Spirituality

Chapter 2

I don’t know if you know this, if this has ever been your experience, but sometimes a Bible passage is difficult. Sometimes we don’t like it. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us. And other times, the passage simply leaves us unmoved. Last Sunday, I gave a message on one of these last kinds that felt a little aimless in my head.

(Maybe I shouldn’t say this, maybe I should have all the answers and be very certain about everything and never give voice to any doubt or anything less than wild enthusiasm. Sigh. If that’s what I’m ‘supposed’ to do, I guess I’m not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be. Or maybe this is exactly who I’m ‘supposed’ to be and what I’m ‘supposed’ to do. What I know is that it’s true and I’m way too old to spend time trying to pretend anymore. I did more than enough of that.)

So. When we get into a passage of Scripture that is difficult, for any reason, what do we do?

This reminds me of a close friend of mine who recently recounted a sermon she had heard in a church service that she did not like at all. She disagreed with most of it, and the other parts were just ok, and her reaction was super fun to watch as her passion boiled over. What was she to do with this? Obviously, a sermon isn’t the Bible, but is the process similar?

The first option is to skip it and move on. This was not available to me. The chapter (1 Corinthians 2) seemed to me redundant and unnecessary, but we go verse-by-verse at the Bridge. I know when passages are tricky or quite unpopular well in advance, ones like this are a bit surprising, but the result is the same. We have to address it. But in our personal lives, we can jump to chapter 3 and move forward.

The second, the one I chose, is to dive in, read, reread, reread again, reread 100 times, follow cross references, read commentaries, articles, pray, meditate, spend time with blank screens, take notes, delete the notes, discover contextual details, ask, seek, and knock. In Sunday’s case, after all of this, I still couldn’t find the hook.

Now, either one of these is a good option. The 3rd is the only one that isn’t, to close our Bibles and disengage. We figure the Bible is old and outdated, we don’t understand it, it’s hopeless, whatever.

As my friend and I talked about the sermon, the only path we would not take is to ignore it. In the Scriptures, if we get angry or vehemently disagree, why? There’s always a reason the text pricks us in a sensitive spot. Why is that? Why did that message affect her in that way? Why did that book, movie, person, interpretation, affect us in that way? Maybe that ‘why’ is exactly the point. That ‘why’ will end up asking more questions, often these soft spots are the places that invite us into the greatest growth.

If we don’t understand, why? Maybe we don’t understand because we need more information, discussion, time, prayer, or maybe we just don’t understand it now. Once I couldn’t swim, but later I could. I’m glad I didn’t get out of the water forever.

We must not quit and walk away. I tried to read the book A Clockwork Orange several times. It’s a hard read, with the language, the vocabulary, the subject matter. Twice I threw the book across the room, promising to NEVER again try to read such a piece of garbage. Then I’d pick it up again and stop early again. Then I finished it and it wasn’t at all garbage, it was brilliant, deep and important, and I am now an avowed Clockwork Orange evangelist.

So, about Sunday. 1. I think the natural vs spiritual is something we’ll come back to again and again. 2. The revelation of the Holy Spirit, the getting out of the way and allowing the Spirit to lead, is very important. Even as that is true, today I’m still missing the usual spark I feel about chapter 2. Maybe it’s just me, now, in this space, and the obstacle is wholly personal. I have no idea, but what I do know is that I can assure you that Sunday, and writing this today, aren’t the end of my wrestling with it. I’m finding this is what faith-ing is, a life walking with. It sure isn’t always firecrackers and mountain tops, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Like a Nice Chili

2 weeks ago, on the Saturday retreat, Patricia quoted de Chardin, “Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace & circumstances acting on your own free will) will make of you tomorrow.”

There’s so much here, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Pulp Fiction, one of my very favorite films, was revolutionary for so many reasons, but the most striking is it’s use of chronology. The first scene is somewhere in the middle of the narrative, the last is later, but also in the middle, the beginning and the end liberally cut-and-pasted elsewhere. That’s what we’ll do here now, hopefully not to such a jarring effect.

“…will make of you tomorrow” implies movement. We (and everything) are becoming something else, growing, maturing. Right about now, as my boy is 2 weeks into his senior year of high school, it’s easy to want nothing more than things to stay exactly the same, as if he would be here forever. We sometimes don’t want to change, it’s uncomfortable and full of scary next steps into unknown realms. Even if now isn’t the greatest, it is familiar, right? We know what to expect, even if those expectations are squashing our spirits.

