Monday, February 28, 2011


"The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendor of old men is their gray hair." - Proverbs

My philosophy on aging has been to live hard-ish and hope that you die young-ish. As I've approached my mid-30s I've added the "ishes."

Life is something we hold onto. Flip on your TV and just take a cursory glance at it's messages and it'll be all about trying to expand you life or "youthanizing" yourself (I just came up with that term!). But all humans everywhere are forced to observe that death marches on to it's final destination, and frankly, it's just not pretty.

My dad's turning 60 next month, my grandparents are in or approaching their early 90s. Death looms. And it's not fun.

I don't like letting go. I experienced this in my last caving trip, desperately clinging to a rope in the dark, only to find I was about 6-and-a-half inches off the ground. Maybe life is sort of like this.

Life certainly goes by fast. Anyone with young children can stand up and attest. Of course, anyone with young children shouldn't be trusted as they're out of it. The fact is is that their days are spent trying to repress all of their natural instincts: the one to wring small necks, the one to throw and shake small bodies, the one to yell, pull hair and the one to scream, shout and say things like "I know you are but what am I!" In my experience I wonder who's raising who.

But as our presents quickly zip into the past things happen. Wrinkles begin to appear, bellies that we claim are "just a little bloated" stay bloated and we begin to miss lunch appointments with friends because they need to "pass a kidney stone" (I still think that's a lame excuse). And all the while, as beauty fades, or at least in my case semi-decent good looks fade, we deny, deny and deny. I like denial, it's the swiss-army knife of human emotions.

But rather than living in denial, I've been mourning death's march these days. I don't like seperation. I don't like loss. I don't like hurt. And death hurts deep.

This is where I'm supposed to spin my blog and talk about where the Gospel brings hope and healing. And it does, but it doesn't take us out of the process.

Christ will indeed wipe away every tear one day. But it doesn't mean we won't be crying rivers as we see death gripping everyone we love.

And I think there's something deeper that we miss when we fight the effects of death. Not only are we not accepting reality, we may be missing something that, while painful, has a beauty of it's own. Perserverence and wisdom are granted to those who age well. "...the splendor of old men is their gray hair."

While we may gradually lose our minds, go back to diapers and become grizzled and mean and afraid of teenagers, there's something about having survived life that's rich and beautiful.

As I was talking with my Grandmother the other night, she was telling me that God makes aging so painful that we're ready to go by the time we go. Perhaps this is a grace.

Really, I don't know what I'm writing about, yet with all the teens I work with who call me old all the time I probably feel a false sense of entitlement on the subject. I could write on and on about how our culture doesn't honor the elderly, and that's very very sad and true. But I think I'm going to conclude with the sentiment we find in scripture: That God understands aging. That God honors those who age with His grace and find his wisdom in the process.

And God cares for his children. And as we come into the world as children, we often leave like children and God loves kids.

Of course, I'm not going to age, I'm going to go down in a furious blaze of glory. Here's to living hard and going down in a blaze of glory. If I do, I hope I run into one of those cheesy church signs that say something like "Free Tickets to Heaven, Details Inside." May all cheesy church signs burn for eternity.
And to close let's not forget that "though our outer self is wasiting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." I for one want to be in on that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"That's Vhat I'm Talkging Abouut!"

"When Christ who is your life appears, then you aso will appear with him in glory." - Paul in some letter to a church in some strange land called Colossae.

Did you know that 1st century Christians were not only referred to as followers of the "Way" but of the "Life" as well? I didn't know this until yesterday. As I came upon this in my reading I was struck by the reality that our life is God's, or rather God is our life. We now have a life.

I was sitting at Panera's this morning experiencing this life with two dear friends. They were "bearing" with me and sharing "compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience" and binding them all together in "love." Such is life, the life of the "Life."

I rarely think of life in such selfless terms. Sadly my heart and actions often echo the sentiment that I've seen on bumper-stickers: "Life is shit, and then you die." Without God, I imagine this is a legitimate sentiment. In fact life is full of hardship, turmoil, heart-ache and let-downs. I often muse that I used to have dreams, and then I lived a little.

