Monday, January 31, 2022

Quality of Life

We're well into resolution season at this point, and the truth is starting to hit home for so many - there are some things about yourself that just aren't going to change. 

We make all kinds of resolutions about how we want to be different, and they usually revolve around exterior things. We want to take better care of our hair this year. Or maybe we're not going to Walmart in pajama pants this year. Or we want to lose weight. Or we're finally going to do something about that crooked tooth or our bent nose or our eyebrows that have become a singular eyebrow. Or we're going to stop smoking or drinking or getting high. What we want is to look better so we can feel better, and for most of us, the new year brings a new opportunity to invest more deeply in this sort of thing. 

But what if that's not what life is all about? 

We know that it isn't. If you asked us outright about some of these things, we'd tell you that we know they don't matter. But they matter to us. 

When we talk about employment in the world, we come up against the same sorts of things. There are some persons I know who are embarrassed to tell someone what they do for a living because it doesn't seem like it's anything at all, like it matters at all. I think if the pandemic has shown us anything, it ought to be that those who think their jobs aren't anything at all are often "essential" workers. We need them. They ought to be proud of what they do; we all ought to be proud of what we do, whatever it is. And we ought to be persons who affirm and encourage others in that. 

Or some will say that they just need more money, and they'll convince themselves that every well-paying opportunity is a good opportunity. For them, the bottom line is the top bill. It's the thing they want to be most true about themselves - they make good money. I saw recently where a well-known company is bringing a hundred or so new jobs to my town, and the reaction was split. Some said that this company does not treat their employees well, while others said that of course they do - they pay a high wage. It's impossible sometimes to convince a person that earning a high wage does not mean you are being treated well. All they care about is the money. 

We have all these standards by which we judge our lives, and they come out in the things that we are proud or ashamed of, the things that we're most willing to change about ourselves (or at least try to change), the things we become so focused on and the truth is, we focus on them because of the way they're wrapped into one great big lie. 

The lie works like this: the world has told us that these are the things that are important - our looks, our titles, our bank accounts - and in doing so, the world has taught us that these are the things that we should look at and if these are the things that we should look at, then these are the things that everyone else is looking at. So whatever we see and don't like about ourselves in these things are the same things the world sees and doesn't like about us. 

And at our core, we all want to be liked. 

It's not that the things we want to change about ourselves are not worth changing. There are some changes all of us can make toward better and healthier lives. 

But what we have to guard against is the notion that these things are fundamentally who we are. That we are nothing more than this. There is nothing I have mentioned in today's post that tells anyone else in the world anything substantial about who you are. Nothing. There is nothing that reveals who God created you to be. 

When all things come to an end, these things, too, shall pass away and you will be left with...what? 

We call these measures "quality" of life, but they are no such thing. The true quality of your life is far, far different. You know this. You've heard this. But this week, I'm going to prove it to you. And hopefully, you'll never think of your life and all these piddly little things the same way again. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Unsettling Uncertainty

One of the reasons that I think we are not quick to share God's goodness in our lives is because we aren't quick to accept it, either. 

We are a people like Gideon, who pray for God to give us a sign and then, having received it, pray for Him to give us another. Lord, let the fleece be dry. Okay, Lord, that was pretty cool - now, let the fleece be wet. Now, Lord, have the fleece move from one place to another and maybe do a little hokey pokey on its way. Then, I'll be certain that You are the Lord and You are good. 

God gives us everything that we need to believe Him. Even the faith to believe comes from the Lord Himself. The only thing we have to do is be willing to put aside our uncertainty. 

And that's hard. 

It is! Even for those of us who believe in the goodness of God. Even for those of us who would say that we don't have a single doubt in our bones about who God is. It's still hard for us to push aside our uncertainty because we have this feeling that things that seem to be about God still have all of these complicating factors in them. Usually, our human nature. 

We know who we are, and we know all the bad things that can happen in this world. If we were Elizabeth, we would know in the back of our minds that something could still go wrong with this pregnancy. A genetic defect. A miscarriage. Maybe I'm just bloated. There are all of these hesitations that we have, and we tell ourselves that they aren't hesitations about God, but about all the other factors at play. 

Here's the hard truth: they are hesitations about God. 

See, what we're really saying when we say that things could still happen is that there are things in this world that are bigger than God. God can make us pregnant, sure, but can He protect our pregnancy and bring it to term? Can He make our baby healthy? When we say that it's "possible" something else still steps in and ruins this whole thing, what we're really saying is that God is not all-powerful or perhaps not all-good because there are things in this world that can thwart Him. There are things in this world that can override and overrule His divine plan. 

We have a fundamental problem with our faith, and that is our ability to actually believe in the God that we claim to know and love. We say that we know all of these things about Him, that we're absolutely certain, but put the goodness of God into our lives, and we're not sure any more.

Isn't that strange? It is so often the goodness of God that exposes that weakness of our faith. It is so often when the promises of God start to come to fruition in our lives that we say, "Wait. No. It can't be." and we start to think of all the things that might be bigger than God in our world. 

And that's why we don't share His goodness more with one another. Because we aren't so sure of it ourselves. Because we aren't convinced that there isn't still something bigger than Him coming. Because, for all the faith that we profess, we just can't believe that God is actually doing a good thing that can't be touched by our brokenness. 

Our brokenness, we think, is so much bigger than God. 

Sometimes, I wonder how many more stories we'd hear about God's goodness if we simply believed them...and how much more readily we'd believe if we were hearing these stories from others. What if we don't have to wait 5 months to tell someone we're pregnant? What if God has just done that and we know it and there's no question about anything being bigger than the miracle that God has already worked in our lives? What if God is who He says He is and this whole thing isn't going to fall apart? What if we don't curse ourselves when we say it out loud, as though the goodness of God is some fragile thing that cannot stand being declared? 

We live with a measure of uncertainty, and we tell ourselves it's not about God. But it's about God. We simply don't trust that He is as good and as big as He says He is. 

But what if we did? 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

A Painful Secret

Elizabeth didn't tell anyone she was pregnant for five whole months, more than half of her pregnancy. She didn't need to. The goodness of God satisfied the deepest places in her soul, and there was nothing that anyone could add to that - not even if the truth of her blessing took away her shame. 

Still, Elizabeth was holding a painful secret for those five months. Painful not for her, but for everyone else. 

You see, for five months, everyone else in that town had the opportunity to know the goodness of God, but Elizabeth didn't tell them. She didn't even let them see. God had done something amazing, truly amazing, right in their midst, and no one knew about it. 

Because they didn't know about it, they kept going to the Temple to offer sacrifices. They kept making and burning incense on the altar. They kept going through the motions of religious life as they knew it, without any awareness at all of the inbreaking of God right there among them. Without any awareness at all that God Himself was becoming present in their midst. 

There was, right there in this womb, the prophet of God that in just a matter of years, everyone in this location would go out into the wilderness to see. They would listen to his message and step into the river to receive his baptism. And for five months, they knew nothing about him. 

It seems like such a small thing in the grand scheme of all things, but is it? 

How many persons gave up believing there would ever be a Messiah in those five months? How many gave up believing there would even be another prophet...ever? How many barren women gave up believing God would ever open their wombs? How many men divorced or otherwise ostracized their barren wives? 

How many persons in Jerusalem died in those five months when the promise of God was right in their midst and they never knew it, never even suspected? 

