Bible

Trees Of Life

I have been feeling really awesome for quite a while. Physically strong and healthy, emotionally connected and healthy, spiritually inspired and healthy. So, why do I sometimes feel like dirty dish water? My normal resting reality is highly sensitive, particularly susceptible to the pain, joy, anger, wonder around me in others, anywhere. This is nothing new. In fact, it’s a bright shiny key that I am right where I have been created to be, that my heart is fully functioning. In this space, I am me and I happen to like that me very much.

But this dirty dish water business is a nagging splinter in my soul, unconnected to a particular person or circumstance. It’s more like a tinted lens that dims and dulls the surrounding world. On Sundays I often speak of a heaviness and sometimes that’s specific, but other times it’s this pall over us all and I haven’t clarified simply because I couldn’t. I didn’t know where it was coming from or what was causing it, just that it was there.

I think I do, though, now.

Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 15:4: Perverseness in [the tongue] breaks the spirit. Proverbs 12:18: Rash words are like sword thrusts. James 3:8: The tongue…is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This weight absolutely feels like so many sword thrusts, an overwhelming air full of poison resulting in what feels like the death of our communal soul. If you would ask me 2 days ago, I’d at some point use the words “broken” and “spirit.”

I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. If you listen (and I highly recommend you do), you’ll hear a cacophony of sharp words full of razor blades and acid. In schools, kids, coaches and teachers speak only in terms of “not” – as in what we are all not: what we are not doing, not doing enough of, or not doing well enough. The implication is that we are not, defined primarily by a lack or deficiency. No matter the laughing tone or the nasty smile on the mouth that speaks, these are not jokes, not funny in the least. And far more destructive than we could ever have imagined.

And like the endless McDonald’s ads subconsciously convincing us that we neeeeed that hamburger, these messages when they are uncontested become truth. (By the way, McDonald’s hamburgers are nothing we neeeeed;)

This glut of information wounds us so deeply, filling us with anger and inadequacy, of course the darkness will come out of our own mouths, too.

Last night I left my weight room dragging my heartache. On one hand, “We love each other,” and then sports teams and insecurity fill the air with the polar opposite.

(You know there’s a study about a scientist talking to crystals – maybe I’ll tell you next time.)

So I left and stopped at the grocery store. The cashier told me I should “go to another aisle,” where there was a line. I said I’d just take my things back and she said “ok, whatever.” This isn’t awesome and when I got in the car, in front of my boys (IN FRONT OF MY BOYS!!!!!!), I described this interaction using precisely the same words & spirit of which I have been force-fed. In front of my boys…

We’re supposed to be telling a different story, speaking fresh words, rebelling against the hail of razor blades dipped in acid. And if we’re not careful, we’re no longer salt and light. We’re just more actors in the same old tragedy.

The cool thing is that was yesterday. It’s been the last couple of months, years, millennia. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way tomorrow. Each of the verses I quoted earlier had a 2nd part – one was “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” A Tree Of Life sounds perfect.

So now what?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

And in our favorite, Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Maybe we just need to be a lot more aggressive in our building, a million times more audacious in giving grace. Maybe in our positivity, our pure, lovely, excellent thoughts, and praise, we can all become Trees that fill each other not with old dishwater, but with beautifully clear spring waters Of Life.

The First 40

The new episodes of Catfish air on Tuesdays, so almost the entire day is devoted to old episodes. (The one sad, lonely exception is Teen Mom 2 the hour before the premiere. Sigh.) I watch while I eat my breakfast and tend to my rabbit HoneyBunny. Though I didn’t personally name her, I really love it because at least once every day, I say “I love you HoneyBunny,” like Tim Roth’s character does in Pulp Fiction. Anyway. The episode this morning was a bit of an anomaly. The Catfish had been to jail and out because the Catfishing turned into criminality. Simply lying on dating profiles and direct messaging isn’t against the law, but extortion is. Nev & Max traveled several airplanes and one long drive through snow covered roads so far north to a town that may or may not be on maps in hopes of an interview. Of course, they got one – it is a TV show and reality isn’t exactly real like we know it to be. So as they left that depressing house, Nev said, “One thing I’ve learned from all these years of Catfish is that there are no monsters at the end of the line.”

