Friday, June 30, 2023

The Gods

You might, by this point, be wanting to raise an objection to some of the conversation that we've had this week. That objection would be: the people of Jericho weren't the people of the Lord. (We could say they weren't "Christians," but neither was Israel at that point, so let's just be honest about where we are.) So all this stuff about them believing for forty's a little weird, isn't it?

Remember that the touchpoint for this whole conversation was the fact that God acted on behalf of His people and the whole world heard about it. The non-God people heard about it. The non-God people not only heard about it, but they believed it. 

Then, we get to "they believed it for forty years." 

That's the point that I don't want to get lost in the rest of this discussion. I want us to remember that when God acts on behalf of His people, the whole world - even the world that doesn't believe in Him - hears about it, and they tremble. Point blank. That's it. Don't forget that. 

But I think it's also worth talking about the way that Jericho believed because this is really important for us in a culture that doesn't believe much in our God. 

The people of Jericho, just like all of the peoples we encounter in Scripture, were not godless, even though they were God-less. They had their gods. They had all kinds of gods. All of the non-God peoples in the Bible had all kinds of gods that they worshiped. The Bible tells us about some of them, especially in the places where Israel got sucked into worshiping them, too. 

That means that believing in one more god (in this case, God) wasn't really a foreign idea to them. It didn't strike them as odd. It wasn't a betrayal of who they were or the other gods they worshiped. It just...was. The Lord was the God of Israel the way that their gods were the gods of them, and it wasn't a stretch for them to believe that their God was acting on their behalf and to become worried about Him. 

It's the same way that Paul stood in the Areopagus and talked to the people of the Roman Empire about their "unknown god." He wasn't introducing an entirely new idea to them; he was just adding to the knowledge of gods that they already had. 

This is important because everyone has a god. A lot of persons have a lot of gods. We are created to worship, and worship, we will, even if what we're worshiping is not the Lord. And as much as the culture around us wants to be antagonistic to our God and pretend that they are godless, they aren't. Our world has their gods just like everyone else across all time has had their gods. 

They may not make graven images, but they don't have to; most of our world carries their gods around in their pockets. They may not put them on the mantle and proudly display them, but again, they don't have to; in fact, it's hard to engage with your god if he's on the mantle. They may not go to worship services, but they worship all the time. There may be no formal religious ritual around it, but it doesn't take much looking to see that, actually, that's there, too. Our culture worships all kinds of things; even the most devout "atheist" among us has his gods. 

This is both good news and bad news. It's bad news because it reminds us that we are strangers in a foreign land. But it's good news because it means that the concept of our God isn't as foreign to the world as the world claims it is. They have a structural, foundational knowledge for believing in our God. They have a framework for what it means to be a worshiper, even if they can't really articulate that. They have the capacity to believe when they hear rumors. 

And that's very good news. 

Because they will hear rumors. 

As we said at the very beginning of all of this, when God acts on behalf of His people, the world just can't help but hear about it.  

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Old Testament Faith

We've been talking about the people of Jericho and how they believed for forty years that God was going to lead His people into their land, and then we talked about the people of Israel, who believed not once, but twice, for four hundred years each time that God was going to fulfill His promise to them. And then, we fast forward to today, and we have a whole bunch of pseudo-preachers out there claiming that the Old Testament has nothing to teach us about our faith any more. 

Let me be clear: the faith demonstrated in the Old Testament, by the people of God and by those around them, puts my faith to shame. 


I don't know how you keep believing for forty years when absolutely all of the evidence points to the contrary. Did you know it's likely that the people of Jericho saw the people of Israel approaching? Maybe even more than once. Only to watch them turn around and go back into the desert to wander some more. 

Even if you still believe that God is going to bring them into your land at some point, this back and forth is enough to break anyone's confidence. Here they, never, they're, never mind; they turned around again...but here they come.... 

None of us can live like that. We might try for awhile, but that tug of war in our hearts and souls is intolerable in the long run. We simply can't persist in it for very long at all or it becomes absolutely agonizing. 

But here we are with a people of Jericho who apparently never stopped living in that agony. They still believed, forty years later, after who knows how many close calls, that it was happening. Man, that's faith. 

Or think about Israel.

They had to hold that promise of a Messiah across a ton of generations. Dozens of generations. We were well at the point, by the time Jesus was born, that anyone who was around to witness it had only probably eighth-hand knowledge, at best, of the last prophet who ever spoke of it. This generation didn't know Isaiah. They didn't know Jeremiah. They didn't know Ezekiel. These were stories that their parents told them because their parents told them and their parents told them.

Sometimes, the stories your grandparents or great-grandparents tell you are cool. But sometimes, over time, when you don't see any evidence of them whatsoever, it's easy to think that grandma's starting to get dementia. That grandpa doesn't know what he's talking about. That these old folks are, decidedly, off their rockers. 

But Israel didn't think their ancestors were crazy. They didn't think their old age must be making them delirious. No. Generation upon generation upon generation of Israelites clang to the promise of God, believed it wholeheartedly, and shared it so convincingly with their children that when a baby was born in Bethlehem, a whole generation who had never heard a prophet speak it started to whisper, Could this be Him

That's faith. 

Does the Old Testament have anything to teach us? I think it does. It teaches me something every time I read it again. It teaches me, among other things, that my faith is not as strong as sometimes I think it is. 

Because I'm just not sure that I could keep believing for forty years. Let alone four hundred.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Four Hundred Years

Jericho still believed in the power and purpose of God forty years after they first heard He parted the Red Sea for His people. That's tough. 

What's even tougher? Israel still believed in their God after four hundred years. 

And not just once. 

When I say "four hundred years," you might first start thinking about their captivity in Egypt, which would be a good place to start. But there were also somewhere around 400 years between the end of our Old Testament and the start of our New Testament. 

Four hundred years between the last authoritative word of the prophets and the birth of the promised Messiah. Then, Jesus shows up, and everyone is like, Could this be Him?

Let me be honest with you: there are times when God has answered my prayer, answered His promise in my life, within a matter of weeks, sometimes even days, and here I am, wondering if that's Him or not. Questioning whether that's the answer. Unsure about whether this is really the holy thing I've been waiting on or not. 

Convinced, if we're being confessional here, that it's probably not. 

I just have a hard time believing God for a long time. The longer I have to believe, the less it seems that I do. The more I have to trust that that thing He talked about is still happening, the easier it is to convince myself that it's not. Oh, I still believe it might be, but not in my lifetime. I start to conceptualize in my head all of the contorted ways that He might still fulfill that promise through me, even if I don't actually see it in my own life. 

