Monday, April 25, 2011

"Dude, I'm glowing and my hair is totally sweet now!"

Can you imagine what it would feel like to come back from the dead? What would Jesus have felt like as he began to feel the blood coursing through his veins, appendages tingling with new life and breath catching in his lungs?

I was hit by this last night as my small group was discussing the experience of a man who had played in 20-plus passion plays. Upon reflecting on all those significant acts of thesbianism (I love that word), he said that the most impactful was one where he was playing Jesus in the tomb lying perfectly still and then began to move one arm and then another until finally he sat up and stood.

I have to admit that I'm jealous of this actor's experience. Of course I'd never be allowed to play that part because I'd be way too tempted to come out of the grave with arms raised in zombie-pose, drooling and mumbling incoherently. It would be too blasphemous they say, but I think it would be absolutely hilarious.

But I guess we've all had a resurrection experience, or a rebirth if you prefer(that's what I love about Christianity, you get choices). We've all been in a tomb, deader than a door-nail you might say: "RIP in peace Philip, your buckets been kicked. The poor guy croaked tirelessly blogging on and on about something I can't remember. You know how he was, now he's playing with the maggots."

I'll have to get better friends before I die. But before then I want to grasp hold of this whole coming alive thing. Isn't it a little hard to grasp? Most of us don't really think the resurrection is all that big of a deal. The reason being we don't really think we were really dead.

And I guess that's were sactif-i-can't-do-anything-good-ion comes in and reshapes our thinking. We really were lifeless and totally dead, dependant on divine rescue just as Christ made himself dependant.

I've been told that we need to clean house for God to make ourselves receptive to God. Try giving a dead guy a broom. Or even a dust-buster. Unless you grab his arm, pry his petrified hand open and then shut it on the dust-buster and use a pulley system to drift him around the house like Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible," it's going to be difficult to get a dead guy to clean house (maybe I put to much thought into this). Plus even if you do get a dead guy cleaning house, wouldn't it be sort of self-defeating since bits and pieces would be constantly falling off? Gross, but true.

I think grasping the fact that we didn't do anything in effecting our rescue is key to understanding salvation and having a big picture of the cross. Repentance, our will or God's gift? God's gift. Softened heart of reception our work or God's gift? God's gift. Life lived in dependance on God? God's gift of life lived well. Working hard yes, but working with God's will, not our own.

I need to be careful here because we do not dissapear in the new life of Christ following. The reality is that we actually appear for the first time. And do we have free-will? Yes, but with qualifications. Does it actually make it "free" then? I'm not sure. I'm getting myself too deep, gurgle, gurgle-gurgle, "Help, cough, I'm drowning! Can somebody get me a Seminary Prof!?"

But I do think I'm right in saying we were absolutely helplessly dead and getting deader-er, and then for some innexplicable reason, God chose us, breathed life into us, and we were awoken to a life we could never have imagined. And as this is "now" it will be even more fully "then." We are being awoken to heavenly realities. I hope I'm awoken a little more today, "And Jesus, I promise I won't do the zombie thing. Cross my charcoal-black heart."

Thursday, April 21, 2011


"Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." - Jacob after his famous dream.

How often do I stop and recognize God? In the rich sounding potato-chip crunch of a leaf underfoot or the vibrant green hues of spring awakenings, do I truly marvel at God's creation?

I was reminded of these questions while reading Voskamp this morning. And wow, how something does stir in my passions to recognize God in his creation!

She went on to describe how the root word for God's glory is "Kavod," which stems from the same word that means weight. God's weight is in all of his natural world. "The whole world is full of his glory." The whole world is weighted down by God.

Just as Jacob awoke to a recognition of his own cluelessness to God's presence, perhaps I too am clueless to God's weight in the world. The clean smell of air after a spring rain, the rich combination of warm breezes and misting rain. He's here. He's in this place. And this place is weighted down by God.

One of my favorite things to do is what I've termed "Gravity." Maybe it is some deep psychological need I have to feel permanent, but I'll often ask Melissa to lay down on top of me, dispersing her weight over my entire body. I don't know why but the weight soothes my anxieties and fears, its pressure on my lungs forces me to slow down, and I feel secure, anchored. Strange I know, but there's something about being pressed upon by goodness, or in my case gently flattened by one I love (Melissa's way too light for really good Gravity), that speaks of glory. Surely God is in Gravity.

Life doesn't require that we slow down. But God-life does. We are such a furious hurry-riddled, helter-skelter and gruesome-pictures-of-decapitated-chickenes-running-into-stuff-because-someone-thought-this-would-make-a-good-analogy kind of people aren't we. Even those of us who, when faced with the onslaught of evil that is our day, groan, roll over and hug our pillow in shivering terror, are in the grip of something else: weightlessness.

Of course, as with anything ever written of any substance, greedy old CS Lewis got to it first in "The Weight of Glory." And also as with anything ever written of any profound substance, I have stored it somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, the part that's always taking recesses. So go ahead and read "The Weight of Glory" and insert your own profound thoughts here.

But as I contemplate my day, with the stupid hurly-burly-want-to-bang-my-head-against-stuff (I-really-like-dashes-today) kind of things I have to do, I'm hoping that I'll recognize along with Voskamp, that the world is saturated with God and weighed down by his presence.

"Don't pull that weed, Melissa, that might be one of God's chin hairs!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Hey Chimp, You Look Like I Feel."