I love the show, have been watching it for so long, I guess it’s only natural that this would have informed so much of my perspective. Episode after episode, for 40 minutes I think the person they’re chasing is just horrible, a nightmarish villain looking for no more than to be a wrecking ball in some poor sucker’s life. And then for the final 20, I realize I’ve been wrong. They’re just sad or lonely or damaged. (Now sometimes, they are pretty awful, but it’s so unusual, it’s a perfect example of the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule.’)

And then last night I sat down to watch the Netflix documentary on the Malice At The Palace – a riot at a basketball game in Detroit where NBA players jumped into the stands and fans stormed the court to exchange punches and injury. I’m a sports guy so I was very familiar with this unfortunate incident, and very familiar with the immature, violent ‘thug’ athlete storyline. The players were 100% wrong, referred to as wild animals, and the fans were victims, innocent bystanders, targets of uncontrolled rage. This easy narrative turned out to be what we could have all figured out is total garbage.

It’s the 100/0 mentality, or what we can from now on call the First 40 Syndrome, where we operate as if the whole truth is contained in the first 40 minutes of Catfish, before the inconvenient reveal that we share more in common than we’d like to acknowledge. We neeeeed the players to be all wrong, to be space aliens – anything other than strict division between us and them would prove that we are closer to the edge than we can handle.

In the book of Joshua (a book about us/them if there ever was one), as Joshua is fighting anyone different than himself, he comes face to face with someone new. In ch. 5, v. 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

This is what we’re all asking, everyday, online, in our cars, the supermarket and on the news, right?”

Are you on my side, or theirs?” “Who is all right and who is all wrong?”

And get this, in a shocking twist, that man (who is revealed as the “commander of the army of the LORD”) standing with a drawn sword says…

“Yours, of course.”

That’s what we expect, what we need. And it’s certainly what Joshua expected. But this man says, “Neither.”Are you on my side or theirs? Yes. Which is it? Both. Neither. Who is right and wrong? Both. Neither.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe we’re operating with a limited visibility, as if 2/3, or the First 40, of the show is all there is.

Joshua then asks a different, infinitely better, question, “What message does God have for me, His servant?”

And I can’t help but feel that the profound, heartbreaking reply is the same for us today: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing [whether it’s the northern edges of the earth, a stadium in Michigan, whether it’s Annville or Afghanistan] is holy.”

Now.

Acts 5 tells a pretty terrifying story. There is a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property.

Well, first, we probably need some context. In Acts 4:32-37: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

We could talk about “one in heart and mind” forever, (doesn’t it sound amazing???), but not today. So, they shared everything and no one needed anything. Joseph the Levite from Cyprus sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to be distributed, this example (probably one of many) stands in stark contrast to what comes next from Ananias and Sapphira.

In Acts 5:2-5a “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.”

Of course this punishment sounds a bit excessive, but there are some other things here that can be overlooked because of what we might call an overreaction.

He didn’t have to share it at all. It sounds like there was no mandate, no collectors, no stranger-armed enforcers scouring the property transaction section of the newspaper for transgressions. Usually when we lie or hide our behavior, it’s because we feel some sort of way about it. We bring the guilt and shame, it’s an internal consequence of our own conscience. Generosity was something these early believers got to do, a privilege, an honor, an answer to an invitation into a new way of being. It wasn’t a have-to, which is probably why so many did. Giving was the natural outpouring of a grateful heart, instead of an obligation to be fulfilled.

Ananias’ heart wasn’t as much grateful as it was transactional. He “had” to give, the others would see, so he would, but only after he skimmed a little (or a lot) off the top for himself, just in case. That’s all we’ll say about that today. It’s a big ocean to swim in, but a new thing stood out to me this morning.

