Thursday, April 30, 2015

Covered by Blood

There's a peculiar set of instructions in Exodus, given to Moses by the Lord, regarding the design of the Tabernacle. These instructions concern the tent itself.

The tent is to be made out of fine linen and woven threads, of which the standard colors in the Old Testament are red and purple. It's funny to consider that, since most of the churches I've been in in my life have had either red or purple interiors or fixtures. Pews, chairs, carpets, all in "church red" or "church purple." But I digress. 

This fabric curtain is to be covered, assumedly on the outside, by goat skins dyed red. This is mentioned a couple of times, actually. It's mentioned first in the list that Moses is given of offerings to accept from the people - the people must bring ram skins dyed red. And it is listed here to show where it is being used - the offered ram skins dyed red are used as an outer covering on the tent itself. Which might conjure up images of the camp of Israel moving about the Sinai wilderness - brown sands, brown tents, brown Tabernacle.

...except that over these skins is to be yet another covering, one made of fine leather. Which is probably brown. So brown sands, brown tents, brown tunics, and brown Tabernacle. And here we have the finished tent - brightly colored fabric, covered by ram skins dyed red, covered by fine leather, and hung on poles. 

It really raises an interesting question, doesn't it? If the ram skins are covered on one side by fine linen and on the other by fine leather, what on earth does it matter what color they are dyed or if they are dyed at all? You could put any kind of ram skin in there and nobody would be any wiser. The Tabernacle will still look brown from the outside. It will still be exquisite on the inside. Why is God so specific that the unseen goat skins must be dyed red?

The only possible reason I can come up with is based entirely on conjecture and what I know about God, and that is this: it must be representative of the blood. 

That's all I've got. The ram skins dyed red, even though they are unseen, must be in some form the blood that covers the holy place. God's always been about blood. If you keep reading in Exodus, you'll see Him ordering that His nice, new Tabernacle be splashed in the stuff. You read about Him defining what must be poured out and where, how to put the blood on the horns of the altar, how to anoint His priests in blood. In the New Testament, the blood of Jesus covers us. It's what you might call a theme of God's.

...or an obsession.

In the times of the Tabernacle, the blood had special significance. It was what told the wrath of God to pass over a place. It was blood on the doorposts that told the angel of the Lord not to kill the firstborn in the Israelites' houses. So I think it was blood over the Tabernacle that told the Lord not to bring His fury on that particular place.

The Tabernacle was the place where all uncleanness came to be cleansed, where sin came to be atoned. It could be easy to become angry with a place like that. Easy to turn your holy wrath against such a place. It's filled with depravity, covered only by the aroma of repentance and sacrifice. And now, covered by the blood. 

I think.

It's just one of those things you read in the Bible, or at least I do, and think, huh. I wonder what that's all about. It's one of the hidden things of God that we can speculate about but maybe never understand, but it's still fun to ask the questions. Shielded by splendid linen and covered by finest leather, what does it matter what color the ram skins are? 

God only knows. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


One of the biggest problems we have with humility is that most of us don't know what it really is. We look at men and women who we might say are humble, and we define them by the quietness of their lives. They embrace stillness. They're unassuming. There's a certain...something about them. 

And all of these are manifestations of humility, but they are not actual humility. And these conceptions lead us astray when we consider this discipline for ourselves.

Because humility is not quietness or stillness; these come out of humility, but they are not humility. Humility is unassuming, but it is not unassumingness. Humility is not this diminished, smaller thing that we often think of when we think about what we've seen of it in our world. 

This is what gets us off track. We think humility is this smaller thing. We think it's making ourselves smaller in our world, even under the religious language of "making God bigger." That's bogus. When you make yourself smaller all the time, you start to get a diminished view of who you are. And then you can't be humble. You can't be anything. Because you keep planting this idea in you're head that you're not anything. When you make God bigger all the time, bigger and bigger and bigger, you start to lose sight of Him. If you're getting smaller and smaller and God's getting bigger and bigger, at some point, you're going to look around and there's going to be this incredible space between you and Him and it's not going to feel any more like you can bridge it. There's going to seem no way to get to God.You start to feel like an ant under a magnifying glass, and God is no longer Lord and Savior; He's Overlord. It's not what He wants. 

So no, humility is not making yourself smaller. Nor is it making God bigger. Nor is it, I think, the same for everyone. 

Humility is a very personal thing. And I say that because of what it is: at its core, humility is having a right sense of size. It's knowing how big God is...and knowing how big you are. It's knowing what you're capable of, what you're responsible for, what is required of you, and what is beyond you. It's living within the limits of your unique position in life, whatever that might be. It's knowing yourself well enough to know those limits.

For Pharaoh, as discussed yesterday, one of those limits was what, or who, he could possess. He failed to recognize that the people he laid claim to were not his people; they were God's people. And God called him out on it. God said - you have not humbled yourself. You don't get that these are my people.

But maybe for you it's not people. Maybe for you, it's a fight. Maybe you're fighting a fight that feels like yours and you've failed to realize this is not your fight. Maybe it's your work. Maybe you're doing work that feels like your work, but it's not your work. Maybe it's your ministry. Maybe this feels like your ministry, and you've long forgotten it is not your ministry. Maybe it's your place. Maybe you've set up your life in this one certain place, and this place feels like your place. It feels like home, but this is not home. This is God's fight. This is God's work. This is God's ministry. This is God's place. 

Humility is about figuring out what's really yours in the world, where you begin and where you end. It's not about making yourself less; it's about knowing yourself more. It's about embracing the fullness of who you are and realizing how finite that fullness is. 

And it's about more than that. Because simply having an honest measure of yourself is not enough. It's about having an honest sense of God and the rest of the world, too. It's about knowing what's not yours in the world and who it belongs to and where it belongs. It's about knowing where the rest of the world, as a whole and as individual pieces, begin and where they end, including God. It's about having a right sense not just of yourself but of everything around you so that you see how the pieces fit together and so you know where you fit. And then, humility is about fitting there. It's about being what you're meant to be and not worrying about whether that makes you more or less. It makes you something better than that. 

It makes 

And isn't that what you always wanted to be?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Humble Yourself

Humility is not one of the lessons that seems apparent from the life of Pharaoh, but it's there. The other day as I was reading in Exodus, it struck me. Somewhere in the midst of the terrible plagues.

God comes to Pharaoh and says, Because you have not humbled yourself before me....

It struck me, I think, because I had never really thought of any of God's pursuit of Pharaoh as a pursuit of humbling. It doesn't occur readily to me that the interaction here is between God and Pharaoh. It seems to me that I've always read these passages and figured it was God against Pharaoh, that God had really no use for the ruler except in terms of what he would or would not do for the people of God, whom God was primarily interested in. And "let my people go" doesn't really seem to be a request for piousness and humility. More a simple...demand of God.

So I read those words - Because you have not humbled yourself before me - and I thought, what does that even mean? What does it mean for Pharaoh to humble himself before God? 

Is he supposed to offer sacrifices with the Israelites? It seems not, as God only ever requires sacrifices from His people and Pharaoh was not what we would call God's people. Is he supposed to burn all his foreign gods and serve only YHWH? Again, probably not. He was an Egyptian, not an Israelite. In all this back-and-forth, I don't think we ever see God trying to convert him. Even Moses and Aaron aren't trying to convert him. Everyone's just trying to get him to recognize the spiritual reality of the nation of Israel - that they need their God, and that their God desires them, and so they must be permitted to go worship. 

And that, I think, starts getting us closer to what it means for Pharaoh to humble himself before God. 

Pharaoh doesn't have to confess that God is anything special. He doesn't have to believe in the deity of YHWH. He doesn't have to come to understand what Israel knows about her God. He doesn't have to buy into any of it. But what he does have to do is recognize his place in the grand scheme of things and to understand one very important thing that God is trying to tell him:

These are MY people.

