Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Valley of Tears

The Scriptures are full of images about water - parting the waters, living water, water from a rock, floods, rains, streams and rivers. And like those streams and rivers, all of these images flow down to the same big ocean, to a declaration of God's goodness, love, and grace. Even the devastating flood ends in a promise. So when we think of another form of water, perhaps the most minuscule form by comparison - ours tears - we wonder how even that leads back to His goodness.

Contemporary media and storytelling has given us this image of a God who collects our tears in a vial that He then wears around His neck. Each drop goes into a tiny tube - it's always tiny, no matter how many tears we've actually cried over our lives - and is treasured by our Father who loves us so deeply as to care about each and every drop. 

While that's tender and touching, and often comforting, it lacks a layer of depth. Doesn't it? It leaves our tears still feeling...pointless. Meaningless. Yes, God cares for us even when we weep, but there has to be something greater to it all, doesn't there? It has to matter for some reason, right? 

We do not weep just for God to collect our tears. And certainly, though I am still young, the tears of my life do not fit in a cute little vial sufficient for a necklace. 

I need a big ol' vat somewhere in the back rooms of Heaven, some kind of giant swimming pool-style container for all the tears I've cried. 

Or better yet...

What if the drops of my tears could become the living water that nourishes my soul? 

This is precisely the image painted in Psalm 84, and it ought to change our perspective on the way that we weep. It's about adding a level of meaning and depth to our ache and our hurt, about finding what it is that God promises water always brings - goodness, love, and grace.

The Psalmist says that some are able to turn the Valley of Tears - a reservoir worthy of the volume we have wept if ever there was one - into a source of spring water (Psalm 84). Yes, spring water.  Living, flowing, bubbling, clean, pure, life-giving spring water, the kind that is painted in images all throughout the Scriptures for us. The kind that gives us access to the greatest gifts of God as they flow through the terrain of our real lives. Where bitter salt water, good for so little, becomes fresh water, necessary for life. The Valley of Tears becomes a source of spring water. 

And how? 

By putting our hope and strength in the Lord. 

That's what the Psalmist says. By putting our hope and strength in the Lord, we turn the Valley of Tears into a source of spring water. We turn heartache into hope. We turn death into life. We turn bitterness into refreshedness. What authentically, raw-ly, real-ly pours out of us flows back unfathomably to nourish our souls. By nothing but the grace of God that we choose to recognize and embrace, by His goodness and love and mercy. Living water. Real, vital, living water. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gone Fishing

We next join our beloved eleven disciples on the seas. After the crucifixion, they retreated into the Upper Room - the last place where they experienced Jesus as everything they had known and loved of Him, but when we see them again, they've gone out to the seas. At least, those of them that knew how to fish. 

Often, pastors make quite a big deal of this. At the moment when everything seems lost or postponed or at least more confusing than it ever has been, the disciples turned around and went back to what they knew before they knew Jesus. When He found them in the first place, they were fishing. He called to them and they dropped their nets, but here they are in the shadow of the resurrection, and it seems they've picked their nets back up again. 

The lesson, of course, is about how easy it is to go back to what you know when what you hope for doesn't seem to be working. It's a warning. 

Or is it?

Although it fits a narrative that can be powerful and poignant, there's another explanation to why we see the disciples out on the sea once more: perhaps they never left it. 

After all, Paul never stopped being a tent maker. He even talks about how he uses his skills as a tent maker to provide for himself as an apostle, so that he cannot be accused of being in it for the money. He believes there is great honor in continuing to work with your hands even as you're working for the Lord; it shows who you are and that, in turn, shows who He is. He uses a tent maker. 

And we know that the disciples always seemed to have a boat handy. Have you noticed how many times Jesus just steps into a boat and crosses over to the other side of some body of water? It's easy to think Jesus was just out there stealing boats, that He just took them and the owners of the boats must have been okay with that, probably because He eventually returned them when He came back. There are an awful lot of Christians that figure Jesus was just stealing things that belonged to other persons...I mean, uhm, taking them in the authority of the God to whom all things belong.... 

But do you know what's more likely than our Lord and Savior stealing random boats? It's more likely that someone with Him owned those boats. And who owns boats? Fishermen own boats. Maybe the disciples simply never stopped working with their hands while they were learning the ministry. Maybe they still cast their nets in the water, even while they were fishing for men. 

A man's got to do something, right?

Herein, then, lies another potential lesson for us from the lives of the disciples: following Jesus is not permission to be idle. Waiting on God is not an opportunity to do nothing. We ought to be working. We ought to be doing those things that we do. We ought to be providing and contributing and demonstrating to the world who we are; that demonstrates, in turn, who He is. 

So put your hands to it and get a little dirty. Yes, even a season of waiting. Build something. Catch something. Provide something. Make something, even while He's making something of you. 

It's not weird to see the disciples fishing in the shadow of the empty tomb; it would be weird not to. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Going Back

The Scriptures tell us about a few times when Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. First, He appeared to them in the Upper Room, where they were locked in and hiding out, trying to figure out what to do with themselves next. They needed a place to clear their heads, so those who had abandoned Him at the Cross went back to the last place they spent with Him. 

Isn't that interesting?

Here's this band of ragtag disciples. They've spent a couple of years with Jesus, touring with Him, doing ministry with Him, witnessing everything that He's done. They've had a front-row seat to something amazing, but when things start to turn and Jesus is facing death, they all abandon Him. You wonder what they did while He was being crucified. You wonder why they were so sure there wouldn't be anything to witness at the Cross. 

Right? Because this Man who has done so many miracles could surely do one more. Yet, the disciples don't seem to be banking on that. They don't seem to care to see what happens at the Cross. They've resigned themselves to the fact that He's going to die there, even while the Roman soldiers taunt Him to call down angels or to save Himself. 

Why didn't the disciples think He could save Himself? Maybe they knew that He wouldn't. 

So they're gone, save John. They can't bear to watch. But what do they do with themselves? They clearly stay together; when the women come back with the report of the risen Christ, they encounter all of the disciples, it seems. And then when Jesus re-appears on the scene, they're together, still, for the most part - gathered in the Upper Room. Trying to remember Jesus the way they want to, I guess. 

But isn't that just like us? We create the same kind of bunkers in our faith, trying to keep ourselves going back to the last place we saw Jesus. Trying to tap into the last big moment we had with Him. Trying desperately to hold onto what worked for us in the past. 

Things change, circumstances change, and sometimes, we have trouble keeping in touch with Him. When that happens, we just go back, but the problem with going back is...He's not there. Jesus wasn't in that Upper Room with the disciples; He was on the Cross. He wasn't around that table; He was in the tomb. 

And then, what do they do? The women come and tell them that He's not in the tomb, so they get up and run to the tomb. Again, looking for Jesus in the last place they left Him even though they know He's not there any more. 

So relatable. 

Finally, what happens? It's Jesus who changes things. It's Jesus who shows up where they are looking for Him, since apparently they don't know where to go to find Him now that He's not there any more. It's Jesus who comes back for them. It's He who changes their experience of their space. 

He does the same for us. Doesn't He? He always comes back to find us where we refuse to give up looking because He knows we'll maybe never get there on our own. But there's something about that because at least we're looking. At least we're trying. At least it's on our minds to have Him, to hold onto Him, to remember Him. 

That's something, isn't it? 

Friday, July 26, 2019


Yesterday, I said that we have to be careful how we handle our questions, that we cannot make our questions into truths. But questioning is one of the most valuable things we can do for our faith. 

I can't tell you the number of persons I've met who have wept over feeling like "bad Christians" because they've had questions, who have been taught their whole lives that the hallmark of "true" faith is never having any questions at all, who have been led to believe that the real Christian life comes in knowing for sure and never wondering or wandering. This breaks my heart. 

If you never have any questions, how is God ever supposed to answer you? 