“When Ananias heard this,” immediately “he fell down and died.” Again, of course it seems pretty shocking that he, and later Sapphira after repeating the same lie, would have their lives taken for what could be seen as a relatively minor offense. But it’s the “immediate” part that is devastating to me, here and now.

You see, sometimes we don’t get tomorrow. Sometimes we don’t get this evening. And in the case of Ananias, sometimes we don’t get one more moment. How much do we put off until another time? How many nights have we gone to bed angry? How many times have we slammed the door to effectively end a screaming match?

I was in a hospital 2 days ago praying with a woman who was/is fighting for her life. She is currently sedated and totally unresponsive. Maybe she won’t wake up. I don’t know her entire story, my friend, her daughter, appears to have a beautiful relationship without too many unresolved issues. That’s a gift that maybe every one in her life shares. And maybe her marriage was terrific, but I do know that the last interaction she and her husband had was less than awesome, marked with sharp comments and harsh tones. They went to bed and maybe she’ll wake up in the hospital. And the truth is that maybe she won’t – it’s the truth for all of us.

I spend a lot of time talking about this moment, today, here, now, fully present, not missing a second of this wonderful gift of our lives that we have been given. And lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the many, many ways we are awful to each other, creating thick divisions where none exist and turning each other into monsters in our own minds. How many relationships have been fractured during the last year? How many violent words have been spoken or typed into a keyboard that have wounded loved ones? How much forgiveness and reconciliation has been delayed because of our bitterness and resentment, because of our pride?

Ananias didn’t get a second chance to apologize, repent, or make this right. Maybe we won’t, either.

But we do have right now and maybe right now is a really great time to make a different choice.

“Who Was With Her”

“She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Genesis 3 is when everything gets broken, when a creation marked by shalom becomes one of chaos, conflict, pain, fear, and on and on and on. This is where all of it starts.

I don’t find too much of a surprise in the woman’s actions. It doesn’t matter how many doors are open, I always focus on the one that’s locked. We don’t mind wearing a mask until they’re mandated. One of the most common things I hear is that we are so busy, we’d really love to have some down time to sleep in, rest, and decompress. Last March, when we were told that’s what we HAD to do, it was largely met with outrage. We are a rebellious bunch.

She took the fruit and ate it and so did he. Sadly, we probably would’ve done the same.

[If you know anything about me, you know we could talk about those actions forever, but I’m downplaying them because it’s that 2nd very tiny, very ‘insignificant’ phrase in the sentence that wears me out.]

Interestingly, the serpent tempted the woman, who was never actually personally told the rules of the garden. The man was. As she is manipulated, vulnerable and overwhelmed, he is “with her,” silently allowing it to happen.

A friend once told me, “you read too much into this,” and he is half right. I do read into this, but it is certainly not too much. What can possibly be “too much” about the first sin to occur in the Scriptures? We usually consider that the eating is the first, but it’s the man’s passivity that preceded that bite. It’s the first, and it continues to run roughshod over all of our lives. In fact, I might suggest that it is the most widespread characteristic of American men. (Maybe it’s everywhere in each sex, but I happen to be an American man and they always tell you to “write what you know.”)

We wait and see, we avoid risk, we sit idle, we play video games. It looks like patience, but it’s not. It’s complacency. We stay the same because the possibility of failure and the fear of change are greater than the faux-comfortability of our parent’s basement.

I often reference David staying home during the time of year when the kings go off to war. It’s during this comfortable abdication of his role that he causes the trouble with Bathsheba (infidelity, murder, among so many others). And all of this gigantic mess has it’s root in passivity.

The passive aggressive behavior that is so common pales in comparison to our aggressive passivity.

The athletes want to win games but will not show up for offseason workouts or invest the time in growth. Boys want the beautiful partners in their dreams but will not become the sorts of men who would be beautiful partners. Growth is hard. Standing is hard. Speaking when the serpent is spinning lies is hard. Taking the shot is hard. Giving every effort is hard.

