Friday, December 29, 2023


Yesterday, I confessed that one of the things I'm working on is not being wrong-headed even when I'm right. And I ended by saying that's really tough. 

Here's why it's tough:

Because choosing to be right-headed, even when you're right and could very easily be a jerk about it, often means accepting things that you don't want to accept. 

It's hard to humble ourselves and take a quieter path, especially when we know we're right. (Objectively know we're right, not just assume we are.) It feels like maybe we're letting the world walk all over us. It feels like we're letting injustice happen. It feels like we're not only accepting what is broken, but maybe even embracing it a little. It feels like we're losing the battle, at just the moment when we feel strong enough to fight it. 

Many of us, especially females, have been in these positions quite a bit in our lives. We have taken a step backward to avoid conflict. We have let go of things so that we don't have to assert ourselves. We have let things be, even when we know they're wrong, because we have felt too weak to fight. 

So when we take a step down, it feels like a forfeit. It feels like a defeat. It feels like we just gave up, like we're too passive, like here we are again, letting the world walk all over us. 

Nobody wants to be a doormat. 

Especially when it comes to issues of right and wrong. Nobody wants to let wrong win. Nobody wants to give up on right. Everyone can see pretty clearly that right is better for everyone than wrong is. Everybody wants to be known as a righteous warrior, a champion for the truth, an ally for the little guy. 

A lot of times, we can convince ourselves that if we had simply stood up a little stronger, a little straighter, a little longer - if we had just been less of a doormat - then whatever is right obviously would have won. 

But here's the truth - and hear me on this - there are very few persons in the world who have ever had their heart changed by a jerk. 

Very few. 

Most of the time, standing your ground and asserting your right-ness and demanding what you know is good doesn't do anything except convince someone else that you're a jerk and that the truth, Truth itself, is abrasive. Most of the time, all you do is turn someone off. Most of the time, all you do is turn someone away. 

Certainly, there are some folks who might, later, when they have stepped away from the heat of your fury, admit to themselves, "Man, that guy was a jerk, but he was right." But usually, it's easier to just stew in the fact that you're a jerk and you're not worth listening to. And maybe you're even arrogant or self-righteous. You're definitely not someone to ever get in a conversation with again. 

So then, we're stuck, aren't we? If we stand for what is right, but we are wrong-headed, we come off as jerks and turn the world away from the truth. If we don't stand for what is right because we know we cannot be right-headed, we let the truth be defeated and we feel like a doormat. Are we destined, then, to always lose? 

Of course not. 

But winning looks a little...different.  

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Not Wrong

In the spirit of being real, and in talking about today and the things we want to change about ourselves, here's one that I'm currently working on:

I have had several encounters lately in which I have gotten caught up in knowing that I was not wrong...but completely lost sight of the fact that I might have been wrong-headed. 

I am a person who can be very black-and-white, right-and-wrong. And like every other human who has ever walked the planet, I have a propensity to believe that I am always right. Obviously. Overwhelmingly, if we didn't think we were right, we wouldn't do or say whatever we're doing or saying. No one goes to bat for themselves when they think they're wrong. No one takes pride in having things backward. So of course, we all think we're right, and I am no exception. 

Now, add to that the fact that in these recent cases, I really was right. Objectively. If you laid out the facts of the case before a jury, they would have sided with me. It was clear that on the basis of truth alone, I was absolutely, positively, unequivocally right

But that doesn't mean I wasn't a jerk. 

(Okay, I might have been a jerk.)

At this point, it might be tempting, in the world that we live in, to start making justifications about why I had to be a jerk. We could talk about the historical diminishment of women and make a case for why I had to come off strongly just to be heard quietly in a world that doesn't want to listen to women. We could talk about my own personal history and the experiences I've had where maybe I tried to be more diplomatic and was walked all over. We could talk about how the world doesn't understand assertiveness very well any more and maybe I wasn't as much of a jerk as it seemed; I was just asserting myself, putting my feet down and refusing to be moved (because of how right I was). 

But the truth of the matter is that I was a jerk - whether a justification can be made for that or not. 

And honestly, I don't want to spend my life apologizing for being a jerk. I don't want to spend my life excusing myself for being a jerk. I don't want to spend my life trying to prove that I wasn't really a jerk or that maybe I was, but I had to be a jerk because that's the only way to get my point across. 

In fact, I have discovered in my short life that the more I try to justify myself, no matter what the case, the more I come off like an even bigger jerk. The more I talk, the deeper a hole I talk myself into. Until I find myself apologizing not just for being a jerk, but for being an even bigger jerk than that in trying to explain away my jerkiness. 

Sometimes, friends, the best thing you can do in the shadow of your own just to shut up. 

Okay, that's actually true a lot of the time. 

The point is, it occurred to me more than once over the past few weeks that while I was not wrong about some things, being right did not keep me from being wrong-headed. And I have realized that I would rather be right-headed and wrong than to be right and wrong-headed. 

That's hard...for a lot of reasons. But we'll talk about it more tomorrow.  

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


God's understanding of time is far different than ours. We are very busy right now looking at our calendars that are running out of pages, thinking about what it means to open up an entirely new book, looking forward to our next chapter, and wondering if maybe we wasted the last one. 

But God don't have all that. All that stuff you're worried about right now, it's fake. You made it up. It's something you humans do to yourselves, then get all stressed about it. 

What God says is that we have but one measure of time: today. Right now. That's it. 

Our eternal God who has invited us to live with Him forever, who has sent His Son so that we have the promise of tomorrow, is constantly reminding us that all we have right now 

The Gospels tells us how silly is the man who makes any plans to do something for himself tomorrow because for all he knows, he could die tonight. And then what happens to his intentions? A rich man who is building up his wealth is gone suddenly and never gets to spend it and may not even know what comes of it at all. A man who plans to eat and drink today and get down to business tomorrow may never get down to business at all because tomorrow isn't real; all you have is today. 

And the same is true about yesterday. So many of us (raising my hand here) spend so much of our time trying to live in our yesterdays. Thinking about the things we did that we didn't want to do or don't want to do again. Thinking about the mistakes we've made. Thinking about the things that didn't go quite right. Trying to hold onto the things that went well. Always wanting to live in what was done instead of moving on into what we have now. And we, too, are missing it. There's no such thing as yesterday because the only thing that is real is today. It's right now.

It's this breath.

I'll be honest - I believe this. I believe that all we have is right now. But I get caught up in the yesterdays and tomorrows just as much as anyone else. In fact, I never think more about "today" than I do at this time of year, when I feel all of the pressure to think about yesterday and tomorrow and, quite honestly, I don't want to do it. I'm filled with the same sense of wastedness that everyone else is. I have the same questions about what I've done with my time that everyone else does. It's easy for me to get stuck thinking about what I could have done, but didn't, and what I want to do, but not really right now. 

I'm working on it. 

One of the ways that I'm working on it is in trying to stop myself from thinking about things too much. That is, from putting off until tomorrow what I know I need to fix today. 

When something comes up that I understand is a flaw in my actions, an error in my ways, it doesn't do me any good to think things to myself like, "Goodness. I should study this pattern in my life and figure out where it comes from and how I might best change it some day." That's tempting, but it never gets me around to the place where I'm making actual changes. All it's doing is helping me waste today until today becomes yesterday and I regret it. Always holding out for a tomorrow that doesn't actually exist. 

Instead, what I'm working on, is taking a moment in which I know I was not my best self, accepting that it wasn't my best moment, and deciding right now that I never want to live that moment again. Letting it go into the past, but embracing a new present and inspiring myself that all I have is right now...and right now, I choose for that thing to not be my reality. I choose to not make that mistake again. 

It doesn't mean I always get it right. It doesn't mean I never do make that mistake again. It means that at every point, I am choosing this moment. This one right now. Not the last one. Not the next one. This one. And doing my best to make today - this breath - the best one I can make it. 

No matter what the page on the calendar says.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A Matter of Time

Every year about now, most of us start thinking about time in a way that we don't usually think about it. We look at our calendar that is quickly running out of days, and we become very reflective. 

The last year...where did it go? 

The news reminds us of things that have happened in the past twelve months - the top searches on the Internet, celebrities who died, headlines that dominated our evenings. A lot of the time, we look at these things and think to ourselves, "That was this year?" 

So many of these things that happened seem like forever ago. It feels like we've been living with or without them for a lot longer than just a few months. 

