this ain’t no kind of religion

If it was, I’d be doomed.

If this life is about religion, I’d be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray’s Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started – with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I’m not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, “Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just stop talking about it and live it?’ I mean, I’m not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It’s my job.”

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn’t make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week – it’s her day job. Apparently, there are “Christians” in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She’s not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day… even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts… even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to “do religion” perfectly (and that’s every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It’s like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It’s like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

don’t stop too soon

It is a brave soul that uncovers raw pain
to search for meaning in existence,
that wearies and wars the shallows
to dig the depths of sorrow’s persistence

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that sheds skins
and peels off veneers to find what truth is,
that pulls hard against peril when
layers reveal atrocities and ugly ruins

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that opens eyes
against the blinding light of the sun,
that burns its heat and with fierce
impression reminds from where it comes

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a braver soul who believes
that Christ paid the ultimate cost,
tortured Himself so the tortured soul
would no longer be living lost

Don’t stop being brave too soon,
and whatever your bravery may find,
know that Christ Himself is brave for you
and His victory is thine.

This is day 4 of my “every day in may” creative challenge – to write something (poem, story, note, thought) as a special blessing for someone. I won’t share each day, but I wanted to share this poem from day 3.

There are several people in my life going through difficult times right now, so I’ve been thinking about bravery. If we are brave enough to be exposed and vulnerable (great thoughts from recent TED talk on this), then we will most definitely step into a mess of pain. But if our bravery ends there, we will miss out. We must be brave enough to see the deepest and most vulnerable hurt to experience the deepest and most satisfying joy.

an empty seat where I should sit

He said it so casually I didn’t realize why I was smiling.

“….don’t mean to sound curmudgeonly…”

I think my brain giggled with delight a bit and when I went back to retrieve a reason, there sat “curmudgeonly.” It was more than just that word, but it could have been just that word as well that tickled my imagination like the first sprinkles of a storm. The conversation rolled on and the excitement came like waves on waves.

What is this? This thing that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make money and doesn’t return anything but bubbling delight that wells up from my innermost soul? And how can I get more of it?

C.S. Lewis spoke of the unique chemistry of friendship that exceeds our efforts to manipulate a similar result.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

This man on the phone is still a stranger, but I can confidently say his words were no accident – even if just to wake up a part of my imagination that should not have been sleeping. As we talked about writing and creativity and living slowly to savor the beauty, it was like seeds scattering on freshly wintered Spring soil.

This one silly, long-syllabled word was that dusty ray of light peeking through a crack in the door to salute the sun outside. After I hung up, I stopped pacing the floor to look at my scribbled notes. What a beautiful and funny thing, language. It is reminding me there is an empty seat where I should sit among those who act as instruments through which God reveals His beauty.

This. I need to do more of this and talk with people who bring out the beauty of God’s fingerprints in me while I watch God reveal His fingerprints on them. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves

I remember saying it in AWANA, speeding through a mile-a-minute. Those little jewels might have been plastic, but it was a big deal to fill up that little brown crown on my bright red vest.

Someone, Denny Messenger probably, slowed me down and asked me to say it again.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

I always memorized things in a sing-songy way, little phrase by little phrase and it almost always ended up sounding like an awkward poem. I would rock back and forth and scrunch up my face if I got stuck. Once successful, I’m sure I beamed as I grabbed my book back to review for the next verse.

Someone like Denny Messenger would take the time to ask what I thought Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to “take his cross” and I would respond in the same sing-song fashion that we have to “do hard things for God.” Well, I’m not sure what I really said, but I imagine it being something like that.

Now, 20 years later, that verse is still hidden in my heart, along with a host of others from the NIV and I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for the early investment. When truth is planted, it grows and always returns blessings.

I was reminded of this verse recently in several conversations with friends. One of the conversations was about vision – is everyone supposed to have a specific vision that requires sacrifice on behalf of Christ? Another conversation was more specifically about understanding what it practically means to “take up your cross.”

