Moses died.

Deuteronomy—and particularly the end of that book—is one of my favorite sections of the Bible. I find it fascinating.

Moses is THE man of God. THE prophet. Even the end of Deuteronomy says that there’s never been a prophet in Israel since him. No one since has seen God’s face.

(Now, Jesus changes all of this, but that’s another story.)

But what’s so fascinating about Deuteronomy is that Moses knows he’s going to die, and this is his “curtain call.” He is LITERALLY standing on the edge of the land of Canaan, the “Promised Land,” and Israel is about to enter.

But not him.

Because of a lack of judgment, a bad decision, etc., Moses will not be entering in with the people. God has told him that he will die on the border.

I try to put myself in Moses’ shoes: I’d be so angry and hurt. Faithful for how long: 40 years? 50?

Confronting Pharaoh, THE leader of THE super power…

Leading people out of slavery with no plan or map except YHWH will go with us…

Adminstering justice to an entire people…

Navigating years in the wilderness…

But God says, “no.”

To my mind, this simply isn’t fair.

My world doesn’t work this way.

I wonder if Moses railed against God. I wonder if he second guessed him. I wonder if he went to Lifeway and bought books about discerning God’s will because, “This just doesn’t make any sense.”

I wonder if decided (a la the prosperity gospel) that he just didn’t have enough faith. Did he send some money to Osteen to show that he really did believe?

I guess not.

In what’s one of the most amazing passages in the Bible, God guides Moses up the mountain and he gets a vision of “the whole land” that Israel will possess.

(Israel doesn’t even get this vision of the whole land; human perspective doesn’t allow for that.)

But then Moses—in defiance of our “bigger and better ministry”; the prosperity gospel; the idea that we always see the trend line go up and to the right—lays down and dies.

He is “gathered to his ancestors”. (What a beautiful phrase.)

Moses’ acceptance and submission of his reality is an amazing challenge to me. I think of how much I am attached too, the results that I think I “must” have.

The story of Moses reminds me that I may not see the end of many (any?) of the stories I write. And that’s okay.

PS Deuteronomy 34 tells us that the LORD—YHWH himself—buries Moses. What a statement of intimacy and friendship!

I guess in the end, Moses doesn’t get to see the “mission” completed, but the relationship he has with his God stays intact and thriving to the very end.

Words, Pt. 3: “Confess”

In a way, “confess” isn’t all that difficult to understand. At its heart, it simply means to agree with. 

Put into a spiritual (Christian) setting, it most often has to do with our brokenness, our limitations, our “sin.”

If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just an will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

On the surface, this all seems fairly straightforward.

However, if you delve just a little bit deeper into the human psyche and our spirituality, a deeper and fuller implication of “confess” begins to emerge.

For those of us who make some sort of practice of “confession”, it’s easy to keep things at a “just-me-and-Jesus” level. This form of spirituality means that confession remains largely in the realm of a personal, private, individualistic spirituality: we mess up, we confess to God, and then we go on with our lives, reminded that we are forgiven and loved.

The only problem with this approach is that it leaves our pride largely intact. 

More than ever, I think that pride is the thing that hamstrings us more than anything else. It’s the brokenness that keeps us from  admitting that we are not, in fact, “all that,” and that we actually need some help. 

When “confession” is relegated to the private sphere, the “stronghold” of pride is unchecked.

This form confession doesn’t really demand anything of us.

So what’s the alternative?

Simply put, consider inviting someone else into your confession, into your brokenness. 

Make your confession a three-way affair: you, God, and another human being: someone who is able to see you at your (almost?) worst, with warts and all.

In this way, “confession” becomes a powerful weapon in the war against our pride.

The various 12 Step traditions (AA, etc.) have long since understood how important it is for human beings to deal with their pride, and maybe it’s time for the church to recover some of what it has lost over time: namely the discipline of confession.