Maybe, as we start to think about a new year, we start to think about our last new year, that year ago when we promised ourselves all of the changes we were going to make in our lives. Some of them might have panned out; many did not. We think with a deep sense of regret about how we let ourselves down...again...and how maybe we just aren't cut out to make the changes we want to make, no matter how badly we want to make them. (That won't stop us from making the same promises to ourselves again this week, by the way. And most of us will do so without a remarkably different plan for accomplishing them than the one that failed us last year.)

We start thinking about time, and for most of us, what we're thinking is about how quickly time actually passes us by. It doesn't always seem like it in the moment, especially in our tough seasons, but for some reason, when it's time to turn the page, it feels like maybe we've only blinked twice and here we are again. 

And that's because when most of us think about time in this way, we're struck by the nagging suspicion that we have wasted quite a lot of it. 

We're disappointed in our lives. We're upset with ourselves. We hate that when we look in the mirror this week, our lives look roughly the same as they did a year ago, two years ago, three years ago when we looked in the mirror on precisely this week and vowed that we were going to change some things. 

I wrote about this last year, or maybe the year before, but it seems like the number one feeling we have when another year draws to a close is...regret. We don't remember as clearly so many of the achievements, the accomplishments, the good moments, the fun things that we've had this year. All we seem to remember is that right now doesn't feel fundamentally different than it did last year, and does that make us failures? Have we really wasted another year?

Listen, you haven't wasted it. If you've lived it, it wasn't wasted. If you got up and did the same thing every day this year, it wasn't wasted. If your life is not where you wanted it to be when you dreamed about coming to the end of this year, it wasn't wasted. 

Life can't be measured in years...and it can't be measured by what this year looks like compared to any other year. That's not the way life works. Life is measured in moments, in breaths, in experiences, in memories. Life is measured in the little things that happen that yes, don't look like the big things, but really, they are. 

My guess is that you had a lot of good moments this past year, moments that don't look like they mattered for whatever reason. And I'm here to tell you - those are precisely the ones that did. That still do. 

We can't let ourselves get caught up in a measure of time that comes in pages. That's not how time works, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that it is. The pages are something we've done to ourselves and said that it matters, but it doesn't matter.

The truth about time is that it doesn't exist in pages and it doesn't exist in years and it doesn't exist in accomplishments or failures. It exists in exactly one breath - this one. 

God has a really good perspective on this, and we'll talk about that a little bit tomorrow.  

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas for Outsiders

Today is Christmas Day, and at this time of year, I am reminded of one of the more powerful experiences that I have had in my life. 

Ten years ago, I was a chaplain at a Catholic hospital. I was a student completing my first unit of education, and prior to late November, I had never been required to attend a morning rounds meeting. I forget exactly what happened, but for some reason, I was asked to go.

At morning rounds, all of the chaplains in the hospital sat around a large table in our meeting room and talked about the needs of the day - the needs in the hospital, personal needs that we might know of. They would design a plan for the day and make sure everyone knew roughly how the day would shape out. 

Of course, being chaplains, our meetings always closed in prayer. Someone would volunteer or be called upon to pray, and they would make sure to pray for the needs expressed during the meeting and whatever else might be on their heart. 

On the particular December morning that I remember most vividly, my supervisor started to pray. But no, she wasn't praying; she was singing. 

O come, o come, Emmanuel.
And ransom captive Israel.

Slowly, quietly, the room filled with music as everyone else started to sing along in prayer. You could feel the expectancy in the room, the honest yearning, the confident hope. Everyone in that room wanted Emmanuel to come. More than wanting it, they knew He was coming.

The thing is...I didn't know the words. 

I had never heard that song before in my life, even after being in church for 13 years. I couldn't sing with them; I couldn't even hum along. All I could do was sit there and listen to the soft, beautiful, unpretentious music wash over me. Everyone was singing; no one was performing. Everyone was praying

And I was just being carried along by their prayer into a season of expectant stillness. 

To this day, I remember that morning with deep fondness. To me, that morning demonstrates what Christmas is all about. for outsiders. 

Yes, Israel had been waiting for Jesus for thousands of years. They'd been waiting through 400 years of silence. They knew what this little baby meant. They understood the promise. 

But so many others didn't. So many others in the world had no idea what was happening in Bethlehem or how it would impact their lives. So many didn't know that hope was born in flesh, that grace was crying in a manger somewhere. Maybe they saw the star, maybe they didn't. If they did, they didn't understand it. But something was happening that morning, and it would come to draw everyone into that expectant stillness. 

You can hear it in the hushed whispers that go through the crowds as Jesus is approaching. You can hear it in the not-so-idle chatter as the women knead the dough for bread. You can hear it in the synagogue when a little boy stands up and volunteers to read from the scroll. 

All throughout the world, there are these echoes of Jesus, and the world hears them nowhere better than at Christmas. So much so that even those who don't know the words can't help but be carried along by our song. By our prayer. By our hope. By our joy. 

Christmas is for Christians, sure. But it's also for outsiders. Jesus is the promise of Israel, but He is the hope of the world. He's for everyone. 

Even those who can't sing, or even hum, along right now. They can still have a holy experience. 

That's what Christmas is about. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel. 

*I have since learned the words to this song, and it is one of my favorites. Probably because of this story. It always takes me back to that room and sends that tingly feeling all over me all over again.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas Without Christ

Santa doesn't belong in church. This is what we've been talking about all week, and what it boils down to is that when we bring Santa into our churches, he competes with Jesus. At Christmas. And a lot of the time, it's Santa who steals the show. 

Why does it even matter? 

It matters because this world would love nothing more than to have Christmas without Jesus. They've been slowly pushing Him to the side for a long time, and it just boggles my mind how willing the church is to help them do it. 

There are a lot of members of the church that no longer believe that Christmas is an exclusively Christian holiday. They are so wrapped up in tinsel and caught up in lights that it doesn't even strike them as odd to see Santa in church. After all, it's Christmas. Duh. And Santa is a big part of Christmas.

This week, I got caught up in a conversation (that didn't go very well) about the "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" debate. We keep saying that it's more appropriate to say "Happy Holidays" because not everyone celebrates Christmas and some families celebrate one of a number of other holidays that fall during this time - Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali being just a few of the examples commonly cited. 

And listen, I'm not someone who gets all bent out of shape about someone saying Happy Holidays to me. Whatever is your joy. 

But what I do get upset - really, heartbroken - about is when someone or some place is all decked out in distinctly Christmas decor, then will only say Happy Holidays. We never see this with Hanukkah. No one puts a menorah on display and writes "Happy Holidays!" in big letters underneath it. No one hangs Diwali lights and shouts, "Happy Holidays!" But they will put a little image of a barn under a star, or even the star itself, or maybe they bring in a stable full of animals (but no baby Jesus, of course), and then declare, Happy Holidays!

No, friend. You have decked yourself out in Christmas, and you don't get to Christmas without Christ. There is no Christmas without Christ. 

But this is where we are. For so much of the world, Christmas is a cultural holiday - it's a time when we come together to celebrate our families, hang out, eat cookies, and give presents. Millions of families in developed countries celebrate Christmas without ever thinking it has anything at all to do with Christ. 

Then, we bring Santa into our churches and tell them they're right. 

Friends, what is cultural about Christmas does not belong in church. Period. Church is the one place where we ought to be able to stake an exclusive claim to the stable and not apologize for it, and yet, here we are, apologizing for it. Using a little culture to make a connection. Putting Santa in Bethlehem...because we think it will make more persons come and hear our message. 

But our message ends up being nothing more than "we have added something to the Christmas that you know, and that something is Jesus" and all of a sudden, Jesus looks like something special we do as Christians to "boost" the season above what the world does instead of being the reason for the season. He doesn't look essential to the world; He looks secondary. 

We are losing our witness, and at Christmas of all times. 

And if you don't make a distinctive statement on the day that celebrates this incredible moment when God did something absolutely extraordinary - on the day that He became flesh and was born into this world to live among us as Immanuel - what hope do you have to make a distinctive statement on any regular, normal, humdrum day of the year? 

If Christ is not central - no, not even central; if Christ is not exclusive in your Christmas, then it doesn't matter how much you've crowded into it, something is missing.  