We get into this weird space where the goodness of God is so satisfying in our souls that we don't feel the need to announce it on the street corners, and yet, we live in a world thirsty for the goodness of God, a world that desperately needs to hear it. 

There are persons right now whose lives would be blessed by knowing what God is doing in yours. Whose prayer would be encouraged by knowing that God had answered yours. Whose brokenness would hurt a little less if they knew that God was still in the business of healing. There are persons in your world right now who need the promise of God in your life. They need to hear about it. 

For that reason, we have to keep speaking it. We have to share. We can't hide in our houses for five months while the promise of God develops; we have to claim it and show it and share it and put it all out there. 

How many persons are going to give up believing between this moment right now and whenever we decide the time is "right" to tell them how good God has been to us? How many persons are going to give up on themselves? How many will give up on God? How many are going to die between today and the day this promise comes leaping out of our womb? 

How many persons does our silence condemn? 

I get why Elizabeth didn't tell anyone for five months; she didn't feel any compulsion to. She didn't have to. 

But I wonder how it would have changed lives if she had. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Holy Satisfaction

So here we have Elizabeth, who is living a life marked by shame and public disgust. Her days are a blur of judgment and pity, as all of the other women know she is barren for a reason. Women aren't just barren; they deserve their barrenness. Her husband has gone into the Temple to serve at the altar and has come out mute, so he's no longer any help. He can't defend her. And then, something incredible happens - Elizabeth becomes pregnant. 

But she doesn't tell anyone. 

And it seems counterintuitive to us, because if we had a truth that would make everyone else stop talking about us, we'd be shouting it from the rooftops. We'd be going out buying all the ugliest maternity clothes that we could find, so that everyone could see right away that we're pregnant. We'd be carrying around the ultrasound photos and maybe even the little pee stick. Look, I'm pregnant! See, I'm pregnant! We would become everything that God tells us in Matthew not to be - Pharisees standing on the street corner, declaring our own pregnancy for the sole sake of being seen. But not Elizabeth.

Why not? Because Elizabeth, filled with the goodness of God and His promises, doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. 

She's probably spent her life wanting to show those women. Wanting to tell the townspeople what's what. Wanting to prove herself. Wanting to show herself worthy. She's probably spent nights, and even days, dreaming about what it would be like to shut everyone up and to stop being "the barren woman." But when it finally comes to happen, when God finally does this good and beautiful thing in her life, all that petty enviousness and the ache of betrayal just...vanishes. She is so full of the goodness of God that it satisfies her very soul and she no longer needs, nor even wants, the approval of others. 

This is perhaps a greater gift even than the child that is in her womb. All the striving ceases. All the ache disappears. All the burden, gone. Elizabeth knows without question in this moment that God sees her, that God hears her, that God knows her, and that God loves her. 

There is nothing else in all the world that she needs. 

Oh, that we would be blessed to know the same! 

We get so hung up on what we think are the answers to our prayer, even when they come. We would get so wrapped up in the pregnancy - in taking care of ourselves, in planning the nursery, in making arrangements for care, in notifying family, in choosing names, in making decoration, in the thousands of things that we know that we have to do when a baby is coming. And all the while, we'd be thanking God for this baby, thanking God for finally giving us this one thing that we have wanted for so long. We would be so focused on the child that was coming that we'd miss this kind of satisfaction in our souls. 

We'd miss the goodness of God because we'd be so wrapped up in the goodness of the baby. 

Do you feel that? Does that make sense to your aching heart? Do you get how that close and yet, so far away from what God wants for us in a moment like this? 

Elizabeth just let the truth of God's goodness sink down into her heart. It wasn't about the baby, although she was thrilled with the promise of John. It was about the God who sees her, hears her, knows her, and loves her. With that truth nestled in her soul, she doesn't have to rush out and start telling everyone the good news. What could their approval possibly add to her experience at this point? What could her heart still be missing when it is so full of God? 

Nothing. In short, the answer is nothing. Which is why for five months, Elizabeth didn't tell anyone she was pregnant. 

She didn't have to. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Keeping the Secret

Yesterday, we introduced the story of Elizabeth, who was a cursed woman. Every aspect of her life was marked by the fact that she never had children with her, that everyone knew right away that she was some kind of sinful, undeserving woman simply because she was barren. And then, something amazing happens - the angel Gabriel appears to her husband, Zechariah, in the innermost holy place of the Temple and tells him they are going to have a child. Not just any child, but a child who will become John the Baptist. 

And then something truly amazing happens: 

Elizabeth doesn't tell anybody. 

In fact, Luke tells us that as soon as Elizabeth found out she was pregnant, she hid herself for five months. Five months. More than half of this pregnancy. Long after she started showing. Long after she was most likely to have miscarried. Well into the time when her pregnancy would seem both obvious and secure. And still, Elizabeth hid herself. 

For five months, nobody knew that she was pregnant. Maybe the townswomen were glad to be rid of her for a bit, glad she wasn't bringing her barrenness around them and their children any more. Glad they didn't have to talk about that or explain that to inquiring little minds any more. Maybe they were glad to have this woman of disdain and scorn out of their sight. Maybe...maybe they didn't even notice that she was gone. After all, since she wasn't a widow, she would not have woven herself into the fabric of the society as a childless woman; she was, and forever would be, an outcast. Or so it seemed. 

You would think that Elizabeth would have run out screaming into the streets about her pregnancy the moment she knew it happened. Certainly, most of us would have. The chance to take the burden of stigma off our backs? We're going to jump at that, every time. We want everyone to know, the second we know it and the instant we can confirm it, that we aren't who they think we are. Especially in a time like Elizabeth's, when this one feature of her life marked literally everything about her. And especially when it was on such public display, as it was with her husband being a priest. 

Yet here we have a Zechariah who can't talk and an Elizabeth in hiding and so for five months, all the people of the region continued to believe that Elizabeth was cursed and disgraceful. And the strangest thing of all is that she just doesn't seem to care. 

She's not correcting them. Now, maybe we could say she was waiting until they could all see for themselves. After all, there are a few months when pregnancy isn't obvious, but we're well past that and she's still not sticking it to them. She's still not rubbing it into their faces. She's still not even telling anyone that she's pregnant. 

Interestingly, the first time she seems to acknowledge that she is pregnant is when Mary shows up and tells her that she heard that Elizabeth is with child (she heard this from Gabriel, when the angel came to visit her). Until that point, no one seems to know and Elizabeth hasn't told them. 

Doesn't that seem strange to you? Doesn't that seem so remarkable as to be almost unbelievable? Elizabeth has within her one simple sentence of truth that would forever dispel all of the rumors and all of the gossip and all of the judgment about her, and she doesn't speak it. 

What in the world is going on here?

There are two important truths at play, and we'll take a closer look at both of them in the coming days.  

Monday, January 24, 2022

A Cursed Woman

Can we talk about Elizabeth for a second?

I know what you're thinking - who's Elizabeth? You're racking your brain, but no one in the Bible comes to mind, so maybe I'm talking about someone you're supposed to be seeing in the news. Or maybe someone famous, someone on Twitter maybe. An author? C'mon, now, you can do this. Maybe I'm talking about someone I know that you don't know yet, but I'm planning on introducing her to you. Who is Elizabeth?

