Tag Archives: Trust

What are we known for?

MV5BMTYyMTcxNzc5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2ODE2MTI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_We saw Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales this past weekend and without giving away too much in spoilers let me just say it was the emotional, fun-filled adventure we’ve come to expect from these movies. There’s this one scene in particular that got me right in the gut. If you remember from the end of the third Pirates movie, Jack Sparrow lost the Black Pearl (again). And if you remember from the fourth one, Blackbeard shrank the Pearl and stuck it in a bottle. Well, there’s a scene early on in this one where Jack is on the beach with no ship and no crew and he stares out towards his beloved horizon and holds up the Pearl, still in the bottle, to make it look as though she’s sailing through the waves once more. It’s heartbreaking to watch. I mean, here is what he wants more than anything else in the world, the very thing that makes him who he is, and it’s the one thing he just can’t have. And in the very next scene he gets fall-down drunk and barters away the last real piece of his identity as a pirate for one more drink.

Haven’t we all been there? There’s something that we want, or need even, to make life work and for whatever reason it’s the one thing we just can’t get. And so we lock the desire away somewhere down deep and try to get on with life as it is. We get so busy we tell ourselves we haven’t got time for whatever it is, or we don’t really need it after all, thank you very much. Anything to avoid the pain inside. And who could blame us, really? There are times when I feel this way more often than I care to admit and in all honesty I simply don’t know what to do with the way I feel. It’s far easier to just try to get on with life than to face up to something I don’t even know how to begin to deal with. What exactly is at the root of all this may differ for everyone, but it’s a reality I’m convinced we all face. Black, white, gay, lesbian, trans, straight, it makes no difference. We all want more.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we’re told that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” We all feel like there should be something more because there actually should be something more. We’re all missing something. The crazy hope of the Bible is that there is actually something out there, some object or person of desire, which makes this whole damn thing actually make sense.

When I first had the idea for this post I was going to leave it at that. If you feel Jesus tugging on your heart through your desires then I would definitely encourage you to be open to it and respond. That being said, it hit me that this hope is supposed to be largely what defines us as Christians. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter tells us to “always [be] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The implication is that Christians are by nature such a hopeful people that those around them can’t help but notice and be intrigued by it.

Is this still true today, I wonder? I remember preaching on this text a couple of years ago and asking those in the audience when the last time was that someone had come up to them and asked why they were so hopeful. For many of those present, myself included, we couldn’t remember when this had happened, if ever. There are, of course, many reasons for that. Hope can be the last thing on your mind when your head hits the pillow after a long day at work and you know when the alarm goes off you have to get up to do it all over again. My point here is not to shame us for this but rather to point out that if we’re not known for being hopeful than we’re probably known for being something else.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian you can probably think of many things Christians are known for, especially here in the U.S. (and not all of them positive). All I have to do is peruse my Facebook or my Twitter feed to know that perhaps more than anything else right now Christians in this country are known for trying to take away the rights of those we disagree with. We’re connected to the Republican party and by God we’re going to use that connection to see this country remade the way God wants it to be. It would be laughable if only it didn’t cause so much pain.

That’s what we’re known for and that’s sad. If you’ve been around a church much at all you may have heard it said of someone that they’re “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” This is usually not a compliment of the person in question. They may, for example, be so focused on being “spiritual” that they don’t have  the time or the inclination to help out their fellow man. Having observed the church in this country over the last few years, and having experienced first hand the pain we inflict on those we marginalise, I have to wonder if maybe the reverse is true of Christianity as a whole in the U.S. today. Are we so focused on this world that we’ve forgotten it isn’t our home? Once we make this world the point, anything’s justified as long as it keeps us in power. We’re the ones who have God’s authority (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves), so why shouldn’t we be in power? And have we become so wedded to our own worldview that we’ve forgotten we’re not the only voice in this culture? Are we so convinced of our hold on the truth that we’ve forgotten the need to treat others with basic dignity and respect?

I would answer yes to all of those questions. We have forgotten so much and gotten so far off track that we think the most loving thing we can do for someone is share our own worldview with them without showing even an ounce of respect for theirs.

People need hope. We all do. If the Bible is to be believed, Christians are the ones who know where to find hope, for this world as well as for the next. If we want to start bringing hope again then it’s time for us to remember just who we are and just what we’re supposed to be about as Christians.

