Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Beloved

When we speak about God, we often say that 'God is Love.' And when we talk about the way that God responds to His creation, we say, again, that 'God is Love.' And when we talk about what it means for us to be like God in this world, we talk about what it means to love one another. 

But what about the beloved?

Love is intimately personal; it cannot exist without a beloved. You cannot scatter love in this world the way you'd thrown confetti or the way that rain falls. You have to give love, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart, as you'd give any other good gift. Love looks people in the eye and offers itself to the beloved.

I, and many others like me, have written much about what it means to live as the beloved, what it means to live loved, what it means to show God's love of us to the world and manifest our being loved in our very lives. And all of that is good and true and important. But as I thought most recently about what it means to live in relationship, and particularly what love means in a relationship, I couldn't help but think about God.

We know Him as Lover, but how often do we think of Him as Loved?

It changes something, doesn't it? It does for me. It's so easy for me to think about God as this active agent in the world, always loving, always creating, always redeeming. Always offering grace and answering prayer and responding to the needs of His children. When I think of God as an active agent in this world, it's hard to imagine Him as anything less in relationship with me. If you talk about me and God, He does all the work, and I enjoy the riches. He does all the saving, and I am merely saved. He does all the loving, and I am simply loved. And I'm tempted to call this 'relationship.'

But that's not relationship. Not at all. Relationship is a two-way street. And even what I might say are my best offerings to God do not necessarily come close.

For example, I may worship Him. And that seems like a 'give' in my mostly 'take' relationship. But my worship of Him is not relationship. Not at all. In worship, He is elevated, and I am lowly. We're not seeing each other eye-to-eye. We're not extending our hands to one another. If I raise my hands at the same moment that He opens His, well...picture it. It's a dance, maybe, but it's not relationship.

I may pray to Him. But 'want' is not relationship, either. I go to the ATM, to the store, to the flea market with 'want,' but I have relationship with none of these things or places. I speak to the server at the restaurant to convey my immediate desires, but that's a transaction, and nothing more. It's not a relationship. And no, prayer is not supposed to be wholly 'want' or 'desire,' but let's be honest - it often is. In true prayer, I'm starting to get close to relationship, but who among us prays true all the time? 

These are just two of the ways I respond to God (there are many more), but it must be said that simply responding to God is not the same as relating to Him. Relationships are reciprocal. They're conversational. They're give-and-take. There's so much God gives me that I could never give to Him. It's absurd to think I could offer God grace in return for His grace, mercy in return for mercy. It's foolish to think I could ever save Him; it is He who has saved me. Nor would I expect Him to worship me in the way that I worship Him, or to pray, beseeching my favor; I have no favor of worth to offer Him.

But love...

Love is the holy ground where we meet. Because God loves me and I can return this gift. I can love Him back, which does this beautiful think and makes the Lover the Beloved. 

And it changes what I see in His eyes.

It changes the way I think about God when I know that He knows that I love Him. It changes the way I understand Him, and understand Love, when I discover that Love means something to Him, too. Not just in the way He gives it, but in the way that I give it, in the way that He receives. Maybe I'm merely a child. Maybe my love is macaroni art, but His eyes light up anyway. Maybe my love is just scribbles, but there's a refrigerator in the heavens with my scribbles all over it. Maybe my love is cheesy, but there's a picture of the two of us in a 'World's Best God' frame on His holy mantel. And it changes the way I think about Him. Lover, yes, but also Beloved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

For the Love of

If you ask the theologians about this idea in Genesis 1-2 of man being made "in the image of God," they'd almost all say something about how this image has nothing to do with our form. Rather, it has to do with our faculties. Most important among these is our faculty for relationship.

Since God is, and always has been, in perpetual, perfect relationship with Himself as manifest through the persons of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - it is our ability to relate to each other and to God that makes us most remarkably like Him, most in His image. 

The more I read about this idea lately, the more I wondered what that meant for, say, the autistic individual, who science tells us struggles to form relationships, if she can form relationships at all. If being in the image of God means establishing relationships, would we dare say that the autistic person therefore does not reflect the image of God?

I wasn't initially thinking about the autistic person. I was merely wondering if we could find someone on this earth - say, an orphan - who had not had opportunity to form relationships or say, a wounded individual who purposely avoided forming relationships, what would we say about the image of God in those persons? But it struck me that even those persons have formed relationships of their own, in their own ways. Science, however, and research, tell us that the hallmark of autism is the inability to relate, so my thoughts quickly turned here.

It's a question I immediately wrestled with, and one I could not shake until I came to a reasonable conclusion. Thankfully, I think the answer is quite simply once we understand one simple truth:

"Science" is wrong.

Autistic individuals actually have a remarkable capacity for relationship. Just not with everybody and, generally, not with you. Look at the way an autistic child bonds with a horse at a therapeutic riding center. Or with a special assistance dog assigned to be his best friend. Or a certain stuffed animal that brings her great comfort. Or...the list goes on and on. No, maybe we don't see the child bonding with a mother or a father or a brother or a best friend, but we still see her bonding. Sometimes, even the most autistic child is able to establish this bond - so often seen with animals - with some human. Usually, it's not a human strongly connected to the child. Maybe it's a staff member of some day center the child visits. Maybe it's a janitor at the school. Maybe it's a random person at church that you can't figure out why your autistic child feels such a strong connection to. Maybe it's the cashier at Walmart. We don't know why these children form the bonds that they do, but almost all autistic children end up having a bond with something.

An incredible bond.

It's a bond so tight, so amazing, so strong that if the child were not autistic, we might consider it more than a little weird. Or perhaps even dangerous. Yet in the face of this label, it's a tremendous relief. This child, this child who is not supposed to be able to connect with anyone, has found a connection in this world. And we find ourselves doing everything we can to foster that relationship. Taking the child routinely to visit the horse, welcoming a dog into the family, inviting the janitor for dinner, going to Walmart every day. Whatever it is, we see that and we value that.

And, if we were paying even more attention, I think we'd learn something.

Because it is this kind of pure, simple, incredible attachment that is the hallmark of true relationship. We who would say we have the fullness of our faculties engage in relationship as a give-and-take - give a little, take a little. We're always looking for a balance between loving and being loved. We're always counting the cards, trying to figure out who's playing what, trying to gauge our relationships by their fruitfulness, and all sorts of other quantifiers and qualifiers that we want to put on them. We're always calculating our relationship as if they were some sort of equation.

But these relationships that autistic children form, they are not give a little, take a little. They are give it all, take it all. When the autistic child latches on to that one thing in the universe that for whatever reason, she feels connected to, she gives her entire self to that. Purely. Freely. She climbs up on that horse without hesitation. She embraces the dog. She takes token gifts to the janitor. She smiles up at the person at church. She delights even in the long line at the cashier's check stand. She lets go of her inhibitions and gives all of herself, even though she does not realize the giving, to the object of relationship. 

And so, too, she takes wholly. She goes wherever the horse might take her. She follows the dog's lead. She wraps her little hands around token gifts the janitor might bring. She notices the smile of the person at church and lets it wash over her without hiding her face.

Whatever it is that has formed the connection between these two, for the autistic child - this is the most pure relationship there could possibly be. It's everything. It takes everything and it gives everything, and somehow, that's perfectly okay, even for this child who is supposed to be, according to research, incapable of all this. She's far from incapable. 

In fact, she's incredible.

Because this is what relationship was meant to be - give all, take all, without all the calculations. 

