“Stuck Inside a Saturday Rain”

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Did you ever think that the resurrection could have gone down in an entirely different way?

In one sense, we didn’t really need Saturday… Jesus could have given up his spirit, then died, and then bounced back to life immediately. After all, God is not all that bound by time so he’s really capable of doing anything he wants in any timeframe that he wants…

But instead we have all of Friday and all of Saturday…

Which means we have doubt.

It’s simply not good enough or even accurate to maintain that the disciples were just sitting around on a Saturday biding their time until Sunday. The Biblical record would show that they were, well, freaked out. Devastated. Maybe they were left with a shred of hope, but overall what they have witnessed—the betrayal, the arrest, the torture, the beating, the execution—had shaken them to their core.

Saturday in Holy Week is a day of anticipation and hope, but it is also necessarily a day of faith and doubt.

Sometimes I think that Jesus left us with a Saturday (and a Friday for that matter) so that we would know that doubt is not only okay but is actually integral to the life of faith. For my part, while I wish I did not have periods of doubt, and that my faith was rock steady and consistent in the face of whatever life threw at me, I know otherwise.

My vision gets blurry. My hope fades sometimes. My trust waivers.

And all this from a pastor?

But here’s the deal: the disciples doubted. They lost hope, at least temporarily.
Sometimes, we fall into the trap that thinking that faith means never having doubts… we think that to believe means that the sun will always shine, and that will never be confused, and that we will never be afraid, that we will never look to the heavens and ask “why God?”

But that’s not really the definition, is it? There’s a distinction between faith and knowledge, and we are called to one and not so much the other.

(Hint: the answer rhymes with “faith”.)
Though the Gospels fairly consistently show that Jesus responds to radical faith, they also consistently show that he understands our human weakness. Somehow, someway doubt is a part of our legacy. Though we are not called to remain in it perpetually, neither are we called to pretend that it does not exist.
God allows for Saturday. Not just once, but over and over and over again.
Here’s to the doubters; Sunday’s coming.

40 Words: “Relinquish” (03.02.2016)

How is your fast going?

As I wrote yesterday, mine is definitely up and down. In many ways, it’s a daily struggle for me, and sometimes I just don’t win.

Every once and while, though, there is a victory. Small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but a victory nonetheless.

I’ll take it.

This Lenten journey is an opportunity for me—for us—to participate in Jesus’ own story.

In a way, it’s easy to think of Jesus as a victim: arrested and tortured by a corrupt religious system, and then executed by an uncaring empire.

Ultimately, I don’t think that’s the whole (or even the majority) of the story. Repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus talks about his decision to go to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the cross. In John’s gospel, he clearly says (and Jeff Tweedy sings), “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down.”

I think that all the time Jesus actually knows exactly what he is doing, and his journey is ultimately a journey of relinquishment.

In turn, as we relinquish our rights in Lent—

… our right to be satisfied

… our right to be distracted

… our right to be comfortable

… our right to be satiated—

We walk part of Jesus’ journey with him.

One of the key reasons Jesus undergoes this journey is to show people what God ultimately looks like.

People think that to be God means to have ultimate power and therefore to get what you want, when you want it.

Jesus’ subversive, even counter-intuitive story says that actually to be God means to surrender. It actually means to set aside your rights and, rather than be served (i.e., get what you want), it means to serve. 

40 Words: “Brokenness” (03.01.2016)

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image from longingforhomedesigns.com

“To be alive, is to be broken.” -Brennan Manning

I forget simple things, like that statement, over and over.

As I’ve said repeatedly, Lent is this season for reflection and contemplation, a time to clear space in my life into which God can speak…

… and I can listen.

At my church, we have been going through a sermon series called “SE7EN”, which is a journey through the Seven Deadly Sins and their effect on our lives. I’ve preached two of the sermons, and each time I have counseled people to get honest with someone and admit their failings.

There’s no shame in having cracks and faults. We all have them; that’s what it means to inhabit this body of ours.

(Of course, the earth-shaking, universe-changing idea is that God decided to inhabit a body just like mine and live a 100% God-centered, God-focused life. This means that brokenness is not an inhibitor of God’s work. It means that brokenness and limitation is a place where God is willing to make his home, in some form or fashion. My job is to recognize that fact and live out that reality.)

Well, I want to get honest with you.

I’m lousy at fasting.

Last week, my wife was out of town, so I was being a faithful house husband: fixing dinner, reheating leftovers, supervising homework and in general running the monkey house.

I consistently blew my fast for 5 days in a row.

I don’t know what it was: the change in routine, the stress of being alone, etc., etc.

The reasons go on and on, but the bottom line remains the same: I failed to control my own self, my ego-driven desires and urges.

By the way, this is not beating myself up; this is merely taking responsibility

Never mind that I was writing daily about the importance of fasting.

