Monday, February 28, 2022

Spiritual Disciplines

It sounds more formal than it actually is, this notion of the "spiritual disciplines." To most Christians, this sounds like the more secular concepts of "diet" or "exercise," and it's often met with a great big groan. It sounds restrictive. It sounds hard. Who has the time to monitor this kind of thing in their life? Who has the time to even get started? Who has the energy to keep it going? 

It's the kind of thing that most of us start and stop a thousand times over our spiritual journey. It's an undertaking that we try and fail, then a few years later, try and fail again. We continually criticize ourselves - and our faith - because we just "can't" get it "right." It frustrates us. It makes us feel defeated. It keeps pounding us into the ground because at the very moments that we most seem to need our faith, we don't seem to know how to access it. 

I have even heard Christians say, "Oh, no, I don't read the Bible because I can't understand it" or "Nah, I don't pray; I don't know how to pray." Even in the age of digital music and streaming services, we have Christians among us who say that they don't know what to listen to or how to find it. And heaven forbid we suggest implementing a Sabbath. A whole day of rest? In a 24/7 world? 

It just seems the spiritual disciplines require more from us than we have to give. Which leaves a lot of Christians questioning, why would God do this to us?

We don't have the time. We don't have the energy. After a long day of clothing, feeding, driving, entertaining, and supporting a family and our children, of managing our responsibilities in the office, of taking care of the house, of laundry and dishes and bathtimes and, if we're lucky, a few minutes to catch tomorrow's weather, where on earth are we supposed to find the time or the energy to do one more thing? Even one more thing that God "requires" of us?

There are those among us who say, triumphantly, that they had "a little extra time" this week and so sat down to read their Bible. And we applaud them. Gosh, I wish I had a little extra time for reading my Bible. I wish I could get even five minutes to do the things that I want to do. 

We spend much of our spiritual journey apologizing to God, promising to do better, making agreements about how we'll spend our time when we actually get some. And we claim that this is a holy position that we've taken. 

We have so convinced ourselves that the spiritual disciplines are hard, that they require 100% of our focus and attention if we are ever to do them right, that we have to be able to be fully invested in them at any given moment if they're going to "work" or be fruitful or whatever it is that we think they're supposed to be for us, that we have determined without even an ounce of guilt that if we're not all in, it's better to be all out. That if we can't give 100% right now, it's better to give 0. That somehow, we are honoring God by not even trying. 

Read that again, because heaven forbid we say it out loud - too many of us think that we're honoring God by not even trying to live holy lives because we "can't" do it perfectly. Because we "can't" do it wholly. Because we're not 100% in, God wants us out. That He likes it when we do this. 

But what if that's not true? (C'mon - you know it's not.) What if none of that is true? What if this isn't what the spiritual disciplines are all about? What if it's not like diet and exercise at all? What if it doesn't take some massive feat of dedication or strength or resolve? 

What if living the disciplined spiritual life isn't hard? 

It's not. We're the ones who make it hard. But we don't have to. 

This week, let's talk about it. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Redeeming We

My hope is that, as we have worked through this week, your understanding of the very real heartbreak of thousands of Catholics this week is deeper, that you are more filled with grace when you hear these headlines. That you are less quick to jump on your self-righteous religious horse and pound broken men and women into the ground because, not only have their baptisms been nullified this week, but you're here heroically to tell them that maybe they were never baptized at all because they clearly don't understand this whole enterprise. They don't even know what God wants, so of course, they were wrong before they were even wrong. 

It is just amazing to me how quick we are to condemn someone else when we don't understand them, rather than thinking there might be something wrong with our understanding. So my hope is that this week, you've seen how the Catholic church's use of intermediaries is something that is actually deeply ingrained in Judeo-Christian religious history, and it's something that we, as self-righteous as we are in our own doctrine, really ought to learn something more about. 

So we're back, then, to where we started - with thousands of our brothers and sisters who are waking up this week uncertain of where they stand with God because the person who has mediated their faith for them has messed up. A number of priests have said, "we" baptize you instead of "I" baptize you. 

This is not merely a word, not merely a ritual. This is the priest's breaking of the very covenant with which he took his vows. He said that he would be the one to stand between men and God, but the moment he says "we" instead of "I," what he says is that he's not the one standing there. He has abdicated his position. He has chosen, quite frankly, not to be a priest. He's said he's not the one who mediates, but that the whole community does. 

That's why this is so difficult. Not only does it shake the souls of the baptized, but it shakes the foundations of the Catholic church's organizational structure. If the priest is not willing to be an "I," if he's not confident and convicted enough in his calling that he knows he is the guy, if he doesn't take seriously his vows as an intermediary and understand the importance of the position to which he has committed his life, then whole thing starts to crumble. 


But there is a silver lining here, especially for those of us who want to be so ready to jump in with all of our personal understanding of why "we" is better anyway.  You see, for most of us, this comes from a doctrine that has taught us God's emphasis on "one anothering" - on being brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been raised in the culture of the fellowship, of what it means to be on this journey together, of doing life together. As one of my favorite pastors likes to say, we live a faith where "we are all just walking each other Home." 

And if that is true, if we're all just walking each other Home, if we believe in the glorious beauty of one anothering, if we place a great emphasis on being together and the culture of Christian fellowship, then there's the thing: we have thousands of Catholic brothers and sisters right now who absolutely need a we

That's right - I said it. Time to live it out. Time to actually be the we that we claim to love so much. Time to demonstrate what it means to have a we in our Christian culture, the goodness of all our togetherness and the value of drawing close to one another in times of heartache and doubt and uncertainty. If you've been out there this week thinking, okay, you can kinda see how it all works but you still think the Catholic church would be better off with a we, then it's time to prove it. Time to live it. Time to be it. 

Show up. Stand in the gap. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Making Disciples

If we then recognize that most of us have a faith that is mediated by someone else, if we have all come to Christ because of the willingness of someone else to stand in the gap between man and God, the next question we naturally ask ourselves this how it's supposed to be?

Actually, it's a very "American" question to be asking. Or very "Western," perhaps. 

We live in a very individualistic culture. We are told that our lives are our own and that what we do with them is up to us. Add to this the notion that has surfaced that faith is meant to be private, that our religious preferences should be kept to ourselves, and we come to the conclusion that if we choose to "do" Jesus (whatever that means), it should be an individual pursuit. We should pick our own shattered heart up in all its pieces by our own bootstraps and just journey our way to the Cross, if that's "our thing." 

Because of this, many of us bristle at the suggestion that we have ever used, let alone needed, anyone else in our faith journey. Many of us staunchly object, often with a measure of shame, to the idea that our pastors or our parents or our matriarchs have anything to do with our pursuit of Jesus. We all want to pretend that we just picked up a Bible one day or saw a Cross hanging on a wall, picked Jesus, and made Him our own. All on our own. Just like that. 

But that's not how faith has ever worked, and it's not how Jesus says it's supposed to work. 