 

 

No Place Like Home

In Luke 9:58, when a man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus responds by stating that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now I’ve read that passage dozens of times, and heard it preached on once or twice, usually in the context of trying to explain the cost of following Christ. The entire end of this chapter actually explores the concept and it’s really quite fascinating, especially from a literary point of view. We get these 3 little snippets of conversation, without being told anything about who it is that’s talking to Jesus or how they respond to what he tells them or even why they say what they do in the first place. All we get, really, is the interaction. But I digress.

I’ve usually taken this particular verse in the sense of if I was ever a missionary in some foreign place then I might not necessarily have a pillow or a bed or whatnot. I’d have to make do with whatever I could find. What got my attention here, and what I want to point out, is in the first part of the verse. To a fox and a bird, a hole in the ground and a nest aren’t just a place to sleep at night. They’re home. They’re a place of relative safety, a place to raise your young. The human equivalent might be a place to be yourself. A place where you can relax, let your guard down, and check your worries at the door. As you might imagine, this isn’t just a physical place but an emotional one, as well. Home is where the heart is, right?

Here’s the thing. We’re not promised any of that. That’s what Jesus’s statement is meant to convey to this eager young man. If Jesus himself never had that, how can we expect to? And I don’t say that to burst your bubble or point you to some “super spiritual” wisdom. It’s meant to be a comfort in addition to a challenge. If you find yourself in a place where you’re not understood or not welcome, or where you’re alone, you’re in good company. And it’s probably not your fault, either. We are, after all, always going to be outcasts in this world. Only when we finally reach heaven’s shores will we truly be home. Until that day, don’t lose heart. You are not misunderstood or unwanted, and you are never truly alone. You are known fully and loved deeply by the one who died just to be with you and who, if you are willing to trust him, will be waiting for you there with open arms.

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.

Do What You Do

shutterstock_250176199                It’s been a little over three weeks now since we finally moved into our new place, and I have to say that it still feels surreal. Moved in is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. As I’m finding out, this is very much a process. There’s always more to do, more to set up, more to unpack… At this point I think it’s safe to say we’ve gone through maybe 2/3 of our stuff. Maybe. At times it’s been overwhelming. The first couple of nights coming home from work, finding nothing but boxes in pretty much every room… How were we ever going to go through so much stuff? Where would we put all of it? When would this ever end? If you’ve ever moved before, I’m betting you’ve been there, too.

Last week the rain held off long enough for us to plant some new trees and doing so drove home to me that this isn’t home, at least not quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, I mean it has been wonderful having our own place. The freedom and the peacefulness out here have been worth all the headache and then some. Still, it isn’t quite home. We cleared most of the trees off the property before we moved the trailer out here, and as we don’t yet have grass, the trailer sits in what was a big ol’ piece of dirt. With all the rain, it’s now a muddy, swampy piece of land that feels like the edge of the known universe sometimes (at least the edge of our known universe).

Oh, and did I mention that we now have a mortgage? Which at about $50 000 is more money than either of us have ever had? Keep in mind that my day job in the child care field isn’t exactly one that you get into for the money. And speaking of money, why is it that there are all these tiny details that no one tells you about when you move in and you don’t realize you even need until you clue in that there’s not one of whatever it is in the house? Like I said, it’s been a little overwhelming.

The other day as I waited to pick up kids on my bus, I was flipping through my Bible and I came across a story in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles 19, to be exact. By this point in the biblical narrative, King David has been on the throne of Israel for a while and things have kinda, sorta settled down for the nation politically speaking. As the story opens, David has heard that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, one of the neighboring kingdoms, has died. Nahash is one who actually dealt kindly with David earlier in his life. (Different translations have “kindly” or “loyally,” which will give you the idea of how this particular king acted.) David returns the favor by sending a delegation to Hanun, Nahash’s son, to express his condolences. The Ammonite advisors take the gesture totally the wrong way, assuming that the delegation has come to spy out the land in preparation for an attack, and so they send the delegation home in disgrace. Realizing that doing so has royally pissed off Israel, the Ammonites then hire reinforcements from the smaller Syrian kingdoms and move to attack Israel (instead of apologizing, which as things turn out probably would have been the smart thing to do).

