It’s Messy

Life is messy.

No matter how many times in our lives we’ve been told to clean our rooms, or to print more neatly, or to straighten up our desks,  there is no escaping that life has an uncanny way of getting messy…very quickly.

Our inadequate attempts to keep things organized and tidy does very little to guard against others catching a glimpse of the dirt our life produces.  Our images are fragile and senstive to the scrutiny of others. The authenticity of our messiness being revealed is a scary thing indeed.  Ringing in our ears and echoing in our hearts is the message that we are inadequate, flawed, and failing.  Messes make us feel undignified.

However, the biblical record comforts us with the repeated truth that Jesus isn’t put off by messes.  In point of fact, He enters the messy place and confronts it with His beauty, truth, and goodness.

How do I know Jesus looks at messes as opportunities?

When the blind man couldn’t see, Jesus uses mud to heal him.

When a scrupulous tax collector needed a friend, Jesus endures the ding in his social status to honor Zaccheaus over a shared meal.

When lepers need wholeness, Jesus overlooks the pus and ooze and touches them.

When His disciples need to be healed of entrenched pride, Jesus lowers Himself to wash their dirty, stinky feet.

When the curse of sin and death had reach its days of fulfillment, Jesus hung exposed for all to see on a cross covered in the dust of the Via Dolorosa and His own blood.

With Jesus, messes become a means for the exhibition of His mission.  Out of the mess, Jesus restores dignity.  Out of the grime we encounter glimpses of God’s glory.

Might it be that in our attempt to avoid the messy places–those difficult conversations, the hard truths to face or to confess, the professment of a weakness–that we are missing an opportunity for Christ to demonstrate His power of transformation?

Jesus is well-acquainted with messes bigger than the one you are facing.  Invite Him in. Watch Him work.

The Selfless Disciple

I have been taken up now for a few weeks with Ellen Charry’s By the Renewing of Your Minds.  It’s been a slow read for me, primarily because so much of her writing draws me to deeper places I avoid.

YetI consider myself a disciple of Jesus. I’m not always such a good one:  I think about myself too much and I let others distract my thoughts away from God.  I suppose I’m not all that different from the first disciples of Jesus, confused and conflicted about the radical life to which Christ keeps luring me.

In reading Charry expound on the Sermon on the Mount, I realize how incredibly easy I am on myself.  When Jesus first preached this sermon, He did so to a crowd of people wondering who exactly this new Rabbi was and what made Him special. What exactly would it look like if one were to learn of Him and follow Him?

The fifth chapter of Matthew (vv. 5-11) records what Jesus tells them:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of Me.”

I don’t know why–it’s plain as day to me now–but this is a call to discipleship.   Those who learn of Christ and follow Him, will be “the blessed or privileged of God”  (Charry, 66).  However, in the day-to-day happenings of life, disciples are grounded in personal discomfort for the sake of others.  How can they do it?  By knowing that all their true needs are met in Christ.  In turn they can take a selfless position to begin to meet the needs of others.  They can be meek in the face of attack, for they know their Defender.  They can be poor, for theirs are eternal riches.   They can be insulted, for they have the assurance of the Spirit that they are favored by God.

As Charry so eloquently argues, in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is redefining righteousness.  “In Jesus there is a new revelation of God that indicates that purity does not require separating oneself from others, as Phariasaic doctrine taught, but involves how we live together, even under trying circumstances (Charry, 67).  Jesus specifies his opposition to traditionally authorized teachers by countering their fence around the Torah, built of jurisprudence, with His own fence, built of strength of character, a standard more demanding than that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Charry, 73).  While the Pharisees’ fence was intended to keep the unclean out, Jesus is concerned with “building a fence around the disciple’s character so that she becomes selfless” (Charry, 75).

The remainder of The Sermon goes on to describe this fence of character.  It is one of compassion for the defenseless and participating in exhibiting God’s highest standards of justice.   “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Charry explains,

Jesus is offering an alternative interior purity consisting of a dense concentration of demanding character traits: aggressive self-scrutiny, self-control, compassion, integrity, selflessness and finally, love of enemies, traits that are essentially limitless in application.  Except for the teaching on lust, the antitheses all deal with situations in which the individual is possibly imposed upon, experiences hurt, inconvenience, or some sort of discomfort and would naturally respond in a self-protective manner or to reestablish a prior satisfactory state that has been disturbed by some intrusion.  Jesus’ teaching in each case elaborates a basic theme.  Disciples are called to rise above self-gratification even when wronged; and in the teaching on lust, they are to rise above self-gratification when it is not to rectify an injustice or dissatisfaction but to gratify a desire” (p. 76).  Self-absorption is a waste of precious time in God’s beautiful world (p. 78).

Ouch.  I find it terribly challenging to “cultivate a weak sense of self-importance,” as Charry puts it.   Just tonight, I found myself charged up by some petty offense of which the perpetrator is probably completely unaware.  How far I have to go to learn of Christ and follow Him in His example of selflessness.

