Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Satan Loves Pretty Churches

I was known, but nobody knew me... - Nate Larkin (author of Samson and the Pirate Monks)

What brings about the death of a church? Can anybody tell me? Anybody? Is anyone out there?

I am no authority, but if I was to guess, I think I would begin with sin. Sin seems like a no-duh sort of answer for such a general question. But let's get more specific. What would be the most common form of sin that has the potential to destroy the church from the inside out?

For this, I have another guess. It's the sin we use to cover up our sins: hiding. It began in the garden and reigns supreme in our world today, especially in the Evangelical church.

Once again I'm no authority, but I'm simply speaking from my experience. For I know what my major tactic is with my sin: hide it at all costs. Do not let anyone see it, for if they do, you will suffer seperation, alienation and rejection.

Why, for so many of us, isn't the church a safe place? Let me paint a brief picture. While I'll confess it really only takes me five minutes to get ready for church, if I wanted to look the part I'd need to go shopping. The very clothes we wear do not often represent what we intend - honoring God with our best attire - but rather a form of hiding.

Now there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up for church. But what's happening inside us while we do? Are we dressing up our sins, straightening up our messy lives, rehearsing the correct venacular, and proceeding to church as something other than our very selves. Sadly, I need to admit that this is what I often do.

I don't want to be known, it's too risky. I want to be known, it's the only way out. If I could summarize what is wrong with the western evangelical church today in one word, it would be hiding. We're a people that are hiding.

At least in the New Testament, people would boast over their sins. One NT fellow was even boasting about sleeping with his mother in-law. Talk about a different picture than what we have today. Obviously, that needed addressing, but my guess is the NT church didn't suffer quite as much with hiding as we do today. They were still young enough in grace to not have turned it into looking good. (Of course Galatians was written all about this.)

In talking about the church in this way, I may be falling into one of the many schemes of the devil, so maybe I should delete everything I just wrote. For it's not fair, there are plenty of churches that are reflecting the grace of God through shared brokeness. They are clinging to Christ as their head and are truly growing in grace. In fact, I'd have to say this is true for the churches I attend.

So why am I still writing? Because I still think I need to hear this, even if no-one else does. I really don't want people to know that I'm a miserable wreck of a human being, that I desperately need Christ every second of every day and that I often resist him every second of every day.

But sometimes I wear my wretchedness as a badge of pride. I'll admit that sometimes don't brush my teeth before church, simply because I don't want to talk to people. With make-up and perfume it feels like such a fake venue for authentic conversation.

And when I struggled more with chronic anxiety, I would absolutely dread the meet and great portion of our service. My hands would get clammy and my mouth dry, and I barely could get myself to say hello and say my name. I remember one service, simply leaving to go to the bathroom and waiting outside until this dreaded time had passed.

But back to what's good that's going on in the church when it comes to hiding. Many are beginning to find appropriate ways to confess their sin, mess and struggles through small groups.

I've recently joined a group of guys who are sharing everything we can think of, not just to get stuff off our chest and feel good about ourselves, but to wrecklessly depend on God to bring his grace into our messed up lives.
Small groups are doing this all over the place. I love this aspect of small groups, as hopefully, they are safe-places where people can confess their need for God.

I think I understand that there's a need for coorparate worship. But I also know there's a need to see the body of Christ in action. What I mean by this is that when we're together in large groups we're much more apt to hide. There's just too much to lose in being vulnerable. But it's very important that we see and worship in larger coorporate settings, I think.

Where is all my rambling coming from today? Well I'm just finding out that I've been terribly lonely in my sin for a long, long time. There was simply no venue, or I hadn't searched out any venue to grow with my brothers and sisters. I had often spurned "discipleship" groups as being exclusive and being a substatute for more substantive personal growth in Christ and through "Christian disciplines." What a joke! I realize now what an idiot I was for thinking this way.

My fellow travellers on this path of "Life" (as it's simply called in acts) are helping me to see Christ anew. The cross is growing less in my thinking from a gilded icon at the front of church, to something very personal and very real. I'm finding that community is one of God's greatest gifts to the church. In fact it was the intent of the church. A body held together by Christ.

As I gear up to write for youth with Student Venture, I have to keep in mind that the most common understanding among young people of religion is that it's moralistic, therapeutic, and deistic. I think we've added to this false religion (I know I have) the idea that it's simply personal.