Head clogged, eyes heavy and itchy, sleep still dripping from their lids, breath atrocious, sitting, wondering and heart-aching for reality. Here I sit in all of my humanness, just a small, weak and tender creature, buffeted like the wind that stirs the clouds outside the coffee shop.

Here I sit, and I wonder, "Is this all there is? Is this what I'm called to?" Faithlessness, restlessness, running, busyness and escape, life bleeding opportunities passed and relationships spurned. Here I sit a human.

A small ripple swells as I remember the words "As the Lord has compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he remembers our frame, he knows that we are dust."

This frame quakes today. It shakes at the prospect of a day full of attempts and setbacks, responsibility and weight. The frame quakes, shakes and falls in a cloud of dust. And here I am, just a pile, but a pile that is loved.

A pile loved deeply beyond my deepest hopes and desires. This is Good News. That God loves his precious piles.

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about today. I just started writing and this is what came out. Obviously, I'm tired and worn, wondering how God will preserve, strengthen and awaken this soul of mine today.

He will, he always does. He will because he's a "dread warrior." He is furiously, passionately and even wrecklessly in love with his people. My calling today to email people and get the word out about what I'm doing - writing in ministry. But I'll be honest, it seems pointless.

The imaginary people in my head don't seem to care. I shape them from my own responses to ministry, and it's not a pretty shape. I don't want to be bothered by stuff from outside my sphere, things from outside my own personal world. Challenges to give and "opportunities" are annoyances, a mosquito I simply want to swat away and get on with the business of me.

I know I feel this way when others come-a-calling. I feel like an annoyance. And I don't want others to annoy me with their problems and needs.

But still God patiently calls. He reminds me that my story isn't mine, I'm a part of something bigger now. Something far more bridingly brilliant than I can handle: "Here's your sunglasses Philip. You better put them on."

So as God and I gaze into the real reality of his kingdom coming my grumblings fall away and I begin to feel a little silly. This pile of dust needs this gaze today. A vision of the kingdom. Jesus' kingdom, coming to make all things right.

I always think of myself laying brick or stone when it comes to building the kingdom. And I'm no brick-layer or stone-mason, and I feel the cement dripping off my wobbly pallet even as I write. It's frustrating this kingdom work. God can't you see that my section of the wall is wobbly. Can't I just push it over (I like seeing things go crash anyway) and go elsewhere?

"No, find your strength in me. Rest in me. For your burden is my burden, we shall walk this road together."

"But God, as I look at our foot-prints in the sand, somethimes two (when you carry me) sometimes four, what are those other prints - those two round prints so close together?"

"Oh that's where I got tired of your whining, and shoved you down on your buttoski."


That's what my imaginary God does. Thankfully I don't live in a world of imaginary gods and imaginary people, the real God can shoulder my grumbling. At least I'm counting on this today, but perhaps it would be clever to put on an extra pair of underwear for padding just in case. You never know in dealings with the real God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Run Away!"

God "does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow" - Lamentations 3:33.

I've been reading Ann Vosskamp again this morning. Dangerous stuff! In her book "One Thousand Gifts," she's got a tight grip on the Gospel and she's refusing to let go. It's impressive, an amazing display of the power of the Good News and a decent grip (I wonder if she plays tennis).

Here's a statement she made that confuses me: "All is grace... All is grace only because all can transfigure."

In the chapter I'm reading she's dealing with what she calls "hard thanks." Thanking God for suffering as well as for blessings. She realizes that she's lived for a long time as an amputee, hacking her "life into grace moments and curse moments."

But now she's finding that the crux of the Gospel is that "all those living in the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun." God uses suffering to bring life. Resurrection.

She's got me thinking (Who could have guessed that?). Melissa should have never put me on to her. This woman thinks dangerous thoughts.

But if God truly is in control of everything, even the greatest suffering must be a grace of some sort. In a world rocked by Japan's most recent Tsunami, these words can be offensive. But they're true. They're true because God is big enough to use horrific tragedy to do his work, his work of making all things new.

He uses suffering in my life. With Vosskamp I can say that like a caring surgeon, God cuts into my ungrateful heart to make me whole. He knows that nothing but suffering will produce Godliness in my life. Nothing but pain.

I'm reminded of Romans again where it speaks of "all of creation groaning up to the present time." Unless we groan, unless we suffer, we don't recognize the "present time." We don't recognize the audacious hope of Jesus' Kingdom reign. We don't recognize that all we've ever hoped for has arrived and is arriving.

For as humans we are forever ungrateful. We refuse to take the bad with the good. We medicate, escape and simply hike up our skirts and run full-tilt from pain.

"Run Away, Run Away!" - Monty Python.

But if we were to recognize and ponder that even the most horrific pain and evil is in God's control, and that he has the power to resurrect and transform, perhaps we can begin to be grateful in all circumstances. With Paul we can learn what it means to be content.

I want to learn, but I'm not willing to go through much pain. With my daughter Teya, I don't handle emotional pain so good. In fact bad feelings or emotions are never good in my book. Being an individual who struggles with melancholy, or to state it bluntly often thinks "life is shit and then we die," I want to run from any sort of depression.

But perhaps running is exactly the opposite of how I'll find peace. Perhaps resignation is the opposite as well. Perhaps I am to groan. To groan for transformation. To groan for resurrection. To groan for God. Perhaps.

