Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Wineskin Principle

It's tough when things change. Most of us understand this. What we don't bargain for is how difficult it is when things get better.

What's up with that?

When things start looking up, we start looking around. We take our eyes off what we've been looking toward and set them on the new life developing all around us. There's so much to look at, so much to take in. A new splash of color over here. A new opportunity over there. Bright skies and sunny days that make the shadows seem to dance on what once was just a yard.

Sounds like heaven, right? Who wouldn't want something to look around at?

The problem is that inevitably when we start looking around, we come across a mirror. Eye-to-eye, we see that while things may change, we haven't. I am still I, you are still you. We are still who we were, just in a prettier picture. Crap.

We have the same depravity in our hearts. The same worries, the same fears. We have the same insecurities. For all the beauty developing around us, there's something still powerfully plain about who we are.

That's hard. We like to think that as things change, so do we. We like to think that if we surround ourselves with beauty, we will be beautiful. If we make all things new, we shall be new. But that's where we've missed what's really at work. Because it's true - we make all things new. When things start looking up, it's usually because we've invested in them. We're working to make new things happen. We've changed something that allows us to see something new or do something new or have something new.

In the same way, we have to invest in ourselves if we hope to be new. We'll never change by changing the things around us; we can only change by doing the work in our own hearts.

Most of us are dissatisfied when things change for the better, and it is for this very reason. It is because the shadows are dancing in the light of a bright new world and then one day, we realize we are the shadows. Everything is new except us. Everything is changing except us.

I call it the Wineskin Principle, based, of course, on the Biblical caution that you can't put new wine into old wineskins; both are sure to break.

And indeed, that's what happens. We surround ourselves with new, only to find that we are old. This necessarily breaks us. It sends us deeper into our selves, looking for that thing that's holding us back. It drives us harder toward God, longing for resolution to the ache. This thing, this "new," we hoped would answer us has only exposed us and all the broken things we have in our hearts comes pouring out because we simply cannot hold it in any longer.

And all that new? If we're not careful, we can start to resent it. We can start to see it for what it is - just a pretty picture. Just a false hope.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. New is such a blessed thing; it is the evidence that our Creator is still creating. It reminds us of who God is, whether it is He who has orchestrated the new or we who have initiated it. We were made in the image of the Creator to create, as well. New is so blessed. 

We just have to be aware of the dangers and be disciplined about it. We have to take our new wine and let it inspire us to grow new skin, a new wineskin. We have to look at the new for what it is - blessed and good - and let it encourage us to be blessed and good, as well. Let it make us want to be new.

Because we want to make the shadows dance, too.

It doesn't have to be this way, but it has to be this way. The transformation of our lives and our hearts has to start with new wine. I'll tell you why tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Persons of Interest

I find that I'm not that unlike Jesus. I have no patience for people, but endless tenderness with persons. I would much rather speak to the heart of a man than speak to the culture of men. It's simply a more worthwhile exercise.

As an undergraduate, I began my studies in psychology (which is oh so close and yet, so far, from the actual call on my life) but when life turned a new direction and I landed at a new school to finish up my Bachelor's, I didn't hesitate to turn my back on psychology altogether and go into a new field. Why? Because at the new school, a quick perusal of course descriptions revealed that all of their psychology courses were theory-based. I would spend my time learning Jung and Maslow and Freud instead of James, Maggie, and Fred. I don't have any patience for it. 

Theory never does a man any good. There's no practical use for it.

I have been on both the giving and the receiving end of intimate moments, powerful personal encounters that have the ability to touch the raw places in a man's heart. And it's never crossed my mind as a giver in these moments that so-and-so perfectly fits Freud's theory of ego or that she's falling in this frame of Maslow's hierarchy. I could, I suppose, go back and construct a rationale for believing such a thing after the fact, but in the moment...what use is that? People don't want to be boiled down to theories.

And as a receiver? It would never bring an ounce of comfort to learn that someone in a laboratory once drew up an idea concerning my life, a life they had never lived and never known and couldn't possibly know, and that I am perfectly "normal" according to some theory or belief.

When it comes to people, theory is a waste; there is only the moment, and we have to be ready to speak into it.

That's what strikes me about so many among us. They say, "I don't know what to say to a person. I don't understand how the mind works." But life is not about the mind; it's about the heart. You have one, don't you? Then use it. The human heart is not a matter best left to the "professionals," those with training in the theory and the practice. It is best left to the "personals," those who are willing to come into a sacred space and be present.

I love this about chaplaincy. It's a deeply personal work. It's showing up in space after space, taking a hand, touching a heart, being real with someone. I don't have any grand theories when I walk into a room. I don't let the broader context take over when a story starts to unfold. Why? Because the story is not the broader context. It's always intimate. It's always personal.

So must I be. So must we all be.

There are persons among us who thrive on the people. Who do good work for the broader culture. Who look at the big picture and see the grand things and set themselves to work on those things. We might still call them politicians, though this does not necessarily mean they must work in politics. There are some pastors I know who are great at this. They can create a culture in the church that... they are just really good at this.

I'm not one of those persons. And I don't want to be. It is not who God created in me.

I say all of this for a few reasons. First, to encourage those of you who feel like you don't know what to do with people. What to do for people. Sometimes, we get stuck in thinking whatever we do for God, we have to do for His people. All of them. But Jesus, and perhaps my personal reflection in some way, show us that it's not always about what we do for people, but what we do for a person. You can do something for a person, right? Any person at all! Do it. It is holy work.

Second, to thank those of you who are the politicians, who are the people persons among us. You create a culture in which we can be people of God. You create a place for the people of God and a way for all of us persons to be people. That's incredible, invaluable work. Thank you for giving your talents.

And third, and perhaps most importantly, I want to issue a reminder to all of us not to get lost in what seem like the bigger things. Not to put labels on everything or throw things into groups. Life, experience, these are highly personal; they were meant to be. Most of what you encounter in your world isn't going to fit a mold. That's okay. The mold is a myth. You are one of a kind, an original. Embrace it. Tell your story.

We are a people made of persons. It is in telling our stories, and telling them together, and holding them sacred that we are the people of God.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

People Person

Since we're on the subject, can we talk about the revolutionary nature of Jesus for a minute? 

People were expecting a Messiah, just not exactly this Messiah. Even Peter, as I mentioned a few months ago, was looking for something completely different. They were looking for a revolutionary. A guy who could come in and take charge. A leader who would change the landscape. A warrior who would conquer the enemy. He must be a political Messiah, they reasoned; a political Messiah must do these things. A political Messiah must conquer.

But I think they were also expecting a political Messiah for another reason - they were thinking communally. In the Old Testament, the entire idea of God was almost always communal. God did things for the good of His people. He worked through His people. He chose, and favored, His people. Israel was a community of God more than David was ever a "man of God." The people saw Him as God's chosen leader, but he was chosen only for the sake of the people. Thus, God was always working for His people. 

When they started looking for the promised Messiah, of course their natural inclination was that this must be a man for the people. This was a guy who was coming for the nation of Israel. They were looking for the Lamb that was coming for the sake of the people.

And if you want a guy whose entire thought is the people as a whole, he must be a politician. Politicians are always thinking about society as a whole. Politicians are working for the system. They are creating rules and regulations and programs and policies to make the culture work, not necessarily for the sake of any one man. They are leaders not of persons, but of people. They create the system in which you can work, in which you know the rules and can aspire to your heart's desire. They create the culture in which you can succeed and be the man you want to be.

That's what Israel was looking for when they started looking for the Messiah. They wanted a Christ who would create the system in which they were free to work, who would overthrow the broken political rule of the day and institute a new society so that they could be the men they wanted to be. To each man his own in a perfected, holy system.

Jesus, as we know, was not that Messiah. He was not that Christ, and had He come in that fashion, He could not have been a Christ at all. 

