Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Walk Right Up

When we look at the ways that persons came to Jesus in the Gospels, we can't help but notice that some of them just walked right up to Him. Interestingly, most of those who walked right up to Him...were women. (This is interesting because in that culture, this would have been certainly taboo.)

There was Mary, the sister of Martha, who took it upon herself to sit at His feet when He came to visit their home. We remember this story because Martha was very upset about this, slaving away in the kitchen as women tended to do, while her sister, Mary, was so bold as to just get herself a spot on the floor somewhere near the Teacher.

There was the sinful woman (who some say was also Mary, although we don't know that for sure) who busted into Simon's house when Jesus was there, walked right up to Him, and poured out expensive perfume all over Him. She used her hair as a rag and anointed, He says, His body for burial while pouring out her own troubled heart at the very same time. 

There was the woman who came begging for her child's healing, the woman who Jesus initially turned away because she was not a Hebrew/Jew/Israelite. She fell at His feet and refused to leave, saying that even the dogs under the table get fed scraps by the children. Jesus healed her daughter.

There was the woman with the issue of blood that came pushing her way, unclean but unannounced, through the crowds, just for the chance to touch the edge of His robe. In those times, someone ritually unclean would be required to yell out, "Unclean! Unclean!" whenever they were near others, so that their uncleanliness would not spread. But this woman did not want to draw attention to herself; she just wanted to come to Jesus. And when she did, He said her faith had healed her. 

All four of these women came, humbling themselves, straight to Jesus. They just walked right up like they belonged there in His presence. And, He says, they were right to do so; of course they belonged there. Martha was told that Mary had chosen the better thing; the men were told that the sinful woman's story would be told wherever His own story was; the woman who was content with scraps under the table went home to a daughter healed; the bleeding woman became clean in that very instant. All because they were bold, but humble.

One particular man was only bold. We call him the rich young ruler, and he, too, walked right up to Jesus. But he wasn't coming in order to humble himself; he was coming to bolster himself. He wanted the chance to show off his ritual faithfulness, to flash around his riches and be affirmed, very publicly, by Jesus so that he could become even more in the eyes of the world. He boldly demanded what he wanted from Jesus, certain that he had already fulfilled the greatest of all commands, and Jesus spoke boldly back to him. Then, we're told, he went away sad. 

The Pharisees and experts in Moses's Teachings also came boldly to Jesus. They were confident that in all of their knowledge and diligent faithfulness, they could trap Him into saying something wrong. They often challenged Him directly, making a big show of their boldness and trusting that one day, they'd get Him. They would be right and this so-called Teacher would finally be wrong. But Jesus responded to every single one of their inquiries and challenges with holiness and authenticity, such that these men always walked away from Him fuming. They were embarrassed, frustrated, and angry. 

These men came bold, but not humble, and they were put in their places by the Jesus that they encountered. 

So there is, we see, a pattern for coming straight to Jesus, for just walking right up and introducing yourself and presenting your needs before God. But walking right up to Jesus requires two things, either one of which is not enough on its own: boldness and humility. 

Without boldness, you'd never get close enough; without humility, you'd be seeking the wrong thing (your own glory, not His). 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Come to Jesus

The central aspect of our Christian lives is a coming to Jesus. It's not only essential for our own walks of faith, but it's what we assume is our duty in others' walks, as well - we're supposed to come to Jesus, and we're supposed to get others to come to Jesus. We even have an opportunity at the end of our church services for persons to do just that. If you need Jesus, please come. 

So coming to Jesus has become a thing. Or maybe the thing. Which raises the question - what does it even mean to come to Jesus? Or more importantly, what does it look like?

Because in our culture of coming to Jesus, we've got some pretty solid ideas about this question. We know exactly what it's supposed to look like to come to Jesus. 

If you're generally a good person, then coming to Jesus looks very natural. Good persons should just be drawn to Jesus. They should just walk right up and calmly, coolly, comfortably declare, "I want my good life to be even better." And then we celebrate and rejoice and know that a good one has been added among us.

If you're generally a bad person, then coming to Jesus is very dramatic. Bad persons should come to Jesus weeping and wailing, tearing their clothes, crawling on their knees in repentance. If you're a bad person and we all know it and you're not on your knees, we don't believe you. If you're not crying and confessing what a terrible jerk you are, we don't buy it. You're not coming to Jesus. You may be taking a few steps toward Him, but you're not bringing your heart. No, if you're a bad person, you'd better just cough out your heart and carry it in your hands. That's what coming to Jesus ought to look like. A bad person out to be saying, "I am a sinner, a wretched sinner, and I do not know how to do any other."

If you're generally a broken person, then coming to Jesus is very desperate. Broken persons walk the aisle with quiet, heavy tears streaming down their faces. They slump their way to the Cross, carrying this heavy load of all that's been required of them just to be human for the first part of their lives. They come slowly, dragging their feet and dragging their pasts and wiping tear-filled snot on their sleeves until they collapse into the chair in the front of the auditorium. Broken persons declare, "I want my hard life to be easier." And then we pat them on the back and tell them that it's going to be. It's going to be easier now. They've done a great thing for themselves. Jesus is here.

Interestingly enough, we've got some ideas about those who just should never come to Jesus at all, too. And they look an awful lot like these first three. 

If someone's coming to Jesus just because they want their good life to be better, just because they think it's going to be good to be blessed, then we don't think they should be coming to Jesus at all. Jesus is not an investment package, we tell them. He's not a cushion plan. If all you want from Jesus is His good things, don't come. 

If someone's coming to Jesus because they don't know how to stop sinning, then we don't think they should be coming to Jesus at all. You're a sinner, we tell them. Stop sinning, then come. If you can't do even the most basic things to make yourself a decent person, don't come.

If someone's coming to Jesus because they are broken and want Him to heal them, then we don't think they should be coming to Jesus at all. Jesus is not the latest over-the-counter fad to try. He's not the latest diet pill. If all you want from Jesus is His healing touch, don't come. 

So we've created all these rules by which the good, the bad, and the broken are supposed to come to Jesus, and then we've thrown on top of that even more restrictions and guidelines and judgments about whether they should even come at all. 

Pharisees! Hypocrites!

Thankfully, the Gospels have given us some incredible stories about good, bad, and broken men and women who came to Jesus. We have a lot to learn from these stories, and we'll take a look at a few of them this week. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Did you know that you're a prophet? It's true. We are a people who speak the Word of God, not only with our tongues, but with our lives, and Jesus Himself said that we should expect that the world would therefore treat us as prophets. 

And as false prophets, too, if that is what we turn out to be.

He raises this idea in the Sermon on the Mount, in part in its capture in the book of Matthew and in depth in its telling in the book of Luke. When Jesus is talking about who in the world is blessed (hint: it's you), He also talks about what we should expect from the world as believers. He says, quite plainly, Blessed are you when people hate you, avoid you, insult you, and slander you because you are committed to the Son of Man. ...That's the way their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)

And ain't that the truth? When we do anything distinctly, truly Christian, that's how this world responds. They call us foolish. They call us dumb. They call us hateful. They turn their backs, afraid that our weirdness might rub off on them a little bit or a little too much. They turn their backs, then tell us that we're the ones who are backward, and they talk about us as though we are the threat to the world. They try to silence us, shouting down our truth with their own take on it. All because we are committed to the Son of Man. It is the prophet's welcome, isn't it? Jesus said that it is.