We all hope that the body of Christ would attract and reach out to a hurting world. Being good, or looking good, has just the opposite effect. For in hiding we're not being truly good and in looking good we simply look ugly. May God grant that we be a church that is full of what a friend shared with me recently, "fierce repenters," so that Satan's schemes are undermined and broken people come to taste from the only true fountain of grace: not outward religion, but Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eyes That Twinkle

I am a hypocrite that is full of shame. I feel that I am a child of God that has tasted so little from the fountain of God's grace that my lips are cracked and my soul is bereft of life. I have related to God not as my father and friend, but as my enemy whom I'm forced to serve as a "Christian." My life is shaped by this void of faith.

I say these words this morning, not because I am without hope, it's just that in this darkness I'm beginning to see glimpses of a life that I never thought was possible: A life of openness and honesty before God and man.

I need God so badly. I am ever needy of his presence. My idols have not only consumed me, they have grown too large for me to handle, wrecking my interior life and threatening the very relationships I hold dear.

Do I have the strength that is needed to face these idols? No. Do I have the faith that is needed to ask for help? Yes. I cry out to God for help, for he is my only source of hope. He is my hope. He is my love. He is my everything.

Do I have the ability to sift, weigh and evaluate what needs to stay and what needs to change in my life? No. I cry out to God for help, for he is my only source of wisdom.

I have become what I most dreaded as a child: an adult. A monster, consumed by my own "needs" and desires. A person who is obsessed with my validation, respect, love, and comfort. I am a consumer. I am not a life-sustainer and I am unworthy of my calling as a minister.

I will never be worthy. I am at bottom a wretch. I am hopelessly addicted to self. My life is so awash in idolatry that even my best intentions have self written all over them.

My life is forfeit. I have given my life to everything but a true love relationship with my father. If I were to die today, I would mourn the state of me.

But there is something kindling in my soul. There is something that has been with me a long time. As CS Lewis says, a desire as if for a far off country. A desire for God.

I have a great history with this God (though I forget in times like these). He has been moving in me for quite some time. He's enabled this hypocrit to be a speaker of grace and truth. He has enabled me to hope when all seems lost. He is ever equiping me for something more: the loss of me.

Is this shame driven introspection that doesn't reflect the truth of my life? I really don't know. And I'm coming to realize that I don't care. For someone, namely my heavenly father, is working something in me that is bigger than me, perhaps even bigger than my greatest desires. I am being drawn near the fount, and I can hear its bubbling waters even as I write.

There is a place for me. A home for my restless soul. There is hope for hypocrits, selfish pigs, the spiritually lazy and lukewarm. There is hope for the sinner.

I wish I could say that I'm done with my idolatry. That I realize that God is my only hope of salvation, and I exercise great will to live for him. But I can't and I won't. Even now I seek to order my day. Even now I seek to sound good, to impress, to be profound. I am a wretch who writes. An idolater who is caught red-handed, removing his idols only to rush them to another room, arranging another shrine.

But this child is finding a home on his father's lap. "Let the little children come to me, for their's is the kingdom of heaven." As I show my father my little idols, he is amused at my obsession of loving them less and loving him more. For my spiritual discipline is merely self-help. It is only as he picks them up, looks at them, turns them over and round and round, am I reminded of the fervent creativeness of my father.

He admires their handiwork, notes their flaws, and shares with me what needs to go, and what I am permitted to work on. (This is no clean metaphor for God and idols. For my God is at war with idolatry.) Anything that wrests my heart from his must go. But there is something I find, sitting on my father's lap, that makes the toys of this world lose all their power.

On his lap, I am safe from their power. On his lap I can see them for what they are: crude attempts to find joy apart from God or attempts to find beauty apart from him. But as he touches them, they begin to look beautiful. They become the gifts of grace they were meant to be.

Oh to relax into this understanding of my God: A God who is furious at those who say, "Let the children play with their toys, God does not have time for children." For there is a divine rescuer who bursts through these indignant and self-righteous crowds to find me playing in the dirt with my toys. My eyes lift up, "Could this be real? Could God really want me?"

This child feels the warm and strong arms wrap around me as and a gentle voice ask, "What are you playing? Come sit on my lap and we'll play together."

God doesn't expect us to figure out what our idols are and rest them from our hearts. He asks us to come and play. To return and rest. To enjoy him. To recognize him not as some sentimental Santa Claus (as some of you may be thinking as I muse on and on) but to really taste and see that he is good. How do we do this? We don't. The crowds must be parted, the father must stoop, the powerful arms must reach out and lift us to our place, our home on his lap.