I wondered, when I read some of the theologians, what we might say about persons who can't form the kinds of relationships that most people form. How do they manifest the image of God? And after some careful consideration, I think I've come to realize the answer is:

Most purely. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis

Something absolutely incredible happened in America this past week: Pope Francis.

That’s not the incredible part. Pope John Paul II visited the United States, as did Pope Benedict XVI. What’s incredible is how America responded to all of this.

For the past several years, at what seems to be an increasing rate, Christianity and Christians have taken a hard smack from the American culture. It’s not okay any more to be Christian in public. You can’t pray if anyone might hear you; you can’t ask anyone to join you to pray. You can’t have religious convictions and be credible as a political leader. You can’t put the Ten Commandments in a public place, nor erect a nativity at Christmas. If you dare put the baby Jesus in your front yard, someone’s going to steal Him, which is funny because whoever took Him will also tell you they have no want of Him. Churches are under attack. Principles are under attack. We’re making fun of people for believing in one thing or another. And slowly but surely, we’re pushing “freedom of religion” out of the Constitution and into the closet because, well, someone left the door open and everybody’s skeletons fell out - Christians, non-Christians, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white. Everybody.

We’re fighting over issues that are close to our theology - issues like the right to life. Human rights. Civil rights. Equality. All of these are, at their heart, Christian values, but because they’re in politics, we’re not allowed to bring religion into them. As if putting God behind them somehow invalidates what we believe. Or lessens it. Or whatever.

But now, there’s Pope Francis. And something strange is happening here.

This very same America who wants so desperately to draw hard lines between God and politics showed no protest when Francis spoke on the White House lawn, when he met with the current President of the United States, when he addressed a joint session of the United States Congress, or when he spoke to the United Nations. No one was outside the gates picketing the influence of religion in politics. No one was protesting the “place” of the Pope as being “in the church” and not in the Constitution. At least, if people were voicing these opinions, the mainstream media - yes, the champion of the anti-religious movement - wasn’t covering it. You’ve heard no mention of such a thing.

Although you’ve heard a lot of mention of the Pope, and this, too, is strange. America wouldn’t tolerate “breaking news” coverage of any religious authority figure doing anything religious-y. Nobody’s breaking in with Rick Warren addressing crowds of tens of thousands. Nobody’s running non-stop commentary on Pastor Bill’s (made-up pastor) interaction with a community. It’s not a trending headline that Pastor Jack (also made-up) is having lunch with the homeless today. Because if it were, the people would cry out and scream, That’s not news! Get that religion off my screen!

But America is not only putting up with the Pope; they are fixated on him. They’re fascinated by him. They’re tuning in to hear what he says; they’re following his journey through our fair and free land. They’re listening when he speaks in broken English, in a country that’s frustrated by having to press 1 for English on a menu.

There are so many thoughts I’m having about America’s reaction to Pope Francis on our soil, in our Congress, in our politics. The first is this: I don’t know if that means Pope Francis is doing something beautifully right or horribly wrong. Maybe America is putting up with all this, even relishing all this, because Pope Francis is doing something beautifully right. Maybe his religion, and his exercise thereof, just doesn’t offend anybody. If that’s the case, we need to take note of what he’s doing and how he’s doing it so that we, too, can be Christians with influence, without offending anybody. The alternate may also be true. Maybe Pope Francis isn’t considered a religious authority at all by many Americans. Maybe he’s come to be known merely as a political figure of sorts, and we’re just putting up with his theological egocentricities because we like his policies on a political level. If this is the case, we must mourn for the state of the church - whether we are Catholic or not - for we were never meant to be politicians. And maybe, it must be recognized, it is a mixture of both - that his religion is purely practiced and inoffensive to a sensitive public and that his policies are favorable politically. Whatever the case, we must take notice of the way America, as a whole, is responding to the pontiff.

And we also must say this, in reference to that: America is, at her core, still a nation hungry for God. Isn’t that what we’re seeing? The faithful rejoice, but for once, the masses are silent about it. I mean, silent. Is this because the masses are not so removed from God as they pretend to be? Is this because at his core, every man longs for some measure of God? Is this because....why is this? It’s because we are a people hungry for God. Many of us are hearing God’s Word, God’s promise, God’s morals and ethics and values and ideas spoken back into our American community, and we’re loving it. Others are hearing for the first time, even if only because they can’t get away from the coverage of this Pope. But we’re hearing, and it’s stirring something within us - Catholic or not, Christian or not.

I say all that to say this - we have to pay attention. We have to take notice of what’s going on, with all of America’s eyes turned toward the theological. Let’s all take a collective deep breath and soak this moment in, and then let’s figure out why it’s working. Let’s figure out what’s going right about this. Because there doesn’t have to be tension in our society between piety and politics. Of this much, we can be sure because it’s happening right now. Right before our very eyes. How? Why?

I don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t know all the underlying influences. But I would venture a guess and say this: if we could get love right and speak with the same gentleness, humility, and grace as the man who has turned America’s ear this past week, I think we’d be on to something. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Carpenter's Son

Speaking of fathers and sons in the Bible, have you considered why God chose Joseph as the human father of His Son? We speak rather often of Mary and her faithfulness and her favor, but why Joseph?

We don't know a lot about Joseph. We get a couple of glimpses of his character in the early drama of the pregnancy, as he decides, for example, to break his engagement with Mary quietly so as not to make a spectacle of things. We know he does his due diligence to do things correctly. He takes his family, despite his betrothed being very pregnant, to Bethlehem for the taking of the census, and he takes good care of her along the way. We know he makes do with his circumstances. I imagine having a carpenter in a stable could come in quite handy if, say, the manger needs a little something to be safe for baby Jesus. 

And we know he was a carpenter.

This is what strikes me as perhaps most intriguing about the Joseph-Jesus dynamic. God could have given His Son to a man of any profession; there were some good options in those days. He could have been a merchant or a trader. He could have been a fisherman. He could have been a blacksmith/metalworker. He could have been a Pharisee. Jesus could have been the son of any of these men, and yet, God gave Him to the carpenter. Why?

I think it's because the carpenter embodies so much of who God is that it was natural for Jesus to be born into the carpenter's family.

He could have been a merchant or a trader, but what would people have said of Him? The same thing they say about God now - that He just moves pieces around in a cosmic chess game. That He's strategic. That we're all just pieces on His board, that we are mere ideas to Him. The work of a merchant, although involving goods, is primarily a phantom work. It's not a tangible work; it's a business. God would not want His Son to be accused of being a businessman. He needed a work that people could put their hands on.

He could have been a fisherman. Everyone ate fish, so that was definitely a hands-on job. But the fishermen were a bit far removed from the people for Jesus, don't you think? The average man went to the market to buy his fish, and even if he encountered the fisherman, he never really understood fully what the fishing trade entailed. Being on a boat in the middle of a lake with people who do the work you do, for only the result of your labor to be doesn't suit Jesus. The people of God had seen the result of God's labor for generations already; Jesus was meant to reveal the work itself, to show how God was working. God did not send His Son to work behind the scenes, so He could not be a fisherman.

He could have been a Pharisee or some other leader in the Temple. Jesus is uniquely qualified, don't you think, to teach men about the nature of God. To tell God's story. To instruct men in the ways of worship. But there's something absolutely awful about a God who comes only to teach you how to worship. There's something horrid about a God who is interested only in religion. God is so much more than that, and He couldn't see boxing His Son into the Temple.