But look what He says next: How horrible it will be for you when everyone says nice things about you. That's the way their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)


That one hurts, mostly because we are living in a time where the welcome we have received as prophets pains our souls, and we're longing for a way to make the Gospel more palatable to the world. We want them to believe in joy and grace and mercy and "tolerance;" we want them to find a "love" that they can relate to. We're doing our best to present Jesus in such a way that the world will love Him, although quite often, this has led us to water down His Word in very important ways.

Just look at the Christians the world loves. Look at the preachers they're tuning into. The voices that the world wants to hear are the voices telling them how great Christianity is for them, how prosperous it will make them, how it will solve all of the problems that they have in their lives. This world speaks very well of "Christians" who give them a Jesus without giving them His heart, too. This world loves preachers who don't rest on truth. 

This world loves false prophets.

Jesus is not saying here that we should all go out and do our best to be hated by the world. He's not saying that we should labor to draw the disgust of the world. He's not saying we should try to cheese everyone off. That's not it at all. 

What Jesus is saying is that, like it or not, our lives are a prophecy. As the people of God, our lives declare something about Him. And we need to be mindful of what it is that we're saying, not just by our words, but also by our actions. We're all prophets. 

The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we true prophets? Or have we fallen off the road somewhere and become false prophets, our lives of so-called faith saying something about Jesus that He never intended to say?

Thursday, October 26, 2017


There is yet more tension in all of this, and it is this recognition that we have that when God asks us to do something, He is there with us. When He sent the disciples out to heal the sick and cast out the demons, He was with them in His power, in His Spirit. When He sent the disciples on ahead of Him in the boat, He was not far away on the water. When the people gathered in Acts, God's Spirit was upon them, touching their tongues with fire. 

God is always where His people are. 

But that doesn't mean we follow Him there.

What we have to look at is what Jesus very clearly says in the Gospels. He's really got two words to describe what He is asking the people, even the disciples, to do: "Come" and "Go." And the one of these words He uses most frequently is "go."

This doesn't mean He is sending us away from His presence. It doesn't mean that He is kicking back on a recliner somewhere, shooing us around like servants of the rich and famous. It doesn't mean that we go and do this one thing and then come back to Him for another assignment. No, that's not it at all.

Every time Jesus says, "Go," it has one of two implications: "Go and take Me with you, as you have come to know Me here" and "Go, for I am going ahead of you and will meet you there." The fact that Jesus meets us there does not mean we have followed. It can't, for He has not said, "Come." 

He has said, "Go."

It's semantics, right? It's just words. What's the difference? Come, go, it's all the same to a people like us who live by the gist of things. We are forever saying one thing while meaning something slightly different and then declaring, "You know what I mean." 

But God doesn't speak in "you know what I means." God doesn't say one thing when He means something slightly different. So if God sometimes says "come" and sometimes says "go," then we cannot just say that what God "means" is that we should just "follow Him all the time." If that's what He meant, then that's what He would have said.

When we "go," we go in full recognition that when we arrive, Jesus will already be at work. He will already be doing whatever it is that He's doing in that place, and we are going just to join Him. We show up without any illusions that this is in any way about us. We show up and actively look for Him

Think about the disciples when Jesus told them to go to Galilee at the empty tomb. Go to Galilee. I am going before you, and I will meet you there. So the disciples go to Galilee, and they know that when they get there, they have to locate Jesus. They have to know what room He's going to be in or what shore He's going to be on. They have to figure out the Jesus thing to do, assume that He is doing it, and go to Him there. 

Those of us who are sent today, those of us whose lives are lived on this word, "Go," are doing the same thing. We're showing up where God has sent us, knowing that He is already there, trusting that He is already at work, and actively looking for Him. We're trying to figure out what He's doing, what He's up to, and then joining Him in the work. 

The same is true even for the blind men. Jesus was set about a healing work in this world; that's what He was doing. He told these blind men to go home. Not to come, follow Him. Not to join Him on His expedition. But to join Him in His work by going. Think about everyone they met on their way home and in their hometown. Think about everyone who came to hear about this Jesus and to start to maybe even believe in Him because the blind men went home seeing. Think about everyone who would not have known if the blind men had never gone home. Think about the crowds of men and women, hurting men and women, broken men and women, who would have never gone out to see Jesus if the healed had never gone home. It is only by going that they were able to join God in His work. It is only by going home, by taking Jesus with them, that they were able to carve a path for others to come to Jesus. 

And isn't that what so often happens?

It is our going that makes it possible for others to come. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sent Home

There is some tension between this idea of a faith that must be lived out at home and an understanding of Christianity as a life that we live following Jesus. After all, the Bible says that we are all to be made disciples, and disciples are those who left everything behind to follow when He called. 

As with all things, however, it's just not that simple. 

If we believe that all men are called to be disciples and that discipleship means following Jesus, then we have to wonder why Jesus would send men home at all. If His end goal is that all men would follow Him, then He should never send anyone home. That doesn't make any sense. Or if we believe that discipleship means following Jesus, then we have to wonder what it means that Jesus sent His disciples out on their own, more than once, to do His work. If His end goal is that everyone would just follow Him forever, He would not send them out without Him. That doesn't make any sense. Or if discipleship means following Jesus, then what are we supposed to make of His promise that He is coming back? How can He come back if men are following Him everywhere? He could never have gone, so He cannot come back. That doesn't make any sense.

And let's be honest - following Jesus around doesn't really take care of our faith problem or our troubles. It's tempting for the blind man to want to follow Jesus in case his blindness returns or for the paraplegic to want to stay close in case his legs fail, but being close to Jesus doesn't really stop us from worrying about these things or even stop them from happening. Just look at the Gospels. Look at how often the disciples are with Jesus and experience trouble and lose their minds. At least twice, they are in their boats and there are waves on the sea, and they get scared, like something terrible is happening. Over and over again, when faced with the troubles of this world that are common to men, we see that being near Jesus is no guarantee. Stuff still happens. We still freak. It's what we do.

Clearly, there are some problems with this concept we have that we are just supposed to spend our lives following Jesus around.

That's why it's good that we've got these examples of Jesus sending men home. It gives us another way to think about things.

Because most of us, we're living life at home. Most of us have been sent to live in a place that is familiar to us, but we have to learn to live here in light of Jesus. We have to learn, as the blind men did, to live with eyes wide open. We have to learn, as the paraplegic, to stand on sturdy legs. We have to learn, as the demon-possessed, to live unafraid. We have to learn, as every man and woman that Jesus ever sent home, how to live in the place Jesus has sent us to without losing the echo of the voice of Christ that has spoken into our lives.

It's complicated. We can't pretend that it's not complicated. But it's also holy, and we shouldn't pretend that it's not holy. 

But here's the truth: in all His earthly life, in thirty-three years, in three years of earthly ministry, in hundreds of miles around the region of Galilee, Jesus only told fourrteen men to follow Him (the twelve disciples, one unnamed man, plus the rich young ruler); everyone else, He sent home. We all think we want this glamorous disciple life, this coveted calling to go where God goes, to do what God does, to hear what God says, to be near to God at all times, but the truth is that most of us are sent home. Most of us come, encounter the Christ, fall in love with Him, are healed by His wounds, are accepted by His sacrifice, are filled with His mercy and grace...and are sent home. 

And that's what we're called to do - we are called to be sent.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Life As We Know It

Yesterday, we looked at why Jesus may have sent some of the men and women that He healed home, rather than letting them travel with Him, as they often requested. And essentially, one of the reasons He may have done this is because Jesus has no intention of being our back-up plan.

Following Jesus is never something we should do "just in case."

But it's very tempting. There's something about our faith that wants to be lived forward, always taking one more step toward something - toward Jesus, toward the Cross, toward Heaven. It's a faith that is always looking for the next thing to happen, always wanting to be made new. For some reason, it's far easier for us to trust Jesus for tomorrow than it is to trust Him for today. It's easier to build our faith on what is yet to come, rather than building our faith on what has already been done. 

