Friday, April 29, 2022


It's hard for most of us to admit that we are still part of the problem, that we still have broken places in our lives. We like to claim that this is because we don't want a world who doesn't know Jesus to think that He is not sufficient, that believing in Him doesn't really change a person's life all that much. That perhaps He is even irrelevant, since we go on living in the same sort of sin and having the same kind of struggle that we had before we met Him. We don't want to bear a bad witness, we say, so we keep our broken bits to ourselves.

It sounds nice, I guess, but it's not really the truth. Not the whole truth, anyway. 

The truth is that we don't confess our ongoing brokenness because we don't want to think that perhaps Jesus is not sufficient. We don't want to think that believing in Him hasn't really changed our life all that much. We don't want to wonder if maybe He's irrelevant. We don't want to have to question our own faith.

Because the truth about confessing our ongoing brokenness is that is makes us feel unredeemed. 

It makes us feel like Jesus hasn't done His work in us, like we haven't received the gift of His grace yet. It makes us feel like we're messing everything up, like we're falling short so bad that even Jesus can't reach us. It makes us question whether or not we're cut out for this faith thing or whether, maybe, we're just one big disappointment to God and He, not we, would be better off without us. 

Have you felt this? Most of us have felt this at one time or another. Many of us are feeling it right now. Like somehow, because we still struggle with a lot of the same things that we've always seemed to struggle with, Jesus's death on the cross was...not for us. It wasn't sufficient for us. It wasn't satisfactory for us. We are bigger sinners than God reckoned on, so it wasn't meant for us. Like maybe God meant to die for all of the sinners who could even possibly be redeemed and well, that's not us. We are clearly unredeemable. We look at our still-broken lives and we think that we just cannot be saved.

And this isn't about anyone else who may be looking in on us; this is us looking in ourselves, looking into the depths of our own souls and having these deep questions about who, then, we are and who God might be because we are just so disgusting and so dirty and so disappointing that we live, apparently, somewhere beyond even grace. Somewhere outside of the reach of a God who says He wraps His arms from east to west and holds everything together. 

He holds everything together, and here we are, falling apart. And it just doesn't seem possible, then, that this message of love and grace and reconciliation and redemption was really meant for us. 

But our faith keeps us from saying this is God's shortcoming. We know better. We know that His grace is enough. And we keep spouting all of these religious ideas that have been pounded into our heads for so long, but have never quite gotten into our hearts. And if all of this is true about God, then the problem must And if the problem is me, most of us know instinctively, then it's hopeless. Because, well, look at me. 

So it's easier to just pretend that our lives are okay. That they're better now. That they're downright near perfect because Jesus is in them. We lie to others because really, we have to lie to ourselves. We cannot handle our own depravity. And we cannot fathom the greatest of all truths that we have professed with our lips - that God can

Thus, we keep living our lives as though we are unredeemed, and we live our witness that way, too. God is good. He's just...not good enough for broken like me. But you, you should totally have Him. And then the world decides that God is not good enough for them, either. And all of a sudden, we have an entire generation of persons who know about the love of God but have never experienced it because they think that somehow, they're messed up beyond where His grace reaches. And it's not too far from that that we have an entire generation of persons who don't even care to know God any more because He's not enough for them. Or rather, they're too much for Him. 

Let me tell you something - you are not too much for God. I don't care who you are, what you're dealing with, what you can't seem to get rid of in your life. You are not too much for God. You are not so special in your burden that the Cross wasn't meant for you, and you are not so buried in your sin that it wasn't sufficient for you. There's not a single person on this earth, now or ever, that Jesus didn't intend to walk out of that grave with Him, and that means you. You are not unredeemed, even if your life isn't perfect. 

For by the grace of God, we are all being saved. All of us. Every single one. 

And His grace. is. enough. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Still Broken

The truth is not that I was once part of the problem of the brokenness of the world, the very same brokenness that wearies me now; the truth is that I am still part of the problem of the brokenness of the world. 

The truth is that I am still getting it wrong. That I am still breaking relationships and betraying friends. That I am still messing up and turning back. That I am still losing my temper - and my tongue. That I still wrestle with attachments and addictions and habits and hang-ups. That I am still, whether I like it or not, a hypocrite, for I am still getting things wrong even when I know what's right. 

The Christian witness in the world would be a lot stronger if we could just admit this, to ourselves and to others, but we don't. We double-down on our understandings and on our "faith" and on our "righteousness," whatever that means to us, and we continue to try to insist that we are getting it right. In fact, usually that we are the only ones in the whole world who are getting it right. 

There's been an argument for a long time that the reason that we do this is because we're afraid that if we're not getting it right, then we present to the world a God who is not who He says He is. That we basically tell them, through our living, that God is a liar and that this religion that we cling to is just that - a religion, not faith. A social system of worship, not an allegiance to a good God. The argument has been that the reason we so doggedly insist that we are, in fact, getting it right is because we don't want to let God down. We don't want to create any reason for the world to believe that He's not who He says He is (or who we say He is). 

The irony, of course, is that if we are preaching a God of grace and love, the only way to show that He is who He says He is is to be persons ourselves who are in need of...grace and love. Broken persons who are messing it up and are radically dependent upon Him to save us from ourselves. Persons who don't just love the Cross because it is a nice idea or because it seems important in the narrative that we subscribe to, but because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ actually changed something for us. 

It's weird that we are a people so dedicated to showing how because of God, we don't need Him any more. How He came and rescued us so thoroughly and so completely that we grew out of our dependence upon Him. 

This is how the world keeps looking at our Jesus and saying they don't need Him, by the way. We preach to them a God who saves a person into not even needing Him, and they look at their lives and figure they are already pretty good, so they don't have a need for God. They've already achieved the ultimate aim of our faith - they've outgrown their need for God.

But hey, it's cool if you still need Him. You're just not "there" yet. 

And all of a sudden, we understand how God has come to be considered a juvenile pursuit in our world. How He has come to be seen as a crutch for those who can't manage their own lives. Because that is the very truth about Him that we are actually trying to preach when we try to pretend that we aren't part of the problem now and maybe never even have been; we aren't broken. 

That's why it's so important that we are willing to confess the truth about who we are - about who we once were, yes, but also about who we still are. I am still part of the problem of brokenness. I am still a person in need of grace and love. Because when we are able and willing to say this, we are able to show the world that God really is who He says He is - a God of that very grace and love - and that Calvary wasn't a band-aid or a crutch; it is the crux on which this whole world turns. That Cross is everything

But there's something else that holds us back from saying these sorts of things, from being this kind of honest about ourselves, and it is a very strange thing indeed. What is it? I'll tell you tomorrow. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Midst of Brokenness

One of the things that I have to keep in mind when I'm trying so hard to love this world that I don't naturally love just because God so loves this that God so loved me when I was so caught up in this world that I don't love. 

