Archive for the 'grace' Category

I’d like to go ‘old-school’ for a moment or two as this day of mine comes to a close. Think back to a time not long ago when U2 released the CD they titled, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It wasn’t that long ago, and yet it seems forever and a day. One of the (in my opinion) better tracks on the CD is a song simply called YHWH. The lyrics are such:

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don’t make a fist no
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

We were driving home from worship—the culmination of a nice Sabbath I treated myself to. Worship, by the way, was amazing today. I feared for the preacher who had the nerve to say to his congregation, “Don’t be a tumor on the body of Christ,” and, best, “Dead churches do not ask you take responsibility; living churches do.” I nearly fell out the soft padded pew. Next week I am not sitting in the balcony, that’s for sure.

We were driving home after hearing the preacher say such things and we were listening to Yahweh.  My children were horsing around in the backseat and my wife and I were engaged in conversation. I heard the lyric, “His love is like a drop in the ocean” and I paused…I thought about it…it didn’t make sense to me for some reason, but I couldn’t figure out why. I said to the lovely and gracious Bumblebee, “that lyric seems out of place, it doesn’t make sense.”

She nodded as she does when she is trying to indicate that I am over-thinking something. I persisted.

“Seriously. What is he saying there? A drop in the ocean is small compared to the ocean. Is Bono saying that God’s love is really small? Is he saying that God’s love is condescending, that it becomes small to accommodate our inability to comprehend it’s vastness? Or is he saying it is indistinguishable from everything else around it? It’s only one small part of what God in his grace gives us?” She agreed, which I think was her way of saying she wasn’t really interested in ruining a nice song with analysis.

Then it happened. I confess that right now, twelve and a half hours later, I am still in a bit of shock. It happens that my youngest son, Doodle-boy, Pookie, was listening to our conversation and, evidently, the song. He piped up, “it means it’s hard to find.”  Huh? This from my son who is about as interested in school as a chicken is in Tyson. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’m still having trouble understanding why my 12 year old did, but I think he might be right.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

So my thought is this: If God’s love is so vast, so great, so big, so deep, then why is it so hard to find? Is it really so indistinguishable from everything around it? Do we really have to search and search and search for God’s love?

I know that my 12 year old is not the only one asking such questions. Bono is no neophyte in matters of the mystery of God and God’s love. And we, with outstretched hands and longing hearts, too want to know this love of God that others seem to find so easily and readily. Maybe what Bono is saying is that God’s love is hard to find because it is only found in one place and we have to go through a lot of, uh, crap, to find it: it is one treasure hidden in a field, one pearl in a market place, it is one Man among millions, it is one drop in an ocean. It is hidden in plain sight, yet for all we see it is indistinguishable from its surroundings.

I do not know what was going through the mind of my Pookster, but I know what is going on inside my own heart and mind. And the truth is that sometimes God’s love is difficult to find, feel, or see. The preacher this morning said that true church membership is a loving relationship between the members. But maybe it is also the place where God’s love is felt most acutely while we are having our shoes, feet, shirts, cities, hands, and mouths changed, that is, while new children are being born. And in the meantime there is pain.

Or maybe humanity is the ocean, and Jesus is the one drop of God’s love?

Who knows? All I can really say is this: If God’s love is a drop in the ocean, I’d rather know that one drop than all the rest of the waters of earth. For it seems to me that no matter how difficult it may be to find, there, in that one drop, is all the sustenance I will need for a thousand-million years. And it would be worth searching a million years or more to find that one drop.

I’m glad Snakers spoke up this morning. He reminded me to keep on looking, to keep on searching, to keep pursuing the God who relentlessly pursues me.

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I have been waking up early for the last two weeks. I’m not sure why. I’m content to stay up late and sleep late too; not much of a morning kind of guy. So it is indeed strange that all of a sudden I have been waking up at 6:45 AM and jumping out of my bed as if there were springs on my back and Wyle E Coyote had just pressed a remote control button activating a mechanism that releases the tension and sends me bounding into the day with reckless abandon.

Or at least that’s me waking up in the morning, for a week or two.

