Friday, November 28, 2014

The Day After

A day like today is perhaps the most difficult kind of day. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. And today, of course, is...Friday.

When I wrote about healing on Wednesday, I wrote about how such a drastic change in one's life tends to send one walking into quietness, wandering into stillness, disoriented and trying to figure out what this kind of change really means. Yesterday was that kind of day for a lot of us. It was a break. It was a chance to slow down, to enter the quietness (or what passes for it when we are gathered together), to enjoy the time with our friends and family, food and football. Done right, it's kind of like a reset button. It refocuses our lives on the things that are most important. Most of us would say that we like the down time. We like the quiet.

And then there's Friday.

Specifically, in America, "Black" Friday. It's been said that only in America can you stampede each other in pursuit of stuff precisely one day after celebrating all that you already have. Such is true. But the imagery of this kind of Friday is not unlike any other day we might experience. See, the trouble for most of us when we have this sort of day - this sort of resetting, healing, quiet, whole day - is that tomorrow's still another day. And somehow, it's so easy to forget.

For the blind man, today is the day that he regains his sight. Today is the first day he sees the world around him. But tomorrow? Tomorrow is Friday. Just the day after Thursday. For the bleeding woman, today is the day her bleeding stops. Today is the first day she can be found clean. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, she has some cleaning to do. A day like any other day. For the demon-possessed man, today is the day the demon leaves him. Today is the first day he dresses himself. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, he has to get up and get dressed. It's just another day.

The first day is special; it's the day that something begins. But the second day so often is just a day; it's a day that that very same something simply is. And that's where most of us start to lose it.

In the blink of an eye, what was yesterday a miracle is today simply true. Starkly true, in the best or the worst of circumstances, but true nonetheless. It's not an aberration from life as we know it; it has become life as we know it. Life that we still have to live, new way or no new way. Thursday has blessings, but Friday has demands. The question we too easily lose sight of is this:

How do we do Friday in light of Thursday? How do we do tomorrow in the spirit of today?

This is where most of us stumble. This is where most of us fall. For awhile, our new day becomes something we retreat to. The blind man retreats to his sight when he has time to enjoy it. The bleeding woman retreats to her cleanness when her mind has a moment to process. The demon-possessed man leaves the cemetery only when he's bold enough to try something new. We come back to our place of stillness to relive the miracle, forgetting that the miracle is made for the living.

The blind man is not made to live sighted in quiet moments; he's made to see the day unfold before him. The bleeding woman should not rejoice in her cleanness only when she has the time to reflect; the new day is clean. The demon-possessed man is not bound to the cemetery until he can fathom his sanity; the world is his for the taking. We are not meant to be stuck in our quiet places seeking wholeness; we are meant to live from our wholeness seeking quiet places. Seeking places where, in the course of a Friday, it sinks in all over again what a new day this is. We're meant to hold onto that newness even in tomorrow, even on the second day, even on just another day. 

We have moments like these - healing moments, Thanksgiving moments, new moments - and they are meant to give us new life. What's unfortunate is that for most of us, these do not give new life; they give two lives. They give us a life we live on Thanksgiving that stands in contrast to the one we live on Friday. They give us a life we live in our first sighted moments that stands in contrast to the days we live blinded. They give us a life we live clean the stands in contrast to our uncleanliness. They give us a live we live sane that stands in contrast to our mindlessness. So we become a people of dual reality, a people of two lives - a life of quiet thanks, and a life of stampeding each other in pursuit of an advertised bargain.

That's not how it's meant to be. We are meant to have one life, and to have it abundantly. A day of quiet thanks is an invitation to a life of quiet thanks. A sighted day is an invitation to a life of seeing. What God does today is not meant only for today; it's meant, as well, for tomorrow and for all the tomorrows to come. The challenge for us, then, and it's not easy, is to learn to live like that. Our challenge is to figure out how to live Friday in light of Thursday. 

The first day is easy; the second is a choice. When God gives you today, what will you do with tomorrow? In light of this day, how will you live the day after?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cast of Characters

Most of us will find ourselves today around a table, surrounded by those we love, those we care about, and in some cases, those we tolerate. Most of us will find ourselves arguing with someone over something, and laughing the next minute over something else entirely. Most of us will wonder, at some point, what we're doing with these people and in the very next breath, be exceedingly thankful for them.

As we should be. The persons we will encounter today are a part of our story. They are the cast of characters that flesh out our narratives. Without them, we would not be who we are.

As I think about my table today, I think also about Christ's table. He gathered in the Upper Room with His own cast of characters, the men and, perhaps, women who were helping to tell His story. Each of them had their own quirks, their own contributions, and their own circumstances, but there's something special about that table nonetheless.

There was, of course, Simon Peter, who often spoke without thinking first. He said things without realizing the full weight of his words and often found himself backtracking, often found himself trying to make amends. You may encounter someone like this today. You may even find that in some moments, you are someone like this. It's okay. There's plenty of room around the table.

There were the brothers, James and John (not the only set of brothers in Jesus' motley crew, but the two that we most often see interacting like blood brothers). They were always trying to demonstrate their awesomeness, always asserting their greatness. They were bragging about themselves, jockeying for the highest honor. You may encounter someone like this today. You may even find that in some moments, you are someone like this. It's okay. There's plenty of room around the table.

There was Simon the Zealot. A zealot is someone who latches firmly and fully onto his belief, and I can imagine that this Simon was easily excitable and always ready for debate. There was Andrew, who I have always considered the king of seemingly useless information. He's the one who, upon finding a little boy's lunchbox among the thousands gathered, declared that they did, in fact, have some measure of food. He noticed everything, and made sure to point it out, even if it didn't seem to matter. There was Thaddeus, who for all we don't know about him, must have been a quiet kind of guy. There was Judas, a man with an ego and a betrayer, always out only for himself. You may encounter persons like these today. You may even find that in some moments, you are a person like these. It's okay. There's plenty of room around the table.

Because the truth is without these men, the story of Christ would not be the same. Without Simon Peter, we wouldn't know the God of second chances. Without James and John, we wouldn't see the fellowship of true brotherhood. Without Simon the Zealot, we wouldn't know what it means to give our whole selves fully to Him. Without Andrew, we wouldn't know how big a miracle really is. Without Thaddeus, we wouldn't understand the powerful place of quiet among us. Without Judas, we wouldn't understand forgiveness and grace. Without the way these characters come together, we could never know the man of Christ.

And the same is true of our tables. Without those with whom we will gather together today, our stories would not be the same. Without them, there is so much that we would never know. So much that we could never know. We could never know the meaning of family without our families, the treasure of friends without our friends. We could not know the meaning of generosity and giving unless we break bread with those who are near. We could not know the meaning of thanks without realizing that without the contributions of all these characters - for better or for worse - we are not who we are. These are the people who help us tell our stories. And there's plenty of room around the table.

Be mindful of that today as you gather - mindful of how these persons, for all that they are, are our persons and we, for all that we are, are theirs. Remember that around the table, stories are shared, yes, but they are also told. Remember that today, you are writing another scene in your story, all the while being a character in countless others. Remember...and give thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Into the Quiet

One of the things I've struggled to understand in the Gospel stories is how all these men and women who are healed by Christ could simply walk away. They come, aching, crying out, and He heals them, and they go home. One declares that he will follow Christ, but Christ tells him no. Go home, He says, and the man does.

If God ever did such a big thing for me, I always thought, there's no way I could just walk away. There's no way I just go home. There's no way I could just say Thank You and get on about the business of living my life. 

There is no way to just say Thank You. Instead, these words become something you live.