Twenty years is a long time for something to be hidden… you’d think the goodness of it would be exhausted by now, that there would be nothing to mine for in one measly little verse from an ancient book that an 8 year-old memorized, partially out of the desire to stand in front of a group of kids to receive a plastic jewel to put in a plastic crown on her vest. But, in the currency of grace, twenty years is an investment that proves its worth.

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ? What does it mean for 9 am and in the break room and for Tuesday night? Does it mean we start up non-profit organizations? Does it mean we live amongst the poorest of the poor, or at least give all our funds away? Does it mean we find something very, very heavy and then commit to carrying it?

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ?

My friend shared thoughts on the verse from a devotional that talked about the importance of choosing this “cross.” It is not something situational that you cannot change, but something that you elect just as Christ elected to suffer for the joy set before Him.

But, “What do I choose? How do I find this cross Jesus speaks about?”

I wonder if we race too quickly past Jesus’s first words in this verse, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”

Often, I think, Christians are paralyzed because it seems a great chasm exists between walking unencumbered and walking with a heavy cross. Of course, this chasm does exist – the Christian life is not easy or comfortable – but maybe the concept of finding an uncomfortable and heavy cross at 9 am and in the break room and on Tuesday nights is overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

“let him deny himself”

Just as the sanctification process is from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), our “taking up of the cross” is a daily denying of ourselves and in the littlest things treasuring Christ first. Very few will feel the weight of a cross on their backs (though Christians are still being crucified), but we all choose what we treasure the most with the weight of daily decisions.

Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Uncomfortable? Awkward? Humiliated? Hated?

Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure popularity in the workplace?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your Monday night TV program?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your weekends of leisure?

We say no to the things we like in favor of the things He loves, because we love Him and believe His promises.

When we treasure Christ the most, our footsteps follow His into self-denial. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1) in the ways we deny ourselves and follow Christ into and through any suffering our treasuring of Him might bring.

Want to read about someone who is doing this well? I’m learning a lot from this young man and his journey to make much of Christ as he denies himself and follows Him. Check out this post and see if you don’t agree.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

why faith is both simple and hard

Faith is both simple and hard.

Faith is simple because it is believing – believing the ground won’t fall out before your next step and believing the sun will dawn on this day. We believe a lot of things without much struggle, even things that shouldn’t be so easy. We trust governments and money and weather men when they give us assurances and possessions and forecasts – we believe in them and make plans around this wily, presuming confidence.

Faith is simple because it is believing… and if we can believe in governments and money and weather men, shouldn’t it be simple to believe in the power that holds even those together?

One of my favorite thoughts to think grows out of this little gem in Colossians, speaking of Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

All things hold together in Christ. Not a single ruler – tyrannical or gracious or otherwise – breathes a breath without being held together by Christ. Not a mountain or valley or cave keeps its form without Christ constraining its particles. Not a single atom inside the vast universe is itself held together apart from Christ. All things.

Shouldn’t it be simple to believe in this kind of power? Oh, but faith is also hard.

The believing part is simple – I can believe the ground won’t give out beneath me before my next step. Simple. But, believing the ground won’t give out doesn’t mean I have to ever take a step.

I can sit on my front porch and believe the front door is unlocked and there are homemade cookies on the table inside without ever living like I believe that is true. I can comment about how easy I believe the door is to open and how delicious I believe the cookies are to eat – all from the pontificating position of my deck chair without ever opening the door to taste the cookies.

And that’s why faith is hard.

That’s why, I think, there are a lot of Christians sitting on the front porch of faith “believing” without ever experiencing the life their belief promises.

Today, friend, reach for the handle that you believe is there and turn it like you believe it’s open. If you are afraid at what you will find, maybe you don’t really believe after all.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

erase the ways of our orphanhood

I already ordered the book by Rose Marie Miller that Christine Hoover talks about in her blog post, “No Longer an Orphan” because there’s something about the disconnect between knowing and doing that strikes a chord. Yes, it’s a chord that strikes over and over in my life – as I study biographies and as I study the Word. There is too often a great chasm between what we know about who God is and how we act as a result of that knowledge.

