Monday, December 28, 2009

The Call of the Wild One

Something fierce and untamed,
It calls out my name—
A lure that is stifled
By what I conceive.

By details and triflings,
The worries of life,

By lovers and leavers,
And all that seems right,

Religion and duty
And all our designs—
The towers of Babel
I raise day and night—

All drown out His ardor,
The sound of His voice,
So even His keening
Just seems like more noise.

Still the wild One pursues,
Disdaining restraint,
And all my feigned order
He’ll raze in the fight—

The one that He’s fighting
So that I can hear
His savage wail calling

For me to come near.

"He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion." - C.S. Lewis

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Christmas Story

Christmas, for me, has changed since I entered the story. I’m starting to get it. I’m learning to worship Christ at Christmas instead of bowing to the gods of consumerism. I heard someone say recently that consumerism is individualism on steroids. And we tend to build our individual kingdoms of self most at the very time of year we ought to celebrate Christ’s kingdom. If Christmas is really a Christian holiday, why does it look so much like bowing at this culture’s high places of idolatry? Even efforts to “Christianize” Christmas seem to be no more than the same old thing with a Christian veneer — we pad the pockets of Christian retailers or really take a stand for Christ by having the audacity to only buy from retailers who will use the word Christmas to promote consumerism. (Using Christ’s name in vain? Hmm…)

I heard on a Christian radio station recently a plug for a book about how to keep Christ in Christmas. I expected something counter-cultural, but I was appalled that the strategy seemed to center around innocuous decorating ideas—using more nativity scenes and spelling out Christian words with lights. Is that what entering the Christ story looks like? If so, I’d rather bask in my own brand of debauchery! (Which, I think, is the attitude of many in my generation, and is why so many are opting out of a Christian religion that only seems to offer platitude and pretense—but that’s a whole other post…)

But there’s a way of celebrating Christmas that doesn’t just include Christ, it is Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented. It involves acknowledging the advent, or arrival, of God incarnate coming to earth to rescue us from ourselves, to redeem our brokenness, to set us free from captivity, to transform our warped ways of living, to give us life, and to bring his righteousness, peace, and joy. That is a story worth entering...

Monday, November 2, 2009


As I stood outside the Paramount Theater holding a sign and directing people toward dubious parking spots last Wednesday, I feared that I might not be hip enough for the Story Conference. Watching the flood of artists and pastors arrive in their Chuck Taylors, army jackets, and square-rimmed glasses, carrying cardboard coffee cups, it seemed as if they had let Portland, Oregon loose on the small city of Aurora, Illinois.

I felt like both an insider and an outsider—much the way I felt when I lived in Portland. As the crowd streamed by me, I thought, these are my people. These people are into what I’m into and love what I love. They love the gospel story. They value symbolism and Kingdom vision. They embrace brokenness and condemn consumerism. Beyond the trendy urban garb, they want to live authentic lives and tell a better story—one of restoration and reconciliation. That’s why we’re all here. That’s why we’ve come to this nebulously named conference in the middle of Illinois.

But I was there alone, like I was in Portland. And it started to get to me—this feeling like I’m on the outside, an insignificant part of something great. On the fringe, but wanting to be in the inner circle, to be known and valued, integral even. Maybe that’s why I volunteered at the conference—directing people to restaurants I’d never heard of at lunch time and helping latecomers find a seat. Besides getting in for free, I wanted to offer something worthwhile. But I felt small.

And that was my struggle as I listened to various world changers tell their stories. I wondered if I’m OK with being a small part of a big story? There is an amazing metanarrative unfolding, a grand drama. And I have a role. But what if my role is small? I have to admit, I want to be a big deal. I always have. I want to be on stage, I want to be published, I want to be respected and admired.

But then, it’s not about me. I’m not the point of the story. One of the artists who spoke at the conference wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Fool Moon Rising that describes the moon’s attempts to steal glory from the sun. It was a timely parable to remind me that I shine only by reflection. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7)

The heroes of great stories do not become such by seeking vain glory, but by self-sacrifice, by being willing to be fools. Over and over, I was reminded at the conference that God’s story is best told through my brokenness. As I die to my story and let my life be part of a bigger story of God’s kingdom coming to earth, God’s glory and light is revealed. Wow.

The truth is, I am a big deal to God. I am known and valued. So much so that he invites me into his story, to partner with him in relationship. I get to be a part of the greatest story ever told, to tell his story with my life. By loving, by giving. In pain, in brokenness. Through freedom, through restoration. His story is being told. It’s all about him. And it’s beautiful.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

our life outside the garden

so strange
what we lost
that day
not like
what we found
so familiar
these fig-leaf burdens
carried on crooked backs
that seem straight
for so long
staring at the ground
that feels like home
makes it hard to turn around
toward what we lost
that day
so strange

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blessed Frustration

I am learning again the importance of frustration—the importance of failure and disappointment. It is the way God pursues us.

In one of my classes last week, my professor was discussing the curses in Genesis 3 after the fall. He spoke about how ultimately the curses are God’s way of bringing us back to Himself by frustrating our desires and pursuits. He explained that as corrupted people, without that frustration, we would continue in our corruption without ever turning to God. He pointed us to Romans 8:20-21, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but BY THE WILL OF THE ONE WHO SUBJECTED IT, IN HOPE that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Our freedom comes through surrender to God, and our surrender comes through frustration.

I play games with God just like I play games in my human relationship—trying to manipulate people to get what I want. I recently realized that I tend to withdraw from relationships when I don’t get what I want—not because I don’t want to engage in the relationship or be known by the other person, since that is usually what I most want, but it is my game to incite them to draw me out or pursue me my way. It didn’t work recently. Very frustrating.

See, a mentor of mine, who has the ability to draw me out to do work before I even know what he’s up to (if you’ve watched The Mentalist you know what I mean), respected my decision to withdraw and said he would not force me to engage if I didn’t want to. Well, of course, that revealed to me that I did want to. My game didn’t work. My attempts to get what I wanted my way were frustrated. I had to invite him in.

I began to wonder if God is this way. He won’t force us into relationship, but He draws us to invite Him in by allowing our frustration. He has the ability to change and transform and work in me without me even knowing what He’s up to, but He waits for my invitation. I withdraw from Him to get what I want my way. But then I get frustrated trying to do things my way. It doesn’t work. Thanks to the curses.

Isaiah 28:20 describes the frustration of my desires and pursuits well. It always rings in my ears in those times, “The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.” There is no rest in frustration. And so frustration draws me to Him. Then I invite Him to work.

And then it begins—what I could not do on my own, what I really wanted. When I invite Him in, through our fellowship, He enables surrender, repentance, holiness, and rest—a taste of the glorious freedom of the children of God. And it is all a result of blessed frustration—the way of God’s pursuit. His way.