The revolutionary nature of Jesus is not that He came for the people, but that He came for the person. He came for the individual. He set about creating a new culture not in the camp, but in the condition of the human heart. So that in your own sacred space, you can be the man you want to be. Regardless of the world you live in.

Jesus spent all His time speaking to the man, and not necessarily to the men. He didn't create a way for His people to live; He cleared the way for each person to live, speaking directly to the hearts of those who came to Him. We see Him making powerful, poignant statements without broadening them to the wider context. To an adulterous woman, He says, "Go, and sin no more" without making a sermon out of it. Without telling the rest of the people not to sin. To a bleeding woman, He declares, "Your faith has made you well," then continues on His way without instituting a new law of faith. We see it in the publican, to whom He says, "Today, I will eat at your house." He doesn't say it, but this is the ministry of Jesus - that it doesn't matter who you are; if you open your house, your heart, to Him, He will come into your presence and eat with you.

The ministry of Jesus was never for the people. It was always person-to-person. He wasn't making some powerful statement; He was making a sacred space.

Oddly enough, He was everything they were looking for - a revolutionary. A guy who came in and took charge. A leader who changed the landscape. A warrior who conquered the enemy. A Messiah who created the system in which they could work, who formed the culture in which each man could be who he wanted to be. 

They just always expected He would do this work for them and not in them. But such is Jesus. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Duck, Duck, Jew

Recently, I was drawn into a lengthy conversation with an older man. After we'd already talked about ten minutes, he told me he'd recently left his former church because "the preacher got up there and said that Jesus was a Jew."

He believed this statement to be completely in error. There was no way, he told me more than once, that Jesus was a Jew. He'd read his Bible, multiple times, and he said he couldn't point to one passage that said Jesus was a Jew and challenged me that I couldn't, either.

I have to admit that off the top of my head, I couldn't say that there was a passage that ever said Jesus was a Jew. There are passages that strongly infer it, and this man could even quote those back to me, but none that came outright to say it.

I asked what he made of verses that show Jesus attending, and participating in, the holy Jewish festivals. I asked what he made of Jesus being found as a young boy in the Temple, listening and teaching. I asked what he made of the Lord's lineage, the way we trace His roots back through all of the generations of the tribe of Israel. He readily admitted that Jesus was called the King of the Jews (which he said isn't mentioned until Revelation), but "that don't make Him one."

"Let me ask you this," he said. "Who was Jesus's father?"

God, I answered hesitantly, not knowing if that was the "right" answer or not for this man.

"Exactly," he said. "And God ain't no Jew. And if God ain't no Jew, then Jesus cain't be no Jew." (Yes, he said 'cain't'.)

I have absolutely no way of responding to that. There certainly were things I could say and get into the theology of God a little bit, but theology was obviously not this man's strong suit. And it's not that I fault him for that; part of it may be his generation (he further revealed himself to be prejudiced toward Jews), part of it may be inadequate teaching, part of it may be lack of teaching at all. I don't fault people for ignorance, willful or accidental. Plus, time was starting to press in. I had things I needed to do on a certain schedule, and a crowded lobby was not exactly the place to challenge this man's theology. So I simply looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and said, "I don't think you've got your Bible quite right, my friend. So we'll have to agree to disagree."

What I wanted to say to him was, "If it walks like a Jew and talks like a must be a Jew."

But I think this is a sticking point for a lot of us, in different areas of our theology. It's hard sometimes to figure out what God is saying if He doesn't just come right out and say it. This has led us to spend a good deal of our time trying to figure out what God 'means' by this or that.

It doesn't have to be so hard. God is not as obscure as we sometimes make Him out to be. He says what He means; He means what He says. He gives us enough information that the truth is right in front of us, if we'll open our eyes to see it. Look at the creation of the universe - nothing about it was contrived. It was simplified, straightforward. A cloud is a cloud. A mountain is a mountain. The universe is infused with meaning, but there's no hidden meaning in it. It's all right there for the understanding, if we'll open our hearts and our minds to look.

No, the Bible never says that Jesus was a Jew. We occasionally see other persons calling Him a Jew. We see Him going to the Temple like a Jew. We see Him quoting Scripture like a Jew. We see Him living and loving and dying like a Jew. Maybe nobody thought they really had to come out and say it. 

Like so many other things of God in this world, maybe it's up to us sometimes to figure out what's right before our very eyes.

If it walks like a Jew and talks like a Jew...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Shades of Grey

There's a great conundrum in our present world, and that is this: too many of us only see in black and white. 

We want things, perhaps we need things, to be either right or wrong. Good or bad. Yes or no. This black and white thinking creates strongholds in our hearts. When we see something, or someone, as "good," we need the rest of the world to see it that way, too. When we believe something, or someone, is "wrong," we need them to actually be wrong, sometimes at the cost of truth. We want our "yes"es to be unqualified, and our "no"s to be firm. We seem to need things one way or the other, so we don't have to deal with the mess in between.

But life is in between. Life is in the mess. Life is drawn in shades of grey.

It's not, as we so often think, that black and white blend together, although they certainly do. It's far too complicated to sort out the mixing lines. It's hard to see the two opposing shades at the same time. We can see black, or we can see white. We can see good, or we can see bad. When we try to see both, they pull us in opposite directions until we come to the conclusion that there is no conclusion. That there is neither one nor the other. Our human minds cannot make sense of this. We have no paradigm for understanding both together. We cannot let a thing be two opposite things at once. It makes no sense!

Which is how we end up holding onto one or the other, desperately clinging to what we know, or what we think we know, or what we need to be true.

Grey is not really about the way black and white come together, though. That's only one theory of color. The other theory tells us that grey comes from the way the light plays between the two. It is here we begin to find our peace.

It's here that we take a "bad" man and start to see his brokenness. We see the tenderness inherent within him that was cracked by the pressures of a world he couldn't reconcile, and suddenly, a bad man doesn't seem so bad. Not does a recognition of brokenness make him a good man. No, he just begins to look more human. Less a bad man and more merely a man.

It's here that we take a "good" man and start to see his emptiness. We see the ache that drives him to do good, to satisfy some measure of emptiness in his spirit, whether that is depravity or something nobler. Even God's work in a man's heart is driven by emptiness; it's nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it can be a beautiful driving force. But it shadows in a bit of a good man, so he doesn't seem so lofty and high any more. He's toned down into the world where the rest of us live. He becomes a shade of grey, a man and not a god.

It's here that we take an issue that gets us riled up. Whatever it is. Some social construct going on around us. Rather than see the trend as "bad," we start to see the need that created it. The brokenness that sent man searching for an answer. Now, it doesn't anger us to see man fallen so far; it grieves us. 

The same is true for something we see as beautiful in this world. A trend in what we might consider the right direction. When we look beyond what it seems we can see, we see the driving force behind it. An emptiness. An ache. And this, too, grieves us at the same time it gives us hope.

You see, nothing is purely one way or the other. Nothing is purely good or bad. It's all driven by something, and it's only in the right light that we start to see the true forces at play in the world around us. It's only in the right light that black and white fade to grey.

And what is that right light? It is God's truth, yes, but not simply that. For too long, man has relied on God's truth from above, God's holy word, and we shine His light down on people. But we've never used this looking for truth; we've always used this looking for judgment. When we shine God's light down on people, we're trying to cast them in black or white. We leave no room for grey.

The right light is the truth of God shining through us. Heart-to-heart. From one broken man to another. It's a light that first makes us transparent, that reveals our nature so that it can shine His truth. It's a light that doesn't cast shadows, but instead casts grace.

The right light lets us look at a bad man and see a broken man, because we've seen the one staring back at us in the mirror. It lets us look at a good man and see his emptiness, because the emptiness in our own eyes is sometimes haunting. It lets us grieve the hard things because we know the longing for something better, and grieve, too, the good things because the ache for more is real.