You can't ever learn anything new about God unless you are in a dialogue with Him, and there's nothing to talk about if you already know everything. You've probably met someone like this in your life - most likely a child; someone who is certain they know everything and is quick to tell you all that they know. If you try to tell them something they don't know, they'll just tell you how wrong you are and insist that they are right about everything. It's frustrating, and you wonder how they're ever going to make it in the world if they don't set aside their arrogant insistence and open themselves up to learn something from someone who might just know better than them.

And yet, this is exactly what we do to God. We come as arrogant little children, unwilling to believe there could be anything we don't know. We think He requires that we know everything with certainty. We think that what He wants from our faith is that it would be so sure that it doesn't have any questions, but if it doesn't have any questions, it will never grow. If we already know everything we think we need to know, we won't be curious. And God Himself won't be able to tell us anything new about Himself.

That is extremely dangerous because for a lot of Christians, this mindset came on early - somewhere just after preschool, somewhere very young. That means that for a lot of Christians, their entire faith rests on "Jesus loves me," "Father Abraham," and "Arky-Arky."

No wonder our faith sometimes seems like nonsense.

This kind of very basic understanding, this limited insight, doesn't lead to the kind of dynamic faith that living in a fallen world requires. You can't face the troubles and trials of life with some blanket declaration that Jesus just loves you. What does love mean? What does it look like? How does it function in a place like this?

You would not accept a marriage where the only time you heard, "I love you," is at the altar and then you merely lived out your days side-by-side with one another, without any other tokens of affection, without any deeper conversation, without any reminders of the commitment you've made. Yet this is what we expect our faith to be - a one-time declaration of belief followed by a silent side-by-side with the idea of God.

Worse yet, this is what we convince ourselves God wants our faith to be. Lest we "bother" Him with all the questions that we have along the way. Lest we "pester" Him with our constant need to be reminded what His love is.

If we believe, that's enough, isn't it? Why would it be - when it is not enough in literally any other area of our lives?

Our faith is not one that has no questions; it is one that knows where to find the answers. The more we ask, the more we discover. The more we knock, the more doors that open. The more we seek, the more we find. At every turn, our faith has the chance to grow stronger, deeper, more authentic and real and meaningful. But it doesn't just happen because we will it or want it; it happens when we pursue it, and we pursue it through asking.

Not because we doubt, although sometimes that's the case (and that's okay). But because we long - we long for more, and God has promised to give it to us.

If you never have any questions, how is God ever supposed to answer you? 

Thursday, July 25, 2019


Just on the heels of David longing for his own sin not to be stumbling block to the righteousness of others (Psalm 69), we come to the psalms of Asaph and pick up on a similar theme. In Psalm 73, Asaph talks about a season in which he considered unrighteousness as a potential life path, but then he adds that he didn't tell anyone because he didn't want to betray them with his own personal feelings. 

There's a lot to digest in even that brief synopsis of this psalm. Let's start with the fact that Asaph even considers a life of unrighteousness. But let's also be honest and confess for a second - who among us hasn't?

It's a natural reaction to coming to a place in your faith where you have to make a leap of growth. Where what you have believed for so long isn't enough and you need something more, but you can't seem to find what it is that you need. We live our lives longing for the fullness of God and getting it only in doses and spurts until that glorious day when we walk with Him in the Garden once more and so dissatisfaction is only natural at times. And dissatisfaction leads to questioning. And questioning leads to wandering. 

There's nothing wrong with this. It's hard for us to be sure of what we have until we give it up for something else and find out the grass isn't always greener on the other side. If you only ever eat white bread, you don't know whether you really like it or not until you try a bite of wheat. Without a little exploration, it's just a habit, just something you do; try something else, and you realize how much it really means to you. (Okay, bread may be a bad example.) But it's what we do with our faith. In a moment when we wonder if our faith is even working for us or if it's just a habit, just something we do, most of us are tempted to wander a bit and see what we find. It's refreshing to see that Asaph considers the same. 

But then, he doesn't tell anyone. This is a bit more unlike us. We're tempted to tell everyone we know exactly what we're doing. "I'm taking a break for a little bit." "I'm going to try something new for awhile." "I need to visit other churches and see what's out there." "God just isn't doing it for me any more." "I'm not sure I believe." 

There's a fine line here, and it is an important one. As persons of faith, we should absolutely be honest about our questions. Everyone has them, and someone who is authentic and vulnerable about the questions he or she is asking can be of tremendous benefit to the community of faith at large. But we have to be careful because often, when we have started to ask a question, we make out of it a truth. And then we declare not a question, but a truth. Instead of telling our brothers and sisters, "I'm wondering what God even means to me any more," we say, "This whole thing is a sham; God isn't relevant." 

Asaph holds his tongue not because he's hiding his questions, but because he doesn't want anyone to mistake his questions for truth. 

That's what the last part of this means - he didn't want to betray them with his personal feelings. He knew that his journey was so intimate, so personal, so much his own that he didn't want to risk making it seem like it was a universal reality. He didn't want his experience to redefine the essential truth of God because he understood that God doesn't change based on how he's feeling about Him at the time. 

We live in a world where we're told that our feelings are primary, that what we "feel" is "truth" - plain and simple. And so we are taught to declare our feelings out loud, to name them as truth, to reorient the world around us to what is most real for us. But it's impossible to make someone else live our truth without asking them to abandon their own, to give up what they know and trust and believe in order to accommodate our feelings on the matter. That's how this subjective kind of "truth" works. 

Asaph realized how easily he could change the lives of others, and not for the better, if he were to introduce to them a new idea that ran counter to all that they knew, just because he happened to be asking a question about it. He knew that human beings are suggestible and while many might dig in and stand firm on what they know, many others would give up everything at the mere idea of something else. He could turn them down a path they never would have wandered, for no other reason than that his season required him to consider it. 

Like I said, there's so much to digest from this one little psalm, from this one little synopsis. We all have questions from time to time. Some of us, more often than others. The question is how we are handling our questions and whether or not we're letting our journey become a stumbling block to others. Are we betraying them with our season? With our own personal feelings?

How about if we don't do that. Faith is hard enough as it is. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A Stumbling Block

One of the most difficult teachings in the Christian faith is that regarding what we must do to not be a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. The New Testament tells us that even if our conscience is clear with something, we should be mindful of those around us and honor their consciences, as well, so that we do not put any obstacles in the way of their faith. 

The primary example of this is the eating of food offered to idols. For some, they were able to recognize that since the idols are powerless and false, the food is just food; it isn't anything special. And so, they should eat it as an act of fellowship with those to whom they might then demonstrate the Gospel of Christ. But for others, they could not get past the illusion of false worship, knowing that to the idol worshiper, there was power in the offering and so believing the food tainted. The first, we are told, should not eat in the presence of the second, for it would raise a stink. 

Notice that we are not told that the second should eat on account of the first, so as not to cause a division. This is an important part of this teaching. The burden always rests on the one who can choose not to do something that he believes is permissible for him to do and never on the one who would have to choose to do something he believes is not permissible. In a world like ours, this could not be more pertinent. 

But the teaching of the stumbling block principle goes all the way back to David in the Psalms, and he puts it much more simply than Paul does; there's less to dissect and play around with. 

David simply declares this: do not let my sin affect the righteousness and faith of others who might see it or hear about it. 

In other words, David was keenly aware of two things at all times: his own tendency toward sin as a fallen human being and the fact that others would be watching him. 

Somehow, I think, most of us often forget both. We are stumbling blocks to one another by our sheer neglect of attention to these very simple things. 

We consider ourselves primarily good persons and think that anyone who knows us or comes into contact with us incidentally probably realizes this about us, too. Oh, sure, in a moment of faith-filled passion, we might confess that we are sinners, but we don't spend too much of our lives feeling like sinners. We're basically good persons living basically good lives with basically good intentions, and there's not a lot about ourselves that we're worried about. 