That's why, when you talk to most Christians, you hear them talk about what Jesus is going to do when He comes back. It's why you hear them talking about what happens next. It's why you don't hear them talking very much about what's already happened. We talk far more about Heaven than we do about the Cross, even though it is the Cross that makes Heaven possible.

So Jesus sends men home. He sends them to a place where all they've got is what He's done for them. They don't have another chance to see another miracle. They don't have an opportunity to keep Him around, waiting for the next thing. They don't have some kind of wandering journey to get lost in. All they've got is life as they've always known it...and one powerful moment with a God who has made Himself known. 

It doesn't mean that once he goes home, the blind man goes blind again. It doesn't mean the paraplegic takes his mat and lays back down on it. It doesn't mean that the woman sweeps her house to make room for the demon and his seven friends to return.

What it means is that the healed are faced with the decision to continue believing in Jesus, to make Him part of their everyday existence, to trust in His healing work, and to grow their faith...or not. They either live in the knowledge of what He's done and the wholeness of His healing...or not. They either live as men and women forever affected by Jesus...or not. 

It's the same decision the rest of us are facing every day as Christ-followers, as Christ-lovers, as Christians.

Let me ask you something: what kind of Christian would you be, what kind of faith would you have, what kind of story would you tell if the only story you could tell about Jesus was the story of what He's already done for you? What would your life of faith look like if you weren't always waiting on the next thing, but you were always thankful for the last thing? How would it change your walk if you looked at the Cross rather than the clouds?

Because here's the truth: we are the healed men and women in the Gospels. We are them. We are persons who have had a powerful encounter with Christ through the Cross, and He has sent us home to trust in Him. He's sent us to live life as we know it...in light of the God who has made Himself known. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Begging to Follow

In the Gospels, Jesus heals a lot of men and women. And just about any time that He does, the healed individual begs to be able to go with Him. More often than not, He tells them to go home instead. 

We think there must be some reason why Jesus sends them home. To our modern sensibilities, where we are all apostles and disciples of Christ, this reason must be that Jesus intends to use them to spread His Good News to the towns from which they came. You know, the way the woman at the well told all of her town and then, they came out to hear Jesus for themselves. 

But this requires a certain assumption on our part about the nature of the men and women that Jesus healed. Are we to assume they were all fervent men and women? Are we to assume they were all eager and gung-ho about the mission of Jesus after being healed by Him? Are we to assume they were all thinking more about Him than they were about themselves?

Knowing what we know of human nature, it's just not likely. What's more likely is that some of these men and women that Jesus healed wanted to follow Him not because He was great, but because their demons were powerful. 

Following Jesus was their lock-safe that whatever had afflicted them for so long would not come back. And if it did, gosh, then Jesus was right there to heal them again!

Think about it. You're a blind man, born blind, been blind your entire life. All of a sudden, you can see again. How long does it take you to trust your eyes? Does there ever come a time when you stop thinking that right around the corner, blindness lurks? Maybe you want to follow Jesus because He's the one who knows how to open your eyes if they go dark.

You're a paraplegic. It's been years since you've been able to stand on your own two feet. Jesus tells you to pick up you mat and go home, so you pick up your mat and start to walk away. But how long until your legs give out on you? Jesus makes you stronger; of course you want to be with Him. That way, if your legs start to shake, He can lift you back up. 

You're on a first-name basis with the demon that's been inhabiting your body for twenty years. All of a sudden, you find out that your demon knows the name of Jesus. Don't you want to hang around Him for awhile just in case that demon comes back? 

I'm not saying that everyone that Jesus heals in the Gospels is self-centered and only thinking about themselves. I'm not saying they had a weak faith or a selfish faith or anything like that. 

What I am saying is that it's human nature to want a back-up plan, but Jesus isn't much into being your back-up plan. Jesus wants to be your one and only. 

And that means that sometimes, the best place for you to go is not to the shores of Galilee or to the streets of Jerusalem. No. Sometimes, the best place for you to go...is home. 

Friday, October 20, 2017


This sinister whisper of the voice of evil is, I think, why God so frequently tells His people to "Remember."

Remember what I've said to you this day. Remember what I've done for you in this lifetime. Remember all the promises I've made. Remember all the commands I've given you. Remember every word I've ever said...

...because the evil one is tricky, and his whisper is death.

And it's true, right? Because it's only in the whisper, it seems, that we forget.

Walk right up to us and tell us that God isn't good, and it's almost laughable. Of course God is good, we say; He proves that to us again and again.

Walk right up to us and tell us that God doesn't love us, and we won't understand what you're saying. Of course God loves us. He proves it again and again.

Walk right up to us and tell us that God is disappointed in us, and we will instinctively recall God's grace. Maybe He is disappointed in us, but that doesn't change His grace. Of course God is gracious, even to us. He proves it again and again.

Walk right up to us and tell us that God is a liar, and we will search our hearts and minds for any tiny shred of evidence for your claim...and come up empty. Of course God is honest; God is truth. Every word He's spoken is true. He proves it again and again.

Walk right up to us and tell us something silly like this, and we'll know it's not real. We'll know it's a lie. We'll see right away what a twist it is on the truth, how it's just God's own word turned around.

But whisper it in our ear....

Whisper it in our ear, and we don't know any more. Because it doesn't feel like it's about God any more; it feels like it's about us. It feels very personal, and if we are being asked to consider ourselves, well, then, it might just be true. 

This is the way that evil works. It whispers this idea in our ear that causes us not to consider our God, but to consider ourselves, and then to hear God's voice in the echo of our own consideration. 

It's what happened to Eve. The serpent whispers in her ear, "Did God really say....?" But the real heart of the wicked message is that the serpent plays on her own sense of competence. By calling out knowledge, he forces Eve to consider what she really knows. And what she really knows is that....she doesn't know any more. If she doesn't know, then maybe she's wrong. If she's wrong, maybe she ought to be eating from this tree after all. She says quite plainly what God really said, but asked in a whisper to consider it, she considers herself. She who is without knowledge, particularly the knowledge of good and evil, might be wrong. 

And if she's wrong, well....yum. 

It's what happens to all of us. Asked in a whisper to consider God, we consider ourselves and find ourselves lacking. And then, all of a sudden, we forget. We forget what God really said or what God really meant, and we bite. We full-on bite. 

Which is why God always tells us that the most important thing we can do...is remember. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

An Evil Whisper

When we talk about the things that beset this fallen world, darkness is one of them. Evil is another one altogether. 

Most of us, for sheer convenience, try to equate this two ideas - darkness and evil. But the biblical witness reminds us that they are two vastly different things. Darkness is the place where God has not yet spoken; evil twists His words.

Let's go back to the beginning, but not all the way. Instead of Genesis 1, where darkness dwells, we find evil first in Genesis 3, where the serpent slithers in. When the serpent arrives, he doesn't have anything new to say to Eve, really. What he says, instead, is, "Did God really say...?" and then he just ever so slightly twists what God said, so that she doesn't remember if that's what God said or if He actually said what she remembers Him saying. 

It's just the slightest little introduction of almost-but-not-quite, and that's all it takes.

And that's how evil always works. It is, at its very core, not very creative. It's never exciting and new; it's always boring and old. It's always based solely on the work of good and wouldn't even be possible if there was no good to work off of. It never thinks for itself, so it never has anything interesting to say. If you met evil at a party, you'd find it rather annoying because it would be the guy playing the same old joke time after time after time and finding it hilarious all over again. 