I share that short introductory remark about my sleeping and waking habits so that I can tell you this extra time has benefited me greatly. I have been using this time to read (and write, a little). I’ve been reading a lot. Today one of my books reminded me how amazing is this world and how wonderful is all that the eyes can see. I’m sitting behind a window, staring at a fake farm in a fake world, and right outside the window I am trapped behind is a spectacular, wonderful, grace filled world of trees and birds and spiders and flowers and grass and gravel and sunlight and paint and concrete and butterflies and squirrels  and the neighbors’ annoying feline.

About a month or so ago I moved my study desk out of my bedroom, to the downstairs, and in front of a window. I had grown weary of staring at the wall in my bedroom. Here I sit with my books surrounding me, my laptop beckoning me, my dogs crowding me, and the world open before me. There is a tree—one of my favorite trees: a Japanese Maple. It is a spectacular tree and I marvel at its grace and beauty. Have you ever seen one, ever beheld their breathtaking beauty and elegance? It is like arms reaching upward, palms upturned in worship, asking God for rain or light or a touch. It is balanced and perfect. It is a wonder to behold.

Hanging from the gorgeous Japanese Maple tree that God has so graciously permitted me to borrow for a while is a small red hummingbird feeder. My wife graciously created some yummy sugar water for the tiny birds and after about two weeks of hanging there silently, the hummingbirds finally discovered it. Now they make regular rounds visiting my feeder and, I presume, several other feeders in the area. I am amazed at their uncanny ability to hover (scientific explanations of how they do this hasn’t ruined my wonder of their doing so). I sit behind my window and watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hole to hole filling up on the succulent liquid. They are so perfectly designed, so wonderfully majestic, so majestically beautiful. I could sit and watch them all day.

I have two other trees in my front yard. They are tall trees. (The hummingbird has just returned. Now she’s gone.) The squirrels like to play in the trees. One day I went out and sat on the sidewalk. A squirrel walked right up to me and if I had had a peanut or a salad I suppose I could have fed it from my hand. It showed no fear of me. Although they can be annoying (David Crowder has written and spoken of how annoying squirrels can be) I love to watch them play in the trees. You can’t tell me they are not playing as they jump from branch to branch without a care in the world that they might plummet to their death. They frolic and play with abandon, throwing all caution to the wind and putting more faith in their furry tails than I put in my two feet. They are marvelous.

On the screen in front of me, the one that divides inside from outside when I have the window sash raised there lives a small jumping spider. I suppose it has a proper name, but I do not know what it is or care to look it up right now. I just call her Ma’am and I am very polite to her. She’s small and there’s glass between us, but I take no chances. I do not provoke her by tapping the glass or anything silly like that. I just sit and watch, amazed at how stealthily she glides across the screen looking for prey. I wonder if she prays?  I wonder if this glorious creature ever has thoughts about God? It is precisely that thought that prevents me from killing insects or animals of any kind. What if I squashed her under my thumb while she was praying to God? She is spectacular.

Every now and again I am also treated to a visit from a Cardinal. His glorious red feathers are all afire as he sits in the Japanese Maple or dares to hop over the white railing on my front porch. I love to watch him as he sits and looks at the ceiling of my porch. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why he would brave such a close encounter with my house when it is so clear that humans live here. Then one day I watched as he batted his wings, lifted off, and plucked a spider or another bug off the ceiling of the porch. He braved the encounter because he was hungry and found on my porch a wonderful restaurant, a smorgasbord of delectable delights. Look at the birds of the air…look at the birds on your front porch.

I could tell you about more. There’s also a Blue Jay that sits in the Japanese Maple cracking open seeds he gathered from the feeders we have out back of the house. I could talk to you about the Monarch Butterfly that just lighted upon the flowers surrounding the tall tree in my front yard. (I’d love to tell you about the two boys from across the street, the ones who are tormenting the neighborhood cat with their water guns.) There is the new grass that my wife planted that is the most perfect green I have ever seen, and delicate. There are the massive orb spiders that also live on the porch and scare me to pieces. There are the moths. The flies. The battalions of ‘Canadian Soldiers’ dead in spider webs. The Mosquitoes. The Ants. There’s more than I have time to tell you about this morning. But here’s the thing: I see all of this by looking out one small window, from one perspective, inside my house. I see all these creatures at least once a week, and most of them once per day. They are always there. And there is more: I haven’t even lifted rocks, dug a hole, or looked closely at the bark on the trees.

