Sunday, March 26, 2006

an honest life

I’ve been chewing on this thing St. Augustine wrote in the 5th century:

Love God and do as you please.

This weekend we had a gathering of friends over to talk about what community is and what it means to be a Christian. Something that came up several times was that there is just no room for condemnation. The idea is that God does not intend for us to live a life of shoulds, where anyone imposes their idea of living a life for God on others. The idea is that living life in a way we don’t want to live it is bad. And I think that is beautiful.

I had actually thought a lot about this back in the fall, and had even written a letter to one of my friends in favor of it. But when some people say “I have to do what I want to do,” I get a little nervous. And I hope others get a little nervous when I say it, too. Because honestly, living how you want to requires maturity. Living how you want only produces good when you really know what you want. A lot of the busyness, a lot of the restlessness, and a lot of the casualties are a result of someone being hungry for who knows what, and sampling everything in the spiritual cupboard. I’ve seen it so many times.

But loving God and doing as you please is truly a better way to live. God is a God of desire. And His offspring are sons and daughters of desire. God never wants anyone to feel constrained, like they are serving him out of duty. God only wants willing followers. One of the writers in the bible said to a group of mature people that they should take care of God’s children “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” Jesus’ famous question was simply, “What do you want?”

And there is a very good reason, I think, why God fathers us this way and not by duty. It has to do with living an honest life.

If I act on the counsel of the voice in my heart, in other words if I do what I want to do, then I am going on a path of communion with God. If I misstep I can repent. God’s Spirit can convict me that I was too rigid with someone, or that I acted selfishly, or that I wasn’t patient, or whatever. Then I can repent and feel God’s pleasure, and know that God is with me. And God and I can have a conversation: “Really? I do that a lot, don’t I? I’m so sorry. I know that doesn’t make You happy when I do that. That’s not like You. I want to be like You.” And if everyone else sees me blunder, that’s great, too—I can’t imagine that I will get to walk humbly with God and keep my pride.

But if I act on the counsel of any other voice, whether it’s an echo of someone I respect (or worship) or my mom or my dad or the devil or some well-intentioned friend or my 4th grade English teacher, I’m not on the path of communion with God. Even if that advice seems good, even if it seems biblical, even if it seems right, it is wrong for me because I am not living sincerely and simply like God wants me to. And here’s the real kick in the pants. If I am busy following someone else’s script, I can’t even repent if I misstep, because I didn’t really sin against anyone—I only sinned against the script I was following. And then I have this bizarre mix of guilt, frustration, and confusion, and I can’t even figure out what I really did wrong.

I really think I overlooked the idea of sincerity and simplicity, and it got me in trouble. I found the word sincere 13 times in the Bible—11 in the New Testament, 1 time in Job, the other in Daniel. The King James version uses the word unfeigned or the phrase without dissimulation. I honestly had no idea of the definition of that word until I looked it up.

dissimulation – v. to hide under a false appearance
v. tr. To disguise (one's intentions, for example) under a feigned appearance. See Synonyms at disguise.
v. intr. To conceal one's true feelings or intentions.

But denying and concealing my true feelings was exactly what I was taught to do.

Worse, I was taught in church how to evangelize and overcome objections with something like this, “Just because you’re sincere doesn’t get you into heaven. You can be sincerely wrong.” So the whole idea of sincerity kind of got flushed for me. I really did kind of trash sincerity with something that goes like, “Sincerity doesn’t count for anything—what counts is being in right standing with God!” But God wants me to be sincere and simple, even if I am sincerely and simply wrong, because he can work with that. He can’t work from me living out of a false self. If I ask God to counsel me and I am wearing a mask, He says, “First thing, get rid of the mask.” Same for love. He really doesn’t like loving me through a mask. I should have figured this out by now, because the times I felt most loved by him were the times that I for whatever reason felt most naked, most like a cracked nut.

I think living out of this script or this flowchart or off of the expectations of others (perceived or real) is really living out of my flesh, my sinful nature, because it’s not the real me. It probably comes from the fear of man, the fear of being judged by people and found lacking, and as punishment: being exiled or at least suffering sanctions. But it’s so hard to simply trust my heart and God (who is greater than my heart) to get me through all this barrage of choices that keep flying my way. I want to respond the right way so much that I have ignored my heart if I thought it wasn’t wanting to do the right thing.