The other reasons we might not be moving forward are simple: apathy and distraction. Either each day is so full of relentless routine, requiring nothing of us, we’re set to autopilot, bored, listless, uninspired. Or we are distracted by our devices and/or numbing escapes, focused on entertainment, seeking nothing more than pleasure or, at least, a reprieve from the pain.

These few gigantic enemies of growth are illusions. Nothing can ever stay the same. There’s a saying in the business world – “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It isn’t only the business world.

“Don’t try to force…” What is more common to the human experience than our predilection for control? We want to be there, now. We want to bypass the 10,000 hours, jumping right to mastery. When I officiate weddings, I read 1 Corinthians and every time I say “Love is patient,” I look at the couple for any small sense of honest recognition. We really hate patience, we write nasty reviews if we sit in the waiting room for 5 minutes. Don’t try to force? I didn’t want to start with those words because they include a built in anxiety that can be overwhelming.

How do we reach that promise of tomorrow, then?

“Grace & circumstances acting on our own free will.” It’s a triangle with the pressures, trials and celebrations of the world around us and our desire to step into who we will be as the 2 shorter sides. The longest, most significant side being the grace of God (grace means gift, or gifts, blessings, the unreasonable undeserved unending love of God). All of these work together as a sort of forge to create a new me & you, like a nice chili. Great chili doesn’t happen in the microwave, right? That triangle is called “time” by de Chardin.

So. Now. Who are we today? Who will we be tomorrow? What kind of future is possible if we partner with God?

We’re talking about this today because Sunday I referenced another thing Patricia said, “You will find meaning where you give meaning.” And I think this principle works to replace “meaning” with anything: significance, grace, care, trust, kindness, honesty, peace.

Where are we giving our attention, or our own free will? I want it to be these beautiful lives, families, communities of ours. I want to know what kind of future (my own as well as the future of all things) is possible if we’re intentional, careful, patient and extraordinarily loving. I believe if we give these things, we’ll find these things, and with God’s extravagant grace and love, the tomorrow we make will be a million times better than we ever could have imagined.

Waking Up

I touched on something Sunday in a Biblical/theological context, but I’m thinking more and more that it has wide reaching, wildly impactful applications if we only take it out into the streets and grocery stores and schools.

Speaking of schools, the first day for our local school district was yesterday. Last week, we circled the middle & high school while a group of us prayed over/for the students, staff, administration, and parents. I struggled with a big nagging question: what is my responsibility in all of this? First, what do I mean by “all of this?” The school district is no different from the rest of culture (and, to draw some parallels, the Corinthian church) in that they (we) are angry, frustrated, and all of the other adjectives that erupt from the root condition: divided. How do I (we) bring unity to a deeply fractured community? How do I help to heal, to replace insecurity with belonging, replace inadequacy with kindness and love? This is probably something we’ll explore here in the next few weeks, months, & years.

BUT today…

Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary ideas and concepts. The BIG illustration Sunday was that “the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead” is inside each of us. How can that not change everything about the way we see everything? Easy, because we’ve heard it so many times, it’s become simply a collection of letters in an old book instead of the same power that raised Jesus Christ is inside of us. John 3:16, the Church, Communion, and on and on. There is no shortage of examples in the Scriptures.

Now think of our lives through these lenses. Of course there are a million conveniences that are modern miracles (including the mind-blowing one we are communicating on/through right now), but consider spouses, children, and friends, too.

If we begin to see all as gifts, do you think that could seismically shift the way we hold them?

I think we usually choose to view our days, possessions, and people through a paradigm of entitlement, through the twisted picture of what “I” deserve.

Maybe a change in perspective could eliminate the negativity, and the army of should’s. We can get anything we want from any area of the world at our grocery store, we can mostly afford the things we need, we can drive there at any time of the day or night, and be out quickly and easily. Instead, we complain that the prices are increasing, the cart wheels squeal, the others inside are too slow, it should be easier/cheaper/more convenient for me. Our desire for more obscures the very real wonder of what is.

My wife is gorgeous, capable, independent, funny, brilliant, and caring. (If you know her, you know I could continue this list, but I do have to stop at some point.) She’s well out of my league, but we’ve been together for over 20 years so I can focus on how she eats pretzels or on the music she listens to. I can drift from gratitude into the tragic distraction of how she should be doing the smallest, most trivial thing. Obviously, she should always be doing the thing the way I want her to, right?