I am amazed at these things. Truly, utterly amazed that all of this is right outside my window. I am even more amazed that all of them, every single one will eat today. They will have enough and they will be here when I awake tomorrow and sit in this chair.

I marvel at God’s creativity and provision. I marvel that he allows me stewardship over some of this. I marvel that he is faithful in and caring (there’s a lot more too that I’m sure God also cares about as Jonah learned). I marvel that there is so much beauty around us and just two eyes to see. (I also marvel at how delicious olives are, even at 9:15 AM.) I marvel at the sunlight streaming down to touch the earth, that it still has strength and has not grown tired after traveling 93 million miles. I’m tired after five minutes. I marvel at the delicious, juicy sweetness of the Red Delicious apple I am consuming bit by bite.

I am amazed at God’s graciousness and grace. I marvel at his power. I marvel that his power is also love. I marvel that I am loved by him even though I am all too familiar with myself. I am amazed and I will continue to be amazed that this God of Japanese Maples and Humming Birds loves me. Right here, right now, the Holy King of Israel loves me.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

The hummingbird just came back for a third visit. This time, he sat for a while and enjoyed the drink before flying off again. I am still amazed.

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“The legalists can never live up to the expectations they project on God.”

–Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, 40

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I laugh every time I watch that commercial.  In the words of Homer J. Simpson, “It’s funny, because it’s true.”  This situation speaks to our culture’s obsession with outward appearance.  A few weeks ago I had my wife shave off all my hair.  I like a short haircut anyway, my hair is thinning, it’s really hot out, and I’m sure I could find more reasons.  But mostly I just wanted to do it for the fun of it.  It’s hair.  It will grow back.  I knew people would comment, but I ended up discovering something disturbing the following few Sundays.

People care more about outward appearances than they do about other people.

People were free with jokes, criticisms, funny looks, etc., about my hair.  ”Did your head get caught in a lawnmower? Har, har.”  We do that with all sorts of outward appearances.  We’ll speak out about the most unimportant things:  Pants a little too short?  Where’s the flood?  Favorite sports team in last place?  I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that hat.  A little under the weather?  You look terrible.  Zit, bruise, or busted lip?  What happened to your face?  All said with a look of disgust and/or ridicule.

My thoughts on this subject were brought back to mind recently when one of our Jr. High students came to church with her new glasses.  As she was leaving the auditorium after the service, I complimented her on the new frames.  Her mother followed up behind her and said to me, “You actually like her glasses?  Why?  I think their ugly.”

I wish I had answered that I liked them because her daughter liked them.  That answer might have challenged her in how she looked at such things.  But instead I made a joke that she didn’t like them because she was old.  Tit-for-tat I suppose.  I was really kind of shocked that her mom had such a negative attitude toward something so innocuous.

We feel the need to speak out against hairstyles, clothing choices, etc. but when it comes to those things that really matter: spiritual health, attitudes of the heart, actions and words toward others, we keep our mouths shut.  The church is called to be a community that encourages, builds up, trains, teaches, feeds, shares with, corrects, prays for, confesses to, forgives and loves each other.  We seem to be content with complaining, gossiping, cajoling, ridiculing, laughing at, questioning, deriding, and otherwise beating each other up relationally.

I don’t care what anybody thinks about my hair, my identity is not found in my outward appearance.  And I of all people can joke around with somebody.  But I’ve also learned the inherent problems with doing that.  Such interaction, especially in a void of positive Christian fellowship and discipleship, leads to shallow people living superficial lives making inconsequential judgments.  Our Christian community is what we make of it.  Think deeper.  Speak less.  Challenge each other.  Follow Jesus.

