Tuesday, May 31, 2016


There are two kinds of foolishness in this world. There's the foolishness that comes as a reaction to boredom, the itching to get out and do something crazy because something crazy is better than nothing at all. And then, there's the foolishness that comes from wisdom.

That's right: wisdom.

It's not how we typically think of foolishness. We're more likely to say that foolishness is the result of naivete, not wisdom. That foolishness does what it does because it doesn't know any better. But that's not real foolishness; that's recklessness. It's impetuousness. It's the kind of knee-jerk reaction we have when we know that this moment requires that we do something, so we act without consideration of the consequences. That's not foolishness.

Foolishness is knowing the consequences and doing it anyway. There are, of course, two ways to consider this. On one hand, this may lead us down some dark and dangerous paths, like the man who robs a bank knowing that robbery is against the law, knowing he will be caught, knowing he will go to jail. On the other hand, this may lead us into the incredible thrill of a holy life.

Yes, holy.

Foolishness is wisdom that draws us into something holy. Rather, foolishness is the act of acting on such wisdom and being drawn into something holy. 

Again, it's not how we typically think of foolishness, but I think it's how we must. 

Because here's what happens. Life presents us with an opportunity, with a thousand opportunities every day. Our inclination is to consider all of our options, discover the inherent risks and benefits of taking one action over another, weigh the consequences of any course of action we might take, and then take the action that seems most "right," given the data.

Except most of us aren't really doing the math.

Most of us are factoring the factors, figuring out a new order of operations in which some numbers are weighted higher than the others. For example, it may be perfectly clear that one choice is quite better than the others, that one is clearly the path that we should take. The one thing working against that choice, though, might be public opinion. Others might laugh at us. They might not understand how we could do such a thing. Maybe culture dictates that we do something else. All of a sudden, the math doesn't matter any more. All the calculations go out the window and we re-work the numbers in light of reputation or response, not outcome. 

It's how we keep turning against God.

It's how we look at a situation and know that love is the answer, but love isn't popular; hate is popular. So we choose hate. It's how we look at a situation and know forgiveness would set us free. But this world doesn't understand forgiveness; it doesn't compute. So we substitute in things that the world knows better how to work with, and we live with unforgiveness. It's what we do with grace, with hope, with faith - we turn away because these are not the ways of this world. We might as well try to convince the world that "purple" is a number. This world does not know how to factor in such things; it doesn't understand holiness.

But foolishness does.

Foolishness always works holiness into the equation. Foolishness works in factors of grace. It embraces all the data, even the stuff that doesn't make sense to this world. Foolishness doesn't limit itself to 1+1 = 2. No, foolishness relies on wisdom that sees the whole equation. 1+1+purple+grace+butterflies+rainbows+shakalakabambam=holiness. = love. = amazing. And then foolishness goes after "amazing" in a world that's content to settle for "2." In a world that says that grace and rainbows aren't factors, that these things don't compute. Foolishness does the math and knows that they have to. They must. Wisdom demands that grace be real, that butterflies and rainbows matter, that holiness and love matter. Wisdom knows that amazing is real. 

I want to live a foolish life. I want to do something totally crazy, not because something crazy is better than nothing at all but because something crazy might just be something holy. I want to do the math and discover that there is a place for grace, for love, for hope, for faith, for mercy, for justice, for truth, for God. For holiness. And I want to go after it, even if it doesn't make sense. I want to take a risk that there's something amazing out there. 

Because "2" is not enough. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The American Soldier

Today, in America, we pause to remember the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our freedoms. 

There is something about the death of an American soldier that causes us all to just stop for a moment, to catch our breath, to consider what it is that we have. Our eyes are drawn to the movie screen, where Hollywood tells the stories of war, and you'd think we are grotesquely obsessed with it in some way. But it's more than that. 

It's what happens when we see our flag draped over a casket. It's what happens when we see that tell-tale triangular fold, war-weary hands on top and bottom and tear-stained hands just the same. It's what happens when we hear the fire of a 21-gun salute, hollow shots ringing out into empty air. It's what happens when we hear the first few notes of that old familiar bugle call...


A few years ago, I had the honor of playing Taps at a memorial service for a Navy veteran. It's not all that difficult a call, if you can hold back the emotions that choke the wind right out of you when you think about the family that serviceman is leaving behind, when you are haunted by knowing that everyone knows what this call means, even though most have never heard it on an actual battlefield.

Leading up to that memorial, I practiced that call. I practiced that call dozens of times a day. The neighbors, I'm sure, were sick of it. But you know what? Out of the corner of my eye, over the top of the fence, I happened to see that every time I practiced that call, the neighbors stopped. They just...stopped. It didn't matter what they were doing (I don't even know what they were doing). They stopped walking and just stood there. Stopped talking to one another and just sort of stared into the skies. Over and over again as I practiced that call, life next door came to a pause. No matter how many times I played it. No matter what time of day it was. No matter what else was going on. From the very first note, there was reverent stillness.

That's what happens when an American soldier dies. That's what ought to happen.

But something else happens, too. Something that's so hard for us to wrap our minds around, especially in an age where young people take a lot of grief for being entitled, self-centered, and wholly disconnected from the world around them. What happens when an American soldier dies?

A band of brothers is born.

These guys, these men and women, these soldiers - they give everything they have for one another. No soldier left behind. They crawl through heavy fire to get to a wounded brother. They run into the burning wreckage of a bombed-out truck in hopes of a heartbeat. They tear their own uniforms to tie a tourniquet around a wounded buddy. Where blood mingles on the battlefield, it is the blood of a wounded soldier giving every last drop of his own life for the sake of his brother. 

And then, when one of these guys, when one of these soldiers, gives more than everything and gives it all, something incredible happens: a whole new generation of brothers steps up. A whole new class of soldiers enlists. A whole bunch of guys (and girls) who probably never thought about a career in the military let out a collective, "Oh, hell no" and sign up to go into the same war-torn regions of the world that took this soldier's life. They strap on their gear and set their sights on the same enemies who took out our man. 

At precisely the moment that the opposition thinks they have weakened the American military by killing its soldier, we are strengthened by the half-dozen young recruits who sign up to defend his honor. And with all America at a collective hush as Taps rings out, the only sound that remains is the sound of those boots on the ground...

...marching out to war...

...because we will not be defeated...

...and we will never forget. 

God bless our soldiers, their families, and their legacies this Memorial Day. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Train Your Dragons

A couple of days ago, I made a distinction between demons and dragons. Demons try to make you nothing; dragons guard you because they know you're something. As I said then, dragons are never set in front of chambermaids; they are charged with defending princesses. Still, there's a lot of talk out there about slaying your dragons. 

I disagree.

As a human being in a broken world, there's much more to be gained from training your dragons than slaying them. If these are the things that are set to guard you in this world, it's a bit of foolishness to declare yourself defenseless and slay them. Don't you think? It's true that often, our dragons get in the way. The shame, pain, insecurity, brokenness, and other things we feel can tend to hold us back. But that's because we've got our dragons in our service instead of being in their keep.

Here's what I mean: if you've got your dragons breathing fire in the windows of the tallest tower, then you're the only one that's going to feel their heat. And these dragons are hungry; they will eat you alive. If you've been around very long at all, you know this well. You know what it's like to be gnawed at, to be burned, to be smoked out by your dragons. You know what it's like when the little tiny world you live in becomes the dragon's lair. 

But in what fairy tale have you ever seen the dragon so turned against the princess? Since when does Prince Charming ever rush in just seconds before the princess is devoured and literally pluck her out of the dragon's teeth? 

That's not how the story goes.

