Rhema (or, Idol Hands Sit Idly.)

Emboldened by words left unspoken,
Crumbling beneath all that I have broken.

As I scramble to rearrange the jagged pieces,

To complete a puzzle named resentment.


Wordless, I have no thoughts left to pen,
I have no utterance to be uttered,

No rhymes left to usher in.

I have held all my cards close to my chest,

And I wish I could say I tried my best.
So I guess the letter I would’ve written would sound like

This:
Dear Future Me,

You’ve got so many stories left to be told, A blank canvas soon to be dripping with red and blue and gold. Do not give in, do not give up.But stand.

Stalwart and proud of the man you have become.

A man who knows what is past and what is to come. One who weighs his legacy like his idol hands weigh on his conscience, and idol words sit enshrined on tongues of fire racing around and around as if chariots set ablaze.
I speak because there is an inferno resting inside my bones, as I wrestle against flesh and blood and deny the calling which I have received.
To be simultaneously saint and sinner, to wage war on these rebellious legs that carry me to places I know better than to be.
Oh God, may my futile words be few.
May my lips tremble when I speak your truth, and may my heart be laid upon a blazing altar for you.

You are my past, present, and future. It’s always been You. So forgive my idol thoughts and my idol ears and my idle soul sitting idly by, waiting on You to move.
Jesus, rid me of deceit, of anger, and of my broken heart. Let me embrace the calling you have poured out upon me as you envelop all the idols that strive to gain a foothold in my life in refining fire.
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice. To worship You. Oh my soul, rejoice! Take joy my King in what you hear. May it be a sweet sound in your ear.”

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In Loving Me, You Made Me Lovable (On The Anesthetizing Effects of Low Self Worth)

In loving me, you made me lovable.

“In loving me, You made me lovable.”-Brennan Manning

Constantly, we are bombarded with messages via social media of positivity and self worth. From body positivity to accepting who we are in all other areas of life, and loving ourselves. It can be daunting sometimes, frequently hearing all these messages telling us to love ourselves, when we absolutely do not.

In a study aimed at school children to research self esteem, 69% of boys and 60% of girls in middle school answered yes to the question “are you happy the way you are?”

When high schoolers were surveyed, the numbers plummeted to 46% of boys and 29% of girls answering affirmatively. Now, I’d be curious to see what kind of statistics a longitudinal study of the same children from middle to high school would yield. And even more curious to hear how they’d answer that question in adulthood.

There’s no way to have solid statistics for this, but it’s estimated that 8 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety and disorders related to depression. That’s somewhere in the ballpark of 25 million people.

This fear of failure, of not being good enough, of being unworthy has seized us as a culture. We live in an age that is gripped by the terror of not measuring up. So the dichotomy between what people actually feel vs. the “positive” messages on sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed tells me that we are also a culture that is passionate about finding the answers to all of our dysfunction.

The numbers also tell me that it is often the insecure that seek a cure for insecurity, the damaged that try to fix, those who feel unworthy who try their darnedest to remind others of their worthiness and inspire hope in others.

I guess that’s why I write this. Because I, too, have felt worthless. I’ve felt worn down, beaten up, completely unworthy. And I’ve heard those stories from so many other people and I constantly pray for an end to the epidemic that is sparked by lies of the Enemy. The Gospel says that, though in my flesh I may feel worthless, I am made worthy by the blood of Jesus. It shows me, no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how bleak my current outlook may be.

C.S. Lewis said that faith “is the art of holding onto things your reason once accepted in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.”

I write this to encourage you, if you are reading this and feeling unworthy, I want to assure you that, if you are in Christ, he has made you whole. In his love, no fear or insecurity or sin has seized you where he hasn’t provided an escape route for you. No pain, no suffering, no lack of wisdom, no enemy can overpower you, you are free. In loving you, Jesus has made you lovable. He calls you friend, he calls you a son or daughter of the God who keeps you going.

Self-worth is an illusion, it is a band-aid for deeper problems. The cure for low self-esteem is listening to the words of the One who created you when he professes his undying love for you. Be swept up in that. If all of this sounds too idealistic and cheap for you, I want you to know that, no matter what you do or don’t believe, you are loved. The love of God is real, it is strong, it is persistent, it has not left you by the wayside. It is a strong hand to rescue you from yourself. The Gospel is not just for me, it is for you. And it is this, the God of the universe saw our pain, our sin, and our desperation and he became like us, died a very real and brutal death on the Cross and rose again, defeating death once and for all. And he’s calling you.