And we assume that not a lot of persons are paying attention to us anyway. It's interesting, isn't it, that in a society obsessed with celebrity and with everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame, we're actually a people who feel generally isolated from one another, generally cut off from relationship, generally unnoticed by the world. We could go into all kinds of discussion on that, but that's a distraction for another day. The point is - most of us aren't aware of who is watching us, of who might be hearing about what we do. So even if we do mess up from time to time and shatter the illusion of our general goodness, nobody's really going to notice, so it doesn't much matter. 

Then we wonder why the world seems to be judging us. 

We are stumbling blocks to them. And we are stumbling blocks to ourselves. For no other reason than our own simple neglect, our failure to recognize the two most basic things about our existence: we are fallen human beings whom others are watching. 

What would it change for you if you remembered this? How would you be different if you knew that your sin might actually affect someone else's righteousness and faith? 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Willing Spirit

I don't want to do this any more. Or maybe, I can't do this any more. 

Have you ever thought such a thing? Have you ever just come to the end of what you're willing to endure, what you think you're capable of enduring? Life is one day after another after another and some days, it's just too much. You just think, I'm done. I quit. Whatever I do from here on out, it won't be this

So many times, we want to just give up. We think our lives will be easier if we don't try so hard. It makes perfect sense in the logic of the world; if we're not exerting the effort, it can't possibly be so exhausting. But if we're being honest with ourselves, what we find is that this just isn't true; we're exhausted even after we've given up, even after we've committed ourselves to not trying so hard, to not doing it any more. 

We drag ourselves along and plod right through, begrudgingly living our lives that seem to keep moving along with or without our express interest in it. Doing what has to be done because it has to be done, and resenting it all the way. 

It's how we spiral ourselves downward into depression and anxiety, into distress and despair. And anyone who has been there knows what a tough funk that is to get out of. For many, it's impossible. 

Psalm 51 presents us, then, with a paradox. It gives us the key to keep going. And that key is this: a willing spirit. A willing spirit, says the Psalmist, is sustaining

Notice that it doesn't say a competent spirit or a capable spirit. Notice that it doesn't say a successful spirit or a spirit of achievement. Notice that it doesn't say a victorious spirit. It just says a willing spirit. 

That means a spirit that is ready to embrace whatever God has for it and give it all it's got, whether what you've got today is a lot or a little. 

We might compare it to a spirit of adventure. 

It's a spirit that's willing to take the next step, that's willing to go on this journey with God without knowing how or where or why. It's a spirit that understands that the present thing is the thing, that all it has to do is what it's asked to do right now. It's a spirit that knows that today is not just one more day in a long series of days; today is the day. Life is now. This is it. 

It's a hard switch to make in your mind, from counting your days to counting your opportunities, but that's what a willing spirit requires. A willing spirit recognizes that this is a moment with all of its chances, and it's ready to do what it takes to capitalize on them. For the glory of God. From the depths of rejoicing. 

Being willing to sustaining because the adventure is always new. The opportunity is always new. The excitement is always right there. It's another door being opened, another path branching off. It's another chance....for life. It puts you right on the edge of hope with every breath and lets you choose all over again to believe in something bigger than yourself. To believe in God and His goodness. To believe in the process and the journey and the grace for it. 

Because you wouldn't do it if you didn't believe. A willing spirit believes; that's why it's willing. That's why it's hope. 

And we know that hope sustains us because even in our darkest days, even in our darkest times, in those moments when we say that we don't want to do this any more or we can't do this any more, all it takes is a little inkling of hope and all of a sudden, we're in again. All of a sudden, we're ready. Give us one glimpse of something that's about to change, something that's about to be different, something that's about to be good, and we're ready. Let's roll. 

A willing spirit holds onto that, all the time. It hangs on with all it's got. It's ready. Because it's hopeful. 

Are you willing? 

If you are, that in itself will be enough to get you through. The Psalmist says so. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Tending Toward Healing

Humanity has invested a lot in its science, particularly when it comes to telling us how to live our best life. I'm not really talking about technology and innovation, although that seems to dominate some of our discussion about such things; rather, I'm looking at more of the core sciences like physics, our understandings of how things exist.

One of the things we're told is that we have to do whatever we can to hold our world together. That, without our intervention and deliberate action to the contrary, things left to their own will move toward chaos. To see this, you need to look no further than the rapidly-expanding universe, becoming less and less of a tight system, or the aging human being. Like broken glass, things in our experience shatter and then just lie there until they get kicked and blown around and spread out all the more until there's no hope of even finding all of the pieces, let alone putting them back together. So we invest ourselves in holding the world together to the best of our ability because if we don't, life as we know it will disappear.

Except that what science doesn't readily tell us, what it is slower to admit if it ever admits it at all, is that life itself is the exception to everything we think we know about disorder and chaos in our universe. Life doesn't tend toward chaos; it tends toward healing.

Think about it. When you break a bone, it doesn't just shatter and start spreading out, taking more and more of the bone structure with it; it does everything it can to build bridges between its broken pieces and become whole again. Deformed, perhaps, without help, but it's working to become hole.

Or look at a tree that's been cut down to its stump. It doesn't take long before a new shoot appears, right out of the middle of the stump, reaching toward heaven and growing leaves again. The tree is tending toward life, regenerating itself to live again.

How many times have you cut your grass this year? And last year? And the year before that. We chop off a huge chunk of our lawns, and it finds a way to grow back. It doesn't just take the hit and start destroying itself; it always, always tries to come back.

Look at the ways that life in our universe heals, that it always works toward living again, no matter the odds. Science doesn't talk about that. Science doesn't tell us that. Science tells us that unless we hold ourselves together, we'll die.

Spoiler alert: we're going to die anyway. But that's what makes life all the more amazing. In a world that's tending toward death, that is on a path toward death, life pushes through and tends toward life anyway. It tends toward healing anyway. Even knowing it will one day die, it does everything that it can to live.

Not only is that breathtaking and not only should it lead us to wonder what it is about life that is so persistent, so resilient, so contrary to what we think we know about the universe, but it ought to lead us to ask questions about our universe itself. The greatest of these questions is this: what in our universe is truly inanimate? And what is alive?

For if there is the breath of life in the universe itself, then its rapid expansion isn't degeneration into chaos; it's a tendency toward healing and wholeness. We're not getting further from our center; we're getting closer to our place. Is the universe stagnant and stale and inanimate...or is it alive?

It could change the entire way we look at science.

It should change the entire way we look at life.

We don't have to hold it all together; we don't even have to hold ourselves together. We are living in dying bodies, but we tend toward life. We tend toward healing. At every turn, we are working by the innate wisdom of God in His creation to live, and to live abundantly.

Most often, we just have to learn to stop working against it. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Liturgy of Worship

One of the things sorely missing in today's contemporary Christian churches is the liturgy. It sounds like an out-of-date term, like something only those stuffy Christians from ages past are into. It sounds...boring. But a liturgy is one of the most life-giving features of the church, and without it, we're losing so much of what makes us vital.

See, liturgy is meant to draw you into the story. It's meant to put a narrative behind your worship, something you can get into, something your heart can latch onto. Something that's connected to a season and a natural development and a progression toward greater things. A liturgy reminds you where you are on the journey, but also where you've been and where you're going. 

Without it, we are nothing more than wanderers. And a lot of today's Christians are feeling that wilderness.

Part of the problem is what has become "topical preaching" - sermon series designed to address particular ideas and tell you how to live. A lot of them have to do with getting the story into you, but they don't sweep you up in the story. It's meant to feed you and guide you, but not nourish you and encourage you. It's all about what you're supposed to be doing instead of what God is already doing among you. Without any real rhyme or reason to what this series is or what the next one will be or how they tie into anything, we end up with just bits and pieces of God, but not a story at all. Not something that relates to our real journey, but only something that briefly touches our current place. 