Life on this earth can crush us. Life from God can free us. Like the young dude (or was it an elderly lady?), in the movie that just came out (or came out sometime in the last year), who found himself alone in the mountains of Utah (or was it Wales?) with his arm crushed under a boulder (or was it a Fiat? Come on, you know the movie I'm talking about!), life can get us into some desperate situations (as you can see, I'm refusing to Google things today.). His only solution was to painfully sever his arm. Sermon illustrators the world over now rejoice upon hearing about this old lady who, crushed under the weight of a Fiat in the peat-district of Wales, bravely severed her arm to free herself!

I'm not going to go into that illustration though. I'm simply going to share how I'm finding life in people who are living in Christ. They attempt to live, breath and eat (especially eat) Christ. And from them I benefit enormously. If it were not for my brothers who are have this alien Christ-life, I know where I'd be. I'd be cruising aimlessly through the roads of life with all sorts of depressing bumper stickers like the one above slapped to my truck (or Ford Escort in very poor health - for those of you who know me).

We need eachother to live and to share that life with one-another. As westerners, to our severe detriment, we have been infected with the philosophy of "Autonomous Individualism." In America it's a virtue to go it alone. This is not at all the "Way" and the "Life." We are invited into a family, a community of brothers and sisters whose Father is God and Brother is Christ.

I used to always cringe when people would say, "There's no 'I' in team." And I loved it when my brother would come back with, "...but there is an 'm' and an 'e.'" He echoed all that is rebellious in American individualism: Me is what it's all about. The line from the movie "Despicable Me" still rings in my head, "That's vhat I'm talkging abouuut!" (the main character, who's an evil villian, has a thick Slavic accent).

My brother and the evil villian in "Despicable Me," have a lot in common. But one of the main things is self-exaltation (Not my brother here, or at least God's working on that.). Our whole culture is full of it. Just look at our sports heroes. To touch upon the sore subject of my life, it's one of the main reasons soccer will never truly make it in the States, because soccer truly is a team sport.

Our life in Christ, the "Life," is intrinsically others centered. First on God and second our brother. For those who claim Christ, community of some sort must happen. It's innevitable.

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiriual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

"Do-re-me-fa-so-la-(crack)ti!" (some of us are called to get the hymnals for others.) However it works, the "Life," is a beautiful thing, and I am grateful to have experienced in my brothers this morning. Isn't it just like Jesus to take something so simple as relating to one-another in love, and make it the cornerstone of His "Life."

I hope you experience The Life today. And if you aren't a recepient, don't sweat it, it's something that's supposed to be given away anyway.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Enemy of God?

"Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their master... so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us."
- Psalm 121

How much of my life depends on God's mercy? All of it! My own life pain is showing me this reality. And it's a reality that's been echoed by the saints for centuries.

It's found in the most common prayer of all time: "Lord Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner." When I think of this line, I always have in mind some tattered and dirty monk (definitely with dirty finger-nails) sitting on top of a pole in the middle of the desert swaying precariously and chanting. I don't know why, but when I think of "mystic," "saint" or "monk" this is what I think. Maybe it's a physical manifestation of what I believe it means to be penitent. Or maybe I just have a weird imagination.

But what does it mean to receive mercy? Let's go to Google: 1. It is experience the "discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment." 2. Mercy is the "compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy..."

I rarely think of myself as an enemy of God. But I am. I need his mercy. Every day I need it. From the moment my toes hit the floor in the morning (sometimes my drool hits the floor first) from the moment my toes leave the floor to slither back under covers at night, the natural impulses that coarse through my entire being are to fight my creator. Sigh. Such is the fall.

I love how this Psalm pictures us as servants looking eagerly to the hand of our master. For we are in this state every day. Every waking and sleeping moment (I believe I can sin in my sleep. Come to think of it, I've killed a lot of people in my sleep. My dream life definitely needs Jesus.) we are dependant on our kind master.

I know I think that I'm not really an enemy of God's. Now that I have Jesus living in me, I'm on his side right? Yes and no. The me Jesus is resurrecting is on his side, but the me I'm more familiar with shows all the signs of being a bad, bad guy.

