Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Another mark of wisdom in the life of a believer is knowing how to use your gifts. I think one of the biggest lies we've bought into as Christians is that God gives you gifts so that you can bless others through them. And while that is true, it is only half-true.

Some gifts from God are just for you.

Over the Christmas holiday, I posted a series of videos on Facebook. Just little short bits of Christmas music I was playing on the piano. I have played the piano for almost 27 years, and it's something I enjoy but something about me that not a lot of people know. And those videos sparked two common questions that I found myself having to answer.

The first was: Is there anything you can't do? The answer is yes. Lord, yes. There are countless things I cannot do. (Many I do not want to do. And many more I should not do.) 

But the second question is the one that arises out of this understanding of gifts that we have: Why aren't you in music ministry? Why aren't you on the stage with the praise team on Sunday morning? Why aren't you sharing your gift of music with us on a regular basis? Although to be honest, this question more often came in the form of a statement: you should be on the praise team! 

No. No, I should not. 

There was a time in my life when I would have agreed, when I would have said that any gift the Lord gives you is meant to be used for His glory. It is meant to be shared. It is meant to be given away. There was a time when I would have said that any gift God gives you is meant not to be poured into you, but to be poured through you and into the world. There's a time when I would have said such things, and wholeheartedly believed them.

At about the same time in my life, you would have found me working the sound booth every Sunday morning because I was gifted with knowing how to use a computer and a sound board. I would have been washing dishes after every church pitch-in because I have a knack for washing dishes (and earned an award for it in 8th-grade home ec). I would have been driving every little old lady to every doctor's appointment because God had gifted me both an able body and a car. I would have had the complete inability to say no to anything that I had the capacity to do.

And I would have had no measure of God inside of me because He was only allowed to pour through me.

The more in my life I draw closer to God's intended purpose for my life, or at least for this season of my life, the more I understand the difference between a gift God gives you and a gift God pours through you. God pours through me in my ministry context. When I'm being a chaplain, when I'm working as His presence in tough situations or moments of grief or times of crisis, when I'm doing the work He has given me to do, He pours straight through me. It's energizing, but also draining. I'm giving away what God has given me, as it should be. Because it is in this area that He has given both a gift and a call. 

But when I get in my car at the end of a shift, when I come home after an extended visit, I've almost always got the radio on. I'm almost always drawn to sit at the piano and play a few notes. Because music is the gift God pours into me. It's what He uses to recharge me. It's that thing that connects me back to Him when I am feeling most blessed and most depleted, which often come together. What music gives my spirit is affirmation of God's presence. It is a reminder of the God who loves me, not just the God who uses me. It is that thing that He and I uniquely share in a way that all the words in the world would not capture. It is His gift to me, a complement to His gift in me. 

Many, many years ago, I was talking with a worship minister who loved what he did. He was certainly gifted in music, and it was the gift God was doing in him. But he confessed and confided in me that some days, he needed not to be playing. Some days, he needed not to be on stage. Because being on stage every week drew him away from being present every week in a very real, draining, terrible way. He was giving away all of God he was getting and because of his busyness on Sunday mornings, he was unable to simply sit and be filled again with the things that filled him - fellowship, teaching, prayer, communion. In the giving of his gift, he was unable to receive God's gift to him. And it was killing him.

And that's what happens. It happens to all of us when we don't understand the difference in gifts, when we haven't taken the time to discern which God is doing with us and which God is doing for us. Not everything God gives you is to be given away; if it is, how will you ever know Him? How will you ever hold onto Him? You can't. 

Certainly, God has given you a gift. He's given you a gift to use for His glory, to extend Him to others in this world. Go out and use that to the best of your ability. But He's also given you another gift, a gift to draw you more into Him. A gift to refill your well when your cup runneth over but feels like it's running dry. What is that gift for you? Give yourself permission to simply enjoy it. Let it fill you, a measure of His grace.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Just remember that sometimes, He's working that glory in you. Not just through you.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


One measure of wisdom in your life is what you believe about speaking. And I'm not talking simply about the words that come out of your mouth; it's much deeper than that. 

Most of us, driven by our insecurities, have come to a place in our lives where we speak out of ourselves in order to speak into ourselves. We say, show, and live those things that will garner us approval or accolade from others so that we feel better about ourselves. It's all based on achievement. It's something we do. And we do it only so that it means something; we do it because we think we know what it means.

We go after that promotion at work because we think it means something if other people see us as a manager and not just an assistant manager. We browse the lot of new (used) cars because there's something to be said for a man who can upgrade his wheels. We brag about our children on social media, not because we want you to know how awesome our kids are but because we want you to kind of be impressed with us, as parents, too. We share our latest accomplishment, however trivial or small it may seem, as soon as we hear the news because we can't wait to get the feedback and hear what it all means. Whether or not, as we long in our souls for to be the case, it's really anything at all.

I know because I lived quite a good deal of my life this way. Speaking out of myself - my accomplishments, my successes, my achievements - in order to speak into myself. Longing for my life to be anything. Waiting to hear what it all means.

The problem, of course, is that when your life speaks for you, it can never shut up. You have to keep doing, keep achieving, keep putting yourself out there in front of others lest you lose the meaning in your existence. If you use your life to speak into your life, you have to keep pouring yourself into your life to hear anything at all. And all of a sudden, you can't remember which came first - the life you speak out of or the life you speak into? It's all quite a mess.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the pieces of masking tape I keep on my desk - just little reminders of the life I want to live. I've added a new one since I wrote that post: Only God speaks into your life. Only God tells you who you are. Only God affirms your existence. Only God provides meaning and passion and purpose. It's something I just can't do for myself any more, nor do I want to.

See, something interesting happens when God speaks into your life: you only have to worry about speaking out of it. You get to put things out in this world, good things, things that are created uniquely in you without worrying what comes back to you. You get to do the things God has called you to do without wondering if it's really your thing. God speaks; you know. It is really your thing. You get to be a blessing to others without the burden of validating yourself in the process. You're already validated. It's remarkably freeing. 

It's because when God does the speaking, the things that used to agonize you, the things that used to energize you, the things that used to drive quiet you in His presence. You realize what it really means - which is not anything that you do or anything that you are but is this very real experience of who God is and what He is doing in you. It's the ultimate affirmation because it's not anything you've created; it's the way you were created. All of a sudden, all that meaning you've been longing for sinks into your depths and...and it's beautiful. It inspires you to be more of that person, not so the world will know but so that you will know. So that you will hear that whisper again. 

Who speaks into your life? 

Monday, December 29, 2014

To Know Better

You've probably heard some of the old stories that feature a man with a question seeking out the "wisest" man in all the world, the man who knows everything. This wise man is often in a far-removed location that is difficult to reach. And this so-called wise man is more often the purveyor of knowledge than wisdom.

They are not the same thing.

God makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 12 when He is talking, through Paul, about the various gifts that He has given to His people. Knowledge is one gift, given by God to some; wisdom is another, separate gift, given to others. The knowledgeable man is not necessarily the wise man, and the wise man does not necessarily possess knowledge. They are two different gifts. We have to be cognizant of this, lest we mistake one for the other.

Knowledge is the gift of knowing things. (Clearly. The word "know" is right there.) It is having a depth of information in your head that lets you talk intelligently about the world around you. It is an abundance of information either about one specific topic or about something more broad. Knowledge is the kind of gift that makes you difficult to beat on Jeopardy!. 

In the spiritual sense, knowledge is having a powerful recall of the Scriptures, the stories of God shared across generations. It may mean being able to read the written word and therefore study more in-depth those Scriptures, particularly in the time of Paul when not everyone was so learned. A person with knowledge is the kind of person who can hear the Word of God and tell you where it came from, its cultural context, its parallelism to other passages of Scripture, and so on. It is a gift often seen in conjunction with the gift of teaching; there is much we can learn from a man who has the gift of knowledge.

But at the end of the day, it's still all book learnin'. It's all in your head. It's all fact, no truth. It's information but not really transformation. Transformation is something we get from the gift of wisdom.

