Monday, March 30, 2015

Why "Seasons" of #Messy Deny The Truth

If you've read any of the #messy posts you know I've chosen to write about my struggles in the midst of them. Rather than write the cleaned-up sanitized version of the challenges I face, I'm attempting to give voice to, not only my struggles, but the struggles many of you have too. The truth is we are not alone. We may have different difficulties but we all know the pain and hardship of life.

Because I'm not good with discomfort, rejection, or brokenness, I'd like it to end now. It's not that I'm not familiar with those deep waters, I just want this "season" to be over. Can we just move on, please?

I have to believe our friends in the Bible felt the same way we do today. Things have not changed all that much.

Take Noah for example. It's tempting to believe the cozy sweet picture of Noah and the Ark. You know the one where he is standing at the door waving and smiling as he is about to set off for the adventure he'd been dreaming of. Even the waves look friendly and inviting. You can just imagine Noah's wife exclaiming from the kitchen, Oh Noah, what could possibly be better than this! Thank you!

Only, that's not how the story went.

Noah and his family were not vacationing on a cruise ship for forty days and forty nights. They were tossed back and forth on the turbulent and tempestuous waves of life. They weren't lounging on the lido deck basking in the brilliance of the sun. They were below deck, slinging crap [literally] and rationing food. They were growing impatient and doubting this great idea of boarding an island to nowhere, wondering, will it ever stop raining? Like me, Noah was probably thinking, God, I'm ready for this to be over now!

Somewhere though, right smack in the middle of my "can I be done" mindset, something occurred to me. It may seem obvious to you and it should to me. I write about it and I believe it.

Our lives our hard.

This Christian life is no different from any other - same struggles, same problems, and same anxieties.

However, it seems like a new revelation just now.

It feels like a new discovery.

It's not complicated.

It's just true.

I'm not in the midst of a "season" of #messy.

I'm in the midst of a #messy life.

All of life is one long #messy.

Consider Noah's life. We might be tempted to think that the forty day "season" of his life was messier than the rest. However, a trip down memory lane reminds us that prior to boarding the Ark, Noah was ostracized, mocked, and abandoned by friends and neighbors who thought he was crazy. After his ship landed on dry ground, what happened? All kinds of family drama and relational struggles erupted. Noah ends up drunk and shamed by one of his sons. Did they ever reconcile? The Bible doesn't tell us. The point is this. Noah did not face a "season" of mess. His whole life pointed to the mess he was in.

The same is true for me and for you. I am tempted to believe that the last several years have been messier than all my other fifty plus years. Probably because my memory is fading! However, taking a trip down another memory lane I quickly discover that messiness is not isolated to a "season." I grew up in a home where tension, turmoil, and terror was constant. My room was my refuge. Teen years brought some relief as I ventured out and away, but the struggle and pain was a constant friend. Early adulthood brought fun and frivolity, but now I realize it was one long attempt to numb the reality of my brokenness. That's not to say there weren't times of great joy and intense happiness. I have experienced immense satisfaction and contentment at times. I'm grateful for memories of pleasure and peacefulness. I delight in close friends, family, laughter, and all this life has to offer. But, this life is not without pain. The longer I live, more friends get sick, more people I know die, and more problems mount on top of existing ones. However, like Noah, my life is lived in light of Love.

God came down.

He is here. I don't need to worry and wring my hands over "seasons" of messy, waiting for an intervention.

Intervention came. Christ intervened at the cross.

He did not come to intervene into one episode of messiness in my life, as if to say all the other parts of my life are not messy. If you could spend a day with me you would know that's not true, or you could just ask my husband :)

My entire life is a testimony of need. The need for a rescue.

#Messy is not a season to get through. #Messy is life.

Thankfully, we live our lives in light of Love. Light that obliterates the dark shadows of #messy.

Jesus does not deny the reality of our mess.

He embraces it and in the midst whispers,

...I came for you, I love you, and you are mine.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Was Wrong

Earlier this week I blasted out a tweet, and honestly, I had not given it much thought since then.

Until yesterday.

You may have seen it:

You may have agreed with it and even thought, yes, that's what I need. An intervention.

I wrote that in a moment of piled-up, mixed-up memories. If you've followed some of my #messy posts you know I've been struggling with faith. And, not just for a few weeks. It's been awhile. I've been honest about it because I know many of you struggle too. I've always wanted this to be a place of honesty and safety. You know, beggars showing other beggars where to get food. I've attempted to acknowledge the reality of my life in the light of the gospel. What I've found is the liberating truth that I can be a mess and be loved - simultaneously. Martin Luther referred to it as Simul Justus et Peccator. Simultaneously sinner and saint.