Just kidding. Elizabeth is a Bible character. She is the wife of Zechariah, which on an average day might be as much help to most persons (even most Christians) as telling you her name is Elizabeth, but if you've been reading along for the past week, you remember we were talking about Zechariah for a few days. So that makes Elizabeth the wife of the priest who was promised a son named John, and that makes her the mother of John the Baptist.

With all of that settled out, are you ready to go now? Let's talk about Elizabeth.

Elizabeth bears the story of so many of the amazing women in God's narrative - she was a barren woman. She didn't have any kids. She wasn't going to have any kids. The time seemed long past in which she would ever be able to have kids. She was so old that even her husband, Zechariah, was doubting whether he was still able to have kids. So like so many couples before them, Elizabeth and Zechariah cannot believe the angel when he tells them they are going to have a son. 

But Elizabeth, being a woman, carries a much greater burden on this than Zechariah does. She is a barren woman. In her society, that meant that she was a failure of a woman. She was a woman living in shame, and although no one knew exactly what her incredible sin or moral failure was, everyone knew she had one. Everyone knew that it was because of something innate in Elizabeth's character, something despicable and disgusting, that she didn't have children by now. Everyone knew she was not who she appeared to be because if she was even a halfway decent person, she'd have children by now. 

Ouch. And not only that, but everyone could see this brokenness every time they looked at her. Oh, there's Elizabeth, the barren woman. Her womb is broken. Her womanhood doesn't work. Her life is full of shame and disease and emptiness because that's all she deserves. 

And hey, if God thinks you deserve emptiness, then you probably do. And anyone know thinks that God thinks you deserve emptiness is more than happy to give it to you. (Just look at the way that Christians ostracize whoever it is they think God could never forgive - homosexuals, women who have had abortions, pedophiles, whatever.) This is the life that Elizabeth was living.

She was the woman that everyone looked down on, if they would even look at her at all. She was the subject of so much of the town's gossip. Any time they talked about her, they did so with disdain. Maybe, if she was lucky, a little bit of pity, but that quickly turned because they knew her barrenness was her own fault. 

This could only have been made worse by having a husband who lived so openly in the public eye. Zechariah was a priest. He was constantly serving in the Temple. He was always standing before God, declaring the Lord to the people. But...the people knew. The people talked about it. Zechariah was married to a disgusting woman. An unfaithful woman, somehow. A sinful woman. A barren woman. Every time Zechariah stepped forward, he brought this shame on Elizabeth's shoulders - and into her ears - all over again. Her life was just not easy. 

And then...she becomes pregnant. And you'd think that that's the end of the story, but it's really just the beginning. Because what happened next is...absolutely stunning. It's breathtaking. It's...confusing. It's not what we would expect anyone in Elizabeth's situation to do. 

So what was it? Stay tuned.  

Friday, January 21, 2022

Pentecostal Fire

We started the week bouncing off a passage in Luke when the people of Israel knew that Zechariah was taking too long to offer the incense; even back then, the people knew when church was running late. And we've talked about how difficult it is for us to consider that perhaps God has shown up, and then what our church services might look like if He were actually in charge of them. 

And all of this is really weird and at the same time, not so much, when you look at what is happening with our worship music right now. 

We have placed a renewed emphasis in a significant portion of our worship music on the Holy Spirit. We have begged Him to come. We have recounted His deeds. We sing about dry bones rattling and "Pentecostal fire." We have a whole host of songs these days that sing about the glory of God actually showing up, about His presence among us, about the Holy Spirit being with us and yet...we still don't actually expect it to happen. 

What's more - we so much don't expect it to happen that there has even been a bit of a war within Christianity on some of these songs themselves. Several of the worship songs that have grown massively in popularity in the past year or two have come from a particular worship group, and there have been movements online - vocal movements - suggesting that we not even sing their music, no matter how captivating it is, because we do not agree with their teachings on, among other things, the Holy Spirit. 

Because we don't agree with the "Pentecostal fire." 

Think about that for a second. We fall in love with a worship song because of the power, glory, and presence of God and the Holy Spirit declared within and it ignites in us something that we haven't felt in a long time, something that makes us raise our hands and shout, "Yes, Lord!" and yearn in our hearts for the words of that song to be true. 

And in the very same breath, we condemn the song because we don't want to look like we're affirming the teachings behind it, the very teachings that made the song possible in the first place. Our hearts want to believe it, but their hearts actually believe it, and somehow, that's a problem for us. 

So, in many cases, we just stop singing the music. 

We have to confess that we feel this dissonance in our souls. This tension between what our hearts long for and the "proper doctrine" we've been taught, and continue being taught (in many cases), in our churches. Where we're supposed to believe in the power, glory, and presence of God...but not really. We're not supposed to believe too much. We're not supposed to actually believe these things are possible. 

If we did, we might set the world on fire...but burn our churches down. 

This is why we have so much trouble with faith. We have so removed these ideas from our church culture that they have become taboo and most of us worship now in churches where we are supposed to affirm merely the idea of God and certain fundamental concepts about Him, but not metaphysical realities. Not the kinds of things that might actually change our lives. Not the kinds of things that all of our intellectual knowledge about Him sparks our hearts to want to desire. 

We are somehow supposed to know that God is present in our churches without ever actually expecting Him to show up. Or talking like He has. 

We are a strange people, indeed. 

So after all that, I leave you with this: imagine what it would look like if God was in your church. Rather, if God was in His house when you came to worship in it. Imagine what your faith would look like if you honestly, earnestly expected that.  

Thursday, January 20, 2022

God's Service

Sometimes, I wonder what our church services would look like if God planned them instead of us. Don't get me wrong - there's something kind of comforting, I suppose, about a song, a prayer, two songs, Communion, a sermon and an invitation. Or however you're doing it. It's nice to know what to expect when we walk in the doors of the church. 

But sometimes...I don't know. Sometimes, I think we're just getting it wrong. And sometimes, I think God would far prefer to work in a little mystery so that we don't always know what's coming next. 

I do think that if God were planning our church services, there'd be a lot more one anothering in them. I think there'd be a lot more of us talking with one another, facing each other, carrying each other's burdens, confessing our sins to one another. I think we'd spend more of our time looking into the eyes of our brothers and sisters than staring toward a stage. 

I think we'd spend time counting our communal offering and figuring out what we are going to do with it, how we're going to spend it to further God's work in the Kingdom, who we're going to take care of with our resources. I think this would spark further conversations about where the needs are that we're not meeting, needs that maybe we didn't know about because Bill just comes in and sits down and "attends service" and isn't that what our churches have been about for too long? But it turns out, Bill knows of a great need, a big blind spot in our ministry, a place where we ought to be pouring the grace of God right now. I think if God were planning the service, Bill would be telling us all about that. 

I think if God were planning our services, we'd be hearing from more preachers outside of our circles. Remember that the early church used to gather to hear guys like Paul and Silas and Timothy, guys just passing through who made the glory of God their labor, talk to them about Jesus. I don't know of a whole lot of churches with pastors willing to give up their pulpit these days. And I know of even fewer journeyman apostles who just go around preaching wherever. But I think if God were planning things, that would happen. 

And I think that's for two reasons. First, we need to hear from new voices in our churches. We need to hear from those who have a different perspective. Every single one of us experiences God's grace in a unique way based on our own experience and circumstance, and God's design is that we would share that with each other. (As a side note, I think somehow, we've become ashamed of this and so we don't talk to anyone about God, not even our brothers and sisters, because we're convinced that our unique way of hearing Him is "weird" or worse.) 