I think the trouble most of us have in understanding how this really works is that we haven't had the big disabilities in our lives. We haven't had the story-defining depravities. Or at least, not so clearly. The blind man is characterized by his blindness; it's everything we know about him. The bleeding woman is known for her uncleanliness. The demon-possessed man in the cemetery is marked by his wild rage and his nakedness. And these persons have been this way for so long that this is all anyone knows of them; it's all they know of themselves. Some of these persons have been this way their whole lives.

When you have something broken that's this ingrained into who you are, it's different than the healing that most of us receive from God. It's different than recovering from the flu. It's different than meeting your growing financial needs. It's different even than remissing from cancer. It's different than the kinds of things that most of us know in our day-to-day lives; it's...pervasive.

Because stuff like this isn't just an interruption from your life; it is your life. A mild illness, a financial setback, trouble at work, a cancer diagnosis, loss of relationship, loss of possessions, all this stuff that we fight with on a regular basis is a distraction, at best. In these times, we feel like these things are keeping us from living our lives. They're just barriers. In the case of the blind man, the bleeding woman, the demon-possessed man, this is their life. It doesn't feel like there's anything on the other side of this just waiting for them; this is all there is.

Which is why this kind of healing is so different. It's not that the healing of God makes life better; the healing of God makes life possible.

And it's strange. There's this incredible anxiousness when life is about to change in such a big way. I can imagine the blind man's heart quicken as he prepares to cry out to the passing Jesus. I can see the bleeding woman's hands shaking as she reaches out to touch Him. We know the demon-possessed have screamed and been thrown into fits in these final moments of life defined. Something in the spirit knows that things are about to change. Something in the soul realizes that it's about to be over. Really over. 

Then it is and this incredible stillness comes to rest in the spirit. This comforting quiet overwhelms you. There's not a lot to do but to sink into it and simply breathe, and even that feels new. Like you've never done it before. And it's hard for most of us to imagine how this really is because we know what joy we feel when God grants us healing in the smaller moments, when He gets us back to living. It's exciting. It's incredible. It's overwhelming.

So is this, but it's also disorienting. It's like for the first time, you understand what life really means. The blind man sees a world he's never seen before. It's the natural reaction of the spirit, I think, to just start walking, eyes wide open, following the stillness wherever it leads. And this stillness often just leads away from everything, to a place where man can be alone with the miracle of himself. To a place where he can fall on his knees in thanks over and over and over again. To a place where life as he knew it doesn't creep in and distort the life that he's been given. To a place where he gets to do something new without the weight of the world bearing down on him. The spirit seeks the stillness, it holds onto the quiet, it is intoxicated by the fresh air. Man has not simply been returned to his life. No, this is beyond even that. His life has been returned to him, and it draws him away for awhile to a place where he comes to meet himself.

It's not just himself that he meets here; it is also his God. In this quietness, he knows more of Jesus than he did in the moment the Teacher touched him. In the stillness, his soul rests in the hands of the God who reached out to him. It's a holy experience, this stillness. 

It's still hard to explain how a man who has just received such an incredible gift can just walk away, how his thankfulness doesn't drive him to hang onto this Jesus and follow Him everywhere. Maybe it's better to say that he doesn't really walk away. He embraces the gift of God and lives his thankfulness. He draws away into life abundant, which is what Jesus promised anyway, right?

I've always struggled to understand why this happens this way, and although my words fail me, I think I'm starting to understand. It's one of those things you can only know in a moment when Christ does more than restore you to your life; you can only know it when He restores life to you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Dignity

More than anything else, I think what we take from each other without realizing, or perhaps without caring, is dignity. We live in a world that teaches us to tell our own story, to make our own way, to push through the tangle to get wherever we're going; we don't even notice when there's another man in that tangle.

And dignity, once lost, is so, so difficult to get back.

I've had a lot of thoughts about this over the years without even really thinking about it. I've had a lot of gut reactions to the loss of dignity, a lot of ideas about how we - or how I - "get past" this gnawing depravity. About just what it takes to get dignity back, if ever it is possible at all. All of these instincts, all these thoughts, have produced primarily two reactions to depravity.

The first is to look at oneself and simply say, Have some dignity, man. Take it back. Declare it. Stand firm on it. Stand obstinate on it. Protect your dwindling dignity at all costs, even while this world continues to try to take it from you. It sounds good. It sounds...proactive. It sounds like this is a man taking personal responsibility, taking ownership of his own dignity and doing whatever it takes to hold onto it. What took me years to realize is that dignity is not like integrity; one cannot simply choose dignity. When he tries, it comes off more as arrogance. It comes off as aggressiveness. It comes off as a man who is anything but at peace with himself, as a man who is trying a bit too hard to believe in what he is.

You see, dignity is that thing that makes us feel whole within ourselves. It's a harmonious relationship with our own spirit where we realize all that we are, all that we are endowed with as images of the creator. Dignity tells us what love is supposed to look like. It tells us what grace means. It's a realistic image of ourselves and how, as men, we ought to be treated. In dignity, we understand just how God loves us because we realize we are meant to be loved just as we are. It's acceptance of ourselves just as we are. When we hold too firmly onto that, it's arrogance. It's self-centeredness. It's not humbling. And when it's not humbling, it cannot tell us anything about love or grace or the good things. That's why this first reaction is dangerous.

The second reaction we typically have is equally dangerous - it is to deny the importance of dignity altogether. It is to forsake trying to be whole within ourselves at all. We break ourselves apart daily, just to shield our hearts from the indignity...all the while willingly giving ourselves to depravity. It's the woman who has been violated and now thinks so little of herself that she works as a prostitute. She could not protect herself, so now, she no longer tries. She gives herself too freely because it's easier than trying to believe that she has anything to hold onto. It's the man who has been repeatedly shamed and now creates his own quietness because it's easier to take away your voice than to consider that you might have one at all. He has never been valued, and now, he does not value himself so that no one else can take him away from himself; he has already done so.

Denying our dignity distances us from ourselves. We don't have to bear the weight of brokenness because we have forsaken any concept of the whole. We never were, therefore we cannot be. We are not, so it's okay that this world merely confirms that. What's troubling about this is that in denying dignity, we give up ourselves. We give up everything that God created in us and, distanced from ourselves, we are distanced from Him. Apart from Him, we are void of meaning. We are void of purpose. We are void of passion. We are simply void. It's tragic.

Yet these are our two options when dignity is destroyed. When this world speaks against our wholeness of self, this is all we can do. Neither is particularly dignifying.

What has taken me years to come to know, and only through the experience of it being able to truly understand, is that dignity is not something we simply have. It's not so easy. Dignity is always given. At our creation, it was given to us by God, who had for us an image of our wholeness. When it is taken away, when it is stolen from us, when it is broken into depravity, we can't simply take our dignity for ourselves; it must be given back to us.

If you ask, if you pray, if you truly believe, God will give it back to you. God will give you back this sense of yourself. And sometimes, by the grace of God, man will give it back to you, too. How does this happen? Easy. A man looks at you and treats you with the dignity you never thought you had. He patiently, persistently, and purposefully respects the wholeness of your person until one day you realize something feels different inside of you. The things you once thought didn't matter, the sacrifices you've made to deny your dignity, matter. They suddenly make all the difference in the world. All the things you were holding onto show themselves as cheap substitutes and it doesn't matter any more whether you can prove yourself; you feel validated just for breathing. A man treats you like a man (or a woman treats you like a woman...or whatever mix thereof) and for the first time in a long time, you feel like just that. You feel like a man. You feel like a woman. Your dignity is back. You can breathe again.

