Friday, May 30, 2014

No Need

A thought sort of snuck into yesterday's post, and until I wrote the words, not even I had thought about it. But the more I let those words run in my mind, the more I realized how powerfully true they are.

You were not created to need God.

It is hard, in our fallen state, to comprehend such a statement. We have grown so accustomed to needing God that we cannot fathom not needing Him. I'm going to speak for myself here, but I suspect I am far from alone. Any given day that I live, I need God's presence. I need His grace. I need His mercy and His forgiveness. I need His voice whispering in my ear, His truth drowning out the noise. I need His arms wrapped around me, holding me when I think I'm falling apart. I need everything He's got to give me.

And I can't imagine that it wasn't supposed to be that way. God is my lifeblood. He is the thing that makes me get up in the morning. The strength that allows me to face the darkness. The joy that lets me dance in the light. The forgiveness that keeps me from condemning myself, the Father that guides me in discipline. So much more....

We spend our Christian lives learning to plug God into our empty spaces, learning to let Him fill our needs. Running to Him in our depravity. Searching for Him in our doubt. We are told, taught, and trained that there is no need in our lives that God cannot fill.

That's truth. But it is the broken truth.

When God created Adam, and subsequently Eve, He created them whole. In the Garden of Eden, they had need of nothing. All of the things we search for from God in our present state was already present in them. His grace, forgiveness, mercy, love, life, promise, was woven into the very fabric of their beings. The dynamic between the people and their God was simply this: that they would love Him.

That they would remember to wake up in the mornings and find Him in the garden. That they would remember to meet Him for a walk, or sit and chat under the old oak tree. That they would take every opportunity to share their lives with Him because He had given them, wholly, life. And I don't know. Maybe it was this very dynamic that set us up for where we are today. Because in my experience, when you don't need God, it's too easy to forget that you love Him.


These days, we are a people who love God in the hard times when grace and mercy show through but when life gets good, the good get going and suddenly find themselves far removed from the God we loved just a few days ago. The God we swore we would never forget and here we have forgotten Him. Because for this particular blink of an eye, it doesn't feel like we need Him.

You know what? I'm going to go out on a limb here as I let my heart reflect on these words and suggest that there is no one among us who needs Him even today. There are times I think I need Him. Times I think I'm craving a touch of grace. When I've fallen yet again and I'm praying for His hand to hold onto as I try to stand up, as I look to dust myself off. Times when forgiveness isn't in my heart, and it feels like if it's ever going to happen, it will have to come from His. Times when I don't know what I'm doing, or where I'm going, or why and I'm aching for Him to come with some direction in my life.

As I think about these times, these times I continue to have and even have today, I'm struck by how they all come back to me. They all come back to making my life what I think it should be. They come back to plugging God into my story when what I really crave, at my core, is to be written into His. That's the insidious blah that creeps in when we start to think such things as that we need God.

Just below the surface of every one of these "needs," however, I see - in my life, and in the lives of those who share their stories with me (now that I think about it) - the true heart of the matter. It is not, for any of us, that we need God. It is not that we need His grace, forgiveness, mercy, love, life, promise, presence...these are already woven into the very fabric of our beings. We are still, all these generations later, created for simply this: that we would love God.

So all the aching, all the longing, all the empty nagging in our spirits that craves God is not so much a need of what He can give. What we really need, what we long for, what we for Him to remind us to love Him. We need to remember today to love Him.

We need to hear His footsteps trekking through the garden. We need to feel His hand reaching out to ours. We need to hear His voice calling from under the old oak tree. We need Him calling us back to Love.

Because that's what we were created for in the first place.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


If Peter, around the fire, honestly confesses, with a shake of his head, that he does not know the Man who stands trial just a few feet away, how much more honest are our words when we say the same?

Most of us would admit, like Peter, that this Jesus doesn't look anything like we thought He would. His power looks like weakness. His judgment looks like grace. His wisdom looks like folly. Everything we expect to see in the God of the universe stands on its head and it's hard to figure out just who He is.

This is no more true than in the trials and the troubles of life. When the bills keep coming long after the paychecks have stopped. When the diagnosis is terminal but life still seems just a tease away. When we turn toward friends only to find them turning away. Bad things happen and we find ourselves wondering, "Isn't our God supposed to be good?"

The difficult truth is that if God were so good that everything was always good, we'd never get to know how truly good God really is. It would be as if Jesus had lived without performing a single miracle.

Without the sick among them, the people would have never seen Jesus as Healer. The sick themselves may never have had a reason to hope in Him.

Without the blind among them, the people would have never seen Jesus as Revealer. The blind themselves may never have had a reason to hope in Him.

Without the crippled among them, the people would have never seen Jesus as Restorer. The lame themselves may never have had a reason to hope in Him.

Without the sinners among them, the people would never have seen Jesus as Redeemer. The sinners themselves would never have had a reason to hope in Him.

What is this Jesus, if He is not Healer, Revealer, Restorer, Redeemer? What is this God if He is not Savior?

It is here that we have this whole Jesus thing backward. We spend our lives believing that faith should get us to a point where bad things no longer happen because God is good (and we are God's). We believe that believing in Him should rescue us from the troubles of this world, should spare us the pain of living here. We read the Bible and recognize that God is good, but we forget that we only see that when people are broken. The revelation of our God for all His goodness depends on the reality of ourselves for so much less.

Because our flesh is broken, God is Healer. And God is good.

Because our eyes are darkened, God is Revealer. And God is good.

Because we are lame (and boy, are we lame!), God is Restorer. And God is good.

Because we are sinners, God is Redeemer. And God is good.

Because we are broken down, we're looking for a God lifted up. And the Cross is where we find Him. And God is very good.

It's a hard concept to grasp because there are remnants of Eden in our hearts that remind us we were never made to need God; we were made to love Him. But it is precisely when we did not need God that we stopped understanding exactly who He is, and so we entered a place where we need Him and God has not failed to follow us into this hollow place.

Life can be tough. Times can be hard. It's easy to look at the trials around us and wonder if we even know this God of ours. If He looks anything like we thought He would. But it is precisely the tough times that reveal God for precisely who He is.

Which is far beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

And nothing less than all that He promised to be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Really Don't Know

One of the most famous scenes in the Gospels is Peter's denial of Jesus in the courtyard. As his Teacher stands before the high court, Peter slinks around the fire to get a closer seat. Head down. Face covered. Just trying to see what's going on and not be bothered.

Although his heart was already bothering him.

I've seen this scene played out in various forms over the years - in dramas, in VBS, on stages, on screen - and what I've always seen is an antagonistic Peter. A Peter afraid for his own skin, who adamantly denies ever knowing the Man. Not that long ago, I was reading a book about the disciple and the author had an interesting suggestion, which he almost said in merely one sentence and then moved on quickly. I stopped, went back, and read that sentence over and over again until I got what I thought I had missed. And then, I really wished he'd made the point and stuck with it.

The point is this: by that point in their ministry journey, by that moment in their lives, it is entirely possible that Peter didn't think he knew anything about this Jesus.

Granted, it was a risk to follow this Man at all. He certainly didn't look like any king, promised or not. The entire Jewish community was waiting around for royalty. They had their eyes peeled for the extravagant. Then comes this child in rags in a stable, and they hardly notice. He comes walking along the seashore in common sandals and it's probably still easy to miss Him. He shouts, "Come! Follow me!" and they go, more out of curiosity than any real sense of calling because in all their meager years, who has ever said such a thing? To a man who reeks of fish.... The Pharisees certainly were never looking for followers; they were too busy looking for failures. And Peter, one of the most famous "failures" of them all, was probably taken by the difference between this Teacher and the theologians.

Through three years of ministry, they're all waiting for Him to do something Messianic. Some display of political power. Some display of actual power. They've seen the miracles, sure, and that's a nice trick but it doesn't answer the pressing societal issues of the day. Healing from on high, sight amidst blindness, even life after death does not tell these men how this Messiah responds to the real world. To Rome.

If He's not political, they at least expected their King to be religious, but this Man doesn't seem all that interested in that, either. He keeps defying the Temple in the same breath that He respects it. He knows the Scriptures, but He doesn't use them the way they've grown accustomed to. They're just not sure what to make of this man, and yet, it is their hope for something yet unseen that keeps them following Him.

