Friday, April 28, 2017

Modern Heresy

Just so that you don't think I'm crazy or proposing some completely weird, out-of-the-box theological reading of the Scriptures, it's important to understand what the church has been talking about, thinking about, and debating about for the past two thousand years.

Hint: it's not the same thing that we're talking about.

See, for most of the church's history, she's been fighting against various heresies that somehow made Jesus less than God, less than the Father, lesser as a member of the Trinity, if He was a member of the Trinity at all. 

There were actually a lot of debates about this. There were camps of Christian faith that were saying that since Jesus was begotten, He couldn't be eternal. And since He wasn't eternal, then He couldn't be on the same par with God, the Father. (These were not dumb guys, by the way. They were very smart theologians, just trying, as much as any of us are, to get it "right." So it would be a mistake to just write them off as fools. Far from it!)

And, of course, this is heresy because it lessens the Jesus story significantly. It takes away the prominent place that the Son has in the Godhead. So, of course, the church decided that this would not do. Jesus could not be seen as lesser than the Father in any way.

Then there were discussions about the exact nature of Jesus. Maybe He's co-eternal with the Father and not lesser just because He was begotten, but are they the same kind of God? There were longstanding debates with a lot of Greek words about whether Jesus and God, the Father were "of the same substance" or "of a like substance." Yes, really. Is the divinity in Jesus the same as the divinity in the Father or is it just kind of similar? 

Well, Jesus Himself says He and the Father are one. Who are we to argue? (But oh, there were arguments!)

There were also debates about whether Jesus and God, the Father, were just really the same God in different forms. You know, like how sometimes, I'm a student and sometimes, I'm a blogger and sometimes, I'm a daughter, etc. Sometimes, God is a Father, and sometimes, God is a Son. Maybe that's what's going on, right? Wrong. That, too, is heresy. 

So for much of the church's history, these were the kinds of questions she was dealing with about Christ and the nature of the Trinity. (She would later add discussions about the Holy Spirit and need to accommodate a theology of the Spirit into everything, as well.) I think sometimes that's how it became so easy for us to swing as far as we have in our day - we spent so much time, as the church, trying to figure out who Jesus really is that we've come to the conclusion that He must be somehow the most special of all. We just haven't had the debates about the nature of God the way that we have about the nature of Christ (and there were more even than these). We've had some about the Spirit, but still, not to the degree that we have about Christ. 

But as easy as it is to trace heresy through this history and to say of course it was wrong to have ever believed that Jesus could be less than the Father or that Jesus could be of some difference substance than the Father or that Jesus could be just one mode of the Father, so, too, is it a modern heresy to live in the way that we do - as though Jesus is somehow greater than the Father. So, too, is it heresy to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and subject the Father and the Spirit to the Son, which is the line that we're currently dancing with. 

These aren't easy questions, and I have not intended by any means to imply that they are. In two thousand years of wrestling, we still don't have it quite right. And I don't know that we have to settle it, necessarily, because I think there are some things about the Godhead that we're just never going to understand. There's nothing wrong with that. (I love a little mystery about my God.) it's just important to keep these kinds of questions before us so that in all our zeal, we don't just push right past them and miss something important.

Something like the Threeness of our One True God. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unfaithful Reading

Reading the Old Testament, or even the entirety of Scripture, as though all things point to Christ is not the most faithful reading of the Word, even though it has become, perhaps, the most popular.

There are actually quite a few theological problems with this kind of reading, probably more than we will be able to cover in one short post.

But let's start here - if the words of David and Isaiah, which are most often brought into this kind of reading, are foreshadows of a Christ that has not yet come and has not yet been promised in concrete terms, then what did David and Isaiah think they were writing? Did they understand their own words, or were they just writing some kind of jibberish that God told them would "make sense one day. promise"? I think it's far more likely that David and Isaiah were writing out of their own hearts, and then our incredible Lord and Savior took the words of the king and the word of the prophet to the Cross with Him. After all, we know that Jesus was versed in the Scriptures that preceded Him. We know that He was considered to be both prophet and king. His audience would have recognized these words as kingly and prophetic, even if they were not considered messianic prophecy. 

And what about when God promises David that he will always have an heir on the throne? If we can only read this promise in light of the Christ that God, but not David, knew was coming, then this is quite troublesome. David thought God was making a promise to him. If it turns out that God was just making a promise, then how can we believe any word that God gives to us, any promise He makes in our lives? It may have nothing at all to do with us, and we can never know what God is mumbling under His breath when He makes it....You will always have an heir on the throne! because I have this secret plan up my sleeves that doesn't really have a lot to do with you, but it kind of starts here, so....

God's story centers on His relationship with His people; we cannot simply be His pawns. That's too difficult a reading.

Or what about the way that God deliberately reveals Himself to His people again and again and again through the Old Testament? If everything comes down to Christ, then whatever was known about God in the Old Testament was just so that we would one day recognize Him in the form of our own flesh. That seems kind of difficult, doesn't it? Especially when Christ Himself declares that He has come as a revelation of the Father. Do we have members of the Trinity working in different directions? If the Father is only trying to reveal the Son and the Son is only trying to reveal the Father, then God is playing some illusionary game with us, is He not? He's playing a game where He only ever pretends to reveal Himself, where He only ever fakes that we could ever truly know Him. 

That's not the God that I believe in. The God I believe in wants to be known. 

In the same way, to read the New Testament (after the Gospels) only in the light of Christ is to miss the incredible work of the Holy Spirit. It's to miss the way that the Spirit reveals God to us. It's to miss how the Spirit was central in empowering the disciples and the apostles not only to preach, but to heal, to persevere, to carry out the mission that God had sent them on. The apostles themselves talk about the power of the Spirit in their lives, how important the Spirit is to their work, how they could not do what they were doing if Jesus's promise was not true and the Spirit had not come to help them. But we read right past the Spirit to turn back to the Cross. 

We miss so much of the real, developing story of God in the Scripture when we read everything with a Christological lens. We have to take a great number of theological leaps. We have to introduce a number of questions that threaten the very heart of what we say that we believe about God. And we have to ignore the testimony of the Father, the Spirit, and the Son to read it in the way that we are. 

And it's also worth saying that this kind of reading - this Christological reading of the Scriptures - is actually quite a new phenomenon among Christianity. For much of the history of the faith, the church and her theologians have been much more focused on figuring out how the whole picture fits together than on trying to fit the whole picture into one scene. We'll take a look at some historical considerations tomorrow. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Father, Son, Spirit

We have seen that it is perhaps our own limited understanding, along with some theological blinders, that leads us to Christ as the central figure of the Trinity, as the one most pertinent and important to our own faith, religion, and understanding. But what do the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have to say about one another?

