Friday, September 28, 2018

Nothing Doing

For the past few days, we have looked at some of the non-doing gifts of the Spirit, trying to illuminate just what it is that makes these gifts so valuable and why we desperately need them in our world focused on works.

None of this is to at all diminish the doing gifts, but those are fairly straightforward. When someone among us reveals a gift for teaching, we know where to start in using them to glorify the Lord. We put them in the classroom or in front of the small group or in the pulpit. When someone reveals a gift of encouragement, we've got a good starting point here, too. We put them at the bedside, in the alleys, in the darkness. When someone reveals the gift of service or giving, we know that we can come to them with needs. 

But should we sit those with non-doing gifts in our pews and tell them, simply, "Okay, now you just sit here and perceive (mercy and wisdom) for us." Or worse, "Your role in the church is to show up and believe (faith)!" It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't make good use of the gifts that God has given to these persons, gifts that are for His glory and for our edification - all of us, not just the one with the gift. 

So what I hope you've been able to see over the past few days is how the gifts of the non-doers are blessings to us all, how we can all grow deeper in our Christian walk by tapping into them. Because in a world that judges us by what we do and with a faith that becomes increasingly more about Sunday services and programs and whatever else we have to offer (whatever else we're doing as a church), what we all need is the constant presence of those whose gifts aren't tied up in activity. 

We need reminders that we are all human beings, before we are ever human doings

The question remains, to some degree, "how are these gifts best expressed?" How do we best use those persons in our community who have the non-doing gifts, especially when it seems there is so much to do? How do we tap into what they have that we desperately need and put being back on the radar? 

Actually, we harness and express these gifts the same way we ought to be harnessing and expressing all of the spiritual gifts: we start by asking the gifted what they see. What is in their line of sight as needing the touch that they can bring? What do they envision as the best way to reap the value of their gift? 

It's a question we're not asking enough in our churches. We find someone with the gift of teaching, and we plug them into a class structure we're already operating under. We find someone with the gift of giving, and we connect them with a budget line already in place. We find someone with the gift of encouragement, and we push them into our visitation ministry. But what if their gift has given them a vision for something we haven't even thought of yet? 

The truth is that persons of non-doing gifts are actually doing a great deal in our churches. And they are doing so because they have the freedom of determining what they do. We haven't boxed them in to our own understanding of their gift. Often times, they are leading our worship. They are offering our devotionals. They are staffing our welcome center. They are, more than we know, the face and the presence of our Sunday service, even beyond all the doers we've recruited. And they're doing an excellent job of it. 

Sometimes, I wonder what our churches would be like if we gave the same authority to persons of all gifts to determine where they best see themselves serving in our community. What if we let the holy imaginations of the gifted run wild? What if we equipped them to do what God has called them to do through their gift? 

What if we could encourage our doers to be in the same way that we encourage those who be to do?

Perhaps this is the greatest gift of all from all of the non-doing gifts. They remind us what is possible, if only we could just do it. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Perhaps one of the most confusing of the non-doing spiritual gifts is the gift of faith. After all, aren't we all supposed to have faith? Isn't that what we're here for in the first place? Isn't that why we've come?

Yes and, quickly, no. 

Yes, we are a people of faith and it is incumbent upon all of us to have some, but in the world in which we live, it is easy for us to turn our faith quickly into works. It is easy for us to turn our faith quickly into exercise. It is easy for us to take our belief and turn it into mathematics - a little of this plus a little of that with just a touch extra of this equals faith. And it doesn't take long before w come to faith asking the most basic questions - what shall I believe and to what extent and on what grounds?

In other words, tell me about God in the most academic way possible. Make Him a proposition that I cannot deny. Do the math for me in the places that it adds up so that I can know how faith is measured, how faith works. 

It's why Pascal's famous wager continues to be one of the most-cited reasons for faith in the church today. The wager goes something like this: if you're wrong about God and it's all just a sham, you will die and never know because there will be eternal nothingness, but if you're right, then the greatest reward is yours. In other words, tell me what to believe because there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is the kind of God that most of us have come to. 

The gift of faith reminds us that the Christian life is meant to be so much more. 

It does this first by reminding us how intimate and personal faith is, how authentic it can be. We lose that authenticity when faith is nothing more than a lesson in a classroom. While most of us are focused on what to believe, the spiritual gift of faith reminds us how to believe. It's the kind of faith that puts its whole life in the hands of God, trusts in the darkest times, holds onto hope. It's a faith that is not swayed by the ways of this world, a candle that flickers and moves in the darkness. 

The gift of faith takes a token of the what that has become so central to the Christian practice, plants it in the human heart, and grows it into a mighty tree under which entire communities take shelter. And I'm not talking about the kind of blind faith of the unexamined that sometimes passes for something greater in our time; I am talking about real, authentic, good times and bad times, honest about this broken world, hopeful for the next, actual abundant life faith, the kind that Jesus Himself modeled for us. It's mustard seed what gone wild.

And that is the second way that the spiritual gift of faith reminds us of what the Christian life is meant to be. It's a wild kind of faith. It's an adventurous kind of faith. It's the kind of faith that straps on its sandals and follows Jesus through the dust and the dirt and the grime of this world, trusting and hoping and believing in places most of us wouldn't dare touch because we just don't know. But faith knows. And it's not about to let us forget. It reminds us at every turn why we believe - because there's a world out there that needs His love.

It's weird to talk about the faithful and then to say that faith is a special gift of the Spirit, but it is. And it's one that we desperately need. Because in our safe, comfortable, academic churches where we can learn all the what in the world, it is real, living, authentic faith that tells us how and why. Maybe it's true that Pascal's wager is enough for most of us. We're content knowing that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But if we're truly seeking everything to gain, if we're looking for the abundant life that Jesus promised, if we want to know how to live and why it matters, it's the spiritual gift of faith that reminds us again and again and again through its confident assurance and reckless abandon. 

Truly, truly an incredible gift. For all of us. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Wisdom is one of those words that we find difficult to define. We want to equate it sort of with knowledge, but we know that knowledge doesn't go far enough in capturing the essence of wisdom. It's about more than just knowing a lot of things or even knowing good and holy things. And it's another one of the non-doing gifts of the Spirit. 

So what is wisdom?

When we talk about wisdom, what we're really talking about is knowledge + perspective. Not the kind of perspective that comes from viewing the world in a certain way, but rather, the kind of perspective that is able to discern how the world is being viewed from multiple angles in any given situation. Wisdom sees with more than one set of eyes and is able to step back and show how these different perceptions play into a single point. 

There was a time when wisdom would have been immediately recognized and praised when it was seen. Take Solomon's wisdom, for example. It was known worldwide, and for good reason. Solomon truly saw how the world was being engaged from a number of angles and perspectives and hearts, and he was able to sort the truth out of the midst of them. 

This is a gift that is sorely still needed in the world today, and wisdom plays out in two realms. The first is in the private realm, where wisdom is able to have an intimate conversation and to speak directly to the wounded heart of a human being. It is able to uncover powers at play that a person often cannot easily see for himself or herself, and it is able to speak truth where it does the most good - at the depths of the very soul. The kind of knowledge + perspective that wisdom brings to the intimate encounter is powerfully healing. 

