Friday, September 30, 2016


If you're anything like me, it's fairly easy to get lost in some of the language of the Bible, particularly when reading one of the translations that relies heavily on more archaic language - like thee, thy, thine, and thou. One of the ways we resolve our tension with these words is to just conclude that they all refer to God in some way, and then what we end up with is some version of the Bible that we almost, but don't quite, understand. 

And then it's easy to get our theology a bit messed up.

The more I think about these words, though, and the more I discover about the grammatical use of them, the more I think that perhaps there is something about them that is still relevant today. Perhaps even more relevant today.

All of these words are forms of personal pronouns. They are not the personal pronouns that we use most often today - today, we are stuck on "me" and "you." It seems that there are but these two - everything in the world is either mine or yours. And we use these words to create distance between ourselves.

But that's why I'm coming to love these archaic-sounding pronouns. These are second-person forms (you) that sound more intimate, like first-person forms (me). They draw God closer through their very form.

Check this out: any time you might be tempted to say "me," say "thee." These two words serve roughly the same purpose in a sentence. The same is true with "my" and "thy." Try swapping those out. The same is true, as well, with "mine" and "thine." All of these forms ring to our ear as most intimate, most personal - because they sound like the words that we use for ourselves. The only subtle difference here is the very first phoneme, the first sound, and this "th"? It is the beginning of the Greek word theos, which means "God." 

So unwrap all of that for a second. In a world in which everything is either me or you, mine or yours, what we've essentially done is brought the Gospel and tried to make it a "me" thing. We've taken the story of God and made it our own. In a world in which individuality and subjective reality are the prime motivators of existence, we have a Gospel, too, that is centered around us.

This so-called outdated language changes just one sound, but refers the Gospel back out to God without losing the intimacy.

Where we need to create a little space, where we need to separate more deeply between ourselves and God, we have "thou," which, if you look at it, is this very same phoneme away from being "you," - a true second-person that permits us to discriminate between two things (lest we confuse the Gospel entirely). 

The implications of this cannot be overstated in a world that is so easily, and so readily, divided into me and you, into mine and yours. Because what this does, without losing either the intimacy or the distinction, is to remind us that it is all God's. It's all His. That's what the th is about. 

It's Thee-ology at its finest. 

And we'd do well to remember that. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Seed of Heaven

Weeds get kind of a bad reputation in the Bible. In the parable of the seed, the weeds choke the life out of all the good little seed that God's growing. In the words of promise of the time to come, the weeds are harvested with the grain, then separated and burned. But buried in here also is a word of caution for all of us, and it's worth noting. Specifically, I'm referring to when God advises you to...

...leave the weeds alone.

This is in that second-referenced verse above, where He speaks about the day coming when the weeds and the wheat will be harvested together and then separated. If you try to pull the weeds up right now, you end up uprooting some of the good crop, too. So the only way to make sure you get a harvest at all is to let the weeds alone, lest you ruin everything.

It's amusing to me sometimes how many people think I just grew up this way. That I grew up going to church and learning about God and loving the Lord. I'm so darned good at it now. Or something. I guess. So they think I've been doing this my whole life and that my whole story is some kind of nice, neat felt board in the Sunday school room. When they find out it's not quite so pretty, there are those who are far-too-anxious to want to pull me up. There are those that have tried.

I've been told there's not a place for me in God's church (in various, very specific contexts by persons who considered their context "God's church") because they found out I'm just a weed. It's painful. It hurts. And you know what? It also hurts the harvest - for a couple of reasons. First, other weeds are watching what you do to the weeds in your field. If you're too anxious to start pulling them up, they aren't even going to come in. You're never going to get these non-native plants in your soil. Second, just as Jesus spoke, the wheat sometimes gets offended, too, when you start churning the soil too much. When you start making too many rules about who can and cannot come in, when you start to spend a little too much time tending your fields, people get nervous. They get antsy.

Because on some level, we're all weeds. And there's no one more aware of that than ourselves, every time we look in the mirror. 

If it's not the people who think there's no place for weeds, it often goes to the other extreme - those who are convinced that weeds must be flowers. Or weeds must be wheat. For as many people as I've had who have wanted me out of the church because I'm too messy, I have had far more who wanted me out of my mess because I'm in the church. 

They've encouraged me to forget my story, to leave it behind. To move on. To embrace who I am in God today, who God continues to shape me to be. What they forget is that who I am today in God is a reflection on the journey He and I have had together. It's a reflection on the winds that have carried me and dropped me in this field in this season at this time. I can't just forget who I was because it's woven into the fabric of who I am, and if I don't have my story, I'm not the same person that I am today. So that doesn't work either.

Weeds have kind of a bad reputation, but there's nothing really wrong with being a weed. If nothing else, being a weed reminds me how completely improbable I am, which draws me back into the heart of the God who loves me and scatters such rogue seed on the wind. It reminds me how resilient I am, able to put down roots in the hardest of soil, in the smallest of places, and stake my claim. It reminds me of how unexpected I am. Nobody, I don't think, plans for an Aidan here, but here I am. And it's amazing how I got here. And it reminds me how alien I am - this world is not my home. I am, by my very nature, a non-native species in this fallen, broken world. I am the seed of Heaven, sown on a holy wind, growing here anyway and sometimes, sometimes...

...I'm even mistaken for a flower. 

But don't be fooled. I'm just a weed. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beautiful Flowers

Some people probably wonder why I take such confidence in describing myself as a "mean little weed." No, they say. You're a beautiful little flower. A delicate flower. A budding beautiful child of God.

Not really. But that's more horticology than I really want to get into right now. 

What we really have to do is start with an actual definition of a weed and go from there. Most of us are used to dealing with weeds as nuisances - things that pop up in our flower beds and ruin our landscaping, crab grass and cattails that grow in the yard, or even in the case of the parable of the seed, those horrible little things that choke out all the good things growing around them. These are all weeds, but they are practical encounters with weeds. At their very base, weeds are simply this: invasive species.

They're the things that crop up where you didn't plant them, the things that grow where you wouldn't expect them to grow. Often, they are not native to the ground they're growing in, but they grow there anyway, sown by the wind. 

And a lot of weeds are beautiful. If you've ever driven through the mountains of eastern Tennessee, you've seen all these beautiful purple, yellow, blue, and white flowers standing tall along the side of the road. They're eye-catching and yes, even breath-taking. But go home and search the internet for them, and you will find that they are weeds.

Are they any less beautiful now that they are weeds and not really flowers? No. (But they're a little disappointing. I'll come back to this.)

That's why I'm so willing, so quick, even, to describe myself as a weed. I'm an invasive species. I've cropped up in a place where I was never really planted, sown here by the winds of whatever this life may bring. I'm not part of the landscaping; it doesn't look like there should probably be an Aidan right here in the middle of all this, but here I am. I've grown where I don't think many would have expected me to grow, even though it's hard for most of them to imagine their garden without me at this point. Against all odds, here I am.

And yet, I might also be beautiful. When I say that I'm a weed, I'm not putting myself in the same category as crab grass. I'm not here to take over the lawn. Rather, I'm thinking of those flowers that dot the landscape in the mountains, the tall beauties that line the edge of the roads. I'm thinking about those little specks of color that you can't help but notice and wonder about. What are those? 

Those are me.

If you dig into my story and discover all the little truths about it, discover the hard ground, discover the difficult seasons, discover the non-native seed that brought all this about, and if you discover in all that digging that I'm really just a weed, am I any less beautiful? I don't think so. 

A little disappointing, maybe.

And here's what's disappointing about it, going back to those weed-flowers on the sides of the road: we can't figure out how to do weeds. We can't figure out how to cultivate them. I don't know how many times I've heard someone fall in love with a weed, only to discover that it's a weed and then not know how they could actually incorporate that weed into their landscaping and get it to grow the way that they want to. I don't know how many times I've talked to people who want those little purple, yellow, blue, and white flowers in their own gardens but don't know how to make them grow there.