It's fitting this week.

And speaking of recognizing the present time, this is my 100th entry!!! Where's my blue ribbon?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Life is Pain"

"Life is pain." - Wesley in the movie "The Princess Bride."

As I begin my day stumbling towards my devotions (I'll get to them after writing) I have a cloud of fears, confusion and pain swirling through me. But hey, it's Monday.

Life as a Christian is no gum-drop-peachy-here-after-fairy-tale at present. My guess is it's not going to be in the future either. After all good fairy-tales point to something deeper than bliss, something deeper than this world can offer. Bad fairy-tales are simply empty promises of worldly pleasures revelled in without restraint.

This pain that resides in me, that resides in everyone, is a catalyst for a life of Godliness. Without it we wouldn't run too or from God. Those of us who run away, the prodigals, are, in a sense, practising a form of Godliness in their running. True they run toward empty promises, but they run with the passionate pain of unfulfillment beating in their chests: their miss-directed God hunger.

Whatever else beats in my chest, like my heart, ha, there is a an ache that beats to be away from pain in this life. For me right now it's the simple pain of waiting: waiting for ministry funding, and the pain spurred on as I wait by fears of inadequacy, irresponsibility and unworthiness. For others it could be a whole painter's pallet of pain - emotional, familial or vocational.

I want to get away from pain. I want the hurt to stop. I want life to be a little easier. Don't you? And here I sit in a coffee shop, surrounded by creature comforts and the most real physical pain I feel is a scrape on my ankle from biking. Do I know real pain?

Many experience deep pain beyond my comprehension. I see it in the mother talking about her prodigal son, stories of friends who have miscarried and now are having health difficulties with their most recent baby. I see it in those who hedge, hide and paint their life with make-up happiness masks.

Pain is everywhere, if we have the courage to look. But God is too. His hand blessing all of life, sustaining it, nurturing it, creating, always creating. And the resurrection whispers of pain bringing joy. Of the deepest pain bringing about the deepest joy. Perhaps God is in the pain as well.

We don't even know what this joy will look like. When I describe it to my kids I do sound like a the Sunday School Parrot. I know a tiny taste of it and for it my taste pallet craves.

To have everything made right. To have everything made well. To hear of no earthquakes, tsunamis, orphans, murders and lying politicians (I had to put this one in now that Trump is intending to run for the Presidency. I should have a kind heart towards Trump, but I'm not there yet in my sanctification. I could say I pity him, but that's not true Christian charity either. I've been vicariously fired over and over again by Trump as I watched "The Apprentice," and I'm having a hard time getting over it.)

But this "making everything right," everything back in right standing with it's Creator, true righteousness in the cosmos, this might be what Paul speaks of as the hope set before us. Creation groans for it. Being with God in the right. Or simply being with God. Everything being with God.

I believe God uses pain to get us to hope. To get us to peer beyond this reality and see the really real, the God reality of goodness and mercy. At least I know this is what he's doing in my life. He doesn't want my hopes set on me, he wants my hope set on him. And, hey, if it hurts to have my head ever tilted heavenward, it's worth a little pain in the neck (sorry I couldn't resist this really lame close).

Note on picture: If you haven't ever seen "The Princess Bride," you really need to.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I don't have anything deep to say this morning. Not anything from myself anyway. But I feel a torrent, a deep river of grace moving through me, and I must write. Perhaps it's the coffee and I'm simply experiencing a caffeine high. Perhaps it's literal as well, and with the best gospel singers I can sing along "I've got a river of life flowing out of me" as I run to the Starbucks bathroom to relieve my confused bladder (sorry, I've always been tickled by this sad joke).

But I feel so full this morning. Filled on the goodness of my God. I've heard testimonies of God's mysterious and amazing ways in my men's group. One man talked about real prayers, prayers asking for God to speak to him, prayers for him to be part of God's agenda, not for God to simply be a part of his. He's hearing from God. And this man, who months ago believed there was no God, read to us God's words to him from his journal. Grace overflowing to atheists. Good stuff.

I watched the movie "Hear after" last night. In it Matt Damon is finally playing a part which had Melissa and me thinking he didn't have to make himself look older or younger than he actually is. I don't know how old he is now, but with flecks of gray in his hair and some brow lines from all the facial expressions that mark the genius of his trade, he looks about as old as I feel: I'm in my mid-thirties and I think he's in his early forties, but he's a baby face.

Matt (may I simply call him Matt? He feels like a friend with all the great roles he's played.) plays a character that reaches deep into my yearnings. In fact, there is a triad of characters in this story, and they all are being driven towards something other, somewhere larger, somewhere more real: the "here-after."

Now I'm not going to go ruining the movie for you so don't worry. But this movie, which Clint Eastwood directs, like his "Gran Tarino," is obsessed with questions of substance. I believe CS Lewis would love Clint Eastwood for these two movies. For these two subtly whisper of a "far-off country," a place beyond this world and the yearnings and cravings for this reality that mark the human race. Characters in Eastwood's movies are in a process of transformation, having their walls of self-protection broken through by the invading forces of both pain and beauty.

My walls too are being pulled down. I'm in a process of seeing and revelling the big God in the small details. I'm writing and meditating on all the "little things" I'm thankful for. And it's taking me to places that are more real, more sure and more in-tune with my heart's yearning than my typical modes of escape, recreation and exercise. It's taking me from a place of brainlessly mouthing the big things in church and moving on with my life to a place of deep suspicion that I don't know much about the big things.