The Christian faith has always been formed in community. It has always been mediated through one another. From its earliest days, God has commanded His people to take all this stuff to heart and share it with others. Tell it to their children. Remind their grandchildren. Invite resident aliens into the Temple with them. Carry the banner of the Lord in front of them as they marched, together, into battle. And overwhelmingly when we see the second person pronoun in the Bible, it's in the plural - y'all - not the singular; God is so very, very seldom talking to just "you."

Even when Jesus is sitting on the shore with His disciples after His resurrection, look at what He tells them. He does not say, "You guys should write my story down so that anyone who wants to discover it can read it for themselves and adopt it into their lives." No. What He says is, "Go and make disciples." Teach others. Mediate for them. Bring them to Me so that they can truly encounter and meet Me through you, who have been on this journey with Me for awhile now. 

Jesus intended us to introduce one another to Him, and if that's the case, then He meant for us to keep being intermediaries for one another. 

No, that doesn't mean that we let others build a faith that depends on us, but that's not what we're talking about this week. We're talking about the role of the priest in the Catholic church, and we're talking specifically about baptism, and that means that we're talking about the very foundation of the Christian journey - the coming to Christ. We're talking about that moment when someone chooses the journey for him- or herself, that moment that the person takes on the burden of their own spiritual journey and starts to separate from the intermediary a bit. At baptism, at confession, at confirmation, the Catholic is embracing the spiritual walk for him- or herself and committing to a life of living it. That moment is the turning point, but that moment requires the intermediary. 

Which is why it's so important that the priest get the words right. This isn't just some empty ritual. This isn't just some next step on an organizational chart of religious activity This is a turning point in faith, and if the intermediary that has brought you this far is about to turn you loose into your own heart to really follow Jesus, then we have to admit - we want him to get it right. We want to be sure. We want to be certain. 

Because if anything, even the smallest thing, feels "off" here, the whole thing suddenly feels weaker. Flimsier. More uncertain. 

And that is what thousands of our Catholic brothers and sisters are feeling right now.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Pastor as Priest

Yesterday, we talked about the role of the priest in the history of the Christian faith, and maybe you're thinking, "Sure, Aidan, but Jesus did away with all of that. That may have been true for the people of God once upon a time, but once Christ came onto the scene, we're supposed to just come directly to Him. No more intermediaries. Just Christ. Can't these Catholics just get on board with the gospel of grace?" 

And so, here we are again, trying to assert some kind of moral authority, trying to stand on some kind of theological high ground where we are certain that we are the ones who have figured it out and if everyone would just adopt our kind of faith, our kind of worship, our very doctrine, then the whole world would be saved by now! 

But not so fast.

Because how many Christians - protestant Christians - do you know whose faith depends upon an intermediary? Even today. How many Christians are among us who don't have their own habit of spiritual disciplines, but only take what they are fed by others. 

There are Christians among us who leave a church just because the pastor leaves. Whether he resigns or is fired or feels God's call to a new congregation or whatever the reason, Christians will leave a church to follow a pastor (or disengage from church entirely because their pastor moved away from them). 

There are Christians among us whose faith is grounded in the faith of a mentor or perhaps a matriarch or patriarch, some figure present in the church or in their life who has taught them the ropes and who keeps them on track. It's usually an older person who has been practicing faith for a long time, who knows the Bible well, who prays faithfully and regularly and with great hope and trust in the outcome. Take this person away, through death or illness or geography, and the faith of these Christians crumbles. 

One of the things we've been seeing a lot of in the church in the past couple of decades is young Christians, children who grew up in the church, pushing back against simply having the faith of their parents. They've been to church every Sunday for all of the formative years of their life, but they've found that they believe what they believe only because that's what their parents believed, and they often take a break from the church or branch out entirely because they want to discover their own faith. They want to know what they really believe, if anything at all. They don't want the faith of the intermediary, and yet, that's what so many of our young people have - the "family" faith. 

The truth is that for more of us than would like to admit it, we have an intermediary in our faith, even when we adamantly proclaim that we don't need to or even that we're not supposed to. So much of our faith still rests upon someone who stands between us and God, whatever role that person is in and whatever role we have assigned them. 

So it's strange, then, that we try to sit on some high horse and scoff at the Catholic faith that openly confesses its intermediaries, that plainly admits their role in building the Catholic faith. It's strange that we sit here and try to laugh at how silly it all seems that one priest using the wrong pronoun during a thousand baptisms could mean anything at all (and the news reported last night that it's more than one priest in more than one location). 

And yet, change our pastor or our mentor or our spiritual guide, and we are ready to walk out of our church entirely. 

See the hypocrisy?

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Role of the Priest

When we talk about things that protestants don't understand about Catholicism, the number one question that comes up is: why are they always praying to Mary? What's up with that? Closely related to that question is the question of other intermediaries in the Catholic faith, persons and saints who stand between the people and God and facilitate blessing and dialogue, and it doesn't take long before we get from there to the role of the priest, which seems incredibly authoritarian (at the very least) to most of us outside of the Catholic church.

So let's back this thing up a bit and talk about it. 

Remember that from the earliest days of Judaism, the people always had an intermediary between them and God. They had to. If you remember when Israel first came out of Egypt and entered into the wilderness, God met with Moses on the mountain. And the people were warned - do not come near the mountain. Do not even touch the base of it. Don't let your livestock graze on the grass that is on the mountain. For the mountain is holy, and God dwells here. 

And the people didn't even really need more of an explanation than that. They could see that God dwelt there. They could see the smoke and fire. They could hear the rumbles of thunder as He spoke. They could feel the earth shake with the power of His presence. There was no question in their mind that God was there on that mountain, and they even begged Moses to continue to be their intermediary. "You go meet with God and tell us everything He says, and we'll do it. Whatever it is. Just don't let us be overwhelmed by His glory."

From the mountain to the tabernacle, this honor of meeting with God was starting to shift from Moses (who would eventually die) to the priest, Aaron, and his sons who would come after him as priests. It was the priest who offered the sacrifices, the priest who made atonement, the priest who cleansed the unclean, the priest who declared cleanness, the priest who stood between man and God. The very rules that God set forth about bringing an offering to Him ran right through the priesthood. 

And if we're being technical, it still does. There are many of us in the Christian church who say that all of that isn't necessary any more because Jesus has come. Jesus has cleared the way to God. We read the stories of the crowds following Him around Galilee and Jerusalem, of persons pushing through just to touch Him, of even a Roman soldier declaring, face-to-face, that this was the Son - the glory - of God. So to us, we don't need all that priesthood stuff any more because, on account of Jesus, we just come straight to God. We just come right up onto the mountain. 

But remember that Jesus is called a great high priest. Remember that He is called the most holy. We still depend on the priesthood, even if Jesus has changed the way that that looks for many of us.

