Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day

Have you wished someone a 'Happy' Memorial Day yet? 

Please don't. 


Today is Memorial Day in America, a day that we have set aside to remember and to honor those who gave their lives for our freedoms. For many, this weekend means an extra day off work, time with family, time at the pool, and a good grill-out. We have made it a weekend of celebrating, and so it would seem only natural to roll 'happy' off the tongue on this day. Happy Memorial Day. 

But Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, and I think we forget that. In fact, I sometimes wonder if we are a people who know how to do 'solemn' at all any more. Take any moment of silence that we've had in the past...fifteen years. Look around the room, and you will see countless individuals who believe that a moment of solemnity is the perfect time to check their phones. They lower their heads and raise their hands out of their pockets and there it is, that infernal device. Because we cannot waste a single moment on solemnity. Not when there's so much of the world at our fingertips. 

I have often lamented that we are a people who can no longer stop, even for a few seconds, for God (the same thing that happens during a moment of silence also happens during times of prayer in church), but the truth is that we can't even stop, even for a few seconds, for each other. And this is demonstrated not just in moments of silence but in, let's say, a funeral procession, which too many today see only as a traffic inconvenience. We watch the hearse carrying the body of the deceased and this long procession of teary-eyed loved ones following, and we think, Oh man. I just got stopped by a funeral. Just my luck! 

No, my friend. No. When you are stopped by a funeral, it is not you who is having the hard day. 

For some reason, we're afraid of the solemn. We are. We just don't know what to do with it. For years, for generations, we paused. We stopped in reflection. We removed our hats. We did all of the things that we were taught we were supposed to do, and I'll be honest with you - they are such small things that they almost feel like nothing at all. I think many of us have asked, during moments of silence or moments of prayer, whether what we are doing is 'enough.' Whether it's anything at all. We hate feeling futile in heavy moments. And so, I think, we've decided to simply not engage them at all, lest we feel our own smallness. Lest we come face-to-face with the realization that the only thing we have to do here, the only thing we can do here, is to grieve. 

And perhaps, to remember. 

But this brings us to another hard reality for us on this Memorial Day - so many do not know what this day means. We are told to remember. We hear little whispers and sound bytes that it has to do with the military. So we see a service member, and we thank them for their service, and we shout out, Happy Memorial Day! We love you. But today is not a day for loving them. 

We are so disconnected from our solemnity that we don't bother to realize that today is not a day for remembering anyone and everyone who has ever served. Today is not a day for celebrating our friends who have put on a uniform. Today is not 'Military Appreciation Day.' That's in November. 

Today is for those who died. Today is for those who went into battle and never came out. Today is for those who believed so much in our right to freely enjoy pools and backyards and burgers with family that they put it all on the line and lost it. For us. Today is for those who had families and backyards and a taste for burgers who traded it all for tears and never got to have another long weekend together. 

Today is for remembering those we don't see or haven't seen, that the world hasn't seen in a long time. Today is for the little guy who gave himself to a great big thing. 

And I think that we're just not good at this any more. We don't pay attention to what we're doing, even when we're doing it. We think that we have a general idea of something, so we don't bother getting the details...or even getting them right. Memorial Day. Gotcha. Military, flags, family, remember. Oh, happy Memorial Day! 

No, my friend. No. Today is not a 'happy' day. Today is a day for solemnity. 

Today is a day for us to start paying attention again. Today is a day for us to engage with our world and really tune it. Today is a day to declare that we want to know - we want to know what it is that we're memorializing. We want to remember what it is that we're remembering. Today is a day for hearing stories...and for honoring them. For taking our hats off and standing still for a moment and engaging, truly engaging, a moment - a moment - of silence. To hear all the words, all the songs, all the whispers, all the love of those who aren't here any more to speak them. 

Today is not just a day to remember; it's a day to remember, very specifically, the fallen. The dead.

Happy? Memorial Day? 

No. Today, we grieve. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Love and Curiosity

Knowing that you are loved by God lets you live with an incredible curiosity about life. When you're rooted in something so certain, the questions that you ask change. 

No longer are you asking, "Why is God doing this to me?" but rather, you start to ask, "What is God wanting to teach me here?" Instead of always asking yourself what you're supposed to do better, how you're supposed to change, what you're doing start asking yourself what you're supposed to learn. 

And it's strange, but it's true - when you come at life with a posture of curiosity, you're just less defensive about yourself. 

This first set of questions, the kinds of questions that we always seem to ask, have us constantly trying to prove ourselves. We always want to show that we are whatever we have decided to be, or whatever we think we are expected by others to be. But if we know that we are loved by God, then we already know who we are, and we have nestled into that place of deep security. This allows us to just look at our lives sometimes and say, you know, we're missing it. We're failing in this place. And we simply say that's not who we are, know that we can do better, and step deeper into God's plan for us in this place. We just...get up and try again because we already know who we are; we don't have to prove it to anyone. All we have to do is show it. 

It's really freeing. It just lets us be open to all kinds of things, things that we wouldn't see if we feel like we have a blind spot to protect. We get to go through our life with eyes wide open because there's nothing in this place that scares us, nothing that makes us feel insecure. We are securely rooted in God's love for us. We are, as we so dream of being, unshakable. 

And then an interesting thing happens here, too. When we are not insecure about ourselves, it allows us to see others in a new light, as well. They aren't a threat to us. They don't get to call into question the things that we know for certain because our God has already told us. We don't have to worry any more about whether someone - or anyone, or everyone - likes us. Instead, we can ask ourselves two simple questions:

First, are we relating to this person as the version of ourselves that we know us to be? That is, are we authentic with this person? Sometimes, the truth is that we still need to grow. Not that there is something fundamentally flawed about us, but that we are simply not living up to who we think we are or who we profess to be or who God has called us to be. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves here (and we can be, because of God's great love) and make sure we are above reproach, that we are not the problem. 

Then, second, if it's not us, the security that we have in being loved lets us see others for who they are. It's tempting for us to want to jump to conclusions when we feel threatened - this person is just a jerk or a bully or has a superiority complex or whatever it is. But when we don't feel threatened, when we start from a place of being loved, we start to ask other questions. Is this person insecure? Is she overwhelmed? Is he scared? Is this person lost? We start to understand others as drifting in a sea where we are blessed to have found an anchor, and it gives us a whole new grace for them. It gives us a tenderness for them that we couldn't have if we were adrift ourselves. 

Being loved changes everything. Knowing that we are loved changes us. It frees us to live our lives with eyes wide open to the truths of what is going on instead of the lies that we are so afraid of. We can just venture into our lives confident and secure. And when we do, the things we discover in this broken world just draw us deeper into grace, deeper into loved. 

And it's beautiful.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Loved by God

No, this is not the name of the latest perfume, although it certainly could be - Loved, by God - for those who are loved by God and know it emit a certain...something...into the world that is undeniable. Some may say, "So God loves me. So what?" but the love of God reflected in the life of the faithful is an incredible truth. It's breathtaking.

Knowing that God loves you, specifically you, allows you to let go of the world. Come what may, whatever happens, you know that God loves you and that He is good. Beyond any and all things, love and good. That changes things. 

Let me give you an example from my own life to put a little skin on this for you:

I have been searching for a job for approximately 13 years. Not a job, really, but a career. I've been looking for a place to settle. And at a time when my life was more insecure and when I was not as certain of God's love for me, I let my hopes ride on every application. I would come across a posting and think that this had to be what God was doing in my life. I would enthusiastically pour myself into the application process, crafting just the right cover letter, emphasizing my qualifications and excitement for the position. I would be certain that this was what was happening in my life. 

And then, ten minutes later, I would receive a rejection. Most of the time, it was computer-automated; I hadn't used the right key words in my resume or on the online form and the computer just threw me out, just like that. That cover letter? Never read. Nobody ever saw it. All my hope? Gone. Dashed right away.

