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.”

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.

When You Were Young (or, when you were a Myspace kid)

I did something awful last night.

Just truly horrible.

I looked myself up on Myspace.

You remember, the clunky, minimalistic-until-you-loaded-it-down-with-gaudy-html-layouts-and-glittery-graphics website where every early 2000’s high school student’s self esteem rose or fell with the amount of comments left on their latest mirror selfie?

The infamous pc4pc bulletins and heinous chain letters that always found their way into your inbox. And if you were an emo kid, you did everything in your power to let everyone know it.

That Myspace.

While Facebook can be accused of much  of the same kind of self-promoting drudgery and high school stupidity, Myspace was THE social media of my childhood.

So, I opened the page, rembered my highly embarassing aol email adress/password combo and went to work digging through my early high school years.

Much to my surprise, Myspace has changed significantly, pandering now to those who would like to combine Facebook and Spotify and pilfering their profile music from YouTube videos it so conspicuously plays in the corner.

There was an option to download your classic blogs and I clicked the button, curious about what I said in my earlier years. I wish I hadn’t.

It only came up with one blog, and I distinctly remember writing more than that, but I’m glad I only read one. Below is what I wrote. And I want you to read this in the most angry, dramatic voice you can muster.

I’m tired. Worn out. Done trying.

I’m ready to go to college and get on with my life.

I’m ready to get a life.

I’m tired of foolish people in high school chasing void passions.

I am called to something greater.

God help me seize that.

Help me change the world!

To all the void-passion-chasers: You fail. You do not offer any lasting meaning. Your hedonism will ultimately destroy you. You cling to false truths and wear them like a sash. Well, your stupid sash will burst into flames. But don’t worry, it won’t reach your heart, because you don’t have one.

Sex.

Money.

Power.

The Achilles heel of our society. You will die in your lust for more. And I pray to God you find the way out before it’s too late.

The way is Jesus.

You can scoff all you want. It won’t change the truth.

I may be burned out, but I’ll never deny my Savior. He is mine. I am his. And this love is greater than anything you’ve experienced in the throes of ignorance and death.

I am narrow minded.
But Jesus said that the way to God is Narrow. Only through him. Not through anyone else. Not through John McCain, not through Barack Obama, or Ralph Nader. Not through any meaningless medium of communication or false god.

The false gods are in the dust. They DIED. They didn’t come back. Their kingdoms were severed forever in the bloody agony of their falsehood.

My Jesus didn’t stay dead. He’s ALIVE. And stronger than hell.

He said that if you would just believe in him as Lord and Savior. That he is the risen Son of God, and repent of your sins that he would SAVE you from eternal damnation.

Try to argue.
Try to say it’s not logical.
I don’t care.
IT is the only truth that will fix us.
Don’t buy into my lifestyle, but receive my Jesus. He is the only hope.

Your arguments will fail, because they are void. Meaningless. When passions are of the world, it goes to hell with the rest of the world.

Salvation lies within

IT IS ALL ABOUT JESUS.

I’m burned out, yes. But my Savior is true. He is love. He is EVERYTHING.

These, my friends, are the ravings of a kid in the throes of a confusing adolescence who loved to make zealous dramatic statements and write in colorful metaphors, and who fervently (if it isn’t obvious) listened to his share of Christian Death Metal.

Not that I disagree with some of the statements I made back then. All the stuff about Jesus being better than the worthless pursuit of self, I absolutely echo those in my early adulthood. But there was such a rage behind my words, the result of a whole lot of passion, but no wisdom or experience to temper it. No understanding of relationships and loving people in spite of their sin. No desire to see Christ heal the broken, just the desire to see him as righteous judge.

And sadly, this venom wasn’t just something I articulated on Facebook. I was very much the same kind of person I wrote about in my last blog. I didn’t love those people enough to engage them with anything but bitterness.

So I may feel the same way as this post in principle, but not in action. I wrote that seven years ago, before Christ helped me to be passionate and wise. Back then, I would’ve thought myself wise. I believed I had all the answers that no one else had. I shunned the teaching of Proverbs 3:7, which says “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.”

