Friday, February 27, 2015

Deepest Joy

A few weeks ago, I had opportunity to reflect on the present season of my life. Almost without realizing it, the words I chose were "desert" and "emptiness." It is certainly a season, for me, in which I feel the depth of my emptiness. (And that's not necessarily a bad thing.) It comes, for me, after a season in the wilderness - the uncultivated place where it's hard to figure out what this life is trying to grow.

And I'm not alone in this. There are persons all around us, right now, including some of you reading these words, who are aching in a certain emptiness. You're feeling the depths of your being exposed. You're feeling your feet kind of skim across the ground, like there's not enough weight in you to hold you down. You're feeling stripped, open, maybe abandoned. You're feeling like you can't get a hold on anything, like there's nothing to hold onto, like there's so little that is real. 

Because that's what this world does. This world reaches into you and takes every precious thing you think you have. And when you don't feel like there's anything else you can lose, this world reaches in again and takes even more. Digging, digging, driving its grubby little hands into you and just ripping you apart from the inside out, taking everything that means anything and even the things that don't until you're just...empty. Until the hollowness penetrates all that you are. Until your very breath echoes in the chambers of what was once a vibrant spirit but is now a vacant space. You look in the mirror and your hollowed eyes betray you already, and then this world digs in again and takes even more.

I'm not saying this to sound pessimistic; this is just real. This is what is happening to countless souls right now. This is what people are waking up to this morning. This is what's happening in our world. 

But it's not all that's happening. 

See, I've had a lot of time to think about this desert season. I've had a lot of days to count the sands. And what I'm finding is that there is this beautiful gift embedded in this emptiness, this incredible blessing of being in this place. 

It's no fun feeling the emptiness. It's no fun feeling the hollowness. But there's something else I feel in this season that simply cannot be ignored:


Pure joy. Absolute peace and confident assurance and tremendous joy. Others have noticed this in me. Some have commented. Some have asked. I can't explain it. Or...I couldn't. 

Then I came to understand how much of the desert is God's terrain. How much He is using this season to shape me, even when it feels like it's the world that's making the mold. I don't know if God causes the emptiness or if He just allows it, but over the course of the world's digging, I, too, have dug deep. I have learned how to pray. I have learned how to worship. I have learned how to connect my empty spirit to the fullness of God, and a lot of days, that's all that's kept me going. I have come to recognize how God has been using the emptiness for my good - to shape me, to mold me, to teach me. 

And one day, I don't know. It just sort of happened. This joy just...filled me. And what I hadn't expected, what I hadn't even considered, was how deep that joy could be in a life that felt so shallow. It's precisely because of the emptiness that the joy is so deep. The world has emptied me out enough, it has taken enough out of me, it has dug deep enough into my soul that when God in His great mercy decided to pour out grace, it hit first at my deepest core. 

It hit the depths of the empty places and erupted in joy. Erupted in peace. Erupted in confident assurance. It poured in and just kept pouring until it filled my very being. And thanks to this desert that's been slowly eating away me, grace has had a lot of space to fill. It's amazing. 

I share this not to share my story, but to offer strength for yours. There are some of you right now who are feeling this emptiness. You're in your own desert season, and the world keeps digging into you. It keeps taking away more and more, and you feel like soon, you'll be nothing at all. You feel like soon, there will be nothing left of you. And what then? 

But there's more going on here than you know. More than the world has bargained for. The day God decides to pour out His grace on you, you'll feel it. You'll know. All this time, all this pain, all this season that's been hollowing you out, it's only preparing you. It's preparing you for that grace to just pour in and hit the deepest parts of you.

It's preparing you for deepest joy. 

And joy is coming. Just hold on. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bully Pulpit

Clearly, Jesus doesn't mean very much to me. Clearly, His death and resurrection, I could take or leave. Clearly, I don't have a lot of space in my life for Christ.

Clearly. Because I didn't stop everything I was doing and share that picture of Him with those passive-aggressive words that told me that if I cared anything at all about Him, I would.

I'm not a fan of how aggressive - or passive-aggressive - the Christian movement has become in the age of social media. I don't think we're doing God any favors by the way we talk about Him on Facebook, on Twitter, on whatever platform we're talking about Him. To be quite honest, I kind of miss the days of fire and brimstone; at least there, you had something. 

With fire and brimstone, you had a clear-cut line. All this passive-aggressive nonsense erases the line. I feel like I'm left defending how much I love Jesus or how I understand the word "love" at all. Yes, I love Him. But I don't think He cares how many western conceptions of His image I share on social media. Yes, I love Him but I don't need to plaster the Cross everywhere to prove it. Yes, I love Him, but. 

It's that "but" that gets me. We're living in an age where we qualify our relationship with Jesus with a "but." All because of this pressure we've come to put on one another about what being a Christian really means. 

And I get it. We're all trying to figure out what faith means in a day like today. We're trying to figure out what faith looks like in the digital world. We're trying to figure out how we mark ourselves apart from the crowd, how we can demonstrate what matters most to us in a world that seems like it's always watching.

Simple. The same way we always have: by our love.

We love each other. We put love out into the world. If we want to put Jesus into the world, we do it through love. If we want to make a statement about who we are, we make a statement about who He is first. By loving. 

Because the world is watching. They are watching us bully each other. They are watching us equate our faith with this passive-aggressiveness. And by the way, Jesus was neither passive nor aggressive, and certainly not passive-aggressive. He was passionate. He was assertive. He was assured. He lived in the passionate assurance of His Father. He did what was right, spoke what was true, and loved like His life depended on it. Because it did. It still does. 

He never would have spoken to His disciples the way we speak to each other. He wouldn't have spoken to a sinner the way we speak to each other. Heck, He wouldn't even have spoken to the demons the way we speak to each other. All in the name of faith. The world is watching as we adopt its relationship strategies, as we adopt its words, and it's laughing. Because the more we sound like the world when we talk about our faith, the more we lose the voice of Jesus in our world.

Just look at one of the more recent "Christian" schemes going around - I challenge you to post a Scripture for seven days and challenge two other people to do the same. Why are we challenging each others' faith? We're supposed to be building each other up. Challenge...challenge is the word of the culture. Challenge is what people in this world do to one another. Christ...Christ never challenged people. He invited them. Why can't we soften our language and invite one another to share a Scripture for seven days? Or invite someone to share an image that's particularly meaningful or beautiful to us? It's the voice of our culture over the voice of our Christ.

The voice of our Christ, as we speak it into the world, isn't heard through tagging, snapping, sharing, favoriting, tweeting, liking, and the like; the voice of our Christ is heard as we do what is right, speak what is true, and love like our lives depend on it. Because they do.

Social media is a neat thing. It really is. But it shouldn't be a bully pulpit. Can we just stop all the passive-aggressive nonsense? Can we stop borrowing the language of our world for a minute and look at what we're doing to each other? At what we're doing to Christ? 

We have an incredible opportunity in the present world to speak Christ to a world that truly is watching like never before. Let's not waste it. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Science and Faith

For years, scientists have been talking about the "Big Bang" - the idea that the entire universe came into existence from a tiny speck of nothing that exploded into everything. And for years, Christians have pushed back against this idea, always at odds, it seems, with science in general because of this one thing. Because of this one very important thing. Because of this question over how the world came to be.

Science has a fairly noble goal. I think it's natural to man to want to know what he can know, and to want to know everything. That is, after all, why Eve ate the fruit of the tree. That's why she gave it to Adam. Man has always wanted to know. The trouble is, there are some things we just can't know. There are some things that will always come with a certain measure of faith.