Wisdom also plays out in the public realm, and here, it is both much needed and often despised. It is often dismissed by a world busy playing politics, a world that doesn't have time to understand what's really going on and that despises being exposed for its exploits. Wisdom in the public realm is able to step back, to cut through all the rhetoric, to discern true motivations for words and actions and to speak them with sharp truth. It's not always what the world wants, particularly when you're the side being spoken, but it is desperately what the world needs. 

Because there's so much going on in our world, so much we are told but expected not to understand, expected not to question. This world wants us to just go along with whatever dominant narrative it gives us, to jump on board the latest bandwagon, to travel in packs along the road without wondering where we're going or how we even got here. We are told what to think about everything, told what we're supposed to believe. 

Wisdom exposes all of that. It goes deeper than what we are told and tells us why. Why does it matter if we believe X? Who has what to gain from it? What would happen if we didn't? What if we let this bandwagon pass us by? What are our other options? Can we get from Point A to Point B some other way? 

Wisdom, in her ability to see more than what is presented, in her eyes for all the eyes of the world, comes into the dark places in which we live with just a crack of light peeking under a distant door...and throws open the blinds on all the windows until we're flooded with light and can truly see for the first time what's around us. 

It exposes not only the truth, but the heart.

And in a world waging war on both, it is a desperately-needed gift of the Spirit.

Again, it's not a doing gift, but it's a being gift. It teaches us to see, reminds us to open our eyes, gives us new sight for the world the way we were meant to be seeing it all along. It's vital to all that we're doing here. It's vital to our human faith. It's vital to our human being. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


When we talk about the non-doing gifts of the Spirit, there is perhaps no better place to start than with the gift of mercy, for we are living in a world in desperate need of this. 

Our culture tells us that it is our place to judge. In fact, we're supposed to have an opinion about everything...and everyone. We're supposed to take whatever information we happen to have (we cannot say "facts" because in many cases, it's simply information and not fact, as it has not been shown to be necessarily truthful) and pass condemnation without a second thought. Jump on the judgment wagon, my friends. 

And if you're not sure what's to be condemned or not and on what basis, don't worry - the media will tell you. All you have to do is be willing to see in very limited perspective based only on what you're told is worthy to consider.

The gift of mercy always considers something greater. Because the gift of mercy is a-political and deeply human.

Mercy sees every man and woman as created in the image of God. First and foremost, that's it. Mercy steps back and causes us to pause, declaring that there is more to a person than the information that w are given about him or her. It reminds us that no one is merely his or her worst day, biggest mistake, loudest outcry.

Mercy reminds us that justice is far more than judgment, that it demands more than simply guilt or innocence. It reminds us not only what justice is but what justice can and cannot do. Most importantly, it reminds us that justice is about restoring a man, not destroying him, for the goal of all good graces and of love is wholeness and fellowship and atonement, and these things require the eyes of mercy.

Mercy never forgets its own standing as a person in need of the very same grace. Mercy sees sawdust where the rest of the world sees logs; it sees specks where our eyes are drawn to beams. It stands in the crowd, hearing the shouts of condemnation, but heeds the words of Christ - let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

That is perhaps the secret whisper of mercy above all else. It sees the world the way that it does, it knows the need, because it knows its own need. 

And I'm telling you - we need the gift of mercy in our world right now.

We need it desperately. We need those persons who can pull us back from the circus, who give us a broader view to see more and to think more and to love more in a world that is so quick to narrow things - and people - down for us, to tell us what matters and what doesn't and why and when and how to think about it and what judgment to make and to make that judgment now with mere information when what we need...what we need is perspective. 

A perspective that starts with in the beginning, when all in the world was right in the eyes of God and man was made in His image, with all the dignity and grace and wonder that that entails. A perspective that holds onto that above all costs and refuses to lose what is holy for the sake of anything else. 

A perspective that consistently says, look and see. Behold! Not a sinner. No, not a sinner. But a human being. 

A living, breathing, loving, longing, winning, losing, broken, redeemed human being who stands before you in need not of judgment, but of mercy. 

Truly, this is a gift.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Human Being

We are living in a culture that places a high premium on what we do. Whether it's our professional occupation, the social issues that we become involved in, the choices that we make as parents (and the activities we put our kids into because, hey, they are what they do, too), the world seems to have one question: what do you do? 

And the church has taken on this perspective to some degree, asking her members what it is that they do. Trying to plug new members into doing things in the church. Making sure that everyone is doing something, in addition to sitting in the pews. Some churches even greet new members with spiritual gifts inventories so that they know right where to plug someone in. 

Ah, the spiritual gifts inventory. 

If you've been a Christian for any amount of time (as referenced above, even one day in some congregations), you've encountered the spiritual gifts inventory. This is a high-stakes, high-pressure questionnaire given to Christians to determine what role they are best suited to serve in the Kingdom, and the results include a number of doing words - evangelizing, preaching, teaching, serving, administering, giving, etc. 

But the spiritual gifts inventory also boasts a number of non-doing words as results. These are words like mercy, wisdom, faith. And if you're among the Christians who uncover these things as your spiritual gifts, it probably doesn't take long before you start to think something like, "That's nice. But what am I supposed to do with this?" 

Then, rather quickly, "Give me the test again. I can change a few of my answers and get a doing word this time. I know I can!" 

I speak from experience here because the last time I took one of these inventories (for seminary), you had to get down to something like my fifth or sixth strongest result before you go to a doing word. I remember the incredible disappointment that I felt, the complete sense of lostness. Here, I had been trying to find my niche in the Kingdom, had been honest about who I was and what I believed, and all I wanted was to know where I fit in. What am I supposed to be doing for God? 

And this test, this inventory, this tool used all over the world by the church and by earnest seekers couldn't even tell me. 

Or did it?

We put such a high premium on being doers that I couldn't fathom what it meant that none of my gifts lie in doing. I searched earnestly, prayed hard, to figure out what I was supposed to do with my non-doing gifts, where I was supposed to direct my energies, what positions I was supposed to apply for and with what organizations. These things have practical implications, too, you know. 

In all that, I missed out on what these gifts truly revealed and what we're missing in the church when we continue to try to funnel them into activities. See, we spend so much of our time as human doings that we forget that we are, first and foremost, human beings. And these non-doing gifts? 

They are gifts of being. 

And they are gifts that we desperately need in the church. 

It's taken me several years to truly understand what my non-doing gifts have to offer to the church. They are not a free pass to just show up on Sundays and sit in the pews; that's not it at all. Far from it. And because I know that there are countless others out there earnestly looking for what they are supposed to be doing, only to find out that they are not gifted as human doings, I want to take a few days to talk about the value of non-doing gifts. 

Because we're all human beings first, in the image of God our Creator. No matter what we do. And these gifts help to remind us of that in some of the most beautiful ways. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Where Jesus Has Gone

The modern Christian faith does not witness Jesus as much as the early Christian faith; we simply do not see Him in our world the way that the early believers did. There are two common misconceptions that modern Christianity holds onto that keep us from doing so.

The first misconception is that Jesus doesn't live here any more. God is no longer present.

We assume, and we are taught, that Jesus came, died, rose, left, and will be coming back again, but that we are now living in a time of the absence of Jesus. This is His "left" period, somewhere between resurrection and return. And it's quite easy then to say that if Jesus doesn't live here any more, we needn't spend our time looking for Him. He cannot be found. 