He could have been a blacksmith or a metalworker. Here was a hands-on job with a good deal of contact with the general public. Men might come in and commission some of the metalworker's work. They could smell the burning metals from His shop, so they could see Him working. They could see the black soot gathering on His hands and face. They could feel the hot fire used to mold the metal. And there's something to this. Who doesn't want a God who is willing to stand in the heat for you? It's a creative work; our God is nothing if not creative. The metalworker's son is oh so close an idea, but it's missing one very crucial detail...


Metal has no life in it; it's an inanimate object. Wood, however.... Wood comes from trees. Trees are life. Trees are living, breathing, growing, producing, vibrant, vital things. Carpentry, then, is the real deal. It has all the essential qualities we want to see in God - it is a creative work, mirroring God's work of Creation; it is a human work, able to be commissioned and receive input from the man/woman/family requesting the item; it is a tangible work, with a finished product you can hold in your hands; it is a visible work, the splinters and callouses and beads of sweat, not to mention the shavings and sawdust all around. And most importantly, it is a work that begins with life. Isn't this who God is? Isn't this the very essential nature of God?

That's why I think He had to be the carpenter's Son. So we could see all the very things He really is through one more work of His hands. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Father and Son

We speak fairly freely about how the relationship between Abraham and Isaac, particularly in the scene of sacrifice on Mount Moriah, mimics the relationship between God and Jesus - it is one father sacrificing a son. But what about other sons and fathers in the Bible?

What about, say, Jacob and Joseph?

This one struck me the other day as I was reading something somewhere. God made a promise to Jacob and renamed him Israel, which would become the tribe name of the people of God. This was the father of God's chosen people and through his twelve sons, he would become twelve tribes and inhabit the Promised Land that God had been leading the people toward. 

The problem, of course, was that there were obstacles the sons of Jacob could not see - a coming famine, for instance. A period of parchedness. A time of trial and testing. They may have had their sights set on Canaan, may have been dreaming of what it would be like to be in the place that God was giving them, may have embraced wholeheartedly the idea of the promise, but they couldn't just go there. There was no way to just get there. God had to make a way.

And that way was through a son.

It was through a bitterness created between Joseph and his brothers, between one son and the rest of Israel. It was through the sending of a son into foreign territory, into the very high courts of a foreign nation where that son gained an audience with the leading authorities of the day. It was through food stocked in storehouses and brothers who, so many years removed, could never recognize the favored son but begged his mercy anyway, trusting that he was the only one who had it to give.

Sound familiar? A promise of the father, fulfilled through the son. And this son is much like the coming Son.

The coming Son, too, created a bitterness among Israel. He stood between the faithful and the Pharisee claiming a favor that set the Pharisee fuming. They started plotting how to get rid of Him. The coming Son, too, was sent into foreign territory, the very created world being so far removed from the heavens that were his home, and into the very high courts of both the Pharisee and the Roman, gaining an audience with both the high priest and the high governor. The coming Son, too, brought food out of the storehouses - bread, broken and shared freely; living water, poured out; blood, shed. And the coming Son, too, was not recognized by His brothers, was not known for who He was, was not embraced. At least, not by most of the brothers. It was the foreigners who flocked to Him. But all begged His mercy, sensing that He was the only one who had it to give. 

Variations on a theme, as so much of God's story is. It's a pattern laid out again and again - father and son reflecting the glory of Father and Son. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. How about David and Solomon? The father David desires to build a temple for the Lord, a home for Him among His people, and the son Solomon does the building. God desires a home among His people, and His Son Jesus does the building. How about Zechariah and John the Baptist? Zechariah sees how the plan of God is unfolding, but it's through his son, John, that it actually comes to pass. God knows what He's doing in the world, but it's through His Son, Jesus, that it actually happens. Father and son, father and son, father and son, father and son, all drawing us into this grand drama of Father and Son. It's no accident.

God wants us to know undeniably when His Son comes just what this means. He wants us to know, from Abraham, from Jacob, from David, from Zechariah, from countless others, what it means when He calls this Jesus His Son. It means this Jesus, like all the sons before Him, is the fulfillment of a Promise. And He wants us to know from Isaac, from Joseph, from Solomon, from John, from countless others, what it means when this Son calls Him Father. It means that this God, like all these fathers, is the Promise Himself. 

Cool, huh?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


So much of what we're able to do in this world depends on what we think about a place called home. But what if home is not so much of a place at all, but rather, a situation?

It's easy for us to get in the bad habit of conceptualizing holy things in terms of time and space. I've written before about how dangerous it is to think of Eden and Heaven as being perfect places, since they are made perfect only by the relationships that are possible there - namely, the relationship between man and God. 

And many of the early church fathers, the older theologians, would say that it is relationship that best defines our existence here, as well. It is relationship, they say, that puts us in connection with the image of God that is created in us. It is relationship that manifests what is holy in each of us. It is only when we are in relationship that we are the best version of ourselves, and the most near to what God has created us to be. 

This means that we are who we most are, we are most comfortable with ourselves, we are most true to ourselves, not in a place but in our place; not in a location, but in a network. 

Building relationships is net work. 

Building relationships with the people around us weaves a net of connections with holy threads. All these people, they stand around us and behind us and beside us and under us, wrapping us in the comfort and security of relationship, of connectedness, of community, where we become more of who we were meant to be, not just in our own creation but in the very image of God, who is in constant relationship with Himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) and with His creation. 

It is in this community, this connectedness, that we become most comfortable, that we feel like we have a place called home. We can either stretch this net of relationships out like a hammock and come to rest in it, secure in who we are as connected to other persons and to God Himself, or we can trust in the strength and security of our net to take risks, knowing that our community will catch us when we fall.

What's great about a home like this is that you never have to leave it. It's not a place you touch base with and then venture out into the world; it's a comfort and a security that you take with you wherever you go, knowing that your very life is held by these holy threads that hold you and your community together with the God who created you all. So you never have to worry about where you go or what you do; home is always one mindful breath away.

We think a lot about this place called home. But what really is home? It's nothing without the people and the God who love you so dearly. It's nothing without the relationships that give it meaning. It's nothing if not the tangled, holy web we weave.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I think most of us have some hangups around this thing called "home," and Christians, especially. And yet, it's this very idea that shapes so much of who we are and what we are able to do for God in this world. 

Home is the place where you're most comfortable. It's a box, sure, a place with walls around it, but here, you feel like you can stretch out a little bit and be wholly yourself. Home is the place where you start to define yourself, to discover who you really are. And home is a safe place, not just for exploration, but for rest. It's the place you always come back to. It feels completely safe.

But there are two dangers about home that we have to be aware of. 

The first is that we become so wrapped up in the idea of home that we become uncomfortable anywhere else. This wraps us in fear and anxiety at best, and in a sense of deep betrayal at worst. Our fear and anxiety stems from wondering about uncomfortable places, questioning whether we can be in another place what we so naturally are at home. Or perhaps, stemming from experiences in this broken world, our fear and anxiety stems from wondering if there's a place called home at all. We wonder if, should we step out in faith, home will be there to receive us back when we return. We can become insecure about home. 

Or we can become too secure about home and then we feel this deep sense of betrayal if we happen to be comfortable anywhere else. It's like the kid who goes away to summer camp and has an amazing time, but is afraid to tell his parents how much he loved it because he doesn't want them to think he doesn't love home. Sometimes, we get a chance to go out into the world on a grand adventure, and when we come home, we downplay it. Because heaven forbid there be more than one place for us in this world. 

And it's not just about this world. There are many among us who struggle with this world at all because, as has become the Christian buzz phrase, they've made their home in heaven. So they are perpetually uncomfortable here. They refuse to find a place to nest in this world. They can't imagine being happy or comfortable or content on this earth at all and spend their entire lives wrapped in restlessness because somehow, it feels like a betrayal of heaven to embrace earth. 