We have to stop looking at black and white. We have to stop looking at good and bad. We have to let go of our need for things to be one way or the other. Because things will always be a measure of both. If we can't figure out how to reconcile that, this world will always tear us apart. 

But if we start to see things under the right light...well, truth might just bring us together. In shades of grace.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I don't do a lot of fishing (read: I don't fish), but God loves a good fishing metaphor and I've been out once or twice in my life, so here we go:

I was thinking about this last night as I thought about faith and risk, as I considered what I'm putting on the line for the chance to become all that God has created me to be. That's where it hit me - what's on the line?

Here's a bit of a fishing primer. When one goes fishing, one takes some type of bait. This is often worms, although it could also be crickets or artificial lookalikes of worms or crickets or even home-tied flies (which are not like real flies at all). You take this bait, attach it to a hook (I'm not sure how the flies work), and cast it into the water on the end of a long pole. Then you wait until something tugs at the bait, assume it's a fish, and pull in your line. If, after awhile, there is no bite, you pull your line in anyway, un-bait it, and re-bait it with a new bit of the same bait. 

Because obviously, the problem is the bait.

What strikes me as ironic about all of this is that we developed the art of fishing, as we know it today, by understanding the way fish operate. We learned that fish will go after something wiggling in the water, that this is how they find their food. We learned that they are dumb enough to eat a worm when they just watched their friend eat a worm and disappear into thin air (literally, from a fish-eye view). We learned that adding a bobber to the line keeps the bait bobbling at just the right depth for the fish to find it and be interested. We learned that fish eat worms at all! And that sometimes, they eat crickets. And that some of them are so foolish, they'll go after synthetic fibers that sort of look like food. We fish because we studied the fish and figured out how this would work best.

Then we sit on the dock or in the boat or in the sand, cast a line, and put all our hope in the bait. Shouldn't we put our faith in the fish? To Isn't that how this whole thing started?

The parallels to our holy lives are stunning. We've spent a great deal of our time studying God. Trying to figure Him out. Trying to discover His behavior patterns and how we think He responds to this or that stimulus. We begin our religious pursuits by trying to understand God, by trying to figure out how He operates. But as time goes by, we start to put our hope in the bait.

We bait our line with trust and wait on God to show His faithfulness. We bait our line with prayer and wait on Him to answer. We bait our line with hope and wait for God to reveal His promise. We bait our line with good things, things we know that are pleasing to God, but we haven't put our faith in Him. 

We're trusting in our bait to hook the God we want to see. To pull the God we want out of the lake of Living Water. Sometimes, He bites and we get just what we're looking for, but we're not thankful. We don't consider that God has just acted according to the very nature we studied in Him. No, we praise our bait for catching Him. We start to praise our trust. We start to praise our prayer. We start to praise our hope and the other good things we put on the line.

Somewhere for us, fishing became about the bait. We spend our time trying to "hook" God instead of just giving what we've got and trusting Him to do His thing.

It's something like this. When we trust in the worm, we can't understand why the fish isn't biting. That's why, after awhile, we pull the worm out and put a new worm on the hook and send it back out for a bite. You see, what we fail to understand is that the fish has a life outside of eating. The fish spends some of its time just swimming around. Some time diving for fun. Some time going to school. (Sorry. Had to.) The fish spends some of its day just being a fish, which is so much more than just biting and worms. And you know? Maybe that fish just isn't interested in a worm right now; maybe he's looking for a cricket.

There's so much more to being a fish than biting a line. You'd think for all our study of how to catch a fish, we would understand that sometimes, a fish just does not want to be caught. Sometimes, he's just too busy being a fish.

The same is true of our God. When we trust in our bait, we can't understand why God isn't biting. When we dare trust, we can't understand why He doesn't answer with affirmation. When we dare pray, we can't understand why He doesn't speak. When we dare hope, we can't understand why He doesn't fulfill. What we fail to understand is that God has a life that goes far deeper than our bait can ever reach. God spends some of His time not responding, but calling. He spends some of His time not answering, but asking. He spends some of His time just being God, which is so much more than giving us everything we think we want. Sometimes, it's giving us exactly what we need. And you know? Maybe God just isn't all that interested in making you happy right now; maybe He's more interested in making you holy.

We long to understand our God; that's what started this whole fishing expedition called faith. Knowing that's true, don't you think it's time we go back to basics and start trusting Him more than the hook? Shouldn't we put our faith in the Father? To be...the Father?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

As Opposed To

See, here's the problem and why it's so easy to believe God only in the destination: we've come to think that God and this world are diametrically opposed to one another.

But that's not truth.

Truth is that while this world may be opposed to God, God is not opposed to this world. For crying out loud, He created it! He created all of this for you, and created you for Him. The Lord doesn't need a heaven and an earth, but man does. The Lord doesn't need the sun and the moon and the stars, but man does. The Lord needs man; He needs a creation that can love Him. The heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, even the mountains sing His praises but they cannot love Him. So He created you to love Him...and made this world for you.

And yes, sometimes, it feels like this world is standing in the way. It feels like this place can get between us and God. And it can. Sometimes, it's trying to. But not all the time. Sometimes, this world is just this world, neither malicious nor magnificent but simply as it is. Broken, sure. Burdensome, sometimes. Beautiful, absolutely.

The trouble with the world is that it knows too much. God infused this place with so much of His wisdom, and that's created a bit of a complex in a complex world. (See what I did there?) This world knows how to replicate itself. It knows how to make more flowers, more chickens, more mountains. It knows how its features form and on the tiniest of levels, it understands the intricacies of itself. Or so it seems. It is so drunk on its own knowledge, its understanding of itself, that it has forgotten to ask the question, 'How did I learn to do this?'

Where man cannot stop asking the question of how.

How things happen. How things matter. How we know the things we know. How the things we don't know are even possible. It is our questioning of 'how' that brings us back to God, to creation, to the Creator. The world long ago stopped asking this question, trusting in the wisdom it has been given to understand itself, and so it stands in opposition to God.

God does not, however, stand in opposition to the world. This world aggravates Him sometimes. Other times, it breaks His heart. Some days, I think it still awes Him. And though it never surprises Him, it certainly makes Him shake His head. But God is still using this world. He's using it to make you all that He intended you to be. All that He created in you. Your true nature, your very spirit, His spirit within you....these things come out in response to the world. So as hard as it may be some days, God uses this world. Not because He needs it, but because you do.

That's what the verse in Romans really means. But we know that God is working together all things for the good of those who love him. It is not, as some translations say, that all things work together for good. No, God is working all things together for good. He is taking this world and weaving it into your story like new threads, and as He says elsewhere in His Word, the more strands a cord has, the less likely it is to break. (He only mentions two- versus three-threaded cords, but you get the idea.)

Not only that, but He's taking you and weaving you into the world's story at the same time. Like new threads in creation. A new force of nature. A new sight to behold. Something that's going to mark the landscape, a new terrain. He's using this world for your spirit, but He is also using your spirit for this world.

Which is why when things of this world seem to come between us and God, seem to stand strong in the place between where we are and where He has called us, we can take heart. These are obstacles, maybe, but perhaps they are threads. These are new colors to be woven into our lives so we arrive at the place of God's calling strong and vibrant.

It may look, and even feel, like this world is doing everything it can to keep you from God, but the truth is that God is using this world to bring you to Him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Believe God

Your life is full of little whispers and bold promises. I think most of us want to believe these things, but I think most of us struggle with how to do that. It often feels like God says one thing and this world says another, and we're left trying to balance the whisper and the promise with the world and its problems.

And there will be problems. There have always been problems. 

