What God would say through our lives if He could…

People talk about developing virtue like its the worst chore one could be given in all the world. But, as I was reading today, I had to wonder why. I thought, if these things are markers of the One who has chosen us, evidences of how high we have been raised in rank, wouldn’t we want to shine them all up and make sure we could parade each one of them about at all times?

You see, there is no real reason to grumble through the striving we are called to make on behalf of virtue. Living in this vein is to strive in the ways of virtue, not to strive to have virtue. God supplies the virtue. We supply the eagerness to receive it. There is a vast difference between living this way and living to make ourselves better by trying to adopt all of God’s rules without constantly being enveloped by more of God. A world of difference.

In the first instance we are submitting to God that He may turn our lives into what they are supposed to look like and be. There is nothing for us to muster up–to create of this life–only to free ourselves up to be conduits of the life God wants to pour into us. Because of Him, and how He is partnering with us, we become the very things that God wants to show the world through us. It is a reward to be called to live lives like this, lives fitting with the purposes God has for us who will be forever a part of His kingdom.

Let’s accept this calling, this purpose, this enabling–this plan He has for cultivating virtue in us–and rejoice over His care that runs all through it. Don’t stop there, move on to flaunting the work of God’s Spirit all over the place! We want others to see and be enticed by what the living God does in the ones He loves. We want others to desperately want what God is already holding out to them, especially when they see it taking over us. “Take what He gives and enjoy it too!” our lives should say to those around us. With a smile–yes, don’t forget the smile…and the joy-filled laughter that comes from being a child of the King!

What about when I need a break from God?

For some of you, your first thought upon reading the title above is utter shock: “That’s unbiblical!” you cry out. You’re so afraid of ending up guilty of such an infraction that you deny that such a phenomenon could even exist among the race of humans–except, possibly, with the exception of the fiercely pagan (which you make it your business not to know).

For others of you, you read the title of this post with relieved expectation: “Finally, someone is acknowledging that mankind at times finds themselves in such a state.” If you’re in this place, you may want to get out of it, but you also may not. If you are honest, you probably want to get to the heart of what’s going on inside of you before you would ever want to move on. You may have many people around you who are coaxing you to pull yourself out of this “slump”–whether they attempt this by anxious persuasion or caustic maneuvering.

But what are your reasons for needing a break from God? And, may I ask you, what are the characteristics of the God you must escape? How do you see Him? How do you see Him seeing you? These are things that must be considered if the relief your heart needs is ever to be found.

I’m not telling you your feelings and needs are wrong, and I don’t believe God is either. I’m challenging you to let these feelings and needs lead you to a deeper level of revelation than you’ve ever plumbed. Find out what you’re running from and what you’re trying to run to. What is the source of your chains and what holds the power of your release? These are powerful questions that hold out to you the potential of freedom.

These questions will serve your heart well. They do not deny the condition of your heart; rather, they seek to diagnosis your heart in the deepest way possible so that it may be aligned with its most ideal treatment. The ultimate treatment is not something you can do for yourself, but you can certainly do some work to get yourself in a place of contracting with God for this work to be accomplished in you.

Not everyone understands the heart well–even people who claim to know God like they invented Him. But if you want to truly understand your heart, go to God and invite Him to reveal what He sees inside you. Expect His tenderness to train you in paths you haven’t gone. Understand that though He does not protect you from recognizing obscene realities of sin within you, He will cause you to rejoice in seeing that your shame He has fully taken upon Himself. He assumed the weight and penalty of your shame so that you might go free. But He didn’t do this so that you could then walk away from Him.

He did this so that you would have every reason to walk toward Him. And not just walk, but run into His arms–knowing and being convinced of how much you’re wanted there. This realization is the only thing that will be able to call off your break from God. More than that, it is the only thing that can resolve the arguments that anchored you in your retreat.

