Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What if I am wrong?

What if I am wrong,
If the God I know is false?
What if he is just a fantasy
That haunts my thoughts?

What if I'm mistaken
If he is not as I have known?
Have I found him in the wishing well
Amidst the pennies thrown?

What if they are right
And I have damned myself instead?
Believing in a paper God
Conceived in my own head?

What if he is angry?
Have I soiled the Father's grace
By demanding no conditions
Of the ones who seek his face?

If I am what plea have I
In the face of perfect wrath?
None but this, that I believed;
Let Christ's love guide my path.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dreams of Falling

Dear God,

When I dreamed about what you would do with my life... this wasn't it.  I'm not complaining.  Not really.  I know you have a purpose and a plan, and I am willing to walk the path you have for me.  I just thought it would be, well, different.  More successful and impressive?  More significant?  Shamefully, yes, to all the above. 

I thought it would look more like my dreams.  But it doesn't.  It looks like your dream.  And that's okay, because you are a better dreamer than me.  You dream for the whole world.  Teach me to dream like you.  Maybe if I can dream like you all of this will make sense.  Maybe all these random fragments of life will make a picture that I can recognize.  If I could dream like you, I believe I could see how this all simplifies into some grand equation or song or story that expresses your perfect selfless love.  And I could see my place in that picture, and how it makes other parts of the picture beautiful... if only by contrast.

That's the hard thing about faith in you  In the end, it really is always blind.  Over and over, you walk us up to the cliff and say, "Jump.  It's worth it." 

Only a crazy person would do that!

I guess that makes the church an asylum.

I won't lose this chance to know you, even if it means knowing you in your suffering.  If that is where you may be found, that is where we must go.  Let us be bold to leap, regardless of where we fall.  We will always land in your arms.



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To my sons - Part I

I always find myself thinking a lot about life and death around Easter.  Some might call it melancholy.  Others might call it depression.  This year, it's probably a bit of both.  But as I sit here listening to Rich Mullins' "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band," I find myself thinking about legacy.  What is it I want to pass on to the three beautiful and incredibly gifted boys God has given to me?  If I could say just one thing, what would it be?

Trust in God, my beloved sons.  Trust in him with everything you are and have.  Because if you're going to follow him, you're going to have to.  There's no middle ground.  There will be days he takes everything from you.  There will be days you swear to God (ironically) that he hates you.  There will be days when you are reduced to rubble and blood and you realize the only thing that keeps you walking in faith is the fact that there is nowhere else to go.  On those days when most people would walk away, he will ask you as he asked his friends the disciples, "Will you go away also?"  And son, you may be ready not just to walk, but to run.  But you won't.  You won't because you love him.  No, you will drop your head and sigh, and you will answer with Peter, "Where else will I go, you have words of life?"

But there's another reason you won't run.  It's not just that you love him, but somehow you know he loves you.  It goes against anything that makes sense.  Sometimes he is terrible.  Sometimes he is a wrecking ball.  I believe people misunderstand those passages in scripture that talk about God as fearful.  He is not to be feared because of his hatred and condemnation.  Oh no, it's so much worse than that.  It's his love that scares the hell out of me.  He is relentless.

It was not anger that melted the mountain of Sinai, it was love.  I suspect that the flames of hell are not kindled in God's wrath, rather they are fired by the rage of human hearts which refuse to accept his love.  They are not eternally punished by God.  They punish themselves.  They will be damned before they will accept so foolish and indiscriminate and undignified a love as that displayed on the cross.  I myself hold out hope (hope is not against orthodoxy) that hell is not, in fact, eternal.  But if hell is eternal, I believe it is because of the stubborn determination of the human will, not the will of God.  Let them shut me out of ministry and even the church itself, but I cannot believe that God is cruel or vindictive.  I cannot bow to a God formed in the image of human conceptions of vengeance and justice, whether her name be Dike, Justitia or even Theos.  I will always and only believe in the God revealed to us in Jesus, the cross and the resurrection.  I hope he is the God you will believe in too.

But the relentless love of God in Christ is terrifying.  He is a consuming fire.  He will reduce you to cinders, but  he will not let you go.  He will love you to death.  If your desire is to know him, he will grant you that desire regardless of the cost.  If you ask him for life, you will receive it.  But eternal life, like the mythical phoenix, is born out of ashes.  And the Jesus I know is liberal with his gifts.