For all that we do to hold onto what shreds of dignity remain or deny them altogether, we can never restore ourselves to wholeness. Dignity is a gift that must be given. So maybe the answer to depravity in our world is not our own dignity, but another's. Extend the gift of dignity from your own broken hand and give another man back to himself. And may you one day find the hand that will give you back to you. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fear vs. Faith

Fear stands in opposition to faith, but it is fear also that provides the opportunity for faith. Without uncertainty, man is not forced to consider what he truly believes. He can live his life without ever questioning, without ever examining, without ever considering. He can live his life without knowing, without believing, without trusting.

How, then, is he to live?

But fear brings us face-to-face with faith. It requires man to think about where he stands. Does he stand in the strength of himself or in the confident assurance of God? Does he stand counter to himself or counter to God?

And really, that's why the question of faith evokes such fear. Man realizes in an instant that he must stand against something. Either he forsakes himself and what his intuition or senses or wisdom is telling him or he forsakes his God and what his Creator and Guide and Wisdom is telling him. Which sounds like an easy choice, but anyone who has been there knows it's not so simple.

It's looking at two roads diverged – one with a rainbow and one with a shadow – and knowing in yourself that the rainbow seems safer. But having a sense that the shadow is where you are called. It's having to choose between what you can see and what you can't see. You can see the rainbow in the sun; but it takes rain to make rainbows. Can you see the rainbow through the rain, too, if you are being called to such a season?

It's looking at the hard road ahead and thinking the only way is to plow right through but sensing that perhaps you should stop for a moment, catch your breath, reassess where the road is going. It looks like the place you've always imagined, but can you imagine something new? Is there a path more prudent for you? The only way to get to where you're going is through the brush. But are you going where you ought to go? Do you trust in what you always imagined for yourself or do you trust in the God who, from His imagination, brought forth everything?

The question of faith of course brings fear. Faith requires a forsaking. It requires believing one thing and not another. It requires standing on one side and not the other. It requires turning your back on one thing so that you can squarely face something else, something more desirable, something chosen. Man is never quite ready to forsake himself, to give up on his hopes and his dreams and his plans and his ingenuity. Neither, though, is he ever quite ready to forsake God. Knowing God tells the man that God knows something he does not, that God sees what he cannot see. It's a pulling between the unknown and the unknowable, between the overthinking and the unthinkable.

But so, too, does the question of fear bring faith. It's only when we've been brought to this place of fear that we have the opportunity to choose faith at all. We come to fear, having to choose, and leave choosing. We walk away with faith in something – faith in ourselves or faith in our God. So often we think of fear as forcing us to let go of something, but it also gives us something to hold onto. It tells us what we really believe. It tells us what we really value. It tells us what we really think and hope and dream. Either that we have a God who is able or that we are able ourselves.

Which is it?

Jesus said you must deny yourself daily. This is the moment He's talking about. He's not just talking about faith; were it so simple as believing in Him, we might all do it. For it's not believing that is the hardest to do; it is forsaking. He's talking about this moment of fear in which you have to choose again and again what you leave behind. You're standing where it's man vs. himself vs. God and you can only choose one battle buddy. You can only choose yourself or God. You have to choose God. In the face of fear, you have to forsake yourself and trust Him.

It's hard. It's incredibly hard. God has given us such an incredible ability to understand and to navigate this world. It's easy to forget that that comes from Him and not from ourselves. It's easy to forget that without Him, we don't have that. But here's the truth when it comes to this moment, and this is the real question we must remember when we're facing this fear, this moment of forsakenness:

Can we forsake our God and trust ourselves to handle Him? Or is it more likely that we forsake ourselves and trust our God to handle us? He is able; we are not. Choose yourself and you go it alone; choose God and He goes with you. It's that simple.

Which still doesn't always make it easy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Apple Juice

It is this fear, this understanding of just how small is the space between good and evil, that makes man's reconciliation to God so difficult.

Were it just the knowledge of good and evil, we could say that the generation of Cain and Abel, the generation of Seth, were not necessarily destined to follow in their parents' footsteps. That Adam and Eve ate the fruit and became aware could have been a painful learning experience that they then passed on to their children. After all, knowledge is not inherited; it is passed down. Children are not born with the knowledge of their parents; they are raised to have it.

Adam and Eve, realizing their mistake, understanding how this knowledge changed not only their relationship with God but indeed, their entire existence, could easily have looked at their children with remorse in their eyes and begged them, Do not eat the fruit. It's not worth it. They could have raised their children in relationship with God. Could have kept them naked before their Creator. Could have refused to pass on their shame. They could have, from everything they had done wrong, raised their children to do right. They could have started creation over again, giving their children the same choice - to listen and obey or to desire and eat - albeit with a little bit of wisdom about the real consequences of that decision. It could have been left for every generation to decide, based on the integrity or the insecurity of their parents' generation. 

In theory. But that theory does not account for fear.

It's not as simple as "If I knew then what I know now." It's complicated by "What I know now, I cannot forget." What Adam and Eve have come to know, they cannot un-know and they see the danger of good and evil every time they look at their children.

If you're a parent, you understand this. You understand looking at a child wobbling on a bicycle and knowing that one breath in either direction spells failure or doom. This child is equally likely at this point to conquer or crash. You understand looking at a child approaching a group of other children that in the blink of an eye, this child will either be accepted or rejected. You understand just how dangerous this world is for your children, how one hair in either direction makes the difference between success and failure. Between good and evil. 

And whether you know it or not, your children do. They know that you see something that maybe they don't see, even if they're not willing to entertain the idea. The child thinks he's going to conquer. He trusts he will be accepted. He knows he will succeed. Children are born believing in goodness, an echo of the original creation. It is our fear, our "knowing better," that teaches them the world is not always this way. 

Children sense our fear. More than anything else, I think, it is what we cannot hide from them. Once Adam and Eve knew how close to evil the good in this world really lies, they could not un-know it. They could not look at their children and un-see it. They could not ignore the thorns in the rosebushes any more even when their children could only see the roses. It is this kind of constant anxiety that draws our children into our fears and creates in them their own insecurities.

Adam and Eve may have told Cain and Abel never to eat of that fruit. They might have shared the story of life before and after, of intimacy with God and insecurity in the bushes. Of safety and shame. They might have told them what it would mean to their very understanding of the world if they were ever to choose to know the world and to forsake God. But when Cain and Abel start to pick up on the fear that now defines Adam and Eve, they start to wonder what it is that mom and dad know that they don't. They start to wonder what they're missing, what they're not seeing. And they start to think, if only I knew....

If only I knew what they know, I wouldn't make the same mistakes. If only I knew what they know, I would make a better choice. If only I knew what they know, I would see good and evil and it wouldn't be so hard. Of course good is better. Of course good is good. Then they eat of the tree and their eyes are opened and suddenly they see...

It's not so simple. 

You can always choose what to teach your children, how you want to share your knowledge. You can tell them what you know. You can share your stories. You can try to guide them from your understandings. But fear is pervasive. We know it without knowing it, and our children pick it up without being taught. Knowledge passes down in slices, in finite pieces of information divided and given according to the appetite; but fear dribbles down like apple juice. It spills over into a sticky situation. 

It is for this reason that it was good that a man not know everything. Knowing everything, he knows too much and in his own garden, grows fear. For knowing, he cannot help himself.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Fruit of Fear

Most of us know the story of Adam, Eve, and the apple - how a man eats a piece of fruit, gains the knowledge of good and evil, and is subsequently condemned to grow his own garden. 

But it's not so simple.

There's something about good and evil that we all want to know. Ask a common man, and he will most likely tell you that if he knew beforehand which choice was good and which choice was bad, he'd have chosen the good one. Most of us would say that if we only knew what God knew, it would be easier to pick the better way. It would be easier to do the good thing, knowing both good and evil. It would take away the mystery. It would take away the wondering. It would take away the unknowing of the consequences. We would clearly know - A is good, B is bad. So let's choose A.