Through no fault of their own, the Israelites have just stepped in it. David sends Joab with all of the “mighty men” to deal with the threat, and as the battle unfolds, the Israelite army finds itself under attack on two fronts. What really caught my attention here, especially given my own circumstances, was Joab’s speech to Abishai, his brother. Joab has split his force in two to deal with both threats and given Abishai command of one element. After laying out his battle plan, Joab says in 1 Chronicles 19:13, “Be of good courage, and let us behave valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God, and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight.” We get the same story again in 2 Samuel 10, where it’s worded, “Let us play the men for our people….”

Here’s what I love about Joab in this. His force is under attack from two directions, which for a military commander is not a good place to be, but he’s not panicking. Instead, he’s extremely level-headed. What he’s telling Abishai is, in essence, “We do what we do best. We use our strength, and we use it on behalf of those who are depending on us. We do that, and we leave the end result up to God.” So much in this battle depends on Joab and his army, yet the end result is not in his control. At the risk of repeating it too much, Joab focuses on what he can do and leaves the rest up to God.

This particular story does have actually a happy ending. By the time the battle’s done, Joab’s army is victorious over the Ammonites and their Syrian allies. The Syrian kings who’ve been defeated send word to Hadadezer, king of the Syrians “beyond the river,” who calls out basically the entire Syrian nation to attack Israel. When David hears of this, he gathers “all Israel” (which is biblical speak for “play time is over and I’m done messing around), and moves to meet the threat. When this battle is over, the Syrians have lost some 47 000 men and they are no longer much of a danger to Israel during David’s reign.

I take comfort in the fact that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes. There are days (or weeks, or months), where like Joab we end dealing with a lot more than we bargained for. I am painfully aware that paying off our mortgage requires having a steady income. That means getting up and going to work every day, which I do, and taking better opportunities if and when they come along. That being said, there is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can guarantee a steady income for the next 20 years without any bumps in the road. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. We could get pregnant, or I could end up in a car wreck, or I could lose my job. I have no control over that, which is something I’m learning to accept. I am oh so slowly learning to do what I do best at work, and then come home, relax, and go to sleep. Kind of like Joab’s attitude, you know?

Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, I’d encourage you to approach whatever it is you’re dealing with from a similar angle. God is there, even if you’ve never approached Him before, and He will handle what you can’t. So do your best, do what you do, and call it a day. Leave the rest up to Him.

Just One More Thing

broken-plate-a-broken-plate-5ykci2-clipartOne of the things you’re working towards when you move a trailer out to a piece of property is the inspection that gets you the Certificate of Occupancy. When you get to that point, everything else is done. The septic tank is in, your well is dug, and the trailer is set up the way the building code says it needs to be. Pass the inspection, you get the certificate and you can move in. Fail it and you’ve got more work to do on one aspect or another.

To make a long story short, our inspection was last Thursday, and I arrived out there after working the morning part of my split-shift to find the Certificate of Occupancy stuck in the backdoor. All we needed was the power hookup, and we were supposed to have that within 1-2 days of getting the company a copy of the certificate. So I drove the certificate out to the company office where they made their copy, and then we sat back to plan our first night in the new place which we had set for this past Sunday.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it hasn’t been quite that straightforward. Turns out there’s this thing called a “You Can Dig Locator,” which has to be done before they can hook up underground power. (It’s not needed for just connecting aerial wires, but we didn’t know that earlier when it might have been useful.) Once that’s called in, they legally have to wait 3 business days before they can dig, and the day it’s called in apparently doesn’t count. We thought this had already been done, and apparently so had customer service at the power company. In reality, we passed inspection last Thursday and the Locator wasn’t called in until the next morning. The bottom line is that it’s now been 10 days since we passed inspection and we’re still not living up there. (Although we did get to move our stuff in!)

The point to this is not to rant or just use the Internet as a place to vent and criticize this whole process. There are a lot of people working very hard to get us to the point where we’re actually living up there, and we’re grateful for everything they do. The point is to say that we all have those moments in life where something that we really hoped would happen, well, didn’t. Either it didn’t happen the way that we wanted it to, or it didn’t happen when we hoped it would, or in the worst case, it didn’t happen at all. More often than not there’s no real reason for it, either. Things just don’t come together the way we hoped they would. What’s made it difficult for us going through this process is that we’re new to all this. We understood the steps in the process before we started (or at least we thought we did), but what we didn’t know is that each step has its own collection of sub-steps, each of which has its own little difficulties and each of which has to be successfully addressed before moving on to the next. It’s been a case of “just one more thing” more times than I’d honestly care to count.