In fact, the whole world still depends on the priesthood, for Peter has told us that we - Christians - have become a royal priesthood. We have become those who meet face-to-face with God, who converse on the mountain with Him, who reflect His glory, and who stand between God and men. We have become the intermediaries that the world needs. 

And if the world still needs intermediaries, then why does it seem strange to us that the Catholic church actually uses them? 

This is the foundation of understanding what's going on in the Catholic church right now with such a debate over what seems like so simple a word. Why can't "we" baptize you? Why does it have to be "I"? To understand, just imagine how Israel might have felt if Aaron had messed up the words. Imagine how Israel did feel when its priests went astray, as is recorded for us a handful of times in the Bible. Imagine how God's people have always felt when their intermediaries messed up protocol. For that matter, just look at how the people freaked out when Zechariah (in the early chapters of Luke) took too long in the Most Holy Place. 

The people of God have always depended on their priests. The Catholic church (and a few protestant denominations) still do. 

So do...many protestant Christians.... Stay tuned. 

Monday, February 21, 2022


You know we're going to talk about it. How could we not? A controversy in the Catholic church - nay, a downright scandal - went public last week, causing raised eyebrows, mocking laughter, severe eye rolls, broken hearts, and wounded souls. 

And what was that scandal? A Catholic priest had incorrectly been using the word "we" instead of "I" when baptizing parishioners, rendering the baptisms null and void. That's right. With one breaking headline last week, hundreds or perhaps thousands of Catholics were un-baptized. Just like that. Because "we" baptized them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit rather than the priest declaring, "I" baptize you...., they're out. 

The Catholic church has not, of course, been without its scandals in our lifetime. Or really, in its lifetime. It's easy for the world to look on and laugh when a headline like this breaks. After decades of sexual abuse, we're talking about a pronoun? "We" is going to break the Catholic church? 

Or a couple of months ago when the Catholic church was talking about whether or not President Biden could receive Communion. The world was watching then as the church debated somewhat publicly who was in and who was out. So again, it seems laughable that it all comes down to this - "we." 

It seems laughable to many in the protestant churches, as well. Many pastors, and even congregants, have been quick to come out and say, "Jesus doesn't care. Trust us. You're fine." And then we're quick to go on and add that if your faith is so finicky and your Jesus so picky and your rituals so structured and on and on and on, then you aren't really a Christian, you don't really know God, and you'll just probably never be saved. Not for real, anyway. 

That's not the response we're going to have this week. (Actually, it's not the response we should have ever. Not if we profess to be the kind of Christians God has called us to be - Christians who love one another.) 

But it's so easy to do, and it's so tempting. And for a lot of us, it feels like the right thing to do. In fact, it's one of the things that the protestant church has loved about itself from the very beginning - its self-righteous arrogance that is willing and able at any turn to "correct" the doctrine of others. "We" (pun intended) are getting it right, and God wants us to make sure everyone else is, too. 

Here's the truth, though: we, as human beings, love to jump on anything that we don't understand. That's why there is so much judgment, and even hate, toward things like unemployment, poverty, addiction. It's easy for us to sit here and say, well, I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. I got a job. I don't drink myself into a stupor. "It's not that hard." But this shows our ignorance because it shows that we don't understand the thousands of complicating factors that lead one individual down these roads more than another.

The same is true with the Catholic faith. There's so much about it that we, outside of the Catholic church, don't understand about it. So it's easy for us to simply say they are wrong, step out "in faith" to "correct" their doctrine when stuff like this comes up, and consider ourselves morally - and theologically - superior for doing so. 

Again, though, that's not what we're going to do this week. Honestly, if we were, I wouldn't have to write about it at all; most of you already know how to do this. Rather, what I want to do is to help us wade into some of the theology behind this, some of the Christian beliefs - yes, Christian beliefs - that might lead us to such a place where, I promise you, souls are hurting over this "we." Where our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus are wrestling with their salvation, having never thought they'd have to again. Where there is a pain in hearts that isn't satisfied by the world laughing and mocking and claiming this is just silly and "you're fine." 

A lot of persons aren't feeling fine. So let's talk about why. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Kingdom Living

It's still hard for us, this not knowing. This having questions and nothing to guide our reaction to them. This understanding that there are persons, real persons, who died and were resurrected and still didn't tell us anything about what death - or eternity - or the "other side" are like. There's even a little bit of indignation in most of us, a little bit of offense that God won't tell us what we so desperately want to know. 

But He kinda did. 

The question that we really have is, what is life going to be like in the Kingdom? What is the fullness of life that God has for me? What is it like when God sets the world right and things actually go according to His plan?

Where we're struggling, really, is in thinking that's only going to happen on the other side of eternity. Our trouble is that we think it's just not possible in this life. 

But remember, Jesus spent most of His ministry preaching about the Kingdom of God and very, very little of it had to do with the resurrected life. Rather, it had to do with the kind of life that we're willing to live right now. That we're called to live right now. 

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is giving up all of this for the chance at something better. It's putting aside all the things of value in this world so that we can buy a field with a pearl in it. It's praying for your enemies and blessing those who curse you. It's going further than the world requires of you. It's turning the other cheek. It's investing the talents that God has given you so that you get a return for His glory that is beyond your wildest imagination.

Every single parable that Jesus ever told about the Kingdom of God has within it a truth about the life we're living right now in these broken, decaying bodies in a busted, messed-up world. And lest we fail to understand just how much the Kingdom of God is deeply invested into this very present world, when Jesus walked out of the grave, He started to fry fish. He broke bread. He got dust on His feet again. 

The Kingdom of God, friends, is among us. At least, it is when we choose to live like it is. When we choose to invest in today like this is our eternity, like this is our chance, like this is what God has called us to do. Because, spoiler alert: it is. He has called us to Kingdom living right here, right now, with faith as small as a mustard seed and the kind of authority that can curse a fig tree for never producing the kind of fruit that it promised. (Adam and Eve ate that fruit, but mankind never seemed to actually learn good from evil. Did we?) 

Yes, we want to know. I get that. We want to know what death is like, what resurrection is like, what eternity is like. We want God to enchant us with tales of His promises and all the hope that our hearts can handle.

But the truth is that He's given us all of that and so much more about this life, and we haven't even pulled that off. We can't even fathom it. We can't even imagine what this life would be like if it were true, let alone consistently live it out. How much more, then, would we miss the measure of all of these things of eternity that we can't possibly understand while we're stuck in time? 

I confess I am curious, too. How could I not be? Yet, the truth remains: there's enough about the Kingdom of God right here, right now, that I'm already missing and enough already to work on for a lifetime...and then some. So that's where I'm putting my energies. At least for now. Not worrying about a future I cannot quite grasp, but worrying about a present - yes, a present in the Kingdom of God - that I am missing right now.  

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Breath of God

When we talk about eternity being the place from which we come, though we have never known it (just as Israel came from Canaan, but had only heard whispers of it from their distant ancestors), we create a bit of confusion that we must clear up. 