That is, God so loved me when I was part of the problem. 

God so loved me when I was broken. God so loved me when I was lost. God so loved me when I was selfish. God so loved me when I was busy falling in love with this world. 

That's the kind of thing that changes our perspective. At least, it changes mine. It's so hard for me to love the broken things, even if I'm not falling in love with their brokenness, but if I stop and think about it, it's when I was broken that I realized that God loves me and if God loves me when I'm broken, how much do all these other broken things need to know they are loved with the love of God? 

See, God just doesn't set up the kind of barriers that we do. God doesn't have all the hang-ups about brokenness that we do. That seems strange, right? Like, how could a perfect God not have hang-ups about all of the imperfect things that are happening in His creation? And yet, God so loved His imperfect creation that He sent His one and only Son straight down into it. (Sure, so that He could make it 'very good' again, but isn't that what all of our broken things are longing for? To be 'very good' again?)

This whole world is aching, is groaning, to be very good again, and if I get so high and mighty on myself just because I already know that that is promised to me, then I can't answer the ache of the world for the very same. I can't bring the kind of hope that I have - that confident assurance - into the world's broken places if I can't remember that once upon a time not so very long ago, I was part of them. 

It's a tension that we have to figure out how to live in, knowing God's grace intimately and yet, never losing sight of what makes us so desperately in need of it. Living into the promise of God that we are new creations and at the same time, never pretending that we were not once old creations. Dwelling in the kind of hope that we have that what once was won't always be and also never forgetting that it absolutely was. If we could only figure out how to live with this tension, how to embrace both of these very true things, I am telling you, it would change the way that we so love, with the love of God, this world. 

Because it wouldn't be so hard any more. We couldn't hold onto our hang-ups about it. Once we realized that we actually understand a lot more about the brokenness of this world than we want to admit, it's not so hard for us to see with redeemed eyes what's really going on here. It's not so hard for us to know, without a doubt, what a difference the love of God would make. It's not so hard for us to understand how we got here. 

Then, we're not full of judgment; we're full of grace. We're not condescending; we're encouraging. We're not looking down our noses; we're reaching out our hands. We get it. We get the brokenness. We may not like it, but we get it. And because we get it, we can love into it. 

For God so loved even us. 

And so must we. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

For God So Loved


That's where we left off yesterday, after talking about how much I don't love this world (and I think I'm not alone in that). But there's this but, and it really complicates things for me. For all of us, really. 

It would be nice if we could just say that we don't love this world and that that's fine, since we were created for another one. It would be nice if we could just let it go and be "citizens of Heaven" and disown our membership here. It would be nice if we could just say that we're only living this life for the next one and that we don't have to be bothered by this world because it's just temporary. 


But God so loved the world. 

These are a few of the most well-known words in all of Scripture - for God so loved the world. God so loved this world that He sent His Son to die for it and to walk out of that grave for it. God so loved this world that He went literally to the ends of it to reconcile it to Himself. God so loved this world that He sent a message of grace into it to give this world the kind of hope that I'm trying to hold onto for myself when I say, selfishly, that I don't love this world. 

But the truth is that if God so loved this world, then God so loves this world. And if God so loves this world, then so must I. 

That's what we're called to do, as those loved by God - we are called to tell the world how much God loves them. We are called to be God's ambassadors here, helping to spread the very same message that we ourselves fell in love with. We are called to bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, and yes, love to the hate. 

That doesn't mean that we fall in love with the world. It doesn't mean that we throw ourselves in and become just like this broken place. It doesn't mean that we affirm everything the world is up to or that we become complicit - or worse, complacent - with it. It doesn't mean that we have to go out and partake of everything the world tries to offer us. It doesn't mean that we offer ourselves to the world. 

This is one of those subtle things that makes all the difference. Most of us think that we go to God and then offer ourselves to the world on His behalf, but that's not how mission and calling work. We offer ourselves to God, and He gives us to the world. And why does He give us to the world?

Because He so loves the world. 

That's what we've got to get straight in our heads, and in our hearts, about this whole thing. We don't love the world. We don't love its brokenness and its trials and its tribulations and its challenges and its darkness. God doesn't love those things, either. But He does love this world. And so, we must find a way to do the same - to love this world. With the love of God. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Loving the World

Whew! Last week was quite the whirlwind of death, wasn't it?  I want to transition just a little bit, away from the mortality of the thing to the living of it. Because last week, I said that death was God's grace - that it was His love that we would not have to suffer here forever, living separated from Him in a broken body in a torn-up world where we are basically just wearing ourselves out for the span of our lives under the curse. 

And I think that when you say something like that, it resonates with a lot of persons. Most of us feel this. If you're not feeling it acutely right now, you can remember a time when you were. If you haven't watched a loved one suffer and had some of these thoughts, you one day will. There's just something in us that responds this way to the brokenness in this world and in ourselves. We are weary, and we can feel it, and there's something refreshing about that moment when someone finally says it and we don't feel as alone in it any more. Or maybe we don't feel like it's "wrong" any more. Or maybe we give ourselves permission to admit it at least to ourselves. 

So let me say it again, for those of you who need that kind of permission today (myself possibly included): 

I don't love this world. 

I don't. I don't love living on this side of shame, always looking for fig leaves to knit together for myself. I don't love living where my body is constantly decaying and it's a fight to get it to cooperate with me. I don't love living with a thousand questions hanging over my head every day, everything from how I'm going to pay the next bill (toil) to how long the pain will last (labor) to when the next time something is going to strike my heel will be. 

I don't love watching my loved ones suffer. I don't like hearing stories of death. I don't like thinking about it. I don't like hearing the despair in the voices of those destined to die who either aren't quite ready yet or are more than ready and can't wait for it to just finally happen and be over with. 

I don't love the way we treat one another here. I don't love the name-calling and the backbiting and the mudslinging. I don't love the arrogance that we have when we're sure we're right and how quick we are to put everyone else down. 

I don't love having to work so hard to have so very little. I don't love that trouble lurks around every corner. I don't love lying awake at night and asking myself the questions that have no answers and worrying about the things that, honestly, probably aren't going to happen, but what if they do? 

I don't love poverty. I don't love disease. I don't love war. I don't love broken persons breaking other persons. I don't love trauma. I don't love betrayal. 

I would love to disengage, to leave this place, to go Home. I would love to be done here, to not have to pretend any more, to not have to fight any more. I would love to just remove myself from this whole mess. 

Because I just don't love this world. 


(Stay tuned.) 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Good News

You were not made to live forever - at least, not apart from God. But really, you weren't made to die, either. What God most desires from you is that you live in intimate relationship with Him, continually drawing on His gifts of grace and hope and life and love so that you can become all that He created you to be. What we call the Fall - that moment when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree and their eyes were opened - changed all of that. And God, not Satan - in His grace, not condemnation - introduced death. 