So we've stopped looking. We might, occasionally, look to the clouds to see if today is the day that He is coming back, but in terms of finding Him in our streets or on our seas or in our storms? Not a chance. It's kind of our dirty little secret. We talk about Jesus like He's near, but don't ask us what He's doing because He's not really here. Not as in, like, here

No wonder we're witnesses to our own human faith. We're not even looking for our Lord.

The second misconception is even more dangerous, if such a thing could even be believed at this point. What could be more dangerous than not even believing the Lord is present? Simple - we have a Christian faith that tells us that we are Him.

How often do you hear things like this coming from the church? You are supposed to be Jesus to this world. You are supposed to be His presence. You are His hands and feet. When the world is looking for Jesus, they are supposed to find Him in you. 

From here, it's just a short step to reach the point where we become witnesses to the human faith, to what we're doing, because, after all, what we're doing is what Jesus would do. We are Him. We love like Him. We talk like Him. We serve like Him. We judge like Him. We worship like Him. 

Want to see Jesus? Look at us. That's all you need to know. 

No wonder the world isn't impressed with Him. 

How could they be? Our love is nothing like His love. We aren't willing to die for one another; most of us won't even be temporarily inconvenienced for one another. Our grace is nothing like His grace. We aren't willing to eat with sinners; most of us are too busy judging them. Our speech is nothing like His speech. We won't speak the truth in love; most of us won't even whisper it, for fear of offending someone. 

And so, our witness is doubly dim, for not only are we no longer witnessing to His presence in the world (because He's not here and we don't have to), but we come nowhere close to living as witnesses by measure of our own faith. 

To that, I offer this: we must do something radical with our Christian faith if we are to recapture our Christian witness. We must learn to believe again. We must open our eyes to see the Lord that is truly present among us and be humble enough in spirit to admit that we aren't Him. Maybe it's true that we're living in the already-but-not-yet, but God Himself is still with us. 

May we be a people who see that with our own eyes and witness it to our world. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Eyes Wide Shut

There is one very good reason why our modern witness is missing the accounts of the work and wonders of Jesus, so prevalent in the Gospel accounts. It is not "very good" in that it is a legitimate reason or in that we should be proud of ourselves for having obtained it; it is "very good" only in the sense that it thoroughly and undeniably accounts for the trouble at hand. That reason is this:

Most of us don't know what Jesus is doing any more.

The disciples, those men responsible for the content of the Gospels, devoted their lives to Jesus. They followed Him around. They weren't about to miss anything that He was doing. When there was wind that Jesus was doing such-and-such a thing at some place, the disciples were there. They saw it with their own eyes. 

Even the people in Jesus's day wanted to be where the action was. How many of the Gospel stories include the phrase, "_____ heard that Jesus was passing by," as justification for someone being there at all? When the people heard that Jesus was near, they went out to see Him. When they heard of His wonders, they ran out to see with their own eyes. When they heard the crowds, they joined them. 

This is no longer the case. Most of us don't go running into the streets. We don't go running halfway around the world or even across town. We hear rumors, of course, but we're not there to see them, nor do we think that we need to be. 

We catch glimpses of God as He passes us by, rather than pursuing Him with all we've got, and that severely limits what we know of Him. In fact, with a faith that waits for God to show Himself, what we're often left with is blinks and blurs, mere movements of motion that sweep through in moments, leaving us to say, "Wait. Was that Him?" 

Most of what we give credit to Jesus for, which is very little, is kind of a guess on our part. Or at best, a hope. 

We hope that was Him. 

But we kind of missed it. 

We just assume that if something happens in our lives that is consistent with what we believe God desires or how we believe God loves, then it must have been God who did it. We give Him credit, but we can't really say for sure what it's like to see Him in action. We simply weren't watching. We simply weren't looking. We simply weren't pursuing Him the way that the disciples did; our eyes are not open to the work and the wonder of Jesus any more. 

No wonder He's missing from our witness.

There are, of course, a few reasons for this. There are some things that our faith has gotten wrong that have set us up for s new blindness, that have taken away our vision to see Jesus in the world - have taken away our heart to see Him. More on that, tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Human Faith

We are a generation of the church whose witness to the faith includes quite frequently a couple of words that we never see in the witness of the Gospels - "I" and "we." More often than not, when we talk about what it means to be a Christian, we are talking about what it means to be in our church, what it means to practice as we practice, what it means to do what we do.

There's a tremendous danger in such a witness, and it's one that we're seeing play out before our very eyes every day. It's simply this:

When our witness is to a human faith, it becomes just one of many options for the living of a human life. In a world that says what works for you may not work for me, when we talk about our faith as the sum of our practice or the attendance of our worship or the scope of our programs, we're presenting a very subjective experience of it that does not depend on anything more than our participation in it. And it is then extremely easy for the world to look right back at us and say, "Sure. That works for you."

But for the world? It's "just one option."

And what happens is that this world can look at us, can hear our testimony, can embrace our witness and reject our faith...without rejecting our Christ. How could they reject Him? They don't even know Him.

What they're rejecting is our churches. What they're rejecting is our programs. What they're rejecting is our discipline. Everything that we put before them as measures of our faith and how we practice it, they're not interested in. It just seems like a testimony of how we, as Christians, spend our day.

They aren't rejecting our Jesus; He's conspicuously absent from our witness. They aren't rejecting His sacrifice; they don't even know what the Cross means. They aren't rejecting His grace; they don't know the first thing about it. They aren't rejecting His promise; we haven't extended it to them. They aren't rejecting our Jesus because we haven't told them about Him.

We've only told them about us. About Christians.

Not about our Christ.

That's what's so remarkable about the Gospel witnesses. Not once are they about the adventures and exploits of the disciples themselves. Not once does one of these guys sneak in an "I" or a "we;" even when they travel from one place to another, it's always, "Then Jesus got on a boat...", "Then Jesus crossed over the sea...", "Then Jesus went to the city...". Not "we." He. Always, always He.

And this was the difference. For the early Christians, for the early church, for the early faith, this was all the difference. They were still working out what it meant to practice "the Way." They were still developing the new sacred rhythms of the new faith. But what they had to build it all on was the real Lord, the Jesus who walked among them, and the men who dared to tell them what He was all about. Ask one of the disciples about being a Christian, and he will tell you plainly about his Christ. Love Him or hate Him, you cannot walk away from a true testimony about Jesus thinking that's kind of "nice" or that it "works for you but not for me."

Faced with the wonders and the wisdom and the witness of Him, indifference is no longer a choice.

This is the kind of witness we need to recapture in our churches. This is the kind of witness we need in our faith. Sadly, that seems right now to be easier said than done, for there is one glaring reason why it's not the kind of witness that we have. Stay tuned for that, tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Can I Get a Witness?

There are a couple of words conspicuously missing from the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life. Those words are "I" and "we." 

Each of the accounts is written either by a disciple himself or by someone to whom the disciple was telling his experiences, and yet, not once do any of the disciples shift their focus from "He" to "we." Not once. Not even when Peter, for example, tells his story to Mark does Mark record a single "we," as though Peter might recount his own presence with the Teacher in retelling the tale. 

