Jesus

The Point

I’m sitting here with this empty Pages document, probably taking a break from our response series. When I wrote last week’s “Echo,” I told my wife that it was probably as close as I could ever get to putting my heart & soul into words. If you happen to like me, that post made you remember why. I still do believe, and you can tell.

But part of the problem with that is, what comes next? What are we doing here with this blog?

Of course, I’d like to convince you that “Hey Jealousy” is one of the greatest songs ever (which my very good friend inexplicably tells me is debatable – she’s wrong;) and that Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is one of the greatest albums (inarguable), but the truth of the matter is that this space isn’t actually about either. It’s about Jesus (everything is.) And it’s about living in a world where His presence seems to be increasingly difficult to discern. It’s our job to point it out wherever we see and notice.

I often reference a story in Exodus where Moses is spoken to from a burning bush. The burning bush wasn’t the big deal, it was that it wasn’t being consumed. That is the kind of thing that takes attention, instead of just running through my to-do list preoccupied and distracted. How many burning bushes am I missing? I need someone to point them out when I find it hard to stop and focus.

Echo In The Canyon was a burning bush for me. So is Fight Club. So is this new Killers record (out today.) This blog is mostly just me pointing at bushes.

I have another website where I’m also pointing, last week it was at a terrific wedding reception that occurred 4 months after the ceremony (thanks to this global pandemic that you may have heard of.) I have a wedding tomorrow for 2 people I’ve never met. I’ll meet them at ‘our’ wedding. It took me quite a long time years ago to decide if I was going to be an officiant you could hire through a website. Obviously, I wanted to walk the steps, ask questions, have conversations, talk about expectations and Genesis 1 with the couple, but that desire became negotiable when a friend asked me to marry her sister. I didn’t know her sister at all, the first time I saw her was when she was walking down the aisle.

I didn’t like it then, was conflicted about all of it. Most of the guests weren’t taking it too seriously, were treating this sacred union like it was a trip to the grocery store or the McDonald’s. It felt offensive, like we were taking something awesome and huge totally for granted.

Until she came around the corner, like a fairy tale princess. If everyone else was sleepwalking, she sure wasn’t.

It took FOREVER for her to get to me, stepping slowly, tears streaming down her face. She faced her soon-to-be husband soaking in each other while they waited for me to begin. For a moment I couldn’t, overwhelmed by the moment. It would be impossible to overstate the gift she (both of them, really) gave me – the gift of The Point. Her name is Mandy and nothing was the same ever again.

Now, each of these weddings, I point. I say be here now and talk about Jesus and how wonderful and hard marriage is, but that everything is worth it. At the rehearsal I talk about burning bushes that aren’t consumed and that, like Moses, once we see them, nothing is ever the same again.

Echo

On my other blog (lovewithacapitall.com) I write about documentaries and songs and tv shows and politics – it’s not that much different than here, I suppose. This post will be a break from our Gospel response series and might be posted on both sites. It’s about a documentary and it’s about creativity and Jesus and should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need,  For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.  And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

the gospel of me

I promised we’d discuss the “prosperity” (or “name and claim” or “health and wealth”) gospel his week, so here we are. This ideology is, as the Great Theologian Wikipedia writes, a “religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.

The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.”

The first obvious questions are if God’s definitions of blessing, well-being, success, security and prosperity are the same as ours? Even a casual reading of the Bible would suggest there is a better than average chance that they are not. Maybe God’s primary hopes for us aren’t exploding bank accounts and increasing mountains of material possessions, maybe the blessings are not quite so temporal. And the next batch of (admittedly cynical) questions revolve around the shockingly consistent penchant for human religious systems to tie spiritual giftedness to monetary donations. 

It’s not these questions we’ll talk about here, now.

It is the inversion of the Divine order of condition/grace/response into a simple if-then equation. If we give enough money, do enough, have enough faith, then He will give us whatever we want. If we put in the proper amount, say the right words, run fast enough, we will get what we order; a sort-of spiritual Amazon.

But what’s the proper amount? What is enough? 