What do you do with those moments? I know from experience how easy it is to just lose heart, to say, “The hell with it.” It’s not that I don’t want it to happen, it’s just that it’s easy to think that it won’t actually happen, or that it won’t happen as soon as I want it to, or that it won’t happen the way that I want it to, and in believing any of those it’s easy to just stop hoping for it altogether.

In his Second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spends a lot of time discussing his work with them. This is perhaps the congregation for Paul, the one that gave him more headaches than any other. One of the issues Paul had to face here was so-called “super-apostles,” leaders who seemed to be genuine but who were more interested in using those in the city of Corinth for their own ends. (Think everything that’s true of the worst of the worst of televangelists.) Paul thus spends a lot of time in his letters to this congregation defending his own work and the reasons why he does what he does. After laying out in 2 Corinthians 3 just what it is he’s up to as a minister, and the reasons why, in 2 Corinthians 4 he talks about why he doesn’t give up. The interesting thing for our purposes here is that he twice uses a Greek phrase which different translations have either as “we faint not” or, oddly enough, as “we do not lose heart.” The first is in 2 Cor. 4:1 and the second is in 2 Cor. 4:16. Speaking not just as a Christian but also as a man and husband with responsibilities and who has to face the drama of daily living, if this guy knows the secret of how not to do what I spoke of earlier, I’m all ears.

There are two elements to this that shed light on what Paul is getting at, but first I want to know what sort of man we’re dealing with here. Has he led an easy life or a hard one? If it’s been easy for him, and there’s reason to think he’s full of it here, I’m not interested. Later on in this same letter, however, we get a glimpse at his story in his own words. In 2 Cor 11:24-28, he tell us, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” Being stoned or shipwrecked alone would be enough for me to seriously question what I had been called to do, but not Paul. In his own words, he does not “lose heart.”

And in case you’re thinking he made most of that up, the particulars missing here are largely filled out in the Book of Acts, written by Luke, who was one of Paul’s travelling companions through much of what was described in the above passage. If then Paul knows what he’s talking about, what was he getting at? How did he not lose heart?

The first question that we have to answer is what exactly Paul meant when he said that. The Greek phrase from which we get “do not lose heart” or “faint not” has as its meaning “to lose courage” or “to fail to try,” with the general sense being that if you don’t lose heart then you’re willing to try again (you have the courage to try again) even if it didn’t work out like you wanted the first time. In my case, for example, it’s a matter of still being willing to hope that we’ll be in our place soon even when things come up that may push that date off somewhat.

How does Paul do that? It ultimately comes down to what he knows to be true even if he can’t exactly see it at that particular moment. In 2 Cor. 4:16-18, he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” His outward circumstances, his “outward man,” may really suck, but inwardly it’s a different story. There is far more going on around us than we are sometimes aware of (the goodness of God being a great example), but that doesn’t make those things any less important. In fact, as Paul says, it makes them more so. It is partly through choosing to focus on these things that Paul is able to not lose heart. 

You’ll notice I said it is only partly through this choice he talks about. What I’m getting at is not a case of “suck it up and deal with it.” I’m not advising that we simply put on a fake smile and act like everything’s normal even when we’re dying inside. There is more than enough sorrow and frustration in this world to break your heart on a daily basis, and you only compound the damage if you refuse to even acknowledge it. No, there is more to Paul’s secret, so to speak, than what we’ve looked at so far.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” The “treasure” alluded to here is described in the previous verse as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” which in a nutshell is the relationship we can have with Jesus made possible through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. What’s really important here is the phrase “earthen vessels.” Growing up in the church, that’s one I’ve heard many times before. As it’s usually explained, it symbolically describes how we as humans are frail and prone to breaking. For the purposes of this post, I had a look at the phrase in the original Greek, and what it literally describes is a piece of pottery. If you’ve ever had a clay pot for your garden, or hell, a plate, then you’ll get the idea. Pottery, as strong as it may be, breaks if you push it to far (or, as I’m sure we’ve all found out, if you drop it). And therein lies the other part, the main part, of how Paul is able to not lose heart.