I thought myself wise, had no fear of the Lord, and ran towards evil with every spiteful breath, all while pretending I was God’s gift to the planet.

In all of my social awkwardness and selfishness, God was nowhere to be found, though I spoke of him often.

And though I look back on my adolescence and don’t see a lot of love, seeds were in place to start growing. In the years to come, God would answer my prayer. As misguided as I may feel I was, I did have a relationship with Christ, and he was beginning the process of healing back then. He was making me less bitter, he was calling me to minister to the very people I raged against.

I said, “I am called to something greater.  God help me seize that. Help me change the world!”

This was three years before God spoke to me through a prisoner in a dusty chapel in South Carolina and solidified my calling into ministry in a miraculous and unexplainable way.

It was five years before God taught me through the overwhelming pain of losing a close friend that the only way to change the world is to pull yourself out of the way and let Christ do his restorative work, and let him ready your heart to be his tool to aid in doing it. Before he taught me that he can and will put you where you need to be for him to change the world, even if it’s just the world of one person.

The God of the Universe took the time to kindle the blazing fire in me and temper it with wisdom. Because fire can’t be fire if it’s lacking warmth. 

God did and is still in the process of teaching me how to wield the truth as a key to unlock doors, rather than a sword to cut off heads.

In seven years, I haven’t stopped using metaphors, but lets hope I’ve started being a bit more tender in the way I speak.

emo kids need love too?
Here is me circa 2008, or what I like to call “my Myspace years.” I really liked looking moody. I also liked Photoshop.

On a side note,

If you’re reading this blog, thank you. I am so grateful to see people interact with my thoughts. Most of the time, this is word vomit, and to see your comments letting me know that my words have reached you ears and made you feel something, whether you agree or disagree with them, means the world to me. I may not have a big platform, and my words are a whole lot less important than the work Christ is doing in each of our lives, but I’m grateful for the chance to engage.

The Hypocrisy of the Rest of Us (or, discipleship is messy)

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not about to convert or anything, but I’ve had a breakthrough in understanding what Christians believe about God,” she said.

A friend and I were discussing the character of God yesterday from very different ideological positions in our local coffee shop. She is not a believer. I am a believer, a youth minister, and I am spending my life (and career) proclaiming a message she might think is utter foolishness.

But that is okay. She doesn’t hold it against me (to my knowledge), and we can have civil conversations, even enjoyable conversations such as the one we were having that day. And then she said something and all hell broke loose, but not from me.

“The hypocrisy just gets to me. Like, how can you say God is loving when you read the old testament and see him striking down nations and turning a woman into a pillar of salt. But (another friend) explained to me that love is just one of God’s attributes, and that he is more than that.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “a friend in college challenged me, for example, to read about the conquest of Canaan and think about how a loving God could allow that. It helped me to see something…that I only see a small piece of the picture, but I claim to worship a God who sees it all. So does God’s idea of love always look identical to mine, or can it come about in the form of justice or wrath or provision? Because I believe God knows a lot more than me and his character is all of those things.”

“Yeah, I’m not ready to convert or anything, but it’s just made me think.”

Then we talked a little bit about her experience with the church and Christianity in general, and I heard lots of confusion and experiences with hypocrisy from people who claimed to love Christ.

And then, it happened.

“Excuse me,” a woman on her way to the door said to my friend, “I just want to tell you something. God is love. All of him. It’s the Old Testament God you’re reading about and that’s different. That’s before Jesus.”

Her tone just kept getting angrier and angrier as she spouted out all the broken theology she could recall, reaching a fever pitch.

“See, God isn’t all about that, and you shouldn’t claim that he is.”

And with that, the woman and all of her vitriol made her exit, leaving my friend dumbfounded and maybe a little more resistant to the message of Christ.

We talked a bit more, I apologized for the brash way the woman treated her for simply voicing a different opinion and she gently reminded me that I don’t need to apologize for all of Christendom.