I don't know how many times I've had people ask me how my story even works. Because I think we all look around and see potential weeds, and we aren't sure how to make them grow. It's frustrating! And disappointing. Because we have to resign ourselves to knowing that the only thing that makes a weed work is really the wind.

I'm a weed because God makes me work here. He makes this possible. I can't explain how my story works. I can't walk you through ten steps to cultivating a weed. I can't tell you how to approach the non-native seeds in your life, the ones you ache for, the ones you pray for, the ones you long for. But I can stand on the side of this mountain, rise from the cracks in the sidewalk, and tell you, at least, that it's possible. It's possible for weeds to grow up and yes, even to be beautiful.

I know.

Because I'm a mean little weed. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mean Little Weed

No doubt you've heard the parable of the seed. It's the one that talks about the different kinds of ground that the seed can fall into and what happens to its life-giving potential when it does.

Some seed falls on hard ground, and it's immediately scooped up by the birds and devoured. Some seed falls on the shallow soil, and there's nothing there to hold its roots, so it sprouts up, but dies quickly. Some seed falls on decent soil and grows up, but there, it is among the weeds, so it gets choked out. And some seed, of course, falls on good ground and produces a harvest countless times larger than itself. 

And the moral of the story is that you ought to be good ground, that if the Word of God has taken deep root in you, there's something good about the ground you've got. 

But I have a yard and a rock garden and a real garden and a path, and I'm not sure I buy it. Because some of the most stubborn plants that I've got on all my property are the mean little weeds that grow up in the cracks of the sidewalk. And spiritually?

I'm a mean little weed.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my life, about my journey, about how I got to the place where I am now. I've been thinking about some of the things that make me good at what I do, whatever it is that I do, and that allow me to do good things in the world. I've been thinking about the things that are liabilities in these same regards. And often? They're kind of the same things.

I think about how I've never really felt grounded in this world. I've always had this ability to just be and just do whatever the situation requires that I be or do. In fact, that might be my primary orientation toward doing or being anything. And this makes me a really great friend, and a pretty good minister. I'm able to respond to a situation and become what is needed in order to bring something meaningful or good out of it. 

At the same time, what am I really offering? The roots only go so deep before they hit concrete, and there's nothing there. I'm operating not out of something that is grounded, something that is foundational in any sense of the word; I'm operating out of this necessity to be something specific. And what am I when there is no specific need? 

Essentially nothing.

A weed in the cracks.

I think about how unlikely I am, how I'm really the kind of ground that you wouldn't expect would grow anything. I don't know that anyone looking at me twenty, thirty years ago would have said, "Now that is a good piece of ground." A pretty sidewalk, maybe. Or maybe not. But I don't know that a lot of people would have given me a shot, especially not a shot at being anything of God's. 

Yet, here I am. Not only against all odds, but stubborn as heck about it. There's not anything you can do about me. I just continue to grow here, continue to defy this world's best tricks. I don't know how I do it. I don't know what it is that I've got hold of down there, but it must be something because nothing gets rid of this weed. I just stand there in the cracks, taunting a world that says I'm not possible. 

But here I am.

There's so much about this image that I love for my own story, so much about this idea of being a weed in the cracks that just makes me smile. There's so much that it makes me ache for, too. It's just something I'm letting roll around in my heart a bit these days, so I thought I'd share. Nothing special.

Or maybe....

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blessed Whatever

Recently, in a conversation about spiritual disciplines, someone said that she struggled to read the Bible. This is not uncommon, even among Christians, but what she said next about that struggle was stunning. She said that the Bible really wasn't the type of book she likes to read, but that since God requires her to read it, she's pretty sure He blesses whatever effort she puts into it. You know, when she has a minute or two to slog through it.

In other words, she knows what God requires of her, but it doesn't suit her style, so she's consoled herself by believing that God blesses her limited effort, even in the face of her own unwillingness. What this amounts to is a faith that does what God asks a mere fraction of the time and still calls itself blessed.

This faith is no faith, and this God is no God at all.

Try to expand this argument into other areas of living and two things happen: first, you run up against ridiculousness and second, you box yourself into godly living by pure logic.

In terms of ridiculousness, imagine trying to form your argument around something as simple as telling the truth. Use the same words you use for whatever spiritual discipline you don't think is your cup of tea, and see how that sounds. I know that God commands me to tell the truth, but truth really isn't my thing. I'm not very good at it. So every now and then, I try to tell the truth, and I think God rewards me for that. But in general, I'm just not good at truth, so I don't think God expects too much of it from me.

Uh, what? Nobody's going to try to lay out that argument legitimately. It can't be done. And yet, this is the very same logical progression we use with the spiritual disciplines that God has commanded of us to draw us closer to Him. Prayer isn't really my thing. So every now and then, I try to pray, and that's enough for God. That I try. 

Again, that's not God. That's some trimmed-down, vapor-mist of a vision of God that you've created yourself to make you feel better about what you're doing anyway, but it's not God.

The second result of this argument is even more condemning, for it goes straight to the heart of who you are. Part of what we say when we conclude that God rewards us just for doing whatever we can manage to do is that He blesses us for doing these very things. The person to whom I referred at the beginning of this post said she believes God blesses her when she reads her Bible, even if it's just ten minutes once a month. Even if that's all she can muster to do. 

Wouldn't that make you want to do more of whatever it is you're doing? 

If you know that God blesses you when you read your Bible, even if you claim it's not your thing, even if you only read ten minutes a month, wouldn't that resulting blessing inspire you to read your Bible more often? If not, you're living a faith that settles, and heads up - faith never settles. 

So the argument fails on two points - it's not God, and it's not faith. 

This is why we have to be so careful about what we're willing to believe, about the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better about our failures. It's not that reading the Bible or praying or tithing or whatever is not your thing; it's that you haven't made it your thing. And in not making it your thing, you haven't made faith your faith or God your God. 

That's not blessed. It's broken. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Jesus H. Christ

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a ministry friend, and the question came up: would Jesus curse?

I had been talking about the idea that when we mimic someone else's body motions and language characteristics, they subconsciously feel more connected to us. This is a psychological truth that has been tested again and again and shown to be legitimate. It's also a potentially good place for ministry to begin - if you can get someone to feel comfortable with and connected to you, do you not have a better chance of ministering effectively to their heart? The question my friend posed, and the one which we tossed around a bit, was essentially, Yes, but how far are you willing to go?

Would Jesus curse?

There are several considerations we have to make when answering this question. The first is, what is cursing? Where is the line in language? We don't see any four-letter words in the Gospels, but we also have a Jesus who calls the Pharisees some pretty harsh names - snakes, vipers - and talks about the merchants as thieves. Is this first-century foul language? Some say yes, it absolutely is. 

Yet we must also note how careful Jesus was with His words, even with these harsh words. Today's curse words have no context most of the time; they are used as "language enhancers," the way that salt is meant to bring out the taste of food. Therefore, vulgar or not, they are idle words, and I think that's enough to say that Jesus would not use them.

But then again, Jesus was a man of men. He was human. If He doesn't use the vernacular of the time, is He relatable? Do people take Him seriously? It's very difficult for us to hear someone whose language is so far from our own.

Still, too, we must remember that Jesus was a man made in our form so that we could be men made in His image once more. So how much are we willing to say that the Son of God must be like us in order to make us most effectively like Him? 

There are no simple answers, which is probably why this question stuck with me.

Then this week, as I wrote about shame and nakedness and the exposed Jesus, I think there are some correlations that can be made between those questions and this one. And I think the answer is: no one would really notice.

