Friday, October 31, 2014

Divine Imagination

While we're talking about the Creation story, can we just take a moment to reflect on the imagination of a God who looked at nothing and saw everything? That's incredible! And it has two powerful implications for you and me.

First, I think we are a people who question our worth and our abilities at every turn. We are a people who look in the mirror and see nothing, but the God who created us sees everything He ever meant for us. No, that doesn't mean we're getting it right and that the way we are today is the way God intended us to be; it means that the seed of potential is within us, in some form or stage of growth, and that when God looks at us, what He sees more than anything is that seed. He sees not so much what we're harvesting as what He's planted, and He's forever fertilizing the soil of us to produce growth.

...Which is why life sometimes feels like...manure. 

But really, we're too hard on ourselves. We're too quick to see the failures and not the faith. We're too quick to admit that we've fallen short without realizing we have been raised up. We're too quick to look at our achievements and discount our potential. Life in God is about learning to see everything even when the eyes staring back at us in the mirror are haunted by nothingness. 

The second implication of being a product of God's imagination is more fun, and more whimsical. Think about imagination for a minute. Think about what imagination produces, what kinds of things live there. What lives in imagination is the impossible. Or at the very least, the improbable. It's the stuff of dreams and the stuff of fantasy. Unicorns, for example. And the pegasus. Monsters with four eyes and six arms and twelve toes on each foot. Things that could never be possible. 

And us.

In the divine imagination, at least, there is us. Which means a few things. It means that you, as God created you to be, could never be possible...were it not for a God who created you in the real world to be just that way. Sometimes, we struggle to understand how we came to be the persons we came to be. We wonder how all this is possible at all, and the truth is: it's not. You, me, all of Creation - it is, to an extent, not possible. It's a product of imagination. It exists only because the divine imagination has also the power to create, and He has done so. So it's not possible; it simply is.

It means that you are the stuff of dreams. God dreams about you. Did you know that? God lets the idea of you play around in His head, not like some toy but as an object of His desire. He dreams about you because He desires you. He desires you as you are and as you could be. The image of you that He dreams about is not your current self nor your perfect self but your becoming self. He dreams about the you that is taking faithful steps toward your created nature every day. He dreams about the you that is becoming His. He dreams about the you that He's already redeemed. And He dreams about all the things He has for you to do; He dreams about you doing them and what a tremendous impact that is going to have on His Creation. 

And it means that you are, at your core, a fantastical being. You're no different than the unicorn or the pegasus or the monster with four eyes and six arms and twelve toes on each foot. You are not a natural part of this world; you have been given to this world, and this world has been given to you but on its wildest whim, this world could not create you from itself. You are a product of pure imagination. You are a fantastical being; which is why it's fantastic to be you.

God looked at nothing and saw everything, so He created the world to be just this way. He looked at emptiness and saw you, so He created you. That's incredible! What a divine imagination!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Miraculous Inception

There's been quite a buzz in the media, and whispers around the water cooler, this week as the news broke that Pope Francis declared evolution and the Big Bang Theory "not inconsistent" with Creation. As with all things in the media, the Pope's words have been selectively edited to make a political statement that he never intended to make. But things are things, and people are really interested in this right now, so let's look at evolution, Creation, and the Big Bang Theory (which moves back to Thursdays tonight...oh wait. The other one).

It is true that neither evolution nor the Big Bang are incompatible or inconsistent with Creation. Evolution, we know, is quite possible within Creation because we're seeing it all the time. A yorkie and a poodle make a yorkiepoo and a new breed is born. That's a form of evolution. It's called micro-evolution, and it's all around us. Macro-evolution, the idea that man is evolved from monkeys, is quite something different altogether and is not consistent with the Creation story. Nonetheless, we must admit that evolution is not inconsistent with the Creation framework.

The Big Bang, too, is not inconsistent with Creation. And as I've thought about this idea in preparation to write this blog, I can almost see where it might be quite like God to do such a thing. It's sort of the "Hollywood" version of the Creation story, which has a more logical flow and a steady pace to it, but I find myself thinking about all of the lessons God gives about the seed. To me, that's one concept of the Big Bang - a seed of the universe becomes the whole of Creation itself. Remember what God said about the mustard seed? It is the smallest of seeds but grows into the mightiest tree. I can kind of see that idea in the Big Bang and think about God holding this seed that contains the DNA for the entire universe in the palm of His hand, treasuring it, loving it, planting it and then it explodes out of the fertile soil of God's imagination and becomes this place where we live today. Again, that's the "Hollywood" version of the Creation story, but I don't think God will fault me for thinking about it. 

Science is something special. It's the rational world. It's the way things work. Everything we discover by science is a Creation of God; some have called this natural world "the book of God's Works" (as opposed to the book of God's Word). And it's just as revealing about Him as the Scriptures. Maybe, one might argue, even more revealing because it is not tied into the story of one man at a time, but into the story of all men at all times. Certainly, when you see the structure of the world, you can know that God is at work.

One of the quotes that's been pulled from Pope Francis' speech is that "God is not a magician, with a magic wand." That's true; He's not. He works within the same framework that we have to. He works within the laws of nature for most of what He does. Most. He works within the sun and the moon, within darkness and light. He works with the wind and with the rain and with the snow. He works within the seed to create a beautiful flower. He works within the womb to make a child. You have knit me together in my mother's womb. That's science; it's also Creation. 

But God, while He works in this framework that we can discover, is not bound by this framework. His Word is full of the testimony of miracles, which are only possible when God steps outside of the laws of nature. Wine does not come from water. But in Cana, it does. Blind men do not spontaneously see. But at the word of Jesus, they do. Sticks do not become snakes. Water does not come from rocks. Fire does not leave the hairs on a man's head unsinged. Not in the laws of nature. But in the nature of God, all of these things are possible because God is not bound by nature.

Not because He is a magician, but because He is a miracle worker. 

So no, science is not incompatible with God. It's not inconsistent with Creation to find a way in which things are still being created. We have to sidestep the politics and stop thinking science is a threat to God; it's a testimony to Him if anything. The problem with these theories, however, is that they don't go far enough. They don't answer all of the questions.

The Big Bang is not inconsistent, but it does not answer the question: what exploded? Where did the seed of the universe come from? Something does not come from nothing. It can't. This is where Creation and science must work together. We can say that the universe exploded and expanded from a single point (I don't know whether it did or not; I wasn't there) but we must also say that this single point came from somewhere. For those of us who believe, this single point is the hand of God. He created the seed.

Evolution is not inconsistent, but it does not answer the question of how life begins at all. Creation steps in here, too: God created them male and female. God gave that male yorkie the seed and the female poodle the egg and created the conditions for life in which a yorkiepoo is born. He's created the life that can create life at all; life does not just crawl out of the ooze. 

The Pope said some powerful words (which have been said by many Popes before him). And what strikes me in all of this is that what the Pope said was meant to bridge the gap a little between faith and science, to start repairing the relationship between these two fields. His words were an attempt to bring us together by speaking truth - there is room in our theology for science. And there is room in science for our theology. But the media has taken his words and used them to pit the two against each other once more, to widen the divide between science and faith. It's heartbreaking. We can't buy into it. We can't let the sensationalism polarize us on opposite sides of the truth.

And here's the truth: Creation does not exist inside itself; it can't. It's one of those moments that defies the laws of nature. It's a miracle. From the miraculous inception moving forward, however, science is possible. In fact, it is necessary. We could not understand God were it not for the laws of nature, which He created and works within but is not bound by; and we could not understand the laws of nature were it not for God, who created and works within but is not bound by them.

We believe in nature because there's no such thing as magic; we believe in God because there are miracles. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


You've been stretched in two directions as far as you can go, you have hung on in the becoming and stuck it out. What is left for you to do?


It's one thing for Jesus to give Himself to the Cross. It's another thing for Him to hang on in the midst of it. It's yet another thing still for Him to die. And it's not some passive death that just sort of happens when you've been hanging on for awhile. It's not something that naturally flows out of the stretching, out of the hanging, out of the angst. Yes, the Cross was known for killing people, but Jesus died. Intentionally.

