Jesus

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.

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?????????

Good Grief

Today is Good Friday, everybody’s home from school and work, and except for the water in the many fish tanks, it is quiet. I’m reading a book by a Lutheran pastor whose first book is called Pastrix (probably the best title I have ever seen) and watching episodes of Wandavision on Disney+.

Today is Good Friday. What does that mean, in 2021, in the United States of America, in my heart, here, now?

During funerals I talk mostly about grief. Sometimes followers of Jesus can run away from grief, choosing instead to focus on bumper sticker theological cliches and shiny Bible verses. This is not usually helpful. Usually it makes us feel like bad Christians because we just feel sad or angry or lost or resentful or bitter, or probably more likely, make those ‘or’s ‘and’s and that’s closer to the truth.

Wandavision is a remarkably deep tv series about soul-crushing grief and superheroes. The title character Wanda is squashed under the weight of immeasurable pain. The expectations, hopes, dreams she had, what her life would look like, what it was supposed to be, died with Vision. Now what? Good Friday asks us the same question. The One we waited for, what He would look like, what He would do, what this was supposed to be, was dead on a cross. Now what? What do we do with this question, with all of the questions? We still have questions in a life of faith, but what do we do with them? Can I feel this pain AND still hope? Can we celebrate in this flood of tears? How much can a heart break?

Vision asks Wanda, “Well, it can’t all be sorrow, can it?” he says. “I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

And Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Pastrix, writes, “What I know for sure is that God is always present in love and in suffering.”

I don’t think the question is can we feel pain and hope, or can love and suffering coexist, or can loss and peace hold hands and dance in harmony?

Maybe a better one is, how can they not?

You see, in an authentic full life, we feel all of those things swirling and taking turns with the lead (well, sometimes they don’t take turns and all gush out in a mad dash for the door). This is totally natural. What isn’t natural is the impulse towards shame because we shouldn’t feel some of those things.

The bottomless well of loss in Good Friday hurts like crazy. But loss isn’t the only thing in that well. It’s overflowing with all sorts of company that we are blessed enough to see from here, from Easter Sunday. Loss, confusion, frustration, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, ache, separation, reconciliation, all bound together by nothing less than the greatest of all, the amazing undeniable love of Jesus. So, what’s today? It’s a wonderful sadness, a holy sacrifice, a broken hallelujah. It’s a really good grief.

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.

Watermelon Sugar

This is what I wrote last post: “We have the ability to choose life. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like that, it feels more like there are footsteps marked out for us from which we are unable to deviate. That our lives are scripts where improvisation or rewrites are impossible. That we are powerless to our fate. That it is what it is. That I am what I am.”

Then I read this, by Erwin McManus: “What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?”

And these, also by Erwin McManus: “If you are filled with despair, you fill the world with despair; if you are filled with bitterness, you fill the world with bitterness; if you are filled with fear, you fill the world with fear. Additionally, that’s all you will ever find. No matter where you go, your world is filled with the same energy and intention that fills you. In the same way, when (you are) filled with hope, you fill the world with hope; when you are filled with joy, you fill the world with joy; when you are filled with love, you fill the world with love.”

“Your internal mind-set designs your external world. If you believe the world is full of possibilities, it is.”

“We do not see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.”

Each of these segments are connected tentacles that have the potential to impact our lives on a level we can’t quite imagine. How we see God, the world around us (people, environment, art, etc), ourselves, our worth, simply cannot be understated.

We all stay in jobs and relationships that make us miserable because the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same. I know that’s generally regarded as true, but I don’t have to like or accept it.

More likely is, a lie was told and we believed it. I heard a guy say in a documentary that if somebody says something is true and somebody else believes it, it becomes true. That’s hogwash, right? If it’s not true, it doesn’t matter how many believe it, it’s still not true. (Or at least it shouldn’t matter.) We were told somewhere along the way that we didn’t deserve more than this, and for some reason, it played on an endless loop in our heads until it was fact. The lie continued to convince us that we couldn’t hope for more, that there were no possibilities, that there would be no joy. We settled for table scraps when we belong at the table, eating with the royal family as children of the King.

Since we bought a lesser reality, that reality becomes the lens through which we see the world. There are no possibilities and no joy for anyone else, either. They’ve been replaced with fear, resentment and despair. All of this is all it ever will be. I am all I’ll ever be. You are all you’ll ever be. This marriage, this job, everything stuck in suspended animation. It’s a skipping record (hopefully you remember what a record is and recognize the undeniable beauty of vinyl) that chains us to this moment, never changing. Our surroundings are bleak, unfulfilling and hopeless largely because we are.

I don’t want us to settle. I want us to Philippians 4:8; “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I think Paul probably wrote that verse because he knows us. As much as we evolve into such a sophisticated species, we stay pretty much the same and spend the moments of our lives thinking about what is false, horrible, wrong, and broken, dwelling on worries of tomorrow and regrets of the past.