Never mind that I had just delivered a message on fasting on Sunday.

This was not my vision for the week.

But here I am, at the beginning of another week. Shana is again traveling, and so I will, again, be faced with my own limitations and temptations.

Part of the spiritual life is an exercise in accepting your limitations while at the same time being doggedly determined to change, progress, and evolve over time.

I believe that God wants more from me, because He has more for me.

Much of my reading recently has come from ancient spiritual masters, from both the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church. More than modern authors, they seem to recognize two key things:

1. The offer of transformation, of *theosis* or “divine union”

2. The inherent limitations of being human.

Because of these limitations, they don’t pull punches when it comes to arranging your life for spiritual growth. Essentially, they say that we *must* learn to discipline and control our egotistical, self-driven urges in order to give ourselves more completely to Christ.

I’m buying that. 100%.

To be alive is indeed to be broken. But to be alive is also to participate in the divine mystery of God-With-Us.

Back to the fast.

40 Words: “Faith” (02.24.2016)

So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

Frankly, I confuse sight and faith an awful lot. I know that I’m called to a life of supernatural belief and trust, but what I typically end up craving is some kind of sign that I can trust:

  • a job offer
  • a solid relationship
  • a clear career path

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1)

This passage seems full of contradictions: reality/hope for, proof/don’t see. At first sight, these don’t seems to make sense, and can’t easily be reconciled.

(Kind of like life.)

One thing that’s easy to land on is the fact that faith still involves things that we can’t see or touch.

Let’s be honest: “sight” is so much easier than faith. Faith is fuzzy. It is decidedly not proof. To embrace faith is to embrace stepping into a chasm.

And for most of us, that is never fun.

Lent reminds me that life is a journey of faith. It’s an opportunity for us to separate true faith from the things that tend to prop us up and support us. The things that we can see and feel and touch.

Instead, we surrender those things and embrace the unknown space and silence, trusting instead that God will grow us and change us on His terms and in His time.

40 Words: “Family” (02.23.2016)

Despite what you might think, Lent isn’t only about giving things up. Overall, it’s more about making “space”—spiritually or otherwise—to reflect on our lives and God’s love.

In other words, if all you do is give up chocolate (why do I keep picking on chocolate?) without making that space through service or prayer or meditation or community, you’re only get half of the story.

My particular Lenten journey definitely involves surrendering something, but I also added in reading, and not only reading, but a commitment to read with my wife and family during the evening (whenever possible).

Lent isn’t just about “you and Jesus”; others are on your journey as well. Bring them in; share this with them.

My personal desire is that the space I carve out for God can be filled, not only with my personal spiritual activities, but also with conversation and interaction with people who not only love me but with whom I can have honest conversations.

40 Words: “Humility” (02.22.2016)

Humility is one of the most powerful concepts in English language.

It’s also sorely lacking in most of the world.

As my spiritual director reminds me, “Humility is being right-sized.”

It’s not about thinking of ourselves as a only dirt, or only broken. It’s more about having an accurate view of ourselves: we are created in God’s image, just a little lower than angels…

and we often do really crappy things.

Capable of so much, both good and bad.

My Lenten journey has been such an opportunity for, well, humility.

My fasts are not always perfectly kept.

I’m not always the most peaceful, willing pilgrim.

Right when I think I’m about to scale spiritual heights, I lose my temper (usually in traffic).

It’s a great reminder of what it means to be human.

40 Words: “Dirt” (02.20.2016)

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Farm in Hainan Province, People’s Republic of China by Anna Fodesiak http://www.wikimedia.org

I’m no farmer.

Nope; I’m no farmer. Though I was born in the country, and spent at least a few spring and summer days with dirt under my nails from weeding a vegetable garden and pulling up carrots and digging for potatoes, ultimately I’m a city boy, more at home strolling down sidewalks than with driving a tractor.

But I do understand the basics.

I understand that in order for things to grow, the dirt needs to be tilled.

To be dug up, turned over, plowed.

It’s easy to wonder why we subject ourselves to Lenten disciplines.

It’s easy to claim that we are focusing “too much” on our brokenness, that we should stay focused on the resurrection life that is ours through Christ.

It’s easy to accuse us of being too morbid, too depressing, too melancholy.

Fair enough.

My only reply to that is nothing grows if the dirt isn’t turned up.

In a way, Lent is about reminding ourselves of what our sin cost God and His Son (and the Holy Spirit as well), but in another way, the disciplines of Lent are about something more grand and long-term.

It’s about digging in the dirt so that we can grow. It’s about tilling the soil of our lives not for the purpose of shame and guilt, but for the purpose of preparing for growth.

So we can heal.

So the light can shine into the broken places.

Lent is certainly somber, but the long-term prognosis is hope, hope, hope.

