Friday, July 31, 2020

An Account for Your Life

We've been looking this week at a common Christian idea that when we die, we're going to sit in some sort of film room with God and watch the movie of our life and try to defend ourselves, to "give an account" of our existence. And we think this will be the moment that God either accepts or reject us, that we find out whether we've "made it," that we finally know whether God approves of us/loves us or not. We've already debunked much of this idea as simply bad theology, but what about giving an account? What does that even mean?

There are two primary places in the New Testament where we see this language. The first comes from Jesus in Matthew 12, where He says that we will have to give an account of every idle word we have spoken. The second comes from Paul in Romans 14:12, where he says that every one of us will have to give an account to God.

Jesus's words are particularly interesting because they begin with a pattern that should be familiar to Gospel readers: But I say to you. But I say to you, Jesus says, that you will have to give an account for every idle or careless word you have said.

This means that what Jesus is saying is a contrast to what He has just said, which is likely to be something readily agreeable that most persons would not have a problem with. In order to understand this verse, then, we have to look at the one preceding it. And what precedes it is a little story about how good fruit comes from good trees and rotten fruit comes from rotten trees and good people do the good that is in them and evil people do the evil that is in them. In other words, it is a commonly accepted truth in the world to call a spade a spade. To identify things by what they do and to accept, to some degree, that that's just what they are. That tree is just a rotten tree. That person is just a good person.

But God offers another way; He's not satisfied that you just are who you are. He is constantly in the process of regenerating you, of shaping and molding you into more and more the version of you that He had in mind from the very beginning. He is always redeeming you from the broken things that make you less than He created you to be. So what Jesus is saying is that God expects more from you, and this excuse that you just are who you are is not going to fly. You and God are going to have a discussion about opportunities that you missed to be better.

And I think that's really what this "account" is all about. It's going to be a dialogue, not an inquisition. It's going to be about your story as you saw it through your eyes, and then God is going to show you all of the things He saw that you never did. For good and bad, for better and worse, you're going to see your story through God's eyes and celebrate those things you stepped into well and grieve the ones you missed. God's going to show you where you were becoming and where you were retreating, and you're going to understand more than you ever could have imagined. God is doing more in every moment than you could possibly know.

Now, Jesus goes on from here to immediately say that you will be determined guilty or innocent by the careless words you have spoken, but God's not really interested in your words; He's interested in your heart. So your guilt or innocence is about whether you were actively becoming or whether you were content to just be whatever you thought yourself to be. You are guilty or innocent of seeing God's invitation and acting on it.

Likewise (and briefly, because I know this is getting long), the verse in Romans is about personal growth, not really outward action. Paul has launched into this long discourse about not holding others to the standard of your own faith. He talks about how one person worships this way and another that way, how one person understands something to mean this and another understands the same thing to mean that, and you can't make everyone think or act or believe the way that you do. All you can do is be ready to articulate why you believe the way you believe and how that belief led you to act the way that you acted. You will never be judged by someone else's standards, but by whether you were growing and developing and becoming in your own life and faith.

So again, giving an account is not about defending your life, but about seeing it in its fullness. It is about understanding how you came to the places you came, what paths you took, what choices you made, and how they fit into the story that God was telling - the moments you nailed and the ones you missed. And this is not to condemn you. God's not looking for a way to "get" you. He just wants you to see your heart, and the best way to do this is to have you tell its story...and then, He will tell you your heart's story through His eyes and you'll see even more than you thought you did. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020


Yesterday, we looked at the idea that we have gotten somewhere that when we die, we're going to sit in some sort of film room with God and watch the movie of our lives where He replays all of our sins and errors and makes us account for them. We also talked about some of the flaws of this kind of thinking, particularly as relates to God's promise of forgiveness and Jesus's sacrifice on the Cross. 

But I also said there is another theological danger lurking in this misconception that we have, and there is. When we think about this kind of life replay, we come to think that it's not until we die and stand face-to-face with God that we know what He really thinks about our life. And by extension, what He really thinks about us. 

It's not until we die that we'll know whether God really loves us or merely tolerates us, whether He's proud of us or disappointed in us, whether we were good enough for Him or fell way too short. And well, that makes quite a bit of sense. The one question that most of us seem to carry around as our heaviest weight is the question of our own gnawing insecurity. We all want to know who we are, if we're loved, if we're beautiful, if we're enough. We spend our whole lives asking this question, and there's something that feels right about finally having an answer when this life ends and things just get to settle out and rest in eternity. There's something satisfying about having that day when we just know and stop worrying, stop questioning it all the time. 

The question, then, is...what if that day isn't that day, but it's this one? What if you could have that kind of assurance right now? 

What if you didn't have to wait until you die to know if God loves you or not?

We're so performance-based. We think that love, even God's love, is all about how we do with the life that we're given. What we invest ourselves in. What we succeed at. Whether we did things worth doing and whether we did them well.
But God's been very clear about this from the beginning. He loves you. He loves you to your inmost being, to the very places where He's knit you together. He loves you in your shame and in your brokenheartedness and in your brokenness. He loves you in your triumphs and your trials, your tries and your defeats. He loves you when you get things perfectly right, and He loves you when things couldn't have gone more wrong. 

He loves the way you laugh when something tickles your funny bone. He loves the way you flip your hair or curl your lip or raise your eyebrow when something piques your interest. He loves the way you crack your knuckles when you're nervous or how you have to sing a bunch of song lyrics to soothe your soul before you remember to pray. 

God loves you. The entire story of the Bible is: God loves you. The entire story of the Gospel is: God loves you. The entire story of creation is: God loves you. The entire story of promise and hope and confident assurance is: God loves you. The entire story of amazing grace is: God loves you. If there's one thing that God wants you to know for sure about Him, to never have to question, it's this: God loves you

Do you really need to wait until you die to know what God thinks about you? What if you could know right now? 


You are created in His image, held in His hand, wrapped in His heart, and covered by His love. Friend, He is head-over-heels for you. And if you don't think you'll ever be able to know that until you're sitting next to Him in eternity, then you are missing out on the heart of the Christian life now. Because you're missing out on the heart of God now. He's not waiting for you to die so He can love you. 

He loves you, and He wants you to live

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


There's this popular idea in our Christianity that says that when we get to Heaven, we will sit down with the saints and with the Lord Himself and watch some sort of movie of our lives, a movie that will reveal all the sin that we committed, even in secret, and cause us to "give account" for the way that we lived. Most of us have some kind of idea that our greatest shame and failure is going to be blasted all over that screen, that God is going to sit next to us disapprovingly, shaking His head. And there's even a sense that it's not until that moment that we learn whether we "made it" or not - whether God is going to let us into His eternity or cast us into the pits of Hell. Only when we see our lives played out on this video tape will we learn what God really thought about us.

Uhm...where did we get that idea? Seriously.

The Bible tells us that God forgets our sin. Forgets it. Isaiah says that God is the only being in all the world who actually forgets our sin, removing it so far away from us that it cannot be remembered. We even say stuff like this, and sing it: As far as the east is from the west, so God has removed our sin from us. Yet somehow, we think that God forgetting our sin means He's actually just tucked it away on a videotape for later.

That's not what forgetting means. That's not what removing our sin means. It doesn't mean putting it on a shelf and saving it for later. It doesn't mean pretending not to remember only to slam us with it the first chance He gets. It doesn't mean keeping a secret scorecard after He's told us that this is a lot like Whose Line Is It Anyway? - the points don't matter.

I think it's because we have so much experience with persons in our lives who claim to forgive us, but also bring up our failures every chance they get. Or claim to forgive us until something similar happens, and then they bring it back up again. Or claim to forgive us, then are able to lay out a ten-point bulleted outline of our sinful patterns. The persons in our lives may forgive us, but they do not forget, so it is hard for us to comprehend a forgiveness of God that truly forgets.

But even if we're not convinced about this whole forgetting thing God says He does, there are other problems with our idea of this movie of our lives. We think that it's not until this moment that we discover whether we "made it" or not, whether God's going to let us into eternity. And yet, we also say that the moment you bring Jesus into your heart, you are forgiven and embraced and promised into eternity with Him.

Which means that if we continue to question whether God will let us into eternity after we've given our heart to Jesus, then what we're really questioning is whether the promise of Jesus is real. We wonder whether God meant what He said.

Think about that for a minute. We wonder - we question - whether God was serious about that thing where He sent His Son to die an excruciating death on the Cross in front of our very eyes to show us His deep, abiding love for us even in the midst of our own sin. Yeah, we question whether He meant that or not.

And that may not even be the worst of our questioning, though it's certainly dramatic. More about that tomorrow.