Wisdom is, in a sense, to know better. It is to have the information but to have a deep understanding of the meaning of that information. It's one thing to know how an internal combustion engine works; it's another to realize that means you must put gas in the tank.

In the spiritual sense, wisdom is knowing how to apply the Scriptures. It's understanding what mercy is and living like it is real. It's humbling yourself not because the word merely says so, but because it breathes humility into you. It's reading the story of David or Job or Paul and not just being able to tell the story, but being able to look in the mirror and see the David or Job or Paul in yourself. It's knowing the Word and the way that Word does life.

Wisdom gets knowledge out of your head and into your heart where all of a sudden, it matters. It's fact, richly injected with truth. It's information with the power of transformation. It's wisdom that changes you.

We place a lot of emphasis on knowledge in our culture, thinking it's enough just to know. Thinking it means something significant to a man to have a bunch of facts in his head. We're impressed with trivia. And as we head into a new year and start thinking about deepening our relationship with God, most of us think the goal is that we know God more. That we study more. That we read more. That we store more in our memory banks. That we get our facts straight. That this...this knowing going to bridge the distance we feel in our hearts between ourselves and our God. 

It never will.

The goal is not to know God more; not for most of us. What we need is to know God better. We need God with a deep understanding of Him. We need God with meaning. We need the Scriptures richly injected with Truth, where we can look in the mirror and see the story of God unfolding powerfully in the man staring back at us. We need transformation. 

As you think about starting to invest yourself in God, think about this. Are you content simply to know more of Him? Or would you rather know Him better? Would you rather know how He manifests...or how He matters?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Almost New

The wrapping paper is pushed aside, the tree stands dull, though still decorated, in the living room, the stockings sag empty, and all that's left is the faint echo of laughter and stories to tell. Christmas, so far as we celebrate it, has come to an end and the world's moving on toward its next big thing. The days are now filled with looking back and looking forward. 

Looking anywhere but here.

We're looking back over the things that happened in a year that's drawing to a close. News programs are reminding us of things we've long since forgotten, or that seem to have happened in so far removed a time and place from today. We're reliving the headlines, flipping through the photobooks, creating memorial videos of our 2014s on Facebook, sorting through the stacks of paperwork that have come in in 12 months. We're remembering lost loved ones and close calls. We're rejoicing in triumphs and new opportunities. We're treasuring the good, mourning the bad, and making plans to do it all over again next year. (Except, of course, "better.")

And we're looking ahead to that next year, to what life may bring our way in the days and months to come. We're thinking about the things we'd like to do differently, the things we'd like to do better, the commitments we're going to make to ourselves, to our families, to our our God, maybe. We're dreaming of what life will be like when we accomplish our goals - when we quit smoking, when we lose weight, when we eat better, when we graduate high school or college, when we get married, when we have children, when we make amends, when we...whatever it is we want to do when the calendar finally rolls over and all the pages are blank for the filling. 

It's one of the great deceptions of our time. And maybe we've been doing this for thousands of years and it only seems so poignant in 2014 because these are the days in which we're living or maybe there's really something about us these days, but this is one of the great lies that our world has fed us and all too many of us are ready to believe: that after Christmas, there's just this lull of six days to gather ourselves before something new and incredible happens. 

Hate to break it to you, but something new and incredible just happened. And if you're counting the ticks until midnight, you're missing it. 

Because there's still a little baby boy, born in a manger. There's still the Son of God come down. There's a Promise among us. And it's new every morning, even this morning.

It's the great myth of December 26, the day after Christmas, when this world will do all it can to keep you looking any which way but here. To keep you looking back or looking forward but never really looking around, never taking the time (which is both running out and coming anew) to see what's going on here. And what's going on is that if you look, if you really look, you can look into the eyes of Jesus. He's here. He's right here.

Don't get lost in days like these. Don't buy the lie that there's nothing new going on here, that whatever is new was yesterday under the tree and tomorrow under the ball and there's nothing to see here, nothing to get excited about. Because there's everything to see here, everything to get excited about. 

There's a boy in a manger. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Can I Hold Him?

There's something special about this time of year. Something happens around Christmas time that doesn't happen often enough; it's far too easy not to think about such things in, say, June. See, Christmas invites us into this very sacred moment. It's a moment when God Himself makes an appearance in the most miraculous of ways. When an out-house becomes a makeshift home. When a mother is all awash in that inexplicable glow. When a father beams with pride. And when a newborn baby cries out to be held.

It's that last bit that's so precious about Christmas.

Most of the rest of the year, we're often begging God to hold us. We're longing to be in His arms. We want to trust Him, to rest in Him, to feel His heartbeat as we press against His chest. Most of our prayers tend this way, they tend toward us being the precious child in the arms of God. Christmas...only us the chance to taste faith the other way around, just for a brief moment.

And maybe it's just the feminine side of me that thinks such things, but there's just something about babies. Right? I can't imagine myself in the stable without asking Mary what I most want to ask her:

Can I hold Him?

Can I hold your baby close to my heart? Can I wrap Him in my arms? Can I feel His warmth against my skin? There's just something so magical about babies, about the way they sink into you and become a part of you and you can feel what they're feeling for you even without words.

It's the way they wriggle just a little bit and then settle into your arms, trusting. Hold the baby Jesus this Christmas; can you feel Him trusting you? He trusts you so much that He put His Holy Spirit into you to do something incredible with.

It's the way they fumble their little fingers around until they're wrapped around yours and won't let go. Feel His little hands hold onto yours; can you feel Him choosing you? He's got hold of you, even by the tiniest little thing, but He's never going to let you go.

It's the way they look up at you and can't help but twist their mouth into a little smile. Look into His eyes; can you see Him looking back at you? He can't help but smile when He sees you. He really can't help Himself.

It's the way they come to rest against your skin, lulled by the faint sensation of your heartbeat against their little bodies. Sense Him settling into you; can you feel His comfort? He hears the very beat of your heart, and He's completely at home with you. Your heart is soothing to Him.

It's about...the incredible peace that a baby has when he's in your arms, and this baby Jesus is no different. He's at perfect peace with you. It's why He confidently trusts, chooses, delights in, and settles into you.

It's so easy to forget that during the rest of the year. It's so easy to get fixated on being a child in God's arms, on learning to trust Him and choose Him and delight in Him and settle into Him with that perfect sort of peace. Christmas...only Christmas...reminds us it is just as much, if not more, the other way around. It is God who trusts in us. It is God who chooses us. It is God who can't help but smile every time He sees us looking at Him. It's God who hears our heartbeat and is completely at home in us. That's what Christmas is about; it's about God coming to be these things to us, in the form of a baby boy.

And we only get that this time of year, when we tiptoe into the quiet manger and ask Mary the question we so deeply want to ask her:

Can I hold Him?

Yes. Lord, yes. That is why He came.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mary Did You Know?

There's a lot of talk this time of year about just what Mary knew. And I don't really know what Mary knew or when she knew it, whether the baby boy jumped for joy in her belly the same way John did Elizabeth's or whether he brought her peace amid the pain of childbirth or whether he was a typical baby boy or always something a little bit special.

But one of the things I've always loved about Mary in the Gospel stories is the way she "treasures these things in her heart." Over and over again, Mary takes the little truths she hears about her son, the kind words people say about him, the extraordinary things she witnesses in him and "treasures them in her heart," like she's saving up stories of Jesus just for herself. I love that.

I love that she treasured in her heart what she heard of her son in the Temple, after they'd frantically searched for Him and found Him sitting among the learned. I love that she treasured the miracle at Cana. And the words of the angel. And the whole birth experience. I imagine her heart just soaked in the quiet light of the manger, all aglow by the little lantern they carried with them. 

I love it because I guess I feel like it gives me permission to treasure some things about Him in my heart. I write this blog, and I speak at church, and I minister to patients and families and just persons in general, but the truth is that I don't tell everything I know about God. Some things, they only make sense to me. They only have that depth of meaning for me. They're my own little bits of Jesus tucked away and treasured in my heart.