But the story doesn't end there. 

Because this is precisely the good news of Jesus. This is exactly what we were celebrating this past weekend, Christians all around the world - the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ so that our way back to the Tree of Life, now splintered and with three bloody nails hanging out of it, could be made open. So that we could come back to God eternally.

Let's go back to Eden for a minute. When God first created man and woman, they walked with God in the cool of the day. They were naked, but they didn't know it, and they felt no shame. Adam and Eve intimately knew God. If you had asked them what was one thing they were certain of, it would have been God. They knew Him. He was revealed to them every day as they shared the same physical space. 

Then, they ate of the tree and all of a sudden, what do they know? They know they are naked. They know they are exposed. They start to look around and see all of these things they haven't seen before. Their eyes are opened and now, they know a lot more than just that God is with them and that God is good. That's really what the fruit did to them; it took their eyes off of God. Now, there were all of these distractions to their intimacy with and dependence on Him. 

Fast forward to Jerusalem, circa 33 AD, give or take. There's a man, a man who is known all around the region, a man who is called the Son of God and the King of the Jews, and He's hanging on a Cross just outside of town. He's crying out from the depths of His soul. You can feel His pain as He is crucified. All of a sudden, man's eyes can't look away. 

What the fruit did in the garden, drawing man's eyes away from the Lord, the Cross reversed at Calvary - the world couldn't help but look. Two thousand years later, it's still looking. Today, we're still looking. We hold up that Cross, and what we see is our God revealed. The depth of His love, the awesomeness of His power, the goodness of His grace, the depth of His heart. All of it. Every bit of it. Everything that we've forgotten since the moment that our ancestors ate that fruit is restored in Jesus, in His death and resurrection. 

Oh, the resurrection - when He walks out of that tomb. Man, what a moment! It's the moment that God says that death is no longer grace; life is. It's the moment that He restores what we lost - keep your eyes on Him, keep your heart on Him, and you get to live forever with Him. That promise of eternity is back. And this time, it's not going anywhere. That new Tree, it's not going anywhere. And it will always bring us back to Him, just the way He intended. 

We weren't meant to live forever - at least, not without God. And now, God has given us Himself in such a powerful way could we ever miss it? How could we ever turn away again? 

Fix your eyes upon Jesus. 

And live. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Gift of a Grave

We ended yesterday by saying that death, as a promise of God, is a beautiful gift. And that probably sounds weird to anyone who has ever experienced death - it is simply heart-wrenching. Even when someone dies "well," there are ripple effects of grief through his or her entire community, and nothing about it feels well. 

So let's be careful about what we're saying here. We are not saying that death is good; it's not. It's not the way that we were intended to experience our lives, and we were not supposed to know what death feels like - either as the living or as the deceased. However, death is grace. It is grace because it is God's promise that we don't have to live like this forever.

We don't have to live under the curse forever. We don't have to live in these broken bodies forever. We don't have to live in this broken world forever. All the stuff that we hate about here, it's coming to an end. God, who could never simply remove sin from the world, is going to remove us from it in an act of tremendous love, as He continued working His plan toward the redemption of all things when sin is not simply removed, but defeated. When death is no longer needed as grace.

But right now, we need it. If you've ever loved someone who has fought a hard battle, you know this. You watch them succumb to the decay of this life that is no longer connected to God in the way it was originally intended, and it's just hard to watch. It's hard to watch the body fail - the organs get weaker, the muscles get softer, the fat melting away until nothing is left but skin and bones lying in a bed. It's hard to watch the mind fail - that resolve to win this battle that was once so strong, it isn't even an echo any more. There is simply no fight left. It's hard to watch the spirit fail, someone who doesn't even want to win any more but just wants the pain, the struggle, the heartache to end. Someone who just wants it to be over. 

We know this instinctively; we say it all the time when someone we love loses the battle that he or she has fought so hard. "At least he isn't hurting any more." "At least she doesn't have to do this any more." "At least she has peace." And on and on and on we go because in the moment when the hard thing is finally over, when that fight doesn't have to be fought any more, we know - death, here, is a gift. It hurts for the rest of us, but it is a gift. It is grace. 

That's what it's been from the very beginning. Can you imagine if God hadn't given us death? If, at that moment that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of that tree, God said, "Well, now you've done it. Now, you get to live forever, eternally, outside of the will of God where everything is hard and nothing is fun and life itself will destroy your body, your mind, your spirit, and your very will to live. ...Good luck." That wouldn't be a good God! It might be exactly what we deserved, but it wouldn't be what God desires for us. 

So He gave us death. He gave us death to save us from having to live that kind of life. He gave us death so that we don't have to spend eternity toiling in the soil. So that we don't have to spend eternity in the grips of the pains of labor. So that we don't have to spend eternity crushing the heads of serpents who strike at our heels. So that we don't have to do this forever

But that's not all. That's not the plan. Death is the grace, but it's not the plan. It's a promise, but it's not the promise. Death seems final, but it's never had the final word. It has always only been a bridge - something to get us from here to there. Something to get us from the fall to forever. Something to take us from the curse to the Cross. 

Death is God's gift. It is His grace. It is a promise, but only until He can get us to the Promise - that is, to Jesus. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Promise of Death

If you were not created to be eternal and if death is not part of the curse, then we cannot help but come to where we began - namely, that God (not Satan) instituted death. That death is not some kind of evil, but rather, that it is simply a brokenness. 

Death is a brokenness in our relationship with God. It is a brokenness in our design in which we have determined not to be dependent upon God any more. Which is, at its very core, the essence of sin itself - a rejection of God. A disconnection from God. 

Which means that while it was always a possibility that you might die, sin essentially guaranteed it. 

Here is where we have to start using some very precise language. This doesn't mean that sin causes death, but rather, that death is a consequence of sin. A promised consequence of sin, by the way. And if it was promised, then it was promised by God, and that makes it a promise of God, and that makes it...good?

It does! Now, at this point, you might be thinking - okay, wait. The curses, like the ones on the edge of the Promised Land, were basically the same sort of thing, but they were curses. Doesn't being a curse make things bad?

Not really. They are bad from our perspective, sure. None of us likes to suffer. None of us wants to experience pain or hardship. For that matter, there aren't many of us who truly want to die. But the simple fact that something makes our lives more difficult or uncomfortable or unpleasant doesn't mean that that thing is, in and of itself, not good. (Or bad.) 

This is the constant argument for discipline. Nobody wants to be disciplined. A lot of parents, especially today, don't like to discipline their children. It feels harsh. It feels shaming. It feels like it would necessarily cause a rift in a relationship and cause more trouble than it does benefit. But anyone who has embraced discipline knows that it truly is for good. We know this in our earthly discipline with our children (or as children of disciplining parents), and we know this in our relationship with a disciplining God. 