It's remarkable, really. You would think that at some point, these guys who had spent three years of their lives traveling and touring with Jesus would at some point slip a "we" in there or would be tempted at one point or another to talk about their own role in the story or their own experience of it with an "I." But they don't. 

They are, through and through, witnesses to the work and wonder of Jesus, and when they tell His story, it's all about Him.

As it should be.

This is one reason, I think, that our witness today is far less powerful than it was in the early church, than the Gospel accounts of a history long-passed. It's because when we talk about Jesus? we talk most often about a "we" and also very frequently about an "I." We have come to own our faith in such a way that when we talk about it? it's about us. As though us believing is the most important part of the story.

And it's not just about our individual faith. We also use "I" and "we" and "us" when we're talking about our churches in the context of our faith. We're living witnesses to the work of our church - we have a program for that, we started a small group for that, we believe that, we make a priority of that. 

Thus, we have come to a point in our faith history where when others are dying of thirst for Living Water and aching to hear the truth about anything, we're offering them something far less - witnesses to ourselves. 

Here's how we do it. And brother, let me tell you - it makes all the difference.

We're not witnesses to Jesus any more. We're not talking about what He's done. We're not talking about what He's doing. We're not talking about what He means or how the people are responding to Him or the truth about who He is. We're not telling stories about the work and wonder of our Lord, not talking about His love for sinners or His command of truth or even His Cross. 

We're talking about how we read our Bibles every morning, how we worship on Sundays, how we fellowship on Tuesdays, how we volunteer on Saturdays, how we wear the T-shirts and sport the bumper stickers and pour coffee in our foyers with fellow attenders. We're talking about how we pray when times are hard without a single mention of the God who hears us and responds to those prayers. We're talking about how we sing hymns from the depths of our hearts without ever talking about how our hearts know the words. We're talking about amazing grace as those who have received it and leaving out entirely the One who gives it. 

We have become witnesses to a human faith, not a holy presence. 

How boring. 

There is, in our witness, a great danger, and we are seeing it play out before our very eyes. And there is one simple, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing reason why this has become our "best" witness today. We'll talk about both in the days to come. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Accuser

Sometimes, it's important to pause and to reflect upon the world that we live in, particularly when a political story starts to overtake a human one and real souls are being lost in the process. Such is the case today as I take a short sidestep away from theology to comment on the culture of sexual accusation. I hope that you will read anyway, for what I am about to say is of critical importance.


We are living in a culture where a mere accusation can ruin a life. We see it every day in our headlines - yet another woman has come forward accusing yet another man of yet another indecent act in some place and some fashion at some time, and it's over. Whatever good the man has done, whatever kind of person he has grown to be, whatever opportunity he has before him, all wiped away by the mere word - the yet-unproven, yet-untried, yet-unsubstantiated word - of a woman. 

But for all the flashy headlines, for all the public outcry, for all the social movements and hashtags and championing that's going on, this story is not the truth. This is not the reality of sexual assault. 

Oh, it's true that a mere accusation can ruin a life. 

It's just that that life is the life of the accuser.

The reality of sexual assault and sexual abuse in our world is heart-aching and gut-wrenching. It is commonly said that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience sexual assault/abuse at some point in their lives. It is a wound that takes place in the deepest intimacy and cuts to the depth of the soul and spirit. And it is also true that overwhelmingly, sexual assault (contrary to what the headlines might have you believe) most often occurs between two persons that know each other and that know each other well.

This means that for most persons that come forward, the fallout is immediate, but not always favorable. Every accusation comes cutting through a social network, through a family system, through a group of persons who have also been central to a person's story, and those who speak of the atrocious things that have happened to them often lose more than their forced silence; they often lose family and friends.

Because everyone has to make a choice. Believe the accuser or stand by the accused? The media doesn't give us that choice. Public opinion doesn't even pretend it's an option. Who would ever stand by the accused? How blind/foolish/stupid do you have to be to take the side of the accused? 

But in families all over this country, it's happening every day. And so a woman who dares to speak cuts herself free from the chains of assault and abuse, but she loses much, much more in the process.

Families, both extended and nuclear, that you've spent your entire life making memories and traditions with no longer speak to you. They want nothing at all to do with you. Twenty, thirty, forty years of Christmases and Thanksgivings and this year? This year, you're alone. Because you're not welcome there. Birthday cards no longer come in the mail. There's no family at your wedding, and they only come to the funeral to dance on your grave. 

There are dirty looks and dirty words, names called and names revoked. There are places you can't go in the world any more, not because they remind you of something terrible, but because they were shared places and there's no longer room for you there. There are whispers and rumors, and it doesn't take long before you realize that you're the one that's been labeled, not the abuser. Not the assaulter. Oh, no. He's the golden one, you little whore. You little liar. You little *****. 

All this cuts to the very core of who you are, in the very same moment that you're not who you were any more. And you spend the rest of your life apologizing for them, apologizing for the ones who couldn't handle the truth that you spoke because you never wanted to lose them. It wasn't about them. You never wanted to offend them. You want the world to know it's not their fault, that they were in a tough position. 

And in a lot of cases, apologizing for them means apologizing for him. And you spend so much of your time defending them that you lose yourself all over again.

But then, this world wants to know what's wrong with you. Your own family doesn't talk to you? Like...a lot of them? Then you must really be a liar. You must really be a whore. You must really be a *****. Because if what you said was true, then your family - the core persons in your life and your story - would stand by you. If even those closest to you won't take a stand, why should anyone else? 

It doesn't occur to the world that in an abuse that takes place in closed rooms and close quarters, your family is often their family, too. And it's far easier to say that one of "us" is crazy than to say that one of us is corrupt. It's far easier to shake our heads and to say that ah, yes, we miss her, but she was causing a bit of trouble for us than to say that we missed it and we didn't stop him when we could have. In some strange way, for some strange reason, when accusations come out in families and in close-knit communities, it's like, collectively, those on the hearing end realize in a blink that they failed the victim and decide with gusto that they will not fail the accused. Because who wants to be the family that fails itself twice?

So it's cool, I guess, that there's a politic right now that believes that a single accusation can ruin a life. Because that much is absolutely, 100% true.

It's just that in the real world - away from politics, away from headlines, away from social media and hashtags and championing and shouting - the life that is ruined is the life of the accuser, the victim. Now a victim all over again. 

Let's stop pretending it's any other way.

** Disclaimer: I have used "he" and "she" in very stereotypical ways in this reflection. Please hear this: men are victims of sexual abuse/sexual assault, as well, and women can be perpetrators. Statistically, this occurs less often than male-to-female sexual abuse/assault, which is why I have chosen the words that I have. In a piece attempting to make an impact and not merely a point, to have used the more precise language of "him and her" at every juncture would have created a distraction. Men, I hear you. I know you have lost much in just the same way. I know your wounds are real. I'm sorry.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Love God, Love Neighbor

As the author continues to spiral down into bad theology filled with contradictions, he comes to perhaps his most dangerous point altogether, for this is the one that makes God obsolete: he claims that in a New Testament faith that is about you (even though it's actually about the assembly), your primary responsibility is no longer to please God; it is to love your neighbor. In short, the true Christian faith, he says, spends more time looking around than it spends looking up. 

In fact, he goes so far as to say that any man who has ever attempted to please God has done so out of purely selfish motives, seeking to get whatever he can out of it and to ensure his own salvation and that attempting to please God and pursue holiness can only ever make us "intolerant and judgmental" persons. 