Look at Abraham. God called him to the top of a mountain with his son, an invitation to a moment of faithfulness. But Abraham's faith story doesn't begin when he unloads the donkey and starts building the altar; his story begins when he takes his first steps toward the mountain. And you know what? He still had to climb it. 

God called His people, Israel, out of Egypt. Their story doesn't begin in the Promised Land; it starts in the wilderness. They still had to wander.

God called His own Son to Calvary. But the story of Jesus doesn't begin on the Cross; it starts in the stable. He had to minister, heal, rebuke, refine, offend and defend His way to Golgotha.

So many of us hear the whisper calling us to whatever place it is God has for us, and we get discouraged by the road between. We curse this world because we know where God wants us, but it seems nearly impossible to get there. This world, we conclude, is keeping us from God. These troubles are keeping us from getting there. How are we ever supposed to be God's if we can't get where He wants us to be? How are we supposed to be faithful if we can't get to where He is?

That's the lie that is all too easy to believe. Our story doesn't begin when we get to the place where God is calling us; it begins the day we decide to go there. It begins the moment we set foot on the mountain, step out of Egypt, turn our face toward Golgotha. The story of God in our lives begins where we are, not where we're going. God is not waiting for us; He's making a way.

Abraham had the time it takes to climb a mountain to consider what faithfulness meant. It meant taking one more step and one more step and one more step toward a difficult place, not knowing exactly what that place was going to look like. Having a terrible suspicion that these may be his last moments with his beloved son, but keeping his fingers crossed and hands folded for the best. Most of us would have bode our time. We would have zigzagged up the mountain, taking every moment with our child, savoring every step, in no hurry to get to the top. Abraham, so far as we know, didn't do this; he went to the place where God called him. He climbed every agonizing inch of that mountain to get there.

Israel got forty years in the wilderness to consider who God really was. They learned His provision and tender care, in manna and quail and water from a rock. They learned His guiding spirit in cloud by day and fire by night. They learned His forgiveness, the way His presence never walked away even when their hearts did. They were hoping to go to the place where God had called them, but they learned an even greater lesson - they learned to follow. They wandered every inch of that desert, round and round and round in circles, to get to the place where God called them, and where He led them.

And speaking of Israel and the Promised Land, I think most of us would be tempted to think as the people of God did that when we finally get out of this place, it ought to be smooth sailing. It ought to be a place prepared for us, empty, ready to receive our presence as we walk into it and claim what God has given us, what He has called us to. It's not so easy. Israel had to drive out all of the foreign nations, with God's help, as they found them. They had to clear their own Promised Land. They had to conquer, to make space for themselves. It didn't seem fair, but God told them why. 

He said, I can't clear the land before you get there. If I did, the wild animals and savage weeds would take over and it would be even more of a mess than it is right now. If I make the space for you before you get there, this world will sink its teeth into it and there will no longer be milk, there will no longer be honey. It will no longer be the Promised Land as I've given it to you; it will just be land.

The foreign nations looked like obstacles. They looked like burdens. They looked like one more thing between the people and the Promise. But it was precisely because these foreign nations were there that the land had milk and honey at all. It was because these people were "in the land" that there was any land to promise at all. 

You see, sometimes, the things that look like they are in the way are really the things God is using to make a way. To make a way for you to come into that place and for it to be everything He promised you. Don't worry - take one more faithful step toward the place that God has called you, and He will drive out the nations when you get there. He will knock out the obstacles one at a time, as you reach them, so the land is still good and you learn a little thing or two about not just your faithfulness, but God's.

We are so ready to want to believe God for the destination and curse the journey it takes to get us there, but our story never starts in the place that God has called us; it begins with our first faithful step toward His voice. No, it's not easy. Yes, things get in the way. We still have to climb the mountains. We still have to wander the wilderness. We still have to turn our faces toward Golgotha. God's call is not a promise that it's going to be easy; it's a Promise that it's going to be worth it.

And thank God, because if our stories started when we reached the place where God has called us, most of us would die having never lived at all. 

Imagine if that was true of Jesus, if His story really started on Calvary. If the first thirty-three years didn't matter, neither would the last three days. Sorry, but that's the truth. Unless you know who the Man is, it doesn't matter that He dies. Unless He shows you who He is, it doesn't matter what He does. His death doesn't make waves unless He walks on water.

If you want to know what it means to believe God, to really believe Him, the answer is this: it means to trust Him as much for the wilderness as the whisper, as much for the path as the Promise. It's to take one faithful step in a Godly direction because the journey begins now.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Today, you get a glimpse into how my mind actually works. I apologize in advance...

Last week, I talked about God's artistry, ending with the great care that He put into crafting you just as you are. Perfectly you. As you were intended to be. Were it not so, He would have lumped you back together and started over. Then I had this thought:

Like any great artist, I believe God always signs His work. That means somewhere in you is the signature of God, scrawled across your life. Probably in red ink. I'm not sure that this is the same as your calling; your calling is your function. This is more...of an inherent bit of art in you. It's something you wouldn't be, you couldn't be, unless God had specifically created you to be exactly that. It's this very unique thing that is purely God in you; that is His signature. That is the evidence of His work. That is the place where He begins to draw your attention to more than the creation, but rather, to the Creator.

Yes, you are a signed work of God. 

But my mind does not stop there because thinking of the sign led me to the signet ring and a piece I wrote not long ago about an older song we sing at church called Come Thou Fount. There's a line in the song that says, "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above." Sealing something in the courts was a sign from the King that this had been decreed and it could not be broken. It was forever to be as the King declared.

Which means when God seals your heart, for His courts, it's forever. It's the decree of the King. God has written His name on you, and He has sealed your heart with His signet ring. 

This inevitably brought me to a place where I could only consider everything I've come through to get to this point. Rather, everything God has brought me through to bring me to this place. I started thinking about all my dark moments, all my hard nights, all my long days. I started thinking about the pains I've known in the depths of my heart, and the brokenness in my spirit. 

When God writes His name on you, He covers over all of that. His word is like sutures, sewing together the torn places. Holding together the broken ones. When He seals you for His courts, He embraces the whole you, in all of your pieces. His seal is a mark that He takes you, all of you, the good and the bad, the broken and the redeemed, the confident and the questioning. He delivers you out of this muck and into a place where He can have you, all of you, His handiwork and His decree.

And the midst of this profundity of thoughts, I laughed out loud. For a good long while. Maybe you have to be of a bit of the older persuasion to understand this, but the thought that came into my head was simply this:

Here I am - signed, sealed, delivered....I'm Yours.

Isn't that how God is? We are signed by the artist, sealed for His courts, and delivered from this world so that He can have us. So that He can do with us what He intended to do from the very beginning, from the moment He began knitting us together in our mother's womb. So that we could be His. 

And that's the story of how my brain really works.

Friday, July 18, 2014


I think we're always broken in hindsight. Not that that's a bad thing; it means we're always growing, always changing, always becoming a better version of ourselves. That we can look back and wish we'd done something different, or perhaps done it at all, is a good sign of our progression in life.

Which isn't to say it's not painful.

There are varying degrees of brokenness in perspective, all of which I wrestle with from time to time.

There are the things I wish I'd done at all, things I backed away from at the time for reasons I either can't remember or can no longer justify. These are the moments where a little voice whispers lies in your ears and you believe them. You can't. Or you shouldn't. Or maybe specifically, you shouldn't. It's dangerous. It's stupid. In hindsight, it might have just been fun. There are things in my life that if I had given myself to the moment, I would have had a good time. I would have learned a valuable lesson. I would have made a powerful memory. Now, all I've got is regret. If I knew then what I know now, I might just have gone for it. I might have tried some of these things. Yes, I may have failed, but I would have failed trying and that makes all the difference.