And then...

He's taken. He's captured in the garden. Not simply that, but He gives Himself up. He lets them take Him. The disciples know they're going to kill Him; they've been talking about that for months. They think that He knows they're going to kill Him. They can't understand how He simply steps forward...and goes.

Flash forward back to the courtyard, to a trial, to the turmoil of Peter's heart. His head is down; he's trying not to be noticed. His ears are tuned to the sounds of the court and nothing more. He's trying to understand what just happened, not just to Jesus but to his hopes for a Messiah. He's trying to figure out if the last three years of his life have been a joke. This Man's a lunatic! Peter concludes. He's a crazy Man, and He knew He was a crazy Man. That's why He let them take Him.

As his heart starts to draw the inevitable conclusions, looking at a Cross that does not yet reveal an empty tomb, Peter is surely coming to know that He doesn't know this Man at all. He never understood Him. He never let himself look too hard into the story because he was always looking for the greater narrative. The one he expected, but the one it now seems will never come. Was never possible. Not with this Man. Not with this so-called Teacher.

Then a voice pierces his thoughts. "You were with Him! You knew this Man!" And Peter shakes his head. "I never knew Him..." his voice trails off, and it feels weird to say the words out loud. Then another voice. "Yes, Yes! You are one of them! You were with Him!" And Peter shakes his head again, still quiet but with a little more surety in his voice. "I never knew Him..." he trails off again, still trying to figure out what all this means. Then one more time, "You must have been with Him! You have the same accent!" And Peter declares, with the fullness of his tired voice, "I swear to you...I do not know this Man." 

And at that moment in time, maybe he doesn't. the glow of the fire...he realizes that he just doesn't know this Man. He doesn't know this Messiah. (He doesn't look anything like the brochure.) 

A moment later, the cock crows and beyond his mind that does not understand, Peter realizes that his heart knows. Only now, it seems too late. Only now, it's almost over. And there's all of that to wrestle with.

It's certainly a perspective on Peter I had not considered. For all his zealousness, his impulsiveness, his attitude, I just assumed the scared, frantic, insistent Peter had gathered around the fire with those men. But I think the story I've just shared is not necessarily far from the truth, either. Perhaps it was a quiet, reflective, wondering, aching Peter who sat by the fire that night. If you can entertain that thought, good. Stay with me. In the coming days, I have a little more to say about how this story parallels with our own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Natural Habitat

Over the long weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Indianapolis Zoo. The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center has been eight years in the making, and the community was excited to finally meet its residents. I happened to wake up early on Saturday morning and caught the last few minutes of an interview with one of the scientists working in the center. ...I started my day out with a laugh.

Because this guy, who has spent his life working with these beautiful beasts, was trying to explain why the center looks more like something out of Andromeda Strain and less like something out of Asia (my words). What he said was something like this:

"The reason you don't see a lot of trees or a lot of forests or other natural-looking pieces of landscape in here is because these orangutans were not born in the wild. They have spent their whole lives in captivity, so this is their natural habitat."


Like I said, I started my day out with a laugh. But it got me thinking: what is my natural habitat? What is yours?

There are a lot of people in this world who are interested in telling you what your place is. Where you belong. They want to use your past to define your future. They want to use your comfort zone to put up a safety net around you. They want to keep you right where you are and tell you how good you are there. They want you to look around and recognize that you recognize everything, and start to think of right where you are as home.

There are enough among us who don't buy that logic that we can see it's not necessarily the truth.

Think about the rags to riches stories. Men and women born into poverty, who grew up with very little or nothing at all, who learned to scrimp and save and stretch pennies. Then one day, they decide they weren't made for this and they set their feet on a path to step into something better. They become wealthy, or at least well-off. Some falter, frittering it all away because they don't know how to handle it, but many more succeed. Their past in poverty giving them the discipline they need for wealth.

Think about the woman who has been abused her entire life. Who has had men using her, women hating her, and a whole world throwing punches at her face. She's heard the echoes of a world crying, "whore" but she looks in the mirror and longs to see something different. Then one day, she does and she becomes a woman who stands in the face of the world and exhibits strength, and grace, and beauty. She becomes the fighter, and she teaches others to do the same.

Think about the cancer patient, the man who has been sick for longer than anyone can remember. People even forget what he used to be like; his new habitat is the hospital. Test tubes, IVs, chemo, isolation, puke, powerlessness.... Then he stumbles upon something, even the smallest thing, that lets him remember and he knows he wasn't made for this place. He gets back to living, even while he's dying, and chooses not to have his life taken from him but rather, to give into his life, wherever it may take him.

There are so many stories of this. Of people around us, perhaps even many of us ourselves, who refuse to believe the place where we are is the place we are meant to be.

And this is no more true than in God. Quick survey: how many of you have been called by God (first calling) to be exactly where you're at? Doing exactly what you're doing? Nobody? I didn't think so. 

God calls us to places that don't seem natural. Sarah, the barren, to be a mother of nations. Moses, the stutterer, to be the voice of a nation. David, the adulterer, to be the faithful king. Hosea, the prophet, to be the husband of a prostitute. Judas, the betrayer, to be a close friend. Paul, the oppressor, to be a liberator. Aidan.... You.... He's constantly calling us to the weirdest of all places.

Yet when we get there, when we take that first step, what we find is that the weirdest place is perhaps the most natural of all. It answers the nagging suspicion that we were created for something more because here is more, and it's just perfect. (Although we're still not.) I still live in awe every day that God has decided to do this with me. Because it doesn't look anything like my natural habitat. The same is true of every man, every woman I have ever met who is doing the very thing God has called them to do. When we're in that place that God has for us, we live with a humble grace that can't seem to fathom it. Because it seems so natural, but it doesn't look like it would be. It is instinct that has taken over, and instinct is something you can never get away from, no matter where you find yourself.

Which is how it came to be Saturday morning, before dawn broke, and I couldn't stop laughing at these orangutans climbing all over metal structures, deftly crossing man-made bridges, holding onto this and hanging from that and using their fingers to manipulate all of the toys in their sterile environment, all while this guy in the foreground declares, "These orangutans were born in captivity. They wouldn't know what to do with a natural habitat." Oh yes they would.

Give those primates a tree. They'll climb it. Give them a vine. They'll swing from it. Give them sticks and rocks and pine cones and watch them put their creativity to use. They know what to do with their jungle more than you give them credit for.

Just like most of us, who grew up sterile but were born to be wild.

Monday, May 26, 2014

For the Fallen

I have to admit, I don't know a lot about war. Not on the traditional battlefield, anyway. Not in a place where IEDs are a way of life, where machine gun fire is common, where friends can turn out to enemies in the blink of an eye. Not in a place where lives are at stake every day. Not where a sense of duty is enough of a reason to make a man stand up in the morning.

No, I don't know a lot about war.

I have had the opportunity in my life to work around soldiers. I have taken the time to learn to read rank on a uniform (Army) because it shows a man that I'm trying to take an interest, though I will never understand. As a chaplain, one of my most humbling conversations came not with a patient, but her husband - a WWII veteran who had never, he said, told his story to anyone but sat in that empty hospital room telling it to me, with tears streaming down his face while we waited on his wife to return from a procedure. 

I have military in my family. One of my uncles is career military. Army. Another uncle, Army National Guard. My grandfather was an army chaplain; I wish I'd known that before I read it in his obituary. Countless others whose stories I don't know, whose service I could not pin down except to say that I've seen them here or there in photos, standing proudly in their dress uniforms.

The truth is, I'm not sure I could tell you any of their stories. Of all of the soldiers I have been blessed to know, of those I have been honored to spend time with, of those I even know well, there is one common thread about them: they don't really share their stories.

For all the forward, antagonistic, defiant things we post on Facebook in "support" of our soldiers, I've never heard a soldier once remind me, or anyone else, of his service. Not once. I have never seen soldiers declare a sense of entitlement about anything. I haven't seen a man in uniform standing in line at a fast food joint, then turn to the person behind him and say, "Dude. I FOUGHT for you! You OWE me this burger." I have never seen a veteran use his service for his own gain. I have seen wounded warriors honored, and they all bring it back to the man. "This is the greatest day in my life. It's such a dream come true to be here," says the man in the wheelchair who hasn't been fit for prosthetics yet, the biggest smile on his face.