But it has to start with dirt.

Peter said it so well…

 

40 Words: “Alone” (02. 19.2016)

Part of the design and purpose of Lent is for us to turn down the noise in our lives so that we can more clearly see and hear God. In turn, part of the purpose of that is so that we can come to terms with possible areas of brokenness and rebellion in ourselves that we need to bring before God in order to get His help.

For better or for worse, this often means getting—and remaining—alone. Sometimes this can be literal (retreating into silence and solitude) while other times this can be more symbolic (such as keeping a private fast).

Most of our culture is trained to treat “aloneness” as something bad, to be resisted and avoided.

We can check messages, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., for the constant reassurance that others are “with us” (thought it often seems as if they are living such extravagant and exciting lives online, while our life is just humdrum and boring).

We are constantly pushed and pulled to “never be out of touch.”

And yet, part of this “being-in-touchedness” is the very thing that is holding back our growth. From seeing the reality of who we are and who God wants us to be.

Being alone is not bad. Far from it, “alone” is exactly the remedy for our hyper-connected, hyper-active world that we inhabit.

There is a saying of the Desert Fathers, that one day someone came to Abba Moses to get a word (of wisdom? of assurance? of connectedness?). Abba Moses said to the man, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

There are two aspects to this:

  1. Your “cell” (silence, solitude, and various ways of being alone) is necessary for you to hear the word you need through the noise of your life. Trust me; this is true. What we think are the answers to our questions are more often than not tapes that we play (from our brokenness, from our upbringing, etc.) in our heads, or they are just glittering images from culture that attract our eyes and ears.
  2. Being alone is often remarkably clarifying in regards to what we think we need the answers to. We get consumed with anxiety, with the desire to know (which is really just the desire to control). So many times, space apart—again, being alone—reveals that we really actually don’t need the answers we thought we did.

“Alone” is a healthy rhythm of life. Embrace it and cultivate it.

 

 

40 Words: “Human” (02.18.2016)

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Leonardo Da Vinci, Vetruvian Man 

In a way, this is a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts on hunger.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

As we go through our own 40 day journey, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus did not sail through his time in the desert without hardship. The text clearly says that he was hungry. The writer of Hebrews confirms this thought when she writes that Jesus was tempted in every way, just like we were and are.

I think this aspect of Jesus—his humanity, and the true impacts of that fact—is one of the most explosive and neglected aspects of our faith.

Actually, I daresay we are terrified of it.

Though every Christian creed and central belief of the faith clearly states that Jesus was 100% human and 100% God, and though we see it clearly in Scripture, I think we shy away from the human part because of what it could mean for us.

It’s easier to have Jesus only exist “up there” in his perfection, in his “God-ness”. That means that he’s up there to help us in our times of need.

(And he certainly is.)

But…

He is not just “up there.” He’s “down here” too. He’s walked our earth, breathed our air, encountered our troubles.

This isn’t just so he could get crucified.

It’s so he could show us what a human being is capable of. 

And that scares us.

Because it means that we are capable of more.

The incarnation not only says that it’s okay to be human, it actually says that our humanity—it’s brokenness, unpredictability, it’s fragility, etc.—is where salvation takes place.

Not in heaven.

Here.

Now.

That challenges me.

In a way, I’d rather have Jesus as some kind of distant God that I could never aspire to.

But that’s not what I got.

I got a Jesus—a human being—that was hungry. 

I get hungry.

But the incarnation says, “Don’t wait; God wants to redeem and change and grow you—I almost want to say evolve you—into something more Christlike right now. 

Not when you are “spiritual enough.”

Lent reveals your humanity. Revel in that. And then seek ways to grow to be more like Christ, the ultimate human being, the “2nd Adam,” who has come down in order to raise us up, not only when we die. 

BUT RIGHT NOW. 

 

+e

 

40 Words: “Hungry” (2.17.2016)

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If you are fasting, you are going to get hungry…

(that’s kind of how this deal works)…

So we shouldn’t be surprised.

When I fast, I use the hunger pangs to remind me of my brokenness, of how much I don’t long for God. How much I numb my true desires with things like food or entertainment or unhealthy emotions…

Distractions.

But when you fast, you get reminded of what true longing and hunger means.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 61:1 NIV)

We, on the other hand, live in a land that is decidedly not dry and parched.

At least on the surface.

We satisfy every need. Or so we think.

We eat and drink and entertain ourselves into a state of half awake, half dreaming, and then try to convince ourselves that we have found “life.”

Lent—and fasting—brings an opportunity to wake up and discover what true life, true food and water really look like.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

If you are fasting today, don’t dread the coming hunger; the approaching desires for a sandwich.

Welcome them as signs of a truer, deeper hunger and longing that is within you.

Offer your hunger up as a prayer to God.

He listens.