I think a lot of us do these kinds of mental gymnastics. Heart gymnastics. It's hard for us to hold on to hope for very long at all. It's hard for us to keep believing that God is still working when we can't see that happening right in front of our faces. 

We know in our hearts that it's a journey that ought to take less than two weeks. We know that. So when that third week comes, we start to reconsider things. Certainly, by the end of the first year. Definitely by the end of the second. 

We can't fathom what four hundred years even feels like. To put that in perspective, four hundred years ago, America didn't exist as a nation. Not even as a colony. We were right on the edge of Jamestown, if my memory of history serves me right. There was no internet, no cell phones, no television. No radio. How about this one? The King James Bible was just starting to be printed. And not for everyone. 

Think about that. Think about how much the world has changed in the past 400 years. Then, think about how God's people were so convinced about what God was doing that despite four hundred years of change, they still looked at a little baby in Bethlehem, at a carpenter's son on the streets of Galilee, and whispered among themselves, Could this be Him

I'm telling you - I want that kind of faith.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Forty Years

As I was writing yesterday about the rumors in Jericho about the God of Israel, how they all knew what He did for His people at the Red Sea, something struck me that is definitely worth thinking about: 

God parted the Red Sea, and Israel walked through. They were on their way to the Promised Land (read: to Jericho) when they got sidetracked by their disobedience and set to wander for 40 years in the wilderness. 

Now, I don't think someone waited 40 years to tell Jericho. I don't think that's the kind of message that you sit on. Most of what I've read says that the journey from the Red Sea to the Jordan should have taken just less than two weeks, if Israel had made it straight through, and that tells me that someone took off running from the Red Sea to warn the peoples of Canaan. They would have had to travel faster than the nation of Israel to get there in time, and they might even have had horses or camels to help them get there. But the point is - you want to get there well before the people of God get there so that the inhabitants of the land have time to plan. 

I think, then, that it is most plausible that the people of Jericho heard about what God did approximately a week after it happened. Maybe less. 

And then...nothing. 

The people of God for whom He just parted the Red Sea are nowhere in sight. They aren't coming. They aren't knocking on the door. No one sees them on the other side of the Jordan. There's just horizon. Just empty horizon. 

So you'd have to think that whatever the people of Jericho were thinking when they heard the news had to start to fade when Israel was nowhere to be found. When another week passed with nothing, then another, then another, that talk you hear so much about in Israel's account of the wilderness starts to sound a little true - maybe God brought them out there to kill them all. Maybe they're all dead. 

After all, they should be here by now. 

I would think that after awhile, whatever fear you've had of the Lord would start to fade some. Especially after the first year. Definitely after the second. By forty years, you'd think that whatever the people of Jericho thought and felt when they first heard about the Red Sea would have dissipated, at least a little bit. How scared can you be of a God who can't get His people across a two-week journey in a span of forty years

But the people of Jericho say that's not at all what happened. When the spies from Israel show up, what they hear is, "We heard, and we're afraid." 

Not "We heard, and we were afraid for awhile, but you're nothing now." No, "We heard, and we're afraid." Everyone is afraid. The people of Jericho have not stopped believing that the God who parted the Red Sea is the same God who is bringing His people into their land. 

Even if the people of God themselves seem to have stopped believing it. 

Isn't that amazing?  

Monday, June 26, 2023

God is Known

Something strange happens when Israel enters the Promised Land and comes to Jericho, but it's something that we often miss because in our culture, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. 

When Israel sends spies to this land to which they have never been (or, at least, not in more than 400 years, since they have been slaves in Egypt for that long), they hear some interesting talking circulating among the locals. And Rahab confirms it for them: 

We've heard about your God and the things He has done, and everyone here is terrified because they know what's coming next.

Read that again - the people of Jericho, on the other side of the Jordan River, on the other side of the Red Sea, have heard about the God of the Israelites from Egypt. Not only have they heard about Him, but they've heard the things He's done - like part the Red Sea and drown the powerful Egyptian army in it. 

We read something like that, and we think...of course they've heard. Something like that doesn't happen every day, so it's big news when it does. Everyone had probably heard. 

But remember - this is before Google. This is before the Internet. It's before television and radio and even the telegraph. It's before there was a reliable mail service. The people of Jericho were not just one click away from hearing about this; they heard about it from messengers who traveled while Israel was wandering in the desert for forty years. 

Someone came into Jericho with this story. Then, I'm guessing, someone else came with the same story. I'm sure it probably took several individuals coming with the same story for Jericho to finally understand that this is actually what happened, but the point is - they got the point. Everyone in Jericho knew, but not only did they know, they believed it. 

They believed it so much that it terrified them for their own safety. 

Even the Jordan doesn't look like much protection when you hear that the Lord parted the Red Sea for these people. 

That's the thing I think we don't understand any more in a world of breaking news - where everything that happens goes global in an instant, and it all competes for our attention, and even the small things get blown up into the big things. I think we don't understand what it means when God acts and the whole world knows it

But that's exactly what happens. 

They can close their eyes. They can cover their ears. They can demand more witnesses. They can seek "scientific" explanations. They can attempt to demystify the mysterious. They can rationalize it away. But at the end of the day, they've heard what they've heard - God Himself has intervened on behalf of His people. 

It's why you can talk to almost anyone on this planet (save for the completely unreached tribal folks tucked away in their native lands), and they have at least heard about Jesus. God acted, and the whole world heard. 

That's our God.  

Friday, June 23, 2023

God's Real Plan

We have this idea that God has "a" plan for our lives, and in our limited human understanding, we have taken that to mean that there is really only one perfect path for us through this world and that we must make exactly the right decision at every turn and about everything, including who to marry, when to have children, what to name them, what to do for work, what kind of car to drive, what neighborhood to buy a house in, which church to attend, and so on, ad infinitum. 

The problem with this understanding, as we saw yesterday, is that we spend our lives paranoid that we might make a slightly wrong choice at any point in our relatively few years and thus, entirely miss out and ruin everything that God wanted to do with our life. 

The bigger problem with this understanding is that it's not at all what God Himself says.

The reason we think this way about our lives is because these are the things that our culture puts value on; these are the narratives that run through our communities. When you're trying to familiarize yourself with someone else, these are the things you ask about - what do you do? who are you connected to? what do you drive? where do you live? But these are not the real things about us. 

I've never heard anyone stand up at a funeral and talk about these things. No, we always talk about what kind of person someone was - what was their heart, their personality, their smile, their fun, their engagement. At our hearts, we know that these things are not our story. 

But we're so convinced, still, because of culture's powerful narrative around them, that they are God's story for us. They aren't. 