For what am I made for? I'm made for God and for his pleasure. My pleasure is bound to his pleasure. His pleasure is in me, moving me, lifting me, whispering to me, kissing me, tickling me, making me laugh, and helping me when I cry.

Does he hear this sinners cry for help? Does he see that my idolatry has enslaved me and keeps me from him? He more than hears, he moves swiftly to my side he kneels down beside me and with a twinkle in his eyes (from amusement or sadness I cannot tell) lifts me up on his knees. When he's done bouncing me he asks, "Now what was troubling you my child?"

"My idols," I say.

"Have you been reading Counterfeit Gods?" he asks.


"What have you been doing?"

"Re-arranging them, because I don't want any God but you."

"Hmm, why didn't you ask for my help?"

"I guess I sort of thought, you were busy, what with the whole world and all it's problems."

"I'm never to busy for my children!" he laughs and with that he throws me up on his shoulders and he tucks my toys away into his satchel, and we go for a walk to see his friends.

Friday, September 24, 2010


"He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again." Psalm 78

I found these words smack dab in the middle of a chapter that records Israel's exodus and wilderness experience. God "remembered that they were but flesh," and he "being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them."

The reason I find these words worth writing about is that if I'm really honest with myself, I realize have a hard time remembering that I am "but flesh." Not that I think that I'm not sinful or fallible (although there's no way I can recognise the bottom line on these realities), but I simply don't think of myself in such seemingless simple terms - simply recognizing my state as a human being, made of dust.

A clear examples of this is that I don't think of myself as fragile and made of stuff - mere matter. I don't realize that apart from God and his sustaining power, I've got nothing. I think I have a fair amount to offer. I guess I sort of think I'm a demi-god (Ok, I think I'm a god!), in charge of my little spheres of influence. Little do I realize my own fragility and the emptiness of my kingdoms. For my kingdoms are all in my head, and I'm often deluded enough to believe that I'm a fairly good king or emporer (which depends on the level of my day-to-day delusion).

I was also reading John 17 today, in which Jesus simply pleads for his children, that they would know God's love, that they be protected from the evil one, and that they might be one even as he and the father are one. This chapter is jam-packed full of good stuff. Too much for me to unpack here. But the gist that I saw today is that Jesus is really concerned about us. He knows that we are but flesh, and his compassion flows through the entire passage.

This is the God we have. A God who recognizes our needs, and then rescues, protects, sustains, enables and preserves us as his beloved kids. He has no illusions about our state. He even attones for our silly self-dillusions of grandeur.

For as I write, I realize that I think I really have something to say. The truth is I don't. I need God to somehow enable me communicate, just as much as I need him for the next breath, which is impossible for me to recognize for what it is. It's no coincidence that God breathed life into Adam, he breathes life into me every second and for this I was going to say "I'm grateful." But I can't be grateful enough. My gratefulness is nothing when compared to his compassion and steadfast love.

So how am I supposed to respond to all this crazy stuff about God that blows my puny brain? The more I think about it the more I realize that God's not expecting any sort of spectacular response, for he knows we are but flesh. More than anything, my guess which is backed by the biblical story, is that he wants us to simply relish the sweetness of life. The sweetness of life in him.

Are we supposed to go forth and live for him? No. I believe we're supposed to simply live with him. The rest will take care of itself, if we're seeking the intimacy he offers. For being a passing wind, God doesn't expect much from me, he simply wants to me to enjoy him.

This is no self-indulgent therapeutic spirituality I'm promoting. It's simply the stuff of reality. If we are frail, made of dust, merely flesh, and a wind that passes, we've got nothing but God and are nothing without him. Enjoying him is our chief end and as we do he can begin to use us.

Unfortunately, I almost always get the cart before the horse, and claw through life trying to produce results for God, and am frustrated by my laziness and inability to please God, when what I'm finding (as I actually read my bible) is simply a waste of time. God will always want us more than we want him. And his desire is for us to simply live in his love.

I'm thankful that he invades my kingdoms, my delusions of grandeur, with his steadfast love that brings with it both humility and life.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Longing

I don't spend much time wondering what God longs for from us, do you? This thought has been bouncing around my little cranium the past few days and I'd like to share something that happened that may have given me a glimpse into what God longs for.