On the other hand, there are things I wish I'd not done at all, things where I probably knew better but did them anyway. In particular, though, the things I wish I hadn't done are things that were centered in self. Things that felt like the right thing to do for me, but they were damaging and painful to those around me. Why? Because I was not even considering others. Because I didn't care. At the time, I honestly didn't care. Thankfully, as I grow, it's hard for me to believe there was a time in my life where I got away with not caring about others, but it's true. I did. And here, I have regret, too. I am so, so sorry.

There are things I gave myself too strongly to, where I would have had a better experience if I wasn't trying to prove anything. If I could let a moment just be a moment instead of every one being a defining moment. Times in my life I was trying too hard, where my insecurities were screaming louder than my joy and I was swimming too hard against a current that wasn't that strong, but sure felt it. I wish I could go back and remember to breathe a little bit, to take in these moments for what they were and what they could be.

There are things I gave myself not strongly enough to, where I held myself back for one reason or another. Sometimes, it was because I was scared. Sometimes, it was because I felt unworthy. Sometimes, it was because a little voice in my head said I wasn't welcome. Sometimes....the list could go on and on. Here, too, these moments felt so often like defining moments when I wasn't ready to define myself, but in these cases, I tried to keep them from being moments at all because I wasn't sure how things would really speak into my life. Or how I could speak into them. Some of the moments in this category are times when I profoundly wondered what I was even doing, what I thought I was doing, why I thought I could do this. I wish I could go back and give myself more fully to these moments, dare to be spoken to. And dare to speak.

Some of these moments were almost three decades ago, others as near as three days. The irony is that even though I was broken in these moments, these were not all broken moments in themselves. Most of them gave me just what I needed at the time; they brought me to a moment like this one. I'm just varying degrees of ashamed and remorseful that I needed such things in the first place, and that I sacrificed coulda-been moments to get them.

Such is life, I suppose, but I'm working to change the pattern.

What can you do, you're asking? What can we do if we know we're broken, if we know all our moments will, in hindsight, look broken? Is there a way to escape our brokenness?

No, there's not. But there is a way to embrace it.

I am giving myself, broken, to the moments. I'm getting in touch with my depravity now so it doesn't haunt my memories. I'm admitting that life is a process, that growth is the goal. I'm owning that today, I am not who I want to be tomorrow and tomorrow, I will not be the person I want to be the day after that. I am choosing to recognize my limitations and my hesitations and decide whether those are worth the cost of my hopes and dreams. Or beyond that, my calling and my creation.

I am deciding to hear the little voice that whispers lies, to tell him he's a liar, and to go after it anyway. Not to miss another moment because I don't feel ready or it doesn't feel like mine. I am deciding to open my eyes and see more than my own depravity, noticing the dynamic in the world around me and choosing to respond to it with all that's in me to give. I'm deciding to remember to slow down and breathe, to live these moments and not conquer them all, to be present to what's going on so that one day, even if I'm broken, I can remember this. I am deciding to let some things speak into my life, even when it's scary, and to use my own voice to speak into the life around me.

I'm giving myself broken. Because really, it's all I've got.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


There is one man who has taught me more about strength than perhaps the rest of the world combined, although I didn't understand the lesson until more recently. I shall call this man DC.

I have known DC all my life. Before me, he knew my grandmother and my great-grandmother, and by extension, my parents and the rest of my family. He was from that generation, and I'm not really sure on the details of how they all met but he's been around my life forever. And over the years, as I got my own chance to know DC, I came to know certain things about him.

I came to know his smile. In fact, it wasn't often that he wasn't smiling. He has a sheer joy of life and the living experience, a deep passion for the work that he's done both professionally and personally. He is purely happy to have this opportunity of living, and I think with that happiness, there is also a deep thankfulness. He truly understands that all he has is a blessing and a gift, a divine chance to make a difference in this little world. And he has made a difference.

I came to know his graciousness and with it, his tenderness. He's the kind of man who always gives people the space they need not only to be themselves, but to discover themselves. He's the kind of guy who will take a bold step right into the middle of your mess and not worry about getting dirty. He speaks with kindness and gentleness, acknowledging whatever turmoil your life might be in....

Although I also came to know his discipline. He's not content to let you be okay with where you're at. He's always working you toward something better, even if that means a little tough love. I can't tell you how many times DC looked past whatever I was showing him and dared to speak truth into the situation. He routinely called out the deeper reality of who I am as a person, who I ought to be, and kept guiding me toward that place inside myself that was still pure. That place beyond all the mess.

I came to know his steadiness. Nothing could shake that guy. Whether it was me throwing everything my tumultuous heart could muster in his direction or something more mundane, nothing phased him. Things changed him, for sure, and I saw over the years his tenderness take a new form. A new way to respond in a changing world. But nothing shook that man. One time, we were out working side-by-side on a community project, just a small group of us, and DC emerged from whatever part of the site he was at and said, without alarm, I need to run inside for a minute and take care of something. I will be right back. As he was disappearing toward a nearby building, I saw the blood dripping off his hand. Turns out, he had hit himself pretty hard with the hammer and busted his thumb clean open. But he never uttered a word about the pain. He didn't even curse when it happened. (In fact, I don't think I've ever heard DC curse. At all.) He bandaged it up, walked back out, picked up his hammer, and went back to work.

So much about DC was, and is, contagious. He and I kept a joke running for nearly a decade. A single joke! He always smiled when he saw me, and I couldn't help but smile seeing him. We shared good moments and bad. Hard, hard moments. In some of my hardest days, he was there. Refusing to let go of me. I have mentioned his smile, his joy, his graciousness, his tenderness, his discipline, his passion, his steadiness...but the list could go on and on. What I want to get around to, however, is this:

DC taught me a powerful lesson on strength. 

You see, DC was my elementary school principal, among many other things that he was and that he came to be as I grew older. One day in my early school years, he came into the gymnasium during P.E. class, just to say hello and make his presence felt among the kids. For fun, and for the amusement of those watching, he laid down on the floor and pushed himself up plank-style and completely off the floor until his whole body was supported, horizontally, by the strength of his two hands. He held it for a good full minute, at least, then let himself down to applause.

In my latter years, he did a similar feat on the playground. He came over to a set of the monkey bars and again pushed himself up until the horizontal weight of his body was supported by two strong hands. He smiled, looking around the playground at awed children, and challenged us to do the same. For the grand prize of something awesome, like an ice cream cone or a Happy Meal. You know, something that mattered. For weeks, you couldn't get a spot on the monkey bars at recess. Everyone was trying; everyone failed.

The image of this joyful, tender, gracious, honest, loving, passionate, gentle man demonstrating such strength has struck with me all these years. Because those are really the only two times he showed us how strong he was. He didn't perform like a circus trick; he wouldn't do it just because you asked him to do it. He was disciplined in showing his strength, and it always stuck with me that even as I went through some tremendously difficult years, I never saw that strength. 

Yet as I've grown older, I realize I saw that strength every day and didn't know it. Strength is what allowed DC to be joyful. It's what let him be gracious and tender. It's what gave him the courage to stand in the messy places with people, to love people through hard times, to speak truth. His strength defined his discipline; it gave footing to his steadiness. No, he didn't often show his strength but it is his strength that allowed him to show the world what he wanted it to see of him.

Can we add here a measure of his wisdom?

See, that's the thing about strength - it's the silent partner. I have spent so many years trying to prove my strength. It's a gut reaction to weakness and powerlessness, which is why so many of us spend our time trying to grow, and to prove, our strength. At the same time, if I get to the end of my life and my tombstone reads, "She was strong" ... what a waste of a life. I mean, really. What a waste of a life. I'd much rather be joyful and gracious and tender and loving and honest and steady and....and a million other things that are all rooted in strength but are even more powerful.

I think about DC often, and with him, I think about so many other people in my life whose strength I never considered because I was too busy seeing the other things, the things they wanted me to see. Look behind all of those, and there is the strength. I am literally surrounded by strong, beautifully strong, people. It's awesome.