There's a common preaching in certain Christian circles that this means that we have always existed. This is only further complicated by the understanding that we have that from the very beginning, God imagined us. He created us in His mind as part of this cosmic plan He has that bends toward eternity. So from the very "in the beginning," there was you. 

Except there wasn't. 

The problem with this teaching is that it makes us eternal beings, having always existed. This makes us very much like God. Too much like God, really. It puts us on a level playing field - hey, if God was there on the first day, and so were we, then what's so special about His eternal nature? It's not any different from my own. And if I am not so very different from God, it's just a short jump until He is created in my image and not me in His (which is exactly what we've done, by the way). 

So we have to start to understand that the fact that we have always been in God's mind and always in God's story does not mean that we have always existed. A few years ago, there was this drawing that I had in my mind (actually, there's another one now), but I hadn't yet put it on paper. It existed as an idea, even as an idea that I loved deeply, but I could not have hung it on the refrigerator. Thus, it did not truly yet exist. 

The same is true about us. We have existed from the very beginning as someone that God has loved, but until the moment that He knit us together in our mother's womb, we could not have stepped onto the stage of eternity at all. We are not eternal beings. 

Think back to the creation story in Genesis. God was building this entire galaxy in order that one small garden might become home to Adam, the apex of His creation. The ultimate end of His creative work. The "very good" in a world that was only "good" without man. But when the first five days were done, God did not simply pull Adam out of a closet or pluck him out of some eternal void and put Him on the earth; until God bent down into the dirt and formed a man and breathed the very breath of life from His own lungs in him, Adam did not exist. 

Adam was never eternal. And if Adam was never eternal, you can bet your sweet biscuits that you're not, either. 

Yet, we talk about eternity as the place from which we came. Our hearts echo with memories of it. Shadows of its light dance behind our eyes. There's something in us that just knows eternity, though we have only ever heard of it. How is that even possible if we did not come from there? If we are not eternal beings who have simply stepped into time?

It is possible for us the same way it is possible for Israel - it is the story that has been passed down for generations, God's very story woven into our time. It comes from the very first breath God breathed into us, for His breath is eternal and always has been, and it brings into the depths of our souls echoes of that from which (and for which) we were created.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Home Land

It's hard for us, this knowledge that we have that we are a people created for eternity while we are also a people who have been told so very little about what eternity looks like. We think that if we really are citizens of heaven, then we ought to be given a glimpse of what our lives are supposed to look like. That heaven ought to be painted on the backs of our eyelids so that every time we close our eyes, we know what home looks like. 

But the truth is that all we have right now is a promise of heaven. And it seems, this side of it, that that's all we're going to get. 

A number of persons in the Bible died and came back to life. So we assume that means they saw the kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, but none of them told us anything about it. God didn't let them. 

We are not the first people of God to live in this tension. 

Remember Israel? Remember when they were wandering through the desert on their way out of Egypt? They knew they were headed toward Canaan, toward a land that God had promised them. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, the land their fathers came from more than four hundred years earlier. They knew it was marked with the graves of their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. They knew it was full of wells that their ancestors had dug. They knew the story of covenants made and promises kept. But none of these men had ever seen it. 

So they called it the Promised Land - the land (and the goodness) that God had promised to them. 

But God...called it their home land. 

Homeland. The land from which a people has come. The land where they grew up and created memories and established themselves. The land that belonged to them. The land they were created for and that was created for them. Generations of Israel had never seen this land, had never lived there, had never even set foot on it. All they had was stories about it, and they looked forward to Canaan. It was their promise. 

Yet God said it was their home. God said that as much as they looked forward to it, they could also look back on it - back on the covenants made, the promises kept, the wells dug. God said this was the place that created them as much as it is the place that called to them. It was their promise, yet, but it was also their foundation. Their very existence arose from this place that they'd never seen. 

It seems strange, when you read slowly, to hear God call this their home land. How can it be their home if they've never even been there? If they don't know anything at all about it except what God and His story have told them? How is it home without a single meal cooked or eaten, a single night slept, a single photograph on the wall or even a postcard to remember it by? 

Still, God says, it is home. 

And He says the same to us about heaven. About eternity. About the resurrected life. It's our promise, yes, but it's also our home. 

And as we stand here in the wilderness, sojourning from here to there, that's the tension that we have to figure out how to live in. With nothing but stories and promises of Canaan, the very place we have come from and to which we are going. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Kingdom of God

It's strange, when you think about - that God doesn't let us hear much about the resurrected life, that is. After all, one of Jesus's favorite topics to talk about was the Kingdom of God. And you'd think that someone who has that much to say about the Kingdom would have at least a little bit to say about eternity, about the life that we are being prepared for now. 

That's because for most of us, when we hear "the Kingdom of God," we immediately think about heaven. We immediately think about the next life. We don't really think of this one. 

And for somewhat good reason, I suppose - that reason being that we've always been taught that Jesus was not an earthly king. That He didn't come to be like Caesar; He came to be like God. He came to be the kind of King that rules from somewhere that you can't put on a map. And if that's the case about the kingship of Jesus, then the same must be true about the Kingdom of God - that you just can't put it on a map. That you can't find it using Google. That you can't put a pushpin in it on a wall and say, "Yeah. I've been here." 

And if the Kingdom of God is not a physical place, then it must be a metaphysical place. That is, it must be a place that exists in the next life. 

Thus, we want more information about what the next life looks like. 

Here's the problem with that: for all the preaching that Jesus did about the Kingdom of God, not once does He say that it exists only in the next life. In fact, if we look at everything that Jesus says about the Kingdom, the only logical conclusion we can draw is that the Kingdom extends here. 

This gets all tangled up in semantics the more we try to preach about it, and especially the more we try to live it. We read all these things about what Jesus says about the Kingdom of God, and we wrap it in the message that we, as believers, are supposed to be living a Kingdom life now and that it is up to us to put these principles into our lives today so that this world becomes just like the next one, so that this life becomes the kind of life God promised us all along. 

And yes, that's true. But it's not the whole story. We don't live the Kingdom of God principles here because we are somehow supposed to make the metaphysical physical in our own lives or because it's our responsibility to make sure that God's goodness is manifest here. It's not our mission to make the Kingdom of God a reality; He's already done that. 

What's really going on is that we are already living in the Kingdom of God. We are already a people under His authority, living under His Kingship - even if we can't just go walking up to some kind of physical palace. And it is because that is who we are that that is how we should live. It's not about bringing the next life to this one; it is about drawing this one closer to the next one. It is about using what we know about the Kingdom to live in the King's grace right now. 

It is a tension that is so hard for us to articulate, so hard for us to put our finger on. Because it's a bit circular, I suppose - and at the very least, unimaginable. We just don't quite grasp the interplay of this life and the next one, of the covenant and the promise, of the already, but not yet. 

But don't let that discourage you. Because we're not the first of God's people to wrestle with this....