The truth about God's promise, even in curses, is that they are, inherently good. They cannot be otherwise, as acts of a God who we know is good. So let's put this in the context that we're talking about this week: death. 

God's promise (curse) of death is meant to ensure one thing: that you don't have to live life apart from Him. That's it. That if you're not tapped into the goodness, the life-sustaining hope, the amazing grace, the nearness, and the love of God, He won't make you live like that. In fact, He won't let you live like that. It's not how your life is supposed to be. 

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, their eyes were opened to all good and evil - specifically, they understood what life would be like without God. They had chosen that disconnect. They had chosen that rift in the relationship. Therefore, God said, they couldn't eat of the Tree of Life any more. They couldn't live forever. Not without that deep, abiding, sustaining connection with Him. 

So death...was a gift. A beautiful gift of a good God. 

It still is. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Tree of Life

If we're going to talk about death, and particularly if we're going to argue that death is not part of the curse (well, not directly), then we have to start by talking about life. More specifically, we have to confess that we are not eternal beings. We never were. 

We were not created to live forever. At least, not apart from the provision of God Himself. Now, when we try to make this argument, there are many who try to say that the whole creation lives through a cycle of life and death - seeds die and become plants; animals give birth and pass away; lions eat impala. And so, if all of nature experiences death, then so, too, must we as creatures of a Creator God. But I think that's a bit more complicated than others seem to want to make it. After all, we do not know if this cycle of death and life existed before the whole earth was cursed or not. Is this the way God designed it or did we doom it to this by our sin? 

The much simpler way to answer this question is to look at the other tree in the Garden - the tree of life. Now, remember, there were two named trees in the Garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of which Adam and Eve were never supposed to eat, and the tree of life, which God feared they would eat from after their sin and live forever. 

For some reason, most of us read this and think that one peach would be enough for eternal life, and we start thinking that if we had been Adam and Eve, knowing everything, then we would have just grabbed one of those delicious fruits on our way past the cherubim with the flaming sword. Problem solved, right? 

But that's not how the tree of life works. The tree of life is a fruit that is meant to be eaten routinely, perhaps even daily. God intended that man, in search of life, would have to keep coming back to the fruit that God provided for him for this very purpose. 

See, it's just extremely hard to believe that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden with God and never once ate from this tree before their sin. It's hard to believe that they would have this glorious tree with this amazing name and this awesome promise connected to it and not partake of it. We can only naturally assume that they had eaten from this tree. Probably a lot. 

If this tree, then, provided eternal life with just one bite, then God's concern about them eating from it after their sin is moot. If they've already eaten it, they'd already be living forever, and God would have to come up with some kind of new plan to keep them from living forever with all the knowledge of good and evil. 

The only understanding that makes any sense, then, is that the tree had to be eaten from continually, faithfully. Often. That God designed man to live only in dependence upon Him - His provision, His goodness, His grace. If man could not or would not do that, then he would die. 

Thus, death was woven into our creation from the very start. It's not part of the curse; it's part of our call to come to Him. It's part of the promise of God of life itself. 

Got it? Okay, great. Now, we can go back to talking about death.

Monday, April 18, 2022


It's Easter Monday, Christ is risen, and now seems like as good a time as any to talk about death. Doesn't it? 

We talk a lot about death this time of year, about Jesus's traumatic death on the Cross that is the atoning sacrifice for us all. We talk about two thieves dying the same way. We talk about a tomb, about a stone, and about that stone rolled away. We talk about grave clothes folded neatly. And we talk about death being defeated

This is important for us because we are a people who have been taught that death is our enemy, that it is a matter of the curse, that we are creatures who were not meant to die. And only part of that is true. It is true that we are creatures who were not meant to die (though I have written about the Tree of Life before, and so...even that is complicated; perhaps I will rehash that this week to catch you all up in the midst of this discussion), yet we were not created as eternal creatures, either. Death did certainly come along with the curse, but it was not part of the curse. is not our enemy, per se. 

Most of that probably sounds strange to most of you, if not all of you. But let's look at what's really going on with death so that we can put some good perspective around it. 

Remember that God brought death into the mix before any of the rest of the curse. It was part of His warning, which means it was part of His goodness - do not eat of the fruit of this tree, or you will surely die. Eve even repeats those words to the serpent - we can't eat of this tree or we will surely die. And Adam, though we're not told so in the story, most assuredly knew - hey, Eve, is this the fruit that if we eat it, we will surely die? 

Notice that when God told Adam and Eve that they would surely die, He didn't mention any of the rest of the curse - no hard labor, no difficult childbirth, no striking of the heel or smashing of the head. None of  it. And notice, too, that when God announced this curse - hard labor, difficult childbirth, striking of the heel and smashing of the head - He didn't mention death. He mentions that the curse lasts until they die, but dying itself is not part of the curse. 

(Go ahead. Look it up. I know you want to. I'll wait.) 

Death is not part of the curse. And if it's not part of the curse, then we have to figure out what's going on here because it certainly feels like not living eternally with God would be curse-like. It certainly seems that death blew everything up. If death is not the curse, and if death is not the enemy, then why does Christ have to defeat death for us? What is eternity all about? 

So many questions, so little But I'll tease you with this - what if death...was a gift? A gift for the season that we're living in. 

Okay, so I guess I need to talk about the Tree of Life after all because that's critical to our understanding of what's happening here. So we'll pick that up tomorrow and then keep winding our way through.  

Friday, April 15, 2022

In the Garden

You may have noticed by now that a common thread running through God's story is the garden - it all begins in the Garden of Eden, when creation was very good and God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. It all ends in a renewed garden, and if you read the book of Revelation carefully, you can actually see where the cherubim set to guard Eden all the way back in Genesis are finally relieved of duty. We know that on Holy Week (this week, as we set our sights toward Easter), Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples; this is, perhaps, His most famous prayer. But did you know that the Easter story itself is also a garden story?

That's right - the resurrection also takes place in a garden.

This is something that's never been taught to me. It's something I've never seen on a flannelgram. It's something that, to be honest with you, I read right by in the Bible myself for, well, more than two decades. And then, two days ago, I was sitting in a waiting room and all of a sudden, I realized - Jesus was buried in a garden. 

Most of us, when we see the tomb, we see a cave cut-out in a cliff. We see a rock rolled in front of a stone wall, in front of the side of a mountain or hill. We see rocks and stone and hard surfaces everywhere that we look. And in fact, the visual images that we've been given of the tomb confirm this for us (actually, they created this for us) - the tomb of Jesus was a very rocky place. 

But when the women come to the tomb on that first Easter morning, that image ought to be shattered. Remember what happened? The women come running to the tomb, talking amongst themselves about how they're going to move that big stone that covers that tomb. Then, they get there and the stone is rolled away. The Roman Centurions, we can assume, are already long gone because the women don't ask them what happened here. Rather, they ask a man they find sitting on the rolled away stone. 

