You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.
So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it.
James 1:3-4 (MSG)
I don’t know if sunny calm days are a balm to your soul in the same way they are to me, but on the east coast, this past Saturday was especially “springy.” Dwelling with Jesus in the beauty of the natural world is one way God restores me, so I spent every minute I could in my backyard.
One of my new projects has been trying to restore a little waterfall pond at our new house. It’s pretty weathered, and it appears it hasn’t had much attention in the last decade (maybe far beyond that). I scooped out the muck, re-installed the pump and refilled it on Saturday. And it worked! I got a peaceful little trickle coming down the rocks into the cement reservoir. Great work, Keith! Feeling accomplished for doing almost nothing, I walked away for a few minutes. When I came back, I saw a tiny trickle again… this time on the wrong side of the rock. Apparently, the intense weather over the years of dormancy had led to a crack in my foundation. Actually, as water slowly leaked out for the rest of the day, I realized there were more cracks that I couldn’t even see. It was subtle, and slow…. but clearly, my pond was losing water.
Let’s talk straight. Many of our social skills have become a bit dormant in this time as well. And the pressure has been rising. Cracks are forming… or getting larger. Our emotional reservoirs are being tested, and let me tell you…. they ain’t watertight. We’re cracked.
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Something interesting happened as I wrote this piece. The point changed. The idea I started with felt insufficient. I was planning to write about the process of sealing our cracked realities with Jesus leading us.
But I realized something about my fountain. The weather’s not quite warm enough for me to do any sealing work, and it looks like it will take a lot of time for the right supplies to get delivered. It likely won’t be able to happen for a month or two. So I’m actually stuck with the cracks and maybe a little bit of hackwork in the meantime. And Jesus is showing me something in that realization.
My only option at the moment is pretty simple. Stop spending all my time trying to fix every leak. Instead, if the system is going to work, I’m going to need to just keep adding a bit more water each day. The cracks will remain, but so will the inflow.
We've got cracks, friends. I see you. All of you. Me too. The pressure has built up, and people are unable to keep an airtight seal. We’re finding that what is good, beautiful, faithful, gentle, and gracious is draining faster than it used to. Our reserves are emptying and we can't ignore it. And honestly, that's not surprising.
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water.
- God (through Jeremiah)
But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never thirst…. indeed it will become in them a spring of water.
We have this treasure in [breakable] jars of clay…. to show the power belongs to God and not us.
You’re not that impressive. You have limited reserves. That’s kind of the point. The power doesn’t belong to you. Broken people can only display God’s glory because God is dwelling in them. That’s the story. If we aren’t dwelling, resting, and renewing ourselves in Jesus, then what is most beautiful in us will simply drain through our cracked, exhausted, under-pressure bodies. You’ll end up shouting at the tv, losing it with your kids, grumbling about each new day, or cursing your brothers and sisters (in your mind, if not your lips).
Friends. Be still.
You know, it’s interesting. We love quoting Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God, as if it’s a quiet whisper to our souls as we take a walk in a fern-carpeted forest on a calm summer morning in Sweden. It’s not. The context is mountains quaking, kingdoms falling, and nations in uproar. And the Psalmist hears God shout "BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD!"
God stops the war by breaking a bow and shattering a spear and says, Stop letting everything around you completely control your perspective! Just stop. Rest. Turn it off. Recalibrate. Fill up. Remember what and who you say you believe.
It’s ok to be leaky, and to be cracked, if we’re actively getting refilled. But that won't happen by accident. If we’re going to get through this together, we’re going to need to be still and let Jesus work on us. This is not optional. We’re too cracked to create a perfect seal ourselves. This will require making tough choices.
We have to have time where the news machine is turned off. We have to silence our phone and pause our culture of outrage at everyone and everything around us. We have to say, "I’m sorry." We have to fix our eyes the one who does not fade— the one whose kingdom is not from this world or contaminated by viruses, political gain, money, or power. The one who has an endless supply of water for us, because our pressurized reality has exposed cracks and we’re emptying faster than before. This is the only way we’ll remain compassionate.
It will take daily moments of re-prioritizing our lives and letting Jesus renew our minds so that we don’t lose our hope or our witness. There is no other way. This week I'm committing to that with fresh courage. Please join me. For Christ’s sake. And yours.
Jesus, I want you to fill me with all you are, so that I can live transformed.
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.
I Can't See the Virus
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.
You've Got Me Feeling Emotions
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.