We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it.
-2 Timothy 1:9 (MSG)
I am a…..
-SAH Household Manager
In the western world, what we do defines who we are.
I do, therefore I am.
Our value is in our production, and our value is in our accomplishments.
And the world has functioned like that for a long time.
This all works well when it’s unquestioned and you’re able to do your thing every day just like normal. But what about when a pandemic hits? What do we become when our self-identifiers are stripped away?
This is about identity. Let’s reflect broadly for a moment. We all have the natural tendency to define our value based on a set of criteria. For most of us, that involves two primary things: what we do in our work/daily lives, and how people respond to us.
I enjoy thinking about the enneagram personality typology. I happen to pretty purely in the "Two" category, which means that I often define my value by using others as a mirror. If I can make you feel better and you respond well to me, I use that to build my worth. I like seeing on people’s faces that I have helped them. It makes me feel valuable.
So what happens when EVERY DANG FACE I SEE IS PIXELATED?
I’m in for an identity crisis unless Jesus quickly enters into my self-orbiting world. You might be, too.
The bottom line is pretty sobering. If we don’t feel useful, we quickly start to believe we are useless.
God’s kingdom functions differently than the world. We are valuable not because of what we do, but simply because we are. We are created with value that cannot be diminished. God has done the work, not us.
I love that at Jesus' baptism, the Father’s voice speaks affirmation to the son before he’s accomplished anything of earthly value. Thirty years old. No followers. No wealth. No published teachings. Possibly still living with his parents.
This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.
The value is given first. The actions flow out of that. But the identity is secure.
Our worth is not defined by our work. It does matter. It just doesn’t matter ultimately.
You could accomplish nothing today, and you are still of infinite value in God’s eyes.
You could fail miserably at every task you set your mind to, and your worth would not be diminished.
You could find that working from home limits you and makes you less effective than you wish you were… and God would not be disappointed in you.
You could be out of work and feeling lethargic and angsty and irritable, and the truth remains that you are still loved beyond measure.
You could be overworked with no emotional margin, and God says...there’s grace for that.
You could be a parent who feels like your kids have gone feral over the past month and you don’t know what to do besides throw food into their room and hope for the best. And even so, you are worth dying for.
The power in this good news is that it changes our ability to handle the present struggle.
If our primary identity and meaning is tied to other people or our ability to accomplish a great deal each day, then for many, the current situation becomes unbearable. But, if our identity is secure, we can find rest even in the storm.
The Apostle Paul is one of our greatest examples of a life at peace because of what Jesus has done, not what he accomplished. Indeed, much of our New Testament was written by a violent terrorist, who was an accomplice to murder on multiple occasions. Yet he became a peacemaking agent of reconciliation in Christ. He was also a workhorse: highly educated, having many skills, and accomplishing more before and after his conversion than most of us could ever dream of. Yet he spent years in jail, unable to “accomplish” anything. And Jesus shaped him in those quarantined moments as much as the active moments. I can imagine Paul living through today and giving us a framework beyond our production-based value system.
He might say something like this:
If I work, I work for Jesus! If I can’t work, I rest in Jesus! Which one is better? I can’t decide! If I parent with great strength and ability today, I praise God for the power to do so! If I fail miserably and lose it with my kids, what an opportunity for me to receive the grace of God that flows without end. If I am ill or scared or at risk and need to be cared for by others, what a gift to see the image of God in those who serve me! And if I am able to care for others, I am refreshed by the very Spirit of God giving me the ability to do so. I am beyond content in every situation. What a gift God has given me, that I can be filled even when the world is empty. Nothing can separate me from the love of God or the infinite worth I have been created with, that Jesus would lay down his life for me, regardless of my abilities. Praise God!
Jesus, help me find my worth in you.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is brought to its end in weakness.” Therefore I will gladly boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
-2 Corinthians 12:8-9
So the post-Easter week feels like a spiritual hangover this year. Normally there’s a lot of celebration. But this week, for many of us…. it’s another week of isolation in a season of unknown length.
Some things are just too big to deal with.
Our trash service has a policy that if something is too big to fit into the bin with the lid fully closed, you can’t put it in. That’s often a problem for me, because I usually have big things to take care of. About 4 weeks ago we had this broken fluorescent light fixture that’s about 5 feet long that needed to be trashed from a basement project. I discovered it was too big to fit in the bin. So I just put it on the ground in our carport indefinitely, not sure how to move forward.
It’s frustrating to realize that something is too big for us, isn’t it?
We Americans (in our minds) are self-made people. We are exceedingly capable, able to do anything. Until we can’t. And we don’t have a framework for that.