They call him..."the gardener." 

When the women disciples come to the tomb of Jesus and find a man sitting there that they do not recognize as Jesus (at least, not immediately), we are told that they thought he was the gardener.

Now, ask yourself - why would there be a gardener in a barren, rocky place? Why would there be a gardener on a desolate hillside? Why would there be a gardener if there, in that place, there was simply a cave that was being used as a tomb? 

No, my friends. If there is a gardener, there must be a garden. There is no other explanation for this. 

And so, we see that this thread of God's story runs through even here. Not just in the passionate prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His distress was so great that His sweat became blood, but even here - in the burial and resurrection of Jesus Himself. And when He walks out of that tomb, He becomes...the gardener. Sorry, the Gardener. 

Eden restored. God walking with man and woman in the cool of the day, tending to His creation that finally, finally can breathe a sigh of relief. Things are on their way to 'very good' again. God has come to dwell among His people once more, and He will do so for eternity. Death is defeated; the Lord is here. The Gardener walks among us. And it is...Jesus. 

Or, as the women would say when they finally recognized Him, a gasp in their breath... Lord!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Humble Abode

When we say that we have to have a life that Jesus is comfortable remaining in, too many persons hear what they fear the most - that they have to have their life perfect before they can have Jesus. 

This is something that, sadly, too many have heard from the church herself for too long. This is the message they've heard preached from their pulpits, from their neighbors, from their brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we've used words to preach this, but often, we've just used looks. Sneers. Snide comments. Intentional exclusion. We have kept our distance, and those among us who wrestle most deeply with the sins that we seem to most disapprove of have gotten the message - Jesus, too, keeps His distance from someone like you

So we have to be intentional about saying, that's not what we're saying. We are not saying that you have to have your life totally together before you come to God. We are not saying that you can't be a sinner crawling to the Cross. We are not saying that Jesus will not dwell in you until you clean your life up. Remember - this is a God who came to dwell among us in all of our mess and muck and a Jesus who so frequently traveled with, ate with, fellowshipped with, and loved sinners that the religious elite thought there was something wrong with Him. At the very least, they could not believe He was God. 

What we are saying is that you should be trying. You should be doing whatever you can do to make Jesus welcome in your life, even if it's not perfect. Even if it's not pretty. Even if you don't feel like you have a whole lot to offer Him. You do have to be working toward making a hospitable life or at the very least, desire this thing in your heart. 

Listen, Jesus is not opposed to a mission trip. He's not opposed to coming to your place to work while He remains. He's not afraid to roll up His sleeves and pitch in and help you to build the kind of life that you long for. In fact, that's what He specializes in. If you need mulch in your flower beds, Jesus is willing to help. If you need running water in your bathroom, Jesus is willing to help. If you need a new section of floor where the foundation of your life has rotted right out from under you, Jesus is willing to help. 

You don't have to have your life all put together for Jesus to come. You just have to make welcome and be mindful of what it means to have a guest in your place. 

If you've traveled at all, you know that some of the most hospitable places in all the world are the poorest ones. They're the ones where the host is just scraping by, where she barely has enough for herself and her own family, but she gives you the good blanket. She sleeps on the floor so you can have the bed. 

To be honest with you, I'd rather stay on a poor person's couch than in a 5-star hotel. Because when I go into a really nice place, I don't always feel welcome. I always feel like I'm going to mess something up. The host always seems to have rules about what you can touch and when you can touch it. A poor host doesn't care. A poor host is like, "Hey, welcome. I don't have a lot, but what I do have is yours while you're here. Make yourself at home." 

And that's the attitude that we ought to have with Jesus. Not because our lives are perfect, but precisely because they aren't. And that's all He's looking for - that kind of open invitation, that kind of warm welcome.

Hey, Jesus. Welcome. I don't have a lot, but what I do have is Yours. 

Make Yourself at home. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022


If Jesus must remain in us as we remain in Him, then it only makes sense that we should be trying to live the most hospitable life that we can - a life that Jesus would want to remain in. 

This runs counter to the world's argument about Jesus, which is that if He really does love you, then He doesn't have an opinion on the way that you live. If Jesus really loves you, He loves you just the way you are and there's nothing about you that He doesn't love. If Jesus really loves you, then you're already okay. After all, isn't that what the cross was for? 

But this is not a true picture of Jesus. It doesn't line up with what we see of Him in the Gospels. Everywhere He went, He met with sinners, yes - He even ate with them and stayed at their homes - but He never affirmed their sin. He never told a single person that they were fine just the way they were and that He had no higher aspirations for their life than what they were already doing right now. He never said it was okay to live a life stuck in your sin. In fact, what He said repeatedly was, "Go and sin no more." Go and be different. Go and live a freer life. Go and live a life with less sin in it. 

So we come back, then, to what it means for Jesus to remain in us as we remain in Him, and the truth about the hospitality of our lives is very clear: 

Jesus doesn't want to live in your sin any more than He wants you to. 

In fact, we have to be very careful about the inferences we draw from what we see Jesus do, willingly, with sinners. 

Yes, He goes to their houses to eat. Yes, He welcomes them around His table. Yes, He stands with them in the public square. Yes, He defends them to their accusers. Yes, He heals them. Yes, He loves them. Yes, He goes to the Cross for them. 

But that doesn't mean that Jesus will come hang out and watch pornography with you. It doesn't mean He will come and sit around and shoot up drugs with you. It doesn't mean He wants to sit around on some sofas and gossip about all of the other persons in your life. It doesn't mean He stands over your shoulder nodding, backing you up as you lie to another human being created in His image. 

No, He's not going to run out on you, but He's not going to join you. He's not going to just settle in and let you run this show. He's not going to just be okay with whatever it is that you decide to do. If Jesus came to your house and sat in your living room and you lit up a cigarette and starting blowing your smoke straight in His face, then, like anyone else, He's going to get up and move. He might go wait on the porch, hoping you'll join Him out where the air is better. But let's be clear - Jesus isn't going to stay in your house long if you abuse Him. Period. He's not going to hang out in your sinful life and affirm all of your life choices just because He loves you. 

Actually, it's because He loves you that He won't do this. 

We remain in Him, but He has to remain in us, and if we're not living a life hospitable to Him being here...He won't be. If we're not living a life that makes room for Jesus, He's not going to squeeze Himself in. If we don't make it a priority to make space for Him, He's going onto the porch to wait for us. hospitable is your life? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Vine

Remain in me, as I remain also in you. These are the words of Jesus that we're looking at this week, and we saw yesterday that our natural inclination is to jump toward our own abiding and turn this into a lesson about how we are to cling to Jesus. How we, the branches, can do nothing apart from the vine, Jesus. 