Even science comes with this faith. No one has ever seen this original nothingness; he must take it by faith that it ever existed. No one has seen the way a germ forms or how a genome is built, but he traces it back by faith that there is a process and puts his understanding on that. And in this sense, science is a myth (in the traditional sense of the word). It's just a story man has given himself to make sense of his world. Science, of course, would say the same about faith - that it, too, is a myth. That it's just a story man has given himself to make sense of his world.

Fair enough. But here's the rub. Here's where science and faith stray from one another, and this is really the difference we're fighting over:

When science comes up against information that challenges its faith, it changes it story to make the new information work. Studies have recently come out, for instance, challenging the Big Bang idea. And you can already see science loosening its grasp a bit on the idea. Studies come out claiming one thing, and then a few weeks later, the exact opposite is "proven" and science is content to bounce back and forth between the two and is equally comfortable with either being true, according to whatever is the latest research. It never has to expand its faith; it merely redefines it whenever necessary so that it is always believing what it seems necessary to believe at any given time. 

Faith, on the other hand, expands itself to encompass new information. When the faithful come up against the impossible, it draws new lines around it and grows to meet the need. Faith extrapolates the information from what we know to whatever new thing we've come in contact with and figures out how they both fit into the same story. Our story doesn't change; we do. Our God doesn't change; we do. 

And this is the tension between science and faith. It is the question of whether our world is always changing...or we are. 

What's easy to miss is that we're not so far apart on this issue as it seems. Science will tell you it's looking for a constant world. It's looking for a world that doesn't change. That's the goal of science - to establish and predict the world according to its own order. It assumes there is an order. It assumes the world is fairly stable and knowable. And it assumes that if we can ever understand this, we can know how to live in it so that neither us nor the world will ever have to change (except, of course, where we decide to change it, which we can do with the right science). In real life, however, this hasn't worked out. Science is always declaring the change in the world, swinging like a pendulum between one thing and another thing entirely, and not, it seems, nearing any place to settle in between. Science is no closer to the answers to the big questions than it was when it began in the Enlightenment.

Faith isn't so concerned. It doesn't worry about the answers so much as the questions. Faith is always asking not what the world is but how we're supposed to live it. Faith is always growing, always changing, always pushing toward peace, toward a way to be in this world without worrying so much about such things. Faith doesn't worry about whether the world is changing. It cares more about how we are changing, about how we are becoming better (hopefully) at doing this thing called life. Not at understanding this thing called life. Because faith understands there are some things we just can't know. And shouldn't worry about.

So that's the real difference between science and faith. It's not what we believe about the world. It's not the story we tell ourselves to make sense of this place. It's why we tell ourselves these stories. Science tells the stories so that it can change the world without having to change ourselves. Faith tells the stories so that we can change ourselves, so that we can change the world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bounded by Grace

Yesterday, I talked about the opportunity the so-called Religious Freedom legislation presents for Christians to be truly loving to the world around us. And while there is talk that such legislation will lead to discrimination (and it will), there is one very important question whose answer becomes clearer because of this bill:

What is the church to do about gay marriage?

I'm just going off logic here, as I haven't heard anything explicitly about it, but if the Religious Freedom bill would allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony and a photographer to refuse to take photos of the event, it naturally follows that the church could refuse to perform the ceremony at all. This is good news.

Now, I know there are some churches who are out there saying, "We love our gay brothers and sisters and have no qualms about performing their marriage ceremony." To those churches, I ask: are you in the God business or are you in the civics business?

Outside of our walls, love must prevail. It must. Because the world, at large, isn't looking for Jesus; it's not our job to force Him on them. What we are called to do is to live love in the world and draw people into Him. When people come into our churches, however, they are consenting to be guided toward Him. They are asking for His presence in their lives, and we have a responsibility to hold onto His Word most firmly within our own walls, not perverting His covenant, not even in the name of love. 

That's going to be hard for some people to swallow. But it's the truth. When people come to us looking for Jesus, we have a responsibility to bring them to Him. Not to paint a favorable portrait of who He is. Not to make Him out to be the very thing they are looking for. But to know that He is the very thing they need and to present Him in unadulterated form - as compassionate Brother, as revolutionary Teacher, as crucified Savior, as Risen Lord. And that means, yes, sometimes, we have to do hard things. Sometimes, we have to do the unpopular things. Because while we are called to be Jesus in this world, we also are called to teach Jesus in our churches.

But it's not so harsh. It's not so black and white. 

See, inside our walls, people are looking for Jesus. They're there because they want Him. And we guide them to Him, but we set up bumpers of grace like a bowling lane all around us so that there is always room for love. Always forgiveness. Always mercy. Always a way forward without going off the rails. Always one step closer, one step closer. We don't have to wait for people to get it completely right, but we have to keep pushing them in the right direction. We have to keep pushing people God-ward, bounded by grace, held in love. Even when it's hard. 

So I like the idea that the Religious Freedom bill seems to answer one of the heaviest questions for us: will the church be required by the state to perform a gay wedding ceremony? If the legislation passes, it seems not. And that's as it should be. Because the minute we get more involved in civil ceremonies than in covenant living, we have lost something vital about the church. We have lost the very essence of who we are - a community called to bring people to Jesus. Bounded by grace. Held in love. 

Even when it's hard.

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Religious Freedom

There's a piece of legislation working its way through the Indiana chambers that's getting a bit of attention, as it should. The bill is known as the "Religious Freedom" bill and basically, it protects the rights of Christian business owners to refuse service to anyone based on the owners' religious beliefs. The criticism, of course, is that such a bill will lead toward discrimination, and it will. 

What's exciting, though, is that it also paves a way for love. For real love. For Christians to start showing what it really means to be a Christian... serving people anyway.

It's all politics. It's all backlash against the gay rights movement. Stories are coming out in the midst of all of this about bakeries that refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples. About employers who refuse to recognize gay partners in benefits agreements. About photographers who won't take gay family photos. This bill is meant to protect those who don't want to be forced to be a part of something they don't agree with. But here's the thing: it's really hard to listen to some of these business owners talk. 

First of all, let's say this - if you only want your business to serve people who are living "right," you're going to go out of business pretty fast. We're all sinners. We're all doing it wrong. Even those of us who agonize over doing it right...are doing it wrong. I'm probably doing it wrong right now. Maybe you are, too. Welcome to the club. And I dislike the idea that I have to live up to someone else's standard in order to partake of their services. Imagine if every business did this. Imagine if Wal-Mart finally bought into the idea that yoga pants and house slippers are not proper shopping attire and refused service to those who do not meet their dress code, based on a "strong conviction" about the matter. When we do stuff like this, we're making ourselves gods and breaking the world down into temples. We're dividing the world by its beliefs and creating all these cliques and subsets and mini-societies within the whole. We're pitting ourselves against each other based on our own judgments.

But what's even more disturbing is how easily we say we're doing it out of love. We're doing it out of love for God and our desire to keep His commandments. We're doing it to keep this world pure in His sight. We're doing it to take a stand for what God stands for, to put our feet on our faith and to stand tall on something. 

Time for some hard truth.

If how you relate to someone else depends on your feelings about how they are living their life, you don't have ground to stand on. 

If you want to refuse service to someone because they don't live up to your standards, it's not because you love Jesus so much. If you're withholding your love from someone who isn't keeping God's commandments, you're not keeping them, either. If you're trying to keep God's word pure, it is only in the act of loving that you can do so; never in the withholding of love. If you want to take a stand for what God stands for, put your faith on your feet and walk in this world the way that He did. Then you've got ground to stand on. If you can't love someone because you don't agree with them, you've got love wrong. And if you've got love wrong, you've got God wrong. Period.

Jesus never says, "Go out and judge your neighbor." He says to love them. He never says to police the world for His glory; He says to live in this world for His glory. He never says it's our job to defend Him; He always says it is our job to love one another. 