God's plan for us is about goodness. It's about grace. It's mercy. It's forgiveness. It's an increasing in righteousness from living by faith. It's confident assurance in our hearts. It's hope. It's joy. It' 

God says these are the things He plans for us. These are the things He desires for us. These are the things He's working all things together for good to give us in our lives. 

There's not one place in the Scriptures that says that when the day of His coming arrives and we finally understand all that we were created to be, we will discover our true career path. There's nothing that says that when that day comes, He will reveal to us who we were really supposed to marry. 

No, it says that when that day comes, we will know our heart as it was created to be. We will know the fullness of the divine image that dwells within us. We will be connected to the very root of who we are, and we will feel the full breath of the Spirit in our dust. 

Paul was a tentmaker. Do we really believe that what God most wanted for Paul in his life was for him to be a tentmaker? Of course not. Jesus was a carpenter. Is that what God wanted us to know most about His Son? No. The Bible reminds us frequently that David was a shepherd boy...and then it reminds us just as frequently that his being a shepherd boy was not the culmination of God's plan for his life. 

Instead, what we see is faithfulness. It's goodness. It's grace. It's mercy. It's love. It's hope. It's joy. It's generosity. It's a thousand things that are the very vibrant, amazing, loving heart of God that beats inside our own hearts. 

That is God's plan for our lives. 

And if we keep our eyes focused on that, I don't think we need to worry about making the "wrong" choice when we come to the next crossroads. Maybe, just maybe, there isn't a wrong choice. Maybe it doesn't matter whether you go left or you go right. In fact, I would say that overwhelmingly, it doesn't matter. 

What matters is that whatever step you take next, you take in faith as you move with God. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

God's Plan

There's a dangerous statement that likes to go around in Christian circles, and it goes something like this: 

"God has a plan for your life." 

You might be wondering what I mean by dangerous, or perhaps you're thinking that I'm being a bit cheeky and that I don't mean "dangerous" in the way that you might commonly read it. But I absolutely do. 

See, we have been preaching for a long time that God has a plan for your life, but we don't really talk about what that really means. So we have an entire generation (actually, several, I think) of Christians who are out there trying to find the plan that God has for them.

They agonize over every decision. They waver back and forth. They have trouble committing one way or another. They cannot choose which way to go. They are almost paralyzed by the idea that God has a plan for their life because, they think, they can't afford to miss it. 

They can't afford to make a wrong choice. They feel like if they go left when they should have gone right, they'll miss out on everything. They will turn away from the plan that God has for them. 

So every time they have to choose what to do, which way to go, which path to take, they just stand there. For a long time. Maybe forever. Because at least standing here, with opportunity open in front of them, there's always the option that one of these will be God's plan. Choose wrongly, and you've lost it forever. 

But standing here at the crossroads, my friends, is not God's plan for you, either. As enticing as it feels to keep all of your options open, that's not what God designed for your life. He brought you to this fork in the road for you to take one. 

Does it really matter so much which one? 

This is why this teaching is dangerous. 

Obviously, in some situations, there is clearly a right road and a wrong one. Should you get a minimum wage job that won't be quite enough but will be honest work or should you take that cartel up on their offer to sell drugs for them? That's not the kind of decision we're talking about. 

We're talking about decisions where the options are, for all intents and purposes, equally good things. Where there is no clear right or wrong. Where either one could work out for very good ends. Where you could do very good things in either direction. 

We stand here, and we agonize over which one is God's plan for us, which one is God's will. We pray, we beg, we yearn for a sign, any kind of sign, about which way we should go. Which direction should we take? Which one does God want?  We lie awake at night wondering how much we're going to throw our lives totally to trash if we pick wrong

What if there's not a wrong choice? What if there's not a right one? What if they really are both equally good things, either one of which God is going to bless and use you as a blessing through? What if what God really cares about is what you want?

What if God's plan for your life has nothing at all to do with this decision? Have you thought about that? 

We hear this sentence, that God has a plan for our lives, and we hear that God has a plan for our lives. One. A single exact course that He has plotted out through eternity for us to walk, and at any point, we might turn off of it without even realizing it, and then what? But what if God's plan isn't about the path? What if it doesn't matter so much to God if you're a mechanic or a mortgage broker? What if it doesn't matter so much to God if you're married or single? If you live in America or Angola? If you eat tacos on Tuesday or squid? 

What if the kinds of choices we're agonizing over aren't the choices that really make up God's plan for us? 

Wouldn't that set us free? 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023


There's a bit of trouble with today, with knowing that today is the only day you ever truly have on this side of eternity, and that is the danger of trying to live with too much hope. 

Too much hope seems like not a problem at all on the surface. After all, our God is the Creator of the heavens and earth, and His promises to us are good. How could believing in those promises and holding onto them be too much hope? 

Simply put, when it becomes intolerable for us to live that way. 

Here's what I mean: 

When you understand that time is a construct of man and not of God and that literally any moment could be the one in which He answers your prayer, it can be tempting to start living as though every next moment is going to be the one in which He answers your prayer. It can be tempting to keep putting things off because hey, give me one more breath and it will all be easier. It will be the way I've been praying for it to be. 

It can become paralyzing, but because we couch it in such Christian-sounding language, we miss how paralyzing it actually is. 

It looks good on the outside - believing in God for the next breath. It becomes praying to God with every breath, because you believe so much that the next one is the one that changes things. Waiting with confident assurance, knowing that God can do it, believing that He is going to do it. All of a sudden, you become a person who is "living by faith." aren't actually living. You're stuck doing nothing at all but waiting, and not even faithful waiting. Because you're not actively engaged in the life that you have. You're wasting one breath at a time in anticipation of the next one, and this is kind of exactly what the Bible warns about when it talks about making big plans for what you're going to do tomorrow when you don't even know if you'll be here tomorrow. 

Same thing. You spend your whole life making plans for what happens when that one moment comes, when God finally answers your prayer, and you live moment-by-moment planning only for the next one and never actually living the one that you have. 

Yesterday, we talked about giving up on today too early and starting to pray for tomorrow; the type of living we're talking about today lives so much in tomorrow that it completely misses today. 

It seems to be our perpetual problem, no matter which direction we come at it from. 

So, then, our challenge is to live today, knowing it is all that we have, while also believing we are just one breath away from the kind of life we hoped to have. Because we are always no more than a half-blink away from a moment when God could answer our prayer and change everything. 

As much as we should believe in that, hope in that, trust in that, and wait for that, we can't wait idly; we have to live the moment we have, lest we lose it, too. 

How much of your life have you lost waiting on it to get better?  

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Let me ask you a question: at what point in the day are you willing to say that today is not the day that God will answer your prayer? 

Say that you've been praying earnestly for something for awhile. Something that's important to you. Something that would change your life and you know it. Say that you've been falling asleep praying for this thing every night, praying so hard and so raw that you don't even remember falling asleep. 

