Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Strange Gifts

When Jesus was born (and yes, I know it's Easter week, not Christmas), three wise men came bearing gifts. One came bearing gold. One, frankincense. And one, myrrh.

Myrrh must have been very confusing for Mary. 

Because myrrh, far and above its other uses in these times, was associated with the burial. It was an embalming spice. It's one of the things you put on the body to keep it from smelling...so much. And so it's not really something you would expect one to give a newborn baby or his mother. I mean, wait? Is someone dying?

Dying wasn't part of the gig. Mary didn't know that up front. At least, not in any of the Christmas stories I've read. She is told that she will have a child by the Holy Spirit. She is told that He will be the Savior of the world. She is told that He will be called Immanuel, "God with us." How can God with us be not with us? How can God with us be destined to die? Yet here is this wise man, and he comes bearing the gift of myrrh.

It's a strange gift, indeed.

Until, that is, 33 years later when Jesus finally needs it. Until, that is, they take His body off the Cross and lay it in a tomb. Until, that is, His mother is crying inconsolable tears at the foot of that Cross. And she suddenly remembers - someone already knew this. Someone was already preparing Him for this. Someone anointed Him with myrrh the day He was born, knowing, perhaps, that He would one day die. 

I don't know about you, but my life has been full of strange gifts. Things that have come to me that I never would have thought I'd needed. Some, I would have hoped I'd never need. Most that didn't make much sense at the time. That didn't make any sense at all. 

Until, that is, they came to make perfect sense. Until, that is, the day came that I needed precisely that. Until, that is, a moment arrived and the best possible thing I could have had at that moment was that strange gift, and the knowing that that strange gift came long before I needed it. It's a reminder that someone already knew this. Someone was already preparing me for this. Someone anointed me with my strange gifts the day I was born, knowing...knowing...that one day, I would need them.

Maybe that's you right now. Maybe you're surrounded by strange gifts, and you're not really sure what to make of them. Maybe you're wondering what's ever going to come of these things, what on earth you're going to do with myrrh. Just wait. The time is coming. The time is coming when it will make perfect sense, when it will be the perfect gift.

And you'll look back and think to yourself, huh. Someone already knew this. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sixth Sense

I spent last week writing as though the writer of Ecclesiastes were writing today. He would be forced to argue not that everything is meaningless, but that everything is senseless. This is nowhere more true than in regard to our sixth sense - that knowing we have without knowing - and particularly, our sense about God. 

We're living in a world where the lines between right and wrong are harder to draw than ever. No more is man guided by a sense of morality; rather, he's guided by his own emotions. There are people in this world who can talk their way out of anything, after getting into everything. And as Christians, it's been harder for us to come down on one side or the other of any issue. 

We fear becoming the Christians of the past, the fire-and-brimstone Christians who built their theology on condemning everyone to Hell. We don't want to say things about right and wrong because it sounds like the sin gospel, and aren't we here to preach a Savior? We've set our sights on something else entirely - love. All we want to do, we say, is love like Jesus loved. And let God sort out right and wrong. 

The trouble is that without right and wrong, we can only teach love, and a watered-down love at that. We can never teach grace, which is just as much at the essence of the gospel of Christ as is love. Without sin, we can talk about a Teacher, but we can never point to a Savior. 

Who, not sinning, needs one?

And that's the problem. We have un-crucified our Christ in the name of "tolerance." We have brought Him back to the streets of Galilee as a good man, a wise teacher, a faithful friend. And while all that is well and good, there are plenty of men out there like that. Why Jesus? this world is asking. Why, indeed, if He never was a Savior.

This is a question that even more and more Christians are asking. We're losing Jesus ourselves, not just in the world but in our hearts. We look at His teaching and think "love without condemnation" but that doesn't mean we refuse to acknowledge what right and wrong are. Jesus looked at woman caught in adultery and did not make excuses for her; He made provision for her. He did not say, "It's okay that you slept with another man because I don't know your circumstances, and maybe it seemed like the right thing to do to you." No. He said, "I will not condemn you, but sin no more." He did not speak to a corrupt tax collector and give him peace that it was okay to skim a little off the top. After all, he was just trying to provide for his family in a difficult economic situation. No, Jesus spoke with grace and tenderness, and the tax collector knew what he was doing was wrong and paid it back. 

There is a right and wrong in Jesus, and it's the only thing that draws us to Him. It's sin that leads us to the Cross, where there is grace. It's not fun, no. It's not pretty. It's not popular in a world where there's an excuse for everything to live as a people of grace. Because it means we have to know the difference. It means we have to believe there is a right and a wrong. It means we have to be willing to look at the wrong and declare it so. We have to acknowledge sin among us.

Even when it hurts. 

Because without sin, there can be no Savior. And then, who is this Jesus? He could be anybody. 

And I don't want a Jesus who could be anybody. I want the Jesus who is for everybody. Saints and sinners, of which I am the worst among us. 

We want to get this love thing right. I know we do. But this passive, tolerant love we've been preaching isn't it. Jesus taught a radical love. A love that looks sin right in the eye and offers grace. A love that knows we're broken men and hugs so tight that some of the pieces stick back together. A love that isn't willing to say, "I cannot judge," but a love that says, "I see a guilty man before me - in the street, in the pew, in the mirror - and I love him anyway. I can't help but not." It's a love that has to see sin so that it can have hope of a Savior. 

Friday, March 27, 2015


If the writer of Ecclesiastes were writing today, he might be tempted not to say that everything is meaningless, but that everything is senseless. We're living in a world dictated by our sensual experience of it, and yet, it's all farce. 

Case in point: everything smells.

We have invested billions of dollars over the years in the industry of odor. Everything has to smell like something, so we just make things smell like whatever we want them to. We odorize our bodies so that people never smell us; they smell our soap or our shampoo, our perfume or our cologne. Hopefully, our deodorant. We odorize our homes. They don't smell like people actually live there anymore. No, now they smell like hawaiian sunsets or various fruits or "after the rain." (Which, by the way, smells nothing near as awesome as rain.) We even odorize our homes to get rid of other, good, natural odors. Last weekend, I cooked some fabulous food and then ran out for an errand. When my family came home, we all made the same comment: this house smells fantastic! And it was an all-natural smell, the actual smell of real food cooking. But it wasn't long before someone popped open a new air freshener and placed it on the mantle, overpowering the smell of lunch with some artificial coconut thing that was, we'll admit, a bit too powerful for everyone. We odorize our cars so they always smell new, fresh off the lot. It's better than the smell of rotting fast food in bags forgotten under the seats (this is totally not my car, but I know people), but really? We're impressed when our cars smell like...industry

We spend so much of our time and money trying to make sure things smell good, or that they don't smell bad, and all we're ending up with is a world in which nothing smells real. What's wrong with smelling like we're living here? 

The natural creation is pretty good at taking care of its own scent. In a few weeks, the lilac bushes will start to bloom. The flowers will start to come up, and they smell. The blossoms on the trees emit a sweet fragrance. And the real smell of rain? Heavenly. Absolutely heavenly.

But I get it - we're not so natural any more. We're fallen. We live in a broken place, and we create in our broken bodies and our broken lives some smells that are not so pleasing. Trust me, I know. But I think in all our attempts to cover up what smells bad, we've forgotten what truly smells good: it's sacrifice. 

God has always called sacrifice "an aroma pleasing to the Lord." At first, it was the sacrifice of animals and harvests, the smell of flesh and fat and firstfruits on the fire. We don't sacrifice animals any more, of course, but there's still sacrifice here - it is the sacrifice of our lives.

The sacrifice of our lives is not much different. It's still an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Now, we're laying our flesh and our fat on the fire in an offering to God. We're laying down our lives for His sake. It is this that is pleasing to Him, even more than all of our odorizers and deodorizers and air fresheners and refresher sprays and new car smells. God's not impressed by new car smell; He longs for the smell of a sacrifice. 

In a senseless world, we're spending our energies trying to make things smell good, but we've forgotten what life is supposed to smell like. It's supposed to smell like holy sacrifice, an aroma pleasing to the Lord, and you can't just bottle that and put it on the mantle.