All this gets a little bit trickier in the church, which I'll talk about tomorrow. But today, we're not talking about the church. We're talking about the world. We're talking about the streets that we all walk every day, the people we come into contact with, the way we interact with those around us. If you're not loving them, no matter what your reason, you're doing it wrong. If you're not extending your hand to them, you're doing it wrong. If you're drawing lines in the sand, you're doing it wrong. Only Jesus draws in the sand. And then He stands up and forgives the sinner. 

So there's this religious freedom bill working its way through Indiana's legislature, and it's getting a lot of talk. As it should. Sadly, it will lead to discrimination. It will lead to so-called Christian business owners turning people away in the name of the God who welcomed everyone in. And that's sad. It's heartbreaking.

But there's a chance here for love, too. There's a chance for Christians to stand up and say, I love you anyway. I love you not because the law says I have to but because Love Himself demands it. I love you because you're my brother, you're my sister, and even though I think you're getting it wrong, I wasn't put in this world to judge; I was put here to love. So I love you, brother. I love you, sister. Here's your pastry. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

...and Thy Mother

Yesterday, I talked about honoring thy Father and what it means to have God's seed in you. So today, of course, is the rest of the commandment: honor thy mother. And again, I am not talking simply about the woman who gave birth to you.

The mother's role in the formation of you is the womb. She gives you the secure place in which to rest, to grow, to become who you have been created to be by nature of the Father's seed planted in you. She is your fertile ground. And in this sense, honoring thy mother means honoring the place you've been given to rest, to grow, and to become what you have been created to be. That is, your life situation.

Not all of us would be quick to honor our life situations. For some of us, life has been hard. For some, harder than it needs to be. Some of us have faced barren landscapes and torturous terrain. We have endured storms. We have cut our feet on the hard rock, stumbled through the thick underbrush. We have spent our lives working to get out of this place. And that's okay. But you still have to honor it. Whether it's been easy or hard, whether it's been fun or miserable, whether it's been good or bad, the life you've had has shaped you. It has helped God's seed in you to grow. (If you've been following along, I've been talking about this quite a bit lately, including earlier this week - Monday and Tuesday.) 

We see this in the life of Jesus, too. We see Him honoring His mother - honoring His place in this world that has nurtured and grown Him. We see it when He frequents the Temple. He was a Jew by birth and by upbringing; the Temple played a huge role in who He was, even when He declared that He would tear that Temple down and rebuild it in three days. Even when He came to fulfill the law and not to follow it, the law was an important part of who He was, and we see Him again and again celebrating, rejoicing, worshiping, feasting, teaching, and learning in the Temple. We see Him ministering to the very places in which He grew up. It's often quoted that a "prophet is honored everywhere but in his hometown" and we think Jesus didn't do any work in Nazareth, but that's not what the Scriptures say. They just say He couldn't do as many miracles there. Which means, of course, that He did do some miracles. He shared His gift with the town that had watched Him grow up. We see Him engaging in all the things this world does - fishing, traveling, eating, paying taxes, going to the Temple, having a family (a mother, brothers, sisters). We see Him living the life of a normal man. Why? Because this is how He honors His mother.

This is how He honors the place that has given Him life. This is how He honors the cultural womb in which He has taken shape, the safe place that has allowed Him to develop the seed of His Father in Him. By living it. By living there. By engaging the culture. By embracing the opportunities. By remembering where He comes from even in the same breath that He remembers how He was begotten. 

You see, a faithful life is a healthy mix of both. It's knowing the Father who has planted the holy seed in you and embracing the mother in which He has allowed that seed to grow. Embracing the life God has given you in the place He has given you. Taking every opportunity to remember where you come from even in the same breath that you remember how you've been begotten. 

It's not always easy. There are things about the places we've grown up in that we'd much rather forget. But if you take a closer look at the place that has nurtured you, for better or for worse, you'll find that it's true - God's forming work has been taking place even here. The very unique, very beautiful, very intended thing God has created in you has been growing in this place. And while I'm not saying you have to be thankful for every single thing that's happened in your life, what I am saying is that you have to be thankful for the opportunities. You have to be thankful for the things that have grown you, even if those things are the hard things. You have to remember where you've come from and reflect always on how you came to be from there. 

And then, live out of that place. Frequent the Temple that's been a part of training and shaping you. Minister in the same broken places you've walked out of. Share your gift with the circumstances under which you've grown up. Engage in the things of the place in which God has placed you - go fishing, take a walk, share a meal, pay your taxes, go to worship, have a family. Live the life of a man who's been there, from the heart of a man who's become more. 


Because you're called to honor thy mother. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Honor Thy Father

Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant. Where the law says not to commit murder, Jesus says He has come to bring life. Where the law says not to covet, Jesus turns His back on the riches of this world. Where the law says to remember the Sabbath day and make it holy, Jesus makes whole-ly on the Sabbath. Where the law says to honor thy mother and thy father, well...

That's where it gets a little fun.

There's one way to read this, and that is to say that Jesus must honor Joseph and Mary and give to them what a first-born son would be expected to give to them - financial security, continuance of name, maintenance of land, and so on and so forth. But I want to read this another way, and I'm going to take today and tomorrow to do it. Today, I want to read this little phrase: Honor thy father. 

Or honor thy Father.

Jesus had an obligation to honor His Father. He says so rather often, if you listen to His words. I have to do what my Father sent me to do. I have to say what my Father tells me to say. I have to believe what my Father has told me. And so on and so forth. He gets lost on a return trip from Jerusalem, but He's lost only because He's not making the return trip at all. When Joseph and Mary finally find Him, He is sitting in the temple. Nonchalantly, He looks up and says, You should know I would be in my Father's house. Later, He says, I must be about my Father's business. He repeatedly warns His disciples about what will happen to Him in Jerusalem, but always reminds them this is what His Father has willed for His life. And He surrenders to that will in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before this bitter cup comes to pass. 

Thy Father was always on Jesus's mind.

And whenever opportunity arises, we see Jesus honoring what the Father has put in Him. We see Him choosing the hard thing because it is also the faithful thing. We see Him doing the unpopular thing because it is also the required thing. We see Him again and again honoring what His Father asks of Him. And this, I think, is what it means to honor thy Father. 

Not to get too graphic, but let's get into this: the Father's role in the creation of you is the seed. He plants the seed. (In human terms, we call this the sperm, but let's not get lost in human terms.) You've heard me talk about this before - you are the product of divine imagination. God planted something small in you. Faith is as small as a mustard seed; God has put it inside of you to grow you in the faith as you live. The Kingdom of Heaven begins this way. The very universe may even start here. Again and again, I keep coming back to this image of the seed because it's powerful. It's important. 

It's the very thing your Father has given you. 

So I think this commandment is still incredibly powerful. We are called to honor thy Father. We are called to live in the way that Jesus lived, with one eye always on God, with the Father always on our mind. We are called to choose the hard thing sometimes because it is also the faithful thing. We are called to do the unpopular thing sometimes because it is also the required thing. We are called to do what the Father has sent us to do, to say what the Father tells us to say, to believe what the Father has told us. Were it such that we could easily respond, I must be about my Father's business. Because we must. We must honor the seed God has planted in us. We must honor the very nature He's created in us. That includes the purpose, the passion, the power, and the presence He's put in us, among so many other things. 

When I think about this commandment, then, it's not just about Joseph and Mary. Or Bill and Betty. Or whatever your parents' names happen to be. This first part, here, honor thy Father, is about paying attention to the seed of my Father in me, to what God has planted and desires to grow in me. There is a way that I am to live honoring Him, and I strive for that. I hope you do, too. 

