Category Archives: New Years

Life is Messy. Enjoy it!

55482167-angry-father-scolding-finger-pointing-silhouette-vector-stock-vector I’ll be the first to admit that I loathe the idea of standards for how we should live. Anytime someone says to me here’s something I ought to be doing as a good Christian man, I immediately tune them right out. Give me something I ought to be doing, and a week or so, and the odds are good I’ll have a healthy list of times when I didn’t measure up. Now the concept of measuring up is in reality totally alien to what it means to follow Jesus (we can’t ever measure up; that’s kinda the point of the Gospel), but that doesn’t keep us from trying, nor does it keep us from telling others that, as good Christian men and women, here’s what we ought to be doing in life. The saddest part is that most of us will spend a lifetime killing ourselves inside in a desperate effort to measure up to that ought, as we are all aware, on some level anyways, that we are not who we want to be.

This whole struggle hits me hardest in light of passages like Philippians 1:6, where the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If you’ve been around the church much you’ll probably know that we Christians take this passage to explain that we’re not perfect, but God’s working on us, and he’s not finished with us yet! (Insert overly cheerful Christian here.) What hits me with this passage is that I tend to see this whole “good work” thing as a sort of building project with specific steps. If you’ve ever put together one of those shelving units from Walmart you’ll know what I’m getting at. Do it right and at each step the project looks noticeably different than it did at the last step. If it doesn’t look different, something’s wrong. Translated to my life, this means that I assume that at this point next year I’ll be farther along in my struggles, so to speak, than I am right now. And right now I should be farther along than I was last year. If I’m not, I’ve obviously got work to do. For example, I’ll be the first to admit that I get way too defensive sometimes. There are moments when I feel like being defensive is the only thing I have left that I have control over, and so I’ll lash out instead of taking criticism. I’d like to be able to say I do this less than this time last year but that’s not really the case.

Part of what I’m trying to get at here in this post is that a relationship with Jesus is so much more than simply believing the right things and then behaving accordingly. Christianity is about more than just getting with the program, or behaviour management, or even sin management. That being said, the reality is that none of us is perfect and the struggle remains.

I guess that’s why living in a brand new single wide, on a newly cleared lot, has been so eye-opening for me. As I’ve said in other posts, we’re right in the middle of a building process ourselves, and it hasn’t gone anything like I thought it would. Get the trailer installed on the property and your set, right? Turns out that drywall has a tendency to separate a little when taken on the highway. We’ve been in here over a month now and I think (maybe) we’ve finally found the last little defect that needs repaired. And that’s not due to neglect, either. That’s just the nature of this process.

Take our yard as another example. Back in the summer, before the trailer was set up, we spent every Saturday for months out here working on the yard. We built our rock garden. We dug up roots. We leveled it out. We even had my in-laws up here with their tractor and 6-foot rake, going back and forth over the lot to make sure we didn’t miss anything. And you know what? I thought we got it all. When all was said and done, we had a very smooth, very beautiful, acre and a half of dust. It hadn’t rained in months at that point, but not long after we moved in we got all of the rain that we missed and then some. And our yard is a disaster. The runoff has cut these nice little gullies throughout which means that just pulling in the driveway feels like going off-road. And we’ve lost just enough soil to show every single root and stump that we had no idea was there but now shows plain as day. Most of what we did in the summer will probably have to be redone.

Here’s the thing. It’s not our fault. I mean sure we could have put sod down (maybe), but that wasn’t in the budget so it wasn’t an option. What we have in our yard now is the natural result of dirt on a slope mixed with too much water. It’s messy, sure, but it’s ultimately just another step in the process.

Life is messy, too, and I think we can allow ourselves to forget that sometimes. The road to being able to deal with whatever issue you struggle with isn’t always necessarily a straight one, and that’s OK. Sure sometimes we make dumb choices that screw the whole thing up for a while, but more often than not it may not be the result of anything we did or didn’t do. Things may just take longer than we thought they would, or be a hell of lot messier than we were expecting.

The reality of our yard is that it won’t always look like this. Come spring, we’ll get the tractor and 6-foot rake back out and level it out again so we can get grass seed down. That same reality is true for your life, too. If you know Jesus, then the person you are right now and the struggles you currently face won’t always be your reality. (And if you don’t know him, then getting into that relationship can give you that hope, and so much more.) I used to think that even though God has promised to be faithful in this process of living, I’d always get in the way and screw it up. What I’m learning, slowly, is that I can’t screw it up. He’s way too big for that. So go easy on yourself, and enjoy the mess.