Last year a deep thinking friend reminded me of something C.S. Lewis said—that it is impossible to desire amiss after you’ve died. Wow. But I know that some of my desires are amiss and some are not. So really the only question is where I haven’t yet died, what part of me is still striving, which is another way of saying, what part of me is still killing myself. This is that part of me where God would rather me just go ahead and die and take the new life He’s offering.

But I won’t ever figure out what’s dying and what’s living if I continue to live insincerely and complexly. In the bible, Paul says the good way for me to go is to “do what I want to do.” He says the wretched thing is when “I do not do what I want to do” (Rom 7:20). If I don’t do what I want to do—in other words, if I don’t live out of my heart—but instead live out of my false self, then I will create pain and confusion for myself and everyone else. And as my email acquaintance said, “The shitty shoulds will kill ya. Pardon my French.”

But yet I have this tendency to want to do the right thing, to do what I should do, to do what is justifiable and reasonable, and to obsess over what could’ve or should’ve happened, and whether it was my fault that it didn’t.

But I’m getting better.

I’m getting better because I am beginning to realize that I only have one life, and it is the life that is happening in my heart. Everything other than that one life complete with its desires and its fears, is a cover up. And God wants under the covers. In fact, He refuses to have relations with me until I let Him under the covers. He continues to stand at the door and knock, wanting me to invite him in.

I went through a lot of hard stuff personally over the last year. Many of the things I could have just avoided, just pulled the covers over my head, and put on a show for everyone. I didn’t. At least, I didn’t in the end. I was sincere. And some stuff fell apart because of it.

Sincerity exposes.

It exposes you and those around you.

Refusing to live with insincerity in yourself and others brings all that ugliness out from under the covers.

But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t ask for the junk I went through—it was God’s idea. His invitation was to live from my heart, hold on for dear life, and “pay attention”. As he pried my fingers from self-justification and all that junk that comes with living a complicated life, I felt like I was being robbed. Now I feel like He pried my fingers off the gun I held to my head.

But even now, I could go back to all those events, revise the stories, and convince myself and everyone else that they never happened, or that they didn’t hurt, or that they meant something else. Or I could be honest. And get the benefit of grieving what died and enjoy the hope of rebirth.

So the thing is, whether I am talking about the things that happened in my life last year or the things I intend to do this year, I can either live the way I want and accept what comes of it, or I can go with a cover up. I can go with a cover-up for what I really want by living off a script or by reinterpreting everything that really happened. Or I can just be sincere. Simple. Willing. As God wants me to be.

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Proverbs 14:12

Thursday, March 23, 2006

believe and live

Whenever somebody tells me that by adopting their beliefs I could have the same type of life they have, I tell them that that's exactly what I'm afraid of.

— H. W. Kenton

the truth is not out there

truth

Just heard Virginia Stasium for the first time. Wow. I have been replaying these words over and over all day long. She was talking about abiding (living) in the presence of God, and how that can be done. First, she talked about letting go any other image of God other than love. Anything else says Sister Virginia is a human projection on God. I have to let God be God and see him as love—nothing else—which means seeing myself as His beloved and dropping anything that would tell me that I have to look to become something else. Wow. But then the real trip begins when she says:

God’s love sustains us. God’s love is the very Breath of our life. And the miracle is: God is that close. God is already at prayer in you through God’s Spirit. And the reason we rest in God, the reason we become quiet, the reason we take some solitude, is to connect to God’s prayer which is already being prayed by God’s Spirit within us.

So we don’t have to find God. God has already found us. We do not have to look for God. God is close. God is here. And so we become, when we connect to that prayer of the Spirit in us, we are the tabernacling presence of God. The temple is here. The temple is within.

And how often we allow life to remove us from that, and we go seeking for God. We go seeking. So again, we ask you to center, to allow—to give time, to give space, to give place to that prayer within you, so that you can access the wisdom and truth of God praying within your heart.

And whatever noise, whatever little baby sound, whatever car—it’s all one—it’s just life. So again, we ask you to place your feet on the floor, close your eyes, and rest in God—connect—let your head sink into your heart and connect to the prayer God’s Spirit is praying within you.

So after I go over this time after time, I call my friend on the phone. He tells me he's had a revelation today. I ask him about it. He says he realized sitting in Denny's having breakfast that true prayer does not originate from him. He says that the best image in nature is moonshine (which is another interesting trail). The light of prayer originates from God, and is only captured, reflected, connected with.

I was stunned. What do I do with that? It sounds kind of like "the reason we take some solitude, is to connect to God’s prayer which is already being prayed by God’s Spirit within us". Amazing. All the planets are lining up.