You have to live it. Sweat and all.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


If the write of Ecclesiastes were writing today, he'd probably be more tempted to say not that everything is meaningless, but that everything is senseless. We're living in a world where our senses are overwhelmed, yet we're experiencing less and less of our real world every day.

Consider taste.

I once heard or read or saw somewhere (and that pretty much means it was, of course, reliable information, since I can so readily recall) that the most shared photographs on social media are the pictures people take of their food. We love plastering our walls, feeds, chats, and boards with the delicious-looking. Sometimes, it's a meal we're about to sit down to enjoy. Sometimes, it's a recipe we came across that looks fantastic (even though we all know we're never actually going to prepare this recipe). Sometimes, it's just good-looking food that makes our mouth water. 

What's funny is that for all the attractive pictures we're posting, most of us aren't really eating like that. We're eating...cheap substitutes, if we're eating at all. And I'm not one of those people, and I'm not pretending to be. I have friends who fill up their Facebook feeds with articles about all the engineered ingredients in all our food, all the chemicals we're eating, all the bad stuff we're putting into our bodies because the fake stuff is cheaper and easier than the real thing. I'll leave it to you to consider what you think about all that.

But here's what I do know: our current relationship with food, as a people, is not much different than the attitude of Israel in the wilderness. And that....that's hard to swallow.

The people of Israel came out of Egypt with whatever ingredients they could carry. They'd been promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but that was still quite a travel's distance away. Out here, there wasn't a whole lot to choose from. In fact, there wasn't anything to choose from. The provisions they'd come with had long since been exhausted, and they were hungry. 

I think this happens to us when we start to grow up a little bit. When our breakfast isn't made when we hop out of bed in the mornings. When our lunch isn't provided as a well-rounded meal by the school cafeteria, or by a thoughtful parent who has packed such a lunch in anticipation of our hunger. It's like we grow up and all of a sudden, we are struck by our hunger in a new way. You mean...we have to feed ourselves?? When did this happen? And then we're driven by that hunger. Driven to poor choices.

Israel probably couldn't get thoughts of milk and honey out of their heads. They probably salivated over the very idea the way we do over the pictures on our Internet. They probably kept the promise of what was to come in the forefront of their minds. And yet, when faced with hunger - real hunger - they didn't ask God for a taste of milk and honey; they asked Him for anything. Anything at all to eat. They were hungry!

God provided, of course, in manna and quail, and thus began people's animosity toward food. Oh, sure, for the first day or two, it's fine. But manna and quail day after day after day starts to wear on a person until the hunger burns inside of you but it doesn't much matter any more what you eat. You can't even remember the milk and honey; you've got quail coming out your nostrils. (And that, by the way, is Biblical. It's really in there.) 

I think that's what has happened to us. We've been so driven by our hunger that we've come to eat anything, anything at all, and we're stuffing ourselves with manna and quail even in a land of milk and honey. We're there, friends. We're living in the promised land. We're living in the place to which God has brought us, to which He has been leading us. We're here. Milk and honey abound! And we're not tasting it. 

I've made this about real food, about the way things really taste, and that much is certainly true about our society. I don't think man has ever had as much of a love-hate relationship with food as we do today, not since the time of the Exodus and Israel's wanderings. But the truth is, it doesn't have to be about food. It can be about anything. It can be about anything that God has given us to enjoy, to nourish us, that is meant to be both pleasure and provision. We're driven by our hunger, but we're satisfied with less than the promised. We're surrounded by milk and honey, but we're stuffing ourselves with manna and quail to the point it's coming out of our nostrils.

And there's nothing wrong with being hungry. We're all hungry. We just have to be careful about what we're doing to satisfy that hunger. For all the good-looking things that surround you, for all the milk and honey, are you even tasting it? Or does this senseless world taste a little more like quail?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


If the writer of Ecclesiastes were to write today, he would not merely say that everything is meaningless; it's also senseless. Because we're living in an age where we use our senses more than ever, but they mean so very little.

Today, what do you hear?

We hear what we want to hear. We can hear a tiny piece of technology vibrate from three rooms away, but we can't hear how important our friend's question is to them. Like little children, we can hear someone opening the candy wrapper, but we can't hear them screaming our name for the umpteenth time. We can hear people say this or that key word and then...nothing else. 

Because we live in a place where we hear what we want to hear and tune out the rest.

Take for example some of the debates raging around us right now. People aren't listening for reason or logic or even confession; they are listening for key words - Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, equality, tolerance, women, men, rights, privileges - whatever they're listening for, and that's enough. They listen long enough to figure out, by their understanding, what you are, and from there, they decide if they're listening or not. No matter what you say.

There are some issues and some people - probably many issues and many people - that you will never be heard speaking into, no matter how much love, how much grace, how much wisdom, how much strength, you bring to the conversation. No matter how many bridges you're trying to build. No matter how many gaps you're trying to cross. No matter how much peace you're trying to foster. This world only hears what it wants to hear, and you're just growing blue in the face. 

But as much as we are not being heard, neither are we hearing. We are just as guilty as the rest of the world in not listening to the voices of those around us, including the voice of God. We're so frustrated by not being heard that what we're listening for more than anything else...is a chance to speak. We're listening only for the opportunity to respond. We're listening, trying to find that invitation to share our opinion. We're listening so that we can reframe our words in the relevant language and maybe be heard. 

This is the biggest struggle we face with one another, in all our relationships - we are all just people wanting to be heard, and people hearing what we want to hear. 

When was the last time you took a few minutes to really listen? To anyone? To anything? When was the last time you let another voice speak into your heart?

When was the last time you caught that catch in your friend's voice when she told you everything was ok? When was the last time you heard the weariness in your brother's voice as he recounted another day in his trying life? When was the last time you hear the fear behind the question, the hope behind the dream, the ache behind the prayer? When was the last time you really listened to someone else?

And let me ask you this: when was the last time you really listened to yourself? Have you heard your voice catch in that same telling way? Have you heard your weariness, your fear, your hope, your ache lately? 

And what about God? Have you heard Him whisper? Can you hear Him speaking to you?

We hear what we want to hear. And that's part of the problem. We listen only for the meaningless things. We hear a phone that's vibrating three rooms away, but we don't listen to the heart when it speaks - ours, our friends', or our God's. It's senseless.

All this hearing, and no listening. It's just...senseless.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This week, I'm proposing that if the author of Ecclesiastes were to write today, he would argue not that everything is meaningless, but that everything is senseless. Because we're living in a world of sensory overload in which things mean less and less.

Today, sight.

We're always looking at something. We're looking at television shows, movies, and video games. We're looking at apps. We're looking at statuses and snaps and stories. We're looking at all these things, but we're not really seeing. We're not seeing each other. We're not seeing our world. We're not seeing our God. 

Most of the time, if we're seeing anything, we're seeing what we want to see. 

A couple of weeks ago, my Facebook feed all of a sudden lit up. Full-on lit up. With stories about the panhandlers in a town just north of me. It's a quiet town and every once in awhile, a man or a woman with a cardboard sign will pop up on a corner somewhere, asking for a little help. Now, I know we live in a world where not all of this is legit; in fact, most of it is probably not. That's probably the panhandler's SUV parked just a few spots away. But what was going around on Facebook was nothing more than fear.

"Have you guys seen the woman that's standing at the corner of such-and-such? DON'T EVEN LOOK AT HER. She has a partner, and they are abducting women and selling them into sex slavery. SERIOUSLY, DO NOT EVEN MAKE EYE CONTACT OR THEY WILL APPROACH." I'm not saying this doesn't happen. I've seen it often...on television. But the truth is that if this were happening in a quiet town in suburban Indiana, the police or the news or someone would be saying something about it. Not some random person on Facebook who has a negative opinion of the beggar. 

But this quickly devolved. The next day, it was two guys in a parking lot at a drugstore across town. A few hours later, it was a man and a woman duo in the parking lot at the mall. All with the same warning - do not even look at them. Don't even make eye contact. 

All of this from people who, I'm sure, can't get enough of television's creepy, crime-filled dramas or sex-filled sitcoms. All of this from people who are filling their minds with these stories, then seeing them play out before their very eyes. Whether those stories are real or not.