For years, I lived in this cycle of hope and devastation. It was crushing to my soul to receive every rejection because I was so certain of the possibility, only to have what seemed like another door slammed in my face. And it's because I had in my mind that I was just going to go busting through these doors, just going to throw them wide open, step into the room, and declare, Here I am! and that everyone was going to rejoice over this. 

The truth is that this soul-approach was rooted almost entirely in the notion that God was going to show His love for me by putting me into one of these places. That when I finally landed somewhere, I would know how much God loves me. 

These days, I start in a place of belovedness. I start with knowing how much God loves me. He loves me well in the season that I am in right now, and because I am allowing Him to love me here, because I am learning His love here, I am able to approach my hope for the future differently. No longer does it rest on Him proving something to me; He's already proved it. 

This means I can go about knocking on doors and seeing which one He wants to open. If He doesn't want to open it, it doesn't change His love for me. If He busts it down, it doesn't change His love for me. I can write confidently, filling out applications and crafting cover letters and declaring, this is who I am. Not asking the question about whether or not this is me, not asking God to affirm or deny it by His response. He's already told me who I am; I don't need the world's affirmation. I don't need a sign. His love is a sign. 

Recently, I asked a friend about an application I was considering submitting. She was hesitant, and I asked her why. She said, "You'd be good. You'd be great. But I don't want you to be devastated if you don't get it." Ah, a familiar pain! And ten years ago, she'd have been right. 

But if you start in a place where God loves you, where your life is an opportunity and not a desperate plea to prove yourself, then it's not a concern. Sure, if I don't get it, I might grieve, but I'll also be asking God what He's up to and to give me better eyes for His vision. I'll be thanking God for keeping me from something that He didn't have for me. I'll be glad that I knocked on the door, but it won't rock me to the core if it doesn't open. 

Because when you are rooted in God's love, you fundamentally believe that He is already working for your good. You can trust that He's on it, whatever it is. You understand that a door that doesn't open is not a rejection of you; you are loved

Now, this is a bit of a silly example, but it extends into all kinds of things. When you know you are loved, you can put yourself out there in all kinds of ways without fear of losing yourself. You aren't worried about what it might take from you because you've got this love pouring into you. You aren't scared of this world because your feet are on the solid ground of love. 

I think sometimes about how it would change Christianity's impact in the world if all of us could begin from this place, from knowing that we are loved by God. What if we were stepping out from this place, rather than always trying to step into it by proving ourselves somewhere, proving ourselves somehow? What if we started in God's love for us? 

That's why it's so important to recognize, no matter what season we're in, that the first thing God wants to to love us here. Now. Wholly. When we start in God's love, it changes everything. 

**Note: Yes, I am always looking for my career, but it's also true that I love my job. I love what I get to do every day, the persons I do it with, and the persons I do it for. I believe there's something holy about it, and I wouldn't even mind making a career of it. I also know how God has been shaping me through it, and it's really, really neat to engage in. I am so blessed to be where I am right now, and I am thankful for God who put me here. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Because Love

As with so many things in our lives, maybe the reason that we want to make faith hard is because someone made it hard for us. 

Too many of today's Christians came of age in a teaching where God cared much more about what you do, how you live, what you profess than He did about your heart. He was more interested in your behavior than your being. Maybe you grew up in a faith that was all about what you do here, and maybe that's made it hard for you to just be loved by God. 

And if you can't just be loved by God, then of course you don't want anyone else to just be loved by God. If you have to work for it, they should have to work for it. If God cares what you do, certainly He cares what they do. 

It can't be just you who walks a thin line with God. If you're tiptoeing through your faith, then everyone else should have to, too. 

That's how we got to where we are. Somewhere in the history of the church, something switched, and the Christian faith became more about what we do for God than about what He does for us. Or even what He's done for us. We focus first on what we are able to put into it, and then whatever we get out of it either confirms or denies for us that we are doing it 'right.' We've taken God's command that we love one another as the greatest statement of His desire, forgetting what it means that we love because He first loved us. 

Maybe that's why we don't love one another as well these days. Because we do not first feel loved ourselves. 

Everything you want in this world, you have to work for. The contents of your dreams do not just fall into your lap from the heavens. You earn what you've got. But God is not this world, and God doesn't work that way. God loved you before you ever loved Him, before you ever wrapped your mind around His very existence. 

God still loves you. 

I wish more of us knew that. I wish more of us could let that just be the truth that it is - for us and for everyone else.

The foundation of this whole Christian journey we're on is not faith; it's love. It's God's love for us and because of that, our love for Him, and because of that, our love for one another. It's love upon love upon love upon love forever and unto eternity. And most of us are missing out on that because we're missing the most foundational piece of it - what it means, what it feels like, how it shapes our lives, to be loved by God. Because we're so afraid to say that wherever we are, whatever we're doing, whatever's happening might just be because God wants to love us here and now. Because we're always looking for our next thing to do and not the next thing God is doing, which is also the last thing God was doing and the thing God is doing now - loving. Any time you set your eyes on God, that's what you're going to find Him doing - loving. We've got to stop being afraid, or ashamed, of that and just lean into it. 

For if we love because He first loved us, then how can we ever love at all if we never let Him love us? 

(We can't.) 

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Gospel of Prosperity

There's a certain trouble when we say that perhaps God has placed us in this particular time and place in order to teach us something about His love, in order just to love us. It's troubling to most Christians to say that maybe God doesn't have anything for you to do here, except to just be loved by Him. We shake our heads, lower our eyes, and say, "No, no. That can't be right." 

Because we're afraid to have a faith that has as its greatest mark nothing more than God's love for us. 'Nothing more,' as if the love of God is such a small thing. 

We're afraid that if we talk about how God loves us or if we lean into it at all or if we even expect God to be good to us and to show us His love, we are immediately lumped into the camp of those who expect God to make their lives materially wealthy. We fear we will be seen as persons who want God for nothing more than His blessings - a nice car, a good job, a big house, a beautiful spouse, a fat bank account. You know, all the outward marks of the 'good' life. 

But those of us who know what the love of God truly is know that being loved by God is not an outward mark on the life; it's an inward one. 

Being loved by God isn't manifested in material wealth. Not as its primary expression. We are not living an Old Testament faith, but a New Testament one. We are not tied to only what we can see, for we know for certain that there is something more beyond what our eyes can show us. We have seen it, though as in a mirror darkly. 

Being loved by God is...being comfortable and confident in your own skin. It's been satisfied in the depths of your soul. It's having all worry and care stripped away and dwelling in a joy that cannot be shaken. It's trusting, with every breath, the Giver of that breath and knowing the One in whose image you are made. It's being loved by God that enables us to do the good that God calls us to do in the world. And this is why we have to be careful about how we live in the places where He has put us. 

If we're living in a place where we think we are doing for God and then we happen to feel loved by Him, then we come to quietly develop a faith that is rooted in our doing. We connect God's love for us with our doing for Him. We believe He loves us because of how we live, and not the other way around (that we live how we live because He loves us). Despite all of our talk to the contrary, most Christians today still live this kind of faith - where God's love comes second in our relationship with Him and whatever we do to earn it comes first. 

Again, it's because we're afraid of becoming a people of the prosperity gospel. It's because we're afraid of creating the impression that God just so loved the world. Period. We don't want God to seem cheap, so we're afraid to make love free. But at the very heart of the real Gospel? Free indeed. 

The heart of God's story is that He loves His people. Period. That God so loved the world. Period. That God sent His Son to die for sinners who had not done anything good or righteous or honorable to earn it. Period. The heart of God's story is that He loves us. 


And that has to mean - it has to - that wherever we are, whenever we're there, whatever we're engaged in, our primary experience of our place and time has got to be that God loves us. He just loves us. The number one thing God wants you to know at any given point in your own story is just how much He loves you. For real. 