For some reason, knowledge translated into a transformed daily grind is the exception and not the rule for most Christians. The oh-so-unfortunate truth about these lives lived on one side of the great chasm is that we miss out. We miss out big time.

Hoover writes of God,

He invites us into the family, gives us His name, dresses us with righteousness fitting of His family, and erases the ways of our orphanhood, especially our self-reliance and self-justification.

You can’t get any more big time then saying He “erases the ways of our orphanhood.” Wow. If you’ve ever hung out with orphans, this should sit pretty heavy – especially this bit about self-reliance and self-justification. Hoover cites Rose Marie Miller’s list of orphan characteristics and each one reveals just how important “self” is – it’s all you’ve got. As an orphan, self is elevated above all else. And living in the ways of our orphanhood is like climbing up a crumbling tower. The more heavily one depends on the mountain of self, the faster one realizes the rock crumbling underfoot… which leads to a more frenzied climb.

The take-your-breath-away-beauty of the Gospel is the freedom from climbing at all. Absolutely nothing is dependent on self when Christ is Savior. Protection, identity, worth, and future are all wrapped up in one man who gave us His family name. One man who is seated, not striving, in heaven and guaranteeing us both an already and not yet inheritance. We don’t wonder about how high we will climb as the tower crumbles beneath us today.

We are free from climbing at all, from striving to preserve self because Christ has done more than preserve us. He has perfected us at the cross.

He is perfect for us.
And daily He is inviting us to let Him erase the ways of our orphanhood.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

even losers are more than conquerors

I didn’t have trouble singing it in Honduras with a house full of brothers who added some Spanish freestyle to the Tomlin melody. But here in the States the words catch in my throat.

“And if our God is for us,
then who can ever stop us?
and if our God is with us,
then what can stand against?”

It sounds so… imperialistic or something. Is God really for me as I face people who are against me? It almost sounds like God is in an indestructible army bulldozer and he invited us on board. If anyone tries to get in the way, we don’t need to fear – we’ll just run ’em over.

I know that’s not what Tomlin intended. As I’m studying the life of Jesus (and how we are called to imitate Him), I am realizing that this only makes sense if we believe the right kind of conquer.

The song, and the passage in Romans 8 it references, is not about Christians gaining popularity in politics and climbing corporate ladders. The song is about the greatness of God – the power He has to overcome the death grip of sin on our lives. When we ask, “Who can stop us?” we don’t mean we will always advance. We do mean God will always advance.

Though we may suffer and be conquered by this world (even to death), God will not be conquered. His message of hope and life and peace will not be conquered because it is not a message that depends on our strength.

Yes, our God is for us. Yes, our God is with us.
No, that does not mean we will always beat our opponents or always have the right words or always show the most grace.

We are more than conquerors because we do not “lose” when our opponent wins or has the right words or shows the most grace. We are more than conquerors because God wins, even in our weakness.

It is not so magical for a domineering type to conquer. What is magical is when the loser walks away winning. That’s what it means to be more than conquerors.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

on the hook: making disciples in non-vocational ministry

I met a woman today while I was running errands for work. We fell into small talk and she asked if I had anything “fun” planned today. I took the road most traveled with my bland reply, “Just work, I guess.”

I thought of all the stories I could weave about my complicated life and my unpredictable schedule… and then I heard her ask, “Where do you work?” I kept up with the North American charade and chose the job where I have an office, “I work at the E Free Church here in town.”

Her eyes lit up. “Oh! The one on 24th street?”

Our conversation turned a corner and I arrived again at a crossroads. Though technically I’m employed by a church right now as an administrative assistant, I am growing into a stronger conviction about the power of non-vocational ministry. When Jesus spoke the commission over the disciples in Matthew 28, his directive was to make disciples – baptizing them in the name of the Father and teaching them to obey all His commands.