Pharaoh thought these were his people. These were his slaves, after all. They were the entirety of his work force. These were the men who were building his cities, and he owned them. Or so he thought. When God chides the ruler for his lack of humility, it's for this very reason - Pharaoh thinks he owns something that he doesn't; it's God's. His failure to recognize this very simple fact is what gets his hard heart in so much trouble. 

It's what gets my hard heart in so much trouble sometimes, too. 

I'm prone, like Pharaoh, to think that the people in my life are my people. And when I think this, I treat them as such. It's not...pretty. It's not edifying. It's not holy. I think about the way I talk to, relate with, live with, and fail to love the people in my life, and it's because of this very simple misunderstanding. It's because I think they're my people. 

But these are not my people. These are God's people. And when I start to think of them this way, it changes the way I interact with them. It changes the way I talk to people, relate to people, live with people, love people. Because I don't ever want to be responsible for undoing what God is doing. I want to be on His team. So I look at what's already unfolding in people, what God is already at work doing in them, and I try to get on that page. I try to water the fields more than I till them. I try to plant more than I harvest. I try to sow more than I reap. I try to encourage. To build up. To strengthen. To love. Because these are God's people. He may have entrusted them to me for awhile (and entrusted me to them), but that doesn't make them mine. They're still His. They always will be. 

I just have to humble myself to remember that. 

And if I can't, well...I apologize in advance for the locusts. 

Monday, April 27, 2015


Pharaoh is an interesting character to study. I think we sort of read right by him in most of Exodus, but if we're paying attention, this hard-hearted ruler has a great deal to teach us.

The other day in Bible study, I was reading through the plagues that God inflicted on Egypt. In the first several cases, although it is God who brings about the plague, Pharaoh calls together some of his most trusted magicians and they, too, are able to do the very same things. What's really interesting, however, is what happens after the magicians duplicate God's afflictions. 

Take, for example, the second plague - frogs. Here's what happens, straight from the Scriptures:

So Aaron held his staff over the waters of Egypt. The frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. But the magicians did the same thing using their magic spells and brought frogs onto the land. -Ex. 8:6-7

Because when you suddenly have an infestation of frogs in your land, the most logical thing to do is prove that it's not such a big deal by providing more frogs in your land.... If it wasn't a plague already (and it had to be; God doesn't do anything half-way), it's even worse now for all the magic. 

Maybe it's just me, but if I want to show that the spectacular thing God has done isn't all that spectacular, and if I'm already troubled by this spectacular thing, I'd be more tempted to use my magic to rid the land of frogs than to add to them. I would ask my magicians to cast a spell to send the frogs away, not to bring them into the throne room. But that's just me. Pharaoh doubles his frog problem in his attempt to say, "See? Your God is not all-powerful. Anything He can do, we can do."

But in the very next breath, he seems to change his tune. Look at this:

Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said, "Pray that the Lord will take the frogs away from me and my people." v. 8

He's just shown, he thinks, that his magicians can do whatever God can do. But there's no record of him even asking those same magicians to un-do what God has done. He doesn't even try. He doesn't even ask the magicians to take away the frogs they've introduced to the situation. He's drowning in frogs and his first thought is - pray for me. 

Pray for me. Pray to your God to take this all away. Pray to your God to undo this horrible hoppity thing He's done to us. 

It's weird, right? If you're trying to stand against God, you don't just turn to Him in the very next breath. If you're trying to make a point that this God is nothing, you certainly don't ask for His help. If you're trying to make the case that you're greater than He is and that these people are somehow more yours than His, you don't entreat His messengers to help you out of the predicament your very argument just got you into. If you want to stand against God, you hire frog catchers. You don't request prayer. 

But it does say something about God, does it not? Even the hardest-hearted among us seem to know this truth: that maybe in some small way we can do the things that God can do, but only God can undo them. That we can bring about this or that, but we are helpless to restore. That all the magic in the world may be able to manifest, but it cannot re-create. Only God can re-create. Only God can restore. Only God can undo. Our fixes are, at best, temporary and temporal. Only God brings about resolution.

I think maybe Pharaoh knew that. I think maybe he knew that if he were to try to control the frog problem, he's just rearranging chairs on the Titanic. He's just figuring out somewhere else to put the frogs. He's just setting aside a place for them to be. He's not getting rid of the problem; he's just relocating it. Even if he kills them, kills them all, he still has a frog problem on his hands. Just now, it's a dead frog problem. 

Only God knows what to do with so many amphibians. It's prudent to let Him handle it. 

It's a subtle lesson, but one we must learn from Pharaoh. Sometimes, no matter how hard-hearted we are, the best answer is still prayer. It's the only answer, really. And our hard-heartedness can't keep us from it. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Hebrew Baby

Sometimes, the faithful thing? It is the subtlest, quietest, hardest thing we could ever do. 

Take, for example, Moses' mother. She gives birth to a Hebrew boy in a land where Hebrew boys are under a death sentence. Pharaoh's already ordered that all newborn boys in the Israelite camp be killed on sight. The midwives are supposed to make sure those little bundles of boy never become bundles of joy at their mothers' breasts. But because the midwives fear God more than they do Pharaoh, the boys are spared. Many of them are making it. Moses' mother gives birth to the boy and cradles him in her arms. She loves him. She holds him. She names him. 

And on the eighth day, she circumcises him.

That's not in the Exodus text. It doesn't tell us about Moses' circumcision. But we can piece it together. The story does tell us that Moses' mother kept him for quite a long time. She hid him for three whole months. That's quite a feat when babies aren't quiet and all of Egypt's on the lookout. If it had been me, I might have been tempted in those three months to be reading up on all the latest Egyptian baby boy trends. Names. Clothing. Ceremonies. All the things that would mark my baby boy as "not a Hebrew," I'd be interested in learning about. Because it seems to me that in a nation bent on killing him, this would be the only way to save him. 

Yet his mother, a faithful Hebrew we can assume, didn't do that. She lived her life. She lived her culture. She raised him in her faith. She did all the things a Hebrew mother was supposed to do for a Hebrew boy. Including the most marking of all - she circumcised him. Because a few verses later when an Egyptian woman finds him in the Nile? The Egyptian's first comment is: this is a Hebrew baby. This is a Hebrew boy.

Take a look at any baby you can find. Tell me, quick - what do you know about that baby's religious preference? Anything? How many three-month-olds are making declarations of faith? Any? But the Hebrew baby...see, the Hebrew baby is different. He doesn't have to make a declaration of faith; his faith declares him. His faith marks him. That's what circumcision is. It set the Hebrews apart. That the Egyptian woman took one look at this child and knew that he was a Hebrew came solely from the recognition that only Hebrew boys were circumcised. And certainly, Moses must have been, too.

I'm not sure why she did it. His mother, I mean. I would be doing everything I could to make my little boy blend in, to try to save his life. I would be sheltering him from this world, trying not to make him stand out in it. Maybe, like some mothers who face the early loss of their children, she wanted him to be dedicated to the Lord in case of tragic events. Maybe death seemed inevitable, and she wanted him to be right before God. Maybe she wanted to be a mother her whole life and in this short window she had - and she didn't know how long she had - she wanted to be a good mother. Maybe she wanted to dive into the whole motherhood experience and get the fullest measure of it she possibly could. I think it's unlikely that she looked at her little boy and thought he must be the exception. I think it's unlikely that she thought she would have him forever. I think it's unlikely that she thought he would stay out of Pharaoh's sight for very long at all. I don't think it was hope that made her circumcise her boy.

I think it was faith.

Incredible faith.

