Spirituality

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.

Bull Elephants & Catfish

It is well documented how much I love the tv show Catfish. If you’re unfamiliar, a Catfish is (according to dictionary.com) “a person who assumes a false identity or personality on the internet, especially on social media websites, as to deceive, manipulate, or swindle.” The show details the search to discover the truth about their online relationships, bring these couples together, shine light onto & expose lies. The last few episodes I’ve seen happen to have everything to do with Sunday’s Bull Elephant Day.

First, we all know the first sin is passivity, right? The woman is tempted, eventually eats the fruit, then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen 3:6)” Who was with her?!!!!???!! He stood idly by while this beautiful creation was broken. Maybe the biggest generational curse each of us has to break is this one, passed down from the very first generation.

In this episode of Catfish, a woman is currently begging her virtual boyfriend to meet in person, after years online. When the hosts ask her what the first thing she intends to say to him, she answers, “I’ll thank him for meeting me.” The boy refuses, but they find him and when they ambush him, he reasons that he was scared to meet, it was easier to hide. Mostly, the poor baby was nervous and scared. This ends with her moving across the country to be with him.

Terah, Abram’s father, stops and “settles” in Haran on the way to the Promised Land.

This might all come from the same root – the idea that “fine” is good enough. It might be. Rather than speak out, rather than risk any conflict or an argument, rather than stand on a principle, it’s easier to stay quiet. Rather than risk a moment without a boyfriend, it’s more comfortable to accept table scraps. Rather than travel the long distance to the unknown in the heat, Haran is fine.

The girl in the show has forgotten the last several years of avoidance and hiding, ignoring the last several years of the catfish protecting his own self-interest. She is snuggling under his arm. She is “hoping he calls her more.” She is moving to California, hoping “he picks her up from the airport.” He is fine. Crumbs and banana peels are better than…well, what? What are they better than?

I think often times we forget we are made in the image of the God of the Everything, made to live in the Promised Land.

And instead, we believe the lie that Haran is the destination and not “settling.” We forget we are made to be bull elephants instead of shrinking to cause the least disruption to the status quo.

What if we are made to disrupt the status quo?

Maybe standing idly by isn’t the greatest call on our lives. Maybe the Promised Land isn’t fine. Maybe eating trash outside the feast, leaving our seats at the table empty, isn’t the design.

It’s Bull Elephant Day Sunday, there’s a new episode of Catfish on in a minute, God calls Abram to continue on to Canaan. Today is a new day to disrupt the status quo that isn’t helping anyone and write brand new stories. (And I’ll finish this post exactly the way I finished last week’s) And that will take courage and strength. And that will take reminders why and practices of focus. And that will take Jesus.

3 Weeks

I think it’s been 3 weeks since we’ve connected here. 3 weeks!??! I wonder how many of us are having the same experience; our schedules are overflowing, and some very good, very important things are forced to wait. As we know too well, saying yes to something means saying no to many others. Having said that, I’m happy to say yes to this space today.

In Joshua 1:5, God says, “I will not fail you or abandon you.”

Then, in verses 6, 7, and 9, God says, respectively, “Be strong and courageous,” “Be staring and very courageous,” and “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”

Verse 9 ends with “For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

And one more, in the middle, verse 8, “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night.”

Now, why am I simply listing Bible verses from the book of Joshua about violently conquering the Promised Land? Clouds have to be seen & observed before they can be tied together in 2022.

Joshua is told to be “strong and courageous” 3 times, bookended by promises that God would be with him, that Joshua would not be alone. Where does our strength begin and end? Where do we root our strength and courage? Where, in Whom, is our faith? These passages tell us that before we can stand, we know why and for Whom we are standing. We don’t stand in our own power, we find this strength and courage in Him.

It’s interesting, each time we are commanded to do anything, those commands begin & end with a promise from God. He acts first, decisively, mercifully. We can stand in strength and courage because we are not alone, because He is with us, because He will not abandon us.

We see this in the 10 commandments (before any command, He reminds us that He rescued us first) and the Beatitudes (before any command, Jesus announces that the “poor in spirit” are “blessed”), among many, many other examples.

It’s cool, right?

And in the middle of all of this, there is a reminder to study/meditate on Scripture. When things (storms, attacks, monsters) require strength and courage, we are easily distracted by the size of our fear, or the overwhelming nature of our enemy, or the desperate perception of impossibility. This seems like an invitation to focus (on the beginning & end, on the why or the because.)