Most of our soldiers don't say anything at all about their service. I wish they would. I wish they would share with us the weight of their burden, the magnitude of their memory, the torment of a soul torn between being the creation of a peace-loving God and yet, being called to fight in war. I wish they would tell us more, but they don't see their service as any big thing; it's just what they do.

Our soldiers are defined by grace, by humility, and by quiet.

And perhaps it is the quiet that most gets me. Because what I do understand is just how loud war can be. I think about these men and women over there, bombs going off. Sirens going off. Chatter over here, chatter over there. Guns firing both on the practice range and over the hill. Helicopters flying in and out. The din of the mess hall as guys come in and out, sharing their stories and their hopes and their dreams, only to have them interrupted again by the sounds of war. I think about protesters and rioters and people who resent our troops being in their country. Enemies and common men alike who live in the war zone, but, like me, do not understand the war. Because to them, it's just tearing their neighborhood apart. It's tearing their community apart.

...And those back home who are torn apart, too. When boots come home but bodies don't. When the chaplain shows up on your doorstep and you don't know how long you can keep him from telling you the terrible news. When communities are wrought with grief and mourning for the young man, the young woman who did not return. Who never made it out of the noise.

Which is why, I think, the ways we remember our fallen soldiers are so powerful. We are a culture that has stopped slowing down for funeral processions. We are a culture that's so bombarded by the headlines that we don't even notice reports from the front lines any more. We are a culture who flips right past the story of the fallen soldier to see what's "worth watching" on television tonight. We are a culture that, half a breath into a moment of silence, begins to fidget. Starts to cough. Starts watching the clock, wondering just how long a moment is.

But give us the first notes of Taps, and we fall silent. All the noise, all the world...everything stops. 

Present arms in a 21-gun salute, and we don't even breathe.

And I think, how fitting. That for men and women who died quietly in the midst of a noise most of us will never understand, that we remember them in a moment of quiet. That we remember the fallen of war in a moment of peace. That for all the days they wished this all would just stop, on their final day, it does stop. For just a moment. In honor of them.

Today, as we gather around our grills, kick back with our families, dive into our pools, and enjoy the blessing of tremendous freedom, may we remember that it has come at a cost. And may we take a moment to embrace the quiet.

For all the men and women who died in the noise.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Living the Lie

Sometimes, you don't get a choice. For all the truth you want to tell with your life, there may still be a lie in your story. As I talk about change and stepping forward into a new story, I cannot just leave out this pesky little detail. Because for all the good intentions in the world, moving forward feels like betrayal.

It's because, quite simply, the truth is very rarely how you feel. Truth is something you know, and you can make it the defining characteristic of your life, but that is a constant discipline. It's a choice you have to make over and over, every time the decision presents itself.

And you say things to people but you guard what you say because the truth is that you're okay, that life is okay, that God is good, and that this is just what it is right now. But the reality is that whatever this is right now may not feel okay. It may not feel good. So every time you choose to speak out of the truth, it feels a little like you're turning your back on yourself. Like maybe it's denial or something.

Let me tell you this: when I'm stuck in the lie, I require the truth. It's truth that brings me through dark moments. There's no telling what Hell would break loose if I let those dark moments define my truth, like so many of us do.

And either way, it feels like betrayal, right? If you speak the truth in the face of the lie, you feel like you've turned your back on the very real pain you're feeling right now. But if you speak the lie in the face of the truth, that, too, feels like betrayal. Because a part of you knows that whatever you just said isn't truth. And you're longing for truth.

The question you have to ask yourself is what do you feel like betraying? The easy thing to do is to betray the truth in the face of the lie because it's so often the lie that feels stronger. It's so often the lie that seems most real. Even though you don't want it to be. Even though you hope and pray that it isn't. It feels that way, and so it's hard to just pretend that none of that is happening. 

But is your darkness worth your truth? If you knew the word God has spoken over your life, doesn't that change how you feel about the lie? It has to. 

It's a delicate balance. We all know people who have struggled in the dark, and it's been pure denial. I would never advocate such a thing; you cannot answer this life by turning away. You have to be turning toward something. That something must be truth. And I think that you can say the words that don't feel true in the face of the lie as long as you're looking at what lies ahead. As long as you know that God is still God and His Word is the Word and His truth is Truth.

This truth...on the darkest days is enough of a reason to get up in the morning. It's enough of a reason to still believe. It's enough of a reason to stand. There is a way to live truth in the lie; you just have to be gracious with it. What's the truth? The truth is that I'm okay, that life is okay, that God is good, and that this is just what it is right now. What's the truth in the lie? The truth in the lie is that I'm okay, life is okay, God is good, this is just what it is right now...and it doesn't feel like any of what I just said is true.

In all the darkness, in all the struggle, in the days when this is just what it is right now, our trouble is that we're often stuck in our heads. Trying to figure things out. Trying to understand. Trying to learn to live like this. Thankfully, the Truth is not in our heads; it is in our hearts. And our hearts weren't made for understanding; they were made simply to know.

So yes, you can know truth and not understand how this is happening. You can live on and listen to the Word of God in your life without denying the shout of another voice. You can live truth in the lie, and the only thing you're the lie. I think most of us would be okay with that.

It's hard, though. It is really, really hard.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Deal With It

There is a very real danger in changing your story. That danger is this: stepping into the new requires leaving the old behind. Most of us, for whatever reason, aren't that interested in just turning and walking the other way.

One of the reasons for this, I think, is that we've been told we have to "deal" with things. We have to go through and handle our story, work our way through it, work our way out of it, before we can ever truly leave it behind. When the opportunity presents itself to step forward, most of us are held back by this false notion that if we don't deal with our past now, it will follow us into our future.

The notion is false for simply this reason: your past is going to come back to you throughout your whole life, whether you've dealt with it or not. It's going to continually pop up in your narrative, creep into your story no mater how much work you put into dealing with it today. Because like it or not, your story is the foundation for who you are.

But it doesn't have to be the definition of you.

You cannot, today, anticipate every little thing you will ever encounter in your life. You cannot know, this moment, what all the moments to come will bring. You cannot fathom how sometimes, the smallest and dumbest things are going to brush up against your story because it just hasn't happened yet. You don't know. You can try to plan accordingly, but life happens. Whatever you do with your story today is based on today's parameters. Those parameters change tomorrow. They change a week from now. They change a year from now. They change twenty years from now.

The past cannot be handled by "dealing with it" and "moving on." Paradoxically, you must simply move on and deal with it as it comes, constantly redefining and reshaping and redeeming the story that is you. (By the grace of God, of course.)

It's hard. How do you live today without dealing with yesterday? How do you even hope for tomorrow when yesterday is holding you back? The truth is that you will miss every day of your future that you live in your past and one day, you'll come to realize what a waste it all was, and you will mourn every opportunity that you missed. That's the hard truth.

Moving on doesn't mean you neglect your story. It doesn't mean you negate your story. Moving on means you take control of your story, working toward the day when you tell it and it no longer tells you.

It's the difference between depression and determination. If you don't think you can move on until you've dealt with the past, you will spend your life dwelling in the past, trying to make sense of the future. This will lead you down a road of inevitability, where you come to see that things had to turn out this way. That you set yourself up, or were set up, for things to be exactly as they are - like it or lump it. You spend your whole life understanding your story and for what? You've missed the whole thing. There is no victory in a final breath that states, "I almost understand myself." Because in a blink, you will realize you are not even who you thought you were. All of the missed opportunities, all of the forsaken chances, will flash before your eyes and you'll realize how badly you wanted to be a part of those things, and you will curse your past for holding you back.

But if you choose to move on, despite the haunted echoes of the past, you will find a new strength. Suddenly, you're hanging on hope and trying to make sense of the past. This leads you down a road of empowerment. It shows you how you stand on the former things in order to reach new heights. It reveals the way God was working in you to prepare you for this greater thing you're doing. You live right into the life God has created for you and when you reach your final breath, you declare, "I almost understand my God." That's a blessing. You look back and realize all the wonderful things you've been  a part of that for the longest time, you would've said you shouldn't have been. You see all the stuff you've done, all the stuff God has done through you and in you, and you're humbled by the experience. You're thankful for this life. And you thank your past for preparing you for it.