How and why is my men's group, "Here-after" and my gratitude affecting me? And why am I writing about it. I really don't know. I can't say. But I get hints. Hints like we serve a God more mysterious than my "Sunday-school parrot-talk" can describe. A God who reveals himself to those who are in the depths.

A God "who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy."

"Bless, the LORD, Oh my soul, let all that is in me Bless his holy name." - Psalm 103

I fear I'm becoming a sentimental sop (but you already know I'm a sop). In fact I fear that this entry will be so mushy-gushy and dis-connected that you, the reader, will begin to feel critical and jaded. That's OK.

But these fears, onve laid on the table, seem simply irrelevant. They don't do justice to the difficulties of writing about a God who deserves full reverence and fear.

And isn't part of the deep mystery of God's grace, is that he keeps bringing us around to fear? Fear of man. Fear of God.

As I'm learning that fear of man gets me absolutely nowhere, God is really forcing my hand to fear him. In this fear, in dealing with the real "Fear" (as Frederich Beuchner calls God in one of his stories), I find substance and peace. Stuff that I can lay on my bed at night and ponder on. Stuff that I can sleep to. Stuff of Shalom and rest. God stuff. Good stuff.

So I guess that's about all I've got today. I've got a river running through me that's doing real stuff to me with it's real stuff. It's sometimes a torrent and sometimes a trickle, but always it's with me, moving, transforming and shaping. The breath of the LORD is blowing on me, and for this and for all of this stuff he's doing I'm grateful beyond words. Someday I'll write a little more coherently on it. But I pray never too coherently for then I might not be writing about God.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Bog of Etermal Stench"

"...the LORD takes pleasure in his people..." - Psalm 149

These days I'm seeing more evidence for what I believe to be most Christians' chief disbelief: that God loves them. We all know how rotten we are, or at least we get hints from the stinky piles of sin that dwell within.

It reminds me of a compost pile in Cambridge, England that my brother and a friend lovingly termed the "the bog of eternal stench." Let me tell you, England makes for some feirce compost, it's not your run-of-the mill quaint American "Ew,that's stinky!" type. Hey, we have something quaint on them!

My brother and I, being the fearless explorers and men's boys we are, or were, would turn the compost over with sticks and create aromas straight from the depths of Hades. I can see it now, steaming. It really steamed, I'm not kidding. Imagine the worst gas you've ever smelt, multiplied and mercilessly crammed up your nose by tireless pixies with sticks and sponges soaked in the stuff. It's enough to bring tears to my eyes even now. Have mercy, Oh Almighty Bog of Eternal Stench, have mercy!

When we are stirred by the Gospel, something similar occurs. We become struck by the audacity and pungent nature of God's love. It's too much for us to comprehend. So we keep it at arms length, fearful for what it might do to us.

I can't help thinking that most Christians do this. It is very, very, very difficult to believe that the only individual who knows our deepest and darkest, loves us. Frankly it's an offense to nature, just like the Bog of Eternal Despair.

But the God who created nature, has the right to bend the rules. And we see it over and over again in his word. He not only loves his creatures, dances and delights over them but, as the verse above says, he finds pleasure in them.

Do I believe that God finds pleasure in me? The first thing that comes to mind is how I'm, even now, bent on pursuing my own ways. Surely this rules me out from his pleasure. It doesn't. God still takes pleasure in me.

Am I giving in to cheap grace. My life is full of taking grace for granted, so probably. But in the case of meditating on God's pleasure, nothing can touch his delight in us. For his delight rests solidly in the work of Christ. When he sees my filth, or stirs the pile with his stick, he also sees Christ's obedience on my behalf.

So what does this do for me? The ego absorption of the question beside, it enables me to believe in a radical, warrior God, who furiously pursues his chosen. So is it my duty to navel gaze and wonder if I'm chosen. No, it is my duty to revel in his love.

When the horrific odors of your soul have you at the choking point, imagining a smaller earthly god's rejection, remember that we serve Jesus which literally means "saves." We are loved. We are approved. We are danced over, delighted in and give God pleasure simply by taking another one of his gifts: the next breath.

If we learn to breathe in humble recognition of where our breath comes from, we'll learn to love and I'm betting we'll learn to Live. Of course I'm going to rule this out if we happen to be in Cambridge, England with two young boys, who are rooting around in a funny looking pile. In that case I'd advise you not to breathe, ever. Some things were never meant to be smelled.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ta' (How the English say Thanks)

"The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world." - Alexander Schmemann.

Melissa has to be gloating because I'm finally reading Ann Voskamp. In fact she pulled the old "If you love me..." on this author. She really, really likes Ann Voskamp. So much so in fact, that she even reads her blog way more than she reads mine (Can you imagine? No jealousy here). But I'm glad (personal angst withstanding), for I see this author's words transforming Melissa. It's beautiful.

So I've picked up her book "One Thousand Gifts." Or rather, with Melissa being a walking info-mercial for Ann Voskamp, I've had her book quoted to me, seductively waved infront of me and slipped into my hands with $20 bills.

Well, now that I'm finally getting over myself, I'm reading her and already in the first 35 pages I'm a wool-being-dutifully-dyed (Why? Because wool has to be dyed for these occasions) Ann Voskamp groupie.