But it's not just the preaching. It's also the musical worship. A lot of churches have gone contemporary, replacing songbooks with big screens and blasting the latest contemporary worship hits. The problem with this is that we don't play these songs enough to make them meaningful to our developing faith; they bring us in touch with just a moment and then they are gone, rarely if ever to circle back. 

How many songs have you sung in the past year alone? How many of them will you sing next year? In a lot of churches, the answer is in the hundreds. Something new every week, or every couple of weeks. And then a new thing all over again. 

And if one does circle back around, we think how refreshing it is. We haven't sung that song in a long time. Why did we ever get away from it? But before we can even finish the question, we've moved on from it again. 

It's touch-and-go. God seems to show up and then disappear and the story is one thing one week and something entirely different the next week and the music follows suit. And it's no wonder then that we think that God is just something else we do, one more thing on a busy schedule. It doesn't make much sense. We kind of like it, maybe, but it's not life-giving; it's not vital to our being. 

Because there's no liturgy to it. 

If you're having trouble believing that, if you're still not sold that having a solid liturgy - a narrative of worship, a story to get grounded into - is vital to a life of faith, pull out a song you sang last year, two years ago, three years ago (if you can remember one) - pull out a song from your old songbook - and sing it and see what happens to your heart. Our hearts long for this kind of grounding, for this kind of something familiar to draw deeply into. 

We need liturgy in our churches, even in our contemporary, casual dress, come-as-you-are, seeker-sensitive, cutting-edge, "hip" churches. We need to get back to having something there that guides us. 

Lest we continue on simply as wanderers, too many of whom are simply wandering away. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

About Your Enemies

Jesus said to love your enemies, to pray for those who spitefully use you. If one of your enemies takes from you, give to him more than he's asked for. If he requires something of you, go the extra mile for him. 

But have you read the Psalms? 

David is, shall we say, a little less forgiving, loving, and generous. But he does pray for his enemies. In fact, if you read through the Psalms, you will see just how often David prays for his enemies...for God's fiery vengeance upon them.

Heap coals on their heads! Trap them in their own snares! Take their lives before they can take mine! Smite them, O Lord my God. Smite them good! 

We read these prayers, and it's easy for us to chalk them up to the idea that the God of the Old Testament was more this kind of God than the God of the New Testament. He's the kind of God who smites our enemies, and even sometimes His own people. He's a God of vengeance, and this kind of thing would have been right up His alley. It must have been, for He calls David "a man after God's own heart" - even the David who prays these prayers. 

And maybe that satisfies some of our deep questions (but probably not). But it comes nowhere close to explaining why we are the kind of people who still pray these types of prayers. These types of prayers are far more easy, far more natural for us than the kind Jesus requires. So what do we say about us as a people who grumble to God about our enemies and pray for their demise more than we pray for their redemption? Us as a people who have Christ and still pray these prayers. 

Maybe we are not a people after after God's own heart. Maybe we just aren't David. (Most of us have resigned ourselves to this long ago.)

But what if David is us? 

What if David's prayer is faithful precisely because it's raw-ly human? What if David is a man after God's own heart because he embraces so much of his humanity? What if we still pray the kind of prayers that David prayed because David prayed the kind of prayers that men pray? 

What if David, just like the rest of us, wasn't a man justified by his super-holy works, but a man justified by faith? What if David was a man after God's own heart because of the state of his own heart and not how "right" he was getting it? 

What if there's hope/strength/encouragement for us because of David and not in spite of him? 

We're all just human, after all. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Matter of Mercy

Why does it matter whose fault it is that your life isn't going as perfectly as you want it? Why is it so important for us to be able to confess our own sin? A popular television psychology proclaims that you can't change what you don't acknowledge, so maybe that's it. Maybe we just need to be honest with ourselves because until we are, we aren't going to change and be any different. 

That's certainly part of it, but it's much deeper than that for us as a people of faith. Failing to confess our own sin keeps us from truly experience the depth of God's love for us. 

Specifically, in this case, His mercy. 

Mercy is the idea that we don't get what we deserve. We deserve punishment. We deserve death. We deserve consequences. But the only way to experience mercy - to know that we're not getting what we deserve - is to be honest about what we deserve. We have to be honest about the ways that our mess-ups ought to be messing us up if we ever want to see God's hand in sheltering us from it. 

The mercy of God, His goodness, it's become too cheap in our Christian culture, and it is precisely for this reason. We believe ourselves to be basically good, especially if we start comparing ourselves to some of those "others." And as basically good human beings, we expect that our lives should also be basically good. And as basically good Christian human beings, we believe that our God should give us basically good things.

He has become a wish, a fantasy, a fairy godmother, a genie who is just supposed to protect our lives and keep them basically good, no matter what. We expect good from God because we deserve good from God and God says that He is good. Good, good, good all around. Why would we ever mess with good?

Because we're not good. Sorry, but we're not. If we were good, if we were even basically good, not a single drop of Jesus' blood needed shed on that Cross. Not one. If we were good, if we were even basically good, God would not have had to set in motion a plan to redeem us. We're not good. And the goodness of God's mercy isn't a given;

It's predicated on our sin.

God's mercy depends upon our being sinners. It depends upon our deserving something that we then do not receive because He is gracious and merciful to forgive us. Whatever we're experiencing of God right now in our basic goodness, it's not mercy. And if our God is not merciful to us, how can He be so many of the other things He claims to be? How could He even be good if it were not in contrast to our deserving less-than-good?

If God only gave us what we deserve, that wouldn't be "good." It would be natural. It would be expected. It would be...not at all amazing. Not at all worth worshiping. Not at all worth loving. After all, if you give to a man who can pay you back, if you invite someone who can return the favor, if you do good to someone who does good to you, what even is it? Even the pagans do this.

Our God is so much more.

So confess your sin. Own it. Fall down on your knees and bring it before the Lord. For there, in the place where you've most messed up, is the place where He will raise you up. There, in the depths of your sin, you encounter the depths of His love. In your hour of greatest need, you receive His mercy, you sinner.

And it's glorious.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Blame Game

Whose fault is it that your life isn't going exactly perfectly? When bad things happen, are you quick to look for someone to blame? It's a natural impulse, it seems, for most of us; who can I pin this on? Or in today's world, who can I sue? 

David has his share of psalms citing his enemies, talking about the oppression and persecution he's come under and how much of his time he has to spend running from those who are trying to kill him. But in Psalm 27, when he talks candidly about how his life is not what he desires it to be, how he's falling apart, his enemies are not the first ones he blames.

His sin is. 

Imagine that. David's life is not what he wants it to be, and the first thing he does is to consider that maybe it's his own fault. Maybe his life isn't what he wants it to be because he's not the man that he wants to be. He's not the man that he professes to be. He knows the inmost parts of his being better than any of us looking in on his life, and he confesses that there are some dark parts there. He confesses that he's messing up, that he's not getting it right, that he's falling short. 

And maybe, just maybe, that he deserves what he's getting because it's the natural consequence of what he's doing. 

It's a lost art in our present day. Most of us don't consider that we bring a lot of our troubles on ourselves. We've been taught and conditioned, through media and social media and advertisements for lawyers, to blame everyone but ourselves. Coffee's too hot? Well, someone should have put a warning label on that telling us that coffee could potentially be hot. Relationship ended? Well, we should have known that other person was toxic; all the warning signs were there. 

We don't take responsibility for our actions any more, intentional or unintentional. That last bit is important because most of us, given the choice, wouldn't choose to do wrong; it just sort of happens. Sometimes, it's clearly wrong and we do it anyway, but for most of us, it seems right or we wouldn't do it. It's only in hindsight or in a bigger lens that we're able to see that it wasn't as good a choice as it seemed. 