Now, that's all well and good but some pasts...some pasts are harder than others. Some pasts are heavier burdens. Some are not filled with simply this or that; some are infused with trauma and tragedy. There is no more important time to move on and deal with things as they come than a time like this, when the past is a vortex that will suck you right back down into all the things you never wanted to be, all the stories you never wanted to tell. Step forward, step out of it, choose today's story and the grace for yesterday's tales will bring you to your knees.

Because the longer you do this, the more consistently you choose today over yesterday, you choose hope over the horrible, you choose the promise over the past, the more naturally it comes to you until one day, you surprise even yourself.

Your past rears its ugly head, and you don't have to think any more about how you respond. The pain, the grief, the tumult is still real but it doesn't shake who you are. It doesn't define you. Instead, you come at the past from a position of strength, a posture that says, "I can deal with this." It doesn't make it pretty. It doesn't make it easy. But it makes it feel more right. It makes it seem possible. You suddenly realize that you can be - you are - bigger than all of this.

You might even be better than all of this.

I present this as an offering to any of you reading who might have a story. I certainly understand stories; I'm living a hard one. And the one thing that's most profoundly clear to me right now is all the time I wasted thinking I had to deal with the past before I could move on. Profoundly clear because that past I wasted so many years on continues to surprise me, continues to demand that I deal with it again. And you know what? Ain't nobody got time for that.

There are adventures before me. There are journeys before you. It may feel like your yesterday is holding tomorrow hostage, but you are one faithful step away from revealing that for the lie it is. Always, always, make yesterday captive to tomorrow. Tomorrow is the real deal. The promise is truth.

So go ahead and move on. Deal with things as they come up and not as they weigh down. And hey -

It's okay.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Analyze This

By the grace of God, things change.

The question then becomes man's: what are we to do with the changes?

Some of us are analyzers, and I have to admit this is my initial default. We spend our time trying to figure out what exactly has changed, what ripple effects that change is creating in our lives, what that might mean for this story or that one that we've been telling. We dive down into the nitty-gritty in the hope of understanding. It makes the whole thing feel more holy by emphasizing the great distance between what was and what now is. The problem, at least for me, is that this constant analysis negates the change.

I end up thinking more about the way things were, astounded by the depth I didn't even realize in the story while I was living it, and trying to figure out what all that means. Which leaves me analyzing at the cost of living. I forget to live because I'm stuck in the meta-narrative of my story. The story about my story! I imagine if you talk with a handful of analyzers, you will find the same sentiment. It's how we get such lines as, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Because focused on the change, we find ourselves looking at the same things we've seen for years and the change doesn't seem all that real any more.

Some of us aren't analyzers; some of us are amnesiacs. We remember the change for a certain time, but the novelty wears off and we forget that anything is different. We wake up in the mornings and live like nothing's changed. By the time we realize we've forgotten, the change isn't even real any more and we're waiting on things to change again. We open our eyes and realize things changed and we missed it, and now, we feel stuck right where we are. Even though the change is still out there for the taking. I'm guilty of this, too.

Some of us are neither analyzers nor amnesiacs; we are anticipators. We acknowledge what looks like change, but we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. We're waiting on this world to negate itself. We know - perhaps from pattern, perhaps from fear - that good things are just too good to be true and bad things can never be the end of the story, so good or bad, we're waiting on the flux that will bring us back the other direction and...leave us right where we were to begin with. I've been here, too. 

There are so many ways we react to change, ways we respond to a change in circumstances. The trouble is that almost all of them pull us away from the very change we wish to embrace. They pull us back from what's developing in our lives. We waste our time trying to understand, not paying attention, and hesitating that we miss the grace entirely. But if you ask any one of us, we'd tell you what we know about grace - 

That it can't be understood. That it can so easily be missed. That it makes no room for hesitation. Grace is, or it isn't. By the grace of God, things change and most of us are missing that grace for all our flesh.

The only way things truly change is when we step into grace. When we embrace the change for what it is, however small or large, whatever it does or does not touch in a particular moment in our lives. It's hard. We give up so much for grace; it feels like a trade-down. But it's really a rise up if we'll let it be.

Here's what change by grace is: it's a chance to change your story. It's a chance to start telling something new, something that most of us have probably always wanted to tell. When we get stuck in our strategies, what we're really doing is holding onto the former and refusing to step into the grace. We're trying to move forward with one hand on our past, and that never works. Because for most of us, the past is firmly rooted in fact and the future only hanging on a timid hope and if one of those seems to have a stronger foundation, which do you think it is? 


I'm an analyzer. At times, I am an amnesiac. I've been know to be an anticipator and a host of other things. In the past 24 hours, by the grace of God, my life has changed. My story is changing. I have the chance right now to step into something new and start living it. I've spent the past 23 hours analyzing. About 10-15 minutes this morning, just after waking up, forgetting. And a brief blink of the eye wondering if I should anticipate the flux. (Thank God, I am no longer an "other shoe" kind of person, but that's a pattern hard to break.) I've wondered how I'm ever going to embrace this opportunity to tell another story. I've wondered how to hold on to change in my life, which is why I share all this inner thought with you. 

The answer, I believe, is this. It's to be an adventurer.

To just step boldly into today, into a different today, and to live however today demands that I live. Not today in light of yesterday. Not today in hopes of tomorrow. Just today. Just the story I'm telling right now. Without thought to how I told it last night, last week, last month. Without trying to figure it all out. Without trying to understand. 

Because we all know the truth, right? Grace can never be understood. If it could, we couldn't call it grace.

So that's my advice this morning, as we all face the possibility of life changing. As we all have these moments where we can step into a new story. As we all wonder what we're supposed to do with times like these. Stop analyzing. Stop forgetting. Stop forsaking. Stop whatever it is you're doing that keeps you from wholly having this holy moment. 

Step into the adventure and take today for what it is. Give today what it requires. Love today for all it's worth. And

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Naked Truth

You probably know the story of the fig leaves, of the first garments ever sewn, of the coverings God created for Adam and Eve when they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and discovered their shame. Certainly, you know of the fig leaves. They were the tenderness of God in the face of man's brokenness. Suddenly, a man and a woman that once stood naked before God could no longer bear to bare themselves to Him.

Which brings us to the story of Peter's tunic. Case in point that man has not come very far.

Peter was a man who had spent the better part of three years with Jesus, and with a bunch of other guys. They had lived together, traveled together, eaten together, shared a drink, shared stories. Their entire lives had been lived together.

Jesus had seen Peter in his strong moments and his weak ones. In times when Peter stood decidedly by His side, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane, and a blink of the eye later in denial in the courtyard. He had seen Peter astounded at the Transfiguration, defeated while falling into the water. He had seen Peter go all-out...of the boat, go all-in, and fall all-short. I believe He had even seen the devastation in Peter's eyes when the Cross was all-but final, when the grave seemed all-too-real.

And then one day, the men are out fishing. They've gone back to what they know. They've been out on the boat all night and the catch is slim. That's putting it mildly. They haven't caught a thing. A stranger yells to them from the seashore, asking about how the fishing is. A short exchange later, and Peter realizes it has to be Jesus. We normally skip the next sentence and jump right to a zealous Peter, diving into the water and swimming a football field's length to shore.

But that sentence reveals something about this moment that we, as a fallen people ourselves, cannot ignore. That little detail we too easily forget is that, before jumping out of the boat, Peter puts his clothes back on.

Know anybody else that puts their clothes on before going swimming? Me neither.

Unless, of course, you're about to meet your Lord and the voice that's ringing loudest in your head right now is your failing.

The odd thing is that, like so many of us, Peter's just been on this boat for hours with his fellow men in some measure of nakedness. He's been completely comfortable to be however stripped-down fishermen were in those days. All of the other guys were probably the same. And nobody had a second thought about it. It's only when Jesus enters the picture that perhaps Peter realizes how "inappropriate" his bareness seems. Why, after all these years together, he's suddenly concerned about what Jesus might see of him is beyond me.