(Stay tuned.) 

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Resurrected Life

We all seem to have the same set of questions (at least, these are some of our questions): what is it like? What is death like? What is heaven like? What does the next life, the eternal life, that God has promised us look like? 

In an attempt to try to answer this, we look to Revelation and to John's description of the "new" Jerusalem, the new earth. Full of its streets paved with gold and its precious gems and light reflecting's still hard to imagine, and even hard to fathom. And we don't really get a sense of what we will be like there. Of what life will be like. What will we do? How will we exist? 

We have had, in our lifetime, a surge or two in "near-death experiences," in the tales of those who claim to have died briefly and seen a glimpse of this eternal life and then come back to us. They tell us all kinds of things about light and brilliance. Occasionally, they might say something about someone they know or should know and have seen on the "other side." But even these experiences don't really help us a whole lot, except to make us want to ask the questions all the more. 

We also know that there have been at least a handful of recorded instances of resurrection. Elijah resurrected the widow's son. Jesus resurrected Lazarus. Jesus resurrected Jairus's daughter. Jesus Himself was resurrected.  

And not one of them has the common decency to tell us anything about death or life or eternal life. They just don't tell us about their experience. (You would think the little girl wouldn't be able to keep it to herself, that she'd burst with the joy of a unique experience and ramble on and on and on about it, talking incessantly the way that little kids do when something exciting has happened to them...or something they think is exciting. But...nothing.) 

The Bible doesn't give us a single word about this topic around which we have so many questions. Even when Jesus is on the road to Emmaus with His disciples, after His resurrection, they talk about the truths that led them here and the prophecies about the Messiah. Neither disciple asks, nor does Jesus offer, anything about life on "the other side." 

Which seems kind of cruel, doesn't it? To tell us this beautiful, glorious, unbelievable thing is not only possible, but that it happens, and then to not let the living witnesses of death speak to us. To not let them tell us the things that we want to know. To not let them talk about what they've been through, what they've seen, what they've heard. 

There are all kinds of teachings about this, everything from "God doesn't want you to understand" to "it's just supposed to be one of the beautiful mysteries of the faith" to "you wouldn't get it even if they told you." But I think this isn't quite helpful.

I can't think of another single promise of God that God doesn't want us to understand. That He wants to keep a mystery. I can't think of another single time that God says, "I am doing something wonderful...but that's all I can tell you." He's usually pretty clear about goodness. He's usually pretty clear about promise. He will create a covenant with Abraham, make his descendants as numerous as the sand and the stars, lead Israel into a land flowing with milk and honey, send a Messiah (who must then die and come back to life)...God has made some pretty incredible promises about which He's been pretty incredibly clear. So I think we're back into this thing again where our "answer" isn't really an answer at all, where it raises more questions than it satisfies, when we say that God doesn't want us to understand or that we're not supposed to. 

But something is going on here because the truth remains - God doesn't let the resurrected tell us anything. So...what's the deal? What's up? We'll look at some of that this week. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Limits of Knowing

One of the things that we've said this week as we've talked about the unbearable goodness of God is that many of us are afraid that we'll learn everything there is to know about God and be dissatisfied. Or perhaps, unsatisfied. We're afraid that we will read our Bible and say our prayer and sing our worship and that there will still be something missing, there will be something incomplete. Something about God will not be as good as we hoped it would be when we started out on this journey called faith. 

For generations, the "Christian" answer to this nagging, quiet fear is simply to say that it won't happen. That God will never disappoint you. That you'll never find that God is less than everything you dreamed Him to be; you will always, always find that He is more. When this kind of doubt creeps in, it seems to be our natural inclination to point to the goodness of God - the very goodness that we're afraid is so fragile - and simply to say, "Not a chance." 

But if we're being honest, that's pretty unhelpful. It doesn't really answer the question that we're having. Telling us to basically just "try it" doesn't calm that fear that it's all going to fall apart if we keep pressing into it. Telling us that God really is that good doesn't satisfy our doubt because hey, some of y'all like celery as a snack. We just can't trust your judgment. 

A silly example, I know, but you get what I'm saying - we all have different thresholds of experience, and we all know what it's like to have someone else rave about something that we just don't "get" when we try it for ourselves. Even in the context of church. There are some persons who just love a certain worship song and then we hear it, and we're like, yeah, not doing anything for me. Or they love a certain verse of the Bible, but it doesn't suit our context. At least, not in that moment. 

So to have someone tell us that it'll be okay, that God will always satisfy doesn't answer that ache we're having. It doesn't give us the courage we need to press forward. 

What I think is more helpful is to just be honest with you about another truth, one that should put to rest the uneasiness you feel when you think to yourself, "I can't learn more about God. What if I learn everything there is to know about Him and still find myself unsatisfied?" 

Ready for this truth? 

Here it is: 

It'll never happen. 

It will never happen because you will never learn everything there is to know about God. Not this side of eternity. Not in this life. Not until that day when you see Him face-to-face and He reveals the fullness of Himself to you. 

I promise you. You won't. You cannot possibly, in this broken flesh in which we live, learn everything there is to know about God. Even if you set out and make that your mission. Even if you make it your life's work. You'll never do it. 

I am someone who has invested quite a bit in my "religious education" and personal devotion. I have read the Bible through every year for almost a decade at this point. I have attended four years of seminary. I have prepared countless sermons and devotions. I have offered hundreds, if not thousands, of prayers. I have sat in some of the darkest places and listened to the Spirit give me comforting, encouraging words to say. And still, I find something new about God, something I never considered before, to write in a journal every day. That's right. Every day. 

Ask your pastor. He or she will likely say the same thing. Ask the matriarchs in your church, those older women (usually widowed) who have been "doing Jesus" for decades. Ask them if it's stale yet. Ask them if it gets old. Ask them if they know everything already and what in the world they do with their devotional time when there's nothing else to learn. Anyone, and I would dare say everyone - at least, everyone who is being honest about their faith journey - will tell you that they are constantly learning something new about God. Constantly. 

And listen, that's not because God changes. No. It is because God is that grand. It's because He is that much bigger than all our stuff. Our lives are circumstantial; they are embedded in only the little bit that we can experience of them at any given time. So as our circumstances change, we get a new angle on God. We see something new of Him. Thus, as our lives continue to grow and change, so does our understanding of one great, big God - a God so big that the experiences of this life just can't introduce us to all of Him. 

So don't worry about it. You will never come to the point in your faith walk where you've learned everything there is to know about God and find yourself for some reason unsatisfied. 

Because you will never learn everything there is to know about God. Not here. Not now.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Darkness and Light

Most of us are afraid that the darkness is just going to come crashing in, no matter how much of the goodness of God we learn. We're afraid of this because that's been the pattern of our broken lives - things are going along smoothly for awhile and just at the moment that we start to think perhaps hope might possibly be real, the other shoe drops and the whole world goes dark. 

Except, of course, that it doesn't really. 