We see it in every breath He took from the Garden on - He was preparing Himself to die. But we see it most profoundly in His last breaths. He uttered, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit." He uttered, "Father, I die." I choose to die. And He continued, "It is finished." Or, I am now done dying. There is no more of My living nor My dying left for Me to do.

And that's sort of the tricky subtlety of dying a good death. It's not so simple as dying in opposition to living. It's not that you are done living and so you die. It's not that there's nothing more that you can do and so you stop doing anything at all. That's not it. Dying is the point of knowing that God has done what He's intended to do to this point, and the next thing He needs for you to do is to die.

God was working on something in the person of Jesus; the Son knew it from the beginning, and the world was catching on. God was working on something through the Cross. It was the atonement for sin. It was mercy poured out. It was Jesus becoming the sacrificial Lamb that the Old Law required, to become a pleasing aroma to the Lord. On the Cross, He was doing that. But that wasn't all that God was doing through the person of Jesus; He was also preparing grace. He was making a way for eternal life. He was making a way for man not only to be reconciled, but to be redeemed. At some point, in order for God to be doing that, Jesus can no longer be living. He has to die. 

That's what Jesus is reflecting on on the Cross. That's what His last breaths are about. Not that the work of the Lord in Him is finished - we know it's not. We know that Sunday's a-comin'. What Jesus knows, and what He speaks from, is that God's work in His living body is finished and it is time for Him to pass into a new phase of God's plan. The work of reconciliation is done. The Lamb has been quartered and drawn, His blood spilled, an aroma pleasing to the Lord has lifted to the heavens. The work of redemption must now begin.

God is working on something in the person of you. Maybe you've known it from the beginning. Maybe you're just now catching on, but He's doing something. Whatever this Cross is that you're bearing, this way that you're being drawn in two directions and left hanging, this way that you're's all for something. It's mercy poured out. That you're not getting what you deserve but you're being swept up into something bigger. On the Cross, you're doing that.

And that's what we need to take these moments to reflect on. That's what we need to make our last breaths about. Not that the work of the Lord in us is finished - we know it's not. Sunday is still a-comin'. What we need to know, what we need to speak from, is that God's work in this phase of our life, God's work with this Cross, is finished and it's time to pass into a new phase of God's plan. The work of today is done; it's time to move toward tomorrow. 

All this talk about death, and it's easy to get wrapped up in old age and cancer diagnoses and lives wasted and lives well lived, but it's not about that. Sometimes, sure, it's about passing from this world to the next. But more often, it's about passing from this Cross to the next. It's about knowing that this season must come to a close and a new one begin. We blink, and we find ourselves back in the Garden, praying over the next thing to come. 

So many of us spend our lives hanging on the same Cross, carrying it with us through too many seasons because we believe that's what God is doing through us. Maybe it is. Or maybe it just was. Maybe God meant for us to die to that thing long ago so that we could be drawn in and drawn out by something new entirely. Maybe He's intended that we die so we can come to a new place of hanging on, a new season of becoming where we die again and again. Life is not leading to one death; life leads to many deaths, all for the work that God is doing in you, through you, and on account of you. 

The question we have to think about, and this goes for all of us, is how long have we been hanging on? How long have we been about the work of becoming in this place? And is it maybe time that some of us die? That we move on to the next phase of what God has for us and set about the work of becoming all over again, of becoming something new? 

Yes, you must carry your cross. You must. And you must give yourself to it. And you must hang on while it does it cruel, agonizing work in you. But you also must, at some point, surrender to it and die. 

That is, if you ever want to live.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hang On

If you haven't read yesterday's post, start there. This is one of those things where I'm progressing, or building on a theme. Christ calls us to go in two directions at once - to be the saved only because we are the sinner - and this pulls us in two directions, not unlike Christ Himself as He was crucified on the Cross. This stretching pulls us toward a place of death.

A death which is necessary if we ever hope to live.

Once we find ourselves in this situation, once we have been drawn in both directions, once we have stretched and reached as far as our fallen flesh will let us, there are still two more things we must do. I will discuss one of those today (and the other, you might have guessed, tomorrow). 

The first is something I don't think we give Jesus enough credit for. It's the part of the Cross that we sort of skip right over, and yet, for those of us who bear a burden every day, it is one that cannot be overlooked. Between the moment Christ gave Himself to the Cross and the breath where He submitted to it, He was doing something very important:

He was hanging on.

Clearly, He had no choice. There were a few pesky nails that eliminated any other option, but for several hours, there He was. Just hanging on. 

Hanging on is a critical time. It's that space between stretching and surrender. You've been drawn as far apart as you can be, pulled in two opposite directions, trying to learn to embrace both. For Jesus, still loving the sinner on His left and the one on His right. Torn between two extremes. On the one hand, this; on the other hand, that; from both hands, bleeding. Feeling the ache and the pain in your body. Feeling the tension. And choosing to stay.

Nails or no nails, choosing to stay. This is where most of us run. This is where we exercise our sovereign authority, our free will, and pull ourselves down. This is where we reflexively save ourselves from the Cross. We can't stand this tearing, so we tear ourselves down. 

There's something special happening here, though, and it's what we so often miss out on when we're too quick to step down instead of hang on. It's the time we need to figure out what it feels like to really believe in God. To really trust Him. To be a little bit less ourselves and a little bit more His.

Some say that God's work on the Cross was done when Jesus died there, but that's only when it was finished; God was doing His work on the Cross while Jesus hung there. The revelation was already unfolding. It was being revealed in this sacred space where a Man is becoming God's. 

We don't put enough emphasis on becoming these days. We don't have much patience for the process. We want faith, like we want all things in life, to be a before and after, a yesterday and today. We want it to be a moment, a blink of the eye, a flip of the switch. We want to be fallen, sinful, sorry men and in the next breath, be wholly, fully redeemed. And life doesn't work that way. Faith doesn't work that way. God doesn't work that way. 

Sure, there's redemption and in one sense, we are redeemed from the very breath we speak faith. But in the more real, tangible, everyday-aching kind of way, this whole life is a process of faith. We are always in a process of becoming. We are, for most of our lives, hanging on. 

Don't be so quick to overlook this season of your life, this hanging on. It's agonizing, sure, but something beautiful is happening here. Something incredible is happening here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Two Roads Diverged

One of the great troubles with Christ is that He requires that a man be two things at once. Not merely two things, but two divergent things. Complete opposites. We often call them paradoxes, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

This is the struggle that many of us have when we come to be Christians. For most of us, it feels like transitioning out of being one thing and coming to be another entirely. We do, as Paul says, put on new clothes. The old is destroyed and the new has come and what we were yesterday is not what we are today.

Although we must be.

And I think this is one of the reasons our grace so easily fails us. It's why we're so hard on others who are walking their divergent roads; we believe we have taken a path and have become something and we do not understand why some men seem to have chosen the other path, become the opposite. And yet, still call themselves men.

It is primarily this, although this is perhaps the most glaring and simplistic example: for those of us who find Christ, we count ourselves among the saints. Or at least, among the saved. That is, after all, the natural outflow of finding such a Christ. Where once we are sinners, now we are saved. The trouble is that we cannot be saved without continuing to be sinners. Not that we continue to sin, but that we continue to be aware of our sinful nature and our propensity toward rebellion. Without that, we need no Savior and indeed, cannot be saved. So the more we count ourselves among the saved, we are required to count ourselves among the sinners.

Most of us fail to do this and end up condemning the lost more than leading them to be found. It's tragic.

Jesus says we must be leaders, that we must show the world the path to the narrow way, that we must show them how to get to the Cross. He also says we must be servants. The truth is we cannot lead unless we are serving, but serving requires a certain measure to slow down, to hold back, to labor in the trenches. Leading means we have to step out first.

Or how about this? If we want to lead, we must follow. We are supposed to show other people the way without really knowing it ourselves, except to know that it comes in following Jesus. 