There's no reason we have to beat ourselves up over our sin, as some are prone to do. We don't have to chastise ourselves forever. But we should be humble enough to confess that we've done something we shouldn't have and to accept that often, what's happening in our lives is the natural consequence of our own action. 

David does it here. His life is falling apart, and the first place he looks is in the mirror. Yes, he will come around and talk about his enemies by the end of it, but he starts with himself. And so should we. 

Not just because it's often true, but because it also gives us an opportunity for a greater Truth. What's that? 

Come back tomorrow and find out. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

From the Womb

Psalm 22 (and other places in the Scripture) say that God was your God from the womb, and this raises an interesting and important question. Is God your God from the womb because He knows you before you know Him...or because you know Him before you know anything else?

We often say, without hesitation and without even giving it much of a second thought, that passages like this are there to remind us how intimately God knows us, that He has known us before we knew ourselves, that He has counted every hair on our heads and knows our lying down and our getting up. So from the very beginning, He has known us and loved us. And, we assume, He has been our God - watching over us, disciplining us, growing us, guiding us, and guarding us. Yes, it is clearly because He knows us that He is our God from the womb. 

Because, also, we were in the womb; we didn't know anything. How could we? 

Or could we?

I don't think we give the depths of our spirit enough credit. I don't think we give our inmost being much thought. If God knit us together, then every fabric of who we are has His touch on it. 

As we grow and as we get older, we know things that we don't know how we know. We sense them with absolute certainty. We come to call this our gut or our intuition or or just plain knowing, and most of us don't even question it. In fact, we come to trust it all the more the more we follow it because something about it is usually right. (It can, of course, be tainted by our experiences in this world, but at its purest, there's something incredibly accurate about it.) Some of us call it our spirit. Our spirit just knows. We don't know how it knows, but it knows.

And yet, we don't consider that perhaps our spirit has known before we could understand its knowing. Perhaps it has known from the very beginning. Perhaps from the very first beating of our heart, or even before that - from that electrical burst of life that happens when sperm meets egg, something inside of us has known God. Known Him beyond what we could ever consciously know of Him. 

After all, doesn't there have to be some reason human beings spend their lives looking for transcendence and meaning and...God? From the very beginning, we have sought to know Him, to understand Him. We have created Him in our image in an attempt to satisfy our longing without all the messiness of real faith. We have worshiped the sun and the moon and the stars and all sorts of created things, hoping they'll get us closer to what something in the depths of us just aches for. Something we can't put our finger on, but we know it's out there. We've convinced ourselves it's in here. 

The only thing we haven't been able to do, in all of human history, is rid ourselves of the longing for God. The only thing we haven't been able to do is convince ourselves that there isn't one. (Even atheists have faith and participate in worship; they just don't direct it toward something that would be typically called a god, but they have made it their god all the same.) 

Something inside of you knows God. Has known Him from the very, very beginning. From the womb. It's not foolishness, then, to seek Him. It's not odd to build a life of faith. It's not crazy to believe there's something more than you know, even in your knowing; you already know that there is. It's woven into you. 

By the One who knows you so well. 

Isn't that something?

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Fear of the Lord

Perhaps one of the most confusing phrases in all of Scripture is "the fear of the Lord." It seems, to most of us, or at least, we have heard, that the fear of the Lord is something that we're supposed to have, something we're supposed to live in. We know that it doesn't mean that we're supposed to be afraid of God, that we're supposed to be fearful; there's enough in Scripture to tell us that fear is not ever what God desires of us or for us. And we know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But that leaves us with a lingering question: what is the fear of the Lord? 

What if it's not something we do, but something God Himself gives us? What if the fear of the Lord originates from Him, not us?

Psalm 19 seems to create the impression that this is exactly the case. 

If you look closely at this psalm, you see a certain structure set up. The Psalmist is here talking about the ways that God has given us to live, the things that He's tried to teach us, the guidance He's provided for us. And it sets up across a parallel. 

It starts with the instruction of the Lord. That is, the overt, deliberate teachings where God has told His people yes or no, this or that, left or right. He has taught them plainly what He wants them to know, and these teachings are recorded in many cases for us. 

Then comes the testimony of the Lord. Here are the things that God has said about Himself, the things He wants us to know from His own experience so that we can trust His understanding and presence in our world and in our lives. 

After that come the precepts of the Lord. Precepts are general rules that are meant to set up a structure around how we live or think or act. So again, we have God giving us something that's supposed to mean something to us, that tells us in itself what to do with it.

And then...the fear of the Lord. 

And after this, the ordinances of the Lord. Ordinances are akin to laws, and we know that the Old Testament is full of laws for us to live by. 

One of these things is not like the others. Or is it?

By our common understanding, we here have four things that originate in God and one that originates in us. We have four things God has given us - His instruction, His testimony, His precepts, and His ordinances - and we have one thing we're supposed to just figure out and have - the fear of the Lord. 

It's quite a stretch to say that that would then be true. Why would anyone set up a list this way? It doesn't make any sense. 

But if we come to understand that the fear of the Lord is also something that originates in God, is also something that He gives to us, then we start to build a new framework for understanding just what the fear of the Lord even is. It's the beginning of wisdom - but the Scriptures never say it is the beginning of our wisdom; what if it is the beginning of His?

That changes things.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

After the Rescue

David's psalms are praised for how true-to-life they are, how honest and raw he is when crying out to the Lord. It's something we can all relate to, we're told. Something we know so well as real human beings ourselves, as persons who are persecuted, oppressed, concerned, stressed, and just trying to do our best with this thing called faith.

For all that there is in David's psalms to relate to, there are also some dramatic ways in which David is very, very different from us. Ways in which we need to pay close attention and to learn from him. 

Take, for example, Psalm 4. In this psalm, David cries out to the Lord after the Lord rescues him. 

When was the last time you prayed to God after your immediate need had passed? 

We are a people who have to be taught, it seems, to pray at all. Our souls cry out, but we learn through life and through our experiences to stop them. Or at least to stop paying attention to them. It seems so silly that our natural instinct is to cry out to God, so in order to not appear foolish in the eyes of others, we stop - and then we have to learn all over again.

And most of us spend so much of our lives just trying to learn how to cry out in our need that there's not time, really, even in a long, full life to add any depth of prayer to our crying out. There's not time to think about other things. It takes us a lifetime, and sometimes longer, to even master praying to God when we need something (rather than trying to solve it ourselves). 

Most of us don't even think about going back afterward to say Thank You. Or, you know, to just visit and enjoy being with God. To just chat and be close to Him. 

Who has time for that?

David, a man after God's own heart, has time for that. He pens this psalm after the danger is gone, after the need has passed, after the Lord has rescued him. It's weird to us to see a prayer that is not, "Lord, rescue me!" but rather, "Lord, You rescued me...." 

No wonder we too easily forget who God is and how much He loves us; we aren't using our prayer, our intimate time with Him, to remember. 

No wonder when another need arises, we cry out desperately all over again; we don't know, don't remember, what He's already done. 

No wonder we always find ourselves wondering if prayer even works; we neglect it entirely when it does. 

Maybe the reason it's so hard for us to pray is because we only do it when we're desperate, and not when we are simply dearly loved. 

When was the last time you prayed to God in anything but a panic? When was the last time you prayed in love and not in need? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Deal with the Devil

One more thing about Satan from the book of Job, and then we'll move on - does it bother you that God seems to so naturally talk with Satan? Does it bother you that God talks with him at all? Is it unsettling for you that God appears to be making a deal with the devil?

It's a good question. For most of us, the last thing we think God would be doing would be having a casual conversation with Satan. The last thing we think we want Him to be doing is having a nice back-and-forth with the enemy. Especially if we're the ones who get stuck in the middle. I mean, sure, we expect God to bring the hammer, to drop the full weight of His glory and goodness on Satan and crush him again and again and again, but to To about things? To make a deal? 