I always wondered why scripture spoke of suffering as a gift (Phi 1:29).  Suffering brings us life because in it we know God as he truly is - God is selfless love, and selfless love is embodied in suffering.  The cross is the sacrament of that love.  It is the visible sign of an invisible truth.  God will make you his sacrament too.  And sometimes it will hurt like hell.  There is the really horrifying part of it.  God will not only allow you to suffer for your own good.  He will also allow you to suffer for the good of others.  In a very real sense, our whole purpose is to represent his love to others as he represented God's love to us.

It takes a lot of trust to suffer in faith.  It takes a lot more to suffer in faith and never see the reward.  Not everyone gets to live the story of Job.  Sometimes we do not receive back everything that God allows to be taken from us.  At least not here, not now.  As Hebrews 11:39 suggests, sometimes we do not receive what is promised because the promise is not for us individually, it is for everyone.  It is painful to suffer and not understand, not be vindicated.  But that is the call of God, and in it God ruins our lives as Mike Yaconelli once said.  But he ruins us that he might renew us.  He kills us that we might be resurrected.  And though he slay us, yet we will serve him.

So, trust in God.  Because it is in faith that all this makes sense.  It is from the perspective of the end that we understand all that goes before.  We are not yet privy to that perspective.  Trust him anyway.  He is good.  He is love.  Never believe anything else.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Without a Home

I am not much like Jesus. I wish I was more like him. These days I do feel like I identify with him in one way.

The gospel describes Jesus as a man without a home.  We find him consistently sticking out like a sore thumb among the "people.of God."  He just didn't seem to belong... in the synagogue, in the temple, even among his own disciples.  Oh, he *did* belong there.  But he was light in the darkness.  He was the true Adam amidst men of dust. 

I am not the light in the darkness.  But I become more and more aware that I don't belong.  I'm not sure whether its because I am a difficult person or because I just refuse to follow the crowd around here.  Both are equally probable.  They are probably two sides of the same coin.  The fact remains that I am slowly coming to question if there is any place in the church - the church here - for me. 

It makes me sad.  Truth be told though, I am not sure what to do about it.  I have sought God.  I won't say with all my heart, because I don't think any human - least of all myself - is free of partial and false motives.  But my desire has been to know Him as He is.  It just so happens that the Him I know doesn't fit the Him that most people know around here. 

In the end, I must be true to the You I know, Jesus.  Help me to do that.  Even if I never find a home.  Be my home.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Man Of God

"Come meet this man of God."  These were the words of the search committee announcing the selection of a new Pastor of Worship.  Why did they trouble me?

The same words had been used to describe me before.  Did they trouble me then?  I think perhaps so.  I know me.  To call me a man of God more than anyone else has never seemed appropriate.  Was I jealous?  Perhaps, I don't have a ministry position right now, so that was a legitimate probability.  But it didn't seem the only or even the primary reason.

As I thought about it, it seemed like it was the selectivity of the statement.  "Come see this man of God.

Him.  Me.  Why are we "men of God?"  What is so special about me?  About him?  I don't like the way we elevate people in ministry.  I don't like it when its done to others. I don't like it when its done to me.  Don't get me wrong, it feels good.  It makes me feel valued and loved and... God help me... important.  But as I said, I know me.  I know they're feeding a fire that doesn't need any fuel.  Even the most insecure people don't need to have their pride coddled.  Speaking as one, many of us have enough fantasies, dreams and secret hopes for our own importance that we would never let see the light of day.  I do.  God forgive me, I do.

I need encouragement.  I need reassurance.  I need hope and love.  But the paradoxical curse of ministry is that the role we serve feeds our greatest temptation - our pride.  I am a man of God no more than any other follower of Christ. I recognize that many people see pastors and church leaders as representatives of God.  But I am not convinced that is a good thing.  We are all representatives of God to each other.

The prayers of a minister are no more effective than those of your brother or sister in Christ.  Neither should be the words of encouragement, the hand of consolation, the comforting presence.  There is no ranking by position in the Kingdom of God.  Granted, there are differences of gifts:  wisdom, prophecy, mercy, eloquence, discernment.  But there should be no more reverence for the human pastor than for the human janitor or dishwasher.  "The last shall be first," and all that.