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Back in the day, when I was eager and thought it mattered, I used to subscribe to a number of theological journals. Among them was Interpretation a theological publication of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. I enjoyed reading through the thoughtful essays and the ‘between text and sermon’ section near the back of each month’s journal. Each month covered a different topic ranging from exploring a different book of the Bible to serious theological propositions.

Last week I was perusing through some of my back issues and one in particular caught my eye. It was the April 2000 issue titled “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” This was perfect given that my wife and I are currently praying and exploring how we can be forgiving people in some areas of our lives we believe need healing and reconciliation. Forgiveness used to come easily, but for some reason during the last year or so of my life, I have found it easier and easier to bear grudges and withhold forgiveness–especially towards brothers and sisters in Christ. I confess my weakness and failure in this regard.

This movement has been a terrible burden. It has made it difficult to worship. It has made it difficult to pray. It has made it difficult to think. It has made it difficult to study the Scripture. It has made being a man, husband, and father difficult. It has made relationships in general very, very difficult because in that place, that place of unrest and unforgiveness and bitterness, I found myself building protective walls–cutting off others so as to avoid all possibility of being hurt. I’m not offering excuses. I am saying that at the root of all that I have struggled with for the past year is, most likely, a terrible spirit of grudgery and unforgiveness.

If you have carried any such burden in your life, ever, at all, then you know full well the weight of the burden. Then that preacher at the church yesterday took out this gorgeous Katana, reached back, and drove it straight into my heart, without showing the slightest remorse: “When people love Jesus, they will love each other.” Why do preachers do that?

I have been living in that place; it is a cold, cold place. And I did all I could to douse the warm fires of the Spirit of Jesus with my own bitterness. Now the reservoir is empty. There’s no water left to quench the Spirit. Once again, I am undone, out of options. Jesus has cornered me and given me no other option. And it is that preacher’s fault. I think he is wise to allow us to use up all our water. It helps us realize that we have no other option but to forgive. It is also his way of loving us back into his arms. It is his way of saying, I’m not letting you go that easily. It’s his way of forcing us to name our sin and deal with it through prayer.

In the first essay in the journal from that month, Crafting Communities of Forgiveness, L. Gregory Jones who, at the time at least, was dean of Duke University Divinity School, wrote:

Could it be that in the capacity to discover what it means to be forgiven and to forgive depends on the richness of one’s communal habits, practices, and disciplines? Could it be that forgiveness is less a matter of the will and more a miracle that we discover by being found, and struggling to participate, in the practices of grace-filled Christian communities? (131)

In other words, the very thing that I needed in order to cultivate forgiveness and grace as a habit of my life, the very place where it was going to happen, was the very community I had cut off (or cut myself off from) in the first place. Forgiveness was ‘easy’ when I was firmly ensconced in the life of the church and rubbing shoulders with other people who were also practicing, but when I moved out of that place and began living among the Philistines–a people among whom grace and forgiveness is neither practiced nor prized–those things became more and more difficult and far more complex in practice. What I learned is that I am utterly incapable of being as forgiving as I had once imagined myself to be. That’s humiliating and humbling.

So, I have learned that I need the church (that is, the people of Jesus) far more than the people of Jesus need me. Jones concludes:

The questions raised earlier may now be stated in declarative form: the capacity to discover what it means to be forgiven and to forgive depends, in part, on the richness of one’s communal habits, practices, and disciplines. If we want to be faithful in our witness to God, then we ought to focus more attention on cultivating and crafting communities whose practices are marked by the crucified and risen Christ and bear witness to the eschatological work of the Holy Spirit. For, in so doing, we will discover with even greater power the active receptivity that makes it possible for us to learn the painful yet redemptive process of embodying forgiveness in faithful communion with God, with one another, and with all creation. (134)

Forgiveness is hard work best done within the community of God’s people–even when the forgiveness involves ‘all creation’ (that is, those who are not a part of the community). I believe we should be able to practice forgiveness in the church, but I wonder why it is so hard to do so? Why do I find it so painful to go to the people, the community of the crucified, and speak of forgiveness and grace and love?