That's why we have to train our dragons.

It's why we have to turn them outward, to use them as our protection instead of as our attendant. We have to keep them focused on the gate, not on the tower. We have to teach them that one of us is the princess and one of us is the dragon, and it's the dragon's responsibility to protect the princess. Not to devour her. 

It seems kinda not exactly the Christian thing to say, that we ought to turn our dragons outward. That we ought to have them face the world. But the older I get, the more I mature into my own story, the more pages I turn, the more I understand that the very things that I once thought would eat me alive are exactly the things that shape the way that I interact with the world, when they aren't turned against me. When I let my shame face the world, it becomes bolder, less afraid. Because it has a princess to protect. When I let my insecurity face the world, it has to stand a little taller. Because it has a princess to protect. When I let my pain face the world, it can't think about itself. Because it has a princess to consider. When I let my brokenness face the world, it feels stronger. Because it has a princess to protect.

Your dragons, they don't really want to eat you. They just need a job. They need something to do. They need a purpose in the world. Without a purpose, they're like any other child - incessantly needy and bothersome. Always asking why. Always asking what. Always wanting to play or wanting you to look up and see them or wanting you to make them a sandwich. Or wanting you to be a sandwich. You give your dragons a job, give them meaning, and they become something entirely different. They are still your dragons.

But now, you're their princess. 

There's still a pesky little question, of course, and that's this: is this really the life we're meant to live? Are we supposed to be tucked away in the tallest tower protected by our dragons? Wouldn't we be better off to slay them and run free?

No. No. And yes. In that order.

The princess never slays the dragon. That's not how the story goes. She doesn't slay the dragon, climb down from the tower, and go running off into the forest in pursuit of a life that may or may not be out there for her. No. The princess is the one pursued. Prince Charming slays the dragons and drags her away into a life she could never dream of. 

Enter Prince Charming...Prince of Peace.

This is God's role in our story. He's the one who slays our dragons, not us. And it has to be that way. Think about it. Think about how many times you've tried to slay your dragons, how many days you've woken up and decided you weren't going to live this way any more. That you weren't going to be guarded by your shame, your insecurity, your pain, your brokenness, your whatever. How's that workin' for you? How's that ever worked for you? It doesn't. At least, it doesn't for me. I have never successfully slayed a single dragon in my life that hasn't come back with two heads. 

But on occasion, my Prince has come and slayed one or two. Every now and then, He arrives at my castle, and I watch Him battle my dragons for me. I watch Him slay my shame, my fear, my insecurity, my brokenness. I watch Him engage in all-out war for the chance to climb those stairs to the tallest tower and take me away. I've been waiting for Him. And it happens. And you know what? When God slays my dragons, they don't come back. I may occasionally find out they were pregnant, and now I've got a bunch of little dragons running out of a nest, but the slayed dragon never comes back.

And then sometimes, He doesn't slay them at all. He woos them. Like Donkey in the Shrek adventures, my God steps in and woos my dragons until all their fierce bravado, all their fire and smoke, becomes a love story. It's what He does. It's what He should do. It's the role of the Prince. 

Not the princess.

From the tallest tower, all I can do is make sure my dragons are breathing in the right direction. And that's not down my neck. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A House Unoccupied

Perhaps one of the most confusing passages in all of Scripture on the subject of demons (or evil spirits) is Matthew 12:43-45.

When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it goes through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn't find any. Then it says, 'I'll go back to the home I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself. They enter and take up permanent residence there. In the end the condition of that person is worse than it was before.

I always wondered, if this is truly the case, then why would Jesus cast a demon out of a person in the first place? Wouldn't the man be better off with the demon he already had than with that one plus seven other more wicked demons living inside of him? How could Jesus condemn a man to a greater possession than He frees him from?

But this was before I understood very much about demons. 

It's before I understood that demons are not what we see of them - they are not emotions or manifestations or stories or feelings; they are unseen. They are the darkness not that settles over us, but that grows from deep within us. It's before I understood that demons do not inhabit the body; they dwell in the heart.

And I think this is what we miss. We so often confuse our demons with what we can see of them. When they are cast out, when they leave, we spend a lot of time cleaning up our lives - sweeping out our houses. When we no longer feel shame, we set about sweeping the dust of shame out of our lives. When we no longer feel insecurity, we set about sweeping the cobwebs of insecurity out of our hearts. When a painful or difficult chapter in our lives closes, we set about creating a blank page between that chapter and the next. And we're pretty sure this is enough. We're sure this is what our lives are meant to be.

Empty. Swept out. Clean from the residue of the demons that have inhabited us. The good life is the life in which the bad things are noticeably absent.

But the heart was not made for vacancy. If you don't live in your own heart, someone else will.

Enter the eight demons.

That's the biggest mistake most of us are making. We don't want to live in our own hearts. We don't even want Jesus to live there. We spent all of our time, all of our energy, cleaning out the remnants of demons that have once dwelt in the depths of our souls, sweeping out the dust and cobwebs of the things that used to haunt us. But the truth is that we find the empty chambers more haunting even than the demons, and we refuse to move into our own hearts. We refuse to take up residence in our own stories. We refuse to let God do the same.

We leave our hearts empty, our lives "clean," our hearts vacant, hoping that one day, they won't feel so empty. Then, we say, only then, we will move in. But how are our hearts ever supposed to feel like home if nothing lives there? How are we supposed to make it our home if we never fill the halls with our own voices? 

It's the greatest challenge, I think, for so many of us. We have to move into our vacant hearts and start making this empty space our space, even while the voices of our demons echo off the hollow walls. We have to step boldly into the space that used to hold our greatest insecurities, our toughest trials, our most tender pains, and we have to make this space our space. We have to make ourselves at home...in ourselves. And we have to take Jesus with us. 

Because you weren't made for an empty life. The heart was not made for vacancy. And if you won't live here, well.... 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dragons and Demons

Our demons too often speak for us, drawing us into stories and lives that aren't really ours. But what are these demons? 

It's a good question, particularly because it is one that I don't think most of us can answer well. Our eyes are so fixed on the things seen that we struggle with the unseen world, and this is very much to our detriment. Especially when fighting demons.

Maybe we give our demons "feeling" words - words like fear, shame, insecurity, anger, doubt, or any of the other number of words we might put here. It certainly feels like these are the things of darkness, these are the things that limit our thriving in the world. It certainly seems like these are the kinds of things that stand between us and God. But these things are generally dragons, not demons. 

These things, as unpleasant as they often are, are not necessarily evil things. Fear, shame, insecurity, anger, doubt, or whatever word we might put here can be tremendously beautiful things, embraced in the right way. These things can draw us closer to God. A demon can never do that. A demon cannot be a beautiful thing. You can never reach a point in your life where you are thankful for a demon. That's why these things are smoke and mirrors, fire from the dragon's nostrils. You might one day understand what does not make sense today.

Maybe we give our demons "story" words - scenes from our lives that we can't come to terms with, moments we had to live that we know broke us. Sometimes, we call these "memories." These are the things we are so afraid will define us forever, the experiences we'll never be able to live down. These are the stories we can't seem to get out of, that others keep reminding us of, that we keep reminding ourselves of. It's easy to say that our stories are our demons because it feels like they keep us from living God's story. We're trapped in another narrative. But stories, too, no matter how painful, are dragons, not demons. 

See, you have to be able to cast demons out and still be standing. You can't do that if your demons are your story. Without your story, you're not "something less;" you're nothing at all. Without every single scene from your life, you do not exist. And contrary to popular belief, that's not what demons want from you. They don't want you to disappear. They don't want you to be nothing. They want you to be empty. 

