Soaked

“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” -Psalm 63:1
In the middle of our Californian drought, a weekend of heavy rain.

It poured and poured, not letting up for a second. I could feel the thirsty plants stretching their leaves towards the plump clouds, roots almost dancing in the mud.

I recalled a pastor during a high school retreat talk to us about “spiritual drought” in our lives. He talked about the “living water” rushing in to quench the drought inside our thirsty souls. As kids growing up in Portland Oregon, this only made hypothetical sense to us. “Yes!” I thought to my 15-year-old self, “It does get dry (sometimes) here in the summer! We don’t have air conditioning and it is uncomfortable. A rush of water would do everyone some good, I am relating to this metaphor.”

Then, I moved to California and realized I have never been through a real drought.

I have never experienced so little rain.

I am looking at my own life and seeing personal signs of drought. I tell my small group to live like they are unconditionally loved and accepted while I spend more of my day telling myself I’m not good enough than thanking God for His love and acceptance. I live my week completely disconnected to the people from my homegroup. I read book after book on spirituality, my actions and habits remain unchanged. I speak empty words. I am drying out.

How does a drought happen? Simple. It doesn’t rain one day.

Or the next day.

Or the next day.

While spiritual drought is very real, I would like to go back to that youth pastor and tell him that his metaphor is off. While the rushes of living water feel wonderfully refreshing to a parched and thirsty soul, what I really need is an IV in severe drought. I need a daily drip to build up groundwater. When the sun is out and I don’t feel refreshing rain on my skin, I should have water in my bones to sustain me. When the heavens open and release a downpour, my ground should be soft and ready to receive it, not dry and hard, letting it all slide off the surface.

I need to everyday connect to the source so that life will spill over to those around me in abundance.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” -John 7:38

Be thirsty everyday. Offer others a real cure to their drought. Saturate.

Be Mine

for-you-vintage-valentine-heart

I remember second grade in elementary school particularly well, for in February of that year my teacher announced we could only bring valentines to school if we had one for every person in the class.

There was a riot in the desks at this absurd announcement.

The popular boys and girls loudly insisted this rule was not fair, and I sat quietly by and watched. I recognized even then that their reaction was rooted not in the inconvenience of having to make extra valentines, but in their yearning to reap the reward for all the hard work they had done to earn the valentines they were about to receive, and hold dominion over who would and would not receive a valentine from them. When the outcast in the class receives as many valentines as the most popular student, then the valentine looses it’s power. No longer does it have the ability to rank students. 

Do we see ourselves in the prodigal son’s brother, stewing outside in the cold while our undeserving brother who did everything wrong gets the party we deserve? When our father’s reply to our cries for fairness is, “…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32) we still aren’t satisfied. We have access to everything inside that party at all times, but as soon as it is shared with someone who didn’t work as hard for it as we did, we pout. 

Do special valentines really make any difference in the life of the popular student who receives affirmation of their like-ability daily? Would a party make the already taken care of and accepted older son feel any more loved by his father? The answer is no. They want what is already theirs to begin with to themselves as a reward for being better than someone else. 

Why does the father throw the prodigal son a party? Why does the teacher insist the uncool kids get valentines?

They see beyond our petty ranking systems to hearts that are told for so long that they aren’t worthy of attention, or friendship, or acceptance, or kindness, or dignity, or love, that they start to believe it. We are a classroom full of students, and only the teacher can see past the second grade hierarchies into the hearts of those few who really need a valentine and are at the mercies of it’s power. The father sees his son return with his tail between his legs and he throws him a party because that is what he needs to know that not only is all forgiven, but he is restored in full to his place in the family.

I sighed a quiet sigh of relief on the inside the day my teacher announced the valentine rule. Gone was the fear of having to count my bag of valentines on the playground and coming up short compared to others. Gone was the stress of having to replay weeks of various recess interactions in my head to determine whether or not I would embarrass myself with a gesture of unrequited friendship.

We were free of our rankings, we were free to give and receive love openly.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”

-Romans 3:23-25

Do not be envious that God is generous (Matthew 20:15). This should never diminish the fact that to all of us, God is saying, “Be mine.” 

Prodigals

I’ve felt conviction lately. Real, honest, deep conviction. I had almost forgotten what that pull on my heart was like.

It’s more than just feeling bad about something, I generally feel bad about something weekly (if not daily). It’s also more than guilty or ashamed, for when I feel bad, or guilty, or ashamed, I spiral in on myself and deepen the hole dug originally by whatever made me feel that way. When I feel a sense of conviction, my previously ambivalent and apathetic attitude turns to a deep care and action. When I feel convicted, I feel energy and life in an area where there previously was none. We can be convicted in a number of ways about things in our lives and hearts, sometimes it inspires us to action sometimes it inspires us to stop actions that cause others/ourselves harm. Why then is it so difficult to avoid imposing guilt and shame on someone you are trying to share your convictions with? Why is it the case that more often than not we merely make others feel bad instead of empowered to change?