But I do it, too. I don't think I'm alone in that.

There's so much about us that we're willing to share with one another. We're willing to bare our souls to our brothers and sisters, and then when it comes to God, we scramble for cover. We look for clothes. We start to get dressed all proper before we come to Him. Which means when we get there, our story is not our story. It's not the truth we were living just a few seconds ago before we realizes He was here. In a heartbeat, Peter's story, by the mere adding of clothes, changed from "I am a fisherman out working for my living" to "Just a guy out for a swim. Oh, hey, Jesus!" Because he was no longer clad in the life he was just living.

Subtle, I know, but powerful.

This inevitably leads us back to Adam and Eve, to the story of the Garden, to the story of shame. Because that's all it is, right? Something we know about ourselves that we don't want someone else to see. Maybe Peter didn't want Jesus to see that he'd gone back to fishing so quickly. Maybe Peter was worried that God would give up on him when God realized that Peter didn't know what to do with himself and so stepped back into a former life. I don't know. Adam and Eve don't leave so many blanks. "We heard you coming, and we realized our shame, so we hid." They tell God what's up. And how does He answer?

In tender mercy. With one eye on the relationship and a hand on the leaf. He receives their truth, embraces their vulnerability, makes provision for their shame, and tenderly loves them right out of the Garden, to a place where they cannot do any further damage to their spirits. (Where they cannot eat the fruit of life and live forever in a broken state.)

Don't you think God will do the same for you and me? Don't you think He will respond in the same tender mercy?

There is one more aspect of Peter's story that is crucial here, and it reveals the deeper truth both for him and for us. It wasn't for God's sake that Peter covered himself; it's not for God's sake that we hide. It was for his own sake; it is for our sake. 

Once he reaches the shoreline, Peter runs up out of the water, soaking wet, and wraps Jesus in the biggest bear hug he possibly can. It's pure love. It's pure joy. It doesn't give second thought to social protocol. It doesn't think about soaking the Messiah. It only considers love and the chance to have that moment, that one moment, with God. If Peter had any qualms about being improper before the Lord, they don't show. Which means his tunic was for his own peace of mind.

Jesus...would have taken him naked. Jesus would have hugged him just the same. Jesus would have fried the fish, broken the bread, shared the meal with a naked Peter as wholly as He did with a sopping wet one. 

There's so much to think about with this story. There's the contrast between our brothers and sisters and our God. There's the social awkwardness of every broken protocol in Peter's story - abandoning the guys on the boat, swimming to shore, wrapping Jesus up in his arms. There's the Jesus who received him. There's the God who responds with tender mercy. 

But perhaps most powerfully, there is the naked truth. What is your naked truth this morning? And what would it mean for God to see that?

Monday, May 19, 2014


Say you're sorry.

There's a lot of emphasis in our society on apologies. We want to hear sorries from everyone who's ever had a bad day, made a bad choice, used bad judgment, or simply gotten in our way. Famous, infamous, and common folk alike, we're all being asked to apologize on a fairly consistent basis.

At one time in our society, I think "I'm sorry" meant something. I really do. It wasn't that long ago that you could say you were sorry, mean it, and mutually move on. Today, "I'm sorry" feels like half-a-sentence. The other half, in our self-driven, self-centered, individualistic, hedonistic society is, "...that you can't deal with my awesomeness." 


People aren't saying "I'm sorry I hurt you" any more. They aren't connecting their actions to much of anything outside of themselves. Instead, they are saying, "I'm sorry you're offended by me" with the implication that the offended should get over it. Maybe that's why the words don't seem to mean anything any more.

The shift has been subtle, but it's been devastating to this thing we call relationship. Most of us, at one time or another, have heard someone tell us to "be the bigger man" and apologize. Apologizing is the high road. Apologizing is a sacrifice. Apologizing is the greatest gift we can give to one another. ...Baloney. 

Saying we were wrong does not make us the bigger man; it exposes our lesser man for all he is not worth.

The bigger man is the man who forgives.

When you apologize to someone, you put yourself in the empty space between you. You step into the disconnect, into the void, that has come because of your wrong. Not your "perceived" wrong; your actual wrong. Because if the space has come between you, it was wrong. Period. Yes, that means we apologize for things we don't think we should apologize for. Yes, that means we apologize for things we don't even know we did. Things we didn't mean to do. But still, we apologize and step into the void.

That gives the other man a choice. He can either forgive us or let us fall. If he forgives us, he catches us and we are in each other's hands again. If he lets us fall, we hit the ground hard but it's enough of a pain to remember. To remember that our life is painfully not our own. That our life is built in the web of people, the community, that is all around us. 

I've recently found myself in a position to apologize. A lot. Some apologies are easier than others; some, I'm not sure how to make. As I tried to figure out the words I would us, the things I would say, as I fought the battle in my heart that says, "That's just who I am. So-and-so should know that by now," I heard that little voice that says just do it. Be the bigger man. And I knew he was lying because all I felt was my lesser man.

The bigger man is the one who, I hope, will forgive me. If he does, I'll find my lesser man a better man. 

Friday, May 16, 2014


It's important to be bold enough to enter your darkness, but you must also remember that personal darkness is never an excuse to stop being a light.

It's hard. When darkness hits, we feel vulnerable. We feel weak. We feel broken. We feel worthless, like we have nothing to offer this world. Not even God because, if God were anything like we say He is, we wouldn't be so broken. Life wouldn't be so dark. So we pull back and wait to gather our composure before we dare step back out in the world. 

Let me ask you this: where's the truth in this story?

The truth in this story, as we tell it, is that our God is only in it for the good things. The truth is that what we say and what we do don't match up. The truth is that we can be broken beyond repair, that God will turn His back, that we are useless. That we are worthless.

It may feel that way in the darkness, but that's never the truth of your life. Not if you know God. The challenge for any Christian in the dark is to remember that the tough times are fact, but they are simply fact. And no fact has the right to stand in the way of Truth.

It sounds nice and simple, but it's hardly either. It's grueling and incredibly difficult. It's a delicate interplay that I don't always get right, although my percentages are going up.

Think about some of the Bible characters we know and love. David, for instance. David was a brilliant king, a great leader, and a successful warrior. And you know what? I don't much care. I can honestly tell you that until this very moment, I haven't thought about David's power or conquests. His successes don't make a difference for me. But I love his psalms. I love the way he writes in his vulnerable moments. I love the way he pours out his heart to God, a heart that today, too many of us would say wasn't worthy to approach the throne. David rushes into the throne room and pours himself out with such rawness. Even in his darkest moments. 

Because he sees beyond his facts to the truth. He remembers the light in his darkness.

Jesus is another example. When we talk about Jesus, we go straight to His darkness and then work our way back. We go to the Garden, in a prayer of such agony that His sweat fell like blood. We go to the courtyard, where He stands silent before His accusers. We go to the Cross. We go to the tomb. In all of these places, we find not a defeated Jesus but a victorious One. A man speaking tender words to the thief hanging next to Him, the soldier at His feet, the betrayer with a kiss. 

Because He, too, sees beyond His facts to the truth. He remembers the light in His darkness.

I don't think most of us realize the powerful truth we have to speak in our darkness. I don't think we realize the light we bring when we choose truth over facts. I don't think we realize the sacrifice we make when we confuse the two.

Mine is a story that has a good measure of darkness in it. Yours probably is, too. As I continue to grow in the light and the love of the Lord, I realize how many wasted hours, how many wasted days, how many wasted years I spent telling the darkness like it was my story. It was only half-truth. Fact, sure, but who has time for such things?

The challenge for any man is to face his facts and tell his Truth. Easier said than done, but it has to be this way. For life, Truth, even spirit rest on this simple, but profound, truth:

Man's story is often found in the darkness, but it is always told in the light.

What story are you telling today?

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Not long ago, I wrote about blinding light. That morning, in response, I received an email from a reader (and friend), who asked, "What is it with Christians and light? Don't you know the value of darkness?"