If our demons are not what is seen about us, even when they seem to do all the talking - if they are not our feelings or our stories - then what are they? What are we fighting against?

We're fighting against the darkness that tells us these things are not beautiful.

That's it, really. Our demons are our darkness. They are the things that blind our eyes. They are the thoughts, the ideas, the notions we have that this is all there is, that we're trapped in whatever we're in right now, that we'll never be more because we're far too busy being left, and that broken can never be beautiful. 

If you want to fight the demons in your life, turn on the light. Turn on the light and discover that shame doesn't have to be a bad thing. When Adam and Eve were bound by shame, they discovered the tender hand of God as He helped them to cover what felt so exposed. Turn on the light and discover that insecurity doesn't have to be a bad things. Insecurity often drives us into the arms of a God who is sure. Turn on the light and discover a story where all the little scenes are woven together into an incredible you, where you make perfect sense, and where everything you've been through and everything you know - good and bad and worse - makes you a beautiful creation of a loving God. 

Turn on the light and discover your dragons. They're not there to scare you; you are merely in their keep. There is something amazingly precious about you that your dragons are set to guard. Dragons don't guard chambermaids; they protect princesses. If you have dragons in your life, you're a princess. And the light always comes through the windows in even the tallest towers. 

That's what we're fighting against. Not fire-breathing dragons, but light-stealing demons. Our fight is not against the very things that make us who we are, that make us something, that make us precious in the eyes of God. Our fight is against the darkness that keeps us from seeing the light.

And our demons will do everything in their power to keep us from seeing that. 

You want to know what your demons are? Stop looking for them. Darkness is always unseen; it's a game of shadows. Smoke and mirrors. You want to know what your demons are? Start looking around and seeing what it is you cannot see. Open your eyes and search for the light, for one small glimmer of light that even the darkest of darkness cannot drive out. Open your eyes until they adjust to the dimness, until you can almost begin to see. There are your demons. Forms in the darkness, shadows in the night.

Turn on the light.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Demon Speak

The scary truth is that, like the demonaic in Mark 5, our demons are speaking for us, probably more often than we realize. I know this is true in my life.

And more often than not, my demons are speaking louder than my words.

See, I often find myself saying things like, "I love you." But the truth is that I am not actively loving you. I'm not doing anything to actually love you. It's this feeling I have, this orientation I have toward loving you, and I know it in the depths of my heart, but all of the other words I actually use with you leave much love to the imagination. All of the other words I speak contradict the words I've chosen to speak. The actions I engage in around you, or even in regard to you, do not speak my love; they speak something less. So I say that I love you, but when you ask, "Do you really love me?" my demons answer, and the answer is a resounding "no."

Even though I do, really, love you. 

The same is shatteringly true, by the way, when I say such things as, "I love God." I say I love God because when I think about it, of course I do. If you asked me if I love God, the answer is that of course I do. I can think of nothing else I would do with Him but love Him. And yet, if you listen to the testimony of my life, it might be hard for you to figure that out yourself. It might be hard for you to know that I love God at all, let alone how much I love Him, by the way that my life speaks. 

These are the kinds of things that trouble my heart the most; these are the hypocrisies I can't stop thinking about. Because I do love you, and I do love God, and a thousand other things that I've thought about, prayed about, and declared with my own tongue are true. 

But then my demons speak.

I think that's one of the very real differences between our world and the world of Mark 5. In Mark 5, the demon speaks in words. In our world, I don't think it has to. I think we use so many words ourselves that our demons don't need to speak with the tongue. In fact, I don't think they could get a word in edgewise. I think we spend so much time crafting what it is that we want to say, figuring out what words we want to use, deciding who we want to hear them...that our demons realize the foolishness of the tongue and no longer speak in words.

But they speak in hypocrisy. They speak in actions. They speak in lives that don't line up with words, in movements that betray our insecurities. They speak in lives that live in unbelief, lives that are more calculated in their presentation than in their presence. They speak in lives that say things like "love" and "trust" and "hope" but don't truly know the meaning of any of these words. Lives that can't truly know the meaning of these words because these lives we live are not really filled with love and trust and hope. 

They're filled with demons.

And my demons, I don't know about yours, are too often speaking louder than my words. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

What is Your Name?

There is this interesting story in Mark 5 that is fairly familiar to most of us, but the way that it plays out leaves me with more than a few questions. The story takes place in a cemetery on the Gerasene side of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who cannot even be bound by chains.

True to every other encounter that Jesus has with a demon in the Gospels, as the Son of God approaches the possessed man, the demon begins screaming about His true identity. Why are you bothering me now, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? (v. 7) And Jesus, true to every other encounter that He has with a demon in the Gospels, immediately commands the demon to come out of the man. (v. 8)

What happens next is where it gets a bit tricky. Verse 9 says, "Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' He told Jesus, 'My name is Legion, because there are many of us.'" 

Now, every time I've read this verse, and every time I've heard this verse discussed by others who have read it, it's just assumed that since the demon answered, Jesus must have been talking to the demon. But the other day as I was reading something in reference to this story, it struck me that this would be inconsistent with everything else we know about Jesus of Nazareth.

He was never interested in giving the demons a voice. 

He never let the demons speak in His presence. He silenced them. Every time. He wasn't into having conversations with the demons; He issued commands. Not one tiny part of His ministry was devoted to convincing the people that demons were real or to giving the demons in His story a name. It's not who He is. It's not who God is. There is not one demon named in all of the Bible, except here - in Mark 5.  And it's just so hard for me to believe, among all the evidence, that Jesus broke character here so that we would have something so unimportant as a name for the demon in the Gerasene cemetery.

(The Greek, by the way, does not offer much clarity. The translation given above is accurate for the Greek words used in verse 9, which is the generic third person in its various forms: "him" and "he." The "he" is actually just a verbal suffix to indicate person/gender/number, which makes it the most non-specific indicator possible.)

So what does this mean? It means, I think, that we've been reading this story wrong. At least, I have. Because I don't think Jesus was speaking to the demon at all. 

I think He was talking to the man.

I think Jesus approached the demonaic, the demon began shouting about the Son of God, and Jesus cast the demon out of the man. I believe that Jesus then turned to the man and asked the man, "What is your name?" The answer was not supposed to be "Legion;" it was supposed to be "Bill." 

Because I think this is what Jesus does. I think Jesus comes to the people who haven't been seen in a long time, who have sort of faded into obscurity, who have been locked away by pain or shame or whatever. And I think He looks into their eyes, sees them, really sees them, and starts a conversation. I think Jesus is the kind of Guy who goes in and invites those without a voice to speak. I think it makes so much more sense, in the story of Jesus, if this question in verse 9 is directed to the man and not the demon. 

And I think it makes more sense at the end of this story, when the whole town comes out to see this man, fully clothed and in his right mind, sitting and talking with Jesus. That's what Jesus does. He talks with people, not demons. He has conversations with people, not Legions. He gives men an opportunity, an invitation, even, to speak; He silences evil. 

But we can't get away from the way the story develops, either. Jesus turns to the man and asks him, "What is your name?" But it is the demon who answers. It is the demon who speaks. We never know the real answer to this question; we never get the man's name.

It makes me wonder...about my own story. About your story. About the stories we share and write together. It makes me wonder...how often our demons speak for us, as though the question were posed to them all along. It makes me wonder...how often my demons speak for me....

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Shield About Me

God is often described in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, as a "shield." But it's not what we normally think of a shield as being.