The point, at least part of it, is that this image that we have of what it means to "give an account" for our life isn't an image that God has given us. It's one that has come out of our own shame and insecurity. The God who not only forgives our sins, but forgets them, does not have a secret stash of video clips from our lives of us messing up again and again and again. (And let's just add that there is not room in the heavens for all the tapes from even my life, let alone everyone's.) The God who sent His Son to die on the Cross so that we could enter into eternity with Him is not yet undecided about whether you're going to "make it" or not.

Giving an account for our lives, then, must mean something completely different than our fear says it does. Than our insecurity says it does. More on that on Friday. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Love One Another

Recently, I saw a man claim the goodness of his own person because he's someone who "loves everybody the same." It's a standard that our culture has set, and since Jesus told us that we will be known by our love, we, as Christians, have opted in. Sounds good, doesn't it? Just love everybody.

Except Jesus never said to love everybody. He didn't even say to love everybody when He said that we will be known by the way that we love - and that He will be known by the way that we love. What Jesus always said about love is that we are to love one another.

That's a significant difference.

This idea that we love everybody means that we have one kind of love. We have one standard of love. We have one understanding that we just apply across the board. And that doesn't work.

It doesn't work because every individual person that we meet is different, and that means that it's impossible to love them all the same. Something you do for one of those persons may be loving, but if you do for to someone else, it's not loving at all. You may have a friend who is struggling under the weight of depression, and it might be a tremendous act of love to go in and clean his kitchen for him, washing all his dishes, putting things back where they go, polishing the stove. That little bit of quiet attention and that small piece of order and cleanliness put back in his life might touch something deep in his soul and spark a new breath in him.

But you might have another friend struggling under the weight of depression who has been motivating herself to get up and clean her kitchen as the first little step that she is taking toward gaining her life back. Which means that if you go in and start tidying up, you're not loving her; you're taking away the stone she's planning to step on to get back to where she wants to be.

If you love "everybody," it's easy to say that you love them by cleaning their kitchen. But cleaning a kitchen is not loving to everybody. It's a small, silly example, but you can easily see the point.

Love is a dynamic thing. It's not easily definable because it's something different in every situation. And when the man who made the statement about how he loves everybody the same said it, I immediately recalled things that he had previously said that were, quite honestly, not loving to many. He had created a huge blind spot in his theology because he assumed that love was one thing and that having one standard and treating everyone exactly the same - out of his goodness - was love. A blanket sort of love that no one could argue with. But the truth is, a lot of persons have been disenfranchised by him. And another truth is that he honestly doesn't see it. If you try to confront him with it, he is convinced the problem is not with his love, but with those he's trying to love. They just don't get it. He loves everybody.

And I think that's why Jesus is so careful always to say that we are to love one another, not everybody. I think that's why He puts such an emphasis on one another. Because love is this complicated thing where we have to keep figuring out all over again what love is. Love is not something we can just decide on and set in stone and throw out into the world we do any policy or procedure.

You have to figure out what love is in any given situation, with any given human being, at any given time. You have to invest yourself in someone else's story deeply enough to figure out what role you're playing in it. Do you remember back in the 90s? We had some actors who played the same role over and over and over again. All of their movies were essentially the same. They walked onto the set and were just the same character, every time. That's how too many of us do love. We just walk into other persons' stories as the character we think we are, and we don't bother to learn our lines for this story. Because hey, we love everybody. It doesn't matter what the story is.

The world's idea of love, then...not only does it not work, but it falls way short of the call that Jesus has issued for us. It falls way short of the teaching of Christ on what it means to be in brotherly fellowship with one another. It falls way short of what love actually is. We can't love everybody. We can only ever love one another. One at a time. In one unique way after another after another after another.

The standard is not, nor can it be, to love everybody. The standard, as set by Jesus Himself, is to love everyone.

So love one another. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Modern-Day Foot Washing

As our world, and our churches, change in response to our changing world, we're having the opportunity to experience things we never could have imagined even six months ago. Churches all over the world have wrestled with how to safely continue meeting together when we know how vulnerable our own populations often are, and this has led to some...interesting...adaptations in the church. 

One of the adaptations that my own church made, for a season, was the institution of the "restroom attendant." One of the Restroom Attendant's duties was to clean and sanitize the restroom after each use. This meant that this person sat outside the restroom door throughout the church service, armed with sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, and cleaned off every stall door, toilet, and sink after each use. 

Now, let me say that I once attended a youth rally in the church that had a different form of restroom attendant. When I needed to use the facilities in the middle of the hours-long event, this woman followed me out of the sanctuary and into the restroom and stood there trying to make conversation while I was trying to make...never mind. If this is your church, stop that immediately. No one in your worship service wants a stranger (or even a friend) following them into the restroom as standard practice. That's just creepy. 

But back to our new restroom attendants. My first thought was what a servant's heart it takes to accept this kind of position when your leadership asks you to take it. I know quite well the persons who accepted it in my congregation (a husband and wife), and I would absolutely say that the servant's heart thrives in them. I will also say that on that first restroom attended Sunday, there was a part of me that was glad my leadership didn't ask me. I would have done it. I could have done it. But I also had this overwhelming sense of just how awkward the whole thing was. 

Then I realized that sense of awkwardness was not because I was thinking about what it must be like to be the bathroom attendant. Actually, I was wrestling with what it meant to have to pee. 

There's this scene in the Gospels where Jesus is sharing an intimate moment with His disciples, one of the last that they would share before His crucifixion. And while they are busy arguing - again - about what it means to be awesome, Jesus quietly stood up, wrapped a towel around His waist, and knelt down to wash the feet of the men who had journeyed with him for three years of ministry. When He came to Peter, the disciple protested - No, Lord. You will never wash my feet. 

And that was exactly the gut reaction I was having to the bathroom attendant. No, friend. You will never sanitize my toilet. 

There was just something about having this kind of servant simply waiting, quietly, on the need to serve that really tested my own humility. (Spoiler alert: I didn't pass the test.) I'm not someone who likes to have others clean up after me. I'm not someone who leaves a mess that others would have to clean up. I'm the kind of person who has fixed leaky toilets in public bathrooms just as a courtesy to others and now...and now, someone has to go in and sanitize what I have just touched. There was nothing in that moment that I could do to avoid this. I could not leave that restroom without requiring it to be sanitized. My mere presence made it dirty, just as the act of walking soiled Peter's feet. And there was someone there waiting, willing, to clean it up. Not only was someone waiting to clean up the mess I wasn't even trying to make, but it was someone I love and someone I know loves me. 

Yeah, I felt like Peter. And it's a moment I have wrestled with for the weeks since. 

I want to think that I'm better than Peter, that I'm not as impetuous or as stubborn, but maybe I am. Maybe I am a little pig-headed and obstinate. Maybe I am a little too sure of my own ability to care for myself. 

I keep thinking about all the tender things Jesus wants to do for me, all the quiet moments that are coming. When He wipes away my tears. When He binds my wounds. When, yes, He washes my feet. And I wonder now how that's gonna go. Because this one encounter with something so strange as a restroom attendant has me wondering if I am the kind of disciple I thought I was or not. 

No, Lord. You will never sanitize my toilet. 

At first, I wondered if I would have been humble enough to be the servant if asked, if I would have accepted - without grumbling, with joy - the request to serve my brothers and sisters as the restroom attendant. But the longer I've thought about it, I've realized that my heart for service is the least of my concerns. What I really need to work on is my own humility. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

This Little Light

Here's another piece of a song that I caught the other morning that struck me as being a "spiritual milk" sort of issue: This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Oh yeah.

Most of us know this one, too, and we've sung it a time or two ourselves (especially if we have children). But we run into the same problem here that we ran into yesterday with Jesus loves me - it's only meant to be a starting point for a developing theology, for a greater understanding of God and a deeper faith. This was never meant to be the place where we settle forever.

The reason for that is simple: it doesn't rest on the heart of God. There's no mention of Him at all. It's about our light and our letting it shine. I'm gonna let my light shine. When you don't ground this kind of thing in an understanding of who God is and how you got the light in the first place, it becomes a self-centered doctrine. I am a light because, well, look at me; I'm fabulous. And I'm gonna let it shine because everyone should see how awesome I am. I want to share my amazingness with the world, and the world is going to love it. 

Do you see how easy it is for that kind of thinking to actually draw us away from God? Away from the One who made us His light in the first place? It doesn't take much for this little light of mine to become all about me. 

Again, what we need is to grow from here. And again, what we have here is the opportunity for two (at least) distinct steps forward. 