This is where we have to draw on our knowledge of darkness and light, of every single experience that we've ever had with these physical (or metaphysical? I don't know) realities. Because there are a couple of things about darkness that are true no matter what causes it, no matter how dark and bleak and heavy and real that it seems. 

First, there has never been a single darkness that has been able to cast out light. Never. Not once. Or to put it another way, there has never been a single speck of light lit up in even the deepest darkness that anyone has failed to see. No one, in all the history of humankind, has ever been sitting in a dark room with a lit candle right in front of them and had to have someone else point the candle out to them. "Oh? There's a light? Who knew?" When there is light, even the smallest bit, in the darkness, you know it. 

And second, the memory of light is an incredibly powerful thing. If you pay attention when you close your eyes, you'll find all these shades of grey and blobs of what seems like nothingness dancing around in the darkness for a little bit until it eventually fades to - almost - black. This is your eyes remembering the light. This is the remnant of all the light that you've taken in echoing slowly through the chambers of the darkness so that you never just go dark all at once; there is always, for a little bit, a little bit of light to play with. 

This is great news for those of us who worry about the darkness coming and crashing in on whatever light we're able to let ourselves believe in when it comes to God. Because these same two things are true even when this world tries to step in and take away our faith. 

First, there has never been anything in this world that has completely obscured God. The goodness of God is so woven into the fabric of our existence that it's nearly impossible to remove every thread of it. And in fact, our history is full of the testimony of those who have gone through hard times and still found God there. His story, too, is built on such experiences. Every time you talk with someone who is going through something that you're so sure would wreck you - sudden loss, violent crime, cancer, whatever - you find that when that person is a person of faith, they always have something to say about God's goodness in the midst of it all. Every time. 

That's because building this faith, investing in this faith, opening your Bible outside of Sunday morning and praying and worshiping gives you this reservoir of knowledge of the goodness of God to draw on, and you can't help but see it everywhere. No one who has known the goodness of God has ever found themselves in even the darkest room with it and not known it was there. have to build that kind of faith first. You have to risk giving yourself over to it, even when you're afraid that other shoe might drop. 

And second, when you have this kind of faith, you find that something in you remembers even when it doesn't seem possible. Something inside of you keeps playing with the light, keeps dancing with the light, even when those inevitable darknesses are settling in. There are always these little blobs of what look like nothingness dancing around in your soul, and you know they're not nothing - they are the very substance of faith. 

So many of us are afraid to look too hard into the goodness of God, to learn too much about it, because it feels fragile to us. We can't stand the thought that any, or even all of it, might crumble when darkness comes pushing in. Darkness that we know we cannot escape in this life. 

But everything that we know about darkness tells us otherwise. Or rather, everything we know about light. There has never been a single darkness that has ever cast out light, and there is a light that plays on behind our eyes when everything in front of us seems bleak. And if these things are true in the physical (again...metaphysical?) realm, how much more true are they in God? 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Fragile Truth

What we're really saying when we say that we don't want to learn anything else about God, that we don't want to know more or read our Bible or study or learn or pray or worship, is that we believe the truth about God to be a fragile truth, as though it would shatter if we put too much pressure on it. 

That sounds like such a horrible statement to make, and many "in" the church would shake their heads at this and maybe even say something to condemn you, but like most things, it's far more complicated than that. 

It's usually not the case that we think the truth of the goodness of God specifically is fragile; what is more likely is that we've come to a place in our lives where all good things are fragile. Where good things don't last and darkness settles in and the other shoe always drops and we just can't handle one more devastation in our lives.

When this is the case, it makes perfect sense that we don't want to push the God issue too hard. We cannot bear it if the Creator of All Things lets us down. We cannot bear if this goodness, too, comes crashing in on itself. We cannot bear to lose the hope that we have in the promise of the goodness of God, and so we don't press our luck. We don't try to take it any further than this, don't try to let it get any deeper down into our hearts because we know so intimately how so many things have let us down, how so many things have devastated us. 

What we don't want is for God to devastate us, too. So it's easier for most of us to accept the notion that there is a goodness out there, that there is a promise, that there is a hope...than to press too deeply into it and risk being disappointed. 

It's that thing we were talking about yesterday, right? It's that idea that we're afraid that we will learn everything there is to know about God and somehow not be satisfied. 

Which yes, can mean that we find God lacking in some area that we think super-important (unlikely to happen, but we still fear it), but it can also mean that knowing God more and more intimately doesn't solve our earthly problems. It doesn't take away our fleshly struggle. It doesn't answer our existential ache. It can mean that we still have questions and trials and things that we don't understand, even when we understand God what we think is so well. 

It's hard for us to hold in tension the goodness of God and the brokenness of this life. Even those of us who learn everything that we can about God have this struggle. Even those who have spent their entire lives invested in Him have this burden. Ask a 90-year-old believer who has been to church every Sunday of her life what she does with the heaviness of a broken world, and she'll probably just shrug and tell you she knows God is good and that's enough. 

That's not enough for everyone. That's not enough for most of us when the weight of this life is bearing down on us. Sorry, but that's the truth. The truth is that it's not. The truth is that our human issues get in the way so much of us holding onto what we know about God, and that doesn't make us bad and it doesn't make us poor Christians; it makes us human beings, wrestling with God like so many have done before us. It gives us a limp, like Jacob, but it doesn't shatter our faith. At least, it shouldn't. 

But, of course, it does. Because we've had pounded into us this false belief that doubt is faithlessness. That questions are the same as failure. That not believing everything about God in every single moment and every single breath is some kind of unforgiveable sin. 

The truth is more complicated than that. The truth is that for almost all of us, the Gospel is - to some degree - a fragile truth. And not because we don't believe in the goodness of God or because we don't want to, but because it's hard for us, in a broken world, to believe so fully in the goodness of anything. 

In a life full of so much darkness, a darkness that always seems to be lurking around every corner, how in the world are we supposed to believe in the light?

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Good Enough

We are talking about Christians who don't read their Bible, who don't pray, who don't worship outside of Sunday morning...and who don't want to. We are talking about those who claim to be thriving on spiritual milk and who keep us preaching the same basic truths over and over again because that is what they way they want to know. 

And it's a strange proposition, isn't it? If you know that God is good, wouldn't you want to know the depth of His goodness? Once you claim to have experienced His love, wouldn't you naturally want more of it? What is it, then, that keeps these Christians from wanting more of God?

Quite simply, it's doubt. 

Now, you might say that of course such a Christian doubts - they don't know enough about God to eliminate the kind of doubts that they have. But that's an oversimplified answer that doesn't capture the heart of what is happening in so many lives, even in our pews. 

When you first come to know God, you get all of this excitement and energy, not at the goodness of Him but at the mere promise of the goodness of Him. You start to imagine all of the things that God says He is and what it would mean if He actually is all of those things. Or, really, any of those things. It starts to capture our sanctified imaginations what our lives could be like if God really is who He says He is, and we start to long in our souls for Him to be exactly that...and even more (as He promises to be even more than we ask or imagine). 