It's almost unfathomable. 

And yet, however unsettling it is, this is potentially one of the most encouraging passages in all of Scripture. At least, it can be. And it sheds a certain light on Saturday. 

Because it proves that there is no length that God won't go to for the righteousness of His people. There is no risk He won't take, no challenge He won't accept. God is just as willing as we are to put our faith to the test so that we know for sure on the other side just how certain it is. God is ridiculously comfortable standing face-to-face with Satan to demonstrate to us that His love, His goodness, His nature is real. Just look at Job.

One of the lingering questions in Christianity, one oft-debated by scholars, is what happened on Saturday - between the crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection. He couldn't have been...dead. He couldn't have simply just been dead in that tomb, could He? It defies everything we think we need to believe.

But why couldn't He? If God can stand face-to-face with Satan and defend His glory and the righteousness of His people, why can't Jesus stand face-to-face with death and do the same? If God can come into a realm where Satan reigns in order to establish His absolute rule, why can't Jesus go into the realm of death in order to establish His undeniable life? 

This is absolutely vital for us, particularly as a people coming out of a time in the church that has been historically fixated on sin. There are many Christians still questioning whether or not God can save them, whether or not He even wants to. Whether or not they are so bad, so depraved, so wicked that they are beyond the reach even of God. And maybe it's easy to look at God's conversation with Satan and say, see? They're in cahoots. They're conspiring to get me. They're out to sink me, to destroy me, to prove to me my own sin. 

But maybe there's another way to look at it. What if...what if God is willing to go to any lengths for you? What if He's willing to do whatever it takes to cement your redeemed heart? What if God would go to the gates of Hell and have a conversation with Satan just to justify you, to purify you, to honor you? What if He would go to the depths of death to bring you back to life? 

How far is God willing to go for you? 

However far He needs to.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Value of a Spiritual Enemy

Job and his friends lack a theology of Satan - they don't even consider the possibility of a spiritual enemy. We who read the story know what a profound role Satan played in Job's misfortune, but since Job is blind to the influence of the enemy, it leaves him in a very difficult place. 

Read Job carefully, and you'll see that he and his friends start with a pretty solid understanding of God. They know who He is, what He says, what He requires, how He acts. Job himself even defends the Lord rather staunchly, claiming that the Lord is good and is firmly who He has declared Himself to be. 

But watch closely, and you'll start to see some other ideas creep in. Ideas that suggest that God, for all that He is, is also unknowable. That is, we think we know who God is or who He wants us to think that He is, but when it comes down to it, we are simply incapable of truly understanding Him. There's a lot about Him that we just can't know. He does whatever He pleases, whatever He wants to do, and we're left to just deal with it because it doesn't have to make sense to us. 

From there, it's not that big of a leap to decide that maybe God isn't even good. Maybe He's just vindictive. Maybe He's completely unpredictable. Maybe He just lives and does things on a whim, whatever strikes Him in the moment. Maybe God's not even really thinking about you. 

See the problem? If there's not a spiritual enemy vying for your soul, then you have to have a theology of God that makes sense of your affliction. And when we do that, we find ourselves further from God, with less of an idea of who He even is - not closer. The enemy, by convincing us he doesn't exist, convinces us that God isn't who He says He is. 

It's Did God really say...? all over again. (The enemy has a pretty limited playbook.) 

But it's not just that. It's not just what we believe about God; it's also what we believe about ourselves and about each other. Job's friends are willing to give up on him just as easily.

They know his goodness. They know his generosity. They know his purity. They've had front row seats to it; they are his friends. But given his affliction and what they know about God, even Job's friends sit there and tell him straight to his face - you know, you're really not that good of a guy. You aren't who we thought you were. You aren't who you pretend to be. 

Actually, Job, you're kind of a wretch. You're kind of a jerk. You're an arrogant hothead who thinks he knows everything. And if we're being honest, you kind of deserve everything you're getting right now. 

Wow. Some friends. 

It's not really that they truly believe this about Job. I don't think it is, anyway. It's that they're doing what we all do - they're trying to make sense of what they're experiencing and encountering in the world, and given everything that they think they know, they can't do it. They can't reconcile Job's suffering with both the idea that God is good and knowable and that their friend is also good and righteous. So one of these has to give - and actually, we see both of them give. God is not good or knowable and their friend is not good or righteous. In fact, life as we know it and even faith are fully depraved; there is no hope for either. 

This whole world's going to Hell! And who do you think is responsible for that? 

If you're Job or his friends, you don't know. But if you have a spiritual enemy, well...isn't that exactly the kind of thing he would want?

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Spiritual Reality

Can we talk about Satan for a minute?

I know - awkward. The whole notion, the whole idea of Satan is a difficult one, even for Christians. It seems that we either forget or neglect him altogether or else give him more credit than he is due. It's difficult to know exactly where we're supposed to come down on Satan. Is he real? Is he powerful? Is he a shadow? Is he defeated? Is he in charge? 

Let's be clear: the popular theology of Satan, where it exists, gives him far too much credit. There are persons, even persons of faith, all over this world who claim Satan's interference when they are really just suffering the consequences of their own stupid or faithless actions. Overwhelmingly, what we blame Satan for is really our own fault and could be absolutely predicted by the way that we've chosen to act. In these times, it is not great faith that recognizes a spiritual enemy but rather haughty arrogance, an unwillingness to truly examine our own sin.

But so, too, is there a danger in neglecting the idea of a spiritual enemy at all. 

Despite the fact that the book of Job begins with a conversation between God and Satan, and despite the fact that we see clearly how much influence Satan has over what happens to this faithful man, once the stage is set, Satan is not a name we see again. He doesn't show up any more. 

Job and his friends don't even consider the possibility that there is a spiritual enemy out there. 

Throughout the entire book, they banter back and forth about man's fallenness, even Job's fallenness, and about God's perfect righteousness that is clearly beyond our understanding, for God obviously knows something about Job that neither he nor his friends have figured out yet. It's Job's foolishness and God's vindictiveness all the way. Righteous vindictiveness, of course, but you get the point. 

And so they spend all their time talking about how and why God does what He does, how He's justified to do it, what it means to the men who suffer from it, and how it is that we're supposed to live through it. Read it and watch them; they are doing some fantastic pontificating about God in the midst of suffering, but let's not fail to notice what they fail to notice - there might be another factor at play.

I don't know if Job and his friends even had a theology of Satan, if they had conceptualized a spiritual enemy at all. It's hard to imagine how they couldn't have heard the story of the snake in the garden, but maybe they hadn't. Or maybe they thought, like so many of us do, that the snake was already crushed under their heel, that his whisper was no longer effective, that he could no longer tempt us to sin...and perhaps didn't even need to; we do that very well on our own.

I confess that I don't always remember that I'm locked in a spiritual battle. I don't. Maybe it's because I am so keenly aware of my own shortcomings and fallen shorts; I, like Job's friends, am more prone to blame myself than to think that spiritual forces are at war over my righteousness. And maybe some of that, too, is knowing how cheap we've made Satan in our society, how we use him as a scapegoat for everything and give him too much power and credit in doing so. So I'm reluctant. 

But let me, let us, not be blind. 

If Satan were not a real force, God wouldn't be talking with him. And we see plainly this conversation taking place at the beginning of Job. We see it playing out, even if Job and his friends never once consider the possibility. 

Let us never fail to consider the possibility. For we do have a spiritual enemy, and while he's not all that we make him out to be, he's real nonetheless. And it matters. It matters for more reasons than meet the eye.

(To be continued)

Friday, July 5, 2019

When You Speak

Job famously has three friends. But in the book of Job, there are four men who speak to him, trying to respond to his situation.