If you drop a plate and it breaks, you don’t curse the plate, right? You may curse yourself for dropping it, but you don’t blame the plate. That’s just what a plate does when you drop it. Due to what a plate, or other piece of pottery, is made out of, drop it and it will usually break. As humans, we’re the same way. Stretch us too thin or push us too far and we break. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether we’re talking emotional breakage or physical, it’s all a part of who we are. Given the right circumstances, we break or we shatter. It’s a reality of being human.

Look back at that passage one more time. Paul says we have this treasure in the breakable bodies that we do so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” That’s the source of Paul’s ability to not lose heart. We can’t do this life alone, and Paul doesn’t try to. It’s that relationship, and the power that comes from it, which renews him inwardly even as his whole world goes to hell.

Whether you’re reading this and you’re a Christian or not, I would put to you that we are not meant to do this life alone. We break, remember? And we need someone there to pick up the pieces, even if, no especially if, we have no one else to turn to. Trusting Jesus like this is not easy even for me as a minister, and it’s not something I’m able to do all the time or even consistently sometimes for that matter. It’s can be damn hard to give up control, especially when it’s something that I long for so much like my wife and I having a place of our own. What I do know is that it’s worth it. Are you willing to trust Him?

What’s He like?

the-leap-of-faithOK, so it has been a few weeks since I posted on here last, and the simple reason for that is that I’ve been kicking around a fair bit the question of what Jesus is like. There are so many ways it’s possible to answer that question, but the last thing I want to do is give an answer that’s little more than religious platitudes. If you think about it, this is perhaps the question when it comes to Jesus. “Who is He, and what’s He like?” is a question on which so much else rides.

Think about it. Every time someone says “God is _____,” how hard is it to look at your own life, or at the world around you, and respond with “Then why does _____ happen?” I don’t have to look that far to know that this isn’t that hard to do. “If God is good, then why did He allow me to get hurt the way I did?” One I’ve seen a lot from conversations on LGBT Facebook pages is some version of “If the God of the Bible is so loving, then why are His followers so unloving?” Long story short, there’s a lot riding on these questions.

Even for me, one who professes to know Jesus, to say that it’s difficult to find answers to those questions is a hell of an understatement. My wife and I spent the first 3 years of our marriage living apart, and then another year patching up the damage that did to our relationship. And the people behind that whole blow up a while back were committed Christians. I still don’t know the why behind much of that, and I’m not sure I ever will. Trusting Jesus for my salvation was easy. Trusting Him enough to be vulnerable myself, to live life and not shrink back from it, and to be myself in all that means, is something I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to do.

So back to the question. Who is He? There have been a lot of answers put forward to that question over the years, based on a number of different interpretations (one young woman on Facebook last week said He was a “Jewish socialist”), but the main place I’m looking for my answer is the Bible. I have my reasons for that, as you might expect (and no, it’s not just because the Church says so; I make an effort to question Church positions on different things based on what I see in the Bible, and I would encourage you to do likewise). The short answer is that I believe in the Bible Jesus has made the effort to reach out to us, which means it’s a pretty good place to start. (Nature is another good place to look; you can tell a lot about the artist by what they choose to create.)

So who is He? There are many things He shows us about Himself in the Bible, but here are just a few. In Romans 8:1, He tells us that if you know Him, there’s no condemnation in how He looks at you. In 2 Peter 3:8-10, He tells us that if you don’t know Him, His one desire is that you would come to know Him. In the records of His crucifixion, He shows us just how far He went to win us back and make that relationship possible again after sin had broken it off. And in 1 John 4:10 and Romans 5:8, He tells us that His love for us has absolutely nothing to do with our own efforts. He loves us because of who He is, and because of who we are.

Does that love change if you’re white or black, or depending on the country you live in, or whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or what not? I have to say no. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate His love is limited to a select few, or in contrast, kept from a select group or two.