The first step is to recognize that it is God whose light I am. I am not my own light. Whatever brightness I bring into the world is because He has made me bright. This means attributing all my talent, all my ability, all my heart, all my grace, all my goodness, every meaningful thing about me to the One who created it in me to begin with. Everything I am is because God has made me this way, which makes my being His glory, not mine. So maybe the first refrain that we grow into is, His little light in me, I'm gonna let them see.

Then, the second way that we grow through this refrain is to recognize that whatever opportunities we have to shine in this world are for His glory. That means they are His opportunities, not ours. We don't make our light shine. We don't let our light shine. We let Him shine our light by putting us in the places that He needs us in order to glorify His name. This is a little bit sticky, I know. We want our faith to be something we choose, and it is. We want our praise to be something we offer freely, and it ought to be. But when we let ourselves lose sight of the fact that He is the reason that we choose these things - for His name, not our own - then we risk running into the same trouble we found on spiritual milk. Namely, that our faith becomes something about us rather than something about Him. 

This only matters when we're talking about the world. That's why it's so easy to get it messed up. Our faith marks our standing before God. It matters because it is part of the way that He sees us, part of the way that He measures our life. Our faith is to be lived out on display for Him, that we may live with open, honest hearts before Him. What our faith was never meant to do was to show the world what a faithful life looks like; it was meant to show the world what a faithful God looks like. So if at any time the world gets the impression that our faith is something we do and not someone God is, then we're doing it wrong. Maybe, then, it's This little light of His, He's gonna show them this. 

Our life is just meant to live as a witness, as an example, as a testimony to our God, not to us. If we never grow past the first few words we learned, we run the risk of missing out on that opportunity, of not living up to what God intended for us - even if we're a light every day. Because we can shine light in the dark places of our world without ever illuminating our God for them (if we're not careful), and that's not at all what we meant by this song in the first place. So we've got to grow through it and learn some new words. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me. This, I know. For the Bible tells me so.

It's the refrain of so many a Christian childhood. Even a non-Christian childhood if you grew up in an era like I did where we weren't a Christian family, but we were a "good" family, and that meant that I went to Christian preschool. Where I learned, of course, that Jesus loves me. This, I know. And it can be so easy for us to want to go back to something so simple, something that seems so pure and so uncomplicated. 

But as I listened to these words again this morning on an early morning run (they show up in part of my playlist, okay?), it struck me how little hope there is in these words. How...empty they easily become. And how so many Christians never grow past them - and don't think they should. 

When we say Jesus loves me. This, I know, we are making a statement about a truth. About an idea. It is a fact of the matter - Jesus loves me. This is a true statement. But when life gets difficult and push comes to shove and your whole world is falling apart and you're sitting there saying to yourself, "But Jesus loves me," does it feel like that love is true? In the hard times, does knowing that Jesus loves you really soothe your aching heart at all? After awhile, if you keep telling yourself that Jesus loves you just because you know it happens to be a fact, it's easy to start disbelieving the whole thing. Or resenting Him. Because this doesn't feel like love. That's what makes it so easy to walk away when your faith has never grown past this simple refrain. 

So as I listened to these words, I started thinking about how I might rewrite them to better demonstrate what faith is supposed to grow like. Because the fact of Jesus's love is a great starting point, but we need more. It's spiritual milk, but we were made for a feast. And I think that what I've come up with is at least two more verses, at least two significant changes to these simple words that must occur over time as we grow or, quite frankly, we're not growing and we will never have a faith that truly sustains us. 

The next verse must be, Jesus loves me. Him, I know. We have to come to a faith that gets to know this Jesus who loves us. That gets to walk beside Him in the Gospels, learns the cadences of His steps, hears the sound of His voice. We have to break bread with Him and fry fish on the seashore and listen to His heart as He speaks words of truth and love. We cannot settle for a faith that simply knows that we are loved; we have to grow into a faith that knows deeply our Lover. We have to get, through study and discipleship and discipline and wild, passionate pursuit to a place where we can just as confidently sing, Jesus loves me. Him, I know.

From there, we just deepen the relationship. We just anchor it so securely in our hearts that it becomes our grounding point, the one thing we are sure of no matter what storms come our way. It becomes the thing that sets us down, that stands us up, that puts us firmly into a place where hope is not only possible, it is real. And I don't mean hope as in the wishing for something that might one day happen if we're lucky. I'm talking real hope - that confident assurance that God is real, God is good, God loves us, and He is working all things together for His glory. At this point, our refrain has got to be Jesus loves me. Of this, I'm sure. There is nothing in this world that is going to shake my knowing of that.

It's only at this point that the love of God is meaningful. It's only here that it makes an actual difference in our lives - when we are sure of it, by knowing Him, and not just reassured of it by believing some precept about it. All of a sudden, when push comes to shove and our whole world is falling apart, we are sure of the love of Jesus because we've grown through knowing about His love to knowing Him to being certain that He is love and that His love is real...and that matters. That makes a huge difference. It helps us, having walked with Him and come to know Him, to hear His heartbeat in our ache and to have something real to hold onto. 

Jesus loves me. This, I know. But that's only the beginning. A real, dynamic, vital faith must grow from there until we reach the place where we can sing all three verses: 

Jesus loves me. This, I know.
Jesus loves me. Him, I know. 
Jesus loves me. 

Of this, I'm sure. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Talking to Myself

For several days, we've been talking about prayer. And let me just tell you - this prayer thing is hard. It really is. I think prayer has got to be the thing that persons of faith have had more questions about than anything else in the faithful life. We have fought over how we're supposed to do church. We have debated over what fellowship means. We continue to try to hash out what love is as we live it out. But nearly every Christian I have ever known, heard about, or read about has wrestled with prayer.

And I'm not going to claim to have all the answers; I don't. But I do want to share with you some things that I learn along the way, some things that I've wrestled with and continue to wrestle with. Some things that are changing my prayer life. In the hopes, of course, that they can help you with yours.

Here's one thing that I'm coming to discover is key to a dynamic, vital prayer life: you have to really believe that you're talking with God - and that He's listening.

You have to believe that you're entering into a dialogue with someone other than you. You have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He wants for you what He says He wants for you. You have to have a sense of God's heart throughout your prayer so that you're always checking back in with Him, always pushing up against what you know of Him. Always remembering there is someone else in the room, someone with another perspective that you can't see on your own.

If you don't believe these things, if you don't remember that you believe these things while you're praying, then most of the time, you just end up talking to yourself. You end up ruminating on things rather than praying about them. You end up exhausting all of your options and never coming to any deeper understanding than you already had. You end up right back where you started because the truth is that you never left.

If you're anything like me, then you're already good at talking to yourself. Really good. You're already good at saying what you want to hear, already good at convincing yourself that you're smart and good and right about things. You already have a certain trust in your own wisdom, so it doesn't take much to convince you to act on it. You speak in a language that you already know, a language that you're very comfortable with and it's easy to not challenge yourself at all.

The truth is...I want lesser things for myself. Not intentionally, of course. I always say that I'm pushing myself. But when I'm talking to myself, what I'm really doing is staying right in the center of my comfort zone. I'm taking into account, before I even consider something, what I'm comfortable and confident doing. I limit my options before I even identify them because there are some things I just can't dream for myself. For a number of reasons. The strange thing is that even for those persons of faith who think very highly of themselves or who would consider themselves bold, when we start talking to ourselves for real, we all have this very small view of who we are. We just don't have God's big vision for us, and we can't unless He gives it to us. And He can't give it to us if He's not in the conversation.

Which means that if I'm just talking to myself, my prayer will stay shallow. It will stay small. So will my life. So will my faith.

So will my God.

Perhaps that's the strangest thing of them all. I know that there are times that I'm pretending to pray and I'm really just talking to myself. There are times that I forget that God is right here with me. There are times that I stop pressing up against His heart and pull back into my own. It happens. It happens to all of us. There are times that I am praying less for my life because I'm just talking to myself. And then...and then...even if I get all of the lesser things that I thought I was praying about, it's easy - super easy - for me to be angry at God that it isn't more. For me to blame God for the smallness of my life when it's my fault for not stepping into His bigness.

(This is where you say 'Amen.' Because you know it's true. You're doing it, too.)

That's why I say that I think one of the keys to a dynamic, vital, life-giving prayer life is to truly believe - and to remember - that you're talking with God, and that He's listening. Otherwise, you're just talking to yourself. And well, how's that working for you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

However This Ends

A funny thing happens when you start making plans with the Lord, when you allow Him to share with you the vision that He has for your life - whether that be with something relatively small, as I experienced it recently, or with something larger: you're able to let go of the outcome.