If you look at any social media, you’ll see an avalanche of this exact mindset. The school should be doing (anything) like this. My neighbor should be parking, cutting his grass, voting the way I want. My kids should ______. The President/government/authorities should whatever. And this leads to a perpetual discontent.

I started this little diatribe with “Familiarity with something breeds a certain unfamiliarity, neglect, and apathy. We take for granted the most extraordinary.” I think what I’m really saying is that maybe that’s not the best thing for us, and maybe it’s costing us more than we can imagine. Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I was unaware.” I don’t want to be unaware anymore. If I could only open my eyes to the world around me, I bet I would see colors and textures and beauty that would leave me speechless. Maybe the only spiritual journey is one of waking up; to Jesus, faith, the Bible, ourselves, each other, love, peace, and the items on the grocery store shelves.

If You Do Or If You Don’t

There’s a passage in 1 Corinthians 10 that has taken up residence in my head & heart, and to tell you the truth, I hope it stays and makes a home. (This is in the letter we’re studying on Sunday mornings, but it is in chapter 10, so that means we’ll only get there in 2 or 3 years. You probably won’t remember if I make this post the message, word for word. Of course, I won’t. The me that writes this will not be the me that gives that message. You can’t read the same book twice, right? You’re a different person, so the book takes on a different personality through the lenses of your experiences, thoughts, ideas, and passions. I’ll be different then.)

Here it is: 1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Right? It’s a mind bomb, a seriously illuminating and convicting verse. We might spend 2 or 3 years on that alone. Or it might just take me 2 or 3 years to unpack.

It’s in a chapter about idolatry and the food dedicated to idols, in a bigger section asking Why do you do the things you do?

So, here we are, in a place (Corinth, America, Earth) where the answers to that question are “because I want to,” “because I like it,” “it feels good,” a million variations of the real answer: “ME.” Paul is writing to ask us to change that answer.

Maybe this is the main point of this letter. Maybe it’s the main point of allllll the letters. Maybe it’s the main point in living any sort of obedient life of faith.

That thing you’re doing (whether working out, doing the dishes, taking a Zoom call, sleeping, making dinner, putting a puzzle together, singing, working, driving to the grocery store, eating, having sex, watching tv, listening to music, writing emails, playing video games, playing the guitar, posting on social media, and on and on and on), do it for the glory of God.

Now, am I? Whatever I do? Everything? Really? Are the things I’m doing for His glory? Or mine?

Maybe the things don’t have to change, just the intention.

It reminds me of the Great Commission – “As you’re going, make disciples.” We don’t have to add a million things to our schedules, just inject purpose into the things already there.

Whatever we do, do it with intention, with purpose, for something, for someOne.

Of course, maybe the thing has to change, but that doesn’t seem to be the focus here. He just said, “Eat that thing…or don’t.” “Do that thing…or don’t.” “If you do OR if you don’t, make it for His glory.”

If the gym is to make me awesome so I can impress you, if it’s simple vanity – that cannot be for His glory. The gym has to change – either the going or the why. And that is something we can only work out WITH; with the Holy Spirit and with our trusted brothers & sisters. It’s a revolutionary shift in perspective, and revolutions happen in moments, in baby steps, and can’t happen alone.

D.B. Cooper Conventions & Monopoly Tournaments

I saw The Batman and the 3rd Fantastic Beasts films in the last few weeks and really loved them both. As a matter of fact, as far as Fantastic Beasts, it would be impossible to express just how much. Maybe I’ll try sometime. Maybe not. The Batman was awfully good, but I say that knowing full well that I am the target market, so it’s possible my opinion wouldn’t be the most objective. 

We will talk about 2 other films: Under the Boardwalk: A Monopoly Story, and D.B. Cooper, Where Are You?! Now, what could these 2 possibly have in common, right? Not surprisingly, they also share it with Bikram, Holy Hell, and the Rajneeshees of Wild, Wild Country. The more I think about it, they share it with The Batman and Fantastic Beasts, Thor, The Avengers, Stand By Me and Stranger Things, too. 

D.B. Cooper was the alias of a guy who hi-jacked an airplane in the 70’s, took $200,000, jumped out somewhere in Oregon, and was never found. The thing that makes it a cool story instead of a terrible story is that no one was harmed, outside of a minor inconvenience for the passengers. Some think he is still alive, may or may not be living in Florida, or that he fell to his death. None of that matters too much to me, it’s an interesting piece of pop culture, a mysterious American outlaw very much of a time.