Forgiveness is different and difficult for the people of God because it requires humility. We may end up having to ask for forgiveness before we ever dare assume the right of being forgiving.

Let me end with a question or two.

First, why do you think it is easier for us as Christians to forgive those who are not Christians than it is for us to forgive other Christians?

Second, how do we promote such a practice in our communities? Jones, in his essay (which explores this idea by explicating the letter of James) suggests that through the practices of singing, truthful speech, praying, anointing, confessing, and engaging in mutual admonition within the community, we learn to promote this practice. “…part of the gift of Christian life is that we do not learn to do any of them alone.” His idea is that in the practice of such things we learn to be a community of grace and forgiveness. What do you think?

Third, does such a community exist? Can the church be such a place?

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I’ve been thinking about taking up my cross, denying myself, and following Jesus. A lot. It’s a horrifying thought—sacrifice myself, deny the very impulses that give life to my hands and feet, follow someone I have never seen, heard, smelled, or touched. It’s all there…and in case I have any doubts, the one voice I do constantly hear is the one that says, “Yeah, He’s right.”

I constantly reply, “I wish He wasn’t.”

In his book After You Believe NT Wright explores what it means to be a Christian—a follower of Jesus. Early on in the book he poses a question (and provides an answer) which essentially defines the content of the remainder of the book. He writes,

‘How should I behave?’ contains two significantly different questions within it. First, it refers to the content of my behavior: In what way should I behave? In other words, what specific things ought I to do and not to do? But second, it refers to the means or method of my behavior: granted that I know what I ought to do and ought not to do, by what means will I be able to put these things into practice? […] Interestingly, Jesus seems to have given both sides of this question the same answer: ‘Follow me!’ This is both what you should do and how you should do it. (14)

And how do we follow Jesus? By taking up the cross and denying ourselves—necessary precursors which must be recognized, accepted, and in place before we ever take our first step behind him. Wright goes on, “The theme is stark and challenging: in order to develop Christian character, the first step is suffering” (177). I heard this while listening to some older music last night. It’s an old Petra song called ‘Hit You Where You Live.” This short lyric stands out to me as one of the best lyrics Bob Hartman ever wrote:

The evidence leads to conviction
When we don’t live everything we say
There’s got to be a crucifixion
We can live dying everyday

A crucifixion. It’s not original to NT Wright or Bob Hartman or any of the other hundreds of writers who have dragged their arms across the paper, pen in hand, and dared to etch these words into the fabric of their heart. I know why I sing them and write them and repeat them: to remind myself, constantly, that this is the life I was chosen for and that I chose. Frequently this life makes no sense and oftentimes God’s silence is deafening. He’s there; he’s not there. The road up Calvary, surrounded by thousands of people, is a lonely road.

The idea was original with Jesus and picked up on by those who dared drag their cross around the Roman infested Middle East. Peter said it. Paul said it. John said it.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. (Romans 12:1)

He also wrote and, worse, I assume, believed and, worser, expected those who read his writing to also believe:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I could go on and on and on and on quoting this author or that author and demonstrating unequivocally that we are, as disciples, called to the crucifixion driven life. (Well, we are also called to the Resurrection Driven Life too, but one is necessarily a result of the other; and the other necessarily a precursor to the other; I’ll leave it up to the Holy Spirit to teach you which is which.)  But the fact is, regardless of how many people say it or how eloquently they say it, no matter how poetically it is written or how much it is romanticized, this life, this life of self-denial, cross bearing, and Jesus following is not for the faint of heart. And there are times when I am sick of it; tired of trying.

I know what you’re thinking:  that is rather anti-climactic. I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I’m sorry if the perception of the Christian life we sometimes give off to those around us goes something like this: “Oh, I found Jesus and now my life is set! I can smile all the way to the bank! I can rest easily at night” and that that perception, however well intended, is decidedly, emphatically, wrong. I’m sorry if you have been misled to believe that dying is meant to be, uh, fun.