We listen to that awful song “Watermelon Sugar,” lamenting the state of music today instead of focusing on how awesome Sea Girls, Strumbellas, Mat Kearney and Cold War Kids are.

I know I write about this lack of imagination a lot, but that’s because I talk about it a lot, and think about it even more. I want the world around me to be lively and bursting with life and color and I’m more and more convinced that it’ll only be that way if I finally acknowledge that this is God’s creation, He’s all through it, and the tomb is empty. It’ll only be that way if, filled with His love and abundance, I am lively and bursting with life and color, or as Jesus says, if I have eyes that see and ears that hear the beautiful music that is already playing all around us.

Even So

It’s snowing again and it is absolutely lovely. I haven’t always thought this way, that it was lovely. In my family, we would see the forecast for snow in the 10-day and fear would grip us tightly, first in our stomachs, then our necks. I thought it was a thief and a killer, waiting to take and take from us wherever it could. I don’t think that anymore.

Last weekend a friend of mine died of a drug overdose.

If you happened to see the sermon on Sunday and thought, “what a mess, that guy is coming undone,” you were right. Grief and confusion tend to do that. I’m not too sorry, either. This is also relatively new for me. I was raised to be nice, unoffensive, and pleasing, without edges or confrontation, like that horrible white Wonder bread that everybody kind of likes and nobody really likes at all. Or McDonald’s hamburgers. I thought that was how I would not be alone, if I was nice and soft and squishy. I don’t think that anymore, either.

My friend and I spent hours and hours together at the gym. He would mostly talk and I would listen, just be there, sitting Shiva to the suffering in his soul. He had a wife and 2 small boys.

I often stand up on Sundays and say, in the middle of all of this bad news (like the devastating stories in my town of people we know or the news of people we don’t), that we just need to keep loving each other. Love will be the thing that changes everything and, until then, makes every day bearable. And sometimes I feel like I’m wrong. Maybe nothing can change anything this side of Heaven. Maybe we’re just in a downward spiral of pain, and there’s nothing that can keep the wheels on anymore. It’s hard to stand in front of people if you think the things you’re saying are wrong. It’s even harder to stand in front of the mirror if the things you think you believe are wrong. There’s no peace there. No rest.

But here’s the thing that I realized. I wasn’t having a crisis of faith. I was not doubting Jesus. In fact, it ended up being quite the opposite. I was just sad. And in that depression, I realized that those things about loving each other…they’re true. And even better, even if they’re not, it’s what I’m doing. Maybe it is, or looks like, a downward spiral, but it is without question the thing that makes every day bearable and that in itself can change anything, can change everything. It is love that did change everything.

And then I read this today, in front of my window looking at this beautiful snow falling, in a book by Anne Lamott called Stitches:

“This is all that restoration requires most of the time, that one person not give up. For instance, when I was in school, there were a few teachers along the way who must have seen in me a hummingbird of charming achievement, all eyes, bird bones, frizzly hair and a desperation to please and impress. They knew that there was power and beauty deep inside me, but that I was afraid of this and I was in fragments. Men and women alike, old and new at teaching, were like aunties or grandparents in their firm patience with me, in their conviction of my worth. They had a divine curiosity about me – “Hey, who’s in there? Are you willing to talk straight and find who you actually are, if I keep you company? Do you want to make friends with your heart? Here – start with this poem.

This is who I want to be in the world. This is who I think we are supposed to be, people who help call forth human beings from deep inside hopelessness.”

I think so, too, Anne Lamott!!!

There are 2 phrases that I will carry with me until the last day.

“In their conviction of my worth.” We have all looked into someone’s eyes who held a conviction of our worth. Maybe we didn’t believe it. Maybe we couldn’t receive it. But even in the darkest spaces, it holds the hint of possibility that it might be true. That we are worthy, in our mess, whatever that mess is. Can you imagine?

And “Are you willing to talk straight and find who you actually are, if I keep you company?” In the sadness of a buddy dying of a drug overdose (and I am awfully sad), it’s easy to question if keeping each other company matters. It does. It really really does.

So. This is who I want to be in the world, too, a person who helps to call forth human beings from deep inside hopelessness. The very bad news is that this carries with it a certain amount of risk that hopelessness can crowd out the Gospel from time to time. And even so, we keep calling.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a bad day. My very good friend with the biggest softest most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen wrote to me: “I’m sad about yesterday and how ugly we are to each other.” And all there is to say is, me too. I’m not surprised, though, and so far I can’t tell what is more depressing, that it happened or that none of us are surprised.