In fact, I'm willing to go so far as to say that most of the time when you make plans with the Lord, He doesn't even show you how it all turns out. You don't get that far. And oddly, you find that you don't need it. You develop such a deep sense of peace about the process, you fall in love with the scene that He's developing, you get so much into your character in the story He's telling that you can't wait to take the stage, so to speak, and play it out. The vision God puts before you gets so deep into your heart that you couldn't imagine not taking that path, wherever it leads.

The procedure that God gave me a vision for has a typical success rate of 98%. It only fails two percent of the time. The professional performing the procedure initially gave me 50-50 odds for success, based on his experience and my specific circumstances. But the process he described lined up 100% with the vision God had given me for how this experience would go, and I couldn't have imagined, in the moment, not doing it. It is a moment I had seen so often, that God had shown me so clearly, that He had put into my heart so unquestionably that I was able to look around at the scenery and say, yup, this is my scene.

The fact that I knew my lines didn't take away the reality - there is still a 2% chance of failure. The professional had his own opinion about potential success, which was 50-50 (although it did improve after he'd actually done it). And you know what? I think that last bit can be said about just about anything. Anything you dare to do in life is really 50-50 - either it's going to work out or it isn't. Right?

But the fact that I knew my lines took away the anxiety that I had about the outcome. I didn't spend hours or days with my fingers crossed and hands folded, praying for God to make it successful. I didn't bully Him into making things turn out the way I wanted because He's the one who told me to do it (so He's the one who should make it successful). I didn't think about the tremendous investment I had made and worry about being out that money if the whole thing fails. All those worries that are so easy to get wrapped up in as human beings in a fallen world...they just...weren't there. I was able to simply, in the moment, thank God for the opportunity and as time passes and we start to see how things are working out, thank God for the opportunity. Thank God for that feeling of blessedness that this was not only possible, but that He had given me a vision for it.

I know that sounds strange. Most of us can't imagine a life where we're not concerned about the outcome. Most of us can't imagine making a huge investment and being okay if it doesn't pay off. Most of us don't think about the life of faith as a place where we take chances. But maybe we should. Maybe we should stop thinking that our faith has to be this certain, sure thing and start just living into the adventures God calls us to.

That's what I'm saying about all this. That's what I'm saying about this simple prayer that I prayed that at the time. It did. It felt like I was ignoring all of the questions and worries and hopes that I really had. It felt like I wasn't being honest about my fears and my anxieties and even my wants. I absolutely wanted assurances. I absolutely wanted God to just orchestrate everything and make it all sunshine and roses. Who wouldn't?

It felt a little empty when I just prayed for Him to show me what it looks like, to give me a vision of this thing. I am so used to, like most Christians, begging and pleading with God, pestering Him, getting locked into a prayer and repeating it over and over and over again until He gives me what I want (which, by the way, doesn't happen as often as I wanted it to, which also becomes kind of a desperate prayer, doesn't it? Lord, answer me. Answer me now. Do that thing You never seem to do and answer me). But then, He gave me a vision for it...and it's the best prayer I've ever prayed. It's the best response He's ever given. And I've realized that is what I want more of in my life of faith. Not assurances, but invitations. Just a chance to catch His vision and run with it, wherever it leads.

I still don't know how things work out on this one. I don't. But I can't imagine having not taken the chance. I can't imagine knowing my lines, looking around at the set, recognizing every little prop all around me, and deciding not to take the stage. I can't imagine watching His vision come together before my very human eyes and saying, Eh. Maybe not. I can't imagine having not taken this journey with Him, which, for everything it's done or not done or might do or might not do, has given me the chance to live by faith and to rest in blessedness and to experience peace amid the journey.

So the next time you're tempted to tell God what you need Him to do in your life, think about asking Him instead. Ask Him to give you a vision for what He sees because I'm telling you - He sees more than you can even imagine. Before you know it, you might just find that scene taking shape before your very eyes. And when you do, you can step into it confidently, without worrying about how it all turns out. Whether you get everything you wanted or something less or something more or something different, this is your scene and you recognize it. And when God's given you the vision for it, you can't imagine not taking the stage. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Making Plans with the Lord

Last week for a couple of days, we talked about prayer. I want to go back to that for a bit. Because I want to talk about how prayer is really not a formal exercise, but simply an ongoing conversation. And I'm going to talk about this by sharing with you a story. 

I've had an opportunity lately to consider an opportunity to bring some healing into my life. It was an opportunity that was more expensive than I wanted it to be, sounded incredibly uncomfortable, was difficult to find a professional for (not many, apparently, do it locally), and just all around a hassle. But if I could figure out all of the details, the results could have a dramatic impact on my quality of life. 

Now, our natural inclination when faced with such a situation is to start praying to ask God to put all of the pieces together. What we want is for God to make a way for the finances to work out, for the discomfort to be minimal, to lead us to the right professional, to make the whole thing as easy and painless as possible. We want God to orchestrate everything, so we start telling Him what we're thinking and ask Him to open doors while we go around knocking. 

There's nothing wrong with this, and it's an approach that I've taken for a number of things in my life. To be honest with you, though, I am usually disappointed in the results I get. I find that while God does provide, it never seems to be as easy as I thought He should have made it and by the time I get to the end of the journey, I realize all the work that I ended up doing that really just stressed me out. 

This time, however, without my even really recognizing it, things went differently. And it's forever going to change the way that I pray. 

I realized that the biggest question I had about this whole thing was not about the details. It was about the unknowns. I had absolutely no idea what this process was going to look like, no idea how something like this even worked. I tried researching on the internet to get some ideas, but there were so many options, so many different possible paths. It was impossible to figure out what my path would look like. So out of the ache of my own unknowing, I simply started a conversation with God. 

I simply asked, "God, show me what this looks like." 

And as we continued to talk about it and work through it (and through my anxieties about it) over the past couple of months, God began to paint for  me a picture of my journey through this. Of what, ideally, it would look like. Of the best possible approach for me. He showed me with my own being in the images, with me being able to see myself in His vision for it. Once I had a grasp of how things should go, I started making some calls. 

For one reason after another, I turned away from prospective professionals. The information I gathered over quick phone calls with them just didn't settle well in my heart, didn't seem to fit into the vision that God had given me of what this looked like. And then, I found a guy. A local guy, someone I knew from a previous experience, someone my heart just settled into. I was a little put off by the high consultation fee, but the vision was a match, so I went. If things didn't work out, all I was out was a consultation fee. 

He and I talked through the procedure, through my options. He told me what he preferred to do, what he thought was the best possible outcome in my case. Then, he told me that because of the complexities of my personal case, he could only confidently give me a 50-50 chance at a good healing. That made him nervous, he admitted; he prefers to do things at 95% or higher. He does a lot of procedures that are 100% sure of success. To him, 50-50 were bad odds.

But God and I had been shaping this vision by this point for months, and what this professional said to me lined up exactly with what God had shown me this looked like for me. The professional asked if I wanted to take some time to think about it, especially since it was such a financial investment, but I didn't need any more time to think about it. I had been planning for it for so long already. My heart was completely at peace with his 50-50 because it matched 100% with what God had been showing me. Without hesitation, I said, "Let's do it."

Actually, I said, "How about this? You do a good job, and I'll heal it well." The professional laughed a little and agreed. Within an hour, we were underway and in under two hours, it was done. And the professional was surprised at how well it went (and really proud of the work he'd done.) 

I looked at him and asked, "How do you feel about my 50-50 now?" And he chuckled again and said, "A LOT better." 

See, the thing is that when you pray for God to get on board with your plans, you never really get the kind of certainty that I had that morning in this guy's office. You can't be sure whether God is really ordaining the moment or if you're ordaining it and hoping He shows up soon. But when you make your plans with God, when you let Him paint a picture for you of what something is supposed to look like, then you can be confident when you recognize it taking shape and you can step into it with trust, with faith, with confident assurance because this is what God's been trying to show you all along. 

And there's something else, too. Something else that's really cool that I'll tell you about tomorrow. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

What's in a Friend?

If you're anything like me, you've received your fair share of friend requests on social media from persons who have historically shown no interest in being your actual friend. I'm not talking about persons who have been actively hostile toward you, although that happens, too - sometimes, you get a friend request from someone who made your life absolutely miserable and now, they are like, "Oh, hey..." and you can't help but wonder what kind of life they are remembering, but I'm just talking about persons who had every chance for an entire season of your life to strike up even one conversation and chose not to take it and now want access to your life via social media.

The running joke, of course, is that they have something to sell, which is often true. A quick run through their profile before accepting or rejecting a request can tell you whether they have a dynamic online presence that reflects an actual life or if they are just there to sell goods or services. Taking these few minutes can save you a bunch of annoyance later.