Now, wait a minute. I hear you saying that it's ludicrous that no one would notice a four-letter bomb dropping out of Jesus' holy mouth. Certainly, that would be eye-popping, wouldn't it? 

I don't think so.

See, the Scriptures don't tell us much about the naked Jesus, either, but we can know with some confidence that at certain points in His ministry, He was just this - in the buff. It was common for fishermen to strip some measure of their clothing for work. We know He was stripped naked after His condemnation. We know He laid His grave clothes aside, leaving Him with....what? But this is not the emphasis of the narrative, and I honestly think nobody really noticed.

Because there was no shame.

Jesus is not bound by the same stuff that we are. His entire presence, His very being, emits this complete confidence in who He is that I think overshadows whatever hesitations we might have in our fallen flesh. I think we are so enamored by the heart that He wears on His sleeves that we don't even notice whether He's wearing sleeves or not. I think we're so touched by the tenderness in His tongue that we don't pay that much attention to what kind of language He uses (at least in a casual, conversational sense - we do notice when He says "brood of snakes"). More surprisingly, particularly to a world that seems to pick up on the slightest controversy, I don't think we would notice that He doesn't curse. 

The question was raised in the context of ministry - how far do we go to establish a connection with the people to whom we minister? Would Jesus curse? Should we? 

And I think the answer is this: if we get our heart right, if we get His heart right, I don't think people would notice either way. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Clothed in Righteousness

So we've gone from Adam and Eve naked unaware in the garden to hiding, ashamed, in the bushes, seeking to find without being found, to Jesus being found in the garden and publicly shamed, finding the lost through His willingness to be found, even naked. There is but one scene left in this story, in the way that God weaves this fabric of nakedness and shame, of seeking and finding, through His narrative, and it comes in the empty tomb.

Well, the almost-empty tomb.

Because what we find when we go looking for the crucified Christ is not "nothing," as we so often say, but something very important - His discarded grave clothes, which He has taken the time to fold. This is the final word on shame. 

It's not that death is defeated, although that is a huge part of the almost-empty tomb. It's not that Christ is victorious, although we are thankful that He is. It's that creation has been restored to its original design; man, even this Man, is as He was meant to be. 

In finding the grave clothes, we find the last of the Fall undone. The empty tomb says, I do not need your hiding place, and the grave clothes say, I do not need your coverings. The two things that Adam and Eve scrambled to find after discovering their shame are discarded in the grave clothes - the bush and the fig leaves all over again. Only this time, they lie exposed.

We cannot overstate how eloquently God does all this, how seamlessly this story is woven back into itself so that we cannot help but notice this single thread.

But what of the resurrected Jesus?

What of Him, indeed. There's no record in the Scriptures of where He might have picked up an extra set of clothes; it certainly wasn't in the grave with Him. He took off all He had been given, the tender cloths He had been wrapped in my loving arms (see? fig leaves all over again...again!). We see Him on the road to Emmaus, talking with the disciples. We see Him on the seashores, frying some fish. We see Him in the upper room, meeting with His brothers. And in not one of these narratives do we hear mention of clothes (or lack thereof). So what's the deal? Was the resurrected Jesus naked or not? 

Yes. And no.

Yes, I think that the resurrected Jesus was naked. There's no other conclusion to be drawn from the fact that we find only His discarded clothes than that He was no longer clothed. However, I also know that the resurrected Jesus, just a few days earlier shamed by the world, was unashamed - the original state. So His nakedness was not even a thing. It didn't even matter, except in the grand theological scheme of it all. He wasn't ashamed by it. Others weren't ashamed by it. Nobody probably even noticed.

And if they did not, it is because this is also true: unashamed, He was clothed in righteousness. He was adorned in glory. The way we once were. The way we were created to be. Although we bristle in our modern sensibilities and fallen natures at the mere idea of a naked Jesus, the only thing on display here...was the fullness of God...

...who walks among us in the cool of the day. Unashamed. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


The shame narrative, as well as the twist that it takes on hide and seek, is an important one in the opening chapters of the Bible. But its importance is not truly felt until much later, until the closing chapters of the Gospels.

Here, we encounter a Jesus who turns the shame narrative on its end. 

Adam and Eve ate from a tree, discovered their nakedness, crouched in a bush, and sought God from their hiding place, hoping to find without being found. At the close of the Gospels, Jesus knelt in the garden, praying, when He was arrested, stripped naked, and hung from a tree, right in plain view of everyone. He was neither hiding nor seeking; He was found and exposed.

We often miss this. For as much gore, as much lewdness, as much depravity as we are willing to put up with in our popular television shows, video games, movies, music, etc., we still always seem somehow to clean up this aspect of the Cross. We show a Jesus bloody, but clothed. Condemned, but not wholly rejected. Crucified, but not ashamed. 

We show Him hanging there, wrapped in some ancient garment of modesty, even while the soldiers throw dice for His clothes at the base of His cross. Even while they play out the very Scriptures on the matter, our discomfort with the whole idea hangs hauntingly behind them - we are not comfortable with a naked Jesus. Not even here, where we have been told that He was stripped and beaten. Not even here where we have been told that His clothes were anted in a dice game. It's not like He packed an extra change of clothes for Calvary; this was not merely His luggage that they were going through. This was His covering.

They left Him exposed.

I don't think we can stress this enough. I don't think we can say it often enough. To do what we've done to the Cross narrative, to clean it up, to sanitize it, to line it up with our own modern sensibilities is to miss out on the craftsmanship of the story. It's to miss all the connections from the first days to these last hours. It's to miss what God is doing at Golgotha that hearkens back to the Garden. It's the same thing God does throughout the entire Bible - weaving one story into another until all the frayed ends are so much a part of the fabric of grace that it's seamless.

And it's not just shame. It's the whole scene. It's the nakedness, sure, but it's also the hiding, also the seeking. There was nowhere on that hill for Jesus to hide. Perish the thought. Our God, the same God who walked with us in the Garden, has never feared being exposed. He's never feared being known. He's never been afraid to make a bold public statement of His presence, naked or otherwise (and for what it's worth, why is God walking around in the Garden with a long, flowing robe while Adam and Eve are naked?). He wants to be found, so much so that He's not afraid to be right out in the open. 

Yet still we looked right past Him. Still, we turned our eyes. On a hill on the edge of Jerusalem, a public spectacle was taking place and we, too ashamed to look at Him, hid in the bushes. We hid in the busyness. We hid in the markets and the temples and the public squares, going about our daily lives, not because of our shame, but because of His. And then, though we did no seeking, thinking there was nothing to be found, the hard truth hit in the blow of a ram's horn -

It is we who had been found. 

This is what's so beautiful about God. Here we were in the Garden together, and we discovered our shame, and we immediately dove for cover, living our lives in the shrubs, seeking but never finding because we refused ourselves to be found. And then here comes God, praying in the garden, arrested and ashamed, right out in the open for all to see, and we are found by the One we weren't even seeking, all because He Himself lived found. It's a tangled mess of a beautiful paradox, and it's just exactly the sort of thing that God does. It's one of the things I love about the Bible.

But we miss it completely when we turn our eyes from the shame, from the nakedness, of our Lord on the Cross. 

The story doesn't end here, though. There's more going on here with shame and exposition. More on that, tomorrow....

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Naked Seed

Adam and Eve crouched in the Garden, peering out between the branches of the brush in an attempt to seek the Lord from their hiding place, and here, they felt the full weight of shame, though they searched for the smallest measure of glory.

That's really the trouble, and it's the trouble we all have. From our place in the underbrush, we are aware primarily of the disconnect between our own shame and the glory of God. We cannot help but feel our nakedness; the vines tickle against it incessantly. Nagging, nicking, picking at our exposed souls until it's more than we can possibly bear. It is from here that we search most earnestly for God, for glory, for anything that will take away the itch. 

It is from here that we seek so desperately to find, though we long not to be found ourselves. 