Too many medieval movies and battle scenes have convinced us that a shield is a fairly small piece of metal that one holds in front of oneself for protection from incoming assault. This small piece of metal is generally attached to the arm and must be moved around and repositioned as necessary to alternately protect oneself and see the way forward.

But when God is described as a shield, He is nothing fairly small. And He isn't just concerned about assault from the front. When God is described as a shield, His protection is all-encompassing. "Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me" - about me means around me. It means every facet of my being is protected by this shield, not just some small little area to my front. Psalm 5 says God is a shield, and then goes on to say, "You surround...." The shield of God protects His child from every direction.

Which is pretty handy because the truth is that as cautious as we are on the forward approach, most of us aren't getting assaulted by what lies ahead of us.

Most of us are getting assaulted by what lies behind and beside, the stuff that's out of our line of sight.

We're getting assaulted by wounds that we covered up, but never healed, which are bursting open on the battlefield and pouring our blood on the ground. We're getting assaulted by friends, or in some cases, by family, that have said they are standing with us, but their arrows are pointed straight at us in not-so-friendly fire. We're getting assaulted by broken relationships, by unspoken apologies, by unforgiveness, by regret, by remorse, by guilt, by shame. We're getting assaulted by all the things we're walking away from, not by the things we're walking toward.

Yet we hold our shields in front of us because it is all we know to do. 

The funny thing is, I think it's almost a counterdefense we're playing. We walk cautiously into the future, seeing all of the arrows that are coming at it from behind, and we hold up our shields on the chance that the future decides to fire back. 

Good news: it won't.

Whatever happens to you tomorrow, whatever future you walk into, will never be an assault on your past. That's not the way time works. It doesn't revert itself for revenge; it marches forever forward. It's your past you have to worry about. It's your present that's a little unpredictable. All this time we spend trying to guard ourselves into tomorrow, and it's yesterday that always takes the fatal shot. 

We're guarding our hearts only to get stabbed in the back.

That's why I love this image from the Old Testament, particularly from the Psalms, where God is described as a shield - the kind of shield that surrounds His child. Because it reminds me that God's got the whole battlefield in sight. He sees it all. He guards my heart going forward, the same way that I'm tempted to do, but He's also got my back. With God as a shield wrapped around me, the arrows of my past have no place to land. With God as a shield wrapped around me, it doesn't matter if my present is a little unpredictable. I can move confidently forward into a hope that is as undeterred by the battle as I am. Into a hope that draws me forward out of my battle lines. 

Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me. Not some dinky little piece of metal that I use to guard my heart, but a real fortress of protection that's also got my back and stands at my sides and marches onward with me into hope. 

Thou, O Lord, art a shield....

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Something Holy

God has never healed a thorn in the flesh. But what does that mean for someone like you or me?

There are two kind of "Christian" responses we tend to have about ideas like this one. The first is that over time, such a thorn just doesn't bother us any more because it fades into the mist of a blessed life. We can almost...ignore whatever thing it is that seems to plague us because in the grand scheme of who we are and all that God is doing in our lives, it just is not consequential.

This thinking has so many problems that it's difficult to know where to begin. First, to embrace this argument is to say that there's something about you that doesn't fit. There's one piece of you that's not part of the rest of you. Second, and perhaps most troubling to the heart, it says that God is a God who leaves you trapped in a fiction. This Author of your very life doesn't worry about making all the chapters work. If a thorn in the flesh is something that God never heals, what are you supposed to make of a God who doesn't heal something that doesn't matter anyway? It's theologically untenable. Like God is somehow not interested in, or invested in, every detail of your life. Like God just allows things to persist in you that have nothing to do with what He's created in you.

Third, and this is where these first two come together, if you ignore the thorn in your flesh, you're unable to tap into something incredible about yourself that makes you uniquely who God created you to be and allows you to do what God uniquely created you to do. If you don't embrace every facet of who you are, you sacrifice something - and it's not a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. It's blood offered to an idol, to the image of yourself that you've erected in your own head. Maybe even your heart.

The second temptation that we have when it comes to these unhealed thorns in the flesh is to wrap them in Christian language and determine that somehow, God just gives us "peace" about it. It sounds Christian enough. It sounds like the kind of thing God might want. Doesn't it? Peace? Jesus even says He's come to give us peace.

But having peace with a thorn in the flesh means, to most of us, that we're "okay" with it. That we've accepted that it's just going to be part of our existence. That we're learning to live with it because it's never going away. That we're accommodating it in our lives because we have no other choice. That we've determined that it's not really that bad after all; it just...is.

Sound like the full and abundant life God has for you? Sound like the conclusion God wants you to draw about your own life? It's okay?

Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but it is not God's answer to the troubling things in the depths of your soul. You must be content to rest in the heart of God, but you were never meant to be okay with life.

As far as I understand, and I have quite a journey left to travel (I think) in this broken world, the very real ache of a thorn in the flesh never goes away. God doesn't necessarily heal every broken thing about us. And it doesn't just stop hurting. I don't think it ever stops hurting.

But by the grace of God, by the heart of Him, you come to this place where you start to understand that it's beautiful. You start to see not how it's hurting you, but how it's holding you. Not how it's hindering you, but how it's shaping you. One day, you realize that you're caught up in the middle of this story that you could never have written with a thousand imaginations, and you understand how this chapter, this paragraph, this small little detail really fills out the character of who you are.

I won't say you're thankful for it; that's a hard place to get to. I won't say it because I'm not there yet myself, so it would be just one of those things that Christian people like to say but not to live. If I'm ever living it, I'll let you know. So I won't say you're thankful for it, but I might say...you're broken by it. It's the weirdest thing. When you discover how this one thing, this one unhealable thing in you and its persistent ache play into the very heart and purpose God has created in you, you're both broken by and healed by this realization.

And you never, you just never, come to the place where you decide that this is okay.

But you do get to where it's beautiful.

And by the grace of God, maybe you even come to the place where it's holy. Because I think in a lot of ways, it's here, in the deep, unhealable ache of a thorn in the flesh, that holy begins for us. For you. For me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thorn in the Flesh

It may not have taken long for Jacob to accept his displaced hip as what we would most likely call a "thorn in the flesh," although Jacob did not have the testimony of Paul on this matter to be of much comfort to him. But it was, perhaps, the one thing Jacob realized he might never be able to shake about himself, the one thing he accepted might never be healed.

And that is the story of these thorns throughout Scripture: not a one of them has ever been healed. 

Jacob's hip was displaced, and as far as we know, he spent the rest of his life limping. We don't know if he resented this, if this hindered him at all. We don't know if he spent countless hours praying for the healing of his hip, begging God to touch it just one more time. We don't know if God...refused.

Paul says plain out that he was refused, that he prayed fervently for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, but God simply never consented to do so. Paul, I don't think, ever gave up praying for his own healing, but I do wonder sometimes if his prayer became less fervent over time. I wonder if Paul started praying, not even expecting anything any more. I wonder if he prayed because he always said he would pray.

I wonder if his prayer changed over time from one of petition for his healing to one of grace for his weakness. 

Even Jesus, the Son of God Himself, took His heaviest of burdens to His Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before His crucifixion, He prayed that there must be some other way. He prayed His hesitation. He prayed His stress. He prayed that this Cross might not put thorns in His flesh, and just a few hours later, every breath He took on that Cross put another splinter in His spine. 

It's scary to think about thorns in the flesh because the stories about them are so clear: not one of them has ever been healed. 

It's scary to think about because there are things in my life that feel...unhealable. That feel...ignored. That feel like God has heard my cry and...refused. 