It’s hard. I’m not crying about it. I am pointing out that sometimes, all the times, this life—this learning to live the Jesus life—is terribly confusing. I’ve come to believe that it (this crucifixion driven life) has nothing to do with whether or not I succeed or whether or not I actually contribute to the world or make a so-called difference. Frankly, I believe this crucifixion life is the most personal aspect of our lives and it is, to be sure, the one place along our walk where God most loudly announces his love for us. Love.

It’s hard to believe that God loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son. It’s even harder to believe that He loves us so much that he requires us, as part of the plan, to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus. It’s hard to believe that he loves us so much that he calls us and when he calls us, he bids us come and die. It’s hard to believe he loves us so much that he is bound and determined to rid our lives of all that destroys us, of all that fails to bring glory to his name, of all that does not bear his image. “We are being recreated in the image of our Creator,” Paul wrote.

And some can say this with a smile and a Hallelujah! But Paul and others know the truth that that which lives inside of us is dark and must be murdered and that the darkness wages war, a bloody, violent, aggressive war, a counter-offensive, and that it seeks to maintain its strongholds at all costs.  It’s hard to imagine that God loves us so much that he not only points out what the strongholds are and where they are, but that he also leads the charge against them.

Love.

There is no hope for me, you realize this, right? It is simply impossible for me to believe in this God, let alone purposely decide every day to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him, right? And, let’s be honest, the cross I am called to bear is not a hangnail or a splinter or a crank boss. The cross is an instrument of death. It is the very means God uses to unwrap and undo self-sufficient humans.

I saw the fruit. It was good for food. It was desirable for gaining wisdom. It was pleasing to the eye. So I ate. The fruit became my cells, my tissues, my organs, my systems, and my being.  Now I have to throw it up and my insides must be turned outside. I must be undone.  (I think it much easier to sit around pots of meat and leeks and vegetables in Egypt, but don’t we all?) Who can rescue me from such a life? Who can fix me? Who can bring life out of death? Who cares so much about my life that he is willing to let me die (forces me to die?) in order that I might live? I can’t do it. I have no power.

Christians, then and now, are the only persons on the face of the earth who worship a crucified Savior—to all appearances in every and all cultures a rejected, humiliated, and failed Savior. [...]

These are background observations for understanding why what I am calling ‘acquired passivity’ is so difficult for us to take seriously and then embrace—and why it is absolutely necessary to embrace it if we are to accustom ourselves to living in a world characterized by the grace of God, for ‘by grace you have been saved.’ There are no other options. It’s grace or nothing. There is no ‘Plan B.’ (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 93)

Follow Jesus.

“But Lord,” I say, “I don’t know where I am at or where we are going.”

And his reply?

“Well, Jerry, if you are following Jesus, does it matter?”

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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Some of you know, because I updated my Facebook status, that I have spent the last hour or so sitting on my patio with a nice cup of hot tea and a nice book of Wendell Berry. I had no idea what would happen.

I scribbled in my journal a few words, incoherent; illegible. I listened to rattling cicadas, barking dogs, chirping birds, clapping leaves, and tried to discern the flapping of the butterfly’s wings as the marvelous, glorious swallowtail flitted by scarcely able to control its trajectory because of the breeze waltzing through my backyard. I sipped my tea, breathed the summer air, and slowly, deliberately, lovingly caressed the pages of the book with my eyes.

I can’t read poetry straight through like a novel. Instead I skip around from page to page and read wherever the page stays open long enough for me to fix my gaze. I did so today and then I saw it, devoured it, made bare words my flesh and bone. Wendell Berry surprised me with words that quelled my anxiety, squashed my inner turmoil, and rushed new life into my failing heart.

“The way of love leads all ways

to life beyond words, silent

and secret. To serve that triumph

I have done all the rest.”

–Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir

That’s enough. I just want you to know, or hear, again from love. Maybe you needed to hear from love as much as I do and did.