I was visiting in a church once where the congregation laid hands on a member with a late-stage cancer and proclaimed if he had enough faith, he’d be healed. If he didn’t…well, he wouldn’t. He died within the month. Since he didn’t measure up, I wonder how much he needed? 

No wonder we’re all riddled with anxiety. We’re all trying to be good enough (of anything, of everything), but it’s a rigged game. Where’s enough? Where’s the bar? How will I know if I’ve reached it? If we don’t get our notion of prosperity or success, then it’s our fault, we’re guilty, overcome with shame. That’s terrible, but perhaps even more damaging is if we do, then it’s also our fault. We did it!!! We ARE that awesome!! 

This is ultimately a gospel of ME. The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus alone. This gospel is Jesus plus me and my work, my trying, my earning, and that is no gospel at all. The word gospel means “good news” and this isn’t good news, it’s the same news. It’s exactly how your job, your country and your world, work. This isn’t even news. 

On if-then equations: They are very often practically useful and true (If I do more push-ups, then I will get stronger. If I eat more cake, then I will gain weight), but I think we misuse them in a spiritual sense. The Bible is full of commands and if we follow them, then we will benefit. If we stop lying, then we will be free of the consequences of those lies. We won’t drag that baggage around, we won’t have those broken relationships, we won’t carry the worry that they’ll find out or endure the wrath when they do. We live a far more peaceful life. So we naturally think there are strings attached. IF we follow His commands, THEN He will love us, accept us, and bless us.      

This is pretty understandable, but the Gospel gives us a different if-then scenario. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we will WANT to respond in love towards Him and everything that is His. Given that He loves, accepts, rescues, blesses us, that reality releases us from all of the anxiety that comes with climbing The Ladder Of Enough and we are free, truly free, to do what we’ve been created to do all along; give everything to Him and fly.

Order

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

Why wouldn’t I? This was the question in the last post (called Ham) about this response of ours. Of course we don’t have to, but why wouldn’t we? If you love these posts just as they are, no matter what I write about or how much time, effort and care I expend (like my mom does), would I stop expending time, effort and care? I hope not. I hope I would work harder to show my thankfulness to you (and my mom).

This makes complete sense, right? But when it comes to “spirituality,” I suddenly begin to wrinkle my nose and contort myself into all sorts of positions, feigning confusion and/or dreaming airtight arguments detailing why not.

The last time I wrote about this, we explored the imaginary conflict between the letter written by James and the concept of grace, but which in reality is no conflict at all. If my desire isn’t to display my gratitude, to say thanks, am I really that grateful? Probably not. The thing is that our modern perspective of shifting truths has created a society of (wink, wink) tolerance, and on the one hand that is sort of good, but the other hand has suffered mightily. The unintended consequence of our neglect of Truth (which is really what the your truth, my truth fallacy is) is a neglect of Jesus, a neglect of the Gospel.

The order of the Bible (and when I say the Bible, I mean the individual books & letters as well as the overarching narrative of the collected library) is:

1. Our Condition. 2. What God Has Done. 3. Response.

So, if #1 (the problem) is ignored or minimized, than #2 (the solution) is ignored or minimized. If I’m not in trouble, why do I need rescue? If I’m not falling, what good is being caught? They’re just words on the page that we read on Sunday mornings that have virtually no importance in our actual daily lives. It becomes theology, an intellectual exercise (hence the arguments and pretense), instead of practice.

And no one is thankful for theology, in itself, and it’s thankfulness that drives #3. This is why we ask, “Do I have to?” It’s a meaningless checklist, and not an authentic response to a gift. The gift just isn’t that big of a deal.

The Bible is ordered the way it is on purpose. If we lose the order, we lose the magnitude of the gift. The characters in Misericorde were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner. Their lives were spared while the rest were not. The characters of the Bible were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner, too. Their lives were spared while others were not. It’s interesting, we can easily forget that we are characters in the Scriptures. We are rescued. The lives that are spared are ours.