The best place to start is, of course, with Christ because He is so central to all that we do as persons of faith. We take our Old Testament and we say, Look! God has been foretelling of the coming of Christ since the very beginning of all things! (This is, however, a very unfair reading of the Old Testament; it dismisses much of the beauty of this section of God's story. More on that tomorrow.) And then we look at our New Testament and we say, Look! The Holy Spirit has illumined all of the things about Christ! 

If the Old Testament God looks forward to Christ (and it does, although not to the extent that we often try to make it) and the New Testament Spirit looks back upon Christ, then wouldn't it seem only natural to conclude that Christ must be the central figure in all of this? If God and the Holy Spirit direct our thoughts to Galilee, should we not do the same?

Yes...and no. 

Because look at what Jesus says throughout His entire ministry. It's because of the Father that I am here. Whoever sees me sees the Father who sent me. I have come to reveal the Father to you. Jesus spends a lot of His time pointing back to God. He wants us to know God, the Father, even as He, God, the Son, stands in the flesh right before us. Jesus would be incredibly disappointed if we never saw beyond His flesh to the Father who sent Him. 

Jesus also says quite a bit about the Spirit. You don't understand now, but you will. I'm sending the Spirit to help you understand. When I am gone, I will send to you a comforter, a counselor, who will help you to keep living in the faith. He spends a good deal of His time pointing forward to the Spirit, promising that the Godhead will not abandon humanity when Christ departs from the flesh. There is still going to be a presence of God that is not flesh and bone, but spirit and fire. 

So it's important not just to focus on how the Scriptures seem to lead to and from Christ as the central figure of all that is our faith because to do so is to neglect the testimony of Christ, who spends so much of His time pointing us back to the Father and promising us the Spirit. 

Again, that is not at all to distract or detract from what Christ has done. Far from it! For we also must recognize that Christ said the same things of Himself that the Father had already promised and that the Spirit would soon reveal; He confesses that He is the one to whom both refer. But in doing so, He reminds us that the testimony of God among us is Triune. It always has been, and it always will be. 

And Christ Himself continues to remind us not to lose sight of the Three for the sake of the One. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Centrality of Christ

There are some very simple reasons why we have come to put Christ at the center of our theology - He's the one who came to us in the flesh, looking and living and loving like us and He's the one who seems to have done the most for us. I mean, that whole salvation/redemption thing is pretty cool, especially if you happen to be a fallen, broken, sinful human.

But to buy into these ideas and to give them the primacy that we have requires wearing some pretty hefty theological blinders. It's our self-centered/human-centered interpretations that have led us here, not the objective testimony of the Scriptures. 

Take the first claim: Jesus is central because He's the one who walks with us. This is true - Jesus does walk with us. He lives with us. He loves with us. He's in this world just like we are, trying to wind His way through it. 

Go back to the Old Testament for a bit, though. Start at the beginning. In the beginning, there was a Garden, and God walked in it with His people. Adam. Eve. God, the Creator. (God, the Father.) Enoch walked with God. Abraham walked with God. Moses met with God on the mountain, and not just once. God came to Elijah, and we have a recorded conversation between God and Jonah. God, the Father, is very present throughout the Old Testament. He may not (or maybe He did) have had a physical body in the same way that Christ embodied the flesh, but He walked with His people nonetheless.

And after Jesus's ascension, the Holy Spirit came down upon the people. The rest of the New Testament, although it continues to recount the Jesus story in the same way that the Old Testament continues to look forward to it, tells of the Holy Spirit's very real presence among the people. The Holy Spirit provides interpretation and inspiration. The Holy Spirit brings the gift of language. The Holy Spirit is counselor, comforter, just as Jesus promised He would be. The Holy Spirit, who may not (or maybe He does) have a physical body in the same way that Christ embodied the flesh, is present among God's people in the same way that God, the Father and Christ, the Son have been. 

So it takes quite a leap to say that Christ is central because He is the one who walked among us; the whole of the Trinity walks among us. We just happen to recognize Christ's flesh a bit more easily.

Or take the second claim: Jesus is central because He's the one who did the most for us. He came, lived, died, and was raised again that we might have eternal life with Him. He's the one who made atonement for our sins. He's the one who made righteousness possible.

But God, the Father, is the one who made this whole thing possible in the first place. In the beginning, there was nothing. Then, God, the Father, made this entire cosmosphere in order to put His special creation - human beings - into it. God, the Father, formed Adam from the dust, bent over, and breathed the breath of life into Him. God, the Father, led His people from captivity in Egypt through the barren, broken wilderness in a column of fire and smoke. 

And let's not forget that God, the Father, sent His Son in the first place, and it was God, the Father, who accepted His sacrifice.

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the ability to understand any of this. He's the one who lets us understand what Christ truly means. He's the one who puts it all in perspective and lets us live in truth even in this place of shadows. The Holy Spirit came to keep alive the Spirit of Jesus among the people. If it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit, the story of Jesus would be long gone by now. Nobody would be remembering it because nobody would be living it; it would be a historical event, over and done with. But by the Spirit, we live the grace of God through Jesus Christ - and only by the Spirit - and thus keep the story alive. Without the Spirit, not one word of the Bible would have been preserved for us, but that wouldn't have mattered because without the Spirit, we could never have understood it anyway. 

So tell me again how Christ is the only member of the Godhead who ever did anything super-important for you.... That's just not the testimony of the Trinity. We need all three persons, just as much as we need Christ, for it is through the Three-In-One that we have being, atonement, and understanding. It takes all three.

Again, I'm not saying that what Christ accomplished or what Christ did - His life, His love, His sacrifice - was not important; I'm saying that we cannot let the Son obscure for us the Father or the Spirit. We cannot let our theology rest in some false centrality of Christ when the testimony of the Scriptures, and of Christ Himself, is that there is a Triune God who cares for us. (That's a bit more simplistic than I'd like to leave it, but I'm building on something here, so it will have to do.) 

We'll look more at what Jesus had to say about this tomorrow. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Christ

One of the most popular theologies of contemporary Christianity is the theology that declares that Christ is the central revelation of the Scriptures and that all of God's Word (the Bible) must be read as leading to and from God's Word (Jesus, as John refers to Him).

I have a problem with this "all roads lead to Christ" theology. And in full recognition of the fact that I might be wrong on this, I present it here anyway, primarily because I believe that the discussion is a valuable one.

Really, I think there are numerous problems with this theology, but I don't think it's helpful to get into laundry lists. So let's start with this one: Jesus Himself did not draw everything (or almost anything) back to Himself.