That's what most of us would say. If only we could know...

And you'd think that's what God would want, too. You would think God would be happy that His people would clearly know good and evil. It would certainly make faithfulness easier. I choose good because I see clearly that it is good, and it is in alignment with God's desire because it is good. Therefore, I am more easily God's because it's clear what being God's means, and what the benefit is of choosing the good thing. 

Problem of evil = solved.

So it's hard for me to believe that God had a big problem with man knowing both good and evil. Of course, it's more idyllic for man to know only good. It's more ideal for him to rely only on good and not have to make a choice between the two at all. It's better that a man does not have to weigh his options because there only seems to be one viable option - good. Of course that's better. But in terms of "still not that bad," isn't it okay to know both? If we are stable, as altruistic, as pleasure-seeking, as moral as we claim that we are, knowing good and evil is not such a bad thing because, we believe, we would still choose good. We would only know that it doesn't come so easy.

Then what's the real issue with the apple? I don't think it's good and evil at all; I think it's fear.

It's fear because knowing good and evil, man suddenly becomes aware how dangerously close they are to one another. Because knowing good and evil, the difference between the two doesn't seem so dramatic any more. A hair to the left of good, evil lies in wait. It's the interplay of the two in the world that is dangerous and knowing this, man cannot help but be afraid. 

He's afraid because he understands how fine the line is, how narrow the road. He's afraid because he knows how one breath in the wrong direction changes the wind toward evil. He's afraid because for all the good he once saw around him, he now sees the evil, too, lurking behind every good thing. And he fears that unknowingly, he may cross that line.

He cannot enjoy the good any more. It's foolish to be carefree with the good because carefree is only inches away from careless, and carelessness gives itself to evil without even realizing it. He cannot trust anything in his world because just beyond what his eyes see, they see something else entirely. All of a sudden, the world is not good or evil; it is good and evil and in some strange way, the two cannot be separated. It's not so clear-cut as black and white; it's shades of grey. Shades that dull his eyes to both.

That's what I think the trouble is with the fruit. It's not that the tree produced knowledge of good and evil; were it so, it would not be so terrible for man could still choose good. It's that the tree produced the fruit of fear, and man no longer feels safe any more. Not feeling safe, it's hard to say what a man will do.

Because a man can be faithful in many things, but the one thing he cannot be faithful in is fear. And he can never un-know the danger that he now sees. 

This fits, too, with what we know of God. He spends the rest of His Word trying to teach man to recognize good and evil, to do good and to stay away from evil. Knowing the difference can only be of assistance to our faithfulness. 

But He also spends the rest of His Word trying to teach man to stop being afraid, and this...this is much harder. Because man knows now how close-knit this world is, how good and evil play together, how the two are woven so tightly as to be only shades away from one another. He knows how close, in any moment of good, that he is to evil and it instinctively makes a man hold his breath. In stifled breath, he cannot breathe the air of the spirit. His faith falters.

Man often says if only he knew what God knows...but it's not so simple. Knowing what God knows does not widen the road; it narrows it. You realize what a fine line you're walking.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pass Me Not

There's a certain man we meet in John 5 whose story is not unlike so many of our own. And when we read it, it's often easy to miss the tale of broken community because it is, after all, a story of yet another miracle.

The man is found by the pool of Siloam. Rumor has it that when the waters of the pool are stirred up, whoever is first to touch those waters will be healed of his infirmity, whatever that may be. The man we meet is known for having been present at the waters for so many years. For years, persons have been walking by, noticing him, and stepping into the waters for themselves before he can even dream of healing. For years, persons have been walking by the waters, recounting the wive's tale, recognizing the man who is still so close...and yet so far...and continuing to walk by the waters. For years, persons have known this man is one moment of tenderness away from his healing.

And no one has bothered to give it to him.

You see, this man is incapable of getting himself into the pool. He's just not able. His body will not let him move those last few inches into the healing waters. He's been here for many years, and if he cannot move a few inches, we can assume he has never moved much at all. We're not sure how he got here in the first place, what he had to do, who he had to pay, what he had to trade to get himself to this pool but he likely put everything on the line to be here. To be somewhere near hope. To at least be able to see the waters stirring and to know that healing is, at the very least, possible. He knows he's one tender moment away from touching those waters. At this point, he'd even take one rude shove, if that's what would get him there.

And no one, it seems, will even give him that.

No one will even accidentally trip over him and move him those last few inches in their own attempt to get to the pool. No one has grown weary enough of his constant presence and perhaps constant begging to just shove him already and get it over with. No one has gotten tired of seeing his face so much that they would just knock him a little to the left and end it all. No one loves him enough to heal him, but neither does anyone hate him enough. He's neither a friend nor an enemy. He's simply...a man.

He's a man so alone in this world that by now, the loneliness eats at him more than the infirmity. He used to be simply a broken man; now, he's a rejected one, as well. The only thing that keeps him going is that he's so close to healing that he can smell it in the air. The right breeze kicks up, and the cleansing smell of the water wafts over to him. He watches the water stir and he knows that the angel continues to visit, that something holy is happening almost within his reach. That's enough to hold on, at least for a little while longer.

But a little while has turned into a long while has turned into years and he's no closer today than the moment he first came to Siloam. It's a heartbreaking story.

And one that continues to happen all around us. There are persons right now in our midst who are so close to hope they can taste it. There are persons who live just inches away from the fullness of all they could be, and it only takes one tender moment to move them just enough. It only takes one lousy minute of our time to give them the affirmation, the encouragement, the assistance, the love that they need to completely change their lives. To become more of who they are. To be able to be themselves. To be whole. 

At this point, most of us just keep walking by. We let them live in this place, this oh-so-close place and think to ourselves, "Gosh, that's tragic. She's been stuck there for the longest time." What we don't realize is that it is we, and not her, who have the ability to get that person unstuck. It's we who have to make the next move because, for whatever reason, that person cannot make it for themselves. They need us. 

They need us to stop walking by and shaking our heads. They need us to stop being out in this world for ourselves. They need us to stop seeing so busy that we see but no longer see. They need us to stop being so sad for them and start being so compassionate. They need us to stop leaving them and start loving them. 

This world is full of people who need us to put them in the pool. 

Are we doing that? Are you doing that? Is there someone in your life right now who needs that one good word that's going to take her from this place to the next? Is there someone in your life right now who needs five minutes of your time so that he can start to do a new thing? Is there someone in your life right now whose story is a heartbreaking tale of being so close and yet so far, who lives thirsting on hope and dies fasting? Is there someone right now who needs you to put them in the pool?

What's stopping you?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


I think it's frustrating for most of us to find we're more like Joseph and Matthias than Peter and Paul. We do what we do because we hope that it matters. We hope the world notices the quiet, faithful things we do. We hope our boss sees. Or our family. Or our friends. Then we read the story and find that our names are nowhere in it and...

What now?

Joseph and Matthias are mentioned a grand total of a combined zero times in the Gospels. In the story of Jesus, of which they so much desired to be a part, they are so irrelevant as to not be mentioned. The Gospel writers - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - may have failed to notice their presence at all. Ouch. 

But it's not entirely to be unexpected. Because these writers, and many of the others who traveled with Jesus, were not looking for Joseph or Matthias. And that's really where the problem lies.

They weren't looking at the men; they were looking at the Man. They weren't telling the story of the disciples; they were telling the story of the Discipler. They didn't seem to notice these two men because they simply weren't tuned into the bigger thing. They had one Man in their sights, and His name was Jesus. Everyone else is a bit character. It's not that the other men and women were not seen. It is simply that they were not watched. 