Some of us have approached this whole pandemic thing like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. It’s our job to make things right. Sure, the government has work to do, but for the 1,000 people I know personally, if I do my job, everyone will be fine. Sure, it’s big, but I am capable and can take care of this. I’ll lead them toward Jesus. I’ll say the right words. I’ll give money and time and other stuff (don’t know yet) to make everybody feel good- whatever it takes.
I WILL MAKE THINGS OK.
Of course, this is a complete falsehood, but for those of us who hold this view deep down, we aren’t always fans of well-reasoned logic about our limitations.
So we try. We try to do it all at once, and we try to fix the world.
And then we can’t.
And we have no idea what to do with that.
And when it’s overwhelming, we just leave it, and we get paralyzed and jaded and frustrated and exhausted. Then we do nothing.
Then there are others of us who go internal right away. The world needing fixing is inside me. There is so much turmoil within us that our big task is to become self-aware enough to fix our emotional state. Read the right books, use the right centering technique, and post enough positive memes and we will self-actualize ourselves into being perfectly fine through all this!
So we try. We try to fix ourselves…ourselves.
And then we can’t.
And we have no idea what to do with that. So we despair.
But this isn’t how trauma works. It has to run its course, and we have to allow for the weakness that it brings with it.
This is also how grace works. We have to be at a point of acknowledging our end in order to trust God’s fresh beginnings. We have to bring our weakness before God, knowing we can do a few things, and we can’t do most things.
Sure, we do the little things we can, within us and around us. But they won’t fully fix the problem, so we let grace meet us in our admitted weakness. That is SO uncomfortable.
When Paul tries to get Jesus to fix a problem of his, Jesus' response is that he will be enough for Paul, because the more Paul bumps up against his limits, the more God’s grace can meet and transform him. That’s good news, but it’s hard to hear it that way.
So last week I walked by this light fixture in my carport for the 100th time, and I decided maybe there was another way. I got out my metal cutting reciprocating saw and asked my boys to help me out. It was not ideal and not completely safe and there were sparks and flying metal (we all made a pact not to tell Bethany), but we got it into a few pieces that could fit into the trash bin one at a time. Slowly, they’re going to get hauled away. It felt good to make a little progress.
See how capable I am!!!
But then I looked behind my shed and I have a bunch more pieces that I forgot about, that aren’t going to fit either. And I don’t have the energy or the tools to break them down right now. So they’re just going to stay there for the foreseeable future. And I’m going to have to be ok with things not getting done like I want. I’m going to have to be ok with not being able to resolve everything right now. I’m going to have to experience some grace. Ugh.
I know as a pastor I’m supposed to be delighted by grace. But I’d rather be delighted by my impressive capability.
One of my old college professors has a picture of a fortune cookie for his facebook profile. It reads:
"It’s going to be ok, just not in the way you think."
That might be the good news of Jesus for us today. It’s ok that things are not ok. But things are going to be ok, that promise is certain. You don’t have to do it all right now. Do what you can, knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for you, and that when we admit our own insufficiency, we open space for God’s beauty to be seen even more.
We are a resurrected Easter people. But we still walk in a world where death lingers.
So today might be a day to simply sit in the ridiculous grace of God, letting it fill you enough to stop your savior complex, or fill you enough to slow your self-actualization requirements. Jesus is risen, and you are allowed to rest in that.
Jesus, make your grace sufficient for me today.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
This message isn’t actually about the virus. It just starts that way.
I’ve decided to start wearing a mask when I have to leave my house to pick up necessities. This is common practice in several parts of the country already but not as much where I live. It’s an interesting experience. I’m not sick. And I’m not actually scared of getting sick myself. In fact, if you look around my neighborhood, or even drive around my town, it looks empty but otherwise, normal. Yet I’ve learned that it’s possible that someone like me or you could transmit COVID-19 to others without even knowing it.
I can’t see this virus. It’s invisible, so there’s this inherent challenge that comes with believing what I can’t see. I can’t even really see the effects of it, since I haven’t been inside a hospital during all of this. But I have dear friends that are doctors and nurses. Some have gotten sick. Others tell me the realities of what I can’t see right now. They tell me that many people are sick and the system is strained. They tell me that when I do my best to join in with national and global efforts to love my neighbors, it’s making a difference. I believe them, even though I can’t see the virus. So I walk in faith.
There are some that say that because they don’t seem to be sick, then there aren’t many real precautions needed. A few churches are even continuing to gather dozens (or hundreds!) of people together. They're having trouble believing something they can't see. But for many of us, we're trying to act in faith right now, even though it's hard. Wow, is there ever a parallel here.
The slow journey of Holy Week is our chance to acknowledge that we often cannot see the work of God. It feels invisible. Pain and loss and heartbreak take center stage, and faith is difficult.
Jesus is misunderstood as he enters Jerusalem.
