The Person God Wants You to Avoid

It was my first times being “called into the pastor’s office.”

I didn’t like it. I’d spent the night before wondering what type of complaint about my Bible study had instigated my requested appearance. The ensuing conversation didn’t exactly clear things up.

Me (trying to appear open rather than defensive, hoping that by some infusion of the Holy Spirit I’d actually be open and not defensive.): “So, you’ve received a complaint about my Bible study on Revelation?”

The pastor smiled reassuringly. “I’m sure we can clear it up right here.”

I exhaled a little. “What’s the nature of the complaint?” Continue Reading →

In Seeking to Make Gods of Men

sleep-102436_640Are you ever afraid that people will discover what a fraud you really are?
That friends and family who are drawn to the outward expression of you, would recoil from and reject the person you encounter in the inner room of your heart, your soul, your mind?
It’s not something we’re prone to share with one another – this fear is the closest most of us get to holy ground
if we find another with whom to share it, we should, perhaps, remove our shoes.
I mostly know that other people experience this fear from their private writings made public after their deaths.
Like the poem, Who Am I?, penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer  while awaiting trial in Tegel Prison in Nazi Germany. Here are several lines:
“Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,                               
 Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events, Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?”
 
These are words that give voice to what many of us feel in those darker moments when our spirits and our faith seem as likely to survive as a spun sugar hockey puck on an ice rink.
And there are many kinds of prisons:
a passionless but necessary career,
a loveless marriage,
a public role,
a chronic illness,
a fatal diagnosis,
a great loss,
a long-time caring for the needs of another,
an unexpected detour in our plans.
We know what people expect us to say in the face of these prisons. We speak publicly of faith, of trust in a loving God, of our hopes of deliverance, of patience and courage
and we believe what we say, we honestly do.
But when we switch off the light and are alone in our own darkness, even if there is one we love breathing beside us, we are alone with our inner person
and it is there that we remember that we are still only human.
It is there that we learn that while Jesus saves us and fills us with life that is vibrant, real, and eternal; Jesus does not make us into little gods.
There is a part of us that hoped that’s what would happen.
And there are people around us who would make us into gods, demand from us God-like stamina and perfection, bring to us their endless needs expecting that we have God-like inner resources to fill their cups from our well
and sometimes we believe this ourselves
but it is a dangerous belief.
There is One God and there is no other.
In the inner rooms of our souls, we encounter our naked humanity and the vulnerability of it makes us afraid.
Afraid that no one else feels this way. Afraid that if anyone saw us in our naked truth, they would think us frauds and hypocrites, afraid that even God might turn away from this mess. And we wonder how long we can hide the truth from ourselves and continue to press on. We fret. We may even despair.
But the truth is, we were never meant to become little gods.
We need Jesus every day like manna, like water, like the breathe of life. And He knows that, even if we and others around us are prone to forget.
He doesn’t reject our humanity. Our humanity was His idea.
The Bible lets us see this vulnerable side of those who were most intimate with God: Job, Jeremiah, Noah, David, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul. These were men who knew how desperately they needed God and who faced moments so low they despaired even of life.
But God didn’t reject them in their struggles of the soul. He met them there. He received them. He knew what they felt before they did and He ministered to them.
They were neither frauds nor hypocrites but simply men, come from dust, returning to dust, frail and fleeting as a flower of the field, wholly dependent on the power of God to overcome.
When those moments come to you, loved ones, know that even if there is not one other human friend to whom you can turn, there is Jesus.
He has been in that inner room where you are naked and alone. He has already seen your doubts, your frustrations, you fears. He will sit in that room beside you and sort through the personal sorrows stacked like old newspapers on the floor and work with you through the process.
He may even turn on a light, and smile, and you will see that that room only had power over you as long as it was dark.
You can find Bonhoeffer’s poem in its entirety at  http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/who-was-db2.htm

What Do You Look Like from Behind?

Do you ever think about what you look like from behind?

I thought about that when the royal wedding photos were released and it was obvious that members of the wedding party had considered how they would be appear from all angles.

I’m often guilty of forgetting that others have a 360-degree view of me. I check to be sure I’m as inoffensive as I can make myself from the front but I’ve been known to spend time drying my bangs and forelocks while leaving the rest of my hair to figure itself out (like a form of Hasidic couture).

I’ve also been known to leave the house with stains on the back of a blouse or white marks on the back of my pants from where I’ve brushed against something, reminiscent of that Doritos commercial where the supermodel has wiped her cheesy handprints on the back of her jeans.

When I try on clothing at department stores and am confronted by those 360 mirrors, it catches me off guard as I’m suddenly reminded that the other half of my body is visible to others. I wonder how often I’ve walked around with a false sense of confidence in my appearance only to leave a trail of snickering glances in my wake.