I’m not calling for the installation of confession booths in evangelical churches, but I think it would be worth it to see our pride dismantled and shattered as we bare our souls to each other.

(Note: Confession like this does not need to be shame-based. The point is never to shame someone into worshiping. Rather, the point of confession is to embrace humility, which is ultimately just being “right-sized” in the world: human beings are seldom the worst of the worst, but they are also not without brokenness. Confession is simply a way that we remind ourselves that we are ultimately human, and therefore imperfect. Or maybe even better: that we are imperfect, and therefore ultimately human.)

The Best Concert I Ever Saw and the Forgotten Years

In 1990 I saw the Australian band Midnight Oil at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas. They were touring in support of their release Blue Sky Mining, which was probably their most popular record in the US. This was the peak of true “alternative music”, when many radio stations were still free and DJs were spinning all manner of exciting new bands, and I was introduced to Midnight Oil—and tall, bald-headed lead singer Peter Garrett’s crazy dancing—through their 1987 record Diesel and Dust (I made a brief Spotify playlist). However, since I was just out of high school, and shaking off the last remnants of 1980s hair metal, I really didn’t get the band. I spent a lot time mocking Garrett’s limited vocal range and his entirely awkward dance moves. However, 3 years can make a lot of difference in a musician’s life, and by 1990 I was ready for Blue Sky Mining. 

So when they went on tour later that year, me and my good friend (and lead singer in my band) Kevin got tickets to the Bronco Bowl, a vintage venue in Oak Cliff, just outside of Dallas. The Bronco Bowl was a great place to see a show: intimate enough to be close to the band but large enough to pack some legit numbers in. We sat back and waited for the show to start.

I still remember the lights coming down as the band played the first notes of “Stars of Warburton”, the second song of the album. Garrett walked to the center mic and sang the verse and chorus with an intensity that I had seldom experienced. The crowd (me included) erupted when the band left the first chorus behind and, as they headed towards the 2nd verse, Garrett started doing his dance. His movement set us free, and we began to move and jump and dance right with him. It was a singular event: we were not observing the band; we were somehow with them, doing our part to create an experience. They provided the soundtrack, but we were all united and together in the same time and space.

It was incredible; this was rock and roll. Garrett and Midnight Oil showed me what can happen when a singer and band hold nothing back and give themselves over—without restraint—to an idea, a song, a movement, an event.

Ninety minutes or so, the band finished with a rendition of Elvis Costello’s song, “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)?” We drove the 30 miles back to Fort Worth inspired and spent.

The fourth song on Blue Sky Mining is called, “The Forgotten Years,” a song about the rhythm between years of war and years of peace. It’s anthemic and powerful, a reminder that we should never forget what peace costs. I still love singing this song around my house—sometimes I even dance like Garrett does (thought you’ll never see it)—but recently it has really struck me when I consider that my country has been at war now for almost 15 years (since we started bombing Afghanistan in October, 2001). It seems as if war has now become the normal state of affairs for the United States, and I wonder, “What is this doing to our mentality as a society?” We have declared the “end of hostilities” a few times now, but still we seem to be mired in low-level war.

Do we remember what peace feels like?

I wonder how easy it is to celebrate, as Garrett calls them, “the years between”, when the years between no longer seem to come. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope we remember that war should not be the normal state of affairs. 

I was reading my Bible this morning, and I stumbled across these words in Isaiah 32:

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace,
and the outcome of righteousness,
calm and security forever.
Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling,
in secure homes, in carefree resting places.” (vv17-18)

These words remind me that as much as it seems as if war is the normal state of affairs, it’s not. God is a God of peace, and actually peace should be the outcome of our spiritual life.

Bait, Switch. 

I am just coming off of a season where I’ve focused personally an awful lot on Jesus’ death and resurrection (technically, we’re still in the church season of Easter, but you get the point).