“Try hard” is now a form of derision in schools, directed at those whose only transgression is to try hard.

Who knows what would have happened if the man had protected her as fiercely as he protected himself and his own comfort? Maybe it would’ve gone down the same way eventually. I imagine it would have, we were going to fall. Our rebellion and bend toward idolatry are hungry monsters that would’ve found a way to eat. But it might not have happened then, there and in that way.

And who knows what would happen if we would protect our families, friends, neighbor as fiercely as we protect our own apathy? If we’d just be try hards for the Kingdom. Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” I would add, “and fight for ourselves.” We weren’t made to be just standing next to her while the serpent leads all of us into darkness. We were made for the light, and most times, light requires our presence and active engagement. Light requires us to show up.

A Shadow

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:15)

That’s a strange passage, if you stop for a second to think about it for a second. I think that sometimes we think of the Bible as mere words on the pages of some old book. I know people that make fun of religion figure it as a work of fiction, like a science fiction novel, but when we read passages like this, do we really handle it any differently?

What I mean is, we read it every Sunday morning and (hopefully) a little during the week, we call it the Word of God, we defend it to our friends and teach it to our children, but does it impact our daily lives. It sits on our bookshelves or on our home screen, but have we allowed it to cross over into our cars and beds and schedules and lives?

We’re studying the Beatitudes, and we don’t seem to value the poor in spirit as if the Kingdom of God is really theirs/ours. Or that the meek will actually inherit the earth. If we did, maybe we wouldn’t put such a premium on image, on looking like we have everything together, on winning. If mercy was worth as much to us as it seems to be to God, maybe we could relegate resentment and the grudges we feed & water to the trash heap of our pasts.

I ask these questions of myself often. I teach the Scriptures in a faith community, yet there are weeks when that is simply an intellectual exercise. My study might as well be of flowers or physics. The Bible becomes a textbook, which might be better than collecting dust on the nightstand. But maybe it’s not. Who knows? I know that both perspectives strip it of its life-changing power.

But then there usually comes a disruption. There always comes a disruption. And that disruption is either a distraction or an invitation.

For instance, yesterday I received this passage in Acts in my email and didn’t read it until an hour ago, maybe yesterday I wasn’t open or attentive. Maybe I was so miserably hot I couldn’t think straight. Today, when I did, my mind was flooded with observations, having nothing to do with a sermon and everything to do with phone calls, baseball practice, COVID vaccines, kisses, pop songs…in other words, it had everything to do with everything.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had the faith to take my sick friend out into the street in hopes that a shadow of a man I’d never met would pass by and fall upon him/her. Again, it’s the street and it’s A SHADOW! And I think of the many ways in which I display a faith that, essentially, believes that that friend is mine to heal or that a shadow couldn’t possibly be enough. Of course, there are lots of other very specific ways each of our spiritual lives show a depressing lack of faith.

So today this is the disruption that has stopped me in my tracks. Either I can treat it as a brief annoyance that takes my mind from my work or the responsibilities on my day planner, quickly chasing it out of my mind like a spider on the ceiling. OR. I could ask the questions, sit in the uncomfortable space between Q and A, and consider where the sick friends in my life are that I need to take to Jesus, for the impossible to be possible and the ridiculous expectations that sit on my shoulders to transfer to His infinitely stronger ones that are actually made for those same expectations. He is the One that saves, rescues, heals and gives peace & joy. Not me. Isn’t that great?

This gift of disruption is leaving me raw, soft, gushy, inadequate, loved and very grateful.

The Angel Has A Scar

I just spent the last hour or 2 writing a post on Absalom’s hair. Here are the verses: “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.” 2 Samuel 14:25-26. And then I related that to the careful crafting of image on Facebook and Instagram, talking about how we get confused. That fantasy becomes our idea of reality, and the familiar inadequacy of our own layered, imperfect lives gnaws away and mocks our “blemishes” and less than glorious hair.