“Spirit-filled surrender means that it is the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers us to yield or surrender to God, and as we surrender, the Spirit fills us and empowers us even more! It is a blessed cycle, ever deepening, of Spirit-filled surrender!” Siang-Yang Tan (Rest: Experiencing God’s Peace in a Restless World)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Your Way

You foil
You frustrate
It’s what You do
For my gain
To turn to You
Futility for my gain
Just feels like pain
And since You do
I complain
And from You stray
For days and days
To try my ways
While You wait
It’s what You do
For my gain
To turn to You
You foil
You frustrate
Until finally I say
I want it Your way
If only I’d stay

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sehnsucht: A Lament

I want
all the time

I stopped wanting once
But it didn’t last long

Is wanting wrong?
That’s what I’m told
sometimes when
I want

But I was made
to want
Made hungry and thirsty and needy

Then the damned fall
And now I don’t get what
I want
And don’t know what
I want

And even when I get
I want
And even when I drink
I thirst
And even when I eat
I hunger
And even when I love
I want
And don’t get
And never will

Until the end
Until Eden

Until then
I want

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Out of Alignment

Everything is falling apart. I think it’s the second law of thermodynamics. Everything moves toward entropy and chaos. Homes have to be cleaned, cars have to be maintained, relationships have to be nurtured, hair has to be washed, the body has to be fed and exercised. Our souls are the same way.

I really don’t know anything about cars. Like a lot of things, the only time I pay attention is when it’s not working. The other day, after a tie rod broke on my car while I was making a turn (I just learned what a tie rod is), I had to get the wheels aligned. Not something I would do normally. But apparently, it has needed realignment for a while because it veers to the right.

Today I’m sitting here thinking about how I feel like I’m out of alignment. Like I missed some scheduled soul maintenance. Like maybe I’m veering to the right. I’m off-center. I’m forgetting where I’m going again and steering for another course that makes more sense. I’m losing the plot. Again.

I want my thoughts to align with God’s, my heart to align with his. To love the way he loves. To give the way he gives. To be filled by him. To set my heart on him alone. But my thoughts and my heart have been veering toward me—veering toward whatever I think will meet my needs and fill me up. Alignment comes when I give those needs to God and rest in His love. When I allow Him to wash me with the Word and set my eyes on Christ alone.

Recently I committed to keeping a day of Sabbath rest, but I’ve been wondering what it should look like. Perhaps I should think of it as a time for realignment. A day of quiet rest, free of the stresses and distractions that get me veering off course. My scheduled soul maintenance to keep me from falling apart—or to repair when I do.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

smokers and frauds

I often feel like a fraud. I think it comes from being human. And redeemed. Being both is tricky. It would be much less ambiguous if I was completely perfect or completely screwed up. But as it is, I am neither. Or both, really.

So sometimes, this feeling of being a fraud is valid. Sometimes I am a fraud. I pretend not to be human. Or not to be redeemed.

When I pretend not to be human, I talk about God and myself in a way that impresses church-people. I’m kind of good at it. Actually I’m really good at it. I know the right phrases, what to emphasize, what to leave out—-how to gloss over my humanity while accentuating my perfection. I’ve been trained well in the art of manipulating Christians to get applause and pats on the back. I’ve been doing it my whole life. You might even say I’m addicted to it. I’m addicted to the admiration of Christians.

As a human, I like to smoke. But I’m not a smoker. I learned long ago that smoking would not fit with my strategy of winning the approval of church-people. And since I don’t need competing addictions, I haven’t taken up smoking. Yet, the other day, I smoked a cigarette with a friend—-in front of Christians. Because of my addiction to approval, I agonized over it for a while (although, I have to admit I enjoyed the seeming scandal of it a bit too). Yet it was a step toward freedom.

Freedom looks different for different people. I’m realizing that as my sense of self and worth comes only from being accepted as a child of God, I become more free in my choices because they are based less and less on addiction to anyone else’s opinion and more on a desire to love as Christ loves-–not that our motives can ever be completely pure. So, in pursuing Christ-likeness, making my friend feel welcome and received and helping her to open up by smoking with her was a way of accomplishing that. The sin would have been giving in to my concern over the censure of other Christians.

I was well aware that my choice would not meet the approval of some, yet, I was quite certain that by sharing that moment with her, I was showing grace and hospitality. I am reassured by remembering that Christ himself scandalized the religious of his day by doing things they would have found morally compromising in order to extend grace and love (breaking the Sabbath, partying with sinners).

I've had to change my understanding of the word hypocrite. Instead of conjuring images of those who claim to be Christians, but who smoke, drink, or swear, as I grew up thinking, I now think about those of us who do not give permission for Christians to express their humanity in front of us. I am a hypocrite when I pretend not to be human at all. Then I am the fraud.

I remember when I started going to this church in Portland several years ago, Imago Dei, I thought I might have to take up smoking to get in with the Pastor. He was always hanging out with the smokers on the front steps just before the service—-probably trying to evangelize I thought. Because Christians don’t smoke.

But it was there where I first encountered people who were embracing both their humanity and their redemption. It was there where I first felt that it was safe to be a sinner, and therefore it was safe to admit my need, and therefore it was where I first truly understood the gospel of redemption. I didn’t fit in as a fraud there. There, my addiction was revealed.

So, now, I don’t want to be a fraud. I don’t want to attract frauds. I want to draw those who are open about their humanity by being open about mine. That doesn’t always mean smoking, but it does mean letting go of my need to have the admiration and approval of others—-especially those in the church. If I can be human in front of Christians and redeemed in front of non-Christians, if I can be both in front of anyone, without my addiction to approval, then maybe you won’t want to be a fraud around me, maybe I can be that safe place—where you can be human and where the gospel of redemption can unfold in your life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Long Will You Wait?

If happiness results when life is going our way, then I think abundant life results when life does not go according to our plan. If we receive it. Christ came to give abundant life, and it is better than mere happiness. It is our inheritance.

I’ve been reading through the book of Joshua with my life transformation group. It’s a book about dividing land—the Israelites taking their promised inheritance, being restored after their enslavement and desert wandering. And I have to admit that in parts (long parts) it’s like reading a rich man’s will. Kind of boring. But I came to something in chapter 18 that I’ve been reflecting on. It says, “…there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. So Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?’”

Why were they waiting? God had already given it to them. It seems there were pockets of resistance in the land, keeping them from claiming what was theirs. They would have to drive them out, and that would require intense battles and reliance on the Lord for victory. They had already been fighting for some time. Perhaps they were fearful. Perhaps they decided they were comfortable where they were and would just content themselves with what they had—it was good enough.

I’m thinking of our inheritance as children of God, abundant life. I believe abundant life includes love, grace, rest, freedom, and restoration. This is our inheritance. Our promise. More than being a person of happiness, I want to be a person of grace, a person who loves freely and is at rest in my soul no matter what the circumstances. A person who accepts others without judgment, who embraces brokenness and gives out of the overflow of love and grace given to me. I believe this is true beauty, true strength, and it is the gift God wants to give his children. It is our inheritance. Abundant life.

But recently I hit a pocket of resistance. It’s funny how you can think you’re experiencing rest when really it’s just that everything is going your way. But when it doesn’t, that’s when we have to claim our inheritance. Often I choose to let the resistance have possession of the land –fretting, self-pity, complaining thrive while I live in fear. I settle for good enough because I don’t want to join the fray. But if you look ahead to the book of Judges, it is clear that letting them stay in the land leads to idolatry, addiction.

Problem is, we may even like and enjoy what is in the land. We may be sad to see them go. I read recently that Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. I have said before that rest is a thief because we can’t hold it and keep hold of our other treasures—unforgiveness, discontentment, greed, pride, etc. We have to surrender the things we’re clinging to in order to receive our true inheritance. Abundant life.

What battle has to be fought in order to take hold of the inheritance? What has to be driven out in order to receive? What has to be surrendered in order to hold abundant life? I’m asking God to search my own heart now. The battle belongs to the Lord.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Friday, August 21, 2009

Becoming Human

Before I joined the human race,
before pain and failure were embraced,
with a heart too flimsy to feel for you
and an image too pure to let you pollute,
as the riddled chaos of this life arrived,
I swept it under rugs of pride
under doors and in your eyes—
wherever I could find disguise,
just to subsist in blameless bliss,
outside this story’s erratic twists.