And there's a lesson of God and faith in all of this, too. The Bible repeatedly tells us, "The Lord is my strength." Indeed He is. It is because of God in my life that I can show the world what I want them to see of me: love, joy, grace, tenderness, love, truth, confidence...and a million other things all rooted in strength but even more powerful.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Perfect You

One of the ways you can know God is an artist is that He created anything at all. Not because He had to or even because He wanted to, but primarily because He needed to. (See yesterday's post.) The second way you can understand the artistry of God is to look in the mirror.

You...are perfect.

Most of us don't feel that way; I know I certainly don't most of the time. There are little things about myself, like there are little things about yourself, that don't feel perfect. They feel...disproportionate. They look....crooked. They are obviously...broken. Yet they are all turning out the way God wanted them or else, we'd look less like men and more like lumps.

The Lord spoke his word to Jeremiah. He said, 'Go to the potter's house. There I will give you my message.' I went to the potter's house, and he was working there at his wheel. Whenever a clay pot he was working on was ruined, he would rework it into a new clay pot the way he wanted to make it. The Lord spoke his word to me. The Lord asked, 'Nation of Israel, can't I do with you as this potter does with clay? Nation of Israel, you are like the clay in the potter's hands.  - Jeremiah 18:1-5

God's got the basic shape of you down. If it wasn't just right, He would have lumped you back together and started all over again. Which means, I know, bad news: that nose is your nose. Those feet? Your feet. That hair? That's your hair. And that's your elbow skin, too. When He looks at you, everything about you screams YOU! That's how God knows you're ready for this.

And what is this? This is your life.

This is every little thing God's going to bring you through to carve out the fine details of who you are. The intricate ornamentation of your personality. The intimacies of your spirit. With the smallest of tools, it is not any more that He is shaping you; the shape of your life is already perfect. No, He is defining you. He is distinguishing you.

This is the fire He will pass you through to cast you. To set some things in your heart. To solidify your shape. To make you the vessel you were designed to be, more than merely shape; now, you are usable. what He will fill you up with. It is everything He will pour into your life. The gifts. The blessings. The calling. His Spirit. Your spirit. Filling you up so you can pour Him out upon the little place in this world He's given you.

That's the thing about the clay pot. Back in the potter's day, it wasn't decoration; a clay pot was always used for something, whether that was to hold the valuable goods of the family kitchen or to hold the disgusting waste of the family latrine. (Some of you probably feel like latrines.) But the point is, it always had a purpose.

You have a purpose. And everything about you screams purpose.

Everything about you also screams art. You are the work of the Master's hands, and the Master is an artist by every sense of the word. Look at His creation. Look at the creation of you. 

You're a masterpiece.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Artist

If everything we conceptualize about our world is art theory, that raises a few questions about the Artist. And there are two profound truths about our God that reveal His artistic nature.

The first is this: that He created at all.

There are other words we could have used for the coming-into-existence of the world if God were, in fact, not an artist. If God is, for example, simply supernatural and metaphysical and this world is nothing more than His grand idea, then we might say that God manifested the world. That He just brought it into being. Conjured it, maybe, as opposed to creating it. If this world is nothing but science, if it's just a way to bring things together, then maybe God fabricated this world. And those are just three of our options.

Let me ask you - is there anything beautiful about being manifested, conjured, or fabricated? Ugh. It's lacking a certain something, a certain investment, a certain intimacy.

But God did not manifest, conjure, or fabricate; He created. He connected with this place on a personal level and brought everything into existence. Which brings us to the real question at the heart of the Artist - why?

And like any good Artist, God's answer is clear: Because I needed to. 

There's a subtlety of language here that cannot be overlooked. God did not have to create. It was not required of Him by any external force. It is not because He created that He gets to be God; He was God long before this creation ever existed. He did not have to have mountains. He did not have to have oceans. He did not have to have the sun and the moon, the flower and the field, the cat and the dog. He did not have to have man. There is nothing about creation that declares had to. God never had to create.

Nor is it that He merely wanted to create. This world, this universe, this heartbeat is not a whim. It's not because God got bored one day sitting around in His trinity and wanted to do something to pass the eternity. It's not that there wasn't really anything else to do, so why not make a world. Any of us that have ever undertaken something we wanted to do understand this: if God had merely wanted to create, the world would never be complete. We would be subject to His whim and His boredom. If He grew weary, He'd just quit. If things weren't working out right (an understatement, right?), He'd just wipe it all clean and be done. It wasn't anything anyway, right? When you only want to do something, you can kind of take it or leave it. It's cool as long as it's convenient. There's no real personal investment in it because it's just something. It's just a thing. 

God did not have to create; we are not His obligation. It was more than that He wanted to create; we are not His whim. The whispered truth is that God needed to create; we are His heart.

We are this thing that burned inside of Him for long enough that He couldn't ignore it. We are a grand idea that began as a seed in the depth of His being and slowly grew into all that you see around you, and all that you are. Once He got the concept of us, it ate away at Him until He couldn't not create this world. 

He created because He yearned to do something beautiful, and you are that beautiful thing.

That's how it is for artists. A little tiny idea of something plants itself in the depth of your heart and it grows and feeds on itself and eats at you until you just can't ignore it any more and you, with discipline and passion, start letting it pour out of you in whatever your medium is. You let it seep through your pores until even your sweat drips with the passion of creation. It becomes the work of your hands, but it is also the work of your heart and your mind and every ounce of your being.

That's how every good piece of art comes to be.

...That's how you got here.

And personally? I'm thankful. There's something beautiful about being created. Something about coming not from a petri dish, but from a potter's wheel. Something about being not a pleasure, but a passion. I am not manifest, conjured, or fabricated.

You are not manifest, conjured, fabricated.

We are created.

Because our God is an artist, and in the depth of His Spirit, He could not let go of the idea of us.

Monday, July 14, 2014


I don't believe in science.

I don't believe in test tubes and beakers. I don't believe in hypotheses and theorems. I don't believe in the sterile, stagnant, depersonalized chemical understanding of our universe. I've seen too much so-called science to know better.

This offends some of my atheist friends, who believe that whether or not we agree on God, we ought to at least agree on science. It is, they argue, provable. It is demonstrable. It can be replicated. That's what makes science, But what I don't understand is how so many people can look through a microscope and see science when clearly...

It's art.

Isn't that what draws scientists to the sciences in the first place? The beauty of it all. That's why we all love looking through a microscope, or a telescope, or a kaleidoscope. It's about the intricacy of things and the way they come together. The way one cell knows just where it fits and seeks out its place. The way a fertilized egg separates and begins to grow anew life. The delicate patterns on the leaves that are unseen with the naked eye. The way you can take two gases - hydrogen and oxygen - and put them together just right to create water, a liquid. 

It's the way one flower knows to be yellow while another turns toward purple. The way a single seed makes a giant tree with thousands of replications of itself embedded into its leafy DNA. The way there's always a rainbow somewhere, whether our naked eye can see it.

It's how the earth knows to spin on its axis at a "perfect 23" (an approximation, I know, but such it is). how the sun comes at just the right time, for just long enough, from just far enough away and yet, close all the same. The way it shines off the moon when it hides its face so still, we can see. The way the stars draw near and they seem so celestial yet so...intimate.

It's these kinds of things that draw us to science. They pull us in, playing on our imaginations and our intellect all at the same time. We want to know how something works. Or why it works. Or how to make it work. We want to figure out this or that. We want to take the pieces apart so we can put them back together. And we've developed the processes, the machinery, the methods to do just that; we call it science.

But all this stuff, the world around us? It's less machinated than magical. It's less methodical than mystical. It's less science...and more art.

Which is why, I guess, it's easy for me to not believe in science. To me, science is religion; they are one and the same. The common ground between an atheist and a Christian is not science, as so many of my unbelieving friends like to argue; it's art.