Before Teya goes to sleep each night I like to kiss her on the cheek (if she lets me with my "spiky" beard) and softly tell her I love her. Then I typically follow up with a question, "How much does Daddy love you?" And she whispers back in a daze, "A lot!"

What I desire more than anything else in my relationship with Teya is that she be secure and confirmed in my love for her. So these nightly rituals are there to cement what our days together should reinforce - that I am for her.

Well something has been going on the past month or so that's broken up our ritual a bit. There's been a welcome interruption escaping the lips of my daughter. Rather than finishing our interchange with simply "A lot" she's begun muttering "I love you too Daddy."

Okay, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to write about from here. I'm simply stumped. Somethings happened in our relationship that is clearly God's hand reaching into our broken world and restoring something good, something very, very good.

Of course I've also heard Teya dancing around and toying with the forbidden words "poop" and "hate," and throwing me into the mix with "I hate you poopy Daddy." But it can't touch the whisperings that have interrupted our nightly ritual. I just share this other side to illustrate that at 4, she often hardly knows what she's saying.

And that's it: In our relationship with God I believe he relishes and absolutely cherishes our fumbling words in which we express our meagre yet real love for him. Last night I shared with Jesus that I love him a lot. I don't know what his reaction was, but if it's anything like this earthly father's, it changed his day or night, whatever time zone God is in.

I don't think God waits around for us to say we love him. He simply desires that we find security and joy in his great love for us. But when this love comes full circle and we dare to put utterance to it, be it ever so paltry, God's got to be delighted. Because as an earthly father I felt a joy over Teya that I can't express.

I often think that God longs for obedience and faithfulness, but I'm beginning to suspect that he longs more for his love to come full circle. He desires that our longing be his longing, a relationship restored and bounded by the chords of his love. That's his promise and what he so furiously pursues (check out Brennan Manning's The Furious Love of God).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Trees Don't Make Good Fathers

"Can a virgin forget her ornaments or a bride forget her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number." - Jeremiah

These are chilling words that echo out of the Old Testament into our 21st century lives. How many days have we forgotten our Lord? How long has it been since we've seen him for who he is and treasured him?

Earlier in this chapter of Jeremiah idolotry is portrayed as someone saying to a tree, "You are my father" and to a rock, "You who gave me birth." It doesn't take too much imagination on my part to see that this is exactly what I am all about today.

I find idolotry really easy. And I can relate to the hopeless dope who calls a tree his father and a stone his mother. I am so quick, as Jonah says, to "cling to worthless idols and forfeit the hope that is mine."

I don't know about you, but I love stuff. I believe in it. After all, I can see it, taste it and touch it. While I don't find myself licking trees, there's plenty of stuff out there that tastes good and quickly subplants God's place in my life.

Idols are a hot topic these days. With Tim Keller's book, Conterfeit Gods, it's kind of redundant to be blogging about them. But I wonder what it is that has us so hooked on stuff. And realize here that I'm not just thinking about material things but also the other idols of prestige, power, influence, respect, comfort, etc., etc., and alas etc.

As someone once said (I think it was GK Chesterton) we humans are "idol factories." We pump them out left and right. Just watch TV for a little while with a pen and paper and right down all the idols that are presented during commercials. Our whole culture is built around this stuff.

And these idols, in my opinion, are all focused on doing one thing, keeping us from living in or with reality. Just like the man sauntering up to trees and stones, we're a whole culture gone blind to the reality that the universe centers around one being - God.

So are idols bad? No, we are. We're the ones who don't want to wake up, to be healed, to see reality. Why? Because we don't believe God loves us, has our best interest at heart, or simply don't want to know him (or all of the above).

After all, we're made in God's image, able to do and create marvelous things. Why do we need to face reality? Let's live in our fantasy until we die. That's the world's mantra. I hear it in every song on the radio, longing simply wed to empty fantasy.

God's offering us reality. Implicit in his frustrated statement that humans are calling trees and rocks mom and dad, is the reality that we were made to have one father. One being in whom we belong. One source of joy, peace, comfort and pride. That's why Jon Piper says over and over "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him."

The Bible is a portrait of a God at war with idols or lies. He wants the truth to win out in our lives and for us to come home to him. We were decieved to eat from a tree, he dies on a tree. We call a tree father, he covers a tree with his blood. He covers the tree that represented Roman power and domination with blood and compassion. And last but not least there's a tree in the city of God who's fruit will heal the nations.