When I tweeted my need for an intervention I was recollecting events and relationships and brokenness that led me to where I am today. I silently lamented rough roads and sad situations. My mind was overwhelmed with a desire for it to be over. I need an intervention. I know Jesus knows me. But right now, I need him to intervene and prove it.

Fast forward to yesterday. As I was going about my day handling my typical Friday routine, I realized...

...I'd been wrong.

(btw, I'm not sharing this because I'm excited about admitting I'm wrong ;)

I'm sharing this with you because I think it's life-changing.

I think it's burden-lifting.

It's paradigm-shifting.

I believe it's life-giving.

It's cool water.

It's earth-shattering.

It holds the keys to the kingdom.

You may be thinking, Lori, c'mon. Don't be so dramatic.

What could possibly be so revolutionary? so reformational?


Here it is.

I don't need an intervention because the truth, the amazing and astonishing good news is this -

I have an intervention.

Christ intervened on the cross - into my life and yours.

When Christ gave up his life for you and for me, it was not a sacrifice that needed to happen over and over and over again. It was not a sacrifice like in days past when every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices (Heb 10:11).

When I said I need an intervention I envisioned an event that would redeem my situation. That would make things different. That would seal my peace and grant me hope. That would give me assurance and take away fear. The truth is, that event happened.

Peace has come.

Redemption has come.

Everything is different now.

I have assurance.

Faith not fear is the name of this game.

Am I still doubtful? Yes.

Am I still struggling? Definitely.

But, I don't have to hope for interventions. I don't have to look for one every day or in the midst of a struggle.

It is here.

True rest.

Intervention is in my midst.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oh Foolish Christians

Do you ever wonder how you can go from having a relatively peaceful heart to being overwhelmed with dizzying tension?

I do. 

I wonder how it is that I can rest in Christ's love for me one minute, and the next minute I'm struggling to keep my bearings. I falter and succumb to unbelief and think, the good news cannot be that good. There must be a catch. For all the bad things I've done, for all the wrong things I think, surely, I must have to make up for it in some way.

I have a friend who I speak with regularly and most of our conversations end with reassuring each other that it really is o.k.,

and that the gospel really is what it is, and really means what it says.

The Galatians struggled in much the same way we do today. They heard the gospel. But after a while, other voices became louder and challenged their faith. Weakened by the lies of the enemy, they fell into wrong thinking, believing that they should have Jesus and hang on to a few traditions. Like the Galatians, we have heard the gospel. And like them, we are easily persuaded to believe a "Jesus +" gospel. Oh, it may look the same. It's dressed up in all the ways the gospel is supposed to be dressed - but with a few "accessories." Nothing outlandish.

Just deadly.

We've bought into this other gospel because it convinces us that we must contribute something, and, what we bring to the table is actually worth something. We like this "improved" version. The only problem is it leads to death. Not a redemptive death. A permanent death. That's why Paul wastes no time setting the Galatian believers straight. I appreciate the way he tells it like it is:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. 

Knowing that others played a part in their unbelief, he shakes his fist at those who preached a false gospel to them:

Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 

He continues:

I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 

Paul asks them:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 

He argues by stating:

If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 

Some may say, c'mon Paul. What are you so riled up about?

Paul could have easily walked away from this dog fight. He could have left the Galatians alone to figure it out for themselves. Or, he could have encouraged them along their "Jesus +" way and exhorted them to just do the best they could. But Paul knew a little something about that option. You see, Paul had a story. A pretty amazing story. This is how he tells it in Philippians:

[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul did not realize it at the time, but his legacy, education, and religious devotion had not brought him any closer to God. In fact, it left him wholly separated from the one true God he tried to worship with all his might.

Paul may have thought his story was complete since he was living the good life of religion and devoutness. It's then, that Paul's story takes a miraculous turn.

His story continues in Acts

La conversion de Saint Paul by Luca Giordano
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

But rise...

Those two words hold the power of life for the threat-breathing murderer turned Apostle Paul. It would be easy to believe a kind of cleaned up version of Paul's conversion. You know the one where Paul stops persecuting Christians and apologizes to everyone he's hurt. He starts talking up Jesus to all his friends. Then, Jesus comes and says, "Well done, now rise.But that's not how the story goes. The Bible says, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 

But rise

Jesus was talking to Saul at the time, not Paul. Jesus was talking to the same old persecuting self-righteous Pharisee on his way to persecute more Christians. In the moment of Saul's murderous contemplations, Jesus commands, but rise. Jesus in essence said, I know you are persecuting me even now, but I am changing your story. In the midst of your evil doing, I love you and I died for you and because of my great love for you, I am raising you from your death. Make no mistake, you can't raise yourself, you're dead in your sin.