We have to stop being ashamed of this. We have to stop pretending this isn't it. This is it. This is what God's been telling us from the very beginning. This is why He sent His Son to bear our Cross. Not because He thought that some day, He might use us to bring food to a struggling neighbor or to counsel an addict in need of a way out, but purely, simply, wholly because He loves us. Period. 

And if our faith is not attesting to that at every moment, with every breath, then not only are we doing it wrong, but we're missing something. Something incredible. Something vital. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Jesus Loves Me

Here's a question for you to start the week: why are you where you are right now? Why are you living in the place you live, going to the church you go to, working in the job you're working, loving in the family you're loving? Why are you at this particular place in the universe at this particular time in history? 

The world makes it simple. The world simply tells you the answer is "why-ever you want to be." This is your life, and you can make it whatever you want it to be. And in the same breath, the world will tell you that this is where you are because this is where you've chosen to be. The sum of your choices that you've made with your life has brought you to this place, for better or worse. 

Christians will often tell you something very different, something instilled with great depth and meaning: you are here because God wants to use you in this place. God has something for you to do right here, right now, and He has put you here just for that reason. Thus, you are supposed to live your life always looking for the next thing that God wants you to do, for whatever opportunity He's putting in your path right here. You're supposed to spend your life figuring out exactly what your gift is so that you can use it in this place, so you can see what God is wanting you to do and to get on board with it and make this most of this opportunity. 

After all you don't want to let God down. If the God of the Universe has orchestrated for you to be right here, right now, then it must be for a very important reason and you do not want to mess this up. 

This sounds good to most of us. We're on board with this plan. It sounds meaningful and purposeful and Christian enough. It gives us a sense of rightness to our lives, like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. It's everything we want out of a belief system. 

But is it everything we want of God?

What if there's another answer for why you are where you are right now? What if you're here just because...God loves you?

What if you are in this place at this time because God wants to love you here? What if you're here because He wants to show you something? What if you're in this time and place not to do anything, but just to be here? Just to be...loved? 

It's the dirty little secret of today's Christianity - we are a people simply not satisfied to be loved by Him. We say that it is the foundation of our faith, but the truth is that we are a people desperate to be known by our works. We always think we have to show our faith by doing, and never just by being. And we're desperately afraid to say that we're doing nothing in particular right now but letting God love us. 

And yet...the love of God for His people is the very heart of the Christian faith. The love of God for us is the foundation of everything that we believe. We declare it, and the sad truth is that most of the persons in today's church do not know what it feels like to be loved by God. 

Because they are so focused on, so certain, that the best part of the Christian faith is being used by Him. 

Let that sink in for a bit. Search your own heart and see whether this resonates with you at all. And then, stay tuned, because we're going to talk about this for a few days. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Pray for One Another

There's a sentiment that circulates every now and then on social media, and it's going around again. It says something like this: if God answered every one of your prayers today, whose life would be better besides yours?

The implication is that we are all selfish beings who pray only for our own good and forget that we have the ability to harness the power of God Himself for the benefit of others, others that we often claim to love. 

I think it's more complicated than that. 

I think that when we pray for ourselves, our souls just cry out from the depths of our being and yearn for whatever it is that we need or want in the moment. Our ache can just kind of take over and declare our words for us, and when it has no words, the Holy Spirit has our back. Because we are acutely aware of our own situation, we have a little more confidence entering into prayer on our own behalf. We know all the details. 

When it comes to others, though, we know that there is so much that we don't know. There are things in this life that are complicated, and we can't pretend to understand even a fraction of them - especially when it comes to a life that we are not living ourselves. I think sometimes, we start to pray, but then we wonder if what we're praying for is what that other person really wants. 

Does someone in the grips of cancer want healing? Probably. But what if their most pressing prayer need is comfort? Or rest? Or strength? Does someone who has lost a loved one want comfort? Almost definitely. But what if their most pressing prayer need is more practical, like provision? Or companionship?

We understand, instinctively, that this human life is complicated. We understand that there are so many layers to every situation, so many factors in every circumstance. So many variables in every heart. We want to pray for others, but...what do we pray? How do we figure out what the greatest need is and pray for that?

What if we're praying for the wrong thing?

James talks about how useless it is to tell someone to keep warm if we have an actual coat that we could give them. Sometimes, I think, we feel that same uselessness in prayer. I think it can paralyze us. Because what if we walk up to someone in our church or in our neighborhood, someone in deep soul pain, and we tell them we are praying for their healing and healing is....sixth or seventh down on their list of real needs right now? It's a terrible feeling. None of us wants to feel like we're making things worse.

And what if what we're praying for them is not what they actually need? (Uhm, what if what we're praying for ourselves is not what we need? We trust God, as always, to respond graciously and give us only what we need; He will do the same for them.) 

So I think there are two solutions to this problem that we have in prayer. The first solution is rather straightforward: ask. Ask someone what their prayer need is. Ask them what their soul is most longing for right now. Take an interest in their situation and find at least some of the answers to the questions that you know are involved. "Hey, I know you're going through a rough time right now. If God would do one thing for you, today, what would it be? Great. Then I'm praying for that." And pray for that! 

The second solution is also pretty straightforward, but it takes a bit of ego-control: pray for others what you pray for yourself. When you're lying in bed at night crying out to God from the depths of your soul, realize that someone else's soul needs the same thing. If you're praying for healing, pray for someone else's healing. If you're praying for strength, pray for someone else's strength. The truth is that at our core, we are all human. We all experience the same kinds of very human needs, even if the circumstances are different. 

And you just never know. Maybe what you're praying for is sixth or seventh down on their list, but maybe your answered prayer is the one that makes it possible for their number one need to be filled. Or maybe when your prayer is answered for them, they realize the depth of a thirst they didn't know they had because it was so clouded by other things. We can be wrong about ourselves, you know. We can be wrong about what we need. God, by His grace, knows what we need, and He will provide it.

And so what if what you pray for them isn't top on their list? What if they get it anyway? What if you pray for healing, and healing was eighth down? Is it any less a blessing for that person to have healing? Is their life worse off because God was gracious to them? Of course not. 

So just...pray for one another. It's not as complicated as we make it. At least, it doesn't have to be. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Who is God?

Job's friends knew that Job was a righteous man. They had benefitted many times from his generosity, his mercy, his grace, his wisdom, his kindness, his goodness. It's one of the reasons they were still his friends. If a guy is a total jerk or a two-faced monster, you don't stay friends for long. You certainly don't go and sit with him in his dust and ashes. And if you've only using him for his wealth or his blessings, you don't hang around after he's lost everything and has nothing left to give you. So the very fact that Job's friends are still here proves that they know who Job really is - he really is a good guy. 

And yet, there is this tiny little shred of evidence that seems to suggest the contrary, this little thing called the complete destruction of Job's life by supernatural forces. 

This brings us back to something we were talking about not that long ago - that Job's friends had only a certain knowledge about God. Job's friends knew that God would punish the wicked. They knew God's sense of justice and judgment. They knew (or so they thought) that bad things don't just happen to good people. 

Faced, then, with choosing between what they thought they knew about Job and what they thought they knew about God, Job's friends - like many human beings - chose what they knew about God. Job, they concluded, just must not be the man they thought he was. 

There are a couple of reasons for this. On the human side of things, we know that persons are more complex than we give them credit for. We know this because we know that we are more complex than we are often given credit for. We know that everyone lives a life outside of the time that we get to spend with them, that at the end of the day, every human being is left alone to himself or herself. We know that it's easy for someone to put on a display in public, to play a part, to create the image that they want us to see of them. We know that sometimes, even our closest friends have secrets we never would have imagined them having. We have all been blindsided a time or two by someone we thought we knew well, and so if you ask us if we're sure we know who someone, we're not sure. If there's a question about someone, it's not too difficult a leap for us to start questioning, too. 