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 28:19-20 ESV)

What he did NOT say was this, “Go into all the world and find leaders that you can pay to be disciples and hopefully people will follow them.”

We are settling for a powerless Christianity when we rely on paid ministry workers to carry all the weight of the Body of Christ. We have an amateur complex – an idea that we aren’t qualified or capable of reading and understanding the Word of God unless it is unpacked by an “expert” of the faith. We have elevated individuals in the church because of their knowledge or charisma or firm Sunday handshake and, in the process, given ourselves a ready excuse in the face of spiritual failure. “Well, I know I messed up again… but I’m no Pastor John. I wonder if there’s, like, a program where someone would help me with my addiction.” We make excuses (and we accept others’ excuses) for skipping devotions, church responsibilities, and Bible studies because we’re not “in the ministry” and there’s a lot more than Bible going on in our lives.

What?

Again, when God gave the direction to go and make disciples he was talking about regular people living like Jesus and inviting other regular people to do the same.

Do you know that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52)? He grew into more knowledge of the Lord just like he grew into size 28 jeans (or robe). Every day he found out more about His Father and every day He obeyed with more joy and every day Jesus found more favor with God and man. This was his vocation. He was expert at loving the Lord, growing in knowledge of Him, and serving others.

No one is off the hook. Not a pastor? You’re qualified if you are born again. Don’t have a degree in women’s ministry? You are adequate in Christ. Not confident in your less-than-perfect Christian journey? Jesus wants you, too.

Here’s the catch (wink): you WANT to be on the hook. For all the squirming and protesting Christians do to get out of ministry and outreach and loving neighbors, they don’t realize that a worm on a hook is how you catch a fish. Jesus has qualified us to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). God is making His appeal through us to the world so that they might come to know the saving work of Christ.

WHOA.

No one is off the hook, but no true Christian should want to be anywhere else.

God has called, redeemed, and equipped regular people to take His message of redemption to the world in our everyday, regular encounters with regular people. So, why is it so much easier for people in vocational ministry to have conversations about the Lord?

We are all in ministry.
We are all on “staff.”
We are all called to make disciples.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

as if they were madmen and fools

Tim Challies, by way of his blog, introduced me to some of Richard Sibbes‘ writing. Here is an excerpt that I can’t seem to shake (keep in mind this language is circa 1600).

It has been an old imputation to charge distraction upon men of the greatest wisdom and sobriety. John the Baptist was accused of having a devil, and Christ to be beside Himself and the Apostles to be full of new wine, and Paul to be mad. The reason is because as religion is a mystical and spiritual thing, so the tenets of it seem paradoxes to carnal men; as first, that a Christian is the only freeman, and other men are slaves; that he is the only rich man, though never so poor in the world; that he is the only beautiful man, though outwardly never so deformed; that he is the only happy man in the midst of all his miseries. Now these things though true seem strange to natural men, and therefore when they see men earnest against sin, or making conscience of sin, they wonder at this commotion for trifles. But these men go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all; those that are below them are profane, and those that are above them are indiscreet. By fanciful affections, they create idols, and then cry down spiritual things as folly. They have principles of their own, to love themselves and to love others only for themselves, and to hold on the strongest side and by no means expose themselves to danger.

But when men begin to be religious, they deny all their own aims, and that makes their course seem madness to the world, and therefore they labor to breed an ill opinion of them, as if they were madmen and fools.

These words breathe the paradox that drives people crazy – that we [Christians] are freemen, though we seem slaves; that we are rich, though we seem poor; that we are beautiful, though we appear deformed; that we are happy, though we live in misery.

Why can the world not understand this divine reconciling? Because they “go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all” and “have principles of their own,” all this mystical business seems inconsequential and silly. Their standard leaves no room for “others first” and “sacrifice,” unless it might benefit in the end.