Those of us who desire to be strong must be weak. Those of us to be raised up must be humble. Those of us to be first must be last.

The truth is that whatever we find ourselves to be in Jesus, we must be also the very opposite if we hope to be that thing at all.

And we say that perhaps this, yes, perhaps this is the way to life. But I promise you it is not. This is not the way to life. Except that it is the way to death. It is the way by which we stretch ourselves out on the Cross - as far in both directions as we can possibly go, fully to the right and to the left until we are nearly torn in two and the very breath is taken out of us by the pressure of it all. Here, in this place in which we are as fully as possible both one thing and another, we find death.

Which is, the way these sorts of things work, the only way we ever find life. 

Two roads diverge from the narrow road, and the life in Christ is not about choosing on or the other; it is about choosing, at once, both. If you ever hope to be the saint, you must equally be the sinner. If you ever hope to be found, you must be lost. If you ever hope to be full, you must be empty. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Please and Thank You

There is a close approximation of an answer to the question Who Am I and to the conundrum of being stuck somewhere between a goal and a gift. That approximation is this: that life is a mixture of both.

You can always be a better version of yourself. There's always something you can do better at, or do in a more loving way. When you are fortunate enough to come into contact with that greater measure of yourself, it's always a goal. It's a reminder, directly or indirectly, that you are not fully what you could be. Sometimes, it's a one-to-one correlation. You find yourself more patient than you normally are, and you know that you need to work on your patience. Sometimes, it's not so clear. Sometimes, you find yourself patient and realize how quietly condescending you are, and you know you need to work on that. So anytime you come in contact with a better version of yourself, there's always a goal. There's always a way to be a little more like her. There's always a reason to pray, Please. Please, Lord.

And yet, this is also a gift. You recognize that right away when you understand that who you glimpse in the mirror is not who you normally see. You are not, on a day-to-day basis, this person; you're not sure you could be. You know you can't be on your own. So this person is always a gift, something to be celebrated, something to be thankful for. Maybe you find yourself without that incessant inner dialogue that's always questioning who you are. For a brief moment, you're at peace. You know you never could be, not as long as you're looking in the mirror. a gift. Maybe you respond with grace, and you don't know where that measure of grace came from but it feels so natural in this brief moment. That's a gift. Rejoice. There's always a reason to pray, Thank You. Thank You, Lord.

So the answer to the question of the goal or the gift is: both. The answer to the pull between Please or Thank You is Please AND Thank You. 

Now, in the same way that the theology behind all this doesn't answer the question for me (as I discussed on Wednesday), neither does this really satisfy my spirit. I still long to know who I am. I still long to know what God has created in me. I still long to know the ways I've been made. But I'm growing more content with the truth that there may be simply no way to know until the design of me is revealed in life restored.

Life as we know it may always be this constant pull between the attainable and the unattainable, between the broken man and the blessed, between who I am and who I ought to be. It may always be this pull between having to be faithful just as I am and having to be thankful that I'm not always as I am; sometimes, I am something better. This life is a constant reminder that I am but fallen. 

It's not a satisfying answer. It still leads to that tension, that pull between inspired hope that I could be more than I currently am and that frustration that curses myself for not already being this more. Between holding out more for myself and condemning the little that I currently happen to be. Between knowing myself and not knowing myself and wishing I could know myself. It's that tension that lives somewhere between the goal and the gift. It's the tension that comes from asking, How was I created? And how have I been made?

Knowing, of course, that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made. And knowing, equally, how often I have been made by fear and wonder. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Please or Thank You

Every once in awhile, you have this holy moment where you are something other than you've always been. You see something new in  yourself. It feels natural, yet surreal. And it leads you to the place where you start to ask this question:

How was I created? And how have I been made?

(That was yesterday's discussion.) There's certainly an answer to this that says you can never really know, for as much as you know of yourself, you have been made. The world has shaped you by the time you have enough consciousness to ask such a question and it may be impossible at this point to separate the created from the made. 

Which doesn't make it any less important of a question. And here's why. Or at least, here's what I find my heart running up against in situations like these.

If this holy moment is the way I was created, if at my core I am who this holy moment declares me to be, then this person I see so briefly looking back at me in the mirror becomes a goal. I have to turn my life's course to try to capture her. I have to set myself to the disciplines of cultivating her. If she is more patient than I, then I owe it to the God who created me to work on my patience. If she is more generous, to work on my generosity. If she is more bold, to embrace my courage. If she is more reserved, to work on my restraint. She becomes the standard for my living, and I would...and I think, rightfully should...spend my days in pursuit of her. In her shadow, I pray, Please. Please, Lord, make me this woman.

But if this holy moment is not a revelation of the way I was created, it requires something else entirely. And it's not that if it does not reveal my creation, it reveals my making; a holy moment will never center on what this world has made you. Rather, it would be a reflection of who God has made me for this moment. If that's the case, this woman is no longer the goal; she is the gift. She is an outpouring of grace, the very generosity of God. She is given only as I have given myself to God to be available for the work, to be present for such a moment. I could spend my life in pursuit of her and never get there, never even come close, because this woman could never be found in me; she could only be found in God. So my life must become praise. It must become thankfulness. It must become coming closer, giving myself again and again to God. In her glow, I pray, Thank You. Thank You, Lord.

To be honest, both of these sound pretty good, right? Isn't this precisely what life is? It's working toward a better version of ourselves in accordance with God's design by living a life of praise and thankfulness and drawing near to Him in faithful surrender. Sounds pretty good to me. 

On the one hand, yes. On the other, it's a lot deeper than this. If I take this woman as a goal when she has only ever been a gift, two things are bound to happen. First, I'm likely to become frustrated, if not angry and hateful, with myself for being unable to become her. Or to even come close. Second, as a result of the first, I'm likely to become frustrated, if not angry and hateful, with God for giving me such a high standard that I could never live up to. 

If I take this woman as a gift and she was meant to be the goal, I miss out on becoming the woman God has intended for me to be. I miss out on the chance to make myself a little more every day. I miss the chance to uncover what God has hidden in her for me. If I miss the chance to be her, then I miss the chance to know God as fully as she does. 

So these are hard questions that come out of holy moments. It's hard to know whether to pray Please... or Thank You. It's hard to know when you're looking in the mirror which is the goal and which is the gift.

Thank God it's all grace.

But I still think it matters to me. I know it does. How was I created? And how have I been made?

Where is God? And who...who am I?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who Am I

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. But you are also made by fear and wonder, and a host of other experiences. One of the questions I often find myself asking, particularly in these days, is exactly who am I? Because the truth is that there is a way I was created and there is a way I've been made.

The same is true for you.

God had something in mind when He created you. He knew what every tiny part of your personality needed to be in order for Him to do precisely the thing He wants to do with you. Maybe He instilled in you a good humor. Or a quiet patience. Or a tender caring. Maybe He gave you a mind to understand or eyes to see or hands to work. Maybe He gave you a special voice or a powerful presence or a contagious smile. 

The problem is that by the time you reach an age of understanding where you can begin to ask these questions, you are not merely created any more; you have been made. You have been made to be a certain way by the life that you have lived. For better or for worse, the experiences you have had have shaped you. Maybe God created your contagious smile, but maybe this world made you to hide it. You look in the mirror and see your sullen face and wonder if this is who you are. Or are you something different? Maybe God gave you that sullen face. Who knows?

Maybe you speak very well. Did God create that voice in you, or have you been made to have such a voice because it was the only way you would ever be heard? Maybe you have a quiet patience. Were you created that way or is that how you have been made? Whatever it is about you, there comes a point when you begin to ask the question - is this really me? Is this who I am? Am I something more? Am I something less? Something different entirely?

There are a couple of ways to begin to think about this question, of course. The first comes from an old theology that says that God has been using your life to shape you into who He needs you to be, so the answer is that you've been made in the same form that you were created. Certainly, there is some comfort in this. You look in the mirror and what you see is what you get. There's no need for the harder questions. Except that there is a harder question. If God has been making you the way He needs you to be through your experiences, and you have had some horrific experiences, what does this say about God? Is He really that sadistic? Is He so limited in power that He cannot create you except by breaking you? Is there more power in His heavy hand than in His tender one? There are a lot of deeper theological problems with this view, but these are the practical, pressing troubles. It's why I don't, personally, buy into this. (That and, there's not a lot of Biblical foundation for such a thing.)