And we continued to talk and flesh out some of the ideas she was grappling with, ideas that I have  confronted and still do confront in my own life. And we talked about other things.

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I was hesitant to make this post. Mostly because my point in writing is to show that we don’t need to take the moral or spiritual high ground over people to reach them. But, at the same time, I don’t want to take the spiritual or moral high ground over the angry woman in the coffee shop, but I think the lesson stands.

See, too often in the Church, we tell people to go and share the Gospel, and they go and do something like that. Chew people out in a coffee shop.

My friends, this is not sharing the Gospel.

It is not patient.

It is not kind.

It is not slow to anger.

It is not love.

It is posturing, insecurity, and ideological warfare.

Sharing the Gospel is a part of Discipleship, our main calling as followers of Christ.  A directive from Jesus himself.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Making disciples is difficult work. It takes a non-defensive posture to challenges to your faith. It is patiently sitting down and walking through life with one another, teaching them what you know, what you hold dear, being an example to them.

And I believe it is a process that can begin before that point at which a person says “I need Jesus.” In most cases, it has to. It is not “defending the faith” against the godless atheists. It is not angrily interjecting your ideas in a conversation you weren’t invited to be a part of to stick up for God (because you erroneously believe that God isn’t a big boy and can’t speak up for himself.) It isn’t about amassing converts or checking your civic duty off on a list.

It is messy work.

It involves growing to know those you speak to deeply and loving and caring for them, regardless of whether or not they ever join (or set foot in) your church.

You cannot share the Gospel with someone you do not love.

And sharing the Gospel is not only expressed in your speaking, but in how you listen, how you relate. How you aren’t afraid to answer challenges with “I don’t know.” 

Because people will never understand faith in action if you try really hard to know all the answers so you won’t have to practice it.

Friends, you and I were called to a life of service, prayer, and joy. I didn’t try to correct my friend when she said something I didn’t agree with. I went into the conversation knowing that we would disagree, she probably did too, but it didn’t stop us from having it. That didn’t stop us from searching for answers and talking like two human beings.

So I guess my word of caution to my fellow Christians is this: Befriend unbelievers. Don’t run from them, and, (literally) for the love of God, don’t attack them. Don’t tell them what they “should” be doing outside of having the type of relationship with them where you know they will take it. Realize that discipleship take time and don’t think they owe it to you to fall down and get right with God right then and there.

Have patience. Show respect. Be Christlike, or the message you proclaim loses its power. Because the Gospel without Christ is no Gospel at all. 

Struggling with Sin (and the masks we think we hide behind)

I remember sitting in my older Sister’s youth class once as a kid. I don’t remember why, but I remember that I was there. Larry, the youth minister, was clutching a piece of tin foil in his hand and talking about how we so often hide behind masks, and then he pushed it into his face and made a cast of his face from it, to illustrate his point.

Being a kid who obviously didn’t belong in a class full of 15-18 year olds, I didn’t really have a good grasp of what was going on, so I started laughing at the awkwardness of the situation and everyone stared at me. Years later, my sense of humor hasn’t changed much, but I did one day learn to understand exactly what it was he was talking about.

It took me a while to truly understand “the sin that so easily entangles.” To really “get” why we would have any desire to hide.

But, like all children, I grew up, and now, more aware of all my frailties, I stand as a man in desperate need of the grace I so vehemently preach.

And, thank God, I am not alone:

 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

Paul grasped the struggle of sin better than countless theologians since could ever hope to know. He lived it. He didn’t describe it in the polished, pretty way we so often describe our battle with sin. He didn’t try to make himself look good, and he was one of the foremost leaders in the church at the time!

What’s more, he didn’t simply speak of his sin in the past tense. We know Paul had a long rap sheet before he came to Christ, but Paul’s struggle is one that he refused to gloss over and pretend didn’t exist.

The raw honesty in Romans 7 shows us in and out of leadership what is required. A realistic look at who we are, and and intimate understanding of what can save us from this “body of death.” (Spoiler alert: It isn’t in or of ourselves.)