Please don’t bleed on my white dress.
Don’t ask me to carry all your mess.
You can take my neat phrases
and try to cover your broken places.
But I can’t afford to suffer with you,
unless you pay me what is due,
because my heart is full of me
wanting you to meet my need.

But as I begin to participate,
I face my pain to taste His Grace,
giving freedom for the task
of holding your hurt and loving your mess
without fear of running dry,
even if our plans should run awry.
Because there’s enough to give away,
in grief or joy or come what may,
since Love came to dwell in this tainted place—
here, among the human race.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Self-Hatred and Sameness

Most of us wouldn’t say we hate ourselves. But, if we’re being honest, we might agree that there are things about ourselves that we hate. There are things about me that I hate. Not just frizzy hair kinds-of-things, but character defects that are deep-seated. But I haven’t really seen my self-hatred as a problem. I figured, there are a lot of things about me that are worthy of hatred—I don’t really hate me, I hate those things about me. But it’s ok because everyone else hates them too—even God. So I can keep on hating them.

But today, as I was reading Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child, the thought occurred to me that if I hate something in me, I will hate it in you. And if I truly want to be a person of grace and mercy and hospitality, there is no room for self-hatred. If I hate me, I hate you. If I judge myself, I judge you. If I condemn myself, I condemn you. If I expect perfection in me, I expect it in you. We are the same.

It made me think about how I have always been uncomfortable when people judge and condemn my ex-husband for his affair. Get angry at the tragedy of it, the injury, the injustice – yes – but condemn him, and I’m not with you. An old friend of ours recently messaged me on facebook about it, perhaps trying to commiserate, but it came across more as accusing and censuring my ex. His attitude bothered me. I didn’t know why at first, but now I realize it is because I know we are the same. My ex-husband was the scapegoat, his fault more visible, but we are the same. I am no better. There is something wrong with all of us deep down. We’re the same. When they condemn him, they condemn me. I am a liar. I am a cheater. I am passive. I am weak-willed. I am an idolater. I am unfaithful. Like him. Like you.

When we don’t accept these things in ourselves, we deny them, enabling us to see ourselves as different, as better—allowing us to judge and condemn others and claim superiority. And it all comes back to self-hatred. If we can accept ourselves fully as God in fact does, our whole self including all the things that are unlovely and worthy of hate, then we can accept others because we see that they are like us. If we can extend ourselves grace and mercy, then we can extend it to others.

So really, my show of condemnation toward others is a show of self-hatred. And all my self-hatred is a condemnation of others. It is the same because we are the same. Henri Nouwen says, “It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation.” Until we recognize our sameness, we will not be people of grace. And ultimately, grace is what transforms us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

True Hospitality

I started today knowing I would have to battle perfectionism.

See, I had a dinner party for 15 neighbors and friends at my apartment tonight—to be in community and connect. Perfectionism tells me that hospitality means making everything Martha-Stewart-perfect. But when I go that route I get all psycho and bitchy about everything being just right—to the point where I forget to love people. I make it more about stuff than people. But lately, I’ve got this new idea about hospitality. And it has nothing to do with place-settings or cakes or centerpieces.

The hospitality industry is marketed on perfectionism. Perfectionism really is just a cover up, a sham. But true hospitality is openness. Hospitality is a way of living where I share openly my true self, my mistakes, my joys, my sorrows—not in a needy way, but in a way that invites people into who I am really, that invites people to share who they are. Hospitality is a show of grace not perfection. I show grace to myself (especially if things don’t go according to plan) and thus I show that grace is available from me to others.

This morning I decided I want to be a person of grace not perfection. I want to be a person of invitation not expectation. So, I started with me—I decided to show myself grace and lower my expectations, to invite myself to enjoy and love others and not worry so much about everything coming together just right. And I did. I loved, I laughed, I ate, I drank. And someone had to sit on a laundry basket because I didn’t have enough chairs. And the cake stuck to the pan. And the food wasn’t ready when everyone arrived. And all the plates didn't match. And I ran out of salad dressing. And it was all perfect.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

book review: the prodigal god

Sometimes, I need to get the gospel flowing through me again. Tim Keller describes a person who is so struck with a fresh apprehension of the gospel that they feel as if they have been “re-converted.” This was my experience when I read Searching for God Knows What by Don Miller two years ago. And a couple of weeks ago, as I read Keller’s The Prodigal God, the same beautiful message accosted me. Like an addict, I so easily return to my elder-son tendencies (Luke 15:11-32)—I am drawn toward religion— to do everything right, but without living in relationship with the Father, without receiving the love and grace He freely offers. Or I live with the condemnation and shame of my younger-son rebellion. I need the gospel.

“…even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.”

As Keller fleshed out the lostness of both the younger son and the elder son in the parable, and revealed the recklessly extravagant love of the father, it shook me with life-changing truth, but more than that, with heart-changing grace of the gospel message. He shows how both of the sons are wrong, and both are loved and invited into relationship.

The picture of the father running to meet his younger son—not waiting for his speech of contrition, or for him to pay the due consequences, not expecting him to earn his way back into the family, but restoring him, and lavishing him with love, grace, and acceptance freely—is one that always astounds me.

“It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, but rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son’s expression of remorse far easier.”

But Keller doesn’t stop with the younger son. He goes on to look at the plight of the elder son and the costliness of the father’s lavishness. Like the elder son, I am often motivated by fear-based moralism rather than out of assurance of the Father’s love. I fall for an easier pseudo-gospel message which, upon closer scrutiny, reveals that much of what we do for God we are really doing for ourselves—because it is to our own advantage (The Principle of the Path… hmm?). But when we understand our need and the price Christ has paid to pursue and rescue us, our self-righteous incentive is transformed into grateful love.

“How can the inner workings of the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger to that of love, joy, and gratitude? Here is how. You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home.”

Keller packs a very short book (only 134 pages) full of gospel truth and grace. The gospel is a sweet fragrance that can permeate the rotten stench of religion and rebellion. We all need to be infused with the true gospel of grace so that it overflows from our lives onto others. The Prodigal God can get you reset to gospel-mode. I hope you read it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who We Are For Now

In our overlapping lives
We loved each other badly
As our fears fed on fears
And yet we healed
And understood
As best we could
Broken and wounded
As we are

Each one we’ve met
As we breathe we affect
We love and bless
And hurt and mess
And break
And disappoint
Broken and wounded
As we are

You’re invited to this place
To join the human race
To suffer and fail
And come off the hill
Where you’re looking down blindly
At us loving badly
Broken and wounded
As you are

Forgive me
I have loved you badly
Forgive me
I will love you badly
Not an excuse
Just the truth
Broken and wounded
As I am

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unguarded Love

Being loved improves my sense of humor, among other things. I’ve been waking up every morning and thinking about how I am loved by God. It’s like being free. I love life again. I love people. I love without fear. I lost the plot there for a while, but now I am loved.

Yet, I wonder how long it will last. Not that God’s love runs out, but I know that I will leave. I will be seduced by lies and forget that I am loved. I always leave. Like a spouse with Alzheimer’s, I will forget who I am and will treat the Lover of my soul suspiciously, as if He’s my enemy. It will take time for Him to pursue me and convince me once again that He is on my side, but He will. Again and again. In spite of my hostility, my rejection, my foolishness. He loves me.