Monopoly is a 100+ year-old board game that we’ve all played and that the Angel HATES. I was pretty neutral, but I like it very much since this documentary. 

There are D.B. Cooper conventions, where people from all over get together and geek out over conspiracy theories, police sketches, and an inch of decayed nylon found in a forest. There are also Monopoly championship tournaments, which are exactly what you think they are. Rooms full of tables where the best players battle over rent, mortgage values and property trades. These people are weirdos, in the very best sense of the word. I know they are, because I’m one of them. We all are. We may not participate in these particular events, but we all have our D.B. Cooper conventions. (If we don’t, we should by all means immediately get one!)

The last 15 minutes (or episode) of the cult docs we all adore the former members are interviewed, and there is always an unmistakable air of melancholy. They miss the time they were involved (before the true insanity of everything was exposed). Thor & Hulk need a team, Batman finds he can not, and should not, be the lone hero vigilante forever. It is the relationships between characters in Fantastic Beasts that remain, none of us really care about wands or spells or CGI creatures.

The biggest lie that most of us know is a lie but tell as truth, and that we all apparently agree to let slide, even though we know nobody actually believes is that we are islands. We don’t need, or want, other people. We are wholely independent. We prefer riding alone. 

Except we’ll do pretty much anything to find a community. We’ll drink Kool Aid, let a yogi behave like a complete maniac, play in Monopoly tournaments, or go to conventions for a 50 year old historical footnote. None of this is surprising in the least. I happen to believe we are created for each other, wired for relationship. 

In Christian circles, it can be quite tempting to sound super-spiritual and say some variation of “all I need is God.” It sounds awesome and we all ooh and ahh, but can you take a wild guess where that sort of doctrine isn’t? The Bible. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the Fall, everything is “good” except 1 thing: the man is alone. The man isn’t alone, he has God and they walk in the Garden in the cool of the evening, but God still says, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” so He makes a woman. Then in the New Testament, He makes the Church.

Maybe you don’t believe in God or Genesis or the Church, or maybe you do, but don’t think it happened exactly like it’s written. A thing doesn’t have to have happened for it to be True. This Genesis account is as true as anything has ever been, we are made to be together. And I know this, without a doubt, because D.B. Cooper conventions and Monopoly tournaments exist.

Sausage

There’s a saying I love about “seeing how the sausage is made.” We usually only consume the final product, without a thought as to how it gets to that point. We eat and love sausage, but most of us have no idea how that delicious meat gets to the shelves of our supermarket (and in the case of sausage, maybe that’s a good thing.) Hot dogs, McDonald’s ‘chicken’ McNuggets, any number of foods fall into this category, but this expression fits many more areas. You have a beautiful garden that we all admire and appreciate, but have no idea how many hours went into the planting and care to achieve such beauty. Slash is the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and his solos are transcendent. His playing looks glamorous and natural, but we don’t see the 10,000+ hours of practice in his bedroom alone that makes it possible.

I’m not Slash, not particularly glamorous, and this isn’t a beautiful garden, but I wanted to give you a small peek behind the metaphorical curtain for the upcoming series at the Bridge.

I decided months ago that we would study the epistle to the Ephesians after the Sermon on the Mount concludes (which will be this week). I asked for suggestions, because if there was an interest, maybe we could adapt. I also mentioned we would jump into Ephesians or 1 Corinthians (and I don’t know why that came out of my mouth that morning 2 weeks ago, it was totally unplanned and I thought, “that’s interesting. I wonder what that’s about.”)

So I finished reading Job (the book I had been reading) and turned to Ephesians. Why I never got there, again, I can’t say. But I flipped to 1 Corinthians and went no further.

My Bible has introductions to each book, and in this particular one, it read: “The Christians in Corinth were struggling with their environment. Surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin, they felt pressure to adapt…They were free in Christ, but what did this freedom mean?”

Then, in some specific notes on chapter 1: “[Corinth was] fiercely independent and as decadent as any city,” and “arguments and divisions arose [within the church.]”

Yet, the people were “called…made holy…given every spiritual gift.”

And now I know why.

Looking at the notes in my Bible and the ones I took, I can’t tell where they’re describing, Corinth or America. There, then, or here, now? They were called and given every spiritual gift, yet also fiercely independent, decadent, with all sorts of questions about what being “called” means and why it matters.