In her book she gets to the question we all wrestle with as believers. It's the question that reverberates around the chambers of our hearts. I find the question searingly painful, but I know I have to face it. So here it is: "How does one live ready, and always?" How do we live ready for Christ's coming kingdom?

I find this question haunting me day and night. Like the virgins waiting for their groom with lamp-thingies, I am always fussing over my lamp, wondering if it will burn bright for my master when he comes, and begging the other virgins for kerosine in this appliance-forsaken ancient near-eastern parable I find myself stuck in. My dress and lipstick look good, it's just this dang lamp I'm worried about.

Or to look at it another way, I've heard over, over, yes and over, that you are either whole-heartedly sold-out for God, or not at all. I dissagree. When I hear this statement I picture myself casually swinging my atrophied legs, sitting on the fence between the world and God. The thought makes me shift uneasily, or perhaps it's just to move my bruised buns on the uncomfortable fence posts.

I want to be ready, but I know I'm not, I think...

Before you reach 36 pages in Voskamp's book, she offers a glimpse of the answer. As all good answers are it's both simple and difficult. It's to live a life of thanks (sorry for ruining the book, now you can get back to reading my blog more. (Evil)Ha, ha, haaaaa-cough-ha!), a life of Eucharisteo which means "He gave thanks." It's to live a life that Christ modeled at the Lord's supper, when he gave thanks over the symbols of that represented his body about to be broken and his blood about to be spilled. Think on this.

I think Voskamp is on to something. I hope whatever it is it spills into my life as it has into Melissa's. For since ingratitude initiated the fall, Christ's thanksgiving reversed it. Maybe, as we begin to be grateful in all things, and let Christ's life love of grace (the root of Eucharist being Charis, which means "grace") live in us, we'll be ready. May we be ready Lord.

Oh, and thanks!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trying to Stay Awake on God's Ball

"... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints..." - Paul to the Ephesians

My eyes-lids feel like they have lead weights on them. Or perhaps my lashes are made of lead. I can barely keep them open. I've had my cup of coffee, and still I can barely keep awake. Maybe this new habit of getting up early is getting to me. "Hey genius, if you get up early, maybe you should go to bed early."

I find my drowsy state analogous to the Christian life. It's so hard to keep our eyes open. It's so difficult to be in a state of awareness and enlightenment. To know that God is reigning supreme today, not me, is the great struggle that I face every day.

My default is to coast, to find the easiest path through my day and take it. Like water flowing downhill, I take the least path of resistance.

But a mentor of mine said that every time we do something we don't want to do, we exercise our spiritual muscles. I'm in for a work-out today. That is if I don't cop-out.

Just a few days ago, when he said this, something clicked for me. It was sort of an "ah-ha" moment, or perhaps more of a "um-yeah-um-what-are-you-talking-about?" moment.

I love physical exercise, I "can go for miles and miles and miles, du-op". But when it comes to spiritual exercise I am inexcusably lazy. My arms are made of putty, my chest droopy and sunken in and my knees touching in my awkward pigeon stance.

But Paul encourages, even prays that I will have my eyes enlightened to the glorious inheritance and hope that I have. It is possible to work out. It is possible to live in the right direction. It is possible to be enlightened by the Spirit and to live for something so much bigger than me.

These possibilities, even the hope of these possibilities, have me reading and meditating today. God is too good of a Person to take for granted. His way of Life is too priceless a treasure to ignore.

A friend of mine was sharing with me last night that it seems that God just doesn't want him to do stuff. God doesn't really offer him anything more exciting than want he wants to do. God is restrictive.

I understand this feeling. I too suspect God of being with-holding. But it strikes me as ironic that all good is from God. He like no other, and he knows how to have fun. He creates, he plays, he enjoys, he works, he rests, he Lives!

If God will just keep my eyes open today, I'll try and take him at his word, that His Way is in fact the only Way. Of course God's stacked the cards against me: it's drizzling, I'm at Starbucks, and I have 6 hrs. of staring at a computer ahead of me.

Maybe as I am tempted to give in to a waking-computer-induced-coma, I will remember the ball I'm floating through space on, in a swirling dazzling galaxy, in a immense and expanding (or is it shrinking?) universe. For even my physical reality is almost too exciting to believe, but to think that the God of this physical reality dwells within me is simply "Whoa!"

Being a true realist is what I'm after.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jonathan and David

"the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul... And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his belt." - Samuel 18.

Not too long ago, I heard a speaker explain this passage and it stirred a deep longing in me. It stirred a longing for brotherhood and communion and a longing for authenticity. It stirred up desires like a shoulder to cry on and for a brother to kiss without shame.

The speaker was saying that what Jonathan did, in disrobing, giving his armor, sword and belt to David, was in essence saying "Hear I am, I have made myself vulnerable for you, for I love you. Here are all the tools of my strength, they are yours."

I've had months and months to reflect on the action of Jonathan, and it just came up again in my reading. During my months of reflection, I've had many opportunities to follow in Jonathan's footsteps and allow others into my life by laying down my armor. It's brought about a profound change in my life. A change that I've longed for and a change that I welcome. For I am growing now in my understanding of what it means to be and experience Christ in my brothers.

Growing up in my family I have been blessed with tender and joyful relationships with my siblings, and they have proved to be the frame from which I've sought to find and be a brother in the church. I am so indebted to them. Their love for me really knows no bounds (unless I'm reaching for the last cookie - some things are beyond relationship).