But I don't want to leave this thought too quickly. I have long believed that somehow the Breath of God (the Spirit of God) intercedes for me, that when I don't know how I should pray, the Breath of God intercedes for me with sounds that my words cannot even express (Romans 8 talks about this). But somehow I got the idea that mostly I pray, but sometimes when it gets really desparate, and I finally am at a loss, then the Spirit sort of takes over for me. Kind of like switching to auto-pilot I guess. Man! That is not it at all. The Spirit of God is living in me. He's as close as my breath. And He "always lives to make intercession for me". If it's me praying, it's not spiritual—it's soulish.

Prayer then is to forget myself, my worries, my cares, and find God not out there but in here praying for me. I've heard it said, "Prayer is the work. Ministry is the reward for the work." That may be true, but I think it's too general. Prayer itself is not the work. The work is entering into prayer. The work is to quiet the madness so that I can connect with God who is 24x7 praying inside of me. When I try to take some solitude, that's when all my demons and accusers show up. That's when all my attempts to justify and answer for myself rise up. As Henry Nouwen says,

Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, "Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness."

Prayer is that. That being led by God's Spirit that happens when I let my head sink into my heart and lisen. That forgetting of my self and becoming one with God in spirit and in truth.

How many times have I been asked to or heard someone else be asked to "lead us in a word of prayer". It sounds so holy, so religious. But who's going to ask the very Spirit of God to lead us in a word of prayer?

As much as I like the X-Files, the truth is not out there. The truth is in here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

what a hymn

gentlewhenstroked

I just got an old red hymnal. Same kind I grew up singing out of in the church. I found this hymn that I don't know. Man, some of these old hymns rock!

God of love and God of power,
Grant us in this burning hour
Grace to ask these gifts of thee
Daring hearts and spirits free.

Sounds like it could have been written by some feisty Irishman.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

lost

A friend of mine lost his race for judge recently. For months he poured a lot into it. I know how hard he worked because I hit the streets with him one day. But as we watched the numbers come in overnight, we saw it wasn’t going to be enough.

I couldn’t get him off my mind that night and all the next morning. I sent him an email, and here was his response:

God wants me to keep practicing law. Nothing but good has come out of this campaign. Thanks for all of your help. Your family has been such a blessing.

Later, he sent an email out to the people who had helped somehow in the campaign. Here’s part of what he said:

Lifting up the name of Christ to those that do not know him has had more effect than me winning an election. I have been able to witness to more people since June of 2005 than I have in the 35 years that I have been alive.

That blows my mind. And it makes me feel like a wee little man in the presence of greatness.

Could it be that if we simply follow our desires that God will make something beautiful of our lives? Could it be that our true strength is revealed not from seats of power, but on streets of humility? Could it be that the people God is sending us to are along the way, rather than where we arrive? Could it be that the things we thought were lost were really the things we gained?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

the fool on the hill sees all

pulpit

For thousands of years, people did not have their own copy of the scriptures. Isn't that amazing?

As Rob Bell said,

For most of church history, people heard the Bible read aloud in a room full of people. You heard it, discussed it, studied it, argued it, and made decisions about it as a group, a community. (Velvet Elvis)

Jesus modeled and laid out a way of following God that was centered in community. He said that whenever two or more of us are gathered in his name that we would make decisions about what it means for us to follow God, that we would bind and loose things, that we would do it together, that he was giving us the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16:19, 18:18-19). Not the rulers of the age. Us.

And this hits one of my nerves.

I am getting less able to stomach the arrogance of the pulpit. Not a personal arrogance per se (although there is quite a bit of egoism among renowned megachurch preachers). The arrogance I'm talking about is this whole religious culture proclaiming that the pulpit is the authority, and everyone else is to accede. Not to question, not to discuss.

And there's this subtle message that what it means to join is to agree with each of the pulpit’s positions.

The problem isn’t who’s in charge—deacons, elders, a committee, the set man, the senior pastor, the pulpit minister, the apostolic team—the problem is the pulpit. The pulpit inhales all the breath of all the believers into one set of lungs. The pulpit prevents the real working out of how we as a people of God imitate Jesus here and now.

The pulpit creates this bottleneck for faith.

It's like the pulpit is the last word on every subject, not the first. The preacher spends a lot of time preparing—studying the Bible, reading books, collecting his thoughts, listening to God. Maybe he even prays—not only about what he will say but how it will be heard. Then at the appointed time he reveals it from the pulpit to the others who are to be "fed". Is that real?