The exact opposite is true, too, by the way, and that's the second danger of home: we can become so confident and comfortable with a place called home that we end up taking it for granted and never visiting. 

Here, we get a little too comfortable on our adventures. We get a little too comfortable out on the road. We almost become more comfortable traveling than staying put, and we spend our lives in perpetual motion, never finding a place to rest or stretch our legs. The problem here is that for awhile, maybe, we hold home with a certain fondness in our heart, but over time, that fondness dims, and by the time we come home again, we hardly recognize the place. And it seems...rather blah.

Did you know there are persons in this world who are so comfortable here that they can't imagine heaven being any better? 

So we have to be careful about what we think about home. Our idea of home can shackle us in fear and anxiety and betrayal, or it can cause us to lose ourselves in fleeting fancy. Neither is what home was meant to be. 

Home is the place where you stretch out a little bit and discover who you are. It's the place where you come to rest and refresh. It's the place you know is always waiting for you, so you're willing to risk those few bold steps in a new direction. As long, of course, as you always come back. 

The only question left, then, is: what is home? What is your home?

Monday, September 21, 2015


Often, when we pray, we want to know why - why this circumstance is our circumstance - or we want to know when - when God is going to finally step in and do something. Sometimes, we want to know how - how God is going to resolve this little situation we're having, whatever that situation may be. 

But I think how should be less of a question and more of an anticipation.

See, how as a question is akin to what - just what are you going to do about this, God? It's demanding. It's often impatient. It's somewhat expectant, but more as a threat or a challenge than as a hope. And as a question, how wonders about God's real power. About His real authority. About His real character. How questions not only our situation, but our Savior. 

That's what makes it such a dangerous question. It wonders how God is going to do something, which leaves us to wonder if God can do anything. I don't know why it works this way; it just does. 

And it narrows our eyes. Like we're stuck in this situation we're in, and we're squinting at just one little glimmer of light, just one little pinhole of a leak, just one little tiny way of potential escape and waiting to see how God is going to blow that hole wide open and lead us out of here. Because usually, when we want to know how, we've already done some scouting and whatever it is seems impossible. So we just keep looking at the impossible and waiting on something to happen, all while questioning whether God can even do it. 

That may not be His plan at all. 

I have to admit I've wasted a good deal of time in these how prayers. In these demanding, impatient, almost-threatening prayers. Just how are you going to get me out of this one, God? And I've squinted my eyes toward the impossible, waiting but not much hoping. 

It's not that how is a bad way to pray; it's just that it's a bad question. It's actually a great hope. 

If we believe that God is who He says He is - that He is good, that He is powerful, that He is present, that He is faithful - and if we believe that God keeps His promises and that not only will He answer us, but He already is, then there's no reason to ask how. If you're the princess locked away in the tower and guarded by the fire-breathing dragon, how is not a question you ask of your rescuer; you expect him to figure out a how. And you wait on that. 

It's the same with God. We have to expect Him to have a how. Isn't that who He is? Isn't that who we believe Him to be? Our God is a God with a how, even when we don't know what that is or can't possibly see how it could ever be possible. And if our God is a God with a how, and we know this, does it matter what that how is? Is it reasonable to use how as a qualifier on our relationship with Him?

Of course not. How is simply an invalid question in prayer.

But it's an incredible hope. I've taken all those how prayers I used to pray, all those how questions I used to ask, and I've turned them into anticipation. Instead of praying, Lord, I don't know how You're going to do this one, I instead now pray, Lord, I can't wait to see how You do this one. 

It's a subtle change and, in general, I don't advocate putting words in God's mouth. We can't become demanding of His doing things for us, but in honest anticipation, this how is great. Why? Because it opens my eyes. When I pray in an expectant how, I confess that I know that God is already at work doing something, that God is already working it out, and I open my eyes so that I don't miss it when it happens. I open my eyes wide so I can see everything, just in case God's how is not where I thought I might be looking. And usually, it's not. 

And it does something else, too, this expectant how. It excites me. A questioning how makes me wonder if I'm part of God's unfolding plan at all; an expectant how reminds me that I am.

How cool is that. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Because He First Loved Me

Yesterday, I said that I want to be comfortable with Jesus, and I don't think I can unless I'm first comfortable with myself. But the more I grow and mature and discover who I am, the more I discover that the exact opposite is true:

I cannot be comfortable with myself until I am comfortable with Jesus. 

Here's why: it's because every time I think I know who I am, every time I think I've got something essential about myself figured out, and I bring that offering of what I think is my best self to God, I find something more of myself there. Nestled in His hand, an even greater truth of who I am is revealed than I could have possibly dreamt or imagined outside of His loving touch. And I find that here, I am forced to discover myself all over again and come to terms with who I am now. 

So it follows that the best way to come to terms with who I am is to settle into the palm of God's hand until I figure it out, and then go from there.

This actually works, by the way. It's not just a good theory or something holy-sounding. The more I let myself come to rest in God's presence, the more I discover who I really am and the more comfortable I am with myself. Not only comfortable, but happy. Content. And even more than content, excited! I come to be enthralled with the idea of being who God created me to be, and I only discover that in His presence. It's simply undiscoverable outside of Him. 

And even if you don't buy the whole God thing, this is still true. It's still true that if you spend your life trying to figure out who you are, you will keep coming into places, situations, where something else starts to speak into your life and you have to discover all over again whether who you thought you were still fits. You're stuck in this process of rediscovering yourself over and over and over again every time circumstances change, every time something new happens. 

The only time I've ever found that this rediscovery isn't necessary is when that something else that speaks into your life is Love. If you're comfortable with what Love says about you, then you're comfortable with literally anything. You can just relax, rest and be who you are. Who Love says you are.

It's really quite nice. 

That doesn't make it easy, though. There's a lot of squirming that goes on, I'll admit. Because I think there's something in us that wants to be comfortable in our own skin before we come naked even before Love. But that's not how it works. We come clothed in our best imaginations before Love, and Love starts stripping away our meager coverings and revealing our tender skin. Love shows us intimately who we are, and it's awkward. It's uncomfortable. There's something about shame that keeps us reaching for our own ideas once more. But the more Love wraps its arms around us and runs its tender hands over our exposed flesh, the more we come to discover who we really are.

It sounds erotic, and it is. It absolutely is. It's not sexual, in the way that we so often think of sex, but it is the most intimate experience we can possibly have in this flesh, sex included. That moment that love speaks and tells you who you sets your whole flesh tingling. And it's this whole experience of being truly, wholly, fully, nakedly loved that finally makes you comfortable in your own skin. It makes you comfortable with who you are. 

All because you become comfortable with Jesus. 

To be honest, I don't know how someone without God does it. I don't know how someone without this kind of love ever comes to know who they even are. I don't know how someone who never has the chance to rest in the confident assurance of being loved has any idea about their worth, their loveliness, their very self. Because I find it absolutely essential for me, and trust me - I have spent a lot (and I mean, a lot) of time trying to figure out how to love myself. 

And it turns out the Word is true: I can love only because He has first loved me. That love, that perfect love, lets me love myself and all that I'm created to be. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sacred Sofa

It matters that we invest the time to figure out who we really are and that we learn to be whatever that is consistently, in quiet moments and in loud ones, in good times and in bad. And the reason may surprise you.