But as I reflect on Jonathan's action, my siblings and my recent experience, I can't help but think that many, many, many church-goers are missing the familial connection that is church. Many step into our holy huddles on Sundays and feel nothing but isolated and different.

I know this because I've felt it. I dress up for church, not down. I even bring my weapons to church. And rather than loosening my belt for the feast of fellowship and homecoming, I tighten it for battle.

How I wish this weren't the case. My heart is so critical towards the church and this dynamic. Of course it's critical for many of the wrong reasons. And my heart is critical towards the very individuals who need me to be like Jonathan to them. In great irony, rather than following in his steps, I jab at them with the sword of my "vulnerable" superiority. Even my "authenticity" feeds the pride that knows no bounds in my soul.

But Jesus brings me hope. He knows what it's like to lay down power. His action goes beyond my pea-brained comprehension and up into heavenly realities. His was infinite emptying of power and glory. If Jesus resides in me today, I too can be for others a ray of hope in the ego-driven world I live in. I too can find the power to let go of power, the peace to fight for souls and the joy to enter into sadness.

There is within me a deep desire to connect, to be Jesus to others and to establish friendships that involve such self-emptying. Unfortunately, my instinct for self-preservation is frantically trying to stifle this desire. It's a desire to love. And it's a desire to risk and live. But my instinct doesn't want any part of it.

Jesus wants more for me. He's prying my clenching fists off my sword, teaching me grace and feeding me with his life. I'm learning that the tiniest actions are the most profound, the smallest gestures the oasis filled with the water of life. And he's showing me that ego takes a pounding in the life of a Christ follower.

In randomly musing about all of this, I write about realities far, far above me. But even as I do, in realization of the gap between me and the me I want to be, there is a God who I simply cannot stop, a God who's doing for this child things that I've only ever dreamed about.

I've been drawn into a kingdom, and I serve a mighty and unstoppable king, who will bring his light, justice and mercy to the nations. Go ahead ego, just try stopping that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Terrible Joy

"All hands are feeble, and all knees will turn to water." - Ezekial

I'm always wondering about how much I actually revere God. What would it be like if I met him now, while I'm sitting in Starbucks, typing away and reading the Bible, sipping my coffee all nice and comfy-like.

I know my socks would be blown off. In fact they would probably desinigrate. If God was feeling merciful, I would join my socks in becoming a pile of dust. To live long in God's immediate presence is torture for an unclean human. It's why Isaiah says, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!"

"Woe" is sort of a "King Jamesy" word, so it doesn't translate real well to today. I think I might use the expression I often used as a teen: "Oh shit, I'm dead meat!" (Pardon my French).

But even that doesn't quite get it. I know I've said, "Oh shit," a in a few particularly danger-riddled situations, although I've repressed a few of them.

My love of nature and adventure has back-fired quite a bit in my life. Like the time I was going fly-fishing in "Beautiful Brittish Columbia" and was hiking down a very steep slope to get to a spot. Yup, I slipped and found myself sliding and eventually falling over a 10 foot drop onto boulders. "Oh shit!" Or the time I was mountain biking and I accidently squeezed my back brake off of a 5 foot drop, which pitched me headfirst into, you guessed it, another stack of boulders. You can guess my words of delight. Needless to say, my love of boulders has waned.

Perhaps, barely being able to get whichever words we personally prefer out before having our head smashed by rocks is closer to "Woe is me". One of my personal favorites, was what my friend's mom yelled when we were almost in a car accident. She yelled at the top of her lungs, "Oh sweet Jesus save us!" just like a Southern Baptist preacher. To which my friend responded with, "Mom you just scared the pee out of me!" Oh the good times I had in carpool.

Fear of immenent death and destruction, always accompanies humans' experiences of God's presence in Scripture. So how can I take him so casually?

It's really pretty disturbing that my perspective of reality can be so clouded. But at the same time it's a grace.

I pray that I'll begin to find a little of the holy fear that should permeate the life of a believer. I pray that even the knowledge of my atonement and right standing would highten my fear, not lesson it. And here I've moved from the definition of fear as shear terror to fear as terror and joy.

The terrible joy that is the believers is that we serve, or are children of, the Living God. Nothing stands in his way, no human power, no institution and nothing in all creation, even Donald Trump. Nothing, nothing, nothing is bigger and more deserving of our terror than God. It's a good thing he's compassionate.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Anguish of Childbirth"

"... my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!" - Paul to the Galatians.

This morning I was sitting at the breakfast table with my kids discussing death. Of topics I like to address in the morning this ranks pretty high on my list (I hate mornings). It was David, who's 2 yrs. old, who brought it up with, "I don't want to die."

I disagree, most mornings I want to die. But this morning I was "perky." Maybe because I'd already been out for a beautiful early morning bike ride where yes, I actually saw the sun rising.

So I wanted to engage my children in spiritual conversation, or as I like to consider it, "discussing the really real." Being the official missionary/evangelist I am it was time to do my duty. I think I could hear the sound of trumpets blaring.

I explained that when we die, if we know Jesus and he lives in us we get to go to be with God forever. I sounded like a Sunday school parrot. But I went on to explain how Jesus was going to make all things new and how there would be nothing that makes us cry or hurt and it'd be like the Garden of Eden. Why did I still sound like a parrot?