But there is this other side of things that came out of me to her and cleared things up for me. Have you ever felt like you honestly don’t know how you feel? Like there are so many emotions, some polar opposites, and they aren’t creating any sort of cohesive environment. Like it’s snowing and you’re warm and sweaty. Or like you’re listening to Britney Spears and enjoying it. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t make sense.

Yesterday was this no good horrible very bad day and as I watched the news and refreshed my browser every 30 or 40 seconds to see new reports of tear gas and evacuation and then broken glass, my heart was indeed breaking but I was strangely hopeful amid the wreckage. Now I know why.

Because she also ended her message with “How are you?” That’s why.

You see, sometimes something really terrible happens and it leads to change that couldn’t happen otherwise. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are just fine, but then we get fired or she leaves or we have a breakdown and there’s no more point in pretending. We run and run until we simply can’t run anymore. Sometimes, the darkness has to be complete before we realize how dark it is and look for a light.

The system has been broken for years, and now there’s no use in pretending it’s not so bad anymore. And only now that we can’t ignore it can we begin to look at how to repair it.

I drove the same car for 16 years and, when asked when I would get a new one, always responded, “Why? It’s perfect.” It wasn’t perfect, had many warning signs it was on it’s last legs, no heat, no air, I couldn’t use lights and wipers at the same time, but they were minor enough that I could look the other way. Then it turned itself off while I was driving. Now I have a new car.

So, I’m sad and hopeful. The car not only turned itself off but burst into flames and exploded. And now maybe we’ll get a new car.

It’s a huge mountain to climb. Where do we start? How do we start? Do the actions of you and me amount to anything? Who knows, but what I’ll do in the meantime reminds me of a joke (more like a story) that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” What I’ll do in the meantime is take bites. I will Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” AND I’ll love you like crazy. Agape love. Kindness. Gentleness. Peace. Patience. I believe love is way more contagious than any virus, so soon we’ll all be Philippians 4:8-ing and loving each other as if we were made to do it, which of course, we were.

The other way hasn’t worked, we’ve tried it for sooo long, and it is now obvious to everyone. My friend in her heartache reached out to/for me to see how I was, “How are you?” She has a son and that son who is growing up with her, watching her, will see this empathy, this compassion, this care. He will see a new design for life, which isn’t new at all, it goes all the way back to Genesis 1 & 2. But this “new” design will be the one he uses to craft his life and his life will “storm the rotunda” of every building we’re lucky enough for him to enter. It’s this design that can change history.

Maybe it won’t, maybe there will be no reversing our downward spiral. But what empty tombs and Sundays prove to me is that it can. And that is more than enough to eat another bite.

For This

I’ve been reading these novels by Fredrik Backman that are incredibly moving, heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time in the same measure. You know the things that are so beautiful you know you could never in a bazillion years create something so lovely AND make you want to try? These novels are like that.

Anyway, in the one I started today (Britt-Marie Was Here), the title character says, “I want someone to know I’m here.” Those words and that emotion dismantle me because I know how many Britt-Marie’s there are in my town, on my street, alone and invisible. Alone, in crowded rooms and offices as well as empty houses. Invisible, moving in total anonymity, never knowing or being known. I know that sometimes I’m Britt-Marie. That we’re all Britt-Marie, sometimes.

We all need to be seen, known. We all need to be accepted, to belong. We all need to be loved. And how many of us go to bed with that need unmet?

This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival, but it’s not. Instead, it’s killing us. We’re invisible and we were never meant to be invisible.

We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together, to care for each other, to be our brother’s keeper.

There are too many Britt-Marie’s, and this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas, of the love of Jesus, become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know the Britt-Marie’s are here. And I want us to be the ones that know.

At my old church, the pastor, Barb, used to implore us to action by calling us “Church” as if it were our name. It is our name, and it’s long past time for us to act. The Child came and His name is “God With Us.” He calls us to put hands and feet and hearts to His love, to put flesh to His ‘With.’

Christmas is desperately needed this year, on the 25th and every day thereafter. Christmas can be a way of life, “with” can be our purpose. We are here, all of us. Jesus came and “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message translation) so that we would know, without a doubt, exactly how much we matter. This Child, this Savior, changed our lives, transformed us with His boundless love. And for what? For this, Church; to be the ones who know.

119

Psalm 119 (which is a really really loooong Psalm) says:

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word (v. 37)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow Your statutes (v. 59)

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (v. 106)

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands (v. 143)

Those who love Your law have great peace (v. 165)

We’ve been talking an awful lot about commands on Sunday mornings, which can easily be understood as a gospel of works. This sort of gospel is not “good news” at all because it’s based on us getting it right, on us doing all the things, checking all the boxes, earning and climbing higher and higher. How high? Who knows? Just higher. 1 John 5 continues in this vein, so what do we do with that? It sounds like a “have-to” situation.