That's why, he says, Jesus took the emphasis on loving God and shifted it to include just as much, if not moreso, loving your neighbor. Because it's here that the real rubber meets the road. 

Let's be clear about some things here. 

First, our inability to perfectly love God does not mean the pursuit of loving God itself is flawed. Our consistent failure doesn't make it not worth doing. The fact that some of us can become intolerant and judgmental or that some may want only what's in it for themselves does not mean it is not what God desires of us. To say that it's not that important because we'll never get it right is ludicrous. And dangerous.

Second, not everyone is like the author. That is, although he confesses that he's done these things for his own good and glory and that he became intolerant and judgmental, we should not assume that everyone does the same. In fact, I know plenty of God-loving, God-fearing Christians with an orientation toward pleasing God that do it for His good and glory, that are interested only in sharing the kind of love that God espouses. It can be done with a pure heart, and that's how God intends it to be. So the fact that this author, by his own admission, fails at that doesn't mean that everyone is like he is and fails, too. He's not alone, but neither is he the standard-bearer.

Finally, and here's what makes this idea so dangerous, an eye that looks around to neighbor will never find a reason to look up to God. There are plenty of humanists and atheists and Buddhists and Muslims and all kinds of persons who love their neighbor, but this never makes them seek God. It can't. If you spend all your time looking around, someone would have to point up to make you look, but if we're all spending our time looking around, who would have any reason to point up? 

He proposes that we should love our neighbor because that's what God desires of us as Christians, but herein lies yet another contradiction that is inescapable in bad theology - we cannot love our neighbor in a Christian way without first loving our God. It is God who calls us to look around. So as much as he says that our orientation ought to be to one another, we can't do that unless our orientation is first to God. Otherwise, we are simply good persons, not Christian persons. We can love one another all day, but if we do not do it out of a heart that loves God, it's not pleasing to Him. 

We have to look up first

So at this point, I'm hoping that you can see how quickly bad theology spirals down into dark abysses and dangerous places, how it's fraught with contradictions and eventually, always, comes to a place where we no longer even need God to be good persons who call ourselves Christians, though we be nothing of the sort. 

And it all started with one simple assertion - that we don't need a grounding for our faith. That we, as Christians, don't need the Old Testament that tells us what Jesus is all about; we just need Jesus. We don't have to know God's story; we just have to know we're part of it. This theology doesn't work. It will fail us every time. 

One more note on all of this, and this is important: the way that the author sets up his argument in this book reeks of a postmodern "language as a weapon" mentality. As you read, you get the distinct impression that if you disagree with him, if you don't see things the way that he does, then you're an idiot. You're the one that's wrong. You're the one that just doesn't get it because you're stuck in an old theology that is contaminated. So he leaves you no room to disagree with him and call yourself an honest Christian, which is how bad theology catches so quickly. 

It's why we must be Christians who read our Bibles. We must be Christians who pray. We must be Christians who study the voices of historic Christianity and know the story of our faith, Old and New. We must be Christians who know where we are to stand on the truth and the promises and the presence of God. 

Lest we fall for anything. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018


If you found another contradiction in yesterday's post, you're not alone. The author of the book in question says that today's Christians should not waste their time with the Old Testament because as individuals, we aren't in it. There is no "you" in the Old Testament, only a "ya'll," as God is working through a specific people, not an individual person.

But in the New Testament, God's radically new thing is to have an emphasis on the assembly, the church. So you can totally find yourself in there, and you should.

The contradiction is one thing, and while it's worth noting and discussing, we kind of did that with yesterday's post. What's perhaps more disturbing about this is the suggestion that the Christian faith is all about you.

(Interestingly, the author will also go on to say that we're a selfish people using our Christian faith to get what we want for ourselves, not for the glory of God, and that this, too, is disastrous. But how can the Christian faith be about us individually, which makes the New Testament the only one worth reading, if it is disastrous for it to be about us, because we are only trying to get out of it what's in it for us? Again, the contradictions are unavoidable when you get into bad theology.)

A lot of this comes from the notion that we've latched onto in the church that "if it was just you, if you were the only one, if only your life was going to be changed and saved by it, Jesus would still have gone to the Cross" and "Jesus died for you, just you, because He loves you."

It's not necessarily that this sentiment is "wrong," so much as it is limited. It's important to note that the same thing is true in the Old Testament, where God also loves individuals individually and chooses them and builds His plan around them - Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, for examples. God's intimate, personal, individual love for them cannot be denied.

However, it's just as important to note that God's plan, His overarching plan, has never been the redemption of the individual; it's been the recreation of the world. God wants to restore all things. He always has. That's what His Kingdom is all about. So to say that the entire Scriptures exists for the sake of your individual faith is to cut 99.999999999% off of what God Himself says He's up to. To say that the point of the Scriptures is to find your faith in them is to miss the plan of God entirely. To say that God orchestrated the world, all the world, everything He's done to this point in history for the sake of your personal, individual salvation is extremely self-centered and short-sighted.

Sorry, Christian...but it's not about you.

It's about God.

It's about what God desires to do in this world that He created. Remember that He created us for His glory, that we have not created Him for ours. He's been working since in the beginning to bring all of creation into forever and ever. Amen, not just an individual here or there and not, we must say, just human beings. He wants to restore all things. That's the plan.

Yes, you're a part of that, but it doesn't begin and end with you. You're not the end game; the end game is still ya'll. It's still everyone. God is using a new assembly - the church - the same way He used the old assembly - Israel: to prepare the world for His Kingdom, to prepare the world for His coming, to prepare the world for His glory. To get us all to that glorious day.

Not just to get there ourselves.

So don't worry about whether or not "you" are in the Scriptures; you're there. You're part of it all. But just a part. Read the Scriptures looking for God. For in the end, it is His plan that's unfolding, His heart that's beating, His hands that are at work. It's His glory, not yours.

Don't ever confuse the two. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

An Assembly

When you get into espousing bad theology, contradictions are commonplace. Many persons will read right by the contradictions, having latched onto the argument you're trying to make, but they're there nonetheless. That's because truth is a powerful thing, and no matter how hard you try, you just can't get around it. 

In the issue at hand, one of the major contradictions that arises in the argument presented by the author of this particular book is that the church is entirely a new thing, being an assembly of the people, whereas the Old Testament itself is about a people, not individuals. 

Yes, at this point, you should be confused. Let me walk you through how this plays out. 

The author claims that it's an entirely new thing that God would focus on the assembly of the people in the New Testament (the most accurate translation of the Greek word we often translate "church"). Prior to this, he says, the emphasis was on the Temple, where sacrifice and ritual were happening and where the presence of God dwelt. It's cataclysmic in terms of what God is doing that God took the emphasis off of the Temple and put it onto the people. 

At the same time, he continues to build an argument against even needing the Old Testament at all by declaring that the Old Testament had nothing to do with individual faith, that it was all about the people of God, collectively, as a group. It was about Israel, a whole nation called out to worship Him. So if you're looking for something meaningful in your faith, you won't find it in the Old Testament because all of that was for a group of people, a community. 

Whereas, of course, the emphasis in the New Testament is the assembly, the 

Are you catching the difficulty of such an argument? How can it possibly be both?