To demonstrate how much He cares about resolution when it comes to what’s going on in your heart, God has already done three things for you:

The first thing He did was that He took care of your ultimate problem. He set at ease the enmity between you and Him and opened Himself up to you. He saw your fault in the problems that exist between you and He and assumed the debt you racked up. Where you were wrong and had to make things right (but couldn’t), He made things right.

The second thing He did was call you to come look at what He did and understand why He did it. A lot of problems we have with God would be cleared up if we would just look at the cross and take the time to ask Him “Why?” He died so that love could be the answer.

The third thing He did was invite you to embrace the implications of that answer. If God loves you, why aren’t you taking advantage of it? No, don’t use this as an opportunity to scorn Him and get the upper hand when it really counts. Doing this will only make the gift you were meant to enjoy non receivable, even a curse. Instead, delve into this love-gift. Discover in it’s depths (no, I’m sorry but you won’t find this from a distance or by hovering on the surface of it) the most steadfast and true love you will ever find. Come rest in the one place where your performance is no longer counted against you–for good or bad. Hide yourself–find your covering–in the place where One performance forever seals you in the arms of your Father and Heart-Lifter.

For all your arguments and struggles, God entreats you to  argue with Him. He does not want your heart to be burdened and beat up any longer. The cross shows us that He is serious. Christ’s whole heart became blistered and bruised by your very pain. Everything that is wrong with your life and you He came to know intimately. He insists, now, that you come near and not retreat from Him because He wants to sort things out with you. He does not want you to isolate yourself with your problems; He came to Calvary so that fellowship could be restored between you–even to the extent that your problems would become His.

God removed every reason that sin and shame had to keep you apart from Him and invites you to hash out what remains–showing you that all these things together are not as strong as His love for you. He will provide the means for conquering them if you will ask Him to. God does not call you to dismiss parts of yourself to be able to fellowship with Him. Instead, He insists that you bring everything that composes who you are to Him. He promises you that seeing yourself in the pure light of who He is will remove all the blemishes of your heart; all the misconceptions, anger and frustration.

This does not mean, for now, that you will never experience these things again, but that they will no longer rule you. They will never keep you from fellowship with Him. Rather, the weaknesses in you will cause you to find greater comfort in His strength. And you will learn to let go with joy because what He holds out to you is far more important than anything that would keep you from receiving His gifts. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” ( Isaiah 1:17-19).

The relationship between your shame and His sacrifice is the only thing with the power to not just draw you “back”–to the less rebellious place you were before–but call you Home (to God) for the first time. This is grace: What you’ve been looking for so long to find. This is fearlessness in facing the truth because the Truth already faced down the reasons for your fear.

He arrested the development of your eternity-defining struggle against Him so He could call you home to mercy and not what you deserved; to life and not the death that awaited you from a wrath-appointing God; to peace and not the enmity you’ve always known to be the chief characteristic of your relationship with God. So, ask God to give you a break from your troubles–if that’s the request that burdens you the most. Ask Him to give you a break from all the things that make you hate Him or misunderstand what He’s doing (or done) in your life. But, above all, ask Him to teach you the blessed opposite of taking a break from Him. He will teach you–oh, most eagerly!

If our hope springs from Christ, why can’t our humor?

Things that make me laugh usually have something to do with the sound they make or the connection my brain makes with the idea  presented. In some cases I laugh because I am amused by the unusual combination of sounds in a certain word. Yet, in the case of some phrases–especially descriptions of events or idiomatic expressions that seem to have no use other than to confuse–I delight in the images that tickle my senses.

I don’t always crack up because something is so crazy in itself, sometimes–more and more these days, actually–I delight in the things my imagination makes of common occurrences in my day. It’s fun to have a private joke–something that you don’t necessary keep to yourself to deprive others of enjoying a bit of humor with you, but something that would lose its power to divert if it were removed from the soul-environment where it was conceived.

Let me share some examples with you and may joy bubble out of you too!