Let’s do an examination of words.

con·vic·tion
kənˈvikSHən/
noun
  1. a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense, made by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge in a court of law.
  2. a firmly held belief or opinion.
con·demn
kənˈdem
  1. express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure.
    “fair-minded people declined to condemn her on mere suspicion”
  2. sentence (someone) to a particular punishment, esp. death.

There are similar judicial implications to the two words. To convict is to declare guilt, to condemn is to sentence. The judge is responsible for both.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” -James 2:12-13

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? – James 4:12

So if we are not the one to declare guilt, if we are not the one to sentence, who are we?   Let’s examine another courtroom term.

wit·ness
wĭt′nĭs
  1. One who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

-Acts 1:18

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” -1 Peter 3:14-16

We are supposed to be the witness. One of the most beautiful thing accomplished through Jesus’ life and death was God showing us that we have viewed the system all wrong. God does not want to be judge. God gave us life and we chose death. God gave us rules in order that we may find that life again, and we twisted those rules into death. So, the God of the universe became a helpless baby to grow up, live a perfect human life, then be put to death by those who claim to follow Him in order to overcome death itself.

“‘O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?’

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-1 Corinthians 15:55-57

God is not up in the clouds chomping at the bit to open up the earth and cast us all into hell for having too much to drink one night. God is not in his judge’s chamber, smirking while polishing his gavel. God threw Himself onto a cross in a final effort to give us the opportunity to choose life. There is no courtroom equivalent to that. That is a son calling his father dead by taking his inheritance early and leaving to spend it all, returning with nothing to try and work in his father’s fields, only to have his father disgrace himself by running down the path of his house to embrace his son and restore him to his place in the family (Luke 15:11-32). God loves us fiercely and shamelessly.  

So let us tread lightly and carefully with others, always in humility and love. Trust that the incomprehensible love of God is enough, and all we need to do is share our personal experiences with that kind of acceptance. It is not our job to convict or condemn; our job is to accept the love of God and let it change us into people who love fiercely and shamelessly, to live fully in the embrace that we couldn’t come close to deserving.

“‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

-Luke 15:32

Err on the side of mercy, err on the side of love.

What the Trinity and dating have in common

When I asked a group of 8th grade girls to list what is a sin, things get very muddied. Hands are not raised, there are a lot of “uhhhhhh…” and “well, maybe….. Killing someone.”

But, ask this group to list the traits of a perfect friendship, their hands shoot in the air before the sentence is finished.

In rapid fire, I compiled this list:

  • Trust
  • Do things for each other
  • Support and having your back no matter what, but will tell you when you’re not being yourself
  • Confident in them and not clingy
  • Reliable
  • Someone you can be you (quirks in all) around
  • You don’t get jealous of them, you can share in each others accomplishments
  • You can say no and they won’t be offended
  • Love them

What these girls did, unbeknownst to them, was create an outline the Christian life. 

Who is God? God is love (1John 4:8). Thus enters the Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perfect relationship. Love contained within the Trinity as equal parts giving and receiving without insecurity or selfishness.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross means that we are now invited back into that relationship. We are given the freedom and agency to approach God without insecurity or selfishness.

We are given this freedom within our other relationships as well.

Since the first time a relationship was breeched or taken advantage of in our lives, since the first time we experienced being the object of someone else’s rejection or selfishness, since the first time we alienated someone else by our jealousy or insecurity, we’ve known what a perfect relationship is not. The list above would be just as easy for a grown adult to make as it was an 8th grader.

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'” -Luke 10:25-28

How do you choose your friends? How do you choose your spouse? What kind of person do you want your child to turn out to be? What do you want God to be like? Why do our lists for all these things so closely resemble the list at the beginning of this post?

I am recently married, and figuring out why Jesus used the marriage relationship as his metaphor for his relationship with the church (Ephesians 5, Revelation 21&22). I have entered into a life-long committed relationship with someone, and have felt the freedom of a perfect connection between David (husband) and I flow so smoothly at times. We have been so willing to sacrifice for the other person that we forget our own need because there is no doubt it is thought of and cared for by the other person. What an opportunity to safely exercise relationship without insecurity or selfishness.

Then what happens? I do something selfish. He does something selfish. We both act out of insecurity. The bond and free flow of love is broken.