But this little nagging doubt that holds us back persists. This little pester-y thing that wants us to not move so fast, to not get too invested in all of this. And it's hard to put our finger on it. It's hard to really name that thing that keeps holding us back from throwing ourselves in. 

Here's what I think it is, from everything I know about faith and doubt from my own life and everything I have learned from talking with others in moments of agonizing want of faith: 

I think many of us are afraid that we will learn everything there is to know about God...and not be satisfied. 

I think we're afraid that we'll come to know everything there is to know about God, and that one thing that our particular soul seems to crave won't be met there. Or that we'll learn all that there is to learn and will still have a measure of disappointment in our souls. Or that we will be absolutely convinced of every little truth about God and still struggle through our lives. 

I think we're afraid that if we answer our questions only to find that we still have more, we'll shipwreck our own faith. At least if we let the questions linger, we can tell ourselves that the answers are out there. At least if we don't even try to satisfy our souls, we can't be disappointed. At least if we live with questions, it doesn't seem silly to say that we have questions. 

So we pull back. We stay shallow. We keep feeding ourselves the promises of the goodness of God without ever drawing near enough to actually taste it for ourselves. In case we find that perhaps we're still hungry. In case we discover that it's not quite our flavor. In case we discover something rotten under the surface. 

In case we become disillusioned - and thus, disappointed - in God for no other reason than that we looked too hard and learned too much about Him. 

No, it's better for us to stay on spiritual milk. To keep holding onto the same most basic truths that stir our sanctified imaginations. No, it's better for us to dream bigger than we ever dare hope. No, it's better for us not to open our Bible, not to pray, not to sing outside of Sunday mornings lest this whole enterprise come crashing down and leave us worse off than we were before we dared believe even the smallest of good things. God is "good enough" right now. Why push it?

That's why we are where we are. It's doubt, plain and simple. So...what now? 

Monday, February 7, 2022

Spiritual Milk

Paul said it thousands of years ago, and it's still just as true today: we have a spiritual milk problem. 

We have a problem where the church is stuck in this perpetual infancy, where we're simply rehashing the same basic truths over and over again every Sunday, every Tuesday night in small group, every Thursday at men's breakfast. We are, it seems, always talking about the very same things - Jesus loves you. He died for you. If it were only you, He still would have done it. Therefore, be baptized in the name of Jesus. 

A lot of this, we must confess, comes out of what we've called the "seeker-sensitive" movement. This is the idea that we are constantly trying to draw new folks into our midst, always looking for those outside of the church to bring in and so, we have to keep preaching the very basics because our target audience is those who have never heard these truths before. The Gospel really is new to them, so we want to make it as basic and simple as possible.

We can talk about that. And we should. And we have. And maybe we will again - who really knows where this week will take us?

But that's not where we're going to start. 

We're going to start with a much greater epidemic in our church, and that is the number of churched folk - the ones we count among our flock, our brothers and sisters that we're used to seeing every Sunday, those who have become a constant presence in our lives - who don't want to know more about God. They don't want solid food. They are completely satisfied (but not really) with spiritual milk. 

This is important. Because for so many of us, the truth about God makes us want to know Him more. It makes us want to dive deeper. It makes us want to crack open our Bible and see what kind of new, amazing thing we can discover about grace. It makes us want to worship more, learn more, pray more, read more, serve more, love more. 

And yet, we cannot deny, nor can we ignore, that there are those among us for whom this isn't true. What they know about God is good, but they don't want to know any more. They don't open their Bible except maybe rarely on a Sunday morning. They don't sing praise songs throughout the week. They don't pray regularly or even, in many cases, at all. They don't sign up to serve their community. They might not be giving to their local congregation or to any mission. 

And they don't want to. 

Over the years, we have said many things about this sort of Christian. We have called them "nominal" Christians - Christians in name only. We have called them fake Christians, those who are just pretending. We have called them uncommitted. We have called them posers. 

But what if none of that is true? What if that's not what's going on here? What if, in trying to just write these persons off, we are ignoring a harsher reality? What if...we're missing something? 

I think we are. And this week, we'll talk about what that something is.  

Friday, February 4, 2022

A Matter of Heart

If, then, the resurrected Jesus was not even recognized for what He looked like, but for the way that He lived and loved in relationship with even those who were closest to Him, what in the world makes you think you ought to spend your life worried about all the external things that simply don't matter? If no one is going to show up to your funeral and talk about your jean size and no one is going to recognize your nose if you're standing right next to them, isn't it time you moved on to the things that matter?

The truth is that we, like Jesus, are always going to be known - and remembered - more for our heart than for anything else. 

Those we love, those who are closest to us, are going to recognize us best when we call them by name. When we draw upon the familiarity that we have with them and can speak just a syllable or two and they can hear the love and affection in our voices, that special place that they hold in our hearts. That's what's going to make them turn their head and look at us. 

It is when we speak truth to them and tell them the stories that lead to our togetherness that their eyes will be opened and they'll feel strangely warm, tingling all over at knowing and being known just from our being authentically present with them. 

It is when we throw a few fish on the fire and prepare a delicious meal to serve together, when we break bread with them and bless it...that we bless them. That we come into the intimacy that reveals all of us, together. That we are recognized for that closeness that we have always shared, how we are so woven together into each others' lives. 

It is when we help them discover the bounty of blessings that is just on the other side of their boat, when we call out to them from the safe places and draw them home, when we show up at just the moment they most need to hear from us, that's how our friends and family know us. 

These are the things that mark our lives. The real things. This is how the world recognizes us. Not by what we look like or what we're wearing or how our hair looks today or whether our skin is clear or even when we had our last cigarette or our last drink. This world recognizes us the same way they recognized Jesus - 

By our love. 

And I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to tell you that. But maybe, just maybe, now that we've seen how it was true even for Jesus, maybe you'll understand that it's true for you, too.  

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Jesus in Disguise

If you've been around the church of any length of time, you've probably heard something like this: "The reason that Jesus's disciples didn't recognize Him after the resurrection is because He disguised Himself." In other words, He didn't want them to recognize Him. That's why they can look Him right in the face and not know who He is. 

What we have here is another one of those "answers" that creates more questions than it solves. 

This notion, this idea, is basically saying that the God who has spent thousands of years revealing Himself, the God who met face-to-face with Moses, the God who let His glory pass by right in front of Moses, the God who visited Lot, the God who spoke with Elijah and Samuel and David, the God who crossed all eternity and the heavens and the earth to come to Bethlehem and be born as a human baby, even placing the brightest star in the night sky to lead some shepherds to the very place where He lay...for the first time ever, this God - still here in the flesh at this point, by the way - doesn't want you to find Him. 