And you know what? I think that's ok. I don't think I have to apologize for that. And the good news is: I don't think you do, either.

Mary had this special relationship with Jesus; she was His mother. She knew things about Him we can only speculate about. She knew things about Him that His disciples would never know. She knew things about Him that "only a mother knows," and if you are a mother or have a mother, you know that a mother knows. In the same way, I know something about Jesus that only I can know. You know something about Jesus that only you can know. It's beautiful. 

It gives us a reason to keep pursuing. It keeps a little bit of mystery about Him, keeps us asking the questions, keeps us going after Him. Keeps us wondering about this Jesus fellow and just what it is about Him. Just when I think I have something figured out, I discover just a hint of something that only you know about Him, and I'm wondering all over again. 

There's a lot of talk this season about just what Mary knew. I don't think we'll ever know; I don't think she'd tell us if she could. Because part of the joy of Jesus is discovering every little thing about Him and tucking it away inside your heart where this little boy, this son of Mary, this Son of God is this treasured story that dwells within you.


As we talk about a not-so-silent night, I think most of us can relate. We spend this season hustled and bustled. We spend these days flitting from one house to another to yet another still, while at the same time trying to prepare our homes to receive those who will, at some point, flit by here. We are baking cookies and wrapping presents and watching movies with cups of hot cocoa in our hands. And it's just all too easy for these not-so-calm days to slip away. 

Which is why we must be mindful of the shepherds.

At the birth of Jesus, the shepherds saw in the sky a star. A glimmer of light in the darkness. A little thing that shone brighter than all the rest. They noticed, and they walked in pursuit of that star, flocks, we can assume, in tow (for the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, and his tender hand, and they obey him). They followed that star all the way to a manger where a little baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was taking his first breaths in this world, where a mother was holding her child for the first time, where a father was laying eyes on his newborn son. They came to the manger to behold all of this.

And all it took was a little light to lead them there.

That's why it's so important that we, as children of God, as Christians, keep our eyes open for the light this season. We have to be vigilant for it. Maybe we're looking at the same things we always see, the same "sky" that's always before us this time of year - the trees and the lights and the presents and the families and the dinners and the cookies and the Santas and the stories and....well, you know what the Christmas season looks like these days. But we have to keep our eyes open and notice that there's one star that shines brighter than all of the others, there's one light in this darkness that we just can't turn away from. There's one glimmer of hope calling us to Jesus.

We have to notice because it is our job to lead our families, our friends, our neighbors to the manger. We are the shepherds. The persons we share our holidays with, they know our voices. They know our tender hands. They trust us, at least enough to be part of their story. That's why we're spending Christmas with them. And so we must use our voices, our tender hands, the trust they have placed in us, and walk faithfully toward a manger where a little baby boy lay.

If we don't, who will?

It's all too easy to lose Jesus this season, and the words of the Teacher Himself come true - like sheep without a shepherd, they have all gone astray. But it just takes one shepherd to start to bring them back. It takes one faithful man, one faithful woman, whose voice the people know, whose tender hand the people know, whose spirit the people know, to turn toward Heaven and behold a light and start walking toward a manger. Then those we love, those we're sharing our stories with, those we're sharing our cookies with (please take some more), will follow and before we know it, we're standing 'round a manger beholding a little baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes, taking his first breaths in this world. We're seeing a mother hold her blessed child for the first time, a father lay eyes on his newborn son. We're seeing the spirit of Christmas among us, for it is there before us. And even though we know there are still all the lights and the trees and the presents and the cookies and the here and there and everywheres and the last-minute rush and all that goes into this still feels calm.

For at least this moment, all is calm. 

Will you come in from the fields this Christmas? Will you lead your family to Jesus?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Silent Night

Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. 

Yeah, right.

If you have children of your own or have been blessed to be at the birth of someone else's child, you know there's not a lot of "silent" or "calm" to be found. And "bright" in the middle of the "night"? Give me a break. Let's look at the facts.

Jesus was born in a stable. With animals. That did not just stop braying, snorting, mooing, neighing, munching, kicking hay, etc. because some baby was born in their midst. He was born in the midst of travel, in a place where the inn was full. Ladies? You're in a place that is full of mostly some degree of relation (they were, after all, traveling to a census at the time, which meant they were likely surrounded by persons of the same tribe) and you get news that in another part of the hotel complex you're staying at, someone has just given birth. Aren't you...there? Women flock to babies, especially in a time when doctors and hospitals were not the norm. A full inn, and you're telling me everyone just left the new family alone and didn't come to provide well-wishes? Doubtful. That's not human nature.

And even if women weren't rushing out of the inn, shepherds were hurrying in from the fields. (We won't get into the whole "it took the wise men 2 years to find the baby Jesus" debate. That's not important to this discussion.) Shepherds coming in from the fields would have brought perhaps MORE livestock with them, and now, it's a veritable zoo. Are you really going to believe that this menagerie was silent

Then there's the baby Jesus Himself. Any baby that comes into this world "silent" and "calm" is cause for concern. Babies are born wriggling and screaming and crying and making noises and choking on their own snot and trying to figure out this new environment, which is big and dry and loud and scary! I don't know. Maybe infant Jesus was firmly rooted in His promise even from the first breath and didn't have those normal "baby" concerns, but let's be real - that's not the Jesus story we're told. He was a baby, in a manger, in the stable of a full inn. 

That night was anything but silent.

I say all this not because I'm some sort of grinch (I'm not), but because this is the kind of thing we always do to Jesus. We "tame" Him. We tone Him down. We make Him all calm and bright and niceness and quietness and meekness and a whole host of other things that just are not true even to the story that we read about Him, even when we don't have to read between the lines. Remember, this is a man who chided the religious elite, who turned over tables in the temple, who wept at His friend's graveside, who rebuked His own disciples, who screamed when the nails pierced His hands, who bled at the same. 

I'm not really a fan of this toned-down Jesus. Because for all the "good" vibes this image puts out in the world about who He is and who we ought to be as Christians, for all the admonition to love and peace and goodwill, without the very real human side of Him, without the example of what it means to fully live in the flesh, the one thing we can never have is passion. A nice guy tends the fire, but it is passion that provides the spark in the first place. And if Jesus was only just a nice guy....I shudder to think.

So when I think about the manger, about the birth of our Lord, I'm not really sure I can buy into all this silent night talk. I'm not so sure that all was calm. Because I'm looking around this little stable, and it's all too clear what the reality is: the animals are, at the very least, rustling in the hay, the shepherds are drawing in from the fields, the ladies in their housecoats (housetunics?) are coming out from the inn, Joseph is trying to find a tool sharp enough to cut the cord, Mary is laying eyes on her child for the first time, and baby Jesus is crying and screaming and wriggling and choking on His own snot like all babies do because He's about to teach us something we can only learn from an honest-to-God human baby boy. He's about to teach us something about living in the flesh. He's about to teach us something about passion. 

He's about to teach us something about God.

Silent night? I don't think so. But holy night? Absolutely.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Truth (Sort Of)

One of the troubles we're running into more and more in our world is this idea of truth and what it really means. We've lost truth among us, and I'm not sure how, at this point, we get it back.

We have an entire generation of persons who have been raised to believe that truth is whatever feels right to them. They can come face-to-face with the facts in any given situation, facts that can be hard to deny, and still stand defiantly and declare they are waiting on truth. Truth is intimately personal. This group of persons is never satisfied until the world lines up perfectly with what they feel. (So, this group of persons is never satisfied.)

On the other side of the equation, we have persons who believe in truth as purely a set of facts. The truth is whatever can be quantified; it must not be qualified. They spend their lives looking at data and information and evidence and forget the very human impact that this data, information, and evidence has. Truth is removed from the personal entirely and is purely universal. This group of persons is never satisfied until the world stops arguing the facts. (So, this group of persons is never satisfied.)