To all of this, Teya piped in with helpful theological adjustments, as well as some pragmatic thoughts on death. Like, "We'll get buried under the dirt David." "Exactly," I said, "but we'll get new bodies." David didn't seem to like this as he looked at his arms and bulbous tummy, slapping it and saying, "I like my body."

With doctrinal astuteness, I told him that his new body might be very much like his body now, just perfect. He seemed to like this idea until he started wondering if he'd be black. "I don't want to be black!" he said. "Great," I'm thinking, "This is going to sound so racist when I write about it." Yup, it sounds racist, sorry.

I calmed David down and convinced him that he'd be big and strong, and probably look like his Daddy (which came from my great store-houses of vanity). To my delight he liked this idea. "Yeah, I'll be big and strong like Daddy!" David then came to the conclusion, "I want to die, Daddy."

These weren't the words that I was expecting, but I should have seen it coming. In his expression of hope, David, at 2 and a half, was to catching on. Little people see so clearly.

The verse above got me thinking on our conversation this morning. How much do I long for "Christ to be formed" in my children and others? Could I really express with Paul that I'm "in the anguish of childbirth?"

I've been in the room for two childbirths, and let me tell you, for the lucky uninitiated, the anguish is not pretty. Melissa, who's probably has the quietest voice on the planet (so much so that my Grandfather took it upon himself to teach her how to project by repeating "how now brown cow" over and over. I know it's weird, but it works.) reached into the darkest canyons of her soul and let forth a scream that I never ever want to hear again.

When she screamed I pictured a woman who'd been feeling a few slight contractions, being peacefully wheeled into the hospital by her doting husband (I hate husbands who dote, especially around stuff like births. Doters are dopes.), perhaps with flower pedals and song-birds dancing in her head, thinking, "I'm going to have a beautiful precious baby today!" But upon hearing this unearthly scream she frantically claws at her husband to turn her around and take her what she's now found to be "the hospital of hell." I know it happened to some poor young lady, and I'm sorry, my wife is a screamer.

But back on topic, do I really long to see Christ formed in others? I guess I do sometimes, occasionally and sort of not so much. Sadly I think too much about Christ being formed in me to worry about others. And I think this misses the point of spiritual formation completely. Because the Gospel is not primarily about our personal formation. We are the beneficiaries of a kingdom coming, and we are to be on the lookout and to be eager, "yeah even in the pains of childbirth" (thank you Paul) for others to experience Christ as King.

I'm this way for my children and for people I like, but it's probably about time I begin to have a heart bent this way for all people. The Gospel draws us out of ourselves and towards others, I think. I don't know about child-birthing analogies Paul, but I would like to have a heart. Maybe today I'll pray for Christ to be formed in someone I know. But I'm not about to scream like Melissa. Man can she scream.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!" - David.

I was reminded yesterday of my utter dependance on God for all things good. Left to my own devices, I will not only experience my own personal hell but will bring hell into others lives.

I had been dealing with temptation, and I had forgetten that God is my sole rescuer. There's enough common grace in my life that I often believe the illusion that "I've got this."

It's one of the weird things about being a human: that the grace that sustains and gives my every single breath rarely gets credit. God is overabounding in his grace to us humans, but often it is this common grace that keeps us from him.

My guess is that's what had me in a tough spot yesterday. I had experienced enough grace, both common and special, that I began to think I could go it alone. And I thought I was doing it for a while. I guess I even thought I was depending on God. But then temptation hit. And Whamo! I was a slave acting being chained and gagged to the very thing I hate.

It was then that I prayed one of my most sarcastic prayers in recent history: "God save me if you can." And guess what? I found out that God answers sarcastic prayers. Sweet!

I should have known that God would rescue. Through the Bible it's what he's all about. He seems to have the keys to every jail, prison, dungeon and I bet he even has the key to Al Gore's "Lock Box" (do you remember that?). Anyhow, he does, and I'd hate to try to find a key on his chain. Good luck!

So God blessed me last night more than I know. Obviously I can't really write about what I don't know. But I can say that he saved me AND reminded me that I've got to cling close to him all the time.

I can't go it alone, it just never works out the way I plan it. I will steal, kill and destroy, just like my old master, the Devil.

I need God "to teach me to do his will," because I'm so used to doing my own. My own will winds me up in the pit. But even there God "rescues my life from the pit, and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy." I don't deserve God in my life this morning (just like every other), but I'll take him.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Remember Me

"Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom." - Thief on the Cross

If I was hanging on a cross, I think the last thing I'd be thinking about would be who's hanging beside me. "Hey pal, how's it hanging?" may be the only sarcastic comment I'd be able to sputter, taking my humor to the grave with me.

But as I was reading this morning, I was struck by how much history surrounds all the events in scripture. As I read, I realized there was a history that had been impacting the criminal hanging beside Jesus.

I know it's not safe to do too much conjecturing, but it seems pretty evident that he'd been doing some observing and pondering. There's no way to know, but perhaps he had heard stories in his jail cell of this man, claiming to be the messiah, the king, who was healing and doing miracles all over the dusty cities of the time (Why dusty? I've been there. Add camels, and it'd be stinky too!)

Perhaps he had been mulling this over in his cell.

Perhaps he had even heard the crowds as they yelled for Barabbas' release. He probably knew Barabbas, the guy who always took the top bunk in his cell, and hogged all the blankets. Jerk.

