Monday, June 30, 2014


On Friday, I presented a model of thinking about discipleship whereby Jesus is a series of doors you walk through, and I think we all understand this idea. After all, every opportunity is an "open door."

The problem with most of those doors is that they lock behind you. That's what makes this journey called "life" so difficult sometimes.

We know it better as regret. It's all those decisions you wish you never would have made, all those moments you wish you could take back. People you've hurt. Wrong turns you've made. Moments when you've followed your flesh instead of your heart.

I've got to tell you - there are moments in my life I wish I could go back and choose something different. But every time I try, those doors are locked from the place I stepped through them. There are ways, painful ways, to push your way through but that's not really the way to go about it. That's just violence. It's loud. It's forceful. And the last way you want to go back into a broken moment is like a gale force wind. You're just going to break it more.

Yet it's agony, because at some point, you start to step through the door of Christ and realize all the mistakes you made and it eats at your heart. There are people you want to apologize to. Friends you want to make. Relationships you long to restore. There are jobs you wish you'd taken and some you wish you hadn't. There are moves you made that you shouldn't have, and some you didn't but probably should. There are all of these seemingly tiny things that have led you to a place where you don't want to be, and if you only knew then what you know now...

But those doors are closed. Locked. Dead-bolted. And cemented over. 

There is a way, though. A slow, deliberate, agonizing way. And that way is this: take another step forward. 

In this moment, choose to walk through the door of Christ amid all these doors. Then walk through the door of Christ again. And again. Until you find yourself choosing Christ again and again without so much thinking. No, He doesn't take you back to your broken moments; it still doesn't work that way. But He brings you to healing ones. He brings you to an opportunity to choose differently. 

He brings you to a place where reconciliation is one step away, where all you have to do is choose humility and step into the broken relationship in a new way. He brings you to a place where you get to decide if what you're doing is what you should be doing or if you're called to something more. He brings you to a place where, if you so choose, you can step away from what you stepped into and start walking toward something else. He brings you to a place where there is grace, and there is forgiveness, and all you have to do is choose it.

You don't have to choose it. It's not an easy choice. It doesn't look like it's the same choice you once had, and it's not. This time, it takes humility. It takes stepping down from what you now know and admitting that you didn't know it when you needed to. It takes apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. It takes forgiving. It takes letting your broken moment break you all over again so that you can have this one. It's not everything you'd ever hoped it would be. 

It is more.

The doors of this world will lock behind you, every time you step through them. So many of us spend our time beating down the backsides of the doors, trying to go back, trying to take it back, longing for a way to make a different choice. It doesn't work that way; you can't go back. This world will not let you go back. But you can make a different choice.

You can choose today Jesus. And then choose Him again. And yet one more time. And again and again until unexpectedly, He brings you around to a place where you can find healing for that broken place.

And then choose healing.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Narrow Road

Jesus warned His disciples that the path of righteousness is a narrow road. This is true. And as we journey further down that road, it only get narrower.

We all have kind of a mental image of what this looks like. We think the narrow road starts narrow, so narrow that it may perhaps even be hard to find in a world such as ours, and it leads us through tighter and tighter spaces toward righteousness until it's barely wide enough that we even fit on it at all. We have to walk with clothes-lined feet, heel-to-toe, to even stay on the path.

That's one way to look at it.

But the other night, I was having a conception of this that changed the way I think about the narrow road and what it means to walk down it.

When you start your journey with Christ, He is but one path you could choose for your life. There are many doors in front of you, all of them with their own pros and cons. You choose to head toward Christ, and that is one choice. One narrow choice in a broad world of options. 

At the next juncture, there are still many doors but you can rule a few out right away. They don't mesh with the decision you just made. And so although it looks like you have just as many options, you already know in your heart that you don't. Of all the things you could choose, there are some you simply can't. And of the things you still can, it's a little bit easier to choose Christ again.

Which brings you to yet another set of doors, another series of options. This time, you can rule out even more right away. You've just taken two bold, definitive steps in God's direction and these doors would clearly be serious detours. You still have some good options in front of you, but not as many as there would seem and so once again, it's a little bit easier to choose Christ this time.

Which leads you to yet another set of doors....and you get the picture. There is always a broad way and a narrow way, always just as many options as before, but the further you travel down the narrow road, the more quickly you recognize that what looks like an option really isn't. What looks like a good choice is not the best choice. As time goes by and you continue walking the narrow road, the road grows narrower because there aren't as many actual options, only temptations, until you reach the point where there is only one viable choice: that of Christ. You walk into a room full of doors and know instantly which one is His and without hesitation, step through it.

The narrow road grows narrower until you develop tunnel-vision and begin to see only Christ. 

This is called discipleship.

This is what it means to grow in Christ, and it doesn't take some feat of balance or some tight-rope, heel-to-toe walking. It just means faithfully choosing Christ time and time and time again until He becomes the only real option in front of you. Until choosing Christ is no choice at all. Until Christ becomes just the logical, natural, instinctual thing that you do.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Work of His Hands

While we're in the Creation story, let's stay there for a few extra minutes. Do you understand what a tender gift your creation is?

God has both the power and authority to speak things into existence. We have seen Him do this, for example, through His Son, who must only speak a healing word to make healing present in the people. We have seen Him bring water out of a rock by the mere touch of a stick. We have seen Him part seas with an invisible hand. God never had to lay a finger on this earth to make it just as it is.

Yet you are the work of His hands.

You could exist as the mere divine thought of God. You could be nothing more than a whisper into the empty spaces. But you're not. When God decided to make you, He put His hands in the dirt and began forming, making each one of your minute characteristics with His own hands. Working delicately on your intimate places. Carving the features of both your soul and your spirit. Judging for Himself the size of your dimples.

He got His hands dirty and like any good artist, He got lost in the work. He began with living water, to hold one piece of you to another, for you to start to take form. But as time went on and the sun rose, sweat started to tickle His hands. It started dripping down His face. Little cracks of blood started to show on His knuckles, drops of red from the little nicks any artist gets from His tools now or then. All of a sudden, you're more than mud and water; you're blood and sweat. God's blood and sweat.

And when He finally sees you just as He always imagined, a gentle tear falls down His cheek. A happy tear, for you are just what He wanted. A sad tear because He knows you will not stay this way. And that tear, too, mixes into your mold. Now, you are mud and water, blood and sweat, and both God's joy and sadness. You are almost complete.

He takes one step back to make sure you're just right, then leans forward with the breath of life itself and breathes into your lungs. His hand is there as your heart starts beating, and time is ticking. He has only the time until your heart stops to win you back from the world He's about to set you into. He has only so many beats to convince you of His love. He wonders...if it will be enough.

Then He stands. As He sets you free to live and to laugh and to love, to question and to wonder and to grow, He dusts off His hands and little remnants of you fall to the ground. All of a sudden, there are little pieces of you already in this world, little echoes of this beautiful creation story that connect you back to your Creator without your even being aware.

It's why you love sunsets. Or could watch the clouds for hours. It's why the butterfly calls out to you or the bird sings your song. It's why you walk outside in a thunderstorm and dance in the rain. It's why you pick a yellow tulip or a red geranium or an orange lily. Because there are little pieces of you-dust in this universe, and you're drawn to them. Inexplicably. 

Yet by perfect design.

It's always cool to see the power in the Word and the thought of God. The way He can turn the world on just a whisper. But are more than a grand idea. You are the very handiwork of God.

You must be pretty special.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In His Image

Yesterday, I argued that God doesn't have to love you. It's the nature of love, after all, that it must be chosen. One of the arguments we have to look at in that context is that man, created in God's image, has no obligation to love and so God, the perfected image, must also have no obligation to love.

It was an unnecessary argument when I made it (the nature of love covers the entire point I was trying to make), but now that I've made the mess, let's clean it up a bit. Ok?