However, there’s this thing about Jesus: He’s always one step ahead of you, and just when you think that you have him figured out, there’s another aspect to him and his ministry, and you’re back at the start again, filled with wonder and shaking your head in humility and amazement (ideally, anyway).

Brennan Manning once wrote (more or less, anyway), “The signature of Jesus is the cross”, and I wholeheartedly believe this. It opens up heaven, defeats evil, frees all of us, and continually challenges and motivates me. Additionally, the resurrection breaks the power of death and sin, and unleashes a whole new power into the world (and, by definition, my life).

But Jesus says there’s still even more

If you take Jesus’ words seriously (and, well, I do), then you have to acknowledge the fact that repeatedly Jesus tell people that you have to pay attention to his teaching—the things he says and does during his minitry.

Over and over again, he flat out tells people, “Look the reason I have come is to teach and preach.” (Check Mark 1:38), John 8:31, and especially John 6:63 and 12:47-48.)

We have a tendancy to focus so much attention on the cross and empty tomb, and then his miracles that we can sometimes tend to lose sight or downplay his teaching agenda.

And he taught a lot: 

  • In “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6) he lays out a vision for life that far transcends any “normal” human life (and I fully believe he expects us to be able to live it).
  • In John’s gospel Jesus says things like, “The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life“ (John 4). He also refers to the fact that “Whoever wants to do God’s will can tell whenter my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own” (7:17).

These are challenging teachings because (a) they often don’t fit into the neat little boxes we draw for ourselves regarding faith and (b) they actually challenge the way most of us look at and live in the world.

I think it’s pretty odd that we ignore Jesus’ own words to focus on his teachings.

Sometimes I think it’s because—as crazy as it seems—we get uncomfortable because his teachings expect too much of us. For those of us who grew up in church, it’s sometimes actually “easy” to focus on Good Friday and Easter, possibly because of the “paid for” and “finished” aspect to them (and I believe that).

But when you look at what Jesus taught, you realize that he actually expects more of you.

It’s like—if we were to actually take him at his word(s)—he actually expects transformation.

And that makes us uncomfortable.

We want to go to heaven, but often we don’t want to actually change beforehand. We are just as content to remain angry, pride-filled, self-focused, and addicted and compulsive.

I think Jesus’ ministry was a continual call to transformation that culminated in the cross and then the resurrection, but it’s not like that call ended with the four gospels.

The call is still going on.

What do you need to change?

I’m All About That Bass (But Not Like THAT)…

There was a season of my life that I was fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time in recording studios (and get paid—at least a little bit—for it). My typical method of recording songs was to build a track from the ground up: get the drums and bass happening, then add rhythm instruments, guitar solos and “ornamentation”, then end with vocals.

However, once I found myself working with an engineer who was also going to play bass in the session. We worked together to build the tracks, but at some point the tracks were practically complete—even the lead vocals…

… except for the bass.

When I asked him about it, he said, “I like to leave bass to the last; that way I can craft my bass line around what is still missing from the track.”

Personally, I suspected that it was only because he was a bass player, and he wanted more important of a role than what most bass players have (it’s a prejudice I have, I know).

However, I was reading something recently, and the writer was remarking how he liked bassists and bass lines, how the bass moves the song along and unifies it. 

I thought: “My oh my—how profoundly spiritual.”

The simple question is this: What moves your life along? What unifies it? 

Our spirituality should be more than just a vague set of beliefs or events that we go to. Our spiritual practices (and I suggest you get some if you don’t have any) should do the same thing a good bass line does: it should bring unity and understanding to your life, and it should propel it forward. 

So there’s this:

But better yet, there’s this: 

When the Weather Can Radically Change Your Life

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain www.wikipedia.org

5 Day Pressure Forecast, Public Domain http://www.wikipedia.org

A couple of my favorite “odd” history books were written by a guy named Erik Durschmied. One was called The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed HistoryThe other book was called The Weather Factor: How Nature Has Changed History. Both were about how seemingly “unrelated things” (random chance or weather patterns) can forever and unalterably change the course of history.