The inescapable truth is that it can't, and it isn't. God's focus on the assembly in the New Testament is not fundamentally different than His emphasis on community in the Old. It's not something "radically new." In fact, even the assembly of the people as a community was a central feature of the Old Testament. 

The people came together often. They came together for festivals and for sacrifice, for remembrances and for atonement. They came together at appointed times and sometimes, just by sheer freewill. In fact, when God built the Tabernacle in the wilderness, He designed it with an outer courtyard for just this purpose - for the people to assemble. When Solomon built the Temple, he built into it a front porch - as any good southerner knows, the place where people assemble. Yes, there were priests and rituals and animals being sacrificed, but there was sacred space for the assembly, too.

And the bulk of Old Testament law, the overwhelming majority of it, has more to do with how to live with one another - as a community - than how to live before God - as a worshiper. The laws set Israel further apart as a group, as a nation, as a people of God. 

So there's always been an assembly, and God has always been into it. It's always been the way He wanted to do it. And even the guy that's trying to argue that it's something radically new can't get away from the fact, even in his own arguing, that it's actually beautifully old. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Something Old, Something New

A well-known author in a new book has proposed a dangerous theology in which the Old Testament, by the author's own words, is not as authoritative as the New and is essentially unnecessary for our lives as Christians, for we learn everything we need to know from the Gospels and from the apostles and early church. The OT might be occasionally fun to read and perhaps mildly informative, but it's not entirely necessary and so, if we ever want to recapture the essence of our Christian faith, it starts with ditching the story of Israel. 

Aside from being directly contradictory to what Jesus Himself says about the Old Testament and the old covenant, this dangerous theology strips Jesus and Christianity of all of its meaning. The truth is that without the OT, we cannot possibly begin to understand what Jesus was all about, and we make Him nothing more than a crazy man. 

For example, the author argues that we no longer sacrifice animals. We're not required to. Therefore, all of that Temple worship stuff is completely unnecessary to our Christian faith. We don't need to know about lambs and rams and goats because they are not part of the faith story that we're telling. 

On the surface, that's true. I've never seen a single worshiper walk into the church with a live animal offering to God. (We had someone bring a skunk once, but not to sacrifice.) But it should not escape anyone's sight that Jesus Himself has become our offering, and if we do not understand what it meant to bring a lamb to God for the fellowship and the atonement of sins and the easing of guilt and the cleansing of impurity, then we cannot begin to fathom what it means when the Lamb says He sacrificed Himself for us. Without the Old Testament framework, He's simply gone crazy. What is a sacrifice? Why would He die for us? That doesn't make any sense. Unless you have Temple worship. Unless you know what the sacrifice means.

Or take what Peter tells us in his testimony. He calls us a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession" (1 Peter 2:9). There are only two ways to understand these descriptions - either they are rooted deeply in the OT and the developing story of God since in the beginning or they are terms that Peter has appropriated from the culture-at-large to make a point about the role that he sees Christians playing in their world. If he's appropriating something, he's essentially copying it, and he's modeling the Christian faith off of the world. 

But if these terms come from the story that God's been telling all along, then they become something deeply holy and sacred. And, in fact, that's what they are. We know what "a chosen people" means because we have the testimony, in the OT, of God choosing a people - through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, over and over and over again. We know what a "priesthood" is because we have the instructions for and examples of the office of the priest. We understand the royalty of it because of Israel's kings and her hope for a coming, promised King. We know what a "holy" nation is because God's law was centered on making His people holy unto Him. We have in our hands the story of God's "special possession," and this means that when Peter tells us that's who we are, we can know what that means. 

As long as we have the Old Testament to tell us. 

Or here's one - Jesus says that what's important to Him is that the people would come to know not Him, but the Father who sent Him. The Old Testament is the story of the Father; it's a revelation of God the Father. In fact, a couple of points must be made here. First, we understand Jesus the Son only because of what we know of God the Father. If we didn't know God, we wouldn't be able to recognize what is holy in Jesus or to comprehend the connection between the two of them. Jesus might be a good guy, a smart guy, a wise teacher, but He'd also be a lunatic. Without the revelation of God, we have no framework for Jesus at all.

It also must be said that Jesus wants us to know the Father, but the Father is not revealed in the New Testament. None of the authors spend any time talking about Him. Jesus speaks of the Father frequently, but always as if the Father is already knowable and, perhaps, known. How could the Father already be knowable if we don't have or need a testimony about Him? He can't. We need the Old Testament to do exactly what Jesus wants us to do, to know the Father who sent Him. 

Again and again, our Christian faith depends upon the witness of the Old Testament. Without it, there is simply no way to make sense of who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to live, what any of this means. To say that because Jesus came, we no longer need it, is a dangerous, ridiculous theology that sets us all about following a crazy man instead of continuing to live out the deeply rooted and developing story of God in our world. And it's just plain wrong. 

So is the Old Testament as authoritative as the New? You bet it is. Because it's still the story we're living, just a different chapter of it. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Dangerous Theology

Recently, I have been reading a new book by a well-known pastor in which the author attempts to recover and reclaim the powerful testimony of Christ in order to make Christianity something worth checking out again, the way it was in the days of Jesus and just after. On its surface, it's clearly a noble pursuit. 

But this pastor makes some dangerous assertions and what he ends up doing in trying to reclaim the power of Jesus is to weaken it.

Because here's his basic point: he claims that the reason that Jesus was so worth following way back when was because He was doing an entirely new thing. And if Jesus was doing an entirely new thing, then the "old" thing that God was doing - namely, all of the Old Testament - is essentially irrelevant to everything that we want to do or ought to do as Christians. 

We're wasting our time, he says, with the Old Testament. In fact, he goes so far as to say that one of the worst things we're doing to our faith is giving ourselves and our loved ones Bibles that have two testaments in them at all, especially when we "pretend" that the Old Testament is just as inspired and relevant as the New. What we ought to be teaching our children is that it's the New Testament that matters and that the Old maybe sometimes can be used for reference, but it shouldn't be taken seriously because that's just something God was doing until He could get Jesus here and now that Jesus is here, it's not relevant any more. 

At this point, I have firmly split you into two camps. Some of you are saying to yourselves, what? Is this guy serious? Is he legitimately a Christian pastor? You can't just throw out the Old Testament! It seems blasphemous, even if you can't articulate exactly why it's such a problem. Others of you are saying to yourself, yes! It's about time! We need to de-clutter Christianity and get down to the basics of it, which, let's be honest, don't start until you get to Matthew. We need to spend more time in the Gospels and less time in the Tabernacle. 

After all, it's by the testimony of the disciples that persons came to believe in Christ in the first place. So that's all we need - the testimonies of the disciples and then a few of those things that come afterward that show us how to do it. 

Yes...and no. 

But we'll get to that. What's important at this point is to recognize that this second perspective, the perspective that says that we don't need the Old Testament because Jesus has done a radically new thing and we "just" need Jesus not only misses the heart of the story of God, but it directly contradicts what Jesus Himself said. 

Jesus said plainly that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament. That He did not come to make the law a moot point. That He did not come to undo thousands of years of Jewish history. He says He came to fulfill these things. He says He came to build on them. He says He came to carry the Jewish flame into a new fire, one that centers on the Cross. 