But it's a funny thing about glory - it is best seen in wide open spaces. It is best seen in bold faith. It is best seen in courage. It is best seen when we choose to stand up, to come out from behind the things that obscure our line of sight. When we stop looking through our fingers and through the leaves and dare to let our eyes catch a full glimpse of the Lord passing by.

Of course, such faith means also that our Lord gets a full glimpse of us.

He gets a full glimpse of our fallenness, sees the full expose of our shame. It's funny, though - our shame isn't shame to Him. He's not embarrassed for us, the way we think He might be. He's not embarrassed for Himself, the way we think maybe He might be. He's not embarrassed at all by our shame the way that we are or the way that we would be if we saw someone else exposed. He's heart-broken. 

We know this because of the way He responds to Adam and Eve. When He sees them naked in the Garden for the thousandth time, hiding in shame for the first, His response is not, Oh my! You're NAKED! as though nakedness itself were some sort of terrible thing. His response is rather, Who told you that you were naked?

And really, this question is a question of the reverse. The question is not who told Adam and Eve that they were naked, but who told them that they didn't have to be. Who told them that they shouldn't be? Who told them that there were other options besides "naked"? And, by the way, the answer here is nobody because whoever seems to have convinced them that they were naked did not offer to make them any clothes; only God does that. So it's a seed planted without covering.

Gather that. The seed that exposed our shame is a naked seed itself. It was given empty, bare. It promised nothing but ruined everything.

That's what shame does. It's a waste. It plants itself in open fields, then lies fallow because there never was any life in it. There never was a way for it to produce anything at all. What it does is to take up a space that doesn't belong to it, to prevent anything else from growing there. 

What it does is convince us that we must not be seen, not because it is important to shame that we be hidden but because shame understands that though we seek, we can never find if we cannot be found. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hide and Seek

From where do you seek God?

As I consider this question, I'm drawn back into the Garden, into an Eden on the edge of the curse, where the God who walked among His people was first sought, where two sets of eyes peering out from the brush searched for Him in a way that man never had. And in a way that man still does.

Prior to the whole fruit fiasco, God had never had to be sought; He simply was. He simply walked around in the Garden, His footsteps on the same lush creation at Adam and Eve's. There was no looking for Him; He was right there. There was no wondering what He was doing; it was all in plain sight. There was no question about this Lord; the glory of Him walked among us. But a bite or two later, and all that changed.

Oh, God did not change. No, He still walked around in the Garden, still left His footprints on the same lush creation. He was still right there, right in plain sight. But bushes don't make good windows, and so, from the place of great shame, Adam and Eve began their search for Him, starting with the sound of His footsteps approaching in the cool of the day.

The truth is, it's here that we do our best searching. We do our best seeking after God from the brush, from the dark places. From the places that make the worst windows, where light is hard to come by and all the little gnats and flies and bugs are buzzing around. From the darkness, from the dirt, from the miserable, from the shame - it is here where we do our best seeking.

Though it rarely occurs to us that we are the ones who need to be found.

Typically, in a game of hide and seek, one party hides and the other seeks. One longs to find; the other labors not to be found. But this is not the case with us and God. This is not how it goes in the Garden. In the Garden, God does not change His presence. He does not mask His glory. He Just as He's always been. He knows, we can assume, that He is being sought from the bushes, but He does not hide. 

It is we, the seekers, who are hidden.

And that is our difficulty. That's what's so troubling about this. We who hide also seek, as though it is He who must be found and not us. The leaves obscure our eyes, the darkness cuts in, and we are sure it is He who exists in wisps and shadows; we have all but forgotten the dirt on our knees. We swat at the bugs the fly in our faces, as though it is some version of the plague that struck Egypt, not remembering that this shrubbed place is their home, not ours. We peer through the smallest spaces, just big enough to see a glimpse here and a glimpse there of glory, and we wonder why He will not simply show up. We forget that we are crouched down.

We ask why it is that this God that we are seeking is not seeking us, but the truth is that He knows already where we are; it is we who have forgotten. 

In a game of hide and seek, there is one who is seeking and one who must be found. But in our Christian lives, it is often we who are both. We are playing from both sides. And the only answer to our trouble is to stand up, to shake off our shame, and let ourselves be found by the very God we seek.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Firstborn Begottens

If Isaac and Jesus as only begottens are second sons and if the legacy of firstborns (Ishmael and Adam) is that of wandering, where does that leave us, who are wanderers begotten by our Lord?

Precisely here.

That's not much of an answer, but it's the only good one I know. We are, in the vein of Adam and Ishmael, wanderers. We are outcasts. We are somewhere east of Eden with an ache for coming home, and our Father longs for us to do just that. Our Father aches for our homecoming just as much as we do, but there is a part in each of us that isn't sure if home is even possible any more.

But we are, too, in the way of Isaac and Jesus, living sacrifices. We are called to the Mount Moriahs; we are called to the hills of Golgotha. We are called to lay our lives down that we might be lifted up, that He might be lifted up. (And it's worth noting here that both Isaac and Jesus were, indeed, living sacrifices, raised up to life from the grips of death.) We lay down our lives with only the promise that God will raise them up again. 

So are we firstborn begottens?

I think we are. Each of us is a firstborn in that there has never been another like us; we are unique creations in the eyes of God, unique formations by the work of His hands. That's why it's so easy for us to be wanderers, for us to be outcasts, for us to feel a little lost in this world. We've never done this before. We're trying to figure this out. Like Adam, we find ourselves in the garden, but it's almost too much. Our wandering echoes the lostness of our soul as we seek after God in a place where He is both easily found and obscured from our sight by our own shame. It's this tension that we're trying to figure out, and it makes us prone to be wanderers.

And yet, we are also begotten. We are children of the living God, who is our Father. His Spirit, His blood, His life course through us and give us our very being. And this is where we are called to continue our Father's work, the way any good begotten child would. And our Father's work is sacrifice. It is the laying down of our lives. It is the giving of ourselves fully for the greater things of Him. There is tension here, too, in knowing that by living, we may do something good, but by dying, we do a greater thing still, although death seems so unpalatable to most of us.

We are firstborn begottens, unique creations of a living God, our loving Father, wanderers called to mountains, outcasts called to sacrifice. Lost little children longing to come home who yet know the truth that the only way to live there is by dying. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Second Sons

One of the parallels that is often drawn between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that between Issac and Jesus - both of whom are the only begotten sons of their fathers; both of whom were appointed as sacrifices. As Abraham raised a knife over his long-awaited son, the Romans raised hammers over God's beloved. There is no need to rehash all of the parallels here; they are well-documented. 

There is one, however, which is often overlooked, and it is of vital importance to our full understanding of God:

Both Isaac and Jesus were second sons. 

They were, to be sure, only-begottens, but they were still second sons. Isaac had an older half-brother named Ishmael, the son of his father Abraham and his mother's concubine, Hagar. And while you might say that Ishmael was begotten, since he was the seed of his father, it is the fertile womb of his mother that makes him otherwise. He was born outside of the covenant of marriage, and therefore, he was not legitimately begotten.

This is important, however, because it changes the dynamic of what happens on Mount Moriah. We always think what a tragedy it must have been for Abraham to be led into this situation, the heartbreak he must have felt holding a knife over his innocent child, the son he had so long waited for, the promised child who would continue his name. And all of this is true. But the tragedy of Mount Moriah is deepened by the tragedy of the wilderness. You see, a decade or so earlier, Abraham had lost his first son after being forced to send him away. 

Abraham's sacrifice of his only-begotten dwells in deepest heartache because of the fate of his firstborn. He is on the verge of losing two sons, and there is no telling whether either one will ever come back to him.

The same can be said of God.