But here's the thing - how do we, as Christians, decide what to do in these moments?

For awhile, I subscribed to the belief that anyone who wanted to be my friend on social media (who I actually knew, of course) could be my friend on social media. I post links to my blogs, theological thoughts, and inspirational ideas about Jesus quite a bit. I could be the person who leads them to a life in Christ, and all I have to do is give them access to a lot of pictures of my dog and a few bad days here and there. Seems like a small price to pay, doesn't it?

Not only that, but rejecting a friend request just felt un-Christian to me for the longest time. Jesus loved everybody; why shouldn't I? I want to believe the best in people. I want to believe that people can change. I want to believe that sometimes, people consider their previous actions to have been wrong and want to atone for that.

In roughly 15 years of social media, I have only ever had one person friend me to say they were wrong about something in our mutual past. One.

So it's probably not that.

Still, I believe the best in people. I believe the best in me. I believe the best in Jesus. And if all that is true, then shouldn't I just friend everybody? Shouldn't I just let all who would, come?

No. And here's why:

What I've come to learn over the years (years of making bad decisions in this regard here and there) is that my life is sacred. It is an example best lived by being intentional about it, not reckless with it. I am not the prophet Isaiah; God has not asked me to walk around naked in order to make His point. Even Jesus often talked about "those you have given me" instead of "the whole world."

That means that I set an example through my life not by posting certain things on social media or making profound comments about life or love, but by being a good steward of my social media. By making it a part of a faithful, righteous life. By letting it be holy by being set apart.

And the truth is that at least half of those persons that I either let in for awhile or were tempted to let in probably muted me the first minute and never saw anything I posted anyway. They certainly never cared to comment on any of my posts.

So it's okay if you want to say "no" to a friend request. It's not un-Christian at all to turn away a "chance for a witness" when that chance profanes your life and makes it something less than God desires it to be. As with all things, pray about it. If God doesn't want you to open your life in that way, then don't. After all, your life is meant to be sacred. Even in a digital age. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Change Me, Lord

I've been thinking a lot about the way we pray. I think sometimes, it's easy for us to get wrapped up in our own hearts in prayer, and this keeps us from getting wrapped up in His.

The other night, I went to bed hurt. As life tends to go, I'd had a difficult exchange with someone I love - and who loves me - and I was simply hurt to the core of my being. I was hurt by the actions of the other, hurt by the words of the other, hurt by the words of a third party who was present, and I was hurt by the actions I myself had taken in that moment, hurt that I had to do it and hurt that I knew it hurt someone else for me to do it. There was just a lot of hurt. (And I know I wasn't the only one feeling it.)

The thing about hurt is that it doesn't like to hang around very long. It always wants to become something else. It wants to become anger, casting all the wrong on the other party and condemning them for it. It wants to become indignation, elevating the self to some kind of privilege that shouldn't have to put up with such things. It wants to become depression, convincing you that you're just a piece of garbage and not worth anything. It can even convince you life is not worth living if you're careful. At least, your life is not worth living. That's just the thing about hurt - it tries to be anything else but raw pain.

When hurt starts to transform in your heart into something else, it changes the way that you pray about it. I had thoughts that whole evening about what I wanted God to do in response to my hurt, which was trying so desperately not to be hurt any more. At first, I just prayed that I was ready to go Home. Ready to give up this life. I prayed that He would take me quietly, gently, and I wept tears of grief for those I love that I would have left behind. I prayed as my heart let go of the things that give me life here, and it was hard. And you know what the worst part of it was? It didn't help the hurt. All the drama, all the emotion, all the despair did not change the hurt that I was feeling. The prayer that was wrapped in my own heart failed to do anything at all for me in that moment.

So then, I became indignant. What I wanted was for God to somehow make the others in this situation pay the price for what they had done and said about me, for the way they had acted and reacted in that situation. I wanted them to feel the full weight of sorrow and be miserable about it. I prayed out of my heart that God would smite theirs, but that felt wrong, too. That's not the kind of person I am, and it's not the kind of person I was willing to let this situation turn me into. And you know what? It still didn't help the hurt anyway. Being indignant didn't change the way that I felt. This prayer, too, wrapped in my own heart failed to do anything at all for me in that moment.

For a few breaths, I settled into anger. A righteous anger, or so I convinced myself. I confessed t the Lord that I was angry, and then I confessed to the Lord that I was also right. I started praying for God to change the hearts of the others involved in this situation, to make them understand their wrongness and the depth of the pain they had inflicted on me. I asked them to soften their spirits and convict them of their transgression, even though I knew how hard it would be for me to trust an apology or even a glossing over of things. This prayer, too, did nothing to help my hurt. Wrapped in my own heart, it just didn't do anything.

But as I realized the hurt just would not go away, that it was burrowing deeper and deeper into my soul, I changed my prayer one more time. This time, I prayed that God would soothe my heart.

And you know what?

He did.

In a breath, that heavy feeling lifted off my chest. My tears became gentler tears of exhaustion and comfort, rather than pain and hurt. I fell asleep in the midst of that prayer, crying out for God to come and change my heart, convict me where I needed it, soothe my hurt. And He did. And it turns out, that was everything I needed that night. Not my heart, but His.

May that moment forever change the way that I pray. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Loving God

When you pray to God, what are you praying for?

A lot of the time when we pray, we know what it is that we want God to do for us. We know how we want Him to respond. We know what we expect and desire His answer to be. And we pray toward a specific something, toward a specific revelation of Him or act of Him or blessing of Him that we're hoping to receive. And though the object of our prayer is often us, the target of our prayer is Him. We are laying out our expectation, our hope, our yearning for Him.

What's interesting, the more we listen to our own prayer and to the prayer of others, is how often our prayer shows our lack of faith, not our abundance of it.

Here's what I mean: too often, our prayer pleads with God to be who He's already promised to be. We pray for God to be loving; oh, how we long for Him to be loving. But God is already loving. It's who He is. He cannot be otherwise. We pray for God to be near; oh, how we long for Him to be near. But God is already near. He's walked with us from the very beginning. We pray for God to be healing; Lord, we need You to be healing in our lives. But God is already healing. He is restoring His creation with every breath.

We keep praying for God to be all of these things that He's promised He already is. We keep praying for God to be all of these things He's already shown us that He is. We keep praying for God to be...God and to act according to His character as He's revealed it from all the way back to the formless and void.

If our prayer is for God to be who God already is, do we even believe in Him? Do we even know anything about Him?

It just seems like a waste of prayer to me. We want God to be a force in our lives, but He's already a force in our lives. We want Him to be who He's promised to be, but He already is who He's promised to be. God doesn't change. If that's who He is, then He already is that. It's like telling our kids we need them to ask for a snack every twenty minutes or telling our grandma we need her to bake cookies when she visits. These things are going to happen anyway; they don't need to be said.

What we need to pray for is not for God to be God; He's going to do that anyway. We need to pray for God being God to change us. We don't need God to love us near as much as we need to be the kind of people who live into His love. He already loves us; we let that love down by letting go of it too easily. We don't need God to be a God who desires to heal us; He already desires to heal us. What we need is a heart that recognizes the healing already taking shape in our lives. We don't need God to draw close to us; He's already right here. What we need is to be a people who recognize how near He already is and reach out and touch Him.

In other words, what we most need is to be a people who believe in the God we pray to. What we most need is the courage to live as a people of the God who already is all the things we keep praying for Him to be.

And so maybe our best prayer is not, "Lord, please act on my behalf," but rather, "Lord, please make me a person who acts according to the truth of who you are."

That doesn't mean we get everything we want just the way that we want it. It doesn't mean our lives look exactly like we think they should. That's not what God-being-God means. That's not the Gospel; that's a cheap imitation. But what it means is simply that we recognize who God is and we live accordingly. We act on the truth that we already have instead of continuing to pray for confirmation of it. We trust in who God is instead of pleading with Him to continue to prove Himself because, let's be honest, this has been our prayer for a lifetime already. When is it going to be enough? When are we going to be willing to say, "Yes, Lord. You already are all the things I've been praying for You to be. And now, it's time for me to embrace Your goodness"?

And listen, this isn't mean to be a discouragement from praying. Not at all. Pray. Pray continually. Pray without ceasing. Pray every time you get the chance. But be aware of what it is that you're praying for and what's driving it. Do you keep praying for God to be what He already is? Then maybe it's time to just accept Him and start living into that. Maybe it's time to pray for the strength, the courage, and the heart to believe what you already know and what He's already demonstrated. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


When Mary became pregnant, there were whispers in Nazareth. But of course, everyone knew what they were whispering about, so it doesn't take long before those whispers just become talk. How could Mary do this to Joseph? How could Joseph stand by Mary? And what about this baby?