We tell ourselves that these are the things that are integral to our own stories, that if we did not have these thorns in the flesh, then we would just not be who we presently are. We could never be who God was shaping us to be. Paul, I think, influences us to think this way when he acknowledges that his thorn in the flesh keeps him humble. But I think this is a mistake. I think this is our misunderstanding.

Because if Paul's thorn in the flesh was really such an important part of his testimony, we'd probably know more about it. 

We wouldn't be guessing, 2,000 years later, what Paul meant when he said this; he'd have made it plain to us. We wouldn't be trying to piece together the elements of Paul's story to discover what he was talking about; he'd simply have told us. The same is true for every other thorn in the flesh, or potential thorn in the flesh, story that we have. We are never told enough about it to make it a central element of anyone's story.

We never hear about Jacob's limp again. Never. His limp wasn't as central to his story as we might want to make it. It doesn't even have a bit part; it has one line. One. Line. And then it's gone. Only Jacob remembers his limp. Only Jacob has to live with it.

We never hear what the Cross does to Jesus. We hear plenty about what Jesus does for us on the Cross, but we don't hear the testimony of how it impacts His heart. I'm curious. Aren't you? Don't you wish there were a way to know the depth of the heartbrokenness that Jesus felt on Calvary? Don't you wonder what was really going through His mind in those final hours? Don't you wonder what the Cross had to say to the Son of God? It wasn't silent. There is no possible way that it was silent. But we only hear the testimony of what the Son of God had to say to the Cross. So even though Jesus prays about the bitter cup, this does not become central to His story. At least, not to the story He shares with us.

So these thorns in the flesh that we're so willing to accept as unhealable in our lives...they just aren't so critical to our stories as we think they are. If they are, don't you think they'd have more than one line? Don't you think they'd say more than just the same few words over and over and over again? Turn the page already. 

But that doesn't answer the nagging question we all have, and I hear you. I hear you because I'm asking it myself. Am I unhealable? Am I destined to be broken? Does God hear my fervent prayer and...refuse?

He's never healed a thorn in the flesh. But what does that mean for you and me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Gimp

What's hardest (or perhaps not so hard at all) to believe about Jacob's story by the Jabbok River is that for all the rest of the stories we have about Jacob in the Bible, we never hear Jacob asking for his limp to be healed. Never.

Remember, this is the Jacob who wrestled all night with a complete stranger and refused to let the man go until he offered him a blessing, when Jacob did not even know who the stranger was or what kind of blessing he might have to offer. This is the Jacob who stole his brother Esau's blessing when they were but boys, who schemed with his mother and duped his father and did whatever it took to walk away blessed. 

You'd think this Jacob wouldn't be satisfied to be a gimp, particularly when he is so used to relentlessly demanding whatever he desires until he receives it. 

Yet not one uttering of a demand, a request, or even a hope that God would heal his limp. Not. One.

I wonder if Jacob maybe had the same kind of divided piousness that most of us struggle with. He was a blessed man; that much is sure. How could he not be? He'd taken by force a number of blessings in his life. His father, the stranger, even his brother would come to bless him. Maybe every time he took a step on that struggling leg, every time he felt that hip just a little out of place, he reminded himself that he was, indeed, a blessed man. How could a blessed man complain? How could a blessed man dare ask for something more?

I wonder if Jacob maybe thought about his limp the way we so often think of our raw places. It was clear to him, he knew well, that this limp lived in the place where God had touched him. And if God had already touched him and produced the limp, why would he think that God had any other plan for his hip than its displacement? If God produced the ache, doesn't that mean that God desires the ache? Isn't there something...holy...about this limp? Hasn't God simply decided that the man should be a gimp?

I wonder if Jacob maybe thought the limp was temporary, that it would just go away on its own after awhile. It was the byproduct of one struggle, of one night along the Jabbok River. As time passed, it would heal. The more he lived his life, the more wealth he accumulated, the more prayers he prayed, the more apologies he issued, the more faith he acquired, the more steps he took, the more his hip would just sort of...work its own pain out. Time heals all wounds. He just couldn't let himself be distracted by the limp; it would work itself out.

These, among many others, are the excuses I have for not asking God to heal me. These are the things I tell myself when I find myself gimping through the world. I'm blessed; how could I complain about anything? God caused this limp; clearly, He wants me to have it. It will, as all things do, work itself out; I just can't let it be a distraction from the other things I'm doing. 

Sound familiar?

I have to be honest and say that I don't know the story God had in mind for Jacob's limp. I don't know what God intended for the limp to be or to mean. There's a lot about Jacob's limp that I don't know. And there's a lot about mine that I don't really understand, either. 

But I also know that there are so many times in my own life that I feel like I'm one breath away from not being a gimp any more, one breath away from God healing the limp. All I have to do is take one good breath and form it into some simple, bold, honest prayer and God would answer me. God would heal me. God would reach out and touch again the place that hasn't forgotten the last time He touched it and I wouldn't have to gimp around any more. One. Good. Breath.

And I wonder why Jacob never did it. I wonder why he never prayed this prayer. I wonder why he never sought healing. I wonder why he never asked God to touch his hip just one more time, to use that same tender touch to put things back in place. To heal him. I wonder why this man, who was never shy about demanding blessing, never demanded more. 

And I wonder why I can't seem to find the breath....

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Limp

There's this fairly well-known story in Genesis 32 of Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabbok River. Jacob and the unexpected visitor wrestle all night, until Jacob finally pins the man and demands to be blessed.

He receives the blessing for which he asks. His name is changed from Jacob to Israel. And then he, the victor, the blessed, the named...limps away.

One little sentence tells us that the man with whom Jacob wrestled, whom some have called God and others have called only the messenger of God, touched Jacob's hip and displaced it. Thus, the limp, which He would carry with him for the rest of his life.

What's most amazing about this limp is that it's not an injury from wrestling. The Genesis account does not say that somewhere in the course of the struggle, Jacob's leg got tangled up and his hip displaced. It does not say that things got a little rough, and he ended up injured. It does not recount for us some harrowing tale of Jacob's almost losing the struggle, wincing in pain at the unexpected displacement of his hip, before regaining his composure and pinning the poor sap who tried to tag him near the river. 

What's amazing about this limp is that it's not the byproduct of a sore loser. God, the messenger, whoever it was that Jacob was wrestling near that river was not bitter about losing and therefore decided to cripple the man forever. It's not that the holy being lashed out in anger, determined to take one final toll on the man who had just spent the night engaged in this struggle with him. It's not a revenge wound. It's not a token victory. It's not something the holy wrestler did to get some kind of triumph out of the whole thing.

No. He just...touched him. 

And he was forever changed.

It's striking because this is true, I think, of all of the encounters that I have had with God. Sometimes, we go round and round, wrestling for what seems like forever over something that may or may not be so big. (Genesis doesn't really tell us why Jacob and the Lord started struggling there on that riverbank, except that Jacob wanted the blessing of this man he did not recognize. That's true for me sometimes, too - I don't really want anything; just a blessing. Just bless me, Lord. Or I will never let You go.)

But we wrestle, and I think there's a part of me that's always waiting for the big moment. Waiting for the big thing to happen. Waiting for God to somehow mortally wound me in the process. There are days, I have to be honest, where I'm pretty sure that what I need is a good mortal wounding. There are days when I am crying out to be broken, longing for God to just reach over and break something that feels so central to who I am. Because I know whatever it is is holding me back. I know whatever it is is hurting me. And I just want Him to crush it and get it over with. I wrestle with God, waiting for the sound of something breaking because I feel like that's what I need.

But it never comes.