And while that's certainly an important lesson that Jesus was most likely trying to get across, it does not capture the fullness of what He says here. There is an entire second clause in Jesus's statement that we seem to right by: as I remain also in you

Yes, we have to remain in Jesus, but Jesus also has to remain in us. 

Now, that gets complicated when we start talking about it because most of us have this understanding of Jesus that He just dwells in us no matter what. That once we ask Him into our heart, He's here. We have been taught, through sermons and flannelgrams and Bible studies that God makes His home inside of us, that we are the Temple of the Living God, that even when we turn our back on Him, He never turns His back on us. The world, and our culture, have taught us that Jesus's love means that He doesn't care what we do, that He has no standards for our living, that He's here for us no matter what.

And so, it's rather easy for us to just skip over the second clause of Jesus's statement because of course Jesus remains in us; He can do no other. 

He remains in us even when we're messed up. He remains in us when we're stuck in the mire. And then, it's just a little short skip away to start believing that He remains in us when we remain in sin. That He remains in us when we relish in our own brokenness. That He remains in us when we willfully remain apart from Him. That there's nothing at all that we have to do to make sure that Jesus remains in us. We have an understanding of God that simply believes that He has to. 

That's what God does. 

Most of us, then, don't worry about whether we're living hospitable lives. Most of us don't worry about whether our lives make welcome for Jesus. Most of us don't think about making up His bed or laying out a towel for Him or setting another plate at the table and welcoming Him to our meal. Most of us don't worry about any of the thousands of little things that we would do to make literally anyone else we were trying to welcome feel comfortable in our space. 

Jesus doesn't need hospitality. He doesn't need welcome. He doesn't need to feel at home here. We don't have to create a space that is mindful of Him and who He is and the kinds of things He appreciates and treasures and loves. That's what we think, so we don't even worry about it. 

But should we? 

Jesus Himself said He must remain in us. Doesn't that mean that we should be cultivating an us in which He can remain? Doesn't that mean we should be working on our hospitality here? At least a little bit? 

Monday, April 11, 2022


Jesus said, "Remain in me, as I remain also in you." He goes on to talk about how no branch can produce fruit when it is apart from the vine, how we are utterly dependent upon His goodness to grow anything in our lives. 

And it's true. 

And every sermon that I have ever heard on this passage confirms that it is true and emphasizes the importance of our remaining in Him. Not surprising, then, that we have set the sights of our faith on this very thing: remaining. 

In fact, almost all of the stories that we tell ourselves about what it means to have faith in Jesus center around this idea to some degree. We interpret everything through the lens of what we must do in order to cling and cleave to Him, what muscles we must exercise and develop in order to remain in Christ, even when the hard times come.

It's how we read the story of Peter walking on the water - if only he had kept his eyes on Jesus, if only he had remained, he would not have begun to sink. 

It's how we read the story of Peter in the courtyard with the guards and the slave girl - if only he had kept his eyes on Jesus, if only he had remained, he would not have denied knowing Christ and betrayed Him. 

It's how we read the story of Judas - if only he had remained in Christ, he would not have sold Him out. 

It's how we read so many of the stories in our Bible - if only these men and women had remained, they would not have gotten themselves into nearly as much trouble as they did. Their lives would have turned out better, their faith would have been stronger, they wouldn't have had the questions they had, they wouldn't have had the failures that they had. 

All of faith, we believe, boils down to this one thing: we must remain in Him. As branches in the vine, we must remain securely grafted into His life if we want to have that life for ourselves, if we want to have His love for ourselves. 

All of this is true. Every bit of it. That's what makes is such a compelling sermon, a timeless lesson. Jesus Himself said it; of course it is true.'s not complete. 

For all of the time that we have spent expounding on this simple statement of Jesus, we have missed something really big, something really important. We have missed an entire chunk of what Jesus was saying here - something that yes, He actually said and if He actually said it, it is just as important as everything else we're already taking from this passage. And actually, we might even say that it's more important today, given the culture that we're in because the thing we seem to be missing from this passage is something that our culture works really hard to destroy about Jesus's truth. It's something our culture doesn't want to believe, or even accept. It's something that doesn't fit with who our culture tells us that Jesus is. 

Yet, it is who Jesus Himself, right here, tells us that He is. It's what Jesus Himself tells us is true. 

What are we missing? I'll tell you tomorrow.  

Friday, April 8, 2022

Foundations of Faith

How, then, do we act in faith, if what seems like acting in faith is sometimes the unfaithful thing to do? 

What Saul did was not "wrong" in that it was rebellious, per se; it was wrong because it was limited in its understanding. Saul had a very specific, context-specific instruction from God, but he let his baseline understanding of the disciplines of the faith get in the way of following it. We could say, then, that Saul believed in God, but he didn't really believe God

The same is true for us. The tension that we feel and those moments that seem most paralyzing for us are the times when we let our understanding of the basic disciplines of the faith get in the way of what we're certain we're hearing from God. Then, it is our belief in God that gets in the way of us simply believing God

The things that we do - for Saul, it was the sacrifices; for us, it's usually something like prayer or Bible study or worship - are meant to be the foundations of our faith, not the utmost expression of it. These things are meant to prepare us to hear from God and to be able to listen to Him; they are not meant to be the ultimate way that we hear from Him. In other words, we engage in these things so that when God speaks, we are able to hear Him and obey; we do not engage in these things because they themselves are the obedience. 

Think about this: there is not one time in the Bible that God speaks to a person, tells that person what amazing role he or she is going to play in God's grand story, and then tells that person to go back and invest in spiritual milk. There's not one time God sends an angel and says, "What great news I have for you! You should go read your Bible, pray, and listen to some worship music so that you can understand!" 

That's not how God works. 

God comes to those who have already prayed, read their Bible, turned up the worship music. God comes to those who ought to already be poised to hear Him and obey. God comes to those who have laid the solid foundations of their faith in order that they might know His voice when He speaks. And when you know it is God's voice, it's easier to just step in and go for it. You don't have to go back to the basics because you already have those down. 

Saul is a guy who should have known better, especially by that point. He had been hand-selected out of all of Israel and anointed with oil by God. He had the wise priest, Samuel, guiding him every step of the way for a long time. He was a king who prayed and sought wisdom and knew well the foundations of the faith. But when it came time to put his faith in action, he wasn't ready. He couldn't make that transition on his own. 

That's where many of us are. It's hard to make that leap. We know what God expects of us with spiritual milk, and it becomes our spiritual comfort zone. It becomes the thing to which we default when we're too nervous to go any further, when we're not sure if we're ready to step out the way that God is calling us to do. And then, we're exactly where we've been talking about this week - faithfully unfaithful at the very moment that God has been most clear with us. 