It’s not a “have-to.” John refers to it as a “proof” of faith, an outward representation of an inner reality. If we get a nice new coat on Christmas morning, we’ll wear it. The wearing is the proof that we have it. I can say all day that I have the best new coat ever, worth more than all the money in the world, but how will you know if I never wear it? Why wouldn’t I wear it? That would be odd.

I bought a new sweater 2 weeks ago and it’s thick and soft, what my mom would call cozy warm. I haven’t worn it yet because it hasn’t been cold enough in those 2 weeks, but I can’t wait to put it on and show it to you. It seems strange to have this awesome sweater and ask, “Do I have to wear it? How often? Around who? What if I don’t?” I am looking for any excuse to wear my new sweater. I’ve been checking the weather every night.

This coat or sweater is our gift, it’s free, and whether we wear it or not, it’s ours. BUT it gets cold. John and Psalm 119 (maybe, probably written by Ezra, the priest) make it sound like following these commands is pretty integral to the kind of cozy warm life we’d like to have. I like peace. I sometimes feel pressure and stress bearing down on me. We all do, it’s 2020. It would be cool to have joy in 2020 instead of upset stomachs and headaches.

This Psalm stood out me because I’ve been pondering my life quite a bit lately. This isn’t very unusual, I am a ponderer, and when I do, I look for practices that line up with the values that carry more weight with me. For instance, I go to the gym most days. If not carefully monitored, ‘most days’ easily turns into ‘every day’ and my body and spirit suffer. One of my core values is to be a healthy man (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), and no rest days compromises that. So I turn and add some structure to help me pursue that particular value.

These commands are our coats and sweaters, our rest days. They are the tangible bricks that build the walls of our lives. We put on Love. We put on honesty and Sabbath and not wanting our neighbors donkeys (which is another way of saying, we are grateful for what we have). These things aren’t the point, Jesus is, but 2020 has been very cold and we’ve been so distracted by that cold, we’ve been missing that BIG point. Maybe remembering our coats and our rest days, maybe some Psalm 119-ing, would be just the thing we need to focus again.

Crying Room

In Acts 2:14, Peter “stepped forward…and shouted to the crowd,” giving one of the most powerful sermons the world has ever seen, before or since. David Guzik writes, “This remarkable sermon had no preparation behind it – it was spontaneously given. Peter didn’t wake up that morning knowing he would preach to thousands, and that thousands would embrace Jesus in response. At the same time, we could say that this was a well-prepared sermon; it was prepared by Peter’s prior life with God and relationship with Jesus. It flowed spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”

We often make our spiritual life one of 5 (or 7) steps and boxes to check, or like there is a spiritual me and another, everything else, regular me. Spiritual me reads the Bible, goes to church, prays. Regular me goes to work, brushes my teeth, does pushups, watches The People’s Court. We refer to our work or play or relationships as somehow less spiritual because it’s not for a church, Christian ministry, or agenda. “Just” a nurse or driver or technician or accountant. We think if it isn’t specifically focused in a discipleship plan, it doesn’t count.

This has always driven me crazy. Christian ministry can be lovely and pure and tremendously pleasing to God. So can grocery stores, video games, parenting, and Catfish. God doesn’t make this distinction, I wonder why we do. We can dishonor God just as easily in church as we can at the gym, maybe even more so.

Like Peter, all of our lives – lived in relationship with Jesus – are preparation. Every Sunday, Gisy and I go into a small room called the “crying room.” It’s a space where parents can take their fussy, restless babies and still hear and see the service, but I have cried in there, and held others as they have, as well. It’s an all-purpose crying sanctuary. We go in there, hold hands and pray that God will use our words & songs (carefully studied and practiced) AS WELL AS our lives to reach others.

It’s foolish to guess that a message I give could ever be received in a vacuum. It’s why Paul’s letters to Timothy focus so much on behavior outside of the church for those that serve inside. The most eloquent talk from a dishonest mouth, heart, and life is conflicting and usually quickly dismissed, in the church or not. Emerson wisely observed, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” He’s right, of course, and that’s frightening. But it also works in reverse.

What if who you are is beautiful? What if who you are at work is honest, trustworthy, and loyal? What if who you are is a faithful, devoted spouse? What if who you are is a passionate follower of Jesus? Then where you are those things doesn’t matter too much, does it? Then, everywhere you are could accurately be called church and everything you do could accurately be called ministry. Then, all of life would be preparation. Then, the sermons we give (with or without words) would “flow spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”

There’s no “just” anything, no “just” anywhere, no separation, no distinction (if there is, the walls, boxes and labels are the ones we’ve placed). There’s just 1 integrated life, lived with purpose, meaning, passion, pain, joy, routine, crying, singing, practice, peace, awareness and everything else. But mostly love. These lives overflowing with the love of Jesus will speak so loudly, even the most perfect words won’t be necessary.