Jesus was always pointing to the Father and to the Spirit, to the other two persons of the Trinity, to the One who sent Him and to the One He was sending. 

Who are we to argue?

The Trinity is one of those theologies that we've largely lost track of in modern Christianity. We affirm the three persons of the Godhead. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We understand that this is what Christianity has asked of us, that we know that there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit.

But we spend overwhelmingly the bulk of our time getting to know the Son and forgetting, or perhaps even neglecting, that the Son was sent to reveal the Triune nature of God, to show Himself but also the Father and the Spirit. 

There's just no way around it. As faithful as we think we are being to the Scriptures when we center them on the Christ event, we must be as faithful to Christ by listening to what He says, and what He says is that it's not all about Him. 

It's not all about Him

That is not in any way to diminish the Christ event or the person of Jesus. Not by any means! No, no. That's not at all what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that we cannot limit our understanding to Jesus, nor should we. To do so is to both miss and misinterpret what God has given us in the Scriptures.

So where did we get this notion of a Christ-centered theology? To what does it open our eyes and to what does it blind us? How do we work a Trinitarian theology back into the web of what is, without argument, the central event of the Scripture, given that Christ Himself took every chance to point our hearts toward both the Father and the Spirit? All good questions. Stay tuned.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hello, My Name Is

This week, Christian singer/songwriter Matthew West released a book based on his well-known song, Hello, My Name Is. I have been blessed over the weeks leading up to this release to be reading a sneak peek preview copy of the book, and I think there are some things that are definitely worth saying about the book.

First, by now you know me well enough to know I'm not a fangirl. Of anybody. My passion runs deep for the Gospel, but that's about it. So what follows is not some crazy, "OMG, Matthew West is so awesome!" enthusaism. Sorry. Celebrity just doesn't impress me. (I don't think Matthew would mind my saying that, either.)

When I first started hearing about this book, I downloaded a free sample chapter that showed up in my email, and it told the story of this guy who showed up to one of Matthew's concerts and was forever changed by the experience. And I thought, alright, this is going to be a collection of the stories that Matthew's heard over the years. Real people's stories. The ones he's written his songs about. The ones who have taken the time to share their heart with him.

And you know I love good stories about real persons. You know, persons like you and me. 

Imagine my surprise when I opened the full book to discover that it wasn't a collection of stories about real persons; it was a collection of personal stories from Matthew. 

Imagine my greater surprise when I discovered through these stories that Matthew also happens to be a real person. 

I know, right? But you start reading these stories about traveling through the airport with a guitar en route to the next big concert, and it's easy to think, "That's not my life." Or you read about that one time backstage at a concert...nope. I'm not living that either. These are the kinds of things that celebrities like to write about, the things that seem so normal to them but are so foreign to the rest of us that quietly, and without saying as much, they're telling you that there is a fundamental difference between you and them. 

That's not this book. There are a couple of scenes like that, but by the time you get there, you're so overwhelmed with all of the completely normal things that Matthew has experienced that you're just connected to the guy on a person-to-person level, and when something about his profession happens to sneak in, that's okay. It feels just as normal to you as the rest of it, even if you've never been there. 

Matthew talks about the mundane things, the sorts of things that happen to all of us, but what I love most about this book is that as your drawn through the threads that wind through the pages, you discover this guy who hears the same whispers that you do. You discover this guy who knows all the quiet things that get whispered into our hearts, the things we start to believe about ourselves just because we hear them echo in our empty places so much. 

And then you can't help but think about the paradox of this guy who understands so intimately these whispers but who stands on the stage night after night blaring out anthems against them. It creates this incredible, beautiful tension between a loud public faith and a quiet spiritual struggle, and in doing so, you discover that faith need not be blind and heart must not be complacent. This life we live takes the full dynamism of both. 

We must be willing to stand and shout, not because we don't hear the whispers but precisely because we do. 

We must declare the truth precisely because we have heard the lies (and, we might add, because sometimes, we are haunted by them). 

Then all of a sudden, you hear this song, this so-popular song, come across the radio, Hello, My Name Is, and you think about all the whispers that Matthew knows, all the quiet words he's heard - the same quiet words that all of us have heard - and you truly understand that this isn't really an anthem; this is a fight song. 

And we're all just warriors with tears streaming down our faces, blood dripping down the Cross, and voices raised high over the whispers - that to whosoever it may concern (myself included because so often, I need the reminder), that....that is not my name.  

Hello, my name is....


Matthew West's book, Hello, My Name Is released on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Although I was blessed to read an advanced copy of the book, I cannot be bought and the words above are my own honest reflections and nothing more. If you're interested in the book, you can check it out at Amazon or wherever fine books are sold. (Don't go where not-fine books are sold. You won't find it there.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spirit for All

So, then, when we're talking about tongues, we're not talking about the same thing that the charismatic movement of the church is talking about - we're talking about something much simpler, straight from the book of Acts, and a gift that is given to every one of us.

See, the gift of tongues is not reserved for just a certain segment of God's people; it's not a gift for the elite. It's a gift for all of us. And that's the testimony of the Bible not just from Acts, but from the Old Testament, as well.

In Acts, as we saw yesterday, when the Spirit came upon the people, they all began speaking in languages that were foreign to them. The Scriptures don't tell us that some of them began to speak in new tongues, but that all of them began to speak of the miracles of God in languages they had never known before. 

In Numbers 11, the Lord takes some of the Spirit that He had given to Moses and puts it onto the 70 men he had chosen to help him in the work of judging Israel. And all 70 of them began to prophesy - to speak the truth of God in a Spirit-led tongue. Interestingly, even the two of them that decided not to come to the ceremony and instead stayed home started to prophesy right where they were. When the Spirit came upon them, they couldn't help themselves. They were given a new tongue to speak God's truth.

There's another passage where Saul (Old Testament Saul, the first king of Israel) goes out to meet the prophets, and they are all prophesying. When he comes into their midst, the Spirit falls on him, too, and he starts prophesying right along with them. 

Everywhere the Spirit is, there are persons speaking the truth and the miracles of God in language that used to be foreign to them. 

For most of us, that means we're given a theological tongue. That doesn't always mean that we start speaking in systematics or using the lofty language of historical Christianity and the church questions that have always been thrown around in the church for one reason or another. We aren't all going to start talking about transubstantiation or atonement or sanctification; it's not about the kind of word that we're using, but about what it is that we're saying. 

We're given the gift of speaking the truth and the miracles of God. 

That's it. That's all it is. And it's because this world needs as many persons speaking that truth and those miracles as it can have. It's because there's something about knowing who a person is, knowing their story, knowing where they come from and hearing them speak these things in a tongue that you can understand that's just incredibly powerful. 