I've been thinking a lot lately about who I am and who I project to be and who I pretend to be. I've been thinking about the dramatic contrast between what I believe is the most true about me in my best moments and the lesser things I let speak for me when I'm not on guard against myself (or perhaps I'm too on guard on behalf of "myself"). And the other night, I had this one horrible, heart-wrenching, gut-turning moment that sort of encapsulated all that I'm feeling about this. It was this:

One of these days, I'm going to walk into the presence of God. I'm going to sit on His couch, kick back with a nice glass of tea, and enjoy the kind of fellowship we were meant to have.

Or am I?

It occurs to me that if I'm very busy pretending to be something I'm not, if I'm always working at projecting this image of who I want to be or who I want others to think I am, if I'm laboring to hide some of the more vulnerable parts of myself rather than embracing the entirety of who I am, this is not going to be such a glorious moment. There will be no kicking back, no relaxing. Because I'll know. And He'll know. And I'll know He knows. 

I shudder to think that God might one day look right through me at the very moment I'm looking into His eyes. He looks right through me all the time. He knows my bigger things. He knows my better things. He knows my truer self, and He's always calling me to it. But to imagine being in His actual presence and knowing His eyes are looking right through me, wishing I would just, for once, be myself...that's tough. It's hard to think about sitting in the presence of Jesus and trying to come up with a rational explanation of why, even here, I can't simply be who I was created to be. It's hard to think about being perfected and still holding back. Maybe in heaven, I won't have any of the insecurities that hold me back right now, but what will that moment feel like? 

Adam and Eve never knew they were naked, but it's so hard for me to fathom that I would feel the same way. 

And I imagine how hard it might be for me to speak in the presence of Jesus. Not because I'd be overwhelmed by His glory and everything (although I might), but because I will know that I've spent this life speaking shallow words - about myself, about my God, about just about everything - and I think I'll be haunted by that. Again, maybe heaven takes care of that for me. Maybe being perfected washes my words clean and I finally speak freely the truth that burns so deeply inside of me. But I can't imagine that right now. 

I don't know what it feels like.

And maybe all of this is no reflection on heaven, but is more a reflection on here. Maybe it's because I know that if you set me on Christ's couch right now and gave me the opportunity to kick back with Him, I would feel like not much more than a poser. 

The truth of who I am, who God has created me to be, burns deeply inside of me, and I long for that to be my story, for that to be my life, but I'm bound by all these insecurities, all these wounds, all these worries. I'm tired of being fake, but real...real feels so heavy. Still, I can't shake the broken-heartedness I see in His eyes when He beholds my hesitant self.

I want...I want so badly to be comfortable with Jesus, but I don't think I can until I'm comfortable with myself. 

In the moments that I feel most in touch with my vulnerabilities, I also feel the most free. And the most real. This is who I am - broken, beautiful. I've been blessed recently with a few opportunities to just embrace that, to be real, to kick back with it and relax in who I am, in who God has made in me. And you know what? Those are great moments. I find myself laughing for no reason, talking naturally, comfortably. My pace slows. My breath regulates. I walk away not questioning myself, but wondering why I can't just do that more often. 

And I think about what it would be like to live this life freely before God and men, but particularly before God. I wonder what it would be like to sit on His sacred sofa and feel those very same things - comfortable, confident, free. Kickin' back with a cup of tea and enjoying the fellowship we were meant to have. It doesn't seem possible this side of heaven, but I've had a couple of those moments. I want more of them. 

I don't want to wait until heaven takes away my shame. I want to live naked before my God in this broken world and not be ashamed of it. So I'm working on that. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Have you ever heard someone describe themselves as "real"? 

Usually, this is after they've said something harsh with a profound lack of tact. Or they've spoken a word that nobody wants to hear. Or perhaps they've let something build inside of them for so long without saying anything, and they think that by saying what's about to blow out of them anyway, they're somehow "about to be real." 

But is that really real?

I don't think so. 

I don't think that the words that come the loudest out of our mouths are ever our most real. They are our most raw, but there's a significant difference between realness and rawness that simply cannot be ignored. When someone speaks their "real" words, there's always a certain tone to them, always a bit of defensiveness, always a shouting of pain. It's this pain that I hear more than anything, and when they say that it's real, I want to ask them - is that really what's most real of you? Is pain who you are? 

Let's not even talk right now about who you want to be; that's an entirely different question. Today's question is simply this: Is this who you really are?

It's hard to think about for me. It's hard to think about because I remember so many days, so many months, so many years when I would have said the same things. I would have stood up defiantly and said, It's about to get real up in here, and then let my pain do the shouting. I remember so easily the times when I would have said yes. This is who I am. I am pain wrapped in flesh, and I don't have time for the sophistications. If you don't want to hear the raw, honest truth, then don't ask me because raw is all I've got right now. 

Yet even when I was saying it, there was a part of me that understood that it wasn't true. I needed to be heard so badly that I desperately tried to make it true, but my loudest moments were rarely, if ever, my most real. 

My most real moments came usually in the quiet. They were the moments when no one else was watching, when no one would really see who I was, what I was wrestling with. Above my shouts, no one could hear the questions I was asking, but it was the questions that were most real about me. The pain was real, too, but not in the brash, harsh way that the pain spoke to others. To me, the pain spoke in broken-heartedness. My most real moments were those where I could feel my heart tearing. 

And I would say the same about joy, too, I think. It's easy to put on a show of laughter, of light-heartedness, of hearty humor. It's easy to throw your head back and laugh so loud that people can't help but hear you laughing and think you must be very happy. But my most joyful moments have been quiet ones, too. My greatest happinesses have been my deepest happinesses, the kind that just settle into the depths of my spirit and paint this quiet little smile on my face that could almost be missed if you weren't looking for it. 

Maybe it's just me. I don't know. But when someone starts shouting, ranting and raving, speaking with this empassioned confidence in their voice and saying, You just can't handle me. I'm too real for some of you, I can't help but think that the opposite is true - they just can't handle themselves; they're too raw. 

Because what's most real about me has never been what's loudest; it's always been the quietest things, the things you'd completely miss if you didn't know me well enough to look for them. 

And while I have a deep thankfulness for those who have been able to handle me at my rawest, I have an even deeper gratitude for those who know me well enough to recognize my realest. 

For rawness, I would say that there is no balm. You just have to let the fires die out and the smoke disperse. But for realness, there are a thousand beautiful things that love does well - things like mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

So the question today is simply this: are you being real? For real? Or are you letting raw get in your way?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


When the storms of life are bigger than we are, our only recourse as the people of God is to pray. But how often are we really praying?

I've been fighting one of those battles lately. Nothing life-shattering, but just one of those things that's bigger than my best devices. And I have to admit that I've tried every unfaithful thing to win this fight. (Meaning, of course, that I've done everything I can think to do apart from God to defeat this dragon on my own.) And the weird thing is that the more I tried to win on my own, the angrier I got...with God. 

It wasn't long until I found myself cursing at God for not letting me win. Literally cursing at Him. I would cry out His name in absolute frustration and anger, not understanding why God would not give me the victory I was so diligently seeking. At times, I found myself mumbling idle threats, knowing I'd never follow through on them at all but feeling like God needed to know how upset I was with still losing. Sometimes, I'd just scream. Just all-out scream, thinking God might at least hear my screams and do something about them. 

After all, the Spirit groans for us when we cannot find the words, right? When I'm screaming, surely God knows exactly what that means. 

And then...and then when the heavens remained silent and the shadows of the dragon stretched further over my life, I got mad. Absolutely mad. Does God not hear my cursing Him? Does He not care about my threats? Does He not hear my screaming? I have screamed His name, for God's sakes, and still nothing. Is there nothing in my arsenal that can get God to pay attention here? What about this God who supposedly fights for me?

