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Sacred Pandemonium

cmastreeIt finally happened.

After 37 Christmases with 3 children, their loves and our 7 grandkids I guess it was inevitable.

In National Lampoon worthy fashion, this year the Christmas tree fell over.

Now, to be accurate, we have two trees. The formal, pretty one we call “Mom’s tree” and the other is the “family tree”.

This small, well-worn family tree is my favorite because it holds 37 years of memories–ornaments representing every phase of life for our growing brood.

That was the tree that fell.

Well honestly, it had a little help falling over.

The helper’s name is Isabella…she is almost two-and-a-half.

I affectionately call her Pebbles because she is tiny compared to her gargantuan younger cousin Silas, who with equal affection I call Bam Bam.

I could have foreseen Bam Bam knocking over the tree, not a problem. But Pebbles, not a chance.

Guess she showed me!

Our post-Candlelight service, Christmas Eve celebration was in full swing. You know the scene–too much food; too many cookies with wayyyyy too much sugar. Laughter, stories, teasing…and off the charts noise nearing ear-shattering levels.

pebbamFive of the seven grands were present–including the two-year-olds, Pebbles & Bam Bam. To say it was “active” is an understatement.

Caleb, our middle son and Isabella’s dad, had just fallen into his long winter’s nap when the sound of shattering ornaments and the scream of Bella’s older sister, Sophia, crashed through the chaos.

We all ran to the living room to see 8-year old Sophia desperately holding the now horizontal tree to keep it from falling on the completely oblivious culprit, Isabella.

The subsequent attempts to prop up the fallen foliage were purely futile and fairly hilarious.

It was sheer chaos. Utter craziness. Wacky madness on steroids.

A few years back I dubbed these moments “sacred pandemonium“.

  • Pandemonium because of the wild, uproarious, unrestrained chaos of so many different people having so much fun in one place.
  • Sacred because the chaos is in the context of the most intense, intimate and deeply committed love-relationships we can have.

I have always wondered about families who never experience this level of crazy. I don’t envy them, I just wonder what it’s like because I have no clue.

Growing up with four siblings who sprouted untold number of young’uns, I have known nothing in my life but the wild wonder of a big family.

For me, this organized chaos is…

…the joyful dance of a playful God expressed in the rub and reality of people who don’t know any better than to love each other unconditionally.

It struck me later as I looked at the pitiful tree propped up in the corner that there may never have been a time it was more beautiful.

Why?

Because it so well represents our perfectly imperfect family.

We have had more than a few broken ornaments in our history. Far too many less-than-photogenic moments and ugly chapters we’d prefer to leave out of our biopic.

There is no doubt we resemble that crumpled family tree a lot more than Mom’s perfect, artistic evergreen.

And that is a key part of what makes us who we are.

Those flawed imperfections are a big part of the reason we each have compassion for the broken, mercy on the fallen, grace for the lost and hope for the desperate.

Like the shattered ornaments Dianne and I have been gluing back together, we are a family that believes in second chances, new seasons and fresh starts.

We don’t do judgment and place a lot less emphasis on our quick-draw opinions because when we take an honest look at ourselves, we see that crippled tree.

Yep, we got knocked over and to this day look kinda propped up.

But we are still standing!

And the wrinkled pictures from our history can still reflect God’s glory–even in our most imperfect states.

What a relief. We don’t need to be flawless…just faithful.

You see, God is no stranger to chaos.

God started this whole gig we call our world with a simple act: His loving Spirit brooded over chaos until He coaxed out creation (Genesis 1:1-2).

Then Jesus came into a world gone mad and showed us how it looked when God lived among our nutty neighbors.

And one day, out of this crazy mess He calls His Church, He will draw out a Bride fit for a King.

Paul pictured it this way: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

You never know whose tree has just fallen or who is propping up their lives trying to hold things together.

So compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are the hallmarks of those of us who remember when our ornaments were smashed on the ground.

Being “in Christ” means we are all tucked in here together. We each bring our own “stuff” and hang it on that Tree. Some of it is lovely and some looks like the worn-out, hand-made bangles that have seen their better days.

But one thing is sure, God loves his brood of hyperactive, silly, imperfect and too often ridiculous kids.

And He is still breathing over this sacred pandemonium.

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More Than You Prayed For

Once in a lifetime.zech

We say it often, but Zechariah experienced it for real.