The other way to begin thinking about this question is from the idea of open theology, that God is responsive to what is occurring in our world and in our lives, that creation is fluid, in some sense. Here, we can draw on verses like Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Another version says, We know that God is working together all things for good.... From this view, it doesn't much matter how you have been created and how you have been made; God is using you anyway. You still get the comfort of looking in the mirror and knowing that what you see is what you get, and it's encouraging to know that God is using you just as you are. But this doesn't really answer the question for me. 

I know that' kind of silly-sounding. Isn't it enough to just be God's? Doesn't that sufficiently answer the question? Who am I? I am God's. It sounds like enough. It sounds like a lot, actually, and it does sort of begin to answer the question of how I'm supposed to be doing this life. I'm supposed to be doing life God's way. 

Sometimes, this question comes out of discouragement, a feeling that life is not all that it's supposed to be. In these times, maybe this answer is enough. Maybe it's enough to know that God is using you right where you are, just as you are. Maybe it's something to hold onto. Maybe it's a reminder that even when your life feels small, you are still doing a big thing because you're doing a thing for God. I think we all have those moments.

But sometimes, this question comes out of encouragement, a feeling that life could be more than this. Sometimes...sometimes you will be so blessed by something - by an experience, by a moment, by a breath - and you will get a glimpse of something else entirely that you are. You are God's. You are firmly God's. But sometimes life gives you this moment in which you are also something else entirely than what you see when you look in the mirror. You're something more...or something less. You hardly recognize yourself. And when you start on the foundation that you are God's, these are often holy moments. Unexplainable, indescribable holy moments. They feel different in your spirit. In moments like these, you can't help but wonder: who am I.

Am I the man who was just looking at himself in the mirror? Or am I the man who just had this holy moment? Am I the woman who is content to be God's as I've been made? Or am I a woman who was created to God's in a different way? In a world in which you are fearfully and wonderfully made, can you settle for being made by fear and wonder? Don't you want to know sometimes what the original design was?

It matters. Particularly in the shadow of these holy moments, it matters. I know this is kind of heavy material. It's a new question for a lot of you, so I'll leave it here for today. But come back tomorrow and we'll look at one of the ways in which this question matters so deeply.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let Go

Evil takes one last hold. It takes one more shot at you. It takes one more stand, one more second to try to establish itself as the stronger story. It takes one brief moment of defiance, even when it knows it has been defeated, and it takes hold of you one last time.


Because it has to let go of you; it's been ordered to do so. But it also knows that you don't have to let go of it. Darkness wants to make sure that you can't.

Think about this father and son, the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 that we talked about yesterday. The last, haunting memory this father has of the demon is that after Jesus spoke the healing word - after - the demon threw the boy on the ground in a violent fit. The look on his son's face, the foam from his mouth, his dead-like appearance in the seconds that follow...that's what the father remembers. That's what he sees lurking behind his son's eyes every time he looks at him. He can't help it. It feels like even in the face of Jesus, it's still possible that the demon gets one last win. The father spends the rest of his days waiting for that moment, waiting for the next fit, waiting for the demon to take one more stand in the spirit of his son. It's human nature. It's a father's nature. The father could not let go of the darkness; it remained a very real possibility to him. 

And when darkness is still an option, the light doesn't look as promising.

That's the sinister trick. You cannot hold onto hope when you're holding onto darkness. Darkness grips you back and it takes everything you've got. It continues to make itself feel like the most powerful story. Or at least strong enough as a possibility that you can never wholly let it go.

There are a couple of other evil ideas floating around in here. The first is that you will not be who you have come to be without the darkness. The light will change you, and people will not know how to look at you any more. You won't know how to look at yourself. The father looked at his son and couldn't see him without the potential of the demon. The father looked at his son and always saw the seizure behind his eyes. He missed everything that his healed, restored, freed son was or ever would be because he simply couldn't imagine him without the demon, even though the boy stood before his very eyes. 

(And look, I'm not a parent, but I understand the deep love of a parent for a child. I have a niece and two nephews; I know how I would look at them in this situation. I know the concern, the worry I would continue to have. And if you've been here awhile, you remember that two years ago, my oldest dog began having seizures. Between the first one in May and the second that took her from me in August, I looked at her every second of every day with that horrible fear that she was right on the edge of something awful. It's weird how love does such a mean thing to us, but it does.)

The boy may have had his own thoughts. He may have remembered the demon from behind his own eyes. He may have never lived a day without remembering what those days were like. He may have awoken every morning asking himself the same questions - is today going to be a demon day or is today free? Does the Word of that Lord dude hold true for one more day? Can I trust in today? How can I? How can I believe today is any different than all the days before it?

(Here, too, I draw on my own experience. No, I have not been possessed by a demon, but I have had some hard brokennesses in my life. They're hard to let go of. It's hard to trust in a good day when so many have been so bad.)

And that's what the darkness is up to. It's defeated; the word is spoken. But it's not going to go quietly because if it does, it gives you the chance to believe. There is nothing worse for darkness than a man who believes in the light. So in this last scream, in this violent moment, in this final breath, darkness reveals itself, shows its power, and tries to induce fear so that you can't let go. So that you never trust the goodness enough to let go. So that you never trust the darkness enough to let go. So that you're always holding onto it even when it cannot hold onto you. So that you keep darkness around and it gets to wreak havoc even though it's already lost. 

It's why so many of us are tortured, I think. We just can't let go. We cannot leave darkness with empty hands; we're holding onto shadows. It's fear, yes. It's more than fear. It's also emptiness itself that intimidates us. When darkness leaves, it's like there's this void. There's this open space where something heavy once was and now, there's nothing. It takes awhile, at least in our consciousness, for light to move in. It's not that light drives out darkness by its presence; God drives out darkness by His Word. It's then up to us to fill that space, and we have to do that, I think, with thankfulness. It's a slow process, during which time the emptiness just sort of eats away at us and it's easier to remember what used to be there and start to think on the darker things than to invest the energy to find something new to fill that space, but it's worth it to go the hard way. It's worth it to put the work into it. It's worth it to labor for the light.

It's crazy to me that we spend our lives fighting. We fight so hard for so long and what it all comes down to in the end is a willingness not to fight but rather to simply believe. What it comes down to is pulling off our gloves and opening our empty hands. We spend our lives hanging on, just trying to make it through another day or another year or another season, and what it comes down to is letting go. Another of God's paradoxes.

So the question is this: when darkness lets go, can you? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Darkness Screams

Sitting in church yesterday (and completely unrelated to the sermon), I was struck anew by the story of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9. Because I think this story gives us one of the more accurate pictures of the holy healing process. 

It's easy to hope for the kind of healing we see with the blind men - where Jesus needs only speak a word and the men only need believe for the healing to happen. It's easy to look at some of the other stories of healing and hope this is how it has to be. That healing...just happens. That we ask, God gives, and that's that. But anyone who has wrestled with a dragon (because it's not necessarily a demon) in their life knows it's not always that easy. 

Healing comes hard.

Let's look at the story:

A man in the crowd answered, 'Teacher, I brought you my son. He is possessed by a spirit that won't let him talk. Whenever the spirit brings on a seizure, it throws him to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes exhausted.' ...They brought the boy to him.

This is the first step in any healing journey, and it cannot be overlooked. We have to be willing to bring our story, our broken story, to God. We have to be willing to speak its truth in stark detail. We have to be willing to live it out before Him and offer it to Him and ask for His help. That's what this father is doing. He's brought the gritty details. He's brought a fragile hope. He's brought a wanting faith. He's come to Jesus with all that he knows, and he's giving God this situation. He's giving God his son. 