This is the trouble that most of us face in the world. This is what aggravates us. We do our best to be a part of the stories that are unfolding around us. To be a part of our family story. To be a part of our church story. To be a part of our community story. And so many more. We do our quiet, faithful duties. We're present as every piece of the narrative unfolds. We play our role, we think, to a T. And one day, we discover that hardly anyone has notice. Perhaps no one has. People talk about that time their family.... or their church.... or their community.... but there's nothing specific about you. 

What now?

It comes down to the same problem that Joseph and Matthias had, and that is this: this world may see you, but it's not watching. This world isn't focused, isn't fixed on you. It's not trained to observe you. It's always looking to its bigger stories.

It's looking to the stories of its families. And maybe you're a part of that, but you're not all that. It's something bigger. It's looking to the stories of its church. And maybe you're a part of that, too, but you're not all that. It's something bigger. It's looking to the stories of its communities. And maybe you're a part of that, but you're not all that. You see, the trouble for us quiet, faithful types is that this world is not telling our stories; this world is telling its own stories, of which we only happen to be a small part.

There has to be a reason to start thinking about you. 

Jesus has ascended. Judas is dead. All of a sudden, the disciples are looking for one more man to round them out. All of a sudden, they have a reason to start thinking about the men they maybe haven't thought about it. In reflection, they see clearly - there are two. There are two quiet, faithful men among us who have been content to be in the story but not be the center of it. And these are the men we want. These are the men who are qualified to be among us. And it turns out - the disciples even know these men's names.

Imagine that! They were not so unseen after all. 

You're playing a role in bigger stories, in the stories the world is trying to tell and those that God is telling. Some days, it doesn't feel like you're doing much at all, like anyone is noticing the good, quiet, faithful things you're doing. But they are. This world sees you even when it's not watching. God sees you. And the day is coming when the stories will get bigger, when there will be holes to fill, when there will be roles to cast. Only then will you understand how many have seen. Only then will you know who has noticed. 

Because you will be called by name to do a bigger thing. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Unchosen Many

Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John. he called a tax collector, Matthew. He called a betrayer, Judas. Come, He said, follow me. And they did. The twelve, as we call them, went everywhere with Jesus. They ate with Him, walked with Him, prayed with Him, ministered with Him, sailed with Him.... They did everything with Him.

And so did at least two others.

I'm talking about Joseph and Matthias, who we meet for the first time in Acts 1. Judas has betrayed his Lord and himself and is no longer among the twelve (or the living, for that matter). As they set about to begin their ministry work in this world, they decide they must choose another disciple to replace Judas among them because, I assume, they understand that twelve was the number for a reason. They debate who might be a good choice and decide that whoever comes to join their ranks must be a man who has "been with us through everything," a man who has been there for just as much of Jesus' ministry as they have. They come up with two: Joseph and Matthias.

I kind of feel for these guys. I mean, here are two guys who gave up just as much as twelve other guys, but they are nowhere to be found in the stories. We know they gave up just as much because the disciples tell us as much - these two have been there from the beginning. They, too, have wandered without a place to call home. They, too, have left family and job and security to follow either a madman or a Messiah. 

And for what? To become trivia answers after a betrayer whose name we'll never forget kills himself. Oh, and one of them gets to be a disciple, now that the Discipler is gone, too, if he's so fortunate as to win a dice game that it's not clear he even gets to play in.

Not a lot of reward for three years of sacrifice.

But I tell you this - these men are still among us, and many of us can take great heart from their stories. Because there are big names out there, men and women doing what seem like such big things for God. Men and women who have been called to do the big things. Authors, speakers, actors, bloggers, humanitarians, philanthropists, preachers, teachers, elders. We know many of these men and women by name. We follow them on social media. We tune in to watch them on television. We hear them on the radio. We buy their books. We listen to their podcasts. We stand in their lines. Yes, there are some big names in our world for God.

But there are a ton more names we will never know. There are many more Josephs and Matthiases than there are Peters and Pauls. There are thousands upon thousands more men and women who do the little things every day whose names seem like such small blips on the bigger story when the truth is that these men and women are the story. 

Who is Jesus without the crowds? Who is He without the multitudes? He's a voice in the marketplace, a noise in the wilderness, a madman shouting to a world that doesn't listen. What if Jesus walks this earth and no one comes out to meet Him? He does no miracles. He teaches no lessons. He feeds no thousands. He raises no dead. Or if He does, it doesn't matter. No one knows. He's another quiet prophet. Maybe He dies a tragic death; maybe there's no reason to kill Him. With the chosen few, He's a great teacher; without the unchosen many, that's all He is.

The story of God dwells not in the twelve but in the towns. The story of God is on the sides of the roads, not in the ruts of them. The story of God is in the people whose names we may never know, but who choose day after day to do the little things anyway because they believe. They believe in this God that walks among them. They believe in this God who speaks. They believe in this God who heals, who teaches, who triumphs. And they're doing His works whether He makes them fishers of men or simply feeds them fish from a little boy's lunchbox. 

Joseph and Matthias are two of these men. We know the names of women who did much the same - Mary, Salome, Joanna, Susanna, and more. People who lived their lives in the little things for God even though they were never to be called among the twelve. Even though when we speak of God's story, we speak more of a betrayer than we do of their faithfulness. Even though we know now their names and so very little more of them. 

One day, these two men got their chance. And they were ready. They were qualified by their quiet service, by their disciplined dedication. They were qualified for the bigger things by all the little things they had done. They could be chosen only because they had given themselves. 

Most of us spend our lives longing to be a part of the chosen few. Wanting to be Peter or Paul. Wanting to be one of the big names that tells God's story. And that's a special something, sure. But while some men and women are called to tell God's story, God's story is being told through many more who have been called only to this quiet service, these faithful steps, this unknown life. And that's something, too. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Absolute Truth

We live in a world that doesn't accept the notion of absolute truth any more. Rather, truth is experience; it is what we make it to be. This, of course, butts right up against what we, as Christians, understand about God. God, we have been preaching for years, is absolute truth. Whether you believe in Him or not, He is.

This is something that my studies have forced me to think about more critically over the course of this semester, particularly when thinking about how we minister to the present age. In a world that doesn't believe in truth, our assertions of God as truth are null, if not void. This world just isn't listening to tracts and teachings like they used to. Bible-beating gets us nowhere. Standing on Truth is not enough.

Which is hard to admit, right? As believers, it feels like Truth ought to be enough. That it's okay to believe just because there is something to believe in. That it's more than okay - it is necessary. We must believe because there is something to believe in. The problem is that in a world ruled by the subjective, Truth does not exist without experience. It cannot simply be.

This world says that the chair I am sitting in exists, and I know it exists, because I am sitting in it. That the keyboard on which I type these letters is real because I can hear the clickety-click of my fingers on the keys and watch the letters appear on the screen before me, which only exists because I'm actually looking at it. I can know these things are true because I can see them, hear them, feel them. I can taste this world. I can smell this world. And so, it must to some degree be real. 

So in ministry we're left to figure out how this understanding of the world requires us to minister differently, how we must present Truth in order for it to be understood. And the more I have thought about this, the more I think it's not so great a divide. There's not so much distance between what this world is demanding of God and what we, as Christians, ought to be showing of Him.

None of this is to say that God is not Truth. None of this is to say that God is not real. What I am saying is that we have to get beyond our idea of truth, our idea of real, and think more critically about in which contexts is God Truth? In which contexts is He real? The answer is not so simple as "all of them, all the time." It's more complicated than that.