Now, you wake up the next morning and nothing has changed. 

At what point do you start praying for tomorrow? 

I was thinking about this the other morning as I was walking my dog. Morning. Before the sun was even all the way up, actually. (We walk early.) Without even really thinking about it at all, I realized that I was already thinking that today was going to be a good day, but it wasn't going to be the day. I was already resolving myself to enjoy a good day for all that it had to offer, while also already starting to pray in my heart for tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be the day. 

Then, I laughed at myself. I just couldn't help it. 

We're so silly this way. We have it in our heads that time, the life, somehow automatically resets every time we open our eyes. We close them, and everything puts itself back in order, and we open them, and whatever we see is what we're going to get. We forget, it seems, that life goes on even while we're sleeping and that time doesn't actually start over every morning. 

More importantly, we forget that time is nothing at all to God. Nothing. The Bible tells us that a thousand years are like the blink of an eye to Him, and the blink of an eye like a thousand years. That means that the entire course of your story could any moment. 

Any moment could be your new morning, no matter what the clock says. Any moment could be the moment that God sets you free. Your next breath, at any moment, could be the first breath you take after God answers your prayer. 

I just think sometimes, we're too quick to say that today is not the day when, honestly, today has barely started. And even if it's almost over, it's not yet - not until it's tomorrow and then, guess what? Tomorrow becomes today. 

And that means, my friends, that today is the day. Today is your day. Today is God's day. Because it's the only day you're ever going to truly have. 

Don't be so quick to write it off.  

Monday, June 19, 2023

God's Promise

When we talk about the promises of God, most of us talk in big terms - grand sorts of things that are happening on a cosmic scale, rooted in the character and the heart of God. We talk about His love, grace, mercy. We talk about Heaven and eternal life. We talk about the resurrection of the dead and a peace that passes understanding. 

And these things are good. Don't get me wrong. 

But when we talk about the grand scheme of things, all the big, cosmic stuff that God is doing and has promised to do, we're missing something. 

What we're missing is the intimate nature of God's promise. 

If you read through the early chapters of the Old Testament, you can see that God made a lot of promises to persons whose names we know well - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel). What's interesting about these promises is that God keeps making them. He makes them all over again with each new generation, with each new man. Even with Joshua, when he takes over for Moses. 

God has already promised these things to the men who came before, but God doesn't expect you to live in the promise He made to someone else. He wants you to live in the promise He made for you. 

That's why, a generation after God promises Abraham that he will have descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore, He promises Isaac the same thing. A generation after that, He promises Jacob the same thing. 

He never says, "I'm going to fulfill through you the promise I made to your father." No, that's not how our God works. He always says, "Here's the promise I'm making to you." 

God has already promised, through Moses, to bring His people into the Promised Land. But then Moses dies and Joshua takes over, and God promises Joshua two things - that He will bring Israel into the Promised Land and that He will be with Joshua as He was with Moses. 

This means that the work that you take up for God, the relationship that you have with Him, is not anyone else's. You're not spending your life laboring away for God's goodness outside of a promise He's made with you. You aren't working for someone else. You're working for God, the God who comes and makes a new promise with you because you are sacred and holy and unique and lovely and promise-worthy in your own right. 

It means that when we talk about the grand, cosmic-scale things that God is doing, we have to remember that they aren't separate from us. They aren't these massive things that are disconnected from our actual existence. God isn't just making the world right; He is making us right. God isn't just preparing for eternity; He's preparing for our eternity. Yours. Mine. Individually. 

When God promises love, peace, mercy, grace, hope, resurrection, eternal life...these aren't just big words; they are intimate words. They are words He is speaking not into the universe, but into your very heart. They are for you, dear one. God is making His promise all over again with you

I love that.  

Friday, June 16, 2023

God Who Teaches

One day, you will meet Jesus face-to-face. That much is promised. And we are given these images that when that day comes, we will fall at His feet, probably clutching them. Crying for mercy. Confessing our sins. Begging and pleading with Him for forgiveness (which, by the way, He's already given us, so He will find this likely very strange). Pleading with Him for Heaven. 

We will be hopelessly crumpled at His feet, unable to stand. Unable to speak. Unable to do anything but to...grovel and weep and hope and beg and hang on with whatever feeble strength we might have left in that moment. 

Sound familiar? Do you have this sort of image in your head of the day that you will bow at His feet?

What if this is not what it will be like at all?

There's a very clear image in the Bible of what happens when we fall at the feet of Jesus, and it's not groveling. It's not begging. It's not weeping. 

It's learning. 

When we find ourselves at the feet of God, He teaches us. 

This is how teaching used to work in the ancient world. A student would come and sit at the feet of a teacher and soak up everything that the teacher had to say, every bit of wisdom that the teacher had to impart. A person knew, when someone came to sit at their feet, that they were someone seeking. Seeking wisdom, seeking knowledge, seeking perspective, seeking hope, seeking whatever. 

There was a burden on the teacher, then, to provide for the student. To answer the student's question that was asked simply by the sitting, simply by being there at the teacher's foot. It required humility, the willingness to take the time to engage the student. It required interpersonal commitment, a willingness to connect with the one who has come to seek. It required that the teacher be willing to teach, to take this seeker under his wing and journey together for awhile. 

This is the reaction God has to us when He finds us at His feet. See, He doesn't see us there to beg. He doesn't see us there to grovel. He doesn't like the idea that we think we'll fling ourselves at His mercy by throwing ourselves at His feet and refusing to let go. 

No, He sees us as seekers. He sees us as persons with questions. He sees us as students who recognize what this teacher has to offer us. He sees us as wanting to learn, wanting to grow, wanting to hope, wanting to understand. 

And He welcomes us at His feet like any good teacher would welcome any earnest student. 

This changes the image that I have of what that final day will look like. We hear so much about weeping and gnashing of teeth and begging for friends, Heaven is secured for me. That was done 2,000 years ago, and no amount of my begging or groveling is going to matter. How silly we are. 

But when I see this image, this promise of God that when we are at His feet, He teaches us, it changes how I see that day. No longer am I a beggar, but a student. No longer a pleader, but a learner. In that day, it won't be me trying to convince God of anything; it will be Him teaching me all of the things I always wanted to know, answering my deep questions, being patient with me, and starting a new phase of the journey together. 

This image, this changes everything.  

Thursday, June 15, 2023

God of Forever

You've probably heard the promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." It's a well-known, oft-quoted verse that reminds us that God is with us always. 

But it's not the only time God made this promise. 