Words I love:

  • Pah-Hoode (or Pahud, as it is listed in the cast compilation from the movie Paul Blart, Mall Cop). I love to say this name to myself. It consists of two syllables I would never put together, but every time I say it my tongue is thankful that someone did.
  • Humdinger. I don’t know for sure if I’ve ever spotted a humdinger, but I’m sure it would please me if I did. This isn’t even something I need to understand to enjoy. That’s one of the best things about humor: It can be so innocent, so spontaneous and sweet.
  • Knee-slapper. I figure something like a humdinger must be followed by a knee-slap. There’s just no other way to celebrate such a moment of whimsy. I might add that I’m not the only person I know with an affinity for this expression. My comical cousin has gotten a lot of mileage from this expression. Every time I hear her say it, accompanied by a dramatic strike to her knee, I can’t help but smile. I not only like to enjoy things that strike me as funny, I like to be involved in what others enjoy.
  • “He blew out his knee”–a terrible thing that I find it difficult to believe actually happens. I plead with you, if you want me to be serious and sensitive to your case of muscular degeneration, be so kind as to use a more neutral expression–I can’t hold in the giggles when I hear this one. While snorting to cover my haw-haws and frowning hard to hide my scandalous facial appreciation, the only regret that comes to me naturally is that I didn’t get the chance to see it. In my mind it is a drama reminiscent of a spectacular Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. (Note to readers, if you want to keep laughing, don’t Google images of this catastrophe.)
  • And speaking of Calvin and Hobbes, these cartoons always pull off the lid of guffaws for me. I love when there is a series of his exploits concerning his experience driving out of the garage in his parents car with Hobbes, or the time he rips his pants just as recess is ending and the time for each student to do math problems on the board is, unfortunately, approaching. I am envious of the mental gymnastics he cruises through as he prepares his zany school assignments or dissects the incongruities of life on his way down a steep ravine. He reminds me of myself at times, he softens my heart toward the most annoying person I know at others.

How I love to laugh.

I want to join God in His laughter, realizing that He is the Creator of this gift of mirth as well as a great many of the things that I find so funny. Think about it, could it be that God has been laughing at some of these things for all of eternity past, waiting for us to finally discover them so that we could join Him in His chuckling?

I love that thought. I love knowing that joy comes from God and He is utterly full of it. What better truth could we find for our tired souls that lack inspiration and enjoyment in the life we live? The more we look into God’s joy, the more we find all truth to be wrapped up in this.

God has always known delight. We are the ones who have not. We have moved out of the realm of His delight and tried to create another place where we could have delight alone. It hasn’t worked. Joy is impossible without God. Joy is literally worship of the One who lavishly supplies joy to His children.

The cross, even with all of its sorrow, is filled with joy. It is our invitation to be reunited with the Father’s heart. Christ’s death fully acquainted Him with all the joylessness of our God-less existences. His resurrected life now intersects judgment with mercy. When we receive this life as our own, we are reawakened to joy.

We come to know joy as a Person, One whose essence wells up within us and makes us people who can endure all things because we know that hell has been removed from the roster of our destiny. Punishment has been meted out to our Friend the Savior, and we worship Him without compulsion, but with joy in the victory He shares with us.

Joy shows up in our life every day because of Christ. For some of us, it makes a difference not only in how we feel inside and what we hold dear, but in how we sound and react to life as well. Just laughing shows off what miracles He has done in our lives. The closer we get to God, the more we express our unity with Him.

I was so serious and hurt before, but because of what God’s presence has done in my life, I now need little excuse to laugh. I want to squeeze everything I can out of joy-inducers around me. Another thing is that I use every opportunity to express the joy that is already inside. And I hope when I laugh that I give others joy and remind them that there is a reason to delight in humor even with all that is going wrong in the world. Our hope springs from Christ–so why can’t our humor?

The evil we all need to experience for ourselves

Do any of us need to see evil? It may exist in our world, but do we really have to experience it and learn what it feels like? Do we have to confront how powerless we are before it?