We're seeing this conflict of truth raging on our streets right now. It is closely tied with other ideas, like justice, for example. We have one group in Ferguson, Missouri waiting on truth because the lack of an indictment feels like a farce. We have another group in Ferguson, Missouri pointing to the facts presented to the grand jury and declaring the matter closed. The same is happening in Cleveland. And New York City. And not just with police action. It's invading issues of sexuality and homosexuality, Black and white, rich and poor, religious and atheist, Republican and Democrat, American and immigrant. You name it. Our battles are, primarily, battles over this thing called truth - which is either intimately personal or universally impersonal, if you listen to the masses on either side. 

And I have to say that in the course of my life, I have been in both "truth" camps. I have been a rigid rule-follower, a person who only looks at the facts and the data and the evidence. I have been the person who says, "Clearly, truth must be this because this is where all the information points." And I have failed to recognize the very human impact of such a statement. On the other hand, there are times when I have been one of those persons who will declare that the truth must be somewhere beyond the facts because in my heart, this doesn't feel real. This doesn't feel right. Whatever the issue is, it feels like it deserves more than the facts can ever give it. And I have fought passionately in the face of the evidence to the contrary. I think these are both traps that are all too easy to fall into.

We have truly lost truth among us.

The truth about truth is that it is not intimately personal and whatever must be true for you to feel comfortable in your world. And it's not completely impersonal, some universal concept that hangs over the world like an umbrella. The truth about truth is is both. It is this thing that is universally real but so intimately personal that you can't help but think it's meant just for you. It is information with intimacy. It is meaningfulness with evidence. Truth cannot be separated into one or the other; it is necessarily both. 

As it should be. It's impossible to live in community if the world is ruled by emotion, by what a man feels must be the case. Because no two men feel exactly the same. The world could never be anything if it must be everything. Neither can we live together if all we have is fact, if all we have is information. There's no meaning in that. There's nothing deeper to draw us together. In a world of fact, life is not a story we're telling; it's a game in which we are merely the tokens. 

Even those of us who cannot articulate such an idea know this to be true. We know it because there have been times in our lives when we have been overwhelmed by the truth, by the real truth, by this thing that is both fact and fulfilling, that is direct and deep, that is verifiable and validating, that is universally real and intimately personal. There have been times where we've come to know, to truly know, what truth is and we've realized what that word really means. 

I don't know how all this plays out on our streets. I don't know how we bring our world back to a place like this, a place where there is room for real truth among us. I don't know how you get a man who feels this can't be right to look at the facts, and I don't know how you get a man who knows the facts to look beyond them into the eyes of the wounded. I wish I did. I wish I could smear my hand over our blacks and whites and blur them into shades of grey where we can see both what is real and what that really means with the same eyes. I wish I knew how to make us less angry at one another and more broken for each other. But I don't. 

All I know is that truth is out there. And it's also in here. And it's everywhere. And it's somewhere. And we've lost truth - real truth - among us. And I'm not sure how, at this point, we get it back.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Faithful Friends

Can we just talk about Paul's friends for a minute? His posse, if you will. Because here we have a group of men, a group of persecutors, who have just seen a brilliant light from heaven and heard a voice they can't make out, and they watch the most fervent among them fall to his knees and suddenly be unable to see.

And they don't run away.

They stay. They stand there and witness this entire event. (And nobody really knows how long this lasted. It could have been seconds or minutes or hours.) When it's over, they look at their friend, crippled, knowing that something big has just happened in his life. They consider the mission they've been on. They may be thinking about the next stop on their journey. They may be talking about what they're going to do to those *#$*% Christians when they get there. And so on. Then Saul raises his head and says, "We must go to Damascus. And you'll have to show the way." And they do.

It's remarkable because, I think, we live in an age in which we're always placing qualifiers on God in other people's lives. We're always judging what God is or is not doing, what He can be or cannot be doing. We're always telling people how to interpret the holy in their lives. Whether this is a measure of our own disbelief, our jealousy, our arrogance, our fear, or what, I don't know, but I know that when today's "friends" are standing on the road in the blinding light, we are more likely to pass judgment than to provide support.

We might see the blinding light and be scared. We might back off and decide we want no part of that. Whatever's happening in our friend's life, whatever God is doing, it's big and weird and scary. We don't want to interrupt and maybe more importantly, we don't want to be standing too close when the next bolt of lightning strikes. So we back away and leave our friend standing alone in the darkness, blinded by the light.

We might see the light and be jealous. God's never been so interested in us that He would do such a big thing. What's so special about so-and-so? We probably have a whole list of reasons why we might be more deserving of a God encounter. Maybe our friend is a younger Christian. Maybe he has a "more" sinful past. Maybe we have an aching emptiness that is only magnified by watching our friend be called into fullness. Whatever it is, we can't stand to see anyone, even someone we profess to love, receive more of a measure of God than we do. So we cross our arms and pout, unable to reach out and take our friend's hand. 

We might see the light and start looking for the smoke and mirrors. God, if there is a God, doesn't do things like this. Not any more. Maybe not ever. It's all just an elaborate show and for what, we're not really sure yet. There must be some science to explain it. Solar flares, maybe. A brain tumor. Something. It's not really what it appears to be; it can't be. Because God doesn't work this way. Or maybe there's no God at all, in which case this is all even more elaborate a hoax. In our disbelief, we dismiss not only the whole experience but our friend, as well, invalidating him even as he stands there.

We might see the light and count it a distraction. We love to do this one, in particular. We believe so much in what we're doing, in where we're going, in the journey we're undertaking that when something unexpected comes along and interrupts, it's clearly "from the devil." It's "the work of the enemy." We tell our friend that he has not experienced God, but Satan. That it's been just a perverted voice speaking into his pure nature and not the other way around. We convince him that good is evil, that down is up, that back is forth. And we only confuse him, so he can no longer ask us to lead him to Damascus; he cannot trust what we say. 

Whenever God seems to show up in one of our friend's lives, these are the kinds of reactions we have. We fear, so we leave. We envy, so we pout. We doubt, so we dismiss. We refuse, so we refute. And we call ourselves faithful while doing these very things. But our friends are standing there, waiting for someone to lead them. Waiting on someone to take their hand. Waiting on someone to say, "Yeah, I saw it, too" or "Yeah, I heard that, too" and "I don't get it, either, but you want to go to Damascus, let's go to Damascus. Take my hand; together, we'll go."

Saul's posse didn't have a way to conceptualize what they all just witnessed. They were likely afraid; it's not every day the heavens shine down so brightly and speak in an audible voice. They were probably jealous; all the cool things happened to Saul. They were probably confused, wondering what kind of spectacle this was; they might even have suspected the Christians of setting the stage. They were probably obstinate; they were on a holy mission, so this could only be a distraction. They were probably a lot of things.

But one thing we know for sure is that they were faithful friends. They did not abandon Saul; they stayed with him. They did not turn their backs and fold their arms; they reached out and took his hand. They did not dismiss him; they surrounded him. They did not confuse him; they consoled him. They did everything we expect a faithful friend to do.

I don't know about you, but I could use a lot more friends like these. ...And I often ought to be more this kind of friend. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


You can't give your faith to anyone else. Otherwise, they have faith in your faith, not faith in your God, and that's not a position I'd like to be in. How about you? You can't even convince someone to have your faith if you have what seem like the same experiences. This struck me not long ago as I was reading in the book of Acts.

Most of us know the story of Paul, then Saul, who was blinded by God in a powerful experience along Persecution Road. He was headed toward Damascus to carry about his mission of finding, imprisoning, executing Christians when suddenly, a bright light from heaven came and blinded him as the voice of God spoke. (You can read that story in Acts 9.) The part of the story that's had me thinking recently, however, is not until Acts 22 when Paul recounts part of this experience.