In the words of the monologue by the band Life in Your Way:

The Kingdom of God is for the burnouts, the broken, and the broke, the drug addicts, the divorced, the HIV positive, the herpes-ridden, the hopeless, for the outcasts that have been created by the church, and for the outcasts of our society that have been created by us. The Kingdom of God is for the brain damaged, the incurably ill, for the barren, for the pregnant too many times, and the pregnant at the wrong time. This is for the over-employed, the underemployed, the unemployable, and the unemployed. This is for the swindled, the shoved aside, the left aside, the replaced, the incompetent, and the stupid. This is for the emotionally starved and the emotionally dead. The Kingdom of God is for the bigoted, the murderers, the child molesters, the brutals, the drug lords, the terrorists, the perverted, the raging alcoholics, over consumers, the incredibly ugly, the dumb, the ignorant, the starving, the filled, and the filthy rich. The Kingdom of God is for everyone and the Kingdom of God is for me.

That’s me, and that’s you. I write this for all of us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

Pouring From An Empty Glass


Capture

“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:30-31)

My heart is so heavy tonight.

Somewhere in the world, someone is suffering. It might be two cities over, it might be next door. It may be happening in your head.

All around me, I feel the shockwaves racing from the epicenter of a crumbling world. An earth that groans for reconciliation, a kingdom that has, for so long, run from its king but is desperate for Him. And maybe they don’t even know that he is what they really desire.

I write in flowery, pretentious prose because the groaning is too close to home, and I am tired. On days like today the purpose behind my calling to be minister of the Gospel of Jesus is so very clear, and the need so evident, but even still, so very hard to grasp in my hand.

I feel like an empty glass, striving to continue pouring out, even when nothing is left. If I were smarter, or older and wiser, I might just put the cup back under the faucet and allow myself to be filled again before I try to continue giving. But my go to is always to stress about it and demand answers to questions I’ve not been brave enough to ask.

Seasons of transition and turmoil often feel like seasons of silence, and I’ve not figured out why. To be separate from others is one thing, but to feel like your prayers are going unanswered or that God has left are the most terrifying times one can experience.

To ask God where he’s gone but then remembering: I have pastoral aspirations and responsibilities, I’m not allowed to ask those questions.

But then. Maybe sometimes it takes talking to an impartial audience. Oh, that’s it, I’ll write a blog. I’ll be transparent about my struggles and questions and folks will be sure to solicit some help, or at least someone will congratulate me for being open and honest (because thats the fashionable thing to do), that or it’ll bring out the “I told you so’s” from the atheist crowd.

Maybe writing these thoughts will un-knot my mind long enough to let me hear God speak. Maybe if I quiet myself just enough…

…They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…

Weariness. It’s probably the most poetic word to ascribe to that poured out glass feeling. It’s such a beautiful way to say “beaten down, washed up, beyond tired.”

When I look back on the past ten years of my life, I’m met with a reminder from God. It was always during the times I’d described myself as weary that God spoke most powerfully into my situation. It was always when I was at my wit’s end that he either gave me the answers I so feared or used me, by words and actions, to speak the truth of the Gospel into the lives of others.

Suffering doesn’t always hit you over the head and grind you into the dust. Sometimes it’s that dull ache in your chest that won’t go away. The anticipation that comes from the fear that something bad is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

And then, though we don’t always have the answers to life’s burning questions, we press on. We wait on God to speak or to propel us into the very action that our souls crave without knowing it.

I’ll say from experience that God has used me most effectively when I was in transition. When I stopped moping and accepted that things aren’t always going to be easy or feel good. But God. He saw the needs in my life and in the lives of those around me and he finally spoke. Or maybe I finally listened.

To be filled, we have to put ourselves in a position to receive from God that which restores us and mends our brokenness so that others, seeing the healing of God within us, will be drawn to repentance and salvation and receive what God wants to give them.

At the end of my life, I want to look back and say with resolve that I have poured out all that which was given to me, and to know with confidence that God’s wells never run dry. What you might think is silence could be preparing you for something better.

I preach this not just to you, but to myself. AΩ

Of Intentions and Idols (Let Us Run)

Chains

I sat with my class in a corner of the sanctuary, music played throughout the building, people sang and prayed and worshiped. I saw children running, only to be stopped by concerned parents and shushed by the present clergy. This was a sacred place, a holy place to encounter the divine.

And on the stage, one might’ve expected to see a pulpit rising above the crowd. But instead, there stood several monolithic statues, faces etched from stone, frozen in time forever, or at least until the years ate away at them, paint faded and crumbling. These were the gods and goddesses of the Hindu faith, impersonal sentinels with stony faces looking toward their devoted worshipers indifferently.

A lot of folks, especially those of my own religion, would compare this scene to that of an ancient city in an ancient world that bears no resemblance to our own. But that is not true. It is a world we live in, and a world we find ourselves entrenched in, even in the Christian faith.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to a Hindu temple in Charlotte. It was an interesting experience, one where I gained much respect for the people, but also came away with a deeper understanding of my own sinfulness.