That's why too much introspection can be a depressing thing. I never do this. But without it as a practise in our lives, we don't recognise even a hint of what we've been saved from. I know that sounds a little "Christianeze," but I'm beginning to find that all of my instincts are dead set against God. I need both his pardon and his grace to live.

The back-story to all this is that I've been taking a moral inventory every night, in which I list the top three positive things I've done and then list the top three negative things. It's amazing how difficult a practise this is. I don't really think of myself in these terms. I waltze through life as a self-absorbed ego-maniac. And it's hard for an ego-maniac to look at his own life objectively. Everything I do is good, or everything I do is bad. Little do I know that God views me differently. I'm an enemy that needs mercy.

That's why I need to come to my master with eyes firmly fixed on his good hand. I need his mercy, and so do you. You probably need it more than I do. Mercy me, did I just say that?

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Hey Jeeeesuuus?"

I'm hesitant to write today. I fear that whatever I write will be somewhat empty and hollow. If you want to quit reading right here or ... here, I'll understand. Thanks for trying.

I've been going on a wicked sort of "fast" recently. Maybe it's not so wicked as it is "Nanny 911 Naughty." It's a fast from God's word. I don't recommend it. It's been one of those weeks where I thought I'd read a little, pray a little and basically go it alone. Far from "Jesus taking the wheel" - I really loathe that song, though it's message is good - I've been white knuckled as I grip my wheel of life. And whenever I need to make a stop, I even install "the club" on my steering wheel just to frustrate Jesus.

I don't know. Why am I so stubborn? As much as I'd like to be reincarnated as a hawk, I fear it's going to be a jack-ass. I don't believe in reincarnation, but it's fun to think about, unless you're depressed: a worm, yeah, I'd come back as a worm if I died today.

But there's hope in this old ESV Study Bible (When I finally become a famous writer they're going to send me a fat check for referring to their book so often. We all know that people who publish Bibles are rolling in dough. But what does rolling in dough have to do with being rich? Is it that they're so rich they waste food? Couldn't they find something more expensive to roll in? And wouldn't it get kind of itchy after a while?). Yes there is hope for this crotchety old soul of mine.

If I would just pick it up. "Pick up and read" are the words that St. Augustine heard and that I need to heed today. If I'd done so, I'd probably have something more interesting to write about, that's for sure.

But God doesn't give up on me when I do "stupi-fasts" - short for stupid-fasts. In fact he uses these times to press into my restless heart that what I'm looking for in the world just won't satisfy. I don't know why I can't seem to learn this easy lesson all at once. Why don't I drop it all and simply follow God with my whole heart? As Melissa reminded me this morning, it's because there's a battle going on, and someone doesn't want me dig in and fight. It's a little spooky when I think about it but true.

So in my indecision or laziness I simply join the enemy in my acquiescence ("That was a big word Philip! Try it in your next game of scrabble!"). Jesus said there's no sitting on the fence. If I'm not for him, I'm against him. And although I know I'm with him, wed to him and bound to him inseparably, I still find a way to smack him on the back of the head and be a royal pain. I can see myself like Jim Carey in "Dumb and Dumber" saying to Jesus, "Jesus, Jesus, you want to know what the most annoying sound in the world is? AAAAAAAANNNNNGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!"

Did Jesus know what he was getting into when he chose me? Was his providence machine having a few glitches that day? No. And in his providence machine I rest my case.

As hard as it is to believe sometimes, because I'm getting to know me better, my name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. And since in 1st century Palestine there were no pencils and erasers, where the Lamb's book of life came from, Apostle Peter can't do anything about my name being there. He's tried white-out but that made Jesus real mad.

So where am I going in this dizzy rambling walk through my fields of cotton candy (Why cotton candy? Because I'm the one writing this and I want to walk through fields of cotton candy.) Well, I guess I'm just trying to sink my unbrushed teeth ("Again Philip? You need to get on top of that! The dentist is running out of lectures.") into the Gospel truth that Gospel living is not about performance, but picking myself up after I fall off the metaphorical horse onto my face, dusting myself off and getting back on. Because the only ride worthwhile is the Gospel ride, and I for one need to ride that horse. It's an imperfect metaphor I know, but I'm a rodeo cowboy at heart, even if not in body, brain, bones or courage.