This notion is suggesting that this Jesus who hangs around at the empty tomb to welcome Mary, who walks with His disciples on their sorrowful journey out of Jerusalem, who stands on the seashore and fries fish to welcome His disciples after a long night of being at sea, doesn't want them to recognize Him. 

What we're preaching when we preach this story is that God doesn't want you to just be able to see Him in your world. 

Do you get why this narrative doesn't make any sense? It's not consistent with God's nature. It's not consistent with God's story. It is a violent aberration from everything that God is and always has been and has ever claimed to be. 

It's just not possible to say that this God who spent His entire history walking right beside you doesn't want you to recognize Him, so He disguises Himself. Like He's doing some magic trick. Like He just wants to fool you. Like He wants to string you along for just so long and then pull off His mask and be like, "Just kidding. It was Me all along." 

I think it's more likely that what we were talking about yesterday is the truth - that we know God best by His character, by His speech, by His love in the world and not by His appearance. 

And if you need further proof of how it is that Jesus's own disciples could not seem to recognize His physical appearance, just remember that Judas had to show the soldiers of the high priests - the men absolutely bent on capturing and killing Him - which one He was when they got to the garden. The truth about Jesus is that He was so plain that you couldn't pick Him out of a crowd. 

But oh, listen to Him speak love. 

The moment He speaks, there's no doubt any more which one He is. The moment He calls you by name, you know it's Him. When the smell of that fish hits your nose and your nets are so full, they're starting to break, you don't have to ask who that is. When the Scriptures open up and someone tells you the truth about what's going on, it has to be Jesus. 

He simply isn't known by His face. He is, and always has been, known by His love. Period. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Resurrected Christ

As we talk about the things that matter, what we'll be known for, the things that we want to change about ourselves, we're talking about how the external things...just aren't them. Or shouldn't be. Yesterday, we saw that no one will come to our funeral and talk about what size jeans we wore. So maybe it's time for us to stop worrying about it so much. 

And I've been telling you that I will prove this to you through the Bible. Today, I'm going to do that. 

By telling you of the resurrected Christ. 

That may seem strange. Or perhaps really "churchy." Like, ugh, of course it's going to be about Jesus. Everything is about Jesus. (Yes, everything is about Jesus, but hear me out on this one.)

Remember that Jesus walked the earth in very public ministry for about three years. He took with Him a handful or so of very dedicated disciples, both men and women. The crowds pressed into the streets when they knew He was coming. He couldn't go anywhere without being followed and hounded and, well, recognized (almost - there were a few times...). What I'm saying is, everyone knew Jesus. They knew what He looked like. They called out to Him from the sides of the road. 

Then, He dies. And He's placed in a tomb. And the women run to the tomb early on Sunday morning and find it...empty. risen. 

...and nobody recognizes Him. 

The women stand right next to the tomb talking to Him, but don't realize that it's Him that they're talking with. The disciples are on the road to Emmaus, walking and talking with Him, but they don't realize that it's Him that they're talking with. The disciples go out onto a boat to do some fishing, and someone yells to them from the shore, and they don't realize that it's Jesus. All of these men and women with whom Jesus spent three years of ministry look Him straight in the face and don't recognize Him. 

Until He calls them by name. Until He teaches them about the Scriptures. Until He fills their net with fish. 

Then, all of a sudden, they can't catch their breath. They can't fathom it. It's...Jesus! It's really Him! They recognize this in the context of relationship, in a revelation of His personality. 

Just standing there, they miss it. When He speaks, when He breaks bread, when He teaches, when He works miracles, when He begins to interact with them, they recognize Him instantly. It is the content of who Jesus is that reveals Him, not His physical presence. Not what He looks like, but how He loves. Not that He's just standing there, but that He's drawing near. 

Maybe you're not sold yet. Maybe you've heard one of the great lies that preachers like to tell without realizing it. Maybe you think there's more to this than this simple notion that Jesus, like all of us, is remembered for His character and His heart and not His face. 

So...we'll talk about that tomorrow and see if we can put that to rest. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Inner Beauty

We're talking about the things that we think matter so much about ourselves and how we're too often focused on the external - our hair, our body, our figure, our physical strength. And I think that if you've been human long enough, you've probably heard what I'm going to say next: that's not it.

You've probably also heard that your character is far more important than your pant size, that your integrity is worth more than the shape of your nose. That what is most true about you is not who you see in the mirror, but who you are in relationship to others and to yourself - it's your love, your real love, the depth of your soul, your very inmost being. 

And you still probably made a resolution about how much weight you want to lose this year. 

We just can't seem to get away from this stuff, can we? No matter how much someone tells us that the truth about us in our souls, we still somehow think it's in our wardrobe. We still think it's in the mirror and not in the love reflected back to us from the world. We still think it's about all of our physical realities, even as we declare that our hope is not in this life - or this body - but the next one. 

I told you that this week, I'm going to prove this truth to you using the Bible and that you'll never think about this stuff the same way again. And I could have done that yesterday, but where's the fun in that? How anticlimactic to give you the good stuff on a Monday. I could give it to you today, but we're not quite there yet. First, I want to prove it to you from a human perspective. 

Are you ready?

How many funerals have you been to in your life? How many obituaries have you read and how many lives have you remembered? How many friends and family have you loved and lost? Are you thinking about them now? Even just one of them, even just one that matters. Got it? Okay, here we go. 

How many of those funerals or obituaries or remembrances included memories of the decease that sounded like - gosh, I am really going to miss her skinny jeans. She wore a pair of skinny jeans better than anyone I know. Or how about, did you ever realize how absolutely perfect her nose was? Did you ever pay attention to his hair line? It was perfect

When we gather to remember those we loved and lost, we don't ever tell stories like this! We don't ever talk about the physical appearance of these persons. For good or for bad. We don't talk about pant size and perfect noses and steady hair lines and straight teeth. We don't talk about what an ugly dude John was or how Betty would scare you senseless if you accidentally saw her before you knew she was coming. We don't talk about how Jill put on 20 pounds in the last year of her life or how Evan always looked like he just rolled out of bed. 

All of the silly little things that we spend so much time trying to "correct" about ourselves or to perfect, all the things we dislike about our physical nature or the things we want to invest so much of our energy in...are things the world is simply not going to remember us for. Not even those closest to us. Not even those who knew how much these things meant to us. No one is going to say, "God bless her. She died as a size 2!" and no one is going to say, "It was really important to her that you know that she died as a size 2." 

No one cares

Maybe it's time we stop caring, too. 

And I don't mean that we shouldn't take pride in our appearance or that we shouldn't want to - and try to - do something about the things we don't like about ourselves. These are, as one of my friends put it, our flesh vessels, and we should absolutely do our best to feel at home in them while we're here. But we should stop thinking these things are the things. Because they're not. They never have been, and they never will be. Period. 

So cut yourself some slack. Or slacks. In that bigger size. Who cares? That's never how you're going to be remembered by anyone who loves you. 

(Including, by the way, God.)