Friday, June 22, 2012

Listening In

I love John 17 or Jesus' "high priestly prayer".  It's one of my favorite, if not my favorite passages of scripture.  First because it's so relationally real, talking of stuff I can barely believe.  And second because of it screams the heart of Jesus, a heart bent on love.

Jesus' love is not just poured out in this prayer in some whimsical, frilly fashion, it is extremely intentional, and he talks to God, simply asking that we might experience eternal life and "this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God..."

He continues to pray about oneness, that we "may be one even as we (God and Jesus) are one".  We're being invited into the greatest relationship the world has ever known.  In fact it's the one that predates the world, the relationship of Jesus with his father.  Cool.

I've written a lot on Teya and David, but my relationship with Melissa fuels us.  We share a oneness that is unique.  We delight in each-other and mourn with each-other.  We want to grow more and more one.  We want to experience all of life together, and we crave time spent together.  Between us, time and relationship meet.  Now we're definitely not perfect, often we're like ships simply passing in the night, but the desire and commitment we have reflects the desire of Jesus, that we may be one.

I love it that Jesus emphasizes that eternal life is to know God.  Time and life all have their source in God.  Time takes on meaning and becomes a gift even as life does when we draw close to the God who is never far from any of us.

And later in the passage Jesus says he's praying these things so we'll hear them and have his "joy fulfilled" in us.  In the prayer we see the heart of God.  A heart that is so for us, in just a little while he's going to make it all happen through pain and suffering.  You got to love this guy.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shameless (or "Die Ants Die!")

I wrote about ants a little while ago and my growing loathing over them.  Oh how I loathe them now.  Living in central Florida has done that to me.  I want to mish them, mash them and I'd even roll them up into fist sized ant balls and devour them if I could get over the grossness of it all.  My conscience has been seared, nay, scorched when it comes to ants.  Just writing this gives me sadistic pleasure.

Joel the prophet spoke of a day similar to mine (or maybe not) when locusts would absolutely ravage Israel.  I don't know if I've earned my ant issue, but apparently Israel had earned the locusts, for those little dudes were thirsty for vengeance.

Joel paints a desolate picture of this locust plague, but then he includes a glorious unveiling of God's nature - a God who is "abounding in steadfast love" and who "relents from disaster."  This God promises restoration of the land and the crops, all that the locusts have taken, and then he says "my people shall never again be put to shame."  And in case we didn't hear it the first time he repeats "my people shall never again be put to shame."

When I look at the ants crawling under my front door, being poisoned by our lethal death-traps Melissa found at Walmart, I feel shame.  I feel shame that she had to do something about our ant problem.  It seems sort of like a guy thing to do.  And it's not Melissa's fault, she's a doer, it's the way she's put together, so if I don't get to it in the 10th of a second I have to respond, she's on it (no it's more like 10 days).  But sometimes it makes me feel shame, shame at not getting to man-stuff (like killing ants) before her, or the lawn, or the garage, or the... (I did beat her to the lawn this week).

So I shuffle a few dead ants around with my feet and wonder, "How cool would it be to never feel shame?"  I know this post is quickly becoming a spaghetti junction of thoughts and metaphors but hang with me.  I don't think God wants us to feel shame.  In fact, I'm convinced he's dead set against it.

The picture he paints in Joel is the Day of the Lord, when he would poor out his spirit on his chosen people and dwell in their midst.  It's a good day, a day that points to the early chapters of Acts and Pentecost.  A day that we now live in as believers, but not yet.  So we should be shameless, but we still have shame around.

My inadequacy at thoroughly vanquishing ants isn't my real problem, my problem is deeper.  I often struggle with my identity as a man.  My identity is so tied to what I do or don't do, that I forget the reality that is me. The deeper me that is with God.  The inner-chamber of my heart where the Holy of Holies actually is.  A place where peace overwhelms shame.

The gospel is a "no shame" message.  Christ took on our shame, suffered our shame and was victorious over our shame.  The shame I fell now is a ghost, an illusion.  It's not reality.  I find this a comforting thought.  Perhaps it's why God had Joel repeat it twice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wandering Legs in the Night

"If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence." - Psalm 94:17

I felt this way after a week long conference with screaming, blood-shot eyed teens slurping can after can of coke and running all over the place.  Ok, so they weren't that bad, but it's the way I view them at "conference".  Conferences can be sort of like Crack, where you get to observe the delirious manic swings of young people as one moment they gush about the grace of God in their lives and the next they bang their heads against a wall weeping over their i-phone app that won't load.