But more than that is what we know about God. On the spiritual side of things, what we believe about God is huge. It's the foundation of the entire way that we relate to the world. If, for example, you know that God lives in justice and judgment, then you are mindful of your steps. You are able to let go a little bit of the wicked persons in your life and not seek your own vengeance because you know that God will take it for you. You are able to choose righteousness when given the choice because you believe God rewards you for it. What we believe about God is the most fundamental truth about how we live in the world. 

Which means that if God is not who you thought He was, it shakes your life to the very core of it. Your very roots are rattled. You no longer know whether you're coming and going. You can't know if you made good choices or bad ones, right ones or wrong ones. Given the chance to choose again, you've lost your guidance system. If God is not who you thought He was, then how do you decide how to live in the world? Is He good? Do you live by His commands? Do you do your own thing, if He doesn't really care at all? 

We are beings who are constantly torn between the eternal and the temporal, between our human experience and our soul's journey. And given the position of having to choose between the two, we are always going to choose the eternal. We are always going to give the benefit of the doubt to the soul things that we believe. Because we are far too intimate with our own human frailty to choose any differently. 

So Job's friends knew who he was, but they also had these firm understandings about who God is. And in a position where they felt like they had to choose between the two, it's far, far easier to say that Job must not be who they thought he was than to say that maybe God isn't who they think He is. (Especially, we might add, if they happened to know Job's father and if our theory about Job's understanding of his suffering is correct. And if they are such good friends, we can fairly confidently say that they knew Job's family history.) 

It's strange. We stand face-to-face with our neighbor, and we still want to believe that God is infinitely more knowable than the man looking back at us, who, we must confess, is a being made in the image of God himself. 

Because, we know, that if Job turns out to be a wicked man, a great big jerk, or a two-faced monster, that's fairly easy for us to reconcile in our own minds. But if God is not just, if He is not good, if He is not knowable, if He is not loving, if He is not merciful, if He is not gracious...if God is not predictable and doesn't fit our definitions of Him...

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Stinging Words

If we accept that Job perhaps recognizes the wickedness of his father and believes that he is now paying the price for his father's sins, and if we acknowledge that Job has done the remarkable and chosen a different path - a path of righteousness - for himself, then we start to understand a little bit better why Job is not only so insistent on his own integrity, but why he is so obstinate against his friends that he is not a wicked man. 

Because every time his friends say that he must be a sinner, what Job hears is, "You are just like your father." 

And, well, Job has worked very hard to be not like his father. Job has built his entire life around not being his father. 

It's the same pain that we all feel when someone brings up a past that we'd rather leave behind. We feel the sting of that pain all the way to the depths of our soul. We start to wonder if it's possible that men even can change, or if we're destined forever to simply be who we have always been. We spend our days questioning if we really are who others say we are or if it's possible they just haven't seen it yet. Or maybe they can't see it. Or will they ever see it? 

It's frustrating. It's always the things that we've worked hardest to overcome that others never seem willing to let us let go of. There are persons in this world, persons who love us deeply - like Job's friends - who will never see more of us than their first impression. And that stings. It just cuts to the very core of who we are. 

It keeps us up at night, replaying every scene and scenario over and over and over again in our heads, trying to figure out what we did wrong. Trying to figure out how our friends, our family, our loved ones got the impression that they got, trying to figure out where our old self has crept in and made itself known. We rehearse these situations over and over and over again, longing to see where the disconnect is between our heart and our actions, between who we thought we were and who others actually saw. It just gnaws at us until we can hardly handle it any more, until nothing but utter defeat sinks into our hearts. 

We are sinners. Always have been, always will be. There's nothing we can do to be better than that. So why even try?

Sound familiar? Is it just me? (I don't think it's just me.) 

Here's what I want to say to all of us who have ever felt this way, who have ever had this conversation with ourselves after hearing these kind of stinging words from our so-called 'friends:'

Job's integrity was real. 

Job's righteousness was legit. And if we're being honest, his friends knew it. It's one of the reasons they liked him so much. He was, as he claimed he was, known for not only his righteousness, but his goodness. His justice, his mercy. His care and compassion. His friendship. He was known for all of these good things. When they weren't sitting in dust and ashes, these were the things his friends knew for certain about him. Job really had changed his life. He really had chosen the better way. He really was a man of integrity, a righteous man, a good man.

It's entirely possible that the rest of us are, too. That we're not as bad as some of the stinging words that we hear sometimes, even from our closest friends. 

So, then, what gives? If Job's friends knew who he really was, why were they saying all of these things about him? I'll tell you tomorrow. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Family Legacy

If it's true that Job's father was a wicked man (and this idea will come up again just a little bit later in Job), then we have to give Job just an amazing ton of credit for the kind of man that he turned out to be. 

Remember, Job is the epitome of righteous. Even when God is looking for a righteous man in all the world, the Lord's eyes come to Job. And if Job's father is a wicked man, then we can't credit him for the way that Job turned out; wicked men do not raise righteous sons. Not naturally, anyway. 

There's something in us that wants to believe the best in persons (at least, in persons that we have not personally met, for some reason), so it's tempting for us to want to say that maybe Job's father was a wicked man, but maybe he was repentant about it. Maybe he spent time lecturing his son about not making the same mistakes that he'd made, trying to instill in Job that there had to be a better way to live. Trying to save his son from the wrinkles and early gray hairs that had afflicted the man. But there's nothing in Job to tell us that his father was repentant. And certainly, Job makes no such indications himself. 

In fact, Job is rather confident in the way that he insists that the sins of the father should not be the burden of the son. He's unforgiving in the way that he insists that the father should pay for his own sins. He's certain that the son should not bear the brunt of the father's mistakes, particularly when the son is righteous. 

So it's fair to say that Job chose his own righteousness, and we have to give him credit for that. 

Job looked at his father and said, "I don't want to turn out that way." Job watched his father's dishonest scales and vowed never to cheat. Job listened to his father's lies and determined always to tell the truth. Job felt the sting of his father's betrayal and chose to always be there for his children, even when they didn't want him or didn't know it. Job knew his father never prayed for him, not once, and prayed for his children every day. 

Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his children, that he might somehow shelter their righteousness. Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that Job was feeling the sting of his father's sinfulness and wished, with every fiber of his being, that his father had once thought of him? Had even once wanted to protect him from his righteousness? Could it be that when Job offered sacrifices for his children, he had more than their own potential waywardness in his mind? Could it be that he had his potential waywardness in mind? 

Could it be that Job lived with a constant vigilance against his own propensity for sin, having to choose righteousness at every single moment and knowing as much? 

And yet, he did it. Job chose not to live into the family legacy. Job chose to take a different path for himself. Job saw his father's wickedness, grew up under it, probably even learned its ways, and Job declared...this is not for me. Job decided he wanted something better for his life. Job decided not to make the same mistakes his father did, likely because he felt the brokenness of them. 

Now, here he is, sitting in dust and ashes, scratching his infected skin with broken shards of pottery, and he's talking - in more than one place - about the sins of the father being a burden on the son. It can't be coincidence. It can't be simply philosophical. Job is grieving that his past - a past that he worked so hard to get away from - is coming back to haunt him. Job is devastated that all of his righteousness can't get him out from under his father's legacy. He is paying the price for everything that he himself also despised. No wonder it doesn't seem fair. 

(To be continued.) 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Job's Father

When we read the book of Job, we read the story of a man in great distress who cannot figure out why his world is falling apart, given his righteousness. As a setup to the story, we are told that Job is, in fact, righteous. It is not imagined in his head. He is not one of the more than half of us who falsely believe he is more righteous than the average human being; he really is that righteous. 