Lately, the most spiritual times I’ve had have been when 2 or 3 or 4 of us have been together sharing our hearts. Someone tells about how they’re hurting or confused or angry or lustful, and others listen. Room is made for the heart. Sometimes advice is asked for. Sometimes not. And then we just talk about Jesus—who He is, what He’s done, who we are, and what He would have us do. What he would have us do—the us that is here and now. And there always comes a moment of truth, a moment when one person is talking, and what they are saying is so in tune with God that all everyone else can do is be silent, for God is near. And when they are through talking, there’s nothing else to say, only something to be and to do. I’ve been on both ends of this deal. I’ve even had it change hands in the span of one conversation.

I have never experienced anything more holy than these moments.

And nothing is more glorious than when these holy moments give birth to holy acts.

Brian MacLaren, in his book, A New Kind of Christian, suggests that we are leaving an age of conquest and control. And he suggests that a new kind of emerging Christian will be less concerned with conversions and more concerned with conversations. Thank God.

But the old guard is still flexing its muscle—with a certain desperation I might add. But many of us are done with that, and we're not going back. Looking back, we see that the pulpit, once it became the center of Christianity, began to play a role in the subtle erosion of the Way. This has happened over hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, until today Christianity is less about a way of living together and more about what you agree or disagree with. Hence the pulpit.

So in the middle of talking about these things with my friend, he gets a message on his computer that says,

The fool on the hill sees all.

Pretty much sums up the pulpit.

farsighted

look

I wrote this poem a long time ago, and just found it behind my coffee maker on a little note. It's at least fifteen years old. This note has a logo for Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Bryan Texas, so I must have visited there once. I probably wasn't listening to the sermon very well if I was writing a poem. Heh.

We humans are a simple lot
We seek to find what have we not
We ask the Lord in fervent prayer
To send a blessing from the air
And when we gain it do we stare
And act as if it weren't there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

volume

horn

The thing I like the most about my new car (thanks Dad) is this feature on the CD player. When I start the engine it sets the volume to something moderate. That is sooo cool! How many times have I started my car to get blown away by whatever hard core electric guitar I was playing at soul shakin’ levels before I got out? It’s especially bad when you load up a bunch of friends for lunch. Of course, seeing them jump in their sits was a kick. Hmm. Now that I think about it, maybe progress does have its limitations.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

alone

It is not good for anyone to be alone. Solo acts are not set up by God. Every one of us is meant to live in community, not to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, private. Not to be the center of our own drama. Not to be alone.

In the beginning of the creation story in Genesis, God spends two chapters creating and setting up the world, saying “It’s good…It’s good…It’s good…” and then all of the sudden, He says, “It’s not good.” The thing He says it’s not good about is being alone. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (1) God looked to Adam and saw that he was missing something. Something important. Something that God as Trinity had enjoyed from the reaches of eternity. He was missing fellowship. He was alone.

So what He does is create an equal, a friend, a partner, a companion, a completer. Not someone to quote, not someone to worship, not someone to subdue, but someone to share, someone to lean on, someone to avail, someone to enjoy. The Hebrew word used for her is ezer kenegdo, and elsewhere in the bible only refers to God. Eve is so much more than a partner. Eve is…wow…Eve is beautiful. Eve is a worth living for, fighting for, dying for. Eve makes Adam want to be a better man. That’s how I interpret “Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”! But Eve is more than a girlfriend, more than a wife. In Eve the very design of God for human life is revealed—as partner, as wife, as mother, as friend.

We talk a lot about what happened soon after, how Adam and Eve fell and all that…but tonight, I am in a mellow mood. I am just going to sit down and rest for a while here. Soak it all in. I want to just sit on this patch of warm grass in this pungent place and contemplate this perfect human fellowship. No competing. No envy. No offenses. No maneuvering. No protocol. No doubting. No despising. No coveting. No revenge. No devouring. No grudges. No guilt. Just two hearts bathed in the love of God, loving each other, letting creation know they are His disciples by their love one for another.

Isn’t it about time for this to be restored?

I love sitting here in this garden, enjoying watching, even if I’m not participating in fellowship like this—beautiful, strong, uninhibited, honest, naked, and unashamed. I love sitting here in the wholeness of it all, the unbroken communion, the unfailing friendship, the unspoken pleasure. I love it even though I feel so far from it. Could we ever get it back? What would it take? How would it start? Who would it start with?

