Bible

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

What Do You Want?

There’s this story in the Bible: 

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

We have spent the previous weeks discussing weight and value and priority, and this is why. Because sometimes Jesus stops, as He’s leaving the city and asks, What do you want?

What will you say??? What He’s really asking is, what’s important to you, what is the desire of your heart, who are you and what are you about?

So, what is it that we want Him to do for us? (…And how you interpret that question speaks volumes…)

It’s entirely possible we don’t really know.

Modern political elections have become exercises in complaint, shouting from a negative stance. We are asked to not vote for him or her, to vote against this or that, to look at problems and grumble over what is obviously broken – the notion that we could support ideas or people and discuss solutions is quaint and hopelessly outdated.

In our lives, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t want. We know what we don’t want to do, where things have gone wrong, where we are unfulfilled, and you know what, Jesus, now that You mention it, I actually have no idea. I’ve been sitting here on this road shouting because I know my situation is messed up, that I am uncomfortable and empty and anxious and depressed and angry, I don’t sleep at night and I have this ulcer and I couldn’t pay my bills last month and my boss is super-mean to me and I’m bored and tired all the time… I know I don’t want that, but what do I want?

Again, I’m not going to tell anyone what they want – maybe I want a fancy pair of jeans or my sidewalk fixed or better health insurance or to build a wall or a new job or a new boyfriend or this boyfriend to treat me better or whatever. That’s between you and Jesus (we’ll get right back to this.)

What I will say is: that blind man could’ve said, “You know, Son Of David, it’s hard being blind, what I want is a new special cane or a service dog or a friend who can lead me around.” Right? We very often settle for less. We settle for the good when we really want the great. We don’t want to ask for too much, maybe, not be greedy. We end our prayers, our answer to this question, with “whatever is Your will.” This man shoots for the moon and makes no apology for asking. “I want to see.”

It’s impossible, it’s pretty narrow in scope, small in relation to the world, but Jesus asked, and this blind man knows exactly what he wants. AND he believes Jesus can – and will – do it.

Maybe He has a bigger gift for us than those jeans. Maybe we are asking for a ‘standard of living’ pay raise when He has a corner office reserved for us. Maybe we’re just asking for the abuse to stop when He has a complete transformation planned.

Maybe He is just aching to say Yes, and give us our sight, give us a vision.

Did you ever think, “you’re so much better than that?” Sarah McLachlan had a song (called ‘Good Enough’ and is my #4 favorite song of all time) where she sang, “you’re so much more than good enough.”

But that’s between you and Jesus. That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks discussing weight and value and priority. So that we actually give some time to learning ourselves, figuring ourselves out and getting an answer to His question. Because when we do, when we invite Him into this search and self-discovery (sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a maddeningly slow process), He will show us where we have settled, where we’ve been looking for canes, where we’ve been praying for just ok. He will show us who we are, what we’ve been created for, and why we are all “so much more than [the] good enough” we’ve accepted for far too long.    

Wisdom of My Dad

Now that we’ve introduced the concept of weight, there is an obvious question: how do I know what weighs more to me? We will completely omit the word ‘should’ here, as in “how do I know what should weigh more to me?” and add the words “to me,” because as we’ve discussed, weight might be different for each of us… and that is ok.

This question and how we answer it is vital because every single thing about how we live our daily lives hangs on our internal ranking system. My dad used to repeat, over and over, with disdain, shaking his head, “Priorities, man.” He also used to say, “Girls are strange, man,” and “Be really careful who you marry, man,” with the same tone and shaking head. (In hindsight, my dad was much wiser than I ever understood.)

Should I sleep an extra 10, or 30, minutes or eat breakfast?

Should we eat out tonight or put that money into savings?

See what I mean? Every single thing. Do you make time to floss? Eat vegetables? Go to the gym? When you’re there, do you lift weights or run on a treadmill? Do you show up late to appointments? Do you read your Bible or pray or watch Game of Thrones?

Every. Single. Thing.

If you don’t flow, you’ve decided that it’s not important (or at least not as important as something else.) If you show up late, you’ve decided that your time is weightier than mine, that those 5 minutes are worth more than sending a message of respect. If you eat vegetables or go to the gym, you may have decided that taking care of your body is emotionally and spiritually valuable as well as physically, at the expense of any number of other tasks or hobbies.  

If you stop at the bar on the way home instead of going straight home to eat dinner with your family or refuse to pay child support or drink too much or tend an addiction, you’ve made decisions. And, for the record, nobody’s here to judge whether those choices are good or bad. We just need to agree that every decision we make is based upon our discernment of weight.

Once we agree on that, everything becomes an intentional act of will.

That’s important because we live an awful lot of our lives as if things are out of our control, mindlessly sleepwalking through the beautiful moments of each of our days.