Jesus was God's only-begotten son; John 3:16 reminds us potently of this. But He was also a second son. He had an older half-brother named Adam, the work of His Father's hands. God formed Adam from the dust and breathed into Him the very breath of life. He was not begotten, not in the same sense that Jesus was, but the life of God flowed through him. And like Ishmael, Adam was brought into existence outside of covenant. (We do not see God form a covenant with His people until Abraham, ironically, where this parallel story begins to develop. That is no theological accident.) 

We sort of understand some of this when we talk about the Cross, although we do not necessarily draw the importance from it that it is meant to have. God sent His Son.... yes, He did. And it was a tragedy. But the tragedy of Golgotha is deepened, again, by the tragedy of the wilderness. You see, long before the crucifixion, God had lost His first son after being forced to send him away. (Cast out of Eden, anyone?) 

So as with Abraham, God's sacrifice of His only-begotten dwells in deepest heartache because of the fate of His first-formed. In the Cross, God lost His second son. He knew that Jesus was coming back to Him; that was never in question. But the question remained whether, even after all of this, He'd ever see His first-formed again. Would His first son, Adam (and by extension, mankind), come back to Him? 

The parallels between Isaac and Jesus are well-known, and for good reason, but this is the one we always seem to miss. And in many ways, I think this adds a richness to the parallels that cannot, or should not, be ignored. These only-begottens are second sons.

The tragedy of their sacrifice is deepened by the wanderings of the firstborns.

And where do we fit in? That's more complicated still. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Young Pup

My heart aches with love for my big dog; it experiences something much less for Jesus, whose presence often makes me feel little more than simply "safer." It's hard for me to wrap my broken heart around this. It's harder still to fathom that there is one more truth buried in this recognition, and it is this:

As much as I love my big dog, and as much as I long to love Jesus at least as much, His tender whisper contains the truth: I love you more. 

He loves me more than the deepest love I can fathom. All the ache that is in my heart with all the little things I know about my big dog in a broken world, it is only a shadow of the ache in His heart for me. Everything that I have said is true about my big dog, about all the things that I know about her, Jesus knows all this about me and more. 

He knows how excited I get when you say anything that sounds like "grace" in my presence, how I'm going to open my eyes a little wider and look around in anticipation until something like grace happens. He knows how I notice all these little things that most people don't see, and that I remember where I saw them. He knows that there are things in this world that scare me, but that I try to pretend to be brave anyway, and that I'm just the kind of person who will throw myself between someone else and danger. I will say that it is love that makes me do this, and maybe it is, but I must also confess that in the moment, I generally forget what love is, even while I am actively doing it.

He knows that I soak up stories like a sponge and that I can't let go of a single word, whether it's mine or someone else's. He knows that I worry the most about my broken heart, wondering how much more of this broken world it can possibly take. He knows that I'm torn between my burden and my blessing, between my call and what feels like a shortage of courage. He knows that my heart knows more answers than it pretends because the questions feel so heavy. 

He knows every little thing about me, and the depth of His love for me makes His heart ache. That's hard for me to understand, even though I know it in some small measure when I look in my big dog's eyes. I'm just a pup, just a young pup. Who is this Jesus who knows me?

Who is this Jesus whose heart aches?

I feel unworthy of it, like this is not what I was meant for. Was I meant to make God's heart ache? It's easy to condemn myself here, to want to be a 'better' pup because love should not hurt. Love should not ache. It should not be a pain to Jesus to love me. 

Yet, in a broken world, this is precisely what love does. It aches.

And so, I am heartbroken all over again because of this broken world. Because of the same things that make my heart ache over my big dog. Now, they make me ache for Jesus, too, in recognition of the ache that He has for this young pup. Did you follow that? Let me say it another way, one that perhaps sounds more familiar, more biblical, one to which I did not know I was working until this very moment:

I love because He first loved me.

I ache because He aches for me. 

Everything I know about my big dog, I learned because my real Big Dog loves this young pup so very much. And maybe, just maybe, I love Him more than I feel like I know how. But for now, I'm content to chase frisbees of grace.

Because around here, you say anything that sounds like "grace," and I just can't help myself. My tail starts to wag....

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Safer with Jesus

Yesterday, I said that having a big dog does not make me feel safer. It makes my heart ache. The depth of love that I have for this dog and every little thing I know about her heart makes me hurt for all of the ways this broken world can wound her, and I feel unworthy of her love, which would, without hesitation, jump between me and danger, to her own peril. And then I confessed that this is not by any stretch of the imagination the same love that I have for Jesus.

Jesus...makes me feel safer.

Absolutely everything I said about my dog could be said of Jesus. Well, just about. He would willingly put Himself between me and danger - and He has. He would give up His life in a heartbeat for my good - and He has. He gets excited about all of the little things that He discovers in my world, and He has a memory like an elephant - He remembers every little thing and exactly where He saw it. He keeps looking for these glimmers of good things in my life, hoping they're still there. Hoping they're still growing. When I'm sick, He lays by my bed, holds my hand, waits for me to get better. He even heals me. 

And yet, I don't love Him with the same love that I love my dog.

I don't ache with love for Him. I don't lie awake at night thinking about how this fallen world breaks His heart. I don't take notice, or maybe I just don't care, when His eyes look at me forlornly, wondering if we're still friends. Wondering if I'm going to have time soon to play with Him. I don't walk around with Jesus eyes the way I walk around with husky eyes - I don't try to see the things that He's going to see. I don't try to anticipate what He's going to notice. Most of the time, I turn my eyes away not because I can't bear to see, but because I just don't want to. 

And for every good hing that He gives me, for all the amazing ways my life is better with Jesus in it, I still don't ache with love for Him. I don't even say thank you. Instead, I've concluded, "That's nice," and I simply feel better about my life because He's in it.

I sleep better at night knowing that Jesus is watching over me. I don't worry about things that go bump in the dark because if they were anything at all, Jesus would be on top of them. Maybe I leave my doors open a little more, trusting His bark if anything were ever to be amiss. Maybe I take a few more chances than I normally would, but only because my Big Dog makes me brave. Only because I know that He wouldn't really let anything happen to me.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think I have this backward. I don't think it's wrong to love my dog the way that I ought to love Jesus. But I do think I need to love Jesus better. 

I need to look into His eyes and let their forsakenness pierce me the same way my dog's do when it's been too long since I've thrown her a frisbee. I need to see the depths of His heart every time I look at Him, know His heart so well that I know what in this world is going to break it. I need to develop Jesus eyes, see the world the way that He sees it. I need to remember that He remembers. When He stops and looks around in a certain direction, I have to remember what it was that He saw there, whether it was two days or two years or two decades ago, and I have to remember to remember it, too. I keep saying I "need" or I "have," but it's more than that - I want to.

I want to love Jesus the same way I love my dog. I want to ache with love for Him in a way that almost seems unnatural in this broken world but is exactly the way that love is meant to be. I don't want my life to just be safer because Jesus is in it; I want it to be better. I want it to be fuller. For in all the ache of love, there is also joy, and I want that joy that comes from being in real relationship with Him. 

From not just having a Big Dog, but loving Him. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Big Dog

People always tell me I must feel pretty safe with a big dog around. Not really....

It's not that I don't think my dog would protect me; I know that she would in a heartbeat. In fact, she has had a couple of opportunities just in the past week or so to demonstrate just how naturally she jumps between me and any perceived threat (when a neighbor dog jumped the fence and came at us and when a friendly neighbor dog, one who likes both of us, tried to walk around her and get to me). Clearly, this dog is going to disregard her own well-being for the sake of mine. 

And that's the problem.

Some people get a dog, particularly a big dog, just to feel safe. I agonize over all the terrible things that could happen in this world to my dog. 