Even as I write down all this random stuff, I'm eagerly awaiting a package in the mail. And to anyone who knows me, it's got to be a mountain bike part. Yup! I know that what's got me all worked up and giddy is just so much of a hunk of metal. Am I willing to call it father? Not in my head no but in my heart perhaps that's exactly what I'm doing.

My heart longs for what this hunk of metal represents: freedom, independance, joy and excitement. But I know that it will just result in a collosal let-down. For God is my only true father.

And even though he's invisible to me now, I know that my heart will be satisfied withnothing less than him. It's found in Jesus' parables on the kingdom that there is a God out there and in hear (our hearts if we're his) who is of inestimable worth. I hope that he enables me to believe it more and more, but for now, I've got a package that's about to arrive. Maybe this time I won't be thinking "Dad" when I tear it open.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Following Jesus is Impossible

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Jesus
Can you believe these words from Jesus? Can you imagine hearing them as a disciple? In light of what crucifixion meant in the disciples' world they would be more than shocked. I think they would be horrified! Perhaps they would have blown it off as one of Jesus' wacky statements that simply lend no explanation, but I doubt it. It's too poignant, too direct, and frankly really, really scary!

It's like someone today hawking electric chairs, "Electric chairs, electric chairs, come have a sit and a zap!" I don't think they'd have any takers. It's like Jesus was saying to his to his disciples, "You want to follow me. Here's the most horrifically gruesome thing I can think of. Now that's what happens when you follow me." Was Jesus just being mean?

How are we to reconcile these words? I don't really know. That's why I'm writing about them, sort of in the hopes that God would somehow help me to understand. It'd be nice if God was like, "You know Phil, I didn't really mean a real cross, I was simply saying the way would be hard, but I'll make it easy for you Phil. You've got nothing to worry about." Somehow I don't think that's God's interpretation.

Since 11 of the 12 disciples were killed or executed, my guess is Jesus was being a little too literal for everybodies' comfort. I confess I don't like this train of thought at all.

I know that the Christian life is all about dying to ourselves so that we can find our life in Christ. In fact that's what the very next verse talks about. But how in the world is that supposed to be appealing?

Let me back up for a moment: I'm the worst surrender-er out there. I really, really don't like (we're trying not to say "hate" these days with our kids - who like to say they hate everything) surrendering my way or will to anybody. I want what I want. And if you somehow interfere with me getting what I want, you can expect me to turn into "sergeant grumpy-pants" issuing orders that nobody likes. Why? Because I'm not happy, and I need to be happy.

So that said, how should I respond to this statement of Jesus'? Should I attempt to "metaphorosisize" (a mix of metaphor and metamorphosis) it into something a little prettier, something I can handle? I'm tempted to. It'd certainly be a relief to get this cross off my back.

But the truth is, Jesus doesn't promise his way is going to be easy. I believe he paints it in terms that are meant to scare us off. We're not supposed to respond with, "Alright, your way is hard, but I can do this." That would be missing the point entirely. Peter had just tried taking this tack with Jesus.

As someone said somewhere in some context, the Christian life is about making impossibilities possible. In other words Jesus was fully aware that he was addressing a group of fraidy-cats with the proposition of jumping in the ring with rottweilers. But what he also was fully aware of was his own strength.

That's what I always forget. You know how the Marines never leave a man behind. Jesus was fully aware of his ability to not leave any man behind, period. To take them through any trial, any difficulty, any torture, and even through any horrific death. I forget this because I forget that Jesus is actually real. He really his. And he's the son of God!

If Jesus is real and the son of God, he can and will sustain us through any sort of trial. It's not like Jesus is thinking, "I'm pretty sure my disciples can handle this." No he knew what a shock this was going to be to them, and he was putting a wall in front of their spiritual progress. In essence, he was saying, "If you want to follow me, you can't, because, guess what, you are going to die, ha!"

That's what I've got to believe about Jesus. That his way is impossible. It simply takes him to do it. I can't follow Jesus. I'm way to selfish. My will always circles back around to me (Yes, I'm a "me-monster"). But if Jesus sees fit and if I'm want to reject my will, he can do his work in me, enabling me to walk the impossible path, the path of death to self and life in God.

So am I saying that this is some sort of magical formula for sanctification and walking the straight and narrow. No. This has nothing to do with a formula and everything to do with a messy process. To our universal chagrin, Jesus is unafraid of taking time with us. From my experience he's more than OK with "process."