God has been promising His people this from the very beginning. Even all the way back in Deuteronomy 31, as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land, part of the goodness that God was giving them was to tell them He will never leave them. He will be with them every step in Canaan just as He has been in the wilderness. 

And this promise on the edge of the Promise contains something more, as well: He tells them not only will He never leave them, but He will never forget them. 

How big is that?

Let me tell you - I am getting to be of an age where I forget things all the time. Things that are right in front of me. I forget why I walked into the other room. I forget where I put my keys. I forget where I put the drink that I just poured or the fork that I just got out of the drawer. I get in the car, and I forget where I'm going. 

It's one thing to say, "I will never leave you," because it means that God will always be with us wherever we go. But it's something even more to say, "I will never forget you." Because we all know how easy it is to forget even the things that are right here with us. 

God won't forget. He won't forget, when He's here, that He's here because He's with you. He won't forget where we're going together. He won't forget why. He won't forget grace along the way and mercy for all the times we mess up. He won't forget love. 

There's an easy one, isn't it? We are with each other so much that we forget to love one another. Think about an old married couple, where familiarity is the thing. They've been together so long, they can finish one another's sentences and know what the other person is going to do with almost 99% accuracy. They know what each other is going to want for dinner tonight, what time they'll want the television on a certain channel, which clothes to lay out for the day. They know everything about one another, and it can become so easy to live together that they forget to intentionally love one another. 

Not God. 

God is never going to become so comfortable being with you, so familiar with being with you, that He forgets to love you. Never. 

This just adds a whole depth to this promise for me. I love that God is going to be with me; I do. Don't get me wrong. What an incredible promise. 

But I love even more that His being with me will never become stale. It will never become rote. It will never become so common that He forgets me while I'm standing right in front of Him. 

No matter how often, sadly, the opposite is far too true.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

God of Clear Standards

Much has been made in Christian circles of figuring out what it is that God desires from His people, how we are supposed to live as a people of God. I should say, too, that much money has been made claiming to have figured this out. There is no shortage of spiritual gurus who will try to take you through a labyrinth of biblical study, complete with cross references and ancient languages and "necessary" "interpretations" to tell you what it is that God wants from you. 

Do we tithe? Do we go to church? How often should we go to church? When should we pray, for how long, and for what? Or whom? Do we curse? Is it okay if we're not cursing anything specific? Do we dance? Play cards? Drink? What about tattoos? We have a thousand questions, it seems, and we'll go to whatever lengths we have to go to in search of answers. 

Either that, or we go so far looking for answers, get frustrated that we're not finding what we're looking for (either because it disagrees with what we hoped it might be or because it seems everyone has a different interpretation of what we're looking for), and we give up entirely. We just can't live the kind of life that God really wants us to live. We just can't figure out what that life really even looks like. 

But God says it's not as hard as we're making it out to be. 

God says, actually, that it's very easy. 

God says that we don't have to go to the highest heavens or the deepest depths or the furthest horizons to find His commands, His expectations, His hopes for us. 

We don't have to go that far because He is a God who has woven them into the very fabric of our being. They are already inside of us, in the same space where His Holy Spirit dwells. They are right here. 

We never have to go searching for God as much as we do. He is already intimately near. 

Because of this nearness, because of this indwelling, because of this interwovenness, there is no question about what God wants from us, what He desires, how He expects us to live. Our hearts already know. We're just wired that way. 

If we're honest with ourselves, we know that.

If I'm being honest with you (and I always am, to the best of my human ability), I can't think of a single time that I have gone searching for what God wants from me when I haven't really just been looking to justify myself. When I haven't just been wanting to get some kind of clear evidence or guidance to go ahead and do whatever it is that I want to do anyway. I have never done any kind of searching where I wasn't hoping that God was going to somehow bless my human, earthly, selfish desire. 

I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in that. 

Still, I pretend sometimes that it's harder than it needs to be. I don't know why. It's a very human thing to do, I guess. 

But I'm so thankful for a God who doesn't make it that hard. Who doesn't require me to go searching for these answers because He's promised me they are already near, already so near that they are woven right inside of me into the holy place where He Himself dwells. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

God of First Fruits

This is something you've probably heard in your life as a Christian at least once, probably more than that: God doesn't want your leftovers. 

When God tells His people to bring Him an offering, it is always the first. The firstborn, the first fruits. The best. Something without speckles or spots, without defects. No mushy fruit or broken grain. He wants the first, the best, the absolute utmost of whatever you could give Him. 

Still, we are a people who think most often of our own needs first. We give to God of our money if there's a little bit left at the end of the month, after all of the bills are paid. We take a meal to that family struggling with health issues right now after our plates are rinsed and stacked next to the sink. We wait until we've had a good checkup with our doctor before we offer to help someone who didn't. 

We want to make sure God is taking care of us before we give back. 

It comes from our broken relationships in a fallen world, I think. So many of us have been burned by others. Especially we who are in the church. A lot of us are the type of folk who would give you the shirt right off our back, but over a lifetime of living in a dry and barren land, we've become a little jaded. (Or a little more than a little.) 

All of a sudden, we're checking things out before we give. We're looking into it before we step up. We're doing our due diligence to make sure this is an actual need and not just a handout, that someone "deserves" what we're giving them. 

We've spent so much of our lives giving, and it hasn't come back to us. Or we've been taken advantage of. Or whatever else has happened that has made us feel not so confident about giving. 

And as this has been our experience in the world, it quietly and slowly becomes out experience with God. We start to vet God the same way we vet charities and causes and other needs. We start to question whether God's just taking advantage of us because He knows we're going to give. We start looking out for ourselves first because hey, we've learned that no one else is. We have to make sure we make it to the end of this paycheck before we even think about giving anything we don't "have" to.

But this approach only increases our poverty. 

God is clear about the kind of God He is - He's the God of first fruits. He's the God of best things. He's the God of perfect gifts. And if we would claim to be His people, we have to recognize that by bringing Him those things. 

He promises it won't be like it is with the world. He promises He's not like that. He promises that when we give Him what is first and what is best, He blesses us with what is good and what is more. His story, in the Bible and beyond, is filled with stories of Him doing just that. We don't know what happened to the widow after her two mites, but we know that it was good. It always is. 

He is the God of the first and the best; He is worthy of that. It's His glory. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

God of Freedom

When God instructed Israel on building His holy place and creating a sacred place of worship, one command seems, well, interesting: He tells them not to cut stones for His altar. When altars are made for God, they are made from uncut stones. 

This is true when the Israelites gather rocks out of the river and stack them as an altar, and it is true (sort of) when Solomon starts building the Temple. Israel, wandering and then settling the land, never cut a stone for their God; Solomon had stones cut far away from the build site to be used for the Temple. But to be honest, we don't know how cut or uncut those stones were. 