This God, He does fight for me. But there's a second part to that verse: I need only to be still. 

And when I finally stilled myself, angry thoughts settling down in my head and coming to rest on a bed of seething frustration, I heard it.

You have cursed. You have cried. You have yelled. You have screamed. You have held it against Me, as though I'm doing this horrible thing to you. But...have you asked? Have you prayed?

See, prayer is more than just saying God's name; it's having a conversation with Him. And as much as I kept coming back to God in anger and frustration, I had never come in open dialogue. I had never even come in expectation. I had always come demanding, never asking. 

I think we all get stuck in this from time to time, this idea that any interaction we have with God is somehow prayer. This idea that just because we're thinking about Him, we're thinking of Him. And it's just not the case. It's just not true. To pray is to intentionally engage with God. It's to come not shouting, but speaking. And listening. 

I'm not saying there's not a place for ranting and raving, for showing our frustration, for shouting and screaming and yelling His name. I'm not saying there's not a place for our real human emotion to show before God. I'm not saying He doesn't honor that; He does. But our most honest, our most real, our most raw beseeching of God does not come from this stressed-out place; it comes from a stilled place. It comes from a place where we're able to calm down and faithfully, reasonably, reassuredly say, This is what I desire, Lord. Fight for me.

If you're a parent, you know this. Your kid is throwing a tantrum, crying, screaming. Red face, tears everywhere, choking on their own snot. Through agonized breaths, they're cursing you in their own way. Their frustration is showing. If you listen carefully, you can almost make it out. And I'm not a parent, but I was a kid once, and in these moments, what I always heard was, You need to calm down so I can understand you, then tell me what it is you're trying to say.

It's the same thing with God. He sees our tantrum. His heart aches to see us in such distress. But He's waiting for us to calm down so He can understand, calm down so we can understand, and tell Him exactly what it is we're trying to say. This is prayer. 

And when I finally caught my breath enough to pray, the rest of me stilled. I simply said, God. I...don't want to do this any more. But it's bigger than me. I can't win. 

I know, He answered. But I can.

So now, I pray a lot more. Not just because it feels like the faithful thing to do but because...because when I'm screaming, I don't care what I get. I just want something. But when I still myself to pray, when I catch my breath, when I put into words what I'm trying to say, I know exactly what I want. 

I want God. 

Monday, September 14, 2015


Sometimes, this life is just more than any of us can handle. It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, how much talent you have in one particular area or another. At any given moment, this world can just become too much for you. Even in the areas of your seeming expertise. Then what?

I was reading this morning in Psalm 107, and the story of these sailors struck me. Picking it up in verse 23:

Those who sail on the sea in ships, who do business on the high seas, have seen what the Lord can do, the miracles he performed in the depths of the sea. He spoke, and a storm began to blow, and it made the waves rise high. The sailors aboard the ship rose toward the sky. They plunged into the depths. Their courage melted int he face of disaster. They reeled and staggered like drunks, and all their skills as sailors became useless. (emphasis mine)

These guys are the professionals. Sailing is what they do. It's their business, their livelihood, the source of all their income. They spend more time on the sea than they do on the land. They're probably more comfortable in the hull than they are in their own homes. And, in general, they know what to do with rough seas. 

Except this time, they don't. This time, the waves are just too rough. This time, the winds are just too harsh. All of a sudden, at God's command, they're tossed about like playthings in a pool. (That's a miracle, by the way, but not the miracle the v. 24 refers to. I think.) Anyway, it's interesting to read that all their skills as sailors became useless.

This means...they tried everything. They hoisted the mast and...unhoisted the mast. They steered into the winds and they steered away from them. They shifted loads and probably even threw some of the cargo overboard, the way we see other sailors do in other Bible narratives. They probably grabbed the oars and tried by hand and brute strength to steer the ship. And...whatever else professional sailors do. And none of it mattered. None of it did a bit of good. Absolutely everything they knew about sailing was useless in the face of this storm. 

Which happens. 

It happens that sometimes, the storms are just bigger than we are. Sometimes, the waves are just too high. Sometimes, the winds are just too strong. Sometimes, this life is just more than we can handle, even if we are supposed to be the experts in our fields. Even if we're the very best at what we do. 

It's okay. Do you believe that?

It's okay. 

Because there's help coming from a gracious God. Let's pick back up the story of the sailors:

In their distress they cried out to the Lord. He led them from their troubles. He made the storm calm down, and the waves became still. The sailors were glad that the storm was quiet. He guided them to the harbor they had longed for. one of the things I love about God. The sailors, having tried everything and failed, cry out to Him, and He calms the storm. But then, He sets them right back to sailing. He calms the winds and the waves, but he only guides the ship to harbor; the sailors still have to do the work. They still have to sail the ship into safety, into port. In the very same breath in which they cry out, We can't do this, the God of the universe reassures them, Yes, you can.

And with Him, they do.

They are still very good sailors, still the very best at what they do. They're professionals; this is their life. But every now and then, they need to remember that even the very best need someone greater. They need their God.

Friday, September 11, 2015


One of the most haunting sounds in all the world is silence.

Today, America pauses once again to reflect and remember the tragedy that has wrapped us all in smoke and ashes. And every year, as we think about this day, I think about a group of men and women we often don't think about, but for whom this day is steeped in its silence. 

I think about the air traffic controllers. Because when I first heard about the attacks in New York, this is where my thoughts went. My dad was an air traffic controller. I spent so many mid-shifts (overnights) with him at the control center. I knew the guys at the Midwest Regional Center well, and I couldn't help but think about whose radar these planes might have been on at that moment. 

I couldn't help but think about what it must be like, having talked to pilots myself and watched planes come in and go out on radar for so many years (don't tell the FAA), to have this plane on your radar, just this little blip, and to be talking with the pilot in the way that only pilots and controllers talk to one another. And then, for there to be...silence. 

To be watching this plane keep flying, but to have nothing from the cockpit. To one minute be talking with the pilot and the next, to have no idea what was happening to him. To be thinking this was nothing more than routine flight chatter only to realize all of a sudden, it was nothing but routine.

Thinking about this silence, I think about the other silence. I think about husbands who were talking to their wives when those planes hit and phone lines dropped. I think about children who went off to school and came home to empty silence, never to hear another bedtime story. Never to hear another Happy Birthday or another I love you. Never to hear the voice of their mother or their father again. 

I think about small town in Pennsylvania, normally quiet, that erupted in noise in the blink of an eye, but still would have been called just a quiet little town. I think about noise in a remote field, incredible noise that still fell silent to most of the world. 

And the world...

I think about the silence that enveloped our world on that morning. Outside of New York City and Washington, D.C., where the noise, I can only imagine, must have been deafening, it was the silence that was deafening. Where there was no smoke, no fire, no dust or ashes, where we couldn't hear the screams and the sobs and the sounds of tragedy, there was silence. I remember being in one of the mass gatherings in my high school, students ushered into large rooms with televisions so that we could be together and watch the unfolding story. We were teenagers, so it probably wasn't quiet, but I remember the quiet. On this day, I always remember the quiet.

Because it's's like when those planes hit, it took our collective breath away. We didn't know what to say any more. We didn't know who we were. We didn't know how we were supposed to move forward, how we were supposed to find ourselves again. We didn't know...anything. And for the briefest of time, the world fell silent as we tried to gather ourselves and ask that one haunting question.

What's happening?

We forgot, in the blink of an eye, how to tell our story. For a moment, we lost ourselves. Until we figured out how to break the silence, we didn't know who we were any more. 