Jesus struggles in the garden.
Jesus is alienated at Golgotha.
God tastes death.
There are cries and weeping and eventually, numb silence.
This week we journey with Jesus toward the cross and admit that sometimes, faith is tough. We sit in the void of Good Friday and Silent Saturday, feeling the vacuum of loss that must come before the dawn breaks through the night.
It’s compounded this year when we cannot be with each other. People are suffering on many different levels, struggling to maintain faith when they feel empty, exhausted, and emotionally depleted. If you’re walking through that right now, and God feels a little invisible, that’s ok. But like we need to do with those who are seeing the coronavirus and its effects when we don’t, I encourage you to listen to the voices of those who are seeing God at work when we can't, so that you can keep faith.
Listen to the consistent words and promises of Jesus in the gospels, that he will be with you always. Listen to the stories of friends who are sensing God’s presence right now, and lean into their convictions. Borrow their faith, so that you may trust in what seems invisible. This is why we’ve been given community. To keep drawing us back onto the path of life. I’ve been profoundly impacted by our own church’s digital gatherings lately- it might be hard to "see" the body of Christ when we’re pixelated, but it’s as real as ever, living, breathing, moving, and loving.
So this is how I am choosing to draw all thoughts to Christ during Holy Week. Every time I have to put my (wife’s) homemade mask on as I go out to the grocery store or gas station, feeling healthy, I remember that I’m living an act of faith. I'm believing that which is hard to see, and I am leaning on those who are seeing what I am not seeing in the midst of this crisis. In the end, I believe it will lead to the gift of life.
So it is with the invitation of Jesus. We walk a challenging road of faith, but we persevere because we know that it leads to incredible life, now and forever. Like the disciples in the garden, we falter along the way… but the grace of God is always there to lift us back up.
Staying at home doesn’t really feel like loving your neighbors right now, but it is.
Continuing to pray and trust Jesus when you feel silence doesn’t always feel like loving God above all, but it is.
Jesus, fill me with just enough faith to keep my eyes on you. And if I can’t see, bring holy reminders my way so that I don’t lose faith.
I am lonely...
I love you, O Lord...
My eyes grow weak with sorrow...
Shame has covered my face...
You have put joy in my heart...
I am afflicted and in pain...
My God, why have you forsaken me?
I trust in you…
-Just a few statements from the Psalms. There are hundreds more like it.
I am a child of the 90s, unashamedly. And I love music. And thanks to Columbia House offering 12 cds for only 1 cent in 1994, at about 12 years old, I also loved Mariah Carey. I mean, was there a preteen boy at the time that didn't? But that’s not the point. The second album of Mariah’s that I scored for less than a penny was called Emotions, named after the first song.
You’ve got me feeling emotions
deeper than I’ve ever dreamed of
You’ve got me feeling emotions
higher than the heavens above
It’s a love song, sure. But it’s been running through my head for a few days. Why? Because man, people are feeling some emotions lately. That’s what COVID-19 has done to us. It’s got us feeling emotions.
Pete Scazzero, probably the most influential contemporary voice in the Christian movement toward emotional maturity suggests that many who call themselves mature Christians are actually closer to adolescents, emotionally speaking.
They’ve been around God for much of their lives, but they still have no clue how to identify, express, and handle their emotions. Why is that? Humans are brilliant at lacking self-awareness. We are experts at distraction, at busyness and at discomfort avoidance. Our schedules or our insistence that everything is fine removes our felt need to identify emotions, welcome them, bring them to God, and become fully formed disciples.
Well, friends- now is your chance.
Some of you are becoming in touch with your emotions because you can only distract yourself for so long. Netflix starts to lose its luster after the 17th night of watching. Some of you are becoming in touch with your emotions because you are out all day in the middle of a world in crisis, and the weight of everything is more than you can handle and there is no longer any way to avoid the truth. Some of you are becoming in touch with your emotions because you are stuck at home with people who don’t always bring out the best in you, and all this stuff that is inside is starting to boil over and there’s no way to stop it.
And some of you are becoming in touch with your emotions because you can no longer act like everything is fine in the world. Things are screeching to a halt and all this self sufficiency malarkey is getting exposed. We are all connected, and life is different than anything most of us have ever experienced.
Yeah, that’s gonna get us feeling emotions. For some of us…. deeper than we’ve ever dreamed of.
Maybe that’s why we’re seeing so much original music being created and shared on social media right now to inspire us. We feel the need to give space to our emotions and our longings. It’s more than just entertainment. We need to express our feelings. And on a side note, let us not forget when this is over, that many of us turned to the "non-essential" realms of art (music, drama, writing) in order to help us get through this season. When we’re in a crisis, we often turn to the artists, because they give embodiment to the emotions we need to express. Keep that in mind.