And I worked and worked. It was pretty uncomfortable honestly. I have COVID so I’ll use that as my excuse. I referenced Narcissus and Dorian Gray. The story is one of pride, as so many stories are. I know that. But what to say about that?

You know, Zoom is not the best thing to happen to these parts of us. Every meeting I have, I end up focusing on the way the skin folds under my chin, wondering if there is a way I can suspend the camera from the ceiling. I sometimes even direct private message someone else in the group and ask if they think I have a condition. And I do these Facebook minis where I wonder when I got so old and tired. And last Sunday, I filmed the message from home and wondered if I was sitting up straight enough or if my shirt was drawing attention, disappearing into the rolls of my stomach. I have no hair and what little I do have is receding. It’s easier every week to shave, there’s less to deal with. I have marks on my face from teenage acne and years of abuse.

I understand why we live on social media. We probably shouldn’t share that last paragraph. But I’ve always loved those parts of us the most, the parts that aren’t quite right, the edges and quirks. The Angel has a scar on her lip where a dog bit her when she was 13 and it’s awesome, it drives me crazy. And some dumb Snapchat filter would erase it.

There was a time when I tried to collect every Morrissey recording and there was this one they called “I know very well how I got my note wrong.” The actual song is heartbreakingly lovely and about a minute and 20 seconds in, the guitar makes a mistake and everyone laughs. It’s one of the best things I own. I miss picking up the pictures and thumbing through them, laughing at the ones where people weren’t looking, making faces, ones I didn’t know I took. The ones that I’d delete now and keep taking until we got one where we all looked great, everyone’s smiling and nobody’s blinking.

Absalom was perfect.

I don’t want us to be perfect, I want us to be human. That’s enough. In fact, it’s way more than enough. It’s honest and broken and flawed and beautiful and most of all, it’s true.

Who Is Absalom?

Today I am reading Amos, a tiny book among the group known as the minor prophets. Amos is proclaiming judgment against everyone. He uses a familiar tactic in the Scriptures, beginning with the judgment intended for the enemies of Israel. As we would certainly do, they are in agreement. “Yes, they do deserve this judgment!!! Yaaaayyyyy!!! About time!” Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the same format. He describes “the sinful people,” and once we are appropriately self-righteous, in chapter 2, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

You know, it’s easy to see their problem, their bad decisions, their mistakes and missteps.

Anyway. Amos is from a town called Tekoa. Why do I care? Is this important? Maybe. But Tekoa came up before, in 2 Samuel, and maybe I care about that.

2 Samuel 14:2 “So [Joab] sent for a woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom.” A woman from Tekoa who had a reputation for great wisdom. I always like it when a wise woman is referenced, it feels like a direct attack on the misogynistic religious patriarchy who would misuse the Bible to keep women quiet and in the background. I know so many wise women and when I need something done well, like Joab, I usually seek out one of these women “from Tekoa.”

It seems that Absalom had done this thing that caused his father David (yes, that David) to exile him, when David’s military commander Joab sought out the woman from Tekoa to manipulate David into seeing where he had strayed from the path. It’s very similar to David’s interaction with the prophet Nathan (“You are that man!!!”). So David brings Absalom back and Absalom then organizes a rebellion and ousts David. Judge Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court often says, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Eventually, David goes back to fight for the throne and wins, chasing Absalom out of the city. Absalom gets hung up in a tree by his long beautiful hair and is killed, against the King’s orders, by…Joab!!! It’s a fascinating story and the thing that started it all was one of Absalom’s brothers, Amnon, raped his sister Tamar and Absalom killed him for it. Actually, the thing that started it is that, in Exodus, the command is to not have “many wives,” but by this point David has 8 wives and 7 concubines. I’d call that ‘many.’