Friday, February 18, 2011

God's Country

"My big Daddy above all, your name stands alone. Bring your country, bring your desires to this place, may they happen here as in your country which is far better! Give me what I need to get through this day, and forgive my selfish desires that hurt you, as I forgive those who hurt me. Please don't let me be tempted, as I know I will fall. Rescue me from evil." - Jesus (mis-quoted by Phil)

This week I've been challenged to just pray the Lord's prayer whenever I want to pray. It's really amazing! I need this prayer. For it tunes me to the heart of God and takes me to the springs of his heart.

I tend to pray willy-nilly, half talking to myself, half seeking some nebulous God to hear and answer. Sometimes I ask him to meet my demands, and sometimes, as I try to envision him and really pray for others, I get headaches. I've learned that I pray like I'm God. "Please heal my friend, please work this out for so-and-so, please help me to get this done." It's all about my desires, not surrendering to God's desire, or will.

The Lord's prayer teaches me that God's desire is where it's all at. When I fall in line with him, I find peace, joy, strength, protection and rescue. These are no small benefits. I'd say they're sort of desirable.

And I learn in the Lord's prayer about worlds colliding. God's world meeting ours. I ask for his country to come. This reminds me of Aslan bringing Spring in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It reminds me that I live in a rebel land, with a rebel heart and am a small person who needs a big God.

It teaches much, much more. More than my heart can speak right now. Some mystic said somewhere that "You can't say the Lord's prayer and remain unchanged." It is that powerful and beautifully simple. The words like "Father," "thy will," "thy kingdom" all speak of a reality beyond us. It is our depedance. It is our source of hope. Our source of life. From this kingdom we receive every breath.

And even though I translated it in the first person singular, the first person plural teaches me that as humans we are in this together with God. There are no more hopeful words than "we're in this together." We need to hear this more in church, more in our lives and more in the everyday.

I apologized to Melissa last night for ignoring the kids, then went on to ingore the kids again and she forgave me both times! She showed me that we are in this "God country coming" together, with her patience and forgiveness. She's a tangible reality of grace.

I don't want to stop praying. But I'm tired of praying in the wrong direction. My hope is that as I rehearse and ponder the prayer Jesus recommended (pretty high props!), I'll begin to listen and speak to the real God. Not a figment of my imagination. Not a positive self pep-talk. But real engagement, real communion with the living God. Living. That's what I want.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Jesus is Mad Again

I've been reading this book called "Imaginary Jesus," by Matt Mikatalos, and it's great! It has different Jesuses popping up everywhere. And they get into fights, what fun! It's an insightful and humorous look into the world of our imagination and how it doesn't hold up to the real Jesus we should find in scripture and experience.

My imaginary Jesus probably would be a mix of Mark's "KJV Jesus" and "Perpetually Wrathful Jesus." At least those are the Jesuses I seem to have grown up with.

That's why I so desperately need to read my Bible. Even as I type, I have my fat ESV study Bible sitting on the table beside me, untouched this morning. It broods. But I've got to get inside it and explore.

I've want to see these imaginary Jesuses that have been with me so long dissappear. And I really, really want to meet the real Jesus. Even if he's ugly, as the Bible hints, and even if he has the breath of my 8th grade math teacher. He has the words of life, and that's what counts.

Prior to reading Matt's masterful book on the subject of all the made up Jesuses we believe in, I'd been on a long hard search for the Jesus I know. It's weird, searching for someone you know already. But nevertheless I search.

Matt really nails something in his book. When do I slow down, just be quiet and give Jesus the time to speak? Even as I write I'm in Starbucks, listening to Tracy Chapman, with a ton of background "life-noise" going on. Starbucks employees are not known for being quiet. Hospitality is their goal, and often includes loud clangs, bangs and raucous laughter. This is the Starbucks I experience. If you find a quiet one, lead me to that Holy Grail of peaceful coffee.

Is it that life makes it hard to slow down and hear from Jesus? Or are we simply afraid to hear from him? In my case, I think it's both.