Of course, when we started to speak again, we found ourselves. We spoke of heroism and of sacrifice. We spoke of loss and of love. We spoke of God. We spoke of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters, best friends, neighbors, girls we once went to school with, guys we had crushes on. In the aftermath of disaster, while the dust was still settling, we sought after our stories because we knew...we knew in the silence that we had to get them back.

So when I think about this day every year, I think about the first silence that fell. Because I know those guys. But I think, too, about the silence that spun out of that as one by one, the world fell silent. As one by one, we forgot, in that painful moment, how to tell our story. As one by one, we fell victim to the most haunting sounds in all the world...


Today, as we pause to remember, embrace the silence. For a moment, be still and remember what it was like to have our collective breath taken away. But about heroism and sacrifice. Talk about loss and love. Talk about mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters, best friends, neighbors, girls you once went to school with, guys you had crushes on. Talk about God. Talk about something. Tell a story. Tell your story. Tell our story.

Say something. 

Lest we ever forget. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hiding Place

God is my refuge. You've probably heard that before. The question is not whether God is a refuge, but how we are finding refuge with God. 

For what seems like a lot of Christians, we are finding refuge behind God. We are using Him as our front, then crouching behind this wall we've erected of Him and trying to figure out how to engage the world from the trenches. 

That's certainly one way to go about it.... It's not the Biblical way, of course. God didn't design you to live in the trenches, and He didn't send you into the world to build walls. (Unless, of course, you're Nehemiah, and then, have at it!) But God's never been about building dividing lines between His people; that's what He spent so much time arguing with the Pharisees about. 

And yet, here we are still doing that, 2000 years later. Someone doesn't sin in the same way that we sin, and that makes them (and to a lesser degree, us, but to a much lesser degree) a sinner. Someone doesn't worship in the same way that we worship, and that makes their worship meaningless or stupid. Someone emphasizes law over love, and they're a legalist; someone emphasizes love over law, and they're an anarchist. Someone reads what the Bible says; someone reads what the Bible means. And heaven forbid we step out of our churches for a minute and look at the way we're building walls between ourselves, as Christians, and a society that's tending ever further away from Christ.

We feel like we have to draw our battle lines, and we put God right out there in front as if He's some sort of barbed wire. As if, were we to reach out, we'd be poked. And anyone who tries to reach in faces the same fate. 

There's absolutely nothing righteous about this. Nothing.

But God is our refuge! we cry. If we don't stand behind Him, where is our refuge?

Hear the psalmist:

O Lord my God, I have taken refuge in you. (7:1)

We take our refuge in God, not behind Him. Less a wall and more a...lodge. On a harsh mountain when winter winds blow, God is the place that keeps the fire burning. His loving embrace wraps us up and blocks out the wind. When the waves are crashing all around us, God is our steady ship. In its hull, the waves may crash, but they can't crush. Persecuted by the world around us, we run into His temple, enveloped by His holy presence. 

Refuge in God is something we take, not something we build. Refuge in God is part of who He is, not who we set Him up to be. Nobody cowers behind Jesus; we kneel in front of Him. There, His shadow falls over us, and we are safe.

The great thing about this is that it doesn't set us up against one another; there's plenty of room in the refuge for everyone. It gives us a place to laugh together over hot chocolate, to share stories around the fire, to take these amazing deep breaths of grace together and simply be, at rest, in the presence of God. We don't have to worry about the dangers of reaching out in love; there are none. It's as easy as walking across the room. Or looking up and making eye contact. Or exchanging one strong handshake. It's as easy as the sign over the mantle and the mat at the door that simply say, Welcome.

Welcome to the refuge. Come on in.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Live Loved

It's important that we live in such a way that anyone looking at us would know that our love for Jesus is more true than anything else that we do. (See yesterday.) But it's also important that we live in such a way that anyone looking at us can see what is most true about us.

What's more true than that we love Jesus?

That He loves us.

We've actually been talking about this, as the church, for generations. Most of us have heard, and have to some degree bought, that this means we live in such a way that persons who are living without the love of God want what we have. It sounds nice when we say it that way. It sounds evangelistic when we say it that way. It sounds like a very good way to bring someone into the fold of God - to make them want what we have. But let's put it in other words, meaning the same thing, and see if that still holds true.

Live in such a way that anyone watching will be jealous of God's love for you.

It sounds less like a good idea now, doesn't it? 

This idea sets us up in competition with one another, and worse, it sets God up in competition, too. Someone may come to God, longing for the kind of love you have, and maybe they find it. Great. Are you okay with God loving someone else the way He loves you? But what if they don't find it? What if God's love for them doesn't look the same way as His love for you? Is He a disappointment now? Kinda. We've set Him up to fail by declaring, with the best of intentions, "This is what God's love does for a person," when in fact, we have no idea what God's love does for someone else.

Except this...

We know that God's love dulls the ache in their emptiness. We know that God's love fills them. We know that God's love draws them into the life they were created to live. 

So really, when we talk about living what is most true about us, yes. We live loved. But we live in such a way not so that anyone watching can see God's love in us, but so that anyone watching can see what God's love does in us. So they can see how God's love makes us more of who we are. How His love gives us the freedom and the confidence to pursue our intended creation. So they can see shadows of our emptiness, illuminated by His light.

So they can believe their shadows can dance, too.

It sounds like I've contradicted myself, but I haven't, so let me say that another way, too. We live in God's love not focused on the specifics of who we are but on the graces of who He is. We live in God's love not highlighting our weaknesses, but showing His strengths. We live in God's love not emphasizing our emptiness, but epitomizing His fullness. 

Instead of living like God's love has healed us from some very specific event in our life, we must live like God's love has simply healed us. Because not all very specific events turn out the same way, but our God is still a healing God. Instead of living like God's love has mended our broken hearts from the burden of something we faced once upon a time, we must live like God's love has simply mended our broken hearts. Because not all burdens are mended in the same way, but our God mends the broken-hearted for sure. 

See, we have to reference those watching to our living God, our loving God, not our specific God. He's just not going to come to them in the same way that He comes to us. But that doesn't free us from the ministry of proclaiming that He comes. Period. 

It's a delicate balance, for sure. It's not easy to pull off. We have to figure out how to live loved without forsaking the details of the God who comes to us but without implying that our details somehow point to what is most true about God. Because what is most true about God is not how He loves, but that He loves.

And what is most true about us is that He loves us

Herein lies the key to living well. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Love God And...

Growing up outside of the church, I got some pretty interesting ideas about what it meant to be a Christian. I got these ideas by watching people who went to church and seeing what they did. 

For example, one of my neighbors loved his lawn. I mean, he really loved his lawn. He had children who never played on his lawn. He was forever weed-proofing and weed-eating and perfect-trimming his lawn. Often, we saw him spraying weed killer in the cracks of his sidewalk, lest his sidewalk ruin his perfect lawn. And more than once, he shared this lovely poison with the entirety of the cul-de-sac. Like, the actual paved circle on which our houses rested and on which we kids (not his kids, but most of the neighborhood kids) played kickball nearly every night. 

And heaven forbid that kickball go into his perfect yard. Now, we were kids. We played on grass. Most of us didn't care. So when the ball went into his yard, our instinct was to run and get it. Oh, was that ever a mistake. Mr. Perfect Yard was somehow always watching his perfect yard, and he didn't want anyone walking on his perfect yard. So it came to be, after some complaints, that if the ball went even three feet into his perfect yard, someone had to be brave enough to make the trek up his driveway, across his front walk, onto his porch, and ring the doorbell to ask for the ball back. And then Mr. Perfect Yard would give us all a disapproving look before reluctantly walking on his own perfect yard to retrieve the ball for us. (His reluctance was only matched by ours; nobody wanted to ring this guy's doorbell. Oh wait. Never ring the doorbell. Always knock. Doorbells are obnoxious, although he still had one.) 