I’m realizing another reason I have a hard time understanding God’s love for me. When it comes to love, we have to—we’re told to—do something that God himself doesn’t do. We guard our hearts. The more you expose yourself to people by loving, the more you expose yourself to pain. They go hand-in-hand. God doesn’t guard His heart from pain. He endures pain because He loves us. He endures our leaving, our forgetting.

Among us, love and grace extends only so far and then we begin to want a return, a payment; we begin to protect ourselves from hurt, pain, and damage to our heart that comes when we love. We begin making demands. We withhold love. We limit what we give away. Or we leave.

I’ve had a lot of discussions during the last couple of years about when divorce is ever justified—in cases of adultery, abuse, abandonment? Self-protection always comes into play. But I’m struck by the truth that God never divorces, no matter how justified. He never leaves; He never requires anything in return because self-protection is never a thought for Him.

God risks hurt, pain, and inevitable damage to his heart. He continues extending love and grace even when there are no returns, even when we reject Him and use Him. He pays the price Himself; He meets the demands of love Himself. He doesn’t guard His heart, but takes all of it on Himself because He never stops loving.

Our love, our grace, our forgiveness can’t look like God’s perfect love—it’s impossible. We can’t bear the pain, we can’t handle the betrayal. We can share in his suffering by loving, but at some point as we love, self-protection kicks in. Then we walk away or demand payment. God, at that point, pursues and pays. We give ultimatums. He lets us go and woos us back with love and grace. He endures the pain of our leaving because He loves us.

Still, I think the more we are filled with His love, the greater our capacity to accept the consequences of loving others because He takes some of the hits for us. Our returns on love come from Him, so we don’t have to demand them from others. Our hearts are guarded by His love so we are free to love. His love is a protection that enlarges our capacity to love instead of limiting it. I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm in Love

I’m going to go ahead and say this at the risk of sounding cliché ... love changes everything. I forgot about love. I was reading recently Henri Nouwen’s book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, and his descriptions of joy and experiencing eternal life now thoroughly convinced me that I didn’t know what he was talking about. Joy has eluded me for some time, and even the happiest times have been tinged with sorrow. I’ve become so taken with the idea that this world is broken and incomplete and that all our hope lies in life with Christ after this life, that I’ve forgotten that we can have a taste of that here and now. I forgot about love.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been loved well. And those who loved me well are the same ones who wounded me most. I’m not unique in this. I’ve wounded those I love. Our love is a poor reflection. It’s only in part, only a taste of perfect love. And at other times, it leaves an altogether bad taste. But we begin to think that that is what love is. The poor reflection becomes the reality and prevents us from accepting perfect love because we are accustomed to striving and qualifying and compensating and wounding.

Yet His perfect love covers all our wounds. “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1 Cor 13:10)

The assurance of perfect love is a beautiful and powerful thing. It allows us to let go of all the other things we’re laboring for and rest in God’s embrace. It allows us to have joy in the midst of difficulty. It gives meaning to our work and all we do. And the opposite is also true, without the assurance of God’s love, everything we work toward is a futile effort to prove our worth or fulfill our obligations or just to survive. None of it matters without love. Love changes everything.

I have always thought of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 as referring to my love for others. But for the first time today I read it differently. I used to read, “If I have eloquent words, prophetic gifts, superior knowledge, boundless faith, if I give all I possess to the poor, or sacrifice myself… but don’t do it out of my love for others, it means nothing.” But today I read, “If I have eloquent words, prophetic gifts, superior knowledge, boundless faith, if I give all I possess to the poor, or sacrifice myself … but don’t have assurance of God’s love, it means nothing.” I guess they are very similar ideas, but the difference is in my inability to love well. I can’t work up love for others. Only through the assurance of God’s love do my motives change. Only then am I able to do anything in love.

If I have not love”—if I don’t have God’s love, if I’m not convinced and assured of His love for me, none of my ministry, or sacrifice, or insight, or success, or faith means a thing. Love changes everything. Today, I woke up loved. What a difference it has made.

Monday, July 20, 2009


You know, we choose most things in life based on what it can offer us. A car, a job, a home, a city, a college, a spouse, a church, a friend. In the same way, we are chosen based on what we have to offer—as a spouse, as an employee, as a friend, as a leader. So, we begin to think that this is where our value lies, in what we have to offer. In beauty, in wisdom, in wit, in skill, in knowledge, in charm, in character. And we go about trying to prove what we have to offer, to prove our value.

And, of course, we want to keep concealed those things that we consider shameful—the things that we fear might reduce our value, the things that might give us away by revealing we’re not worth as much as we first appeared to be because we offer ugliness with our beauty, brokenness with our charm; the package of who we are includes what is wounded, scarred, insecure, and selfish. These things reduce our likelihood of being chosen. They reduce our worth.

This is how we are programmed to think of value and worth. It’s as if everyone has a price on their head. Maybe this is why it is so difficult to accept a love that isn’t based on what we have to offer.

I want to prove to God what I have to offer—my moral record, my faith, my ministry efforts, my spiritual maturity, my insight, my good choices, my penitence, even my suffering on his behalf. It all becomes part of my attempt to prove my worth. It also becomes part of my self-salvation project, as Tim Keller calls it. It is an affront to the cross and is anti-gospel. I can’t accept God’s love because I want to be my own savior, to be enough on my own. Yet I never will be. It takes accepting this to receive God’s love.

I was reminded today of Brennan Manning’s words that I read back in April, but they have taken this long to sink in. He said, in essence, forgiveness doesn’t follow repentance, but repentance follows forgiveness. This is so essential to grasp. All my penitence, and faith, and character, and beauty comes as a response to God’s love and grace, as a result—not as a way to earn it or be worthy of it. God’s love and grace and acceptance and forgiveness is offered before I wallow in contrition or say the right words or fix myself up.

We so badly want to offer something. Yet Christ is the only reason we have anything to offer. As Eugene Peterson says from Ephesians 5, “Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.” Christ’s love gives us our value and worth—it doesn’t require our value and worth. This means we can accept His love without concern for what we have to offer Him.

For most of us, we’re not used to being loved like this. We’re used to being loved for what we have to offer. Perhaps we’re even used to being cut off from love when it seems we have nothing to offer. Being loved by God requires reprogramming. We have to learn to be loved freely. Once we can accept that love, we can accept our true value, our true identity—an identity and value that comes from the assurance of His love. A value we don’t have to prove to anyone.