This particular instance was a more vivid depiction of idolatry than I’d ever seen in my own American dream-ridden life or in the lives of the people around me. It’s a lot less subtle when you watch people literally bowing down to and offering food to statues who will never be able partake of it. But what I saw there was a reflection of my own heart and my own proclivities.

Tim Keller, hearkening back to John Calvin, says that our hearts are idol factories. This means that something about human nature points to the inescapable fact that we are wired for worship. And if God is not the center of our worship, we will surely find something to take his place. I saw people in that temple physically bowing down to idols, participating in what we would call idolatry, but hey! At least they are honest about it.

Myself and so many of those I love fill their lives with a plethora of distractions and luxuries that we like to pretend have no ultimate grip on our lives. And idolatry barely ever starts out as a bad thing…Idolatry, in its simplest form is making good things ultimate things. It is where admiration turns to obsession, where appreciating God’s good gifts becomes focusing more on the gift than on the Giver, where want becomes overwhelming need.

Here’s a good test for whether or not that thing you love is an idol to you: If it were to be taken away, could you go on living? Obviously, I’m not talking about enough food to live or water. But the point is that the problem doesn’t lie in the idols themselves, many of these things are innately good gifts from God. But the problem is somewhere deeper, the problem is inside of us, in our hearts. We are desperate to worship, but not so desperate to be obedient to the thing we worship. Which is why worshiping God seems so difficult, because of what that demands of us.

But the catch is that you cannot worship anything without obeying it, whether you realize it or not. All this makes me thing about that anti-smoking commercial that was floating around a while back. Here it is:

The thing is, whatever you devote all of your time, energy, and devotion to will stop being a good gift to be used and start making the rules for you. You build your life around the thing you idolize. We turn good gifts like sex into porn, prostitution, and nymphomania. We turn food into gluttony or anorexia and bulimia. We make something good sinful and let it reign over our lives. Instead of God.

I have a lot to learn about idolatry, but I see it in my everyday life. My prayer for myself as well as for those who are reading this is that we will return to Christ, worship him as he ought to be worshiped, and place our affections on him, and not on the idols that we hold dear. It is God’s desire for us to seek first the Kingdom, and it is my desire that that would be my desire as well.

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”-Saint Augustine

Pursuit and Faithlessness (or, Holy Week and where I find myself.)

“Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:15-16)

easter-cross-daybreak

Since I was a child, I was always as fascinated as I was terrified by the events of what those in my tradition of faith have come to call “Holy Week.”

How could people who revered Jesus at the beginning of the week, even so far as to throw palm branches and their coats on the ground to make way for him and call him Rescuer, their Hosanna, join the chorus for his demise by Friday? And what is so good about Friday, anyway? How could the disciples, who dedicated everything and vowed allegiance to him and walked and talked and lived with him for three years just abandon him in his darkest hour? What kind of disciple would do that?

These were the thoughts that crossed by mind as I was a boy. But as I grew up, those questions gave way to more powerful questions, questions that came from experience and from the fear that comes from having your faith tested. Questions like, if I were in their position would I do the same? Surely I would. Surely I have.

How many times have I abandoned Christ for something much less fulfilling? How many times have I praised him in one breath only to curse him in the next? How many times have I accepted the title of disciple in the light but abandoned it in the dark, or when it demanded too much of me?

What is loyalty to Christ, and do I myself have it?  Do you? Do any of us, for that matter?

As we reflect on Easter, on the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who paid for all of our sin and shame on the cross, it is my prayer that we would not lose sight of the fact that it was our transgressions that put him there.

The story isn’t simply one we read of characters in a book. No, the story of Scripture is more revealing and powerful than that. We are invited into the story, recalling that though our sins and betrayal are great, a debt we can never pay, what held Jesus on the cross was his love for all of us.

Though our sins are as scarlet, he has washed them white as snow.

And though we are forgiven, we can’t forget what it cost. We cannot withold forgiveness from those who don’t deserve it, because that isn’t what our Hosanna did.

We cannot cling to past sins that try to chain us to shame.

We can’t cling to present sins that keep our world shrouded in dark.

We can’t forget that our identities are tethered not to who we have been, or who we have been believed to be, but to whom we belong.

That the Cross is as relevant today as it ever was.

As a kid, I always wanted to blame people trapped in a book, because Jesus was the hero, and the people who betrayed him, who denied him, whipped him, and killed him were the bad guys and I was angry at them for what they did.

But that was before I realized that their story is my story, I am just as capable for that treachery and just as culpable for it.

When asked by Pilate if Jesus was their king, the chief priests answered that they had no king but Caesar, but maybe even that was a lie.

In my own experience, I have lived as king of my own heart and life, and I suspect the same was true of them.

I have lived in pursuit of holiness, grasping and rules and regulations to handcuff my heart to something that slightly resembled God, but left me wanting.

I have lived in pursuit of everything but holiness, indulging in everything I could to fill the emptiness inside me, but all it did was leave me broken and handcuffed to pain.