Science, religion....this is art theory. This is how we explain the beauty of the world around us. This is how we come to understand it. This is the paradigm by which we interpret what we see and hear and know. This is the lens through which we see Creation. This is how we figure out where things came from, how things got to be the way they are.

Science, while sometimes appreciating the incredible intricacies of the universe, exists primarily to find an explanation. Because science begins with the given, that things are how they are. Religion, on the other hand, begins with the Giver, which is the reason for all of this, and finds itself appreciating the incredible intimacy of the universe. 

Two sides of the same coin, you see. Two ways of coming at the same set of questions. It only matters where you begin.

I know, personally, many people who will tell you that you can't argue with science. That science is objective and all this other stuff...all this other stuff is subjective. But that's just not the case. In this incredible, beautiful, intimate, intricate, mysterious, mystical, awe-inspiring universe in which we live (and we all agree on that; it's what drives our questions), is all subjective.

Because it's art.

And whether you start with the given or the Giver, what we're doing here is nothing more than art theory. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Without the Whisper

I'm having a bit of my own Damascus Road experience right now. Lord, I hope this doesn't mean I'm on the wrong track....

Damascus Road was the place where Paul was blinded by the Lord for three days. Paul was on a bit of a journey of his own at the time, pursuing Christians for persecution, carrying orders from the leaders of the Pharisees to exterminate this Christian "threat." Everywhere he went, his eyes were open to the growing faith all around him; he was looking for followers of this "way." 

Then he is blinded. Some say it was to disorient him, to create a scenario in which he had to stop. You cannot stone a man you cannot see; you cannot tie up a man who you do not know is right in front of you. Some say it was to show him the glory of God. That the God who comes in a blinding flash also comes in a healing hand, in this case, a man who was brave enough to approach the Christian killer and restore his sight. Some say it was to heighten his vision. Once he could see again, he'd treasure all he could see. Or he'd see with new eyes.

We're not really told why God decided to blind this man on the road to Damascus, of all the things God could possibly have done to Saul. But here's what I understand:

When your vision is taken, your other senses sharpen to make up for the deficit. Paul could no longer see the Christians around him, but he could hear them. For the first time, he had to listen to their words. Not just the buzz words he was looking for as an excuse, but all of their words. He heard more than words like "Christ" and "new way;" now, he heard the story of Christ among the people. Paul could no longer see the Christians around him, but he could feel their presence. He could, for the first time, understand tangibly the spirit of God. He had a sense of what it meant for God to be among the people, the way the air changed for those who worshiped Him. A sixth sense, you might call it. Just that knowing that something is different in that space, whether you can explain it or not. He couldn't see them, but he could smell a new aroma. The odors of a new faith, which were not as pungent as he might have imagined. No longer was it burning meat and incense; now, it was bread and wine. It was community and joy and peace and promise. The stale air of the Synagogue gave way to the new air of the new covenant. And he could even taste it - a whole new world opened, void of dietary laws and restrictions, a plethora of opportunity before them.

Without his sight, Saul could finally see what Christendom was all about.

Which brings us to my current predicament. I've lost much of my hearing, temporarily. (And you know you're a theology lover when your first thought is Damascus Road.) Two nights ago, I developed a severe earache in both ears. Three hours and a large rush of fluid later, I fell asleep only to wake up to all the signs of a ruptured eardrum on both sides. Thankfully, it's just a massive infection and no rupture, but my hearing is M.I.A. 

Throughout the past few months, I don't know what I would have done without hearing God. I have had worship music on almost every day, letting the words and the rhythms pour over my soul. I have taken everything captive to the word spoken over my life, trying to hear that word again and again so I would know what I'm doing here. I have held many moments in the whisper, that gentle quiet word of God in my heart. It's been a beautiful time, really.

When my hearing diminished, my first thought was: what am I supposed to do without the whisper?

But here's what I understand: when I'm not just listening to the God who speaks to me, I have the chance to see Him in my world. I can open my eyes and see all around me the evidence of His presence. The things He's doing here. When I'm not just hearing Him, I have the chance to feel Him. Tangibly. To feel what it's like to have Him living in me in the way He's promised in that word I have so desperately held onto. To know what it's like for Him to sit in my heart, to work through my hands, to speak through my lips. When His whisper is nearly silent, I, too, have a sense of a new aroma. The air just smells different. It feels different. I come to understand the holiness all around me, the atmosphere of what God is doing which extends so far beyond my flesh. And I'm getting a taste of the new life.

The doctor says my ears should clear up, and with it, my hearing, in the next several days. In the meantime, it's still not easy. But I'm using this time to learn to more than hear my God. To give myself more than the whisper to hold onto.

Unlike Saul, I don't think I'm on the wrong journey. Quite the contrary. The chance to engage God with all of my senses only intensifies my passion for this season in my life. It lets me know with more than one word that this is really happening, this is really real. And it reminds me to have my quiet moments, sure, but to continue to engage the God who exists outside of my own self and keep in touch with the God who is doing something in me, with me, through me....all around me. May I never forget the whisper, but may I always remember the God of so much more.

Welcome to Damascus.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Upper Room

On Monday, I wrote about going to church on Sundays and being the church on Mondays. About how we're supposed to be walking this world doing what Jesus did - teaching, healing, affirming, loving. We all understand this, but it's harder than it sounds.

The problem, I think, for most of us is that our Sunday churches have become our Upper Rooms.

The Upper Room was originally the place where Jesus prepared Himself, and His disciples, for His final journey to the Cross. There, they shared the Passover feast and the Last Supper. There, they solidified what was about to happen, talking about the prophecy to be fulfilled. They reminded themselves what they'd been doing for the past three years, what their work meant, what their Teacher mean. They broke bread and shared stories.

Around noon the next day, darkness fell over the land until three. Jesus looked into the heavens and declared, "It is finished." The earth shook, graves broke open, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two...and the disciples high-tailed it back to the Upper Room.

They had gone there to hide. After all, their leader had just been killed; they had good reason to believe they would be next. They had gone there to think. It was a quiet place, a removed place, where they could have a few minutes to clear their heads. And they had gone there to remember. This was the last place they had shared together, a place where they had already told stories; they came to tell stories again.

Isn't that what we're doing at church?

Most of us are hiding at church, being Christians on Sunday mornings and trying to sort of downplay that the rest of the week. In a world where a bank teller can reportedly be fired for telling customers to "have a blessed day," why wouldn't we want to hide a little bit of our faith?

Most of us are in our churches to think. It's the only time each week where we have the opportunity, maybe, to think about something holy. To consider the state of our hearts. To go back to our faith and figure out what we believe and what it matters. To pray. In church, we can 'do' God things and it's perfectly okay.

Most of us are hearing, and sharing, stories at church. It's where we remember who God is and what He's doing here, the times we've had with Him, the moments we wish were still coming. And maybe they are. It's the time we talk about this journey we've been on with Him, and hear about the journey He's been on with us, and have a chance to remember the story we're telling.

Yes, on Sundays, most of us are in our Upper Rooms because, frankly, it seems safe there and we don't know what else to do with ourselves. We're waiting to see what happens. We're hoping Jesus comes back like He said He would.

He does. He came into the Upper Room, but only briefly. In His resurrected state, most of His time was spent outside of those walls. He appeared to hundreds of people over forty days, but in the Upper Room only once (that we know of) and what happened there?

Not a lot of anything. A confirmation of His identity and His presence, but not much else. It was outside of the Upper Room that He made more history, that He wrote more story, that He created new memories.

I imagine if you asked the disciples today what their favorite memory of the resurrected Christ is, they wouldn't tell you it was that time He came to the Upper Room to prove once again who He was. It was all the other times, when He was living life with them again, the same way He lives life with us.