By tradition and because there were so many Levitical priests, many priests never had a chance to go into the Temple to serve. If they did get the chance…it was the chance of a lifetime. Such a great honor and rare privilege. (Luke 1:8-10)

Here was Zechariah’s chance.

His one opportunity in life to go into the holy place and make offering to God for the people. I imagine he was so very excited and more than a little scared.

But I have always wondered…did Zechariah have any lingering doubts or nagging disappointments when he stood at The Curtain?

You see, he was about to go into the immediate presence of the God to whom he had prayed one prayer all of his adult life.

He would be face-to-face with the God who had never answered that prayer.

A lifelong, passionate prayer for the single thing he and his wife Elizabeth wanted most in all the world.

A baby.

It had been such a long time. They certainly had a myriad of painful questions.

  • Does God hear us?
  • What are we doing wrong?
  • Why no answer when we want this so much?
  • Who will carry on our legacy?
  • Is this all there is after all these years?

I don’t know, perhaps he had settled all this in his heart. But I doubt it. Remember,  he had given up hope of that dream ever coming true even to the extent of not being able to believe an angel.

So he went into the greatest day of his life, living the most significant moment he would ever experience with a very heavy heart. A sadness of soul.

The sorrow was deep. Elizabeth wore the pitiable moniker “barren”. Zechariah himself had no one to carry on his family name.

And their biggest doubts came as this realization set it: they were incapable of being the answer to their own prayers.

It had become a God-sized problem.

Over the years discouragement had given way to despair and disillusionment. They simply could no longer hope for the answer to their deepest prayer. (Luke 1:7)

But one thing they did not do was stop asking. Expecting may have been too difficult…but asking was not.

And then it happened. The angel of God interrupted his prayers at the altar of incense and Zechariah heard something he could never have anticipated.

After all these years God’s answer to that prayer was going to be beyond their wildest dreams.

They would have a son even at their advanced years. They would name him John.  He would be their “joy and delight”. But he would be so much more than that.

The Angel told them John would be a world-changer; a precedent-setter; a destiny-shaper; a hope-restorer. His impact and influence would literally tune the ears of a nation to hear the voice of God.

The Forerunner getting the world ready for the Son of God. The voice in the desert making a path for Messiah. A pioneer blazing a trail for the Savior. (Luke 1:13-17)

Jesus later called him “the friend of the bridegroom” and said that “none greater than John” had ever lived before him (John 3:29; Matthew 11:11). In the pantheon of Jewish heroes, John the Baptizer would take the highest seat.

All Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for was a child. What they got was exponentially more than they had prayed for.

An epic answer to a simple prayer.

Part of the Message of Advent is that God is full of surprises and radically enjoys dumping them in the laps of those who least expect it.

Old priests. Isolated shepherds. Weary stargazers. And simple teenage lovers who never knew history would bend around their baby.

Here is the hope.

First, when we pray we are heard. Period. The answer may seem so slow to come as to make us think we are being ignored.

But God never misses a prayer. Not one.

Second, when we pray for things to happen in our lives that will extend the Kingdom and increase His work, we will see answers that exceed our prayers. These answers will even span coming generations.

Sometimes it may feel like the prayers we pray are too small or so personal that they matter only to us. But they are much bigger than we know.

When God answers those prayers, He does so with compassion for what you prayed but with vision that exceeds your expectations.

  • You are praying for your wayward son because you want him home. God wants more–He wants to bring Him home a history-maker.
  • You are praying for a new job or promotion because you really need a little more money at home. God wants more–He wants to put you in a place of influence where you can impact the homes of many families.
  • You are praying to get into that university because they have the best program for your major. God wants more–to place you in a circumstance that will set the rest of your life on a course you couldn’t have dreamed up.
  • You are praying just to be free of that life-controlling addiction that has plagued you for years? God wants more–to empower you in freedom to become a freedom-fighter rescuing others even more desperately bound.
  • You are praying for healing for that loved one battling disease that seems to be draining their very lives. God wants more–to bring that person out with a stronger faith and deeper character that carries more of the fragrance of Jesus.

Our prayers are good…sometimes great.

But those prayers are never big enough for the God who always does “Immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Just because it has seemed too long doesn’t mean you are asking too much.

In fact, the waiting may make you ready for the answer that will be bigger than your dream.

With God’s bigger idea waiting in the wings, the long era of silence when Elizabeth felt barren and Zechariah felt beaten turned out to be the season in which they were being prepared to handle an answer that was bigger than their prayers.