So we do the same with David, the songwriter and the psalmwriter. We let his words be ours to express our cries, our struggles, our fears, our joys, and our longings.
The Bible is nothing if not an invitation to get our emotions out and offer them to God.
I so appreciated the conversation that author and pastoral giant Eugene Peterson had with U2’s Bono a few years back about the Psalms. Peterson spoke of his time translating the Psalms from Hebrew to English, and noticing something as he was going through it.
“They’re not pretty,” he said. “They’re not….nice. But they’re honest…and I think what we’re trying for is honesty, here.”
“Brutally honest” is the phrase Bono would later use to talk about how David voices his feelings before God. What freedom that gives us.
Jesus continues the same spirit of invitation, asking us to bring our weariness and honesty to him, promising to give us rest. God’s people should share that characteristic, making it safe for one another to share where they are angry, frustrated, empty, or hopeful. In my digital meal community meetup this week, several people shared that they are actually really joyful these days and the time has been good for them, but they almost didn’t share because they didn’t want to minimize the struggle of others. That sensitivity is admirable. Yet both perspectives are necessary for honest community to happen, and for real growth to occur with Jesus.
Today's encouragement is simple. Take time to do an emotional inventory for a few minutes. Welcome whatever emotions come to the surface, and offer them to God. Let Jesus speak peace and love and grace into them. And maybe share them with someone else you love, knowing that you are not weaker for acknowledging the swells of today’s surging waves. Perhaps you even need to write your own song. Or Psalm. Or both.
Jesus, lead me to new levels of honesty with You and others today. Speak into my reality.
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
A few weeks ago, we hung a bag of clothespins on an outside wall for drying laundry in warm weather. Three days ago, a pair of Carolina wrens took a look at that bag and decided they had a different use for it, and claimed it as their spring home. Now it’s bursting with leaves and moss and I’m actually pretty happy about it. Sometimes things that look like one thing, become another.
The above scripture passage is a profound statement. Joseph is speaking at the end of a life of hardship that came because his brothers were overcome with jealousy. They nearly murdered him and then sold him as a slave and sent him away forever (Now, there’s a very real chance that with the upcoming weeks of having sons and being housebound, I will go back to this passage and write about violence between brothers, but that’s not for today!). Eventually after years of being unjustly imprisoned, Joseph rises to a prominent leadership role and saves many people in Egypt during a horrible famine.
A statement like the one Joseph made can feel a little complicated. On one hand, I love that something so beautiful came out of such a horrible situation. But on the other hand, what does it mean that God “intended” it?? Did God intentionally have Joseph suffer years of alienation and imprisonment for doing nothing wrong? That doesn’t seem like God’s character as revealed in Jesus.
But a quick dive into that phrase reveals a new layer. The Hebrew word Joseph uses here is khasav, and it means more than simply planning for something to happen. Khasav, sometimes translated as “intended,” is often also translated as to imagine, to devise, or invent. It’s a word about creating something new. Something that is surprising and different.
While Joseph’s brother’s were trying to destroy Joseph and imagining ways to do it, God was doing something imaginative as well… something nobody could see coming. God was inventing. God was repurposing the pain and the disruption that Joseph would endure at the hands of his brothers, and opening a door for redemption…. because in the middle of a horrible situation, breathtaking beauty is always possible when God is at work.
In John 8 there’s a woman on the ground in John 8 and she's about to be put to shame and killed for breaking the law. But Jesus is there, and he’s inventing. He’s imagining. Because he knows that the worst the world can hurl at people can also illuminate the best of God’s character. So he turns a horrific event on its head and helps the world see love and grace when they were about to witness death.
Now, this virus might not have a “personality", but it certainly intends to harm us. The pain and loss of health and life intend to harm us. The physical disconnection intends to harm us. The collapse of financial support for so many intends to harm us. And the fear of the unknown intends to harm us.
But God invents. God imagines. God repurposes.
This changes the way we look at what’s ahead. God is not somehow behind this evil, as if the virus is a cosmic judgment on whomever Christians would like to scapegoat in order to make themselves feel righteous (don’t listen to the televangelists, friends!). Nor is God far removed like an absentee father, feeling bad about the situation but not really doing anything to change it.
Rather, God enters the brokenness with a lens of hopeful imagination, like Jesus walking into the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus is breathing his inventive spirit into his Church, opening their eyes to see soil for seeds to grow where others see only concrete ground.
I know we’re early into this coronavirus journey, but it’s already time for us to open our eyes to the holy khasav that is possible with Jesus. Goodness, this week we started an open group for daily noon prayer on Zoom to encourage each other. Why did it take coronavirus for this to start???