“But when…”

Aren’t these great words?

With all the world charting their course in the same selfish direction, a boat changing direction will get the attention of the entire fleet. Sibbes uses “religious men” here in the same way we might use “true believer” or “follower of Jesus Christ” to designate the different standard a Christian uses to measure his life. Everything he/she was pursuing previous (and the value of those things) shifts immediately and joyfully to an object that makes no sense to the world. To set a course for an unseen destination with immaterial results sounds like bad business and poor planning.

It sounds like madness.

 We should not be surprised when the world misunderstands our obsession with eternity or our talk of the “Kingdom coming” or our less-than-five-figure aspirations. We should not be surprised, even, if the world manipulates our words to sound crazy and our gatherings to look strange.

We are the skin, living in these paradoxes every day. We deny our own aims and ask Christ to reveal His standard, that we might set our course to run against traffic [or completely solo] toward Him. We set our course and it looks like foolishness.

Our neighbors have dreamed up a reason why we are so generous, our co-workers have decided our cheer is fake, our boss is sure we are working hard just for the promotion, our estranged brother still doesn’t believe we want to see him just “because.”

The world may say our course is madness – that our aims our full of folly – but our reward is not won from the world. As we fix our eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith, He will give us the same joy he possessed as He endured the cross.

What madness Christ must have possessed to have his face set so squarely toward Jerusalem? What foolishness must have surrounded Him as he humbly entered the city on a donkey? What absolute insanity he must have endured while claiming Himself King while on the cross?

Though the world count us as madmen and fools, God allows another miracle as He transforms our hearts to serve even those who consider us crazy. Christ asked the Father to “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” in the midst of His misery. At the height of His public shame, His love and compassion for those who considered him crazy only grew.

May our hearts swell with love for those who consider us as madmen and fools.

May we
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
when it makes no sense at all to the world,
because it makes perfect sense in light of the Cross.

blessings are sojourners

It took awhile, but Vince is finally on board with this idea (although he’s still skeptical) of blessings as sojourners. In church this morning, I was scribbling and doodling and arrowing and marking on my journal pages (taking bullet notes is so overrated). Right when the service ended, I leaned over and said, “I figured it out!” pause, “Hoarders!” Vince, not surprised in the slightest, just waited for me to flesh it out. “Quarters?”

“No… You know, blessings are meant to be always transferred, always moving, always given… but we love the blessing so much we keep it. We hoard it!”

He chuckled a little bit, “Oh… hoarders! Alright… I can see that.”

I’m so thankful to have a cousin/friend who equally loves processing through ideas, asking questions, and challenging assumptions. This afternoon, I had to stop myself in other company and ask, “Is this too much?” Because sometimes I forget how spoiled I am to have such a friend around.

So, this idea that blessings are sojourners and we are hoarders has been rolling like a snowball and gaining serious speed and mass in my mind. This is week two of Perspectives class and the first several lessons focus almost exclusively on God’s blessing – what it means for Christians and for the world. Pair that with a series in Ephesians at church and my personal obsession with the a la orden philosophy and I’ve got a dump truck of blessing on my hands. I’ll let you in on the processing side of things, if you promise you won’t reject it right away or laugh. Sometimes it’s fun to throw something up on here that I don’t think is finished quite yet. The thoughts still need punctuation and perhaps a more obvious thesis, but so do most of my posts I suppose.

_______________________

Blessings are sojourners.

They tread crowded roads and lonely trails to visit million dollar homes and corrugated metal shacks. They knock on expectant doors and ring doorbells of disinterested tenants. They dance with the leopards and race the rivers to the sea.

Blessings are sojourners.

They pack light. They carry purpose and reflect sunshine, but they are not weighed down. Their shoulders bear the weight of inheritance, but never long enough to slow their pace. They have no suitcase, no cargo pocket, no oversized handbag.

They are at home in motion.

Blessings are sojourners.

__________________________

let LOVE fly like cRaZy