That's the difference between hope and faith. Hope looks at things the way they are and imagines all the ways they might get better. It dreams of the coming day when the world is set right. It dreams of justice, of mercy, of redemption. Faith has no such imagination. Faith is more a discipline than a dream. Faith looks at things the way they are and determines to make the best of it. It embraces this broken, messed-up life and trusts that there's a way even to do broken and messed-up well. Hope...hope is easy. hard. 

So the question is this: What have you done by faith lately? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Full Measure

There's a story in Genesis 18 that makes me wonder just what kind of a gracious (or ungracious) person I might be, and how there are so many qualifiers on when and how that might be the case. The story is about Abraham and some visitors who have come to him in the middle of the night. Seeing them, he wakes his wife and tells her to begin baking them some bread (because when you roll into town in the dead of night, you're thinking...fresh bread). There are three visitors, and Abraham clearly tells Sarah,

Get three measures of flour.

Now, I do hospitality pretty well, particularly if I'm in the mood for it. But I also have a frugal side. And a tired side. And a side that probably isn't going to be enthused about waking in the wee hours to make bread for three strangers who happened to be wandering by. And point of note: if three strangers knock on my door in the middle of the night....

Anyway, I'm thinking this is one of those areas where I'd be more than willing to cut a few corners. It's late. How much bread do we really need? Can't these guys share a loaf and I'll make them all pancakes in the morning? Midnight shouldn't be a meal; a snack, at best, but certainly not a meal. And I wonder if Sarah maybe wouldn't have had some of the same thoughts. After all, Abraham makes it a point to tell her how many measures to use. Does he think she would have thought of using less than a full measure for each guest? 

How dare she.


It's easy to fall into the trap of giving people what we think they need, a measure that best suits what we feel comfortable preparing for them given the place and time and situation. It's easy for us to look at a person and assess them, trying to figure out just how much of their emptiness we are responsible for filling. Or prepared to address. Or...whatever it is we're trying to figure out. We're doing the math. We're trying to figure out what we can get away with. We're looking at the clock and thinking it's near midnight, and they can probably make it to morning with just a small measure. 

But that's not really up to us, is it? Who are we to be making these sorts of judgments? There's a standard for things, a rule for how things work. There is a measure of what a man deserves, even when it may not seem he requires it, and that's what we have to keep in mind. The recipe calls for one full measure of flour per person. Who are we to sift any less? 

It doesn't matter whether they eat it all or not. It doesn't matter whether they're that hungry, or even whether they like your bread. It's not your job, it's not our job, to cater to people; it is our job to welcome them. It's our job to offer them grace in the fullest measure, a sacrificial grace that says, I will give you what you deserve, no matter what. Midnight or no midnight, you're getting the whole shebang.

Because God has brought you into my path and I dare not risk you walking away hungry.

That's what it really is. All these people around us, all the people we're busy sizing up, the people we're trying to figure out how much to give to, they've been brought to our place for a reason. They are here, not there. They are on our doorstep, not our neighbor's. They've come here because there's something about us that's brought them here; there's something about God that's led them here. And we've got something to offer them. However inconvenient or awkward or weird it might seem, we have something for them. 

The question is: how much of a measure are we giving them?

Are we giving the people in our lives the full measure of their due? Are we sifting ample grace for them according to God's measure? Or are we doing the math and coming up short? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Insecurities do funny things to us. They make us feel like the only things other people can see in us are our breaks, our bruises. 

It starts out slow. These become the only things we can see in ourselves, so when we look in the mirror, we're haunted by our brokenness. But we're discouraged further by the wholeness that others seem to have. We're jealous. Angry, even. But over time, as our insecurities seep deeper, we start to see in others the same brokenness we see in ourselves so that two things happen. First, that's all we ever see of anybody. And second, we conclude that's the way the world was meant to be.

Then one might forgive oneself for being so haunted by it. 

I can't really tell you how much of my life I've spent worried about what people might see in me. Far too much of it, that much is for sure. I've guarded my words, and my heart, and tried to speak in such clear, precise language that I could never lead anyone down a path that might reveal my inner emptiness, my insecurity. I wouldn't want you to think about me in my weakest points - naked, questioning, wondering, wandering. I've always tried to make sure there's a wall between you and I so that, even if you realize I am any of these things, you can't see enough of it to use against me. 

It's kind of exhausting, really. 

And then I stepped into ministry. I stepped into doing this thing that God has asked me to do. And you don't have to be in ministry for this lesson to apply to you; it's just where I've learned it. But here's the thing: All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by insecurity every day. My own. Other people's. Systemic, organizational insecurities at times. I have realized that the more I love people, the more I look around and at any given moment, I can see someone who is in a situation that for years, I would never let myself be caught dead in. Someone is naked, questioning, wondering, wandering. Someone is...being human. 

And it's never this weakness that I hear the loudest.

It's not. I can look at persons in tough, vulnerable, broken, insecure situations in their lives and not have a single degrading thought like I'd have about myself if I saw such a person in the mirror. It's the furthest thing from my mind. I can see someone naked - literally or otherwise - and their nakedness is not what strikes me the most about them. I can see someone questioning - out loud or in their head, and I hear the strength, not the weakness, in their shaking voice. I can see someone wondering - unsure of the words - or wandering - unsure of the path - and the only thing I can think in any such moment is how much they need God. How much they need a real, powerful, present God. And how honored I am to get to be God in those moments. 

Which is one thing. But the other thing is this, and it's important, too:

When I used to think about situations like these, I used to worry about how I would show up in them. I used to worry about appearing naked before a naked man, about questioning in front of a questioner. I used to wonder about wondering in the company of others, and what would happen if I was found to be wandering. I used to think that because all I could see in myself, and eventually in others, seemed to be insecurity, if insecurity was all that anyone could see in me. And maybe it was. But if it was, it was because I put it there. Right out on the forefront for all the world to see. 

The truth is that when I find myself in places where insecurity seems to matter the most, it matters the least, and that's not just for others; it's for me, too. Just as I'm not looking and what's not important, no one else is, either. No one's distracted by my nakedness. No one's put off by my questions. Somehow, our insecurities draw us together and something beautiful happens there. 

We're there for each other. Naked, questioning, wondering, wandering, but there. Together. Present. Before God and all men. Totally insecure, but safe in His arms. Broken together. And better, together.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

In the Secret

Let me ask you something: Are you keeping secrets? 

Or are secrets keeping you?

We've all got secrets. Most of us are managing our lives by them. They are the things we don't want anyone else to figure out about us, the things we'd never dare say in public, the truths screaming at us from the mirror we'd rather not look at. We hide them from our friends, from ourselves, from our God in the hopes that one day, we won't have to, but in the realization that today does not feel like that day. 

It may not feel like it, but today is that day. Right now is that moment. This is your chance. It's time to start untangling the ball of lies you live your life around, starting with...your biggest secrets.

Here's our mistake. See, most of us want to undo the ball from the outside. We want to start peeling off little secrets and see how the world handles them. It's the kinds of little things we might be mildly ashamed of, but we'd probably still giggle at if anyone ever found out. They once mattered a great deal and now seem so inconsequential, wrapped up as they are around the so-called bigger things. We might even wonder why this or that little white lie ever meant so much to us in the first place. Why would anyone worry about a silly little thing like that?

The trouble is that this doesn't get us anywhere near our bigger secrets. It just makes them...bigger. Okay, so the world can handle my silly little things. It turns out, that gives me no confidence at all about how the world will handle my big things. My life-changing things. My dirty things. My broken things. It turns out there's a big difference to me about the things that make me feel "not good" and the things that make me feel "gross," and the not good things don't give me hope for the gross things. 

Sorry. They don't. 