Our greatest obstacle to receiving God’s bigger answer to our prayers may well be our response to the season of delays. God really wants to use those to stretch and shape us to be able to handle the size and scope of His “Yes”.

Faithfulness to a dream is not wrong.

Even if you never see the answer to your prayer in your lifetime–and because of their ages Zechariah and Elizabeth likely never saw John come into his destiny–it doesn’t mean your prayers were in vain. They may be answered in future generations.

It was written of the nameless men and women in Hebrews’ hall of faith who were jeered, flogged, sawed in two and destitute, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” (Heb 11:39)

They held on. They never stopped praying. And they believed the promise would come. Maybe not in their day, but it would come.

And come it did.

So weary friend, pray on. Pray boldly. Pray wildly. Pray expectantly.

Know that every prayer is heard by God’s ear. The promise is real and the answer is on the way.

And that answer will be more than you ever prayed for.

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From Bombs To Beauty

We built bombs there. Big ones.20161010_112303

Torpedoes, actually. The Mark XIV big green was assembled there.

At the end of WWI the US Naval Torpedo Factory on the waterfront in Arlington, Virginia was built and put into service. The idea was to prepare in case of future world conflicts. The powerful and terrifying weapons built there were designed to prosecute victory at sea.

Until the end of WWII torpedoes were produced at a frantic pace. But when peace finally came, the factory closed and became storage for surplus military goods.

In the early 1970s as the old buildings were facing demolition, a unique idea came into play. The massive, sterile structure was to be retrofitted and repurposed. A large artist’s guild converted the building into a multi-story labyrinth of studios and galleries.

Such was the birth of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

What once was the generator of bombs would now be the genesis of beauty.

My wife and I recently walked through the 160-plus studios there. We were just two of the half million who will do so this year. To say we were impressed is a grand understatement.

20161010_112936Artisans of many different stripes work with paint, sculpt with clay and stone, sew and embroider with exquisite fabrics. All this alongside calligraphers, screen printers and woodworkers. It is a haven for artists to create as well as a vehicle for them to share their work.

We wandered wide-eyed through the literal explosion of creativity and I off-handedly remarked to Dianne, “This reminds me of a Scripture: ‘They will beat their swords and weapons into plowshares.'”

It’s a reference from Isaiah 2:4, “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The place that once manufactured thousands of weapons to destroy now houses hundreds of artists who create.

A place of death has become a place of life.

As I’ve reflected on that walk through the factory I realize that our lives are not so very different from what I saw there. At least mine isn’t.

Truth is, each of us faces pain, endures rejection, receives abuse or battles with despair at some pretty deep levels. Often, we have make knee-jerk decisions that became horrible mistakes in reaction to that pain.

  • Choices to cope result in actions that hurt
  • Pathways for escape become highways to Hell
  • Defensive postures often lead to destructive isolation
  • Last straws grasped for survival become last chances lost in shame

In our broken places we tend to construct defense mechanisms designed to protect our fragile hearts. Too often those patterns and behaviors torpedo our relationships and sink our souls.

But the great news of grace is that dark places of destruction can become incubators of life and healing. The spaces in our broken souls where we once manufactured devastation, now through grace become the very places we create hope.

Beauty for ashes…

That’s Isaiah’s picture of hope recovered and life restored.

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.” 
(Isaiah 61:3)

It is a consistent reality that where we have been most hurt or most hurtful will become the place of our greatest Kingdom value–if we allow grace to invade and transform.

Not only can our hurts be healed and thus become healing, so too can the very psychological and relational weapons of self-protection we have used to keep others at bay.

Our soulish bomb factories can become the very points from which beauty emerges in our lives.

Exactly the same place where…

  • We have failed we can offer understanding to the friend battling bad choices
  • We have betrayed we can model faithfulness to the one tempted to stray
  • We have abused we can encourage forgiveness in the heart of the angry reactionary
  • We have used we can demonstrate repentance to the calloused soul of the haters
  • We have lied we can become beacons of truth and authenticity to those living lies of their own

Scripture is full of the biographies of people who have had their worst morphed into His best by the touch of grace in the wounds of their souls.

  • Jacob’s deception becomes the deep push that causes him wrestle with God until he comes out new.
  • Rahab’s open door to men as a prostitute becomes the safe harbor for God’s spies and she winds up in the lineage of Messiah.
  • Gideon’s insecurity drives the sensitivity that gives him a keen ear for God’s voice and heart for His purpose.
  • David’s misplaced passions become the seedbed for the hunger that makes him a man in pursuit of the heart of God.
  • Saul’s prosecutorial rage which drove him to travel widely to snuff out the life of Christians became his fervent drive to cover the world with the life of the gospel

Then there is the poor guy Luke called the demoniac of Gadara. Living in a graveyard he wreaked havoc in the lives of all who came by. He was completely isolated by his own bitter brokenness and self-protective habits.