Just who is little Jesus's father? 

It's the question everyone wanted an answer to. It was the juicy gossip that everyone wanted to know. Certainly, they tried to get it out of the couple. Certainly, they tried to trick Mary into giving up the name of the unnamed man. Certainly, they suggested to Joseph any number of other young men of Nazareth that Mary might have been seen around and why she fell for that man instead of him. 

We can only imagine that young Jesus faced a difficult childhood. The adults around would consider Him illegitimate, never giving Him a standing in the community because they couldn't really know whose son He was. Even though they called Him Joseph's son, they all knew that wasn't true. Not in the biological sense. The other kids probably teased him for the same reasons - He was not His father's son. Or maybe they all just came to the conclusion that He was Joseph's, that the young couple just got into thing a little too early before the wedding and didn't want to confess their sin. 

Whatever the answer, whatever the prevailing gossip, the one question that would linger around Jesus for most, if not all, of His life was: who is His father? 

Not surprising, then, that Jesus spent so much of His ministry talking about Him. 

Every time you turn around, Jesus is preaching something about His Father. Something about the love between them. Something about the intimate knowledge they share. Something about the grand plan for all of this. Something about the Kingdom. Even something about His Father's house, where He goes to prepare a place for us. Jesus kept pounding on this one issue - My Father, My Father, My Father; it is not until He prays that we even think to pray "Father God...." 

We read right past this quite a bit. Or we take it for simple theology. We emphasize what Jesus says when He points to a Kingdom, or we think that He's trying to teach us something about God. But narrowing Jesus's discourse in this way misses so much of His narrative. It misses so much of the context in which He lives. We have to understand the way that this question hangs over His head in order to understand what it means when He keeps talking about it. Kid, we don't even know who your father is.

And then Jesus says, "Let me tell you about my Father." 

That's why when Jesus is talking, the Pharisees get so upset about the claims He's making. They don't disagree that God is who He says God is; their beef is that Jesus is claiming to be God's kid. He's claiming God as Father. He's answering this one pressing question about His life that won't go away by making an absurd claim that makes Him - an illegitimate child - the Son of God. It's blasphemous. Unless, of course, it's true. 

Which, of course, is the final statement on His pre-resurrected life - that it is true. The Roman soldier, of all men, proclaims it to be. Truly, this was the son of God.

What a way to frame the Jesus narrative. And what a way to read it. Next time you're going through the Gospels, pick up this thread and follow it. See what you find. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

A Holy Robe

Our Lord is the Lord who walks among us, but He is also the God who dwells in Heaven, preparing a place for us. It seems that as Christianity continues to develop in a modern world, we are quickly losing touch with the kind of faith-in-flesh that Jesus offered on the same roads we walk and removing God more and more into the heavens, where we will see Him face-to-face on that one fine day. But the more we are willing to exalt God into some far-removed place we cannot reach in this life, the faster we lose touch with His healing power, love, and mercy for today. That is where one short sentence in Isaiah can give us so much hope.

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

Isaiah rightfully puts the Lord on His throne in the heavens. We do this, too. It’s important that we never lose sight of the eternality of God, that we trust in His promises for tomorrow, and that we keep our hope on that glorious day. But then, look at what Isaiah says: even though the Lord sits on His throne in the heavens, the bottom of His robe fills the temple. The long, flowing robe of grace is right within our reach.

This is important, and to understand how important it is, we have to look for another flowing robe of the Lord in the Scriptures. And indeed, we find it in the story of Jesus and the bleeding woman. Remember her? She had an issue of bleeding for twelve years and had spent all her money on doctors who could not help her. She mustered up all the courage she could and pushed her way, knowingly unclean, through the crowds for the chance to touch Jesus’s robe. She knew that if she touched even the edge of it, she would be cleansed. She did, and she was. And then Jesus, who felt the healing power flow from Him into her, turned around and blessed her.

It is this scene that this passage in Isaiah brings to mind. This is the kind of faith that we need to have. We need to recognize the Lord who sits on the high and lofty throne, but we cannot let ourselves neglect the edge of His robe that flows right into our presence, so near that we could touch it if we would just reach out. We need to develop the kind of faith that pushes through this world, knowingly unclean, for a chance to find healing in that fine linen that flows from the heavens to the earth. We need to have a faith that remembers that even though God waits for us in eternity, He is present with us now and that His promises are not just for tomorrow; they are also for today.

What would it mean for our modern Christianity to reconnect with the Lord that we’ve too-far removed from us? What would it mean to acknowledge again the God who walks among us along with the One who sits on the throne of heaven? What would it mean to bridge the gap between the heavens and the earth by doing everything we can to press through and reach out and know what it means to just touch Him?

Why, it might mean that we find that the Lord who walks among us recognizes our faith, turns around to catch our eye, and blesses us even as He heals us. It might mean that we find that we are not merely cleansed, but washed fully clean. It might mean that we see with fresh eyes the true goodness of God. And it might mean, it just might mean, that we don’t have to spend our whole lives waiting to discover how much He loves us; we know it for certain right now.

Friday, July 10, 2020

A Premium on Fear

It's no secret that we live in a culture that runs on fear. Even in precedented times, our screens were filled with headlines about all the things we are supposed to be afraid of - from statistics about violent crime in our communities to the latest research studies about all the things that will cause our early death to the 'hidden dangers' in everyday products that we all use around our homes. Fear is a motivating factor; it's how markets move. It's also how you keep a person from moving too much and upsetting the status quo. 

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a lot of talk about fear in our 'unprecedented' times, too. It seems to be the number one go-to response for anyone who doesn't want to do what is recommended for us. Don't want to stay home? "I'm not afraid." Don't want to wear a mask? "I'm not afraid." Don't want to hoard toilet paper and disinfecting wipes? "I'm not afraid." This kind of attitude has quickly led to a widespread understanding that being "not afraid" is a sign of one's arrogance. When you say, "I'm not afraid," the world shoots back with how you must, then, think yourself invincible. How you only care about you, since you won't do what protects others. How your arrogance makes you unworthy of assistance, should you require it later. 

The world attacks "unafraid" as "uncaring" because that's how the word is being used these days. But being unafraid isn't about being cocky. 

This morning, I was reading in Isaiah, and the prophet says plainly, "Don't say that everything these people call a conspiracy is a conspiracy. Don't fear what they fear. Don't let it terrify you" (Isaiah 8). But then the very next thing he says is, "The Lord Almighty is the holy one." 

You've probably heard that the most oft-repeated command in the Bible is "Do not be afraid." But how often do you pay attention to what comes after that? Why shouldn't you be afraid? Because the Lord your God...

There's a whole segment of the Christian community that misinterprets this verse structure and turns it into the kind of arrogant bravado that we should not have. They turn it into either a naivete - refusing to acknowledge the realness of something truly scary in the world - or they turn it into a blind, groundless faith - thinking that because they love God, He will protect them from all of that. So they live their lives pretending the world isn't a dangerous, broken place and that God is all sunshine and rainbows and stress-free living, and so of course when we say we are not afraid, we stir up all kinds of wrong connotations. 

Being unafraid isn't about being naive or developing a false bravado or committing God to what He didn't promise. Being unafraid isn't about thinking ourselves exempt from the very basic things that we know help us to navigate a broken world. Being unafraid is a sober state of mind that acknowledges the complexities of both life and faith and chooses to rest wholly on God's holiness and presence. Being unafraid is holding in tension the dual realities that the brokenness of this world is very real and at the same time, it is an illusion. Today is difficult, but greater days are coming. The world is hard, but God is good. 

The problem that we have with fear is that those of us who live in faith see right through it, and if we choose not to be afraid, the world thinks we're not taking it seriously. But true faith takes this world very seriously...and then chooses to live as a citizen of the next one. True faith embraces brokenness and squeezes it together in love, all while knowing the Love that is holding everything together. Absolutely, we are called to be a people who are unafraid and who do not lose heart. 

What we cannot do is allow our courage to become bravado and our unafraidness to become arrogance. 

Because the Lord our God.... 

Thursday, July 9, 2020


We can all relate to Paul's words when he says that what he wants to do, he does not do, but what he does not want to do, this he does. We know that struggle of wrestling with our sin only to find its pull is stronger than we ever imagined, that pain of working so hard to give up an addiction only to discover that our next high is all we can think about.

What is it that makes sin so hard to give up even when we make repentance our soul focus? Even when we put all of our energies into not going down that road again?