The fourth man, the man who is not counted for whatever reason among Job's friends, is a man named Elihu. He may, in fact, be merely a boy by our own terms, for one of the first things that Elihu says is that he realizes that in the midst of present company, he is young. 

In the context of Elihu's culture, that was important. It tells us why he hasn't spoken until now; it was customary for the young to wait for the old to speak first, assuming that the old had more perspective, wisdom, and knowledge on any matter and that the young would more frequently ask questions or very rarely have anything valuable to add. 

But in the context of our culture, it's important, too. Not because it is customary to let the older speak first. Sadly, we have lost that kind of respect for our elders and their experience in our world, more often thinking our older persons to be out of touch or even unwise, not knowing the ways of today's world (which is so unlike the world they lived in, we think). No, Elihu's patience to speak reminds us of something that we often forget in our world, something we often neglect, that very thing we are most often not thinking about:

We must be mindful of the reasons why others won't hear us. 

Elihu's got some very good reasons to speak. He cites those, too. He declares that the spirit in him won't let him keep quiet, that he's convinced that he has something valuable to add. He believes that the perspective he's about to offer is new, complete, and satisfying to the situation at hand. He believes that the way that it burns inside of him practically requires him to speak it, to share it with others. Job's three friends have been close, maybe, but Elihu's about to bring it all together for them and add that one missing piece that makes it all make sense. 

Isn't that why most of us speak? We have something to say that comes from some place deep inside us, something so passionate in our souls that we know it to be true and believe it to be valuable to, well, everyone else. We jump into conversations thinking that we're going to end them, enter into disagreements believing we can settle them. We put our two cents in on controversial subjects thinking that we're going to change minds because, well, we're right. Aren't we? And isn't the whole world just waiting for someone to come along who's right about this or that and can articulate it for everyone to understand? 

Yeah, how many times has that worked out for you?

We speak because we're confident in what we have to say and how we're going to say it, but the truth is for every single one of us in every single conversation that there are some persons who aren't going to hear us. There are reasons the world won't listen. 

For Elihu, it's because he was young. He knew this, so he claimed it right out front. It's an act of humility, demonstrating that he knows his place and that he has just as clear a vision for who he is as he's about to claim for the issue at hand. 

For us, it's usually something else. Sometimes, it's because we're young. The world doesn't think we have enough experience in one area or another, so they question what we'd have to say. Sometimes, it's because we're male or female, married or single, religious or not religious, Republican or Democrat, straight or gay, Black or white, rich or poor. You name it, there is someone who has put us in their out-group and won't listen to a thing we say. Or at least, won't hear it. 

Or worse, and what happens most often, they hear what they think we're going to say instead of what we actually say because they're hearing us through the lens of what they think our particular demographic represents. 

It takes a great amount of self-awareness for us to recognize those things about us that keep others from hearing us, and it takes a greater amount of humility to be able to confess them. But as Elihu shows, it's also extremely important. Not only for us to know, for it keeps us from speaking out of turn, but for us to say, because it helps others to hear us better. 

What if we did this more often? What if, when we chose to speak, we started with a confession? I am young; I am old. I am male; I am female. I am straight; I am gay. I am Black; I am white. I know why you'll be tempted not to hear me.

But I have something to say that burns in me with a passion that I cannot ignore, and so whatever I am in your eyes, listen anyway. For I have waited my turn, and I am about to speak.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Job didn't know what was going on in his life, or why such terrible things were happening to him, but he knew two things and he asserted them without fear: God is good, and I am righteous. For this, his friends thought him either foolish or blind (or worse), and we find ourselves in a world not unlike Job's. 

Our world doesn't believe in truth. Not only does it not believe in truth, but it wants to tell you that you can't, either. If you do have something that you believe with all of your heart, then you're either foolish or blind (or worse); often, you're arrogant. How can you claim to know something when you have not seriously considered all of the possible alternatives and other perspectives on the matter? You can only see through your own eyes, so you can never truly know anything at all. 

At the same time that there is no truth, of course, the statement that there is no truth is obviously absolutely true, thus refuting its own argument. But...that's nitpicking. (Isn't it?) 

The trouble in today's world is that if you live like there is a truth and like you actually believe it, others will think you arrogant. They will think you completely inflexible and incapable of change because you assert something that seems unchanging to them. 

Yes and no. 

Truth is, by its nature, unchanging; what is true today is true tomorrow. This is what truth means. But truth is also, by its nature, dynamic; we come to understand it better or worse every day. And that changes the way that we live by it. 

But the only way to discover the dynamic nature of truth is to live as though it is true and see where that takes you. This world wants you to just keep your mind open, to always be thinking and contemplating and considering and never coming down anywhere too firmly, for the very next thing could change everything. Or so the world claims. And so the best approach to truth for the world is never to have any because you simply can't know even what you think you can know and if you have to tomorrow declare something new, then you were arrogant today and tomorrow, you're a liar. Maybe a hypocrite. Yes, even where you think you've settled on something, you should always remember that there is data you haven't received yet, so what you nothing at all. You just can't possibly know it. 

That approach doesn't get us anywhere near real truth, and it doesn't give us a life that is worth living. It's no help in times of trouble, no comfort in times of mourning. It's a vapor in the wind, nothing at all. And it's complete bunk.

The real search for truth requires that we commit to it and live by it. It requires us every day to say, "Here's what I believe, and I'm going to live accordingly." Not because we're arrogant and inflexible about it, but just the opposite - because we are willing to see how our truth works out in the real world. We're willing to put it to the actual test. Not some intellectual, subjective, perspective-based test that rests on our own privilege or learning or whatever, but an actual test where we discover whether or not what we believe to be true "works" in the real world. If it does, then we come to believe it more firmly; if it does not, then we revamp it and try again, ever coming closer to a real, vital, life-giving truth. 

Ever becoming more like Jesus.

Not only is it not arrogant, then, to claim a truth and to live by it, but it actually requires great humility. For you must always be willing to say (and this life frequently requires you to), "I was certain that I knew it, but I wasn't getting it quite right. Let me try again." You have to keep changing your posture while living out truth, so committing to something you're sure you know isn't arrogant; rather, it gives you opportunity after opportunity to practice humbling yourself.  

At the end of yesterday's post, I left off with a question - what do you know? And it seems such a silly question in a world that claims you can't know anything without being arrogant, foolish, blind, bigoted, hateful, hypocritical, and so on. But the world is wrong on this one; you absolutely can, and should, know something. 

And you can only truly know anything by living it out. 

So how are you living? What does your life say that you know is true? How's that working for you?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Job is a man afflicted. That's the crux of the entire story as given to us in the Bible. The question this story seeks to answer is what Job will do with his affliction - how will it change the way that he thinks about, believes in, and lives according to God? 

The shocking answer, of course, is that it doesn't, really. But just how profoundly it doesn't seem to affect his faith is startling.

While addressing his friends, trying to respond to everything they have said about God (some of which, you'll notice, seems to try to throw God under the bus a little bit), Job actually spends two straight chapters (26-27) of his own speech defending the greatness of God. Declaring the greatness of God. Sitting among the ashes, scratching his boils with pots of broken pottery (his broken pottery, which used to be part of his precious treasure), he speaks about how wonderful, amazing, generous, good, and even great the Lord is. 

Even how wonderful, amazing, generous, good, and great the Lord is to him. 

Not only that, but a few chapters later, in Job 31, he will pronounce upon himself a great curse, in keeping with God's perspective on the matter of curses. He will declare all of the terrible things that should happen to him, more terrible even than those things that have already happened to him. IF, in fact, he is a sinner. 

Because, of course, he knows with a fair amount of certainty that he is not. 

And this sets up an incredible lesson for those of us who wrestle with this broken world in which we live. See, Job's friends were spending a lot of their time and energy trying to figure out what was happening to him. Trying to justify the experience he was having. Trying to name anything and everything they could that might be the cause of Job's calamity. 