Teens are fickle.  People are fickle.  I am fickle.

My fickleness leads to funkiness.  To say this last conference wore me out would be an understatement.  Not only was I losing my car in parking garages, but I was getting up early to bike, teaching and trying to overcome my fear (yes fear) of loud praise and worship music.  Add to all this hardly any sleep.

I had to sleep with another man in my bed.  Being terrified of touching him, I slept on the very edge.  But towards the end of the conference, with all of my weariness, my early morning instincts must have taken.  I took my foot and ran it down my buddy's leg.  He jolted and almost hit me, and I sat up in bed, realizing what I'd done in horror and then just began to laugh.

After conference experiences where I live the roller-coaster that is me under duress, I normally go through a period of funkiness or a dip in depression.  During this particular dip, as with many others, I really just wished I could be dead.  I know it sounds bad, but if you've ever experienced depression, even minor depression, you know the feeling - you pretty much always wish you were dead.  I typically think of interesting ways to go: jumping out of an air-liner, signing up for Iraq, or running my foot down a guy's leg at my next conference.

I've written a lot on depression, so I don't want to bore you with more.  What I do want to impress is that God is our help.  He always is.  I can honestly look back over my life and say, in every circumstance, God was my help.  He at least enabled me to live, and often enabled me to see, in hindsight, the point of my suffering.

That's a reason I wish I'd worry less.  I'm a very anxious person.  I make up things to worry about if I can't think of anything.  I really am a mess.

But with God, I need not fear.  With God, I have help.  With God, I can handle one more worship song.  And with God, I can sleep wherever I dang well please.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Parking Garages

"Into your hand I commit my spirit...  I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have known the distress of my soul." - Jesus (sort of, maybe)

I'm currently at a Starbucks trying to wake up with some coffee, as for the past three days I've been at our annual Student Venture Conference in Myrtle Beach.  Conferences can be deadly for people like me, as I'm easily overstimulated, don't like crowds, loud music and basically think of it as a carefully crafted hell in religious guise.  I'm pushing for a silent retreat, but we'll see, maybe someday soon...

But this morning, as I'm trying to push through the fog stemming from sleep-deprivation, over-processing, teaching weariness and then all my funky-thinking that comes at times like these, I actually opened my Bible. I'd been resisting, as I felt like I'm in processing over-load and really didn't feel like I have the energy to read.

So I opened to the passages that are the easiest for me, the Psalms.  And it's interesting, I'm not a big believer in the "open your bible to any passage" strategy, but as I flopped to Psalm 31 my wheels began to turn in some positive ways.

Just getting to Starbucks was hard for me this morning.  A fellow leader had parked it in the parking garage but had mumbled when he told me where.  So I spent about half an hour wondering the parking garage and feeling a little negative.  Sort of stuff like, "You moron, you always loose your car.  This is so typical..." Being in a state of real trauma (I'm being dramatic) like these, I cried out, "God heal me."

So back to flipping open my bible expecting God to magically guide me.  He landed me did on Psalm 31. The Psalm where I hear Jesus' cry from the cross.

Tim Keller was talking a while back about reading the OT and mentioned that as the NT authors interpreted the OT, so should we.  That might not have been exactly what he said.  Remember my brain is on Conference.   But this was in my mind as I read the passage.

My guess is Jesus probably had the rest of this Psalm memorized, so along with "Into your hand I commit my spirit" would have been the words "I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place."  Jesus was clinging to words of comfort in the midst of the greatest personal trauma the world has ever seen.

Now back to me in my little trauma of a foggy brain, getting lost in a parking garage and fretting over how sinful and in need of healing I am.  This Psalm is mine!  I so totally own it.  This Psalm is for people like me, precisely because of Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus spoke the words to be heard by his followers, I don't know.  Perhaps he wanted to show them how to cling our "rock of refuge", "strong fortress", and to remember with him to chant the words "'You are my God.' My times are in you hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!"  It's the trajectory of his cry.

So if your personal struggles are like mine, demons that seem to lurk, just waiting and chomping at the bit for me to lose my car in a parking garage (that smells like urine btw), so they can unleash on me all my self-loathing and sin, maybe we should look to what Jesus did.  He took words that had been written centuries before and owned them for himself in his very particular situation.