So maybe I don’t care that Amos is from Tekoa, but I care a great deal about Absalom and his great hair and Joab vouching for the wrong guy and David making bad choices and humbly correcting them and revenge and unbridled lust and image and beauty and consequences. It’s everything and more. And we often say the Bible is outdated & irrelevant with nothing to say to us, today.

I think we’ll start to dive into this story a little more for the next few weeks, starting with the phrase, “[Amnon] hated [Tamar] more than he loved her.” It’ll be quite a ride.

The Invitation

Last Sunday I used the phrase, “we are to use our creativity to actively impact our environment,” knowing how many questions it carried along with it, like barnacles hitchhiking on a whale. Do I have any creativity? Does everyone? Either way, what should I do? What is our environment? Can I really impact the world? This all seems so big and overwhelming, is it possible? How do I find time to do this? If God wants this, why doesn’t He do it Himself?

And on and on, right? It sometimes seems like each line of the Scriptures asks more than it answer, every word a doorway to a new idea or avenue of exploration and reflection. That’s not an accident, I don’t think, it is the design.

I’m not going to A any of those Q’s I referenced earlier, except the 1st and last.

1st: Yes.

Last: Built into the story of us, right there in the first 2 books of the Bible, we find our answer. Everything created is given the ability to produce, to participate, to carry on, to move this story forward. If we weren’t supposed to be robots “in the beginning,” why would we be now? (Well, maybe that’s a bad question – we might be because most things we touch, we break. But that doesn’t appear to be God’s intention for us or this entire creation.) We have been gifted with the free will to choose; love or indifference, surrender or control, engagement or apathy. We can be here now, awake to the unbelievable blessings around us, OR, we can sleepwalk down streets jammed with burning bushes, wondering if God exists and, if so, where He is and why He isn’t speaking to us.

This participation applies to our relationship with His Word. This beautiful library of poetry, song, history, wisdom, parable, and whatever Revelation is, is not now and has never been intended to be an instruction manual, like in the glove box of your car or the LEGO booklets that have a step-by-step guide to making their product. If it was, I promise you there wouldn’t be 2 verses that were exact opposites!!!! Those verses are Proverbs 26:4 & 5, google them, and spend the rest of the day considering why they are consecutive verses, instead of spread chapters apart, where we could forget. It’s as if we are being forced to deal with the contradiction. On that note, it’s similar to the parable of the vineyard workers. If the landowner had paid the workers from the first hired to the last, they wouldn’t have known that they all got the same amount. He wanted them to know, wanted to confront them, wanted them to wrestle with the implications. He wanted them to participate in their own growth, wanted them to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”

The invitation has been given, it’s now up to us what we do with it. What kind of world do we want to live in? That might be the biggest question we have to answer on this subject, because the way we answer that will direct our steps on a daily basis. If I want to live in a world of kindness, I will practice kindness.

(And as John would probably say, if we aren’t practicing kindness, maybe we don’t really want to live in a world of kindness. Maybe we don’t really believe kindness works.)

If we want to live in a world of generosity, we will be generous. If we want love, we will love.

This is the invitation. There is a party, now how will we dress and what will we bring?

2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

What I have found is that sometimes I get busy, distracted like those dogs i the Pixar classic UP shouting “Squirrel!!!” I chase the new & shiny or what I mistakenly perceive as urgent and easily turn a blind eye to the things that have brought me so much peace and growth. It’s maddening when I finally see it. My soul is (and has been) thirsty, trying to catch my eye and my attention.

Last week was Easter and during the message – I know that sounds like I am disconnected, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I prepare well so I can remain open and receptive to any promptings, which often come – so anyway, during the message I had a tremendous clarity that I absolutely believed the words I was saying. I know, I know, we hope that goes without saying, but what I mean is that because I believe, because I know this, maybe my life should be reflecting this knowing.