But neither does living my life wrapped up in a ball of lies and secrets, in a tangle of stories I'd rather not tell, in a web of whispers I hope never get heard. That doesn't do anything for me, either. It just keeps me tucked away from all the things I want to be - the woman I want to be, the friend I want to be, the disciple I want to be, the minister I want to be, the very essence of all I want to be is tucked away in this ball of secrets. It's not enough to live peeling the layers off from the outside; I'll never get there. You'll never get there. 

What we have to start doing is unraveling our lives from the inside out. We have to start pulling out our biggest secrets first. Then the silly little things get to be the silly little things, and we get to be something so much greater.

I wish I could tell you how all this works, but I can't. It's something I stumbled upon without even realizing it until I woke up one day and knew that my very heart had changed. It's what happened when I dared to take out my biggest secret and lay it bare before God and this world, invite Him to speak it, invite Him to touch it. Invite Him to heal it. It's what happened when I found, for reasons I could not explain, myself giving myself to this secret every day and exposing it to more and more light until one day...until one day I woke up and I wasn't afraid of being found out any more. Then all my silly little things became silly little things, I laughed at myself, and there was tremendous joy. I started touching that which is holy inside of me, at the deepest level of my being, and I knew: In a place in which there is no secret, there can be no fear. Only joy.

I could have spent my whole life living little secrets. I could have spent my days unwrapping my string from the outside. And it all would have been wasted. Because at the core of it, I still would have been asking the same question that was never being answered; at the core of it, I still would have been wondering who I am. And if that's okay. And if that's not okay. And how it gets to be okay. 

It's from these deepest places that we do our asking. That's why the surface sillies never matter much. It's why they don't make a difference. They're safe, so they're not like our secrets. Not like our real secrets. 

There's an old song that says, In the secret, in the quiet place...I want to know You more. And that's it. That's the heart of it. From our deepest, secret places, that's where we're always asking. That's where we're always faintly whispering - God, are You here? Can You...say something? Can I...know you? Is this...too much? Am I...not enough? It is here in the secrets that we wish to know.

And it is here in the secrets that we often fail to ask. 

And it is here, in the secrets, that we must begin our asking. With our boldest questions. With our greatest fears. With our dirtiest stories and sacred shames. It's here that we have to start asking because this is the only place that's ever going to know. This is the only place that's ever going to hear God whisper back. This...this place that doesn't ever feel like it's the only place that's ever going to feel okay if it really is. 

So lay yourself bare before God in the asking. Put your secrets before Him. Not your silly little shames, but your hardest of hearts. Put your big ones out there. Put your greatest fears in the space between you and see if He won't draw near. Come to Him in the secret place, in the secretest of secret places...come to know Him more. Here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Possible Way

The other day, I was reading a devotional snippet on prayer, and the author fell into one of the traps I think it's so easy for us to paint no only our prayer, but all of our faith, into. 

It's the trap of "no possible way."

The author of this particular article was arguing that unrepented sin not only inhibits God from hearing our prayer, it prohibits Him from hearing our prayer. Sin stands in the way not so God has trouble hearing us, but so that God cannot hear us at all. And the answer, according to this author, was that we must first pray a prayer of repentance before we come to prayer at all. 

You may already see the problem.

How are we supposed to pray a prayer of repentance if God cannot hear our prayer at all? To whom, or to what, are we praying this prayer of repentance?

I would go so far as to say, how do we even come to know we are sinners at all without the relationship of prayer? Sin is not something we naturally understand; it is only in the light of God's grace that we come to understand our fallen nature at all. We cannot come to know grace until we can come to know God, and we cannot come to know God until we strike up a conversation with Him. But according to this author I was reading, it would be impossible to strike up that conversation at all because we would be coming as sinners, and God could not hear us. And then what is God? He is nothing. For He does not hear, and He does not answer. 

And this...this is the frustration that so many have with the idea of God at all. We've spent so much of our Christian lives trying to catalogue and divide and define and understand how God works and then work our faith around that. We've come to all of these conclusions that, while they may sound righteous if you don't dig too deeply into them, actually do nothing but set up all these barriers that we could never possibly get through. What we end up with is no possible way for man to come to God at all. 

No wonder people are turned off on the whole God thing. No wonder they roll their eyes at us. At Him. 

It's not just prayer we're doing this with, although it was this article on prayer that I found so assaulting here recently. We do it with the idea of baptism - you cannot come to belong to Jesus until you have come to belong to Him. Uhm...what? We do it with the idea of Communion - you cannot sit at God's table unless He knows to put a chair out for you because of some random requirement you've met to be so invited. We do it with most of our grand doctrinal ideas, actually, and even with most of the disciplines. It's absolutely insane.

I don't know how much of this you've heard or come in contact with over the years, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry that in all our attempts to understand how to come to God, we've spent more time building walls than building walkways. I'm sorry we put these ridiculous ideas into your head that there's just no way to get there, that there are always going to be things standing in your way. 

I don't know...I can't claim to God deals with sinners, except to say that I am one and I have always found Him gracious. I don't know how often my unrepented sin has stood in the way of the conversation I'm trying to have, how many times God has turned a broken heart away from me because of my stubbornness. But I know this: He's heard every word. Every. Single. Word. Every single broken, bent, unrepentant word I have ever prayed, God has heard. 

And the same is true for you. It doesn't matter how broken, how bent, how stubborn or unrepentant your words are; God hears them. He hears every single word you decide to pray. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

See, there is a very real way for man to come to God, and it's this: you just come. You just come as you are, however you are, wherever you are. You just come and bow and pray and scream and cry out and question and whatever you need to do. And God will hear you. And if you need to work on the sin thing, so be it, but don't do it on your own. Don't think it's up to you to heal your sin to draw near to grace. No, it's just the opposite. Draw near to grace, and He will mend your sinful heart. Just come. Okay?

Just come. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Behold the Glory

There is some terrifying imagery in the Bible that is so bizarre that most of us tend to read right by it. It's in, at least, both Ezekiel and Revelation. And of all things, this terrifying imagery is the description of...the heavenly beings.

We have our own ideas of angels and demons. Angels are beautiful creatures, clothed in flowing white robes, heads encircled by halos. They are pleasant, smiling, and playing beautiful music for us. There's a certain..glow about them. Demons, of course, are darker, clothed in red with eyes of fire and vicious sneers. But that's not what these prophets say we'll see.

What they say is that the heavenly beings, and the good heavenly beings at that, are creatures covered in eyeballs. Eyes over every inch of their bodies. Other creepy features, too, like wheels for feet. But it's the eyes that get me. Not to make a bad pun, but what a sight that must be to see.

As I read this description again in Revelation recently, I couldn't help but stop and really think about this. What is it about the eyes? And I think it's this:

All the better to see Him with.

My eyes, they've seen a lot of things down here on earth. Yours probably have, too. But me and you? We're limited to just the two. We can see pretty much what is right in front of us, maybe a little bit off to each side. But that's about all. We've seen a lot of bad things, a lot of broken things. We've seen our share of ugly things. But we've seen a number of beautiful things, too. We've seen some of the glorious things.

I think about what it's like to stand outside under the stars and take in the night sky. It's one of the most incredible feelings in the world to me, feeling at once both the infinite nature of God and the finite nature of self. I think about what it's like to stand on the edge of the ocean and feel some of the same things. I think about taking in the sights and sounds of the thunderstorm, how sometimes if I turn just right after the rain passes through, I can see the rainbow - still a sign of His promise. And all this, I'm seeing with just my two eyes. Just two little eyes on the front of my head, focused on only one thing at a time. Able to see only what I'm looking at.

These heavenly beings, these creatures covered with eyes, they can see much more than you or I can. They can see it all at once. They can see the entire night sky and the foundations of the earth in the same moment. They can look out across the ocean and the land all at once. They see what lies before them and what lies behind them, and under them and over them and all around them in a single blink. They can see the storm and the rainbow in one breathtaking view, without ever turning around. I...can't even imagine.