I wanted to talk about being God’s “masterpiece” and the armor of God. Ephesians has some of the most gorgeous language and profound Gospel teaching, it’s no wonder I would want to spend some time there (and maybe we will afterwards.) But we’re not talking about the Ephesians. We’re going to dive into the letter to the Corinthian (American) church and splash around in this deep water that, I’m now convinced, will be absolutely vital to our lives.

Israel

The youth retreat was last Tuesday. This day, the youth was a group of high school aged boys (Only boys. Not because boys are the only ones welcome, but because that’s just how it was. There is one lovely young woman, but she happened to be on vacation, so we had all boys. I am not complaining or lamenting this fact.) This group spent 12 hours together with 2 adult facilitators swimming in a lake, reading the book of Mark, and eating. Towards the end of the evening, I had the opportunity to ask if there was anything they wanted to talk about, fully expecting silence or, if anything at all, I figured something about girls.

For some reason, the evangelical political-spiritual movement in this country has decided the 2 most important issues facing the Church are not grace, love, compassion, poverty, kindness, non-violence, addiction, or anything else. Abortion and Homosexuality are the big 2, and judging by the overwhelming amount of time & energy given to those 2, there isn’t a 3rd. I tell you this because one of these thoughtful, courageous boys chose to take my invitation to ask about homosexuality, which became a wildly fascinating hour long discussion.

These young men were engaging with the Scriptures – much more than just these two current hot buttons. What is the role of the Bible in our lives and in the lives of the country and culture? What did the Bible say about a subject, specifically? Do we actually care? Does context/translation matter? Is there a seeming conflict elsewhere, and if so, which weighs more? And we can’t forget the most important question: Now what?

In the book of Genesis, Jacob (whose name means, “he grasps the heel,” which doesn’t mean much to us now, but it also means “he deceives,” which does. Jacob’s story in Genesis illustrates this second meaning.) finds himself in the wilderness, all alone, with a “man.” Jacob asks this ‘man’ for a blessing, which gives us the clear hint that this is not an ordinary man. They wrestle all night and in the morning (after an unbelievably significant question about his name), the ‘man’ finally blesses Jacob, but not before he injures his hip. Jacob’s name is changed here, and becomes “Israel,” which means “one who wrestles/struggles with God.”

We can struggle with God, too. Right? And sometimes that struggle leaves us with a permanent limp. The Jewish people saw this struggle as absolutely vital to a life of faith. We don’t as much, we mostly want assent, agreement, conformity. I easily find doubt, questioning, and wrestling all over the Bible. It’s much more difficult to find assent and certainty.

Athol Dickson says: “What if God placed the paradoxes within the Scriptures to cause me to struggle for the truth? What if it is the struggle He desires as much as the truth itself?”

Haven’t you ever thought that Jesus could have pretty easily cleared up a lot of our questions? Maybe instead of answering with more questions (inviting the one who asks into a conversation, a struggle), he could’ve just given us the straight answer, in plain words, with bullet points. And why does the Bible sometimes contradict itself? Couldn’t it have been far more instruction manual and far less poetry? More fact and less story?

I could have said, “this is the answer,” if I felt like being that guy, and shut that discussion down immediately. As they wandered around in the dark, throwing guesses and opinions against the wall, I could have said, “no,” or “that’s wrong,” if I happened to disagree, (or even “yes,” or “that’s right”) and they would have learned that this was no safe place, no place where their authentic searching engagement was valued, only their quiet acquiescence, their right-ness.

That’s what’s so inspiring and encouraging about this youth group conversation. They aren’t content to just take what they’ve been offered, they want to turn it over, around and upside down. They aren’t cool with being “the one who grasps the heel,” they’re willing to fight for the truth, and in the process, become “Israel.” And that fills me with more hope for our homes, communities and world than I can even begin to tell you.

Street Sweeping

2 weeks ago, my boys played in a basketball tournament called Sweep The Streets. This particular tournament was held on 6th street of the city next door to our tiny suburb.

We arrived early and didn’t have to look for signs or follow directions, the music blaring from loud speakers and the smell of hamburgers and sweat were plenty to guide us in. The 2 outside courts were packed with players from 7 local-ish high schools, lined with the lawn chairs of parents and coaches.