Before Jesus is crucified, he tells his followers that he is going to send them another “counselor” who will help them in a variety of ways (John 14-15). He’s talking here about the Holy Spirit, who comes in fantastic power in Acts 2, and at that point takes up residence in God’s people (the church). If you read Acts, and even most of Paul, you find that the Holy Spirit is really the thing for us today. It’s the presence of Jesus with us (and in us!), and is the power for the church to achieve his work in the world.

When the Spirit is at work in our lives, we are able to see more, be more, and do more than we would otherwise. As Paul says, this is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. 

And we have access to that.

Wha?

Sadly, it seems that most of us don’t even approach that level of power and freedom in our lives. Instead, we limp around in our sins, content to screw up, confess, and repent, and wonder when (or better yet, ifwe will ever “get better” and be able to live a life that we see occasionally in the New Testament: a life that can suffer gracefully, that can forgive lavishly, that can give freely, that can dream radically.

Where do we start to get that kind of life?

Recently, I heard a professor give this metaphor.

One of the Biblical images (and words) for the Spirit is “wind” (Hebrew ruach). Now, Wind has a pretty peculiar, but somewhat predictable, behavior. Weather systems are made up of “high pressure” and “low pressure” systems; these variable levels of pressure force weather and wind around the environment in a constantly moving and evolving system.

Now here’s the interesting part…

Weather, or “wind”, always flows from “high pressure to “low pressure. The absence of volume, or pressure causes air to flow—sometimes quite intensely—into the area of low pressure.

If you want the wind to flow into your life, you have to create a low pressure atmosphere in your life. 

So, what creates low pressure atmosphere?

You have to get rid of what’s occupying the space. 

You have to get rid of yourself. 

Self—our ego, our preoccupations, our demands, our agendas, etc., etc.—keeps our lives in a “high pressure situation.” There’s simply no room for the Spirit to come in.

This is repentance on a whole different level.

This a willing abandonment of our need for security, esteem, approval, and anything else apart from God.

Confess your sins? Yes.

Repent? Yes. Absolutely, but make sure your repentance involves an abandonment of your ego, and your demand to have your way in the world.

Then the wind can come in. Then the Spirit flows in. It’s as if God says, Finally, this is something—someone—I can work with.

… Like a Hurricane

Recently, I made a mistake.

A big one.

Those are enough details for now, but it left me thinking about love and forgiveness.

Now, my wife is not perfect, but repeatedly I’ve been blown away, overwhelmed, by her ability to forgive and love me in spite of my faults. She is a fierce lover, and when she is loyal, she is loyal. 

It’s a withering love. And it’s difficult to stand.

In the midst of this, I realized that there is something inside of me that absolutely wants to flee this kind of love. I have a hunch I’m not the only one. I have a theory that this condition is more human than I’d like to admit.

What is it inside of us that makes us flee this kind of acceptance?

It’s obviously similar to the love that Christ has for us/me. To look into the face of a love that is totally accepting and forgiving is excruciating sometimes. We want to hide and run because of all the bad that we have done, but there is something there that says we must stand in it and take it, like a fierce rainstorm.

That’s what love is. That’s what love can be… A hurricane. 

Love him, or hate him, Saint Paul must have learned to stand in that hurricane. Here was a man who had people—innocent people—killed, and then later sought those people out in community, as one of them. Moreover, before that he had to stand in the face of Jesus and accept that love.

He could stand in the face of that storm. He was no longer a man with blood on his hands, with the lives of men, women, and children (!) on his conscience. He was simply a man who was now “In Christ”, and was inviting others to experience this same storm.

I know I’m not naturally wired for it. It makes me want to hide, to go numb, to retreat.

I guess I’m TRYING to learn to withstand it, but it is difficult.

Musically speaking, not that it is anything like this:

But maybe, it’s a bit like this:

peace