God has within Him every characteristic of you. Or the answer to it. It's difficult to think this way because we want to think God is wholly above us (and holy above us). He is; we'll get there. But we start to see some of our unsettled nature in God very early in Genesis when, as I cited yesterday, He regrets ever making man at all and then regrets destroying him. God has the capacity for regret. What else does He have the capacity for?

Everything that you and I do. But before we get the thought in our pretty little head that if we were just a little bit better, if we made just a few different choices, if we really put our minds to it, we could be just like God, let's look at what we've just agreed on: God has within Him every characteristic of you.

You do not, however, have every characteristic of Him.

That doesn't sound like Genesis, where God says we are created in His image. If we are created in His image, and He has all the characteristics we do, then shouldn't we naturally have all of His? Obviously not.

Here's how we know: when God created man, there were at least two key things that God had that man did not: wisdom (knowledge of good and evil) and life. We know that man did not have these things because God was overly protective of the fruit that contained them. That's what got us into this whole fallen mess in the first place.

You and I, we were created with the capacity for wisdom and life but we were not simply given it. There's reason for that. For example, if you have forever but also know everything, how on earth are you going to pass the time? What are you going to do with yourself? Or your God, for that matter?

The gaping emptiness of the capacity for, but not the possession of, wisdom means you spend your time trying to figure things out. Asking questions. Seeking answers. Uncovering truth. Coming to God to talk about the issues, to discuss things.

And without eternity promised, you inevitably find yourself with questions about time, too. God is a great place to search for answers.

You see, God created you enough like Him that you'd know He was the place to turn to with your questions, but He also created a system in which you'd have to keep turning to Him because you simply didn't know it all. You couldn't. You can't.

We're tempted to think that since we are created in God's image, we're never more than a few good decisions away from being gods ourselves. That it's just a matter of discipline and discernment. But that's not the case. There are some things of God that He has not put in you, but has put in the world around you so that you have to discover them, have to keep searching, have to keep seeking. That verse in Matthew doesn't just sound good; it's truth. "" God's created the world so that you have to.

And all of these things you want to know, all of these things you want to do, all of these things you want to can't unless God gives them to you. are for God to give. You have to keep going after them, keep coming to the place where God can start to unfold them before your eyes. He has to reach out His hand in order to fill your empty ones. He's created it that way.

Which is, I guess, what happens when God has the wisdom to know how that will all work out and an eternity to watch it unfold.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


God doesn't have to love you, you know.

That's probably the opposite of everything you've heard from every pulpit you've ever listened to. You've probably heard something more like, "God loves you. He has to. Because God is love and He can't not." It's a tremendous comfort to a sinful people, that God continues to love us despite our brokenness. But it's not because He has to.

There are a couple of supporting arguments for this. The weaker of the two is from the Creation story, which tells us that God created man in His image. Which means that if man can choose not to love, then God can choose not to love. Where else could man have come upon this choice? The serpent did not contort the very creation of man; the ability to choose against God, to choose against love, was inside man from the beginning, from the first breath of God into his lungs. 

And while it's true that this is a valid argument and that God can do anything man can do, including doubt, question, regret, lie, and choose against love (among many others), and that we have seen God do such things (He regretted making creation at all, then He regretted destroying it, for example), it's dangerous to start thinking that our inherent weaknesses are just as possible for God. This means that God is just a better version of ourselves and, in theory, if we could just become better men, we could become gods.

We kind of already think this, don't we? 

But that's not my argument at all. God is not simply a better version of you and me; He is the perfection of you and me. And we have no hope, without Him, of ever being perfect so we might as well give up our god complexes and accept that even if it seems just a step away to be equal with Him, our stride is never that big. We can't get there. My point in raising this at all is simply this: if man is made in God's image and man can choose not to love, then God, who is the image perfected, must also be able to choose against love.

Which leads straight into the stronger of the two arguments and one that could really stand on its own: God has to be able to choose against love or He doesn't really love you at all.

We use a version of this argument ourselves, particularly when we're trying to figure out things like good and evil, righteous and wicked, yes and no. Why doesn't God just make it so we have to love Him? Why does He allow people to go against His will and against what He wants, what He plans? And we always come back to this: if we had to obey Him, we wouldn't love Him. If we were forced to love Him, it would be simple duty and not true love. 

The same is true from God's side.

If in fact the words we use to comfort our sinful selves are correct and God has to love us, then God in fact does not love us at all. We are not His children; we are His duty. We are not His joy; we are His burden. He has no conceptualization of us in His heart. He can't. He can only consider what He must do as a manifestation of His "love," without considering why. The why is irrelevant now. 

Do you get all warm and fuzzy being God's obedience? Does it make you tingle inside to be His duty?

God doesn't feel so loving when it's not really love, huh?

But if God loves you, and I promise you He does, it's because every moment, He chooses to love you. Again and again and again, He chooses love. Over and over and over, every day, every hour, every second, every breath, God chooses all over again to love you.

This is the love we've come to know, and to expect, from Him. It's the kind of love that paints the colors of the sunset just for you, just to see you smile. A love that shows up unexpectedly with your favorite things, just to remind you how special you are. A love that kind of melts into the quiet times yet remains poised to stand firm when trials come. A love that takes into account the kind of day you've been having. A love that just wants to hear you giggle, watch you laugh, hold you close. A love that expects nothing in return because it can't. It can't expect anything because it knows that love is not an obligation. It can't be.

Yes, it's the love we've come to know, and to expect, from God. But let's not forget He doesn't have to love us. He doesn't have to love you.

He chooses to. 

That's what makes it love.

Monday, June 23, 2014


We need to know what question we're asking in our search for affirmation so that we don't leave it up to this world to wholly answer it. But, and this may ruffle a few feathers, neither can God wholly answer our insecurities.

God can answer the deepest questions of your heart, and He often does when you dare ask Him. He can speak meaning and purpose and passion into your life in ways that men cannot, no matter how much stock you put in man. A man can tell you how well you perform, but only God can tell you how good you are. A man can tell you how strong you seem, but only God can show you how to stand firm. 

Wait - am I refuting my own point? Didn't I just say that God cannot wholly answer our insecurities, then launch into a whole paragraph about how He does just that?

Kinda. But I'm not finished yet.

You see, it's kind of a strange thing. The more we connect to God, the more we rely on God to be the answer to all of our questions, the more we beg God to speak into our emptiness and affirm our growing character, the more likely we are to withdraw from community. The more likely we are to conclude that we don't need other men, but rather, that we are God's gift to them. (Literally. With God's voice the only one speaking into our gifts, we start to think we are His gift.) We don't need people any more because we have God, and generally this leads us to either use people or abuse them, if not outright dismiss them entirely.

All of a sudden, we realize we're not having the impact we could or should be having. We're not connected like we ought to be. Our life, though full of purpose, is void of meaning. And we start to wonder what good it does for a man to listen to God at all.

That changes when we have men who are willing to speak into our lives. When we have voices around us that we're listening to. They don't answer our questions, but they affirm what we already know. They tell us where they see God in us. They open our eyes to see what He's doing through us. They confirm that what we're doing matters, and even better, they normalize it. It's the perfectly natural thing that we ought to be doing, and when someone else sees that, it changes the way you do it.

Because no longer are you fighting against the world, trying to prove what God has spoken to you. Now, you're just doing it and the world sees it and it's okay and more than okay, it's wonderfully perfect for you to be doing and you're doing a great job of it. Now, life has meaning.

No longer are you God's gift to man, but you gift your personhood back to God. You give yourself to Him, and He gives you back to yourself to do the very things He's designed for you in this world. It's beautiful that way.