And if Jesus Himself says that we can't throw out the Old because He's turning it into something New, then it doesn't really matter what this pastor says or what sounds nice or what's convenient to a modern Christianity that continues to try to shake off the weight of true discipleship, we must embrace the Old Testament with the same fervor and passion as the New. To preach anything else is a dangerous theology. 

And plain wrong.

We're going to look at this this week. We're going to look at why we need the Old Testament when everything about Jesus is neatly tied up in the New. We're going to look at why we can't throw out the Temple because of the Cross. And we're going to look at what we lose if we do, which is something extremely vital to our faith. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Glory of God

As Christians, we talk fairly regularly about the glory of God. We praise it, and we pray for it. We honor it, and we seek it. We say it, but what does it even mean? What is glory? And what is the glory of God?

We think that glory maybe means something kind of like pure goodness or worthiness of honor. Something that indicates that God is eternally "better" than us, that indicates that His ways are higher than ours. We think that glory means something maybe like God's victory. Maybe something like His good and perfect love. Maybe all of these things wrapped into one thing that we don't have more words for, other than "glory" itself. It's just...glory.

You know...glory. God's glory.

But we're not on our own here. Ezekiel gives us one of the most beautiful images of God's glory in all of Scripture, and he does it near the very beginning of his prophecy. Ezekiel 1:28 says this:

As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. 

In other words, when Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord in the best physical representation of it that God had to show him, what he saw was a vague form of something holy surrounded by a rainbow that was its glory. A rainbow.

To understand the rainbow, we have to turn back to Genesis and the story of Noah. Here is where the rainbow makes its first appearance, when God spreads it across the sky as His promise to Noah and to all of His people that He will never again flood the earth. 

Now, draw all this together, and what we have is something truly incredible...

The glory of God is His promise.

It's His promise. It's the fullness of who He is from the depth of His heart and His character and the fullness of the covenant that He made with His people and the pure goodness that is His love for us. That's His glory. That's what we're praising. That's what we're praying for. That's what we honor. It's what we seek.

And if you continue to read through the Old Testament, you'll see it come as a recurring theme. Over and over and over again, God says - and His people pray - that He will deal with them on account of His own name and not on account of their sin. He will do for them and to them and through them what honors His nature, His character, His heart, and His love and not what they deserve by their foolishness and sin. He will work in His people for the sake of His glory - His promise. 

His promise takes the best of who He is and takes it out of the context of what we could ever fathom about Him. We can't understand why He would make such a promise to us or how He could keep it in the face of our unfaithfulness. It's something entirely other than we are familiar with and yet, it is intimately known to us. Glory is the same way - it's so much "other" but somehow near, and that's precisely why we have such a difficult time describing exactly what it is. 

Thankfully, Ezekiel has given us the language for it. Not just words, but beautiful words wrapped in breathtaking revelation. God's glory? It's His promise. In full, living color. 

Every color of the rainbow. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Consuming Fire

Yesterday, we looked at a number of ways that our holy fires might burn in an attempt to take the emphasis off having a fire that burns like a retreat or seminar fire, the kind of passionate, raging holy fire that consumes us after those mountaintop faith experiences. Because there is a truth about your holy fire, no matter how it burns, and that truth is this:

That's the fire that brings your offerings to God.

That's it. That's the one. Whether your fire is raging in your spirit or kindled just enough to keep warm, that is the fire by which you bring your offerings to God. 

One of the jobs of the priests in the Old Testament was to keep a fire burning in the Temple at all times. It didn't have to be a big fire, didn't have to be a bull-consuming fire; it just had to be something, even a little flame, so that if one of the faithful people of God arrived at any hour of the day with an offering for the Lord - for sin, for thankfulness, for atonement, for freewill, for whatever - the priest, the Temple, and the Lord were ready to receive it. 

Because when a heart is turned toward God, there's no time to build a new fire. You've got to have, and to use, the eternal holy flame that never goes out. 

That's why our smallest fires on our hardest days are just as good, just as valuable, just as vital, and just as pleasing to God as our biggest blazes on our best days. That's why it's okay if right now, your fire is just a little flame. That's why it's okay if your fire is doing something besides raging - if it's a place of social connection, if it's a cooking flame, if it's a creating flame, if it's a kindling flame. It doesn't matter what fire you're burning as long as you're burning one because the fire of God never goes out. And every fire is capable of being a consuming fire when you bring your offering by it to the Lord. 

Paradoxically, as our God so loves, it must be said, the bringing of an offering by fire changes the fire, as well. What may not look like a very good consuming fire becomes one when there's an offering on it. The smallest fires swell and burn hotter and brighter as they consume the offering; the raging fires rage higher around the sacrifice.

Even if it's just temporary, even if it's just momentary, even if it's just in a flash, bringing an offering by your fire stokes it, just for a second, into something bigger and reminds you what it means to have a fire burning before the Lord. 

It means the Lord is near, just as it always has. Ready to receive. Ready to welcome. Ready to atone, to heal, to meet you in the smoke. 

So whatever your fire is doing right now, it's okay. It is. As long as it's burning before the Lord, it's good. 

For at any moment, then, you can come with your offering - for sin, for thankfulness, for atonement, for freewill, for whatever - and let your fire consume it in the eternal flame.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Holy Fire

At some point in your Christian walk, it's likely that you've been to a retreat or a program or read a book or heard a sermon or worshiped to a new song or been called to a new mission or something that really stoked your holy fire. Something that really set you ablaze all over again with the passion and the presence of God. 

Most of us judge our faith by these moments, by our ability to have these moments and by our ability to sustain them. This is the kind of raging holy fire that we want, and we think that this is the best that God has to offer, the best of what faith is meant to be. 

I'm not so sure. 

When you think about it, that's not really what fires do. Purposeful fires don't just rage all the time. They aren't roaring all the time, not most of them. Certainly, there's a place for the raging holy fire, the kind of fire that catches in its flames anything close enough to conduct heat. It's a fire that burns with passion and purpose, and yes, it often reveals to us the best of who we are called to be in Christ. It's a fire that burns with calling, setting us aflame for missions or Kingdom or counseling or preaching or outreach or prayer or whatever. 

But most of our fires aren't raging, and that shouldn't really bother us, as long as there's still a spark of a flame kept alive. 

Some fires are more controlled burns. Big, beautiful controlled burns that call us into community, like bonfires. These are the kind of holy fires we create community around, the kinds of things that draw us to one another to share stories, roast marshmallows, and sing songs. They're the kind of fires where joy is wrapped in sacred smoke, and it's just good. 

Some fires are used to set new things in place. Think of a kiln. It's entire purpose is to set raw materials into fixed forms, and so there is something "becoming" inside that flame. We burn these holy fires, too, in seasons of transition or in seasons of change. When something new is taking place, our best holy fire is a kiln fire; it helps us to do this new thing with God's glory in mind. 

Some fires are for cooking. Their work is to slowly draw out the richest flavors of any dish and to finish with something that satisfies our gnawing hunger. Cooking fires are generally lower, generally taking a bit longer to do their work. These are some of our holy fires, as well. They draw out all the flavors of the season that we're in and give us something to satisfy our souls. 