And yet, his children die, his crops fail, his livestock are gone, his body is covered in boils and disease, and he sits in dust and ashes and scratches himself with broken shards of pottery to try to ease the itch. His friends keep telling him he must be a sinner or God would not despise him like this, and Job defends himself; he is no sinner. (At least, he is no wicked man.) 

But is there a wicked man in the story of Job? Is there something we have been overlooking every time we read this story?

As I was reading in Job this past weekend, these few verses in chapter 21 jumped off the page at me, as though I had never read them before. As though I had never caught what these words might suggest about Job's understanding of his situation. 

As though these words would not at all change the way we read Job. (Spoiler alert: they actually might.) Here's what Job had to say:

You may say, 'God stores up a man's punishment for his children! Instead let him repay the man himself so that he may be humbled. Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the anger of the Almighty. For what is his interest in his home after his death, when the number of his months has been broken off?  - Job 21:19-21

So is it possible there is a wicked man in the story of Job? Is it possible that that wicked man is...Job's father?

Remember, we're talking about a time when there was a general belief that the children would pay for the sins of the parents. For awhile, at least, the Old Testament tells us that children were punished to the third and fourth generation for the sins of the parents. The ancient world believed that wickedness simply ran in the family. And maybe we look at Job's kids (his first set of kids), for whom he so faithfully prayed, and maybe we see the family pattern in them - they liked to get together and party. The fullness of their deeds is not told to us, but Job worries about their conduct so much that he offers sacrifices and prayers on their behalf every time he hears about them getting together and engaging in stuff. 

Could they have learned this from their grandfather? Could this be just the way that the Job family operates from generation to generation, all except for this righteous man, Job himself? Is Job...the black sheep of his family? Because he doesn't live like the rest of them?

Maybe Job watched his father his whole life and yearned for something better for the broken man. Maybe Job wanted his dad to be different. Maybe as Job sits in the dust and ashes of his life, he thought about how this might have changed his father. Or at the very least, been just in his father's case. Was it his dad who deserved this dust and ashes in which Job now sat? Is he again bearing the burden of his family, a burden that his own righteousness cannot get him out of? Is he the only one in all his family who bears this burden, as a father, we are told, and now, perhaps, as a son?

Remember - we know the whole story. We know the conversation recorded between God and the adversary. We know there is a spiritual war ongoing here, but Job doesn't. Does Job think that he is where he is not because of his own unrighteousness, but because of his father's? 

It changes things. 

We'll unpack a few more ideas related to this in the coming days. It's incredibly interesting to me. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Sinners We Love

As I sit here thinking about Job's friends, part of me wonders what they were thinking as they sat with Job. We are told in the story that when Job's friends are first coming to him, they see him and do not recognize him. He is so disfigured by grief and affliction (specifically, his physical affliction) that they aren't sure the man they are looking at is their friend. They probably turn their eyes away in both grief and disgust; it's a natural reaction. 

But they keep going anyway. They keep walking straight toward the man they do not recognize, expecting when they get there that this will be their friend that they have journeyed to see. And...maybe...hoping it won't be. Hoping they're wrong about the severity of Job's affliction. Hoping it's not as bad as it looks from this far away. 

And...they stay. When they come upon the man they don't recognize and discover that it is, in fact, their friend - covered in boils and scabs, swollen beyond recognition, miserable and downtrodden - they sit down in the dirt and ashes right next to him. 

That says something about Job's friends, something important. It tells us what kind of friends they are. Sure, we want to give them a bad rap for their limited insight, but let's not look past their incredible compassion. 

They weren't going to win any awards for being here. The townspeople weren't gathered around, watching to see who was going to step into this mess. Probably no one noticed they were there at all, and even if they were, so what? Do you deserve special recognition for being present for a common man? Sure, Job was well-known in the area, but we don't see those who respected Job lining up to comfort him; only his friends come and do that. And they do it pretty quietly, we presume. Because no one is paying much attention to the swollen, scabbed, bleeding man in dust and ashes. 

They can't. He's unclean. 

So this isn't going to come back and hang on their walls. There will be no keys to the city, no proclamations in their honor. Not even a lousy certificate. Nothing. 

Nor could we say that they believe Job is going to reward them. He has nothing left to give them. No house to invite them to, no food to serve them, no extra sets of clothing to bestow upon them. He's got nothing. And his friends don't honestly expect him to get it back. They believe he's lost it all as an act of God's judgment; Job is a sinner. 

Yet, they cannot keep themselves from this sinner. 

Isn't that remarkable? I mean, isn't it? This story is in the Old Testament. It is told in a time of judgment, harsh judgment. It is told in a time of strict laws and ideas about cleanness. It is told in a culture that cuts off the hands of thieves and stones adulterers to death and holds sinners accountable to the very last hair on their heads, and here are three guys who know only what they know about God, who know only enough to know His power and His judgment, and they can't stop themselves from walking toward a sinner that they love. Even with as little as they have to offer him. 

It's strange to say it because we are so hard on these men, so hard on them for their limited knowledge and brash words and blind insistence on their own understanding, but oh, that we would be more like Job's friends! Oh, that we would be a people who keep walking toward sinners we love, even when they are so disfigured by their affliction that we hardly recognize them.  

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Fullness of God

Job's friends, because they knew everything they needed to know about God to intellectually agree that He was God and that He existed, falsely believed that this meant they knew everything about God. This false confidence led them to become arrogant, something that Job calls them out on. 

You think you're so smart? You think you know everything there is to know? 

And then, Job tells them exactly what a person who is confident in his own knowledge wants to hear: you're right.

Everything you've said about God is true, Job tells his friends. And you can just imagine the little smug look on their faces when he says this. You can just imagine them sitting there waiting on his confession to come next. They are right, and that means it's only a matter of time before Job confesses that since they are right about these things, they are right about everything. It's only a matter of time before Job humbles himself before them and admits that he is the kind of wicked sinner they keep accusing him of being. They are certain it's only moments away before Job completes his affirmation of them and falls at their feet. 

We all know persons like this, don't we? We sometimes are persons like this, aren't we? We know what we know, and as soon as it looks like what we know is legitimately true at all, we just get all puffed up in ourselves. This goes back to the discussion about truth we were having recently - we know what we know, and it makes us confident. And then, it makes us arrogant. And the moment that any breath or bit of our truth is confirmed, well...we become...smug jerks. We become more bold in the things that we say because if we're right about one thing, then we must be right about everything. 

If we know one thing about God, then we must know everything about God. 

But what if our knowledge is just sufficient and not beautiful?

Job's friends don't get the moment their prideful hearts are waiting for. Job never crumbles in front of them, never confesses how wicked he secretly is, never affirms for them that they know everything. Rather, what Job says next really puts his friends in their place. He says: 

You're right...but everyone knows these things. 

These truths that Job's friends know are such commonplace truths that no one would dispute them. Everyone knows them. Everyone - everyone - has exactly the same kind of knowledge that Job's friends have. And that means it's not that special. That means it's not that impressive that they know this. In fact, Job expects them to know these things. Anyone reasonable would expect them to know these things. 

What they don't know, Job says, is what he knows. What they don't have a grasp on is what his kind of life experience alone can teach. They know all the truth about God that they need to know in comfortable times, but for Job, these are not comfortable times, and so he understands something about God that doesn't fit in their box. 

That's the thing we have to realize when we read Job. That's why this discussion is so important. Because at no point were Job's friends wrong about God. Everything they said about God was true. They knew it; Job knew it; we know it. We can't fault Job's friends on their theology. 

But their theology was not complete. They were men who knew God, but who did not love Him. And certainly, I think it's safe to say, did not feel loved by Him. They were men who had sufficient knowledge of God, but not beautiful knowledge of Him. They had everything they needed to agree to the notion that God is God, and they thought that was enough. But in times of trial, as Job knew, they needed more.

So do we. 