Daily as his disciple, I'm faced with this: Am I going to believe in Jesus and his abilities to work life out of the death in me, or am I going to try to find life myself? It's the question that makes all the difference. Not because our sanctification depends on us. It doesn't. But it's not that we're at the mercy of the fates either. Jesus died so that we could now follow. Not in our strength but in his. Even if this following looks really, really scary.

This is no sales pitch, Jesus is still calling us to take up our Roman torture devices, but He's doing it as our Saviour, the only one who was able to save us from our enslavement to sin and more than up to the task of making us more like him.

I think that's why my favourite prayer is simply "Help!" It works because Jesus is real and powerful. Something I often forget.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Snotty Kid

I’ve fallen into the trap of writing to publish. Writing simply to communicate and be heard rather than to simply write. I’m not sure what I mean by this, but I know I’ve become too polished and stiff in my style, especially now that I’ve started a blog.

Writing is art. And to do it takes a lot of freedom and discipline. But much like art, we have to let go before we begin to learn. If I cling to closely to my writing my words become tired and worn. So I’m attempting to loosen up and really let stuff flow. I need to become passive in the process and see God’s hand at work as I process my deepest feelings, hurts and joys in print.

That said, I’m not sure what I’m going to write about today. But the world is open to me with all sorts of possibilities. With words I can go anywhere, create almost anything and I’m only limited by my lack of imagination.

Restlessness is a theme that’s been bouncing around my head. And it’s something that really rules my life. I’m restless when I work, when I play, when I love, when I serve, when I worship, when I rest, ha! There’s something in me that I can’t root out. Something that longs for a security that I can’t put my hands on, and say, “Aha, this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for.” I’m just not sure what it is.

Or I guess I do know what it is, it’s God. But I know so little about God really that I’m sure I head in all the wrong directions when I think about him. He’s too much like me in my mind, just meaner. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as mean as my subconscious picture of God. Wrathful and quick-tempered, he’s holy in a detached and unfeeling way, condemning sinners and seeking out the righteous.

This is such a backward portrayal of God. A betrayal of God. What I guess Satan would love me to believe. In fact it’s got to be what most of the world believes. The kind of thinking that resulted in the fall and all the mess. Now it holds me bond and restless. Restless and wandering the world in search of something I can hold, or perhaps something that can simply hold me.

I long to be simply held and told that I am loved. The lack of this attention is the root of my restlessness. And that which I know is the only source, God, seems indifferent to me, distant, and even a bit hostile. It’s not consistent with the “big story” I find in scripture. But scripture doesn’t seem like the kind of stuff that enables me to get through the day. And let’s not even talk about my trust and faith, it is so entirely weak and insincere.

I’ve got to relax into the hands of a new God. A God who’s not the God of my imagining. The confusing God of Sunday morning rituals and nightly fears and anxieties. The God of multiple conversions, methods and attempts to find peace. The God that’s simply the gatekeeper of hell. The God who preys on my fear and anxiety and puts weights on my shoulders. The God who demands obedience and trust. The God who confuses me with tricky doctrines and exacts correct thought. The God who isn’t characterized by love but by strictness and discipline, namely perfection and holiness in human terms.

A picture of holiness that often pops into my brain is of a elderly woman (sorry women who are blessed with years) dressed in a bleak grey business suit, with hair pulled back tight, clipboard in hand, disdainfully peering over glasses perched on the end of a hawkish nose, mouth pinched in a derisive smile. She asks me quick questions with disappointment and disapproval written all over their demeanor. She’s the kind of person I think of when I think of holiness and righteousness. See why it’s hard for me to reconcile God to these sorts of pictures in my mind?

I know I’m not alone in this, trapped in my mind by misconceptions and lies. Everything that holds me in a state of restlessness stems from misperception of my God. When I think of all the books I’ve read, I feel like either I’m really thick or have serious short-term memory loss. I’ve read so much that debunks these lies that we believe about God, I guess that I’ve always thought that by now I should think of him as my great lover, as my heavenly father, and as my friend. But honestly, I don’t. I strain every day in an attempt not to believe what I seem destined to believe: that God is petty, harsh, even manipulative. That he really doesn’t have my best interests at heart.

Often when I’m confronted by the cross, my mind simply goes blank. Either I blow it off as an event that happened a long time ago or as something that shows that God is melodramatic. These thoughts lead me to a theology of practicality and productivity. I say productivity, for in minimalizing the cross I feel I’ve got to produce to please this God. And then, when I finally arrive, he will grant me the peace I so desire. But I’ve found that I don’t have the energy for that kind of production and if I even attempt that route the works of my hands leave my heart empty.