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Saint Nicholas

When I started talking about how Santa doesn't belong in church, one friend reached out and suggested that maybe a good starting point, or at least an agreeable middle ground, might be to teach the origins of Santa Claus - the story of Saint Nick. 

Wouldn't that be a way to help bridge the gap between what the culture is doing for Christmas and what the church is doing? 

And that's...complicated.

So let's tread carefully. 

There has been a tradition in the church for a very long time about the saints - human beings who lived glorious lives and who are capable, reportedly, of the miraculous. Often, at least from what I understand from my exposure, being recognized as a saint means being credited with having successfully interceded in heaven on behalf of someone who prayed through you or whose prayer you picked up somehow and carried further into the glories where it could be heard. 

I am not Catholic. I have never been Catholic. I have been tremendously blessed by the Catholic ministries in which I have worked and the devout under whom I have learned. But I don't understand it all, and it doesn't all quite mesh with what I believe. But I do know that if we're talking Christian faith, saints are largely a Catholic concept. Catholic persons are far more invested in saints and sainthood than I might ever be. And they know the stories a lot better than I do. 

The Catholic faith has all kinds of avenues for intercession - for something between us and God. For a path that gets to heaven, but has to go through some extra steps. For praying to Mary and trusting that she has a listening ear with Jesus. That sort of thing. 

In that vein, then, I would say that in the Catholic church, maybe it's entirely appropriate to introduce Saint Nick in this season and use him as a bridge between the culture and the church.

But the overwhelming majority of protestant Christianity (non-Catholic Christianity) has little regard for the idea of saints. Most protestants might believe in the example of good, Godly, righteous human beings with incredible testimonies who lived lives worthy of looking up to...but they stop short of the miraculousness ascribed to the saints by the Catholics. A "saint" might be an extremely good person, but it's not an angel. Or a holy being. Or anything really particularly bigger than the rest of us. 

So to introduce someone like Saint Nick in the protestant church is really just to put someone else in the manger with Jesus. It's to take another human being and try to put him in the stable. It's to split the affections, divide the heart. It's to create a second narrative that is supposed to somehow sit alongside the story we have in the Gospels about what this season is all about. 

And that...isn't appropriate. That is fundamentally no different than including Santa Claus. 

Because for the protestant church, Saint Nick isn't a holy story; it's a human story. It's one of the stories that the world tells about Christmas that is still not the Christ story. It is, with no offense intended toward those in faiths with higher regard for the notion of saints, "decor." Just like Santa. 

So while it seems like a nice idea that maybe there's a way to bridge the Santa gap with Saint Nick, that's actually a very complicated proposition that depends not on the fundamental doctrine or nature of the Christian faith, but rather, on very specific doctrines that are not central to the Christian story. 

Which brings us back to where we started a few days ago where we have to ask...if we already have the Christmas story - the story of God taking on flesh, coming down as a man to live and walk among us, being born in a manger with the brightest star in the sky, bringing hope to a world that had been hanging on for hundreds, for thousands of years to His promises - why do we need to add anything else that is not central to that incredible, beautiful, wonderful story?  

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Jesus And

Listen, Jesus is the center of our church gatherings at Christmas. Seriously, why is it such a big deal if we have a guy in the lobby dressed like Santa Claus? He's not stealing our joy or whatever; he's just adding to it. He's bringing in that thing that connects to the world and helps us reach more members of our community. It's not like we're making an altar call out of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."

Just get over yourself already, Aidan. 

Sorry, I can't. 

Because when you bring Santa into your church, let me ask you something: what are the members of your church talking about most

The answer isn't "Jesus." 

When they're getting their kids ready to come to church that morning, they're telling them that Santa is going to be there. They're using Santa to get them all excited to come to church. When they're inviting their non-Christian friends to join them, they are inviting them to come and see Santa. When they are taking pictures of your church and posting them on social media, they are posting pictures of Santa in the lobby hanging out with all of the kids. 

They aren't posting pictures of the choir or the praise band. They aren't posting pictures of the pastor preaching (unless, weirdly, he's wearing some kind of cultural Christmas garb - an ugly sweater or a Santa hat or something). They aren't posting pictures of the beautiful stage that your elders' wives spent hours putting together. They aren't posting pictures of the manger. 

At this time of year, the pictures folks are posting of their churches and the invitations they are extending are almost completely indistinguishable from the local mall. "Come meet Santa!" 

Not only does Santa take the focus away from what we're really doing in church, even when we keep Jesus at the center of our service, it feels like a really heavy bait and switch to the world. Oh, they know it's coming, but they still don't love the way we do it. 

Hey, we've got Santa on Sunday. And because the world wants to charge you for this, we're doing it for free. Just to get you in our doors. Then, once you're here, we'll preach Jesus at you. 

But it's too late. 

Because you've already set yourself up as a "Jesus and" church. Jesus and whatever gets you in the door. Jesus and the good feelings you're looking for. Jesus and a free photo op. 

Jesus and Santa. 

Santa is simply too powerful a cultural Christmas force to put him anywhere near our Christ. Sadly, he wins out every time, even in our churches. Our kids go home and talk about having seen Santa at church. They tell their friends about Santa at church. They are more ready to talk about Santa at Christmas than the manger, and we reinforce this every time we confirm from them - through his presence in our churches - that Santa is some kind of integral part of Christmas, some really big part of Christmas that even the church can't ignore. They learn that Jesus and Santa go hand-in-hand.

I'll say it again - Santa is Christmas decor. He wasn't in the fields. He wasn't in the manger. He didn't follow a star that night. He didn't bring gifts to baby Jesus. He wasn't there. We've brought him into our Christmas because we have accepted the myth that for some reason, we have to. 

And every time we do, he pushes Jesus a little bit further to the edges, just by being in our lobby. No matter what we're doing in our sanctuary. We have gone back and created, in the Christmas season, a courtyard and a holy place, a separation in the church, and we've put Jesus in one space and Santa in the other and we claim it's okay, that they really have nothing to do with one another. That they actually come together in some really beautiful way. 

Friends, Jesus would storm through our lobby with a whip and drive that red-suited guy right out of there, flipping over tables as He did it. 

Santa does not belong in church. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Joy to the World

When you say something like, "Santa doesn't belong in church," you'd be surprised how much push-back you get. And it always ends up boiling down to something like this:

Why can't our kids have fun? Why can't we bring a little bit of joy into our service? What's the problem with doing something that makes folks happy this time of year?

There are two kinds of readers right now: there are those of you who read that an immediately agreed with it, thinking it's absolutely appropriate to be thinking about bringing happiness and joy into the world wherever we find it. And there are those of you who read that and think more along the lines of the point I'm about to make. 

(And this is why, by the way, the original statement is so controversial in the first place, I guess.) 

Here's what I'm going to say, and I say this with all love and a little bit of sadness because I know that many, many of you will not be able to relate to what I'm about to say, and joy and happiness should already be part of your church service. 

You shouldn't need Santa to bring it.

I just don't know how to be more clear about this, and I guess it's because we live in the time after Christ has already come, but the greatest measure of fullest joy is right there in the manger in swaddling clothes. 

Remember, Christ was God's promise from the very beginning. Christ is the Messiah that God kept talking about. He was the fulfillment of everything that God's people had been waiting for. There are four hundredish years of silence between Malachi and Matthew, while God's people were still waiting for and expecting something like Jesus. (They never imagined He would come the way He did, even though God said clearly He would.) 

When Jesus comes onto the scene, it means God keeps His promises. It means God is really as good as He says He is. Maybe even better than our understanding of "good" could ever have fathomed. When Jesus shows up, something in the pit of your spirit knows that all of the darkness is about to become light, all of the brokenness is about to be healed, all of the bad is about to be defeated, and goodness is going to reign. 

Revelation says that when we finally see Jesus, we won't be able to do anything but sing glory and praises. Rejoice. Celebrate. Heaven is described as a giant feast, a big ol' party. 

And you think you need Santa to bring joy into your church at Christmas? 

Friends, Christmas is joy. And if your church isn't getting that from your message about Jesus - not just at Christmastime, but all year round - then you're doing it wrong. Period. 