But grace sought him out…literally crossing a sea just to find him.

It was that meeting with Jesus at the very spot where this man’s lunacy thrived that changed the entire trajectory of his pathetic existence. Substantially healed–“Clothed and in his right mind”–Jesus told him to go home to his family and friends and show them that beauty can rise from any pile of ashes. (Luke 8:26-39)

There is such peace in arriving at the place where the factories of destructive behavior that run non-stop in the broken soul become silent.

In those places we no longer calculate self-protection and cipher self-defense. We become open hearts inviting others to see the beauty grace has introduced into those once-darkened laboratories of pain.

Finally, through the power of grace that changes our destructive tendencies, we can stop destroying and start creating.

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

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Living An Ellipsis

moretocomeI confess. I tend to overdo things I love.

Sushi by the boatload. Fishing marathons in the backyard. Tiger Woods golf tourneys on the iPad. Facebook shares of the grandkids. Coffee and good books in the early morning.

And when writing, I overuse ellipses. Not commas like most folks, but ellipses. Yep, the three dots you see in a sentence indicating there is more to come.

An ellipsis indicates a pause. It is as if you almost completed a thought; you felt like the sentence was done.

But then something more emerges in you mind

elipsisthere was more to the thought than you thought.

I live a constant ellipsis–the space between the dreaming and the coming true. The gaping chasm between what “is” and what “ought to be”.

Frequently it feels like a slow motion nightmare. I often wish there was no “could be” or “should be” to compare with “what is” because the frustration of the in-between is, well…just so frustrating!

You know what I mean. That period of waiting on something you passionately desire when confusion raises a spectrum of questions that can only be summed up by the verbal sigh, “There has GOT to be more!”

A lot of people look at a life with my backstory and automatically punctuate it with a period. They logically conclude this guy’s best years, biggest accomplishments and brightest moments are behind him. He blew it. Disqualified. Out of commission. Down for the count.

Truth is, the end of the sentence looms over everyone no matter their history. Whether through personal implosion like mine, or external explosion like so many others, the end of “what might have been” seems your future reality.

  • You are handed the divorce papers or the pink slip.
  • You receive the doctor’s diagnosis or the final bill.
  • You stand at the foot of the casket or the ashes of the dream house.
  • You find the secreted stash of porn or illegal bottle of pills.
  • You get a gold watch for too much gray hair and find you are no longer needed.

The simple fact is life sometimes postures moments that on the surface appear to be dead ends, dead drops or dead dreams.

But Jesus never puts a period at the end of life sentences.

This Kingdom He is building is a realm of second chances and fresh starts. His Bible is a history–a litany–of dead ends turned into new beginnings.

Like…

  • A completely insane man living in a graveyard…clothed, right mind and telling all His friends about the One who changed everything.
  • A woman with a laundry-list of exes who wouldn’t dare be seen with respectable people…satiated on living water and telling her whole town about the one who made her fractured life whole.
  • A close disciple feeling like a failure and hiding in a fishing boat…restored and carrying good news of a God who never forsakes to a seemingly God-forsaken world.
  • A dead friend and his disappointed sisters…who rolled back a gravestone to find there was life on the other side of a death certificate.

I’m afraid He too is guilty of the overuse of ellipsis…

He is the God of more to come.

The grizzled Apostle was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

The God who raised Jesus from the dead is addicted to picking up where life leaves off. He gets His divine jollies from doing the stuff that makes even His most ardent followers say, “no way!” He loves to choose foolish things to leave the wise scratching their heads.

It’s what Paul envisioned when he prayed, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1: 18)

Psalmists of the Older Testament had their own form of ellipsis.

Selah.

Stop and think about it. Before you go on, wrap your mind around what has been said. It will be necessary to understand it in order to grasp what is yet to come.

It isn’t easy living between. Sometimes faith gets stretched and hope is strained.

Periods of waiting often feel more like tombs than tunnels.

But the ellipsis moments of life are the seasons where we strain the pulp of history for the seeds of destiny. It is in the moments of “not yet” that we process the past to decipher the GPS coordinates for the “yet to come”.