I need a God who’s different. A God who cares. The one who took shame and rejection on the cross, not for some detached plan, but simply to carry my shame, rejection and my restlessness. This is a good starting point in unraveling the lies that have me all tangled up in a mess. Believing in a God who not only cares but carries my restlessness but died for it.

And like my Dad says so often, this God wants me in the game. He wants me to live. He wants me to experience life without the crippling effects of lies, fear and suspicion. He wants not only child-like faith from me, but that I would simply recognize that I am his child and, as his child, everything is going to be all right.

That’s what we all want anyways isn’t it? To know without a shadow of a doubt that we’re loved and that all the hurt, pain, and sadness will come undone. That there is hope for this life and the next. That we’re not simply trapped. That there was and is a divine rescue plan in place, working for us and that we will finally find what we are searching for.

So what? Is all of this just words. Am I attempting to think deep thoughts to have something to write about? Or are these the wrestlings of my heart. A heart that wants to flee the responsibilities of raising a family, raising support for ministry and living a good Christian life.

I believe these are the reflections of my heart. And I do believe that somewhere in there, deep down in my thoughts/soul/heart is someone divine doing his thing. My greatest hope is that he – Jesus – will win the day by working his Holy Spirit within me. This hope is not so that I can live a good life, but that I can come up for his air, that I can simply surface out of the lies that threaten to drown, suffocate and leave me dead and bobbing.

I need an advocate, a personal cheerleader. Someone who is unequivocally for me. Maybe I’m just selfish. But the truth is. If Jesus doesn’t exist, I don’t have anything, but if he does there’s a promise that I might just have everything and more than I ever dreamed of.

Have you ever thought of heaven? Our minds are supposed to be constantly attentive to it aren’t they? It says that somewhere… But what do you think it will be like? I believe it will be like finally waking up. Waking up to promises and truths that we barely dared to think were possible while we lived on the earth. But I don’t want to wait to heaven to start believing in these realities.

That’s what all this has been about really. Not simply another way of viewing the world, but a reality that anchors my being, something that is imbedded deep in my soul/heart/mind. A reality that I am loved unconditionally, heard when I cry out, laughed with, played with, and in which I enabled to get in the game of life.

If you’re like me you may feel that you’ve stalled out in the game of life. But if Jesus is within you, doing something, or doing anything, you’ll never stall. I think this is the root of my struggle: I believe Jesus has long since gotten tired of my running and given up. If I were him I would have. But to go back to the fundamentals, I’m not God and he is. Jesus doesn’t give up, even if his projects are a wreck, and especially when his projects are a wreck.

“Let the little snotty-nosed kids come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Quick, get to the Stronghold!"

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9

As someone reading my last blog might of guessed, I've been going through a difficult time. God's felt distant, I've felt useless and have been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to comfort myself with what the world offers.

Well, as I was reading a rivetting novel the other night (Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games. Warning: Don't start reading because you won't put it down and it will consume your every waking moment as well as some of your sleeping ones! So check it out.) Melissa casually mentioned that maybe I should open my Bible and read a bit. The audacity!

I did, all but huffing and puffing about simplistic, spiritual and legalistic responses to suffering. "I'll probably just open up to Leviticus," I thought. I didn't. I opened up to Psalm 9 and read the words above.

I was reminded of my stronghold, that even in times like these, when I have an unresponsive and dead heart, God is my refuge. I went on to skim through Psalm 10 (I had to skim because I wanted to get back to my novel). In Psalm 10 I heard David asking these words, "Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" "Exactly!" I thought.

But then in verses 14 and 17 I read the words, "But you do see" and "Oh Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted." David knew that while God felt far off, while he seemed to hide himself in times of trouble, he wasn't distant at all. He was present, he did see and hear all that was going on in David's heart and life.

Do I believe this? Most of the time I don't. I'm sort of stuck on the first question, "LORD, why do you stand far off?" But the truth is he doesn't. That's why he's my rock and fortress. A resting place for the suffering and oppressed.

So how do we believe all this Psalm craziness in the 21st century? It is the 21st century after all, and our suffering doesn't include rocks, sticks and the occasional spear heading for your head.