God Himself tells us that He is love. It's tempting to say that this is Truth - God is Love. And on the one hand, it is. It absolutely is. But it tells us something else about God, and that is this: God is true only insomuch as He is love. Truth, we cannot "experience;" but Love? Love is something tangible in this world. We can experience Love. It is here that we can begin to understand what ministry to a subjective world must look like.

It's not enough to say that God is Love and rely on Truth to defend itself. What this world is looking for is the Love of God, and that is how we convince them. All the arguing, all the Scripture-quoting, all the confident assurance in the world is not going to convince a man. Love him, and he will know. Give him the experience of God, and he will start to see. Demonstrate love, and you give a man something to believe in. He believes first in the love, and then looks for the place from where that love came. Love comes from God. So love leads a man to God.

We sort of know this, don't we? We know that this generation, this world, is increasingly expecting more of us as Christians. They aren't satisfied with what we believe; they are more interested in what we live. They're looking for God manifest in our lives. And it's not just because they want us to break free from the hypocrisy that has so defined Christians (and continues to because, hey, we're human); it's because God is only real insomuch as He is manifest in this world. That's why they're looking for our love. They're looking for our grace. They're looking for our acceptance, our mercy, our open doors, our open arms. They're looking for us to live like God is truth so the world can experience the tangible nature of God among us. In a sense, we make Him real.

It's complicated, I know, but I don't think I'm that far off. Is God real without love in the world? Yes. Is God truth even if He never speaks? Yes. Does God exist beyond what we can experience of Him? Absolutely. This is our truth paradigm speaking. This is how we understand Him.

But that's not the real question, at least as I see it. The real question is not is God real without love, is God truth in silence, is God existent without our knowing it. The real question, and this is the heart of the whole thing, is: Is God God without Love? Is God God unless He speaks? Is God God beyond our experience of Him? The question is: Is God God if He is not manifest among us?

And the answer, I think, is no. He is still powerful. He is still good, maybe. He is still deity. But without that interaction and manifestation of His presence among us, He is not God. At least, not the God He proclaims to be. 

So there's something to this world that is demanding more of us than a simple adherence to Truth. There's something to a world that wants more than to believe. They want to see God manifest. They want to see God among us. They aren't looking for a God that is true; true is only a product of the mind. They are looking for a God who is real. And real is a product of experience. 

When we think about ministry to a world like this, we have to think about more than tracts and teachings; we have to think about encounters. We have to think about making God manifest, about embracing the experience of Him. We have to bring people into contact with Him so they can touch, taste, hear, feel, and they can know. That is our best ministry.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Season of Hope and Faith

I want to try to illustrate a little better how faith and hope actually work in the real world, in this life in which we truly live. To put a little skin on this, I'm going to use the skeleton of a story from this season in my life.

This has truly been a season of hope for me. God has taken me on a journey that even a few months ago, I would have never thought possible. Through courage and strength, presence and provision, and a whole mix of other things, what has unfolded has been, to say the least, very cool. To say the most, it's been nothing short of a miracle.

And I almost missed it.

I almost missed it because I let my heart hold on too long to misplaced hope. Hope was clearly the foundation of the journey - the belief in a better tomorrow. Trusting in the whispered promise of God even when I could not see it, necessarily, unfolding before me. Hoping this works. Hoping I'm strong enough. Hoping God shows up for one more day. Hoping...hoping...hoping...and holding onto doubt. Hoping for tomorrow, failing to believe for today.

I missed most of what God was doing, most of the small, incremental, faithful steps He was taking to make tomorrow possible. To bring about the promise He had given me. To manifest the very thing I was hoping for. But not hoping in the purest sense; so often, it was the doubt to which I was clinging the most. Hoping, but holding out the possibility that this may not work. Or rather, God may not be able.

It's hard to say such things, but that's what our misplaced hope sets us up for. That's what happens when we're hoping today with faith for tomorrow instead of the other way around. We're always thinking more about what happens if this doesn't happen than we are holding onto the real possibility that it's already happening! 

And then, sure enough, little things started happening. The kinds of big little things that a person just can't ignore and so I had to figure out what I wanted to do with all of that. I could reject what's already happening, holding onto the big picture of tomorrow. But that doesn't feel quite right because today, these little things, they sort of feel like something. Do I want to miss the something because it's not everything? Can I spend my life waiting for everything when some really good, really cool things are happening right now?

It's this sort of moment that pushes us into the better understanding of faith and hope. At least, it's this sort of moment that pushes me into it. Here I have something that's really happening, that's happening right now, and it's good. It's something to believe in right now (faith). And yet, it's still not everything. It's not the fullness of the promise. But it makes tomorrow more possible. Or, more probable. It makes tomorrow easier to believe in (hope). 

Some people might say this is "celebrating the little wins." Maybe so. It's being conscious to what's already happening without losing sight of what is to come. It's believing in tomorrow because there's so much to believe in today. And believing in today because there's so much to believe in tomorrow. There's so much in both that we're not ready to let go of, and the only way to have either is to hold on to both with faith and hope. Grab hold of all of it. The little wins and the grand scheme. Let it all sink into your heart.

If you had asked me early on whether this journey was worth it, whether it would all pan out the way I was "hoping" that it would, I would have told you that I didn't know. I would have said it was one of those small steps in a faithful direction, and that I was aware of the possibility that this whole venture may fail. I'm still aware of that possibility, but it seems less probable now. Because this is happening. It's already possible because it's already being done. A little at a time, every day, something new to believe in while continuing to believe in the promised tomorrow. A tomorrow that gets one day closer every time I open my eyes and choose to believe. Every time I choose faith, my hope gets a little stronger. And it's happening. It's really happening.

I think it takes things like these, journeys like these, to bring us to a place where we can understand such difficult things as faith and hope, as belief, as trust. It takes things like these to open our eyes not just to tomorrow but to today. And so, I'm thankful for these things. Even when they haven't been the easiest things. Even when they haven't been the comfortable things. Even when they haven't been the gentle things. They have still been the blessed things. They've been something to believe in. 

Because that's all we can really do. Believe. 

Faith, hope, and love - these three remain. But the greatest of these is love. 

But faith and hope are pretty beautiful, too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Faith, hope, and love - only these things remain. And the greatest of these is love.

...and the most dangerous of these is hope.

Hope is dangerous because we are a people who don't really understand any more what hope is. We've so diluted the word, so twisted it, that it's become something different entirely from what it meant when Paul wrote it. We hold onto hope like it's something meant for the present, like it's something God is working out in us right now. We hope the weather will be good today. We hope the job opportunity will call. We hope the doctors will know what they're doing. We hope the bill doesn't come in the mail. We hope...we hope...we hope...and for all our hoping, we cannot believe.

Believe is kind of the first piece of these three that remain - it's faith. It's knowing, believing, trusting that God is who He says He is. But when we spend our time hoping for today, we're not believing. We can't. Hope, the way we use it, means that what we're holding onto most tightly is the possibility that whatever it is, won't. We hope the weather will be good today, but inherent in that hope is a resignation that it might not be. We hope the job will call, but that means a fair portion of our heart anticipates that it won't. We hope the doctors will know what they're doing, but part of us is worried that things won't go as well as we want them to. Hope, in the present, draws our focus away from what God is doing and centers it on what He might not do. 

How can we ever believe in the face of so much hope? How can we ever trust in the same breath in which we are doubting?

Hope was never meant for today, as crazy as that sounds; hope is always held for tomorrow. Hope is for the time that is coming. Hope is believing the things that God is working out for later, even when we can't see them developing right now. Hope is for heaven, for the promise of Christ's return. When Paul says faith, hope, and love, he is speaking about God, specifically, today, tomorrow, and forever. That's what faith, hope, and love are - God today, tomorrow, and forever. Hope is for tomorrow. 