In other words, if you actually met evil, you'd think he was pretty lame.

That's why evil never lets you see its face. That's why it works only in whispers. It lowers its voice so that you fill one in for it. When Eve heard the serpent speak, the serpent never gave her opportunity to consider his own words; he made her think about God's. Once she starts hearing God's voice in her head, she struggles to remember exactly what He said and His tone and His tenderness. She's put God's voice to evil's question, and when all is said and done, she picks the fig and eats. (Sorry - it wasn't an apple.) 

It's the way evil has always worked, and it's the way that evil still works. It happens all the time, right? We do something stupid, the same old sin that we keep falling into over and over and over again, and although we know that God is gracious and forgives those who sin, there's this little whisper that introduces the idea that maybe God thinks we're a sinner. Doesn't God think you're a horrible, ugly, stupid sinner? 

I don't know - let me check that idea out. And then, all of a sudden, in our heads, we hear the voice of God saying we are horrible, ugly, stupid sinners, and wow...I guess He really does say that. What are we supposed to do with that? Many have said, "I don't need this judgment," and they've turned away and gone to seek their own path through the world, a path where they don't have to listen to such voices. 

But God never said we are horrible, ugly, stupid sinners. God said we are His children. We grieve Him, but He loves us. We fall short, but He rises up. We sin, but He forgives. The idea that we are horrible, ugly, stupid sinners is a subtle twist on a half-sentence of God, whispered into our hearts at the worst of times, just enough of a whisper to make us forget what God truly said. It's wicked. 

It's evil. 

It's all that evil has ever done. It's all that evil can ever do. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


From the two most powerful moments of darkness in the Scriptures, then, we are able to draw two powerful conclusions: God is present in the darkness, and the darkness is waiting on God to speak. 

This is good news.

It's good news because we don't have to worry what's wrong with God when darkness falls. We don't have to wonder whether He's good or not. We don't have to question what God is up to when we can't figure out what is formless and void. All we have to do is know that God is present and trust that He will speak. 

That doesn't mean that God will speak right away. It doesn't mean that He will speak in our lifetime. It doesn't mean that there will be some thundering voice and flashes of lightning and all that. And I think that's maybe what bothers us most about it - this is what we really want from God. We want Him to speak now, to explain things now, to thunder and flash and boom and make it clear. 

But I think in the darkness, what we most often hear is not the voice of a thundering God, but that of a careful artist. 

Have you seen the way that an artist speaks to His work? 

It's all in whispers, in mumbles, in messages just for Him and His masterpiece. He's speaking almost under His breath, giving just the slightest sound to His own inner monologue. Just a little more...and then we'll....and over here, there's...yeah...just...and then....almost.....

He's adding a dab of paint over here, smoothing out a rough place over there, working a torn thread in in yet another place, His tongue just slightly crooked out of the corner of His mouth. (My great-grandmother used to say that if you don't hold your tongue right, nothing will turn out.) 

This is the kind of voice I think God speaks in when He speaks into the darkness. It's not the booming voice of all authority, but the fully-engaged voice of the artist. I can hear Him drawing together the formless and void, forming the earth in the palms of His hand. I can hear Him dusting the dirt off His hands while He labors to get Adam just right. I can hear Him blow a feather out of His mouth when He's working on the birds. And I can hear Him painstakingly trying to make sense of the darkness, trying to find a way to work it into His beautiful masterpiece. 

The idea of a whispering God should not bother us. After all, when He spoke through the Roman centurion after the death of His Son, none of us reads this as a shout. None of us envisions the guard standing, turning to face the crowd, and shouting in his best announcer voice, "Surely, this was the Son of God!" No, we hear him whisper, astonished, breathless, quiet. 

And that means that if we want to hear God speak in the darkness, we must also be quiet. We must find a way to rest, even in the troubles, and wait. We must shut out all the noise, all the clamoring, all the demands on our attention, and we must trust that God, the artist that He is, is about to say something. 

In other words, and maybe this sounds a little familiar, we must just be still...and know. 

Darkness never has the final word; it has no words at all. It is only waiting, with the rest of us, for God to speak.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Second Darkness

In the beginning, there was darkness, waiting for God to speak. This is the beginning of the framework by which we can approach darkness in our fallen world, but let's be real: this isn't the beginning for us. 

It's somewhere in the middle.

That's fair. So let's flip somewhere to the middle, then, and see what happens with darkness when the story is already unfolding. Here, we go to the ends of the gospels. 

Jesus has been crucified, and a small crowd has gathered to watch Him die. Their hopes and dreams, the investments they've made in this seeming Messiah, all the risks they've taken and sacrifices they've made are hanging there on the Cross, just on the edge of town. And it's not looking good. Jesus is about to die.

At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

Around noon darkness came over the entire land and lasted until three in the afternoon. 

In other words, in case you missed it, at one of the most crucial moments in all of history, there was darkness. And God was right there! I mean, He was right there in two forms - in the form of the Father who is always present, the same God who first spoke light into the formless and void and in the form of the Son who had been immanent in Jerusalem for thirty-some years, the Son Who John tells us was the light. God is present in (at least) two powerful forms; there is no reason why there ought to be darkness.

And then, in the darkness, God speaks. Jesus gives voice to our greatest agony.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Notice that what Jesus speaks here is a question, not a statement. He's not accusing God of having forsaken Him. He's not declaring that God truly forsook Him. He's not making a judgment about God's goodness based on the lack of closeness that He feels in this particular moment. He's asking a question.

And He's asking a question because He knows, He's known since in the beginning, that darkness is just waiting on God to speak. This question is His invitation to the Father to say something. 

The question assumes that God is present. Even when Jesus cries out in Luke's version, Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit, there's an assumption that God is present. He's right there in the darkness, just the way that He has always been. He's poised, ready to speak, waiting for the right moment. In the darkness, He's given the invitation. Speak, Father. Why?

And then, a voice. It's not a voice from Heaven, not the thundering boom we're always looking for, but it's the voice of God nonetheless, spoken through the witness of the Roman guard - Surely this...surely this was the Son of God.

Once again, truth is spoken into darkness, and it makes something of it. It's a powerful statement about who God is. Just as the light was powerful in the darkness, so life is powerful in death. And all of a sudden, we realize that darkness was, once more, the stage. It was a space waiting for God to speak. And He did.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

In the Beginning

In the beginning, the earth was formless and empty. Genesis tells us this much. But it also tells us that God was there. 

This is the beginning of a conversation on darkness.

Darkness is a hot topic in our fallen world, and how could it not be? Every day, we turn on the news, click on the browser, open the app to find that yet another unimaginable act has become not only imaginable, but real. Every day, we are confronted with darkness, though we know that we live under God's light. How are we supposed to reconcile these ideas? What are we supposed to do with this darkness?

First, and this is very important, we have to stop blaming God for allowing it. Interestingly enough, this doesn't require any theological exegesis of the concept of free will, nor does it require any justification of God's character, nor does it require that we come up with a rationale for God "using" this darkness in some meaningful way (which, we must add, doesn't actually sound meaningful to anyone who is going through the darkness at the time....so stop it). 

All it requires is that we go back to in the beginning.

We read this all the time, Genesis 1, and every time we do, there's something inside of us that says, "And now all the really cool stuff is about to happen." We look at the formless and void, and we know what's coming: God's about to speak. Notice what happens when He does:

God speaks light.

He doesn't have to speak darkness; darkness already exists. It's "formless and empty," just like the rest of everything. It's nothing. It's just space. But it's space in which God is present, just about to speak. 