Today I’m thinking about these words that Paul wrote in counsel to Timothy “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” I Timothy 5:24

Do your sins trail behind you like unpleasant fumes? Do you present a godly front only to turn and be exposed as a façade-wearing fraud? Is your walk with Jesus real or is it mostly smoke and mirrors? When the celestial paparazzi catch you off guard at an odd-angle, what does that snapshot reveal to those who watch from the heavenly realms?

These are the questions I ask myself when I turn to the 360-mirror of God’s word. It is sooooo easy to write about being a Christian but it’s stomach-churning, muscle-pounding work to live it out every moment of every day. I want to write Christian fiction, not live it, so one form of protection I put up against hypocrisy is to live and write as transparently as possible.

That doesn’t always work out the way I hope. Sometimes I share too much. Sometimes I’m misunderstood. Often, I’m vulnerable to the judgment of others. Better that, though, than to live life like a drunken skywriter leaving behind me a wispy trail of unpleasant words and toxic fumes.

We’ve all known people whose sins trailed behind them. Christians with reputations for being dynamic teachers, community leaders, or speakers with well-known names who leave in their backwash loved ones, staff, or behind the scenes, workers who see the truth of what the person is when the lights are down and the cameras are no longer running.

But we don’t have to be famous to be frauds.

Every day, believers face the challenge of living truth, representing truth, speaking truth, and presenting truth through every aspect of our lives. If we only apply scriptural truth to the faceplate of our lives, we’re likely to leave behind a slimy trail of sin.

Let me encourage you to spend enough time in the 360-mirror of God’s word that it penetrates the surface and permeates your being. Breathe it in like perfume so that in your wake, others are refreshed not repulsed by the stench of hypocrisy and superficiality. Be in relationship with honest, mature believers who will tell you if you’re starting to smell bad or if you’ve leaned against wet paint.

You can always tell when someone has put in the effort to be presentable from every angle. Likeways, you can usually spot the believers who actually know Christ and aren’t simply dropping the name of a casual acquaintance. Paul goes on to encourage Timothy with this truth in verse 25: “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.”

What do you look like from behind? Have you given it any thought lately? Consider it today, you may find you have cheesy handprints on the backside of your soul!

What do you do to stay real? What strategies do you recommend for maintaining a 360-degree walk with Christ? I’m always looking for ways to grow – I know you have wisdom to share!

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Don’t Go to Church This Sunday – A Challenge to All American Christians

Here’s a thought.

Don’t go to church this Sunday.

I mean it.

The whole country is discussing the widespread hypocrisy of the American church and it can’t be argued. The hypocrisy is there. We see it ourselves. There are enormous problems with the church as an institution.

So, don’t go to church this Sunday.

I mean it.

Because Sunday is not the church’s day.

Sunday is not the day for the church.

Sunday is the Lord’s Day.

We are the church. Jesus is the Lord. Sunday is the Lord’s day. Understand?

We’ve turned it into the church’s day but we’ve got it wrong.

It belongs to the Lord and we need to give it back.

So this Sunday, try something different.

Don’t go to church this Sunday.

Go to Jesus.

Jesus tells His people to gather together and expect Him to be there in their midst. So, go to Jesus this Sunday. Gather with other believers, be in their midst but look expectantly for Jesus there.

In fact, before you go, ask Him to show you His presence. Confess your sins. Repent. Ask Jesus to give you eyes that see Him and ears that hear Him and a heart that is open to Him and to His work in the midst of the gathering of His people.

Try to imagine how the first disciples felt when they grabbed friends, spouses, siblings and said “We’ve found Him. The Messiah is here, with us, among us and He is announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. Come and see Him.”

Imagine their excitement – they were going to see the Messiah and hear Him proclaim the coming of the Kingdom.

And as they listened to Him, they were changed.

They went to Jesus. They followed Jesus. And they BECAME the church.

They didn’t GO to church. They WENT to Jesus.

We’ve got it all a**-backwards, don’t we?

We go to church and become hypocrites. We need to go to Jesus and become the church.

So, don’t go to church this week. This week, go to Jesus.

Don’t tune into the music – tune into the Holy Spirit.

Don’t praise the sound of your own voice or the talent of the musicians – praise the unseen God.

Don’t listen to the sermon – listen to the beating heart of God who is alive and is eternal and is filled with life that can fill you, too.

Don’t focus on the announcements – focus on the person beside you or in front of you and decide to make a connection – a deeper connection than “Bless you, sister.” Or “How was your week, brother?” Or “What are we doing for lunch, dear?” See this person as another part of a body to which you are attached and understand that the same blood of Jesus that pumps through your veins pumps through theirs and then make a deeper connection.

Don’t go to church this Sunday.

We cannot revive ourselves. We cannot cleanse ourselves. We cannot purify ourselves or call ourselves to repentance or clean our own house. We are sinners saved by grace and the only power we have is found, not in the church but in Jesus.

So don’t go to church this Sunday.

I mean it.

This Sunday, go to Jesus and become the church.

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