Second, I think it's far too common for us to live in religious echo chambers, just like we live in cultural ones. We surround ourselves with those who think like us, look like us, act like us, believe like us. We don't make a lot of room in our lives to be challenged or to learn anything new, to think outside of our boxes. The people in the churches in the New Testament were preaching and listening and learning, but they needed these apostles from the outside to correct them where their echo chambers were tempted to start leaning. We need the same thing. So I think if God were planning our services, we'd have more visiting voices around. 

I also think there'd be more silence. When did we become afraid of silence in our churches? We fill every second with sound - with soft music playing behind the pastor even while he prays because somehow, prayer makes us hear that silence all the more profoundly, even when someone's talking, and we can't bear it. We don't light candles any more and just let them burn. We don't give the people even a second to have their own thought or to reflect on something in their own heart. There's always noise drawing them back into what we have planned for the moment and for the space. But I think if God were doing it, He wouldn't feel the need to fill it all. I think there would be more silence. 

We could keep going, and maybe we should, but perhaps I have sparked your sanctified imagination here and you're already thinking of things that God would do in your church if He were the one planning your time there. What would God change about your church experience? 

What keeps you from making those changes? 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

House of Worship

It doesn't seem to occur to us, when church is taking a little longer than we think it should, that God might have shown up. It didn't occur to the Jews when Zechariah was slow to come out of the Most Holy Place, and it doesn't occur to us when we're watching the seconds tick away toward lunch. 

Perhaps that is because we have forgotten the most fundamental truth about this place to where we go on Sunday mornings: this is God's church, not ours. 

The church is God's house, not ours.

This was particularly true in the time of Zechariah, when the priest was serving at the actual Temple - the place where God said He would dwell among His people. It was particularly true in the very time in which the people did not at all seem to consider that God might have shown up in that Most Holy Place. Why wouldn't He have? That was His living room. 

Who would ever dream of walking into God's living room and not finding Him there?

It would seem bizarre to most of us, I would think, if we were sitting in our homes and had a dear, close friend walk in. But our friend does not acknowledge us or talk to us. Instead, our friend walks right past where we are sitting, lights one of candles, and says a few words about how great we are and how blessed they feel to have us as a friend and how they hope we keep being a friend to them for a long time to come. Then, still not having spoken a single word to us or even looking in our direction, our friend walks out and closes the door. 

It would be weird, right? Yet, this is what we are doing every Sunday in our churches. We are walking into God's house without acknowledging His actual presence, lighting a candle, singing a few songs, saying a few prayers, talking about how blessed we are to have Him and how we hope He keeps pouring out His blessings in our lives. But not actually talking to Him. Not actually acknowledging His presence. 

Then, we stand up, shake hands with someone else, walk out, and close up the doors until next Sunday, when we will walk into God's house and do it all over again. 

I'm going to tell you - it's no less bizarre to God when it happens in His house than it would be to us if it happened in ours. 

See, in all our planning for our Sunday services, in our meticulous crafting of our order of worship, in the painstaking choosing of just the right worship songs, in the recruitment of a harmonious set of speakers and pray-ers and ushers and servers, we start to think that somehow, this is our party. That this is our event that we're putting on. That we determine how this whole thing goes. 

But this is God's house; this church is God's church. And He is the one who determines how this whole thing goes, no matter how much planning we put into it. 

Why does that keep surprising us? 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Order of Worship

We're bouncing off a text in the Gospel of Luke where even the ancient Jews knew when church ran too long - when Zechariah did not come out of the Most Holy Place on time. 

See, as the priest chosen by lot that year, his job was to go into the Temple and burn the incense and offer the prayer that would cover God's people until another lot would be cast the next year. This was a ritual that the people understood, and they knew exactly how it should go. 

It's interesting to think about what the people must have been thinking when Zechariah didn't come out on time. The truth is that they were probably worried about something having gone wrong, something either unworthy in Zechariah himself or the incense or the prayer. Remember all those folks in the Old Testament who offered unlicensed incense to God and died for it? The people were probably thinking Zechariah died in the Most Holy Place.

They were probably trying to figure out how they were going to get his body out of the Most Holy Place. No one else could go in for a whole year. Anyone who tried to even reach in to grab Zechariah's ankle and try to pull him out was going to die themselves; they knew that for sure. But they can't just leave the guy in there for a year, either. The smell...would not be pleasing to the Lord. 

What we know is that they were not out in the courtyard thinking that something holy was happening in there. That thought didn't cross their minds at all. 

Because it's not until Zechariah comes out and cannot speak to them that they seem to realize that something happened in there. Something holy. It's not until it's clear to them that he has seen a vision that they seem to even consider the possibility that he has seen a vision. 

Think about that for a minute. The people of God did not even seem to consider that the reason church was taking so long is because God showed up. 


We, too, are prone to think just about everything except that. We are prone to pick apart the Sunday service when it runs too long. The praise team shouldn't have played that extra chorus. The guy giving the prayer rambled on too long. The pastor shouldn't have told that story - even though it was a good story. And who gave that woman the microphone? Didn't they know she was going to tell her own life story? We even pick apart the time "wasted" on technical malfunctions - trying to line up the slides, finding a lost slide, fixing a staticky microphone, finding the right light dimmer, etc. 

What we often don't consider is that...maybe God was there. Maybe God, not human error, orchestrated your church service to run that long. Maybe God was speaking something that you didn't hear because you were too busy listening to the clock tick. Maybe God was speaking something that someone else desperately needed to hear - and she didn't even notice how long church was taking. 

Maybe God doesn't care if you beat the Methodists to Wendy's.

It seems so strange to me that the people of God seem to be the last ones to consider that God might actually show up. That our minds go to a thousand other possibilities first. That we get so worried, and so upset, when things aren't going the way we think they should. After all, we plan the order of worship, don't we? We know how church should work. 

Or do we? 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sunday Lunch

One of my former pastors used to make a joke about how he would keep his sermon short and sweet, so we could "beat the Methodists to Wendy's." It's funny, sure, but humor always contains a bit of truth. 

You'd think this is a new problem, in a newly hectic world - that Christians today are so time-obsessed that we're the first ones to sit around watching the second hand click away on the clock, thinking about all of the rest of the things we need to do...and what we're going to do next. 

It seems like this would be a fairly new phenomenon. After all, the world was shut down on Sundays until just a generation or so ago. You didn't have to worry about all the things you had to do after church - or beating the Methodists to Wendy's - because there wasn't anything to do on a Sunday and Wendy's wasn't open. Sundays were for church and family dinner and hanging around the house talking with one another. Although I suppose an argument might be made for whoever does the cooking thinking during the sermon about getting that pot on the stove in time, but probably not - we just weren't a people driven by time. No one was looking at their watching thinking, "Gosh, the pot roast better be ready on time." We just weren't like that. 

Except...we've always kind of been like that. 

This struck me last week as my pastor was reading from the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of the book, Luke tells the story of Zechariah, who was the priest chosen to enter the Most Holy Places that year. You know the story. He goes in to burn the incense, and Gabriel appears to him and tells him all about the baby that is coming for his barren wife, Elizabeth. Gabriel goes into how all of this will happen and Zechariah can hardly believe it all, to the point that he is struck mute until these things come to pass. 