Christians have always made homes in surprising places of fear and sorrow and frustration, because darkness needs light and we are light-givers. Throughout history, Christians have creatively lived out God’s imagination. When others despair, Christians keep hoping. When others hoard, we share. When others are afraid, we sit with them in the dark. When others are sick or overlooked, we care for them and call them by name. And when people wonder what the truly good life consists of… we help them meet Jesus. Pain opens up a vacuum that love can fill. Friends, there is incredible good that is possible during these upcoming months.
The wrens repurposed that clothespin bag out back because they saw a place that they could make a home in. We need to be like the wrens. We need to see this space and see what it can be. God’s kingdom is a place where all are loved and valued, where no one is alone or afraid, and where the hurting are cared for. If that’s the case, just think of how we can live out our calling as citizens of that kingdom today.
Let's invite God to repurpose this instead of sinking into despair or boredom. I’ve been tempted to already. I’m tempted to let the sorrow and frustration and newness of this whole thing wash over me and take me under. Our emotions are absolutely natural, and we need to allow for the legitimate mourning that is currently going on. But then we need to move through it and look around, because Jesus is inventing and imagining right now. That’s our identity too.
Jesus, help me notice one place in need of your light, and join You in revealing it today.
(Longer post, but be honest. You've probably got time)
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.
- 1 John 1:1
The first rule about coronavirus is: Do NOT touch each other.
The second rule about coronavirus is: You do not talk about coronavirus.
Just kidding about #2. That’s a little Fight Club movie humor there to brighten your day. Literally everyone is constantly talking about coronavirus.
The first rule is true though, so let’s talk about that just a little more. Because I’ve been thinking about touch lately.
I had to go to the store this week. I was careful to keep several feet of airspace between myself and anyone else.
I go on runs in the woods and make sure that as I pass by others on the trail, I’m way over off the edge and I don’t breathe in anyone's direction.
I had a conversation with my neighbor yesterday, where we chatted as we both stood in our own driveways for 20 minutes.
I’ve had multiple meetings lately with people, all staring at a screen.
This is indeed what we need to do right now. But I have to make a confession. I’m a touchy feely person. I greet almost every friend with a hug, a handshake, or a high five. Touch is one of the ways I relate to the world. It’s really important to me. And right now, it’s dirty.
That makes me sad. But it also makes me wonder about something. Why is touch so powerful? And what is at the core of it? Maybe when we discover this, it will help us understand how to move forward loving God and others in a touchless environment.
I think, in many ways, touch is what makes something real. The early church proclaimed with confidence that God had come in the flesh because they had seen, touched, and been touched by Jesus. It couldn’t have been a mirage. They witnessed miracles, and they shared a meal with Jesus afterwards. Amazing.
Jesus almost never healed from afar. He touched blind eyes, leprous hands, and disabled legs. He engaged with people that were considered unclean by breaking bread- touching the same food- as they did. He crossed lines that Rabbi’s didn’t cross, because he knew that God’s love was so plentiful and God’s kingdom was so massive that it had space for all those who had been overlooked. And touching them was what proved Jesus was serious.
Even Thomas the disciple had trouble believing that Jesus had actually resurrected until he touched the risen Lord. As far as he knew, Jesus was just a spirit- or an overactive embodiment of a wishful imagination. Touching his wounds was what made his belief real.
Today, healthy touch still communicates real care (well, today it doesn't… but I’m talking about the normal reality before last week). Yet it goes beyond the physical. When we’re impacted by a kind gesture we say that it was “touching.” Sometimes a movie scene or a piece of music will stir something emotional deep inside of us. Or a sunrise, or a scripture verse, or any number of things. Why do we call those things “touching?” Because they hit on something in us that is real. That is important. That goes beyond the surface. We feel seen, and we feel impacted. Touching.
Right now, we are walking down a necessary but terrifying road. We’re becoming rewired to be careful and suspicious of others. For many of us it has already become a habit in just a few short days. That will help save lives and slow down the spread of COVID-19. I’m so thankful for that and we all need to listen. But it’s also going to do something that we need to be very aware of.
When this is all over, we might be afraid to touch for good.
Unless during our quarantines, we learn what physical contact has always communicated in God’s world, and keep practicing it without actually touching.
Physical contact and presence is important. But it’s not the only thing that makes things real. What makes things real is care. It’s truth. It’s love expressed in action. It’s compassion. In the world of Jesus, touch is about care. It’s about moving beyond the surface. It’s about extending beyond our own isolation into the reality of another and saying, I’m unafraid to love. This is the core heart of a Jesus follower.
No pandemic could ever rob us of that. So it’s our turn to learn to keep ourselves vulnerable, to keep our compassion tangible, and to do our part to create a culture of authentic love that is touching, just without literal contact. Right now there is a growing sense of isolation. Yet the opportunities are also greater than ever before to be a touching presence in each other’s lives. We just have to get creative.