We have become afraid of joy in church. Afraid of celebration. We don't want to be labeled "holy rollers" or "Pentecostals" (unless, of course, you are Pentecostal, and then, hands up!). There's something in us that isn't sure about what we call "charismatic" churches, so most of us have spent a lot of time and and hard work stripping things like joy and happiness out of our services altogether. We have set aside a lot of time for, uhm, "reflective, somber, sober worship of God," a kind of straight-faced recognition of how good He is without ever letting ourselves feel or celebrate that goodness, and that's how we get to the point where here we are at Christmas and we know that we need a little joy in our churches and how are we going to get that?

Oh, right. Santa. 

No, friends. Jesus. 

If you're doing Jesus right, you will have all of the celebration you need this Christmas. If you get the reason for the season right, the decor (yes, Santa is decor) doesn't matter. 

If you need help understanding that, ask the baby lying in the feeding trough.  

Monday, December 18, 2023

Jesus Claus

Every year, I post a reminder on my social media that really causes quite a bit of a firestorm. The reminder is this: 

Santa doesn't belong in church. 

Every year, I see churches hosting Santa parties, having one of their members (usually) dress up for the children. Putting him in the lobby to greet everyone as they come in. Interestingly, I have noticed that there are many churches who will post more photos of Santa in their building than they will post photos of their nativity scene, their children's Christmas program, their candlelight service. 

So every year, I post that Santa doesn't belong in church. And every year, I get razzed for being "anti-Santa." 

So let's be clear: 

I am not anti-Santa. I'm not. And I'm not suggesting that we have to be. But I am very much anti-Santa-in-church

I understand the challenges. When I was growing up, and I was not a Christian, I had one classmate who went to the type of church that did not allow him to celebrate holidays. He didn't participate in any of the stuff our classroom was doing for whatever season it was - Halloween, Christmas, whatever. I remember we had a great many conversations about that. 

And that is one of the reasons families give for wanting Santa to be part of their Christmas - even their Christian Christmas - experience: they don't want their kids to be weirdos. They don't want their kids to miss out on points of connection with the broader culture. They don't want their kids to have to sit out while everyone else is participating in something that is, admittedly, very magical for the world. 

Ah, Christmas. 

Not only do we not want that for our kids, but we don't want that for our churches. We don't want to be that stuffy, anti-world church that separates itself from all things human and gets known for having this kind of air of arrogance, like maybe we're better than everyone else because we don't do Christmas like them (or whatever battle it is that we're supposed to pick). 

I say Santa doesn't belong in church, and I get harped on for it. But I'm not anti-Santa. 

I'm anti-Santa-stealing-the-joy-of-Christmas

And that's the thing. Christmas is one of those things that exists because of the church. Without Christ, there is no Christmas at all. Unless Jesus came, there's no birth to celebrate. Without Immanuel, God with us, there is nothing drawing us together this time of year in particular. Nothing special, anyway. Christmas is a thing only because Jesus is a thing. 

How stunning it is, then, that we seem so willing to let the world creep in and take our thing from us. Our thing. How incredible that we let Santa just waltz into our buildings and steal the show. How weird that we, as bearers of Christ's name, would let there be anything but Christ at our Christmas. 

How strange that we would think we need anything else. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

Strung Together

All week, we have been talking about how the church is like a string of Christmas lights.

We are designed to bring light into darkness. We are only as bright as our weakest bulb. We are made breathtaking only by our red-tipped leader (Jesus). We get tangled from time to time. We must have the grace and patience to untangle ourselves to bear witness into the world. And there's one more thing I want to add: 

We were made to be connected together. 

This is true on two levels. First, it is true in terms of our individual churches. Within them, we were made for one another. We were made to be connected. There's no such thing as a single Christmas light; it's always connected to others. Christmas lights come as a string. By design. 

It's also true in terms of the network of churches across time and place. None of us were made to do this on our own. 

We get into this really bad habit of thinking of our personal churches as "the" church. As the one church. As the best church, maybe. We think that what we do has to be all-sufficient for all of our members, at least, and also for our community. We do our best to make ourselves one-stop shops for whatever someone might be looking for as relates to Jesus or grace or community or healing or whatever. 

As a result, a lot of churches are overextending themselves...and failing. They are trying to do too much or trying to do something that's not really in their unique DNA to do, and it isn't working for them. And it isn't working for anyone else. And then, they wonder why their church is struggling so much. 

It's not that the church is struggling; it's that it simply doesn't have enough light to reach all of the darkness. 

No one hangs up one string of Christmas lights and is satisfied. No, we string them together and plug them in end-to-end-to-end until we have covered every inch of the tree...and the fireplace...and the doorway...and the porch...and the sidewalk...and the eaves....and everything in lights. We plug them into each other because we know that the power flows from one to the next to the next to the next; we don't have to plug them all into an outlet. 

And yet, that's exactly what we're trying to do so often with the church. This church should be plugged into Jesus. And that church should be plugged into Jesus. And that other church over there should be plugged into Jesus. And we should all do our own thing, all plugged into Jesus. (And yes, of course, every church should be plugged into Jesus. I'm not trying to say that's a bad thing.) But we can't all be doing our individual thing all the time. We were designed to be plugged into each other. That's why there's a plug on both ends

It's so taboo, and I don't know why, when a member of one church attends an event at another church. Or partners with a ministry outside their own walls. Why? Why do we care so much? (We care so much because we have become invested in our own little thing and we worry about our financial security and our "numbers" - as if that's what is the most important measure of a church. Oh, by the way, it's not.) 

Jesus doesn't care. Jesus is glad when He sees us working together to meet the needs of those He's given us, even those who "belong" to one place or another or whatever. Jesus is glad when we plug ourselves in end-to-end and expand our reach and magnify our light. Jesus is glad when we work together. It's what we were created for. 

It's why the Cross is vertical and horizontal. We were created with plugs on both ends.

Yes, the church is like a string of Christmas lights. In oh, so many ways. 

I think Paul himself would approve of the metaphor. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Blob

When we talk about tangled Christmas lights, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room - sometimes, it almost feels worth it to give up on untangling them entirely and just plug them in and let them fall where they may. Sometimes, it seems almost worth it to just hang a blob of tangled lights on the door and call it a day. 

Hey, it's still light, right? It's still in the spirit of the season. 

Or not. 

There's no easy way out for the church. There's no lazy man's fellowship. There's no "this will do" or "this will be good enough" or "at least it's light" because when you hang a big blob of tangled lights on the door, all you really do is illuminate your mess. 

It's not breathtaking. It's not beautiful. It's not enticing. It's a mess, and everyone knows it. In fact, those passing by may chuckle a little bit, but in their heart, they feel sorry for you. 

There's a lot of folks feeling sorry for the church. 

This goes back to what we were talking about on Monday - that your light only shines bright if you work to make sure none of your bulbs go out. When you hang up a tangled mess, it says something. And what it says is, we're not really interested in working on ourselves. And what the world senses is what we might call the "hard sell" - we push Jesus at all costs, even if it's not particularly beautiful and we're not doing a very good job of faithfulness ourselves. It's the over-aggressive salesman who you know is just trying to seal the deal. He's so fast-talking, you know he's hiding something or else, he just doesn't care much at all, and the whole thing feels like a sham. 

In tangled lights, the church feels like a sham. 

A lot of churches are not willing to put the pause on their plans to work on their own fellowship, and this is to the detriment of the church as a whole - not just a single congregation, but to the witness of God everywhere. For some reason, we're afraid to stop doing the things we're doing that we think are our "mission" work or our "real" work and take the time to focus inwardly and fix our fellowship.

A great many churches have crumbled from the inside while they had their hands busy in the world. Even doing what we would have to admit were very good things. 

And I know that it feels like a losing battle. If, as we said yesterday, we're always going to be tangled, how do we balance working on ourselves and shining our light? How do we know when we're at the point where it's time to just hang the lights up...and how do we know when we'd only be illuminating our mess? 

We're not saying that the church has to be perfect before she can shine her light. That's not it at all. If we were waiting for that, then none of us would ever do anything. But there are ways that we can set ourselves up so that our process is just as clear as our light. So that our neighbors who are watching can see us hanging up our lights, stringing out. Forming an assembly line where a little bit more is untangled at a time until we stretch out all across our community. There's a way for us to live where the world can see us doing the work at the very same time that we are shining our lights. It's called transparency. Authenticity. A confessional community. And this should be the aim of all of us. 

There's no shame in tangled lights. It happens. But there is great shame in hanging out our tangled lights and trying to call them beautiful just because, perhaps, they do still light up. 