I'm thinking that even though my "crisis" may be as peculiarly small as a parking garage wed to sleep deprivation, just perhaps, I'm allowed to repeat the same words with Jesus and hope, as he might have been hoping: "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!"  I think I have it from a good source.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Grey Skies

Sometimes you've got to just get through the day.

I was going to write about legalism, as I'd just read Jesus' "seven woes" on the Pharisees and Scribes.  Then I thought about tying it in to my own tendency to compare, compete and obsessively check my spiritual temperature.  Then I thought I'd tie it into the true gospel, the gospel that frees us to understand that we are radically accepted and loved by the real God.  It would have been decent stuff, but it's not where my heart is at in the moment.

This morning Melissa was worn out and frazzled, my daughter was fuming, David was pulling on my sleeve to wrestle and I didn't want to get out of bed.  Perhaps if I pulled the sheets over my head I could go back to la-la land where all of this would go away like clouds bursting apart on a sunny day.  I wish.

Sometimes life feels like drudgery to me.  The people I look to to fill me up need filling themselves.   My immediate future looks bleak and I just don't have, or don't want to have energy to move forward.  (I haven't yet figured that last one out.)  So I claw (not really, I drive, but I'm being dramatic today) my way to the office where I can grab a coffee, sit back, and try and process what's going on.

And this morning, to be honest, I have no idea.  It's just one of those mornings where the skies are grey, people are frazzled and hope seems a little bleak.

But I'm wondering, if this is how life can get, so drab and vanilla sometimes, what can life look like if I move outside of myself and accept the generous handout of amazing grace?  I know that embracing the radical self-acceptance that I'm offered will free me.  But probably not in a happy-go-lucky, sweetsie, pie-in-the-sky, fuzzy-chills kind of way.

I've been stressing about this youth conference we're having next week.  I've been asked to speak on Spiritual Discipline and I've been everything but disciplined.  I've been straining so hard to perform for God, rather than simply being with God.  I want to have an amazing talk, see kids overwhelmed by me and go away thinking "Wow that was good."  I want God to be pleased with my efforts.  It's been an impossible weight I've been carrying and to use a little French, "A real pain in the ass." (I wonder if the French get tired of this expression, or what they say when want to cuss, "To use a little Swazi...")

And to top it off, I'm not that great of a public speaker.  I'm probably decent, but if I was to listen to myself, I'd probably walk out after about 30 minutes.  One of the reasons is that I almost get sick trying to speak in public.  I hate it.  It takes so much energy and almost always leaves me depressed.

So that's what's on my mind today:  How do I realize that I'm here on this earth, just to do a few simple things:  accept that I am loved, love God and love people?  I don't have to waste time trying to validate my existence.  I exist already and am loved.  So that's where I am today, and I hope it will resolve.  It will.  It always does.  Although I have my suspicions.  But I'm learning that part of my life is living with these suspicions as well.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I don't know what it is.  Maybe it's all the caffeine I've had this morning.  Maybe it's the anxiety I'm feeling about teaching at a conference next week.  Maybe it's the big donut I just stuffed down my gullet.  But I think it's this book by Gary Thomas, that's got me worshipping and free to worship in a way that I'd never really embraced before - the way of the naturalist (ironically, nature just called, I'll be right back.).

I have a vivid memory of a cathedral in Vancouver, BC, from my time there in Seminary, a cathedral that trumped all the cathedrals I'd ever seen in England growing up.  It was grand, austere, pure, rich, mystical and powerful.  It was a place where I could almost audibly here God say "I AM".

The location was in Pacific Spirit Forest, a little preserve on the west side of Vancouver proper (if you ever want to visit), where the woods had had a fire a few months prior, leaving an amazing and awesome view of evergreen after evergreen pillar as far as the eye could see.  Mists and vapors curled around the pillars with seeming intent, and now that I think about it, I believe the intent to be worship.

I've always suspected moments like these as sentimental highs that I should put on the shelf and move on to something more spiritual, like devotions, quiet times, services or songs.  There's something deeply troubling about this suspicion, and something that I seem to have been on a journey of discovering my entire life.