It's a delicate balance, a hard one to strike. We all have questions, doubts, fears...insecurities. It's tempting to let any voice speak into our lives just to have an answer to the gnawing. But the way to truly do it is simply this:

Take your questions to God. Let Him speak life into you. Let Him tell you who you are and what you're doing and whether it's good. Let God answer.

But then, be humble enough and gracious enough to bare your answered heart to men. To live out loud and show them what you're doing. And let them speak to the God in your life. Let them affirm what holy thing you're doing. 

I know, I know. The "righteous"-sounding thing is to say we don't need the approval of men. No, we don't. But we certainly need the affirmation of them. It's wired into us to have community, and it's by this measure of community - when men affirm the work of God in our lives - that we're driven back to both our community and our God. 

With God alone, it is far too easy for our twisted minds to forsake man. Look around you; you can see this happening every day. But when a man looks into your heart and says, "I see God," it's hard to forsake either. You want to give God to man...and you want to bring man to God. And the best way to keep this balance in mind is to let both speak.

So long as you remember Who speaks first. 

Friday, June 20, 2014


One of the things we all look for in life, perhaps even more than truth, is affirmation. We're all looking for that thing that tells us we're on the right track, that we're doing something good, that goodness is even possible. Whatever it is, we want that affirmation. It just makes it feel like someone's standing behind us.

But the kind of affirmation you seek reveals something deeper about you. It bares your insecurities and the questions you can't seem to get away from.

Take, for example, the man who seeks affirmation in terms of awards or promotions. Recognitions. He want to be Employee of the Month. He wants the corner office. He wants the Distinguished Service Award. If there's an award for Most Consistent Hand-Washing in the men's room, you can bet he's going to make a show of winning it. 


Because recognition is the greatest need in his heart. Like most things, he can come at this from two sides. Either he is the kind of man who never believed much of himself and doesn't think he can accomplish anything, so the recognition and the award responds to his low self-esteem. Or he's the kind of man who has always accomplished and thus, his entire self-image is based on what he does. People have always praised him for the things he does, and if he's not receiving the praise, he wonders if he's doing anything at all.

Or consider the woman who sees affirmation in numbers. It's in the people she can get to stand behind her, whether it's financially or socially or in some other way. She's always looking for people to invest in her latest idea, to come to her newest party, to join her club or her ministry. 


Because people are her greatest need. Again, there are two sides to this. Either she's a woman who cannot escape her loneliness, which leads to feelings of worthlessness, and drawing people onto her team reminds her that she's not alone. Or she's a woman who has never had to be alone and is scared of what she might find, so a successful life is one that is always surrounded by others. 

Even people who think they're "above" needing affirmation...are asking for it. They're asking for others to affirm their aloofness, to affirm their detachment, to confirm their simple existence and nothing more. They're asking not to be judged at all. These people shy away from any possible encouragement because either they constantly wonder if they could ever do anything right or they find it paralyzing to think they could do something wrong. They let affirmation roll off their backs only so they can let criticism do the same.

For me, my hang-up is permission. I always feel like I need to have permission to do what I'm doing, or some days, to even exist. So my favorite affirmation is the honest nod. A small, quiet assenting to what I'm doing or what I'm saying. A tiny gesture that says, "Yes, you're right" or more importantly, "Yes, you can." Now, it could be that I have an insatiable need to do things correctly and agreeably. Or it could be that I'm too adventurous for my own good and need others to draw my bounds. Or it could be something else entirely that I choose not to disclose.

The point is, what means the most to you in affirmation is always an answer to a question you're probably afraid to ask. So you let your work do the asking, and the affirmation is the answer.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. It is the way we're wired; most of us do this without a second thought. But there are some things we need to understand.

First, we have to know we're asking questions. And we have to be honest enough with ourselves to figure out what we're asking. And why. 

Second, we have to understand that the way this world speaks often has nothing at all to do with us. Most of the time, the people around us don't know they're answering our questions. They don't know we're asking. So if you don't get the Most Consistent Hand-Washing Award, it may not be because you don't consistently wash your hands; it may be because they were trying to get Joe to start washing his hands, and he did, so he wins. If people don't rally around your idea, it doesn't mean you or your idea aren't worthy; it means it's not their type of idea. If someone pushes you to do more than simply be, and you find out you are, in fact, good or bad at something, they're not making a judgment about you; they're making an investment in you. And if you speak and no one nods, it doesn't mean you haven't said something honest and poignant; it means you are obviously far intellectually superior and spiritually deep to them and they just didn't understand you.

Okay, no. It means you're just not sharing the same moment. 

And that's okay. It's fine for people to be in two different places on any given issue, for things to happen differently than we would like them to. It's even okay for affirmation to fall silent and refuse to answer our questions. It only makes us more aware of our asking.

And when we know what we're asking, we get ever closer to knowing Who to ask. Awards, accolades, support, investment, and all affirmation aside, we ought to be bold enough to just ask our questions and let God speak into them. 

Because when God says it's okay, when He says you're okay...well, that's the biggest affirmation of all.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Is your life pretty good? 

For many of us, the answer depends. Are there starving children in Africa? Then yes. Yes, my life must be pretty good.

Starving children in Africa are the very reasons most of us have settled and we haven't even realized it. Because every time things get hard, every time we long for more, every time we ache for things to be different, there is usually someone who, well-intentioned, reminds us there are starving children in Africa and well, things don't seem so bad after all.

Except they still are.

The flaw in the starving children of Africa theory is that the knowledge of the presence of worse transforms bad into good. It makes brokenness seem whole. It makes hard times seem easy. 

But times are still hard.

We live our lives by comparison, and this sets up a false measure. I am blessed if my life is more bountiful than yours. I am at peace if I have less turmoil than yours. I can do anything with one open door if you don't even have a window cracked right now. The measure of my life becomes a measure against yours, which means we are frequently pushing our very real feelings aside, refusing to validate any pain we may feel, refusing to ask questions because our ache doesn't measure up to the pain someone else must certainly be feeling.

There are people in this world who will even compare brokenness, and if they find that their brokenness isn't the worst in the world, they don't feel validated to feel broken at all. Have you heard some of this? I have heard women say, "Well, I was only raped by a stranger. There are people out there who had to live with an abuser for a lot of years." Women who say, "My husband has a bit of a sharp tongue, but there are wives out there whose husbands beat them, so I'm really pretty lucky." My life has given me the privilege of talking with (mostly) women whose lives are broken by some measure or another and it astonishes me how many women will instantly stop talking when someone else's brokenness seems so much greater than their own.

Let's take this out of the human realm for a minute. Let's say the belt breaks on your car and you're stranded on the side of the highway. You're ready to hike it to the nearest pit stop when along your way, you find another motorist whose tire has totally blown out, and he doesn't have a spare. Do you feel...less stranded? More stranded? What if his transmission's partially dropped out and his car won't even start? Are you suddenly better off because his situation is less fixable? You're still stranded.

What if you're diagnosed with terminal cancer? Pancreatic, let's say. And while you're in the hospital trying a chemo that doesn't seem like it will work, you meet another terminal cancer patient with, say, a brain tumor that is destroying her personality, her memory, her ability to relate to her world. Are you less terminal now? Does your situation seem less bleak? You're both going to die.

Listen, I get it. It's supposed to be gratefulness. It's supposed to be thankfulness. It's that old idea we have that we should be thankful for all we've got and count our blessings and blah blah blah. But the standard for whether you're blessed or not, the measure by which you count your life, is not what's happening to your friend, your neighbor, the guy across town, or starving children in Africa. The measure by which you count your life is God's created intent for you. If your life falls short of everything God had for it, your life is broken. It's not more or less broken because someone else has trouble. It's not more or less broken because it seems to be a little thing or a bigger thing.

We can't let starving children in Africa be a comfort to our lives. Do you know how perverse that is? Is your life really better because children are dying without enough to eat? OF COURSE NOT.

