got this idea that the highest form of humanism is to do your own thing. It's to strike out on your own, to go after your heart, to pull something together...and get people to join you.

And I'm all for leadership, but the problem with this ideology is that if everyone is trying to do his own thing, there's no one to join you. They can't. Otherwise, they'd be doing your thing and if we buy into the culture, isn't that a step backward for a man trying to be all that he desires to be? So we have created an entire culture of lone wolves, a society of singularities, and there's bound to be some friction between those things now and then.

Things...I mean "people." There are seven billion of us, you know. Things can get quite..messy.

One of the things I love about ministry, and one of the things I look for in my life in general, is the opportunity to break out of this mindset. It's the chance to buck the culture and step out of my own thing. This opportunity is very pronounced in ministry, especially. Again, as always when I'm speaking about ministry, this can be formal or informal. It can be standing in the pulpit or serving in the soup kitchen. Any act of service, any act of ministry, is about bringing what someone else is doing together with what God is doing. There's not room for your thing, too. Not if you're doing it well.

And you know what? That's just fine. The older I get and the more I understand about how community works, the more content I am to get out of the way. I'm more aware of my own limitations. I'm more aware of my own errors. I'm more aware even of my own temporality; I'm not going to be here forever, nor would I want to be. The idea that I would bring people on board with an idea of my own mind is agonizing. I know I would fail them. 

Not only that, but I would be selling them short. I was always the smart kid in the class. I was always the creative kid. I was the one that would make things happen and make sure they happen in the best possible way. This, in general, meant that I just ended up doing it. Nobody seemed to care. I was happy because things were being done, and they were being done awesomely. Other people were happy because they didn't have to do it. As the years went by, I realized that most of the people around me didn't even try any more. They gave up on having ideas. They gave up on contributing. They gave up on trying. And eventually, they gave up on themselves. 

Because hey, I was doing my thing and I was really good at it and their thing apparently wasn't very good and they didn't think they could pull it off, so why bother? That's the trouble. Take a look around you, and you'll see it plain as day:

People have too long lived in a world where they're supposed to do their own thing, but their own thing isn't good enough and they end up doing nothing and resenting everyone for it. Then they try to stand alone and instead fall down because they too long ago forgot how to plant their feet, and suddenly, hate starts brewing. Hate for those who are doing something, anything. Hate for those who are trying to stand and stumbling. Hate for those who are standing and doing it well. Just....hate.

Which brings us back to community. I had the opportunity recently to do a thing again. I had the chance to take a project and run with it. But it wasn't my project. This particular adventure belonged to someone else and this person wasn't sure whether he could take that step or not. Whether he had it in him. He came to me. My first thought was, "This is not so hard." And it's true in the past that I would have just taken it over and gotten it done. But I just can't do that any more. There's something more at stake.

So I sat down with him for awhile and worked it out. I set him up to take the next steps, to pull things together, to make things happen. I gave him the strength he needed to set out on this adventure because it is his adventure, and he can rock it. You know what? I can't wait to see what happens. This is an investment in a so much bigger thing.

Again, about a month ago, there was a photographer setting up shop in Indianapolis for a weekend. His goal? To take 300 random portraits in 3 days at his exhibit inside one of our museums. I don't know what the idea meant to him. I don't know what it fed in his heart to think about this. But I did know that unless 300 people showed up, this would never happen for him. So I went. I put it on my calendar, made a special trip north, and stopped by his makeshift photo studio to have a portrait taken for his exhibit. I don't know if he made it to 300, but something beautiful happened anyway. Those photographs, however many there are, now hang as an exhibit in the history museum. Together. A moment in time, three little days. You know what they show?

Not the dream of one man. Not the concept of an artist. But the presence of community. For just a few minutes of my life, I am sealed into this community that came out in support of one man. That's a story, too, and not just about him. He was doing his own thing, and he got people to come along. Great. But we were doing our own thing, too, and that became community. It is something that pulls us together.

See, that's what I'm talking about. We have all of these great ideas about what it might be like to do our own thing. To be our own man. To succeed at being the one who brings others along. But the beautiful thing happens outside of the strong man. The beautiful thing happens in the weaker man who learns to stand. The beautiful thing happens in the community that comes together. The beautiful thing happens in the story that stands out. At the end of the day, it's never about the one man any more; it's about every man.

Some people will never understand why I have no nagging desire any more to do my own thing. Some people will never get how easy it is for me to give it all up for the sake of something bigger. Some people will never fathom how I believe so wholly in a ministry that doesn't seem to make room for my story. That doesn't make space for my thing.

It's simple - there's something so much more beautiful when my thing isn't in it. There's something breathtakingly wonderful when I step back. There's something quietly fulfilling about being a part of someone else's big thing, of showing up in simple community. 

You might even say, quite simply, it's my thing.