It's great to have sufficient knowledge about God. It's great to know for certain that He is God. But until and unless we know more of Him, until and unless we know the beautiful things, it's not enough. It won't sustain us in times of trouble. It won't call to us in times of hope. It won't draw on us in times of despair. We have to know not just God's existence, but His goodness. We have to know not just His power, but His love. We have to know not just that He is so much bigger than us, but how big His love for us is. 

We get all arrogant, thinking that we know it all, but we don't. We never do. There is always something bigger of God to learn, always something greater, always something deeper. And that's why we can never settle for the first kind of knowledge; we must always be pushing toward the second. 

We must always be longing for the beautiful. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

God in a Box

Yesterday, we introduced two kinds of knowledge that we have about God: sufficient knowledge, which is everything we need to know to love and worship Him, and a developing, eternal knowledge, which is all the things He does that capture our hearts anew. 

Job's friends had a ton of the first kind of knowledge. They knew everything they needed to know to be certain of God's power, His force, His command, the workings of obedience and justice and faith and righteousness and all that stuff. Job's friends were so confident in what they knew about God that not only were they certain that they knew God, but they were certain that they knew everything there is to know about God. 

That's the danger of the first kind of knowledge. When we know everything that we need to know to make a decision, we believe that means that we know everything there is to know. (This is true, by the way, not just when it comes to God, but when it comes to nearly anything. We only consider what we consider, and we never consider what we don't think to consider. If we are buying a new car, for example, and we know that we like 'x' things about this car, that is usually sufficient for us to make a purchase. We do not consider that there might be other things about the car that we haven't yet considered because we have determined what is sufficient for us, and we have acted on our sufficient knowledge.) 

What this meant in the case of Job's friends, and what it means for us, is that they did not have an understanding that permitted God to do any more - or any less - than the fullness of their knowledge of Him. It was not possible that God would do anything differently than they imagined it. It was not possible that God would surprise them in any way. 

This is a problem for two reasons. First, obviously, if God never does anything you don't expect Him to or that you don't understand, then you will never learn anything new about God. Ever. You will never come to know more of His grace, His goodness, His heart, His anything that you do right now. Because you can't permit Him to act outside of the box of your own understanding, your own understanding of Him never grows. Your faith will always be stagnant at the point of what you believe is sufficient. 

This is one of the greatest barriers to our spiritual development, and it's why it's so easy for so many to walk away from the faith. It becomes, in a word, boring. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so He is always...this. Whatever this is. Whatever it is that you understand it to be. There's nothing new. No developing relationship. No romance. Nothing to capture your heart. When you stop at 'sufficient,' when you reach the point of intellectual assent (your ability to say yes, there is a God) and go no further, it's no wonder your faith stagnates. You learn to acknowledge Him, but not to love Him. 

And the second problem is that God is confined to this incredible smallness. God is restricted to only your understanding of Him. That means that the infinite God of the universe, the God who created all things, the God whose wild imagination thought not only of the platypus and the weeping willow, but also of you, is no bigger than your own mind. You believe you not only can understand everything there is to understand about Him, but that you already do. 

At that point, well, it's hard to keep worshiping. It's hard to keep revering a God so small that He can fit in your head. It's easy to start questioning how much of Him is real and how much you have created in your own image. It's easy to walk away. Because a God that small is simply not that impressive, and what was once sufficient becomes much less so. Your questions overtake you, and it's only because you have let God form you, but not love you. 

We need the first kind of knowledge about God so that we can come to a point where we want to know Him, where we're certain of His existence and perhaps even His goodness (as a theoretical idea), and where we want to be a people of God. 

But if we stop there, there is so much about God that we're going to miss. And we're not even going to know we're missing it. We're never going to come to love God the way that we would if we let Him surprise us every now and then, if we let Him take our hearts and not just our minds. We need the second kind of knowledge about God, too. That developing revelation of goodness, grace, and glory that keeps our hearts wrapped in His love and thirsting for more of it, that keeps our eyes open not just for what we know of Him, but for what we do not yet know. For all the things we're learning, right now, as we do more than just believe in Him; we earnestly seek Him. For we understand He is greater even than this. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Knowing God

There are two primary understandings that we have about God. The first is everything we need to know about Him; in the terms of my religious heritage, we call these things the "essentials." These are the things that we need to know in order to love Him and to know we are loved by Him. These are the things about His heart, His personality, His goodness that simply are and are never going to change. These are the foundations of everything that we know as "faith." 

The second category is all the little stuff that makes love worth living. These are the things that are harder to describe, but just when you thought you couldn't love Him more (or He couldn't love you more), here these things are. Just when you think you've got a grasp on His goodness, there's this. These are the things that just blow your mind and expand your vision and swell your heart and fill out your faith to more of its fullness than you ever thought possible. 

It's the same thing as what happens when you've known someone for a very long time and you know you'll be friends forever and you're very certain you know everything there is to know about this person and then, suddenly, something comes up that has never come up before in the course of your relationship and that person says just a few words - "Oh, that" - and you realize you love them all over again; you love them more

There's a tension for us between these two kinds of knowing. On one hand, everything we need to know about God is sufficient. Each of us reaches a point in our faith journey where we suddenly know, instinctively, that if we never learned another thing about God from here on out, what we know right now would be enough. We will love Him forever. 

At the same time, there's something in our soul that thrives on the second kind of knowing. On that falling in love all over again. When we have that moment of deeper knowledge, of greater knowing, of fuller revelation, our soul just drinks it up and we want that moment again. We want it again and again and again. There's a certain thrill not just in knowing that God is greater than we ever imagined, but in encountering His greater-ness bit by bit by bit. 

And so, we go from a knowledge that is perfectly enough to one that we can't get enough of. 

And we have to confess that we know that the moments of this second kind of knowing do not come as often as we wish that they would. The more we come to thrive on them, the more seldom they seem to come. We start almost expecting them, and then, they are gone, and we are left knowing only what we know, and it must become for us again the first kind of knowledge - enough. 

At any given point in time, we must live in a place where what we have is enough and we leave our souls open to craving more. Where we are both okay if we never know a single bit more than we know right now and where we are able to learn something new when the blessed opportunity arises. 

It sounds simple, right? Complicated, but something we're willing to live with. A tension we're willing to live in. A tension we've become gifted at living in. 

But there are all kinds of ways to mess this up. And we're good at that, too. 

We'll start looking at some of that tomorrow, starting with Job's friends. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Holy Words

I know that I've written a lot about biblical language this year, and this is going to be another language post, but you don't have to have an opinion about Hebrew to follow this one. 

Recently, I was asked to read well-known verses in four different unidentified translations of the Bible and rank each version on its readability and relatability. Were these words that spoke to my heart? Were they words with which I was familiar? Was it "comfortable" to read these verses in these translations? How did it impact the way I was able to connect and engage with the Scripture? 

Clearly, there are some translations of the Bible that you can identify right away. The KJV/NKJV come to mind. All the thee, thou, thine language is a dead giveaway. And these versions take a lot of insults because it's not 'conversational' English; these aren't words that we use every day, so it can seem heavy to read through these translations. 

I am someone who firmly believes that you should be able to understand the Bible when you read it. I don't think you get bonus points for reading a 'hard' version or being able to quote Scripture in the King's English. I think it's more important if you can explain what Scripture means, understand it, apply it to your life, and honestly, love it. I think we have come a long way in translating our bibles into a more common tongue without losing the essence of them. 

Some of the other versions, I was also able to recognize right away. Since I read the Bible in a different version year-to-year, I'm familiar with several of them. And, of course, I have my favorites. (Depending, of course, on what you're using it for - why you're reading it.) 

But one version, I was not familiar with at all. And it was...crude. It was common street language. It had a bit of a brash tongue and used words that would have made a church lady blush just twenty years ago. The younger generations today would probably read it and think it's "dope" or whatever word they are using today for such things. I can hear them now saying, "Wow! I didn't know God talks like this.