Or sometimes, God really does bless me. He does give me that amazing good thing that I feel like I'm struggling for. I demand it; He declares it. And just as we're both lying there, trying to catch our breath, I discover that I'm waiting for it. I'm waiting for Him to lash out, to reach out and strike me for something that seemed far too easy, something that He seemed to just...give up. He gave me His blessing, but does blessing come without a cost? I instinctively grab my hip, knowing the blow is coming.

But it doesn't. It isn't.

All these times that I've wrestled with God, always pretty sure that something big was going to happen, it never quite ends up that way. It never comes the way I think it's going to. No. All the big moments in my life, all the incredible, amazing moments when I have wrestled with God have all seemed to end the same way: 

With a touch.

I'll get these things in my heart that have to be worked out, that have to be sorted out, that have to be wrestled with. These big questions. These open wounds. These wonderings that I have, or these insecurities. And I'll bring them to the riverbank and start wrestling with God. We'll start hashing them out, all night if we have to. Night after night after night until it feels like I could almost wrestle a blessing out of Him. And just at the moment that I start to understand what blessed it, just at the moment that I think maybe I've won, just at the moment that when I start to feel like I can almost, maybe, start to make some holy sense of it all, God says, "Just one more thing...."

And then He reaches out...and touches me. 

That's it. One touch. One simple little touch, which just happens to land on the sorest spot of my soul. One tiny little touch from God, on the most raw piece of my spirit. In that moment, my real pain is exposed. My wound is opened anew. All the wrestling, all the struggle, all the strife...all the demands that I've made for God to bless me, and it's only now, only here, only from this one simple touch that I even understand what I'm asking at all. It's only in this one touch that my confidence is displaced just enough to reveal my weakness. It's only in this touch that my true question is exposed. 

Bless me, Lord...

And then I limp away. 

But I always wonder about this place. This river. This struggle we've had. I always wonder about this limp. And then I look in the mirror and wonder about this gimp....

Friday, May 13, 2016

Answering the Ache

This simple kind of quiet that emanates from a life at rest does not necessarily indicate a life of ease or of safety or of security. Although I said yesterday that often, our speaking comes from a place of restlessness and insecurity, it is not necessarily true that our quiet comes from a place of perfect satisfaction and confidence.

It's the tension of being okay even when we're not okay.

I don't think we live in a world that permits us no insecurities; we'll always have them. We'll always have questions about ourselves, about our lives, about our world, about our God. We can never quite shake the questions. I don't think we live in a world that permits us no restlessness; time itself marches on, and we feel the movement of all creation God-ward, and this inherently makes us squirm, ready to take our own next step. 

I don't think we live in a world that can ever truly understand what fullness is; we will always feel the ache of emptiness gnawing at our very core. It's inevitable. Because in this broken, fallen world, there is always something missing. Always something...not...quite...whole....

So when we talk about a life that's perfectly at rest, a life that praises God in its silence, we are not talking about a life that's perfect or an emptiness that doesn't ache. Rather, we are talking about a peace of the spirit that has learned to live in the tension of brokenness.

We are talking about a life that feels its emptiness, but doesn't fill it. Not only does this life know that it can't stop the ache, but it knows that it would never want to. That ache is what calls us homeward. That ache is what keeps our eyes on God. 

We are talking about a life that knows its insecurities, but doesn't try to compensate for them. Instead, it simply lets them live and breathe with the same force of life that courses through the rest of its being. It's okay with not being perfect; it knows perfect is only a mirage. Only a haze. Only an illusion. At least, here, it is. 

We are talking about a life that embraces its restlessness, that lets itself be perpetually stirred, that can never quite settle even into the quiet that calls it to rest. It's a life that knows we're always in motion, always moving, always in transit from one place to another. It's a life that keeps moving; even stillness does not slow it down. But it moves freely; it does not allow its restlessness to throw it off-course.

It would be accurate to say that in a world of talkers, most of us are constantly battling our own insecurities, our own restlessness. It would be accurate to say that all the words we try to put to the stories we're either living or want to live are our way of trying to fill the emptiness, of trying to answer the ache. We're literally shouting into the void and hoping that one day, it might just answer us back.

But it would also be accurate to say that when the soul finds rest, when silence becomes praise, most of us are still battling our own insecurities and our own restlessness. These things don't just go away. Not this side of Eden. Our quiet is not a declaration of victory; it is a testimony of tension. A life of quiet praise is just as torn-up, beaten-down, stressed-out as any other. It has just learned to live with itself. It no longer shouts into the emptiness because it knows the emptiness can never answer back. It no longer tries to fill the void; it steps right into it. 

And there, it discovers something worthy of praise. 

It discovers the answer to the very ache.

It discovers the God of Genesis 1, the God who stands in the formless and void...and speaks life.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In Silence Praise

Do you ever find yourself talking because you don't know what to say? 

We're a generation of talkers. We talk about things we know. We talk about things we don't know. We talk about things we'd like to know and things we only pretend to know. We talk when we pass each other in a busy shopping mall. We mouth words to one another at stoplights. We talk in the foyers of our churches; we whisper during prayer. We can't seem to share a space with anyone unless we're talking. (Unless we're texting, which is an entirely different phenomenon.) Sometimes, I'm pretty sure we're a people who are talking our way through our world, trying desperately to throw out enough words that we can hold on to just a few of them and somehow write a story.

Our story. 

I get it. Because for most of my life, I've been a talker, too. Some days, I still am. But something weird has been happening lately: I'm growing quiet. 

This has not gone unnoticed.

What's interesting is that, in a world of talkers, it's the quiet people who are suspicious. Everyone wants to know what's wrong. What's wrong with you? You're quiet

Quiet is a bad word. Quiet is a sign of trouble. Quiet is a sign of distress. Quiet, we think, is a sign of disengagement with the world. You're quiet only because you can't figure out anything to say. You're quiet because your experience is too overwhelming for words. You're quiet because whatever life demands of you at this moment exceeds your capacity to both live your story and tell it at the same time. 

Over the past several months, God has been doing a settling work in me, and I've found myself with less of an inclination to speak. It's nothing really in particular. It's not that I'm feeling trapped in a story bigger than myself and struggling to find adequate words, so I use no words at all. It's not that I think my words might be wasted if I spoke them. It's not even that I'm insecure or uncertain or unsure about what's happening in me or around me. It's just that...I don't really need to speak.

Someone approached me about this recently. Am I okay? she asked. You're quiet. And she noted that I'd been growing progressively quiet over the recent weeks/months. I laughed a little and said, "Oh, I'm naturally quiet," which made her laugh, too. But then I added, "Actually, it's when I'm talking that I'm not okay."

It's when I'm talking that I'm being eaten alive by my own insecurities. If this isn't true before I start talking, in which case I'm using words and noise to fill the emptiness of my own vulnerability, it is most certainly true as soon as the first sound comes out of my mouth. When the words start to roll off my tongue, I wonder if I'm saying the right things. If I'm saying them the right way. If all this noise I'm making is really doing anything but squelching the heart-wrenching silence that swells to fill the void of all that I am not. If all this noise is squelching the silence at all. 

I don't think I'm alone in this. Even for being a generation of talkers, I don't know very many people at all who can tolerate the sound of their own voice. Nobody likes to record themselves talking and listen to it play back. No one likes to check their voicemail recording to make sure it sounds okay; it never does. It sounds like...us. It sounds like insecurity. Doesn't it? Tell me it's not just me.

And yet, we spend our lives talking, filling the void with the sound of our own voices, which even we cannot stand, all the while convincing ourselves that it's not noise, but quiet, that is the problem. 