When I think about the possibility of someone breaking into my house or threatening my property, my first response is to ache over my dog. Because I know that she is instinctively going to put herself between me and any danger. And I know that her fierce love won't matter a single bit after the first bullet or blow to the head. I think about what someone intent on doing harm to me would do to her to get to me, and I grieve. My flesh can take it, but do not hurt my dog.

When I think about perhaps a catastrophe - a tornado or a fire or something of the sort - I am aware that her first instinct is not going to be to run out; it's going to be run back in. Even if I'm gone, even if she watched me leave, I know that this dog is going to search everywhere in a crumbling house for me, and I know that it would cost her her own life. And sometimes, I wonder if there's any way to teach her something different. I wonder if I could teach her to run, because I'd rather have a dog that I have to find than one I have to bury.

When I think about the times that I have been sick or recovering from one thing or another, I think about how she lays right next to me, bringing her toys and laying them on the bed next to my pillow, begging to play. And even in the midst of my own debilitating illness or severe pain (I've had a major surgery with her and a pretty serious injury), all I can think about is how guilty I feel for not playing with her the way we always do, for not being able to get up and go for a walk, for not crawling outside to throw some frisbees for her. It's so hard for me to have this good friend in moments when I can't be a good friend. 

And I know this dog's heart. I know everything about her. I know how it scares her to encounter something new, how she slows her pace when she hears a big truck or a school bus, until she locates the source of her anxiety. I know what excites her, how she's always looking for a squirrel or a bunny to chase, another dog to greet. I know that she knows all of the neighborhood dogs by name, because I do, too, and I greet them by name every morning. (She got loose one day, and I asked her if she wanted to visit "Cocoa"'s house, and she ran straight to this other dog's gate, where I trapped her in the yard until I could get a leash to bring her home.) I know that she's got a memory like an elephant - she knows every exact spot on our walk where she has ever seen a cat, a bunny, a squirrel, a neighbor, a stray piece of food, an interesting bug. She looks excitedly every day, hoping to see these things again, whether it's been two days or two months since there's actually been anything there. I know how if you say anything that sounds like "frisbee" in my house, you have to answer to my dog, whose response is always a resounding "YES," even if there wasn't a question.

I say all of this because I want you to know the depth of the love that I have for this dog. People think I must feel safe with this big dog around, but the truth is that she makes me ache more than anything. I love her so much, and I know all the things that lurk in this world that make her hurt or that break her heart. I know that sometimes, I make her hurt or break her heart. I know the love that she has for me, and I can't wrap my head around how effortlessly she seems to disregard her own life for mine. 

And I ache. The love that I have for this dog makes me physically ache, one tender heart to another. 

By now, if you've made it this far, you're probably wondering why I have written so many words about my love for my dog, especially when I have written consistently for something like seven years about theology. Ready? Here's why:

Because I claim that this is the kind of love that I have for Jesus, but in truth, it's nowhere close. Jesus in this broken world does not make my heart ache anywhere near the way my dog in this broken world does, even though He loves me with an even greater love. All the things about this dog that make my love for her a physical ache, I take for granted in Jesus. 

And most of the time, I simply feel safer having Him around. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Measure for Measure

As we talk about ideas like grace and truth, or the one or the many, the ideal, of course, is that we as Christians would have equal measures of both. That we would get this just right. That we could, in the very same breath, speak both grace and truth; with the very same arms, embrace both the many and the one.

The reality is that it just doesn't work that way.

There are very few persons in all the world who do this well, and virtually none who do it perfectly. (And none who do it effortlessly, I don't think.) We all tend either more toward grace or more toward truth, more toward the one or more toward the many. At our best, we are able to do both, but not usually at the same time. 

What I mean is this - I think my natural slant is toward truth. I've often been told that I'm not necessarily wrong, but that my truth will get me in trouble (referring to the tone with which I speak what I believe to be correct). However, put me in any scenario that requires grace, and I can flip like a switch and pour out enough grace from my waterspout that we can all swim in it for a bit. (See my post on grace and truth for more on this analogy.) And I think my natural slant is also toward the many. I'm big on community and on what we're doing together about these things called life and faith. But show me someone standing on the outside, and I am all about the one. 

To an onlooking world, this seems a bit hypocritical or perhaps schizophrenic. Do I not even know what it is that my God requires of me? Do I not know how to live in His ways?

On the contrary, I know exactly what my God requires of me. 

I'm just not any good at it.

And that's why it is so important for us to maintain a posture of humility about these things. In political terms, we're always fighting against each other - liberal against conservative - and you'd better believe we've fought this fight so well that the world at large has an opinion about both. But that's what politics does. It has to have power. It has to be right. Christ is interested in neither because He is secure in both. 

As we, however, struggle against our insecurities, it is our humility that must be the forefront example. It is our humility about these things that must speak loudest. We must be willing to say, yes, I tend toward truth, but I'm working on grace. (Or vice-versa.) We must admit that, yes, we sometimes lose sight of the one for the sake of the many, but we're trying to open our eyes wider to see. (Again, or vice versa.) We must humbly confess that, yes, we know what it is that God requires of us; we're just not that good at it.

But we're working on it.

And that's all we can do. But it starts with us using the right language to frame our theologies. Nobody says, "I'm a conservative, but I'd like to be more liberal." But almost everyone would agree with the sentiment that "I believe in truth, but I'd like to do better at grace." No one says, "I'm a liberal, but I have a lot to learn from the conservatives." But it's far easier to say, "I believe in individuals, but I have a lot to learn about community." See, putting our theological differences into theological terms allows us to be open to the ideas. It allows us to do better. Politics just shuts the whole thing down.

So be about grace. Be about truth. Be about the many. Be about the one. Be about God and all good things and doing your best and trying to do better. Be about humble confessions and a posture of humility. Be a little hypocritical, a little schizophrenic. And when you get that crazy look that says, "What are you even doing? Don't you know what your God requires of you?" respond kindly with, 

"I'm trying. Because I know what my God requires of me, but I'm not any good at it yet. It's going to take a bit more practice, perhaps even a lifetime's worth. But I'm trying."

Thursday, September 8, 2016

One and Many

One of the other ways to look at this idea of "liberal" and "conservative" Christianity without the icky political words poisoning our theology is to consider whether our theology leans more toward the one or toward the many. 

For some, the strength of the community of God comes from the overwhelming mass of its faithful adhering to the same main ideas. That is, we have the same fundamental ideas about what God says is truth, what God says is good, what God says is right, and then the ragamuffins are those who are outside of this larger community of God, the ones to whom we must extend grace. In real terms, this means our churches are filled primarily with those who have embraced our core theology, and we open our doors to sinners in the hopes that they will learn the love of God and become a part of this community.

To this theology, the one is never sufficient to change the entire structure for the many. We do not change who we are because it doesn't work for you; it works for the community, and we are not willing to give it up.

For others, the strength of the community of God is that it is made up of ragamuffins. What binds us together is not that we are many, but that we are ones. That we all come with our own unique ideas and there is, for us, a place here. There is plenty of room among us for those who think we ought to be doing this differently, but they must understand that to some extent, each one of us is already doing this differently. We are each doing this our own way in the small sense, and in the big sense, we're doing differently together. We are the community of God precisely because we are all things to all people, in order that we might win some. We are sinners, all of us, and we're only getting this right in that none of us are getting this right.

To this theology, the many are never sufficient to exclude the one. If we were to come together in some way that made it more difficult for even one specific individual to join us, then we are sure we are doing something wrong. 

It's very easy, again, to see this in political terms, but the church is not political. At least, it's not supposed to be. What we're wrestling with here is not government, but God, and these positions are an outflow of our theology.

And again, just as we saw yesterday with grace and truth, we need both.

In a world where everyone is looking for a place to belong, we need those whose fundamental orientation is toward the many. We need to know that there is a real community here, a real people of God, a real thing to which we can belong. We may not agree to all of the rules or abide by all the tenets, but anyone who has ever been to Thanksgiving dinner with their family knows that that doesn't make us any less related. There's something about having a place around a big table that does something for our aching spirits. Those whose theology tends toward the many are those who set the table.