Your life is broken when it falls short of all that God desires it to be, whether that's because of sin or failure or doubt or fear or.... Your heart is broken when it can't bear the weight of what this world does to you, whether it's the weight of a feather or the weight of a stone. And we're only going to begin to understand brokenness when we see it for what it is. We're only going to start healing our wounds when we stop holding them up to the atrocities around us and instead, confess plainly the agony inside us. 

It's okay to be hurt. It's okay to be broken. This world is a broken place; you probably know that by now. You have no more, and no less, of a right to be broken than anyone else, whether it's a little thing or a big thing. We have to stop worrying where our hurt measures up and start taking every bit of it back to the God who longs for a world without hurt at all. A God who can heal, and not simply soothe, the ache. Only then will we begin to touch the hurt. Ours, our friends', our neighbors' and the starving children's in Africa. 

I don't know what's causing you pain. I'm betting it's something. I don't know what's broken in your life, but I'm sure there are a few things. You know what? It's okay. It's a place where your life doesn't measure up to all that God wants to do with it. That sucks. That hurts. Take it for what it is. And take it to God. Invite His healing into your wounded place. Pour out your heart. Let yourself ache for the fullness of all He intended for you, and don't feel guilty about it. Your life is not a comparison to the brokenness around you.

It's measured against all it was ever meant to be.

And whatever your life is today in this fallen world, it's probably not that. It's probably not all it was ever meant to be. That's the nature of brokenness.

Starving children in Africa or no starving children in Africa.

*Please do not neglect or forget the starving children in Africa. There are many wonderful organizations that make it easy to provide aid for these kids, including medical treatment, education, and yes, food. 

There are also many wonderful organizations that can help you begin to address the brokenness in your own life. If you need help finding a good one, shoot me an email or find me on social media or comment below. Talk to your pastor. Start asking. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shame On Me

Have you ever really thought about the Cross?

Not as a distant Jesus-on-a-hill. Not from afar, looking at the shadow play against the rising sun. Not at the hub-bub happening on the ground, the thieves arguing in the background.

For a minute, just pause with me and imagine you're standing there. Not a hundred feet away. Not forty feet away. Maybe just four feet away. And look at this Jesus.

Look at His broken, bleeding body. Not just the blood streaming down His face. Not just the drops coming from the crown of thorns. Not only the oozing wounds in His hands and His feet, but the open flesh on his abs. The gashes in His chest. The lashes across His arms and legs. 

Look at His matted hair. When they took Him, He was sweating in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and no prisoner needs to bathe before His execution. His last agony is still marked in that matted hair. 

The dirt of the road is plastered on His flesh, held there by sweat and the heat of the day. Dust from the road, when He stumbled under the weight of the Cross.

Look at His nakedness. Stripped of all but the shreds of human dignity. Exposed except for His most intimate of places, covered only by a scant cloth that despite its attempts, leaves not a lot to be unknown. 

Look at the tears on His face. You think He hasn't cried? That He isn't crying now? I don't know why it is that we think of Jesus going stoically to the Cross, His sarcasm masking His pain entirely. He's snarky there, a bit of His spirit hanging on until the very end. Being always who we know Jesus to be. But that doesn't mean He's not also crying. After all, here is a place of perfect shame. He's broken and beaten and bloody. He's fully exposed. Even the least self-conscious of men would struggle at being such a display. There is nothing about the man of Jesus you can't seem to know by looking, truly looking at Him on the Cross.

And yet, look at His watery eyes. There are two thieves among Him. One thief is looking at the other thief, his eyes fixed on the condemned. The other is looking at the Lord, his eyes straining for hope. And Jesus? He's looking straight at you. Straight. At. You. 

While the other criminals are so bound by shame that they cannot dare to look at the people, Jesus cannot stop. In this most degrading, most humiliating, most shameful display of His manhood, Jesus refuses to let the Cross speak for Him. Exposed, yet defiant, Jesus declares that even in this moment, He speaks.

He speaks lest you believe that shame is truth. He speaks lest you conclude that this is the end. He speaks to remind you both of His presence and His promise. He is here; you can hear His voice. And that voice reminds you of a place called Paradise, which He promised to the thief with a quick glance to His side, then turned back to you so you could see what that Promise looks like in His eyes.

Some of us...are better at being exposed than others. Some of us live open in our brokenness, in our failings. Others can't fathom such a thing. But know this: anyone who has ever spoken Truth into your life, God's Truth, has done so in the face of their shame. They have done so in defiance to their brokenness. 

This is true of preachers. Of pastors. Of counselors. Of authors. Of singers. Of speakers. Anyone who dares speak the truth of God makes a conscious choice in the face of shame to not turn away. Anyone who speaks truth chooses, exposed, to look you in the eye, knowing that if you are truly looking back, you can't help but see their nakedness. Their brokenness.

Some are incredibly good at hiding this. They can get you looking in their eyes so intently that you forget that the rest of them is broken, bleeding, and naked. Some of them, their shame is the first thing you see but it lends a certain tenderness to their eyes when you finally lock glances. Some of them...will remind you to look, will invite you to take it all in, will ask you to see the full measure of their shame so that you can understand the power of this moment. So you can understand what you're about to hear.

And what you hear is Truth. Because when we choose, as preachers, as pastors, as counselors, as authors, as singers, as friends, as neighbors, as look you in the eye amid our deepest shame, what we're saying is, "Listen. Because this doesn't speak for me; I am about to speak truth."

I am about to speak so that you don't think that shame is all there is. I am about to speak so that you don't think that brokenness writes our stories. I am about to speak to remind you that we're all present to the same big mess, and that bloody, naked flesh aside, I am right here with you choosing to speak. And I want to speak about Promise, because Paradise is coming and I can see it. I want you to see it, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lord Have Mercy

You know what the problem is with mercy?


There's a difference between the two, of course. Mercy is when a man does not get what he deserves; grace is when he gets what he does not deserve. One is a freedom; the other, a gift. And in our postmodern, individualistic, entitled society, grace is the buzzword of the day. We all want to live in the grace of God, receiving the blessing we do not deserve. Receiving more than we are due. Having that extra special bonus blessing of God means we can almost put up with the things we do deserve. We can take life's just consequences as long as we can hold onto the completely unexpected gift of God among us.

We've told ourselves we can live without mercy so long as we have grace. And we've bought the lie.

What's interesting is that in the Scriptures, we don't see people asking for grace. People lined the streets, hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus. Hoping to gain His ear for just a second. Longing for a healing touch. And not one of them came in the kind of prayer we're used to praying today. Not one of them came, crying out, "Lord! I just need a measure of Your grace!" Not. One.

Instead, they come pleading, "Son of David! Have mercy on me!" Don't make me live with what I deserve.

That seems a bit odd, to say the least. After all, it was in the context of one of these very encounters that Jesus responds to the question of sin and disability. A blind man comes, and the people ask, "Who sinned? This man or his parents?" Implying, of course, that blindness is deserved; it is the result of sin. And Jesus responds, "No one sinned. This is all so that God may be glorified," which means that infirmity is not necessarily deserved. Yet here are all of these men and women begging for mercy, to not have what they deserve. To not be blind, deaf, lame, bleeding, broken, diseased, possessed. 

I don't know what it is that made them believe their disease was deserved. An old understanding, perhaps, from the same Scriptures that led the crowds to ask the question at all. An intimate knowledge, maybe, of the true state of their spirits, of all the secret sins they had committed and all their broken places they couldn't seem to rise above. An echoing of the voices all around them that had convinced them this was the way things were meant to be because of x, y, or z. Regardless, they all came for one thing: mercy.