But would you believe it? The cure to our selfishness is to focus on someone other than yourself. Focus on God, focus on others. What a coincidence – that is written into the very purpose and foundation of our lives by God himself! Continual consideration of others instead of ourselves leads us closer to being that perfect friend. It makes us look more like Christ.

Don’t waste the precious life you have getting lost in do’s and don’ts. Instead, get lost in perfect relationship.

Sehnsucht (Not the Rammstein Album)

Sehn·sucht
ˈzānˌzo͝oKHt/
noun
  1. 1.
    yearning; wistful longing.

The dictionary would say that yearning, wistful longing is the definition of sehnsucht. The truth is, there is no english equivalent to the word. And, it is my favorite word.

I am not claiming to understand sehnsucht to it’s fullest, I took one semester of French my freshman year of high school, then Spanish for another three after that. I can now sufficiently say that I am neither fluent or conversational, nor have a firm grasp on any of the romance languages. Needless to say, I also do not speak or understand German. 

Regardless, this German word has become one of my very favorite words in any language.

Sehnsucht refers to a felt state of being, equated to longing and nostalgia for something (often a country or place) that can’t be identified, the inconsolable longing of the heart for it knows not what. It is first and foremost felt and felt deeply. 

C.S. Lewis famously describes this feeling as a longing for heaven:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

— C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

There is pain in sehnsucht, there is a deep void of pain and emptiness that can be overwhelming at times. Sadness without an event or object. Unresolved yearning.

So, what have I never known? What is this insatiable longing for?

Unconditional love.

Unqualified acceptance.

Unquestioning dignity.

Unmitigated benevolence.

Unlimited Life.

Unreserved joy.

Complete rest.

{ Peace on earth, goodwill towards men }

I can easily say these are the things I am longing for. I would not hesitate at the chance to experience any of these things. Would you?

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

-Luke 17:20-21

In all my yearning for them, am I exhibiting the qualities of the Kingdom of God? Do I let this feeling inspire me to give others this very same longing? Do I show someone mercy, love, dignity, acceptance, peace, grace in order to stand beside them, to point and say; “Look, here in our midst, can you see it too?”

Do I pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”?

This is the weight of faith: living and loving in such a way to reflecting a life and love you have never experienced. All of our deepest sehnsucht longings will be satisfied, let us live in this waiting tension like they already have been.

Strip Down

Today, I am enraptured by the Lord’s Prayer.

I started going to Church in 7th grade, quickly finding there was a language they were speaking within the church that I was far behind the learning curve on. I observed and soaked in and took on many christian-isms in order to look like the people in the church who also love God and read the bible. At the time, I saw no problem in doing this. I can compare it to starting a completely new job you wanted, but feel under skilled and under prepared for. The christians around me had been in the game a lot longer than I had, so their insight on the do’s and don’t’s became an important resource. I lived this way for years, immersed in the culture of the church, until I was the one regurgitating answers to younger christians starting off on the bottom rung of faith.

Unfortunately for my comfort zone, I’ve now been exposed to more types of christian churches and cultures than I previously imagined could have possibly existed. I’ve been thrown by “absolutes” that proved to be (to my utter shock) purely cultural, far from “Biblical,” and did not even extend past my own church’s front doorstep. The beauty of this realization was that my firm religion had to be broken down to bare bones. Instead of wading through the muck I had made of my faith, I stripped it to the essentials. I have for years been slowly, carefully, and prayerfully rebuilding.

One of cultural practices I shed was that of the memory verse. So many times I read the bible and come across a verse I have memorized back in high school. It’s words are burned so deep into my memory that their meaning is an afterthought, something that makes me smile sweetly at the thought. Reading those bumper-sticker worthy verses surrounded by the words they were originally nestled into has power to bring me to my knees. I am now brought to tears by paragraphs and pages rather than detached sentiments.

Today, my example is the Lord’s Prayer.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” – Matthew 6:1-15

When read in more context, the prayer becomes less of a formula, less of a rule, less of a manipulation to get God to finally listen to what I need. I used to recite this prayer as a lead-in to asking God for what I really wanted, as the secret code to getting God’s ear. It never felt like enough to just stop at the end. What struck me today is that this is the exact reason Jesus gave us this prayer. Perhaps it is an anecdote to our felt need to always do something more, always add to what God has done and has planned. We pray for our friends, and for our self, for jobs, for a bonus, for safety, for a parking spot. This is not bad, we are also told to pray and petition God for everything (Philippians 4:6), but behind all the noise we make with our lips, we still hold grudges, we hold bitterness, we don’t let go of something that was done or said to us. We do not understand prayer as a way to peel off our pride and entitlements, to humble ourselves and ground ourselves.