The Start of a New Year

happy-new-year2017-55           We don’t yet have internet service at our new place (props to Comcast for continuing to assert that our address doesn’t exist), which means that by the time I get to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi it’ll be after the New Year, but for now it’s still 2016. This week between Christmas and New Year’s always gets me in more of an introspective mood than other times of the year. It’s the great pause, you know? The excitement and buildup to Christmas have come and gone and the excitement of the New Year hasn’t come quite yet. For me it’s the time to reflect back on the year that was and to look ahead to the new one.

This past year sure was a fun one (and I mean that in the most sarcastic sense possible). My wife and I both took attacks and accusations in ways that I never dreamed we would ever have had to deal with and from people I never would have imagined capable of dishing out such hurt. I’ve found myself in these last weeks, now that we have some distance from all of that, tempted to shut down a little inside, to back off and hide a little from all that heartache. I mean, it’s one thing to be open and vulnerable when you know that getting hurt is a possibility, but it’s quite another to try to be open and vulnerable knowing full well what the reality of hurt feels like.

I’m also self-aware enough (I hope) to know that while isolation and solitude in the short-term may be healthy, in the long-term it can be dangerous. The question is what the hell to do with what I feel. This may sound rather pro-forma coming from a Christian, but I’ve been wondering recently how Jesus dealt with all the heartache he faced. Theologians tell us that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (although no one has yet figured out how that works; I for one believe a pretty good case can be made for the truth of that statement, but that isn’t the point here). According to the Bible, Jesus dealt with the same range of emotions and heartache and temptation that you or I or anyone else who’s ever lived has dealt with. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), for example, and he continually sought solitude as a means to recharge from ministering to those around him (Mark 1:35). The Book of Hebrews also tells us that he can empathize with what we go through because he was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, as John 18:15-18 shows, in his hour of greatest need Jesus was abandoned by those closest to him (and who among us hasn’t felt that particular pain at one point or another?) If you want more examples, you can look at the whole story of God reaching out to us. How many times have we rejected him? Grieved him through our actions? If, as Scripture indicates, he feels what we feel, then that rejection has to hurt. And yet he offers himself again and again and again, opening himself up, being vulnerable, reaching out to us in spite of the pain.

Here’s my thing, though. Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus hiding from this heartache. Never does he shrink back from it. The same can be said of God elsewhere in Scripture. And that leads me to the question I’ve been pondering the last little while. How exactly does he pull that one off? I mean, I deal with the rejection of people not understanding what I’m about with this site, for example. This is the South, after all, where unless you fit into a very particular box as a pastor, something must be seriously wrong with you. Jesus deals with a level of rejection that’s infinitely beyond that, and yet it never seems to faze him.

One possible answer to this is that being God somehow gives him a pass on the whole thing, yet that is problematic in view of the biblical evidence that he felt as we feel and was tempted as we are tempted. There must, therefore, be a different explanation.

There is one example from Scripture, in John 8 specifically, that may shed some light on this. Eight times in this chapter (verses 16, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29, 38, and 55) we get a glimpse into just how intimate Jesus’ relationship with God the Father really was. The gist of this chapter seems to be that Jesus and God the Father are one, and this comes out through a back and forth discussion of sorts between Jesus and different groups. Looking at it from a literary perspective, why not just use one example, or maybe two or three, to prove the point? Why have this lengthy discussion that brings out what is essentially the same response from Jesus seven different times? (Granted, this isn’t the sole focal point of this passage; I’m just trying to isolate one element of it.)  One thing that my seminary experience drilled into me is that the biblical writers, working under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, had the choice not just of what information to include in the biblical record but also of how to organize that information. When you come across repetition in Scripture, like the kind we have here, it’s in there for a reason.

So why, then, was it important to highlight the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father to this extent? Personally, I think it shows how he was able to live as he did. As we looked at above, he didn’t shrink back from anything, nor did he try to hide his emotions. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was such that he knew who he was and he knew that he was loved. As a result of that foundation, nothing could shake him.

Like I said, this time of year is one that I tend to not just reflect on the previous year but also look ahead to the coming year. I know I’ve said it before in other posts, but what this revelation keeps bringing me back to is that we’re not meant to live life alone. We need that same level of intimacy with God that we see in John 8. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open for us to have it. And I’m not talking about being more faithful in reading your Bible or making sure you’re in church every Sunday morning. If you read through the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ intimacy with the Father ran so much deeper than surface level stuff like that. (I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves; I’m just saying we can’t stop there.) As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, God has set eternity in our hearts. There’s a longing there, a longing for our real home and intimacy with the one we were made for, and if we’ll follow that we’ll find him. It may be in the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of the stars on a clear night, or the touch of the one you love. He speaks to us all in ways befitting our own stories. All we have to do is listen. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to be at the start of a new year.