I have asked myself these kind of question so many times. The inference has been Why, God? What do You think You’re doing with me? Where are You, and why do You think it’s okay to let me know suffering so well? I thought the point of walking with You was for me to experience joy? 

I don’t know all the reasons why God does what He does and allows what He allows. Suffering will always be in large part a mystery for us while we’re on earth. But I believe once we are in heaven we will see things wholly as He sees them. We will applaud His purposes and we will appreciate the way He poured His holiness into us even while we were on earth. We will exalt the Lord our God because we will know Him and have need of nothing else.

I pray that knowing what is ahead of us will affect us today. I pray that hope might be so firmly implanted in us that we might live like there is a reality that goes far deeper than suffering. As we long for the redemption of our bodies, may we learn to love the Redeemer of them all the more!

When all I’ve got is me

I just want to be human. I don’t want to strive to be a god, or even the best human that ever lived. I want to discover what it really means to be human.

Is being a human about making much of oneself or about making much of those around you, making much of God? I’ve never really thought much about the difference. The world at large doesn’t ask this question and I didn’t either. Besides, I had a plan of my own to work out–it should all work perfect, I thought.

But, to my chagrin, my plan didn’t end up very human. It didn’t have room for loneliness or despair, joy or community. It reflected my need to not acknowledge my humanness. It made me somewhat dull and certainly dormant, but I thought it made me look complete and should naturally make me feel that way.

No such luck! It was a disaster. It forced me not to feel and not to see. It insisted that I live for myself and leave everyone else behind. It told me I had to make something of myself at all costs; I couldn’t afford to turn out being nothing. No one else could save me from that fate but myself. So, I took it upon myself to make me number 1 on my own list.

It made sense, I thought. Why shouldn’t I be number one? It would be impossible to think of myself as number 2 or some other fairly insignificant number. How else could I get to the top? How else could I matter?

That was the real question: How could I matter? I didn’t know how I mattered, so I thought I had to make up something to prove that I did. I thought I needed to construct a platform that made me seem important enough and proficient enough to be wanted, to be known.

What I really was was lonely. I needed love, but I didn’t know where to find it. I thought since it didn’t seem to exist, maybe I could conjure it up–the only problem was that I didn’t believe my own lie. My heart echoed a rhythm far, far out there; something I didn’t understand, but wanted all the same. Something I needed to find; something that would make all my seeking matter.

When I found the source of that rhythm I found that I mattered because Who I sought mattered. I mattered because the One I sought made me seek Him. I mattered because I belonged with Someone who wanted me. I mattered because He sought me with the call of His rhythm–what we call love.

Just a little piece of something bigger–something I don’t understand

I can’t change the whole picture, but I can freely let God paint what He wants in the corner that I live in. After all, I am just a little piece of something bigger. I really only have the capacity to understand what’s going on in this little corner. I know and experience much here, so I don’t worry as much about what’s going on behind the scenes. But, when I look out a little ways, I grow uncertain. I don’t know the whys and hows of what’s beyond my reach. But, oh, that I’d learn to see God there just as well as I’ve learned to see Him here! I only know one little part, I only have a measure of control over one little part,; but He knows the whole scheme, He has the final say over the whole scheme. He I will trust. He I will bless when I see the whole picture, and by it, better understand His (he)art.

That’s all I want

I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to pretend that I have to do it all, to be everything that could be desired all by myself. I’m not going to block God out of my heart like that. I’m not going to be too busy working on me that I forget to invite Him in, to let Him work on me Himself.

After all, that’s what I really want. That’s what satisfies my heart, knowing and hoping that He would be here and the affect of His presence would have a tremendous influence upon me. That’s all I want.

A certain calculated risk that shouldn’t be avoided

Have you ever carefully contemplated a situation…decided what you needed to be careful to avoid…but then, when it came down to it…God got you right in the middle of the very thing? He seemed to say, “Thanks for narrowing it down for me–I definitely don’t want you to be trying to avoid anything!”