Unless we truly understand 1, we will never understand the overwhelming grace of 2, or the Gospel, or Jesus. (And He is the absolute BEST part!!!)

Next time, we’ll talk about the prosperity gospel that is in vogue and how it is the antithesis of this Divine order.

The Spider-Verse

We watched Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for the 10th or 20th time last night. It is an animated film. Technically speaking, that’s all it is. As my wife would say, it’s a cartoon. She’s wrong, though, it’s much more than that. It is an hour and 57 minutes that rearranges the notion of what is possible in film, story, technology. Historically, there have been movies that mark a clear before and after. An easy example was Pulp Fiction. Before its release, cinema followed certain accepted structures. After, those walls had been bulldozed and filmmakers, writers, actors were all free to run and chase their imaginations into spaces previously thought nonexistent.

This creative explosion happens in every area of humanity; athletics, architecture, music, education, even religion. I remember many instances that blew my rational mind, profoundly changing my tiny idea of what God could and would do in any circumstance. I’ve seen people transform seemingly in front of my eyes, organizations metamorphose into the butterflies we all needed but whose creators couldn’t have conceived.

These seismic shifts invite us to dream, to exorcise the despair that says what was will always be, that believes “it is what it is,” that lost the childlike hope of faith.

Then there are other moments that confirm that our wildest dreams of what is possible were not misplaced. Against all evidence to the contrary, our fantastical visions are validated and that gives us the strength to take one more step into the darkness. 

Yesterday was one of those for me. 2 young women, aged 19 and 20 (!!!), organized a protest to respond to this abhorrent racism that we all see and feel all around us right now. It’s a divisive topic and I can’t even begin to figure out why. Life is the most sacred gift we have, why would we not want to protect that for all of God’s children? Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And it’s painfully obvious our silence hasn’t fixed anything, as if it ever could. Why would we not gather to express our collective pain?

Because it won’t work, or it’ll turn violent, or whatever. There are so many ‘because’s, so many ‘why not’s. When I asked my boys if they wanted to go, they were afraid of the riots on tv, the burned out stores and city street chaos. I guess it’s fear that mostly keeps any of us from challenging what has always been. We’re often scared to leave unfulfilling jobs, abusive relationships, unhealthy pattern because the unknown can be more terrifying than the now that is dismantling us. 

We went anyway, because we follow Jesus and that requires us to believe we’re all brothers and sisters , and that tomorrow can be different from today. That everything matters and we can…no, that we are called to bring, to make, peace. 

There were many colors and a sacred energy that what we were doing was vital to the healing of our world. It did not turn violent. Of course, there were reports of some regrettable behavior, which will happen when people get together, but no violence. There was kindness and kinship in our shared goal. Maybe it won’t work, but it certainly won’t work if we all stay home.

Now. Here’s what I have to tell you. We are not wrong. Our faith is justified, what we imagine possible, is. We can make a difference, we can change the world. It won’t be in our silence and it won’t be in violence. It will be in presence and love, and like yesterday afternoon, it will be amazing.

Panem & Pennsylvania, pt 2: Lists

Yesterday, I posted about the lines that end the final movie of the Hunger Games series,  Mockingjay, pt 2. Katniss Everdeen says, “Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

This is obviously a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the 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.”     

I should’ve continued a paragraph longer, with what is called an “action step,” but I didn’t and now it’s much longer. According to the University of Kansas website, Community Tool Box, an action step is: “An action step refers to the specific efforts that are made to reach the goals your agency has set. Action steps are the exact details of your action plan. They should be concrete and comprehensive, and each action step should explain:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these actions
  • When these actions will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions 

And if you’re familiar with my teaching, I’m not that awesome at specific, exact details. You see, we are all so different and what is valuable and life-changing for you might not be valuable and life-changing for me. It might not be helpful to say it is vital to your spiritual growth to dead lift simply because it is to me. Maybe you’ll get much more out of quietly sitting in a chair or a treehouse or walking on a mountain trail or baking pies. However, I have done it before, I am capable. But only if I’m absolutely convinced that it is a practice/perspective/mindset that is truly for all of us – then I call it ‘homework.’ So, I have homework for us, and to please the University of Kansas, we’ll address each point of the suggested action step.