My Jesuses are really pretty scary. I don't like them much. KJV Jesus is always walking around frowning, holding his fingers up in that weird way he does, making pronouncements and declarations that end in " - or thou shalt burn in a lake of eternal fire." He's a fun guy to hang out with. Perpetually Wrathful Jesus is more of the same, but he typically pops up to condemn me when I'm reading parables: "You see all those seeds that landed on the stones, were choked by worldly weeds or were eaten by birds. All those seeds are you, and I'm going to kill you you naughty seed!"

Would the real Jesus please stand up? I'm going to stop for a little and attempt to pick up my ESV study Bible, this takes effort as it weighs 65lbs., and see if Truly Reformed Jesus can teach me anything. No, I am going to stop, try to quit intellectualizing everything, read and listen. Maybe Jesus won't be that hard to find.

One last thought: Of course we all know that the real Jesus was a Ninja. Nobody but a Ninja could have gotten out of as many tight spots as Jesus did if he didn't have some "num-chuck skills."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Never Alone

"The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore." - Psalm 121

This little lamb is a dyed in the wool soccer fan. One of the greatest teams has always been Liverpool. If you were to walk with me into their stadium, above the entrance you'd see these words emblazened in gold: "You'll never walk alone."

I always found this line a little melo-dramatic for a soccer team. But hey, in Europe they're passionate about their "football" as they call it, which makes sense because they actually use their feet. But there's something in the motto that resonates all the way to the deepest frequency of my heart. Simply put my greatest fear is walking alone. So this hits close to home.

I like taking walks alone sometimes, but never totally alone. I never want to walk without God's presence. His presence speaks of the fellowship that Liverpool fans refer to: A longing to be part of something bigger. The ideal of losing themself in a greater reality.

I believe this is what the Psalmest is referring to in the "Song of Ascents" quoted above. As the pilgrims ascended to Jerusalem, they had the promise of God's presence going with them and prompting them on.

Man this is so encouraging to me today. So many of us are isolated and alone. Our world tells us it's all about us, and it will always only be about us. We are the "I am" and God isn't.

We're lost people who need his presence on the walk. As children of God, we have the assurance of his presence always. And his presence never cramps our personality or our need for space.

I'm an introvert, and I never want to be without God's presence. His presence feeds me when I'm apart from people. He is my living and walking home.

Jesus is the only one who knows true absolute isolation. He felt it on the cross. He felt it for us. He cared so much about our "God walks" together, that he endured ultimate seperation. He was the only man who truly walked alone, and just thinking about it made him sweat blood. His was an indescribably desolate walk.

God's children "never walk alone." God has a passionate, even furious, love for his children. From every breath we take to the thoughts we have, we're not alone. And thanks to Jesus, God doesn't leave when we sin. He is always with us. Always with me.

Our God could be described as "the always with us God." This truth comforts me on days like today, when I don't know how I'm going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Truly alone, walking would be a terrible thing.

So even though I don't always feel his presence, the reality is that he is always with me is the exact encouragement I need. He knows the way. He walks. He moves. He lives. And in Him I live.

You will never walk alone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"I Pitty the Fool"

"Whoever covers and offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends."

"Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
- Solomon

I just watched the remake of the A-Team. If you liked it, I'm sorry. I couldn't get myself to watch it to the end, as the plot was paper thin. But something I've always liked is when Mr. T says, "I pity the fool." It's a great line.

"I pity the fool" this morning. I've been repeating an offense over and over again. "I pity the fool." I have all sorts of justifications. I even repeat it in a self-deprecating manner. I'm learning that self-deprecation doesn't mix well with character assassination.

I just repeated the offense not five minutes ago to my pastor. He said that I need to let the experience have it's sanctifying work. Thanks a lot! I don't mind when Jesus sanctifies, but I do mind when other people decide to get involved in my sanctification. And who, pray, would I have Jesus use to sanctify me? Umm, people. Dang!

Why can't people just be nice? It's hard enough to walk through life without people weighing in on the direction we're taking. But that's foolish thinking. We need people. Especially the ones courageous enough to question us. And the more the questions upset us, the more they are hitting sensitive areas.