But I'm growing quiet. I'm growing quiet in a world of talkers. And I'm absolutely loving it. Because I recognize in my quietness a life that is finally, truly coming to rest. I'm coming to rest. I'm coming to be okay with my own story, with all the pregnant pauses and chapter breaks and unfinished story lines. I'm coming to be okay with living my story without telling it all the time. I'm coming to understand that the best testimony of who I am is my quietness. The best testimony of who God is is my stillness.

You are praised with silence in Zion, O God. - Psalm 65:1

Praised with silence. That's what the Psalmist says. God is praised with silence. He is praised without words, not because words are inadequate but because they are unnecessary. He is praised with silence because He settles the world into its story. He is praised with silence because a world that always feels like it has to fill the void with noise no longer feels the need to do so. Because a world that trembles under the weight of its own emptiness finds that it is silence, not noise, that expands to fill this space. 

He is praised with silence because there is no greater testimony to the greatness of God than a life at rest in a restless world. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Amazing Grace

There are days that I want to tell you how amazing grace is, through my own eyes, from my own perspective as a recipient of the unmerited gift, and I think there's a space for that. I know there is. Because I know how much I value the stories of others who have shared their stories of grace with me. It reminds me both that grace is real and that grace is amazing. But these are, inherently, our grace stories and not really stories about grace herself. And I think there's a place for that, too.

I think there has to be a place where we just talk about grace without putting so much skin on it. Because God is so far beyond our experience of Him, grace more amazing than we could ever know, and it doesn't do it justice to have it always confined by our own stories. To have it always held in our own hands. Sometimes, we just have to talk about grace as the unimaginable, incomprehensible, abstract idea that it truly is, a measure of an immeasurable God. 

It's true about grace, and it's true about nearly everything else that we experience of God. There are always two ways to tell the story - through our eyes or through our wildest imaginations. In the real, tangible expressions of the way God works, for real, in our real lives and in the fantastical, mysterious wonderment of a story that takes place outside of words.

We hold one story in our left hand and the other in our right and spend our entire lives trying to figure out how the two are supposed to come together, like some theological maypole dance that has us twisting and turning around the central spire of our stories, wrapping both narratives around them in a way that sometimes looks pretty and sometimes looks tangled and just sort of blows in the wind, reminding us, at least, of the dance. 

These narratives cross paths from time to time - a glimpse of grace here, a taste of it there. True grace peeking out from behind our experience of it. Amazing grace picking up the colors of our own stories. It feels almost whimsical, almost free. 

But our lives were never meant to be teased or tangled or tossed. They weren't meant to be these two threads wrapped together, one around the other around the very heart of who we are. They weren't meant to be taken, one in our left and and the other in our right, and danced together in a way that sometimes looks pretty. Threads that are wound together this way will never be strong enough to hold one story, let alone two. Threads just wrapped around our stories can never fully hold amazing grace. 

The true story of grace requires that these threads be not tangled, but tended. Not wrapped, but woven together.

These stories, these stories that are so central to our understandings of ourselves and our understandings of God and our understandings of ideas so amazing as grace, cannot ever be first one story and then another, first our story and then God's, first through our eyes and then beyond our imaginations; they have to be both at the same time. 

They have to be stories that put skin on our wildest imaginations and at the same time, tear that very flesh away to reveal something completely unimaginable, if only it were not already so real. They have to be stories that tell of a grace that is amazing without losing sight of amazing grace. They have to be stories that are our stories, because we only ever have our stories, in the very same breath that they are God's stories.

There's no tension between storytellers; we are telling His stories as He is telling ours. And we are telling the story of His telling our story as we tell our story through Him, just as He is telling the story of our telling His story as He tells His story through us. And these stories, these two unimaginable stories, are woven together...

So that on those days when our stories feel weak, when it feels like maybe the thread of our own narrative is falling apart, there's another story there to hold us. And on those days when maybe even grace doesn't feel so amazing....

Woven together. Our story and His. Two fragile threads come together to hold one amazing narrative. It's a story of grace. 

Amazing grace. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Very Idea of God

One of the greatest challenges to our Christian affection for God is the very idea of of Him. We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what He is that we neglect to envelop ourselves in His very presence.

The disheartening truth is that most of us may have a thousand thoughts about God on any given day, but very few of us will have a single thought of Him.

We pontificate on the myriad characteristics of our God all while neglecting to experience them. We talk about a loving God as though this is one of the greatest things about Him, but what good is our loving God if we do not feel loved by Him? What good is it to say to a parched and famished world that our God is living water and daily bread if we do not also invite them to feast upon His gracious bounty?

What good is it if we are not feasting ourselves?

We get so wrapped up in this, talking about God the way we talk about nearly everything else in our world - news, politics, the weather. The Holy Among Us today is partly loving with a chance of grace; showers of mercy are expected to move in by later this evening. Son set is at 8:21 p.m. Make sure you say your prayers.

And we say that this is the best we can do. This is all that we can say about Him. This is the way we talk about the God that we claim so much to love.

This is the way we talk about the God who we claim claims He loves us. 

It's far too easy to do. It's what we say we want. We want to know more. We want to have more information at our fingertips. We want data to process and facts to lean upon and results to verify and research to conduct. We want to have the answers to questions we haven't even begun to ask. And I think we get so distracted trying to figure out what to say about God that we've forgotten how to testify.

We've read His story so hard, deconstructing it and breaking it down into its data-driven pieces, that we've forgotten how to live it. We study love like language and grace like math until there's nothing left to drive the rhythm of our own heartbeats, which we've broken down and studied like music. We speak of His song the way we speak of Beethoven's symphonies - great compositions that we could not begin to perform. But all the while, there's this gnawing in our spirit to sing. 

And that's the great challenge to our Christian affection for God: He has become far too academic. Far too sterile. Far too distant. The very idea of God has separated us from the very heart of Him, and we are becoming far too good at telling His story without living it. At speaking about Him without saying anything of Him at all. 

At talking about our loving God without ever feeling truly loved by Him. 

How are we ever supposed to know any good thing about love if it doesn't make our heart flutter? How could we say anything at all if we only talk and never speak? 

How do we know anything about this God of ours at all if the very idea of Him keeps us from His presence? If He is always the God we hold thoughts about and never the God who holds us?

Monday, May 9, 2016


There are some amazing writers out there who have this incredible ability to take their heart into their hands and bleed all over the page and somehow make it beautiful. We're seeing this more and more, particularly in religious/Christian writing. Particularly in religious/Christian blogs. There's this resurgence of raw, confessional language that is drawing us into our own hearts by allowing us into the hearts of others.

This...is not one of those blogs. I...am not one of those writers.

Although, truth be told, I want to be.

I want to be one of those writers who is so beautifully human that you can't help but be more in touch with your own spirit when you leave this page. I want to be one of those writers who loves God undeniably, out loud, in a way that makes Him more real, more powerful, more unimaginable and yet, more immanent with every word. I want to be one of those writers whose wrestling is so raw that it can't possibly be anything but real. I want to be one of those writers that awakens your heart and draws you into the very midst of all that God wants you to be, not because I'm anything special, but because at least, maybe, I'm something real.

I want to be one of those writers because I think we need as much of that as we can get in this world. Particularly in this world.

But the truth is that I can't be one of those writers. Because I don't know what to do with my own heart.

There are days, most days, that I think the weight of my own heart is going to kill me. It's too much of a burden to bear. How am I supposed to live in this world? How am I supposed to love in it? I wonder how I'm ever going to pour one more sacred drop of anything even remotely good, even potentially holy out of this heart that is, so often, running dry. I look around at the brokenness that I see all around me, the very things God has called me to respond to, the things that stir my heart...and the stirring becomes so often just this emptiness that I feel. Like a stomach prone to hunger, it gnaws and aches inside of me, and I wonder what on earth I'm supposed to do with that.