In the description of Solomon's building, we find the suggestion that stones were not cut at the Temple because they didn't want that kind of noise around there. He wanted the work site to be quiet. And it's easy to think, sure, that makes sense. Churches are sometimes solemn places, especially the grand cathedrals of old, so we understand how "serious"ly a people might want to take a holy place. It's not a place for dust, dirt, debris, and noise. 

But actually, I think God's command that Israel not cut stones for His altar is much, much simpler than that. 

And more beautiful.

Think back and remember where God's people were before they even thought about building altars...they were in Egypt. In Egypt, they were slaves. As slaves, they were responsible for making bricks and building things. It's not a stretch at all to believe that in Egypt, Israel was cutting stones as part of their regular duties. 

Fast forward to a people on the move, heading toward the Promised Land, no longer slaves but called children of God. Do you think God would tell them they have to cut stones? 

I don't. 

I think the reason that no cut stones were used on God's altar is simply because God wanted to remind His people that they were no longer slaves. They weren't slaves to Egypt, and they weren't slaves to Him. He wasn't going to use them like that. That's not who they were, and it's not who He is.

This is important because so many of us are living lives that we wouldn't have chosen. We feel like this world, and our experience in it, has forced us into things that just don't fit. We don't want to be like this. We don't want to be slaves to this. Then, we find God, and we're told that in God, there is freedom. 

And there is. 

The God who parts the waters to walk you out of Egypt will never just make you a slave in Canaan. 

You, my friend, have cut your last stone. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

Illogical God

Not really related to the rough season I'm in, but just part of the overall season I'm in, I'm sitting here and one of the things I've been wrestling with for a week or two is the illogical nature of God. 

That may seem strange to say, that God is illogical. He is, after all, the Creator of the rational universe, and the deeper we look into the universe, the more rational we find it to be. 

Still, it's true that sometimes, God does things that we don't understand. The truths of the universe are sometimes mysterious to us. When we see the pattern, they make perfect sense, but we don't always see the pattern. In times like these, it can seem, from our human perspective, that God is illogical. 

Such is the case in the season in which I find myself. In this season, I have a decision to make. A decision that impacts not only my life today, but the trajectory of where I might go from here. It is a decision I have been wrestling with for awhile, unsure of how to make it and knowing that I haven't really had enough data to make it...until I have. 

As soon as that little piece of missing data came in, that one thing that I could not fathom in my imagination alone, the decision became perfectly clear to me. Two roads diverge in a wood, and I know without a doubt which one to take. I know which one my soul embraces. I know which one gives me peace. (And, thankfully, those are both the same one!) 

But...I can't explain why. 

I can't tell you, except for the feeling in my soul and the measure of peace that I have, why this is the right decision. In fact, if I were to line up all of the data on a sheet of paper, I think it would fall heavily to the other side, at least in terms of all of the things I think that I'm looking for. All of the things that I've identified in my heart over 38 years of living that bring me peace and make me joyful and settle my soul well into my spirit. If I were trying to make the decision objectively, I confess to you that I would go the other way. 

Yet actually making the decision, I cannot fathom going the other way. At all. 

I keep hanging onto it because it makes so much sense in my head, but my heart just isn't there. I'm not quite ready to let go of it because this knowing that I have about the decision I'm's different. There's nothing really in it that I can trust. No data to back it up. I'm a girl who likes to have my data. I like to be able to look at you and explain myself, to tell you why I'm doing what I'm doing and why it makes sense. 

Today, I can't. It is completely, absolutely, thoroughly illogical to choose the way that I am choosing, but at the same time, it is completely, absolutely, thoroughly right. I believe, at least today, that it is the choice that God wants me to make. 

I comfort myself in a time like this by believing that one day, it will make sense. One day, I will understand what I do not currently understand, and I will see why this makes sense. I will understand why God has directed me to go this way and not that one. I believe that there are things about this decision that I can't see right now, perhaps because just a little ways down this road, there are doors that haven't opened yet. So I don't know, I can't know, everything that this path holds for me. 

The only thing I know, I already know for certain, is its peace. 

And that's enough for me to follow an illogical God into a great unknown.  

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Disciplines

I'm not saying that you can't learn anything new about God in a valley season; I'm saying that's not the time you should be thinking about learning. 

This is what happens - too many build their faith on other things, on the words of others or the experiences of others or even just vague ideas about what they think faith means and who they think God might be. Then, when trouble comes, they go desperately searching for the first time to discover who He is, but by then, it's too late. 

It's this bias that our brain has to see things the way that we think we're going to see them or the way that we think we understand them. It's confirmation bias, in some ways, but it's also "absolute dread bias" - that worst case scenario sort of thing that is really hard for us to let go of.

If you go looking for God in the valleys, you're going to find a lot of valley stories about God. You're going to find the curses and the plagues. You're going to hear more from Job's friends than from Job's heart. You're going to discover the things you fear about God and about yourself. You're going to open your Bible and find a way for your valley to mean that you are hopeless, God is angry with you, He doesn't really care that much, and He's not coming to help. 

You're going to open your Bible, and you're going to find a works-based way out of your problem, where all you have to do is have a stronger faith or pray more or read your Bible more (which at this point is not very encouraging for you). You're going to think you have to repent, really repent, pray toward Jerusalem, bow on your knees, throw yourself on the mercy of God. 

This is where so many get false images of God. They don't go looking to figure out who He is until they're already in the valley and need Him, so all the stories they read about Him take on the tone of where they are in their life right now. They don't get a complete picture of Him. 

Then, they hear things like, "God is good" or "God is love," and they wonder how this can be. And it all feels like a lie. It all feels like a farce. They can't find the real God because they don't know Him, and down here in this place? All of those shadows just start dancing darkness all over everything. 

That's what I mean when I say that the rough season is not the time to be learning new things about God, although I confess wholly with my heart that some of the best things I've come to know about God have come from experiencing them first hand in the dark seasons. 

It's not the place where you discover God, but it's the place where you discover that He really is all the things you've put your confident assurance in. It's not the place where you find God, but it's the place where you know that He truly has found you (and that, actually, He never lost you in the first place). It's not the place where you form your ideas about God, but it's the place where the vague outlines you have come into sharper focus. 

This is, of course, all an ideal, but I recognize that life isn't lived in ideals. Plenty of persons have found God in the valleys. But I would propose to you the notion that it's only because they already had some idea of looking before they got there. Even if it's something they would not have acknowledged before that moment. 

So yes, you can learn something new about God here, but if you're waiting for a place like this to learn...I'm not sure you can have the kind of experience here that you need.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2023


In this rough season of relative spiritual isolation, I started by saying that I am learning my belovedness in an entirely new way. And that's true. But that shouldn't be interpreted to mean that I am just spending all of my time learning new things about God in general. 