It was probably the time He fried some fish on the seashore for a few of His weary fishermen. You know that Guy had to be one heck of a cook.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quiet Moments

It doesn't look like everything Jesus said was relevant. There are multiple occasions where He's sharing a quiet moment with His disciples and all of a sudden, He starts speaking prophecy and riddles.

Who do people say I am? He asks when the group doesn't appear to be doing much of anything else. And who do you way I am?

All of these things must come to pass.

Uhm, yeah. That's nice, Jesus, but what does it have to do with anything?

The answer is a great deal. These quiet moments, they were on the verge of becoming idle moments. Between all the moments of ministry, all the healing, all the run-ins with the Pharisees, on the streets of Jerusalem, the shores of Galilee, the Upper Room, these men probably savored these moments. There was nothing much happening. For a minute, they could breathe and just enjoy each other's company.

The problem is that when you take too much of a breather, all of a sudden this purposeful work you've been doing just feels like hanging out with your friends. You're having a good time together, but you're sitting around like buddies. It's easy to forget what you're doing, and that the work isn't done. It's easy to start telling stories like they happened so many years ago or even just yesterday, and reliving the past instead of engaging the present or longing for the future.

Jesus uses these moments to refocus the disciples' eyes on the Promise unfolding before them. He reminds them what it is they are doing here, what they are a part of, whats's going on all around them. He uses these quiet moments to get them to look again at the Promise, to remember what made them leave their old lives in the first place. To bring Simon and Andrew, James and John, back from the chats they used to have in the boat and into the room with Jesus again.

Jesus spoke to the hearts of men; His day-to-day ministry was always relevant. When the streets cleared and the ragged group of friends got a few moments to themselves, His words were no less relevant. But rather than the hearts of men, Jesus spoke into the moment itself. He spoke words of prophecy and riddles, for no other reason than that all those with Him should remember what's going on here.

These are not idle moments; they are merely quiet ones. They are the chance we have to look again at the Promise and remember....

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Relevant Reverend

Since I streamed the Pepperdine Bible Lectures back in May, I can't seem to get enough of listening to preachers. It's the theology nerd in me, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago, I started streaming a few series by a preacher I'd never heard but had heard good things about and to be honest with you, I barely made it through a whole sermon. I started three or four, but they were hard to finish. Why?

Because this dude was standing in front of his church lecturing the Bible. Teaching it the way you would an academic course on Jesus. He had an outline and bullet points, but nothing to pierce the heart. 

It made me ache.

It got me thinking about my writing. About this space. About my books. About my own church. About what I look for in a preacher. About what I want to be in a minister. And it's no secret, at least not in this space, that I believe in practical theology. It's not God for God's sake; He already has all of Himself. It's God for our sake, because we desperately need Him. And we need to understand how He needs us. (It's not as self-centered as it sounds. I promise.)

The example I rely on in all of this is Jesus. He spent a great deal of His time talking with the people, speaking to them, giving them the Word of God. But He never, and I mean never, said anything that wasn't also relevant.

He never spouted Scripture for the sake of teaching Scripture. He did it to expound on the Promise. He did it to create the new covenant. He did it when it applied to a person's life. He never spoke a word, declaring, "You need to know this." No. He always said, "You need to hear this." And there is a big difference. A huge difference.

Because there is something profound about the God who speaks to you, as opposed to the God who simply speaks. Don't get me wrong; I believe in Scripture. I believe in the power of God's word. I believe that if you spend your time looking into it, you will find a way that every word in that Good Book speaks into your life. But it goes back to the nesting doll principle for me. God does not ask you to fit your life to His Word. And we know better than to fit His Word to our lives. It's this beautiful nesting that must take place. God gives you a word for your life, and you fit your life into it, and then you discover how His broader word fits your life. That's one measure of a developing revelation.

The people sitting in the pews of this preacher's church...I wondered what this had to do with anything they were actually living. I wondered what they felt like when they walked out the door on any given Sunday. I wondered how it truly mattered whether they knew 1 Samuel 14 in and out or Ecclesiastes 4 or Matthew 7. I wondered how many of them knew the words, knew the Word, but still felt like they were missing something. I imagined it might be too many of them.

These people walk away from those sermons knowing God's word and knowing it's true. But there is so much more to God's word than simple truth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It's meant to be piercing. It's meant to cut through the mess of life and go straight to the heart. That's what I love about practical theology. It puts God right in this place! In the place He so desires to be.

I shudder to think about the people in this world who only know God's word is true. Without context, and I mean real-world, present-day, personal-heart-and-flesh context, I'm sorry but "true" doesn't mean anything. That's what's got people aching. That's what's got people hurting. That's what's got people coming to church and walking out and never going back. We need a God who is more than true; we need one who is relevant.

And our God is. The best preachers, in my opinion, know this. Sunday morning is not a seminary; it's a synagogue. It's a place for the people to come and find Jesus. The hearts that walk through our doors...they want more than what they need to know. They're longing for the words they need to hear. That was Jesus' ministry.

It is ours, too.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Church

Today's Monday, which means many persons around the world spent at least a part of yesterday in a church somewhere. That is a beautiful thing.

And there are enough posts out there right now about why you should be in church on Sundays that I'm not going to add to that resounding echo, although let me say that I firmly agree with what most of these writers say: when you start to miss church for other events, you set your priorities and it's clear that church isn't one of them. That pains me, but it is what it is.

There is one very good reason to go to church on Sundays, however, and it is this: Jesus is there. Jesus went to the Temple rather frequently. Faithfully, you might even say. In addition to attending holy festivals and feasts with His family, we see Him in the Temple as early as age 12 simply for the teaching. For sitting around discussing the Scriptures. For being together with people who were doing the same. For the edification that comes from a holy community. Yes, Jesus went to church. What makes you think you don't need to?

But that was Sunday and today is Monday, and so there is another pressing issue on my mind, and that is this: once you leave the church, you're supposed to be the church. 

Are you being the church today?

Jesus went to the Temple, but He also brought the Temple to the people. He traveled around the region, seeing what people needed, meeting with them, talking Scripture to more than just the religious elite. He didn't care if you knew the Pentateuch; He was going to tell you what Moses said. It didn't matter to Him if you knew Isaiah was a prophet. Maybe you lived next door to an "Isaiah"; He was going to tell you what the prophet said anyway and invite you into His bigger story.

He walked around bringing healing. He cast out demons, restored sight, regenerated limbs, raised the dead, righted the lame. He forgave sins. He even spoke to the things you could not so easily see, the very broken hearts of people. Consider the woman at the well, just trying to escape her own story in the heat of the day. He brought her right back into it and spoke healing. Or a guy like Zacchaeus, trapped in his own corruption, unsure any more where the line even is. Jesus redrew the line for him, quietly, and the tax collector found a new measure of integrity.

He spent much of His time just affirming people. Telling them it was okay to be who they were, and telling them who He was making them to be. Peter is the prime example of this. A regular, run-of-the-mill fisherman who became a fisher of men. A guy who messed up over and over again. Jesus just keeps gently correcting him and telling him who he's going to be, who he's already becoming. 

And He invited people into holy moments. He created sacred spaces. He shared food with them, a nod to the festivals and feasts that were so common in Jewish society.

That's what we're called to do. We are called to be Jesus in this world, to be the place where people find Him in this world. We are called to teach the Word of God, to let people know what the Scriptures say. We are called to heal the infirmities all around us, the ones we can see and the ones that live below the surface. We are called to affirm people, to remind them who they are, who they are becoming. And we are called to create sacred spaces and invite people into them.

Most of us went to church yesterday. And that's important. Please, join us on Sundays.

But are you being the church today? Are you teaching, healing, affirming, and inviting people today? Because that's just as important. It's important not just to be in church, but to be the church and to be Jesus in this world.