How am I supposed to ache?

Yet at the very moment that the ache becomes so real that I can almost hold onto it long enough to pray in my tight-folded hands, it is gone. Replaced by the confident assurance of abundance and strength. Sated by a fullness that I cannot describe. I wonder how I'm supposed to do it...but I can't imagine doing anything else. I wonder how I'm supposed to live in this world, with this heart, but I can't imagine doing it any other way. I wonder how I'm supposed to love, but I can't imagine not loving. I wonder what I'm supposed to do with this emptiness, but it's become so full.

One. More. Drop.

One more drop of something holy is always rolling around inside of me. One more drop of something sacred to pour out into this world. At just the moment I feel most my emptiness, I know there is this one more drop, and it feels like everything. It's more than I could ever imagine. And still I wonder...if I give this one more drop, will I have anything left?

So close to empty, what does empty feel like? At the moment I think that I know, I realize that I know nothing at all. For I have the greatest of fullness, and it feels like everything.

And nothing.

And something.

So the question I wrestle with every time I come to this page is the question I wrestle with, really, when I am away from it: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be holy?

How do I avoid just adding to the words, adding to the noise of this world and truly do something meaningful with what little space I have in it? How do I draw you deeper into your own heart, knowing how tangled I get in my own? How do I offer something full in the emptiness, in my emptiness?

How do I speak in God's voice, wrapped in my own, so that you hear His whisper in the depths of your own soul, His story wrapped in yours? How do I use my voice to help you find yours?

How do I use me, my story, my heart, my one small drop of sacred, to make this not about me? How do I use everything I've got to make this all about Him?

How do I make use of my gnawing, aching, broken, empty, sated, abundant heart when the God's-honest truth is that more often than not, even I don't know what to do with it?

Friday, May 6, 2016


All week, I've been trying to break down the myth of the ideal of balance in our lives. Balance, as we know it, faces three major problems: a logical problem, a creational problem, and a Scriptural problem. God's idea for His world, and for His people, was never balance; it was always tension.

But tension isn't easy.

Balance gives us this amazing sense of security. It's a false security, but security nonetheless. Balance lets us become "centered," finding stable ground in one place or another on which to stand. It gives us the illusion that our lives are steady, that there's a place to set our feet down. But balance leaves us jumping from one end of the scales to the other. It leaves us in perpetual motion. Although it feels centered and well, balance never settles in. It never settles down. It can't. Because it is always trying to hold two things together.

Tension has no such illusions. Although when we talk about tension, we talk about the necessity of embracing two opposing ideas at the same time (first and last, losing a life to save it, weak and strong), the truth is not so clean and pretty. True tension is not holding two opposing ideas together.

Tension is two opposing ideas tearing you apart.

In some of life's most difficult and beautiful moments, we understand this well. Take, for example, the experience of grief. Grief is inherently an experience of tension. On one hand, we are tremendously saddened by the loss of someone or something we care about, someone or something that has played a tremendous role in our lives. We cannot help but feel the emptiness of grief. At the same time, most of our funerals are no longer sad occasions; they are celebrations of life. We rejoice that we have known this person, or this thing, at all. We reflect on the great addition this person/thing has made to our lives. We laugh. We tell stories. We share our memories. And for awhile, it takes away the sting of loss, though it never quite soothes it.

Try as we might, we can never hold these two ideas together. We cannot reconcile the agony of loss and the celebration of blessing. It doesn't work out. Our minds can't wrap around it, and our hearts only jump back and forth between the two extremes. But these two ideas can hold us. In tension, they tear on us equally and give us the full range of grief as it must be in this fallen world. And this is but one example of what tension really looks like in our lives.

Here is another: the Cross.

The Cross is the epitome of what tension looks like. A cruel and brutal form of punishment, the Cross works by drawing its victim out to such a degree that the very strain in his own body is what holds him there. When Christ laid out on the Cross, His hands and feet to be nailed, He was embracing the tension in our world to its most extreme degree. His right hand stretched out toward one horizon; His left, toward the other. As His hands reached for both the east and the west, His body was lifted up and held there in place by the strain of being able to truly reach neither. 

This was no balance. His feet had nothing to stand on. He did not, though He was raised plumb with the Cross, feel "centered" in the very least. He did not feel a certain stability or steadiness in His life by being equally stretched both left and right. How absurd! The Cross was no comfort of "balance." It was pure, agonizing tension - the same tension that defines our very existence. The same tension that is the testimony of the world. The testimony of creation. The testimony of the Scriptures.

The testimony of our Lord.

But no, it's not easy. It's not pretty. It's not what we imagined our lives would be, but if we really think about it, our lives have never been anything else. They've always been tension; balance has always been our attempt to get out of it. Balance has always been our scheme. It's always been our device. We feel the way that the world is tearing at us. We feel the two opposing ideas holding onto us, and we long to hold something of our own. So we choose balance, and we feel more torn than ever.

Our challenge, our joy is to learn to live in the tension. Because it really is beautiful.

Just look at Calvary. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Paradox and Balance

The last problem that we ought to have with the idea of balance is a biblical one: balance is just not the testimony of the Bible. 

Our God is a God of paradox, and paradox and balance simply do not go together. God does not say that sometimes, you are weak, and sometimes, you are strong. No, God says that when you are weak, then you are strong. This idea does not imply balance; it implies tension. You must be both things at once, not one and then the other. 

He says that if you want to be first, you must be last. He does not say that sometimes, you're first, and sometimes, you're last. No. You are both things at once - first and last. There is no balance in being two completely opposite things; there is only tension. 

God's best word to you is never, "You win some, you lose some." No - you win by losing. You gain your life by losing it. Again, there is no idea of balance inherent in this, only tension.

And it is not just these kinds of ideas where tension shows up plainly. Even more simple commands, simpler ideas that would, on the surface, seem to play into our idea of balance, contain not balance, but tension. Take God's command to observe the Sabbath. We often read this with balance on our minds - we must incorporate rest into our busy schedules. We must work and rest. Or in modern terms, we must work and play.

But that's not really the idea God has in mind with this. If it were true that we needed some sort of balance, then the whole Creation would rest on the Sabbath; everything would stop. But it doesn't. Only we do. The Sabbath rest is not meant to help us live in balance with our work; it is meant for us to live in tension with it. Because we may stop working, but the world doesn't stop. The earth still turns on its axis. The sun rises and sets. The moon pulls on the tides. The flowers grow. The grass grows. The birds sing. Our practice of Sabbath rest puts us in direct tension with a world that goes on without us.

It's not about balance.

God's desire for humanity is never that we would have a little bit of everything, or even enough of everything, or even the perfect balance of everything. God never says, "I have come to give you life, and life in perfect balance." No, His promise is that He has come to give us life, and life "abundant." There is no room in balance for abundance. The math just doesn't work.

Abundance is a tension. It's a tension because it does not matter how much we have on this side of heaven, our very existence - even in abundance - is set up against the gnawing ache of emptiness in each of our hearts that still longs for home. That waits for heaven. That has everything a human heart could desire but still feels the void of having less than it was created for (because of sin). This is tension at its finest.

And it is the life we are called to live.

We hold up balance as the ideal, as the thing we are all striving for in our lives. But balance has only ever been our idea; it's not God's. The testimonies of logic, Creation, and Scripture speak plainly to this truth. We weren't made for balance; we were made for tension. And it's not an easy thing. 

But it is beautiful. 

How? How can such a tortured life be beautiful? 

Stay tuned.