Part of it is the nature of human curiosity, of course. If we see a sign that says "no trespassing," we naturally want to journey a little further to see what's so worth protecting. If we see a present that has our name on it, we want to peek. If that present says, "Do not open until Christmas," then we are more tempted still.

But what is most at work is a psychological phenomenon that I'm certain has a name, but its name is not really important right now. It's the idea that we unconsciously focus the most on things that we cannot do.

Think about the last time your electricity went out. Ours recently went out in the middle of the day and was off for five hours. During that five hours, do you know how many light switches I tried to flip on? Do you know how many things I came up with to pass the time...that all required electricity?

During the course of a regular day, I do not often turn the light in my office on. There is enough light coming through the window that I don't need it. There's also a window in my bathroom that lets in more than enough light for such a tiny space, so when I go into my bathroom during the day, I do not even bother turning the light on. Again, I don't need it. But when the power went off at 2 p.m. on a perfectly sunny day? I flipped every light switch for every room I entered, even though the sun was still as bright through the window as it always is.

And then, as I sat in the living room loving on my dog while waiting on the electricity come back on, I thought it would be a good time to read a book. But then I realized that with the power off and work impossible, perhaps it was a better time to catch up on all of the things that I needed to do around the house. Like vacuuming.

We won't talk about how far out of the closet I got the vacuum before I remembered that it would have to be plugged in.

The same thing is true with our sin. Most of us don't spend our entire day sinning. Whatever our pet sin is, it's something that has kind of a natural place in our lives - like turning on the lights only when it's dark and we need them. But the minute that we decide we can't do that any more, the minute we choose to eliminate it from our lives, it's all we can think about. We start to do it almost naturally, even though it's not natural at all under these circumstances, and then we catch ourselves like...whoa. Why did I do that?

Because psychologically, our minds are focused on the thing that we can't do. Because we're thinking about what we can't that we don't accidentally do it. And this makes us more prone to accidentally doing it. Doing it when it serves no purpose for us to do it. Doing it when we don't even get the reward of having done it, whatever that was for us. Doing it when we know it won't give us anything.

I say that to say this: if you want to rid yourself of sin in your life, the easiest road is not to decide what you're not going to do any more. The easiest road is to just start choosing things you can do and will do and focus on those. Your brain is wired to obsess over obstacles you put in front of it, but if you're so busy engaging in opportunities, you'll find that you won't even miss that sin you're not committing any more. So the trick is to focus on doing more, not doing less. To open your life up, not try to shut it down. To choose righteousness.

Give it a go and see if it doesn't change the way you approach your sin...and your repentance.

I tell ya', it's just like flipping a switch. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Take Me to Church

When I talk about recapturing what it means to be apostles of Christ - to take the Gospel into the world, to loosen our grip on our Old Testament faith and embrace a New Testament grace (see previous posts this week) - it's easy to assume I'm condemning the church, but in truth, I'm doing no such thing. 

The argument too easily becomes this kind of tension that we feel between wanting to create the kind of church that Jesus would 'approve of' (whatever that means) and staunchly believing that Jesus would never step foot into our churches anyway. And that's the wrong argument. 

It's the wrong argument for a lot of reasons, but let's start with this one: it still places the emphasis on us. It still makes it about something that we're doing. Either we create a church that gets the thumbs up from Heaven, by our own works, of course, and by doing and being all of the things there that Jesus wants us to be...or we abandon our church and take on that nomadic thing that Jesus talked about, living the kind of external, physical life that He had. See how that's still all about us and still not about Him?

We get all hung up on this idea of the church, and it's not the thing. It's not the thing if we get it perfectly right and do it perfectly well, and it's not the thing if we bungle it all up and mess it up beyond repair (not that anything is beyond the repair of Jesus, but you get the point). It's just not the thing. 

Would Jesus step foot in our churches? He absolutely would. Right now. Right as they are. We found Him, after all, in the synagogues. He frequented the Temple. He didn't hold an Old Testament faith Himself - He was a man living under grace - but He came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. He came rooted in the foundations of historic Judaism, and He wasn't anti-Temple. He wasn't anti-synagogue. He sat in the circle of the elders and listened and learned, and when it was His time, He spoke and walked away...and then not too long later, we find Him again at Solomon's Porch. Jesus knew that one of the best places to find those who were receptive to His Gospel was at the religious establishment. 

In other words, Jesus would absolutely come to our find us. 

That statement right there probably blows a lot of minds. We're so focused on our programming and our production and our printed materials that we spend so much of our Christian ministry trying to create something Jesus would love, and we forget that there's something in our churches that Jesus already loves: us. And it's enough to get Him coming back to us again and again and again. The reason Jesus comes into your church And for that reason alone, He will always be there. 

Does that mean that's where we should camp out in our faith? Absolutely not. Does that mean that we should put our emphasis on the place where Jesus comes to us? Again, no. Because the story of Jesus, the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel of Christ, is not just the God who comes to us, but the God who calls us out to Him. The God who sends us into a hurting world. The God whose desire for us is not that we'd get His church right, but that we'd get our hearts right. 

A few paragraphs ago, I said that our trouble is that we keep conceiving of these ideas where it's still all about us, and for the apostles and the early church, that wasn't the thing. For them, it was all about Him. And it wasn't about His physical life; it was about His heart. 

See, we put all this pressure on ourselves to get our outward appearance right. We hypocrites! We brood of snakes! Jesus would call us out for that, no matter how right we appear to be getting it. He'd condemn us the same way He condemned the pharisees. What Jesus wants from us is not a faith that does church right or a faith that forsakes the church for a kind of nomadic ministry; what He wants from us is a love that is rooted deeply in the love of the Father and lives out of a heart that is constantly regenerate, always coming back to a place to grow and to become and to glorify the Lord. He doesn't want us to go to a garden to pray; He wants us to entrust our cup to the Father who hears the words we can't even utter. He doesn't care if we wander the streets proclaiming good news to everyone we pass; He wants us on a path toward righteousness, preaching the Gospel along the way. The Christian life is not about getting our feet dirty in the homes of sinners; it's about not even noticing someone's sin as the most true thing about them. It's not about the places we go, but the heart that we live from. 

And that includes in our churches, whether you've got the latest technology and a staff of fifteen to run every program conceivable to meet every need or you've got hymnals and a songboard and one guy who drives a school bus during the week but is willing to preach on Sundays. 

It's time to stop worrying about how we build our temples and start living like grace really is the thing. Because if it is (and that's not really an 'if' - it is), then it's enough for us, too. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

People of God

As we look at the way that the apostles carried the message of Christ into the world (see yesterday), we cannot neglect to look at how that was a radical deviation from the way that God's people had lived for many generations before the time of Jesus.

When God created man, He created him with the intention to walk together in this world. We were made for that kind of intimacy. And for awhile, it worked; God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden. Until, well, you know.

For thousands of years after this ill-fated bite of fruit, the people of God spent their lives seeking Him. They spent their lives coming to the Temple to worship. Bringing sacrifices to the altar to atone for their sins. Attending festivals and feast days at the place appointed by God. In fact, when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, her question about being a person of God is, "Which mountain am I supposed to come to God on?"

So the fact that the apostles are carrying the message of Christ into the world at all is a significant development in the history of God's people. No longer are they a people drawn to a place, but they are a people sent from one. Their holy ground becomes the place from which they journey out into the world, not the sanctuary to which they retreat from it. (I do not use 'retreat' with the intent to indicate a running away of any sort, but simply to signify a place where the day-to-day grind of life was left behind for attention to worship.)

Perhaps this is part of our difficulty as we consider what it means to bring the Gospel into our own world. We have churches today who have such an emphasis on being places of welcome, of getting persons in the door, of inviting "seekers" to an "encounter" and, don't you see? It's like we're inviting our neighbors into an Old Testament faith. "This is the place where we go to meet God." And then we struggle because we can't figure out how they ended up with a conception of an Old Testament God.

You've heard it. We all have. This God of ours is vengeful. He's all about the rules. He is overly concerned with what we do and how we do it and why we do it. He's taking attendance at His buildings on Sunday mornings. The resistance we hear against Christianity follows much of the same line. Our world can't believe that our God requires us to be in a certain place at a certain time. They can't fathom a loving God who 'takes attendance.' And yet, here we are, trying to tell them that the church is the place they ought to be. Because it's the place that we go.

But what if it wasn't?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't go to church. No, not at all. I'm not saying that we should abandon our buildings and set out into the world to forge a faith on our own. The New Testament is very clear about the value of our meeting together and God's emphasis on fellowship. We absolutely need the church.

What I'm asking is...what if the church wasn't the place that we go to meet God or to worship Him, but what if the church is the place from which He sends us out into the world? What if the church isn't where we end up, but where we get started?