Actually, in seasons like this, the majority of the work is just remembering. 

It's remembering the things you already know about God. It's clinging to them with everything you've got, knowing that what you know is what's going to get you through. 

See, in a time when God maybe doesn't seem good, knowing that He is good may be just the thing that keeps you holding on. 

I'm not learning, in this season, a new way to connect to God. There's not some kind of secret here in the darkness. What I'm doing is holding onto the things that have worked for thousands of years - to the disciplines that I've developed over more than two decades of trying to learn what faith means. 

I'm getting up in the morning and reading my Bible, the same way that I have for years. Except this time, I'm reading it with eyes to remember - eyes that want to see the God I know so well reflected on those pages. I'm not looking for something new. I'm not looking for that little nugget I've missed every time I've read these words before. While I'm still excited when those moments come, they aren't the ones that are going to sustain me through this season. What's going to sustain me through this season is finding in those pages the God I've been so sure of for so long, the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Because today is...well, it's today. 

I'm praying, crying out from the same spirit that has learned over the course of more than two decades how to talk to God. I'm not trying to find a new voice. I'm not letting my desperation or any sense of forsakenness drive me. I'm not changing who I am or what my heart is doing by its natural instinct. I'm living out of that place that I've cultivated in faith because I know that God has heard me; we have talked frequently in twenty years. There's no reason to think that we can't keep talking like that even in a place like this. 

I'm maintaining a regular rhythm of worship. The same kinds of worship I would engage in during any other season; the soundtrack of my life. Sure, the songs that pop more readily to my heart these days take on a certain tone over others, but the heart of the worship is still there. 

This is not a season for changing everything. It's not a season for learning new things. It's not a season for going on some deep exploration of the mysteries of God and the universe. I think sometimes, persons tend to think they're in a cave when they're really just in a valley, and they start going exploring like it's up to them to find a new way through the darkness. But valleys aren't caves; they're just valleys. They're just places where you have to look up a little more, look around just as faithfully, be mindful of where you are and keep a certain perspective on things. 

And for heaven's sake - when you're in the valley, you don't climb the mountain by digging. You climb the mountain by clinging, by holding tight to every single place you can see to put your hand. Every place you know is not going to come crumbling down underneath of you. 

This is a season of remembering. Of holding on. Of clinging tight.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

A Solid Foundation

Rough patches like the one I'm in, the kind that take us away from fellowship for a season, can be a real faith-killer for many. That's why it strikes some as odd that I would say I have never felt more loved by God than I have in this season. 

But we have to be clear about what's going on here, lest anyone get the wrong idea. 

There are a lot of voices out there right now claiming that you don't need a church to be a thriving Christian, that our faith is a private matter best lived out in our personal lives by ourselves, and that it's okay to not have a Sunday morning home. In fact, it might even be good. 

Voices like this like to take stories like mine and make them evidence for their claims. They like to say that if someone like me can be removed from the church for months and feel more loved by God, then that's certainly proof that the church is holding us back from real, vibrant faith. 

Let me be clear: I do not believe that for one second. Not for even half a breath. 

God is very clear about wanting us to be in His body. He's clear that that's the plan. He's clear that that's not only what's best for us, but that it's necessary for our spiritual growth and solid foundation. 

In fact, I would claim that it is my strong connection to the church that enables me to weather seasons like this. 

We usually talk about this sort of thing when it comes to the spiritual disciplines - prayer, Bible study, worship. We talk about how it's important to read your Bible even on the good days so that when the bad days come, you already have that solid foundation to lean back on. We talk about how it's important to pray when you aren't desperate in you soul so that when you are desperate, you will already know with certainty how that line of communication between you and God works. We talk about how you worship and sing praises in the good times so that when darkness falls, there is still a song in your soul. 

Well, my friends, the same is true about church. You go to church in the good and the easy times so that when hard times like these come, you are already woven into that web. The threads that are strung into your life through the fellowship you've established hold you up even when you can't be there for awhile. You establish yourself in the church so that if you have to be away for awhile, you don't feel isolated or lost; you still feel connected. 

The reason my faith is not falling apart in this season is because I have invested every day in making sure it's the kind of faith that doesn't fall apart in a season like this. Because I have followed God's plan for the kind of faith that can weather the hard days and the valleys and the storms and the troubles that He told us would be coming. 

Read that again: He told us these kinds of troubles would be coming. Our faith doesn't get us out of them. 

But...if we follow His plan, our faith can get us through them. 

Monday, June 5, 2023


To be quite honest with you, I am in a rough season of my life. It happens to all of us, and there's not a universe in which I believe I ought to be immune from it. I accept the valleys along with the mountains and all the flat terrain in between. 

One of the particular challenges of this season for me is that I'm not able to attend church like I want to. For the majority of the past twenty-three years, I have been at church every week. I even used to drive back from college to go to my home church on Sundays. Church has been a fundamental part of my life. this season, I've managed only three Sunday services in the past 9 weeks. 

Not a great batting average. 

It's frustrating, to say the least. The circumstances around it frustrate me, and they grieve me. I'm tired, and I'm sad, and I'm angry, and I'm...a mess. Every Sunday, I wake up, and I want to be with my brothers and sisters, but...I can't. Not in this season. Not right now. (And let me be clear - this is absolutely, 100% NOT about them; this is an obstacle that is in front of me; it's something I have to deal with and figure out. Rather, it's something that God is going to have to remove and heal for me.)

I say that to say this, because this is the strange part: I haven't been to church much lately, but in the quiet of my own soul, I have never felt more loved than I have in this season of my life. 

The love of God has just wrapped me up. It's wrapped itself around me so much that I could just sink into it like a big, soft blanket. The more frustrated I get, the more loved I feel. The more scared I get, the more loved I feel. When I start having big questions about how and when this season is finally going to end, the only answer I get is the deep, abiding love of God. And, well, for someone trapped in a hard season, that is a tremendous gift. 

The more I recognize the truth of God's love in this season, the more I think that seasons like this are so valuable, so necessary.

I am someone who would have told you, any time in the past twenty-three years, that God loves me. I would have said it confidently; it was something that I knew. But I knew it kind of with my mind, and the truth is that often, when I would tell you that God loves me, I would think about all the times I've met Him in those holy places. In that church. I would think about all of the things I'm doing, all the times I'm showing up so that He can love me. 

He can't love me if I'm not there, right? The more I put myself in front of Him, the more I come to His house and worship, the more I remind Him that I'm here - look at me! - the easier it is for Him to love me, right?  