Honor thy Father. And come back tomorrow for what it means to honor thy mother. 

Hint? It's not about Mary.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chaos Theory

This world seems to thrive on chaos. And why shouldn't it? One of the laws of the universe is that without a force pushing us toward order, chaos reigns. Left to its own devices, this world devolves. Left to our own devices, we, too, devolve. 

And the storms rage. Winds blow. Rains fall. Lightning flashes. Thunder roars. (Ok, ok. I'm being optimistic, I know. Snow falls. Temperatures drop. More snow falls. Then some more snow falls....) And the storms certainly feel like chaos. They certain feel unordered. They certain feel wild and out of control. Until...until, that is, you get even deeper into it. 

If the storm teaches us anything, if there's anything we learn from this bit of chaos all around us, it's that sometimes, you have to press into it. Sometimes, you have to head straight into the winds. Sometimes, you have to let the chaos swirl all around you. When you get in deep enough, you find something unique: peace. It's the eye of the storm. 

It's the eye of God on you.

It's easy to lose sight of in the chaos. It's easy to forget to look around every now and then. To look up. When the winds blow and the storm rages, most of us want to keep our heads down. So keep your head down, if you must, but keep moving forward. Push into the winds until they settle all around you. And then, look up. Look around. Take note of what's going on here: God's got His eye on you.

It's going to be okay.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Be Told

Yesterday, I said that your story is pointed God-ward, even when it doesn't seem like it's much of anything. I think a huge part of that is the questions we ask about our stories and the ways we try to tell them. 

It's an odd question: Tell me about yourself. Or any version thereof. Tell me your story. Tell me about your life. Tell me where you've been, where you are, where you're going. Tell me what you know, what you've seen, what you've done. It sets us up to tell our stories a certain way, and depending on the life you've lived, this is not always an encouraging way to tell one's story. We can easily get trapped into thinking our stories are nothing more than the things we've done and the things that have been done to us. 

Recently, I was faced again with this question. An assignment for seminary required me to create a map of my life: where have I been? where am I now? where am I going? It led right into this understanding, right into this fallacy that my life is told in the story I'm telling. The whole idea of it made me cringe. Because my story is not the story I would tell with my life if given the choice. I'm tired of laying out the details of what I know and how I know it, about life behind these eyes. But I have also had this feeling in my heart that there had to be another way to tell my story, another way to come at it than just through the facts. Isn't there room for truth? Isn't there room for bigger things in all the little details?

Here comes the switch I had to make. Ready? I decided, for the first time in my life, to not tell the story I'm telling. Instead, I decided I was going to tell the story that's being told in me. 

And that's made all the difference.

Not just in the assignment, mind you. It has literally changed the way I conceptualize my entire life. It's changed the way I think about myself when I look in the mirror. It's changed the way I remember my past and hope for my future and rest in my present. It's changed everything. 

Because here's the truth: there is a story you're telling in the world. All of us are telling one story or another. There are things you're doing and things that are being done to you. And that's one way to think about your story. But the other way to think about your story is to think about the things being done in you that are bringing you to a place where you are telling God's story. All of a sudden, it's still about you, but it's more about God. All of a sudden, it's finally about bigger things.

I could tell my story and tell you about how I never felt like I belonged anywhere in this world, how I never felt like I had a place. And that's one way to tell my story. But when I sat down to write that part of it, I discovered that even though I never felt like I had a place, God has always given me a place wherever I've landed. I've always had a space to be even when it wasn't the space that I wanted. I've always found a way to be in whatever situation I've been in, and so even in the instability, the insecurity, I have found stability and security by molding myself to what the situation requires. 

I could tell my story and tell you about all of my accomplishments, all of my achievements, and what they meant to me. And that's one way to tell my story. But when I sat down to write that part of it, I realized why achievement and accomplishment were so important to me, and I recognized that it was never about the things I did; it was always about the way I did them. It was about the passion I had for performing, about the joy I took from throwing my whole self into something. 

I could tell you what I know about lies, but it's not about lies; the bigger story is about truth. I could tell you what I know about the tension between darkness and light, but it's not about the tension; it's about sober appreciation. It's about respecting the season of life that you're in, whether that's winter or summer or somewhere in between. I could tell you what I know about answers, but it's not about answers; the bigger story is about questions. I could tell you what I know about ministry, but even my ministry is not about ministry; it's about purpose. That's the bigger thing. I could tell you what I know about daydreams and aspirations, but it's not about that; it's about hope. 

And here's the thing: if you had asked me, I wouldn't have told you that I'm telling a story in this world about stability and security, about passion, about darkness and light, about questions, about purpose, about hope. I would never have imagined. But when I had the space to sit down and reflect, I discovered that my story is not just about the story I'm telling, the story I never wanted to tell; it's about the story being told in me. And this...this is the story being told in me. 

Does it sound jumbled? Sure, but I'm not finished. You see, all these things I discovered that God was writing in me, all these characteristics He was bringing out of my story by writing them into it, these are the things that feed into the bigger story I am telling in this world. These are the things that are telling the story of the purpose of me. Of the special creation of me. Of the ministry of me. These are the things that make me a good chaplain.

Because of what I've learned about security and stability, I am confident walking into any hospital room, any funeral home, any situation and trusting God to be present there. Because of what I've learned about passion, I know how to give my whole self. Because of what I know about questions, I'm not afraid to ask them. Because of what I know about seasons, about darkness and light, I don't have to pretend; I can meet life face-on with people who are afraid to open their eyes. Because of what I know about purpose, I can lean on the God who created this very special gift in me. Because of what I know about hope, I can believe in this developing story and keep an eye on where it grows. The list goes on and on; these are only a sampling of the story being told in me. Some of it...some of it is just incredibly personal, the intimate shaping of my spirit that God is doing in most incredible ways. But it all leads into this bigger story. It's incredible.

I wanted to share that with you. I wanted to share with you that there's another story. If you're tired of saying the same old things, if you're looking around at your life and realizing it's not what you think it should be, if you're finding an aching emptiness inside your story because it doesn't seem to be saying the things you want it to say, change the question. Stop asking, just for a moment, what story you're telling and ask instead what story is being told in you. 

You may just find it's the encouragement you need to start telling the story you're meant to tell. You may just find you're already telling a new story; you just never knew it. You may find that the story you always dreamed of is already taking shape. It's just starting with a little character development before the hero really takes off and does big things. You're going to do big things. 

How do I know?

Because if you'll look, you'll find that big things are already being done in you. 

Monday, February 16, 2015


Over the weekend, a funny thing happened: I turned 30. And I don't really know what to say about that except to say that I had no idea. I had no idea how much, in my 20s, I was holding my breath and how incredible it would be, at 30, to feel like I can breathe again. 

I think in my 20s, I was trying to figure a lot of things out. I was trying to find authority or meaning or...something in my life, trying to use these formative years to make something of myself. Or at least to figure out what I might want to make of myself. I think there's a lot of pressure on the 20-somethings. You're not a child any more but it doesn't feel like you're firmly established in your life, either. There's room here to make some major decisions, to try some crazy things, to give life a go because there's still time to go another direction entirely if you should so decide it's necessary. It all feels very exhilarating at the time, but as the years press on, you can't help but realize the emptiness of it. As time goes by, you start to feel how much you've just been kind of floating, and how desperate you are to just put your feet down somewhere. 

And I think it's easy, too, to get lost in all the things you want to do in the world, all the adventures you want to have, all the names you want to make for yourself, all the achievements you want to meet and sometimes, you're fortunate enough to find the very things you thought you were seeking but you look in the mirror one day and realize this is not your story. At least, it's not the story you want people to tell about you. For all the things you've done, all the adventures you've had, all the names you've made, all the achievements you've met, you realize all these things say nothing about who you are. They say very much about what you are, but nothing about who you are. And you start to think about the self you have given to this world and you start to worry that maybe you haven't. The 20s are a time when it's very easy to get so lost in doing in this world that it's easy to forget about being in this world. 