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Jars of Clay, one of my favorite bands, has written and recorded a song they simply called ‘Closer.’ Part of the song goes like this:

I don’t understand why we can’t get close enough
I want your kite strings tangled in my trees all wrapped up
I don’t understand why we can’t get close enough
I’ll be the comets that are fallin’ from the sky you light up…light up

I was thinking about this song yesterday while the preacher was preaching from Ephesians 1:3-14:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

You undoubtedly noticed what I noticed about this dense yet free-flowing paragraph. There are a lot of prepositions. I mean, there are a lot of them. Of distant galaxiescourse it is easy to lace your sentence with so many prepositions when the sentence is over 200 words long. Two-hundred words is a scary sick amount of words for a paragraph, let alone a sentence. But I digress. Paul was Paul and Paul can write however he wants to write. I’m just here to read it and be amazed and/or changed.

I confess that it is easy to feel alone and I further confess to exacerbating that feeling by desiring to be alone. I offer no excuses or apologies for being created so. There are times when I so desire company that I will go out of my way to find a conversation on Facebook. *Smile.* There are other times, prevailing times, when I will go into my bedroom, lock the door, close the drapes, hide under the blankets, turn out the lights, and wish the world and all her people away. But as most preachers do, even when we are not particularly paying attention, the one yesterday was talking about this community we belong to–this fellowship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Somehow or other we are included in that mix; I don’t know why or particularly understand the mystery. But we are, God has decreed and made it so. David Crowder describes the mystery thusly in his appropriately titled The Nearness :

Darkest night brought redemption
Inner sense, divine embrace
In the light of all creation
Heaven and earth start to twist
And the nearness of there
Feels more near to here

Somehow or other, and who knows what it means entirely, God has embraced us in our condition. He has and does love us in a way incomprehensible to our minds. Feel it in our hearts we may, but in the mind the love of God shown in Christ is beyond comprehension. I defy anyone to attempt to quantify what God has done for us or the manner in which he has loved us. It cannot be explained, yet we know it’s true. Love, when all else fails, when shadows falls, when suffering encroaches, when all that we have known and embraced is scattered…love–that love, in Christ–remains. If you can make sense of that, you should patent it and sell it or write a book or conduct a seminar. (And drop me a line.)

When reading a sentence that is two-hundred words long, it is not hard to miss the forest for all the trees. When reading Ephesians 1:3-14 it is not hard to miss the prepositions for all the theology. Paul uses big words like ‘predestined’ (a word that some have built theological fortresses upon), and mystery, and redemption. The temptation I think is to get caught up in those mountains and miss out on the more beautiful thing that Paul is telling his readers and simply put, it is this: everything Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:3-14 is true, or takes place, or is possible, because of Jesus. It is the nearness of Jesus, the ‘in Him’, that makes possible predestination, redemption, adoption, spiritual blessings, Holy Spirit promises, and inheritances and a host of other things found in this two-hundred word forest.

The most important part of Ephesians here, then, is found in the simple preposition ‘in’ and the Person it is attached to, namely, Jesus. In Him anything is possible and in particular our redemption. In Him is the nearness, the close enough, the love, and the company I desire and dread. In Jesus.

Dear God. I get chills just thinking about it to be honest with you. It is frightening to think I am positioned closer to God than I am my own skin. It is rather terrifying to imagine that when I am surrounded by death, when I am corrupted by sin, when I am overwhelmed by a flood, when the deep is swirling around my head and my heart has been banished to terror that it is all happening in Him. It is sometimes hard to imagine that all of our disagreements as Christians and all our hatred for those created in God’s image and all our unhappiness and suffering and shame and sin and arguments and theological terror takes place in Him. Have you ever thought about that? You know, that when you hate your brother because of a theological disparity you are hating him in Him?

How can hate and love reside inside the same person who is in Christ?

When we treat our brother or sister with contempt we do so in Him. When we fail to forgive we do so In Him. When we hate to love and love to hate we do in Him. When we exclude one made in the image of Christ we do so In Him. When we decide who is and is not in Him we do so In Him. Do you realize that according to the Gospel we are so located in Christ that everything we do, every breathe, every step, every thought, every beat of our heart is done In Him? Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever given thought to how your every action and decision as a person in Christ is done In Him? Do you realize that if you are In Him it is impossible to not be In Him and it is even more impossible to do anything apart from Him or outside of him? Have you ever thought about how overwhelming His presence is? Have you ever wondered when God seems so far away how he can be when we are In Him?