Think about your story. Think about all of the broken things that you know about this world. Think about all the things that your friends know about your life, all the things they've seen you go through, all the question they've heard you asking. Maybe all the nights they know you've been awake. Maybe all the tears they know you've cried. Now think about what it means for you to be able to speak something beautiful of God even out of that life. Even out of that brokenness. Even out of that story, to be able to speak God's story. 

Like the onlookers in Acts, this world looks on and says, "How can this be?" How can it be that we are hearing the truth of God in a way that we understand...and it's coming from you

By the power of the Spirit, that's how. By the power of the Spirit that's given us all a theological tongue, that we may speak the truth and the miracles of God in a way that this world will hear it, maybe for the very first time. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


When we talk about speaking in tongues, a lot of Christians get scared (despite the fact, I must say, that in the past couple of decades, Pentecostalism has been among the world's fastest-growing denominations). They think we're talking about unintelligible gobbledy-gook, weird utterances that nobody anywhere can understand.

That's not the kind of tongues that I'm talking about, and it's not the kind of tongue in which I am speaking. 

The whole concept goes back to a scene in Acts 2, and it is in this context that we have to understand the phenomenon. A group of believers had gathered together for Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit came upon them all. All the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak. This is about as far as most of our discussion goes. It's...weird. So weird that we quit reading. 

But keep reading with me. Check this out: Devout Jewish men from every nation were living in Jerusalem. ...Each person was startled to recognize his own dialect when the disciples spoke. Stunned and amazed, the people in the crowd said, "...Why do we hear them speaking in our native dialects? ...We hear these men in our own languages as they tell about the miracles that God has done."

Then someone accused them all of being drunk. (Yes, really.)

See, it's not jibberish that starts coming out of these men's mouths; it's real language, a real tongue. It's just one that they didn't happen to speak before this moment that the Holy Spirit came upon them. Even Paul is going to affirm this later, when he says, essentially - don't speak jibberish. If you're speaking in a tongue, there better be at least one other person present who speaks it. Otherwise, you're a distraction and nothing more. 

So it's not that all of a sudden, nobody knows what we're saying any more. Rather, when the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to speak in another tongue, it's for the sake of those who need to hear about the miracles of God in their native language. 

For me, that means, I think, that I speak theology because there are persons around me who have never heard it spoken in their own language. I speak theology from brokenness for the broken who have never heard the miracles of God. I speak theology from poverty for the poor who need to hear. I speak theology from the questions for those who are questioning. 

God has taken my story and put a theological tongue to it so that when I speak, those in their own stories of brokenness, poverty, questions can hear the miracles of God in their own native language. From the darkness, I speak light so that others in darkness may see.

And it is only by the power of the Spirit that I am able, at all, to do so. 

It's not jibberish, I don't think (I hope!) coming out of my mouth. It's not nonsense that I speak out into the world. It's not some unintelligible utterance, some meaningless drivel. These are the miracles of God of which I speak, and in that beautifully paradoxical way that God has about Him, it is yet another miracle in and of itself that I speak them at all. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Speaking in Tongues

I don't come from a charismatic background. I went to a Pentecostal Lighthouse once, and there was another time that I went to a charismatic prayer service, but I was young in faith at the time, and it was mostly a chance to get out of school for a bit. I didn't know there would be persons speaking in tongues there.

I didn't know I would be speaking in tongues later.

Now, before you go and write me off or click away from this page (I know, too late), hear me out. Because I'm not really talking about the kind of charismatic, unknown language, fired by the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues that you're probably thinking of. I'm thinking more of, well, what you're reading right now. And what you've been reading here for a long time.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I say in this place, as well as what I've been saying in other places. Seminary, for example. And there's really no explanation for the way that I talk. There's no reason for the things that I say.

These words, this is not my vocabulary. At least, it never used to be. Growing up, I didn't know the words to Amazing Grace, let alone anything at all about how amazing grace really is. You wouldn't hear me talking about "beautiful images of a bloody Jesus" - not one of those things meant anything to me. I'm working on a sermon series right now that seeks to set some our favorite verses back into their Scriptural context, and I'm pulling on word studies and Hebrew language and cultural norms, none of these things that I would consider my natural tongue, but yet, I find that I speak them fluently these days. 

People look at me, and they hear me speak, and they think this is probably normal for me. They think this is probably just the way that I naturally talk. And it's coming to be, but I don't ever becomes normal. 

I mean, who am I?

Most of the time, I still feel like just a kid trying to figure her way through the world. Asking more questions than I seem to have answers for. I still feel the darkness more heavily than the light most days. I still feel the famine more than the feast. I'm plagued by my own insecurities. What I do not lack in competence (it seems), I more than make up for in an emptiness of confidence. 

I know more of the back roads of this world than I do the highways, more of the brokenness than the solid ground. I know those moments when the air is so stale that it's hard to breathe, and I know those times when the fresh air blows deep into the depths of my lungs and I feel, I don't know, human again. Or something. 

There is absolutely nothing special about me, nothing that would suggest that I am anything worthy or meaningful or...charismatic.

But when I speak, it is this voice that comes out of me. This voice that knows the quiet whisper of the Spirit. This voice that knows how beautiful a bloody Jesus truly can be. This voice that holds in perfect tension Amazing Grace and a wretch like me. This voice that speaks theology as freely as it does current events or common life. 

I don't have a background in the charismatic church, but I'm coming to understand that scene in Acts anyway, that one where the Holy Spirit comes upon the people and they start speaking in all of these new tongues. I'm coming to understand because I'm coming to live it - I'm speaking in this language that I never knew, this tongue that I didn't think I knew how to translate, and it's only by amazing grace, by the power of the Spirit come over me. 

I'm speaking in tongues. 

Who ever would have thought?

(And yes, I'm going somewhere with this. You'll have to stay tuned to see where.) 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Gardener

There's one more beautiful image of a bloody Jesus worth looking at, and it's the image that Mary discovered at the tomb: the gardener.

This is the kind of thing that God is really good at, and the kind of thing that only He can pull off so beautifully. There are a lot of images of Jesus in Scripture - as Lamb, as Son, as Christ, as carpenter, as prophet, as priest, as Rabbi, as rabblerouser, as friend, as sacrifice, as shepherd, etc. But one of the images that we don't see until after He has died is that of gardener. 

Yet look at the way that God has put His story together, both His big story and His little story. In the beginning, there was a garden. It was Eden, and God walked among His creation. And everything was good, very good. In the end, Revelation tells us, there may just be another garden. There's certainly the narrative of the angels with their flaming swords, placed to guard Eden after man's original sin, being released from their duty. The garden is open once more. Creation goes from good to very good, from garden to garden.