Meanwhile, Luke tells us, the people outside were growing restless because they knew it was taking too long

To put that in modern language, church should have been over by now. 

Zechariah is in the temple, in the Most Holy Place, burning incense, praying, and talking with the angel of the Lord himself, and the people are outside watching the second hand tick away on their watches, tapping their feet, beginning to pace and to worry. The women are starting to put things into their purse; the men are straightening their jackets. They're gonna walk out of this place, even if nobody comes to dismiss them properly. Church is supposed to be over by now. 

There were no Methodists. There was no Wendy's. This was a Sabbath proper in the synagogue - the most sacred of all days. No work was being done. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go. And still the people right on the edge of Jesus's day were clock-watching. Still, they knew when church was supposed to be over. Still, they were impatient for the service to end. 

There just seems to be something about us that wants to keep God on a schedule. That wants to keep God on our schedule. There's something about us that always seems to have in the back of our minds all the other things we want to do and all the plans that we have for ourselves.

How funny it is that the very next thing we always seem to have to do is also to be impatient - we have to beat the Methodists to Wendy's because we don't have time to wait in line. Because we don't want to wait in line. 

And maybe you're thinking to yourself right now what a silly post this is. And it is. Kinda. But we're going somewhere with this, somewhere important. So just keep this in the back of your mind as we move forward. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Loving the Lost

If you haven't figured it out by now, the reason that Lot's story - Lot's real story - is so important for us is because so many of us are living Lot's story. So many of us have lives filled with those we love who...just don't believe. We have lived a righteous witness before them. They have seen the blessings of God. They have known of the angels that have come to visit. They have heard the truth of judgment. They can smell the sulfur. And it's just not enough for them. 

Or, in some cases, we have been able to bring them with us a certain distance. They have come to visit our church, maybe even signed up for a small group. They read the Bible we gave them for Christmas a few years ago. At least, they keep it on their coffee table. They are the object of so much of our prayer. And yet, for some reason, they can't stop looking back. They can't take their eyes off the world. 

Lot's daughters, Lot's wife - these are those that we know and love. These are our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our daughters, our sons, our neighbors, our friends. And as hard as it is to accept, the truth is that some of them will simply not be saved. 

But hear me on this - if they are not, it will not be our fault. 

We feel some kind of sense of personal failure when someone doesn't come to Christ. Like maybe we are bad at evangelism. Or maybe something in our own witness is broken. If only we were more articulate. Or persuasive. Or faithful. Or righteous. If we invested more time. Or if we performed more acts of service. Certainly, we tell ourselves, there must be something we can do to ensure that those we love most come to understand the saving grace of Jesus and to want that. If they don't, we think it's our fault. We think we just have to try harder. Or do something different. Or do something better.  

Lot loved his daughters. There's not question about that. He loved his wife; we know that for certain. There is no doubt as to the depth or the authenticity of Lot's love for his family. But his daughters were not his; they were their own women, belonging to their husbands and to the world they had chosen. Nor could Lot have blindfolded his wife so that she couldn't choose anything else. 

We don't get to force those we love to love God. We can't. We cannot, in so many cases, break the ties of the world that have hold on them. We cannot break someone else's addiction. We cannot heal their brokenness. We cannot bind their wounds. Jesus can, but if they won't come to Jesus with us.... 

It hurts. It hurts so bad because we know that everything they're looking for, Jesus has for them in spades. And even more than that. It hurts because we believe that if they'd just listen, if they'd just give it a fair hearing, they'd hear what grace sounds like and they'd never turn back. It hurts because we want so badly for those we love to be saved and yet, the truth remains...we can't save them. 

If we could, we wouldn't have needed the Cross. 

That's the double-edged sword of Jesus. He is so good and the promise is so amazing, but if we were capable of getting those we love all the way there, we wouldn't have needed Him in the first place. 

Salvation is, ultimately, a work of God, no matter how righteous or faithful we are. That is true in our own lives, and it is true in the lives of those we love. And the reality is that sometimes, we can do everything we can possibly do - and do it right and do it well - and it just won't be enough. It won't be enough to tear our daughters away from the world, and it won't be enough to keep our wife from looking back, and it won't be enough to save those we love. 

So...what do we do? for the hills with everyone we love who's willing to come with us and we keep our eyes focused on what lies ahead. Maybe they'll see that spark in our eye. Maybe they'll see that hope shimmering. Maybe they'll see how fixed our gaze is and decide they, too, want to look at the horizon and not back at flaming Sodom. 

We continue to live our lives in faith, hoping, praying, longing, and leading and by the grace of God, some of those we love will come with us. They will. 

And those that don't?

Well, God has done even greater things than this, hasn't He? I believe He still can. I believe He still is.  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Unbelievers

Lot was not able to save at least two of his daughters, who were now so captivated by the world that they could not leave Sodom. Nor was he able to save his wife, whose heart was so tied to her daughters that she could not look forward to the promise but only backward to the curse. And this is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially when we've been thinking for so long that Lot simply took his family - all of his family - and ran for the hills in one of those almost-perfect happy endings (we know, of course, that his wife didn't quite make it, but we blame her for that, though the reality is much more complicated). 

But the truth is that the Bible is full of stories of those who heard, but did not believe. Those who were interested, but not invested. Those who were even certain, but not saved. 

Look at the Old Testament - the nations that Israel came up against always knew they were in big trouble because the God of Israel was a powerful God who was about to destroy them. They knew God's power. They knew His goodness to His people. They knew His presence among them (they could see the smoke and the fire, too, you know). And yet, what we don't see in the Old Testament is a bunch of peoples coming to Israel to ask how they can convert to Judaism and become peoples of this God in whose power and presence they are so convinced. 

Nah, they hang out around their own towns and continue to think that somehow, they're going to defeat Him. Even though they know that they can't. 

For a more specific example of this, look at Jericho. Rahab tells the spies that everyone in town knows about the Lord God of Israel and is scared of what's about to happen, but only Rahab expresses an interest in joining the people of God. Everyone else in Jericho fights to their death and dies under the rubble of their destroyed town. There are many more examples in the Old Testament - for example, look at what Babylon witnessed with Daniel and yet, Babylon did not become a people of God.

Move on into the New Testament, and we see that masses and masses of persons came to hear Jesus speak. They followed Him from town to town. They say on hillsides and ate bread that He broke out of a little boy's lunch. They watched Him give sight to the blind, sound to the deaf, voice to the mute, and to drive out demons. In many cases, they were the blind, the deaf, the mute, and the demon-possessed. We can count a total of at least 9,000 men on hillsides (not including, we're told, the women and the children), and yet - how many were at Calvary? How many came to the tomb? How many went into the synagogues? To the churches? 

At least 9,000 men (plus women and children), and Acts tells us that in the greatest move of the Spirit to date at that time, a mere few thousand were added to their numbers. Christianity itself started small. 

How could it possibly have started so small when the streets were packed and the seas crowded and the crowds pressing in? How could it have started so small when at least 9,000 men (plus women and children) saw the power and love and mercy and goodness of Jesus with their own eyes? 

Simply put, they saw, but they did not believe. They heard, but they did not believe. They had the witness right in front of them, heard the very voice of God and saw His face, and it was not enough for them. 