This puts me in the mind of Peter Parker in the Spiderman comics. More specifically, with Venom.

You are probably familiar with the story. Alien symbiote bonds with Spidey and takes over completely, turning him into this ravaging monster. He grapples with the fear of losing the power the alien gives him and the fear that it will take him prisoner completely.

It is a strong example of what sin does to us. However, the difference is, Venom comes from outside of Peter Parker. In our own struggle with the sin that so easily wraps itself around us, it comes from within. But like Peter, or like Frodo and the ring, we do not want to let it go.

Christian culture can be divided into two camps: Those who know full well that, apart from Christ, they are messed up sinners without hope, and the people who live their entire lives trying to convince themselves and everybody else that they aren’t.

Because if you know you are a sinner and embrace that Jesus is the source of all the good in you, your life will be lived not to please everyone around you. Not to keep worrying over whether or not you’re on God’s “nice list” and fear the proverbial lump of coal in your stocking, but knowing that because of what Jesus has done, your sins have been thrown into the ocean, never to resurface.

Yet we still struggle. Paul’s words are as much a source of comfort as they are of conviction. He identifies with the human condition.

He is a church leader, an apostle, a man who regardless of his sins in the past, saw Christ and was changed forever, who isn’t afraid to say “I am a mess.”

Isn’t that a source of hope for people like you and me? That we aren’t alone in our struggles.

The only one who can rescue us is Jesus, and Paul’s letter to the church at Rome assures us of this, even before chapter 7.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

Reconciliation meaning that which was severed, is now put back together. Meaning the estranged are received as wayward children embraced by the love of a Father who never gave up on them. Reconciliation, meaning that the rift between God and those engaged in battle with their own sinful desires is healed, and that wound will never be reopened. Forgiveness. You aren’t immune to sins pull, but you are exonerated.

I read a story in the beginning of a book by Michael John Cusick called  Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle.

In it, he tells of a teacher whose student is struggling with lustful thoughts. It grieves the student (much like it grieved Paul) that he continued to do what he didn’t want to do, what he knew he shouldn’t do. And the teacher spoke a story to him.

There once was a beautiful skylark who flew high above the sky. One day, the lark saw a merchant pushing a cart full of huge, delicious worms down the road. The bird flew down and asked how much the man was selling them for, and replied, two worms for one feather.

“Well, it’s just one feather, it won’t hurt anything.” the bird said.

He immediately plucked a feather and gulped down the worms. They were incredible.

So he returned day after day to the peddler. And day after day, he continued to pluck them until one day, the bird discovered he could no longer fly. He was crushed, he had squandered all of his feathers and lost his purpose, what he was made to do.

The bird had an idea. He went to work plucking worms from the ground and gathered enough to give to the man and get his feathers back. So he went. And the old peddler laughed and said “I deal in feathers for worms, not worms for feathers, and with that he disappeared.”

The teacher stopped the story and the student sat, dumbfounded. “It breaks the heart of the Father when we trade our feathers for worms,” the teacher said, “but moreso, it breaks the heart of the Father when we think we can buy them back.”

We cannot ever buy those back.

Those were bought back for us, long before we even sold them.

While we were sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So today, I pray that you have come face to face with the Cross. The beauty of that symbol is that what was an instrument of death became our redemption. The body of death, or more clearly, the day to day struggle with our sin that never seems to have an end, has been overcome by the death of Jesus, who in his glory and grace, refused to stay dead, showing his power over the death we deserved and offering us a life free from shame forever.

What we could never buy back for ourselves, that which we lost in sin, it was bought for us.  And to think it’s our responsibility to do it ourselves is an insult to the grace of God. 

The struggle with sin is real, it is strong, overwhelming, persistent. But the love and grace of God is also real, it is strong, overwhelming, persistent. It is with us even when we try to hide behind platitudes and tin foil masks. When we don’t want the world to see us, God sees us. And because of Christ, he loves us just the same.