I've got a ton of pride. I need an 18 wheeler to haul it around. It would be a lot easier to drive a Fiat. And maybe by the time I'm 85, God's sanctifying work will have had it's way to the point that I can haul my pride around in something that small. Of course by then my license will have been revoked for driving on sidewalks and hitting small yappy dogs. I will always hate small yappy dogs (other than my parents beloved "Wallace," who is extremely yappy but is part of the family). But no amount of sanctification will root out my deep-seated hatred. Heaven will have no yappy dogs. If it does, I'm asking God to rethink "paradise."

So back to people. Why do they chafe my ego so? Let me see, could it be the fact that I'm a people-pleaser, that I just want to be liked or that I wish everyone everywhere would see that my way is in fact the way. Could it be the fact that I'm an anxious, neurotic, schizophrenic. These might weigh in to the equation.

If I could only learn to "Cover an offense" and "to keep silent." I pray that God will rescue this poor fool. He will. In fact I blogged yesterday about my offense. Woops. God rescued by disconnecting my computer and the blog got deleted. You see, miracles do happen every day.

My phone just rang and my friend has a pair of over-alls that don't fit him and he was wondering if I'd like to use them for when we go caving. I need to put on over-alls all the time! That way I'd cover-all offenses (stupid pun applause)! And I'd probably keep silent more, as I'd look so goofy that I would prefer people to not notice my presence.

But to get back to the subject and to conclude, before I say something I shouldn't and I hear Mr. T in my head muttering, "I pity the fool!" I'm really, really, really (three "really"s!) glad that my offenses are covered by Jesus. This will be the only real source of my silence in the future. And I hope it will be yours. And I'm learning to be glad for challenging people in my life. At least I'm sort of glad, sometimes, kinda glad I guess, if I have to be...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Casket Man

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" - Jesus
"Because I'm a ridiculous sinner Jesus!"- Me

Sometimes I really don't like reading my Bible. And I don't believe it's always because I'm interpreting it wrong. Though I know that has to plays in a lot. But the Gospel doesn't fit into my worldview, I fit into its.

Sometimes I just don't want to hear it. Why can't the life of following Jesus resemble me kicking back into my easy chair. That's what I'm talking about.

But Jesus knows I don't do what I tell him. He knows that I build my house on sand. He knows that I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to power-tools and building. To mix metaphors, he knows that the power-tool of his word has gone off again in my hand and shot a nail in my eye.

It's in these very passages we're forced to cling to Jesus. They're impossible. And as I've said before (I've said it enough times now that I don't need to site whoever I stole it from), the Gospel is about making the impossible possible.

I have a friend who doesn't truck with the Gospel. All this sacrificing your son and whatnot. It's just so violent and crazy to him.

But if it wasn't violent and crazy, it couldn't speak to the real sin that locks us in, defines us and determines our lives. We have free-will without Christ. Free-will to sin, sin and sin some more!

My friend does a ton of good stuff. He does more than I do. Common grace is astounding and confusing. But he doesn't have Jesus. Or maybe he does and doesn't even know what to call him yet. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.

As Jesus moves in us we actually do good. I know it sounds crazy. But we can't even help it now. His grace compels us. I'm not saying it's easy. I have a really hard time obeying. As my Grandma says, "The Old Man is dead, but he keeps sitting up in the casket." Que picture above. Mine doesn't look like Elvis, but hey, it's a really cool picture.

But obedience brings so much joy. And here I'm trying to talk myself into it... It brings the only real joy. Believe it Phil.
My pastor says that many of us have it backwards. We think that we have to have the right motives to do the right thing. We don't. Sometimes doing the right thing, following Jesus, will bring the right motive of dependance and understanding. In fact, for the believer, that's a promise.

Would that I'd believe this more. Then I'd cry "Lord, Lord" when I see my feeble attempts at obedience frustrated by my Old Man. This cry, far from being hypocritical, is the very cry Jesus is waiting to hear.

God in Prison

I was in prison last night. In solitary confinement actually. I was that bad.

As I look at my fellow inmates, I think about the thick plate of plexiglass that seperates me from them. Their faces are close to mine. Their hearts even more so. And all we had between us is plastic.