You know what I think? I think we are so busy looking at things that we neglect to look into them. I think we are more comfortable with our stories because we know how they end, because we feel like we get the chance to write them. I think we prefer the product of our own imagination to the reality of a broken world. I think it's easier for us to look at someone and feel fear than to look at someone and ache. 

I think if we'd spend time trying to see....

Look into the panhandler's eyes. Do you know how many people have walked by without doing so? Do you understand how invisible she feels? How those few dollars she's asking for aren't about the money? Take a look at the two guys in the drugstore parking lot. That one that looks dragged out? He's been on chemo for the past six months. He's tired, yes, and he looks it. And he just found out that his insurance isn't going to cover any more pills. His buddy, all that whispering they're doing? He's trying to console his friend. The man and woman walking through the parking lot, looking at you? They're looking right past you. They're just trying to get a day out without thinking about their broken lives.

Maybe I'm being a little rosy about these things. I know. I know there are people out there with bad intentions. But does that mean we look and see the bad intentions in everybody? Does that mean we let this broken world harden our hearts? Does that mean we refuse to see the beauty in brokenness? How long can we continue not seeing each other? And how long, not seeing each other, are we willing to not see God? 

All this stuff around us all the time to look at, all these things to distract our eyes with, and we've forgotten this one very thing: to see. To stop looking and to see. 

It's senseless. 

Monday, March 23, 2015


Ecclesiastes is a very interesting read. Over and over again, we're told that everything is "meaningless." It's meaningless! There's no point to it. Everything under the sun is utterly meaningless. Man has always been searching for meaning, so to say that things are meaningless was the ultimate discouragement. That thing you're searching for? It doesn't exist.

But I think if the writer were writing today, it might be more appropriate that he say not that everything is meaningless, but that everything is senseless. Because even though we're still looking for meaning, in a sense, and I think we always will, we live in a culture today that is ruled by our senses and yet, they mean less than ever. I'm going to spend some time this week expounding on that thought.

Take, for example, our sense of touch. We live more than ever in a touch-based world. You touch your phone to turn it on, to check your email, to make a phone call. We type on virtual keyboards. We dial on virtual touch pads. I recently myself made the upgrade to a smart phone. Not really because I wanted to but because that's the way the world is going. And I hate it.

Here's what I hate about it: if I were ever to find myself in a serious emergency in which my functionability was compromised, I would be completely at a loss. Let's say that I wreck my car (heaven forbid) and am stuck in a ditch somewhere, trapped between the pieces of crushed fiberglass that used to constitute my vehicle. And let's say I can move my hand enough to feel around and find my phone, but I cannot get that phone within my line of sight. That phone is of absolutely no use to me. I can't dial it. On a traditional phone, even on a traditional cell phone, I would be able to feel around for the buttons and figure out how to make a 9-1-1. On a digital phone? Not a chance. 

If I'm sitting in front of a touch screen computer (and I'm not, thank God), it's the same story. It's not just that I can touch the screen; I have to deliberately touch the screen. I have to know what I'm doing. I have to know how I'm navigating. Otherwise, it's powerful, yet meaningless, touch. In a virtual everything, we've lost our ability to feel our way through the world.

And in fact, we're getting into a world where all our touch is digital. All our touch is virtual. And all our touch is...meaningless. 

Most everyone has a Facebook account. On this social media platform, we share our stories with one another and offer encouragement and strength, among many other things. But then, say, we run into someone from Facebook in the Wal-Mart or at church or wherever. How many of us will still take someone's hand, give them that reassuring touch, and say, "I'm with you"? Most won't. Most of us figure that we "liked" that heartbreaking story on Facebook or that we commented on it in some fashion, and that this person knows that we are there for them. Most of us have come to believe that cyber contact is still contact, that we can reach out and touch someone through our computer screens and that it's just the same thing.

It's not.

I've always known how powerful touch is. It's the most powerful sense we have - to touch and to be touched. It's one of the most meaningful things we can do for one another, to reach out and hold a hand or to offer a hug or whatever. But even I am prone in my digital world to forget this a lot of the time.

One of the things that struck me the hardest when I began working as a chaplain was coming back into contact with real contact, coming to understand anew the real power of touch in our world. The first time I reached over and took a patient's hand...it wasn't enough any more to "like" a status. I couldn't take a tablet in my hands and think any more how "cool" it was that I could control a computer with the tip of my finger. Because it's not real touch. It can't tell me anything about my world. It can't, by itself, even help me live through this place. It's powerful, but it's pointless. It doesn't mean anything. 

It's senseless. It's senseless touch. It is touch without sensing, touch without understanding what touch even means. It has so changed our understanding of the tangible that we're all becoming phantoms. It's heartbreaking. 

And touch is just the beginning. This senselessness extends to every facet of our ability to interact with our world - it extends to our sight, to our taste, to our hearing, to our smell. It extends even to our knowing and our understanding. It's everywhere. More on this tomorrow...

Friday, March 20, 2015


Faith. It's a tough concept. What is faith? What is enough faith? How do you know how much faith you really have? Do you have any at all, even when you think you have it? How do you get it? How do so many people lose it?

The questions about faith are endless. 

One of the best measures of faith I think I hold onto is that faith is the measure of a man's confidence in God. It's how much you believe He is who He says He is, that He's doing what He says He's doing, that He can, that He will, that He wants to. It's how much you trust that He loves you, and that He is good. It's how much you're willing to stake your life on that. 

That's one definition of faith. But I think it's missing something. Because even all that...still falls short of what Jesus says faith is.

And this is where I get hung up.

Jesus says if you have even the tiniest bit of faith, if you have even the smallest measure of real faith, you could say to this mountain "Move" and it would move. You could say to this mountain "Fall into the sea" and it would fall into the sea. And for all the people I know in my life who have ever had, to me, any measure of faith, not a one of them has moved a mountain. For all the times in my own life I have felt my faith strong, I haven't, either. No one, in the history of the world, has ever moved a mountain. 

Most of us, we're left standing in front of our mountains, like Israelites at the feet of Sinai. We hear the thunder. We see the fire. We know God is there...somewhere. But there's too much mountain for us to get there. We start wandering around, kicking the dirt, trying to figure out what to do to get the God we know is there to come down here and to move that mountain so that we can see the Promised Land. But it's never so easy. It never seems to come down to simply how much we believe. 

So what, exactly, is this thing called faith?

I want to say I have some wise words on this. I want to say I know what faith is, how a man gets it, how much he's supposed to have. I want to say that on the days I feel most faith-full, that maybe I understand. That maybe I'm starting to get somewhere near to what faith really is. That the absolute confidence I have in God - that He can, that He will, that He wants to, that He is - is something. But if I take the words of Jesus seriously, it's not even the tiniest thing. It's not even the smallest of faith that I have, even when it feels abundantly so. Because I've never moved a mountain. Nobody...has ever moved a mountain. 

Maybe it serves to remind us just how big our God is. Maybe it serves to show us how small we truly are. If we can fill ourselves with a thing called faith and still not have even the smallest measure of it, how much greater is our God than our understanding? How much bigger is He than our imagination? It's not a tremendous comfort at the foot of the mountain, but it does lend perspective to the foot of the Cross. 

So I don't know. I don't know what this faith thing is, but I'm looking for it. I don't know how to move mountains, but I'm trying. And when I can't move mountains, I guess I'm content to stand at the foot of them and listen to the thunder and know...and know that my God is so much bigger than my mountains. And I may not move them, but He moves me. Maybe that's enough.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Circumcised Heart

When God established the covenant with Abraham, one of the conditions was that all men would be circumcised - the physical marking of a faithful Jew. Under the new covenant with Christ, God still requires circumcision. It is no longer the physical marking of a faithful Jew; rather, it is the spiritual marking of the faithful. Period.

A group of us were talking about this idea recently, this "circumcision of the heart" or spiritual circumcision mentioned in the New Testament. What does it even mean? Everyone seemed to have his own interpretation about what this means, how it comes about, how it's manifested in the life of the faithful. And as usually happens, I said something without thinking...and I can't stop thinking about it.