It was boiling hot in the sun, and there was very little shade. I set up my chair under the scorers table tent in silence, hoping to go unnoticed. The scorer at the table just happened to be the creator of the event and nothing would go unnoticed by him. But instead of chasing me out, leaving me burned crispy outside, he engaged me as if we were old friends. Together there for the day, we did become old friends. We both rooted for our surprisingly overachieving “scrappy” team, heartbroken as we lost 2 close contests; 1 in double overtime, 1 in the last seconds, both we were figured to be food for, whipped early, providing lots of playing time for the second- and third-strings.

It was an extraordinary day of basketball for a very young team who is forging a new identity as a tough, passionate brotherhood that will neither quit nor go quietly, if at all.

But it was the event that was truly striking to me, inspiring me by it’s existence. Of course, I had heard of street ball and famous city courts where legends play, but I also read the news and pass police officers at every school entrance in the smallest towns. We live in a world of locked doors and hopeless division, a basketball tournament for a crowd of boys could not have seemed a safe bet. I wonder how much resistance he faced, how many times he heard sentences beginning with “you can’t…” He must’ve heard legions of reasons why not, and how many measures he would have to take to keep everyone safe or, from the most pessimistic, alive.

And probably the naysayers would have been right. The sheer number of violent acts in Anytown, USA show us how little of a guarantee we actually have for security. So, get all of this testosterone together, competing on hot asphalt for a whole day, there was bound to be problems.

Not to mention, I had just emerged from a baseball season where the behavior was abysmal. Each night of games was an embarrassment full of coaches and players acting like escaped animals with no concept of perspective, class or sportsmanship. My expectations were low.

Everyone who came inside the fences shook my new friend’s hand, every one seemingly a cherished old friend. The affinity and respect for him was obvious. The games were well played, hard fought, and free of the cocky fearful inadequacy that colors so much of youth sports, the cheeseburgers were excellent, bathrooms clean, sunshine brilliant, and the company was much much better.

As I was reflecting on just how beautiful this entire situation, and the man who organized and made it run so smoothly, was, it occurred to me why I found it so new & inspiring and yet oddly familiar. We can think God exists only in our ornate buildings with fancy offering plates and smoke machines, from 10-12 on Sunday mornings, where we are reciting Bible verses and singing hymns. We can think church takes place in pews, under stained glass. But again and again, we are proved wrong. God is not, and will not be, confined to walls and ceilings. The Church, The Bride of Christ, isn’t a place at all, it is simply the people, you and me, our neighbors, the workers at the grocery store, the runners on the street, teachers in the schools, anywhere and everywhere. And the local church is on street corners just as well as it is in little white buildings with orange signs and cracked parking lots.

The boys were exercising the gifts they’ve been given, (all different, working like parts of a body), together, as it was meant to be in the Garden in Genesis 1 & 2. That’s why it felt so good, like home (like Home). It’s what we were created for, this community, all functioning in God’s grace, under God’s binding sun, in glorious shalom. We all knew it, we didn’t want it to ever end, even if maybe we didn’t know why. This was the Kingdom breaking through, speaking fresh words, testifying to the new creation right in the middle of this one. And all that’s left is for us to notice and humbly offer up our praise and gratitude.

yes

My boys and I are having conversations about the word yes.

Teenage boys are very familiar with no, they are very clear on what they do not want to do. Sometimes it’s not only teenage boys, it can be a 30 year old man who has recently lost his father and realized that his entire life was built upon who he would not be. That 30 year old is me, and I absolutely knew then that I did not want to be like my dad. I had a very long list of things I would not do, say, or think, and almost nothing on the side ideally detailing what I would. My boys know that they don’t want to go along, clean up, mow the grass, or eat the vegetables. But where do they want to go, instead? What do they want to eat?

In the Scriptures, we are commanded to rest. (Let’s just put aside that we don’t want to rest. Nevermind that the world will stop spinning and fall apart if we don’t produce for a day a week. This is called suspension of belief in the movies. Let’s pretend this is a world where we can and do want to rest.) The thing about rest is…well, God rested after 6 days of creation. There’s no rest without work, no ceasing if there’s nothing from which to cease.   

Part of the big problem with politics nowadays (Ha! I say nowadays because it sounds old-timey and implies that there was ever a time when it was different. And maybe it was, just not that I remember) is that we are given 2 choices and asked to choose which one we do not want. Have you ever heard or said the phrase “lesser of 2 evils?” We stare at the ballot and cast our vote against one of the candidates. Political advertisements scream, “Don’t vote for him/her!” and never “Vote for ____!” We hear what their candidate has done wrong, never what our candidate has done right.