I have a terrific friend in Joseph Wingfield (sorry if this makes you blush Joseph, I know you aren't perfect and all that). He reads my blog, which would just raise him a few more notches on my friend scale, if he hadn't already topped out. He's a great friend because he believes in people. He believes in them recklessly, passionately and without inhibition. Sort of like Jesus. He's the kind of guy you want to be around when life has you down and the kind of guy you want when you're in prison. He took me and some friends to prison with him last night to "minister" to the inmates.

Like usual they ministered to me. People in the pit of life have so much more to offer than people on the mountain. Life has stripped them down of most everything and you see the image of God clearly in them. It either shines brightly in thier hope, or they try to block it by their denial, lies, desperation and fear. Either way, the image of God is central when you engage with people in the pit.

I gave up trying to spread the Gospel words last night. These guys already know the words. It's the music they long to hear. One totally tatooed friend simply asked me what I had done yesterday. As I shared about support raising to work with teens, he said some encouraging words and nodded in approval, but he really lit up when I talked about my bike ride. This led me to talk about my favorite rides, when I would meet God in the woods in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded gargantuous trees (one I described was 13 arm lengths around!), the delicious smell of pine, and mist broken up by sun. It's a sensory overload even now I welcome in my memory. I described it to my friend. He told me about the weed you can smoke out there. While I don't smoke, we laughed together. It was good.

These guys behind glass teach me something about the world we all live in. We live in a world where people who aren't behind glass are behind a lot more. A world where it's really hard to get to the image of God. A world where connection is so rare to find.

That's why I'm glad we have Jesus. He knows how to connect us. Not only does he help me to connect with others, but he's helping me to connect with myself. And when he comes to my cell door, I show him my tattoos and muscles, hoping he'll be impressed.

And Jesus does the best thing! He laughs, engages and loves. He actually cares about my muscles and tats. He shares stories about what it's like on the outside. He talks through the cell door about life and my heart leaps as he talks about massive trees, the smell of sweet pine, and sun breaking through fog. My heart leaps as he speaks tenderly about freedom.

This is the passion that grips me this morning. This connection to our true closer-than-a-brother friend has gripped me. His message is hope for my fellow inmates. His message is clear and beautiful. His message is one I want to spread. For he's taken the time to come to my cell door, to speak through the glass and to press his hand against mine.
May he come to your cell today.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"You Won't Feel a Thing. You Will Feel Very Intense, Acute Pain."

I found out yesterday that I have a horrible condition. Medical professionals call it a "rebellious spirit" - whatever that means. And don't you dare ask me to look it up! You people make me so mad!

You'd think that with all of the time I've put in to God stuff, reading my Bible, blogging and simply being holy, I wouldn't come down with a condition like this. I'm fuming.

I don't think the "doctors" know what they're talking about. I think of them as medieval blood-letters who are always telling me to "do this" and "and don't touch that." The power hungry Mongols. (Not that I have anything against the Mongols. It's a good idea never to have anything against a Mongol. I hear they can be unpleasant, so I make it a point to never upset a Mongol. Plus, they're really cute with their long mustache-beardy things and their little ponies.)

As I wrote a few blogs back, I'm in a season in my life where God is gently letting me see some of my real reflection in his mirror. It can be painful. So to lesson the pain I sort of squint at it and look sideways. Sometimes I even crab-walk up to the mirror, peering between my knees so my vision is more abstracted.

But what's up with this "rebellious spirit?" Where did he come from? I've always been so obedient, compliant and helpful! Who dares hint that I might have a rebellious spirit?

Umm, my Wife and my Mom for starters. They are nodding their heads along with the doctors and mumbling "I concur."

What am I to do with this "spirit?" What can the doctors do? I don't know.

Some of you may think I'm a jerk. I suspect you're right. The doctors tell me I also have slight-to-severe symptoms of jerkiness. On a scale of 1-10, they say I'm somewhere between 1-10.

But all humor and weird writing aside, this sin in my life is detrimental to those God's called me to love and care for, as well as to me.