Throughout this discussion, I was trying to figure out along with everyone else what this even means. Circumcision of the heart? Maybe it's the cutting away of the unnecessary. Maybe it's a cosmetic move, something designed to clean up the appearance of the man somehow. The more I rolled the idea around in my head, the more I went back to the physical circumcision. And from there, I think I began to understand what this idea is all about.

The physical circumcision is the cutting away of the foreskin, a piece of flesh that covers the end of the distinctly male anatomy. One might make the argument, although there would be holes in it, that it is this anatomy that makes a man, well, a man. (As opposed to his other options, I suppose.) The circumcision of the heart, then, I think must be much the same. It must be the cutting away of the flesh that covers the distinctly human anatomy - the heart.

And there's plenty of flesh on my heart. I don't know about you, but I'll speak for me - there's plenty of flesh there. There's flesh that demands so much from this world without thinking about what it can offer. There's flesh that wants what it wants, and it wants it now. There's flesh that doesn't have patience of time. There's flesh that curses and condemns. There's flesh that worries and wanders. There's flesh that sins and struggles. There's flesh that looks at the fruit of the tree and thinks, you know what? I am a little hungry right now. 

There's flesh that's always trying to get in the way of the very pure and beautiful things God has put in this heart - things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There's flesh that tries to stand in the way of faith. There's flesh that doesn't understand that its place in this life is not to cover and protect the heart that God has given me, but to give that heart some hands and feet to live out love in this place. It's the heart that makes man, well, man, in the divine image of God.

And I think that's what these New Testament writers are trying to get at. Under the old covenant, men were willing, even eager, to cut away their flesh. Under the new covenant, we must be just as willing, just as eager, to do the same. It's the mark of the faithful - an exposed heart. It's how we know that we're God's people. 

So let me ask you a somewhat personal question - have you been circumcised? Are you living with your heart exposed, ready and able and willing, even eager, to live out the very pure and beautiful things God has put in your heart? The things that make you distinctly human? The things that make you distinctly His?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forgive Thyself

Paul says something in Ephesians 5:29 that I have trouble accepting. He says, "No man ever hated his own body." And the reason I have trouble accepting that is because I know first-hand that it's simply not true.

I know a lot of men who hate their own body.

And I'm not talking about the superficial sorts of things we are frustrated with about ourselves. I'm not talking about the dislike a man has for the shape of his nose or his battle with acne, nor am I talking about the woman who is displeased with her curves (or lack thereof) or the number on the pants she just bought. I'm talking about people who are fundamentally broken and know it and hate themselves for it.

I'm talking about the diabetic who hates his body for not being able to digest sugar properly, for requiring such painstaking maintenance just to function. I'm talking about the autistic woman who hates that she cannot form the connections she longs for in life and curses herself for it. I'm talking about the abused who despises her body every day for betraying her, for feeling the pain she doesn't want to feel. I'm talking about the man who feels no pain at all and is pained by the distance he feels from himself. 

I'm talking about people who are just broken - like we're all just broken - and who spend their lives hating not their brokenness, but themselves. Who spend their lives looking in the mirror unable to separate who they are from the body they're trapped in. Who spend their days working toward a better way when that's never coming. They cannot heal themselves. They cannot change who they are. They cannot mend how their broken bodies work. Still, they spend their lives at odds with their bodies, hoping...hoping one day for that story to be different. Always disappointed. Always hurt. Always angry that it just has to be this way.

Paul goes on to say that since no man has ever hated his own body, he always gives it food. He gives it what it needs to sustain itself. Clearly, to Paul, this is the evidence that the man does not hate his body; he continues to feed it.

But just because we're feeding our bodies doesn't mean we're giving them what they need. Often, it's sadly not the case. Often, we're giving our bodies something but it is least what they need. What we give them may sustain them, but it does not nourish them. What nourishes them is going to be different for every broken man, every broken woman. You have to figure out what works for you. Then offer that to yourself with grace. But I humbly suggest you start here:

With forgiveness.

Most of us are in desperate need of forgiving ourselves. Of forgiving our broken selves. And if you've been reading this week, you know I talked on Monday about forgiveness. It doesn't mean we give up. It doesn't mean we just resign ourselves to what our bodies are doing. When we offer ourselves forgiveness, we offer God the opportunity to begin His redeeming work. We give Him the chance to start writing these broken bodies into our redeemed stories, and it starts to change everything we thought about ourselves. 

We start to see what we're able to do through our brokenness that we couldn't do any other way. We start to see where we're able because we start to see where He's able. We start to understand how even though this brokenness sometimes holds us down, it also sometimes stands us up. It sometimes gives us just the footing we need to do big things. To do important things. To do holy things. It helps us to begin to understand that our broken bodies are not who we are; we are incredible beings of God merely stuck in broken bodies.

And there is a huge difference.

You were never meant to live at odds with yourself. You weren't. You weren't meant to spend your life fighting your brokenness; you'll never win. It's time to forgive yourself. To stop working against yourself. To stop trying to find a way to make this thing work. You can't; only God can do that. Let go of your brokenness. Give it to the God who knows what to do with it. 

You may just find that somewhere in your brokenness lies His fullness. In fact, I'm almost sure of it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Through Open Doors

One of the things I love about the ministry I'm getting into (chaplaincy) is that the only thing I have to protect is the heart of the person I'm coming into contact with. See, Christians have always thought they've had a lot to defend - their doctrine, their practices, their understandings. Like we have to defend Christ somehow.

It's where most of our fights come from - inside the church and out. We're prone to think we've figured out the right way to do things. The right way to understand God. The right way to worship Him. The right way to serve Him. The right way to proclaim Him. The right way to shove Him down everyone else's throats. We are, after all, the righteous. Are we not?

Pardon me while my heart breaks.

I love that in my ministry, I don't have to deal with that. At least, not from myself. I don't have to worry about doctrine. I don't have to worry about practice. I don't have to worry about theology or understanding or getting it right or correcting the wrong. I have just one thing to do: figure out, in any given situation, how to be Jesus to a hurting world. That's it. And here's what makes that possible:

I spend my life walking through other people's doors; they aren't walking through mine.

I have nothing to defend. I have nothing to protect. Nobody's coming into my sacred place; I'm entering into theirs. I walk in knowing I have to figure out what's holy here. And just as I wouldn't walk into a friend's house and start tidying up (without being asked), I'm not about to walk into someone else's sacred space and start moving furniture around. In these broken moments, this is least what someone needs.

What they need is for Jesus to be present. What they need is someone to come in with grace. What they need is someone to say something meaningful...something meaningful to them, in their own holy place, however I find it. I don't agree with everyone I minister to. We don't share the same doctrines, the same practices. In some cases, we don't even share the same God. But that doesn't mean I have nothing to say to them. That doesn't mean we've hit a barrier. I just have to remember where I am.

I walked through their door.

And I think the world would be a better place if we all did a little more of that. If we spent our time walking through other people's doors instead of trying to drag them through ours. There's something incredibly beautiful about walking through these doors. It takes away our need to be defensive. This isn't our space; it's someone else's. It invites us to grace. We know we are just guests here. 

And it challenges us, at every turn, to figure out how to be Jesus here. Not how to defend Him; He doesn't need our defense. Not how to proclaim Him; He doesn't need our proclamation. But how to be Jesus. How to be grace. How to be mercy. How to be present. How to be Love. 

Do you know how to be Love?

Walk through someone's door and be it, then. 

Monday, March 16, 2015


Forgiveness is something I'm pretty sure I've been getting wrong in my life. It's because I don't think I ever really understood what forgiveness actually is, what it's meant to be, how it's supposed to work.

There's this idea, I think, that when we forgive someone, we close a chapter in our lives. We offer forgiveness, and then we're just supposed to stop living like whatever happened, happened. We forgive and that's the end of it. It sets us free from bitterness, from anger, from hatred. It sets us free from always living captive to a broken moment. Because it's done, right? It's over with. We've forgiven, and this means we can move on.

That's the idea we have of forgiveness. Or at least, that's the idea I've always had of forgiveness. The trouble has been that it doesn't seem to matter how many chapters I try to close this way. It never works.