And then there's this story of Jesus, right? This little story that is the nutshell of the big story. And this whole passion of Jesus, these final few hours - they start in a garden. He's gone to Gethsemane to pray. He is among His people. Then, the Roman guard storms in. The soldiers arrive. Swords are swung. ...Swords, you say? Like, I don't know, the flaming swords given the angels who were set to guard Eden? (I told you this is the kind of thing that God does so well.)

There is betrayal, there is grief, in the garden. Sound like a familiar story?

A few days later, Mary goes to the tomb, but Jesus is not there. At least, not where she expected Him to be. She looks around, and there's only one guy there. Now, think about the context of this scene for a minute. The tomb is in the land belonging to Joseph. She doesn't mistake the man for Joseph (she probably could not, since he had a bit of a high reputation and would likely be well-known). Just outside of the town, it might have been common to find flocks grazing from here to there. But, of course, there are no sheep in this narrative (at least, not that we know of), so she doesn't mistake Him for a shepherd. It could be a hired hand, a slave, but the Bible narrative has never been shy about slaves; if that's what she'd thought, it would have told us so. 

Honestly, it could have been just about anyone walking around out there. Surely, there were others who were curious about the grave of Jesus. Surely, there were others who might have been drawn by the spectacle of it all. And, by the way, there should have been at least one or two Roman guards out there. At what point did they find the tomb empty? At what point did they leave? The angel beat Mary to the tomb, since the stone was already rolled away, and by the way, the angel already clued her in.

But she stumbles into this man, this stranger just outside the city, just outside the tomb, and she mistakes Him for the gardener and says, "What have you done with my Lord?" 

And the gardener, in that beautiful way that God does things, says, essentially, "He walks among you." Here I am. It's me. Just like in the beginning, my feet and your feet on the same ground. Just like in the end, flaming swords released from duty.

From garden to garden, from beginning to end, from good to very good, our living Lord walks among us.

The gardener....

Friday, April 14, 2017


On this morning on which our Savior died, there is one final beautiful image of the bloody Jesus that is worth looking at. It is the image of Christ as priest.

We are told that we have a great high priest, that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek. And all of this is indeed true, but we also have to realize that in His living ministry, we never see Jesus acting as priest. We see Him acting as teacher. We see Him proclaiming as prophet. We see Him working and walking toward Calvary, but we never really understand that this prophet-teacher is about to become prophet-teacher-priest. 

After all, who would have thought that the sacrifice could become the sacrificer? (That was one of the primary functions of the priest in Old Testament theology.)

Here, we have to go back to Exodus 29, to the anointing of the first priests after the institution of the Tabernacle (which would later become, of course, the Temple). It's not Melchizedek; it's Aaron and his sons. 

The anointing of the priests was a fairly elaborate ritual. First, the one to be anointed comes forward. He is stripped of his common clothes and clothed with the priestly garments, something completely new to put on .Then they come and slaughter a few animals, dabbing the blood on the corners of the altar and pouring out the rest at the base, for the altar must be holy before the priest can be. (It is the altar that makes the priest holy and not the other way around, you know.) 

From the third animal that they sacrifice, they take some of the blood and put it on the ear lobes, the thumbs, and the big toes of the anointed. Then they take what is left of the sacrifice into a holy place, and none of it should be left when it is morning. 

That's a lot to sort through, I know, but I also tried to edit it down so that the connections with the Cross should be abundantly clear. 

Jesus was stripped of his common clothes and on Him were placed just mere rags. Just the basics. Something new for Him to wear. The hill on which He was to die was already covered with blood, already prepared as a place for blood to be spilled. There was already a sanctity to that place, as God has always put an emphasis on blood as the bearer of life. 

Jesus becomes the third animal in the sacrifice - He is nailed to the Cross with two thieves, one on His right and one on His left. He has become, therefore, the anointing sacrifice. And the blood of this sacrifice covered His own ear lobes (from the crown of thorns), His thumbs and His toes (from the nails).

When the sacrifice was complete, when Christ died, He was taken outside of the city to a holy place, a tomb in a garden, and He was buried. But not a bit of Him was left in the morning. The tomb was empty. The place abandoned. The sacrifice gone.

The anointed risen.

We have indeed a great high priest. On Calvary this day, He was anointed for us. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017


As we turn our attention this week to beautiful images of the bloody Jesus, one that I think often slips by unnoticed is the image of Jesus as Teacher. 

For most of His life, this is how He was known. He was not known as the prophet. He was not known as the priest. He was not known as the Messiah. To His disciples, to the crowds, to the region, this Jesus was known as Teacher, and He spent much of His ministry shedding light on the Scriptures (and in the beautiful way that God always does these things, bringing light to them, as well). 

And the teachings of Jesus were revolutionary. Just take, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, where He turned nearly every understanding of the Mosaic law on its head. Hate your enemies? No. Love them. Curse them? No! Pray for them. Commit adultery with a woman? Never. Don't even lust after her. When you're forced to carry a bag one mile, carry it for two. When someone asks for your tunic, give him also your coat. 

Over and over and over again, Jesus took what looked like the Law and turned it into Love, and it both astonished and challenged those who sat at His feet. (It's also why the Pharisees hated Him so. They had made a life out of Law but had no room in their Law for Love.) 

I know, I know. At this point, I haven't really told you anything new. But here it is: in the crucifixion, Jesus put into practice everything He taught. The final hours of Jesus's life were a living example of Jesus's teaching. 

He said you wouldn't need to defend yourself (Luke 12:12), and indeed, He stood before Pilate without a word. 

He said if you're asked for your tunic, give also your coat, and He let Himself be stripped bare before the vengeful crowd.

He said when you're forced to carry something, carry it faithfully, and then He shoulders His cross and sets His eyes toward Golgotha.

He said to pray for your enemies, and there on the hill, He cried out on their behalf. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. 

And, by the way, He also was a strong advocate of forgiveness.

If you're looking for a reflection to engage in on this Holy Week, this is a good one and one we're not accustomed really to looking at, but read through the passages depicting Jesus's final hours and see how many of His teachings are lived out in those moments. See how often He embodies His own words. See how Love triumphs over Law for the innocent Lamb led to slaughter. 

For this great Teacher of ours was also a student of Love, and its truth rings out from the garden to the gates to Golgotha. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cleansing Blood

There's another beautiful image of the bloody Jesus that should not escape us at a time like Easter, and it, too, is predicated on the understanding of Christ as the Bird, not the Lamb, of God. And it, too, comes to us from the book of Leviticus, specifically from chapter 14.