Jesus said the world will know us - and Him - by how we love one another. That is our first and primary function. Untangling our lights is priority number one. It is our greatest witness in the world, no matter what else we may ever do or how much else we may try to stamp Jesus's name on. First and foremost, we are to love one another. 

And that means we never just give up and settle for the blob. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


The church is like a string of Christmas lights - designed to burst forth into the darkness with joy, only as bright as its weakest bulb, made all the more dazzling by its red-tipped leader...

...and destined to become tangled. 

Man, what it is about Christmas lights? Every year, when I take them down, I take painstaking care to make sure to wind the string of lights properly, putting it carefully away so as not to frustrate myself the next year when I pull everything out of storage again. And yet, it never fails that when I go to get the Christmas lights, they are somehow tangled all around themselves all over again. Like something happened to them in storage in some inexplicable manner. 

Yes, every year, I am forced to untangle the Christmas lights that, to be absolutely honest with you, I never tangled in the first place. 

And the church is no different. 

None of us wants to have conflict in our church. None of us. There's not a member of God's family who determines that they don't want to have a good, healthy, positive relationship with God's people. And yet, conflict arises in every church. 

In some churches, it seems to come up over the silliest things - I know of churches that have had deep, divisive, cut-throat arguments over the color of the church carpet. In other churches, it's deeper than that. Churches are fighting over ministries. Over programs. Over the division of the church body into various cliques. Over poor leadership. Over points of doctrine. 

We're fighting for a couple of reasons. First, we're fighting because we're passionate about the church. Honestly, we are. I know it doesn't always seem that way, especially when we're talking about church carpet, but the truth is that almost everyone who is willing to fight in the church does so because they believe they are fighting for the church. They honestly have the best interests of their family at heart, in some measure or degree, even if they are misguided in how they are understanding things at the time. 

Second, we're fighting because we're human beings. We all have our own baggage, our own experiences, our own expectations. Any time you bring more than one person together, there are going to be disagreements; it's just how human nature works. (And some of us are really good at having disagreements all by ourselves.) A lot of times this is because we are all gifted and called slightly differently, so we have different emphases in our hearts and minds, and it can be tough sometimes to balance all of them in a community. I mean, of course the musician is going to have a strong opinion about musical worship and the teaching elder is going to have a strong opinion about the sermon and the head of the greeting ministry is going to have a strong opinion about hospitality. It's just how God created us. (Sort of. More later.) 

Third, we're fighting because none of us lives in a bubble. We are not with each other 24/7/365. We each go out and live our own lives in the world with our own encounters and our own problems and our own struggles. We all have our own families and our own dynamics and our own wounds and our own hang-ups. It's no stretch of the imagination to understand, then, that sometimes, we just set each other off without meaning to, without even knowing that's what we're doing. We touch on sore spots without even recognizing it, and it creates tension among us. 

We're tangled. 

We are tangled, and we're always going to be tangled. It doesn't matter how much care you treat the church with, how hard you try to make sure everything stays neat and orderly, how hard you work on your relationships - they are always going to be tested. We're always going to trip over each other. That's part of the nature of being woven together in the way that we are. 

It takes patience to keep untangling us time after time after time. It takes grace to not become hopelessly discouraged by ourselves. It takes remembering who we are and what we were created for - that we're lights made to shine - and a constant remembrance that this brokenness is just something we have to learn to deal with effectively for the sake of pursuing our purpose. We have to be untangled again and again and again if we hope to continue to shine bright in the darkness. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


The church is like a string of Christmas lights - created to bring joy and hope into the darkness. But as we said yesterday, if the church lets even one of her bulbs go out, she loses her light entirely. 

But there's something else about that string of lights that is equally true, something that we can't afford to ignore, and that is this: 

The church has within it that one special bulb, that one special piece, that makes the whole set twinkle. 

You know what I'm talking about - I'm talking about that special little red-tipped bulb you can put into the first receptacle in your string of lights, and all of a sudden, it isn't just a string of lights any more; it's a string of twinkling lights. It's a string of blinking lights. Not only a signal, a beacon in the night, but something that almost sort of dances to its own synchronization. 

Twinkling lights have an altogether different feel to them. The way they move, the way they dance, it keeps drawing attention to them. It keeps drawing an onlooker back in. 

Christmas decorations as we know them are breathtaking, but add a little twinkle into those lights, and it seems like something new every few seconds. Something newly amazing, newly wonderful, fresh and exciting every time those lights come back on. 

For the church, that little red-tipped bulb that puts the twinkle in our Jesus. 

It seems so silly to say that. It seems so silly to have to say that. But the truth is that the church, over the past few decades, in her attempt to be less "offensive" to the world (which she thinks will draw more folks into the church, but actually, it just convinces them the church has nothing particularly special to offer them) has so often pushed Jesus to the edges, if they even still include Him at all. 

Churches form groups and they go out and serve in their communities. Maybe they wear matching T-shirts with their church logo on them, but many are very careful these days not to mention Jesus. We're not out here trying to "shove God down anyone's throat." We don't want to lose our opportunity to serve because someone isn't a believer and is "offended" by Jesus. We don't want to be those people. 

So..we're pretty, but we're boring. We're exciting at first, but it grows stale pretty quick. We bring light to the world, perhaps, but that light always stays right where it's at. It doesn't quite dance. It 

It's so strange to me, we spend so much of our time trying to convince the world that we're not "that kind" of "Jesus people." We're "just" persons who love God and come together to do good things for our community. 

What, exactly, is wrong with being that kind of Jesus person? 

I'm serious. What is so wrong about being a little bit offensive? Especially in a world, we have to add, that is offended by literally everything

I'm telling you - Jesus is the thing that makes us not boring. He's the thing that makes us twinkle. He is the red-covered, blood-covered, blood-stained Savior that makes us dance in the dark. That makes it obvious that something newly amazing, newly wonderful, fresh and exciting is happening every time our light sparkles. Every act of love is something breathtaking. 

Without Jesus, we might be pretty. And that's nice. 

But put Jesus into that first spot, make Him the star of the show, and the church is captivating.  

Monday, December 11, 2023

Christmas Lights

'Tis the season, finally. I know I'm a week late for a traditional Advent sort of feel, but I'm this late on everything this Christmas season. So. 

If you've been visiting this space for even the past couple of weeks, you know that I've been thinking a lot about Christian community and about our one anothering, about how we are called to love one another and what that's supposed to mean and what that's supposed to look like. 

The New Testament gives us quite a few images for the church, and we've talked about some of those. The church, we know, is the "body of Christ" - made up of all of its many parts, each with its own function and dignity, woven together and interdependent. When one part of the body aches, the rest of the body feels it. 

We saw recently, too, that the body isn't the most common image of the church in the New Testament. That distinction belongs to the image of the family - the family of God. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles. Crazy cousins, all of us. We are bound together by blood, and blood is a bond that we can't break, no matter how far we travel or how hard we run. It is in our DNA, and that DNA is eternal. We are sons and daughters of God, and that makes us family to one another. 

As I've been trying to get into the Christmas season this year, to have some time to settle and slow down and embrace all that it is to know that the Lord Himself is coming to a manger, another image has struck me. Paul didn't write it; he couldn't have fathomed it in his day and time. But I think he would wholeheartedly approve of what I'm about to set forth. 

The church - the body of Christ, the family of God, the covenant community - is like a strand of Christmas lights. 

Together, we wrap the world in light and become a beacon for joy in a dark world. We dance with color and dazzle with sparkle and signal something very special that is happening, something sacred. 

But when one bulb goes out, so does the whole string. When our weakest brother falls, we collectively lose our light.

Sadly, too many of us do not understand this. Too many of us think that when we're sent to the "least of these," that means the beggars and the poor outside of our walls, and we spend the bulk of our ministry reaching out, rather than reaching across. 

It is the sad truth that we could reach out from where we are right now and touch someone in our sanctuary right next to us who needs our ministry, who needs our love, who needs us to be Jesus to them, and most of us aren't doing it. Our churches are full of those who are being neglected by the very family they worked so hard to find, that they try so hard to be part of. It's why they are leaving our churches. 

At least, they think, if I'm outside the church, I have a reasonable chance that the church might love me. 