The hard truth is that there is a majority in this world - a majority - who will hear the testimony of God, who will know everything there is to know about His power, love, mercy and goodness, and who still will not believe. Including many that we ourselves know and love and long to save, those we long to lead to Jesus. There are so many in so many of our lives that we, like Lot, will do everything that we can to save...and it won't be enough. It just...won't be enough. 

One more day on this; stay tuned tomorrow. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Love and Loss

Lot was a righteous man - so righteous that God sent His angels to save this man from the destruction that was about to come upon this sinful Sodom. But although Lot escaped with his life, he did not escape with his family. Lot left behind at least two daughters, and he lost his life along the way. 

Why? Why did I have to go and tear this story apart and draw out the absolute heartbreak of being Lot? Why did I have to bring down our false understanding that Lot took his family and ran for the hills and started over, happy as a clam? 

Because many of us are living Lot's life. That's why. 

Many of us are living a righteous life in a sinful world. At least, we're trying. We are worshiping God and serving Him and loving our neighbors and raising our kids and doing all of the things that God would ask of us to the best of our abilities, and we are blessed for it. Many of us, because of the blessing of God on our lives and the way He has allowed us to see the world and our lives, see how sinful this world is. We see how much like Sodom is this place in which we live. And we would do anything to save those we love. 

This is the heart of evangelism, isn't it? This is what we're trying to do - get everyone we know to listen to, believe in, and love God the same way that we do. Because we know that doing this will save their lives. 

But the truth is...we can't make them. We can't make someone else listen to God or love Him. Or even believe in Him. We can't make someone else live the way that God wants them to live. 

There are persons in this world that we love deeply...that we will not be able to save. That we will not be able to bring to the Cross so that Jesus can save them. 

Some of them, like Lot's daughters, don't really belong to us any more. They have moved on and gone into new places and have new structures set up around them, new authorities that speak into their lives. Lot's sons-in-law wouldn't listen to him, and because of this, he lost his daughters. The authorities in this world won't listen to you and me and because of that, we will lose some that we love because they live under the authority of the world now. They live with a voice that doesn't listen to ours. 

Some of them, like Lot's wife, will have bonds too strong to sever. We might be able to pull them along for awhile, but at some point, they're going to turn back. They're going to look at what's going on. Their hearts are going to want to know what's happening to things that they hold dear, and that's going to draw them right back to burning Sodom. It is. We can have them by the hand, have led them this far, be oh so close, almost there, and there are some who are going to turn back. 

We, like Lot, will do everything that we can do and sometimes, that's still not going to be enough to save even those that we love the most. 

That's why it's important that we read Lot's story and understand what's really happening here. That's why we have to realize that even this righteous man, which we all strive to be, could not force anyone else to be saved. In some cases, he couldn't even convince them. All of the blessings that he had in all the world and the very presence of the angels of God were not enough evidence even for those who put so much of their trust in him. 

Are you getting this? This is important. In fact, we'll keep talking about this particular point tomorrow. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Lot's Wife

We're looking at the story of Lot when judgment rained down upon Sodom, where he was living, and yesterday, we saw that there were members of Lot's family that he had to leave behind. It wasn't for lack of trying - Lot went to his sons-in-law and told them what was about to happen and asked them to leave, but they wouldn't do it. So when Lot ran for the hills, he knew he was leaving at least two daughters behind. 

Maybe that's why the angel told him not to look back. Maybe the angel knew that his heart would want to turn back, to look at what was happening, to see if he could see his daughters that he had to leave behind. To see, maybe, if they would come running out of Sodom after him. To see if there was any way.... 

And now, all of a sudden, it makes sense, doesn't it? The angels telling Lot not to look back, I mean. Any loving father would have, but the Lord knew that looking back would not help him at all. That it would not soothe his soul or satisfy his heart. The Lord knew that Lot would be forever traumatized by watching what would happen to his daughters that he left behind, so God wanted him to keep his eyes on what he did have. 

But Lot's wife...couldn't do it. She couldn't not look back. 

It's one of those things that has always confused so many of us about Lot's story. Why did Lot's wife look back? Why did she turn, when she was told not to turn? What was so important in Sodom - in sinful, disgusting Sodom - that Lot's wife just had to look back? And now we know: it was her daughters. 

This leads us to the second thing that we need to recognize about Lot's story, and sorry, but it's another heartbreak. And this second heartbreak is this: Lot did everything he could to rescue his wife, but even on the edge of the hills, he wasn't able to. 

He took his wife and ran with her out of Sodom. He brought her along as far as he could. He did absolutely everything right to make sure that his wife escaped the judgment that God was bringing upon that city, and he even had with him a very good reason why his wife should be running for the hills, too - their two virgin daughters. This entire scenario is set up, and strongly so, for Lot's wife to be saved with him. 

Then, she looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. 

Far removed from Sodom, right on the edges of the hills, one breath away from the promise, and Lot's wife didn't make it. Lot's righteousness didn't save her. Lot's love for her didn't save her. Lot's insistence that she come with him didn't save her. Lot's instruction, straight from God Himself, that she not look back didn't save her. Lot did absolutely everything right, but his wife - by her own choosing - still looked back and nothing he did, and nothing he could do, could save her. 

When we read this story, we read the story of God's goodness to Lot, of how the Lord loves a righteous man, and of how Lot alone was saved from the destruction of Sodom because of his righteousness and faithfulness. We read how he ran for the hills with his family, and we get this happy little picture of a strong man leading those he loves to the safety of God's promise. 

But that isn't Lot's story at all. Lot's story is full of heartache. It's full of sorrow. Lot ran for the hills with not all of his family, and he even lost his wife along the way. 

This is important. We need to understand this. We have to pay attention. 

Why? We'll start talking about that tomorrow.  

Monday, January 10, 2022

Lot's Heartbreak

Do you remember the story of Lot, Abraham's nephew? He moved to Sodom, a very sinful town, and he was the only man to offer hospitality to the traveling angels that night, trying everything he could to shield them from the sin of the townsfolk who had come to do unspeakable things to them. Thus, when God decided to rain judgment down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, He had His angels instruct Lot to take his family and flee. 

And he did. 


Most of us, when we read this story, read that Lot took his wife and his daughters and ran for the hills, and we take this to mean that he rescued his whole family with him. But that's actually not what happened.

Remember when the townsfolk were coming after the angels and Lot told them that he had two virgin daughters that he would offer them if they would only leave these men alone? Well, right after the angels tell Lot to flee, the Bible tells us - right there in the middle of the story - that Lot went to his sons-in-law and told them it was time to get out of there. And they refused. 

Now, in case this is still a little cloudy (it's so easy to read right past), let's work through this a bit. Lot has two daughters at home who are virgins. He also has sons-in-law. That must mean, therefore, that Lot has daughters who are not at home with him, daughters he still cares about so much that he wants to save them from the judgment that is about to befall their hometown. He tries to save them from this judgment. He goes to their husbands - which means these are not his virgin daughters we're talking about - and begs them to leave Sodom. And they won't do it. 

Lot left Sodom without all of his children. 

In fact, if you read the story carefully, you'll see that the angels tell him this is what he must do. They directly say to him, "There's no time. Take the daughters that are home with you, the ones that are in your care, and get going." Without saying it, what they've said is, you'll have to leave your other daughters behind. 