And here we are praying for grace. The trouble is you can't pray for grace and receive it. The moment you pray for grace, you have an expectation of receiving more than you merit and should you get it, that's not grace; that's a wish. God, so far as I've ever experienced Him, does not grant wishes.

Then what is grace? A quick look through the Scriptures shows that grace is something we attribute to God. Grace is who He is. That He gives us, of His own volition, beyond what we are worth. He gives us more than we could ask or imagine. He is more than we could ask or imagine. Grace is an attribute, not an action of God. 

Mercy, on the other hand, is an action of God. It's something He does. It's a way He responds to us when we come to Him asking for such a thing. He dwells in the Old Testament on the Throne of Mercy, which always has its place just above the law. The Cross is mercy. Mercy is the only thing we can ask of Him.

Because at its core, that's what redemption is. That's God's great plan of reconciliation. That we, fallen men and women, do not have to live with the consequences of our sin any more. That we do not get what we deserve. He doesn't aspire for us to suffer through our "due" in some noble attempt to sound righteous or holy. He doesn't long for us to speak of His graces while we're firmly in the grips of judgment. Grace has never set a single man free. Only mercy can do that.

And God has come that man may be free.

We spend a lot of our time praying for grace. Maybe it's because we think the words are interchangeable. Maybe it's because grace seems easier than mercy. After all, with grace, we don't have to admit our shortcomings. We don't have own our sins. We don't have to confess that we have fallen short and that this mess we're sitting in? We deserve it. We don't have to take ownership of anything with grace; we must just receive God's amazing gift.

But anyone who has been there knows that grace...doesn't change a whole lot. It doesn't get down to the root of the problem. One very good, unexpected thing that God gives you does not cure the heart of its ache. It does not release you from an ounce of bondage. Where we come out at is this haunting suspicion that grace is cheap, all because we've misconstrued the idea.

Grace isn't cheap; it's free. Mercy, on the other hand, has a cost. Mercy has a price because it is the redemption of your spirit. It is the freeing of your soul. Mercy buys you back from the things that try to own you, and the price is high. Thankfully, that price has already been paid and now, mercy is yours for the asking.

So start asking.

Ask for mercy because that's what God does.

And you may find a measure of grace. Because that's who God is.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Read Your Bible

So we've looked at how to read your Bible contextually, how to get the most of the Old Testament and the New Testament. But one of the questions people seem to have these days is, "How am I supposed to read my Bible?" How long should it take me? How much should I read every day? How am I supposed to break up the text to get the most out of it? Where do I even start?

All good, but completely unnecessary, questions. These questions are also incomplete because they leave out one key component - what are you trying to get out of your Bible?
Most of us aren't asking that latter question, though. Most of us believe reading our Bible is something we are supposed to do for God, and it doesn't occur to us that we're supposed to be doing it for ourselves. For what God's word offers us. For what we get out of reading His story. The truth is: God cares more about what you get out of His story than how many minutes His story gets out of your day. So in one sense, it's as simple as this:

Read something from your Bible every day. You might even say, read until you find something meaningful and then stop. Reflect on that for the day and pick the text back up tomorrow.

There are all kinds of Bible reading plans out there, for those who are looking for some stricter guidelines. But you have to know what you want out of the Bible before you can decide which plan is for you.

For example, there is a fad right now of reading the Bible in 90 days. The whole text - in a mere 3 months! This is useful if what you're hoping to get out of the Bible is a broad overview of God's story, an overall sense of what God has been doing all this time. But the 90-day plan simply requires too much material each day to have the space, or the time, to reflect on much of what you've read in-depth. So if you're looking for practical application, an intimate whisper, or wisdom, then this is probably not a good reading plan for you. Not for today, anyway.

(If you want to read the Bible in 90 days, one way to go about this is to divide the number of pages in your Bible by 90. For me, that would mean reading 15 pages per day for 90 days. A lot can happen in 15 pages; it would take me 15 hours just to begin to understand it all.)

On the other end of the spectrum are those who read the Bible one verse at a time, looking for the meaning and implication of every one of God's words. While I'm not saying this can't be beneficial with certain texts, there are two big problems with this method. First, there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. That means it would take more than 8 years, reading one verse per day, to read the entire Bible. You're going to lose interest. And second, not every verse really needs its own day. There are places in Scripture where one verse is...three names. Of guys you've never heard of and never will again. Of genealogies. There are places in the Bible where, reading one verse per day, it might take you a month to read one list of begats. I don't see a tremendous value in that. (There are other verses, as well, that don't need a whole day. "Saul went into the cave to relieve himself." You really want to be thinking about King Saul peeing in a cave for a whole day?) Reading like this runs the risk of developing a pattern in which the Bible is not relevant to your life. And if it's not relevant...why read at all?

You could read perhaps a chapter every day. Maybe that's a little more rational. But again, there are nearly 1200 chapters in the Bible, which puts you at just over 3 years to read the entire Bible. That's a long time to stay engaged in a story, and ample time to lose track of what's going on. It's just hard to stay connected to the Word for that long, and it makes the whole thing drag on what seems like forever.

I think a year is about the right time frame to be able to read for both context and story. It's a short enough time that you get a true sense of the story of God, but parsed out in such a way that you have time to really consider the material.

But that brings about this question: how do we break it up?

There are people who read the Bible straight through, cover-to-cover. Genesis to Revelation. There are people who say they could never read the Bible that way. Some commit to reading the Bible in the order it was written (there is evidence that Job is the oldest of all the books of the Bible). That takes a bit of beyond-the-book Bible knowledge, to understand how all these stories come together, and it's easy for some to get lost that way, not knowing what they've read or haven't read. Always having to skip around. Many people I know start with the New Testament, then work their way back to the Old. That's another way to do it. It certainly puts a new light on things.

There are tons of reading plans out there that take you through the Bible in a year, in each of these ways and many more. These are generally the big ones. Me? For the past few years, I've done the math and figured out that reading 4 pages per day on a weekday and 2 pages per day on a weekend through the Old Testament...and then reversing that (2 pages a day per weekday and 4 pages per day on a weekend) through the New Testament puts me at Genesis 1 on January 1 and Revelation 22 on December 31. I've done that for now my third year, and I'm thinking of switching up the order a bit next year but we'll see. Truth is, I always find something new to ponder in the Scriptures.

It doesn't matter how you read your Bible. It doesn't matter in what order you read your Bible. It doesn't matter how much of your Bible you read on any given day. Just read your Bible. Figure out what you're hoping to get from the text, and read it.

If you want to know how you're supposed to live, read the New Testament. If you want to know who God is, read the Old. If you want to see the prophecies fulfilled, head to the Gospels. Looking for the grand story of God? Read it in 90 days. Looking for something more? Take one of the epistles a verse at a time. Not sure where to start? Open the book and start there. Not sure where to go next? Try the next page.

It truly doesn't matter. All these questions, all these holy-sounding, disciplined questions we have about how to read are completely unnecessary. Just read. Dive into the story and discover your God. 

That's how to read your Bible.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How to Read Your Bible: Old Testament

Most of us understand that the New Testament teaches us how to live. The problem is that we carry this understanding into the Old Testament, where we fail to understand much of anything at all.

That's naturally how it goes. Because if you're reading the Old Testament trying to figure out how to live, you're going to be sorely disappointed. We lean on the Law, as we call it, as a guideline to holiness but the Law was never intended to be our instruction.

It was meant to be our reminder.

The Law, and indeed all of the Old Testament, are not practical theology; they are revelatory theology. They tell us who God is, who He intended to be in the face of our sinfulness, and what to expect from Him. So when you read these Scriptures, you can't read them looking for yourself; you have to read them looking for God.

Let's start with the Law, since that seems to be a sticking point. Most famously, the Ten Commandments that sound like they're telling us how to live. Anyone ever covet their neighbor's donkey? Anyone? How about murder? You ever murdered anyone? Man, these are easy! There's two rules right there I am unlikely to break.