That said, I understand words from the pastor, minister or other authoritative person will, in fact, be more comforting to some people because they are uttered from a position of authority.  I will not begrudge anyone that.  But as people in leadership, we should neither invite nor welcome such sentiment.  And I would go so far as to say that we should subversively counter those ideas by our counsel, our sermons and our transparent lives before others.  We should be constantly reminding people that we are no more holy, no less sinful, no more important than anyone else who loves and follows Jesus.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Canis Christianus

I once read that dogs run away to die.  I used to wonder why they would do that.  After all, I'm scared to death to die alone.  But I think humanity has some similar vestigial instinct in our compulsion to hide our pain.  Pain implies weakness; weakness generates shame.  I don't know if a dog feels shame, but I know how humans feel it.  I know both men and women have lied, stolen, murdered and died to avoid it.  Entire cultures have regulated behavior, morality and social rules based on fear of shame.  The church has at times relied on it exclusively.

I have often felt that the scriptures do us no favors here.  I have my suspicions as to why Martin Luther called the book of James an "epistle of straw."  "Count it all joy my brothers," says James, "when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."  Here's my knee-jerk response to the esteemed successor of Peter to headship of the Jerusalem church:  Don't be such a prick.

Offended?  Yeah, well, me too.  That is, until I recognize that it's not the words of James that trouble me so much, but it is hearing them as platitudes from religious people that evoke this overpowering urge to wretch.  How dare you hurl scripture at me as if it were a balm!  Away with your inevitable, "I can do all things through Christ Jesus."  In the mouths and hands of the right people, even scripture can be venom.  You feed guilt with guilt.  Must I be ashamed even of weakness?  "Buck up boyo!  We've no time for your self-pity.  Don't harsh our vibe."

Other people's misery troubles us.  Keep your shit to yourself.  But if you dare to bother us with it, we're going to make damn sure you fix it - and pronto.  We love you too much to let that shit smell up this church.  We've got a kingdom to build, and nobody wants a shitty kingdom.

Honesty is ugly, isn't it?  But there's a whole lot of ugly between here and there.  You can turn your back on it and pretend its not there.  You can sweep it under the rug.  You can build cathedrals over it.  It won't go away.  The alternative?  We can descend into it as Jesus did.  You can build Christ's church in the middle of it.  Where the love of Christ is, there is redemption - even if it's clouded by our own weaknesses.  God make me brave enough to go there with you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In the end

Its ridiculous how trained I am to see myself in light of my accomplishments and failures.  I have far more of the latter than the former.  Ultimately, I have to resign myself to death.  Finally, I am a failure.  A beloved, miserable, pathetic excuse whom you never stopped smiling over for no other reason than that you are real, selfless love.  I keep wanting to be like you, but I'm lucky to make it five minutes without falling.  Thank you for loving me anyway.  Forgive me for faithlessness.  Help me to trust you at your Word - Jesus.  Make me able to incarnate that love to those around me.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I suppose I'll have to reserve this blog for my frustrations, since the other blog is supposed to be constructive.

I opened my mail this morning to find a flier announcing another church launch.  It read:

"This piece of mail could change your life forever - Relevant Church"

Thankfully on the back it said, "Of course that is ridiculous."  However, I fear their teaser had already turned off anyone who might ever look beyond it.  Just after that, it read:  

"This piece of mail can't change your life, but we are excited to introduce you to something that can.  Imagine a place..."

Did you catch that?  Apparently this place can change my life.  

"At Relevant Church we believe that church should be exciting, meaningful, relevant and life-giving."

Big words.  A quick perusal of the advert revealed that what makes "Relevant Church" relevant are it's 

1.  "Engaging, powerful worship services (translated:  Hillsong music & dynamic speaker).  
2.  Programs for children from birth to 5th grade
3.  They accept you for who you are

Guess what?  Based on this information, the only thing that makes "relevant church" different from any other contemporary church in this area is it's glossy advertisement.  Oh wait, nevermind, it's not different at all.  We have more churches in this area than we have restaurants!  Why do we need another cookie-cutter church?  Bluntly, because somebody else wants to be in charge.

You know what I want?  I want a different kind of church.  I want an advert that reads like this:

"If you're looking for another church don't come here.  If you're looking for coffee, cool music and fantastic kids' programs... well, we have coffee.  There are better places out there for that kind of thing.  But if you want to love and be loved like Jesus, we welcome you to join with us in trying.  We hope to be good at that someday."

Monday, February 4, 2013


How ironic is it that all of us want so bad to be somebody, but to truly live for Christ we must live like nobodies.  I can't help but wonder how screwed up.we have it in organized religion, where the most.popular leaders are the somebodies.  Where we try hard to have bigger churches, more followers, more and bigger buildings and programs, more influence - as if that defined our somebodiness.  It all seems horribly topsy-turvy.  It seems like a power game.  I begin to think I want no part.of it.