That is a really hard pill to swallow. That's tough to do for anyone. Especially for a righteous man who is  just trying to protect those he loves, those who belong to him (even though in that culture, his daughters no longer belonged to him - they belonged to their husbands, though Lot never stopped loving them, of course). 

This is an important part of this story. It's an important part of our story. It's not something we see a whole lot in the stories of the Bible, although it's there in a few places. A lot of the time, we see things like Noah - who brought all his sons and their wives onto the Ark. So it's just natural for us to assume when we see Lot running for the hills with his wife and daughters that he's taken his whole family with him. 

But it's important that we understand that he didn't. And there's something else important about this story that we need to understand, too. We'll look at that tomorrow, and then on Wednesday, we'll start to talk about why Lot's story matters so much for so many of us. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

How to Handle Fear

If God calls us to be not afraid, but being afraid is part of the human experience, then how are we supposed to handle fear when it arises? What do we do with that unsettled feeling that keeps us locked in fight, flight, or freeze? How do we process it in such a way that we can work through toward faith?

The world has a certain wisdom for this; it's called something like "fake it until you make it." You've probably heard that. The world's approach is to simply pretend that you're not afraid and choose to act accordingly. The world's approach is to tell you that it doesn't matter if you feel fear, as long as you choose faith.

And that...would be completely wrong. 

I am simply not someone who believes that we can, or should, just choose against ourselves, that we should push our human experience onto the back burner and pretend to be living a life that we're not really living. I don't believe we should deny what we're feeling or experiencing. I don't believe that we can just pretend not to be afraid and live accordingly. We have to do something with the fear. 

And I believe the best thing to do with the fear is to acknowledge it. Contemplate it. Figure it out. Give it a voice and let it speak. Be bold about what it is that's making us feel unsettled and declare it. Let fear have a say. Let it speak. 

That sounds counterintuitive. It sounds like exactly the opposite of what God is calling us to do. Doesn't God call us to squash our fear, to push it deep down and dismiss it and live by faith? No. God never once calls us to deny our fear. He never once tells us not to acknowledge its presence. He never tells us that having fear is a bad thing; it's living by fear that gets us far away from the faith. 

Fear is a valuable instinct. There's a reason we're afraid of things. These things pose a danger to us (most of the time; sometimes, we're just paranoid human beings or broken by our own trauma). God gave us fear to protect us. God wired us to have to stop and think and figure out what it is in our souls that is unsettled. There's nothing wrong with having fear. 

When we give fear its proper place, it actually becomes the thing that leads us to faith, to the kind of faith - and fear-response - that God desires us to have. 

Think about it. Let's say you feel some apprehension or fear about a particular situation. It's easy to conclude that fear is a warning sign telling you to take another road, to make a turn, to keep away, and so you divert yourself and never do the hard thing that maybe God is actually calling you to do. That would be living by fear. Or maybe you listen to the world's wisdom, and you plow ahead, pretending you aren't afraid at all. This doesn't give you the opportunity to actually prepare for what you're about to encounter because your only driving force is, "I will not let fear drive this decision." And that's great, maybe, but you're more likely than not setting yourself up for failure. You're not ready. You aren't equipped.

But now, let's say you stop and figure out what's causing the fear. Now, you've got a chance to figure out what you need to face your fear head-on. And more specifically, what do you need from God to answer your fear with faith? What do you need God to be? What do you need Him to provide? What parts of God's heart and character do you need to discover in order to live by faith and not by fear right now? 

Maybe you're afraid of losing everything you have. Maybe what you need is to discover God as provider. Maybe you're afraid of being alone. Maybe you need to discover God as with us. Maybe you're afraid of failing. Maybe you need to discover the God who holds you up and lets you stand. 

When you uncover what's at the heart of your fear, you can start replacing that narrative in your heart with real faith - with the real things that God actually is. And that's an incredible gift. 

That's how God wants us to engage our fear. By letting it speak. By hearing it out. By letting it make itself known so that we know how our faith has to grow to answer it. 

We can't - and shouldn't - deny what we're feeling. You will never pretend your way into believing in God, not in any real sense. But you can use fear to help you get there. If you use fear wisely.  

Thursday, January 6, 2022


Lest you think that I'm just over here being "not afraid" all the time, let me assure you that I understand that all of this is easier said than done. I know firsthand that being not afraid doesn't come naturally, and it doesn't come easily, even when we want to choose it (in faith). If I were to tell you even a fraction of the times that I have let fear stop me, even in times when I have known for certain that God was moving in my life, then I could fill this blog for the rest of the year and then some. Easily. 

But that doesn't mean that what I'm saying about fear - and specifically about not fearing - is any less true. It's still true. It's still what God wants for us. It's still what we're called to in faith. It's the life Jesus was telling us about. 

We're just...still human. 

It's just...still hard. 

We just...still make it harder than it's really supposed to be. 

The truth about fear, at least for me, is that it's really not that I doubt God. Not exactly. I believe He is who He says He is. What I have more trouble believing is that I am who He says I am. That is, when I come up against fear in my life, I often find myself wondering if I'm able to do what God is calling me to do, not if He is. 

I know that God will take care of me. I know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. I know that God is good. I don't know...if I am.

I don't know if I'm as strong as God thinks that I am. I don't know if I'm as ready as God thinks that I am. I don't know if I have the kind of faith that is able to rely on Him with every breath the way that moving forward in the face of fear is going to require of me. 

I know myself well enough to know that as many times as I have pulled back in fear, there have been just as many I have stepped forward in faith - knowing that I trust in God and knowing that whatever it is is His doing. But I also know that once I get into the thick of things, it gets harder and harder for me to hold onto the same measure of faith that made me bold in the first place and that it's so easy for what started out feeling bold to suddenly feel...stupid. Not because God's not able, but because I'm not. Because I'm still me. Because I am still the person who fails...a lot. Because I am the person who fails when God has all but guaranteed my success because somehow, I'm really good at messing things up. 

So it's easier for me to say things like, "I know, God, but...I'm not ready." It's easy for me to convince myself that when God invites me into something, when God calls me to step against fear, then what I really need to do is to use that as the opportunity to start preparing myself. To start investing my faith in that direction. Maybe to read more Bible verses or listen to more sermons or engage in singing more worship songs about the very thing that God is calling me to do. Then, one day, I'll step forward. 

You called me, Lord, and so, I'm working on it. I'm coming. Just...not right now. I'm not ready yet. 

Do you know how many moments in my life I have missed because I didn't think I was ready? Do you know how many times I have looked back in regret at opportunities I lost because I was too busy being afraid?

It's hard in my heart to deal with the number of times I have failed. It's hard to convince myself to try again when rejection and failure and defeat are such strong memories in my head. But you know what's worse? All the unknowing of the things I never even tried. 

Because the truth seems to be that I don't trust myself, but when it comes to every single one of these moments that I've backed away from, it's clear that I just didn't trust God. You might even say that I actually did trust myself - I trusted myself to mess things up more than I trusted God to guide and protect me. I trusted myself to fail more than I trusted God to be good. I trusted my own broken human nature to lose that moment more than I trusted God to give it to me, even when He was begging me to take it. 

So I get it. Being "not afraid"? It's not easy. 

But fear has cost me so much already. What, really, do I have to lose? 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022


We know that the Bible tells us not to be afraid - or, as we saw yesterday, to be not afraid - but do you understand how seriously God takes this issue of our fear? 