So I grew up knowing two things about this guy - he loved his lawn and he went to church. From this, I figured I could easily decipher which houses the Christians lived in by how the lawns looked. And if I ever got a chance to see someone interact with his yard, I'd know for sure whether he was a Christian or not.

When I got older and got a paper route, I used to be very careful about walking through yards until I knew the homeowners. I didn't want to take a chance on offending someone's God, even though I didn't know much else about Him.

It's silly, right? I mean, to think that the way someone cares for his yard is some reflection of his devotion to Jesus. But that's what I thought. For years, that's what I thought. Among so many other things.

It is silly. But I laugh a little because I realize that now, as a part of the church, I'm on the other side of the story.

Now, people are looking at me to see what is most true about my life. And I wonder what they're discovering. I hate to say it, but it's probably not, "she loves Jesus." That's true about me, but I fear that it's not what my life declares is most true about me. What's most true about me is maybe...well, you probably know what you see in me.

But let's flip the question: what's most true about you? What is your life declaring is most true about you? Is it that you love Jesus? Because if not...

If "she loves Jesus" is not what others see as most true about me, then they're drawing connections between what is most true about me and who God is. They're trying to figure out this church thing, this Christian thing, this Jesus thing by what appears to be most true of the people who claim to love Him. And maybe they're thinking...these people love their lawns. Silly, right?

Scary, too.

It's a good reminder for all of us to live what is most true about us. And what is most true about us is partially that we love Jesus, yes. That's what we have control over, anyway, and so we absolutely must live like we love Jesus. We have to make that most true about the decisions we get to make in our lives. 

But there is one thing more true about us even than that, and we have to live that, too. What is it? 

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Story

We have to be very careful when we look at each other and see the story God's telling because this is one area in which it is so painfully easy to be wounding to one another.

It's very tempting to want to look at one another, see what God appears to be doing in someone, and then hold them to that standard. I can't tell you the number of persons who have looked at me with judging eyes and declared something along the lines of that's not what God is doing in you

But it's not enough for you to tell me what God is doing in me; it's not enough for anyone to tell another person what God is doing in them. Unless the person sees God's story for themselves, it feels like you're trying to stuff them into a story that's too small to hold them. 

That's just the truth.

It's like telling someone who wants to be an English major that being an English major is a waste (with my sympathies to English majors, ok?). Their love for the language is just going to eat at them now until they prove you wrong. It's like telling someone who wants to take a chance and move to a new state that they'll never make it. All of a sudden, that other state is looking better and better. Maybe because it's forbidden. I don't know. I don't know why our brains and our hearts work the way they do, but they do. 

When you try to hold someone to a story they haven't adopted for themselves yet, you shrink them. You box them in. They feel it. They feel squished, trapped, cornered. That other thing - whatever it is - starts eating away at them. It grows until it's so big a monster than they can't possibly ignore it any more, and they veer off in some other direction entirely. It's heartbreaking, but it happens. 

Because you can't make someone live a story they haven't heard yet. And most of us are walking around not hearing the story God's telling in us. 

So there's this delicate balance between seeing the story God is telling in someone and loving it...and getting them to hear that story. It's a story you can't just tell them; you have have to love it. 

You have to love the story in someone else so much that you can't help but smile when you see another chapter written. You have to love it so much that you take great delight, and even some ownership, in its character development. In their character development. You have to be so invested in the stories God is telling all around you that you can almost see what should happen next. And when it does, affirm that. 

Affirm it not as a part of the story, but as a character of the character. Affirm someone not for finally doing what God wants them to do, but for...being loving, being caring, taking a risk, showing grace, extending mercy. Whatever it is that someone does that's in line with what God is revealing in them, affirm that. You don't have to mention that it's God's story, although feel free to mention that it's God's grace. God has made you such an incredible giver, you might say. Or God has given you an amazing love for (whatever population group)

When we respond to one another in this way, it feels like we're shrinking how big a thing this really is, how big it is to be living God's story for you. But in fact, what we're doing is inviting someone to live into that bigger story. You tell me that you look at me and see grace, and I'm going to feel a certain way. I'm going to feel what it feels like to demonstrate grace and you know? Maybe I like that. And maybe I start looking for ways to demonstrate more grace. And maybe it feels natural to me even more than it feels "good." And maybe as time goes by, I become more and more gracious until one day, I find that I've grown into the story of grace that God is telling in me. 

Do you see the difference? It's far too easy to paint me into a grace box and make me feel bound by grace if you make it something that God is necessarily doing in me and that I ought to be on board with. But when you make grace a part of who I am and affirm grace in me, I get a chance to feel myself out as a gracious person and figure out whether that suits me and whether that's something I want to grow into. I get a chance to write my own story, and to build my own box. I get a chance to set grace up all around me and declare how far my grace goes. On the one hand, you limit me; on the other, you invite me to increase.

It's all about how we respond to one another.

So by all means, look around. Start seeing, and loving, the stories God is telling in the people all around you. But don't force anyone into their narrative. You'll end up diminishing them.

Invite them into God's narrative. He's the one writing anyway. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Miracle of You

Yesterday, I said that when we get to Heaven and we're completed in who we were meant to be, we're finally going to make sense to each other. I'm going to see in you all the holy things I missed down here, and you're going to see the same in me. I'm going to understand why you did the things you did in just the way you did them, and you're going to understand the same about me. And we're going to look at each other and see, clearly, God revealed.

So let's start now.

Let's start looking at each other now like God is manifest in every life. Let's start looking at each other like God is doing something incredible in each and every life. Let's start looking at each other like we all make sense - beautiful, glorious, God-honoring sense. 

Let's start valuing the things in each other that we don't understand, that we can't understand. Let's start living like God actually knew what He was doing when He created each and every one of us. You. Me. The girl down the street. The guy behind bars. The man on the corner. The woman in line. Every. Single. One. of us.

Right now, we're failing miserably at this. We're looking at each other in judgment. We're looking at each other, trying to get each other to manifest God in this way or that instead of looking for the way we're each showing Him now. We're trying to get those around us to live "holy" lives without realizing this one very important thing:

Everyone made in the image of God is already living a holy life.

And that's true whether they know it or not. 

God is written into our very hearts. He's etched on our very lives. He lives through our very breaths. Whether we know Him or not. Whether we love Him or not. Whether we mean to or not, we each manifest something of God in this world. We can't help ourselves; it's our very nature. 

I grew up heathen. I've made no secret of that. I grew up in a culture that made fun of Christians for sport. I grew up in a house that didn't value God, didn't even know Him. But I was known for my spirit. I was known for the kind of little girl I was. People looked into me and saw beyond the story I thought I was telling and instead, saw the story that was being told in me. I didn't recognize it at the time, didn't appreciate it. But as I've come to grow up into that story, I am so, so thankful for the people who were speaking truth into my story before I could even see it.

That's what we need to do for each other. We're so stuck on the stories we think people are telling that we're blind to the stories that are being told in them. And those are the bigger stories. Those are the greater stories. Those...are God's stories. One day, when all is perfected and we're complete as God intended us, we'll look at each other and see that.

So let's start now. Ok? Let's make today "one day."

Go love somebody.