And none of us read this and huff. None of us read this and put our hands on our hips. None of read this and stop our feet and demand that God explain Himself. How could He be present where there's anything that's formless and empty? How could God be present in the darkness without doing something about it? 

We don't demand this because we already know the answer - He's going to do something about it; He's about to speak.

But we look around us at a world full of darkness, and we're indignant. How could You, God? How could You promise that You're present and still let darkness exist? How could You be here and let this happen? Why didn't You stop it? 

None of us seems willing to entertain the idea that our darkness is what it has always been: formless and empty, waiting on God to speak. None of us seems willing to withhold judgment and ask, "Okay, God, what do You have to say about this?" No, we're too busy demanding, "God, what do You have to say for Yourself?" 

Because although we do not blame Him for the formless and empty, we very much want to hold Him accountable for the darkness. 

It doesn't work like that, and I don't think it's helpful to believe that it does. Imagine what would happen if we took the darkness of a fallen world and viewed it through Genesis 1 eyes. Imagine what would happen if, every time we had to adjust our eyes to the darkness, we started expecting what we expected in the beginning - that God is about to speak. Imagine what God would have to say if we were listening for it. Imagine how it would redefine our experience if we knew that darkness wasn't saying anything; it was holding its breath. 

God is about to speak.

Imagine what would happen if we let Him.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Move Your But

The difference between the Jewish thread that runs through Esther's story and the Christian cover that lays over most of ours is the difference in the emphasis that we place on God's story. A life of faith that declares God without naming Him requires this one important thing:

We've got to move our 'but.'

Today's Christianity starts with the self. Any time we are introduced the Word of God, we are told that the best way to see it is through the lens of our selves - our lives, our experiences, our truths. This has resulted in a Christianity that almost always says, "I..., but God...." I am a sinner, but God will forgive me. I am broken, but God makes me whole. I lie, but God is truth. I struggle, but God is victory. You name it, God is the response.

It flows quite naturally off our tongues. It seems only right, doesn't it? But thinking this way about God has completely gotten us off the hook of having to even try to live holy lives. Look at the structure of it - God spends His entire existence cleaning up the messes that we've made. Where is there any space at all for Him to require anything of us?

There's not. And we've convinced ourselves that this is exactly how it's supposed to be. We are "supposed" to be sinners, broken, liars, hypocrites, strugglers, etc. That's our role. We tell ourselves it's beautiful because when we are these things, God gets to be who He really is. So we go about our lives not even trying - what's there to try for? God doesn't require anything of us.

Then, we're shocked when others look at our lives and see sinners, liars, hypocrites, and strugglers. I mean, gosh, didn't they read our bumper stickers?

Esther's story could not be more different from ours in this regard. Esther's story starts with God; she (and Mordecai, depending on what section of the story you're reading) are the but.

Esther starts with the idea that God is good, and she works out from there. She starts with the idea that God provides for widows and orphans, but she has to accept her kinsman-redeemer. She does; the Scriptures tell us that Esther always did everything Mordecai told her to do.

Esther starts with the idea that God protects His people, but she knows that this requires her to speak. She's been put in this position for just such a time as this, and God requires her here to use her voice. She does; she petitions the king on behalf of her people.

Mordecai starts with the idea that God is a jealous God, but that requires him to serve God exclusively. He does; he refuses to bow down to other gods.

At every turn Esther's story starts with God and asks what that requires of her; the Jewish thread is woven well through.

But our stories start with us and ask what that requires of God; it's a cheap Christian cover. And it's why our witness, as it is, doesn't work unless we actually speak God's name - we have to explain it to others so that they'll understand. Otherwise, all they see are sinners and hypocrites.

If we want our witness to be powerful, we have to go back to the Esther method. We've got to start with God and ask what that requires of us. We've got to move our 'but's.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Christian Cover

If there is an undeniably Jewish thread that runs through Esther's story and is sufficient for showing God's presence, even in the absence of His name, then why do we have to speak God's name in our witness? Can't our lives, too, speak for themselves?

They can, but they don't.

Where there was a Jewish thread running through Esther, most of our lives, at best, have merely a Christian cover.

It's what we do best - we cover our lives with Christian-looking and Christian-sounding things, but they're just decoration. They're just for show. We've got crosses plastered all over our lives like bumper stickers. Words like "pray" and "trust" and "forgive" come out of our mouths, but they're just words. We have Bibles on our coffee tables, but they are just coasters under our coffee mugs. We're living lives decorated in Christian decor, but this is dramatically different than living Christian lives.

You can tell, too, because there's this little part of most of us that is quietly hoping that no one looks too closer. Hoping, but not praying, because if we were actually praying, we wouldn't have to worry so much about it. There's part of us that doesn't want to be asked the questions, that doesn't want to face the trials, that doesn't want our life to be uncovered for what it really is - a charade. A Christian charade.

And look, I get it. A lot of this has to do with the way that the church has done her teaching for so long. The church has pounded into our heads and our hearts that no matter how much we try, we're never going to get it right. No matter what we do, we're still sinners. No matter how faithful we are, we're still hypocrites. The church has tried to teach us to humble ourselves by driving us into the ground until we're stuck. We're just stuck. 

It's not real humility, and it's not real faith. It's not a real Christianity, and that's why our lives don't speak for themselves.

What most of us are doing, all while declaring our own sinfulness, is just trying to live "good" lives. We're just trying to live lives that at least look Christian enough to hide our own failures. But you know what? That's what everyone's doing. Everyone is trying to live a "good" life to hide their own failures. That doesn't make us Christian; it makes us human.

What makes us Christians is God's love. What makes us Christians is God's grace. What makes us Christians is God's mercy, forgiveness, redemption. But when you look at most of our lives, we aren't living loved. We aren't living graced. We aren't living mercied, forgiven, or redeemed. 

We're living defeated, with psalms tattooed on our forearms and crosses dangling around our necks.

This is not a Christian witness; it's a cover. And it's not enough. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Jewish Thread

Although the book of Esther, unique among all the books of the Bible, never mentions the name of God, the story is a distinctly Jewish one. It leaves no doubt in the minds of its readers that Esther was a devout Jew, nor does it leave room to wonder if Esther believed in God. 

Let's just look at some of the elements that make up the Jewish thread that runs through this story.

First, we are told that Esther was raised by her uncle, Mordecai, and that she always did everything Mordecai told her to do. It seems natural to us that a relative might be a great person to leave our children to in the event of our untimely death, but this idea was woven deeply into the Jewish covenant. It was the idea of the kinsman-redeemer - if a man died, his closest relative inherited the responsibility of maintaining his family line. This is usually seen when a man leaves behind a wife with no children, but it is also true where a man leaves behind children with no parents (widows and orphans...sound familiar?).

This is also why, by the way, we see Mordecai and Esther take individual paths in this book. Mordecai does not depend upon Esther to create for him a position in the kingdom because whatever Esther accomplishes is for her father's name, not her uncle's. Thus, Mordecai makes his own position in the kingdom. And Esther does not depend upon the king's favor toward Mordecai to give her any hearing before him; she has to make her own way. If you've ever read this book and wondered why they are whispering in secret at the window rather than depending on each other to get further in their exploits, this is why. 

We also see that Esther, upon recognizing that there is something she must do for the sake of her people, enters a three-day fast and asks the Jews of the kingdom to join her. Fasting was a distinctly Jewish exercise, and it would have been extremely common for Jews to fast on an occasion such as this.

Not only that, but we see here an element of "the people." The Jews were a community, and when Esther hears that her community is in trouble, she calls upon her community to stand with her as she prepares to stand for them. The Jews do essentially nothing at all on their own; the entire locus of their identity is communal. So if Esther is a faithful Jew, we should expect this from her. And, indeed, she does not let us down.