Unless they aren't rules at all. Unless, say they are statements about the nature of God. A command not to covet your neighbor's donkey is further a word to keep your eyes in your own fence. To look at what God is doing in your life. To realize all that you have and understand that it is enough. To begin to see God as the God of enough. Sufficient. Gracious, even, because let's face it - you have a lot. I have a lot. A command not to murder is a reminder about Who really controls life. God does. God is the God of life, and He is not interested in turning it over to you. 

Each of the commandments can be seen this way. Each reveals a deeper truth about God, even more than a rule about how to live. The reason it's so easy to see them as rules is because that's what it felt like to the Israelites. Living between the Fall and the Cross, they didn't have the luxury of living redeemed. That means that to be God's took a great deal more discipline, to make up for the place where there was not yet mercy. (To our eyes.) They had to be aware of the way God continually revealed Himself because He had not yet been fully revealed. 

Let's look at some other scenes from the Old Testament in light of this idea.

There is the Garden of Eden, which reveals a God who desires to walk with us. There is Abraham, who reveals the God of the Impossible - that a fatherless man would become the father of nations. There is David, who reveals the God of the Improbable - that the smallest would become the greatest, that the little shepherd boy could lead the whole of God's people. 

There's Moses, who shows us the God of Extreme Lengths - a God whose love is so fanatic for His people that He sends locusts and flies and frogs, that He parts seas, that He pours water from a rock. Elijah, who reveals the God who Shows Up - a God who comes to defend Himself, to speak to us, to show His name. Joshua shows us the God who Fights For Us - a God who causes walls to fall. God even tells Hosea that the prophet is the reminder of the God who Never Stops Loving Us. Samson reminds us of the God that makes us Secretly Strong - a God who dwells in us in quiet ways and makes us able because He is able.

Over and over and over again, God is revealed in the stories of His people in the Old Testament. And that's what we, reading the words so many years later, are supposed to be looking for. Most of us miss this because we're looking at the stories through our eyes.

We're trying to figure out how to walk with God, forgetting that He's already walking with us. We're trying to figure out how to do the impossible for God, forgetting that He's already doing the impossible in us. We're trying to figure out how to do the improbable for God, forgetting that He's already doing the improbable! 

We're reading, wanting to be like Moses, who has all of these powerful encounters with God (in a burning bush, on the mountain, in fire, in smoke) and completely neglecting the God who is that power. We want to be Elijah, willing to stand up to a whole crowd of haters with such boldness. But we forget that Elijah could only stand because God was already standing there. We try to figure out how to fight for God, how to faithfully lead into battle like Joshua. But Joshua didn't lead that battle; he followed God into it. We try to make our lives a metaphor for God like Hosea's was, forgetting that God writes His own stories; if we want to be a part of it, we must simply loan Him our pen. And we pull into our strengths in the hopes that we will be something for God, but it is God who has already made us something for Him.

We're missing all of this because we're reading with human eyes and with the gift...and the curse...of the New Testament in our hearts. We're reading the Old Testament, hoping it will show us how to live but it never will. The Old Testament will only ever show us how He lives. How He loves. How He is. It's not practical theology; it's revelatory. It doesn't tell us who we're supposed to be; it shows us who God is. Again and again and again and again. Over and over and over.

That's how to get the most out of your Old Testament. Stop reading it looking for yourself. You're not Abraham or David or Moses or Joshua or Elijah or .... Read it looking for God. He Is.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Read Your Bible: New Testament

The other night, I was sitting up late chatting with a friend over Facebook when the conversation turned to the Bible. Now, I've been playing reruns of the American Bible Challenge, and it's clear my Old Testament is stronger than my New. She admitted she has trouble with the Old Testament, and off the cuff, I said something like, "Well, yeah. A lot of people do. Because you have to read the Old Testament different. You can't read it the same way you read the New."

Then I held my breath hoping she wouldn't ask me to elaborate on that, knowing she would, understanding in that split second that what I had said was truth, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly why that was the case. Thankfully, the words came and it turned into an interesting conversation for both of us.

I want to share a bit of that with you because I think one of the troubles we have as Christians is reading our Bibles. Reading and understanding them, anyway. Reading for meaning. There are many among us who hear they ought to be reading their Bibles, who trudge through the words every day and chalk it up to nothing more than word count. Did you read your Bible today? Yes I did....but I didn't understand a word of it.

So I thought I'd share. And I want to start with the New Testament because it does seem to be the easier of the two to comprehend. 

The New Testament must be read in a way that strikes at the heart of what we already believe as Christians. That is, that God has come to change and redeem our lives. The first part of the New Testament is the example; the second, the instruction. The New Testament tells us how to live.

It tells us that we should love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. (Matthew 5:44) That we should turn the other cheek, give the extra good, go the extra mile. (Matthew 5:39) It tells us what love is - both that it is found in a man who lays down his life (John 15:13) and that it is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast.... (1 Corinthians 13)

It tells us the things to stay away from. Drunkenness. Immorality. Sexual impurity. A lying tongue. Hateful words. Pride. The lists go on and on. (1 Thessalonians 5:22, for example)

The New Testament addresses the problems of our present time, which are not far from the problems of the former time. Conflicts between people. Our fallen nature. Failures in leadership. Tough choices. 

It encourages us to pursue the power and the presence of God, both in the stories of the people who lined the streets to see Jesus and in the stories of guys like Paul on Damascus Road and Timothy, encouraged to continue pressing on despite the criticisms against him. (Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young....) (1 Timothy 4:12)

It gives us the example of Jesus Himself, the flesh of God who not only told us how to live but showed us. He showed us what it meant to do good. To question. To speak truth. To love. To forgive. To welcome. To heal. To hope. To hold. 

The New Testament gives us everything we need to know about how to live, which is why it seems readily accessible to most Christians. It's not easy to carry out all of the words, to live true to every example. Nobody said it would be easy. But we read the New Testament hoping it will show us what to do, and it does. At least we know the Truth.

The New Testament is practical theology at its very best. It's God for the real world and the most prolonged narrative of God in the flesh that we have. It's God with skin on, so we can learn to live in our own skin. It's the new covenant, a God for the every day, a God for this day as much as that one. The God we find in the New Testament is timeless. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

None of what I've just said comes as new information to most Christians. This is what we believe about our Bibles. This is how we read them. 

The problem is this is only the New Testament. We can't read the Old in the same way. Many try and grow frustrated, getting stuck somewhere between the old covenant and the new, between the Law and Love. Many write off the Old Testament in contradiction, claiming the new has replaced it. But there is no replacement for the Old Testament. It, too, has a message for us.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how to receive that word.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

To Live or Die

It's been a hard week in my small community. Last Friday, five friends on their first day out of school for the summer went swimming in a local river. When one of the friends was washed over a nearby dam, the four did not hesitate to follow. Two young men lost their lives to that river; one young woman remains in critical condition; a community mourns.

Jesus talks about love in the context of life and death - "That a man might be willing to die for another." I don't like that statement. I don't care if it's Scripture; I don't think it's a reflection of reality.

Last Friday, I don't think any of those young men thought, "I'm going after her. If I die, I die." I think every one of them more likely thought, "I am not willing for her to die."

This is real love, is it not? Not that a man would think of himself first, consciously push himself aside, and begin to live - or to die - on behalf of another but that a man would not think of himself at all. I think that's how Jesus pulled off His incredible ministry, tragic death, and glorious resurrection. He thought not of Himself but of the men and women around Him - on the streets of Jerusalem, the shores of Galilee, in the graves of the sinners, being knit together in the womb. He lived, not thinking "I would die for them," but rather, thinking, "I am not willing that they would die."