And here's why:

This kind of forgiveness requires us to give up a measure of our fullness without any hope of getting it back. When we close off these chapters of our lives, when we try to declare them done and over with, we close off the very real impact they have had on us. We can't acknowledge anymore anything even tangentially related to this because then we feel like our forgiveness is in question. We can't think about what this whole event has meant to us, what it has done to us, how it has changed us because it's supposed to be case closed. If it's not case closed, we haven't forgiven, have we? And so in all our forgiving, we keep losing pieces of ourselves. Forgiving, rather than restoring us, tears us apart. 

That's not how it was meant to be. 

Yesterday, I was thinking about forgiveness. And I don't think it's the closing of a chapter of our lives. It can't be, because that's not working. What I think instead is that forgiveness - real forgiveness - is the place in the chapter where we put down the pen and stop writing our own story. It's the place where we hand authorship back to God and let Him narrate the next turn. It's the place where we invite Him to start writing redemption into our lives.

What we're saying in the moment of forgiveness is: I'm done. Not "I'm done feeling this pain" or "I'm done being impacted by this." Rather, what we're saying is: I'm done trying to script this into my life. I'm done trying to write this scene so that it makes sense. I'm done trying to make these words fit. And we set down our pen. 

Because some things just don't make sense in our stories. They're never going to. You can't write enough words that things like brokenness, things like betrayal, things like abandonment, things like abuse, things like hate, things like bitterness make any sense. The more we try to contrive a scene where these things work, the more we write lies into our lives. Lies we then come to believe - about ourselves, about our stories, about our God. It's why so many of us hate ourselves. It's why we're stuck thinking about our inadequacies, our insecurities. In unforgiveness (or in mock forgiveness), we've been writing these things into our stories, hoping to make sense of things, and in all things, losing every sense we have of who we are, who God is.

It's tragic.

But forgiveness...forgiveness is revolutionary precisely for this very reason: it doesn't take any contriving. We simply set down our pen. We simply refuse to modify our story to incorporate the scenes that don't make any sense. We stop changing who we are, who God is, what this life means to accommodate the broken things that happen here. And then something incredible happens. 

God picks up our pen and starts writing away. He doesn't edit anything out; that's not His style. He never says He's come to take away the pain; He only says He's come to give life. And in His writing, that is exactly what He gives. He starts working things together in a way that simply flows. He starts where the scene leaves off and takes the story in a new direction. He takes all these broken things and starts working them together for good, weaving them into our stories in a way that, mysteriously, makes sense. A way we couldn't even have imagined. A way we'd never have come up with on our own. 

In doing so, He's writing redemption. He's writing our wholeness back into our stories. Will we ever be unblemished characters? No. We'll always carry the scars of the things that have happened to us. But the funny thing is those scars...become beauty marks. They become the evidence not of broken things but of better things. They tell the story of who we are, who God is....not what's happened to us.

When we try to close these chapters in our lives, we don't get this. We miss out on this redemption. It's why so many of us "forgive" and feel forever empty, forever stained. We've got this forgiveness thing wrong. Forgiveness was never meant to be the end of the story. 

It's always the beginning. 

Put down your pen. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Coming Spring

This is, easily, the hardest time of year for me. By about this time every year, most of the northern hemisphere is ready for a little thing called spring. But I...never really am. It's around this time every year that I slip into a deep funk.

It's because I feel my stillness slipping away. 

The weather turns and people bounce out of their houses like they're prisoners just set free. Everything goes from quiet and resting to bounding and full of life all at once. There's no transitional period. It's cold, and everyone's miserable and then it warms up a few degrees, and the world is back in motion. It's been above freezing less than a week here, and there are already bees. BEES! 

Everyone just slow down a little, would ya'?....

It's no secret to the persons that know me well that I'm a winter girl. A fall and winter girl, really. I like it when things start to slow down, when that stillness starts to settle in. I like an opportunity to catch my breath, to cultivate that stillness, to make it a practice of my normal life. I like that the sun rises and sets at a reasonable hour (not in the depth of winter, when the days are just a bit too short, but for the most of this season, this is true) where I can wake up naturally and wind down in the evenings and the earth seems to rise and to settle with me. It's just the rhythm of my soul. 

But then the weather starts changing and the world comes to life, and we've even found a way to jump even faster into this - we reset our clocks. We arbitrarily change what time it is and open up our days. We recreate time to make our spring as we rush out into the streets, into the parks, into the great outdoors and soak up this beautiful thing called sunshine that seems so clear in these non-grey days that are starting to dawn on us.

And I don't know. I guess I feel a little like the flower at this time every year. Maybe I start to peek my head out, but I'm still fragile. I'm still tender. I don't just pop my way through the stillness of the settled earth and stretch toward the heavens in all my beauty; it takes a little bit for me to grow. It takes a little bit for me to come out of my stillness and be who I am in the busyness of the world. 

I don't think we make a lot of time for that any more.

I think we look at people like the crocus. We see them peek their heads out of the stillness of the settled earth, and we get all excited. We start jumping up and down at these signs of new life. We start telling all our friends "the crocus is here! the crocus is here!" But it's not here. It's just starting to think about being here. We forget how tender it really is.

We forget that sometimes, it still needs a little stillness. We forget that if a cold wind blows, maybe we have to put a little cover back over it for awhile. We have to protect it from the elements that may undo everything it's worked for to this little point in its life. We forget that if the hard rains come, this little crocus may be beaten down. Because it's not built yet for this weather. We forget that if the rains don't come at all, this little crocus may need a little help. We may have to water it. 

It's these kinds of things, I guess, that make this season so hard. We're so wired for life that we look and see the smallest glimpse of it, and we can't wait for everything to just explode into the fullness of living that we think comes in spring. I don't explode. I don't know that I ever have. I take my time, and I'm...I'm a little tender. It's not that I don't want to grow. It's just that...It's just that there's this place in me that has been nurtured in stillness and I'm not sure. I'm just not sure about this thing called spring. It's not that stillness isn't possible in the spring, or even in the summer; it's just harder. You have to be more intentional about it.

So forgive me if I don't come bouncing out into the streets this spring. I'm just a little fragile right now. And do me a favor, would you? Remember that. Remember that as this world comes to life, there is life born in the stillness that still isn't sure. There are tender little shoots rising up all around you. If the cold winds blow, put a little cover back over them for awhile. Create a little stillness. If the hard rains come, offer shelter. If no rains come, pour out Living Water on these tender shoots. Help them. Because they feel their stillness slipping away, and that's no easy thing.

Most persons, I think, hardly notice what they're losing when the skies clear and the sun stands high. But not me. I can't help but notice. I feel my stillness slipping away, and it's going to take me a minute. It's going to take me awhile to get my bearings, to find the new balance between day and night, to grow into a world that's no longer in sync with my rhythms. I'll get there. We'll get there.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


The question from yesterday's prayer seems pretty simple: did Jesus ever fear? But the answer is far from clear.

We never see Jesus show fear. We see Him show hesitation. We see Him show resignation. We see Him face His most dire circumstances with a certain degree of confidence. It's a confidence that, when I'm afraid, I just don't have. Maybe somewhere deep inside of me, but not anywhere near where I could keep myself from trembling.

Yet, we are also told that Jesus was fully human. That He was the Son of Man. And man...fears. Jesus shows us anger. He shows us righteous anger. He shows us compassion. He shows us love. He speaks with sarcasm. He answers questions with more questions. He does everything a man is known to do, except hate. Except, also, fear? 

The New Testament says that Jesus was tempted with every temptation known to man but did not sin. But fear...fear is not a temptation. Fear is not really a choice between one thing and another. Nobody considers whether he fears or not; he just does it. It just sort of happens to him. He looks this life square in the face, and suddenly, he's afraid. 

Fear, at its core, is an emptiness. It's a hollowness. It's what happens when there's so much barren space in your life that the worries of this world get down in there and echo around until it's all you can think about, all you can hear, all you can fathom. That's why faith stands in contrast to fear. Faith is a fullness; it's this thing that just pours into you until you're so full that it pours out of you. That's what we call being faithful. (Faith-full.)

It's hard to think, then, that Jesus ever could have feared. It's hard to think that He could have been empty enough to fear. It's hard to think that the Son of God has any hollow place in Him, even in His human flesh, for fear to echo. Maybe that's why we never see it in the Scriptures. Maybe that's why we don't see Him fear.