I responded that personally, I do. And I added that I believe Christianity, as a movement, is at a unique point in its history where it, too, is coming to understand the blessings of brokenness. Where we're ready to honor the dark instead of always fighting against it. 

I have to admit there are all kinds of subtleties that go into a topic so deep as this one, and I cannot pretend to understand them all. Darkness, and even the light, are such intimate journeys. I can only speak to mine.

Speaking out of mine, I have to say that while I appreciate a healthy measure of darkness, I don't know how people without the light do it. I don't know what they hold onto. I don't know what they hope for. I don't know what pulls them back when the darkness has teeth. I need to know the light is out there or I'm quick to lose it.

Now, much of this depends on what kind of darkness you're in, too. Sometimes, it's so simple as the moment when the lights go out, but for me, darkness is generally a more complicated process. It might be an auditory darkness, where it's not dark and light, black and white, but instead, it's silence and whisper. Without that whisper echoing in my heart, I might be drawn into the silence. In a place where nothing speaks, nothing is true. It can't be. That little whisper is the answer to my auditory darkness; it reminds me what truth is so I don't have to buy the lie.

Maybe it's a tactile darkness. Maybe it's a place where I feel untouchable, when it's been so long since I've felt anything brush against my skin. And maybe I feel like there's nothing in this world I can touch. In those times, it's the hand of God holding me that answers the darkness. I can feel that more powerfully when I can't feel anything else, and it becomes my sustenance.

It sounds, maybe, like I'm holding onto the littlest of things and they are filling me up. That is far from the truth. These things - these whispers, this Hand of God, a single candle in the dark - are mere strands. They are bare threads, but they give me the courage and the strength to stand in the darkness and not be (as) afraid. That's the way darkness is for me. I walk into enveloping darkness because the faintest hope allows me to do so.

No, it requires me to do so.

Because the Hand of God does not pull me away. The whisper does not call me back. The candle only teases my eyes. These simple threads do not raise me up; they lower me down.

Hard as it is sometimes, I'm okay with that. It is the darkness where the greatest beauty is made. The butterfly in the chrysalis, for example. The diamond in the rough. It is the darkness where healing takes place. Think of a scar you have, that started as a scab. It started as a simple covering to create the darkness, and the safety, for the wound to heal. It is the darkness where I am invited to do my own hard work because I can't see you looking at me. Self-consciousness, the pretense of self, disappears. 

And it is darkness where the tender hand of God forms a cradle, where the whisper echoes through the empty spaces, and where the flame dances. 

Not all darkness is created equal, of course. Some of it can swallow you alive, you and the bread crumbs that lead you out of here. Some will not devour you, but it will destroy you. Some invites you to a deeper well; some, pushes you deeper than you ever meant to go. It's hard to know sometimes, standing at the precipice, what to do with any given darkness. Where courage or strength or hope stands. It's hard to know whether this is a moment to walk into or walk away from. If you're following me on Facebook or Twitter (and why aren't you?), you saw my answer to this last night. Although, at the time I wrote it, I didn't know this would be today's post. But the answer to that question is this:

It's hard to know when to lean in, when to fall back, and when to stand your ground. Sometimes, all you can do is pray and trust that when you lean in, God will follow. When you fall back, He will catch you. And when you stand your ground, He stands beside you. 

He's promised that much. And that little bit, as small as it seems in the grand scheme of enveloping darkness, is enough of a light to hold onto.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Where Faith Stands

If a firm faith is found in the unknowing in-between, in contemplating God's character and knowing His nature, in embracing the unexpected while rejected the unpredictable God, what does that even look like? They are good words, a good idea, perhaps, but what is the practical manifestation of such a faith?

It's prayer. It's worship. But not in the way that comes naturally to us.

I shared yesterday that I recently received some good news. This good news did not redefine my faith. That is, I did not rejoice in God's goodness over the outcome and did not set myself up for disappointment should tomorrow, God "fail" me. I did not respond in fickle faith, but in confident assurance and humbled grace. So how did I get there? How do you get there?

It starts in a prayer that goes beyond the circumstances. I knew this good news was a real possibility. I knew also that discouraging news was a real possibility. News, one way or the other, was coming. Our natural inclination, and I will admit that it is also often mine, is to fervently pray for the good news. Right? We make a testimony of our faithfulness. We cry out our emptiness, which in our minds so conveniently looks good news-shaped, like the right good thing to come into our lives (the very thing we are praying for!) is the piece of the puzzle that will fill us up, that will make us whole again. We focus on what we've done to make the good news possible, and we try to persuade God that the investment of a good thing in us will be worth it. We will make it worth it.

Most of us are taught this way, I think. Sadly, we're set up for our prayer to fail our faith. If this is what you've been taught about prayer, what happens when it's not good news? How do you keep believing in God? How do you keep praying? More importantly, if you "can't have" this one good thing, how do you believe in anything good? (This is one of the reasons I wrote Unfolded Hands.)

Perhaps most devastatingly, however, is that when you pray for the good that you hope will come, you miss out on the good that God is already doing in you. You're focused on what goodness looks like tomorrow, and totally missing how it manifests today.

The only reason I was in a position to expect good news at all was because I took a step forward on the word God had already spoken in my life. I was doing the things He had put in me to do, without knowing how they would turn out. I had a firm sense of what God was doing in me and stepped in faith toward the next logical thing, all the while praying for God's guidance. In the waiting, then, I could have prayed into the circumstances. I could have prayed for the very specific good thing. I could have...and did. That's how this all started.

But as time wears on and the waiting intensifies, something in my heart changed. I got tired of holding onto one thing because I realized that boxing myself into circumstances was pulling me out of calling. It was taking me away from the word of God that had put me in the place of hope at all. So I stopped praying, and stopped worrying, about "Plan A" and went back to the Promise. I meditated on the word God had given me. I devoted my time and energy to remembering what He's already spoken. I prayed that He would continue to weave my story together in the way He already had been, a way that was becoming abundantly clear to me but at the same time, leaves tomorrow wide open for His wisdom. I let the word He's already spoken fill my heart.

No longer is it, "Lord, You know how badly I want X and I think it's what You want for me." Instead, it's "Lord, thank You for the Word You've given me and the promise on which it stands. I am taking faithful steps, but I trust You for the details, and I can't wait to see where You lead me."

And you know what? That's how I got - that's how we get - to a place where when the world speaks, it's okay. Either way, it's okay. 

From the very same simple switch in my heart, my worship also changed. I have found myself praising God every day for what He's doing in me. I'm not waiting to see how He's doing it; I know that He's doing it, and that is why I worship. That's why I praise. I'm not waiting for a reason. I'm not hedging my bets on tomorrow. I've got today, and I know what today brings because it's His Word that echoes in my soul. It doesn't matter what tomorrow brings. It doesn't matter whether it's good or bad. It doesn't matter whether it looks the way I think it's supposed to look because I am powerfully aware of the work God is doing in me, and of His promise, and that's reason enough to praise. Tomorrow doesn't change that. Good news doesn't change that. Discouraging news doesn't change that.

That's really what I wanted to share with you this week. That's what it looks like to have God's word in your heart, to be meditating on His character, to know what He's doing and trust in His promise, all while you're waiting to see the plan.

Your plan might never be God's plan. But His promise is always your promise. Meditate on that. Let that word sink into your heart. Let it define you. Let it shape you. That's what a firm faith looks like. That's where it stands - on the promises of God.

You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Between Good and Bad

Knowing God's nature can transform a fickle faith into bold belief, but this transformation comes in the most unexpected place: the tension.

A solid faith is not about the good times; anyone can trust God when life is good. It's not about the bad times; those of us who call ourselves Christians have an uncanny ability to find God even in the trouble. A solid faith is built somewhere between the two, when you don't know how things are going to turn out.

And I think this is one of the major objections an unbelieving world has to Christianity - that Christians are so black and white, so fickle. That we praise God in the joyous times and crumble before Him in the dark times and that we're always pointing to God when things are settled, but we're not showing the struggle in between. They're looking at us and seeing that our God is a God of results. That we can only seem to stand on Him when we know where we're going to land. That we float around and flit from belief to unbelief to doubt to confidence and back again until God shows what He's doing, and then we're right back on board. 