But rise. 

By my power, you will live. 

As Paul recounts his story, he now knows better than anyone that the flesh holds no power for salvation. Paul knew first-hand the part works played in his own salvation. Zero. He knew the lineup of "good deeds" he had accumulated and they were worth absolutely nothing. Paul had experienced the new life promised in Christ and he would never be the same again. He would never stop preaching the one true gospel and reminding believers, even today, that it is For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus Has Two Words For Our Religious Gyrations And Hoop-Jumping

It is tempting for me to think that what I do has the ability to grant me more favor in God's eyes. I want to believe that my effort is worth it. You know, that it's not wasted. In other words, if I am going to do all this work to find another church, help build their new church parking lot, and live a God honoring life, I just want to know what's in it for me. I may not consciously be looking for the payoff, but just below the surface is a simmering need to be seen as spiritual, knowledgeable, godly, and humble. Because Jesus knows me better than I know myself, he speaks to these desires of mine. He alone understands that it's a lot worse than I even know, or can articulate. I cannot fully comprehend the desires and motivations of my heart, but they do not escape his purview.

The Bible reminds us over and over that we have not arrived. There is nothing new under the sun. All the ways we seek to gain position and prominence are the same ways believers did over two thousand years ago.

All the temples [sanctuaries and steeples]
All the pages of the Scriptures ["right" versions of the Bible]
All the sacrifice [devotions]
All the fasting [church attendance]
All the circumcision [repentance]
All the religious education [doctrine and theology]
All the lineage [Christian heritage and legacy]
All the money [tithes and building programs]
All the perfect animals [godliness]
All the Sabbath observances [Christian standards]
All the family ties [Christian tribes]
All the political and social positioning [hierarchy, power and position]

All those religious traditions, trappings, and to do's, they all have to do with our work and nothing to do with God's work. They leave room for boasting, only it's boasting in ourselves. They make no provision for pointing to the God of impossibilities.

It turns out that after all of our spiritual and religious gyrations and hoop-jumping, Jesus boils it down for us in a couple of words. Many ask the question today, "What does this Christian life look like?" We all want to know what Christianity looks like "on the ground."

What Jesus tells us should be of huge relief to our fretting and fearful hearts and minds. There are thousands of voices shouting each day to do it this way or that way. And, not just shouting instructions, but heaping guilt and shame on us if we don't do it just so. Our voices are usually the loudest, shouting at others and shouting at ourselves. Like the pharisees,we are the ones that won't like it much when we hear what Jesus tells us. This is what he says we should do in order to "walk out" our Christianity.


This is about the time when I think, really? Did Jesus really say that? Because, that's not what I'm hearing from my church, my Bible study, or my community group. That's not what most books tell me and it is certainly not what the religious experts tell me.

But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe...” 
Luke 8:50

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 
Mark 5:36

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
John 6:28-29

It really is that simple.

Relax. Breathe.

Shake off trappings and traditions. Tear up the list of musts and the sticky notes filled with shoulds. Maybe for the first time in your life, know for yourself what Christianity really is. It's not a denomination. It's not complementarianism or egalitarianism. It's not determined by your homeschooling prowess or your Christian college degree. It can't be contained by your ability, or lack thereof, to give a tithe or offering. It is not even dependent on whether or not you can list the five points of Calvinism and it is not taken from you if you have no idea who Calvin is, although you may get points if you know who Calvin and Hobbes are ;)

Jesus says in order for you to do the work of God, only believe.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Me Do" and My Inner Toddler

"Me do."

If you've spent anytime around a toddler you've probably heard these two words, "me do." The message is clear. I don't need your help, I can do it on my own.

The little girl in this video is intent on fastening her own car-seat buckle. She is learning to do things on her own and we applaud her because it means she is growing up and maturing. Parents know that the process of raising children is really one long attempt to move kids from dependence to independence. We hope that one day our children will be able to live on their own and support themselves.

It is ironic then, that independence is actually a detriment to relationships. It's crazy really. So much of our life is lived in an effort to become independent. Unless we are self-aware enough to know what's happening, we simply move through the stages of independence, believing each new step brings us closer to living life as a healthy mature adult. For many, the idea of dependence on someone else is counter-intuitive. It is definitely counter-cultural.
"Because we live in a culture that worships independence, many of us tend to demonize any degree of dependence and see it as weakness. In order to avoid the judgments of others (and ourselves) many of us try to conceal the dependence that is intrinsic to our nature as humans. We are, after all interdependent, social beings that require involvement with others in order to meet our intrinsic physical and emotional needs and to grow and thrive. The definition of dependence is “a reliance on something or someone”. The definition is neutral; but for so many, the word “dependency” is a dirty word. In our “me” centered, society, it is a popular belief that to achieve maturity, we must become absolutely autonomous, and self-sufficient. If we allow others to become dependent on us, or we are dependent on them, it is typically viewed as negative or even pathological." - Breaking Free from the Myth of Independence/Interdependence is the Key to Successful Relationships by Linda and Charlie Bloom
Marriage is often the relationship that if not immediately, then eventually, brings the tension of moving towards dependence into the light. The struggle intensifies in serious relationships.