Does that knowledge make it easier to trust Him…? I hope so, although I do have to admit from my own life, like I said, that it can still be so hard. Lately I’ve been reading a book by N.T. Wright called Surprised by Scripture, and one of Wright’s observations is that, once we come to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually took place, it opens up a whole new world for us. I have to admit that there are days when I’m not sure I’m ready to live in that world just yet, even though I will readily admit that I believe what Jesus says about Himself in the Bible is true. As I mentioned in my last post, this trust is also a daily thing. It will come, I believe, given time.

I have to throw in a little plug here for the Misfit Discussion Forum, which should be up and running by the end of this week. This question, “Who is Jesus, and what’s He like?” will be the first one up there, and I am really interested in hearing your thoughts!

Is He real?

7387-cross_dark_sky_evil.630w.tnOne of the things I’ve noticed throughout all of the crap that my wife and I have gone through in the last few years (and there’s been a lot of it) is that how I view God tends to determine how I handle the crap. If I see Him as loving and close to me, for example, it makes the crap easier to deal with (although it doesn’t make it go away, that’s for sure), whereas if, for whatever reason, He seems distant or I think He’s pissed at me for one thing or another, it makes the crap that much harder to deal with.

The question is not a trivial one, either. If you’re the praying sort, how do you know who’s on the other end of your prayers? Better yet, how do you know anybody is on the other end at all? And if you’re not the type to pray, why start if there really is nobody on the other end to hear you? When I was asked a few years back to teach a Sunday School class at the church we were at at the time, I was told that when it came to prayer I was to teach these kids how to pray. To be honest, that request pissed me off. There are uses for prayer that is more scripted (praying through the Psalms can provide a voice to things we don’t know how to express, for example), but at its heart prayer is just a conversation with God, and if you can talk and listen then you can do that. What is of greater importance is how we view the person we’re talking to. Is He even there? Does He care? Is He even listening? (My apologies if this seems like covering old ground. This one’s kind of important.)

Whether or not there’s someone on the other end when we pray is a matter for faith more than anything else. There are reasons to believe, sure, but unless you find them convincing they may not be enough by themselves. So, is He real? The Bible itself can help us find an answer to that one. In the letter of 1 John, the Apostle John is writing to a group of Christians who’ve been caught up in believing that salvation comes not through trusting Christ but rather through “secret knowledge”. It’s the way he begins his letter that’s important for our purpose here. He says in 1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Take a close look at these verses and notice how many times the senses come into play. Twice the writer refers to what they have heard, four times to what they have seen, and once to what they were able to touch. Let that sink in for a minute. (When biblical writers emphasise something that often in such a short space, it functions as a sort of divine highlighter. This is something you don’t want to miss.)

What John is up to here is laying the foundation for when he later responds directly to those who are trying to mess around with the Christians he’s writing to. Basically he’s saying, “This is why I can talk to you about this,” or better, “Here’s my authority.” And where does that authority come from? It comes from the fact that John was there, and the fact that he constantly talks about “we” means he wasn’t the only one. These people were there when Jesus performed His miracles, and they were there to hear His teaching. In short, they saw that He was real, and for that reason John could call out those tried to change the minds of the Christians he wrote to.

So is He real? Those who heard Him speak and saw what He did when He walked this earth certainly thought so. I realise this doesn’t answer the second question, that of what He’s like, but this is one question that is worth answering well. An off the cuff answer just won’t do, so we’ll take that issue up in the next post.

I get it, and I’m sorry.

cory-im_sorry_500One of the things I’ve been trying to understand since the Orlando shootings back in June is the level of hate on both sides of LGBT issues whenever Christians get involved. In following different conversations on various LGBT related Facebook pages, I’ve seen this kind of thing go both ways, and the intensity and depth of the hate and rage expressed there can be soul-numbing. At the end of the day, as I see it, we’re all people, with the same right to choose how we want to live our lives, and if one group doesn’t agree with another group, there’s no reason right off the bat why this much hate should be the result. Call it naive and idealistic if you want, but it’s the way I see it.

Having said that, the events of the last week have helped me understand to a far greater depth why those on the LGBT side of the fence see us Christians the way they do. (Again, please understand I’m not trying to set up an us/them sort of thing here. I’m just not sure how else to describe it.) As I said in the last post, it had to do with my hair, but there was a lot more to it than that.