Life together bringing forth more life together, a reunion of body and soul and spirit, where knowing each other is more than knowing about each other and more than knowing the use of the other, where the knowing of each other actually conceives new life, procreating as active participants with the creative source of all life. Hearts as heart fountains. Mothers and fathers and friends in one, enjoying and being enjoyed, loving and being loved, overflowing in streams of life.

I think that’s what God meant when He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” And it is about time.

(1) Genesis 2:18

Saturday, March 11, 2006

clip

What do you think this is?

the whole picture

Go here to find out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

misunderstood

one eye

I really don't like being misunderstood. I really don't. What I would really like is to be liked. But that's not the way it goes for prophets—or should I say visionaries (knowing things before they can be known and all that). The problem with it is being one-eyed. You never see it all—just more. Truth be told, I think there are a lot more prophets out there that we know. Most of them have learned to close their good eye and play it blind. It's really no fun to be misunderstood. I can't think of anything fun about it at all. The first time my friend Jon told me, In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king—he's a raving lunatic. I knew it was true. I just didn't know how true.

Speaking of prophets, I've always felt a little off about what the West (or maybe it’s fundamentalism) has done to prophets. It's mainly because of fear and science, and lack of trust in God. In other ages they murdered prophets. In this age we wrote them out of the scene or turned them into something weird and insignificant. The role of a prophet of Israel was to tell time.

I'm reading an amazing book right now called Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan with a fascinating discussion on the pre-modern Hebrew view of time. They didn’t see time as past, present, and future. It was not quantitative like some big abstract yardstick running through reality, laid out for plotting events and measuring distances between them. Time for them was qualitative. Time for Jesus was qualitative. What that means is not easy to communicate to time-bound Westerners. You see, to a Hebrew in the days of Jesus, all time was in God’s hands. More than that, the definition of the time at hand was always God, not the day planner, the clock on the wall, or even the sundial. Times were ordained by God and were measured not in years, hours, and minutes, but by what God was doing. What was God doing? That’s what time it was. Time was a quality, not a quantity. We have vestiges of this in our language. “This is no time to joke.” Or as Dickens brilliantly wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

Better even than Dickens is the writer of this poetry in the book of Ecclesiastes, which succinctly captures the Hebrew view of time:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

That is the time of the prophets, the time of the Bible. It was important for them to know what time they lived in, what kind of time they lived in. And the role of a prophet was to tell the time. It is the same today. As Nolan observes,

The prophets were inspired to read the Word of God for their time in the signs of their time. It was this extraordinary insight into the nature of one’s time that made a person into a prophet.

Was it a time of repentance? A time of tearing down? A time to contemplate? A time to get busy? A time to rejoice? A time of victory? A time of captivity? Prophets used their one good eye to tell the time. They had such a non-yardstick view of time that they even would see themselves as contemporaries of former generations! If Moses and Israel were in a time in the desert and so are we, then we live at the same time. Or another way of saying we live in the same time is God is doing the same thing, just like he did before. So you see, this insight of prophets gives them a very important role. Prophets are these one-eyed men and women who have an eye for the signs of the times.

And this leads to something else very interesting about God’s compassion for the blind. God always has a prophet to tell the time any time He does something. In Amos 3:7 God says, “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” He always gives, because you always need, someone who can speak the times. The whole idea of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is baloney. When the fishin’ hole dries up, everybody goes hungry—hook, line, and sinker in hand. The visions of the prophets don’t lay out principles and “timeless truths”. They are for a season. “Born for such a time”. Nolan again:

The message of a prophet is therefore never a timeless message based upon timeless ideas. It is a particular word spoken to a particular people in a concrete situation about the meaning of their time and about what they should or should not be doing there and then. Later generations may be guided by a prophet who spoke centuries before only to the extent that they find themselves in a somewhat similar time and are, to that extent, contemporaries of the prophet. Much of the value and effectiveness of the prophet’s message is derived from the relation of the message to a particular time. The idea that a message or teaching is of much greater value if it is timeless is a thoroughly Western notion based upon a Western concept of time.

I don't even have to mention what an absolutely foreign concept this is to any Westerner. The suggestion that we could give up on timeless truth, absolute principles, flow charts, lines of communication, lines of authority, institutions, and such—in favor of our own contemporaries reading the signs of the times would freak most of this generation right out. The suggestion that we could learn to be comfortable with a God who says one thing in the Bible in one place and elsewhere says the exact opposite, and it’s OK, is absolutely crazy around here. Surely it must be the translation. We’ll hold a council on that and figure out how to reconcile all these things so they don’t blow our blind faith out of the water. But that’s not even what all this is about. Institutions and authority.