In a world where everyone seems to feel a little lost and wonder who they are, where they are, and what they're doing here, we need those whose fundamental orientation is toward the one. We need to know there is a God who will meet us where we are, who hasn't lost sight of us, who can help us find our way through this tangled underbrush. Anyone who's ever had to ask a stranger for directions knows this well - you feel better when someone knows where you are and how to get where you're going. You breathe a little easier. Those whose theology tends toward the one are master navigators. They're the ones who seem to know where we are, even when we feel lost.

It's so easy for us to fight against each other on these ideas, to insist that our way is the right way and that the other theology is backward or wrong or ridiculous. But that's not how it is. That's not how this really works. We need each other. We need those who remember that we're a community, and we need those who remember the ragamuffins.

One sets the table, and the other brings the guests.

And this...this is where we feast. This is where we break bread together, pour wine, and where God is present among us.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Grace and Truth

We talk about "liberal" and "conservative" Christianity, and we often do so in political terms - as we should because these are political words. But these political words have no place in our churches because what we have is not fundamentally a political difference, but a theological one.

See, what we often say is a "liberal" Christianity is actually just one that swims in pools of grace with buoys of truth anchored throughout the waters. What we see as a "conservative" Christianity is one that stands on truth and pours out grace like a waterspout piped into the ground. It's not that they believe different things; it's that they have a different starting point. A different emphasis. A different approach. 

And that's okay. We need both.

We need people who stand on truth to help us remember that there is such a thing at all. In a world where the dominant narrative seems to be that truth is subjective, that what works for one person may not work for everyone, and that we can't place a judgment on what anyone else believes, we need people who stand up and remind us what God's Word says. Because God's Word does say some pretty specific things about how we are supposed to live as a people, both in community with each other and in community before Him. There is right and wrong. There is heaven and hell. And amidst all the grace that we may be tempted, rightfully so, to pour out, there is truth. We need the people who remind us of this.

We also need people who swim in pools of grace. In a world where we are so tempted to make everything black and white, where it's easy to make snap judgments, where it's almost natural to assume that whatever we know or think or hope must be right, we need people who live in a place that requires them to come up for air sometimes. We need people who understand that black and white is nice, but most things are lived in shades of grey. This is where we do the messy work of loving well. And as much as there is truth that is right and wrong, there are human stories intertwined with it, and these are not so cut and dried. These are not so simple. These are real hearts with real wounds, real lives with real stories, and we have to be good at meeting others where they are. The buoys of truth that are anchored in grace give us a place to rest, but people in this theology spend most of their time swimming.

Take any issue, even the most politicized one, that seems to divide us into these icky political theologies of conservative and liberal Christians, and you'll find that at their core, they are really just issues of grace and truth.

Gay marriage is too easy. Let's take transgender rights, or the issue of transgender human beings in general. The truth side of this argument says that "God created them male and female." There's no room for "other." There's no room for "sort of." And God does not make mistakes. Okay. That's one side of the theological coin. On the other hand, the grace camp says, "But what if you feel like a mistake anyway?" Even if God doesn't make mistakes, does He love them? That's the other side of the coin. And we need both.

Because grace and truth do very different things.

Truth, by its very nature, can only affirm or condemn. That's it. Things are right or wrong. Good or bad. True or false. Yes or no. Truth necessarily must be this way. Grace, by its nature, embraces or rejects. It's a quality judgment. It can make no judgment about truth; truth is what it is. Grace can only judge the other things that happen around the black and white; that's why it's always practiced in shades of grey.

Back to our transgender example. There is much in the truth camp that can affirm a transgender individual - God created him/her. God doesn't make mistakes. This is fantastic news to someone who probably feels like a mistake sometimes - maybe I'm not a mistake after all. Maybe God has something intentional for me in being who I am. And here is much in the grace camp that embraces the transgender individual - God does love you. There is hope. Your very real story is woven into His very real story, and you're going to do great things.

You can't imagine one of these without the other. You can't believe either of these without both. You can't believe that God loves you if you believe you are somehow a mistake. And you can't believe you're not a mistake if you don't know how much God loves you. Grace and truth always work together. Or at least, they should.

Which is why we can't let political terminology get in the way. It's why we can't let words like "liberal" and "conservative" continue to try to qualify our love. Both are love.

Both. are. love. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Politically Incorrect

Depending on what particular theology you hold, or perhaps which piece of the denominational pie you slice off, you have probably at one point or another been referred to as a "conservative" Christian or a "liberal" one, most likely by a Christian who falls on the opposite end of this spectrum. 

This is a problem. 

It's a problem because these words - "conservative" and "liberal" - are not theological words; they are political words. Icky political words meant to set us into one camp or another. And indeed, they have come to somehow represent something of a political leaning in our Christianity. A "liberal" Christian is one who tends to support social issues like welfare, gay marriage, transgender rights, feminism, etc. A "conservative" Christian, on the other hands, tends to support working for what you have, traditional marriage, two distinct genders, etc. Informally, more "liberal" Christians tend to accuse the "conservatives" of being outdated Bible-thumpers, stuffed-shirt theologians, and the entire problem with Christianity in the modern world. "Conservative" Christians tend to accuse the "liberals" of being too lax, of not taking God seriously enough, of being jean-wearing, coffee-drinking semi-heathens who are the entire problem with Christianity in the modern world. 

And we're doing this to ourselves, by the way. The unbelieving world isn't looking at us and dividing us along theo-political lines. They're looking for Christ, and to a very real degree, they aren't finding Him in either camp. 

Yes, I said it. Does that make me politically incorrect?

The politics are incorrect. It's the same thing that the contemporaries of Jesus were guilty of, and here we are making it a formal doctrine in many of our churches. Most of the men and women who inhabited Jesus' world, who knew His Scriptures, who were looking and waiting and longing for the Messiah, expected Him to be some sort of political figure. Even after witnessing three years of His incredible ministry, many were still waiting on Him to bust loose and step up into a political kingship that would displace the Roman government. Instead, He was displaced by the Romans.

Because Jesus never had any interest in politics. He didn't much care about them. They were not, to Him, the best way to love in a broken world. They were not, to Him, the best way to gain power in the world. They were not, to Him, the best way to make a difference in the world. 

If Jesus' distance from politics is not convincing enough (and it should be), just look at the way that these political words set us up to fight against each other. If a conservative Christian believes in traditional marriage, the other side is quick to say that this Christian "does not love the homosexual." That's not necessarily the case. I know many Christians who believe in traditional marriage who love their homosexual brothers and sisters quite well, perhaps even better than those Christians who are fighting for gay marriage. On the other hand, if a liberal Christian believes in gay marriage, the other side is quick to say that this Christian "does not care for God's laws." That's not necessarily the case, either. I know many Christians who believe in gay marriage who are doing a better job at obeying God's laws than many of those who believe in traditional marriage. 

See, just like in regular politics, using these political words to describe our theology skews the picture and puts us in a place to make snap judgments about one another based on limited information or tunnel-visioned issues. None of this has anything at all to do with Jesus. It's politics, plain and simple, and it's got no place in the church.

That's not to say that there are not fundamental differences, to some degree, in the ways that we do church. That's not to say there is not something dramatically different between the two Christians I have described above as "conservative" and "liberal." There certainly is a difference. But it's theological, not political. It's about the way we love, not what we love. (Or even who.) It's the same difference the church has been wrestling with for two thousand years; it's the same struggle we're all fighting in our own hearts, trying to get it right. It's not an issue of conservative and liberal. It's not an issue of left and right.

It's an issue of grace and truth. 

It always has been. 

A little more on this, tomorrow....