I think one of the points of the study was to see how readers would respond to this translation, how it would strike them to read holy words in crude vocabulary. And I know that maybe there was a little hope somewhere that the response would be positive, that readers would say, "Finally! A Bible that sounds like me!" 

But that wasn't my reaction. 

Because I don't want a Bible that sounds like me. I don't want a God who talks the way that I talk. I don't even want to talk the way that I talk sometimes (I'm working on it). I want a Bible that sounds better than me; I want a God who sounds bigger than me. I want language that calls me to something higher, that paints a picture in my heart not just of truth, but of goodness, and I don't think you get goodness out of some of the words that come out of our mouths. 

I want a Bible that inspires me to be better. I want a Bible that changes my vocabulary and reminds me at every breath that I don't need all those ugly words that I've learned over the year. I want a Jesus who came to dwell with me not so that He could get a grasp on what the kids are calling things these days, but so that He could raise me up to a higher standard of living. 

So I think there's a line in Bible translation. At least, I think there has to be. I think it's great when we put it in words that we can understand, but we have to be careful about coming up with a version of the Scriptures where God sounds like us. 

After all, haven't we been called to sound more like Him?  

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Room to Grow

We have been talking for a few days about the challenges of trying to have truth without faith. And one of the greatest challenges might be the world itself, even though it professes that truth without faith is not only possible, but "better" for all mankind. 

Because the world wants truth without faith, but it is also unwilling to accept grace. And that just makes our entire truth situation completely untenable. We cannot possibly live that way (and all of humanity that is trying right now knows this, even though they continue to be told of course it's possible). 

Here's what happens: our world has said you don't need faith for truth, that truth can be only what you are able to know and understand of it. Truth, then, becomes subjective and, necessarily, changes all the time. The world even tells you that it expects your understanding of truth to change as you encounter new data (the world loves 'science' words like 'data'). 

But then, the world says something completely incompatible with its own philosophy: you cannot change. 

You are always and forever any and every view that you have ever expressed, and if you ever say or do anything that seems to contradict something you said or did before, then your first impression stands. You can never change it. 

That stupid thing you said on Twitter when you were in college? That's who you are forever. That one bad joke you made at a party a few years ago that dropped like a lead balloon because of its political incorrectness? That's who you are forever. That thing you believed before you were exposed to more 'data' about it and changed your mind? Sorry; you're incapable of truly changing your mind. Now, you're just trying to make others forget that you are who you are. 

This is at the heart of so much that is going on in our world right now. Persons do completely innocent, although sometimes stupid, things (and maybe some of them are not so innocent, but are certainly ignorant), and then they try to better themselves by exposing themselves to more experiences and changing their truth by enhancing their data and the world says...sorry. You're not allowed to do that. You're not allowed to be a different person than we've already claimed you to be.

If you try to be, then the world says you're just pretending and they smack another label on you - someone who tries too hard. Someone who's wishy-washy. Someone who wants to be forgiven (but the world does not forgive.) 

I don't really think I have to keep explaining this to you; we've all seen it. We're all living it. We're all afraid that that one thing we said or did ten years ago when times were different and we were different and 'truth' was different is going to haunt us forever. We're afraid someone is going to dig something up out of our elementary school yearbook and pin it to the top of our social media profile forever. We're afraid that the next thing we say or do will become that thing that we'll never get out from under. 

We're terrified that no matter what contributions we make to our community, to our culture, even to our families, someone is going to come along some time in the future and decide that what we believed today was not good enough and was actually, somehow, perverse, and that it doesn't matter who we are, who we were, or who we become, we will always and forever be marked throughout history as that. Because even though we live in a culture of changing truth, we are not permitted by our culture to change. Ever. 

This is another area where truth + faith has the upper hand. Faith, that confidence we have in all of the truth that exists outside of our awareness of it, always allows us to grow into greater things. It always allows us to expand our boundaries, to become bigger, to become better. It lets us open our arms wider and embrace more things because they aren't new things; they've always been there. We're not claiming something different; we're claiming something more

That means that truth that is learned through faith does not rest on a foundation of change, but of growth. Thus, faith by its very nature does what the world will not let us do - it lets us grow. In fact, it encourages it. And it gives us the grace to do so because we were never 'wrong' to begin with; we were only in a shadowed area. We were only in a smallness. We weren't off the charts. We weren't backward. We were simply...learning. 

That's why truth + faith (+ grace) is always better. It is just better. And it's the only way out of the toxic relationship that we have with truth in our current culture. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Shifting Sands

Here's what happens when we try to have truth without faith, without that something that is just as certain of the existence of what it doesn't know as what it does: we end up with a truth that is constantly changing. 

It has to change - because we change. Because we are exposed to different and new things all the time. We are constantly gathering data as we encounter and experience our lives. There are things that I know today that I didn't know last week or last year or last decade. By necessity, then, my "truth" today is different than it was yesterday. And it will be different again tomorrow. 

This not only makes life challenging for us; it makes life challenging for everyone with whom we are in relationship. They cannot know for certain who we are from one day to the next because we are constantly changing. We do not have a truth to ground us; rather, we have chosen to ground our truth in us - and that means that our truth is changing as we are changing, and ironically, when our truth changes, it changes us all over again. There's nothing to anchor us anywhere; we are adrift in a sea of data about our human existence. 

What's strangest, perhaps, about this is that we both know that it is true and at the same time, completely deny its reality. We constantly believe that the truth that we have right now is the whole truth, the real truth, the constant truth, even though we understand that it is only because our truth has changed over time that we have come to the point of truth that we're living right now. We know that we have learned something that has brought us to this understanding, and yet, we constantly believe that this is our final understanding and that we are never going to learn anything else ever again. 

We always believe we have learned everything that we need to know, and then we learn something new and we are so foolish as to believe that now, we have learned everything that we need to know. Every new piece of truth is somehow the last piece of our puzzle...until it isn't and then, for sure, this new piece is the last piece. 

Until it isn't. 

Yet still, we are unwilling to concede that truth must exist somewhere outside of us if it is to be meaningful and stable and valuable at all. Rather, we continue to believe that we are sole proprietors of truth eternal and that it is ours for the taking (and even for the making). 

This is what truth without faith does to us. In our failure to acknowledge any reality outside of our own experience of it, we have reduced ourselves to a constantly-changing existence that might mean something entirely different tomorrow than it does today. (This is how, by the way, we keep coming up with the "brilliant" idea of holding history to our contemporary understanding of truth.) 

Without the ability to understand that truth is grounded in something greater than us, that it exists beyond what we get to live of it, that there are always things that we simply do not know, we have no foundation on which to stand. We are leaves blowing in the wind. Blades of grass that are here today, there tomorrow, and gone by next week. 

And at the same time, a strange confession creeps in. Something so bizarre that it's almost irreconcilable with this notion of truth that we carry, except that we have made it somehow to be so. What is that? 

I'll tell you tomorrow. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Confidence in Knowing

If we must always be aware of the existence of things that we do not - and in some cases, cannot - know, then how can we ever know anything at all? 

This is the reason that truth has become so watered down in our culture. It's difficult for us to live in a space where we know what we know, but we also know that what we know is not the fullness of truth. We cannot handle the tension between being so certain and having any hesitation at all, so what we have done is to determine that truth is only what you can see of it at any given time. Truth is only what is right in front of you and does not exist outside of your own perspective of it. 

In other words, there is no truth but the truth that you know and the truth that you know should be sufficient for whatever you decide to do with it. 

No one can fault you for not knowing what you don't know, right? That doesn't seem fair. 

But truth doesn't ask you to act on that which you do not know. Truth doesn't expect you to know the fullness of it. Rather, truth expects you to have only a limited perspective. All that truth asks is that you recognize how limited your perspective is. 