Let’s cut the bs. The reason we don’t like the idea of a prophet, the reason we like the idea of a mystical prophet of old who lived a long time ago in the bible (old or even new testament) and is now gone with the wind, is not because we are concerned about the fabric of our society or our institutions or final authority. It’s because we like our sins, we harbor our offenses, we hide from our fears, and we won’t allow our wounds to be healed. It terrifies us to think that someone with one eye might come into our church or our life and tell us what time it is. Time to confess, time to repent, time to move on, time to forgive, time to forget, time to shut up, time to open up, time to speak up, time to speak out, time to be still, time to let go, time to mourn, even time to dance. We don’t want anyone to tell us what God is doing and what God is saying, because it sounds awfully like what the seer is doing and what the seer is saying, and we won't have anyone tell us what to do. We don’t want anyone to tell us what time it is. And we certainly don’t want to believe in this scary thing called sight.

I saw a play one time where all the actors lived in blindfold land. Someone had taken their blindfold off and was trying to convince the others to do the same. One by one they either scoffed or became angry or blew the seer off. Finally, I think they killed her.

I really don’t like being misunderstood, but when you see something, you can close your good eye, but just because you pretend it’s not there doesn’t make it go away. God is the Lord of the blind and the one-eyed. Well, if I don’t like being misunderstood I’m sure I was a lunatic to write this!

Monday, March 06, 2006

release

How good it is when God tells you, “You’re not good at ______” because you know in your heart what He means is, “You’re not good at _______ and it’s ok.” What a release. You don’t have to keep beating yourself up for not being any good at it, you don’t have to keep trying to do better so you don’t let yourself, God, and your community down. You don’t have to feel guilty for being lousy at something. The truth is that God didn’t make everyone an eye or a hand or a foot. He made everyone to be different. And it’s ok. It’s more than ok. It’s good. And it’s pleasing. Feet like to walk. Eyes like to see. Hands like to handle. They do it without even trying. If you’re not living your design, it’s hard, it’s frustrating, you feel guilty, and you hate doing it. But if you are living your own life, it will be easy, you won’t feel guilty, and you will be doing what you want to do.

Desire reveals design.

Something implied when God says that to you is that He is surrounding you with others who are good for those other things that you’re no good for. God has no interest in having estranged children. He even talked in the bible about how the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 sheep and go find the 1 who is lost. He always wants us to live in community. Actually, it goes farther than that, He wants us to live in a body—like feet and hands and eyes, or like grapes on a vine. Each member gets its lifeblood from Him as long as they are connected. Disconnected they die…sooner or later. So if you don't have everything you need to be the perfect person, it means you were created to be part of a body of people.

Lack implies belonging.

One thing none of us are good at is earning our own salvation. We weren’t designed for that. Or maybe I should say, we were originally designed not to even need salvation, not to need restoration into God’s family. But a design flaw called sin crept in early in the manufacturing process. Everything was lost. Dangit. So we have this huge lack that implies again membership—membership in God’s family. It’s what He wants.

But sometimes—even if we know that our desires reveal our design and that our lack in some area implies that God has made us to belong to one another—we look for permission. That’s the moment I’m talking about—the moment when God says, “Let it go.” Whenever he tells us that (if we actually let go), it’s always an incredible release, and it always comes with, hidden inside, some promise.

Release births promise.

How good it is to be released from something. I cried out to God for a year about something, went through bottles of Tums, popped gray hairs overnight, and lost a lot of sleep and a lot of life. Finally, God said, “Let go. It’s not going to happen like you want it to.” I hated hearing that. Resistance. For months. But what a peace when I finally let go. And he gave me some promises—some very precise, some implied. How good it is when God says, “No good. Let go.” It never sounds good when you hear it first, especially when you were trying as hard as I was, when you were giving as much as I was, when you were agonizing as much as I was, but it’s always sweet when you finally let go and get the promises.

The reason I thought he said to let go has changed several times since then, and that’s ok, too. I figure in moments like these that believing God is like sitting back and watching a magic painting change right before my eyes, as long as I will stop painting—stop feeling frustrated or guilty about it, stop hating the way it’s going, and stop trying to make it work or explain why it’s not. But in my life, even when I haven’t put my brush down, God has still made something wonderful that I could not see. Maybe what’s at stake is how we see ourselves and how we see our dreams. Maybe vision is something like fishing. Catch and release. Catch and release. Catch and release.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

the pitiful life

Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. And He told us the story of a good Samaritan to open our eyes to what that means—to love your neighbor means to have pity on him. So to live the way Jesus lived is to live a life of pity.