But I'm not Jesus. And I'm not always so faith-full. I don't have that direct connection with God where I know what's going to happen and why and how everything is going to work out. The best I have is a promise - that this, too, can be woven together for good. That doesn't always make it comfortable.

I was looking the other day, looking to Jesus for an answer to fear. Trying to figure out how we're supposed to deal with this. I was struck by how little God's Word has to say about this, and how often it says it. See, what God's Word says in regard to fear is also pretty simple: Do not fear. Do not be afraid. God says it all the time, and that's all we get. Is it so simple? Can we simply refuse to fear?


Because you can't deal with emptiness just by refusing to acknowledge it. You can't answer hunger by simply declaring you're not hungry. Eventually, you have to eat or you will continue to be hungry. You have to start filling up your emptiness with something else. You have to start speaking new voices into the echo chambers, voices that drawn out this life's worries. It's not enough to just say, "I trust" or "I believe." These have to be visceral things. They have to be real, substantial things you're doing. You have to give place to them. They have to take up space in your emptiness or you're never going to answer fear. 

I still think, some days, that it would be nice to see Jesus deal with fear. Real fear. Real gut-twisting, breath-catching, knee-shaking fear. It would be nice to have that example.

But I think, too, it's encouraging to be reminded that I wasn't made for fear. Even in my human nature, even in my broken flesh, fallen as I am, there's still no place for fear. There's no reason to be afraid. As long as my heart remains full, there's no place for the voices of fear to echo. Faith really is the remedy.

(Easier said than done.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Were You Ever Scared?

Jesus, were You ever scared?

I guess...I guess I'm just asking because I've seen You be so many other things. I've seen You angry and sad and joyous and sarcastic and funny and all these other things that I find myself being from time to time, but I don't know what I've seen You scared. Were You ever scared?

I probably would have been scared in the Garden. When You stepped away to pray by Yourself. When You took a few minutes to think about what You knew was going to happen next. When You considered Your own painful death. I think I would have been scared. But I don't see You scared. 

I see You agonizing. I see You troubled. I see You wishing there was another way. I see sweat like drops of blood dripping from Your brow as you consider what You're about to do, but I don't see You scared. Like every other scene of Your temptation, what I see here is Your confidence. You were always so sure of things, even when You weren't sure of Yourself. I see You praying troubled, but trusting. I see You saying You don't want to do this, but I don't see You saying why. I see You struggling, but still submitting. 

Were You not scared?

It matters. It matters because...because I guess I'm looking for permission to be scared. I guess I'm looking for some sign that it's just part of my human nature. And if it's part of my human nature to be scared, it had to have been part of Yours. But I never see You scared.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Your disciples just didn't tell us. Maybe, like me, You were torn by Your fear. Maybe You picked up Your Cross and set Your eyes on Calvary and set Your stomach in knots. Maybe everything in Your head screamed that You couldn't take another step while Your feet disobeyed You and kept walking anyway. Maybe You couldn't drink the vinegar because You knew if one more thing touched your lips, You were going to hurl. Everywhere. Maybe, like me, You were keeping one eye on heaven in anticipation and one eye closed, afraid to see.

Maybe You were scared. Maybe You had all the same hesitations I do. But then I think about what it really means to be afraid, and it's hard to see You that way. It's hard to see You trembling; I don't think I've ever seen You trembling. It's hard to see You unsure; You've always been so sure. It's hard to see You questioning. You spent so much time questioning others, asking things which could not easily be answered. Were there questions You didn't know the answer to? It's hard to imagine. 

I don't know how You could be in this flesh and not know fear. But at the same time, I don't know how You could be God and know fear. Fear stands in opposition to faith. Am I to believe that the Son of God could lose His faith? This is the confident assurance I always see in You. But am I to believe that the Son of Man could not lose His faith? Then how human is He? Do You see where I'm stuck, Jesus? Do You see where I just don't know?

Maybe I don't need to know. Maybe it's not all that important. But it feels important. It feels pressingly important. It's like...maybe if I could know what You did with fear, I could know what to do with it. Maybe if You told me what You did when You were afraid, I'd know what to do when I am. Do I stand in confident assurance, in believing what I know to be true of my God? Then what do I do with my doubt? Do I feign fullness, choosing to accept only that which is true? Then what do I do with my emptiness? Do I fall to the ground and pray until the agony I feel in my spirit drips out of me in blood like sweat pouring down my face? Is there a way to live with fear? If there's a way at all, You know it, Lord, because You've lived it. So I'm asking...


Were You ever scared?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


It's not so easy to just say that Jesus, the Lion of Judah, laid down the kingship with His life. That He undid what kingship had done to the covenant and restored us to direct relationship with God. Because what is equally true is that even as He did all that, He did something else: 

He perfectly fulfilled the kingship.

If you'll remember from yesterday, this whole idea of kingship in Israel was a game-changer. In the cultures surrounding the Israelites, kingship was a divine appointment. It was the king's responsibility to be a conduit for the gods to the people. The king stood between the world and the heavens and facilitated the dialogue between the people and their gods, and between the gods and their people. When Israel asked for a king, they weren't just taking on a political structure; it changed the very nature of the covenant they shared with God. They were asking for someone to stand in the middle.

And, of course, God promised a King. He promised the King of Kings. He promised one final King for all time who would be the leader of the people. So when we say that Jesus laid down this kingship and restored God and man to the original covenant, that's only part of the story. We miss that He also fulfilled this kingship.

Jesus came and did what a king was supposed to do. He stood in the gap between the heavens and the earth. He became a conduit for what God was doing among His people. He brought God's favor to the people, and the people's atonement to God. He connected the people anew to their God, and connected God anew to His people. He was a King in every sense of the word, even if His royal throne looked more like a Roman cross and His palace, more like a tomb. 

It was only because of this, because He was a king at all, that He could lay the kingship down. So yes, Jesus removed the barriers between man and God. He restored the covenant relationship to its original intent - God directly with His people. 

But only because He first fulfilled it. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Lion and the Lamb

We left off last week talking about original creation and whether God intended man to eat meat. (Short answer: I just don't know.) We have this adage we use - that the lion and the lamb will lie down together. It's not an actual verse; it's a hybrid of a couple of verses in Isaiah. But it's common enough that when I say it, you know what I'm talking about. I had originally thought of using this in terms of the man/meat discussion, but as I thought about this, it means so much more. 

I'm working on a paper on covenant and kingship for a Scripture class this week, and it's precisely this kind of thing that I'm looking at. So let's look at it. Just for fun.

Jesus is known as both the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lion of Judah, which is an indication that He is the continuing king from the land of Judah. Because as we all know, the lion is the king of the jungle. Jesus is also known as the Lamb. He is the sacrificial lamb of God, the atonement for sin, in keeping with the Old Covenant (which we have also recently spent a good deal of time discussing here). So when we get in our heads this idea of the lion and the lamb lying down together, we could not be more theologically right.

Jesus laid His life down. He nailed it to a cross. He did this for us, and in that one act, both the Lion and the Lamb laid down. The Lion laid down His kingship; the Lamb laid down His life. Why does this matter? Because both are measures that get us back to the original creation.

We understand what the Lamb means. There's plenty in the Old Testament to tell us all of that. We know how a lamb was slaughtered, how its blood was poured out, what made it an acceptable sacrifice. We know that it was an aroma pleasing to the Lord. We know that it was the atonement for any number of wrongs, a great measure of the breaking of the covenant relationship between man and God. We understand, then, when we look at Jesus as the Lamb of God, what that means. It means Jesus was the atoning sacrifice. 

But what about the Lion? What about the king?

We hear a lot about what a rejection it was when the people of God asked Him for a king. I'm not sure we really understand what that truly means. Yes, it means they wanted a man to lead them in battle rather than God. Yes, it means they were looking for a political figure. It means they wanted to organize themselves around a central point - a city-state, a royal city, a steady leader. It was a rejection of God's leadership. 

It was so much more.

In the cultures surrounding the Israelites, in the contemporary peoples all around them, the king meant something else besides politics; he also meant religion. The king was the symbol of God among the people. The king was the guy you'd look to to see if God favored you today or not. If God was working on your behalf or not. The king was the go-between between the people and their god. You knew what was happening in the heavens by looking in the palace.