But as I was on my way and approaching the city of Damascus about noon, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking me, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?' ...The men who were with me saw the light but didn't understand what the person who was speaking to me said. ...I was blind because the light had been so bright. So the men who were with me led me into the city of Damascus. (22:6, 9, 11)

There's a lot here, and it's easy to miss. (I missed it for many years.) Here we have a bunch of guys who, when you read this passage, had much the same experience of God along that road. The men who were with me saw the light. They saw the flash from heaven. They saw the brightness, the blinding light. They even heard the voice of the One that was speaking to Paul, although they didn't hear it intelligibly. (We'll get to that in a minute.) So there's a whole group of men who experience precisely the same thing - a bright, blinding light from Heaven, a voice. And they are all, we can assume, engaged in the same mission at the time. They're traveling together along Damascus Road, so this is Saul's posse. These are the men who persecute alongside him. They're all going to hunt down those horrible, evil, subversive Christians and show them what-for. They all see a light. 

Only one of them is blinded.

I don't know how many times I've read this story and missed that. All these men, Paul says, saw the same light; it only blinded one of them. We know that because he says as much - I was the men who were with me (who saw the light, see two verses ago) led me into the city. I was blind, Paul says, although the other men who saw the same light were not. 

These guys had the same experience as Paul, but it wasn't meaningful in the same way for them. This is the trap we fall into when we think if we could just give everyone a taste of God as we savor Him, they would clearly see why faith is the answer. They would come to believe just as we did, and perhaps come to believe just as we do. We try so hard to share our faith thinking everyone needs this experience, that this is the way to convince a man, but this story from Paul's life shows us just how wrong we are. These men had Paul's experience of God. They saw the same light, heard the same voice. None of them, so far as we know, became the greatest missionary to the Gentiles to ever walk this planet. None of them, so far as we know, became such a fervent believer in God. Just Paul.

Because it was his experience. It was his moment. Others were there. They experienced it, too. They knew what was going on. But it wasn't meaningful for them because it wasn't meant for them. It wasn't theirs. They heard God, but they didn't understand Him. They heard Him speak, but He wasn't speaking to them, so it was just gibberish. It was just noise. That's how people feel when we try to use God's words for us as God's words for them. It's gibberish! It's just noise.

We try to share our faith, and that's never going to work. That's never going to be how we bring people to Christ. We could give another man every bit of our experience, but if it's not meant for him, it's not meaningful to him. If that's not what God is doing in his life, it doesn't matter. He can see the same light. He can hear the same voice. But it's gibberish. It's noise. 

Which is why, I think, we have such a great example in Paul here, too. In all his preaching, Paul never tries to bring people into that moment with him. He uses it only to show his own transformation, but never expects it to transform someone else. The transformational power, he knows, is in Christ manifest now. It's in God present now. It's not about taking someone back to a place where God was in the moment; it's about bringing God into this moment and introducing a couple of friends. We can't share our faith through our moments; they were our moments. They're never going to mean so much to anyone else. We have to share our Father through our faith and let Him make new moments with those who would come. 

And we hang around, a veritable posse, because chances are that when someone sees the light that's meant for them, they're going to need someone to lead them for awhile. They're going to need someone to show them the way closer, to guide them where God's calling them, to bring them into Damascus. This is the task of the faithful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

By Your Righteousness

Christians get sort of a bad reputation in the world for being a little...shall we say...zealous. It's a problem that often affects new Christians the most severely, although we have to be honest and say that those of us who have been in a more legalistic tribe also run into this trouble very frequently. What it is is that we get righteousness, or what passes for it, so deeply into our hearts that we can't help but feel like we ought to save the world.

We get high and mighty on ourselves when God begins to transform our lives. We no longer curse, so we firmly believe everyone else should stop cursing. We no longer drink, so clearly there is no place in our world for alcohol. We stop lying, cheating, stealing and we lose our tolerance for those who do. There is a new measure of the good things in us and we set about eradicating the "bad" in everyone else. 

Which sounds holy enough, I guess. After all, Jesus was sent to seek and to save the lost, so we might as well be about doing His work while we're here. That's what most of us think. The problem is that we were not called to do His work.

We were called to do ours.

We have not been called to save the world. Good thing because we have not been equipped to save the world. None of us can do even a measure of the eternally redemptive work that Jesus did. For all that we have about rightness and righteousness in our heart, we cannot infuse that into another single person on this planet. Ezekiel even knew such: By your righteousness, you can rescue only yourself. (14:14, my paraphrase) Ezekiel was talking about guys like Noah and Daniel and Job. His point was that even though Noah believed, he couldn't make anyone else get on the boat. Even though Daniel believed, he couldn't talk anyone into following him into the lion's den. Even though Job believed, he could not convince even his friends to be faithful in the face of his trouble. A man's faith is his own; he cannot convince anyone else to have it.

That's why our zealousness doesn't work. That's why it rubs people the wrong way. It's nice that we have our faith, but my faith is not your faith. Your faith is not your neighbor's faith. Even if you could convince a man to believe everything exactly the way that you do, he would still have to apply that faith to his life and it would necessarily be different than yours. It has to be, if it is to be of any meaning to him. You may convince him to live your way, but that doesn't mean you've taught him to live God's way. Not at all. By your righteousness, by your faith, by your understanding, you can only ever give depth to your relationship with God. 

But you can, in the best of times and the most humble of ways, give a measure of God to another man. See, I think that's where we start to lose our understanding. It's not up to us to give another man faith. It's not up to us to give another man religion. We can't make him believe the things we believe (or we believe he ought to believe). But we can show him what God is really like. We can reveal a little bit about what God means to us. It invites a man to ask the question of what God means to him. Of what he needs God to mean to him. Of what it might mean in his life to come into contact with this kind of God. 

It's easy to get twisted and think we have to take all our fervor and go out and seek and save the lost. Just like Jesus. The trouble is that's just not what we've been called to do. The more we try to bring another man to faith through our zealousness, the more contempt of the Cross we create. What we have been asked to do is to love our Father and go out and love the lost. That's the ministry of Jesus we're called to. That's the ministry we're equipped for. Not trying to give another man faith, but trying to give another man a glimpse of the Father. Not trying to tell him what to believe or how to believe it or how to prove that he believes it, but introducing him to the One worth believing in. We don't give him our faith; we bring him to our God.

Because for all we know, or for all we think we know, about faith, we can only ever bring ourselves to God. But for all we know about the Father, we can do very good work in this world. 

So stop trying to save the world and go out and love it. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Unholy Hesitation

Let me ask you something: how much of Jesus do you really want?

My pastor mentioned in yesterday's sermon the story of the bleeding woman in the Gospel. And this is a story I make a lot of reference to, and about once a year, I always have the same thought about. As I shape this thought yet again, I'm thinking about a woman who touched barely the hem of His robe.

The thought I always have about this woman is how much she risked to touch Him at all. To push through the crowds at all. To leave her banishment of uncleanness at all. I often think about how, under the Old Law, this woman would have made the Lord unclean by touching Him. And how, under the New Covenant, He makes her clean when she does. As I let the story sink into my heart yet again yesterday, I wondered for the first time if maybe she wondered if she could make Him unclean, even as she hoped that He would make her clean, and that's why she settled for just the hem of His robe rather than full-on reaching out to Him.

It's all speculation, of course, but there are a lot of levels of depth to this story when we think about what the woman knew, what the woman believed, what the woman thought. When we think about whether she hesitated or whether this was her full plan all along. When we think about the others in the crowd or the disciples or the Lord Himself. We could dissect this story for a very long time. But today, just the simple question: did she hesitate because she knew she might make Him unclean?

Did she secretly, in her fantasy, come rushing into the crowd boldly, the way the blind men often did? Crying out for the Son of David to have mercy on her? Falling at His feet the way the woman with the perfume did? Wrapping her arms around Him and not letting go? Did she dream about coming desperately, hungrily, fully to Jesus? Did she have this vision of herself?

Could she even have had this vision of herself? After 12 years of being an outcast, could she have had enough sense of self left to dream this way at all? Did she plan her covert operation in light of her uncleanness and only even intend to reach for the robe? Had her self-esteem dropped so low that she could not fathom anything else at all?

There's a moment of hesitation here somewhere, whether it's when this woman gets to the crowds or when she first begins thinking about them. There's something that caused her to pause and pull back, settling for a hem in a moment when she could have had Him.