Perhaps he heard rumors of a kingdom coming, wrapped up in this king riding in on a colt.

Perhaps he knew some of the prophecies.

Perhaps he'd even heard the scrolls read out of Isaiah and somewhere deep in his subconcious, he knew he was dying beside someone special.

Perhaps he had heard how this man not only healed the sick and raised the dead but spent time with sinners - sinners like himself. And this man, this holy man who captivated everyone in every synogogue in the dusty greater Judean counties, was a holy man who forgave sinners.

Perhaps it was this last rumor that had brought the thief hope.

Maybe he didn't just think that it was a long shot, asking Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Maybe he was like wily criminals the world over who see the world a bit differently and had been catching on to some of the wily ways of God: life being brought through death, one final sacrifice, a king laying down his kingdom and taking it up again.

"...when you come into your kingdom."

Much is made of the thief on the cross. How his plea was sort of a last ditch turn-around, reminding us all that it's never too late. But in my opinion, here was a man who knew who and where he was, and more importantly knew some of the truths about the man who hung beside him.

Surely there was a burning passionate hope beating through his chest when he heard the words "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." If ever someone could experience relief on the Roman torture device of a cross, it was this man.

Most of this entry is "guestimation." But it highlights for me, that what happened in these guys crucifixion didn't happen in a sunday school room on a felt-board. It happened in real life, in the real hues, smells and all the societal curiosities of a real community experiencing it first-hand.

This theif had a front row seat, so to speak, and my guess is, when the sixth hour hit and darkness covered the land for 3hrs., while he was scared, it was more of a thrill of hope confirmed. Something big was going on beside him. And he was now a part of it.

One final note: Today, in the days that God often seems so silent, may we remember that there is something big going on. Something that we are a part of. Something that if we take time to ponder, to spread rumors about as we try and keep Barabbas from singing again (or my son David from whining), we will see that a kingdom is coming, and that the chief desire of our hearts should be for a rescue like this: that Jesus would remember us. For he will.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Done Sawed the Sun Rise

"6:15! You've got to be joking Philip."

Nope, this morning I was out on the trails near my house riding around on my mountain bike. Since the sun didn't rise till about 6:45 it was pretty hairy for a while. As I could barely see the trail, I had the death grip going on my handle-bars. But as I always say, "What's life without adventure and the chance that you will go splat into a tree?" It's terrifying, in case you're wondering.

I finally found a spot where I could watch the sunrise, something I've only intentionally done a handful of times, as I am barely human in the mornings (or some would say way too human)and feel that I owe it to humanity to spare it of my presence. I usually shift my head away from the drool on my pillow and go back to sleep.

Unfortunately, this morning as it began to get light, for the longest time (the length of a sunrise, to be precise) I stared off into the west and wondered where the stupid sun was (yet another reason I'm not a scientist).

About the time the sun finally arrived, or at least signs of the sun, since it was behind me [I say "finally" because it was 42 degrees and my sweat was beginning to freeze to my chin (not really but it adds to the drama)], a thought hit me. Imagine that! I don't think I've ever had a though at 6:45 before. It was a personal thought record!

Here's the thought: As I stared up into the sky, I realized just how tiny I was and wondered if when Jesus returns, I'm really going to have to go and meet him in the clouds. The prospect really scares me. I really don't like heights, and wonder if God could arrange for me to go up in a ship or something a little easier to handle.

I have to keep reminding myself that this Jesus-returning-thingy is real stuff. It's not some fairy tale, lovey-dovey, make-me-nauseous, Disney inspired reality. It's real. It's not Disney World's new Harry Potter Land, although that's really, really ridiculously cool too.

Now that I've taken some time to reflect on Psalm 103, a couple of things strike me. God "removes our sins as far as the East is from the West," so apparently he wouldn't look off to the west for the sunrise.

But I want to focus on the idea that God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust, for it is really comforting to me. He knows that we are tiny. He knows that I am afraid of meeting him in the clouds. He knows that the thought makes me want to tinkle in my pants (my four-year old - Teya - would love that I just wrote this!).

"He knows that I am dust"(and liquid).

Today he knows that I'm afraid of many things: I'm afraid of calling people and asking for money. I'm afraid of my own lack of motivation and responsibility. I'm afraid of how I may hurt people today as I'm so selfish.

"He knows that I am dust" (and liquid).

God regards me. He considers me and has compassion on me "as a Father has compassion on his children." As far as those tiny clouds that were lit by the sun rising behind me are above the mud I was standing in and I was made from, so great is his love for me.

As many of you may know, I've struggled with assurance of salvation for a long time. As I take time to meditate on God's love, that fear dissapates. It begins to not even matter. Questions like: "Did I say the right words? Am I really in his will? Do I adhere to a doctrine that saves? Do I think that I'm sinful enough?" begin to slide right off of me, as an assurance of God's great love begins to fill my heart.

That's one reason I think that the Psalmest says that God's love is steadfast. It's sure footing for us and in it we will not fall. This is helful for me on days when I'm scared of going to meet Jesus in the clouds.

I'm sure he'll somehow make it a little less scarry. Maybe, since he remembers that I'm dust, he'll give me a little patch of dust to stand on and levitate it up to him. Who knows? It says in my ESV that God remembers that I'm dust, so I dare you to question me.

Note on picture: That's not me. I was riding in the opposite direction.