Have you ever thought consciously about breakfast? Or sleep? Or being late? Or spending time with your buddies? And what messages each of those decisions sends – to you, your soul, your family, and your God?

The enemy of mindfulness – and gratitude – is numb disconnect, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing. 

The other part of the Scriptural invitation is to connect and finally wake up to the amazing gifts of love that are our lives.     

Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!

Before we get to the details that will change your life (that sounds like a spiritualish self-help promise on a book jacket – “Change the Details, Change Your Life!!!!” – in a whimsical font over a gauzy picture of me with a cheesy smile and big hair, doesn’t it?) Before we get there, we have to ask some hard questions, figure some things out and do some homework. You can’t paint the walls and choose fixtures before you pour the foundation. 

In the Bible, we see that there are some situations where we are faced with a choice where the options come into conflict with each other and are both mandated in the Scriptures. (Wait, WHAT?!!!?) 

There’s a story about a Good Samaritan. (It’s found in Luke 10:25-37, you can read it now, I’ll wait…) So, the first 2 religious men crossed the street to avoid him and walked right on by. The horror, right? Except for, in Numbers 19:11 “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.” and Leviticus 5:2 “Or if a person touches anything unclean–whether the carcass of an unclean wild animal or livestock or crawling creature–even if he is unaware of it, he is unclean and guilty.” and Leviticus 21:1 The Lord said to Moses: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron—say to them, ‘For a dead person no priest is to defile himself among his people…” and Leviticus 21:11 “He must not go near any dead body or make himself unclean, even for his father or mother.” 

It’s a horrible thing they did, until we realize they did exactly what they were supposed to do! 

George Bradford Caird says, “it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care.” 

But, as far as “care” goes, also in Leviticus (19:18), it says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and Deuteronomy 15:11 “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” and Proverbs 14:21 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” and Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and the needy”

So, what would you do? Would you follow the law, the Bible? Which part? How do you choose? Which is weightier?

In Luke 14:1-5 “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?””

Well, of course we’d all pull our donkey out of the well. But in Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” 

Isn’t rescuing our donkeys “work?” Of course, it is. 

Now what? 

And add to that that we might choose differently, right? The honest truth is that things that are weightier to me might not be to you.

It seems that the Scriptures are an invitation into a certain way of life, where everything isn’t spelled out and it’s not all black and white. Maybe this is because what you may value, or need, at certain times in your life aren’t the things you will value at others. And maybe its because we’re not all at the same place on the journey. Maybe maybe maybe, so many maybe’s. But this big, beautiful book is like a doorway into questions and more questions and transformation, and letting go of our need to understand, to have everything under control, and to be right. 

There’s another story, about a kid who disowns his family, runs off and makes a giant mess of his life. Eventually, when he realizes how giant the mess is, he returns. The Father doesn’t wait for an explanation or even an “I’m sorry, dad,” He throws a party because He’s just so happy the son is home. Now, everyone is happy about this, except for one, the kid’s brother. And it ends with the Father inviting him in. But if he chooses to go in, he’ll have to leave all of his ‘rightness’ outside, and discover who his Father is, who his brother is, and what he’s been dying to know all along: who he is. What weighs more, the party or being right? 

And I’ll give you one guess to what the Bible does with this… nothing. The story ends before he decides, with the brother, with you and me, outside, the invitation hanging unanswered in the thick night air.

A Brand New Thing, starting today

There is something called Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, which “causes one’s surroundings to appear distorted. Just as Alice grows too tall for the house, those suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome will hear sounds either quieter or louder than they actually are, see objects larger or smaller than reality, and even lose sense of accurate velocity or textures. This terrifying disorder, which has been described as an LSD trip without the euphoria, even perverts one’s own body image.” This sounds horrible, but it’s interesting to note that Alice In Wonderland Syndrome is also called Todd Syndrome. I wonder why? (My brother-in-law’s name is Todd.) Who is this Todd? Was he or she the psychologist that diagnosed it or the first one unlucky enough to be afflicted? Sheesh, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the internet and lose several hours or days or years. I was simply searching for information on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when I happened upon my brother-in-law’s syndrome. 

I’m pretty sure I suffer from this seasonal depression, and the reason I tell you this is because it probably explains my irregular posts, breaking the most important rule of ‘effective blogging.’

But as these things so often do, everything in the entire universe is speaking the same language – maybe it always is, but I so rarely listen, and when I do, my mind is blown by the connectedness of the messages being received. You know what I mean, right? The song on the radio, plot of your favorite show, the conversation you overhear between 2 people you don’t know in the grocery store, the Bible passage you randomly picked, all pointing you in a shockingly specific direction. 

So, we’re going to break the usual format and start a sort of online series, called Every Detail.         