They're not the same thing. 

All this happens without your really thinking about it. You don't intend to lose yourself in the very years you're supposed to be finding you, but you do it anyway. It happens without your really noticing it. It happens without your meaning for it to. You look in the mirror one day, maybe on a day when your 20s are about to end and a new era is about to start in your life, and you realize you've lived yourself blue in the face, screaming into your life, waiting on it to say something about you, and here you are...and your life has yet to speak. At least not how you figured it ought to.

I don't say all this to be depressing. That's not it at all. Because a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tell my story in a way I never thought I would tell it. The invitation was open - I could have told it any way I so desired to tell it. I could have told it the way I've told it for nearly three decades. But I didn't. I chose to tell it in a new way. And what I found in doing so was that even when it didn't seem like my life was speaking much at all, my life was speaking into me. God was using my story to shape me for the story He created me to tell. 

So I want to take a few days (and I haven't really thought about how many yet) to tell a bit of this story, in the hopes that it might be an encouragement to those who find themselves in a similar position. To those of you who are waiting for your life to speak but can't hear it echoing in your own heart. To those of you who want so much for your life to be a bigger thing that you don't realize how big it already is. To those of you who stand on the edge of a new season and wonder where life goes from here, that you might see that it goes in the direction it's already headed - God-ward. Whether you've noticed until now or not. 

Friday, February 13, 2015


Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, a day for love and lovers. As a single girl, I have to do Valentine's Day differently. There won't be any flowers, any candies, any romantic dinners. But neither can I simply ignore such a day. I can't ignore the longings in my heart for love. I can't ignore the deep desire I have to one day have a Valentine. 

And as I said last year, it's not sufficient, either, to spend this day with the Lover of my Soul. Jesus does not answer these aches, either. The most He can do is to speak into them, and so He does.

Last year at this time, I told you how I was spending Valentine's Day with my love. At the time, I thought maybe I would do that every year until he finally comes. But it's been kind of an interesting few weeks and I couldn't have anticipated a season like this, and so this Valentine's Day, this single girl is doing something different again. 

This Valentine's Day, I'm spending the day with my loveliness.

Let's be honest - I've never really been what I would consider lovely. I've never thought of myself as beautiful. I have always, in my love life, begged for mercy and subscribed hopefully to the idea that there is someone for everyone, even a toad like me. I've always figured that one day, a man would come into my life and he would be content to settle for me. I would be exhausting to him, but he would be too lazy to look anywhere else. We would spend our lives side-by-side, a mutual convenient arrangement to squelch the loneliness burning inside each of us, and we would call it love. But there wouldn't be much passion. I would be his consolation prize; he would be my mercy. He would be indifferent toward me; I would be afraid to love him at all.

Yes, really. This was what I always imagined might happen.

Because I wouldn't have considered myself lovable. I...can be a lot to put up with sometimes. I have my quirks. I have my wounds. And I don't buy into a lot of what the world says loveliness is supposed to be. I don't spend hours a day on my make-up; I don't even own any make-up. Doing my hair means running a comb through it. I'm far more comfortable in blue jeans and a T-shirt than in a skirt or a dress. I wear flats, not heels, because I place more value on being able to walk than on how my butt looks when I do so. All these things that women are supposed to do to make themselves lovely...I don't buy it. So I'm not lovely. And if I'm not lovely, how will I ever be lovable? And if I'm neither lovely nor lovable, how could I ever hope for love?

But something changed in the past few weeks. Yes, so recently. So close to this day of love. I can't remember what I was doing at the time or what really prompted the moment, but all of a sudden, I had this wave of holy understanding wash over me (as happens from time to time). In a moment, I heard a whisper about my loveliness. About the promise that one day, there is going to be a man who does not just settle for me; he will cherish me. He will be drawn to me. He will choose me over all others, more than merely a consolation prize. He will love me. Because he finds me lovely.

Me! Lovely! I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, so I settled for a measure of both. I laughed because the idea seems so far-fetched, that a man in this world would find me lovely. I cried because the mere thought of this pierced the insecurity in my heart in a way I cannot describe. 

And from that very thought, from that unexpected moment, something else changed: I began to think of my own loveliness. I began to think differently about the girl I see in the mirror. I began to understand how beautiful she is - plain face, boring hair, jeans, T-shirt, tennies, and all. I began to think that the whisper might just be right, that there might be a man out there who would come to know me and decide he couldn't help but love me. Love! Me! 

I don't think any more about a man who might be willing to settle for me. I'm not interested in doing any settling. I'm not thinking about the man who I will one day live my life side-by-side with; we're going to do life together. I'm not thinking about his indifference toward me; he will cherish me. I'm not thinking about my fear of loving him; I already do.

I'm thinking about love in different terms this year, and so, I'm spending Valentine's Day with my loveliness. I'm using this time, when everyone is so interested in love and lovers, to reflect on what it is in me that is worthy of both. I'm thinking about the beauty, the delicateness, the tenderness God has put in this blue-jean, t-shirt heart. I'm looking in the mirror and discovering it's all true. And I'm looking into the future and knowing it's all real. 

Happy Valentine's Day, lovelies. May you keep your love, your lovers, and your loveliness in front of you as the world celebrates the greatest of all things - Love. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Accountability and Love

By the way, let's not confuse tolerance with love. Love is another "T" word entirely - Truth. That's where accountability comes in. 

And who are we to judge? There's certainly a caution here. We are not the religious elite. We are not warriors of Christ policing His pews. We are not the "right" standing against the "wrong." If we're any of these things, we are not loving. We are not in truth. We are doing this wrong. So how do we do it right?

The world says there must be a place for tolerance, that we should, for the most part, let people be, as long as they aren't hurting anyone. Accountability understands how deeply people are hurting someone. Specifically, how deeply they are hurting themselves. Maybe not the self they see when they look in the mirror, but the self God sees when He looks at them. 

Accountability starts in brokenheartedness. 

It starts with seeing more in someone, and wanting more for someone, and understanding how someone's belief, someone's actions, someone's thoughts are holding them back from being the fullest measure of the person they were meant to be. Not....hear me on this....not the person we think they should be or the person the world has allowed for them to be or the person they could be if they'd just "apply themselves" a little more but the person they were created to be, the person God intended when He formed them in their mother's womb. 

It's here where Truth comes in - big T Truth. It's here where discernment comes in. We have to be willing, and able, to see beyond what the world shows us and look into the soul of another person. Willingness...that comes from us. Ableness...that's a gift from God. Unless you have both, it's not fair to move. It's not fair to speak. But commit yourself to prayer for your brother or sister, open yourself to their heart and to God's, and you may be surprised what you know. And when you know it, it will break your heart.

I deal with this a lot. Sometimes, I look at people and I just know...I know they were meant to be so much more. I understand the things in this world that hold people back, the hurts, the wounds, the fears, the doubts, the circumstances. I get it. It doesn't make me any less heartbroken over things. If anything, it makes me moreso. And there are times, too, when I look in the mirror and know the same things - I was meant to be so much more.

What are we supposed to do with that?

The world says to let it be, that it doesn't matter if a man chooses to spend his life as lesser. That it doesn't matter if he lives up to his potential or something so much less. That it may even hurt a man if he thinks he is meant for more but he can never get there. Really? Are we content to let that be the case? Are we content to let men be lesser and to call this love? This isn't love. 