Job wasn't really interested. At least, not in the same way that his friends were. He probably had some desire to know. He probably ached to figure it out. But he doesn't spend his time guessing about things he's not sure of. Rather, he spends his time speaking confidently about what he does know.

What Job knows is that God is wonderful, amazing, generous, good, and great - even to him, that sinners deserve curses, and he proclaims those curses so boldly because he is just as sure that he is not a sinner. 

In other words, while his friends are asking, "What are you missing here?" Job is focused on "What do I know?" 

And it enables him to maintain his faith. 

Most of us, we're like Job's friends. We spend our lives trying to figure out what it is that we don't know, always looking for that missing piece that will explain our experience. We figure if we just knew a little more, if we just figured one more thing out, if we could put a rhyme or a reason to all of it, then we'd understand. Then, we'd be sure. Then, we'd seal our faith.

But more often than not, our search for understanding every little thing leads us to question what we were once so sure of. We find ourselves wondering, trying to explain our misery, if God is even good at all. Although if you'd asked us yesterday, we would have said that He was. We find ourselves questioning whether we know ourselves, but honestly? If we weren't trying to be something else, we know exactly who we are. Over and over again, our searching for answers raises questions that we shouldn't have to answer because the truth is that we know what we already know. Or at least, we thought we did. 

So we lose our faith at a moment when we most desperately need it when Job shows us that it's really not so hard. We don't really need to know what we think we need to know; what we already know is enough. 

What we need to learn is how, like Job, to say it.

"This I know, that God is good. This I know, that I am righteous. This I don't understand, that this broken world causes pain. But what I don't understand changes not what I know, that God is good and I am righteous."

Sometimes, we just have to say we don't know, then go back to what we do know. 

What do you know?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Perfect Life

As Job goes back and forth with his friends and with God, a small little sentence creeps in that asks an extremely valuable question - if I were perfect, would that be of any benefit to God?

The question is valuable precisely because so many of us would very quickly say, "Well, of course." But Job implies that the real answer is, "no."

For us, we've gotten the idea that the goal of the Christian life is, "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." And yet, we read through the Bible and find not one perfect man who is not Jesus; we find not a single person who is praised for being perfect and getting everything right. Even we don't praise Jesus, the perfect man, for being perfect; that's not what we love about Him. 

Yet, we continue to believe that what God desires from us, and what we should desire from ourselves, is to be perfect. To get everything right. To never fail, never falter, never sin. To not need God's forgiveness or redemption.

We live as though the ultimate goal of the Christian faith is to have no need of Jesus at all. 

When you put it that way, it sounds sort of silly, doesn't it? God sent His perfect Son, His one and only Son, to die for the redemption of our sins and create a way for us to live in perfect intimacy with Him for eternity...and then desires from us that we don't need His greatest sacrifice. Desires from us that it would all be in vain. Totally pointless. Useless. Unnecessary. 

The greatest victory of the Christian faith is not a perfect life; it's a humble spirit. It's a spirit that readily confesses not for the sake of admitting how much we get it wrong, but for the sake of demonstrating how much we need God. And how amazingly present He is for His children. 

God's greatest glory is in the way that we depend upon Him. Period. And we will only ever depend upon a God we need.

Job knew that if he were perfect, there would never be a test of his faith. There would never be a chance for him to show how much he loves and depends upon the Lord because he would never be in need of Him. It is of no benefit to God for Job to be perfect, but it is for God's glory if he is not, for then the world can see how the man turns to the Lord in his time of desperate need.

Paul says something similar - that God's glory is revealed in our sin. His grace, mercy, and deep love for us is shown best when we don't live up to it. When we falter and fumble. When we're not perfect. 

And then Paul goes one step further, knowing how the human mind thinks. He says, "Should we then go on sinning, just so that God's grace can shine through all the better? By no means!" In other words, of course not. We shouldn't set out to intentionally sin just to demonstrate God's glory; willful sin is rebellion, not faith. 

We'll sin plenty without intending to, anyway. We do not need any help in the "fallen short" department. Our flesh takes pretty good care of that itself. 

But we do need to rethink how we think about it. Because it's too easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that what God desires from us is our perfection, and that's just not the case. What God requires from us, what has always been counted to our righteousness, what has always been our witness to the our faith.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Human Ambivalence

I just want to die, and I don't understand why God won't just let me do that. This world, this life, has become too much for me in all its brokenness, and I've got nothing left in me to try to fight back. I am overwhelmed, discouraged, defeated, and the only way out of this whole thing is death.

Although, I suppose, comfort might work, too. 

Yes, our journey through the Bible has brought us squarely into the story of Job, and it's a story that is so humanly familiar to most of us that we can't help but be drawn in by Job's raw honesty and bold speech. In this case, it's his very human ambivalence that we relate to.

Ambivalence is the state of being torn between two alternatives. In this case, death and comfort. And it's interesting that even for Job, a man of great faith, and for us, a people of faith, death often seems to be our first inclination. And not in the way you might think.

In good times and in times of peace, it seems only natural. We who believe in eternal life and heavenly glory can't wait to die and get there, to this place where we have perfect peace and wholeness and wellness, where we get to live forever in intimate fellowship with God and Jesus, in a mansion prepared just for us. For a people who believe, who wouldn't want this? It's as Paul says - I'm ready to die and embrace glory, but it's for the sake of the work remaining here that I live.

But that's not the posture that Job has, and it's not often the posture that we have. Job doesn't have a promise of Heaven; He doesn't have a Jesus who has atoned for his sins. He's atoned for his own sins as best he can, but the current struggle he finds himself in seems to indicate that maybe he hasn't done as well as he thinks he has, no matter how insistent he is about it. But for Job, death is just the end.

That's what we often want out of it, too.

We just want the pain to stop. We just want the brokenness to end. We've run out of shoes to drop, and yet we know that something else is still coming, and it seems like the only way we're ever going to get any peace, the only way we're ever going to get any rest, is to just stop. For everything to just stop. And the only way we know to do that for sure is to die. It's weird, right? In our deepest despair, we talk like a people for whom death is the end. Like a people who want death, just so it can be the end. 

Yet there remains something in us that isn't quite satisfied by that idea, either. So like Job, we pull ourselves back and as a second thought, if God would just be God-like for a second and end our pain for us, if He would heal and restore us, if He would put the brokenness back together and make the bleeding stop, well, then, we'd just as soon go on living, if it's all the same. 

We want to live. Yes, living is good, we decide. It's good for us to be alive, for being alive is far better than being in the eternal blackness of death (again, having forgotten that death is life for those who believe). But we remain torn, for we know that from here, living looks like pain and brokenness and unpredictability. Death, though it is nothingness, is something secure; it is certain. 

We are torn, perpetually, between the certain and the incertain, forgetting all along what is sure. 

See, Job never stopped believing in God, but he forgot for a bit just what it is that he so truly believes. A man of great faith and confident assurance, Job looked at his problem for awhile as though he had to figure out how to solve it. Either he could give up and die or he could ask God to solve it for him. And this led him to his ambivalence - "What should I do?" 

It leads us to ours.

Because the truth is that there really is no ambivalence in true and constant faith. If you know for certain who God is, love Him, and trust Him - and if you remember this even in times of trouble - there's not a moment of time where you stop to wonder if you really want God to be God right now or if you don't; you desperately cling to Him. You crave Him. You long for Him. Ambivalence only comes when you think you have to be your own god, you have to solve your own problems. When you're looking for a way out that doesn't depend upon God, but might somehow use Him if it seems fortuitous to do so. 

It's all so complicated, isn't it? Yet, it's simple. 

Eh, I'd rather just die. I haven't the energy to figure all of this out, to know what I should do or how I should do it, whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong. I'm worn out, weary, exhausted, and death...death right now looks pretty good. 

But then again, all things being what they are, maybe I would rather live....