I can echo the country music sentiment that we really do hurt those we love the most. In case you feel left out, I can love you too, so if I see you I'll try to hurt you. I'm magnanimous in my love! Or at least I've had a huge cup of coffee this morning and it has me feeling magnanimous. "Magnanimous" is such a great word!
But there is a bright side to finding out these horrible little things about me. It's that the doctor who's revealing them is fully capable of cutting them away and healing me. His prescription has been to ask me to begin to take steps towards reconciliation between others, Him and myself. He's slowly and surely putting me back together. And for this I am extremely grateful.

I've been reading a lot of Proverbs recently. Everyone who thinks this makes me extra holy should send me a little comment of admiration. I really appreciate those and promise that I will quickly confess my pride (I feel that the time in repentance is worth the pride). But in reading Proverbs there's a pursuit that the teacher describes over and over ... and over. It's the pursuit of wisdom - God's wisdom.
How am I to pursue wisdom unless I quit grabbing the Grand Surgeon's scalpel and playing doctor on my friends, my world and myself? An untrained man with a scalpel is an accident in the making.

That's why I am so glad that God is doing the surgery (I realize that I'm running willy-nilly from one metaphor to another in this blog. Sorry!). Not only is God cutting away these more apparent sinful patterns like my rebellious spirit, he's taking the very people in my life that I've hurt the most and using them to help in the process. Surprisingly, they're not cutting off my oxygen and handing him little vials of poison. It's because they really love me. They are a flesh and blood testament to the grace of God that I receive daily.

Sometimes, in my more lucid moments, I sit up on my patients bed and just stare in bewilderment at all the people in my room. I am really spoiled to have so many who care and love me.

Last night, as I was sitting across from a dear friend who's helping me face this mirror, I said to him, "I feel now that I am really loved by God, because God's people are loving me." This is truly "magnanimous!" This is Christ's body working the way it should be. And while I am disheartened by how long and how often I have taken this love for granted, today I am very, very grateful.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gray Mornings

I woke up feeling depressed this morning. And so far my bible reading doesn't seem to be helping. Check out some of the passages I've stumbled upon:

"Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning." - Jacob responding to Pharaoh's innocent question of how old he is.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which your are going." - The Teacher of Ecclesiastes in one of his more positive moments.

What does God want to teach me when I look to his word for comfort and find passages like these? I don't really know. Some days it's both gray outside and inside for this little human named Philip.

But it helps me to know that God gives us these sentiments in scripture, because they only further illustrate it's authenticity and truth. God knows the bumper-sticker truth that life is hard and then we die. He doesn't tip-toe around this sentiment. He goes right towards it with full vigor.

God knows that life is full of toil and struggle, that we live in a broken-down world where everything isn't OK. He knows we will wake up to gray mornings and troubled spirits. He knows that our dreams will sometimes be filled with fears and tears. He knows that we are but dust. He understands. This is so very difficult for me to believe, but it's true.

A God who understands is who I am seeking. Even when I run away, I want a God who sees my weakness and pursues. I love the truth put forth in Tim Keller's book "The Prodigal God." We serve a God who dives deep into our humanity, who was tempted in every way, who knows our mess, who is all-too familiar with our sin, and who loves passionately, recklessly, and in an extremely costly fashion. He is the older brother and Father we have always been looking for.

His life is our life. His hope for us is Him.

On gray days, when I can't see the sun for the fog and clouds, I have this as a sure anchor for my soul: That God became like me, little old Philip, walked in my shoes and spared no expense in expressing his love for the broken like me.

His resurrected life is my life now. Even in the middle of my depression. My depression is not my real reality, my real reality is that I'm hurting but my God is healing, resurrecting and making me whole in Him. To say that I'm not hurting is denial, and to say that God is not working is denial.

Tell someone this who's feeling depressed or that God uses all things for our good and you're likely to walk away with a black eye. But tell them that God really feels their pain and never, ever, ever leaves his beloved children and walks closer to them than they'll ever believe, even when we don't feel him anywhere, and I believe you're not only telling them the truth but feeding their soul with a proverbial "good word."

We serve a God we can be angry at. We serve a God who holds us as we beat our fists on him.

God will never forsake his own, even on gray mornings. Plus, I serve a God who has shown me that coffee helps!