We have to do this. If there's something in your life that's broken, you have to bring it. You have to carry it with you in all its heavy weight. You have to lay it down at the feet of Jesus and open it up and expose its gruesome innards. You have to lay it bare before Him, and you have to let go. 

But then look what happens:

As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it threw the boy into convulsions. He fell on the ground, rolled around, and foamed at the mouth.  

When you start to tell your story that it's not your biggest story any more, it gets scared. It will do whatever it can to make itself feel bigger, to make you believe that it is the bigger story, that it cannot be changed, that healing is not possible. It will stand in the face of the God you have just given it to and it will try to prove itself. It will try to break you one more time so that in the same breath, you must be its because you cannot be His. And you can know this is the pattern because Jesus seems so utterly calm about this whole thing. The little boy is seizing on the ground in front of them all, and Jesus turns to the boy's father and continues the conversation.

Jesus asked his father, 'How long has he been like this?' The father replied.... Jesus said to him.... The child's father cried out at once.... When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he gave an order to the evil spirit.

Jesus is content to let the demon have its say, it seems. He's not worried about what's going on. At least, we're given no indication that He's worried. And the boy's father? He's just standing there talking to Jesus while his son is, assumedly, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and becoming exhausted. The father has given the boy to Jesus, and Jesus has given the demon space. 

It's weird, right? This is the kind of bedside manner we all hope to avoid, especially those among us who are parents. If you take your seizing child to the doctor, how much of a conversation do you want to stand around having before the doctor does something to stop the seizure? Not much. Yet here they are. 

And this is an important part of the healing process, too. You have to see it. You have to see the brokenness and the darkness and the evil. You have to see the wickedness at its best. You have to know what you're dealing with, wholly. You have to know the depth of the trouble to know the power of the triumph. 

I'm not saying it doesn't suck. But this is a powerful moment. It's the moment when darkness shows itself to light, foolishly thinking it has any chance to win. It's the moment when brokenness lays itself bare. It's the moment when you see things as they really are. As painful, as harrowing, as heart-breaking as it is, you have to see brokenness in its full measure. And then, He speaks:

He said, 'You spirit that won't let him talk, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.'

Jesus speaks healing. He speaks not to the boy, who needs restored, but to the brokenness, who needs defeated. He speaks wholeness over brokenness, light over darkness, spirit over demon. He speaks directly to the darkness, calling it by name, declaring in His name the authority to heal, and giving the boy his wholeness. It's a powerful moment. It's the healing moment. The fate of the darkness is decided; the boy is healed. End of story, right?


The evil spirit screamed, shook the child violently, and came out. The boy looked as if he were dead, and everyone said, 'He's dead!'

Evil takes one last hold. It takes one more shot at you. It takes one more stand, one more second to try to establish itself as the stronger story. It takes one brief moment of defiance, even when it knows it has been defeated, and it takes hold of you one last time. Why? I'll tell you tomorrow. 

But the point is that darkness doesn't let go so easy. It will do whatever it can to hold onto you, and you need to be ready for this. It's why persons on the verge of incredible recoveries often have that setback right there near the end. It's why it's so easy to feel like you've taken 400 steps forward only to suddenly stumble backward near the finish line. It's why just when you start to believe that healing might be possible, it doesn't seem possible any more because brokenness rears its ugly head in one more dramatic fashion. It's why so many come so close only to suddenly stop believing, even when it looks like the story is clearly over. Even when it looks like healing is inevitable, like light wins, like God wins. 

Most of us aren't ready for this moment, this last-ditch attempt. It's why we're so taken by it. It's why we're defeated right on the edge of the victory. It's why we defeat ourselves. This story of the demon-possessed boy reminds us this moment is real. It is powerfully real. Just when it looks like it's going to be okay, it suddenly seems like it's all over. Darkness screams, we shake, we tremble, and we fall. 

That's not the end of the story, either.

Jesus took his hand and helped him to stand up.

Because Jesus does win. God wins. Healing wins. Darkness dies its terrible death, and we stand. God helps us to our feet. At the moment it looks like it's all over, it's really just beginning. A brand new thing is starting. A holy moment is unfolding. It's beautiful. 

That's what we have to know. We have to know how the story unfolds, that healing is this back-and-forth and not so simple as a word. Not for most of us. It'd be nice if, like with so many in the Gospels, healing were just spoken into our lives and manifest. But it's so rarely like that. 

We have to bring it to Jesus. Then darkness speaks. Then God speaks. Then darkness screams. Then...then...we stand. 

I say all that to say this: some of you are right now in the place where darkness screams. I'm sorry; it's a hard place to be. But don't buy the lie. You will stand. If God has spoken healing into your life, you are healed no matter how loud it feels right now. Darkness will wear itself out, you will shake, you will tremble, and you will fall. And whatever brokenness it is inside of you will feel like maybe it's won. But it hasn't. Jesus will reach out, take your hand, and help you to stand. You will stand. Just hold on. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Stifling Silence

Sometimes, God says go and it's hard to walk away. There's so much in the presence of Jesus that we want to hold onto; how will we find Him again in a new place? Sometimes, He says come and it's hard to draw near. There's so much in us that we're hoping to hide; what if we are found out and found wanting...or found enough?

But perhaps the hardest words to hear from Jesus are no words at all. There are times when He is painfully silent, when the answer is neither go nor come. Then what?

I'm one of those persons who wants God to speak. A lot. Particularly as I grow into the calling He's placed on my life, as I try to take those faithful steps toward the place where He is leading me, I'm always looking, always listening, always waiting on God to speak, to tell me that this next step is the right step or to tell me when to turn away or to tell me when to wait a minute or catch a breath or bow in prayer. It sounds like a holy thing, for sure - knowing where God wants you to go and being tuned into Him as He tells you how to get there. But the truth is that He doesn't reveal all the details, He doesn't have a comment on every step. 

Some things, you just have to do in faith and trust that they're getting you there.

There are a couple of truths embedded in that statement, both of which are vitally important. The first is that you do sometimes have to do some things in faith. You have to figure out what's good and what's bad and come to the conclusion that if, in your heart, it is pure, maybe it's okay. (And even if it is impure, it may still be okay.) God's expectation is not that you're always right; it's that you're increasingly faithful. That's what He wants from you. So if you don't know whether to come or go, to turn left or right, do whatever seems faithful and God will reward that. Just know that sometimes, the reward is to learn a valuable lesson in what it means to go the wrong way. 

The danger if you don't do something is that you'll do nothing. You'll just stand there, stuck. You'll stay there, in one spot, waiting on God to tell you which way to go all the while hearing Him scream, simply, Move. Our relationship with God is supposed to be many things, but "paralyzing" isn't one of them. There's certainly a time and place for hesitation, for stopping to take a breath, for diligently considering the fork in the road before you, but there's also a time to move. We are guilty of often confusing the two and standing for what feels like an eternity at a crossroads when what we can't see is that either path would be blessed. Either way would work. We just have to move. 

The second truth coming out of the above statement is, to me, more powerful. Maybe it's just the season of life that I'm in right now. Who knows? But that truth is this: sometimes, you just have to trust. And a movement. 

Trust is something you do, whether you're doing something else or not. Trust is something you do whether you're making a move or taking a stand. Trust is something you do with one foot in front of the other or both feet firmly planted in indecision. Trust is something you do in the moving and in the hesitation. It's a very real thing, and it's a very real thing that requires doing

This is perhaps hardest for me, particularly in a season of moving. I can see two roads diverged before me and think i ought to take a step in faith and journey on down one of them, but sometimes, I feel that hesitation welling up within me. I realize that whatever step I've wanted to take has been faithful, but faithful only to my vision of myself. I have not wanted to take that step in faithfulness toward God, but in adherence to my own plan, to my own scheming, to my own desires and comforts and wishes. Then I stand there for just a little while longer and maybe what I hear is that the path I'm supposed to take has not even shown up yet, that I can't see it from where I'm standing because it's still being built back toward me. And the move I'm supposed to make, the thing I'm supposed to do in this trust. 