I think that's how these young men pulled off this rescue. They were not thinking of themselves, but thinking of their friend. It is not that they were willing to die; it is that they were not willing for her to die. 

Were we to think about it, there is not one of us willing to die. Not for any reason. Ever. Not for old age. Not for cancer. Not for disease. Not for accident. Not even for love. Which means the real question we face in our lives is not, "For what are we willing to die?" but rather, "For what are we willing to live?"

These young men, in that moment, lived for friendship. They lived for relationship. They lived for one another. It cost two of them - the boys, their families, their friends, their community - everything. And as we mourn the loss and celebrate their lives, I think we have it right. We do not celebrate martyrdom or heroics. We do not celebrate their final acts. What we celebrate are the lives of these two young men. The way they lived, not the way they died, as selfless as it was.

There is so much grief right now. So much mourning. So many questions. So many tears. It's hard to know how to say goodbye. Or how to say "thank you." Although both must be said. It's hard to know how to say, "I'm sorry." I don't know that words can begin to touch the emptiness. It's hard to think about two young men who were not willing to die but died nonetheless because of the way they were willing to live.

It's hard to think about how we're living.

But I think in a time like this, we have to. We owe it to our solemn moments to let them speak something into us. We owe it to a time like this to let it speak life, in a time of death. To let it speak love in a time of sorrow.

Because that's what this is. This is not about life and death. It's about love. It's about the way we think about one another. The way we respond to relationship. It's about the importance we place on living and loving together. Catch that? Together.

Right now, my little town is doing "together" right. Everywhere you go, there are blue ribbons around trees. Blue paint. Hundreds showing up at prayer vigils. Blue balloons tucked in fences. Restaurants - local hotspots and major franchises - teaming up to donate profits to a benefit fund. T-shirts being sold for the same. Public memorial services and handwritten notes. We've got "together" down.

It seems fitting. Tragically fitting. That here we are coming together for two young men who knew more about togetherness last Friday than most of us had ever thought about. For two young men who were not necessarily willing to die for their friend, but were absolutely willing to live for her. With the fullness of all they had. Without thinking of themselves.

Maybe it's not so far from the Scriptures. Just a change of words. For this is truth:

Man has no greater love than this, that he is willing to lay down his life...and take up his friend's.

As we try to comprehend death, let us also remember to live. As we mourn, grieve, question, cry...let us also remember to love.


Waiting, and change, would be much easier if we were able to know the possibilities and to know what we are supposed to do with them...ahead of time. 

We live into the future, always trying to figure out what's coming and what we're supposed to do with it. When the question is asked, are we supposed to say yes or no? At the fork in the road, do we go left or right? With all these glitzy lights and flashing signs, do we stop or keep on walking? All of these things that depend on what hasn't happened yet, and here we are trying to figure out what to do.

We want to know what the faithful response is. We want to know which answer is truth. So we spend all our waiting in what-ifs, hoping God will tell us what to do before we have to make our statement. Hoping God will narrow the choices before we have to choose.

He won't.

Sorry. That's just how it is. You can play out as many scenarios in your head as you want, and you will be able to find equal measures of truth in all of them. One will seem just as good as the other. You'll throw your hands up in the air and say, "God! How am I supposed to decide?" 

The answer? By faith. But faith doesn't dwell in hypotheticals.

That's what's so hard. We want to know what God would have us do, but until the decision is upon us, He doesn't say. The God of the possible - the God of the impossible - doesn't seem to invest much in possibilities. He doesn't play out what happens if you go left or right. He doesn't expound on the logic of saying yes or no. He doesn't lay out the implications of choosing this or that.

Because faith is never a matter of pros and cons. 

It's not a list of goods and bads. It's not a comparison of trials and triumphs. Oddly enough, what's possible has nothing to do with the possibilities. 

That's hard for a people like us who are trying to get this faith thing right. Who want to do what is pleasing to God. Who will spend all our waiting praying over the possibilities, trying to figure out what's right. What we're missing, however, in all our postulation is the positive. We're missing truth. Truth only comes when the moment of choice is upon us. When one way or another, this is about to be real.

When it's about to be real, we must pick truth.

Yes, but we've been through the possibilities and they all seem like truth! God hasn't revealed which is truth! Of course not. Until this very moment, there has been no truth. There has been no reality on which to reflect. But now that this time is here, what we generally find is one of two things.

First, that there is no truth and lie. No good and bad. Rather, simply a good and better. A better and best. Either choice could possibly be truth, and then it is up to you to decide which truth you want to make your truth, and ask God to bless that choice. You may find that honestly, you could go either way. You could go left or right. You could say yes or no. Either would lead you right back to God. In that case, choosing at all. It's refusing to be paralyzed by the options, refusing to hold out any longer. It's knowing you can take that next step and choosing to take it.

Let's be honest: this is sorely overused in our present society. People say, "It doesn't matter what you do; God will go with you." That's baloney. We have used this to justify doing whatever feels right without sacrificing our faith. But the end result is we sacrifice our God for the man in the mirror. God will go with you; He's promised that much. His promise, though, is not a pass to do whatever you want. You ought to at least try to be faithful. You ought to try to be true. You ought to look at your Traveling Companion and ask often which way He wants to go. Otherwise, who's really along for the ride? 

Jesus take the wheel!

The second thing we find, and this is more common although most of us aren't paying attention when it happens, is that when the moment comes, you know which is right and wrong. You know whether it's yes or no. You know whether it's left or right. All of a sudden, clear as day, in the moment when possibility becomes truth, you know. You don't have time to process it. You don't have time to argue. You don't have time to sort it out. But you know. The only question that remains, then, is whether you're willing to commit to that answer. Are you willing to say a difficult no? An unsure yes? Are you willing to turn left when the right is rainbows? Or right when left looks lucky? Are you willing to walk toward truth when you see it or are you stuck in your list of pros and cons?

That's, I think, why God doesn't entertain the hypotheticals. What He really wants is for you to be open to truth when it happens. You don't always get the luxury of waiting, the time to consider. Some days, you just have to make a choice. Right there. On the spot. In those times, you have to be listening for the voice of God, not the rationale of reason. You have to be ready to follow what's revealed, to take one small step in a faithful direction when you know that is truth but you don't yet know why. 

Which means, in the waiting, your time is not empty. Your heart is not void. Rather than dwell on the possibilities, you dwell in the God of the possible. You learn to listen to His voice. You consider what He's doing in you. You contemplate His word over your life. So that when the time comes, when this is about to get real, you know what real is as revealed in you. You're able to see that maybe they are both true, but one is truth. One is the choice that will lead you toward what God is doing in you. One is the next logical step toward faith, if ever there could be such a marrying of logic and faith. You spend your waiting preparing not to choose, but to know. To listen and let truth speak.

That's all you can do. In the waiting, there is no truth; only possibilities. But in whatever is possible, there is truth. Prepare your heart to hear it, your spirit to embrace it, and your feet to follow.

Such is faithfulness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It is something about the waiting, isn't it? I don't know anyone who waits well. Maybe it's because we all know that what we're really waiting on is change. We're waiting to ask a question. We're waiting to make a move. We're waiting for the time when something, or someone, is about to have the chance to speak into our lives and here we are, opening our lives up to this very thing! We are emptying ourselves and creating space for whatever comes next, and it's hard.

Because it doesn't feel like it's anything. It feels like whatever we're waiting on is something but this? This is nothing. This waiting is the emptiness. This waiting is idleness. This waiting does not change us, not in the way whatever's coming will.

Or does it?

When you understand waiting in the context of change, you realize that waiting is really the thing. Waiting is the crucial moment. Waiting is the preparation for what's next, and most of us miss our chance to prepare because we're so uncomfortable waiting. But waiting is the big thing.