Mordecai is also a Jew, which we see first in his willingness to act as kinsman-redeemer in the first place. But then, we get a glimpse into Mordecai's life of faith when we see that he refuses to bow down to, honor, or pray to the statue that the pagans have set up in the courtyard. Any other faith of the time was polytheist, which meant that the other faiths accepted a multitude of gods simultaneously; only the Jewish faith was monotheistic, asserting there was only one God. And it was clear in the Jewish faith that one should not ever even entertain the idea that bowing down, honoring, or praying to any other idea was not to be tolerated. It's clear that Mordecai is a Jew.

A kinsman-redeemer who refuses to bow down to idols and a queen who finds her identity in the collective of her people, with whom she fasts - yes, this story has a Jewish thread running right through it. These elements are at the heart of the Jewish faith, and they are in the hearts of the main characters. 

That's why Esther's story doesn't require a mention of God by name; He is woven full through in even the finest detail. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

An Ineffective Witness

As we talk about the witness of Esther, whose story never once mentions God by name, and the witness many Christians today are trying to live, without any overt mention of God by name, there are some fundamental differences. But before we look at what worked so well for Esther, we have to be honest about what's not working for us. 

And let's be clear - our "silent" witness isn't working.

I'm not even talking about hypocrisy here. I'm not talking about how often we get caught doing things that are less than what Jesus would have us do or even the times when we get caught doing the things that Jesus would never have us do. I'm not talking about our inconsistencies or our sinfulness. I'm talking only about our honest, earnest effort to live "good" lives that proclaim Christ without speaking Him. 

It just doesn't work.

Growing up outside of the church (and firmly outside of it), I didn't know who around me was a Christian and who wasn't. I knew some folks who had Bibles on their coffee tables and crosses on their necks, but it never occurred to me that there was anything fundamentally different about them. They just had different artifacts in their houses than I did; none of these things ever pointed me to God.

I knew some folks who were always busy on Sunday mornings, neighborhood kids who couldn't play kickball on Sunday mornings. Doors I would knock on that wouldn't be answered. But again, I never figured there was anything much different about these folks. They were just busy on Sundays. It never pointed me to God. 

I have known good folks all my life. I have known folks who didn't smoke, chew, or kiss girls who do. I have known some who didn't dance, more than a few who didn't curse, and a good measure who would give you the shirt off their backs. But I didn't know they were really any different from me; I didn't know there was a God behind all of this.

I knew some folks who sang Amazing Grace, but never spoke of it, and I just thought they had some weird taste in music. I knew some who lived with blessed assurance, but I wasn't quite sure what they were assured of. They often seemed just as uncertain as I was. None of this ever got me any closer to knowing God. 

Maybe you're reading this, and you're one of those who thinks, "Well, isn't that the point?" There's been a real push in modern Christianity to "prove" that we Christians are just like everyone else. We all put our pants on one leg at a time, right? That's what we want the world to know about us - that we're not fundamentally different than they are. 


Except that when we live this way, with our silent kind of witness, we're neglecting also tell the world that there is a God who is dramatically different than all they've ever known. We hope, kind of, that they'll catch on without our mentioning it, but I'm telling you - from the other side, from the unbeliever's side, from the unchurched side - they won't. How could they? If we spend our whole lives trying to convince others that we're not that different from them, how are they ever supposed to recognize that we have a God who is? 

When I got older and finally came to know this God, through a very small number who dared to speak about Him, by the way, I was shocked at how many persons I had known growing up who were Christians without ever saying it. I was astonished at the number of persons who had passed through my life without telling me about God, just sort of hoping that I might "get it." I never would have on my own. I say that with 100% certainty - even though I was surrounded by good, Christian persons, I never would have figured out that there was a God behind all of it if none of them had ever dared introduce the idea. 

And what's more - when I started to see how many good, Christian persons were around me, I started to think that maybe all of the good persons around me were Christians. I started to view everyone through this lens and thought maybe they were all quietly leading this sort of life, and I wrapped them into my understanding of Christianity. It was not until several years later that I discovered that not all of them were Christians. Some were actually Buddhists. Some were New Age followers. Some were just regular, run-of-the-mill good people. But here I was, thinking that they were all teaching me about the same God. 

All because the ones who really knew Him wouldn't dare speak Him. 

Our silent witness just doesn't work. This world is not going to figure out anything about our God if we don't speak His name in our story. They're not going to be able to distinguish what's Christian from what's worldly or even from what's just good. They're not going to know that Jesus loves them or that the Cross matters or that God is preparing a place for them. They're not going to figure it out. 

We have to tell them. We have to make it clear. We have to live lives that do more than silently witness; we have to live lives that boldly speak. 

Like Esther's.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thoroughly Modern Esther

Esther is one of the most interesting stories in all of the Bible. And what makes the story of Esther so interesting is what makes it so unique: Alone among the 66 books of God's Word, Esther...makes no mention of God at all. 

That comes as a shock to most, who are generally familiar with the story and know it to be about living a life of faith in a difficult time. It comes as a shock to those who know that this book tells the story of how Purim, a yearly Jewish festival, came about. How can this story of such faith and this foundation of a beautiful Jewish holiday not mention God at all? How did the story of Esther become so great when it is so quiet about God Himself?

Yet, it's kind of what most of us are hoping for our own lives. 

We're living in a world where we're surrounded by Esthers; we may even be one ourselves. We've come to this place where we're pretty sure that our faith doesn't have to be loud, that we don't even have to bother to mention God at all. If we just live basically good lives and do basically good things, and sometimes, perhaps, even largely meaningful things, then this is all that God requires of us. 

We don't have to become preachers, we say. We don't have to be throwing God's name around. We don't have to let others know that this is where we find our strength, value, meaning, etc. It's not important that we make a billboard of it or even make clear that the story we're telling is a Christian story. Anyone who is paying attention should just "get it." They should "just know." 

Perhaps in the introduction to our lives, we tell them we're Christians - just one little sentence, just so that they know. Or maybe at another point, we say a Christian word or two. It doesn't have to be in context, and we don't have to really live it out, but maybe we talk about going to church once. Or maybe we say that we "prayed" about it. Yeah, that's probably enough. That should make sure that people "get it." 

It's contextual, you know? We know that Esther is a story about God because, well, it's in the Bible. You can't get much clearer than that. It wouldn't be in the Bible if it weren't trying to tell us something about God. 

I've got a Bible on my coffee table. You can't get much clearer than that. I tote around my coffee in a mug with a church logo on it. That's pretty clear. There's a cross dangling from my keychain. Do I have to spell it out for you? 

Let me be clear: although it never mentions the name of God, Esther's story is undeniably a story of faith. 

Ours, not so much. 

There is a fundamental difference between the way that Esther's story is told and the way that we so often try to tell our own: at every point, the devout faithfulness of Esther's life is woven in, even to the smallest detail. Just as we can look at the grand narrative of Esther's story and determine that it's probably Jewish, we can begin with the minute depths of her story and know that it is. 

Most of us can't say that about our Christian witness. We're hoping that others are looking at the grand narrative. We're hoping that the hints we're dropping here and there are enough. We're hoping that they never try to dig into the depths of our story and find something Christian about it...because we know that they probably wouldn't. 

We're going to look at Esther's story - and ours - this week and see where they are different. Because there's tremendous value, I think, in what Esther has done. And the problem is not that we can't live Esther stories; the problem is that we aren't.