Or sometimes, I have to take the path that feels least faithful to me. The one that seems to be leading away from everywhere I wanted to go. You've seen the cartoons, right? Sometimes, I have to take the path that doesn't have the rainbow at the end but is instead lined with trees that look like monsters, thick underbrush, and a hovering darkness that warns of its impending doom. Here, again, is that whisper: trust. Trust, again, is the move I have to make. 

The same is true for all of us. Sometimes when we're most itching to do something, to get going, to step out, to make a move, that something that we have to do is trust. Trust no matter what our feet are doing, whether they are taking that faithful step forward or they are hesitating for a moment. Trust no matter what. Trust that if we take that step, God will be there, and if we aren't supposed to take that step, He's already right here. 

And trust...that you're getting there. You're really getting there. Whether it feels like it or not. Whether this is how you planned out your journey or not. Whether it feels like this fits with the big picture or not. You're getting there. Every faithful step you take is getting you there, even if that step comes neither with a come nor a go. Even if that faithful step comes in the silence where the only clear word that you have is move. It's getting you there. You're getting there.

God is getting you there. 

So move

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Come (Near)

Go is a hard one, but come is not much easier. Inherent in the go is somewhere away, but within the come, what we hear is also near.

And I love Jesus, don't get me wrong, but it's a little intimidating when anyone wants us to come closer.

It's not that old childish fear that when you come closer, someone's going to tell you how much trouble you're in. It's not that someone's going to whisper about that thing you did wrong and what you should have done better or different. It's not that Adam or that Eve inside of us that wants to hide in shame. I think coming close to God evokes a fear more sinister than any of these.

It brings us face-to-face with grace. And, at least for me, grace is a harder pill than punishment.

Because here's the truth: when we come closer, we're stepping into more brilliant light. We're standing in more open spaces. We're getting close enough that someone can see all of us - the very nooks and crannies of our being. We're daring to say, This is who I am. Because the closer we are, the less room there is to hide. When we draw near to Jesus, He has a chance to really look at us.

And it feels like maybe we're about to be rejected. That's the whisper in our head that makes us hesitate. It's a lie, of course; we know it is. But that's what we're afraid of, on the surface. We're afraid that God is going to see all of us and what little we are is about to be exposed for how little it really is. We're afraid that God will see what we see when we look in the mirror - that there's something missing after all. That's what our head tells us.

Our heart, however, screams just the opposite. It's afraid to be enough. It knows all its weaknesses but it also knows its God, and it knows that when we get there, God is going to take us in His arms with tender care. He's going to look at us with grace-filled eyes. And He's going to love us just as we are, for everything that we are, and not hold against us anything that we're not. He's going to judge us as being sufficient for His love. He's going to declare us worthy of His death. He's going to give us this incredible gift of acceptance.

And it's hard to be accepted by God when we're busy rejecting ourselves. 

So I'm not very good at go because, like the disciples, I want to ask, to where will I go? But it turns out, the more I sit here and think about it, that I'm not really that good at come, either. Because I don't really know what to do with the grace. 

What am I supposed to do with myself if I can't harp on my deficiencies? What am I supposed to do with myself if I'm exactly as strong, and as weak, as I'm supposed to be? What am I supposed to do with my self-hatred if I find out the standard of love declares me lovable? It requires a lot from a man to be loved and most of us...despite the longing in our hearts for this very thing...don't have what it takes. We struggle to let ourselves be loved. We struggle to come, fearing we'll find what we both want and cannot understand - we're okay. We're beautiful, though broken. We're whole, though unholy. We're loved, though lacking. We're enough, though empty.

Maybe these past couple of days, I've had you thinking what you might do the next time God says Go but there's another question to be thinking about, too. What will you do when He beckons, Come

Will you dare step forward and let Him see you? Will you draw closer and expose your very self? 

Will you risk hearing the words that will both comfort you and make you tremble - I love you. You are Mine. You are enough.

Can you handle it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Go (Away)

"Go" is certainly a hard one. Because inherent in the word "go" is "away." It is a sending. And it feels like it leads us away from something vital.

Think about the disciples and the Great Commission. Jesus appears to them after the resurrection, and they are huddled in the Upper Room - the last place they shared together. This is the place where their memories of Jesus are most powerful. They're probably telling stories with wary and weary hearts. They're probably recalling what the past three years have been like. They're probably talking about this ministry they've been involved in, unwilling to leave it so easily and go back to life as they once knew it but unsure what happens next. Then Jesus shows up, and His word to them is a simple one: go.

Go out of this place where you're trying to hold onto Me. Go out of this room where you're hiding from the developing world around you. Didn't I tell you the harvest was near ripe and I would need some workers? The time has come! Go into the fields...and make disciples of all nations.

And I can just imagine them saying, as they had so eloquently before, Lord, to where would we go? 

No place on this earth had as much of Jesus's story in it as the place where they already were. To them, it seemed perfectly reasonable to stay. Here, they could hold on to everything they knew. Here, that story made sense. There was, out the window, the streets where He had entered Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling yet another prophecy. The memory of that day made them start talking about all the other prophecies He'd fulfilled, and all the ones He'd given. There was, out another window, the courtyard of the Temple where the crowds had come together to condemn Him. They could almost still hear the echoes of the mob. There was, a little further in the distance, a place called Skull Hill. They could remember running back to this room and watching from a distance, door locked, eyes fixed on the horizon. The whole story was tied neatly into this place, and Jesus dared stand here and tell them to Go? AWAY?

Go away from here, into a world that hasn't lived the story. Go away from here, to a people who have only heard the rumors. Go away from here, to nations who didn't stand in condemnation of the Son of Man but who felt the earth tremble on that Good Friday just the same. Go away from here, to men and women in need of a Savior who don't even know how to conceptualize such a thing. Go away from here, to blind men and beggars and bleeding women and the demon-possessed and the clean and the unclean and the Jew and the Gentile and the Samaritan and the Greek and the Roman and the world...that don't know that hope has come. Go away from this place where the best you can do is hold onto Jesus.

And go into the place where you have to hunger for Him. Where the world is hungering for Him.

That's really the struggle of go. Go means you have to walk away from this place where you understand God so well. Where you're looking into His eyes and holding His hand and hearing His voice. It means taking a step into a place He hasn't yet led you, but has still given you, where you'll have to learn all over again how to have Him. It's the kind of thing I've been talking about for the past couple of weeks. Go is hard because we have to let go of everything we understand and ignite our passion to search, to study, to seek again.

At the very moment we find Jesus, at the moment we feel like we start to finally understand, He sends us away. He tells us to go. I don't want to leave; I want to linger. I want to stay in that place where God makes sense, where I know how to find Him, where I recognize His voice. I want to be there where His feet have walked and left footprints in the dusty road, where His tears have watered the tender ground. I even want to walk by the shriveled-up old fig tree, just to remember. That's just the truth; I want to stay.

But then I go because God says to go, and I find Him all over again. And when I find Him all over again, I get to fall in love all over again. It's the most incredible feeling. It's the most wonderful thing. Have you had this moment? All of a sudden, God hits you in a new place and it's like you're meeting Him for the first time. All these things you never knew about Him, here they are - right in front of you. And just because you dared to be in a new place. 

I think that's why God sends us away. It's too easy to hold on to what we already have of Him, but He's always longing to give us more. We have to go in order to let go, so that we aren't holding onto the little bit we have but we're hungering for more. 

It doesn't make it easy. It doesn't mean we jump with joy when God tells us to go (away). We always take our questions with us. We always hesitate. We always hem and haw. We still want to linger. 

But God says go. It's one of the two things He ever asks of us. It's a hard one.

Although the second isn't much easier....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where Will I Go

One of the things that strikes me as odd in the Gospels is how willing some of the recently-healed are to walk away from Jesus. Granted, He often tells them to go - go to the temple, go back to your family, go home - but I don't know just how willing I'd be to listen.

Part of that is because I shudder to think we come to an understanding of Jesus where we come to Him in desperate need, are filled, and simply walk away. I don't like the idea of a vending machine God. I don't like the idea that we come and go as our needs dictate. Shouldn't it be about love? Shouldn't our relationship keep us coming and going? 