And then I can't help but not imagine. I can't help but dare hope. Because surrounded by the glory of God the way these creatures are, I think I'd want that, too. I think I'd want to see it all. All at once. And just be enveloped by all this incredible...God-ness that there is to see. I think you need at least a thousand eyes.

And I don't think it'd be as scary as it seems when Ezekiel or John talks about it. I always read these verses, these stories, and thought how terrifying it must be to see a creature that's nothing but eyes. But now, I'm not so sure.

Because I've looked into the eyes of a child when he sees something so incredible he just can't turn away from it, when that little spark of discovery hits his eyes for the first time. I think his eyes give it away even more than his smile does. Just those brief little glimpses into these changes the way I think about these creatures. Hundreds of eyes, all at once, beholding the full glory of Christ from every angle...I think they'll have that same look about them. That energy, that joy that just can't turn away. That awe, that amazement that just betrays the excitement they can't hold back.

I think...I think I'll look at those eyes one day, every square inch of them, and I'll know in that moment what glory really is. I'll know what it's like to truly see God. I can only imagine....

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eyes of the Storm

It's so easy for us to identify with the disciples in the storm sagas of the Gospels. Twice, they are in a boat, rocked by wicked waves, crying out to Jesus to save them. And He's either asleep or away. It looks like they're all on their own, and we know what it feels like to be on a boat that's rocking. 

But did you know that you weren't made to be shaken?

Over the past several weeks, I have had opportunity (ok, necessity) to undergo a series of medical evaluations, one of which just sunk so deep into my heart as I thought about the implications. And it was this very thing - this idea of being shaken. 

Apparently (and I know because I've been through it), you can do just incredible things to the brain to trick it into believing one thing or another. There are, for examples, a number of ways to induce severe dizziness or vertigo in a person while also allowing them the comfort of sitting completely still. These tests are designed to understand the way that the innermost portions of the brain are processing this type of experience, to determine whether dizziness is merely a sensation or whether it is a pathology. 

And the way that the medical community determines how the brain is processing the experience of dizziness is by recording movements of the eyes. In a person with no pathology, even the most severe dizziness will not cause the eyes to move. Read that again - even when the world is violently spinning around them, their eyes will remain perfectly steady. Only in the diseased do the eyes begin to shake. 

This is not some mere passing dizziness; the episodes induced by this testing are severe and seemingly endless. One particular test produces a dizziness that turns the world completely upside-down and lasts for at least two minutes (which feels like an eternity, let me tell you). The ceiling is on the floor. You feel like you're standing on your head. You feel like you're floating because your feet don't feel steady on anything. 

Yet if you're perfectly normal, your eyes are steady.

You weren't made to be shaken.

It's an incredible thing to consider, really. You'd think that it would be the other way around - that it would be the diseased brain that would fail to respond to such powerful stimuli. That it would be the diseased eyes that would seem vacant and unaffected. But it's just the opposite: it is the diseased eyes that are shaken. 

The normal eyes are unmoved. 

It changes the way I think about trouble. That much is for sure. One of the comments I've always heard about my ministry is that I'm good as a chaplain because I'm unafraid, because I'm unshaken. Because I can look the hardest things of this world in the eye and not flinch. It's not a skill I've practiced, per se; it just seems to be the way I've been created. 

It turns out, it's the way you've been created, too. 

You were made with eyes that keep steady in the storm. You were made not to flinch. You were made not to be tossed about by this life, but to have this firm place within you that doesn't move. It doesn't mean we're not all a little pathological from time to time, letting ourselves be rocked by the storms. It just means that's not the norm. It's not the intention. It's not your creation. 

You were made for the storms.

That ought to give you something to hold onto when the winds start blowing, huh?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Faith, Hope, Love

Yesterday, I introduced hopelessness as the void of both imagination and memory - you can't dream of anything else, and you can't remember when you could. It's a heartbreaking situation, one that far too many fall into without even realizing, until it's too late. 

Faith, however, offers us something here that we cannot ignore. 

Faith is interesting because although it is enhanced by imagination and memory, it is not dependent on either. Faith requires only a willingness, and it is for this reason that faith is our way out of despair. 

Faith doesn't require that you know or that you hope. It doesn't require that you trust. It doesn't even require that you believe. It simply requires that you are willing to believe, that you are willing to take a chance there is something out there, right now, to hold onto. You don't have to remember what God has done. You don't have to dream of what He might do. You only have to be willing to bet that He exists at all. Then reach out and hold onto that wisp of an idea. 

It may not seem like a lot, but it's everything. This little bit of faith gives you something to hold onto when it feels like there isn't anything else. It gives you a place to put your feet down, something to wrap your hands around, something to set your sights on - whatever you need it to give you, it gives you. Just by your mere willingness to say it must be so. Beyond what you can see. Beyond what you can dream. Beyond what you can fathom. Even when it doesn't seem real. When you're willing to say there must be something to believe in, you change the landscape of your hopelessness. It's not void any more; there's something there. There's something tangibly there. 

And the more you hold onto what's there, or what seems to be there, the more you're drawn into what's maybe always been there. The easier it becomes, after time, to remember. The more you remember, the more you dream. All of a sudden, faith has drawn you back into hope. Your memory, your imagination - they're back. They've been restored. Hopelessness fades into faith and disappears into hope. There becomes not only a way to hang on, but a way to hold out this hope and to move forward. There becomes a way to open your eyes and look around and see again. See something new, something old, something true, something real. It's all coming back to you.

From this hope springs something else: thankfulness. And from thankfulness, love. See, love is cool because it is the culmination of all of this. It's the biggest thing. That's not just beautiful prose. Faith, hope, and love - the greatest of these is love. It's true. Because faith gives you something small to hold onto when you need it most and hope gives you the eyes to see what's going on all around you. But fills you up to this place of near-bursting and just starts to seep out of you and into everything you do, everything you say, everything you touch, every breath you take. Love saturates your life in a way that neither faith nor hope quite can, and yet, it must be formed in these other two - in willingness and in imagination - for it to be anything at all. And then...and then, love is everything.

In the blink of an eye, you've gone from nothing to everything, from void to fullness, from a lack of imagination to a depth of love. All because of a little thing called faith, which is the mere willingness we have to look into the void and dare to believe there's something out there to hold onto. 

Monday, April 13, 2015


What if life was never going to be any different for you?

I don't really know how I came to think about such things, but it's an idea I've been rolling around in my head for a few days. Although I would not say that I am in a place of hopelessness (more on that tomorrow), I will say that I find myself suddenly intimately acquainted with the idea, in the sense that I think I finally understand where this incredible depravity comes from. 

Hopelessness is not, as it may so easily be defined, simply the understanding that things are what they are and they're never going to change. It's not this idea that things are never going to get better. That's despair, and it's a bit of a different beast. Despair is a weighty burden; it's a heaviness that kind of just holds the air right out of you. Hopelessness, though...hopelessness is less of a burden and more of a void. It's a void of both memory and imagination. 

Here's what happens:

Life becomes whatever life is. Hours, days, weeks, years go by and life just slowly sort of settles into this routine. It settles into this being that is something less than you ever thought it could be, but it happens so quietly that you don't even realize until you get there. And by then, it's too late. Without being consciously aware of it, you suddenly find that you've lost your imagination. You've lost your ability to think life could ever be anything different than it is right now. You've lost the very foundation of hope. Life is what it is, and you're stuck here. 

For awhile, however, you have this other side that you can rely on: you have your memory. You may not have your imagination, you may not have hope for tomorrow, but you've not yet lost sight of a time in the not-so-distant past (or maybe far-too-distant past) where you still had hope, where you still had imagination, where you were fired up by all the grand ideas you had about what your life was going to be. With memory, there is grief, but at least here, you remember what hope feels like. You remember what it's like to believe in bigger things.