I think our reprogramming has to be constant because it’s so easy to go back to default mode. I wake up in default mode, and it’s not like I can press a few buttons and be assured once again that I am loved. It’s like having to do a total system restore—wiping clean what’s there and writing program all over again. I have to be convinced all over again of God’s love for me, not just to know it, but to taste it. Without that assurance, everything else is warped. Maybe Manning is right when he says, “There is only one thing God asks of us—that we be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is everything and for whom God is enough.” I’m finding that without this, nothing else matters.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Awkward Moments

I keep covering myself with words.
You see too much,
and I’m not enough,
so I pile on the words
to cover and cover and cover
until you don’t remember what you saw—
a piece of me
naked, deformed, or bleeding
while everything and everyone screams,
So I keep covering myself with words
so we can smile and pretend
we’re not wounded.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Now They Know

Dreams are the last to let go
They’re the last to know
They don’t find out with the rest of us
But have to learn it slow
Of memories and longings
Of who and where and when
When they find out
New sorrow comes
With them all traces end

"These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself... Now we wake to find... we have been mere spectators... Our life-long nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation." C. S. Lewis ~ The Weight of Glory

Grief Comes in Dreams

Last night as I slept
you showed up
like a ghost
with a sunburn
and a smile
and a piece of art

Everything about you
and that place

with the windows
and painted doors
was strange
and yet familiar

You didn’t understand
why I had to hide
but I had to
I had to
You couldn’t see
what isn’t yours
I’m not yours anymore

And today I cried
by surprise
because you were strange
and yet familiar
and the whole world
seems strange
and yet familiar
even me

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

book review: saint

Another Ted Dekker thriller, I listened to Saint on CD during a long road trip with my sister and her kids. Again, the spiritual truths in this one knocked me over, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. At first it seems like your run of the mill Bourne-esque assassin-who-can’t-remember-who-he-is story (one of my favorite movies, by the way). But of course, it is so much more, as I knew it would be because it’s Dekker.

What I didn’t know is that our assassin is a character from a previous book that I read (both part of a series, but they can be read alone) called Showdown. But what made this so remarkable is that in Showdown, he is a character who is chosen by God, given gifts and powers, and is full of potential and zeal. Yet, in Saint, that character is unrecognizable—instead we see a skilled assassin, who, in fact, has no recollection of his true identity. You see where it’s going, right?

In the story, the organization that trains assassins believes that the key is in taking away their identity completely, causing them to forget their origins, making them believe they are someone else, and motivating them through lies. They train in a pit where they are fed lies until they believe and their memory is erased. They are sent on missions that train them not to trust any reality except the one they learned in the pit. There are parallels to our human state at every turn.

As the truth of his origins is revealed, he can’t accept it. He feels so lost and confused. He doesn’t know who to listen to or who to trust, and he only wants to return to the pit where he is comfortable instead of his true home, Paradise. I don’t want to give too much away, but what really struck me in this story was that I knew who he was—who he was meant to be, his true identity, his power, his genius, his potential—and I wanted so badly for him to know too.

I’ve been thinking about our true identities since then. I think of it as our imago Dei—the way we were meant to be and live and function. We’re deceived and trained and lied to. We don’t know who we are. And hearing the truth seems so strange. We want to hide in our comfortable pit with all our lies. But who we are, who we could be is beyond what we can fathom. What if we could see reality? Would we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us? (Hebrews 12) What if we could see the potential in others? Would we desperately want them to discover their true identity and be set free from the lies? What if we can see spiritual reality... if only we ask?

Had to add this link to Don Miller's blog. It's a poem for a newborn baby. It's fitting here because it's about our spiritual amnesia, and it's beautiful.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

book review (sort of): the principle of the path

I don’t really think it’s fair to review a book that I didn’t finish, so I am only claiming to give my first impressions here. Before I had to return it, I read the first five or so chapters of Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path because it was recommended, but as I was reading so many red flags went up for me. It’s a teaching I’ve been running away from for several years after mistaking it as the central message of Christianity for too long. The main idea here is that your choices now affect the path of your life in the future. True. I agree with his basic premise, but I have a problem with it as the way of life—especially the Christian way of life.

Instead of embracing brokenness and depending on Christ for transformation, the message could be interpreted as make right decisions and you’ll get what you want in life. He goes as far as to say that if you have cancer, it is because of the bad choices you have made. There is some truth to this, but it seems to me to set us in a place of pride if life is going well for us—as if it’s all our doing—and a place of judgment toward those who are suffering. It could also bring self-condemnation for our own failures.

I agree that you reap what you sow—it’s a truth that shouldn’t be ignored. I really appreciated how he showed the correlation between our desires and our decisions. We often want one thing but don’t make decisions that will get us there, and then we’re shocked when things end badly. For example, wanting a spouse who loves God, yet dating any person who shows interest. Or wanting kids who follow Christ, but never teaching them the Word or modeling it for them. Wanting to be financially stable, but making decisions that take you deeper into debt. Then we blame God.

I have to go back to the problem of balance again. What Stanley wrote in this book is what I’ve been swinging away from because it led me to judgment and away from mercy. Maybe some need to swing toward it if it’s a principle they’ve not embraced—if they’ve been thinking of God as a sort of an escape hatch so we can do whatever we want and He’ll work things out for us. And if He doesn’t, it’s all His fault. That’s a problem.

Yet, if it’s all up to our good choices, we’re screwed. We’re lost. We’re like sheep. Sheep are stupid. We screw up. We make a mess of our lives and others’ lives. Thank God that He rescues. It’s not all up to us.

As silly as it sounds, I was really struck by this when I watched Confessions of a Shopaholic this weekend. It shows what a mess we can get into—ruining relationships, finances, career. Addictions are like this. Sin is like this. And sin is so deceptive, so enticing. We need a Savior. Is God the kind of Father that bails us out every time or the kind that tells us we made our own bed and have to lie in it? I think neither. Maybe he is like the father in this movie (not in every respect)—when she realizes the pit she’s in, he stands beside her in love, he sacrifices for her, he shows mercy and helps her face the consequences and make the hard decisions that get her out. Reminds me of our need for Christ in order to find freedom—he empowers, he transforms, we cooperate. Maybe the church should be more like her support group—they walk with her as she painfully trudges her way out of her mess. But often, we shoot the wounded.

We need to recognize our capacity to be both victim and villain. Only then can we both accept consequences and mercy. We can take responsibility for our choices and receive grace. In turn, we can extend the same to others. But this is another of those things that is so tricky to balance!

I am wary of teaching that points to our ability to choose well rather than pointing to the cross. To me, it smacks of humanistic moralism and is void of the Gospel. I fear this unbalanced teaching has flooded the church, leaving us dependent on ourselves for our own salvation and with excuses not to love others and show the kind of mercy Christ gives. Perhaps in later chapters, Stanley did indeed point to our need for Christ so I don’t want to disparage his teaching entirely. Yet, in the chapters I read, he several times knocked the concepts of repentance and forgiveness as bailouts. As bailouts, they should be condemned, but as part of our response in relationship with Christ, they should be upheld as part of the principle of the path—as they key to returning to the path. Can we return to the path any other way?

I think we need to take another look at our motivation for making good choices—is it promised success and good consequences alone? This should not be mistaken for Christianity. Paul David Tripp wrote, "There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their ability to live it out." If we’re not careful, leaning hard on the principle of the path could look like that. We need the balance that only Christ gives.

Monday, June 29, 2009

book review: house

I love reading stories that make me stop and think—or in this case, stop and pray. As I read House, it was almost as if God was speaking to my questions and sending me the reminders of truth that I need right now. I always put Ted Dekker’s books on my reading list when I have time to read fiction. His thrillers are always more than they seem. His stories have a spiritual dimension that always keeps me looking for the truths about God and the human condition behind the obvious storyline. And Frank Peretti is known for stories that reveal the hidden realms of good and evil. This book combines all of that.

This is the kind of book that I want to read with someone so I can sit and talk with them about all the hidden meanings and unexpected twists. At first it seems like a horror novel about two couples stranded in a haunted house in the backwoods of Alabama, but it is so much more.