I've often blown off the Psalms because of this. David knew real suffering. But the more I read, the more I think that his enemies were often in his head, or spiritual in nature. He had too many enemies for all of them to be guys with dissheveled beards, hanging around and slapping the occasional camel with the backs of their swords. We have internal enemies and an enemy that wants nothing but to bring us down and disconnect us from our father.

So I believe God is directly addressing this suffering and discontent that so often reigns in my heart through these Psalms. It's encouraging stuff, and it's not just cheap therapy, but a real and lasting hope that we have a God who is a "stronghold for the oppressed." My desire is to take my restlessness and suffering to the only healer I know. And for the record, Melissa was right for once.

Friday, September 10, 2010


"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?" - Malachi

Ummm, I've been neglecting writing for the past couple of weeks because I'm up to something: namely, hating God. My parents instilled in me that hate is a strong term, and I wouldn't normally admit it's the way I feel about God, but my actions betray me.

I could go on about how I haven't read my Bible in a couple of weeks and how I've neglected spiritual disciplines and how I'm basically not getting this whole Christian thing right. But there's something going on in me that's deeper, or more deep-seated in the fibers of who I am. There's a deep seated restlessness within me that has me running towards anything and everything but my heavenly father.

Now before you give me a call or lay hands on your computer (I know most of you who read this wouldn't do that anyway) I felt freed to write this morning as I read a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision (a book my parents gave me that I highly recommend for it's honesty). In it the Puritan "saint" prays that God would rescue him from his habitual hatred towards God. So I figured if a Puritan can admit to hating God, so can I.

Why do I hate God? What makes me want to distance myself from my Father and basically has me "whoring" after everything else I can get my hands on? For me, there's a deep-seated restlessness in what I perceive as God's plan for my life. I mean who isn't restless when we know that God's plan will include suffering, pain, persecution, and ultimately death to ourselves?

As a friend of mine once said, "We wriggle under the thumb of God." I agree, and I don't just wriggle, I also kick, bite and claw (for you nail-biters out there, this is a good reason to not bite your nails). I fight hard because I don't believe that God's plan for me lies in his loving presence and his reality.

I wonder, if I was to break down my perspective on reality into percentages, what percent my recognition of God actually being real (not to mention loving, holy and immenent) would be? My guess it would be pretty slim. I'm no financiere (I don't even know how to spell it) but my guess is it's not the kind of percent of interest I'd take for a savings account.

So is there biblical warrant for this state I find myself in? Or should I simply pray a prayer of repentance, ask for the Holy Spirit and be healed with a quick slap to the forhead?

I do think there is biblical warrant for accepting that I am a "God-hater." Of course the reality is that I love my Father as well. But how am I to reconcile the two? I'm finding that I simply can't. Like the prodigal son, there's nothing I can do but run home.

But do you ever get tired of this sanctification mumbo-jumbo. Running away, running back, running away, running back... (And the truth is we don't really run back do we, it's more like being dragged). I know I get tired of it. Malachi echoes my sentiment, "But you say, 'What a weariness this is,' and you snort at it.'" And here's where I think I've stumbled into a lie that makes my hatred for God grow: I believe that my sanctification depends on me.

Just like the Jews in Malachi, I'm doing my duty with a dead heart. Why? Because I consistently doubt the three-fold reality of God, my state and his cross (a friend brought this to light yesterday). I don't see any of them for what they are: To me God is a being who is distant and demanding, I'm really not such a bad guy - or at least with a little work I'll get it together, and the cross, well the cross is something that happened a long long time ago.

But the truth is that God's righteousness is all this good stuff way beyond the best I can imagine. My sin is more horrificly deep than I would ever dare admit on a blog - even "hating God" doesn't really cut it. And the cross? In the cross we see everything: God's righteousness revealed in an individual who took a bunch of ragamuffin, God-hating, grumbling, hopelessly blind and broken individuals and championed their freedom by taking their place.

My "God-hate" was nailed to the cross at a real point in real time by a real God. God in Jesus became my hatred and was annihilated because of it.

In light of this, why am I caught up in trying to be a good Christian? This is the way I think: if I can only believe this reality, I will truly repent and fall into the hands of my lover-God (hear how this reflects my unbelief?). Then I'll be filled with the Holy Spirit without needing the charismatic slap on the forehead.

The truth is, whether I believe it or not, God went through hell for me. So my faith rests not in the strength of my belief but in what's really real (thank you Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace). God's resurrected life now lives in me and he will work in me his perfect righteousness because this is HIS promise, not mine. And God keeps his promises to God-haters.