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Story about Jesus

As I think about stories of miraculous, divine healing, I can't help but conclude that they are, in general, terrible stories. As meaningful, as incredible, as beautiful as these moments of healing are for the blind man, for the paralytic, for the woman with the issue of blood, for you, for me, it's far too easy for us as readers, as hearers, as outsiders to dismiss so much of the narrative that leads into the moment of healing.

It's so easy for us to look at the paralytic now walking and say, "He has no idea what it's like."

He has no idea what it's like to be paralyzed, we say. He has no idea what it's like to be stuck in a body that doesn't work. Look at him, walking around, like his former paralysis was nothing at all. Look at the woman who had an issue of bleeding. She has no idea what it's like. She bled for twelve years! Yet here we are, and it's easy for us to say that she hasn't got a clue. She doesn't know the struggle. Look at the blind man. He doesn't even know. He doesn't know what it's like to stumble around in darkness. Look at him just navigate effortlessly through the world, all by the gift of sight. He hasn't got a clue about the struggle. 

It's amazing how easily we do this. We look at someone who has been healed, someone who no longer lives under the burden of a certain brokenness, and it's far too easy for us to conclude that they haven't got a clue. That they don't really know brokenness at all. Because their journey seems to be over. Because their brokenness has been healed. They may tell the story, wanting their healing to be something meaningful, but it just rings hollow for most of us because it's so difficult for us to imagine the story of sorrow that underlies the tremendous joy that we now see. 

All miraculous healing stories are "you had to be there" stories. You had to be there for the thousands of hours of chemo. You had to be there by the pool of Siloam. You had to be there for the doctor's appointments and the nervous waiting and the risky surgeries. You had to be there for the uncleanness and the desperation. You had to be there for the stumbling and the falling and the wondering and the aching. You had to be there for the holy moment. 

Otherwise, whatever. It's cool, I guess. 


And that's why, I think, we don't get more of these stories in the Gospels. (By "more," I don't mean quantitatively, but qualitatively.) It's why we don't get more background on the blind men. It's why we don't have any more details about the issue of blood. It's why we don't know what paralyzed the man in the first place or how the other man's arm became deformed. None of that matters. None of that would help us to appreciate the healing. None of that would help to frame the miracle in a way that it would be miraculous to us.

And that's why all good miracle stories are more about the Healer than the healed. 

When we read the Gospels, we get an image not of brokenness and miracles, but of a Miracle Worker. We get the sense that this Jesus really knows what He's doing. When He takes the blind man aside, we see His tenderness. Blindness is not some inconvenience for Him; it's a brokenness, and He treats it as such. When He speaks with the paralytic, we see a heart set on relationship, on making a real connection with the man. Not because he's a paralytic in need of some mercy, but because he's a human being in need of some love. 

We appreciate the stories of the miracles not because they are healing, which is probably nice an all for the ones being healed, but because they are revelation - they show us the heart of the One who has come to heal. And we know from these stories that this Jesus? He gets it. He understands. He knows what we're up against, how it aches inside of us, how it hurts our hearts. He knows how we long not just for a healing touch, but for a human one. He knows the struggle of doctors and consults and waiting and hoping and praying and longing and uncleanness and brokenness and ache. He not only knows it, He appreciates it. He honors it. And then, He heals it. 

It's so easy for us to talk about healing in terms of our own stories - in terms of our own lives and our own hearts and our own aches. Because these stories change our stories. They mean so much to us. We know how long is the road that brought us to a point like this and how rich the mercy that has been poured out in healing. We get it. They're nice stories. But...whatever. 

The real story isn't that one. The real story isn't ours. It's His. Because it's His story that truly convinces the broken that there is a Healer. It's His story that tells them that there is hope. It's His story that reminds them that there is Someone out there who gets it, someone who knows. 

So by all means, tell your story. Please. Where would we be without the blind men, the paralytic, the woman with the issue of blood? But tell His story, too.

Because that's the one that the broken need to hear. 

Friday, September 2, 2016


In the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels, we see story after story of God's healing, and it seems that every time Jesus decides to heal someone, it happens in a blink. And then we look around at our cancer centers, at our rehab clinics, at our hospitals, at our homes, in our mirrors and we wonder why it is that healing doesn't happen that way any more. Why healing has become not a gift, but a journey; not an act of God, but a feat of strength. Or persistence. Or courage.

But the truth is that healing does happen in an instant, even though the journey may be long. There is but one split second in all of time when healing is complete - when the bone is fused back together, when the last cancer cell dies, when the addiction lets go of the brain, when forgiveness settles in, when hearts turn. It may seem like it takes forever to get here, but healing itself is complete in just a breath.

Every once in awhile, we are blessed to be present for this very moment.

I'm no stranger to struggle. My life has known some journeys toward healing that, if we're being honest, I thought would never end. There is no rainbow at the end of some of these roads, no day coming when I thought I could have said I made it. I have taken the hard roads, been faithful to the journeys. I have done everything modern wisdom says is necessary for healing, and I have continued to live broken because modern wisdom is not always so wise. 

I have wrestled with God, cried out to Him again and again. I have tried to reenact the exchange the hesitant man had with Jesus - oh, Lord, if you are willing.... And I have tried to force the response: I am willing. But I cannot heal myself, and I cannot, it seems, be healed. I have spit in my eyes and rubbed dirt on my wounds and cried out from the side of the road when I've been too weary to travel even one more step on it, and...nothing.

Maybe God just doesn't work that way any more. 

That's an easy story to buy into, isn't it? That God just doesn't work that way any more. That God's healing doesn't come in an instant any more; it comes in a death. We have to wait until this life is over to experience the full healing of God. It won't be until He brings us home that He makes us well, and so we just have to be content to wait.

I'm tired of waiting. The God I know, the God whose stories I read faithfully every morning, the God that I cry out to and know He hears me...He doesn't wait when there's good to do right now. He doesn't need tomorrow; He is God of today.

It happened for me this week. I'm not even sure I know what to say except that it didn't come in a way that I thought it would. It wasn't all the hard work I've put in. It wasn't all the difficult things that I've done. It wasn't in the agonizing choices I've made, the tough questions I've asked, the persistent steps I've taken. It happened in an instant where I wasn't doing anything at all, a moment that seemed so far removed from the fight that I've put up. 

And it happened in a touch.

It's probably easy to argue that it was the touch that told me I had been healed, not the touch that healed me. You know, the way the blood tests come back a few days later and show no signs of cancer. You didn't know two days ago when the blood was drawn that you were healed, but now you know. Or the way a friend on the other end of a strained relationship suddenly stops you in the store to say hi. You didn't know her heart had turned just last night, but now you do. 

But that's not the case here. That's not what happened. What happened was in that moment, that touch healed me. There was the physical touch of this world against an ache that seemed to never go away, but it pierced through straight to my spirit in the very touch of God. It's unlike anything else I've ever experienced, and I knew - and I know - that that was my healing. 

I don't know how to pray for something like this. I don't know how or why things happen the way they do, how God decides that this is the moment, that this is the time. But I wish that more of us would know these moments. I wish that we could always know these moments.

I wish that we could feel every good thing that's being made whole. I wish that we could know the very instant that our whole lives change, without waiting on the results. I wish that we could all know that God still comes and touches His people, really touches them. And that God still heals in an instant. 

I wish that we could know that healing is not the end of a long and arduous journey.'s the beginning of an incredible one. 

I know why people followed Jesus. I know why the streets were packed with persons. It's because He healed so many of them and they...didn't know what to do with themselves. They didn't know where they went from here. Everything was different. Everything was new. What seemed impossible just a breath ago is now not only possible, but it is real. What are we supposed to do? It's why they had to be told even the simplest things like "go back home." Right! Home! Life. That thing I'm doing. Good idea, Jesus. I will go home. 

I will go home....