So let us not think that simply because we can’t shake a hand, offer a hug, or give a high five, that our ability to care about one another is gone.
Let us not think that because many are confined to homes, that somehow we have lost the chance at real community.
And let us not think that a virus is the only contagious thing that exists in the world at this moment. For we have been given the Spirit of Christ - a spirit that is powerful enough to break down walls of fear and isolation. And it’s powerful enough to spread from one person to the next over cell phone towers, across driveways, from screen to screen, and through the invisible waves of prayer.
I offer no answers. But let’s ask the right question. How will I express love today to break down our growing isolation?
Jesus, in the uncomfortable empty space of my life right now, fill my mind with creative ways to make your love real to people.
*I wish disclaimers weren’t necessary, but I find it important to clarify this any time I speak of touch. Many lives have been damaged by unwelcome and inappropriate physical touch and outright abuse. Not all touch is good, and it is never our right to invade another’s personal space. But, in safe, loving, and mutual environments, healthy physical contact has great power for good.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
-Jesus (Matthew 9:12-13)
We’re getting deeper and deeper into our 40 day desert experience that moves us toward the renewal of Easter. Part of the ecclesiological significance of Lent being 40 days long is that it reflects Jesus' own 40 days in the desert that began his public ministry. He was driven by prayer out to the desert where he painfully worked out his own identity and oneness with God, dealing with temptations to satisfy himself, to receive recognition, and to compromise his ethics in order to gain authority. But he also just lived in a barren wilderness during those days, acutely aware of he lacked. One fascinating film depiction of this experience is called Last Days in the Desert, where a windstorm blows up against Yeshua and the only response he has left is simply to scream into the sandblast, as if admitting that he nearly was at the end of what he could handle.
Jesus was needy.
That doesn’t sit well with us, does it?
"The neediness of Jesus" doesn’t sound like a book title that would sell as many copies as something like, I don’t know, The Purpose Driven Life. Yet it’s important for us to have this example so that we can reflect on what faithful “neediness” looks like. Because it’s a crucial part of honest faith.
Our self-sufficiency has turned us into people who are not comfortable admitting our own needs. We act as if the ones who have no noticeable needs are the ones who have arrived. And maybe they have arrived. But the important question that we have to ask is, arrived where?
I think Jesus would say that the ones who can't admit their needs have arrived…. at a place far away from where he is.
I spoke earlier this week about a statement Jesus made in Matthew 9. He was eating with outsiders and speaking to disgruntled Pharisees about how they still hadn’t learned that God’s character is more about mercy rather than religious ritual. Around that statement he says this: It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick! Then a moment later he gets even more direct: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners!
Well gosh, what have I been working so hard on for all these years??? Just kidding. Trying to be live rightly is good if you go at it humbly. The problem is when it leads us to think we don’t need God, or we’re not allowed to admit our weakness. Then it literally becomes anti-christian. Instead, Jesus says that admitting we’re in need is how we access the beauty and power of God’s redemption.
When Jesus is confronted with his own need in the desert, he brings it before the father in honesty and trust. Jesus was showing us, even as he worked it out himself, what faithfulness looks like in raw human life. Honesty and vulnerability always win over self-sufficiency.
Lent might be the most appropriate time of the entire year to say to God, “You know what? This stinks. I’m not even sure I can handle the things going on in my life. I feel weak and frustrated. Honestly, I’m just pretty needy right now, God. Can you meet me in this?"
In the desert, the promise is that God’s strength comes in the midst of weakness.
The promise is that love emerges when the self reaches its limitations.
The promise is that Jesus transforms us into deeply loved and deeply loving disciples when we become a little more needy.
I’m often tempted to think that Jesus’ "healthy and sick" statement was to convince us to be like Jesus the compassionate doctor… but maybe what I need to learn right now is how to actually be the patient. When we can be honest about what's not right in us (without shame!), we can become available for Jesus the healer to do his work.
You will indeed be sustained for life's journey when your limitations drive you toward God and his global body (the church) and not away from them. But stating that doesn't make it easier to actually do.
Arrogance and stoicism have been the mark of too many Christians over the decades. It’s ok to be needy this season.
Jesus, teach me to be honest about my need for you today, so that I can receive your grace and live a renewed life of trust.
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
not as they pretend to be.”
-Jeremiah 17:9-10 (MSG)
The number of times that someone walked into our basement and yelled “oh no!” this week set a record. And it wasn’t just because I placed one of Bethany’s horrifying costume mannequinns at the bottom of the dark stairs to create lasting memories with my children.