But as time presses on and life continues to drain you of your imagination, this hope becomes such a foreign idea that you can't believe any more that you ever really had it. Your memory of all those big dreams? It starts to fade. All of a sudden, you're living a here-and-now that seems like it is also the always-and-forever. It feels like it's been your whole past and it's going to be your whole future and not only can you not see a way out of it, but you can't remember what life was like before this broken mess. It what it is, and it becomes your everything. It's your life story. This broken, messed-up, oppressing life as you know it, completely void of both the imagination that would allow you to hope and the memory that would remind you that at one time, you did. 

There's just this. all there is. all there ever has been. all there ever will be. And all of a sudden, this broken life you're's not even the brokenness that bothers you any more. It's not even the pain, the trial, the trouble that gets to you. It doesn't bother you so much that what you're living right now isn't the most beautiful thing. 

No, what gets under your skin in hopelessness is the emptiness. It's the void. It's the vacancy of your own existence.

It's an easy trap to fall into, precisely because it's such a quiet one. It happens without our even noticing until we're in too deep. Until we start to hear the winds whistle through our hollow hearts, we're often unaware of the emptiness that's settling into us. By then, it feels too late. Almost too late...

But there is a way. It's not easy, but it's out there. And those of us who live with faith have a bit of a jump on it. Tomorrow, I'm going to tell you how we meet this hopelessness head-on. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Redeemed

Something beautiful happens in Genesis 3, and if you're not paying attention, it's easy to miss. To get a little perspective, you have to go back to Genesis 2, where Adam is given the responsibility of naming all of the animals. Whatever the man called each creature became its name. Whatever he called them. Remember that.

Ok, now skip ahead to Genesis 3.

Here we have the account known as "the Fall." This is it. This is the curse. This is where man and woman ruin it for the rest of us by eating the forbidden fruit. The curse is very formal, even set apart in the style of its writing from the rest of this chapter. The snake will be cursed and crawl on his belly; the woman will have pain in labor and be ruled by her husband; the man will work hard to receive little from the land and will return to dust when his time is over. And right after this curse, immediately following the pain and fruitlessness (get the contrast? fruitless labor stems from a fruit-full belly), Adam does something beautiful:

Adam named his wife Eve [Life] because she became the mother of every living person.

Prior to all this, and we even see this in Adam's defense to God, he has known this second human only as the "woman." The woman gave me the fruit, and I ate it. The woman.... She's the only creature he has not yet named. In the curse just pronounced on her, God has subjected her to him and now, perhaps, he feels like he has the authority to name her. 

And most of us today know what the woman did. We blame her for everything. Dangit, woman! we exclaim when life isn't going our way. It's all a product of the Fall, the forever curse, the broken humanity we're all stuck with because the woman couldn't tell the snake to shut up and go pick berries off some convenient little bush. 

But Adam looks at the woman, he looks at the fallen woman, the newly accursed woman...and he names her Life. God has just cursed the most esteemed of His creation. He has condemned the man to hard labor and the woman to painful labor (see? both labor), but Adam looks at the woman and realizes...she will have pains in childbirth. She's going to have a child! She's going to be a mother! There are going to be kids! And he names her Life.

We could learn a lot from Adam.

Because I think we spend a lot of time looking at one another, or even looking in the mirror, and seeing all the broken things. We look at each other, or at ourselves, and see the curse. We see all the ways that we, as persons, have messed up. The mistakes we've made. The problems we've created that it feels like we're never going to get out. And we hold each other, and ourselves, to them. 

We look at how persons got into the situations they're in now, all the messed-up things they've done to wreck their own lives, and it's easy to hold them accountable to that. It's easy to think that's all they are, that's all they will ever be. It's easy to label someone by their brokenness, to call them by a fallen name. 

But Adam...Adam has given his woman a redeemed name. Yes, she's cursed. Yes, she just ruined everything. But he looks at her and sees the incredible role she has to play in God's creation. She's going to be the mother of every living human. She's going to be a part of God's plan. Whatever else she's done, she is also doing this thing, and he calls her by it. She is Life.

I wonder what would happen if we took more time to see the redeemed among us. I wonder what would happen if we started calling each other by the redeemed name, by the role we have to play in God's incredible creation, by the part we have in God's plan. What if you looked at someone who seems so easy to label and you looked beyond all that and saw something bigger in them? What if you gave them the hope that comes with the name of the redeemed? What if, instead of calling them accursed, you called them Life?

What if?

What if someone dared call you redeemed? 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses men and women in marriages with spouses who do not share their faith in Jesus Christ. In some translations, these are referred to as "unbelievers." In others, as "not believers." The more I've been thinking about this, the more I think there's rather a big difference here. 

It's tempting to group everyone who lacks a belief in Jesus into one group. We, the believers, are the Christians. They, those without a belief, are the heathens. There is faith, and there is lack of faith. There is belief, and there is lack of belief. There is Jesus, and there is emptiness. Most of our evangelistic efforts have centered around this idea - that we must simply plant belief where there is none.

But we're missing something important, as our English translations have so hinted here. (And we could get into the Greek, but it's not so important here to do so.)

See, there are different reasons why persons lack a belief in Jesus. Some, as we call them, are unbelievers. Others, as we also often say, are not believers. This matters.

Persons who are not believers are a bit easier to work with. They likely haven't had exposure to the message of Christ or they have not had much reason to really consider it. Their issue is ignorance - they simply haven't heard. When we come into contact with the not believers, then, our task is to present the Gospel message. It's to make an introduction. It is to grab these persons by the hand and place their hand in Christ's and say, "Here you go. Talk to Him. He's got something really cool to tell you." 

Of course, it's overly optimistic to think that every not believer that we introduce to Jesus is going to hit it off with Him. But it's still wise to know when the person with whom we are interacting simply has not had a chance to know; it tells us where to start.

The unbelievers are a bit trickier. Unbelievers are actively not believing. They have likely been introduced to Jesus. They probably know the stories. They have had ample opportunity to come to know Him. But they're not buying it. Either they don't believe they need a savior or they don't believe He's it. 

Unbelievers usually have trouble not just with the idea of Jesus, but also with the presentation of Him. It's this group that is looking most critically at Christians, trying to figure out what possible difference this Jesus makes and often concluding, He doesn't. It is this group that is calling out our hypocrisy. It is this group that is mocking our faith. It is this group that is noticing the difference between real faith and blind hope, and deciding that for most Christians, this Jesus seems more hope than faith. It is this group that presses us to be better at this Jesus thing. 

For the sake of the lost.

You can't just tell an unbeliever the stories; they've already heard them. You can't just introduce them to Jesus; they've already met. You have to step up your game around an unbeliever and demonstrate the difference. You have to make Jesus not only amazing, but relevant. They're looking for a God that matters, and if you can't show them that He does, what good is your God? They're just as well off without Him.

Again, it's important to know what we're dealing with when we face an unbeliever.

It's tempting to think there are only two categories of persons when it comes to God - those who believe in Him and those who don't. But the truth is much more complicated, and the answer even moreso. It's right to have a heart for the lost, but if we don't stop to consider the ground on which we must meet them, we're wasting our breath. 

That person you're thinking of right now, the one that lacks a belief in Jesus...could it be your approach? Do you know who you're dealing with? Is it an unbeliever or a not believer?

These things matter. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Holding On

I've come to the difficult decision that I need to let go of God. 

Something beautiful has been happening in me. Slowly, and almost without my noticing, I have been becoming the woman I've always wanted to be. Oh, I wouldn't have told you I would look like this, but who I am - my personality, my interactions, my spirit - it all feels so natural, so free. And what I've noticed is that all of this comes from this incredible place where God is touching me deeply. It's the natural outflow of being so close to Him. 