But that sounds so condescending, doesn’t it? So there’s a group of people, called the church—good people, people without problems, people who are supposed to have it all together—and they have pity on the troubled and the less fortunate. Hmm. Seems to me a lot of people do think that way. But on my walk with Jesus today here’s what he said to me.

The whole world lies under the power of the evil one. Nobody gets through this life unscathed. You have to look beyond your own interests to others if you want to live My way. Help those in need. And don’t despise the help you get.

Nobody gets through unscathed. Even Jesus didn’t get through without being robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. Just like the traveler in the story. Just like all us travelers in this Story. The whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And that’s why the way to live is a life of pity, a life of compassion, a life of desire to help the miserable and the afflicted with kindness and good will in their hour of trouble. As Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind, for everyone you know is facing a great battle.”

Some people are in worse shape than others. That’s why Jesus spent his time with the oppressed, not in the middle class circles of a carpenter or the upper class circles afforded to a rabbi.

But what is even more remarkable to me than God in the flesh having mercy and doing good to the afflicted is that God in the flesh allowed others to have pity on Him. Think about it. He came into this world as a helpless baby, with others, mainly his mother, having pity on him and helping him with his basic needs. As an adult he was aided financially by others, specifically some women that are mentioned in the bible by name. Before he made his final trip to Jerusalem, a woman made this beautiful gesture of compassion on him by pouring perfume on his body—Jesus said it was to prepare his body for burial. Simon the Cyrene helped him carry his cross to his death. When he was being crucified, his mother and only a handful of friends were there looking on in pity. Just before he died, he said he was thirsty, and they gave him a drink of wine vinegar from a sponge on a hyssop branch. Joseph and Nicodemus carried his corpse, wrapped it, and put it in a donated tomb. So many things Jesus not only allowed others to do for him but appreciated, and defended if they were questioned.

It doesn’t seem right, does it? Look how the chief priests, scribes, and elders mocked him: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” But I don’t think the life of Jesus would have been complete if He only saved others. I think he wanted to show us that part of the new humanity is being pitiful, needing the kindness and goodwill of others. The whole gospel story—from the incarnation to ascension could not have happened without someone helping Jesus—at least Mary in birth, and Joseph and Nicodemus after death. Others were involved in advancing the purpose of His life—both villains in their spite and friends in their pity.

And now I’ve thought of one more important aspect of living the truly pitiful life. There’s no pride in it. The grace with which Jesus simply gave and simply received pity offers me a way to live a life of pity: a life of love. Not giving or receiving because I’m supposed to. Not giving looking for payback, whether payback in kind or even in gratitude. Just giving so that I can by a son of my Father in heaven. And not receiving with the intent to pay back once I get on my feet again, and not being embarrassed that I needed help. Just receiving so that I can be a little brother to God’s perfect Son.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

witchcraft and religion

Religion is evil. It has the same origin as witchcraft and has to do with the same goals: to manipulate and control others by the use of words(1). On the other hand, the way of Jesus is good. It has the same origin as life and has to do with the same goals: freedom through goodness.

I wrote a story last year about a witch. Really, witchcraft is everywhere—in every church, possibly in every relationship, certainly in every person who is not abandoned to Christ, in every person who still wants control of their life, their environment, and the people around them. And if you're not actively doing witchcraft, you can still be swept into its field of influence and go through the motions, ultimately helping to achieve its goals. It takes both an awareness of it and an active faith to resist its temptation. In Vera's story, she did just that.

The witch was slowly and warily making her way back to Vera, thinking fast, thinking of some way out of this pickle she was in. “Aha! So you’re a player!” she said. “Well now, you’re well on your way to becoming a fine witch. Name your price and I’ll bring it tomorrow, and you can hold my broom as deposit to ensure my return.” But Vera just looked at her with sad resolve and said,

I’m weary of payback and weary of game
I’m wasted on years of staying the same
Rules and laws
Are death-like jaws
Forgiveness is my only claim.

“What?!” cried the witch! “Don’t say that!”
“I forgive you,” said Vera, and she would say no more.
“You can’t say that at all! You can’t do that at all!”
But it was all she had to say, and all she had to do.