What is He thinking?! Why won’t He let us live our lives as risk-free as possible? How can He think He’s doing us a favor when what He goes against conventional wisdom? And why doesn’t He ever seem to like it when we feel comfortable?

Could it be that we would be missing something very important if we avoided risk? Could it be that something inside us, something inside Him has to respond to our risk? Could it be that we are wed with Him in risk? Perhaps faith can only spring from this.

And, what if we need to not only live with risk, but live on risk? Is there something innate about the risks He asks us to make that He may understand better than we do?

I hope so.

Could it be that in many cases the very things that are risks in our world are actually the  privileges of people belonging to another place, possessing a deeper life than can be contained here?

I think it could be possible because I have hope. Hope seems to be central to risk…otherwise, we wouldn’t risk. Otherwise, I’d like to assert, God would not ask us to risk. If He thought we were really going to lose something we really needed, certainly He wouldn’t ask. But, our problem is most often not with the things we need, but with things we desperately want, am I right?

We want to avoid risk because its not safe, comfortable or predictable. We may learn to live with the result, but we will never know the surety we do right now. Our steadfast hope will likely have to be built somewhere else–on something we’ve not yet seen. My soul cries out in horror at this; it says, “avoid that way at all costs! You will die there.”

Yet, if I’m quiet, another part of me can be heard whispering, “I want you to go there. There is no other place where you can find such peace. I don’t want you to listen to your fears. I want you to find what is hidden there for you.”

Yes, there is a powerful invite and surprisingly, it is perfectly able to match the urgency my soul gives me. Surely both parts of me are in tension; the matter is that important. I must no what is going on here, why risk seems to be such a central issue.

There must be something to this risk, this hope that we need to know more about.

I think there could be much more to life than the simple, comfortable existence. We are alert to nothing because we settle into living amongst already-cozy mates who don’t get what life’s really about either. But, certainly, since we are all amateurs at this life-deal, we should seek some sort of coaching. We should sense that instruction is one of our greatest needs. We should be looking for help from someone qualified to help. Someone.

Yes, that’s right, I believe He can help. You may find this hard to believe for a variety of reasons–reasons that are not without significance. But my reason for believing that He can help us with life is not based solely on a need for something to be true. Instead, I am convinced that this would be true regardless of whether I wanted to believe He could help or not.

You see, I know that if you could look back over my life you would recognize that I have not always been one running in this direction. Though it provides me with comfort now, there was an extensive time in my life when I was committed to running in every other direction. I had no desire to make this my anchor. I wanted a more liberating “proposition.” I strongly favored Godlessness.

Yet, after I searched everywhere else, I was still wanting comfort. I was still without a steady hope. Coming face-to-face with reality, sporting all its blemishes and faults, made me wonder how I could ever live in such proximity to this if faith did not become real for me.

But, you must recognize that I was led here–I did not guide myself here. I chose to make this way my own only when I realized I did not have a way worth following. He promised we would be going somewhere, together. He promised He’d help me “make” it.

I didn’t make-up this scheme because I thought it made for a pleasant delusion that would serve me in preserving my psyche. I believe He can help because He has proven to me that in Him is life. I have not set out to believe that; I believed only that this world, ultimately, was life. I had no reason to seek engagement with Him, except He sought me and I realized there was plenty that was missing inside and He just might be what I was missing.

He is what holds life together–I think this is a very clear fact when we consider that we’ve each had too many experiences and heard to many stories that testify to the fact that life does not hold itself together. Though He holds life together, this does not mean that He sanctions–is behind–everything that we experience in life. He allows it, but He does not call for, what is evil. No, instead, He uses evil–which flows down to us through the stream of man’s rebellion against God–to turn us back to Himself. To teach us that where we are is not where we belong and we cannot make it home.

And, because this is not home, we can lay it all aside in favor of finding home, finding Him. We couldn’t do worse than avoiding this. Truly, it’s all we have here.