Some fires are burning just to keep us warm. These are the lowest fires, but those that touch at our place of deepest need. They are quiet little flames, but without them, we could not survive. Sometimes, our holy fires burn like this. Just a low flame. Just enough to keep us going, just enough to keep us warm. Just enough to keep us from tucking into a little ball and turning inward. Just enough to remind us we aren't alone in the elements.

Most of us, we want the raging holy fires of that jazzed-up faith that's just been stoked hotter and hotter like Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. But that's not all that faith is made of. It's not even, I don't think, what the best faith is made of. There are different fires for different reasons, for different seasons. And it's not about how your fire burns but whether or not it's burning at all. 

Maybe you're in a raging fire season. That's great. But maybe you're in a "keeping warm" kind of fire season. Want to know something? That's great, too. There is something incredibly wonderful about having a fire that does nothing but remind you that God is still God, God is still good, and God still loves you, no matter what. 

The question, then, is not, how do we figure out how to keep our holy fires raging? Rather, the question is, what is our holy fire burning for right now?

And then, settle into that season and feed that flame. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Prayer List

Let me ask you something: when was the last time you prayed for someone who was not on the prayer "list"? Put another way, when was the last time you prayed for someone whose need you did not know? 

That's not the same thing as asking when you prayed for someone who had no need - we are a fragile people in a tender flesh in a fallen world; there is not a person among us who does not have a need for prayer. It's simply asking when you prayed for someone whose need you did not know. 

But whose name, of course, you did.

This is an important question, for so often, we don't think about one another unless there is the gossip to go along with it. We don't think about even those that we love unless we can place a specific need on their name, a burden on their shoulders for which to pray. After all, why would we pray for someone who is not in trouble or distress? Why would we pray for someone who has not told us their need to pray for them?

Part of this sensitivity comes from the fact that we have made praying for one another almost an act of pity. Someone tells us their trouble, and we say, ah, yes, that's terrible; I will pray for you. Someone tells us how hard things have become for them and we say, gosh, I understand how difficult that must be; I will pray for you. And prayer for others has become this thing we do because we feel terrible for someone, we are thankful we're not in their shoes, and it's something we can do without making, like, a huge commitment to do something more tangible. We have become a people who use prayer to say, "Stay warm!" so that we do not have to give a coat, and then we go on and gossip about the one who is cold, saying how terrible it is that they are exposed to the elements and recruiting others through whispers and pity to pray for them, as well. 

And to pray for someone in our time has become even an insult in some cases. When someone says or does or believes something stupid, it doesn't take long before someone else looks at him or her and says, "I will pray for you," when, of course, the stupid person has not asked for anyone to pray for him or her. And really, we won't pray. We just used this phrase to indicate to this person that we believe he or she is making a mistake, a foolish error, or a bad judgment. 

So there is no prayer, only condemnation.

And still more, most of us either do not think to pray or do not want to pray until we know all of the little dirty details. We hold our prayer for one another hostage until we're given the specifics, until someone pours out to us the depths of their darkness. We demand to be given full access to the skeletons in the closet or no, we won't pray for you. Thus, we add shame on top of pity and condemnation. Oh, what a miserable people we are. 

It's a terrible thing that our prayer has come to this, that we either wait upon a need and use prayer in pity and shame or that we throw prayer as an insult in moments when we have no intention to pray at all. For the truth is that every one of us, every single one of us at every single time, stands in need of prayer, not "because...." but just because. Just because we're fragile people in tender flesh in a broken world and life requires prayer.

When was the last time you prayed for someone whose need you did not know? Not out of pity. Not out of obligation. Not out of some perverse voyeurism that feels entitled to their dirty laundry and broken story. Not out of mere thankfulness that you are not them right now. 

Out of love.

When was the last time you prayed for someone out of love? 

Think of someone in your life that you love. It may be someone you know well or someone you don't know well but with whom you interact fairly regularly. Maybe it's your spouse. Maybe it's your brother. Maybe it's your pastor. Maybe it's the cashier at the grocery whose line you make a point to go through. Maybe it's the mechanic who fixes your car. Whoever it is, make it a point to pray for that person every day for a week. Just a week, just a prayer. Not because you know their need, but just because you know their name. Try it.

Seriously, just try it. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Feel Better

In times of trial, of trouble, or of illness, what most of us want most desperately and most urgently of all things is simply to feel better. We want to feel like ourselves again, want to feel like human beings, want to feel like there's something good in life or even in God, for these times tend to test our faith more than anything. 

But even for those of us who remain faithful in trying times, there is this deep yearning within us for "better," which is often something somewhere close to whatever we consider "normal" for us. 

And we become people who pray. Earnestly. We say to ourselves, to others, and to God that we are people of faith, which makes us people of prayer, and that when life isn't going the way that we wanted it to or that we feel entitled to or whatever, we remain people of faith by remaining people of prayer and praying faithfully, earnestly, until we feel better. Until life gets better. Until things level out and become recognizable again.

A question worth asking at this point, however, is whether or not this is what faith truly looks like. 

Is a life of faith a parched land, where in seasons of dryness we merely pray for rain? Is a life of faith this thing that ebbs and flows and demands constantly to be filled up, continues to seek stability and evenness? 

Or does a life of faith ride the waves? Is faith more about learning to live at your low points than simply learning to pray in them?

In other words, when life is hard (and God promised that it would be), does a real life of faith do more than simply pray for things to get better? 

We talk about this, actually. Quite a bit. We talk about learning to dance in the rain, because that sounds so poetic compared to what we really want to say, which is something more like learning to breathe in the dung. Let's just be honest. It's learning to eat with hands that you can't quite get clean. It's tracking mud through a life that you wish was a little cleaner already. It's learning to sing with a voice that keeps catching in your throat and learning to style hair that keeps falling out. 

It's embracing the fact that God doesn't owe you a "better" life, that faith doesn't just "fix" problems, that you don't always get to "feel better," but that that doesn't change the fact that God embraces you, that faith carries you through, that at the very least, you're feeling something. 

As people of faith, our greatest challenge is to accept both this truth and this moment and learn to live honoring God no matter what we feel like today. That doesn't mean that we pretend. It doesn't mean we whitewash over it. It doesn't mean we cover it in some flowery religious language that sounds good but doesn't satisfy the heart.

It means that we find satisfaction for our heart, no matter what we feel like today. It means that we acknowledge that this isn't the life we wanted to live, that this isn't the way it was supposed to be. It means that we confess our broken things, but put a candle in them anyway and see what kind of glory shines out of them. Figure out how to say, "This is broken right now, and it's hard. But here's what faith looks like, what God looks like."

It means that we pray to feel better, yes, and we keep hoping, but we do not put our lives - or our faith - on hold waiting for that day. We can't. We are a living testimony right now, broken or not. Our best selves or not. Or best life or not. 

This world needs to see us not entitled to better, but embracing broken. For isn't that, after all, where we live? Somewhere broken...somewhere painfully, crushingly, agonizingly broken and full of persons who feel entitled to something more. Shouldn't we, as a people of faith, be something different?

If our God is truly good (and He is), shouldn't we be a people who find a way to show that, to live that, to love that even when our lives don't seem all that good? Even when we live in trial and trouble? Even when we're not sure we're ever going to "feel" better? 

Even when we're broken?

Pray, yes. Hope, for sure. But live and love where you're at. Put a candle in it. Shine a light. 

Watch the shadows dance.