It's something to consider, particularly in the present season. We're coming up on Christmas, a time when we celebrate the coming of Jesus. And more and more each year (although we're starting to see some push back to this, maybe), it seems there is this unholy hesitation we have about getting too close to Christ even in this season. We pull back and stay among the Santa Clauses and Rudolphs. We hang out with the Frostys the snowmen and the National Lampoons. We come together not in the Presence but in the presents and seem to forget what's going on away in a manger. We hesitate this season, this season when Christ Himself seems most near to us, and I wonder what that's about.

What is it that keeps us from coming desperately, hungrily, fully to Him? Why are we so busy looking at the stars on the tops of our trees that we can't see any more the star in the sky that guides us to a place where a little baby lay? Is it because we've thought better of ourselves? Is it because we think so little of ourselves? Is it because we think we could make Him unclean?

What if He could make us clean?

I don't know when the woman hesitated. I don't know why she settled for a hem when she could have had all of Him. When just a few more inches away was the fullness of God.

And I don't know why we do the same. Christ is near. He is powerfully near to us, especially in this season. Especially now. Just a few inches away, and we could have all of Him. Are we really content to settle for a hem? Are we content to settle for our hymns? He's right here. Reach out for Him.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Since we've been talking about fear quite a bit this week, let's end up this Friday with a bit of a discussion on faith, shall we? Specifically, let's look at faith in the context of Ephesians 2:8-9:

God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It's not the result of anything you've done, so no one can brag about it.

When I read these words a few weeks ago in my Bible study, I quickly scribbled a note that simply asks: is faith anything?

Paul says God saves us through faith, but His saving is merely an act of kindness. It has nothing to do with us. It's not the result of anything we've done so that we cannot brag about it. But isn't faith something we do? Isn't believing in God, trusting in Him, entrusting ourselves to Him...isn't that something we do?

It's an interesting question and one that most people might say the answer is clearly "yes." Faith is something we do. We either do it or we do not, right? Abraham either climbs the mountain or he does not. Gideon either goes into battle or he does not. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego either walk into the furnace or are thrown there. Jesus either carries His Cross...or He doesn't. Faith is something. It has to be.

Or does it?

Most of us spend our lives chasing faith. Chasing a way to believe or a way to believe more. When life hands us troubles, we try to hold onto God just a little bit more. When we are afraid, we try to respond in faith. When we fall, we blame a lack of faith. We spend our lives judging ourselves by our faith and thinking if we had more, we'd have something. For the believing Christian, it's all about faith. Faith has to be something. It just has to.

But Paul says it's not. If we take what he says in Ephesians 2, faith can't be anything because God's saving grace is His kindness. It's not based on our doing something, not even (it is implied) on our "doing" faith. Now, of course, in other Scriptures it says that a man, like Abraham, is saved according to his faith. So what is going on here? What are we supposed to make of all this faith talk?

I think we have to let go of our faith a little. And I don't mean that to say that we shouldn't believe, that we shouldn't trust, that we shouldn't entrust. What I mean is that we have to stop holding onto our faith like it's anything. It's not. It's dust. It's wind. It's vapor. You cannot hold faith in your hands; faith makes you take your heart in your hands just for giving it. Faith is not "something," contrary to our longings for it to be just that; faith makes you something.

Faith makes you God's.

So no, faith is not something you do. Faith is a process by which you are becoming. You enter into it...or you don't, but it's not about you. So that no one can brag about how much faith he has; he can only brag about God's saving grace that is, by faith, making him something. And in fact, it's true: everything that has ever been done on account of faith has been done on account of God and not of man.

Abraham climbs the mountain not because of who he is, but because of who God is. And that faith made him the father of many nations. Gideon goes into battle not because he's a warrior (he isn't) but because God is a Warrior. And that faith made him a mighty warrior. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walk into the furnace not because they are invincible, but because God is invincible. And that faith made them a living testimony. Jesus carries His Cross not because....trick question. Jesus is who God is. (Gotcha.)

The question you have to ask yourself, then, is what are you doing by faith these days?

And what is faith doing in you?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines

A man is, by his nature, whatever he is. He is fearful or doubtful or worrisome or angry or empty. That is by the nature of his flesh. Thankfully, of course, God has given us a new nature. But is there really a way for a fearful man to become a faithful one? For a doubtful man to become a believing one? Is there a way for a man to become more naturally his spiritual nature than his fleshly one?

There is. 

There are probably a lot of ways for this to happen, but I consider myself a fairly average individual when it comes to matters of this sort and so I'm going to say that this, in general, is how it works for me. I will use the example of prayer, but the pattern is true for nearly any spiritual discipline one hopes to acquire. It goes something like this:

Life presses in and does its best to knock me down. True to any human living in the flesh, I do my best to push back according to "truth" or some other jargon-y nonsense I've picked up listening to the culture tell me what a Christian is supposed to be. Just believing that God is doing something is enough, right? Professing trust in Him and pushing further into the mess is faithful, right? Convincing myself that this trial is from God and that being upset by it or about it is a sign of faithfulness clearly sets me above the pack, right? So I press forward for far too long, driving myself straight into the storm and thinking this is faithfulness.

At some point, this stops working. I can't go any further. Much after the point when I should have stopped to pray in the first place, I stop to pray. I collapse, really, exhausted and distressed. Not even at the foot of the Cross. No. Even that would be too much. I just fall where I am and hope God can hear me and confess my unfaithfulness in asking for help at all (because I have still convinced myself that I should be strong enough to handle whatever God throws my way). And then, having prayed some mumbled prayer, I fall into a period of darkness. 

For the next several weeks, months, whatever, I pray on what I would consider a fairly routine basis, confessing that I should have prayed sooner. Still confessing, as well, that I believe I have failed God. Asking Him to forgive me and to make me stronger for these sorts of battles. I beat myself up - both for having not prayed and also for praying now. I don't really know which way to turn. And then at some point, it hits me: this was not my storm. I start to feel a little better, no longer feeling like I have failed God, but now I don't know whether to pray in the storm or not. How am I to know, when the winds are raging, which storm is mine and which is not? It's all very confusing.

The more this happens, the more quickly I come to a place of prayer. Never right away. No, such would be too easy. But the next time, maybe it only takes 4/5 of the time it took the first. And then 4/5 of that. And then 4/5 of that. I come more easily to prayer, and I even find a way to reach that point somewhere before exhaustion. Somewhere before I fall where I stand, I start to find my way to the foot of the Cross. If a bleeding woman can push her way through the crowds...if a paralytic can be lowered through the ceiling...if a short man can climb a tree, the least this worn-out woman can do is crawl toward the Cross. 

That's really what it is. I start to grow weary and I take what's left of my strength and start crawling toward Calvary. I use what's left in me to get to a place that makes sense, the only place that makes sense. I start coming to Jesus instead of crying out for Him to come to me all the time. And prayer, whatever it is, it starts to make more sense.

Over time, and I'm not really sure how it happens, what has been my last resort becomes my first refuge. In times of trial and in times of triumph, the most natural thing this woman does is to pray. I find that I'm struck mid-prayer by the fact that I am praying at all without having consciously thought of doing so. Without having come to the Cross, I have still come to Jesus. Without exhaustion, without working my way first, without running out of ideas, I have run to Him. All of a sudden, from a fallen flesh, I find that I am a woman who prays. 

Who woulda thunk?

This is the general pattern for the disciplines, at least in my life. Maybe you can relate? Reading the Bible is the same way. It starts with good intention, maybe, and then it's hard to fit into the schedule. Then you read when you feel so guilty about not reading for so long that you can't stand it any more. You read late in the day because you missed it in the morning. Then you're reading on your lunch break. Then you're reading on your morning break. Then you're reading over your morning cup of coffee. And all of a sudden, you're a Bible reader. 

Or church-going. Maybe you go one Sunday a month. Then it's two Sundays a month. Then three. Then four. And maybe you're walking in 30 minutes late every week. Then 25 minutes late. Then 15 minutes late. Then you're on time. All of a sudden, you're going to Bible class. And then you're in a small group. And all of a sudden, you're a part of God's community. 