After all, if you're taking your teens out to rake leaves in a local neighborhood, but not raking leaves for your own elderly members, what are your elderly members to think? If you're cooking a meal for the hungry in your community, but not delivering groceries to a single mother who has fallen on hard times, how is a young woman to think she's most likely to get fed by the church? Not by being inside of it. She knows she has to be outside of it. 

So we let our brothers and sisters suffer. We let them struggle. We let them hurt. We let them feel the sting of loneliness, a loneliness that is made all the worse by knowing they are surrounded by others. And then we try to reach out the world and convince them how great Jesus is. 

How can He be great if those inside the church are suffering and the church isn't doing everything they can to alleviate that? When the world looks at us and sees how the broken are treated among us, we either have light or we don't. And if we're letting the broken among us stay broken, abandoned, forgotten - even one of them - then our whole light has gone out. 

Yes, the church is like a string of Christmas lights. A beacon of joy, a signal of hope, a light in the darkness. But only when we are one. 

Let but one light go out among us - let us let but one light go out among us - and we all go dim.  

Friday, December 8, 2023

A Humble Spirit

We must live lives that are interruptable, open to the Spirit's leading. We must live with open hands, not hands-off. But above all else, the most important posture we can take toward life is to live it with a humble spirit. 

This may strike you as laughable coming from someone like me - and you wouldn't be the first to laugh. I have spent most of my life standing on that line where passionate meets arrogant, and most folks who meet me tend to lean toward the latter, at least initially. I have been told repeatedly over the course of many years what an arrogant individual I am. 

Until someone gets to actually talking with me and discovers that's not it. at. all. 

I am a passionate individual. I have a high sense of justice. I, like everyone else, am prone to believe that the world would be a better place if everyone else had the same sense of the world as I do. I see things, and then I can't un-see them without a great deal of effort, which I am sometimes more able or willing to put in than other times. I naturally assume, when I start speaking, that things are just as clear to everyone else as they are to me. I like to believe that if others could see what I see, could understand the data that I'm working from, they would of course come to the same conclusions that I have. (And honestly, most of my "conclusions" are less conclusion and more excited-talking-out-loud-while-processing.) 

The truth about me, at the core of my being, is that I am driven by this passion. And this passion is fueled by love. I honestly want what's best for everyone. I honestly have goodness in mind. Justice. Grace. Hope. Mercy. Love. 

On the other side of this, there's a double edge - and it's that anyone who doesn't think I'm arrogant thinks I'm extremely naive. It's because the way that I see the world, I don't feel any obligation to engage with all of it. I don't see myself as required to participate with "the way things work" or to even assume that's how it has to be. I believe in bigger things. In better things. Because it's the way I want to live my life, I'm able to choose to live that way even when it doesn't look like it works out. 

Then, the world looks at me and laughs. Naive little girl (who is almost 40, by the way). When will she ever learn? 

Oh, I've learned. I just don't buy it. There's a difference. When the world thinks it's walking all over me, it's actually that I have simply stepped out of the way. 

So on one hand, I am driven by my passion for better things, for God's vision of the world, and that makes me come off as arrogant sometimes and on the other hand, the very same passion paints me as naive for believing it's even possible. Thus, I spend most of my life misunderstood, mislabeled, and written off. 

But the truth of the matter, as anyone who has taken the time to talk with me has discovered, is that it all comes from a humble spirit. I am genuinely thinking not about myself, but about others. I am honestly engaged with what I believe are God's things, not my things. And I am brutally honest about saying that I don't know a lot of things, but I enjoy throwing a lot of ideas around. That all gets sucked up and lost in passion sometimes - okay, more often than I really like - but...I'm working on it. 

I'm working on it because that humble spirit is the most fundamental thing about our lives together. It takes a humble spirit to truly engage anything - an arrogant spirit dominates and a naive spirit detaches, but a humble spirit is free to engage. It takes a humble spirit to talk with someone, to open yourself to information that isn't naturally on your own radar, to see a different perspective, to defend your own, to shape your thinking, to guide your love. It takes a humble spirit to listen...and listening is something our world has gotten really bad at. Really bad. 

Most of us have forgotten, even, how to listen to God. And that's where it all starts. 

Actually, I think the things we've talked about for the past two days go a long way toward helping us to nurture a humble spirit - I think when we're interruptable and living with open hands, we can't help but be more humble than we would be living any other way. Learning to listen to God and live oriented toward Him helps us to learn to listen to others and live outwardly oriented. 

I'm working on this every day. Some days...go better than others. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Open Hands

I thought maybe I'd go back and pick up God's equality over His "fairness," but now that we've been interrupted, let's just keep going here. (I think I've made the point I want to make on that anyway.) And then, next week, we'll hit Christmas. Because friends, I have some visuals for you around Christmas that even Paul didn't think of. (Okay, he couldn't have. But we'll get there.) 

As I have thought more about this willingness to be interrupted, I think it's important to put even more emphasis on the difference between being interruptable and being "spontaneous." That is, on the difference between having a plan and being flexible...and having no plan and being flexible. 

That's really the heart of the matter, and while it seems straightforward and clear-cut to some, I think others really struggle with the difference here. I know that for a long time, I did. In fact, it might have been just yesterday that I finally felt like I got a firm grasp on the difference here.

So in order to maybe put a little more depth on this issue, I'm going to complicate it for you. My hope is that in providing another image for it, it might help to cement the idea in your head and your heart (and mine). 

Because as I thought about what it means to live interruptable vs. to live spontaneously, I thought also about what it means to live with open hands as opposed to living with hands off. 

This comes out of a Christian teaching that is quite popular, but it is often just sort of handed out as a given and never really explained, and I think a lot of folks get the wrong idea about it. We are told that we're supposed to have a loose grip on our lives, to not be so attached to our things or to our ideas or whatever that we wouldn't be able to give them to God. We are told that God wants us to not hold onto things too tightly, and we are given examples like the metaphor of the rich building planner to remind us how not to live. 

Remember this guy? He was rich and was storing up treasures for himself and was very proud of all that he accumulated, so he was building bigger barns for himself so that he could store even more things...and then the Bible warns that a guy like this dies tomorrow and takes none of it with him and may not even know where it goes when he leaves it behind. As Ecclesiastes likes to say, it is "chasing the wind." It is all but a vapor, a mist. 

Many of us have taken this teaching to mean that we should live our lives with hands off. Not holding on to anything. Ever. Being okay with things just coming and going and flitting by in front of us like butterflies that we can never catch. We have thought that this means that God just randomly drops good and bad things into and out of our lives at His will and we're supposed to just be comfortable with all of it, thanking Him for all of it, and never really engaging with or immersing ourselves in any of it. 

The psychological word here is "detachment," but even that is a misunderstanding. What we're really talking about when we talk like this is an "extreme detachment." Almost a "depersonalizing detachment" - where we aren't really even who we think we are because everything is so fleeting and even our creation, our self, is not concrete. 

This...isn't a healthy way to think about things, and it's certainly not a healthy way to live. 

I don't believe you can ever understand or appreciate the things God does in your life if you don't touch them. If you don't taste them. If you don't smell them. If you don't ever get a sense for how they really feel. You learn more about a piece of clothing by trying it on; how can you understand what it's like to be wrapped in God's grace if you don't ever let it wrap around you because you're afraid to touch it? 

We were never called to live a hands-off life; we were called to live an open-hands life. 

A life where we touch the goodness of God, feel it, know what it's like, embrace it, but aren't afraid to see this season pass. Where we understand that all things are God's and that He can ask for them back, or ask for us to pass them on, at any time, but for the season that He's given it to us? He wants us to have that. To have it fully. To enjoy it. To hold onto it. To cherish something and be thankful for it and to be filled with thankfulness by it, but to be willing to let it go, too. To realize it's given to us, but it's not ours. 

Someone once told me that everything in this world is God's, and we're all just passing it around. And friends, that is true. A hands-off life never gets that, but an open-hands life knows it with confident assurance. 

Have you been living your own life hands-off? Then I dare say, you haven't been living at all. 

Try a life with open hands. It changes everything.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2023


For the first many years of this blog, I would wake up every morning, eat breakfast, read my Bible, and write my blog. For the past few years, I have found it more practical (and less stressful) to write each blog a day ahead of time so that it doesn't have to be the first thing that I do in the morning, along with the twelve other first things that I need to do in the morning as a working individual. (Okay, the dog insisting on her morning walks has shaped that a little bit, too.) 