Which leaves us faith for today, and that's better. Faith for today means we pay attention. Faith for today means we believe what God is doing among us right now. Faith for today means we keep our eyes open and witness the work of God in, around, among, through, for us. For Him. For this world. Faith is trust with eyes wide open. It means we can trust in what God is doing today without having to hold onto the possibility that He might not do it. He is doing it. Hope, this hope we have for the present, leaves room for doubt; faith has no such luxury.

And hope? True hope? True hope has no room for doubt, either. True hope is believing in tomorrow with the same conviction we believe, by faith, today. It's trusting as deeply in what we do not yet see as we trust in that which is unfolding before our very eyes. 

This understanding is critical for the way we actually live in this world. If we don't get faith and hope right, we miss out on both today and tomorrow. We miss out on today because we're waiting for tomorrow, and we miss out on tomorrow because it always feels like today. We never know when we've arrived; we aren't aware when we get there. We spend our lives waiting on the God who is coming, completely neglecting the God who is already here.

There's no better place to see how all this faith and hope stuff works than in the journey. To really understand, it's important to see this kind of trust with skin on. We have to see how it really plays out in this world, in this life. So I will try to do that tomorrow. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Love | Revolution

One week from today, my buddy Terry Waggoner drops his second EP, Love | Revolution.

When Terry announced the title for his new EP, I got really excited. If there is one guy in this world who knows what love is - true, Christian, brotherly love - it's Terry. This young artist lives love in a tangible way. He's one of those guys who believes in you, who trusts in you, who hopes in you. He's one of those guys who welcomes you into his home and into his office and into his sacred spaces like you simply belong there. He just loves everybody. So his music about love ought to be...well...powerful.

...Ought to be. (Just kidding, Terry.)

Love | Revolution is a six-song EP that has another unique blend of sounds. Terry's got so many voices that he sings in, so many languages that he composes in. And I'm not talking about English; what I mean is that he is very adept at speaking love in a music that will appeal to different persons through different songs.

There are a couple of songs on this EP that have an old-school Audio Adrenaline feel for me, the kind of music I listened to when I first came to Christ 15 years ago. There are some with a Gungor sound, that kind of intimate worship music that just sort of grabs you. And some good guitar work that makes you think for a minute you're sitting in a coffee shop listening to a guy who loves playing music.

And Terry loves playing music, there's no doubt. What's striking about the EP is the integrity of Terry's faith shining through the songs. Not only has he written these words. Not only does he sing them. But he believes them. He believes in the power of love and revolution, and of Love to bring a revolution. He believes that Love Will Speak, that love is divine (Love Divine), that all will be well (Finally).

Along with a testimony of his faith, what Terry also does beautifully is invite the listener into prayer with him. These songs are not just professions; they are confessions of our need. They are longings of the spirit. Terry is not just plucking guitar strings; he's playing his heartstrings and striking a chord. You just can't listen to him sing Better or Rebuild and not know how deeply he holds these things in his heart, how hungrily he cries out for them at the same time believing they are not only beautiful, but possible.

Love | Revolution is a reflection on the beautiful and the possible. While I loved the worship style of Terry's first EP, Fringes, and there's certainly an air of worship to this one, what strikes me about Love | Revolution is the ministry of it. You can hear the heart of a man who has spent nearly ten years in the ministry of music, not only believing and not only crying out but creating the space for the listener to believe, empowering the voice of the listener to cry out. These is music composed to speak to your heart.

Every time I listen to it, it strikes me in a new way. Something new pops out at me. Pieces of this EP start coming together in new ways like Terry's just telling a story, a story about love and change and hope and promise and something holy. But it all begins with love.

If you want to know more about Love | Revolution  or Terry's first EP, Fringes (iTunes | Amazon), check out Terry on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. You can purchase Love | Revolution at Amazon or iTunes.

As per FCC regulations, I am required to tell you that Terry provided me an advanced copy of Love | Revolution from which to create the above words. The words, the opinions - these are mine and solely mine. The music - that's Terry's.

No Law Against It

Paul creates a stark contrast in Galatians 5 between the spiritual nature and the corrupt nature. Starting in verse 16:

Let me explain further. Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants. What your corrupt nature wants is contrary to what your spiritual nature wants, and what your spiritual nature wants is contrary to what your corrupt nature wants....If your spiritual nature is your guide, you are not subject to Moses' laws.

Now, the effects of the corrupt nature are obvious: illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. ...But the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that.

Most of us recognize the latter part of this passage as the "fruits of the Spirit," and what's interesting to look at is the statement Paul makes immediately following the traits of the spiritual nature: There are no laws against things like that.

It's interesting because most of us live like there are.

Paul has spent some time listing the traits of the corrupt nature, all against the laws of Moses. Yet these are the things that we see so frequently on our televisions, in our headlines, and even in our living rooms that we hardly seem to notice them any more. Angry outbursts? That's just human, right? We see those every day; we are guilty of those every day. Selfish ambition? That's the only way to get ahead in this world. Drunkenness? Wild partying? We are adults; these things are our right. Illicit sex? Promiscuity? Television is rather boring without them. These things have become the norm for our living. We don't even notice any more. And we certainly don't feel the need to defend ourselves for experiencing them. After all, we're just human.

Yet in the very same breath, most of us find ourselves in a position to defend whatever fruits of the spirit might manifest in our lives. Say that you love someone even when they have done something unlovable. You're not commended for your love; you're questioned for it. Say that you have joy when the world around you is crumbling. You're not celebrated for it; you're chastised for it. Peace in the storm, patience in the trial, kindness in the accusation, goodness in the evil, faithfulness in the questions, gentleness in the wound, self-control in the free-for-all...for these things, we are not applauded; we stand accused. 

We stand accused of the things against which there is no law. We stand accused of light in the midst of the darkness. We stand accused of calm in the midst of the storm. And far too often, we're taking the bait. We live our lives defending ourselves, having done nothing wrong, to those who stand in the wrong and profess their "right" to do so. 

The adulterer comes accusing us of our love and we stumble over our words and trip over our hearts and try to find the words to defend our love when the issue is not our love at all; it is his. It is his broken love that accuses ours. It is his failed commitment to love that cannot understand our faithful love. The envious and jealous come accusing us of our peace, and again, we feel like we must defend ourselves. We must justify our peace. But peace is not ours to justify; they are only interested in our peace for their lack of it. Those who accuse us of our kindness are mourning their bitterness. Those who accuse us of our patience are railing against their own entitlement. 

What this world accuses in us are only the very things it wishes it had for itself. The spiritual nature is counter to the corrupt nature; the two make no room for each other.

And while I'm not saying that we turn the tables and accuse the corruption of this world (that never works), I am saying that it's time we stop defending ourselves where there is no law to condemn us. And the law that condemns this world? It is already at work. We need not defend it. 

We need not defend God, who is doing His work within us. He doesn't need us to defend Him. We don't have to justify what God does in this place, what He does in our hearts, what fruit He bears in our lives. We don't have to give reason for Him. There is no law against these things. Stop living like there is. 

Start living like the fruit of God is in you and let the harvest be the food for a starving world. You don't have to accuse a broken love; the fruit of love in you condemns it. You don't have to accuse the jealous or the envious; the fruit of kindness in you condemns them. You don't have to accuse the hateful or the contentious; the fruit of peace in you condemns them. Your life, by nature of its fruit, pours out new wine on this world and all its old wineskins can never hold it. By simply living the fruit of the Spirit, you bust this world wide open and create a place for that wine to pour through. 

You create a place for love by loving. A place for joy by rejoicing. A place for peace by living in peace. Patience, by being patient. Kindness, by being kind. Goodness, by being good. Faithfulness, by being faithful. Gentleness, by being gentle. Self-control, by holding yourself in. ...And letting God pour out on a broken world.