The trouble, as it's always been, I guess, is that once I get something good in my life, that's all I want. I want that goodness more than anything. I want always to live so casual, so natural, without all the stress of trying to be this thing. I could never work myself into being who I am when God is so near; I can only simply be that by nature of His presence. I cannot wake up and decide to be natural, as odd as it may sound. I just have to be that. 

But it's hard just to be. Once I've touched this thing, once I've experienced what it is to be so free in God, I want always to be that. So I reach out and try to grab onto it. I try to hold tightly to God so that I can always be so close, so that I can always be so free. But it doesn't work. The more I try to hold onto God, the more I feel like I'm forcing it. And when I'm forcing it, I'm nothing like I am meant to be. I'm nothing like the woman that I've come to deeply appreciate, the beautiful woman who has been hiding in me, waiting for God's presence to expose her and make her manifest, so she can make Him manifest. The harder I try to hold on, the more I feel myself slipping away.

So it's time to let go.

I don't really know how all of this works. It sound strange, even as I write it, to say that I must let go of God. But I know there is no other way. I'm holding too tightly to Him. I'm trying too hard. I'm so afraid of letting go that rather than embracing freedom, I have wrapped myself in chains. It's the very opposite of everything I have always wanted. And just as I understand this beautiful thing God is doing in me, I cannot ignore the horrible thing I am doing in myself. This horrible way I am coming against myself in trying to find myself. This horrible paradox that the more I want to be the woman I've discovered in me, the less I must try to be her. The tighter I want to hold her, the more I must let go. Because she only exists in the natural flow of things.

And this holding on is anything but natural.

It's striving. It's stressing. It's trying to create my own salvation. It's this attempt I'm making at creating in myself the woman I want to be, all while declaring that she has already been created. It's foolishness! If God has created this woman in me, then who am I to try to create her again? I can't. I must simply let her show herself, let her make her appearance. And the only way to do that is to simply let her come. 

She comes when I least expect her, when life is just life, when the days are just going by and there's this opportunity, this moment, and God is present, and I am present in my best possible self and it just flows out of me. It just seems to be this way. And every time - every. time. - I reach out my hands and try to take hold of the God that makes this possible. I never want to let go of this feeling of being beautifully created, wonderfully made, perfectly me; I never want to let go of the God who created, made, and perfected me. 

But I must. I have to. I have to let go. As odd, as backward, as weird as it sounds, I've come to the difficult decision that I have to let go of God. It's the only way. 

But this...this is also true: that I should find, in letting go of God, that it was never me who was meant to hold on to Him. It was always Him who has been holding on to me. 

And He is. And He always is. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Not My Fight

One of the greatest temptations I think we have in this world is to fight. We like to argue, to take a stand, to be right about something. And we're generally willing to diminish someone else's standing to raise our own. 

There's been a lot of opportunity lately for Christians to fight. Some in this world are even trying to bait us into it. They want to press our buttons so that we throw punches instead of wash feet. They want us to shout instead of serve. They want us to fight instead of forgive. They want us to lose our love. 

And I'm not innocent. I have to admit that sometimes, I get suckered into all this drama. Sometimes, I want to speak love so loud that I forget to actually live it. And I come off fighting. Not because I want to fight, but because that's the language of this world so often. The loudest voice wins. The strongest argument wins. The biggest following wins. 

It's so easy to fight.

When I came to understand this and began to realize how deeply this fighting was weaving its way into my life, I had to figure out how to get out of it. It seems like such a noble prayer to pray, "Lord, if this is not my fight, then take me out of it." I've prayed that prayer. I've prayed for God to give me the strength to keep quiet, to step back, to stand at a distance and be broken-hearted, but not baited back into the ring. 

The trouble is that for as noble as it sounds, as disciplined as it sounds, it doesn't hit at the heart of the problem. When you get so used to fighting in your life, and it's so easy to jump in and start throwing punches (even punches in the name of "love" because that's how we Christians so often fight, or tell ourselves we are), asking God to take you out of the fight is a lot like asking the coach to bench you. 

You're not fighting, but you still want to.

Every word you want to say is sitting on the tip of your tongue. Every punch you want to throw is trapped in your clenched fists. You're just waiting on the bell to ring so you can stand up, toss off your coat, and get back in there. You're planning your next attack, even while holding yourself back, and it all becomes eventually unfair. You could win! You could really win. You've convinced yourself of that. But you're not allowed to throw any more punches. You're not allowed to make any more points. 

It's inherently unfair. Here you are, poised to win, and you're sitting on the sidelines because of all things, you prayed to be benched. 

So here's the thing: I've prayed that prayer. I've asked to be benched. And it doesn't work. Because I live my life wanting to fight, but choosing not to, and the tension is just incredible. The anxiety is tremendous. It stirs up more trouble in my heart than it settles. And at some point, I decided it was my prayer that was off. So...I changed it. 

I don't ask to be benched any more; that doesn't work. I don't try to discipline myself into staying out of it; I can't. It just makes me want to be in there all the more. I no longer pray, "Lord, if this is not my fight, take me out of it." That just puts me in a tougher spot. 

Instead, I've taken to praying, "Lord, if this is not my fight, take it out of me." Let me walk away and not look back. Let me leave the arena altogether. Let me hear the bell and not even flinch. Don't put me on the bench; I can hardly handle it. Instead, put me somewhere I can be of real use. Put me somewhere forgiving, not fighting. Put me somewhere serving, not shouting. Put me somewhere loving, not losing. Lead me out of here, Lord, because if I stay, I won't be able to help myself. I'm a fighter. Make me a friend. 

Sometimes, I have to pray that prayer over and over. I look at the fight, and I'm tempted. And it would be so easy to jump back in. But I settle my heart and pray again, "Lord, if this is not my fight, take it out of me." Every time I want to make a point, I pray, "Lord, if this is not my fight...." Every time I want to throw a punch, "Lord, if this is not my fight...." Lord, if this is not my fight, take it out of me.

And you know what? He usually does. Because most of the fights in this world? They aren't mine. As much as I may want a piece of the action, these are not my fights.

Most of the fights in this world? They aren't yours. Let them go. Walk away. Go somewhere you can be of real use. Forgive. Serve. Love. Pray. "If this is not my fight, Lord, take it out of me." 

Monday, April 6, 2015


Peter says something interesting in his first letter. It's an idea that is seen throughout Scripture, from the first Temple to the Second: it's about the cornerstone. 

The cornerstone is an interesting piece of construction. It has to be laid just right or the whole building will be askew. It has to be laid straight and also at a right angle, so that the building goes off square in both directions. It has to be set firmly so that it doesn't move when the other pieces start to come around it. It must be set deeply enough that it gives the building root but not so deep that its structural importance is lost. In other words, it must be perfectly right. Or everything else is going to be terribly wrong. 

The cornerstone in Scripture is a reference to Jesus. Jesus is the first piece God is going to put in place. And sometimes, I think that's kind of hard to narrow down. I mean, what part of Jesus? His birth? His ministry? That one day on the mountainside? That other day on the mountainside? Jesus in the courtyard, refusing to speak in His own defense? Jesus crucified? What is it about Jesus that we're supposed to be building around? And I, I know...I ask this question more around this time of year, around Easter. Because there's something about being torn between the Cross and the grave that's hard for me.

The Cross was God's redemptive act; it's how we build a life in God at all. It's the sacrifice that allows us to come before Him, holy and pleasing. There is no Christ without the Cross; we have no hope without this redemption. But the grave was God's eternal act; it's the promise of forever. And we need that, too. I could drive myself crazy thinking about such things this time of year. 