Read Independence and the Deception of Freedom for more on independence within a marriage relationship. 

However, marriage is not the only relationship where clinging to our independence rears it's ugly head. Relationships with friends, co-workers, class-mates and relatives are also affected. Our inner toddler continues to shout, "me do!"

It was a hectic Wednesday morning as we got ready to leave the hotel. Two women in the same hotel room with one bathroom is always a problem – especially when running on a tight schedule. My business partner graciously offered to get us coffee from the cafĂ© downstairs and I was not about to argue. Fifteen minutes later I heard my associate fumbling outside of our room. I rushed to open the door for her and in that split second I heard the cup hit the floor. In her effort to manage the doorknob with full hands, she dropped one of the cups.

I remember thinking later that day, that’s how we live our lives, independently, never asking for help and living as if it's all up to us. Rather than tapping on the door and waiting for me to open it, she struggled to handle it on her own. Instead of acknowledging that she could have used the help, she needed to prove she was capable. Relationship experts, Linda and Charlie Bloom, accurately diagnose our inner critic who believes our dependence means we are childish, neurotic, weak, and needy.

Ultimately, our relationship with God is in the cross-fire. The idea of giving up and giving in is so counter-intuitive, we cannot imagine putting ourselves in a position of complete dependence on God. We wrestle and fight to maintain some shred of independence. It is a constant battle of surrender over control and it leads to exhaustion.

The bible calls it slavery, I call it sheer and utter exhaustion.

Our incessant need to maintain control and appear independent is tiring. We are at the end of our rope, weary and spent from trying to perform for others, and for God.

It is a relief then to find out that for the Christian, maturity does not equal independence. For the believer, any sense of maturity will manifest itself in increasing dependency. Any signs of improvement in our spiritual lives is a movement toward weakness not strength. For the life of a believer the best news ever is a recognition that we don't have this figured out, we're not all that able, and we need Another.

About the most mature thing we can say is I'm exhausted, I'm a mess, I give up. 

It's what Paul confessed at the end of his life. Many would have thought a sign of maturity from the apostle Paul would have looked something like, "I've been preaching the gospel for a long time and I think I finally have this Christian thing down." Instead, we hear him declare, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul is honest about his dependence on God and admitted, "I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord."

When God told the disciples to become like children, I don't think he had "me do" in mind. I think instead, it was an invitation to, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Why Are There 200,000 Books On Christian Living?

There are over 200,000 books written on Christian Living and Spiritual growth.

Why so many you may ask?

The only answer is, we desire them.

We're desperate to know how to live this life as a Christian. We are driven to find out what we need to start and stop doing. We search for the definitive answer to all of our parenting, marriage, and addiction problems. If we just know what to do we'll do it, and everything will be fine. Our problem, we believe, is that we haven't read the right book yet.

We've fallen for the lie that says the solution to our problem is more knowledge. We believe that if we know what to do, we will actually do it. However, that's not what the Bible teaches.

The truth is, doing is not the problem.

Sin is the problem and the only solution is Jesus' love for sinners. 

Hear that? The solution is not more knowledge or even more doing.

The solution is love because only love, the unconditional love of Jesus, has the power to actually transform a human heart and change our desires. 

Did you screw up this week? Great, glad to know I'm not alone. Was the problem that you didn't know what to do? Yeah, me neither. It was more likely that I knew exactly what to do but I either did not want to do it or I was too lazy to do it or I was too pig headed, stubborn or prideful to do it. But it was definitely not because I didn't know what to do.

So if you're like me, it's good news that Jesus loves sinners. 

It's not just that Jesus tolerates sinners. He loves sinners. His heart is compassionate, full of grace and mercy and forgiveness and love and did I mention compassion? He doesn't shake his head at us and mutter to himself about how we failed the latest discipleship program.

He's clasping you to his breast. He's catching your tears and wiping your eyes. His love knows no limit and his mercies are new every morning. Even when you're not looking for his mercies, he loves you.

Even when you are wandering the bookstore still searching for the latest "how to" book...

...Jesus loves you.