There's one more difference between the corrupt nature and the spiritual one. The corrupt nature defends itself by accusation and condemnation, by requiring an explanation for anything that stands in contrast to its ways. 

The spiritual nature doesn't need to defend itself at all.

Celebrate love. Rejoice in joy. Live in peace. Wait with patience. Act in kindness. Offer goodness. Practice faithfulness. Embrace gentleness. Discipline yourself. There are no laws against things like that.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sacred Spaces

There are two kinds of sacred spaces in our lives - those created by God and those graced by Him.

God creates some sacred spaces. He opens an opportunity, forms a space, makes a path, and invites us to enter into it. It's something He has done, or is doing, and He is calling us to be a part of it with Him. These sacred spaces are often intimidating; they often require courage. Nothing God asks us to do is usually easy. We must dare to believe, dare to hope, dare to trust, and boldly step into the sacred space that God has placed before us. 

As difficult as it is, most of us reach a point in our lives where we become fairly consistent in understanding what God is asking of us and knowing how we must respond. We get better, as time goes by, at believing, hoping, trusting, daring. And we are often blessed for doing so. (Which is not to say that such blessing comes without trial. It can, but it does not necessarily.)

But God doesn't create all of our sacred spaces. Some of them, He simply graces.

Here's the difference: in the first scenario, it is God who creates the space and invites us to step into it. In the second, it is we who create the space and invite God in. This doesn't take courage so much as vulnerability. It still takes faith, hope, trust. It still takes believing. It takes prayer and discipline. But it mostly takes us being willing to lay bare a place in our lives and call God into it. It's hard. It's scary.

And it sounds kind of weird, right? If we are supposed to be followers of Jesus, then we ought to be prepared for His sacred spaces. We ought to be ready to go where He calls us and not demand our own agenda, not even have our own agenda. A lot of churches, for a lot of time, have been preaching this very thing - that if we want to be God's, we give up ourselves wholly for Him.

What we have to consider, however, is whether we've truly been called as followers of Jesus or whether, rather, we have been called as His disciples. Are we supposed to blindly walk the Sea of Galilee, doing what our Teacher does, soaking in His every word? Or are we called to share our lives with Him?

Jesus spent a lot of time eating at other people's tables. He wasn't always the one feeding them; sometimes, they fed Him. They invited Him into their private spaces, into their homes, into the intimate places of their hearts. He came, and by His presence, created a sacred space between them. 

There's something important about God that happens in our empty spaces as He makes them sacred. No longer is He simply the God whom we pursue; He shows Himself as the God who pursues us. No longer is it simply we who love Him and desire to do good for His name; it is He who loves us and is doing good in ours. He's doing good in us. 

I'm taking all of this from a prayer I wrote a couple of weeks ago in a moment of piercing repentance. As I look back over my life, I realize that I'm not too shabby at stepping into the sacred spaces God has created for me. Courage, I have, at least in enough of a measure to believe that if it ever came to it, I could have more. I love God enough to go with Him.

But I questioned, as I considered that prayer, whether I loved God at all if I did not have the vulnerability to let Him love me. Of all the sacred spaces I have in my life, the overwhelming majority of them have been spaces created by God. Meanwhile, I sit here with a load of broken places that desperately need graced by Him, and I'm struck at how seldom I invite Him into them. Maybe because right now, they don't feel so sacred.

It's a hard thing to think about, how often we shut God out of our lives. How often we refuse to host Him at our table. How often we fail to open our homes to Him. It's more difficult, I think, to believe, to hope, to trust when we know the depths of the darkness in which we sit. It sounds noble to think about a life lived in God's places, a journey along His path, a series of altars in the places where God has called us and we have dared to go. It sounds like faith, doesn't it?

It does, but there's a haunting emptiness to it. And not to spit in the face of so much of our Christian teaching, but I don't want to live God's life. I wasn't created to live God's life. I was created to live my life; you were created to live yours. For Him. And the best way to do that is in both courage and vulnerability. It is in giving yourself to God and opening yourself to Him. It's in stepping into the sacred spaces He's created in your path...

...and inviting Him to grace those spaces that gnaw at your heart.

How many sacred spaces has God created in your life lately? 

And how many have you given Him the opportunity to grace?

Thursday, November 6, 2014


There's something else we need to consider about all the sacred things we do, all the altars we try to build in our daily lives in the hopes that God will visit them:

That's not how altars work.

Throughout the Old Testament, people were setting up altars all over the place. Abraham built one on the mountain. Moses sketched one into the Tabernacle. Solomon built one in the Temple. When the people crossed the river safely, they set up an altar. When brothers were reconciled to one another, they erected an altar. An altar here, an altar there, an altar everywhere...that God had already shown up. 

Altars were not invitations; they were remembrances. They were markers for the people to remember what God had done in a certain place. They were spaces for the people to come back and know that, at least once, at some point in time, God was here. He was right here. They looked at the altar and remembered what God had done for them. They prayed, offered sacrifices, thanked God at the places that had His presence all over them.

The altars didn't make the ground sacred; they were simply made on sacred ground.

And then, there's us. We spend our lives trying to do the sacred things, trying to do the holy things, and hoping that when we do, God will show up. Our churches have become houses of this. We go to church - a sacred thing, we think - hoping that God shows up. That's not what church is for. Church is a place where we come to remember, to acknowledge, to celebrate the God among us. How easily we forget that.

But there is also an altar in the Temple, and this cannot be neglected, either. We have to have altars in our lives; God's plans make that very clear. They wouldn't be littered throughout His story if there wasn't something important about them. That something is the remembering. 

It's like making markers throughout our lives, places we can go back to when times get tough or areas we're likely to encounter again and again. The people crossed the River, but they also came back to the River. When they did, they saw an altar - a sign of what God had done in that place. And they worshiped God in that place.

I'm not about to go stacking stones in the middle of the Wal-Mart. I'm not going to build an altar on the side of the road. You can't follow the drips of the blood offering through my house and find any place particularly meaningful. We don't set up a lot of altars in the world any more. Just in our churches, and we've nearly lost those to idol worship (worship of the churches themselves, or of worship itself, or of doctrine or of style or whatever). But we set up altars in our hearts. Or, at least, we should.

We ought to remember that moment when God told us who we are. When He answered our piercing questions and gave us that bit of confidence that we needed. It's locked into our muscle memory, the way we stood a little taller that moment, the way we smiled without knowing we were, the way we breathed a little deeper and slowed down a little bit because it was all okay. We can go back to that moment. We can go back to the way that felt. And we can worship God at that place, at the place where He spoke to us in such a powerful way. And more importantly, we can worship God out of that place like Levites serving at the altar in the Temple. This becomes the place from which we serve Him. 

We ought to remember that time that God rescued us. When He snatched us away from whatever was about to destroy us. It's locked into our hearts, the way we trusted a little deeper that day. The way that we fell a little softer. The way that we let ourselves go, knowing His tender hands would hold us. We can go back to the way that felt. And we can worship God at that place, at the place that He rescued us. And more importantly, we can worship God out of that place. This becomes the place from which we serve Him.

Our lives, our stories, are littered with altars, if we've taken the time to build them, just like the stories of the Old Testament. We're full of places that we keep coming back to, places where we know exactly what happened. Places where we understood exactly who God is. It's important to build those places up as places of worship, places both to worship at and to worship out of. Places to remember Him and to serve Him. When we do that, we find that we don't need to keep building altars to bring the presence of God here; we have plenty already to know that He already is. 

Our altars don't make our lives sacred. Only God does that. But on our sacred grounds, we make altars. 

Lest we forget.