You see, we think there is no fundamental difference between acknowledging truth and knowing truth, but the truth is (see what I did there?) that there is a fundamental difference. Acknowledging truth means confessing that truth exists, whether or not you know what truth is at any given point in time or space. Knowing truth is...more difficult.

And this is why truth requires faith. It's necessary. Faith is that thing that lets us confess at any given moment that there is something bigger than we know. That there is something greater than we comprehend. Faith extends our knowing beyond our confidence and into the assurance that something beyond us is knowable. 

Faith is our constant confession that truth is more than we know of it. Faith is our constant pursuit of, and adherence to, this truth. 

Faith, then, is a truth in and of itself. Its foundation is a knowing of what is, at the present time, unknown.

If, then, we live in faith, we can be confident in knowing both what we know and what we do not yet know (and what we may not ever know). We don't have to let our questions about our own limitations hinder us from knowing, for our faith fills in the gaps of truth and brings it to fullness. We can then go about knowing what we know, in constant knowing of what we do not know, and have, by faith, a fullness of knowing. 

Did you follow all that? 

It's difficult, I know. It's tough to wrap our minds around this, particularly in a culture that so severely limits truth to our own understanding of it. But the moment that we are able to step out of our own perspective and acknowledge our blind spots, the moment we embrace the questions that our limited perspective leaves us with, we find that we have more answers than questions. Our knowing is somehow more full in the midst of our unknowing. We are more sure, more certain, in humble confession of our finiteness than we ever are in false confidence of our completeness. 

And that's because our small, narrow, limited definition of truth requires something else, something that we know to the core of our being is not truly compatible with truth. What is that? 

Stay tuned.  

Monday, May 3, 2021

A Simple Thank You

When we talk about humility, most of us think of the kind of false humility that we have been taught to show as a politeness - the kind of so-called humility that makes us self-dismissive, self-denying, and self-deprecating. I used to be this way, too. (And confession: sometimes, I still am.) We're taught that this is how we are supposed to handle compliments. We're told that it's rude, arrogant, and abrasive if we do anything else. Others won't like us, and they'll think their compliments are misguided, if we agree with them. 

Somehow, we've gotten the idea that when someone mentions something good about us, it's because they want to believe they're telling us something we don't already know. If we claim that we already know it, by doing anything other then pretending that it's not true, we are insulting the one who complimented us. 

It doesn't seem to occur to us that a greater insult is to pretend they don't know what they're talking about and that they're totally wrong. 

Do you realize how strange it is that we find a politeness in telling others how wrong about us they are? 

Anyway, I used to be this way. Like all of us, I was taught that this is how you best handle compliments about yourself - by dismissing and denying them, with that little bit of a smile that lets everyone else know you're being a bit disingenuous. And then one day, in utter frustration as I continued to politely deny every good thing he ever said about me, a pastor friend and mentor just looked at me for a moment until he knew he had my full attention and said four words that have changed the way I engage with compliments: 

"Just say thank you."

Just say thank you. Just acknowledge that someone else has said something true about you from their perspective. Embrace their acknowledgement and affirmation. Let them affirm something that God has said is true about you because He created it in you. Real humility is letting yourself settle into the fullness of who you are and letting it just be

And if, by chance, someone affirms something in you that you don't particularly like or that you don't want to be, then their affirmation is your chance to recognize it anew and decide to do something different about it. 

The thing is, you can learn all kinds of things about yourself from the compliments of others. Some things will surprise you, and some things will delight you. Some things will let you know that you're right where you wanted to be. Others might open an entirely new path that you didn't think was possible. Some might touch on a dream that you've tried to keep secret because you weren't sure if it was reasonable or not. Others can reveal to us so many things about ourselves, and this necessarily humbles us because we can never go back and be anything other than we already were. What we were in the moment that our friend, our brother, our sister, our neighbor holds so dear as to say something about it is something that is true about us. A compliment forces us to accept ourselves for that moment. 

Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to deny it. Then, we don't have to accept anything. 

But isn't it strange that we've spent our whole lives learning that humility is self-denial when in fact, the most humble thing we can do is accept and embrace a compliment? It's this acceptance and embrace that tells the other that we are willing to recognize ourselves, that we are willing to confess something about us, that we are willing to stand in the sometimes-awkward places of being known

And all it takes is a thank you. That's it. Just a thank you. 

So...start with that. See how it changes your heart to just say thanks. And then tell me that's not a more humbling experience than all the junk our culture has tried to teach you about it. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Conversation About Humility

On Friday, I wrote about developing a more humble perspective on the world, and I think that's important. But it's also important, when we introduce the idea of humility, to talk a little bit about what humility really is. 

Primarily because we are really bad at it, even when we are trying really hard. 

We all know about false humility - and we recognize it almost immediately as false. This is the idea that when someone compliments you, you're supposed to pretend you're not awesome and instead, talk about how terrible you or tell them how mistaken they must be about you. We've been told this is the polite thing to do, that it's the best way to handle compliments about yourself and praise from others. (It's not. Maybe we should talk about that tomorrow.) But we all also recognize this isn't real humility. 

We've coined a phrase in our culture for another type of false humility - the "humble brag." This is where you say something about yourself that could be a lowly, little kind of thing except that you are actually trying to make it a praiseworthy thing. The so-called humble brag seeks recognition and praise, which makes it, too, not at all humble. 

And then, we have come up with this cute little phrase that says that humility "is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less." But guess what - that's not humility, either. Humility is never self-dismissive. It can't be. So the minute that you try to think you're not a factor in this equation, that you don't exist in this circumstance, that nothing about you matters here...that's not humility. Humility cannot exist without a self to humble. As cute as this phrase is, it doesn't get us to humility. 

The common cultural understanding of humility, which seems to be as true inside of the church as outside of the church, would read a post like the one I made on Friday and determine that our best course of action through the world would be to pretend we knows nothing. To pretend we've never been a human being before and have no experience in or opinion on whatever we're facing right now. Or perhaps it would propose that we start every breath with the recognition that we are most definitely wrong about whatever we're thinking. 

That's not humility. Humility is not a blankness. It's not an emptiness.

Humility is not self-dismissing. It is not self-defeating. It is not self-deprecating. 

Humility is self-recognizing. Self-honoring. Self-owning.

See, humility starts with our recognition that we are finite beings. It doesn't pretend that we don't know anything, but recognizes that we don't know everything. It owns what we have access to in our limited experience and understanding, and at the same time, it confesses that our experience and understanding are limited - that there are things that we aren't thinking about because we haven't lived a life that has forced us to think about...and that there are things we couldn't think about if we had a thousand imaginations because they are that far outside of our lived realm. 

And yet, these things that we don't know are just as real as the things that we do know. That's what humility acknowledges. That's what humility grasps.

So when humility comes up against a recognition like those I have been having lately, when it brushes up against things outside of its own perspective, it doesn't become self-defeating and claim it is impossible to know anything; it doesn't become self-dismissive and claim it doesn't know what it very surely does know; it doesn't become self-deprecating and claim some sort of mock lowliness. Humility isn't troubled by the fact that it doesn't know everything; it doesn't expect to know everything. 

It expects that there is always something outside of the box of lived experience that it doesn't know yet, without giving up any of the millions of things it very much knows. Humility believes it has a contribution to make...and to receive. 

They say that humility is accepting your smallness or that humbling yourself is making yourself smaller. But we make ourselves smaller not by turning on ourselves, but by realizing our world is much bigger that we know of it. Just as a goldfish is no smaller in the ocean than it is in the bowl; it's just that in the open waters, it feels its smallness differently. When we let our world be bigger, we fell our smallness differently, without actually being any smaller at all. That's humility. 

It starts with our fullness and embraces every bit of us, but it comes to our smallness.