This, of course, radically changed the covenant between God and His people. He made a covenant with a man, with a father. Abraham. He made covenants with other men - Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. He made covenants directly with His people - Israel - in the wilderness, on the mountain. God was a God who wanted to be near to His people. He wanted to be close to them. He wanted them to be close to Him. He wanted them to follow the rules of His covenant and love this relationship as much as He did.

So when Israel asked for a king, they broke His heart. It wasn't just a rejection of His leadership; it was a rejection of His relationship. It was Israel saying, We want a man to stand between You and us, God. Give us a king, and You lead him, and we will follow him, and it will be like we're following You. Israel desired not just a new leader, but for the first time, a middle man. They rejected the covenant in asking for a king, even as they continued to follow the law. 

When Jesus, the Lion, the king, lays down His life, then, He's making a second powerful statement. Not only is He the atoning sacrifice that makes a way for us to come to God; He is also taking out the middle man. He's getting out of the way. He's restoring the covenant to man and God. No king required. No state religion. No political games. God is for the men; He always has been. Only when the King lays down do the people remember that. 

There's something else to be said about this King. But that will have to wait for tomorrow. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Side of Bacon

Sometimes, people ask me questions about God that I feel like I ought to know the answer to. But sometime the best answer is, "I don't know."

Case in point: not that long ago, I was asked if I thought God originally intended man to eat meat. 

The question wasn't posed by a vegetarian, or even someone interested in the vegetarian lifestyle. It came from a woman who wanted to know more about how God intended His creation to interact with itself. It's hard to answer these sorts of questions because I've only ever lived in a fallen body in a fallen world; I don't know what Creation was like. I don't know what God meant to happen. So in these cases, I base my answer on what I do know and humbly acknowledge that I don't know it all.

I know that in the original creation, there was no death. Or at least, there was no talk of death. The first death we have recorded in Scripture is the death of the animals God skinned to make Adam and Eve's garments. Assuming, of course, that God would have to kill an animal to make use of its skin for such a sewing project. We hear that death entered the world through sin, that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they condemned themselves to death, a concept unheard of up to this point. 

Yet, we also know that there was also a Tree of Life, about which God said if Adam and Eve happened to eat that fruit, they would live forever in their fallen state. So given that life is embodied in the fruit of a tree, was death - or at least some concept of death - a natural part of creation? 

It's not an easy question. On the one hand, if death is a natural part of creation, what are we to do with a God who created man and is content to let him die? On the other hand, if death is not a natural part of creation, how are we to conceptualize the fruit of this second tree? (And this is not, by the way, the only appearance this tree makes in the Bible. It is also mentioned in Revelation, in the center of God's re-created universe. So it's not as clear-cut as the issue may seem.)

Death is the first part of the conversation because death is, presumedly, necessary for man to eat meat. There is, of course, that one episode of the Simpsons which spoofs the original creation where Homer pulls a side of meat off a pig, the pig graciously exchanges a few words with the man, and both continue on their own merry way as the pig regenerates its side in a land in which death is not natural. But that's the Simpsons, not the Scriptures.

The woman who asked me this question asked about population control, about how God intended the world to continue in harmony if the animals weren't somehow dying. And if they must have been dying, what was this world to do with their deaths? Just let them rot? Or....? Again, I don't know. 

A little later, we see God ordaining the eating of meat as part of the ritual sacrifice He expects from His people. He tells them which part of the meat they can eat, how to prepare it, what to do with the rest of it. How, even, to kill the animal in the first place. He tells them which animals they may eat the meat from and which they may not. But all of these are the instructions in the covenant with a broken people. It's hard to say what here is as man was designed and what is concession to his fallen nature.

So what's the answer? Was man designed to eat meat or no? I don't know. I don't know how the world was meant to work. I don't know what God intended. I only know how to live in a fallen body in a fallen world. And in this fallen body in this fallen world, I'm a meat eater. And I think God's okay with that. I don't know if that's how He intended it to be, but it is how it is. I don't think I offend God when I enjoy His creation. Whether that's the beautiful color of a sunrise, the sound of the songbird, the delicate tenderness of a flower....or eggs with a side of bacon.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Sabbath is, I think, one of those areas where it is easiest to see this conflict we have between the Old Covenant the New Testament, between what God teaches and what Jesus does. And in a world that's "plugged in" round the clock, it is an area that could not be of more importance.

The Old Covenant tells us to rest every seventh day. To do no work. To shut things down. To turn things off. To let nature run its course and the world take care of itself for a change. To sit back and declare that things are good. And for thousands of years, this is what people did. They took a day off. Some still do this. Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, for instance, don't open their stores on Sundays. In Indiana, it is illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays. And personally, for about four or five years, I have left my technology firmly in the "off" position on Sundays. I don't even turn it on. If you need me on Sundays, dial my phone number or knock on my door.

And there's something to be said for rest. There's something to be said for working some time into your schedule where nothing depends on you. It's the easiest way to depend on God. When you aren't doing things. When you aren't working for things. When you aren't trying to get this world to go your way, you open up the space for things to go God's way. It is an incredible discipline, and one that has become increasingly important to me over the past few years, especially as I get into ministry.

But then there's Jesus.

Jesus got in trouble rather often for breaking the Sabbath. For "working," as some saw it. He healed. He forgave. He plucked heads off wheat with His disciples. I haven't taken the time to count, but I'm pretty sure "breaking the Sabbath" is the number one complaint the Pharisees had about the Son of Man. And I recently read somewhere that an overwhelming number of Jesus' miracles take place on this day of rest. 

Despite this, we never hear Jesus saying that there is no Sabbath. Nor do we hear Him saying that there is no rest. He maintains both ideas, just not dogmatically. When He is attacked for working on the Sabbath, His reply is simple: Tell me. Is it right to do good on the Sabbath? He goes on to give the example of an animal falling into a pit on the Sabbath. Wouldn't any man in his right mind pull the animal out of the pit, even though it is the day of rest? You see, there are some things that you simply do because they are the right thing to do, aside of what the Law commands. The Law doesn't command a man to pull his animal out of the pit; concern does that. Concern is a form of love. So there has always been room in the Law for Love, even when people haven't realized as much. And that's what we see Jesus doing. He doesn't break the Sabbath for the fun of it; He breaks it for Love. Every time. He breaks it for the broken, for the hurting, for the sick, for the hungry. He breaks it for those in need of much more than rest; they need Love. And He gives it to them. Every time.

Yet, He does not ignore rest, either. It may not be the Sabbath, but Jesus often takes time to Himself. He takes time to wander away. To pray. To rest. To get away from the crowds for a little bit and reconnect with His Father. I've talked about this before, particularly in the context of ministry, that when you pour yourself out in love, you better have a way for God to pour back into you or you're going to run empty. You have to make the space. You have to set aside the time. It doesn't just happen in idleness; this rest is intentional. It was for Jesus, and it must be for us. 

In this rest, Jesus refuses to be distracted. He walks away from the crowds, knowing, perhaps, that He has left some wanting. He watches the crowds continue to gather even as He walks away from them. He looks down from the mountain, from His quiet place, and sees the people coming together, coming to the disciples, asking about Him. Waiting on Him. But He doesn't hurry.

The Bible never tells us that Jesus hurried. That He saw the crowds gathering and rushed through His prayer time, short-circuited the rest He had set aside for Himself so that He could get back to the work God had created for Him. The Bible doesn't tell us, Just as Jesus was about to retreat and pray, He saw all the work to be done and decided not to go. No. He goes. He prays. He retreats. He rests. 

So there is some mandate for rest, even if there is no longer a mandate for Sabbath. What in the world are we supposed to do with that?

How do we decide, for example, when Love is the bigger thing and when rest is? How do we decide, looking into a world that calls out to us, whether this is the lame man in the synagogue or the crowds on the road? How do we discern when we turn and keep walking to a place of quiet rest or when we turn back and extend a hand in Love?