So we have to understand how these things that we do faithfully every day, these little acts that we invest in on a regular basis, are not our faith; they are the foundations of our faith that allow us to live not just believing in God, but believing Him. They are the things that prepare us to act when He speaks, to know His voice and to trust it. 

And if your faith is not doing that for you, then it's time to rethink what exactly it is doing. What kind of faith are you building here? Is it the kind that will let you destroy everything when God speaks...or the kind that keeps you coming back to sacrifices because that's all you really know?

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Unfaithful by Faith

The idea that faith can make us unfaithful is really, really scary. Especially when we believe that faith is supposed to be simple - it's just believing in God, right? Just taking Him at His Word? They say that faith is accessible to anyone, that anyone can come to God, but if our faith can make us are any of us ever supposed to know? How can we ever hope to have real faith? 

Believe it or not, this question has been around from the very beginning. It's the question that the faithful have been asking themselves from the start. And it's the entire reason that the Pharisees came to exist. 

See, the Pharisees were concerned that they might only understand enough of God to get themselves in trouble. That their understanding might be limited somehow so that even when they thought they were trying to do the right thing, they might not be. That's why (well, it's one reason) that they so painstakingly went through every single command that God had ever given them and tried to figure out what exactly it means. That's why they added thousands of interpretations to the Scriptures. They knew that there would be times they would think they were getting it right only to get it wrong, and they wanted to make sure that they had every little detail right so that they could not possibly mess it up. 

What happened to them, of course, is what too often happens to us: they became a people who obeyed God, but didn't really believe in Him any more. That is, they no longer had a faith that could accept a new Word from God; everything they thought they heard, they passed through the fire of their own understanding until they actually created in their lives the very thing they feared - they became the unfaithful faithful. They became the faithless who claimed themselves full of faith. 

They had created this very extensive, yet completely narrow and small, understanding of God. If they thought they heard the voice of God telling them to do something (like Saul heard Him say to slaughter everything), they'd go back to their books and start thumbing through their indexes and try to cross-reference and find where God had talked about that and then, they'd follow what they think God means when He says that instead of just doing what God actually said. 

They couldn't simply trust Him. They couldn't simply believe what He was telling them. They couldn't just love Him and let themselves be loved by Him. 

And this is the problem most of us face, right? We work so hard to become "faithful" persons that what we end up doing is building this gigantic scaffolding around our faith that actually keeps us from believing God. It's keeps us from just trusting Him. It keeps us from loving Him and being loved by Him. It keeps us from actually living by faith and instead, from the most earnest of our hearts, we live faithlessly, all the while claiming to believe. 

That's what happened to Saul. It's what happened to the Pharisees. It's what's happening to us. what? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Worship the Lord

Saul knew exactly what he was doing, and he thought that it was good. 

Saul looked at all of the good and beautiful things, all of the amazing livestock, all of the goods "without defect," and he knew, without a doubt in his heart, that these things would be an "aroma pleasing to the Lord." He knew this was exactly the kind of sacrifice that God had told His people to bring. And Saul knew that you didn't just have a sheep this good and not bring it as an offering before the Lord. 

We know what Saul knew - which is that God had not asked him for these sacrifices. Rather, God had commanded him to destroy everything. But that doesn't mean that we should just write Saul off as disobedient and faithless. It was his faith that led him to do this disobedient thing. 

It is our faith that often does the same. 

Who among us hasn't wrestled with this at one time or another? Or a lot? We all have our understandings of what it means to worship, of what it takes to live faithfully, of what God desires of us. And sometimes, God tells us exactly what to do, but we let our understanding of faith and worship get in the way of just obeying what God tells us. 

Think, for a minute, about being presented an opportunity. Maybe it's a job or a new house or a better car. You feel this sense of peace in your soul that God is absolutely saying "yes" to this opportunity, whatever it is. You can't get out of your head the goodness of moving forward. All signs point to "go," and you know God is telling you to do it. 

But then your faith kicks in, and you realize that you haven't really prayed about it. You haven't studied your Bible. You haven't thought about this decision while you have worship music playing in the background. So instead of moving forward on every single sign God has given you that you should do so, you decide to "make this decision faithfully" first. You take time to pray. You read your Bible for a few days. You turn off the TV and turn up the radio. You surround yourself with everything that you know God desires of you on any given day...

...and you miss out. The opportunity passes. Someone else gets it. It's gone. 

Now, it's not that praying, reading your Bible, or listening to worship music are unfaithful in and of themselves. In fact, we know that they are not. But in this case, all your effort to live "faithfully" has led you to do the unfaithful thing - you didn't simply listen to God. 

This is Saul's "sin!" This is exactly what happened in Saul's life. He got so caught up in what he knew that God desired of him, got so tangled up in the motions and functions of worship and faith, that he didn't act when God told him to act. He didn't do the very simple thing that God very clearly told him to do. 

He acted on his faith, and it made him unfaithful. 

The strange thing is that when we do this in our own lives, everyone around us is screaming at us the same things we scream at Saul. You dolt! God has made it very clear what you're supposed to do; why don't you just do it? And the truth is that if we could see our situation from the outside looking in, we'd be screaming the same things at ourselves. God could not possibly be more clear about this! Why do you have to muck it up?

But living it, trying to do the faithful thing, having all of this baggage about how to live the faithful life and how we're supposed to operate and what God wants "most" from us leaves us tangled up in our own faith to the point that we often don't do the very simple things that God has made most clear. Because we're very busy doing the very structured things that are not circumstance-specific. 

Trying to live by faith, we become unfaithful. And all of a sudden, we look at Saul and just go, "Whoa." It's that easy. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

An Act of Faith

We're pretty quick to say that Saul was a sinful man because he got faith so dramatically wrong. God told him exactly what to do, and he didn't do it. How much more self-centered and faithless can you get? 

But what if Saul's faithlessness was actually an act

This is where things get complicated.

Let's remind ourselves what we're talking about: we're talking about a scene in King Saul's (Old Testament) life where God led him into battle and told him to completely destroy everyone and everything, but Saul brought back quite a bit of booty, including livestock, to offer as a sacrifice to God. This is the point where Samuel informs him that because he is a wicked man, God has ripped the kingship right out of his hands and his entire family will die a horrible, powerless death because of it. The dynasty is over

If Saul brought back all that good-looking, shiny, amazing stuff from his enemy because he wanted to keep it, like Achan, then I'd say that what we have here is a sin problem. If he was greedy about it, it's definitely a problem with his heart. If Saul thought to himself that God couldn't possibly want to destroy such good and beautiful things and that he must have misheard the instructions, then yes, we're in trouble. 

But that wasn't where Saul's heart was. Saul's heart saw the good and beautiful things and wanted to give them deliberately to God. He wanted to make them sacrifices. He knew God's law so well that he knew what God desired. Saul looked at that livestock and immediately thought in his heart, "Man, this would make an aroma pleasing to the Lord!" And, well, if you can slaughter something at the altar, it certainly seems strange - by faith - to slaughter it in the field instead. 