Indeed, the sad truth is that many Christians live their life precisely this way. In the questions, in the doubt, in the uncertainty, they forget God altogether. Then when it looks like things are settled, when it seems life is as it is going to be, they start looking for God again. Trying to find an unchanged God in a world that's just changed. It's hard to sustain faith this way. 

It's hard to sustain anything this way.

That's why it's so important to meditate on God's character, to anticipate what His nature says He must do. So you're not constantly adjusting to what God has done, but you're perpetually driven by His very nature.

I recently received some good news. There was a time in my life when I would have been shocked by such a word, when I would have thrown my hands in the air in surprise and declared, enthusiastically, "God is so good!" Simply by the very nature of the news. The problem is that at the very same time in my life, I would have spent the next morning cursing God. Because the next morning, I was frustrated. Something annoying and completely unrelated happened, and at the same time I would have thrown my hands in the air in praise, I would also have thrown them up in frustration and wondered why I just can't ever seem to have anything good for any length of time. 

This time, however, that was not the case. This time, I nearly broke down in tears when the good news came. My heart was broken before the Lord. Word of His faithfulness humbled me beyond my own words. The only response I could muster, in English, was "I am truly blessed beyond my measure." And when the next morning came and life was simply life? I could still hear the word of God and His faithfulness echo over my life. 

So what was different? What gave me this balanced moment of good and bad that doesn't shake a faith when I know in my heart how fickle I can be (and have been)? It was that in the waiting, in the in-between, I contemplated the character of God.

I considered what God had said He would do. I thought about what God has done, not just in my story but in every story that is part of His story. I meditated on His faithfulness before I had even seen it manifest in this particular situation, in my particular heart. I considered His love. His mercy. His grace. I let His word sink into my heart at the very same moment He was speaking it over me. When that good word came, I was not surprised; this was perfectly in line with God's character and with the words He had already spoken to me.

Easy to say when it's good news, right? Not so fast. Because I can say also that out of the very same heart that had spent the unknowing months contemplating God's character, if the news had not been what I had hoped or even anticipated, I would not have been shaken. Knowing who God is, knowing the word He has given me, knowing the way He keeps that word, I would have been disappointed but I would have been just as anxious to see how He was going to fulfill His word. At the same time my heart would mourn the bad news, I would be anticipating the coming day when God's better word is revealed. Trusting, knowing, absolutely certain, that such a day was coming...and soon.

Because here's the truth: God never works according to my word or yours. He always works in accordance with His word. And that's the measure of faith for any of us - do we know God's word deeply enough that we understand this truth? Are we anticipating what God will do because we know that He must? Are we holding onto what God looks like in our lives or are we anxious to see what our lives look like in Him? Subtle distinction, maybe, but incredible difference. 

All of this takes place not in the knowing, but in the unknowing. It takes place not in what's done, but what is being done. It happens not when the joys come or the other shoe drops, but somewhere in between when you don't know how things are going to work out. Prepare your heart for the revelation of God, and come what may, you will see Him. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Holy Amazement

God...should never surprise you.

While you may not know the specifics of whatever God might do, there is more than enough information, more than enough story, more than enough history to know what God desires to do. There's a whole world of information that points us to His character. It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, when He acts out of the very nature of Himself. 

Still, too many of us are wasting our holy devotion on surprises. Wasting because when God only ever surprises us, we miss out on the relationship. 

This is the stumbling block of so-called faith.

A surprise is not something that's unexpected; it's something that's unpredictable. If you can't predict what God might do in any given situation, what His character would say that He do, then you don't know Him. Plain and simple. This is reflected nowhere more clearly than in our prayer life.

Do you believe when you pray? Do you believe God is willing, or even capable, to respond? 

Most of us pray out of ritual, and nothing more. We pray because we've been told, or perhaps even taught, to pray. We pray because we've come to believe there is value in saying the words to God. But we pray without believing in the God who hears the words.

The God who hears the words tells us He is loving. In fact, His story is full of His loving. If you knew that, then you wouldn't have to be surprised when God answers you. Perhaps, you could simply be loved.

The God who hears the words tells us He is compassionate. In fact, His story is full of His compassion. If you knew that, then you wouldn't have to be surprised. You could instead be cared for.

The God who hears the words tells us He is gracious. In fact, His story is full of His grace. If you knew that, then you wouldn't have to be surprised. You could be humbled.

The God who hears the words tells us He is forgiving. In fact, His story is full of forgiveness. If you knew that, then you wouldn't have to be surprised. You could be forgiven.

The God who hears the words tells us He is safe. In fact, His story is full of His shelter. If you knew that, then you wouldn't have to be surprised. You could be secure.

The list goes on and on. There are countless words for the nature of God, and "unpredictable" isn't one of them. Therefore, God should never surprise us. 

He can humble us. Bless us. Amaze us. Inspire us. Renew us. Strengthen us. Encourage us. He cannot, if we truly know Him, surprise us. That is either a glaring lack of relationship or the symptom of a poor vocabulary.

I have never been happy to be surprised by God, although I have to admit it's happened a time or two. (or ten. thousand.) As I have grown in spiritual maturity, as I have invested myself in knowing Him, the surprises are less and less frequent. But I love it that way. Because now I have a whole host of other, rich, deep experiences that can only come from knowing God. 

And though, to an untrained eye, it might seem not to change so many things, it changes everything. It moves my fickle faith into bold belief. Tomorrow, I'll tell you the difference that makes, both to a world watching and to a heart laid bare.

Friday, May 9, 2014


It's not enough to know about Jesus.

I've read several books lately where the text aims to tell the reader about Jesus. I have found them hollow and severely lacking, although I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. After some time to reflect, and life as we know it, I think my trouble is this: each of these books devoted almost the entirety of its pages to telling the facts of Jesus, then at the end, an emphatic, "How can you not believe?"

We have put a lot of emphasis on telling the story of Jesus. We are pretty good at laying down the facts. But is that really convincing? "God created the world. The world turned against Him. He knit together this marvelous master plan by which He redeems the world, so at just the right time, a Man was born of a virgin, and He was God's Son, and He lived and then died. Three days later, He rose from the grave." Isn't your life changed?

Of course not. When we tell the story of Jesus through the facts, we lead a man to believe in the Son of God the same way he believes in Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler. He may believe in history, but it doesn't change his future. Caesar...does not affect a man's daily life. Alexander? Nope. Hitler? Not even him. Santa Claus doesn't change the way I live...any more. Just believing that someone existed doesn't change a life. There has to be something more.

To figure out what that is, I had to take a hard look at my own life. I am a woman who needs to make some changes, who is making changes, and who has made changes. Jesus has certainly changed my life, and He continues to do so every day, but there is still a part of me that some days simply believes in Him as a historical figure, and I feel disconnected. It's not enough to say Jesus lived. It's not enough, even, to say He lives. 

For me, I think it's a matter of that He loves.

Every single significant and/or lasting change I have made in my life has come because someone, sometimes God Himself, held up a mirror of Jesus in which I could see my imperfect flesh reflected, and I have been inspired to be more. I have dared to be more. I have hoped, and then believed, that there was more for me. In Him. It is the image of Christ staring back at me that moves me.

It's actually a very delicate process and a subtle shift takes place. You begin by looking in the mirror and seeing yourself reflected in Christ. You see what perfect flesh looks like, and it inspires you to be a better man. Through the very image you were created in, you see what you were created to be and you can't help but go after it. Christ is the image for all of us in this sense. He was given to us as an example, and it is by looking at Him that we see our own measure. We find the places we can grow.

At some point, however, the subtle shift happens and what we start looking for is no longer ourselves reflected in Christ, but Christ reflected in us. We look for the ways in which our love, our compassion, our service, our words, our deeds, our faith, our flesh are the presence of God in our world. We long to look in the mirror and see Him in us because that means that maybe someone else can, too. 

This is what really changes a man's life - to see himself in Christ, and to see Christ in himself. This is the kind of intimate relationship that has to manifest for Christ to mean anything. You can't get that through a historical narrative; you can only get that through the mirror of the Man of God. You can only get that when you dare to look into Him. When you understand who He is - not as a portrait, but as a presence.