Friday, October 6, 2017

How to Be a Friend

There's plenty in contemporary Christianity to remind us that at the core of it all is a friendship - Jesus is a friend of sinners, and He calls us friends of God. This is a beautiful image, but it kind of makes friendship seem really difficult. As a friend of sinners, Jesus fought the forces that be and healed infirmity in the fallen. As friends of God, the disciples gave up everything they had and traveled around with Jesus, eventually putting their own lives on the line. If we're not careful, we can get the idea that friendship is all crusading and sacrifice. And maybe, sometimes, it is. 

But most of us just want to be friends, not heroes or martyrs. Most of us just want the kind of close, intimate fraternity that lets us do life together without always calling us to the front lines. We want a quiet kind of friendship. Isn't there any place for that?

There is, and it comes from one of the most beautiful stories of friendship in all of Scripture - Exodus 17. 

It probably seems weird to be going all the way back to the wilderness for a story of what friendship really looks like, but we're kind of in the wilderness again, aren't we? We're somewhere between Egypt and Canaan, between a land of slavery and the Promised Land. We're somewhere between wherever we came from and a place called Home. So there's no better place to look for an example of how to live than the wilderness.

So here we are in the wilderness, and Israel is engaged in battle. (Sorry - no matter where you go in the Scriptures, you can't get far away from a fight. This fallen world is all about fighting.) Moses is leading his people against the enemy, and after gathering the troops under the command of the brilliant Joshua, Moses goes to the mountain, where he can see everything. He takes with him Aaron, his brother, and Hur. 

As long as Moses keeps his arms raised over the battle, Israel wins; when he puts his arms down, they lose. But battles aren't easy, nor are they quick, and at some point, Moses starts to get tired. His arms are sore. His whole body is burning from maintaining this posture of victory. Aaron and Hur see Moses's arms starting to shake, so they quickly get a rock and put it under him, where he can sit down, and then each man takes one of Moses's arms and holds it up for him, dividing the burden that Moses carries now between the three of them. 

There are two keys to this tremendous act of friendship. First, we have to recognize that all three men are standing on the same holy ground. They all see plainly what God is doing, even though only Moses, at the beginning, has assumed responsibility in it. They're all watching the battle between Israel and the enemy army. They all recognize that when Moses raises his arms, Israel wins. They are all tuned in to the presence and the action of God in this moment. And they believe in what's happening. 

Second, the two men who do not have responsibility here (yet) look at the one who does and see something very human about him: he's tired. They have compassion on him. They tend to his needs. They take care of his aching. They do what they can, human to human, to ease the burden that he carries in this holy fight. They have one eye on their brother and one eye on the fight, one eye looking at holy things and one eye looking at human things. And they come alongside Moses and make it happen.

These are the keys to any good friendship. First, we have to get the perspective that our friend has on God things. Everyone you meet is part of a holy fight. We're all called to do the holy things that God has given us to do, and He's given them to us to do because they are meaningful for a bigger battle. The first thing we have to do is recognize, from our brother's vantage point, what God is doing. What is God doing that our brother has a part in? What is his present holy undertaking? We need holy eyes. 

And then we need human eyes because it doesn't matter if our brother is Moses or Bob; he's a human being. He's got human needs. He's got human frailty. He's got human weakness. We have to be willing to look at our brother, to see what he's engaged in, and to recognize where his humanity is struggling. Moses was tired. Is our brother tired? It's not enough to say, "Yo, man, you look tired." Get a rock. Invite him to sit down. Hold him up. Step in and share part of the burden. Have a bit of compassion and do something very human from the very human place inside of you that knows what it is to struggle. 

That's how to be a friend. It takes both of these - holy eyes to see what God is up to and human eyes to see how to help. We can't lose sight of either.

You know....now that I think about it, this actually sounds pretty familiar. You could probably sum it up pretty easily in just a couple of short phrases. Maybe something like, Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Yeah, that would probably work. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Unfair Advantage

At this point, having looked at all three things that God requires of us according to the prophet Micah, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute." 

Wait a minute because this seems totally unfair. It seems like I'm responsible for absorbing all of the broken things in the world. It seems like I'm being asked to give up what I've got, what I've worked hard for, what I deserve, in order to make up for the empty spaces of a fallen and sinful creation. 


Look, I'd love to tell you that it's enough for us to just do these things for ourselves. I'd like to say that it's doing enough justice if we just don't do anything unjust, if we just treat everyone fairly and don't add to the imbalance in the world. I'd like to say that it's okay to love mercy for yourself and just let it be wherever else it happens to be, that we don't have to celebrate it where we find it. I'd like to say that it's good enough to just be walking with God, that we don't have to be so humble that we give up all our status just to be His. I'd like to say these things, but I can't. They're just not true.

Good ideas like this only work if everyone is doing them. If everyone was doing justice in their own lives, then we wouldn't have to make up for the places where injustice still dwells. If everyone was loving mercy and celebrating second chances, then we wouldn't have to be the ones making them happen all the time. If everyone was walking humbly with God, unconcerned with status, then we wouldn't have to step down; we could just step forward. But we have to be honest about this - when was the last time everyone did anything? 


But here's the thing: we can do it because it's not something we have to worry about. We don't have to worry about injustice because we know what happens next. We've seen injustice played out on the biggest stage the world has ever seen, and you know what? Darkness fell, the earth shook, the curtain tore, the dead breathed, and the tomb was empty. I don't mind taking injustice upon myself, absorbing the blows of unjust world to do a good thing in it, because I know what happens to injustice. I don't have to worry about it. 

We don't have to worry about revenge because restitution has already been made. We don't have to feel slighted by setting someone free from their past mistakes because we've been set free. We don't have to agonize over whether to give someone a second chance because...what chance are we on again? It's too easy to say they don't deserve it; we don't deserve it. But we know what redemption is. I don't mind loving mercy and extending it to everyone, no matter what they've done, because I've seen redemption work. And I know what happens when it doesn't. I don't have to worry about it.

We don't have to worry about giving up status in this world and humbling ourselves because we know who we really are. God has taken every opportunity to tell us. Again and again in the Scriptures, He reminds us that we are His people and He is our God. But then, we get to the end of the Bible and He says it just a little different - we are His children, and He is our God. I don't mind stepping down and putting myself in my proper place, admitting to and owning all that I am and am not, freely abandoning whatever status this world wants to bestow on me because I know exactly who I am. I don't have to worry about it.

Maybe it does seem unfair that in doing what God requires, we seem to absorb more than our fair share of this world's brokenness. Maybe it does seem that if we really do what God desires, we have to give up a lot of things we're sure we deserve. But it just doesn't seem that way to me. 

Because I know what happens next, and I don't have to worry about it. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Walk Humbly

The last of the three things that Micah says God requires of us is to walk humbly with Him. 

To understand what it means to walk humbly with God, we first have to understand what is actually meant by humility. We are not talking about being quiet or well-behaved, the way that children are instructed to always keep a hand on the shopping cart, not touch anything, and not make a lot of noise. Humility is not a behavior; it is an attitude. It is an orientation of the heart.

Humility is knowing, and not forgetting, who we are and who God is. It is remembering that we are creatures and He, the Creator. It is living in such a way that we demonstrate, with every step, who is leading this journey that we are on, who blazed the trail, who called us to walk it in the first place.

A man once said, "The difference between us and God is that God never thinks He's us." This is the essence of humility - that we stop thinking we're God and recognize that God actually is.

This is a hard one for us. It means constantly pulling back and checking our assumptions. It means constantly pausing to ask for guidance. It means holding back from running off down that rabbit trail, no matter how good the meat looks, because God has not asked us to chase rabbits.

He's asked us to walk humbly.