This is a really interesting passage, particularly for a people spoiled by the customs of modern cleanliness. When we come upon grunge in our own houses, our cleaning kits are likely to contain gloves, bleach, hard brushes, etc., along with something to take care of the smell. When cleansing our bodies, we are likely to use soaps, shampoos, talcs, etc., as well as deodorants. But ritual cleansing takes an entirely different toolkit. 

Leviticus 14 prescribes two birds, cedar wood, red yarn, and a hyssop sprig. Really. You can't make this up. 

Here is the procedure: He must kill the one bird over a clay bowl containing fresh water. He must take the cedar wood, the hyssop sprig, the red yarn, and the living bird and dip them in the fresh water containing the blood of the bird that was killed. He must sprinkle the house seven times. So he must use the bird's blood, the fresh water, the living bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the red yarn to make the house clean. Then he will let the living bird fly from the city into the open country. He will make peace with the Lord for the house, and it will be clean. (14:50-53)

Can you see the threads of the cross running through here? 

There is a bird, and it is sacrificed so that its blood can be mixed with fresh water. And there is a Christ who is sacrificed, and from His very side, blood and water flowed. The bird's blood is poured into the clay bowl; the Christ's blood is spilled on the clay earth. 

There is cedar wood; there is a wooden Cross. There is a hyssop sprig; the soldiers offered Jesus a drink from a hyssop sprig. There is red yarn; there are streams of red blood flowing from Christ's body and brow. 

There is a sacrificial bird whose blood is spilled and a living bird who flies into the open country; there is a Christ who dies on the Cross and there is an empty tomb just outside the city. 

The whole ritual for ritual cleansing is offered on the Cross. It's Levitical law, Golgotha-style. It's the priestly atonement, made by the priest Himself. It's the bird offering, once again, made by the Lamb of God. 

It's beautiful. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Poor Man's Sacrifice

There are so many beautiful images of a bloody Jesus that stir my heart around Holy Week, and I know that perhaps that sounds a little weird to the human ear, but maybe that's what faith does. I don't know. (And I'm pretty sure I've written about this first one before, though I am not as sure that I have done so in precisely this way, and on either count, it is worth repeating.) 

One of the images of Jesus that strikes me is that of His atoning sacrifice. It's interesting to me that we always call Him the Lamb of God, as though He were the proper sacrifice, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. I don't mean that in any way to sound as though He would not be the proper sacrifice, but we need look no further than Leviticus 1 to discover that the Lamb of God was perhaps more the Pigeon.

There were very specific guidelines in the Levitical law for how the priest was to offer the various sacrifices of Israel. For animals like cattle, like rams, like lambs, there were certain portions that the priest was supposed to cut out and cut off, pieces to burn outside of the camp, pieces to hold up and wave around, pieces to claim for the priestly classes to live off of. But we must also remember that in reference to Jesus, there is a Scripture in the Old Testament that is claimed to prophesy that His body, in particular, would remain in one piece. 

Therefore, He cannot properly be sacrificed as a Lamb.

But there was also in Israel this standing order that if a person could not afford the proper sacrifice - if he could not bring a ram, a lamb, or a goat, then a substitution of a couple of pigeons could be made, and God would find this acceptable from the poor man. It is in these instructions that we see the crucifixion of Jesus foreshadowed.

The sacrifice of the pigeon begins with draining its blood on the side of the altar. We see this in the order of the beating that Jesus took. Bent on the side of the public post, in the place where a criminal's blood was shed, Jesus was lashed as many times as the law would allow, His body busted and broken open. His blood pouring out.

Then the gizzard was removed "with its filth" and thrown in the place for ashes, just as the clothing that Jesus wore was stripped off of Him and thrown aside - filthy, disgusting clothes of the Prophet-Teacher, detestable in their filth to the mocking crowd. 

Then pull on the bird's wings to tear the bird open, but don't pull the wings off. (Lev. 1:17a) Is there any more fitting image for our Savior's arms outstretched on the Cross? His love spread out from east to west, one hand to another, like the wings of the sacrifice pulled open, but not torn off.

Then the priest will lay the bird on the wood.... (1:17b) And here it is, the outstretched, pulled open arms of the Lord laid across the beams of His cross - the wood. 

This, we're told, is the offering. It's the poor man's offering - the Pigeon.

It's our offering, the Lamb. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Easter Nativity

We now find ourselves in the midst of another Holy Week, having celebrated yesterday the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for the final time. When He leaves this city again, He will no longer be simply Jesus; He will be the Christ. 

This may be Holy Week, but most of us have been celebrating it for much longer than just these few days.

Last Christmas (yes, I've been holding onto this one that long!), I was struck by how much of the Christmas rhetoric looks forward to Easter, as though the only thing that we can say about this God-become-flesh who came to dwell among us was that He came to die for our sins. We're all excited about this. We see the little boy in the manger, and we can't wait until He becomes the Christ on the Cross. 

Yes, we love the Easter event so much that we start talking about it at Christmas.

But, interestingly enough, when Holy Week finally arrives, there are not many (if any) of us who remember the manger. 

When we start to talk about the Lord who died for us, we don't talk about the One who lived for us. When we talk about the One who was betrayed, we do not talk about the One who was adored. When we talk about the Lamb led to the slaughter, we don't talk about the Babe in the stable. None of these things were an accident, and yet, we do not remember them. They are not part of our Jesus story.

Don't get me wrong - I don't want to downplay what happens this week. I don't want to pretend that the Cross was not incredible, that Jesus's death for our sins was some small thing. That's not at all what I'm saying. 

What I am saying is that we often get so sucked into the Easter story that we forget the Gospel narrative, which is not just that Jesus came to die for us, but also that He came to live for us. We'll celebrate it on Sunday, but we don't even notice it at Christmas. 

How messed up is that?

We know far more about the way that Jesus lived before He was crucified than we do after. We know a great deal about His life, even as we know much about His death. More than 3/4 of the whole of the Gospel stories are about how Jesus lived; only the final few chapters in each is about how He died. 

Yet we so easily say, "Jesus? He died for me." He did die for you. But He also lived for you. And healed for you. And taught for you. And loved for you. And prayed for you. And all of this is His testimony, alongside the Cross. All of this is His plan for you. 

Because He says things like, "Take up your cross and follow me." Of course, He does. But He also says things like, "Go, teach everyone. Go, heal the sick. Go, cast out the demons. Go, love your neighbor. Go, pray." 