Don’t eat sugar. Don’t watch so much tv. Don’t spend so much time on social media. Don’t worry. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. But what am I supposed to do instead???

If I simply don’t, there is a vacuum left that will be filled. This is probably why so many resolutions fail. I say I won’t eat chocolate, but when I want to eat chocolate, I think about not eating chocolate instead of what I will do, or eat, instead.

Of course, there are times for No. But no makes much less sense without a yes. Maybe I do want to go along, or maybe I do want to clean up. Who knows?

A burning desire for comfort isn’t filling us up with purpose and passion. Living from a negative posture hasn’t changed anyone’s life.

I know, I know, they’re teenagers and boundaries to differentiate, to discover where I end and they begin, are so, so valuable. And of course there is a place for knowing where we do not want to go, or characteristics we do not want. But when Jesus asks any of us, “what do you want Me to do for you?” Or, as God asked Jacob, “Who are you?” we might want to have an idea what that answer might be and why. Obviously not etched in stone, but the sooner the question begins to shift from ‘who am I not?’ to ‘who am I?’ (a super scary shift, to be sure) the sooner we can begin to move from ‘freedom from’ and into ‘freedom to.’ The difference between the 2 is shockingly wide, and it all starts with a baby step, a hesitant jump, a whispered yes.

Not Better…

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Rom. 12:3 MSG

This is from the Eugene Peterson’s Message translation, and before we go one step further, let’s just take a quick second to think about what a gigantic undertaking it would be to write your own translation of the Bible!!! He’s writing his own translation of the Bible, and for me, some days the sink is so full of dishes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Anyway. Romans 12 begins with offering ourselves, our bodies, as a living sacrifice, not conforming to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, then moving into “understanding ourselves.” 

I have been sitting for the last few months thinking on the universal struggle between pleasing people and pleasing God, or just how big the audience is: either One or a million. The crazy thing with this ‘pleasing’ confusion is that it always circles back to that old familiar space, where I am “not good enough.” If the thing I want most is to please my neighbor and my boys and the Angel and you and the guy next to me at the gym and the driver in the car next to me and on and on, at some point, I won’t and then I’m forced to face the shocking fact that I am not, in fact, perfect at all. And if I’m not perfect, if I let them (anyone) down, if I am not good enough, then what am I? What is my value? What am I worth?

That’s when the rotten tapes begin to roll, deafening in my head, like they have a billion times before, with the answers. “You are worthless. You are nothing, pathetic. You will never be enough. (Repeat with different words, examples, tones, different levels of urgency.)” These answers very nearly irreparably broke middle school me. I still hear them from time to time, the difference is that I now see them as the lies they are. But if they aren’t true, then what is?

The NIV states verse 3 as: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” It was that “but rather think of yourself as…” that hooked me and kept me from thinking of anything else.

How am I to think of myself? That is exactly the question. The verse begins, “not too highly,” and that’s not a problem usually. Maybe some of us fight that battle, but mostly, I think we remain mired in the sludge of contempt. (I do recognize that this is another facet of idolatry – to think that we are the exception to God’s love/redemption/acceptance is awfully arrogant. Different sides of the same ugly coin.) But to be honest, I don’t understand the rest of the verse. I immediately thought it meant that maybe we should think of ourselves the way God does – but is that actually what this verse says?

That’s how I found myself in the Message, and as it turns out, I was sort of right. Generally, I think that is exactly how we should see that beautiful child of God in the mirror.

But this verse says, “by what God is and what He does for us.” As if we are covered with His skin, and it is no longer possible to see ourselves without the lens of Jesus Christ. And if we follow this line of thinking, we arrive at a surprising destination where all of the questions we’ve been asking have done nothing but prove how misguided we’ve been. 

Is our goal to please God or to please our co-workers?

Either way, we then “misinterpret ourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God,” seeing ourselves as “what we are and what we do for Him.” 

The passage continues with a cool body analogy, where we bring our gifts to the table for Our God and each other – and why? Because we have been set free from all of our have-to’s, all of our questions, where all that’s left is Him and His infinite grace. We are His and they are His gifts with which to bless us all.

Asking questions about worth and value, wasting time on perfection, seems to just keep us trapped in the old skins that simply don’t fit anymore. We are not better, we’re brand new.