Most of us get really hard on ourselves when we "fail" at these kinds of things, but the truth about the spiritual disciplines? I think they all start forming in a place of failure. So if you haven't prayed today, don't worry; there's still time. If you missed your morning Bible's ok; there's a whole day in front of you, and a tomorrow, too. If you haven't been to church in awhile and 10:30 seems a little early, walk on in this week at 11:20. God's people will still be happy to see you. 

One step at a time, you'll get there. Before you know it, your spiritual nature will be just as natural as your fallen one used to be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That Fear Thing

Yesterday, I said that faith is the answer to all of life's questions because it changes the ground that we stand on. I also said that man might be tempted to think that courage is the answer to fear. There are many who have read this and might be thinking to themselves, "Well, yes. Faith is the answer at least to fear." 

Sort of.

This is one of the things I think we have gotten terribly wrong in our current framework. We talk about faith being the answer to fear, and it is. And it is not. What we have to figure out first is what kind of fear we are talking about.

There is an existential kind of fear that faces life's biggest questions. Who are we? Who is God? What are we doing here? Are we enough? Are we meant to be more? Is this all there is? These are the questions we face when we look in the mirror, and it's enough to keep a soul up at night. It is to this kind of fear that faith is the answer. Because outside of faith, there is no answer.

Unless we have faith in God and His story, we cannot know who we are. We cannot know who He is. We can't figure out what purpose means. There's no way, by this world's standards, to ever know if we are enough. (Indeed, one might argue, by this world's standards, we never can be enough.) Apart from faith that something bigger is happening, we cannot imagine we could be anything more, we cannot imagine there could be anything more at all. Apart from faith, when we look in the mirror, we stand face-to-face with the fullness of our humanity and cannot see the holy in us. It's haunting. Faith is absolutely the answer to this kind of fear. Even here, it changes the ground on which we stand. 

In faith, we stand on holy ground.

Where we've gotten it wrong is that we have extended faith as the answer to existential fear to include faith as the answer to natural fear, and this...this is foolishness. There are fears that are natural to a man. Fear of stumbling upon a rattlesnake on a hike. Fear of falling off a high cliff. Fear of drowning in a lake. Fear of being mugged in a dark alley at night.

And there are those among us who say, "Faith is bigger than fear! Grab that rattlesnake by the tail and believe!" And there are those among us who condemn themselves for being afraid of anything at all because they think it has something to do with faith. Let me tell you something - I'm afraid of rattlesnakes. (And all other snakes, for that matter.) I'm not real thrilled about heights. I'm not a fan of water where my feet can't touch the bottom. I walk through dark alleys, if I must walk through them at all, with eyes wide open. And not one of these things has a lick to say about how much I believe in God or don't believe in God.

Because God tells us Himself He is not, at present, the authority of this world. There are things down here that merit a little fear every now and then, and it's fear that stands in the space of courage, not faith. Although faith can still change the ground we stand on.

These natural fears we face, they're not about life's biggest questions. They aren't even about life's bigger questions. I don't lie awake at night worried about rattlesnakes or cliffs or waters or alleys. I don't look in the mirror and see snake food and wonder what it all means. Faith isn't going to answer these things for me. But faith can draw me into the deeper questions that it can answer.

Faith can make me look at the fangs and think about life and how frail it is. It can make me consider why I fear losing my life. It can make me wonder about what I have of any value that a bad man in an alley could take from me. Faith is always about these kinds of questions. It has to be.

So it's right to say that faith is the answer to fear, but not in the way that we want to use it. Faith draws us deeper into places where the questions matter most. If we let it, it draws us away from the natural fear and into the existential one and there, only there, can it begin to answer. That's where it changes the ground. That's where it gives us somewhere new to put our feet down.

Fear is okay. It's a natural product of man living in a fallen world. And it doesn't always speak so loudly about our faith as we think it does. But it's an invitation to the deeper questions. It's an invitation we ought to accept.

Lest a man spend his life looking in the mirror wondering only if he is really snake food.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Answer to Everything

Of course, you don't have to be a fearful man or a doubtful man or a worrying, angry, or empty man. There is another way to change these traits in yourself other than to turn your fears, doubts, etc. toward God. This other way is more complicated, but it is an option.

This other way is to choose faith.

It comes as a surprise to most people that faith is the answer to everything. The fearful man so often thinks that courage is the answer to fear, that he must just push himself to do the very thing he is afraid of and then he will conquer his fear. Not true. He can do the thing he is afraid of, but he will only push his fear back. He will run into it again. Because fear and courage occupy the same ground. One is not stronger than the other; it's a battle of territory. The fearful man must choose faith. Only then can he conquer his fear. 

The doubtful man, too, must choose faith. He might say the obvious answer to his doubt is to simply believe, but this, too, is not quite true. He can believe the thing in which he doubts, but he will only push his doubt aside. He will run into it again. Because doubt and belief occupy the same ground. One is not stronger than the other; this is a battle of territory. The doubtful man must choose faith. Only then can he answer his doubt.

The worrying man thinks trust must be his answer. Trust is, after all, a natural outflow of security. He can simply replace his worry with trust, and this will solve his problem. Again, not true. He can trust in the face of insecurity, but he only pushes his worry aside. It will rear its ugly head again. Because worry and trust occupy the same ground. One is not stronger than the other; it's a battle of territory. The worrying man must choose faith. Only then can he confront his worry.

The angry man might be tempted to choose love. Are you sensing the pattern? Love will not answer his anger. It can't. It only pushes it aside until he fights the same battle again and again. Because anger and love occupy the same ground. The angry man must choose faith. The empty man is tempted to choose satisfaction. He thinks if he is satisfied, or content, with his situation then he will not feel such aching need. Maybe that's true, but only temporarily because need and contentment occupy the same ground. The empty man must choose faith.

Most of us spend our lives fighting battles on the ground on which we stand, feeling the pull between fear and courage, doubt and belief, worry and trust, anger and love, need and contentment. We're always drawn between two extremes. The moment we get the better to push away the latter, how quickly we find ourselves facing the same thing all over again. It's a pattern. Because we're fighting on the same ground.

Faith is the answer because faith changes the ground that we stand on. 

In faith, we believe there is nothing to fear. So we're no longer standing on shaky ground, choosing between fear and courage. There's no need. In faith, there can be no fear. It's no longer a question. In faith, we believe there's an answer to every question. There's no longer hesitation in our asking because we know the answer is there. With no hesitation, there is no doubt. We're no longer torn between doubt and belief because we're not paralyzed by our questions; we're standing on new ground. In faith, there is nothing to worry about. God tells us so much in His Word. So it's not about any more whether we worry or whether we trust. On the ground of faith, security is not a concern; it's a given. In faith, anger has no control over us. There is righteous anger, sure, but this anger is no sin. It's not a barrier. It doesn't stand in confrontation with love; it is love. We don't have to worry any more about how we feel and how we should feel. What we feel is pure because we've changed its foundation. In faith, our emptiness echoes with the sound of the angels. We're not haunted by our need any more, but we are driven by it to the feet of God. We aren't lost between need and contentment any more. We are both empty and full. Faith changes the battleground.

That's why faith is so powerful. It is the answer to everything not because it takes away our questions but because it provides a new foundation on which to ask them. It literally changes the ground that we walk on. You can spend your life choosing courage in the face of fear, but you'll have to make that decision a million times before you die. You can choose belief over doubt, trust over worry, love over anger, contentment over need but you will have to choose these things again and again and again and you'll lie awake at night wondering why you just can't seem to shake these troubles of a fallen man. 

But choose faith, and there is only one question. And maybe you have to answer it over and over and over again, but it becomes an answer you know intimately well. Because this question doesn't change with your circumstances; it changes your circumstances. The one question you must concern yourself with is this:

Do you have faith?

Whose ground are you standing on?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Whatever You Do

Most of us, by the time we're wise enough to conceptualize our world, already have a broken way of looking at it. We have been raised with certain questions, certain hesitations, certain wonderings that often are left unanswered by what our growing minds can comprehend at precisely the time when the answers are most important. As we get older, it's harder and harder to change these defaults, harder to learn to a new way to think. 