Begin with God’s faithfulness. End with God’s faithfulness. Persevere in/with God’s guidance. And throughout, do the things. Show up. Stand. Speak. Risk. Take shots. Shine. Be strong and courageous.

So much of the Law is about here, now, today (even though we might not see it in the middle of ancient practices and outdated cultural norms). The Law is evidence that what we do matters. And not only does it matter, it affects our hearts. The spirit & physical body are inextricably tied. The Old Testament commands address our actions because we can often behave into new ways of living. This is why taking care of our bodies is so important. Taking care of our bodies is taking care of our spirits & souls.

That’s why rest, what we eat, and how we build altars or offer sacrifices are so important to God. It’s why we take days (or 3 weeks;) off or take slow morning walks or long family dinners. It’s why we do our jobs with integrity and character. It’s why we volunteer and coach youth sports. It’s why we call, why we hold, why we step, why we go, why we send heart emojis or tell each other we love them. Did you ever wonder why there are so many pages of maddeningly detailed instructions in the Bible? What we do matters. Everything matters.

We’re not earning anything anymore or bolstering our spiritual resumes in order to buy God’s acceptance or love. We already have all of that, we always have. But we do the things because through them, we walk out our faith, we respond to the boundless love that has been poured onto/into us, and we live out this radical design for life. We show our hope.

And that will take courage and strength.

And that will take reminders why and practices of focus.

And that will take Jesus.

Mile Markers

My sister lives in New Jersey, so to get to her from here, I drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are these green reflective signs, every tenth of a mile that illuminate your progress. 289.8, 289.9, 290.0, and on and on. Sometimes it feels like each sign is separated by forever, others fly by so fast I miss them entirely, 289.9 to 301 in a blink. The point is, they’re helpful to show us where we are along the journey to wherever we’re headed. Like the arrow on the mall directory (when there were still malls) that said “You Are Here.”

Sometimes in our lives, we get those same kind of markers. We were there, and now we’re here. Maybe that’s not the greatest news, right? I don’t wear the same size pants that I wore in high school, and when I bought the bigger size, I had to face the new marker. But maybe it’s great, too. What I’m thinking about (and lamenting) is how often we get so distracted by the pieces that we don’t ever take a moment to step back and see the whole picture. We don’t know how we got here because we don’t really even know where here is.

Last week, the baseball season began for the team I coach. Our first game was against our cross town rivals and we lost on a walk-off in the bottom of the last inning. It was a heartbreaker and I won’t bore you with details because you might not care at all about youth sports, but let me just tell you I made a terrible decision on the last play of the game. If you make a terrible decision in the first inning that costs a run, it’s still a run, but the one in the last inning (ESPECIALLY the last play!!!!) feels worse, like you lost the game. I gathered the boys and told them the mistake I made and why it was such a bad mistake, apologized, then reminded the boys that the sun will come up in the morning and it’ll be a new day. They all made mistakes, too, and needed to know mistakes happen and do not define them. A 16u loss is not the sum total of my life and it won’t be theirs either.

Having said that, I sat on that bench long after everyone else left thinking about that 1 mistake. Maybe the sun wouldn’t come up the next day for me, right? When I was young, playing baseball through college, a loss would leave my soul in ruins for days. A loss in a championship game where I made the error on the last play (which I had) for months. I can still see the ball rolling under my glove in nightmares. I would snap at friends and family, cry in my room, and feed the monster that was always berating me, telling me I was not now and would never be good enough. This sharp steel tether to my performance cost me so much of my life. I didn’t want that for my boys on that team, wanted them to give everything they had for each other, to the game, empty themselves on the field, and sleep like babies, knowing they had given all. Mostly because I want them – and you and me – to give all to everything in their lives; their God, marriages, children, jobs, careers, relationships, everything they decide has value.

But like so much else, it is for them. Not me. I let them down. I failed. Which as we all know leads down a short severe path to I am not enough, I am a failure.

I sat on that bench, watching the sun go down. But here’s the thing; that familiar path never came. I was heartbroken, I made a mistake (and I hope I don’t make it again), we lost, and I expected the emotional wreckage to wash over me like it had for so many years. It didn’t.

Yep. I made a mistake. Losing stinks, especially to that team. And now what?

It’s not every day we see such clear mile markers that show us where we are, so when they come, we have to pay attention. We may not be where we’re going yet, but we’re not where we were and that is a big deal that needs to be noticed and appreciated. That night, after seeing the marker of who and where I am, how far I have come from that sad broken boy I was, I stood up, fully present and fully grateful. Then I went straight home, kissed the Angel and slept peacefully.