What will occur: We make a list of what’s noble, pure, lovely, of all the good things we’ve seen people do, every little thing we can remember, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. We could think them, say them out loud, or write them down…Actually let’s say them out loud or write them, give them a little space to breathe. You can email them to me, too. 

How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur: As much as we need it. When it gets hard or heavy, when we feel anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, etc. When we feel the first familiar rumblings of fear. At least every day.

Who will carry out these actions: Each of us.

When these actions will take place, and for how long: at least every day, forever.

What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions: It’s FREE!!! No money, no staff. All you need is a willing heart and the Spirit of God to guide you while holding your hand. (If you need staff, ask someone, ask me. And if you need to spend your money, I’ll help you with that, too.)  

I think the real pandemic that isn’t addressed with a quarantine is fear and brokenness – these are the nightmares that take us apart in so many ways every day. The Bible over and over counsels us to remember. Nearly every time a command is given, it is preceded with “I am the LORD your GOD, who rescued you from Egypt.” These nightmares (whatever they are, specifically, for each of us) are now our Egypt’s. And if God rescued us then, He’ll rescue us now. We so often only see and feel the oppression of Egypt instead of the liberation of the LORD our God. He hasn’t left, is still very much here, if we only have eyes to see. But vision takes practice, so we think about the gifts He has given: what is noble, pure, lovely, the good things people do, the beauty we experience everyday…and we make a list. I wonder how much that could impact mornings and middle-of-the-night’s and the way we see our noisy neighbors and our shady politicians. I wonder how much that could impact our lives, and in that, how much that would impact our world.

Patricia’s Blog – Living Water

[This post has been written by Patricia Snyder – Enjoy!! Love & Peace. Chad.]

John 4: 4-41. Living Water

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

At the well, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and offers her living water. It was a place He shouldn’t have been, according to the culture of the day. It was a place where she went alone, away from the morning crowds. She went alone, maybe because in her culture she was considered immoral. Jesus doesn’t mince words when He points out her past. He speaks only the truth. It is this particular person that Jesus chose to approach. This is possibly the longest interaction, between Jesus and another person, that we read about in the Scripture. He asked her for water. He spoke truth to her about her life, a painful truth. He brought the truth from the places of her heart and from the voices of public gossip into Divine light and grace.

In the time of Jesus, living water also referred to water that flowed and moved as opposed to water that was still and stagnant. It was considered the most pure of waters and also used to cleanse oneself before entering the Temple. Living water cleansed and purified. This is what he offered her and offers us. With this water, not only will we never thirst, we will be cleansed and purified.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

No matter what she did in her past or present, He chose to meet this person on that day. The water he offered could not be earned by any action or non action in her life. It could only be given.

This story has always struck a chord for me. It is one of the most powerful stories in the life of Christ. Christ met this woman, exactly where she was in her life. The truth of her life comes out of the mouth of the Savior, and in the very same encounter, He offers her everything her soul needs, truth and living water. He chose this woman to meet and carry a testimony of grace and love to others. 

Christ also meets us exactly where we are. Right now, many of us remain physically distant from those outside of our homes. Some folks are the helpers, going out, and with their servant hearts, they face the frontlines in a war zone. Some are the helpers behind the lines, doing what can be done to support others. Some of us are at home with others; some of us are alone. Some are ill. For some of us, this will be the most painful time of our lives. For some of us, this will be a revealing time. For some of us, this will be a growing and healing time. For some of us, this will be a time of great thirst and for some, a time of cleansing. For most of us, it will be a bit of everything.  

Every single one of us, Jesus will meet exactly where we are. He will meet us alone, and He knows every bit of our story.  He brings truth to Light. Our stories never stop Him. Nothing from our past or present stops Jesus. He offers us this living water, that purifies, cleanses and takes away every  thirst. 

Jesus will meet us in the fear, the aloneness, the togetherness, the loneliness, the growth, the despair, the grieving, the pain, and the joy. He will meet us in the desolation and the recovery. He will meet us with consolation and grace.