There's no love in tolerance. There's no love in letting things simply be. Love is a verb; it's active. It's something that has to happen, not something that simply is. And love finds its partner in Truth. These two things together...they can never be mistaken for this tolerance we so speak of. Never. Love and Truth demand something more.

They demand action. They demand involvement. They demand relationship and caring and intimacy. They demand vulnerability and tenderness. They demand humility. They demand that we all be invested in something more than our own lives, in something more than the status quo, in something more than fragile peace. And that's all we get, by the way, with tolerance - fragile peace. It's a peace that can crack at any time, any time that anyone thinks he or she is asked for something more. Is that what we want? A world that falls apart when we demand more of it? That's what we have. It's because we're getting this tolerance thing wrong.

It's not about tolerance at all. It's about accountability. We've got to get this right. Because tolerance isn't love. It isn't even truth. It's something far, far less.

And I'm not saying we ought to police one another; that's not it, either. We ought to pursue one another. We ought to love one another so much that we refuse to let people settle for anything less.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tolerance and Accountability

There's a lot of talk in our present culture about "tolerance" - about the idea that as long as they aren't hurting anyone, we ought to let people do what they do, think what they think, believe what they believe. And this sounds like a really noble idea. We can even, if we stretch the text enough, find some Biblical mandate for such thinking. 

For example, Paul tells us it doesn't matter what you eat or drink as long as your doing so doesn't cause someone else to stumble. The mandate here is higher than simply causing someone else to be offended; it must cause them to stumble. (Although in our present culture, offend seems to be the most terrible thing we can do to someone.) Eating food sacrificed to idols? Eating unclean foods? It's okay, as long as it doesn't push someone else's faith off its foundations. If it does, we ought to be respectful of that. 

We've lost a lot of that second part, by the way. We've lost a lot of our respectfulness for the belief of others, even amidst all this so-called "tolerance." We think tolerance only applies to us, that people should just let us be and do and think whatever we want to be and do and think and that it's ludicrous that anyone would be bothered by us.

There's another Scripture I ran across not so long ago, in Acts 23, that caused me to stop and think about some of this. Paul stands before the Jewish council and declares, "Brothers, my relationship with God has always given me a perfectly clear conscience." (v. 1) And this strikes me because this is the most pernicious form of tolerance we have today - this idea within Christianity of religious tolerance, that it doesn't matter how you worship God as long as you're worshiping God. That it doesn't matter what you believe about Him as long as you believe in Him. That it's okay to have your own understanding of God (after all, He's got a different relationship with each of us) as long as you live consistent with that relationship. 

And frankly, that scares me. Have you seen the headlines in the past...whatever? As long as you've been alive, if you've seen half-a-second of news, you know the kinds of things people in this world have done to one another in the name of their God. And with a clear conscience.

Christians bomb abortion clinics with a clear conscience. They picket funerals of fallen soldiers with a clear conscience. They close their doors to troops of local boy scouts with a clear conscience. They shun women in their congregations with a clear conscience. They hate and they hurt with a clear conscience. Are we really supposed to just let such things be on account of such a thing as "tolerance"? 

Sometimes, I read the headlines or I watch social media, and I see the backlash against Christians because of this or that thing that some of them are doing. And I want to crawl through my computer screen, grab these commenters by the hands, and plead with them - Don't judge me by their actions. That's not what my God is about. Because for all we're not doing to hold one another accountable to a real relationship with God, we are creating a world where our hate speaks louder than our love. It's heartbreaking, particularly when Jesus says we will be known by our love. 

And I'm not here to judge anybody. That's not the point. Although I might say that Paul's clear conscience comes from letting God guide his actions where most of man's clear conscience in hate and in hurt today is guided by God justifying his actions. But that's neither here nor there right now. What I do want to say is that the trouble seems to be that in a culture that preaches tolerance, we've allowed this concept to seep into our churches and into our faith. We've allowed it to become one of the defining characteristics of our Christian culture, as well, and in doing so, we have sacrificed something beautiful that we used to hold so dearly: accountability.

Remember when accountability was a thing? Remember when brothers and sisters in the church would hold one another to a higher standard? Remember when we weren't afraid to speak out for better things? Even to speak against the atrocities committed by our brothers and sisters? 

It's hard to reconcile the ideas. Where is the place for accountability in a world of tolerance? Where is the place for discipline in a world of freedom? Maybe the better question is this: where is the place for love in a world of hate? That's what we have to get back.

It's a fine line. Done wrong, we become arrogant. We've seen enough of that. Done right, however, this accountability is a beautiful thing. More on accountability tomorrow. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At Your Name

If you were reading yesterday as I talked about what it means for God to have given His name to Moses, you likely understand that there are some questions inherent in this. For example, what are we to make of the relationship of God and the patriarchs, men of faith who had not been given His name? Men who, by the standards of the culture around them, could not have known this God they worshiped without having His name. Men who would have had to have named Him.

Isn't that strange? Man naming God? If we go back to the Genesis account, we see Adam given the authority to name all the living beings in Creation. But what we don't see is God then saying, "Good job, Adam. Now, what about Me? What would you call Me?" It's not so simple as that. 

This is an idea I was kicking around last week in one of my seminary classes, and my professor pointed out that man has often named God. It's how God has come to have so many names. Dozens, if not hundreds, of names are given to God in Scripture, the vast majority of which are given to Him by His faithful. In fact, it is very rare He gives us a name of Himself. And yet, if we go back to what I introduced yesterday, the very first name He gives us is almost an invitation to our naming of Him.

Remember, He has given us "I Am," which implies simply that He is God. It is an invitation to come to Him for anything, to come to Him for everything. He is, in every situation, whatever His character allows Him to be, and we can come to Him seeking whatever our parched hearts thirst for, and we will find a measure of Him, within His character, responding.

So when someone in the Scriptures names Him, Lord, is He not Lord? When someone gives Him the name Deliverer, is He not Deliverer? When someone gives Him the name Gracious, is He not Gracious? When He is named Healer, is He not Healer?

It's a dangerous precedent, of course, that man could give name to this God. If man can name Him, is man not also creating Him? Is this not the foundation of some of the assaults against Christianity? That it is not God who has made man in His image but man who has made God in his? What if one prays to God as Deliverer before one has been delivered? Is this wishful thinking? Is this god-creating? What is it?

This is the double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is an incredible to have a God who "Is." It's amazing to have a God who dares us to come to Him for anything, for everything, and who promises to be God. It's awesome to watch God reveal Himself in the myriad ways we need Him to reveal Himself at any given time. It's breathtaking to have a God who is Lord, Deliverer, Gracious, Healer, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, and so on. On the other hand, it should give us great pause. The God who Is anything and everything also only Is who He Is. He said that in the same breath - "I Am...that I Am." I Am God, but I Am only ever what I Am as God. I only ever act according to My character. You can only ever know Me by coming to Me for anything and everything and discovering that character for yourself. 

It ought to make us hold our breath a little. 

So to an extent, I'm okay with patriarchs who weren't given God's name but rather, gave Him one. I'm okay with the faithful who have come through the years who found this way or that to call on God by name, to worship Him according to their experience of Him. I'm okay with a God who is Lord, Deliverer, Gracious, Healer, Redeemer, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, and a thousand other names. I think that's one of the beautiful things about Him. Just so long as we remember two things:

That there is a name above all names and that at the name of Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us, every knee shall bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess.

And that before there ever was, He Is.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Anything and Everything

Something interesting happens early in the story of Moses. God is sending this stuttering, stumbling Hebrew son of an Egyptian ruler to be His messenger, and Moses asks, "Who should I tell them has sent me?" Who are You, God? What is Your name?

Most of us read right by this little section, not understanding the significance of it. But what's happening here is powerful. 