Have you ever considered how vital is this positional theology?

So why do we feel so alone at times? Why do we feel so devoid of his presence? Why do we feel so empty and desperate? Why do we feel so afraid and terrified? We do we feel so insecure? If we are so close to God in Him why does he sometimes feel nowhere near? If we are so close to God in Him how can we get closer?

This is not a piece that purports to provide an answer as much as it is a piece to provoke a painful and prolonged look at our position as disciples. We are not just followers, we are also parasites living on and off our host, The Host. Everything happens in Him and nothing happens apart from Him. If we are chosen, it is in Him. If we are blessed it is in Him. If we are included, it is in Him. If we are sealed with the Spirit, it is In him. If we are redeemed, it is in Him that it happens. If we are adopted, it is In Him. If we have hope, it is so in Him. And so, too, if we suffer, it is In Him. And I don’t believe He would have it any other way.

We are not so alone as we think and we need not climb any higher in order to be nearer our God to Thee. We are as near as we can be if we are found in Him. And In Him we are found indeed.

There’s more to say about this, but I cannot say it now. I need more time to remember, more time to forget, more time to take note of my surroundings I need some time to reorient myself to my position and stop dwelling so much on my condition. I’m in my house right now. I know where the stairs are, and where the sink is. I’m familiar with the bathroom and the bedroom. I know where the front door is and the back door. I’m thoroughly comfortable and familiar with my surroundings. I can come and go as I please. I can rest in safety.

I need to be that way with Jesus where, and in whom, I am. I am near to God because He came near to me and snatched me up and placed me, firmly, in Him.

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Stuart Scott - ESPNTo be honest, I’m getting a bit extremely tired of Christians who are striving to be conformed to the image of Stuart Scott.

I read a blog post today. Granted, it’s a bit old. I scanned it when it was fairly new, but some personal issues in recent days brought it back to mind, and I was wondering, “Was it really that vomit-inducing or is my memory given to exaggeration?” (Answer: no exaggeration on this one.)

Now let me be clear. A lot of what was in this post — when it was sticking to facts — was very accurate and true. But the way in which it was presented — and garnished with a healthy dose of the author’s opinion — was enough to cause anyone with any intellectual honesty to throw up in their mouth at least a little.

The post discussed the reasons given for leaving the faith and/or never believing in the first place. These reasons were broken down into three categories, the first of which was claimed (by the post author) to be mostly populated by obviously fake stories. In case we missed that, it is re-iterated a bit later that the author doesn’t believe the person telling the story most of the time. This is followed by highly dismissive language that covers the writer in the event that one of the stories turns out to be true.

This is then followed by a deadly logical refutation of 10 possible reasons (how we got from 3 to 10 is anyone’s guess), complete with Scripture references backing up much of the refutation.

(The sensitive of ear should be warned that I am about to use language that — in a different context — would probably be deemed offensive. But I am using it in a Biblically accurate sense.)

So, if we boil the post down (along with some of the comments that followed), what the author has said is this: “Take that, you damned atheist. And if you don’t buy into the logic I’ve presented, then to hell with you.”

Literally.

But that’s not quite the message that I hear from Jesus. In Mark 9, we see the story of a possessed boy and his father seeking healing for him. Jesus told the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The father admitted to an incomplete belief (”Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”). And you know what Jesus did? He healed the boy.

In John 20, the disciple Thomas stated unequivocally that he would not believe that Jesus was risen unless he had visual and tactile evidence. And so, the next time they were together, Jesus accommodated him. And He did not rebuke Thomas for his lack of faith.

I’ve yet to meet a hurting person for whom logic was the answer. Yes, it can certainly be a tool to help that person see the truth. But it’s certainly not the answer. Jesus is the answer.

I am genuinely happy for the author that he has not faced adversity that was significant enough to shake his faith to the core. And I genuinely hope that God doesn’t deem such adversity necessary in the future to build the author’s sanctification.

But, for the rest of us, there’s grace.

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“We are born not to prosper but to be redeemed.”

PT Forsyth, The Justification of God 54

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