Yet...I have never felt loved like I have in the past few months. Never. Not when I was attending four church services a week. Not when I was leading a Bible class. Not when I was writing my books (although I feel pretty loved then, too). There is something about His love in this barren season, stripped of all the things that I would think make it easier, that is...indescribable. 

So I think this season is important for me. I think it's helping me to understand real belovedness, separate from all of the things that I (as a human being) want to attach to it. I'm just...loved. God just...loves me. 

And though I don't relish this season, though I don't love it, though I long and pray for it to end, I'm thankful for its gift, too. I need this. 


Friday, June 2, 2023

Dynamic Worship

Just to be clear, because I know that there are those who cannot fathom anything but charismatic worship when I mention rejoicing, I am not advocating for charismatic worship. I'm not suggesting that our churches be full of the holy roller-type, faith healing sort of worship that draws to mind images of big tents and guys in loud suits. 

What I'm advocating for is what I'll call "dynamic" worship. 

I'm advocating for a type of worship that draws you into it, that helps you connect with it in a variety of ways throughout the course of an hour or two. I'm advocating for a type of worship that is designed to help guide you into the multifaceted reality of who God is in His heart and doesn't depend on you to create your own emotional experience. I'm talking about a worship that is intentional in what it wants to teach you about God.  

I'm talking about a worship that is truly communal and not some private act that we happen to be doing together in a shared space.

See, that's the challenge of trying to be a church in an era of contemplative Christianity. Stand at the doors and conduct a poll on the way out, and you'll get a different response from almost every worshiper about what they encountered in church today or what they learned about God. Because contemplative Christianity creates this kind of vague spaces where it's up to you what you walk away with. 

In our postmodern culture, we've called this good. It fits right in with the notion that your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth and we all have our own experiences in the world and no two experiences are alike. This is part of how we got here, by the way. Our culture says we're supposed to be creating these kinds of experiences because they are "for everyone." Everyone can come and get something out of it. 

But for the church's history, her role has been to bring persons into contact with the true and living God, to introduce them to His heart, to guide them through a dynamic relationship with Him. And that requires making sure that we experience God's grace, His mercy, His love, His judgment, His wrath, His joy, His truth, His covenant - the whole gamut of everything that God is. 

And that requires that we have experiences in our churches that are designed to bring us into contact with these things. It requires the church teaching us how to come to God no matter what we're experiencing. 

Look at the Psalms. Look at all the things that we learn in fear, in anger, in hurt and disappointment, in abandonment, in rejoicing, in victory, in defeat, in peace, in purpose. We could go on and on. Contemplative Christianity says all these things are okay, if you happen to be having them in your life right now. Dynamic Christianity teaches you how to embrace these things, no matter what your season. 

That means that sometimes, church is an atmosphere full of joy and clapping and smiling and shaking hands. Sometimes, it's a quieter service of reflection. Sometimes, it's self-guided; sometimes, it's communal. Sometimes, it's stations of different experiences; sometimes, it's a single lesson on an important truth. Sometimes, it's doing together; sometimes, it's being together. Sometimes, it's loud music with a full band; sometimes, it's just our voices. Sometimes, it's lights; sometimes, it's dimmed. Sometimes, we're sitting in rows; sometimes, we're clustered in groups. 

The church, for so much of her history, has been so good at this. She has taken great joy in developing this kind of dynamic atmosphere for her worshipers. Then, somewhere, we settled into 3 songs, a prayer, a song, a sermon, and an invitation, and we're just kind of stuck there. Too many of us, anyway. We've given up planning intentionally for planning invitationally - planning to create a space for as many diverse persons and experiences as possible instead of planning for the goodness and glory of God. 

Oh, how I long for the days of dynamic worship. I'm sorry, but I do.

Maybe it's just me. 

Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Declining Church

In many ways, I think the shift in our tone of worship and gathering is responsible for the way the church has changed and, sadly, diminished in the past couple of decades. 

It wasn't that long ago that the church had services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday or Wednesday evening, and routine gatherings at other scheduled times, and our congregations were there, every time. In large numbers, we were showing up. The vast majority of the church could not be kept away if the doors were open.

This was true about small groups, too. I remember when I came into my church, almost everyone was involved in a regular small group fellowship. I'm going to say more than 85% of the church, and that's being conservative. I could identify the members of my church and which small group they were part of, and as I sit here, I can't think of someone who I knew wasn't in a small group. (Today, small group numbers are, at best, usually around 40% of a church's membership; in many cases, far fewer.) 

Slowly, over the years, that has dwindled. A few dozen show up, maybe. Or maybe just a dozen. Many churches have suspended all of their gatherings except for Sunday morning. Small group ministries are barely afloat in most places. And we look around, and we want to blame the culture of the world - a culture that has opened itself up on Sundays and drawn "the faithful" away. 

But I think it's us. I think it's this shift toward contemplative Christianity that we're experiencing. 

Contemplative Christianity is really introspective. It's a very personal, private, intimate experience. And that does two things. 

First, it requires a lot of emotional energy. It requires focus and discipline and a willingness to think deeply about things. A lot of us don't have the energy for that all the time. We are tired after doing all of our other daily tasks, all the things that life requires of us. The last thing we want to have to do is discipline ourselves and think deeply about things. We don't have the emotional energy for it, and somehow, it always seems to lead us back to our absolute weariness. So we go to church on Sunday because we still love God and we're church-going people, but that's about all we can handle. 

Second, it convinces us that since Christianity is basically a contemplative exercise, a discipline, a personal and private thing, we don't really need to go to church at all. This is what we're talking about when we see the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd - they've been convinced by a contemplative Christianity that they don't really need to be in the church. And well, back to our work-a-day world - if there's something on your calendar that you don't have to do, that doesn't really nourish you in a vital way, then why do it? 

Contrast that with the way that church was not that long ago. When we were rejoicing together, church was about setting yourself free, not locking yourself in. It was about letting your spirit dance and letting loose for a bit. It was about coming together and making a joyful noise. Not that long ago, you simply couldn't have the same experience by yourself that you had in the church. One of our elders used to greet us and say, "It's better because you're here." And it was! It was better when everyone was there. There was a togetherness about it that contemplative Christianity has simply sacrificed. We've lost it. 

When fellowship was part of the worship experience and not just the time-killer before service starts, when engaging in the worship instead of just being entertained by it was expected, when small groups formed and stayed together for years and not just the time it takes to study one six-week curriculum, when church was an engagement and not just an experience, the church was booming. When we had the joy of the Lord in our midst, we were thriving. 

What happened? Contemplative Christianity happened. The emphasis on the personal happened. The quiet, solemn, disciplined introspection happened. 

I think way more than the culture of the world, this is what changed the shape - and the size - of the church.