No, unfortunately the cries of terror were because water was either gushing onto, or up from, our basement floor. Our new house is a great fit for us, but we discovered that it had a shadow side to it this week when we encountered major plumbing issues that needed emergency intervention. We had a very old pipe that clogged as it ran into our basement cement floor, having become completely blocked with decades of buildup. Water started spilling out of an old overflow valve in the basement all over the floor with no warning. We halted everything, called an emergency plumber and they spent 11 hours hacking into our house, shutting off systems, trying to isolate the problem, and then eventually cutting out a huge section of pipe in the basement and replacing a whole bunch of stuff. You can see I’m very technical when it comes to plumbing.
The plumbing guys dumped a few buckets of water down the sinks to show us all was clear, and left a little after 9pm. We were exhausted and relieved when we finally had the house to ourselves. It was a big job, but at least it was fixed and over for good.
That is, until about an hour later when my wife shouted as she opened the basement door again. “OH NOOO!"
The dishwasher and washing machine were running, since our activity had been paused all day. The replaced pipe was working perfectly. It was just that now, black water was bubbling up from beneath our basement floor (and the depths of Sheol) into our house. The problem had simply moved a few feet over.
We’re a week into lent.
Sometimes I talk about lent as a season of "spring cleaning for the soul.” That sounds cheerful! But I wonder if it’s more like a construction project or an old plumbing job that keeps revealing that more work is needed. As we take time to address something that’s off track in our own lives, the project often gets more invasive than we had planned. If we invite Jesus to address our symptoms, he may work with us on treating them, but he will often point out the systemic problems that are really behind it all. He’ll start excavating the heart so that it can become a new and healthy space. But wow, there are a lot of mysterious twists and turns in the human heart, and often you can’t see what’s in there until you rip a few things open.
I’m finding that season for me right now. I’ve had some pesky areas of self-focus that nag me. But trying to walk through those areas is bringing other, more significant issues bubbling to the surface that are about trust, rest, and identity. The job is going to be bigger than I had planned.
The good news in all this? We have a plumber who knows what he’s doing! (Am I taking this metaphor too far? I think I’m taking this metaphor too far.)
We called a different company to come the next day. They had a lot of experience in our area, and found that a root had grown into one of our main lines underground in front of the house. They cleared it out, cleaned everything up, and made sure to stay while the dishwasher, sink, washing machine, and toilets were all at full power. I’ve never been so delighted to put my face up against a sewer pipe.
Once things got cleared in our house with no further screams from the basement, there was peace in a new way. We had the ability once again to look up from our own stuff and begin focusing on the world around us. Yep, it was costly. And yes, it took time and patience and a few frustrated tears in the family. And maybe we’ll run into more issues in the coming weeks or months that need addressing, because we all know that the work is never finished. But we’re not where we were, and I’m delighting in that today.
As you walk into the mysterious realm of your own human heart with Jesus during these weeks, I want to encourage you to be unafraid to explore the deepest issues. When the thing behind the thing emerges, welcome it as an opportunity to discover God’s grace in a new way, and walk with Jesus in trust and vulnerability like never before.
Jesus, renovate my heart.
Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near.
-Acts 17:27 (The Message paraphrase)
Good morning, friends. As of yesterday, we have entered the season of Lent. It’s the 40 day preparation period before Easter. Some of you may not even have noticed that it’s begun, and some of you have.
Actually, that’s kind of the point.
It’s pretty easy to walk through our lives and not notice. We don’t notice where God might be because we have places to go and people to meet. We don’t notice the nonverbals of those around us who are having a tough time of it. And interestingly, we don’t notice what’s happening in the deep places within our own hearts and minds due to distraction.
I’ve come to the conclusion that lent is really about awareness.
If we are unaware of what’s within us, we can’t possibly open those places to Jesus.
I have a child who deals with anxiety that comes in intense waves. It’s been alright, even when we moved into a new house last week, but last night was the night before the new bus ride and everything rose to the surface. The problem was that our increasingly independent offspring wasn’t aware (or willing to admit) that this was the issue. So it was expressed in major problems with homework, with siblings, with bedtime, etc. That happens a lot. One thing is THE thing, but a lack of awareness projects that struggle into many unrelated areas.
We do that as adults, too. We walk through our lives unaware of our own internal worlds, or unable to face our struggles head on. We ignore our frailty and live as if we are machines. Or we ignore our potential and live as if we are failures. But it affects everything.
Lent is when we find the spiritual place within ourselves to identify with the frail and powerful Jesus, and when we invite Jesus to identify with our frail and powerful humanity.
We are broken people in need of a savior.
We are also Spirit-indwelled disciples who are capable of ongoing transformation.
Lent is a chance to be honest about our need, but also to trust that with Jesus, we can be transformed.