Part of it is that when God does something so powerful in my life, I know that I have a lot of follow-up questions. I do! I want to know why God chooses to work in me and not in the next person. I want to know why He can even look into my fallen eyes. I want to know what He sees in me that I don't yet see in myself. I want to know what He plans for tomorrow. I want to know what He has to say about yesterday. I want to know what worth and worthlessness are. I want to know what mercy and grace mean. I mean, the gift is nice, but it leaves me with all of these questions that lie somewhere between my torn flesh and touched spirit. 

And part of it is that I just don't know if I could ever leave the presence of God. Of course, there's a lot of theology here about the Holy Spirit, but at the time of the Gospels, there was no Holy Spirit. Not in the way that there is now. There was, certainly, a spirit of God among the people - it's how we have prophets at all whose stories tell us some of the history of God. But there wasn't that indwelling, personal, intimate gift of the Spirit that guides those of us who believe upon the resurrection. Jesus heals these men and women, then looks at them and says, "Go..." and I, like one of the disciples, want to cry out to Him, "To where would I go?"

To where could I possibly go from here? From this moment? From this powerful encounter with the living God? 

To the temple? Do I go to the temple? Lord, You are the temple. There is nothing more sacred in the Holy of Holies than there is standing before me in the Son of Man. Jesus has just broken the laws of the universe by healing a broken man, and now I, that man, am supposed to submit myself to the law once more to make the required provision of cleanliness? It makes no sense. Lord, if You have made me whole, You can make me righteous. Do I go to the temple? How could I?

To my family? Do I go back to my family? Lord, You are my family. You are my Father, and in Your Son, my Brother. My family...must still think me diseased. They have to. At this point, it's easier for them than to ever believe I might be coming back. It's easier for them to keep their distance than to dare to come close. I have been unclean for so long. I have been so removed for so long. To run home, it disturbs my family. It disturbs me. Can I take my healing into a broken place? Can I be a clean man in an unclean history? I can't, Lord. Do I go back to my family? How could I?

To the city? Do I go into the city? Lord, there is a city among You. Look around. There are hundreds upon hundreds of people here, all gathered into one place. A little community all in itself. The city? It's such a busy place. It's changed so much since I've last been there; I don't know that I could even keep up. The people there, they haven't been here. They don't know the same story that I know and they wouldn't believe me if I told them. I'd be just one more voice in a bustling bazaar. Here, my words resound with the faithful; in the city, they are drowned out by the noise. Am I supposed to go to a place where even I cannot hear me? Lord, if I stay, at least I can hear You. Do I go into the city? How could I?

It's so hard for me to think about walking away, even when Jesus tells me to. My spirit cries out, "Lord, to where would I go?" And yet, neither can I imagine telling Him no. (I can completely imagine arguing with Him, laying out my excuses, my opposition, telling Him why I don't think walking away is such a good idea, begging Him to let me stay, asking for just a little while longer in His presence....) But really, apart from what He requires of us - to love Him and to love others - God only asks two things of us: come and go. 

To where will I go?

Wherever You send me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Power of Presence

But there is perhaps one very important thing we must always remember about the God who IS, and that is this: that God IS here.

We must be more satisfied by the presence of God in our life than by the power of Him in it.

Let's go back to the blind man. Suppose he comes to Jesus and asks for healing, and suppose Jesus heals him. Not hard to suppose; we know it has happened. If that blind man walks away seeing and knowing only the power of Jesus, then God is always going to have to be powerful for him. He's going to keep looking for the healing God. He's going to keep needing the miraculous God. He's going to keep wanting the big, awesome, incredible things of God.

That's a hard God to maintain. I mean, God has already healed your crippling infirmity. Where, exactly, does He go from here? What is more powerful than giving sight to the blind? How many times can He "top" that, or even match it, and therefore keep showing His power in any sufficient way?

And it is here that I think I love the story of the blind man. For this very reason. Because the first thing the blind man sees when Jesus opens his the God who sees him. I don't think you can ever get that image out of your mind. I don't think you can ever forget what it's like to see the compassion, the tenderness, the mercy, the grace, the love of Jesus looking back at you. It's what we who are sighted so often forget to see.

You see, we're too busy looking at the miracles. We're too busy looking at the naked demon-possessed man sitting clothed and in his right mind. We're looking at disciples who keep passing out bread and fish until there's still more than enough. We're looking at a dirty, unclean woman who has pushed her way through the crowd to touch him. We're looking at a blind man and seeing his face as he sees the face of God for the first time. But we're so rarely looking at the face of God.

That's where the story is. That's how we know, that's how we remember. That's how we draw close to God and stop putting unrealistic expectations on Him. When you see the face of God as He beholds you, it's not about power any more. You don't need God to heal you again and again and again. You don't need God to keep doing bigger and bigger things. What you need is for Him to keep seeing you like that. You need Him to keep showing up, to keep looking you in the eye, to keep seeing you, whether you're a blind man or a beggar or a sinner or a saint or a bleeding woman or a broken man or whoever you are. All you long for in your heart is this God, this God who dares to look at you with all the compassion, tenderness, mercy, grace, and love inside of Him. All of these things that are His very essence.

It's not about power. It's about presence. You don't need God to do for you any more; you only long for Him to be. And one thing is for sure: He IS.

It's tempting sometimes to talk about all the things God does for us. It's tempting to post them on social media and turn them into dinner conversation and make memes and send email blasts and get excited and love God all over again because of something He's done. It's tempting to say things like, "God is so good! He _____" fill in the blank. But the more we do that, the easier it is to forget that we don't need that second sentence. God IS so good. Period. And if He never did anything but continue to show up, He'd still be so good. If we never saw another measure of His power, His presence would assure us He is still so good. 

So personally, and maybe this is something you could take up in your life, I try not to say things like this any more. I try not to equate God's goodness with His power because that's not the relationship I want with Him. I thank Him for His goodness and I thank Him for His gifts and I thank Him for the way He uses His power in my life, but I settle in, celebrate, and center on His presence. The fact that God was there at all today. The feeling that I have that I am overwhelmed by Him, that He's so much bigger than me, that my very little thing is wrapped up in His awesomely big thing just because He's here. I look at whatever He's doing in my life, and I'm grateful.

But I remember to look back at Him, too. Because the eyes of God as He beholds me fill me with so much more than thanks. The presence of God gives me more than the power of Him ever could. 

I think it's love. I really think it's love.

I don't need God to do one more thing for me. Just keep looking at me like that...

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Am

What's important to remember is that God doesn't cease to be the God who heals you when you're no longer broken; He just gets the chance to be so much more on top of that. As your needs change, God stays the same, but your perception of Him expands. You get to see more of Him. You get to know more of Him. You get to love more of Him.

The trouble, if we fail to renegotiate our relationship with Him as sighted men, is that we risk only ever knowing what He has already been. That's trouble because there is no truth in that. The truth? God is. He simply is.

He never was.

Have you noticed that? God, and the people of God, do a lot of referring back to the things God has done for them. And while some of the events may be in the past, the reality of God is always in the present. I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are long dead and rotted. I AM the God who brought you out of Egypt...even though you're far too removed to even remember what that was like. I AM the God who gave sight to the blind man...even though the blind man is now afraid he's losing Me.

I AM. 

God truly is the same yesterday and today and forever. He tells us that, but it's more than the way He tells us so directly. It's how He keeps telling us when He constantly reminds us who He IS. He never says, not a single time, who He WAS. He never says I WAS the God who comforted Job. Why? Because even though He's not comforting Job right now, His nature hasn't changed. He's still the same God. He's still got the same heart. He's still comforting.

He doesn't say I WAS the God who rescued David from his enemies. Why? Because He's rescued David from his enemies, but He's still a rescuer. It is still who He IS. 

Do you start to see the pattern? Men sometimes get confused and may say this is the God who WAS, but God tells you not to make such a mistake. He is the God who IS. 

He IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He IS the God of Bill and Betty and Barbara. He IS the God who brought you out of Egypt; He IS the God who brought you through the storm. He IS the God who walked on water to get to His disciples; He IS the God who crosses the earth to get to you. He IS. He IS. He IS.

So what do we say to the blind man who, with sighted eyes, fear he may have lost the very God whom he sought? We tell him the truth: once you find Him, you have Him. You can never know less of Him; you can only ever know more. You will always know God as Healer, if you choose to remember that God has healed you. Because God IS Healer. He always will be.

Because He always IS.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


So what is a blind man to do? He has come seeking sight and he has found it in Jesus, but this very encounter which he had hoped for has now, necessarily, changed the God to whom he comes. If he is not careful, it will not be long before "sighted" is simply the way this man is, and he will forget altogether that it is only by the grace of God. 

Then what will he do with this Jesus?

It's a fair question, and one of the hardest, I think. There are a lot of people out there who might say that it's up to the blind man to never forget that moment he shared with the passing Lord. It's up to him to remember what Jesus has done for him, that if he can simply remember, he will never forget. 

That's nice.

The trouble is that we do forget, though. The trouble is that the longer time continues to press on, the harder it is to remember that moment when Jesus laid His hands on our blinded eyes. It gets harder to remember that one fine moment when we cried, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" and He did. It gets harder to remember standing on the side of the road for hours, waiting to hear the noise of the passing crowd, waiting for that one chance. It gets harder to remember that day at all. Because all of our days since then have been sighted. All of our days since then have been full of their own memories, their own vivid colors, their own newnesses to explore. All of our days since then have been something else entirely and it's not long until this is just the way things are. And the way, it seems, that they have always been.

It's hard to hold onto that moment. It's hard because you don't need that moment any more. At least, it doesn't feel like you do. You got what you needed from it - your eyes have been opened - and that moment, that one powerful awesome moment with was everything you needed, but you don't need it any more. Not when you've got this whole sighted life to live.

But you do need it, and this is where we have to make this shift in our minds to remember. You do need that moment because without it, every sighted day that you have is a mistake, not a miracle. Without it, everything you see is only a shadow of some truth. Every day that you wake up not blind, it's a direct result of that moment and so every day that you wake up not blind depends upon that scene. 

The way to remember, the way to keep that Jesus in your heart, however, is not to remember that moment. That's far too easy to forget. (I don't know why, ok? It just is.) The way to keep the Jesus who drew you to Himself in your heart is to remember what it's like to be blind. It's to remember the darkness. It's to examine your own scars.

Living sighted is one thing when it's just a thing that you do, when you lose sight of how you do it. Living sighted is something else entirely when you're aware that it is something you weren't capable of doing, something you were not supposed to do. Maintaining that connection with God begins not in remembering who He is, but in recalling who you are not. You are not a sighted man, not without the grace of God. You are a bleeding woman without His robe. You are a simple Samaritan woman without His tenderness. You are a sinner without His saving grace. 

When you wake up every day knowing you're a blind man, even as you watch the sun rise over the horizon, it draws you back to the Jesus you've come to know. It brings you back to His healing power...without a dependency on it. Without your needing it to know Him. Because you come these days not for the healing, but for the thanks. You come in thanksgiving because when you wake up a blind man with sighted eyes, you cannot help but be thankful for the gift of one more beautiful day. 

Am I making sense? Are you getting this? It is vitally important.

It's hard on most days to remember God outright. It just is. It's hard to remember all of the little things He's done for you and me. At any given time, life is prone to feel simply like life, like this is the way things are. And in all that, it's easy to lose God. It's easy to realize you've lost track of Him. It's easy to think you have to come up with some way to get Him back. It's easy to go back to brokenness because that seems like the way to remember the Healer.

But there is another way. If you want to remember the Healer, simply recall the brokenness. Remember what it was like to wake up blind. Remember what it was like to wake up bleeding. Remember what it was like to wake up and know that you were a Samaritan woman. Look at the scars that cover your flesh; look at the scars on your spirit. Remember what it was like to be broken. Hear the trembling in your voice as you cry out, "Son of David, Have mercy on me..."

That draws you back into the mercy. It takes you into grace. It reminds you that there is a God who hears you, one who responds to you, one who heals you. It reminds you of the very God you sought, the one you found, the one you're afraid of losing. You don't have to be the blind man any more. By the grace of God, you don't. 

But if you want to hold onto the God of grace in your heart, you can never forget what it was like to be the blind man. It draws you back into the presence of Jesus. Every time.

And that's when it happens. You find yourself growing not in dependency on God but in relationship with Him. You come not in desperation, but in thanksgiving. You come not hoping, but knowing. Knowing and trusting. Trusting and thanking. Thanking and longing. Longing and loving. Truly loving.

This is how a blind man lives sighted without losing his eyes for Jesus. This is how a blind man lives the very grace of God. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Damned Brokenness

The trouble for the blind man, if he cannot renegotiate with the God of the sighted man once he is healed, is that he fails to see at all. Like so many of us, he may begin to look only for the other broken things in his life, the things for which he is going to need a Healer, the things that will keep bringing him back to Jesus. Because he wants to want Jesus but with sighted eyes, it's a different Lord. 

(And now is the time to say that if you haven't been reading along all week, this doesn't make sense. Head back a few days and start with Monday. Then Tuesday. This is a building story.)

We all know someone like this - their life is one train wreck after another. Maybe we have been someone like this. It's not particularly that the stress is fantastic or that life is meant to be so terrible; it's that a person has figured out a certain way to live and a certain way to relate to his world from this brokenness. Without it, he has to renegotiate everything - his relationships, his meanings, his questions, his confidences, himself, his God. In a fallen world, it's a whole lot easier to find a new brokenness than to navigate a healing. That's just the truth.

There are some problems with this, and perhaps you're already starting to see them. If your life is characterized by brokenness and if you believe it must be in order to find your way to Jesus, have you ever encountered Him at all? Really? Because if you keep coming to Christ as Healer but never accept healing, you cannot ever truly experience Him even as you've hoped to find Him. If God heals you and there continues to be something broken in your life, how long can you trust in this God? How often will you keep coming back to Him? At some point, that wears really thin. Brokenness becomes a stumbling block to your faith, not the cornerstone of it. 

Another problem is this: what kind of relationship do you think you're preserving with your brokenness anyway? Honestly. Because keeping yourself in a broken state so that you have to come back to Jesus is not the foundation of any relationship; it's the hallmark of dependency. And when you are dependent on Jesus, you cannot love Him. It may feel like love, but it cannot be. It's too tenuous. It is built on a perpetual hesitancy and a backdrop of doubt. You keep coming, hoping to find the Healer, but prepared that you may not. Prepared that He may not heal you. Prepared that He may fail. You don't come trusting Him; you come questioning. Forever. Because every brokenness is new and it's a new chance for God to either affirm your faith or let you down. You never get to draw close to Him. You never get to start to establish that relationship. Because you're always taking it back. You're always taking healing and turning it back to brokenness. To a new brokenness, maybe, but brokenness just the same so that you never truly see Christ as Healer. You can't. You've never let Him actually heal anything. You've been too busy looking for more broken things to even see healing with your sighted eyes.

Ironic, huh? The very thing you think is keeping you drawn to Jesus is actually keeping you from Him. 

This is a problem for a lot of us. It's this thing our twisted minds do without our even being aware of it sometimes. For most of us, our lives aren't really train wrecks. They aren't one devastating thing after another. They aren't really so hard as we make them out to be. It's just that we don't know how to live easy. We don't know how to live healed. We don't know how to live sighted in a blind man's world. 

But we have to figure it out. We have to. If we ever want to truly see Jesus, we have to let Him open our eyes. And we have to be willing to keep them open. We have to figure out how to keep coming after Him when He is who we hoped He'd be, when we have no need of Him but only want. (It's more complicated, I know - as fallen men and women, we always have need of Him.) We have to figured out how we relate to Christ the Healer when we have been healed.

If we don't, we damn ourselves.

Tomorrow, I'll start to break down one way we start to renegotiate this relationship.