I live in the South, and I’ve had long hair and an earing for a while now. The South being what it is, accusations that I’m gay haven’t been what you would call uncommon. I’m not, but it’s actually something I don’t mind. The divide between the two groups is so vast right now, and if looking like I do means people think I’m gay and that helps to open doors that would otherwise be closed, then I don’t mind one bit.

This being the South, however, my wife’s family does mind, and as we’re staying with them as we develop a piece of property, that’s turned this into kind of a big deal. All of this came to a head last Friday night when I was told to either get my hair cut into a “man’s haircut” (whatever that’s supposed to be) or I wasn’t welcome back. There was no negotiating, no arguing (although I definitely did try). It was just final. Change a part of who I was or don’t come back. Did I want to? No. For reasons I’ve talked about elsewhere on here, my hair is a very personal part of myself that I did NOT want to change. But we’ve got nowhere else to go, and I love my wife too much just to up and move back to Canada, so I got it cut after spending Friday night in a hotel room.

I’m still angry about it. Making me conform to someone’s cultural stereotype just for the sake of appearances is one of the easiest ways to push my buttons (and this goes for making others conform as well). That being said, the point of this place was never to attack people, or even single people out in discussions. The point to all this is simply to say that I get it now, and I’m sorry. I understand, albeit just a little, why those in the LGBT community hate us so much. That pain and frustration I went through Friday night and through Saturday last weekend is something I never want to experience again. Rejection hurts. It really does. I can only imagine how you feel when we as Christians tell you that God has rejected you for being gay, lesbian, trans, and what not.

I want to make you this promise. Whether we meet here on this site, or on Facebook, or maybe even in person, I will never reject you like that. I never want to put anyone through the nightmare I went through last weekend. I won’t treat you like that here (and I don’t believe Jesus does, either). We may disagree, but I will always be respectful, and I will never reject you just because of who you are. I would also like to apologize to you on behalf of all those of us who call ourselves Christians who have treated you that way. No one deserves to be treated like that, or to feel that God treats them that way, either.

Just Breathe

10612990_10152641477454378_7214053489819699483_nWhen I was in the military, I had a lot of problems with the physical aspects of the lifestyle. I’ve always been more brains than muscle, and so it was a struggle for me from day one. Given that, you can probably imagine how I felt about the PT tests we had to do periodically as Cadets. One aspect that I absolutely loathed was the 20 Metre Shuttle Run (or 20 MSR for short). This involved lines spaced 20 metres apart on the gym floor, and you ran back and forth between these lines to the tune of the “beeps”. You had to make each trip before the beep, and you did so until you were either disqualified or you collapsed.

My approach to this part of the test was just to put one foot in front of the other and go as fast I could for as long as I could. I’d set aside everything else, including breathing as deeply as possible, and just focus on that. After all, the purpose of this test was to check your endurance, right? And so I did my best and struggled through it each time. One day, after yet another slug fest with this portion of the test, a friend of mine pointed out something I’ve never forgotten. The point of the test is not just about your endurance, it’s about how your body processes oxygen. Oxygen is the fuel our bodies need, meaning that about the time I stopped focusing on my breathing, my body began to run out of gas and my struggle began. Breathing, not the exertion itself, was the key.

I’ve been reminded of this over the last couple of weeks in particular. Work has been short-staffed a bit, I’ve been trying to get more hours now that we’re trying to build a house, and the general responsibilities of life linger in the background like they always do. It’s been easy to focus just on making it through each day, going to sleep, and then waking up to do it all over again. The short version of this is that I don’t think I’ve felt this tired in a long time.

In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples (and by extension you and me), “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Without doing an extensive dissection of this passage, just look at that for a minute. What does Jesus ask of us? To abide in Him, in the same way that a branch abides in, or connects to, the vine. And what does a branch do when it’s connected to the vine? Not much. It just is. All it has to do is be connected to the vine. When we lose that, it’s not that we can do less or that things get harder. No, as Jesus tells us, we can do “nothing”. 

Maybe, just maybe, all the work that we do, whether it’s church-type stuff or just getting through the days, isn’t the whole point. That’s not to say that it’s not important (if I don’t work, I don’t eat), but just that it shouldn’t consume us. In the end, the first thing Jesus asks of us is to be connected with Him, just like the first thing I had to focus on in order to succeed at the 20 MSR was breathe. Whatever else you do this weekend, whatever responsibilities you have to meet, take time to breathe.