In Revelation, there is a verse about who is going to experience the harshest penalties when the judgment comes, and the very first group of persons listed by cowards. Those who are afraid. Cowards are listed before unbelievers. They are listed before the sexually impure. They are listed before liars. When we talk about who is the biggest threat to the glory of God in our world, the answer is...cowards. 

It's really not that surprising, once you stop to think about it. At least unbelievers have the audacity to say outright that they don't believe in God. Cowards, on the other hand, claim to believe in God, but they really don't. They believe in the idea of Him, but apparently not in the power or goodness of Him. They claim to know God and maybe even to love Him, but they don't trust Him. 

That is, at the very least, a broken witness.

What it says to the world is that God is God, but...not really. God is trustworthy, almost. But not quite. You can put your life in God's hands...except you can't. Cowards, those who are too afraid to actually live the kind of life they profess, seem to make liars out of God. At least, that's what their lives are claiming. And that's why fear is such a tremendous problem for the Christian. 

Fear betrays us. It reveals the places in our hearts that still live with questions, the places that live unsurrendered even to the story that we claim so boldly to believe. Fear is that nagging in our soul that maybe God won't be good. Maybe God won't take care of us. Maybe God is setting us up for failure. All of the things that we fear are really doubts that we have about God, and so our fear can actually tell us a lot about where our faith is. 

That's also why God keeps telling us to be not afraid - because He wants us to know that He is who He says He is. He is who He promises to be. He is doing what He says He is doing. And He's got this. He's got us. 

Be not afraid. I really am the Lord.

Unbelievers outright deny God, but at least they're honest about it. Liars distort the truth, but at least you know you can't trust them. The sexually impure or immoral claim that God has no authority over certain facets of our lives or that He's not important in every fiber of our being, but they at least acknowledge His absoluteness over the things that are His. Cowards...boldly proclaim and then just as boldly deny the very same claim about God. They are a mixed message, and fear leads only to confusion. 

But that actually helps us because it shows us exactly what our fear boils down to and it gives us a point of contact between fear and faith. The question becomes not whether we're nervous or anxious or even fearful - all of which are normal, natural experiences for the fallen human; the question becomes whether or not we take God at His word. Whether or not we believe what He says about Himself, what He claims about His own heart. 

Fear always gives us a chance to choose faith. We just have it. 

It starts with being "not afraid" and then moving Godward from there.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Be Not Afraid

If God keeps telling us, "Do not be afraid," then what are we supposed to do? There are things in this life that are scary - that are intimidating, unsettling, uncertain. Fear is a natural response to such things, and we should not be pretending that it isn't. And if all God can say is, "Do not be afraid," that feels like it leaves us somewhat in a vacuum, doesn't it? Maybe we get rid of fear - choose against it or whatever - but what are we supposed to put in its place? 

This is where I love playing with language a little bit. Because slightly changing the dialect here, tweaking the words just a little bit, can give us a whole new perspective on what God is trying to get at. Instead of saying, "Do not be afraid," what if what God is really saying to us is, "Be not afraid"? 

Now, maybe you're saying to me, that's the same thing. I promise you it's not. Maybe you're thinking that it's just semantics. Perhaps it is. But semantics have a lot to do with how we understand what is being said to us. 

If what God is telling us is "do not be afraid," then what we have is a command of what not to do. We have guidance that tells us to stop ourselves from doing that, to not let that be the thing that we let ourselves do. This is why we feel the vacuum - we must do something, but what we do cannot be being afraid, so then, what are we supposed to do? Our apprehension/anxiety/nervousness/fear demands a response. 

But if what God is telling us is "be not afraid," then what we have is a command of what we should be doing. We should be being not afraid. This is quietly different, I get it, but it's important here. Being not afraid means moving forward into the thing that we thought we were afraid of. It's choosing "not afraid" as a default for approach, filling us with the fullness of "not afraidness" rather than leaving us with a vacuum where our instinct to fight or flight or freeze fails us. 

Once you've told me I should "be not afraid," you've told me what I should do and not what I shouldn't. You've given me an action plan. While we automatically feel some kind of shame or guilt over our fear when we are told "do not be afraid," telling us to "be not afraid" doesn't produce the same kind of shame or guilt. Because we're not being asked to stop being something that feels so natural and unavoidable to us; we're being asked to become something that we would have to choose. 

Being not afraid is empowering. 

It looks a little bit like courage, but not quite. It looks a little bit like boldness, but not quite that, either. Being not afraid doesn't make us want to conquer the world; it just gives us the strength to stand and to keep taking one firm, faithful step forward into the wind. Not charging forward with some kind of reckless abandon, but...not backing down. Not retreating. Not cowering. 

Being not afraid gives us the strength to stop doing all kinds of things that we might naturally want to do (like cower or retreat or back down) and sure, God could have just told us not to do those things. But He knows that if He does, then we're left in the same vacuum of "do not be afraid" - then what do I do? Be not afraid. 

Easier said than done, I know, but this little play in the language still makes a huge difference for those of us who are trying to live a bolder faith.

Be not afraid. Be "not afraid." Maybe I can do that.  

Monday, January 3, 2022

Don't Be Afraid

As we embark on a new adventure (a new year), a few things are certain: this year is going to change us...and none of us knows yet what that looks like. 

Sure, by now, most of us have some ideas of changes we'd like to make in our own lives, but we have also lived enough new years to know that just because these are the changes we want, that doesn't mean they are the changes that we will get. Even those who woke up this weekend with all of the resolve in the world will at some point come upon factors that are simply beyond their control. 

Now, if we are a people of faith, then there are other things that we know for certain: that God is always working things together for the good of those who love Him...and that God seems to be a master at really changing things. At really changing us. 

Which is why one of the most common phrases in all of Scripture is a good place to start a new adventure: 

Do not be afraid

Don't be afraid. And actually, there's not much reason to be afraid. Look at all the things that we know. We know that things are going to change and that things are going to change us. We know that God is good and that He works things together for our good. And we know that God has always made His story work out just the way that He wanted to. The only thing we're not sure of is what exactly that looks like for us. Right now. 

We've talked about this before, but it's one of those things that is always worth talking about again - most of us are afraid of how God's going to change us. Of what He's going to do with our lives. We're afraid because we read the big stories - of sacrificing a son, of building a boat, of carrying a child out of wedlock, and we think, Man, God. Please not me. We're afraid that God is going to ask some big, wild, crazy thing of us that we're just not ready for. 

By the way, what that means is...we're afraid. The very thing God told us not to be, and the very thing we have no reason to be. 

What we often lose sight of is the magnificent glory that came out of every single one of these stories. What we lose sight of is the beautiful, wonderful, amazing way that these things always work out. What we often lose sight of is the chance that change offers us to play a really cool part in the unfolding story of God. 

If you've read my second book, you know how I re-imagined our response to these would-be terrifying moments of change in our lives: every single one of these characters has gasped, "Oh, my here." 

So, too, must we.

For He is here, indeed, and He's ready to do something new through us. He's ready to change us, for the sake of His glory. He's ready to move as we live and have our being. And with everything we know for sure - particularly, His goodness - the truth is, we really have nothing to be afraid of. God is good. God is ready. God is on the move. 

Oh, my here.