It's the moment when you're hovering, feet in the air, waiting to come down into some new reality, trying to figure out if you're floating or falling. Trying to figure out if you'll be caught or you'll crash. Trying to figure out what the next thing is going to mean.

These are all questions we answer in the waiting, whether we're aware of it or not. Waiting is the time when we decide what whatever comes next is allowed to mean.

Have you ever thought about it that way?

It's true. In the waiting, we declare, "I'm about to be the kind of person who _________." And that has implications.

It doesn't matter whether what comes next is a given or only a possibility. It doesn't matter whether you have any say in what's going to happen. It doesn't matter whether this is something you want to do or something you have to do. The waiting is all the same. It's a time to reflect. It's a time to consider. It's a time to choose.

Waiting is a special time.

I've had this experience a few times in my life. That is, I've been able to pull off a conscious waiting heart. I wish I knew how it happened (so I could do it more faithfully and not agonize so much in the waiting). I have to admit - it just seems easier in some situations than in others.

For instance, back in February when I was getting ready to preach in a new venue for the first time, I initially wondered how I would ever get through Sunday morning. I wasn't set to preach until the Sunday afternoon services, and even on a busy Sunday, this seemed to leave plenty of time for me to, uhm, stress out. Like I normally would. Not because I'm nervous or scared but just because I'd be waiting for the opportunity. Waiting on the services to actually start. Waiting to step up and say my hellos.

Early that Sunday morning, in a quiet moment before I really even got my day started, I had one powerful thought sneak into my conscious. "This. is gonna be cool." This is what God created me for, what He called me to, and what He constructed into this day. My preaching that afternoon was perfectly what God intended for that day, and you know what? I had no trouble waiting. Yes, my heart was aflutter. Yes, I had intermittent deep breaths and moments without breathing at all. Yes, I was excited. But I was also...okay. Sunday morning service came and went. I made some lunch. Ate some lunch. (Kept it down.) Drove on over to the chapel, said my hellos, introduced myself, and preached. Then grabbed a burger on the way home.

I kind of hit on this in February, too, when I wrote about being a single girl on Valentine's Day. I wrote about spending the day in anticipation of, and preparation for, my love. Whoever he is. Whenever he's coming. Because I understand that God has written love into my story and he's out there. So in the waiting, I'm focusing on what God is doing with all of this and I'm okay. It's okay to wait.

It happens really by accident that I get waiting right. I'm trying to be more diligent about it, but it's hard when you wake up and the nerves have already taken over. The possibility of change is already there. But I think, from the few times I've stumbled on it, that this is the key to waiting:

To take the time to focus on what God is doing.

Waiting is directly related to change. The agony of waiting is the conflict of knowing that things are about to change, and either you want them to, you're scared they will, or you're scared they won't. Those are the big three. But when you take the time - the waiting - to reflect on how that change reflects what God is doing in you, it settles your spirit. It doesn't take away any of the anticipation or the excitement. It doesn't necessarily alleviate the hesitation or the fear. But it provides an understanding of what's about to happen, of the very real possibility that God is using whatever comes next to draw you closer to His plan for your life.

Whether that means you're about to become a person who trusts in the healing power of the Lord, because you've opened up the possibility that your body may be broken. Or you're about to become a person who refuses to settle and has to say no to something really good because it's not holy. Or you're about to become a person who can stand on her own two feet, without a man to lean on because he's not the man God wants you to spend your life with. Or you're about to become a man who is an incredible father to a child he never planned on having.

Or you're about to become a person who enjoys a Bacon McDouble because it's delicious and cheap and God has created you for things that taste good.

Whatever it is in the waiting, whatever statement is about to be made - it's not just about your life. It's not just about who you are. It's about who you are in God and His life in you. It's about what He's doing. Big things, little things, things that are coming for sure and things that are only possibilities. Things you would choose and things you would shy away from. Whatever it is that's put you in this season of waiting. It's a reflection on the word that God speaks, if you're listening to your heart.

And the waiting isn't merely waiting for this. It's a season all its own. It's a time of preparation where you get to decide whether you fall or you fly. Whether you crash or you'll be caught. It's a time where you get to empty your hands of whatever you're holding onto and prepare to grab onto a new thing. Whatever that thing may be.

It's hard to do. But it does make the waiting easier.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wait For It

I'm not very good at waiting. That is, waiting for a moment to happen. It doesn't matter if I'm waiting on a big thing - like an opportunity that might be coming or a trip I might be taking - or something small, like waiting to place my order at the drive-thru. 

It's hard to say whether the trouble is worry, excitement, anxiety, something else altogether. It may not be any of the above. Certainly, I would confess that in the waiting, I'm not scared. It's not fear. Anticipation, maybe. A recognition that something is about to change. However small that something is. Excitement? That one thing is drawing to a close and a new thing beginning? It's hard to say.

But I don't think my problem with waiting has anything to do with what's happening next. It's not a reflection on whatever I'm waiting for, but rather, a lie I've come to believe and I think I'm not alone in this. That lie is this:

Waiting is an incongruous moment of my life.

You've likely heard that, too. You've probably believed it. Waiting is what we do between doing things. So it's not something, but nothing at all. It's a lull in the action. It's a pause. Everything has stopped when we're waiting and so the end of waiting is a big thing because it's a change in inertia. An object at rest wants to stay at rest and when my waiting draws to a close and it's time to move, something in me objects! Even the smallest things feel like big things next to the 'nothing' that I'm doing when I'm waiting. It feels like a dramatic shift.

And not just that. When we aren't waiting, when we're doing an actual something, that something speaks into our lives. By necessity. By definition. Whatever we're doing helps to shape us and so doing something feels like making a bold statement. In the waiting, I'm uncommitted. I am who I am, but what exactly is that? It could be anything. When the waiting is over, I commit myself to being the kind of person who orders the Bacon McDouble. Who does that? If the car in front of me will pull around to the next window, I do. 

But in this brief moment, I'm with you. Who does that?

In the waiting, you know that coming up, you're going to have to make a decision. You're going to make a statement. You're going to speak into your life or something else is going to speak into it for you. You're going to open yourself up to some possibility. Waiting, then, is the process of beginning to consider the possibilities and starting to let go of the emptiness so that your hands are free to embrace a new truth.

It's all very intimidating.

The odd thing is, at least for me, once the process is started, the anxiety is gone. All the trouble I have with waiting doesn't plague me between the order box and the pick-up window. As soon as I put my car in gear to head toward a door I'm about to knock on, to see whether it's open to me or not, I'm fine. Between the blood draw and the phone call, I'm okay. Yes, that's right. I am more scared to have the test than to receive the diagnosis. More anxious about the interview than the offer or rejection. More troubled ordering the Bacon McDouble than eating it. 

And the only reason I can think for all of that is this: that between the beginning and the end, I've already emptied my hands. Waiting...has become a part of the process. It's the next step when I've already taken the first step. It's not a new thing I'm doing but a new breath I get to take. It doesn't seem as big and overwhelming and defining in between as it does in the beginning. 

Maybe because it feels like I'm already doing something. Like I'm in the middle of the something. I'm not starting at nothing; I'm already here and so waiting is the next logical step. 

I'm speaking for me, but I know I'm not alone. There are so many of us who can't handle the wait. Some of us cope by staying busy until the moment comes. Some of us cope by worrying ourselves sick. Some of us cope by going early, thinking we can make the time pass faster. If you think about it, you have a coping strategy for the wait. Some way to bridge the gap between what feels like nothing and what's obviously something. 

But you know what? I think the waiting is something, too. I think before it's begun, it's already started. I think we can settle our spirits (and our stomachs) just a little by understanding what it is in the waiting that's already happening and recognizing this time for what it is. Because it is something. It's already something. 

Waiting is part of the moment. 

To be continued...