Leviticus (everyone’s favorite book of the Bible) details a time in the history of Israel where the people, who have been slaves in Egypt, have now been set free. They now have a land and a fresh start, an opportunity to re-order the world from scratch. How will they do it? What will be important? How are they going to live in this new creation? 

It talks about sacrifices, forgiveness, food, skin, mold, discharges – it’s a weird book nobody reads anymore that is so boring your face gets numb in just a few paragraphs. But the foundation it builds upon is a total integration of every dimension of life, that the details matter, and how you do anything is how you do everything. 

We’ve been sold an idea of compartmentalization, where there are different parts of us that don’t bleed into the others. George Costanza, on Seinfeld, spoke of the conflict between “Relationship George” and “Independent George.” We may not have relationship and independent selves, but we might have work, friend, student, church, parent personas, like avatars in separate video-game worlds. The fallacy goes that these faces are natural and necessary, a kind of modern survival strategy.

“If Relationship George walks through that door, he will KILL Independent George!!!”     

The Bible argues that this murder is absolutely necessary. But instead, maybe Independent George should kill Relationship George, or church Chad should kill work Chad, or whoever. The idea is that we should not be dis-integrated in any way, and who we are should be who we are in all spaces, regardless of who is there or what time of day or night it is, and the images we’ve created, with their masks and affectations, for different audiences, have to go.

We have been created, purposefully, wonderfully, for a certain beautiful reason – and every detail of our lives should reflect this. This is what this space will address, in many different ways: how we re-order our worlds and what that means for every part of us, from our desks to our closets to our food to our toothpaste to our daily routine. 

Last night, in a discussion on our increasingly fractured and hurting world, one of us asked, “How do we change it?” 

Because it is not just what it is. 

Because all revolutions begin with that question.

What if the answer has been right there, in front of us, all along?

Before Me

Psalm 16:8-9 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells (rests) secure.”

Months ago, we began a study on rest that was supposed to be a day but turned into a season. I thought it would be great for everyone else, but I turned out to to be wrong about that, too. This series was pointed straight at my heart, and my life, and this Psalm showed up in a journal like a sledgehammer, on 10/16/18. (I know because I date each entry)

I was gifted this journal that has a passage per page and it has never been far from my side. Which is not to say I write in it often – I’ve had it for over 15 years!!! But I always come back to it and it never fails to inspire. Why don’t I spend more time writing in it? Who knows? There’s lots of things I should do, things that give immeasurably more than they take, that I don’t do and who knows why about those things, either? But that is a discussion for another day. 

Anyway, this Psalm said to often-shaken-me that if I were to only set the Lord before me, then I could be glad, joyful, and rest peacefully. Then, I could abide. Like the Dude (in the Big Lebowski.) 

This made perfect sense, like the lights were finally turned on in the dark room of my soul – an epiphany! – and I would never be the same again. I had attained some new level of enlightenment.

Until I didn’t. And the next season of dark soul rooms began. For me, this time of year is often a catalyst for discouragement and depression. I get shaken, not resting securely at all. 

And this is especially strange because I just gave a months-long sermon series on precisely this. Shouldn’t this be behind me???

Then, yesterday I opened my journal and the passage was Psalm 16:8.

Now, I have seen prayer/Bible verse journals elsewhere and I’ve never replaced this one because all of the ones I see in stores repeat the same 4 verses over and over for 200 sheets. This one is perfect, just perfect, because it does not repeat at all. No other verse repeats in the entire book. And here, 7 pages apart (7 pages!!) (7?!!? 7 is an awfully significant number, isn’t it?), the first repeated verse.

So.

Maybe it’s coincidence, a lazy editor not paying attention. And maybe a coincidence that I was less than diligent with my entries, until this verse hit me right in the middle of a search for answers, for hope. Maybe.

Or maybe it’s something more.

But the answer I did find was for my question, “shouldn’t this be behind me?” And that answer is, sadly, no. It’s a process, and maybe it gets easier and maybe the time in between gets longer and longer, but a life of faith is a daily submission, a conscious decision to lay whatever down and leave it there. And then, when we pick it up again and worry or try to control the whole world and everyone in it, to lay it down again. This time, we promise we’ll leave it down, right? But we don’t. Our expectations or fears or anxieties growl and pace in our heads yet again. But we lay it down, again and again and again, trusting God to take it each time.

And of course, He could take it and keep it. When we demand it back, He could say, “no,” but that’s not really what He does. He gives us the choice to weigh ourselves down with unreasonable chains, gives us the choice to carry it ourselves and also gives us the choice to give it to Him.

And when we don’t, and it hurts so much and steals our peace and I do not abide, maybe He is the ‘something more’ in the coincidences.