If I know that I'm working a few days in a row, I might even write a few blogs in a row so that my mornings are less hectic. It also helps me train some thoughts together and write some of the series that I've been posting as of late. 

And then, inevitably, something like Tuesday happens. 

See, yesterday was Tuesday. And I had a blog ready for Tuesday. I knew I was working Monday, which left no time for writing, so I wrote Monday and Tuesday's blogs on Saturday. (I know you completely care about all of this, but I'm getting there - I promise.) Knowing I had Tuesday off, I made no plans for Wednesday's blog. Today's blog. 

Then, Tuesday happened. 

Tuesday, my phone rang while the first number on the clock was still a 4. 4-something a.m. Still mostly asleep, I answered to discover that work needed me to come in for the day. There's something a little disorienting about that when you haven't planned on losing your Tuesday, especially when you know you use your Tuesday to prepare your sacred space (as much as a blog can be one) for Wednesday. 

I mean, can I tell my boss I'll be there later because I have a blog to write? 

Honestly, I didn't think about it at all, which surprised me. I said yes, went to work, had an amazing day, did a little bit of good in the world, made some good connections, logged nearly 7 miles on my step counter, and came home exhausted. It wasn't until I woke up this morning and realized I had no blog for today that I even remembered that I had no blog for today. 

So I say all that to say this - or maybe to ask this: 

Is your life interruptable? 

Can you deal with the things that pop up and throw you off your schedule? Can you handle the things you didn't plan for? Can you handle those things you didn't plan for hindering your ability to do the things you did plan for? 

For a long time, I'll admit it - I was not interruptable. Sometimes, I'm still not, but I'm working on it. I like plans. I like knowing what I'm going to do. I schedule the things that I want to do and know generally how the flow is going to go. It has sometimes been a struggle for me in my life when that flow is interrupted. 

It has sometimes been a struggle, but it has almost always been a blessing. I mean it. Some of the absolute greatest things God has ever done in my life, He has done through an interruption. Some of the times when I have made the most impact in the world have been when I was working an interruption. Some of my greatest blessings and most treasured memories were interruptions. 

And listen, I'm not talking about being "spontaneous," as trendy as that sounds and everything. I'm talking about feeling that little nudge in your Spirit that tells you to take a detour...and taking it. I'm talking about feeling that tug in your heart that pulls against what you think you have planned for yourself...and letting it pull you. I'm talking about being responsive to the opportunities in front of you. That's a far cry from spontaneity. It's interruption. 

Are you interruptable? 

What might you discover if you were? 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Amazing Grace

We're ruffling feathers by exploring the idea that God is equal, not fair. Yesterday, I left you with the question: what, exactly, is fair about the Cross? 

See, the math that God is doing is not as complicated as the math that we try to do. We have all of these categories, all of these "understandings" about human beings that shape the way that we think about things. Rich, poor, black, white, slave, free, smart, dumb, left, right, gay, straight, typical, divergent, old, young, and on and on and on we go, and then whatever we do in response to an individual basically starts where they're at - with whatever we've calculated their "score" to be - and then tries to get them to 100% by making up the difference. By filling however much empty space we find in their life with fullness. We call this fairness. 

God's idea is a little different.

In God's approach, we are all 0. All of us. We all have nothing that we bring to the table. There is none among us righteous, no, not one.

Let's stop right there because this really offends our sensibilities. Most of us believe that there are differing degrees of "good" in humans. We, ourselves, are "more good" than the "average" human being. We believe that going to church, believing in God, donating our time and money, reading our Bible, whatever gives us some kind of an edge with God. Whereas someone who smokes, drinks, curses, prostitutes themself, and maybe even dances, has a lower starting point with God. 

We believe that we, who have never murdered someone, definitely have a higher starting point than someone who has committed murder. And we're better than rapists, too. And child abusers. And addicts. And homosexuals. And...add whatever pet sin your church has picked into the blank here. We all have a list. We have a list of persons that we know we are better than, and we firmly believe that God sees this, too. That God sees that we are better than others. That we are one of the "good" persons on earth. 

But that's not the way that God sees it. That's not the way that God sees us. 

It hurts our hearts to say that, to say that God doesn't recognize our goodness. And it's not quite that. Rather, if we were to say that God sees that we are better than someone else in some measurable way, we would have to also say that God sees something more disappointing in someone else than He sees in us. 

And the Bible is quite clear - if you have broken one letter of the law, you've broken the whole thing. If you have committed one sin, you have committed the worst sin. Because sin is a breaking of the covenant with God, which is based on His perfect character and goodness. And there is no degree of difference in how much you break a covenant - either you keep it entirely or it's broken. Period. Ask anyone who is in a marriage covenant - either you are entirely faithful or you're not faithful at all. There is no "little" unfaithfulness. One step astray, and the entire covenant is broken. 

If you have coveted your neighbor's donkey, you are just as guilty as someone who has dishonored their mother or father. And both of you are just as guilty as someone who slept with someone they weren't married to. And all three of you are just as guilty as someone who lied. And all four of you are just as guilty as someone who took the Lord's name in vain. With God, your circumstances - your race, your age, your disability, your intellect, your finances, your sex, your traumatic past - don't matter. You come into this covenant with nothing. Zero. Zip. There are none who are righteous. Not even one. 

God, then, gives equally to everyone - 100%. God gives the fullness of His sacrifice to every single one. There is not one of us who needs less than 100% of what Jesus did for us. There is not one of us who does not need the entire shadow of the Cross to fall on us. Not one. And in that sense, then, God is equal, not fair. Because He gives to every single one of us exactly the same measure. 

He gives it all. 

And that, my friends, is what we call "amazing grace."  

Monday, December 4, 2023

Fair and Equal

You can ruffle a lot of feathers in today's world if you say something like, "God's justice is not fair; it's equal." Fairness and equality are concepts that are so much a part of our daily cultural conversation that it grates against our skin to hear something that sounds so...callous. 

I have spent the past few years working in the public schools, and one of my very good friends there who works with kids with higher needs likes to say that "Fair isn't always equal." And she's right - in our world, it's not. 

This concept is illustrated very well by a cartoon that likes to make its way around social media claiming the same thing. In the cartoon, a class of animals is all gathered at the skating rink while some authority figure says, "Everyone gets two skates. Sorry, but I can't do something special just for one student." Meanwhile, there's a very sad-looking octopus sitting in the middle of the panel. And the point here is - equal isn't fair. 

Of course, we can layer this with all kinds of social demographics, whatever really tickles our fancy. We could talk about race. Or disability. Or age. Or economic status. We could talk about sliding scale fees for housing, for child care, for health care. We could talk about programs that help the less fortunate and, this time of year, we could talk about donation containers. We could talk about natural intelligence and learning disabilities. We could talk about all of this stuff, and we do. Ad nauseum. You can't turn anywhere in this world without hearing about fairness and equality. 

And we spend a lot of our time doing the math. Oh, how we love the math. (Don't claim you don't like math - we all spend a lot of our time doing a lot of social math.) We look at every case as an individual case. We look at circumstances. We talk about our circumstances. We craft narratives where someone is more or less responsible for their actions because of the things they've had to deal with in their past. 

Someone who came from homelessness gets a little more encouragement because they have worked really hard to be where they are now. Someone still stuck in homelessness gets less because they haven't worked hard enough. Someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth gets no sympathy at all, while someone from a broken home gets as much sympathy as we can muster...and a little more. We have this social scale in our minds that tells us how much someone deserves, what we might owe them, how society ought to respond to them. 

The scale is different, ironically, based on our own story. The circumstances we came from shape how we interpret the circumstances around us. For example, if you have worked hard to get where you are, it might be easier for you to have less sympathy for someone you don't think is working hard enough. If you've never had trouble in your life, you might be more tempted to look down on someone who has had one hard season after another. If you've always had money, it's hard for you to understand poverty; if you've never had money, it's hard for you to understand wealth. 

We get into these conversations and we engage our world, and we struggle when we run into these "grading systems" of circumstances that are different than our own because we're so sure that we're right about who deserves what and from whom and in what measure, and we can't understand why someone else doesn't see it that way. 

So even the world's "fairness" isn't really fair - not to everyone. 

Still, we defend it because something inside of us seems to innately understand that fair isn't equal and that equal isn't fair. Not only is it not, but it can't be

Then, some hooligan like me comes along and says something like, "God isn't fair; He's equal." And we bristle. And we think, that can't be right. God can't be good if He's not fair. 