I love Holy Week. I do. But as we work our way toward Calvary this week, may we not forget that the story neither begins nor ends here. This little Lamb was born in a stable. This One who was betrayed was also adored. This Jesus who walks toward Golgotha walked also the shores of Galilee. And this Christ who died for us was also the Jesus who lived for us, just as He lives again come Sunday morn'. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mirror, Mirror

James famously talks about a man who looks at himself in a mirror and then, going away, immediately forgets what he looks like. 

I have kind of the opposite problem: I look at myself in the mirror and then, standing there, I forget who I am.

In the quiet of my own soul, it's often easy for me to connect with God. Connected with Him, I feel like I understand quite a few things that I probably still can't explain. But I know them. 

I know who He is. I know who I am. I know who He has created me to be, and the work that He has set before me in this world. I feel His very presence in my heart, and all of the good things like love, grace, mercy, and joy just seem to overflow into all the empty spaces of who I'm not. In the quiet of my own soul, I know myself. And I know my God.

But stand me in front of a mirror, and I don't know what happens. Let me see myself as the world sees me, and it's far too easy for me to come to their conclusions. I'm a waste, I think. A waste of both talent and space. I'm a sad tale, indeed, such an empty, unfulfilled life. Nothing to brag of, not even anything to speak of. Falling short in my looks, but also in my grace. And let's not talk about my love, which is broken and faltered and faltering. 

Stand me in front of a mirror, and I seem to see as the world sees. And I cannot, by any measure, remember what it is that I know so well in the quiet of my own soul. 

Every once in awhile, perhaps, when I move too quickly and catch but a glimpse of my own reflection, I may be struck by my own beauty. Not a physical beauty, but a certain poise - the way the fleeting image in the mirror carries herself. And I think, aha! There she is! This is the woman that God created me to be. But give me any more than a glimpse, and I stand there and think, no. No, I must have been mistaken. This can't be her. 

It's a constant battle for me. It's not got anything at all to do with physical appearance. There's not a single moment that I think that I would be more of the woman that God intended me to be if I did something different with my hair or if I had a little less acne or if my cheek bones were a little more or less pronounced. There's nothing in me that looks at my smile and thinks it would be more beautiful if it were straight. It's genuine, and that's beautiful enough for me. 

And yet, there is still something about standing there, face-to-face with myself, that seems to call out all of my greatest insecurities, that seems to drown out what my heart knows so well.

The Bible cautions us not to see as the world sees, but to see as God sees. This is, I think, precisely why. For when we see with God's eyes, we know in the depths of our hearts. But when we see with the world's eyes, there is nothing that can convince us of grace. 

I know what James was getting at when he was talking about the man who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away and forgets what he looks like. Yet I have to be honest and say that I know full well what I look like. 

But when I look in the mirror, I forget who I am. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Cross to Bear

The only question that remains for us, then, is really two: what is this burden, and what is this yoke that we bear? 

The burdens that most of us talk about all the time are the burdens of this world - not having enough money, not having enough career opportunities, not being completely healthy, not being able to control the weather. We often talk about our burdens as all of the things that go wrong in this life, as all of the broken things of the fallen world. 

But these are not the burdens God has given us. These things, as difficult as they seem, they're just chaff. They're nothing. They're dust in the wind, meant to distract us and to close our eyes to the things that are really around us. 

Jesus says He will give us His burden, for it is light. And what is Jesus's burden? It is love. It is grace. It is mercy. It is sight for the blind, sound for the deaf, movement for the lame. It is the forgiveness of sins and the healing of hearts. It is the restoration of creation to its intended design. These are His burdens.

They ought to be ours.

These are the things we ought to be concerning ourselves with. We ought to be bearers of love in this world. We ought to be bearers of grace. Peace, mercy, healing - these ought to be our burdens. They don't feel like the "light" things - they feel like the hard things - but these are the things that do not pass away, and these are the things that do not run dry. 

And how is it that we should carry them? How is it that we should engage our entire being in bearing the weight?

Jesus showed us this, too, on His way to Golgotha. 

It is no accident that Jesus speaks of a yoke and then shoulders His cross. It is not mere coincidence that the very burden of the ox in the field becomes the burden of the Savior on the street. This is exactly what Jesus's imagery has been leading us toward, and here it is, complete with the call that we should do the same - take up our cross and follow Him.

Here again, we run into a bit of confusion - didn't Jesus say that His yoke was easy? The cross doesn't seem easy. It seems hard. Super-hard. 

So we have a yoke that doesn't seem easy and a burden that doesn't seem light, and yet, Jesus says that they are just this. Why? How? It is because, as the ant, as the grasshopper, as the butterfly, Jesus has learned to carry this cross with the fullness of who He is. You might even say, He was made for this. 

And so were we. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Taking, then, everything that we've been looking at in God's creatures and creation, all the things that would seem to say that we weren't created for this, it's clear that perhaps, we were created for precisely this. 

What we have to do is figure out how to shift our weight.

Like the ant, we have to figure out how to use our whole beings to do that thing that we were created to do. Like the grasshopper or the cricket, we must learn how to shift our weight to maximize our strength. Like the butterfly, we have to find the balance between holding being secure and holding ourselves too tightly. And this is where the wisdom of Jesus comes in.

Jesus has already told us how to do it; He gives it to us in a word in the Gospels. He says, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Most of us have some trouble with this image, primarily because most of us have never worked in the fields or seen a yoke. We don't know what Jesus is talking about in our busy, metropolitan, fast-paced world. We see a picture of a yoke - this heavy, wooden apparatus big enough to sit over an ox's shoulders - and we think there's no way that can be light, let alone comfortable.

But the yoke is the testimony of God's creation wrapped into one image. Like the weight of the grasshopper or the cricket, the yoke helps to shift the load so that it is easier to carry. Like the butterfly, the yoke rests securely on the shoulders of the ox, but it is not too heavy, not too burdensome on him. Like the ant, the yoke allows the ox to use the entirety of his being to move the load - by just doing what he does, walking normally, the load is brought with him. He hardly even notices.

So when Jesus offers us this image of His yoke, He is essentially inviting us to do what other creatures do so well by instinct - shift and secure the load, use our entire beings to move it. 

We might even say we were made for this. 

The image is not limited to this, however, for Jesus also says, Learn from me. Most of the time, yokes were used with a tandem of two oxen, not just one. This was meant to help to spread the burden out even more, placing it equally across two sets of shoulders and also doing more work at one time than could be done by a single ox. And it was customary, as well, to yoke together two animals of different strengths, or two animals of different experience - you would yoke an ox who knew well what he was doing with one who was just learning or who needed the assistance of a stronger partner. 