The gods of this time period, the gods of the other peoples in the region, were plentiful. And all had names. They were given these names either by themselves or, more often, by other gods, and the gods were not considered anything at all until they had a name. It was their name that revealed what, exactly, they did in the cosmos. It was their name that told their worshipers whether they were a god of sun or a god of rain or a god of fertility or a god of the dead. Until this point, Israel has a god, but until this point, He hasn't named Himself. So there's a bit of a question just who He is. And Moses is asking Him here, right here, to reveal Himself. 

God, just what kind of God are You? What should I tell Your people they can expect from You? What function are You about to serve? What role are You about to play? 

And God gives this beautifully cryptic answer: "I Am." Go, tell My people I Am. Go tell them I Am God. 

Uhm.... Ok....

If God is a god of fertility, you know when you're going to go to Him. You know the seasons you're going to need Him. If He is a god of the sun, you know something else entirely. If He tells you He is the god of deliverance, well, there's another relationship altogether. If God would just tell you what He is, what He's going to be, what He's going to do, then you really know something about Him. Don't you? What are we to make of this simple "I Am"? 

I love it. Because here's what this really means, at least to me. God tells His people "I Am" and what He's saying is, "I Am God." I Am all gods. I Am God over everything. Want to know what I can do? Ask Me. Want to see what I can make happen? Trust Me. Can't figure out exactly how you and I are supposed to relate to one another? Try Me. Come to Me not just for this need or that; come to Me for anything. I Am God. I can do it.

Come to Me not just for anything, but come to Me for everything. I Am God. I can do it. 

And here we have God setting Himself up against the other gods of the time period, declaring that He is who He is not because of what He does; He simply is who He is. He's establishing the foundation on which we come to Him in relationship, not in ritual religion. He's teaching His people, early on, that He is a God who refuses to be defined by His actions or inactions in this world but is a God who demands to be known by His character. This was inconceivable in the world in which Israel lived, and yet, here is God creating one more new thing. He's creating a thing called faith. 

I've always read this passage and wondered about God's answer here. I've always wondered what makes God say, "I Am." Because to a reader like me, who had never considered the context of the question, I Am is a non-answer. Who is this God who, when asked who He is, simply answers, "I Am God"? It doesn't mean anything.

It means everything

Friday, February 6, 2015

Paying the Price

We're so calculated. We think we know how much everything is going to cost us, what it's going to take to keep our lives in order. But you can't keep your life in order when you're losing it. And you don't know how much you're losing until you stop counting the cost and start paying the price.

And you will pay the price.

It doesn't happen the way a normal transaction occurs. You don't step up to the register, ring up your costs, slide your card through the little machine and walk on your merry way. It's more day, you look in your wallet and wonder where all your money went. You can't remember spending it, but it's not there.

See, one day, you wake up and you suddenly realize how much your life has really cost you. You realize that the price you're paying is more than you ever computed because while you might have made accommodations for the relationships, for the resources, for the reasons, you have not adequately accounted for the human side of thing. You haven't figured on how much your life would hurt others. 

Or how much your life would hurt you.

When your life is a balancing act, when it's all about keeping the books accountable, you exact a toll on others and on yourself. You lessen what others think of themselves. You cheapen who they are. After awhile, you look at them and see clearly how small they have become. It's because they've only ever been a cost. They've only ever been a number. And every time they're number's been called, it loses a little bit more of its value until there's almost nothing left. You've convinced a man, in making him work for you, that he doesn't work for himself any more and he's believed it so long that he's lost a part of himself. He doesn't just get that back; it takes a lot of work, a lot of hope, a lot of prayer, and a lot of time.

The same is true, by the way, for God in our lives. Not that we make Him lose value, but we make Him lose value in our own eyes. We so often make God a cost, reduce Him to an equation, and slowly but surely, every time we look at Him, He seems a little lesser. And a little lesser. And a little lesser. Until you can look at God in your life and think He's nothing at all. You've lost the very real essence of who He is by systematically diminishing Him time after time after time. You don't just get that back; it takes a lot of work, a lot of hope, a lot of prayer, and a lot of time.

Then there's you. Yes, you. One day, you're going to wake up and realize how much all this cost accounting has really cost you. You're going to feel the emptiness in your spirit that ought to be filled with good things, but all it has is numbers. The story of your life, which was so meant to be written on pages, is recorded instead on ledgers. And these ledgers? They're missing a few lines. They're missing the lines that tell you what you're really worth - because you're worth more than your transactions could ever figure. They're missing the lines that tell you who you are - because you're more than an actuary. They're missing the lines that tell you how you fit in - because there's more to this world than you could ever situate around yourself. They're missing the lines that add depth to your existence, that add meaning and purpose and passion to what you're doing here. You can look at those books and add up those lines, and what you're going to find is a false measure of yourself. This false measure will haunt you. Trust me. It will sit inside of your emptiness and ache until you put in the work, you hold onto the hope, you cling to the prayer, and you put in the time to get yourself back. Until you do what it takes to make a real measure of yourself. 

And maybe none of this makes much sense to you right now. Maybe you're reading this and thinking you just can't agree right now. Your life, it makes sense. You know how much it's costing you. You've got all your math figured to the nth degree, and it's working for you. Is it? Is it, really? How do you know?

Because the truth is you can't really know how much your life is costing until it's time to pay the price. You can't know what you're missing when you only write the lines you need. You can't understand the shallowness of all your accounting until it's time for you to play your part and you look down at the script in your hand and realize it's all numbers. It's all math and no English. And then...and then what?

You've counted the cost, but you don't really know. You don't really know until you pay the price. And by then, it's too late. You've lost the real measure of yourself, and you don't just get that back. It takes a lot of work, a lot of hope, a lot of prayer...and a lot of time. 

Your time starts now.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Counting the Cost

Yesterday, I told you about twelve guys who were obviously 'up for whatever' (to steal a line from a popular beer commercial). But the sad truth is that I'm not sure how many people there are left in this world like that. Not when it comes to the important things like following Jesus.

What I fear is that there are more of us like the rich young ruler and like the son of the deceased man. The rich young ruler, you'll remember, came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him that he must sell all he has and give the money to the poor, and the man walked away sad, 'for he had much.' He walked away doing the math, thinking about what it would cost him to do what Jesus had asked. The son of the deceased man was called by Jesus to come, follow Him and he responded, sure. Just let me bury my father first. Jesus rebuked him for this and left the man calculating which meant more to him - the invitation to follow Christ or the last opportunity he would have to honor his father (which is a set up for the new covenant vs. the old law if you want to look at it that way).

And the truth is that most of us are very, very good at this sort of thing. Before we commit to anything, before we are willing to go one way or another, before we are even willing to do what God has clearly asked us to do, we have to count the cost. And we are skilled at this sort of actuating. 

It's not just with God; it's our lives in general. Our lives are incredibly calculated. We know the risk and reward for every little thing we are about to do. We know how those whose opinions matter are going to respond to our words or our deeds. We know that when we say yes to one thing exactly what we are saying no to. We know when we say no to something who that's going to hurt, who is going to be upset with us, how upset those persons are going to be, and what it's going to take to get the whole situation to blow over. (And isn't it funny how we always calculate our yeses in terms of the noes it will cost but we fail so often to consider the yeses that our noes will open up? We don't think in those ways. Opportunity is not a cost, so it takes a special kind of person to know how to count it.)

It's this latter principle that makes it so hard to live a Christian life, I think. We are very busy figuring out what our 'yes' to Jesus is going to cost in terms of the 'no'es we will have to say to the world. If I say yes to Jesus, I have to say no to some cultural conventions. I have to say no to fitting in sometimes. I have to say no to some of the things I used to consider fun. I spend all my time calculating how much I miss out on when I say yes to Jesus, the price I'm going to pay for such a choice. 