Lent comes from the Latin word for fortieth which is also where we get the word quarantine. Centuries ago, people caught in sin would be quarantined from the church - removed for a time of purification in preparation for the major celebration of the year, Easter. That might seem harsh to us, but there was purpose in an intentional time to lean on Jesus in the wilderness. Soon, others in the church began to honestly say, "we are in need of a time of renewal too, for we all sin!" They began walking alongside the quarantined brothers and sisters, and the church eventually adopted a church-wide season of reflection, trust, and transformation. Together, they walked in honesty and frailty with Jesus, so that they were able to fully celebrate the hope and joy of resurrection. To experience the fullness of life, we must become aware of the deadness in us. We have to become aware of our need in order to allow Jesus to meet it.
Lent is not a New Years Resolution: Part Two for people. Sometimes people give things up so that they can conquer a vice or become healthier. Let's go deeper.
Instead, whether you give something up or not, I want to encourage you to take the time to embrace quarantine. Find time to yourself, find time for meaningful spiritual conversations away from the busyness of the approaching spring. Get away with Jesus and become aware of what is deep within you. Choose to embrace your need for God, but also choose to trust God in new transformative ways. Become aware.
Lent is not a self-improvement project. It’s a journey with Jesus in a fresh way. It will indeed leave us changed, but the goal is more of Jesus, not simply a better version of ourselves.
The pressure is off. You have a companion inviting you to dive a little deeper into the type of life that is possible- where joy and beauty live together with pain and frailty, yet always full of hope.
Embrace lent this year by getting away with Jesus. He’s not remote; he’s near.
It’s worth the effort.
Jesus, open my spirit to new levels of honesty and trust with you today, so that I can reflect your image.
I pray that the glorious Father, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Christ better.
-Paul (Ephesians 1:17)
My life is boxes right now. Our house is just a pile of boxes everywhere.
In one day we will be moving about 8 miles north of our current home. There’s a whole beautiful story of how that came about, but I right now I want to talk about boxes.
My wife Bethany is excellent at all this. She’s organized beyond belief and she’s been labeling and filling boxes for too many hours for over a month. Honestly, even though we try to live simply, the amount of downsizing we’ve done in the past 6 weeks reminds me of how much unnecessary clutter just adds up, even when you seek to resist it. But back to the boxes.
In the early stages of packing up, labels are easy to make. Everything stays inside it’s own box. One box says, “Keith’s theology books” (well that’s 10 boxes, who are we kidding), another box says “painting supplies,” and another, “cups and bowls.”
But inevitably, the deeper you get into the process, the less clear the contents become. A box gets labeled “bathroom supplies and stuff from that one drawer,” or “items from the garage + dining room.” Bethany just made one that has vinegar and refrigerator magnets in it, and I just filled a box with bird feeders... and a pair of scissors. It’s hard to keep our boxes straight and separate because some things can’t fit into just one box, and other boxes are big enough to hold lots of different items. It gets complicated, and honestly, there just comes a point where what really needs to happen is to keep stuff moving. So it matters less that every box is perfectly distinguished. That's how it starts- but the more important task is moving to a new place. So it gets a little messy.
This is a glimpse of continuing to move in our lives with God. At the beginning, it may be easy to clearly label each of the boxes in our lives. Each belief is neatly labeled and described. Every Bible passage has one obvious interpretation, and each question of faith has a clear answer. Then, as we continue to move through the years, we find that certain things that fall into one box may also fit into another. The deeper we get to Jesus, sometimes the less sure we are about making clear lines between the “us’s” and the “them’s” of the world. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it's confusing. And that’s ok, because the end point isn’t knowledge. The end point is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love (I didn’t come up with that.) So it's ok if it's hard to label each box clearly. With movement comes messiness, and God will help to bring both freedom and order to our mystery.
There’s something else that happens with our boxes as we move deeper into finding our home with Jesus. It’s not simply that we learn how to hold tension and mystery with humility. It’s that our compartmentalized life becomes completely destroyed. No longer is there a sacred and secular box in our lives. No longer is there the church box and the separate work or parenting boxes, each with an allotted amount of time and energy. There aren’t boxes for my money and then another one for resources to be given to God. A life in Jesus is completely integrated. Jesus spills into all of our boxes- Jesus even changes the content of each of our boxes. All we do, all we say, all the interactions that we have- they all become a part of this beautiful and challenging life of discipleship. It goes beyond labels. Every fiber of us becomes formed and transformed by the good news that Jesus is at work to make all things right.
If your boxes feel a little cluttered, or their contents are mysterious, or even if you feel like they might be breaking down a little… it’s alright. Simply make sure that no box is sealed off from the influence of Jesus, and you’ll be alright.
Jesus, let me welcome you into all of the mysterious compartments of my life and faith today, so that in every area, you would be Lord.