This revelation sounded odd to Elisha, who already thinks my life does reflect this love, this passion. But what he doesn’t see is that in my Google calendar, I have reminders for the dishes (Monday & Friday, because I love my wife) and to call my sister on Thursdays and text/call my mom every other day, and not a one for prayer or meditation. I NEVER miss a workout ever, but I sometimes “don’t have time” to sit down and read my Bible, even just 1 verse.

On the 1st of the month when I take care of the bills, the first thing I do is write a check to the Bridge. I give 1st because if I wait until the end, there won’t be “enough.” My time, though, is different. You know, I have been saying (and I said it Easter Sunday) that we settle for “table scraps” from others when we should not, but it’s those words that are haunting me because scraps of time are what I am too often tossing to God.

I suppose I shouldn’t say this out loud, or maybe this is precisely what I should say out loud. Who knows? As a lifelong over-sharer, I’ve never been great at knowing that line. This is me. So starting over Monday (faith is such a journey of starts and stops and re-starts and re-stops) I give to God right away, for as long as we want or need. And it is so great.

Sometimes we just sit, or I read and am relatively unmoved, and then sometimes I receive this beautiful peach in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, which I’ll share with you.

[Just a side note, do you know at the end of chapter 1/beginning of chapter 2, Paul says (my paraphrase): “I didn’t come to you when I said because I didn’t want to yell at you again?” Isn’t that awesome? It’s easy to love the Bible.]

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,[d] will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

How could I, why would I, not find time for this?????????

If

The accounts of the wilderness temptations of Jesus begin with hunger, and that’s the perfect context. We’re all more susceptible when we’re hungry or tired or otherwise physically compromised. My sister and my son become absolute monsters when it’s too long without food. Maybe I do, too. Maybe we all do. I know I am not the ray of sunshine everybody thinks I am when I don’t sleep well or at all. This was 40 days & nights of fasting, of course the tempter would come then.

Then, when He’s hungry, the conversation begins, “If You’re the Son of God…” IF You are the Son of God. IF.

It’s these 2 letters at the very beginning of this story that have me struck me so deeply. I guess it’s because of all the time I’ve spent asking the question, Who am I? The truth about God and the devil are so evident in this exchange. God speaks at His baptism “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” and the next word Jesus hears is “IF.” God is also speaking to us, we are His children, His creation, His beloved, and the lies begin with the same 2 heartbreaking letters, IF. “You are loved” & “you belong” become “If you are loved” & “if you belong.” It’s a subtle twist that is designed to introduce doubt. Fear. Insecurity. Inadequacy. The question of who I am quickly morphs into a detailed list of the many reasons why I am not enough. For Him, for her, for them, for me.

It’s a rephrase of the first question of the enemy, “Did God really say…?” Did God really say I’m His? Did God really say forgiven? Did God really say Jesus Alone? Did God really say I am loved? All false teaching preys on this insidious perversion that begins with 2 tiny, innocuous letters.

Think about the cracks introduced in any statement when they are added. She loves me, and IF she loves me. Such a little thing makes such a big difference.

If He is the Son of God, He would change these stones to bread, or throw Himself off the highest peak to prove it. And His answer is always “It is written.” Where it is written, there isn’t an “if” at all. Our identity is written all over His word, His hands and His heart.

But that doesn’t play well to those of us who are usually looking for the fine print, at best, and at worst, any reason to inflict the greatest amount of harm (on ourselves and/or others). The stories I see played out in real time and the ones that try to run on a loop in my head follow the same template: We are not worthy of wonder. We are not worthy of peace. We are not worthy of love. We settle for the scraps that fall from the table when our seats are reserved for the feast.

The journey of faith for me has looked like a divine hand that lifts and moves the needle when the record gets stuck on IF instead of the beautiful symphony that He has created in everything. It’s the opposite of humility to de-value His creation, even when that creation is in the mirror. It’s arrogance to believe that we are beyond His forgiveness and love, it’s disrespectful to believe that He made such a grievous mistake in us, and it’s the most disgusting form of idolatry to ever believe one word of the devil – especially if that one word is as small and ‘harmless’ as IF.