We spend so much of our time trying to get people to understand the historical Jesus. Maybe that's just the easiest way we know to tell the story. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. But the facts have never changed a single life. The facts have never healed a single heart. The facts have never inspired a man to be more than he thinks he is. It's always the personal touch that makes the difference.

It sounds hard to do. How can you be responsible for bringing another man to the mirror? The cool thing is: you're not. You're not responsible for that. The cool thing is that all you really have to come to the mirror yourself. Come, discover who you are reflected in Christ. Contemplate your measure. Make changes. Grow. Slowly, but surely, over time, you will come to find that Christ is reflected in you. 

And when Christ is reflected in you, you bring another man to the mirror. He wants to see what you have seen, and then - and only then - you may show him. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Called By Name

We spend a lot of our time talking about the men and women of the Bible, admiring how they "knew God." As if this knowledge of God was enough to drive them to Him for a little bit of saving grace. 

Sometimes, that's true. Other times? It's God drawing us to Him.

Think about the story of Noah. We love to talk about the story of Noah, particularly in a time like this when this character is splashed across the big screen in a controversial movie. We talk about what it took for Noah to build the ark. The measure of faith he must have had to do what God asked him to do before it even started raining. We talk about his faithfulness to build the ark to exact measure, and his steadfastness to withstand the criticism of the masses. We talk about Noah in this story, and on the off-chance we talk about God, we talk about how crazy God seems. How He's always asking these big, ridiculous things that don't make any sense to anybody with a brain. We talk about how He knew what was coming even when Noah didn't, and His omniscience and incredible wisdom that He would plan for such a thing.

Do you remember how this story started? God was watching the news. The world was wholly wicked. Terrible, evil things were happening everywhere, every day. Committed by everybody. God was fed up with all of Creation and determined to destroy it all and start from scratch. He was willing to wipe out generations of the work of His hands because the world seemed too far gone. Then, God remembered Noah.

In order to remember him, God first had to know Noah. We always talk about Noah knowing God, but the cool thing about this story is that God knew Noah.

We're generations into humanity. There are already more men on this earth than I care to stand around and count stars in the sky. The overwhelming story of Creation is: this is a disaster. This is a failure. There is not one saving headline in all the story. God's big picture is taking over His mind. And then, in one simple, quiet moment....God remembers Noah. He remembers, out of all men, one man. One righteous man. Who is still doing things right. Who is holding on. Who is staying true. He remembers one grain of sand, one star in the sky, and it stops Him dead in His tracks. 

Not all hope is lost. There is Noah.

It's easy at this point to get sucked back into Noah's story, but don't; stay with God's viewpoint for awhile. Look through God's eyes. Feel with His hands. Understand with His heart what's going on here: He knows every single man and woman (and monkey and leaf and amoeba) in His universe by name. Individually. Intimately enough that in the midst of all the chaos, in the throes of disappointment, in a critical moment when God is trying to figure out what He's going to do, He can remember one man out of many. One name out of countless names. One quiet Noah amidst all the noise. And God calls out to Him.

God uses that man who He knows so well.

Doesn't that just make your heart jump? Forget what you know about yourself. Forget the things you're afraid that God knows about you. He does know that stuff, but that's not what He's focused on. He's looking beyond your fallen nature into your righteous man, and He's already thinking about where He can use you.

God's got big plans. He has big decisions to make. This is chaos. This is the critical moment. He knows every man intimately enough to know when it's the moment for that man, and He knows him so personally as to call him by name. What does it mean, then, when God calls you by name?

It means He's got something big going on. It means things are about to change. It means this is your chance to get in on the story. Not just because you're here, but because you are you. Because you are uniquely you and this is your moment. It means God's looking around through all the chaos, and it is you who catch His eye. Out of countless many, He knows who the one is. It is you. 

Isn't that powerful? 

I spend a lot of my life trying to know God better. You probably have done the same. That's generally what we focus on because we feel like it's the part of the relationship we can control. But all of that devotion, all of that prayer, all of that discipline and faithfulness and...whatever you want to call it, is usually at the cost of remembering that God knows me. God knows you. He calls each one of us by name when it's our turn to step big into His story. We often think He does that because we're willing. Or because we're available. Or because He threw a dart and our tent took the bullet.

He calls us because He knows us. Intimately.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day in the Heart

Have you ever thought about all you put your heart through on any given day? I thought about this on a recent day that was shaping up to be just one of those long days.

It started at five in the morning when I put my heart on the line. I did something I don't normally do and let my heart want something. Painfully so. And I took the hard step of swallowing my pride, swallowing my quiet side, and shooting a correspondence asking for help in getting it. Not knowing if the person I asked would say yes, would say no, would understand what this meant to be, would be able even to help. But I let myself want something, and want it out loud, and in doing so, I had to put my heart on the line and go after it.

A couple of hours later, I put my heart in my hands and tackled some car repair work. Now, you might not think this has anything at all to do with my heart, but you'd be wrong. For me, something like this is daring to be a strong woman. It's daring to try. It's taking a risk. My heart is fully engaged when my hands are, no matter what I'm doing (if I'm doing it right). Yes, I was working on something mechanical but in the couple hours that this work took, I was also thinking about what it means to be strong. What it means to be capable. What it means to be both willing and able. This was no light work.

And then, of course, I put my heart in my network. I hate to use such a word, but there's not really a better one. I spent some time reflecting on the people who have come beside me to make me possible. To make my life possible. To make my growth possible. Working on my car, I was up at my uncle's house. He's a mechanic in the National Guard and volunteered his time to help me make sure we were doing this right. Sometimes, it's really weird to me that I'm the kind of person that other people help. There's probably a story behind that. But after a morning like that morning, I was thinking about all of those people who have helped me in one way or another. And connecting my heart to my network. You might say, to my community.

Only moments later, I was stuck in the midst of weekly grocery shopping. Not a heart exercise? Think again. It's a constant battle for me between the money I don't have and the refrigerator I'd like to fill. I budget extensively, but the grocery for me always becomes the tension between the budget and the belly. Between getting what I can afford and knowing there are the smallest of ways to go above and beyond and love my family. Yes, this item is on my list. No, this one is not, but it might be worth the smile anyway. And oh, yeah, that thing broke yesterday and I hadn't worked it in but we can't really wait. The grocery is a place where I work on releasing my heart from my own legalism and allow for grace and graciousness. It tends to work out.

A little bit of downtime during which the last song on K-Love was playing on repeat in my head, and then it was off to a birthday party! My beloved nephew turned 3 this week, and we celebrated family-style. If you have family, any family at all, you know what a heart experience this can be. Loving people. Enveloping stories. Developing stories. Sharing space and time and making memories. Trying, as best you can, to get out of all that heart stuff and head stuff and life stuff so you can just love people, which is an exercise of the heart. Choosing to be present to the moment.

The party ran later than it usually does for me, so after a long day of socializing and investment of the heart, I was finally home to relax for a little. And you know? I found that I was thankful for the day but also empty. Exhausted. Needing....something, but what? And you know? The answer was food for the heart. I needed some worship. Some music. Some quiet space. (Yes, quiet space can include music.) It became about recharging and reconnecting. I woke up almost laughing about the gymnastics I would put my heart through on that given day, and this is a true story. This is a real day that I recently lived, with all the "little" stuff weeded out. Little stuff like baking a gift for my secret sister at church - another exercise of love, and therefore, the heart. Little stuff like my morning devotional time - an early engagement of the heart. Little stuff like taking the new puppy for a walk. And a run. And another walk. (She's part-Husky, ok? I guess I'm an exerciser now!) All the little stuff I have to be present to in any given day. 

And I ended that day not thinking about what I'd put my heart through, but feeling it. Feeling the ache of a heart trying to adjust. Feeling the stinging emptiness of a hunger to be filled back up. 

As it should be, of course. We are only filled up to be poured out to be filled once again. I firmly believe that. I just, for some reason, have never really thought about it until a day like this one. And then I was keenly aware.

This isn't just my life. This is yours, too. It's why God made our hearts so strong, even when on a day like today, they feel so fragile. It's a tender strength. It's beautiful.

Have you thought about what your heart goes through on any given day? Have you thought about what you put it through?