But this year, I haven't had to. Because of what Peter says. And here it is:

I am laying a chosen and precious cornerstone in Zion... (2:6a)

I read that and I can't help but wonder if it's not Good Friday/Easter that Peter is referring to. God has laid a chosen and precious cornerstone - Christ, always Christ - in a grave in Zion. 

Which sounds like maybe the grave is the thing, but no. This is the beautiful harmony of the Cross and the grave. The cornerstone is the crucified Christ, that which is being laid. The grave is the foundation on which He is being laid. So there's no tension here. There's no wondering what part of Jesus we're supposed to be building our lives around. It is the crucified Christ set in the grave; it is sacrifice resting in promise.

It is redemption nestled in eternity. 

That's the cornerstone. And that's not to say that when the Christ comes out of the grave, all is ruined. No. The crucified Christ is still the stone to build on, and the grave - even empty - is still the place on which to build.

And whoever believes in him will never be ashamed. (2:6b)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mending the Tear

Today is Good Friday. It is the day that, nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the Cross. At His death, the earth shook. The dead walked out of their graves. And the curtain in the Temple - the heavy drape that separated the Holy from the Most Holy Place - tore in two. 

And we've been trying to mend it ever since.

I think it was this torn curtain, more than anything, that shook our sense of God that day. Even more than the empty grave, it was this torn curtain that taught us something new about God. The doesn't require anything from us, except perhaps to believe. The requires a lot.

Man thought he had God figured out. He thought, under the Law, that he knew what God required of him. It was all spelled out right there. Man had spent thousands of years trying to get the law right, trying to work out the kinks, trying to figure out how to live. And then the curtain tears, and it's not just that man is welcome into a new place, the Most Holy Place. It's that man can now see that place at all. 

And here's the scandal of it: The Most Holy Place is the place where God has dwelt among His people. It's the place where God has truly lived, in smoke and fire, in cloud and fog. After all this time that man has spent trying to figure God out, all these understandings man has finally come to, all that man finally thinks he knows, the Most Holy Place mocks him. Because it reveals how God has truly lived among His people.

Which has so little to do with Law and everything to do with Love. 

As if the example of Jesus isn't enough, man can now see the Throne of Mercy. He can now see how mercy finds it place above the Law, which is tucked away in an Ark. He can see how the angels guard mercy, but it is mercy that guards the Law. It shakes everything we thought we knew. It shakes everything we've been working toward. 

And it's easier to sew a new curtain than it is to live a new life. 

It's easier to find a way to tuck God back into that box, into that secret, Most Holy place, and to leave Him there. It's easier to find a way when we think about it to be drawn back to law, back to right and wrong, yes and no, black and white. Thou shalt not.... Thou shalt not.... 

Thou shalt not. 

It's harder when God becomes Love. Love is...messy. It's hard. And we see that when the curtain is torn. We see how messy love really is when we see the place that Love has been living for so long. It's not so easy any more. God desires love, but...what is love? It's not law. It's not right and wrong, yes and no, black and white.

It's shades of grey and drops of blood. It's beads of sweat and streams of tears. It's mercy.'s messy. 

We spend so much time trying to mend the curtain, like something's gone terribly wrong here in the Temple. But it is God who desired that we finally see the Most Holy Place. It is God who wanted us to see what He really looks like, living among us. It is God who tore the curtain, from the top down. So isn't it time we put down our needle and thread and open our eyes? Isn't it time we look at see what God Among Us really looks like?

Isn't it time we put the Law back in its place - tucked safely under mercy - and start figuring out what Love looks like? Sunday's a-comin'. Isn't it time we get Love right?

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Everybody's always asking, which came first? The chicken or the egg? The Bible has a beautiful answer for that. Genesis tells us that God created the earth fertile and ready to reproduce, so the answer is: 

A chicken with an egg in it.

The life that God created had the seed of life within it at its very conception. God, from the very beginning, created life within life. 

Why do I bring this up now? Because this is a season in which we're all looking for eggs. Eggs, it seems, represent a new life. We know it's in there. We know that just on the other side of that shell is a life waiting to spring forth, just as we know that just on the other side of that stone, new life waits in the grave. He's waiting for just the right time to come busting out of there. And that time is coming soon. That time is Easter morning.

So we go hunt eggs. We go out looking for new life without realizing that, like the chicken, it's been inside of us this whole time. God created you with this new life in mind, with a way to bring you back to Himself. He created you fertile for the faith, with this special little place inside of you that can't help but nurture what He's growing in you. 

And what is He growing? Redemption. Pure and precious redemption. He's growing the you that you were always intended to be, the you that has to be tucked away for awhile to develop well before you burst forth into His glorious Creation and manifest His incredible grace.

Most of us wonder a great deal about who we are. Are we the broken woman we see in the mirror? Or are we that rush of holiness we feel when we come in contact with the spirit of God? At our very core, we want to know which is real. Are we saints or sinners? Are we chickens or eggs?

The answer is: we're both. We're saints and sinners. We're chickens with eggs in them. 

New life is growing in you already. This Easter, crack it open.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Second Sabbath

I have written before (although I cannot seem to find it right now) about Jesus in the grave between Good Friday and Easter. I have wondered what He was doing with that time. I have theorized that although He was fully God, He embraced death as fully man and stayed in that grave those three days. 

What was He doing in there?

As I have thought about this again this year, because I tend to have the same thoughts when Easter rolls around, I think that for the first time, perhaps I know: He rested.

Time is a funny thing in the Bible. The writers don't calculate time the way that we do. We're told that Jesus spent three days in the grave, and that's because He spent part of Good Friday there, the very last few minutes of it. He spent part of Easter Sunday there, the very first few minutes of it. But He spent all of Solemn Saturday (a term of my own coinage) there. And that Saturday? That Solemn Saturday? It was also the Sabbath.

And so, He rested.

We know it was the Sabbath from our understanding of Jewish law. But even if we didn't know, the Bible plainly tells us. It's why Joseph of Arimathea was in such a hurry to get the body in the grave; he couldn't bury a man on the Sabbath. If He didn't entomb the Christ on Good Friday, the body would have to rot somewhere until Sunday. It's also why the women didn't go to the tomb until Sunday morning; they couldn't travel on the Sabbath. Two very deliberate reminders that that middle day, that Saturday, was a day of rest for everybody.

Including the Son of God.

By that point, He probably needed some rest. We read in the Gospels that every time He tried to sneak away for a few minutes to Himself, the crowds found Him anyway. They followed. They pressed in. They brought their sick, their infirm, their lame. They were hounding Him at every turn. After three years of very public ministry, rest was a welcome gift. 

But it's more than that. Rest meant something special to God. Rest for God comes after a series of good works, works at which He sits back and declares, "It is good." And it comes not so that He can take a short break from His work. No, for God, rest comes when His work is complete. Both of these things are true about the work of Christ by Solemn Saturday - it is good, and it is finished.

It is good because God has made a way for His people to come back to Him. He has manifest redemption before their very eyes. No longer must sin separate God and His Creation; the Christ has ransomed the world. God finally gets what He longs for - His people. And His people finally get what they so desperately need - their God. The two get to walk together again. He can reach out and take their hands; and they can reach back and take His. His nail-pierced hands. 

And it is finished. The earth has shaken, the curtain has torn, the dead have walked out of their graves. Think what you want about the Cross, but there's no denying it. Something happened. Something happened that has never happened before and will never happen again. No power of Hell, no scheme of man can ever un-shake the earth. It's over. Jesus wins. 

And so, He rests. That's what He's doing in the tomb on that one full day. He's resting, in the way that only God can rest. It's the second real Sabbath in the history of time, and it's His. 

Rest, my Lord. Rest well. 

It is good. And it is finished.