Before even knowing where the story was going, I’ve been thinking (and blogging) about the book’s major themes—that because of the condition of our fallen world everything is distorted, warped, not what it seems, that we are so easily deceived and depraved and in need of Christ in order to see reality. It reminded me of how we need Christ in evangelism to open eyes and reveal spiritual truth. It reminded me of the need to pray toward that end (for myself and others). It reminded me of the spiritual battle that is raging and the authority we have in Christ. It reminded me of what we can legitimately claim spiritually and where to place my faith. It reminded me of how impossible it is to love and respond to truth without the work of the Spirit.

Much like the prophet Nathan did for David, Dekker and Peretti revealed my own need. But beside all that, it’s a pretty good story too. I also recommend Dekker’s Circle Trilogy for summer reading. It reads like a modern allegory of the human condition and the story of redemption. It has contributed to my understanding and articulation of the Gospel in many ways. Check out his website at

(P.S. The movies aren't as good as the books. Not even close.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the place for faith

Is doubting what God will do the same as doubting what God can do or who He is? I got the impression growing up in church that doubt is the unforgiveable sin—that God can’t (or won’t) accomplish anything if we doubt—that I have to believe God will answer my prayers, or he won’t (like if you don't believe in Santa Claus, you won't get gifts). It seemed faith was the key to answered prayer because my degree of faith determines the degree of favor I have with God which determines whether He will answer my prayers. If people weren’t getting healed or whatever it was they were praying for, it was a lack of faith. So, I couldn’t express anything negative in prayer because it might be perceived as doubt.

Several years ago at church I was given permission to doubt, to voice my struggles with God to God, and it has created an intimacy with God that I’ve never known. It created space for honesty in my relationship with God. It has allowed me to accept suffering and disappointment more and more without thinking there is something wrong with me—like my faith is not enough, or I am not enough. It allowed me to grieve and recognize that the path of suffering is often God’s good will for us.

Yet, there is a place for faith prayers, for claiming God’s promises, for praying with the authority we have in Christ, for healing prayer, for prophecy.

One of my professors recently said that what we get from a fall is a lack of balance. We are fallen, so balance is hard for us. I struggle with swinging between knowing that God’s agenda is not always mine (so not asking for anything) or standing in faith on God’s word (and then asking for everything I want as if it’s a promise). I guess that’s why it’s so important to know God’s Word. But what about claiming promises that we were never given in Scripture? Like ones based on vision or prophecy or what God has done for others?

My friend who has been unable to conceive said she always has people trying to encourage her with stories of how God enabled them to get pregnant after many years of trying. People always want to tell me about how God brought them a spouse after their divorce. Lately, I’ve heard numerous stories of people getting healed from or surviving terminal cancer. All of these stories are told as if to say, it could happen for you. If you have faith. Like it’s a promise to stand on. Like it’s where our hope lies. I think that we mistakenly tell our stories of how God brought healing or provided for a need, thinking it will increase others’ faith. But the fact is, God doesn’t always bring healing, he doesn’t always come through the way we think he should. Maybe our stories just produce more questions of "why not me?" Misplaced faith can be devastating.

A story of God’s work in one person’s life does not denote a promise from God for someone else. We can praise God for his works, but it doesn’t mean God is any less faithful when we don’t get the outcome we want. It doesn’t mean the person lacks faith.

So, what can we legitimately claim as a promise? Not that we won’t suffer. What do we hold to? What do we trust in? God’s character, God’s goodness, faithfulness, His work in spite of our suffering. We can have faith in who He is and still express our struggle with the fact that He may not give the outcome we want. We can grieve—and be full of faith.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Doubt, He Draws?

Doubt and faith exist side by side. I often struggle with evangelism when I struggle with God. I feel I should have this all worked out by now. But after a lifetime of Christian teaching, I still have my own questions, so I don’t feel I can answer anyone else’s. Maybe that’s the problem with my view of evangelism—thinking I have to have all the answers. I don’t want to give trite answers. I don’t want to say what’s been said before. I want to be authentic about my own struggles with God. Maybe that is more meaningful than saying the right things? But instead, I keep it all to myself. I don’t say anything for fear that all my doubts about God will shout louder than my faith.

Sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that if God is real, he would have rescued us by now. Shouldn’t there be no more death, no more pain, no more recession, no more evil? Shouldn’t people be fed, abuse be ended, children be cared for? I know the right answers. Do I believe them? Do I want to? My nephew brought my struggles to light yesterday when he asked me if the people who died in the movie we were watching would go to hell. I didn’t want them to. My answer was lame—they often are because there’s a gap between what I want to believe and what I do believe. I see things upside down. What I want to believe makes more sense, humanly speaking. All people go to heaven (except the REALLY bad ones and the ones who are mean to me), all sickness gets healed, all relationships get restored, all bills get paid. That’s what God should do. If he were real.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the hospital with my dad who has terminal cancer. Meanwhile, my mom is trying to help out a lady who has two kids, no money, and an abusive boyfriend. Then there's her neighbor who has custody of a baby who will have burn scars all over his body from when his father tried to kill him when he was four months old. There's my friends who want children but are barren. And you can’t go in the grocery store without reading about John and Kate’s divorce.

I want to offer more than clichés. I want a better story.

God should have rescued us by now. But if I stop seeing things upside down, I see that Christ did rescue us. How do I look beyond what I think people need in order to offer the hope that Christ gives? It’s now but not yet. Lately, it feels more like not yet.

I want to offer what people want—happiness, comfort, ease, success, money, good relationship, health. That’s our idea of rescue. That’s what I want from God. It’s difficult to see through this world’s values to see the Kingdom that is counter-cultural, to see that something greater is offered, to see that losing is winning and dying is life, that suffering is part of the abundant life. Rescue is offered freely, but with a cost. Some people don’t want that kind of rescue. Like the rich young ruler. Not a great sales-pitch.

Maybe evangelism isn’t a matter of enticing. Maybe it’s a matter of being honest about struggles. Maybe that’s a more authentic picture of who Christ is and why he came. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not what we thought rescue should be. Only God can reveal the living water. It is a miracle only he can do. Even when I doubt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


This morning on my way to the hospital to sit with my dad I was thinking about how disconnected I am from myself and from God, and therefore from others. I can go weeks disconnected—unable to remember the core of who God made me to be. In fact, I have gone years before. In the midst of spending time with family, interacting with friends, ministry, church, school work, and even prayer and worship, I can remain disconnected. I invite distraction and never quiet my soul because I don’t want to face any sorrow there. Yet, I seem to be most connected when I allow myself to grieve and be disappointed with life. Ironically, that is when I feel most alive. I was wondering if there’s something messed up about that—I’m most alive when I’m grieving? But then I started reading the book by Michael Card today called A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, and it made sense. In the foreword, Ken Cope addresses what I’ve been thinking about.

“We are taught that grieving is feeling sorry for yourself, and that real strength is to not show any emotion at all. Because we do not know how to be sad, we want to get to the end-stage of grief; we want the benefits and the results of healing, but we do not want to take the time to move through the often long and painful process of grief. For too long we have been taught that shedding tears is a sign of weakness and that you must not wallow in your sorrow. And the mandate of Psalm 46:10, “be still, and know that I am God,” is lost.

“As a result of this approach to grief, we have a whole generation of people with unresolved issues, hurts, and pains in their past that have been shallowly dealt with at best, and at worst have been ignored and discounted completely. The result has been an increasingly shallow Christianity and a profound lack of understanding of the nature of God and how, as His people, we are to move and live in a fallen world. We do not know ourselves. And while we know a lot about God, we do not truly know Him. We have been unwilling to sit in our sadness and pain, and we have missed much of the intimacy that He longs to offer us.