Those who have grown up in fear operate on fear, maybe forever. There comes a point when a person who has grown up in fear realizes that perhaps, for the first time, he is no longer afraid. The very thought scares him. And this is of great comfort to the fearful man, for he finds that even in the absence of his fear, he is still afraid. 

Those who have grown up in doubt operate on doubt, maybe forever. The day comes when a person who has spent his whole life doubting finally becomes certain about one thing or another. In that very breath, he wonders how he could ever really know. He doubts his own certainty, and this is of great comfort to the doubtful man, for he finds that even in the knowing, there is room for doubt.

Those who have grown up in worry worry when they find they have nothing to worry about! Those who have grown up in anger are mad when things are going well. Those who have grown up in need cannot stop the ache of emptiness even when they are satisfied. 

It's troubling. It's troubling for the fearful man to realize he cannot escape his fear, for the doubtful man to be captive to his doubts. It's troubling when a man looks in the mirror and knows he does not have to be such a way but finds he cannot help himself. Because it feels like so much a part of him to worry, or to doubt, or to fear. It feels like so much a part of him to be angry or to be empty. 

Who is he if the world does not demand this of him?

It's not so easy as simply saying that in God, man is a new creation and that if he can find himself in God, he can truly find himself and let go of his need to be the man he's always been. If it were so easy, more men would do it. If...but it's not.

But there is a way. There is a way for a man to begin to find himself. It's in 1 Corinthians 10:31 and again in Colossians 3:17 - Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. and Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Whatever you do, whatever it is that thing that you do, that thing that you can't let go of, do it for the glory of God.

The fearful man must learn to fear for the glory of God. So much worship, so much praise, so much devotion begins in the fear of the Lord. He's already good at fear; now, he must turn that fear toward the holy and for the glory of God, become a man who lives not simply in fear, but in the fear of the Lord. Which is not really fear like we know it; it's not the same as the things that go bump in the night. It is a reverence. Turning his fear for the glory of God, the fearful man finds himself not afraid but amazed.

The doubtful man must harbor his doubts in a holy direction. He must look at the goodness of God and constantly wonder, how can it be? He must live in awe every moment that again and again, God is proven true. There's nothing unholy in the questions, and the doubtful man knows well how to question. The more he comes questioning to God, the more God has the chance to show Himself true. The more God shows Himself true, the more reason the doubtful man has to believe. Whether he can or not is another question, but if he continues to bring his doubts in a godly direction, he will live his life in the evidence of the goodness of God.

The worrying man must worry in the name of the Lord Jesus. He must be concerned about the same things that God is concerned about. He must spend his time troubled by the broken state of this world, worried about the state of the unredeemed man. Which may include himself from time to time. This worry draws him close to the heart of God as they share in one broken-heartedness. The angry man must turn his anger toward those things that anger God. There's plenty to be angry about in a fallen world; he must simply understand how to channel his anger for glory. Then he becomes a mighty warrior for God, a messenger of righteousness, an agent of reconciliation. He goes about making right for wrong because he cannot stand for the torments of this world. The needful man turns his need toward God and never forgets his emptiness in this here-and-now. He's thirsty for the Lord, even when he seems to be satisfied. His hunger for more holy never goes away, and his very need draws him to the feet of the Lord in worship and in humility and in thirst.

It's easy to think if we want to be God's, we must shake off these broken things. That there's not a way for the fearful man to be holy, for the doubter to believe, for the angry man to be righteous. We think these are the kinds of things that will keep us forever from the heart of God. But that's just not the truth. These things, the things that we just can't shake, are the very things that draw us closer to Him. If only we turn them to His glory.

It is here that the work of God begins in us and begins to strip these broken things away from us. Only by the grace of God does a fearful man feel safe. Only by the grace of God does the doubter know. Only by the grace of God does the worrier find comfort, the angry man find peace, the empty man find fullness. Only by the grace of God.

So it's not that we must shake these things off before coming to Him. That's not it at all. (And anyone who has tried has probably spent his life trying and can tell you it doesn't work anyway.) It is that we turn our broken things toward Him. In doing so, we draw just near enough that He can heal them. And in that healing, closer still.

Do you live a life of fear? Of doubt? Worry? Anger? Do you live a life of need? Something else? Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. And He will pour His glory into you and redeem your broken man.

Friday, December 5, 2014


There's been a lot of talk lately about justice. It's an interesting concept, isn't it? The trouble I think I'm having with all of this, and I've reserved comment for good reason, is that I don't think man truly has a concept of justice. Not between men.

What is justice?

If you look at the world around you today, you might be tempted to think that justice is anger leading to shame, or that justice is hate leading to fear. These are the ways we do it down here. We get furious and demand "justice," but that justice is not just; it's vengeful. We don't want what justice is; we want what we want. We want an indictment. We want guilt. We want a man to feel sorry for what he's done. We hate the fallen man. We absolutely hate him for his injustice, and we want him to feel the same fear we do. We want him to know what it's like to be in a world that isn't just, so our justice still isn't justice; it's a return of injustice. It is us dishing out what we feel we've received. An eye for an eye, or so they say. An injustice for an injustice. 

But two wrongs never make a right.

When we do justice, it's about taking a fallen man and putting our foot on him. It's about keeping him down. It's about resisting his efforts to raise himself back up. It's about making sure he always knows what a lesser man he is. That's not justice. Do you know how you know? Because it has no chance of restoring a man. 

God has never intended to hold a man down. He calls us to build a man up.

Still, what about when a man does wrong? How does the fallen man face justice? What even is justice?

Justice is letting a man see how far he's fallen. It's showing him his own cracks. It's holding him accountable not to the standards of other men, but to the standards of the man that he is, the man that God created him to be. Justice was never meant to induce shame or guilt or fear; it was meant to break a man's heart as he looks in a mirror and sees truly himself and knows this is not what he was meant to be. 

A man, when he knows he's fallen short, will feel shame and guilt, sure, and if that's what you're after, this works there, too. But it is the broken-heartedness that will lead him to be a better man. It is his realization of the measure of all he is not, when he knows in his heart that he ought to be, that will lead him to be more of that man. It's knowing how far he's fallen, feeling the distance he's put between himself and himself, between himself and his God, between himself and his community that will drive him to better things. 

And how do we get there? It's hard, but it's not through hate. It's not through anger. You can't be mad at a man and speak truth to his heart. You can't hate him and love him at the same time. Injustice has been done. It's done every day in this world. The godly look at injustice the same from both sides - with broken-heartedness. They look at injustice as falling short of the standard. They look at injustice as a break of the sacred contract, that a man would be God's and would do God's work. They look at injustice and they instantly know how far a man has fallen. How far the unjust man has fallen, and how the target of his injustice is now fallen, as well. They look at both the victim and the accused the same way, knowing how so much more each was meant to be. And the godly are broken-hearted.

It's hard in a world like this one, a world where not everyone would say that God has anything to do with it. But God has everything to do with it. God is just. As such, He knows a thing or two about justice. And God's justice for us is just this - that a fallen man gets to sit in his fallenness. That he gets to feel the distance he's created in his life. That he gets to know how much less of a man he is. And that he gets to decide what to do with that. God doesn't put His foot on the fallen man's head; He doesn't hold a man down. He instead holds out His hand, ready to help a man up. 

It takes a godly man to respond like this, but this is how we must answer. There's no room in justice for our hate or our anger. There's no room in justice for shame or fear. Beating a man down is not justice. Keeping him there is not justice. Letting him feel the distance he's just created in his life, revealing his fallen nature and his heart for more, responding to him in broken-heartedness until his heart begins to break, too...that's justice. Letting him feel the distance he's created for the man who is the target of his injustice, showing him how much he's taken away from that man, teaching the accused heart to break for the hurt...that's justice. And holding out your hand to help him stand, well...that's not justice.

That's grace. 

And in God's answer to a broken world, there must be both.