These moments are in fact deep moments of worship.  Moments weighted with God's presence and grandeur.  They are not moments to be swept under anything, or pushed aside as sentimental, for they are, for me in particular, windows into the character and presence of God.

Let me try to explain the inexplicable:  Those woods came at a time when my soul was aching with depression.  My walk through them with Melissa, came at a time when I was questioning everything.  God's existence, my purpose, and even despairing of life.  I felt like a vulerable and hurting child.  And I needed to hear from God.  And in those woods, God answered.

I think that's why I became so attracted to mountain biking in Vancouver.  The Pacific Northwest has something truly unique to offer the naturalist.  Huge redwoods and ferns and all the greens of the rainbow.  Saturate this with moisture, mists and smells of decaying wood, and you have, at least in my mind, paradise.

And in mountain biking through these woods, I felt alive.  My full body and mind were engaged, as the trails were very, VERY technical.  I rarely came home without blood somewhere.  But the blood I drew was worth the experience I had of being alone, and alone with God.  There in those woods, God was healing me.

Now I've had a very hard time letting go of my experiences in those Vancouver woods, as I have gotten older, life has gotten tamer (at least physically), and now I have children to look after, and heck, I live in Orlando.  But I will never forget, and I believe I will one day feast on the tiny bite (even though it felt huge) I tasted of God's feast in those woods.

Monday, June 4, 2012


I felt like an old man.  One who hasn't aged so well.  The winds of life had blown hard and I felt grizzled, hard and mean.  "I'm only 36," I'm thinking, "what's going on?"

I watched as our pastor broke the bread and we ate.  Then I watched as he held the cup and rambled.  "Blah, blah, blah, I've done this a million-gazillion times" I'm thinking.  But before we drank, something unexpected happened.

The lady serving the elements knelt down beside me, looked up at me with a kind smile, and said, "Christ's blood shed for you."

I had been holding out.  My heart had been clouded and cold through the praise songs.  My soul was elsewhere through the sermon.   But now, through her kneeling, her smile and her words, my inner-plates were shifting.

Through her I heard that Christ's blood was shed for me.  Christ's blood shed even for the old, embittered and jaded.

Frankly, when I received the element, I couldn't believe my luck.  Here was the medicine I needed!  Medicine for my aging problem.

Greedily I took it and drank.

As I look back on this seemingly small event I'm reminded of Jesus' glory.  It's most magnified when he smiles with loving pity on the hard, crusty, disillusioned and yes, even the melo-dramatic.

And it reminds me of the importance of spiritual truths becoming human.  Things said and done human-to-human, bring us closer to God.

This lady's actions remind me that simple words and "small" deeds can and will do great things in the kingdom of God.  Why?  Because of the King.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Teya's eyes grow wide in terror, she knows the wave is too big, so she grabs my hand and presses her vulnerable little 6-year-old body up against mine, her tower of strength, and braces for impact.

I was talking with my Dad over burritos today (always a good place to talk) about how recovering from our addictions to idols is what sanctification is all about.  A friend of mine said recovery is like facing a huge wave while clinging to Christ, knowing that when the wave has passed over you, you'll still be standing.

Why will you still stand?  Because of the hand you're holding.

This morning Teya woke up to find me sitting and staring into la-la land on the couch, a typical morning for me.  She sat down on the other side of the couch, and commenced to attempt to chatter me into life.  After a little while, realizing that her attempts were futile, she moved off some Lego creation of David's that was between us, snuggled up under my arm and curled up into a ball beside me.

It's small actions like these, that I absolutely treasure.  They are pure gospel to me.  And I woke up.

I don't think I'm being sentimental.  God as divine father must just love spending time with us, his children.  Can you imagine what he feels like when we long to be close, remove barriers and scoot up next to him?

The good news to me, the reality that trumps our reality (and I know I've beaten this tired horse to death), is that God really loves us.  Scripture show us the climax of this love in the cross, the resurrection accomplishes this love and the hope to come will consummate this love.  This love is God.

So as we face our demons, like giving up Coke for lunch (I figure I should start small), as we face our waves, our darkness and our fear, we can know without a shadow of any doubt that in clinging to God's hand and pressing our body up against his, we will stand.  In this world we may doubt everything, but this trumps my doubt: a nail scarred hand gripping my hand tightly through the wave.

And as my son David always says when he's scared, hold on tighter Dad, tighter.