I’m putting myself under investigation.  It’s time for self-examination.  If I am a disciple, does my outer witness bear testimony to inner purity?  Whose standard of righteousness does my life reflect?

Brought Down to Size

I am back in the land of the tall trees. 

I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle fourteen years ago.  Initially, I missed the towering gaze of the Evergreen’s watchfulness.  Over the years, I have grown accustomed to the baren horizons of the Los Angeles skyline.  On most days I forget the place I now call home is a place whose biggest giants are its people and the houses in which they live. 

However, being back for a visit in the  Northwest I’m reminded how much I miss the trees.

There is something that happens to the soul when you live among things that are immensely larger than you.  As I sat today gazing out the window at the trees whose tops I could not view from my window, I was reminded that it is okay to feel small and helpless.  

Possibly this is why God allows circumstances that are so largely overwhelming.  They bring us down to size and elevate Him into a proper perspective in the landscape of life.  They remind us we are small, but He is not.    He’s big, and never quite as big in our lives as He would like to be.

Embracing Your Inner Hero

Do any of us ever feel we can be the hero our own story requires us to be? 

Yesterday at the Community Enrichment for our Children’s Ministry, I taught on the need for us to be a protagonist, or hero, for the students in our classrooms.  This year our theme is “I Love to Tell the Story…”  Obviously, the story we CM workers love to tell is the story of Jesus.  But it’s told from an unique perspective–our personal perspective.  As we teach the Word, we communicate how Jesus intersects the stories we live.  We help our ‘readers’ get a view of the Author’s world by conecting them to the feelings, sights and sounds we experience as walk with Jesus.  We are grounded in who we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14) and our lives paint a picture for our students of who they too can be in Him.  Our story inspires them to believe that Jesus can intersect their story–at home, at school, on the soccer field.  We let them see how big our shoes of faith are and invite them to take a little walk in them; knowing some day they will fill them with their own faith. 

As I was teaching, a random thought ran through my mind: “If I were reading my story would I identify myself as the protagonist?”   There are very few days that I see myself as a hero.  Even less so at this moment.  

 I still experience a lot of self-doubt about my contribution in life.  Heroes don’t, they offer their best even when it’s not invited…often they offer it because it’s needed, not welcomed. 

I get my feelings hurt easily.  That’s not supposed to happen to heroes.  They’re supposed to rise above their own sadness, insecurity, anger and frustration.  Like a magnet drawn to the north they hone in on the feelings of others and act for their interest.

I often get confused.  Heroes don’t.  They have laser focus on their vision of inspiration. 

I realize these statements relugate me to the category of ‘antagonist.’   Yet, maybe that’s the best description for me.  There’s too much truth in the saying, “You’re your own worst enemy” for me to think it wouldn’t apply to me. 

This week has some hard things for me to face.  I’m already looking for places to hide and feelings to deflect.  Being a coward really is the easy way out.  I want to be the hero in my story, but there’s a lot of risk and pressure in the trying.

Am I the only one who has to dare themselves to be a hero over and over again?  When your mind knows the truths your heart can’t quite believe, what do you do?  It’s not a rhetorical question:  Really?  What do YOU do?  How do you embrace your inner hero?

Inevitabilities

Life often teaches us lessons we think we already know.

Somewhere along the line I learned that inevitabilities are threads in the seams of life.

Children grow up.

Feelings get hurt.

Bodies weaken and fail.

What I didn’t learn until today is that just because inevitabilities will always find us doesn’t mean that we are ever ready for them when they do. 

They always arrive too soon. 

Anticipation makes the pain of the inevitable no less profound.   We all know that someday we’re going to get *that* phone call, but when we do, our heart hurts in a way we didn’t think it could. 

And just like that, the seam painfully unravels, one stitch at a time, exposing those guarded, treasured things sewn tightly in the cuff:  Fondness, love, and the fear of having to say goodbye…but of course, it’s inevitable that someday we will.

As the seams unravel, what comfort there is in trusting the God who will meet us with His strength and grace.   Have you learned and know, inevitably God’s love will be greater still?

Getting Over Me

I need to get this off my chest.   (That’s the only warning you’re going to get.)

I’m tired of “Individually Packaged” Christianity.

You know what I’m talking about:  The single serving…enough for just you…consumed alone kind of Christianity that is pervasive in our faith communities.  I can’t even find a decent coffee maker to purchase.  The market has been overtaken by the single-serve, one cup varieties.  Apparently, no one even shares a pot of coffee anymore.

We simply need to get over “me” and press into “we.”

This isn’t a preference sort of rant.  I’m going bold:  It’s an obedience issue.  All us “me’s” need to repent.

What we see from cover to cover in the Scriptures, what we can understand of the mysterious Trinity, and what we can historically exhume from the early faith communities is that the gospel is for a ‘we’ not just a ‘me.’