Can't He? 

We'll talk about this tomorrow, but for today, I'll leave you with this question: what, exactly, was "fair" about the Cross?

Friday, December 1, 2023

God's Justice

There's a lot of talk in our world today about justice, but I'm not convinced that the world knows what the word even means. A lot of times, if you look at what the world calls "justice," it's really talking about vengeance and retaliation. It's talking sometimes about the biblical idea of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," but this teaching was never used about justice

Justice is something entirely different. 

The historical American ideal about justice is that it is blind, and that's a little bit closer, but I think contemporary culture has gotten away even from this definition. We have realized that as much as we try, we cannot be blind to certain things, so we have just stopped trying. Today, we say that justice depends on the things that we see and must account for - like hatred, race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, circumstances. And we start to say that these things necessarily change the picture that we're looking at.

So we can take two stories with the exact same circumstances, put different characters in them, and determine that one man is more guilty than the other. We can take cases with nearly-identical facts but wildly-different defendants, and we can sentence one man to life in prison and give another one just ten years. And then we explain ourselves away, highlighting all of the things that make this one different from that one, but the heart of the matter is...this isn't justice. 

Justice isn't fair; it's equal. 

I know that is going to blow your mind. I know that in today's world, that is a nearly-impossible statement to swallow. But God's equal. 

In God's world, if you're guilty, you're guilty. Period. If you played a small part in it, you played a full part in it. If you were there when it all went down and you didn't stop it, you pay the price. Plain and simple. 

When Gideon died, one of his sons - Abimelech - decided that he wanted to be leader of the people. So he recruited a bunch of the men of Shechem to help him, and together, they murdered all of his brothers (except one who hid). Just went out and slaughtered roughly 70 guys, just so that no one else could try to be the leader. 

Then God comes down with His justice and destroys the entire city of Shechem. The whole thing. Burns it to the ground. He even uses Abimelech to do it by creating a war between Abimelech and a newcomer that forces Abimelech to turn on the men who helped him pull off his devilish plan. 

This is justice #1 - that those who help commit the sin are as fully guilty of the sin as the one who planned it. That those who didn't stop it are just as guilty as those who carried it out. 

It is also justice #2 - that when you align yourself with someone other than God, God will cause that person to turn on you and you will die by the very hand you thought would feed you.

Abimelech destroyed Shechem. The very people who helped him died by his hand. 

But then, God sends Abimelech into another town, where the people gather themselves into a strong tower, climb to the top, and drop a giant stone on his head, killing him. 

This is justice #3 - you don't get away with it. 

This is God's justice - everyone who is involved is guilty. They are equally guilty. They have all sinned. They all pay the same price. Leaders, followers, everyone. You don't get a pass because of who you are. You don't get a pass because someone else convinced you to do it. There are not some guilty folks who get to go on living their lives and other more guilty folks who have to die. Everyone's the same guilty, everyone dies. 

This is where we are. We're all guilty. We're all equally guilty. There are not some of us who are less guilty than others; there are not some of us who get a pass because of who we are. We can't claim to be scapegoated; we can't claim to be only mildly complicit. We are all sinners, and none of us is righteous. Not one. We try to convince ourselves that we're not as bad as the next guy, that we haven't done as terrible a thing as someone else, but that's not how God sees it. We're all the same guilty, and we all die. 

God's justice is equal. 

But thank God, so is His grace. 

That's why the Cross is so amazing. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

God's Reassurance

Most of us worry at some point in our lives that God is going to ask us to do some big thing that we're not prepared for, that we don't think we're equipped for. Maybe even that we're not all that interested in. And we're afraid that maybe God doesn't know us very well, or that maybe He'll be disappointed in us when He finds out we don't want to do what He's asked us to do. 

One of the things that I've discovered in my life is that God doesn't really ask us much for the big things. Not the kinds of big things that most of us are afraid He'll ask us for. He's not asking everyone to give up their comfort and move to a tribal village in a long-lost area of a never-mapped place. He's not asking everyone to sell what they have and give the money to the poor. He's not asking everyone to reach out a battered hand on a bloody arm and take one more smack in the face. We're afraid He's going to ask the "big" things, but most of us will live our lives having never been asked by God to do any of these things that keep us from praying too hard for His will to be done. 

(And actually, I think that the persons God does ask these big things from are somewhat prepared and equipped for, and therefore excited about, them. But that's another post for another day.) 

Rather, what I have found is that what God asks of us is something just slightly bigger than we think we can handle. That's it. Not some great, big, ginormous thing, but something just big enough to make us a little nervous. 

Something just big enough to require a little bit of faith. 

That's really all that God wants from any of us, isn't it? Faith? Trust. The act of believing in Him as more than just a mental exercise. The willingness to step out and follow, just a little detour in what we thought was our path. 

But the good thing about God is that He understands that even these smaller sorts of things sometimes feel like really big things, especially when we don't think we have enough faith to step out even that far. 

That's another thing I love about the story of Gideon. 

God calls Gideon to lead the people against the Midianites. Gideon, who has already done some radical things for God in his life, is a little nervous. That's understandable. But he keeps the conversation going. And as they talk, God says, hey, if you're scared, go down into the Midianite camp tonight and listen to what they're saying about you and this army of ours. 

So Gideon owns his fear, sneaks into the camp, and hears how absolutely terrified the Midianites are of God's army - the same army God is asking Gideon to lead. In fact, the Midianites already know they've lost; they just aren't allowed to turn around and give up. Their commander won't let them. 

That's all it takes to reassure Gideon that, just as God promised, He's got this. God's got him, and God's got this. So he goes back to his army, rallies the troops, presses onward, and defeats Midian with a confidence that he didn't have twelve hours ago. All because God knew that he needed an extra little boost. 

God's going to ask you to do some things. He's going to ask you to do some things that are just a little bit bigger than the faith you think you have right now. That's how our faith grows. 

But He understands that it's really not that easy. And that's why our God is a God of reassurances. If you need that extra little boost of confidence, He's got that for you. He'll give it to you. You just have to accept His invitation and go where you can see and hear for yourself - they're already talking about you. And they're terrified that you're going to take that step of faith. 

So go, listen, then come back and take it. God's got you, and God's got this. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

God Sits

If you know me, you know that one of my all-time favorite Bible stories is the story of Gideon. How can you not love a story where God comes to find a man who is hiding from his enemies, only to greet him with a hearty, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!"? 

There's really a lot to love in this story. 

And one of the things that struck me more recently about this story is the way in which God comes to Gideon. Yes, I have always focused on the "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" greeting, maybe because that seems the most cinematic. I don't know. But when you take the time to read through the story slowly, carefully, you discover - that's not the way that God comes in. 

God comes in...and sits down. 

That's what the story says - the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon while he's threshing grain in the winepress and sits down under the oak tree. That's it. He just comes and sits. Only after a short while does He speak. 

The same sort of thing is true when we look at the ministry of Jesus. We could call His ministry largely a ministry of "presence" - He's just there. He's in your house, eating at your table, walking in your streets. When He goes to the woman at the well, He sits down nearby before He starts talking to her. He sits in the boat with the disciples. He sits on the boat when He's teaching the crowds. 

Our God is simply a God who sits with us. 

When we really read the stories, this is hard to miss, but when we let our imaginations run away with us, it's easy to forget. We are a busy people, and we read stories with an eye for the busy. We read for the action. We play scenes in our mind and pay attention to what's happening, what everyone is doing, and we fast-forward past all the times when it doesn't seem like they're doing anything. 

But sitting is something. Sitting is doing something. Sitting and being is a hallmark of our God, and if we can't convince ourselves that when God sits, He is working, then we're missing something essential about who He is. He really is God with us

He delights to be in our presence. He rejoices when we are in His. He's comfortable with the quiet things. He doesn't have to come bursting onto the scene, making a grand entrance. Remember earlier in the book of Genesis when the angels of the Lord come and just hang out in the town square and maybe knock on a door or two? That's our God. 

That's the way that God comes in. 

And this has me thinking about my life, about my seasons of deep prayer, about my hope and confident assurance in a God who promises to be near. I wonder often as I've been waiting for Him to make some kind of grand entrance, He's actually already been here for awhile.

Just sitting.