The other day I felt the warmth of tears come down my cheek.  They come more easily during this time. I remember the woman at the well and how Jesus asked her for water. She felt so inadequate. The weight of her culture and her life was upon her.  She asked Him, “How can you ask me for water?”  It occurred to me that sometimes all we have to give Jesus is the water of our tears. All we have is the water that carries part of our souls. The tears are so sacred in their journey from our heart and souls to the flowing of tears. There are times our soul overflows. It is sacred and holy water. I believe that Jesus asks us for that. He comes to our well, when we are alone, meets us where we are and asks us for water and sometimes tears are all that we can give. He takes our offering and reminds us that He has the water that quenches our souls for eternity and lifts us into the grace of God.  

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Imagine that. The Messiah revealed Himself to this particular woman and chose her to give testimony to her community. She is any one of us.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers

This encounter with the Samaritan woman is the same encounter that we are offered. He meets us where we are, and reveals Himself to us.  He is the Messiah! On Good Friday, we will be reminded again of the gift that our Savior gives us. From the cross, water from His side poured out; the gift of living water that “wells up to eternal life.”

We have more alone moments now. Maybe more than we did before. We may have more tears than we did before. The invitation remains. Christ will meet us exactly where we are with living water and grace. The only question remains is what we do with the gift that is offered.

Isaiah 12:2 God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

Some News For You

I have a few stories to tell, then some news for you.

First, Jesus gave this “Great Commission” (in Matthew 28:18-20): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Maybe today we need to know that He is “surely” with us always; interesting how comforting and safe a commission, a command is with this lovely Jesus. But it’s that word “go” that we’ll talk about now. I’ve heard it translated more accurately as “As you are going,” and that makes a difference. It’s not an addition, not something else, not a demand to try and find room to scribble something “spiritual” on an overflowing calendar. It is an invitation to transform what we are already doing, where we are already going. It is an invitation to acknowledge that this space and interaction is sacred, and treat it accordingly…as we are going.

2. In high school, the head football coach, Phil Kauffman, reached out to me (a soft, round, insecure, sad young man who was struggling to stay alive, blind to any gifts or talents I might possess). Mr Kauffman offered to open the weight room and show some important, compound movements and proper form. I was not a football player, he had no reason to do this. I wasn’t even a student of his any longer. He had absolutely no reason to do this.

And C. In November, my wife the Angel opened my eyes to a new weight room position at the local high school in the district where she works. I filled out the application and was given an interview. Honestly, the hours were pretty inconvenient, the pay was not exactly going to push me into the next tax bracket. As far as jobs go, it wasn’t ideal. And as long as we’re being honest, there wasn’t any sensible reason to do this.

So. I accepted that position, I’ll start in February (given that the Superintendent and School board approves me.) That’s the news, brothers and sisters.

There are certain times in your life where you are given the opportunity to discover if the faith you say you have is the same as the one you actually have, in real life. It’s easy to say any number of things, right? But every so often, you get to find out if you truly believe the words that fall out of your mouth, if they are theory or practice. This is a little bit like Christmas morning, unwrapping the paper, hoping for the best inside.

I believe we change the world “as we are going.” I believe Mr. Kauffman changed my life forever – through lifting weights, sure, but more importantly by showing me that I held some value that I couldn’t see, that I was worth his time simply for no earthly reason other than that I was. I believe the words and actions of beautiful people at certain times can create entire worlds that were impossible before. I believe that Jesus saved us, and saves us, and with every breath we get to respond to that overwhelming love.

A living faith with feet and hands that spots your bench press is far more valuable than a bloated paycheck and convenient hours.

Maybe I’ll have this position until the end of the school year, or until I’m 105. Maybe the board will say “No, thank you.” Maybe I can be Phil Kauffman to someone, too. I don’t have any control over any of those things. What I do have some control over is the bricks that I’m using to intentionally build my life, bricks that are held and stacked with tremendous gratitude.

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.