Religion is like that. Rules and laws, death-like jaws. And payback. It’s not a good way to live. Mapping out all the scenarios one might find oneself in and coming up with the what’s right for each situation—herding, restricting, funneling, cornering, proving—like a spiritual flowchart or a spiritual trial by jury, is evil. Attempts to prove and justify actions, whether past, present, future, or in theory is evil. Attempts to prove that you deserve something is dabbling in witchcraft. And coming up with payback plans for offenses and sins is evil, too. It is the way of death. God is the one who justifies, not us. Trying to take the power of the heavens into our own hands like any of these practices is witchcraft.

And the heart of it all is this. God doesn’t justify us based on what we do or say. He justifies us before we do or say anything, to prove that it’s not by any other power that we became right, but His. His way is that we are right because He decided it and we believed Him, not because anything we say or do. And isn’t it comforting to know that you are justified because of the power of a good God rather than power you or someone else has worked up and used to make you feel justified?

I’m not making this up. Paul said the same exact thing in a letter he wrote to the Romans, in what is now included in the bible as Romans.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus…he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.

It’s not a rightness apart from The Law, but a rightness apart from law. It’s not a rightness apart from one particular Law so that some new Law could enslave people again. It’s a rightness apart from any law(2), from rules and laws, those death-like jaws, from witchcraft. Forgiveness is God’s only claim.

(1) Galatians 3:1
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?

(2) Galatians 3:21
If such is the case, is the law, then, an anti-promise, a negation of God's will for us? Not at all. Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

the power in godliness

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

2 Timothy 3

What does it mean to deny the power of godliness? I used to wonder if this was people wanting to go to church but not willing to receive the Holy Spirit and the power in the spiritual gifts (prophecy, speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, etc.) But that’s not what Paul said. He said something very simple—that there’s power in godliness. There is something mystical, something uncontrollable but very much real and powerful about forgiveness. There is a power in generosity, in compassion, in mercy, in patience, in gentleness.

I looked at the list of vices given as a contrast to godliness and had to admit that the power he was talking about weren’t the power gifts (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), but a different kind of power. The vices are:

1. lovers of self
2. lovers of money
3. boastful
4. haughty
5. railers
6. disobedient to parents
7. unthankful
8. unholy
9. without natural affection
10. implacable
11. slanderous
12. w/o self control
13. fierce
14. not lovers of good
15. traitors
16. headstrong
17. puffed up
18. lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God

And these are religious people, not “sinners”. Paul said that these people are like Jannes and Jambres (a topic for another day), opposing Moses. They oppose the truth. What truth? That there is power to change the world. Power to literally bring heaven to earth by simply:

1. dying to self
2. becoming poor
3. abasing yourself
4. humbling yourself
5. affirming others
6. obeying parents
7. being grateful
8. being holy (set apart)
9. being affectionate to all people
10. being peacable, repentant
11. speaking good
12. self-controlling
13. being kind and gentle
14. loving good
15. being loyal/faithful
16. being low-minded and not demanding
17. being deflated
18. loving God more than pleasure

But living this way requires a lot of trust. It requires me believing that acting like the God who created all this is the best way to live. It’s best for me, for God, and for everyone around me. It requires me to trust that somehow, sooner or later, godliness wins—love wins. Even though I don’t see it. Even though I live godly and get insulted, falsely accused, mocked, cheated, and abandoned, there is no better way to live in harmony with what is deepest and most real than godliness. Even though everything I see screams the folly of living this way, it is still better. It is better to go against the grain of the world, as well as against the grain of Christianity—and whatever the current wave of Christian teachings are on spiritual authority or spiritual warfare or demonology or success or faith or miracles—and just live a godly life. That’s where the true power is. Not the power to promote me. The power to promote others. Not the power to please me. The power to please God and to make the world a better place. The power to pull heaven to earth.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Would He really expect me to pray that way and not expect me to live that way?

I was taught in the school of hard knocks to arrange everything. And I think that denies the power in godliness. If I control my world, if I take charge, I don’t really leave room for heaven to fill in the space I left empty. I don’t really leave room for God to come through for me while I wait on Him. But there is power in godliness. God is all those 18 things now and He was all 18 in the person of Jesus.

The most disturbing thing in all this is that things are not how they seem. You can have a form of religion, even a form of Christianity, even a form of godliness and still deny the power therein. When that happens, well, take a look around.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

what's it all about












After 80 posts, here is how www.snapshirts.com condensed this blog. I wonder if someone could scan all the words and activities of my life and display it in a 3x2 square what that would look like.