These aren't easy questions. They could be. If the Law was clear letter, it's easy to say there's a Sabbath for a reason. There's a time and a place for work and a time and a place for rest. But the Law is not clear letter; Love is. And Love is quite a bit trickier. Love doesn't say there is a time and a place for rest; it says there must be a time and a place for rest. You have to make it. You have to set it aside. You have to be intentional about it. Intentional about rest, but conscious also of Love. 

See how sticky this gets? That's just one example of the difficulty of figuring out the New Testament and the Old Covenant, each in light of the other. And I don't claim to have any concrete answers. I'm still trying to figure out Love and rest. I'm still trying to figure out grace and solitude. I'm still trying to figure out this pouring out and pouring in. Because I think we have to figure this out. 

Because Jesus did. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The last comparison Jesus makes in Mark 2 regarding the Old Covenant and the New Testament is that of pouring new wine into old wineskins. The skins burst, the wine runs out.

And indeed, if we're paying attention at all to the Gospels, this is what we see. In fact, this may be what we see most clearly.

Jesus doesn't fit into the Old Law. He doesn't even really try to. At every turn, He's frustrating the Pharisees by breaking yet another one of Moses' laws. He's "working" on the Sabbath - healing, preaching, picking the heads off the grain in the fields with His disciples. He's failing to fast when everyone else fasts. He's neglecting to wash His hands before He eats each meal, and at other appointed times. He refuses to stone a sinful woman to death. He speaks out of turn. He offers forgiveness just as much as healing, and there's no room in the Law for either. 

Because the Law was never meant to hold Love. 

It can't. Not even God can legislate love. He can tell you how to live justly. An emphasis on justice can lead you to love mercy. But it's only walking humbly with your God that shows you anything about love. Then He sends Jesus and teaches people how to walk with Him. Humbly. Because when you walk with Jesus, you give up everything to do it. (And that, too, is well-documented in the Gospels.) The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

So it's clear to see from Jesus' example how the skins burst, how the Law was broken open and laid bare for all it could not do for a man. For all it could not hold of God. 

But that's only half of this analogy. The other half, of course, is equally true in the Gospels: the wine runs out. Or rather, it pours out. It is spilled out. 

That's where the Pharisees come back into the story.

The Pharisees, and other religious authorities, tried so hard to fit Jesus into the Law. They were always hounding Him about things He was doing wrong, about commands He was breaking, about how He was making a mockery of everything they had adhered themselves to. They wanted Him to affirm them, even more than they ever looked for a Messiah to save them. They wanted Him to be all the things that they were, all the good, law-abiding things that they were. And He wouldn't do it.

And when He wouldn't do it, they killed Him. They crucified Him. They poured Him out, spilled His blood all over Calvary, all over the world. When the Law couldn't hold Him, they ran Him out. They let His life pour out.

To all those watching, it seemed as though this common understanding must be true: the skins burst, the wine ran out, and both were wasted. There was a people in the middle of all this, a people who had watched the Law be stripped of its authority, changed at every turn by this Jesus. Do not murder? No. Do not even hate. Do not commit adultery? No. Do not even lust. Seek justice? No. Offer grace. There is no Law any more; it's been supplanted by Love.

Yet, this Love, too, is gone. It has been poured out. There is no more Jesus. Not now. Not on this Friday night. Not on this Saturday. There's no more example on how truly to live. This people got three years - three years to figure out this life, and now, they're on their own. What used to work isn't working, and what seems to have been a promising new idea is gone.

Because you can't put new wine in old wineskins. 

Thankfully, of course, we know how this story ends. We know that Sunday comes. We know that even as Love is spilled out on this earth, it is already looking for a way back. It is already planning a glorious return. Maybe that's what Cana was all about. Jesus' first miracle? Maybe that was God's way of saying, "But look, I can salvage the wine situation. I can make it okay. Because I make wine out of water, and I walk wine out of the grave." And then Jesus comes back, and there's Love again.

There's still Law, too, but it's in its proper place. No longer is the Law trying to hold Love. What hope does the Law have if the grave couldn't hold Him? No. Now, Love holds the Law. Love holds justice. And mercy. 

And grace. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


In Mark 2, Jesus uses three examples to discuss His place in the grander scheme of things. That is, where the Old Covenant meets the New Testament. Yesterday, we talked about the example of fasting while the groom is still with us. Today, we're moving on to the more dangerous examples. Beginning with patches.

No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that hasn't shrunk. The patch will shrink and tear the cloth and it will be worse off than when it began. (Mark 2; paraphrase)

The Old Testament creates a lot of space. It hints and alludes and prophesies about what is to come without ever really fleshing out a picture of what that means. It talks about voices in the wilderness and suffering servants and the line of David's kingship, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks about what these things might refer to. (And believe it or not, there is quite a bit of discussion about such things, even today.) But in the empty spaces of the Old Testament, the faithful began to form an idea of what the Messiah must be like, of what He would do when He gets here, of what He would be, of how He would talk, of how He would lead, of a million little things about Him that they thought must be true based on the revelation of the Old Covenant. Based on the faithfulness of the people to God...and of God to His people. 

Then Jesus gets here, and everyone's waiting to see what spaces He's going to cover. Everyone's trying to write Him back into the Old Testament. Everyone's trying to trace His form through the Scriptures. And to a certain extent, you can. You can clearly see this Jesus take shape through the creation, the patriarchs, the exodus, the histories, the prophets, the wisdom. But to another extent entirely, there's just no way.

Even as hard as they were looking, no one expected this Jesus.

They expected a political king; He was no such thing. Never claimed to be. Never aspired to be. They were expecting some powerful figure; He wasn't. He was mocked, ridiculed. They were expecting some bolts of lightning, some celestial storm; a single star guided the way. It wasn't until His death that the earth testified to His power and glory, and by then, it seemed too late. And throughout His life, throughout His ministry, people - even faithful people - kept trying to push Him into their boxes. They kept trying to make Him what they expected Him to be. They kept trying to patch the spaces in the Old Covenant with this new Jesus, and He says plainly this won't work.

Because when you do this, Jesus shrinks. He becomes less than He was meant to be. If He had been a political king, then what? Can He be Lord over all if His Lordship is tied to a specific civilization? Suppose, then, that this civilization dies out or is conquered. Christ loses some of His esteem; the covenant is torn. It is just as the old coat with the new patch - the patch shrinks; the coat tears. If He had been some powerful figure, then what? Can the clearly superior teach a man anything about love? The entire Old Law is supposed to lead toward Love. If Christ is better, stronger, more supernatural than man in every way, can He teach man anything at all about himself? Or about Himself? Christ loses the essence of who He is, exchanging love for power; the Law leads nowhere after all. The patch shrinks and the coat tears. 

This happens every time we try to fit Jesus into our molds. It happens when we come to expect certain things of Him and try to make Him be those things. It comes when we have an idea of what He's supposed to be and start looking only for that in Him. We lessen His glory. And we're still doing that. We still have all of these ideas about who Jesus is, about who He is supposed to be, about how He really thinks, about what He really means. We have ideas about how Jesus would respond to this or that situation, about what the Messiah must be in our world. In our lives. In our hearts. And we go about trying to make Jesus what we want Him to be. Or what we think we need Him to be. 

In doing so, we ruin everything. We shrink Jesus. We put Him untested, untried on the spaces of our lives and when rain comes, He shrinks. He gets lesser and lesser as He fails to live up to our expectation, to our requirement of Him. He becomes this smaller thing, this lesser god until the day comes that He is no god at all. And then it's far too easy to walk away. And with this smaller Jesus, even the Law cannot hold us. It cannot shield us. Because it tears as Jesus shrinks and pulls into it. It rips apart. It becomes a law leading to nowhere rather than a law leading to Love. It doesn't mean anything. All the prophecy, all the guidance, all the wisdom...it's nothing. It's nothing when our little Jesus doesn't fit into it.

That's not to say there's not a way. There is, of course, a way. And we'll get to that. But the way is not through patching. Jesus was never meant to be a patch. Whenever we try to make Him such, whenever we try to sew Him into the spaces in our understanding, He becomes smaller and pulls on our understanding until the very fabric of our faith unravels and we're left standing naked. No, we cannot place Christ over the Old Covenant. 

Nor, as we'll see tomorrow, can we pour Him into it.