In fact, that's what God had told His people on the edge of the Promised Land. He told them He was going into the land with them and would make a place for His name and that from now on, everyone would have to come and make their sacrifices there. No longer could they just slaughter things at home or in the field; they had to bring them to God. 

So what Saul is doing is actually an act of worship. Legitimately. It is the way that he understands the rules and regulations of God in general. It is the way his heart is wired to worship the Lord. He has in him this thing that understands what God desires, and the minute he raises his sword to make a slaughter in the field, something stops him. No. A slaughter like this should be done at the altar. 

It's not because Saul so poorly understands God, then, that he commits this "sin," but precisely because he understands God so well. Because his sense of worship is so strong. Because his connection to the ritual of sacrifice is so strong. 

Saul does what God hasn't asked him to do because he believes that it is the very kind of thing that God would ask him to do. 

And now, what seems like a simple story of disobedience is, in fact, a very complicated story of faith. The same kind of faith that a lot of us have. The same kind of faith that we, thousands of years later, are still wrestling with. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Defining Faith

One of the things that we ought to love about the biblical story is that it's full of characters just like us. Even characters that we'd rather pretend that we don't really relate to very much, men and women who show their sinful side just a little too easily and, well, at least we're a little more quiet about it!

I think that's where our minds go when we start to look at some of these characters - to sin. We create this dichotomy in which these characters are both righteous and sinners, and then we say that we, too, are both righteous and sinners. We get some things right; we get some things wrong. We follow our own hearts more often than we'd like to admit, and it gets us messed up. 

Then, we talk about redemption and about God's grace and about how beautiful and wonderful it is that God includes men and women like these - like us - in His story anyway, and we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we, too, are written into His narrative. He's doing something with us, just like He did something with all of these others. 

But I think we're missing something when we try to make things so simple. I think we're missing what these very human characters can really teach us about what it means to have faith. 

When we talk about these characters and their faith, what we really talk about is that they had it. That's it. "But David, the murderer, the adulterer, believed in God, so God used him mightily!" "But Daniel, the exile, believed in God, and God rewarded him for that!" "But Abraham believed in God, and it is credited to him as righteousness." (That last one is actually in the Bible.) 

So we get this picture of imperfect persons who just have to believe in God and God graciously redeems them for it. Which is great. That is the big idea of Christianity. But it doesn't feel like much of anything when we are struggling to believe. When we are faced with the weight of our own sin and trying to figure out how we get to glorious from here. When we don't understand what faith really looks like in the moments when we are most desperate to have some. 

The truth is that these characters can teach us about what real faith looks like, but only if we're willing to look deeper than our first instinct and deeper than our shallow understandings and really look at what's going on. 

Take a scene from Saul's life. Actually, we could take many scenes from Saul's life, but let's start with this one: 

Saul engages in a battle that the Lord has sent him into. This, we say, is his faith in action. God told him to go and he goes. Yay, Saul! 

But God tells Saul to destroy everything, leaving nothing behind and taking nothing home. Yet Saul decides to bring back quite a bounty of things with one intention: he's going to offer them to God as a sacrifice. Then Samuel, the priest, shows up and condemns him for not following God's command, and we condemn him, too. Boo, Saul! You blew it, dude! 

Then we create this narrative of faith that says, "Just do whatever God asks you to do." And we sit here saying all kinds of things to ourselves like, "It's not that hard, bro." "God told you exactly what to do, and you couldn't even do it." "You deserve every bit of that smiting for not being able to do the most basic, simple thing." "Excuse me, did God stutter?" 

And just like that, we've determined what faith is. And we've determined that Saul apparently didn't have very much of it. And then, we conclude that God condemned him precisely for this reason - because his faith was weak. Because he couldn't live by the faith that he claimed to have. 

What if that's not true? What if none of that is true? What if there's more going on here, more that we can relate to as human beings trying to figure out faith? 

I think there is. Let's talk about it this week. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Pray with Me

If you're part of a Christian community, you probably have a whole list of persons you are praying for right now. But let me ask you something: how many of those persons are you praying with? 

It's just a simple word, but the subtle difference is actually huge. 

I am blessed to have a great number of persons in my life who pray for me. Especially over the past almost-17 months as I have been dealing with an extremely difficult battle with Covid and its after-effects, I am constantly reminded by others that they are praying for me. I can reach out at any time and know that my tribe will step up and cover me in prayer. I can send a text and the word will go out and a group of persons who love me will spend time on their knees with our Father for me. And that is beautiful and amazing and incredible. And very much appreciated. 

When I run into these persons in public, they'll ask me - earnestly, honestly - how I'm doing. They'll remind me that they're praying for me. They'll ask if I need anything. They will send text messages and direct messages and Facebook notes; I get cards in the mail on the days that somehow, I most need them, and I know that this group of persons is holding me in their prayer. 

This encourages me. It lifts me up. It keeps me going through some really hard times. It helps me to feel my belovedness even while everything around it is falling apart. It reminds me in the times that I just can't pray any more, when I don't have the strength or the words or the heart, that God is still hearing my story because someone else is carrying it to Him for me. Having a group of persons praying for you is nothing short of beautiful. 

And yet, there are some times when I still want someone to pray with me, too. Actually, I went forward during our invitation time this past Sunday and said this very thing to one of my elders. "Hey, brother. I know you have been praying for me, but will you pray with me?" 

He, of course, was more than happy to do so. 

There's something about us coming together in prayer. About me being there with you when you're praying for me - and about you being here with me. It is part of having this connection where I'm a real human being and not just a name on a prayer list. And it's more than that. 

Jesus Himself said that where two or more are gathered in His name, there He will be. Praying together, then, allows us both to feel the presence of Christ in a way that we just don't when we are on our own. Something about being gathered, being two or more, changes the whole dynamic of prayer and of praying for one another and of being the one who is prayed for. It's so much more than what most of us get when we're just "on the list." 

And there's something tremendously encouraging and overwhelming in all the best ways to actually hear someone loving you like that. To hear maybe even a whole group of someones loving you like that. To listen to someone else love you so much that they carry your name to Jesus. That they stand on the side of the road and cry out for Him so that He will turn and see you, not them. To listen to them believe out loud for God's goodness in your life. 

That's the gift we give to one another when we hear each other pray. It's a gift that...a whole lot more of us could use. 

It changes the way that we pray, too. Praying with someone forms a deeper connection with them for us. It bonds us more deeply to their struggle. It ties us together in a way that simply praying for them never can. As a chaplain who has prayed with others for a living, I can tell you - it changes things every time. It changes me every time. 

So if you're praying for someone right now, thank you. Continue to do so. But if you ever have the chance to pray with that someone, take that, too. It will bless both of you.