That's what Jesus is offering to us. He says, hey, I've been doing this awhile. I know the ropes. My strength is built up; I'm good at this. So yoke yourself together with Me, and I'll show you how it's done. Together, we'll plow this field - living, loving, and serving in this world - and you'll understand how easy it really is. Together, we'll do more than you could do on your own anyway, more love, more grace, more joy, more peace. And then you'll know that it really is so easy. It really is.

You were made for this. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Yesterday, we looked at some of the creatures in God's creation who probably cannot help but to think, I wasn't made for this. Including, of course, men, whose burdens often seem too great to bear. 

And the thing is that we look at some of these creatures, and we think, gosh, they must be strong. It must be some super act of strength that makes them able to do what they do, even when it doesn't seem possible. The ant, for example. The ant carries morsels ten, fifty, one hundred times its body weight in order both to build its home and to supply its food. And even in the fables, we are told that the ant is wise, gathering food all year and storing it up so that it doesn't have to go out in inclement weather. Surely, the ant is both wise and strong. 

But the Bible tells us differently. "Ants are not a strong species," Proverbs 30:25 says. They're not? Really? If the Bible says it, however, it must be true. Ants are not a strong species. 

Ants have, however, figured out how to maximize their meager strengths. They have figured out how to carry their loads, not by sheer force but by proper balance. Aha! You see, the ant doesn't carry the weight of a giant morsel by mere might alone. He has figured out how to hoist it onto his shoulders and balance it just right so that it neither crushes him nor causes him to stumble. He walks confidently toward home, not because the burden is light, but because it is balanced. He is steady in his steps not because he is sure of his strength, but because he is confident in his entire constitution. It takes everything in him to carry the load, but when he puts his everything into it, it's not so bad after all.

Or what about the butterfly? There comes a day when the caterpillar has to break out of his cocoon, but then we look at the fragile wings of the butterfly and wonder how that's even possible. How can something that seems so delicate come through such a seemingly-hard place? But the answer is in what the butterfly has learned about its own meager strength. When building his cocoon, he wraps himself tightly enough that he is safe, but not so tightly that he is trapped.

Think about something like the cricket or the grasshopper. They have such thin-looking legs, but have you ever seen them leap? They've figured out how to shift their weight to maximize their leverage. It's not that their legs simply propel them that far; it's the entire motion of jumping. It takes everything they've got to do it well, but when they give it everything they've got, how majestic! 

I'm not sure why all of my examples thus far have been insect-related. I certainly don't have much of an appreciation for bugs, although I do appreciate the beautiful handiwork of God in their special design. (Just stay out of my house, okay?) But the truth is that we could say almost the same thing about nearly anything in God's design.

The clouds know how to hold their raindrops, but they know, too, how to release them. They are nothing but vapor, but powerful enough to ruin a bright day. The flowers spend their whole life reaching toward the sun, only to open and bear tender petals that must then stand against wind, rain, hail, and hungry animals. The earth is essentially nothing on its own, but under the balanced force of gravity that keeps its whole weight within its orbit, it's this amazing place where life is possible.

All of these things that don't seem possible are perfectly orchestrated and totally amazing. It just takes everything that everything's got in order to pull off these incredible feats. The ant has to use its whole self; the caterpillar, its whole self; the cricket or the grasshopper, its whole weight. Nothing in creation can rely on only part of itself to do anything at all; it takes everything. 

And even though it's easy to look at these creatures that are doing all of these things that it doesn't seem they were made for, things that look too hard for creatures that look so fragile, the truth is: they make it look easy. They make it look easy because it's exactly what they were created for. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Heavy Burdens

Have you ever taken a good look at your life and thought, "I wasn't made for this"? 

Chances are that if you're human, you've had this moment. Probably more than once. It happens to all of us, for one reason or another. Maybe you've been laid off, and you don't know where your next meal is coming from. Maybe your doctor called with bad news. Maybe your kids have done something that landed them in either the principal's office or the warden's. Maybe a friend betrayed you. Maybe a loved one died. Maybe three or four of seven of these kinds of things happened all at once and after one more sleepless night, you just find yourself standing in front of the mirror trying to work through the tangles in your restless hair as you contemplate the tangles in your restless heart, and you just find yourself screaming, I wasn't made for this!

You're not alone. 

I know that doesn't help much because our tendency when we hear that we are not alone is to start comparing. I know, I know, we say - so-and-so has it so much harder than I do. At least I _______. At least I don't ________. I can't imagine how _____ does it. And we talk ourselves through comparisons of miseries until our lives don't seem so bad at all, but if we're being honest, we're still tired and not sure how to manage it all. 

That's not at all what I'm advocating. Not in the slightest. (And I've written before about how unhelpful that kind of attitude is.) 

But I'm not sure there are a lot of God's creatures who necessarily think this is what they were made for. Take the ant. It spends its entire life hauling grains of sand to build a little home that can be blown away by a simple wind (or stomped on by a simple child), only to have to start over again. Every grain of sand, indeed, every ounce of food, everything the ant carries at all, it has to hoist on top of its tiny little body - weights five, ten, fifty times its own weight. The ant probably thinks, yeah, I wasn't made for this. 

Or what about the butterfly? It starts out life as a worm. It spends months inside a little cocoon of its own making, having wrapped itself so tight in its own silks that it can't even move, and then it has to figure out how to bust out of all of that and then, of all things, fly. Can you imagine what it must be like to spend your whole life knowing you're a worm and then have to adjust to having wings? The caterpillar thinks, yeah, I wasn't made for this. 

A lesser-known example - I've got camel crickets in my house from time to time. These are creepy, giant spider-looking crickets that are programmed to jump toward whatever scares them. So, yeah, if you happen upon one, it jumps toward you at approximately 6-11 feet per jump. Now, who's scared? But it's the weirdest thing. If you smack one of these camel crickets with a flyswatter (or even sometimes, if you hit it with bug spray), it doesn't usually die right away...but its legs fall off. The one thing it does well - jump toward things that scare it and in turn, scare them - it can no longer do. It can just...lie there. And die. Slowly. With its legs lying next to it, thighs still attached and all. And in those final moments, I say even the camel cricket cannot help but think, yeah, I wasn't made for this.

The platypus has no idea what it was made for. 

It's a common theme, I think, because God's ways are so much higher than our ways. We look at creation, and it's beautiful, but almost any body that we would try to live inside has its own paradoxes. Everything in God's creation has to wrestle with something about itself that doesn't seem to make much sense. It's what makes us dependent upon Him for everything we've got. Us, and the ant, and the butterfly, and even the camel cricket. (The platypus, too.) 

So we're not alone in feeling the paradox of our holy, broken lives. And there are some things we can learn from the rest of God's creation about how we really are created. We'll look at a couple of those in the days to come.