“… We live in a fallen world, full of disappointment and loss, and we often feel empty and unfulfilled and incredibly alone. But while God is not there to fix our problems and make our pain go away, He is always walking beside us. In the ongoing journey of life, we are given the opportunity to know Him and ourselves through the process of lamenting and grieving. … If we really want to encounter God and grow in our relationship with Him, then our attitude toward grief must change from viewing it as an uncomfortable and unwanted drop-in visitor to seeing it as an integral part of our daily journey with God.”

I remember writing about The Journey of Desire, the book that introduced me to the daily spiritual discipline of grieving. Because we are far from home, we grieve this world, this life. It is not how it was meant to be, and it never will be, though we can get glimpses of home. I’ve been walking through life wondering when everything will finally be the way I want it to be—when I get to enjoy life and take it easy—so I live dissatisfied. But I remember being most satisfied when I was grieving. I need to continue to grieve my disappointment with life, even my disappointment with myself, to recognize that in my grief I am most connected to God, most connected to my true self, most alive, and most satisfied.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Belief Detox

I’m convinced that most of my journey to spiritual maturity now days has more to do with detoxing from things I’ve picked up in church along the way so far than with learning brand new things. I’ve been unlearning a lot of things over the past few years. And I always feel so slow—like I should’ve gotten this a long time ago.

Right now it’s belief. Faith. What is belief? An encounter with a couple of Christian women a few months ago triggered all sorts of thoughts on this topic. They told me God wants me to have a husband if that’s what I want. Hmm. And they told me that if I didn’t believe that, I would never get one. Because God only gives us things when we believe Him for them. I mentioned this in a post in February after the conversation – wrestling with the issue that God gives us the desires of our hearts and all that… I told them that I want a new car too, and I asked them if I started believing God for that if he would give it to me. They weren’t as certain on that one. To be honest, this really confronted me with what I think belief is. What they said had an all-too-familiar ring to me. But it went against everything God had been teaching me recently. I challenged them in a defensive and befuddled way, but I actually had a hard time refuting their theology in the moment, so I’ve been thinking about it in one way or another since then.

This crisis counseling class I just took has me thinking about it again. People suffer. Life sucks at times. Does our faith or belief change that? No. (I feel like I’m blaspheming by saying no… Detox in action.) Why was I led to believe that it does? On my way to class the other day, I heard a guy on the radio say, “Faith does not affect the outcome of our situation,” and I was like, “Yeah! Wait… is that right? Hold up. I thought faith did affect outcome.”

It made me think about belief in Santa Claus. A few years back, my oldest nephew suspected he wasn’t real, but he was so afraid that if he stopped believing, he would stop getting presents. Is that the kind of belief God requires? If we believe he’ll give us presents, if we believe he’ll give us what we want, then he’ll come through. Is that what belief is all about? Really?

God is winking at me right now because I prayed for a digital camera last week. I can’t afford one. I just told God I’d like to have one—but no pressure. Someone just gave me one. (But I’ve been asking for an IPod now for months… nothing. Maybe I don’t have enough faith for that one?)

God does ask for our faith, our belief. When Jesus performed miracles, he often commented on the faith of those he healed. But what kind of faith? What kind of belief? Belief in the outcome I want? Or belief in who Christ is? He’s asking us to believe in who he says he is. To trust in his character. Our faith is not in believing he will give us what we want—our faith is in believing that he is enough. We believe that even if we don’t get the healing we want, the financial miracle we want, the situation we want, God is on our side, He is good and merciful, He is powerful and able. This is faith. Our faith grows in suffering as much as in miracles and answered prayers. Maybe more. We are asking for bread, and he is telling us he is the bread. We have to trust that. That is belief.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


My persistent paramour
Ever- prowling at my door
Break my heart
More quickly

You make no grand demands
You let me run around
You numb me to my senses
Your appeal is your indifference
You lurk but don’t pursue
There’s no climax with you
You’ll bind me to your bed
To be satisfied with death
Break my heart
More quickly

Now my warrior comes
And truth is on his tongue
His face is full of light
He binds me to his side
But with ecstasy comes pain
And so I’ve stayed away
Yet his appeal is his pursuit
His beauty changes you
Like the face of Mr. Gray
Your allure grotesquely fades
You break my heart
More quickly

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Some poems I wrote last year, but never posted...

Chisel and Pour

Soon after this heart of stone shattered,
with pieces still scattered and strewn,
I poured fresh cement, resolved to rebuild.
And then I invited you in.

I let you swim here in my center,
I let you make waves in my heart,
until the stone set, and there you were trapped
with only one way of release.

Defenseless, I knelt at His chisel,
relinquishing my right to pour.
This breaking in me, it’s setting you free,
leaving cracks that need to be sealed.

He fills, pouring pure living liquid.
It floods and it cleanses debris,
inviting all in, with freedom to swim,
swim here in my heart in His blood.


I raise my hands for you
While I push God aside

I spend my cash for you
While the least of these get by

I wear my best for you
While I cover up my heart

I learn more facts for you
While God becomes a chart

I serve the church for you
While I should light the dark

I weigh my words for you
While I don’t speak to God

I choose my path for you
While in reality, I’m lost

Hey Man

Tell me I’m pretty
Tell me I’m smart
Don’t make me beg
Or give up a lot
Teach me a lesson
Give me a word
Don’t leave me groping
Alone in the dark
Say that I please you
Say that you care
At least let me think it
Even if it’s not there
Without you I am nothing
Without you I am spent
Now that you’ve gone
I’m empty again

Redemptive Disappointment

Over the past few days, I’ve been contemplating the beautiful result of tragedy. I spent this past weekend with four incredible women in the mountains of North Carolina. This is the second year I’ve gotten together with my childhood friends for a weekend, and both times I’ve found it to be a healing and restorative experience. Some of the girls I’ve known since we were in the nursery together. Until last year, we hadn’t seen each other for nearly ten years. What I’m struck by as we share our stories and catch up on life, is that, for each of us, life is not what we thought it would be ten years ago. We’ve each experienced loss in different ways and suffered in different ways. We’ve each been in a place we didn’t expect to be. Grief and tragedy has plagued each of us. At least for me, my idealistic romantic notions of the way the world is supposed to work did not do me any favors in coping with the realities of life.

As I started a class on crisis counseling yesterday, my professor spoke about how we need to teach children to fail. We need to teach them to suffer. Otherwise, we grow up with this expectation that things should always go well for us—that things are supposed to go right and well all the time. I remember thinking in my twenties that life was fun and easy and perfect, and wondering if I could manage to get through my life without pain. I thought I was probably due for a tragedy, but I was pretty sure I could avoid it by living right and being good. Only people who make bad choices should have to suffer. Not me.

This translates into expectations of God. Like Job’s friends, I thought God owes me something because I’ve been good or faithful. I followed the rules. He would not allow me to suffer. A sense of entitlement is created because we don’t expect to have to suffer or feel bad. I thought that only a cynical view of life says that life will inevitably disappoint you, that people will always eventually let you down, that failure and suffering are a fact of life. I guess nobody wants to believe that when they’re young and full of hope for life.