What if we trade our Old Testament faith for a New Testament one?

I think this goes a long way toward getting us back to our intended discipleship, where our world hears the Gospel without ever walking in our doors. Where Jesus is the first word off our lips when we speak. Where the end game is not to lure our neighbors to church, but to introduce them to their Savior. I think it goes a long way toward shaping us into a people who go out from the church with grace and do good works along the way, just like Jesus did, and showing our world a God who walks beside them in the same dust and dirt that soils their own feet...instead of a God who dwells in a Temple and makes His people come to Him. I mean, we can't keep dragging our friends, our neighbors, our communities into our buildings and then trying to tell them that God loves them so much that He intended to walk with them forever...and that He meant that so deeply that when we went astray, He put on flesh and came to remind us all over again. The message doesn't resonate when we've got such an emphasis on being in our pews.

We do good works so that we can get others in our doors so that we can share with them the Gospel in the hopes that they 'come to Christ.' But what if...what if we bust out of our doors with passion and purpose and share the Gospel with others, doing good works along the way, so that they understand that Christ came to them?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Spreading the Gospel

There's a fundamental difference between the way that we do evangelism today and the way that it was done in the first century by the apostles themselves. Over the years, we have made a case for our shift in emphasis, and certainly, we can talk ourselves into justifying it, but does it truly justify the kind of ministry that we are doing in the world right now?

The argument, as I have heard it and even as I am guilty of perpetuating it myself, goes something like this: today's younger generations are looking more for a cause to get involved in than a doctrine to know. It's important today that we put real skin on our mission and get our hands dirty in the world, doing good works and not just saying good words. Or even the Good Word. Today's seekers will fall in love with our loving actions more easily than they will fall in love with the subject of our preaching, so if you want to evangelize the world today, then you must serve it in the name of Jesus and let the world discover your Savior instead of be bullied into Him.

Sound familiar?

It is on this basis that we have gone out and created a ton of good works in which to become involved. We have set up food pantries and community meals and homeless shelters and all of the things that, honestly, the church should have been doing in the first place except now, we get to call them evangelism instead of service, and somehow, that's changed things for us.

Overwhelmingly, what we also say is that if we are doing the works of Jesus in the world, then we don't even really need to preach Him any more. We don't have to tell others about the Gospel; once they see our works, they will naturally want to know more. Once they come alongside us, they will be interested to learn how we got started and why we're doing what we're doing. If we simply serve faithfully in our communities, then the Gospel will come naturally.

After years of this kind of ideology driving our 'new missions,' it's worth asking whether that's really what's happening or not. Because there is a secular truth at work here, too; a truth that drives many of the non-church-based ministries that have come alongside us in our communities or that we ourselves have joined: you don't need God to be good. Good people exist everywhere, and they are good without having a religion to guide them into it.

So it's only natural that in our emphasis on service, we've lost our Gospel into a world of good because the culture that is looking for a work to get involved in doesn't need a reason to be good; they're already looking for good, they already consider themselves good, so if we're doing good, then good is enough for them. Most of the world never moves beyond our good to ask about our Gospel.

And that's where we're failing them.

When the disciples went out as apostles, when they set about spreading the story of Jesus through the regions, they did a lot of good works themselves. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. They fed the hungry. They came alongside those in the communities they were visiting, and they did good works there. So then we do good works and call ourselves apostles, but there's a fundamental difference here:

The apostles went out with the express intention of spreading the Gospel, and they did good works along the way as the opportunities presented themselves. Because that's what Jesus did. He went about preaching the Kingdom of God and did good works along the way, showing His power and love and grace whenever it was possible.

By contrast, we set out to do good works and figure we'll present the Gospel along the way when opportunities present themselves. We have set out to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the hungry, and then if there's time or interest or if it won't seem too awkward or whatever, we'll tell them about Jesus, too.

Jesus spent His time preaching life and backing it up with His actions. The disciples followed His example. We spend our time acting out love and, if we get a chance, talking about it a little bit, too.

That means one of two things has happened: either our world has so dramatically changed that it requires a fundamentally different approach than Jesus Himself and the early church took...or we as Christians have so dramatically changed in two thousand years that we are not willing to even do Jesus the way that Jesus did.

Yes, that is an indictment. I think it's long overdue.

We, the church, are doing some tremendously good works in our world right now. Good works that we absolutely ought to be doing and ought to have been doing for a long time. They are the kind of good works that the church, throughout her history, have been known for - the kind of works that started hospitals and universities, that took in the sick and disabled, that visited the prisoners, that clothed the naked and fed the hungry. But what we're not doing any more - because we've convinced ourselves that's 'not our mission' or that 'our world doesn't want that' or that 'it might offend someone' is bridging the gap between our good deeds and our good God. We're not getting from pouring water to Living Water. We're not moving from our activism into the Gospel. We're working like we just expect the world to ask, but that's not how it works. That's not how it ever works. The world believes that good can exist without God.

What they need to see is a God that is purely good. And that's why Jesus's approach, and the apostles' approach, is so effective. They have a truth first. They have a grace first. They have a Gospel first. And then they back it up with miraculous wonders, with amazing actions, with good deeds. They prove what the say, rather than defend what they do. That's the difference. That's what we're missing.

Let us be a people again who start with the Gospel. Let's start with the Good News. And then, only then, let's show the world that it is what it claims to be. We cannot show them love and then try to circle back to Jesus. We have to show them Jesus and then back it up with our love. After all, His love is the place from which we start. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

A House Divided

Perhaps the greatest barrier that we have to engaging men and women in theology together isn't the stereotypes that we've formed about what men's or women's ministry is, but the barriers that we've erected between males and females in the church...and in Christian culture more broadly.

I have written about this subject before, from the perspective of a female (of course). I need Christian men who are willing to speak into my life, who are willing to come alongside me, who will lend their voices to show me a grace of God that I cannot see with my own eyes. This is essential. And men need women in the very same ways.

But as I considered this question anew for this week's discussion, I recognized more deeply the battle that men are fighting in this arena. A man who throws himself into "women's ministry" arenas - reading the books, listening to the female theologians, letting himself be drawn in by the unique perspectives of his a man who risks being misjudged. Perhaps even condemned.

Because he is a man who may, to some, look like a predator. When he breaks those cultural stereotypes and tries to stand on the other side of the walls that we've built, those looking on may question his motives. They may look at him as someone who is just a little too close to the ladies. They may see him as someone who is playing some sort of game to try to prey on wounded and innocent hearts. No matter his intentions, they may see him as a threat to the women and not as a student of them. He's...creepy.

This is exactly the kind of perception we have to battle against. This is exactly what we, as the church, ought to be fighting. We ought to be pushing to demonstrate that the culture's narratives aren't the only ones and that we can, in fact, have healthy and meaningful relationships across sexes - relationships that are neither sensual nor sexual but sacredly mutual. We ought to be the ones demonstrating what it means that it is men and women together that is 'very good.'

Instead, we have built fences that our culture tells us we need. We have erected walls between us so that nobody gets the wrong idea about what we're doing here. We have made rules in our churches that men and women cannot be alone together. That they cannot sit in the same classes. That they cannot share the same vehicle on the way to a service project. We have open-door policies, and we've put windows in all our doors so that if a private conversation must be held, it can be witnessed at all times.

We are so busy protecting ourselves from what it 'looks like' that we have neglected to show what it ought to look like. We are so afraid of being accused of being 'in love' with one another that we no longer simply 'love' one another, less it be misconstrued.

And no man wants to be thought a predator or a threat. No wonder they're keeping their distance from sitting at the feet of women who have much, by God's design, to teach them about grace and goodness and glory.

As I said before when I wrote on this subject, I will say again now: the church desperately needs to restore the mutuality of male-female relationships. We need to go back to 'very good,' where we are made better by one another. We need to cast off the suspicious eyes of the world and live so above-the-bar together that the world sees we don't even need a bar at all. There is much, much more to who we are as men and women, together, than mere sexual tension that the world tells us must exist because of our most basic physical parts.

Confession: our truly most basic parts are not physical. They are spiritual. And they are meant to work in tandem with one another.

So perhaps the place to start with getting more men listening to women in theology, learning from their helpmeets, engaging in mutual instruction and study is to remove the stigma of what it means to be a man unafraid of women's circles. Of what it means to be a man in the presence of women. We have to stop thinking of men as predators and start thinking of them as partners; stop thinking this world is only about one thing and realize it is about just One thing. We have to take our eyes off of what is broken and be helpmeets again. We have to set our sights on 'very good' and go after it with all we've got.