How many people do you know that vehemently protest participation in the community of Christ-followers?  (I know there are good reasons…but don’t stand outside the doors deploring, get inside and rock the padded pews with truth in love.)  It’s not enough, Biblically speaking, to have your “personal Jesus” and then move on to the other things you think are necessary for your resume.  Take our practice of weekend worship for example:  Why do we choose a service based on what is personally convenient or comfortable?  Isn’t our worship supposed to be a celebration of the Lord on His Day?  (Which of course makes me wonder why we have services on days other than the Lord’s Day…but a topic for another post.)

The one thing a true encounter with Jesus will always do is change your focus from ‘me’ to the ‘we’ of His body.

My thoughts this last week have been trapped between the bookends of God’s grace expressed in our obedience:

And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. As it is written: ‘He scattered; He gave to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’  Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for feed will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God.  They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with others through the proof provided by this service. And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift”  2 Corinthians 9:8-15.

The Corinthians were manifesting the grace of God in them by their giving of their own, very hard-earned money as a means of obedience to their confession of the gospel.  Their salvation left the mental assent box and got active in the investment of the “we.”  How about you?  Where’s your confession going public by excelling in every good work?  Is your life an obedient testimony or do you just have a good story to tell?

Let’s face it:  We western Christians are selfish.  We’ve grown accustomed to God’s grace for our own sake.  The true disciple of Christ must remember that the One we follow was poured out. In God’s economy, what overflows to us is meant for the overflow from us. To the extent that we’ve become stingy with God’s grace (and we have! but that’s another post), we demonstrate how little we really understand about it.

I’m personally convicted by this truth.  There are many areas in life where ‘me’ needs to go on the shelf to make room for God’s grace to overflow abundantly to the ‘we.’  Stated simply:  I am repenting and I will measure obedience outside of the very narrow focus of me.

How about you?

Think on this…

I keep coming back to Ron Highfield’s Great is Our Lord.   While it was written to be a theology of worship, I have found it to be an addictive devotional.  Here is what rocked my heart today.

Read carefully, consider deeply, then “devote” appropriately!

In God’s condescension, He does not cease to be great.  He does not give up His lordship when He washes feet.  He does not have to leave heaven to become present on earth.  Dwelling within our hearts does not compromise His transcendence.  Bearing our sin does not pollute His holiness.  He remains immortal even as He dies on a cross.  He does not cease to be impassible even in His suffering for us.  On the contrary, His greatness is displayed most fully in His condescension, His wisdom in foolishness, and His power in His weakness.  He is most present to us in His hiddenness.  His immortality can encompass death, and His suffering on behalf of others is the greatest demonstration of His impassibility.”  (Highfield, p. 198-199)

The word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah and declared, “For who scorns the day of small things?”  (Zech. 4:10)  May you make much of a very big God today and not forget that today is only the day of small things.

Rain

It rained today.  

Rain isn’t such a big deal in some parts of the country (like in Seattle where I grew up), but when it rains in Los Angeles, sensory perception goes into acute mode.  It awakens us to look at things differently.

Rain is a condition of paradox:  It cleanses, refreshes, and renews.  Yet, it messes things up.  There are mud puddles to be stepped in, dirt-streaked cars to be driven in, and lawn-laden doggy prints to be wiped from once clean floors. We know we need it, but we never really want it.  We love it and hate it.

It’s so much like my life right now.  The vibrancy of my faith is a daily washing of beauty, goodness, and truth by a Father who I know–really know–loves me.

Yet the context of life…well, it’s messy.  For the most part, I am immersed in far from perfect relationships, unmet expectations, and a whole lot of disappointment.  I’m frustrated with myself…and others.  I’m discouraged at other’s and my own resolve to be who we proclaim ourselves to be…and discouraged that I have so little grace for the authentic.

Stuck between the tread of my shoes is the mud of knowledge that God lets it be this way.  Today on this dark-skied, blustery, rain-filled day I am frustrated with God.  Frustrated that righteousness is not always rewarded…here.  Frustrated that love doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy…here.  Frustrated that the groans of sin have to be so loud…here.  Frustrated that truth doesn’t always win the day…here.  Frustrated that for all my big thoughts about God, He seems so apparently small and quiet in so much of my life.

I can’t control any of these situations and I can’t understand why God doesn’t seem to be controlling them either.    Doesn’t He know how much I believe in His Sovereignty?  How much I affirm His providence?  How much I have attested to His faithfulness?

Ellen Charry in her book By the Renewing of Your Minds says that our theology should create virtue in us.  It should help us flourish better as the people God made us to be.  What does my frustration say about my true theology?  If my God is as big I proclaim then where is the fruit of virtue causing me to flourish in this storm?  Who or what is really bigger:  God or the storm?

I know that it won’t always be this way.  As quickly as the rain rolled in last night, it will roll out.  Withstanding today’s storm requires that I not forget just that:  It’s only today’s storm.  But God’s goodness, truth, and love are mine for an eternity.  So for tonight, I’ll leave the mud-laden boots at the porch and I will bathe my frustrations in God’s mercy and grace with the hope that tomorrow I might more virtuously flourish as the person God made me to be.