But isn’t that part of the gospel really? It’s not cynical—it’s the givens of life in a fallen world. Perhaps it takes suffering, it takes failure for us to really understand the gospel, to be able to receive grace. We misunderstand the abundant life until we’ve been frustrated with life as it is. Only then do we really understand true hope. Until then, we’re satisfied with what C. S. Lewis refers to as mud pies in a slum because we can’t conceive of a holiday at the sea. I’m reminded of my high school students saying they didn’t want to go to heaven yet because they hadn’t had sex. But the pleasures of this life aren’t as good as it gets. Maybe we have to be disappointed by them before we realize the reality of that truth.

This weekend, each of my friends painted for me a beautiful picture of hope and faith—of trusting God through the unexpected tragedies of life in a fallen world. For a long time, I thought that faith meant believing God for what we want. Now I think it is about believing God is good and faithful when we don’t get what we want. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. There is no question of whether we will suffer—it is only a question of how and when. And yet, we experience abundant life in a way unexpected. And we’re not done. What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. This is our hope.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Foolish Forfeits

Rest is a thief. It robs you of self-pity, worry, guilt, anxiety, doubt, fear, and control. I kinda like to hang on to those things sometimes. My dad has been in the hospital for over a week now with various problems that kept him in ICU. He got out of ICU after they got a handle on the critical issue of renal failure, and we thought he was recovering. But yesterday, the word came that he has colon cancer. My grandfather wrote on his facebook status (yes, my 83 year old grandfather is on facebook) this phrase, “rest is the highest form of faith.” I’m wondering if sometimes I don’t want to have faith. So I choose not to. It means letting go of all those other things. It’s even laying down my right to have other people fret over me. It means I can’t make it all about me anymore. I would forfeit peace for pity.

I just thought of the Jars of Clay song that says, “Don’t trade our love for tea and sympathy.” It talks about giving up on a miracle for the sake of getting a little sympathy, trading in possible victory for a little commiseration and condolence. Maybe we don’t want to trust God for the miraculous, not because we don’t think God will do it, but because we know that by God doing it, we will be robbed of the things we hold most dear – tea and sympathy. Fear. Control. His Kingdom for a donkey! His glory for a rag!

Oh the muck that rises when the rake of suffering dredges the soul!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pavlov, God, and Holiness

This concept of grace first, then holiness is taking root in me. In my theology class today, the topic was sanctification. Though several views were presented, I walked away with some valuable confirmations of what I believe. One was that God pursues us relentlessly for ongoing transformation. So we can confess our inadequacy and inconsistencies openly to him because that’s what he’s already working on, and we can’t work on those things with him until we admit them (and working on them without him is futile). Once we admit them, he can empower us toward holiness. I was reminded that God does the work, and our part is to cooperate.

In a way, sanctification is all wrapped up in views of sin and sovereignty and all that. A little over a year ago I started asking, “what is up to me and what is up to God?” For most of my life I saw sin as simply a choice, an act of my will. But if sin is merely my choice, then holiness too, it seems, is my choice. This looks a lot like moralism and can so easily morph into self-righteousness.

I was reading about Pavlov and his dog earlier this semester, and I started thinking about how behaviorism looks a lot like how I used to view “relationship” with God—except instead of recognizing myself as the one responding instinctively like a dog, I was Pavlov—the cause, the mover. God was Pavlov’s dog. He responds to me based on my actions. I’m good (I ring the bell) and God will respond accordingly with the outcome I want. Only he didn’t. Not consistently. So I stopped believing, really. I didn’t stop believing in God, but I lowered my expectations of God and tried to answer my own prayers. I believed in my own power to change myself, to make myself holy through my own will and choice. I thought spiritual transformation was more about what I do than what God does.

But when I view sin as pervasive depravity that affects all of me (including my choices)—a disease, a pollution—I recognize that there’s no way I can cure myself or make myself holy. All I can do is cooperate with the work God is already doing and revealing. Admit, surrender, and receive. He does the work. I cooperate. This week, he’s working on my Pavlovian notions about holiness, grace, and sovereignty…

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grace and Cigarettes

I’m thinking of taking up smoking as a spiritual discipline. Maybe I’ll sit with God and have a cigarette. I’ve just been very struck this week with my need to embrace my humanity, my limits, my imperfection. It’s so easy for me to get into a brand of Christianity that is all about image, saying and doing the right thing, having it all together. I think of the saying, “don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls that do,” and I want to radically break out of a Christian culture that would whittle the Christian life down to that.

Most Christians I know don’t think that way, but I just don’t get enough reminders sometimes of my need for Jesus, my humanity, and my brokenness in the Christian culture. Sometimes it seems more like it’s not okay to be a sinner …or a smoker. Often I experience an expectation of perfection—maybe it’s just my own expectation of myself. I wonder if a cigarette with God now and then could be the reminder I need not to bow to those impossible expectations, but to breathe in grace (and tobacco ...and toxic chemicals).

I think my problem comes when I regard holiness over grace. Only through grace can we ever be holy, so a pursuit of holiness must never come first. (And I’m not convinced that holiness has anything to do with not smoking, not swearing, not drinking, etc.) I wonder what it would be like if churches looked more like AA meetings sometimes—no pretense, everyone aware of their own failure, confessing openly, admitting our need, holding each other up, but full of grace and understanding for everyone’s broken condition.

I want to love and accept others as Christ did, but a preoccupation with personal holiness prevents that. I have such a hard time loving people when I’m perfect. My desire for perfection makes it impossible to love because love is messy. Perfection is my point of need. And it is the very thing that keeps me from admitting my need. I am resistant to receiving grace because I don’t want to need it—to be limited and imperfect. So, I don’t want to be human. I want to be God. How like Eve. How human.

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:12-13

John MacArthur on smoking, drinking, etc.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Cross or the Palm Branch?

How do you respond when you expect a certain gift, but instead of the gift that you want, you receive the gift that you need?

I was asked today to consider why we don’t celebrate Easter every day, and I had to admit that for me it is often because I want salvation on my terms instead of what is offered. Then I started to wonder if, perhaps Palm Sunday is often more of a reality for me than Easter Sunday.

As Christ entered Jerusalem days before his crucifixion, he was welcomed and honored with a fanfare of palm branches. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in the Roman Empire, used in celebration of military success. I don’t think this symbolism was lost on those gathered to pay tribute to the long-awaited Savior—the one they had been expecting—the one who would bring salvation from the Romans, the one who would bring peace and power through a political reign. As they hailed him that day, they were not anticipating his imminent death. They expected a different Kingdom, a different salvation, a different peace than what Christ offered that week. I imagine that when he did not meet their expectations, many were disappointed, maybe disillusioned and even angry. Perhaps their expectation prevented them from receiving the gift. It was what they needed not what they wanted.

It seems that I too want to choose what I’ll be saved from. I want a salvation that is easy, that gives me rights and privilege. I want a Savior who meets my expectations, who fixes my problems, and gives me what I want. I resonate with what David Benner writes, “We want a spirituality of success and ascent, not a spirituality of failure and descent. We want a spirituality of improvement, not a spirituality of transformation. But the way of the cross is the way of descent, abandon and death. This is the foolishness of the gospel.”

If I’m being honest, often it is my expectation of God’s gift that keeps me from celebrating the true gift. He offers what I need instead of what I want. And what he offers is actually better than anything I could conjure or imagine I want. But I have to let go of my expectation of what is good if I’m to accept God’s gift—if I’m to see the goodness of his gift. It is the gift of life. I have to lay aside the palm branch that represents my conception of what God’s Kingdom should be in order to take up the cross.

He is not the Savior I want. He is the Savior I need.