It means that we pray honest prayers, truly seeking God's will and not just confirmation of our own. It means that when God speaks, we don't pout over it or stomp our feet in protest. It means when God starts to walk in one direction and invites us to come with Him, we go, even if two seconds ago, that wasn't the way that we were going. It means that we trust that He's leading somewhere and that, whether we get there or not, it's worth the journey.

It means that we depend on Him to provide where He has called us. Rather than relying on our own wisdom, we rely on His; we don't even need a travel bag. It means that when He says to do something, we do it, even if it's foolish in the eyes of the world. It means that every time we think we've finally got a grasp on our own lives, we understand that our lives are subject to change, and we look up to catch His eye and to see what He's thinking. 

It means that we ask questions, as many as we'd like, as long as we do so while our feet are moving. Humility isn't blind; it's curious. It isn't stagnant; it's relational. Humility is the idea that we keep coming back to Him again and again and again to put our live back into proper perspective. He's the one who knows; we're the ones who're curious. So we ask. We can't demand an answer, but we can ask for one. 

Walking humbly with God just means continuing to move as God has called us to move without letting our britches get too big. (When they get too big, they tend to fall off, and contrary to what some young men would have us believe, this is not exactly a fashion statement.) It means recognizing that every step we take is on a path marked by God for us. Even if we have to clear a bit of the brush away, this is not a trail we're blazing; it is a trail God is blazing through us. For we are but men, not gods. 

Humility reminds us of that. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Love Mercy

The second thing that God requires from us, after we do justice, is to love mercy. And where we seem to have a starting point for doing justice, since we're at least talking about it all the time, we're in a bit of a pickle when it comes to loving mercy. 

Because, quite frankly, we don't.

Oh, most of us love mercy when we're the recipients of it. In those times when we don't get what we deserve, when we hold our breath waiting for the other shoe to drop and it never does, when we rehearse our defenses a thousand times in our heads before we realize we don't need them - then, we kind of love mercy. Except, not really. 

We only really love ourselves.

To love mercy means we love mercy wherever it is found, particularly in others. It means that we love it when the criminal gets early parole. It means that we love it when the sinner gets a second chance. It means that we love it when the marriage is saved. Even when it seems foolish to us, even when it seems unfair, even when it seems unfathomable, loving mercy means we truly love mercy and celebrate it wherever we see it.

This is hard. Most of us don't want to do it. Some of us staunchly refuse. Why? Because it introduces shades of grey where it's so much easier for us to see black and white.

Mercy introduces humanity back into the picture. It forces us to see more than we are initially willing to see. It broadens out the picture for us.

Consider the man on death row who gets a last-minute pardon. It's mercy. He's not getting what he deserves. (Remember, as we've looked at in other places, that mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting what we don't deserve.) But then, some diligent reporter tracks down the criminal's mother, and she is weeping tears of joy. At least...at least, she says...she can still come to visit her son. All of a sudden, that 'bad guy' is someone's son. He's someone's father. He's the former honor student, captain of the football team, foster child, juvenile delinquent, whomever. All of a sudden, he's got a story, not just a headline.

Consider someone famous like, say, Michael Vick. Since his arrest, almost all of the talk about Michael Vick has been about Vick, the dog fighter. It's been about his headlines. Now, he's been given a sports-based talk show, and some are up in arms about this. He ought to be blackballed forever! they say. He never ought to have a second chance. Marked for life! But it's quite possible, mercy says, that there's more to Michael Vick than a criminal conviction. Mercy isn't willing to mark him. 

Consider the man everyone is talking about right now - the one who allegedly shot hundreds of individuals in Las Vegas just a couple of nights ago. He, too, is dead. And although there will be significant public pressures, those who loved him will still show up at his funeral. How could they? we ask, indignantly. He ought to be wiped off the face of the earth, forgotten! But it's not that easy. Mercy says we still go to his funeral because he's more than a mass murderer; he is a brother, a son, a friend, a former business partner, a community presence, etc. Mercy says we don't just write him off. 

At every turn, mercy shows us more of a man than we've truly been willing to see. It makes us expand our vision. It requires us to tune into shades of grey. 

We love it when it happens to us, right? We love it when mercy steps in and reveals that we are more than our biggest (or most recent) mistake. We love it when mercy says that we're more than mere sinners. We love it when mercy shows that it's not so easy to think you know so much about us. 

The key, though, to truly loving mercy is to love it when it does the same things for someone else. 

That's what God requires. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Do What is Just

Justice is a hot topic in our contemporary world; it seems every time the news comes on, we're talking about it again. But that's precisely the problem, at least when it comes to what God requires of us: we're only talking.

Micah says that God requires us to do justice.

Doing justice doesn't mean that we sit around and talk about injustice. Doing justice doesn't mean that we raise our voices and declare that what we need is some justice. Doing justice doesn't mean that we sign a petition, hold a sign, attend a rally, or take a knee. Doing justice means that we actually do what it takes to balance the scales. (And, of course, that we don't do the things that unbalance them in the first place.)

And that's important, too. We have to understand that justice is a balancing of the scales, not a gut reaction that tips them in the other direction. 

Sometimes, we think that justice is atonement. That we have to use justice to make up for the wrongs that were done, either in this time and place or in another. But that's not justice. Justice only takes into account this moment. Sometimes, we think that justice is retribution. We use justice to punish someone who did something wrong. But that's not justice, either. 

Justice is simply putting the story back into balance. It's finding the place where the interests of every party are in equilibrium. Justice is that place where we can say, "Every man ended up with what was right for him, no more and no less." 

That means that when we see injustice, we step in and do what we can to set the scales right, even if we only have access to one side of the scale.

For example, say you were sitting in a busy restaurant and the family at the table next to yours leaves. You notice that they leave a cash tip, say, $20, sitting on their table. Before the waiter has a chance to bus the table, another customer walks by on his way out of the restaurant and casually swipes the $20. True justice, of course, would say that the man must give back the $20. But you can't realistically make that happen. What you can do is give the waiter an extra $20 and balance the scale. 

Or say that you see a person with a handicapped tag patiently waiting on a parking spot, only to have a non-handicapped individual careen into the spot in front of them once it becomes empty. You can't make the car move and give the space to the one who rightfully deserves it, but you can work with the handicapped person to safeguard another spot so that no one can rush into it before she has a chance. Or, if you are parked close, you can pull your car out and give her your spot. This helps to balance the scale. 

In an ideal world, justice is done between the two parties that are out of balance with each other, but realistically, it's more often that justice is done between one man and "the world." And what this often means for the believer is that in doing justice, we absorb injustice. We're out the extra $20. We're left walking from the back of the parking lot. We're the ones who take on the force of injustice so that someone else can experience justice. 

Why? Because we already have justice. We've already been put back in balance with "the world." It's no contest. And whatever injustice we encounter here, we know what to do with it - we take it to the One who has already given us justice. So in this special way that God has given us, we put more out into the world without feeling shorted. 

Sure, we could just talk about it. We could just shout about it. We could tell the restaurant manager that his waiter was just gypped out of a $20 tip. We could follow the parking space stealer into the store and give him a piece of our mind. But that doesn't do justice. It's only talk. Doing justice requires actually, well, doing something. And no matter what this world wants you to believe, talking isn't doing

So when Micah says that God requires that we do what is just, that's just what it means - we go about doing justice. Not demanding justice. Not facilitating justice. Not even ensuring justice. Not necessarily holding two parties accountable. Just balancing the scales the best that we can because we understand that justice can't wait for rhetoric to change minds. Justice can't wait for law to step in. Justice can't wait until it's more convenient or until it even seems possible. It's possible right now. 

All we have to do is do it.