God hears the simple, heart-felt prayer of a grateful sinner whose motivation in prayer is not to gain more than what God has already provided and will provide.

Daily bread, forgiveness, forgiving others, the Kingdom of God.

If I were to pray one thing the rest of my life, would I be comfortable with this being it? If broken down and stripped to the bones, is this the foundation from which all my prayers stem?

What Phil Robertson and “Merry Christmas” have in common

This week A&E suspended Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty for some remarks about homosexuality he made in a GQ article.

I have read the article, as well as article after article responding to this situation. Christians everywhere are latching onto Robertson as a poster child for white, male, Christian (did I mention wealthy?) freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We are all lining up in suit to take our side, as we can no longer view the duck hunter from Louisiana as anything but a bigot or a martyr.

This post won’t be ready by many, I am sure, as I am refusing to label him as any of those things. I’m refusing to be outraged that a character on a reality TV show that pumped millions of dollars out of a primarily Christian audience, is now getting his slap on the wrist from the television network that created him. Duck Dynasty will continue to rake in the cash despite/because of the article. Fires are being fueled left and right.

I encourage you to stop. Don’t buy into it. Don’t make him your hero or your villain.

This is a symptom of a disease running deep within all of our veins. The blog posts fly, the tweets are rampant, people are fired up. I am not criticizing a community arising around a cause, but did we ever stop and think, WHAT exactly are we so viscerally reacting to? What are we claiming as Our Cause?

We are blinded by our culture, thinking within its limits and boundaries that have all been so directly set up for us by TV producers and big businesses in order to profit them. We have a skewed perspective, so much so that we can’t even dig enough to find what is important enough to be outraged by. We are satisfied with Phil Robertson being our cause, playing into the hands of our culture at large. Fish in a barrel.

Christians latch onto Phil Robertson’s every word for the same reason they feel the compelling urge to assert their religious beliefs by saying “Merry CHRISTMAS” as a response to a well-meaning passerby’s “Happy Holidays!” once a year. Bob Goff wrote a book titled “Love Does” which is a collections of stories woven together to illustrate the title point: love is a way of life. Love is a series of actions we choose to take in order to live a radical life of whimsey and genuine care for others. Somehow we tend to change this point, twisting it to mean that Love is slipping in an out-of-context aside about our religious beliefs to random strangers (on the internet or in the grocery store) in order to check off our religious obligation.

This is your wake-up call. God does NOT care what your stance is on Phil Robertson is. God isn’t going to place a jewel in your crown every time you pointedly (often angrily) say “Merry Christmas” to a heathen.

The truth is, this time of year is a prime time for us Christians to take a hard look at ourselves. What are our priorities? Are we actually remembering the true reason for the season, and thus being inspired to live out the result? In exuding that reason for the season, every single day in every action that you do, filling your life and relationships with grace, mercy, and love that God has shown you, I’m sure the need for jumping on whatever hot-button bandwagon of the moment will be rendered completely unnecessary, and perhaps actually hinder your very way of being. Don’t engage in petty offenses when the real demons are just skating by. What about greed? What about gluttony? We defend with our nails and teeth the rights of a well educated 67 year-old duck hunter that has and will continue to made millions off of the American system while the same system drives an 18 year-old to get a pump-action shotgun, a machete, a backpack containing three Molotov cocktails, and a bandolier of ammunition across the chest. Oh, wait, we were outraged. We took it to another heated conversation about gun control. Something is fundamentally broken here.

I encourage you to pray differently. I encourage genuine prayers to grieve what grieves God’s heart, rather than what the society at large wants to pacify you with, and then be prepared for the results. Maybe your eyes will be opened to the acts of governments like North Korea, where even owning a bible is cause for execution or sentence to a labor camp. Perhaps you will weep openly for the greatly oppressed gay citizens by the Russian government and people, where a sitcom star there freely stated that gay people should be “burned alive in ovens.” You may even start to realize that the government we are operating under is driven a little more by greed and self-aggrandizing than biblical principles (which, by the way, stand in stark opposition to those things).

I dare you to search “Human Trafficking” on the internet. I dare you to research the cocoa industry, and the garment industry, and the mining industry. Pay attention to rhetoric in churches used still today that is demeaning towards women. Open your eyes to institutional racism. Listen to a group of 8 year-old girls talk about their body image. Buy your neighbor, the single mother with three kids, groceries. The world has a huge burden of troubles and problems worthy of your outrage to pick from, where your God-give life and breath and energy will actually make a positive difference in someone’s life. They sit there, simmering just below the surface, because no one will make any money off our energy placed towards them.

I encourage you to not waste your energy getting bogged down by reality TV stars. While you’re at it, give someone a reason to have a “Merry Christmas.”