What happens when we start to do this is that Jesus becomes just another one of the relationships we have to manage. If we know how our mother or our brother or our best friend is going to respond when we tell them 'no,' if we have counted the cost to relationship of turning them away, if we have figured out what it's going to take to get back in their good graces, we have done the same with Jesus. We have thought about what it means to disappoint Him, to fall into sin, to choose this world over Him. We have counted the cost of relationship and have considered what it's going to take to get back into His good graces. We live our lives no in an unqualified yes, but in a calculated no. 

Though we would never tell ourselves as much. We would never admit that we're saying no to Jesus; we would never be so bold. We're more likely to pretend we didn't hear Him calling, 'C'mon! Follow me!' We're more likely to keep our head down and keep walking until we have finished whatever it is we're up to, until we have stored up our treasures and buried our dead. Then we come circling back around and sheepishly say, 'I'm sorry. Did You...did You say something earlier?'

He did, but that was earlier. And our calculated no, regardless of how we want to spin it, is still a no. Grace tells us it'll be okay. Grace tells us there's a way back in. That's why it's easy not to worry so much about it. We think we know what our no is going to cost us. We think we know the way back in. But if we're really counting costs, we're missing something. We're missing something big. And for all our calculating, most of us have yet to figure out what that is. 

We think we know what we're playing with, but we have no idea what we're missing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Up for Whatever

There is presently a popular series of beer commercials where unsuspecting individuals purchase a bottle of said beer and are swept away into an adventure of a lifetime (or what passes for one in a beer commercial). It is assumed that because an individual is purchasing this particular beer, he or she must be "up for whatever." Meaning, he or she is game for whatever happens next. However weird or crazy that may be.

Every time I see one of these commercials, I can't help but think about twelve other guys who must have been up for whatever. I'm thinking about guys who were living their regular lives, doing their regular things, working their regular jobs, when some other Dude (and you have to capitalize "Dude" here) walks up to them and says, "C'mon! Let's go!" And these guys...go. 

It's easy for us to lose sight of what really happened here. It's easy for us to say, "Of course everyone wants to follow Jesus. If He asks, you go. No questions asked." But this wasn't really Jesus who was doing the asking. This was the beginning of His ministry; we don't know how much of a name He even had yet, but it was nothing compared to the name of Jesus we have become attached to. This was just a Guy from Nazareth. This was the carpenter's son. This was a scraggly-haired, dirty-footed Jew that nobody really knew, at the time, what He was up to. These were fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot.... One Guy looks at another and says, "C'mon! Let's go!" And these guys...go.

They must have been up for whatever. 

They had to be. The adventure they were about to take was like nothing they could have imagined at the time. They didn't have the faintest idea what it would mean to really follow this Guy. To go where He went. To live the way He lived. To do the things He was doing. They didn't know what it would mean to give up their livelihoods and truly live. They didn't know what it would mean to leave home and have no place to lay their heads. They didn't know what it would mean to live as citizens in a spiritual realm - where demons are being cast out, where good is defeating evil, where God and Satan clash in front of their very eyes. They didn't know what it would mean to trust in the Teacher while the Pharisees stood watching. They didn't know what it would mean to stand in the shadow of the Cross or how powerful an empty grave could be. 

And they went anyway. They had no idea what the next steps would hold for them, but they took the first steps in faith and followed a Guy they had probably barely heard of, a Guy without a reputation, a Guy they'd just met. All because He told them to. 

And it's not even really like they had to. The jobs that these guys left were not minimum-wage jobs. Simon and Andrew, James and John, from all we know, were very successful fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector; the right lines, and he could have all the money he wanted. Simon was a zealot; at the very least, he had a reputation for that. Judas may have been something like an actuary, since we know he was put in charge of the disciples' books. None of these guys were flipping burgers. None of these guys were running cash registers. These were relatively successful guys. They just...wanted more. 

I'm not saying that it's not cool to buy a beer and suddenly discover that you're Pacman in a life-sized video game. That's ridiculously cool, and I'm kind of jealous of that guy. But what's cooler still is to buy into the Living Word and discover that you're part of an incredible story. It's a Living Word that beckons, "C'mon! Let's go!"

The question is, then: are you up for whatever?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


All this talk of the groundhog has me thinking this:

Remember being a kid and discovering your shadow?  This funny, dark thing that at certain times stretched so much bigger than you, but you could make it move and dance and mock your every movement?  I remember spending hours playing with my shadow.

But I'm 27 years old these days, and my shadows aren't so cute any more.

It's not that there's anything particularly bad or wicked in me.  Nothing deep, dark, and mysterious that I'm hiding.  No dirty secrets that are going to make headlines.  It's just that there are a lot of things in me, areas of woundedness mostly or stories from the past I haven't quite resolved or certain ways that once upon a time, I had to live but I find no longer necessary, that like to creep back up more often than I'd be ok with and try to drag me back down into the abyss from which they've come.

I'm kind of a work in progress.  And most of the time, I'm ok with that.

It's just that I keep looking down and seeing these shadows.  Following me everywhere.  Mocking my every move.  Seeming so much bigger than me, so much bigger than maybe I could ever be.

This is the kind of thing that in my not-too-distant past might have quickly defeated me.  Some days, it still almost does.  Because let's face it: if these were anything to be proud of, they would be milestones or monuments.  Not shadows.  They wouldn't be hiding underneath me; I would be standing on top of them.

Sigh.  Such is life.  These are my shadows.

A few months ago, things were going well.  I mean, really well.  I'm kind of getting back into the same sort of spot again.  Things are looking up; life is looking good; there's promise in my heart and hope in my tomorrow, with a lot of grace in my today.  I get it.  And because of this seemingly simple realization, I've got to tell you:

I'm ready to do a little shadowboxing.

More ready than at any other point in my life, maybe.  More ready to take on the things that, when I've taken on other things, I've allowed to keep lurking because they just seemed so big.  They still seem big, but it's all about perspective.  One simple perspective...the truth about shadows.

Shadows...are proportional only to your position in relation to the light.  Your shadow always seems bigger in the morning and the evening, when the sun is lowest on the horizon.  Around midday, your shadow disappears because with the light noon-high, there's nowhere for darkness to play.

The same is true for the shadows in my life, and in yours.  They'll never seem bigger than when the Son is starting to rise.  When we're starting to make a move with God, when we're starting to let Him rise to His place in us, that's when our darkness stretches the greatest.  That's why these shadows are dangerous - because they're so big precisely when we'd be fooled into thinking they would have to go away.  When we start to think we're past that, we're better than that, we're beyond that.  When God is starting to take hold in our lives and our darkness shouldn't matter.  But there it is, mocking our every move.  And it looks so big.  And it looks just like us.

It's a painful place, watching darkness extend from our very feet, so much a part of us and yet, we long to shake it.  We're looking at the light in our lives and wondering how that can even be with such darkness still emerging from us, with our shadows playing at our feet.

Don't worry.  The two aren't mutually exclusive.  The more you give your heart to God, the more you bring His light into your life, the more that darkness stretches so large.  But not forever.  Once He rises noon-high and your life is centered under Him, there's not going to be anywhere for your darkness to play with you.

In the meantime, God tells us to take a page from the playground and learn to engage even our darkness.  These shadows are something.  They are a part of our story and a part of what God is going to do through soon as we've let Him do it in us.  If we can push past the pain just long enough to engage our darkness, our shadows...we find that we can still make them dance.

Then they're not playing with us so much as we're playing with them, playing them right into the hands of God.  Playing them into purpose.