And I have, in those elusive moments of honest clarity, pursued Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior. He rescues me time and time again. And I deny him like Peter. And I sell him like Judas. And I just run away like the others.
Abandoment. In the face of such a wondrous love, I spat.

What God is this who loves me still?
Who seeks my heart and my devotion,
even when I am blithe to his pursuit, going about my merry way and pretending the lover of my soul doesn’t exist?

Friends, as we think about Easter, I pray we remember what it cost. I pray we share the life giving Gospel again and again. I pray we never turn it into a self help manual, but as a key to unlock doors and let the light pour in.

God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

Happy Easter week.
Honor Christ.
Keep it holy.

ΑΩ

Random Thoughts (on contentment, goals, and how I’m feeling about life)

I’ve always wondered when it is, that moment when you look out at all that you’ve done, all the stories you’ve told, and are finally content. Or when you get to a place of real intimacy with the people you care most about in the world and finally believe that authentic relationships can last, or even begin. Or can finally have the courage to speak boldly about what you’ve been given without fear of criticism.

I know that once you feel like you’ve arrived, you’re probably more blinded and arrogant than you’ve ever been, but I’d for once like to be sure enough of myself to believe I’ve done some good in this world.

In all my questions, I’m confident of this: to know God is the greatest joy in this life. Jesus is everything, his peace makes even the dark times bright. We don’t always overcome our nagging questions with abundant joy, but we are blessed with joy for the small moments that keep us running the race. As a dear friend once said, “God is my alpha and omega, my beginning and my end.”

He is constant grace, for the moment and for the long haul. Know tonight  that you are more loved than you ever thought was possible.  that in Christ, there is no condemnation, no fear of inadequacy, no comparing yourself to another person. Because in relationship with Christ, when God looks at you, he sees Jesus. When he looks at me, he sees Jesus. We are all the same at the foot of the Cross.

No matter what relationships you value most in your life, they will always fail you. People will always fail you, but the omnipotent God of the universe who saw you first, who, while we were still sinners, sent Christ to die for us, that God knows you and He loves you and he will never fail you.  We are so worried  that the people we love most in this world will not love us back. We pine for their affections, yet we ignore the One who loves us with a love that never ends.

We bury our boldness underneath layers and layers of low self esteem, terrified to testify about the only one who can save us from ourselves. And if we have experienced Christ’s overwhelming mercy? Well then, we have no excuse to keep silent. How dare we keep to ourselves what has the power to save!

It is my prayer for you that knowing God would be your most deeply cherished treasure. That nothing would come between you and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not fear, depression, not anxiety, not other people, not complacency, not bitterness, not dissatisfaction with your life. Because the goal and aim of our lives is to know Christ and to make Him known.

This God knows your hurt. He knows your pain. And he wants to be your joy. I pray that you would let him be your joy, your peace, and your salvation.

More to Be Said (a poem)

Words wound tightly around wounds from which our memories unwind,

Words said without thought,

Words leveled against enemies in haste,

Words full of truth but lacking in grace.

——————————————————————

Words of the heart misshapen and leaving intentions mistaken,

Words written without love,

Words spat out to the world with hate,

Words that create scars and sap from us the power to create.

————————————————————————–

I was called to be a lighthouse,

a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.

But it seems in all of my bitterness,

I have chewed up more than I have bitten.

——————————————————————-

I am constantly smitten,

Overwhelmed with love for my fellow man.

At least that is what I say.

But is it love for others I hold close to my bound up heart,

Or is it love for the man staring back from the shattered mirror,

Love formed of well intentioned words my well intentioned mouth has torn apart?

——————————————————————————

Well if all my well-intentioned words have any merit,

Then call me elipsis,

I create sentences that sentence me,

Leave the posture of my heart in question and my good intentions fly amiss.

——————————————————————————–

Because with all I have spoken there is more to be said,

Because my words need bring life, and raise the dead.

But all too often I have held back life-giving words

At the behest of the doubts swirling in my head.

———————————————————–

Words, words, beautiful, wonderful, terrible words,

Ill-fated, broken, brutal, and wretched words.

Compassionate, lovely, graceful and healing words.

Words that sting and damaged, yet jubilant words.

—————————————————————-

We cannot say enough.

In a word, there is more to be said because of The Word.

That which came into the world that all my idle words may lay irrelevant in the face of the truth,

The final word.

—————————————————-=

The Word that says more in three words than I have in my entire life.

The Word who takes away all my empty words leveled in spite,

The Word who holds me close with blinding bright.

The immutable Word, the unshakable Word, The Christ.

———————————————————-

So if there is more to be said,

Let my words be His.

If there is more to be spoken,

Let my life and speech revive.

If there is more to be said, let it be the three words that cost His life.

———————————————————-

“It is finished.”

He is the Christ.