So when your mind relays to your heart a message from the kingdom of no hope that you are:

  • Too old
  • Too failed
  • Too different
  • Too broken
  • Too extreme

Too…whatever

You just remember that in the Kingdom of Promise

…there is always more to come.

“That’s why we have this Scripture text:
No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love Him.
But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, MSG)

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I Hope So

FLowerfromrockThe words came across his desk through tears laced with deep compassion. “It will get better.”

My resigned response was simple. “I hope so.”

I had used those words a thousand times in darker moments of life when pain was the order of the day. It had served as my expression of inner weariness and psychic exhaustion.

A sort of cross-your-fingers faith.

But this time despair bled through the words. There were no props of faith shoring them up. It was sheer resignation.

A verbal shrug. A sigh from the soul. A guttural que sera sera.

Those words in that moment spasmed from the darkest point in my life. They were underscored by abject failure, massive loss and spiritual desolation. They tasted bitter in my mouth as I spoke them.

That was then…

Now…I have come to embrace these words as so much more. Now its is a personal mantra with a completely different  meaning.

In reality, “I hope so” is a subversive phrase. In the face of the worst circumstance it expresses a rough, raw confidence that things as they are now are not at all how they will ultimately be.

The “so” part for me has gone from a period that groans in defeat, “Is this all there is?” to an ellipsis that shouts in defiance, “There is much more to come!”

Back then it was “I hope so…”

But now it is “I hope…so.”

I hope…
So discouragement never gets the final word even when routines are deadening

I hope…
So no matter what I am facing, I will not quit because failure is not final or fatal

I hope…
So I choose to see a preferable “then” in the face of what seems an impossible “now”

I hope…
So I embrace God and good and grace even when my world screams evil and injustice

I hope…SO

As Habakkuk once sang:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”    –Habakkuk 3:17-18

Hope is that “yet”.

It has become a treasure to me–recovered from the ashes of an epic life implosion. It is supremely valuable. The most critical survival skill for a soul living in between the dreaming and the coming true.

Hope is the incredibly strong, tenacious, even visceral conviction that I am

  • Defined by my Father’s affection
  • Designed to live a significant life, and
  • Destined to leave an imprint for good as my legacy.

In the face of each personal failure hope is doggedly determined to live on purpose. Underneath it is a passionate struggle to survive and succeed in the painful experiences of a world that can be harsh and unforgiving.

The Israelites of the Older Testament hated the Valley of Achor outside of Jericho because it was a constant reminder of where they had experienced their most humiliating defeat at the hands of a pathetic militia from Ai (Joshua 7). Much later in their history, God promised one of His old prophets, There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” (Hosea 2:15)

God was saying, “I will make the place of your humiliation the passageway to your destiny.”

Now if you see this as one more feel-good pep talk from someone out of touch with the rub and reality of life you certainly don’t know my backstory.

I have lived through the end-of-all-things-as-we-know-it stuff. Despair and I are well acquainted. Failure was my tailor and humiliation my wardrobe for years. I know what it is to stand hip deep in ocean waves and seriously contemplate letting them draw me under.

I know from deeply personal and painful experience that sometimes (often!) hope is hard. The difficulty  comes from the fact that it is contrarian.

Hope says “yes” to every unquestioned and unjust “no” in life.

It confronts status quo and sabotages “just how it is”. It kicks over the injustice of money-changers in houses of love and throws incarcerating spirits of despair off cliffs in pig bellies.

Hope is a stretch because it always sees things as they are but believes them as they should be. It is hard because it yearns for what is not. “…we hope for what we do not yet have…” (Romans 8:25)

But hope is also easy because it is based on something unshakable…Someone eternal. “God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 65:5)

“My hope is built on nothing less…”

Hope is a lone tree growing in an arid desert; a beautiful flower springing from solid rock. Hope remains. Hope sustains. It is an “anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

Hope is a resurrection in the heart. It is life poured into dead things–oxygen for lungs that long ago ceased to breathe. It is a bittersweet longing; a life-defining ache.

Hope is desperation without despair.

This is not a pipe dream or unrealistic panacea. As David knew from his own experience, “No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3).

The old Apostle who had seen more pain in a few years than most of us will know in ten lifetimes, once reminded us:

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:3-5)

Like Jonah reeking of fish guts or three Hebrew boys with the hint of smoke about them, when you’ve been THROUGH exile and walked THROUGH fire and you COME OUT on the other side, you have no choice but to be a hope addict.

I am among this ragged band of survivors who wear as a badge of honor the moniker of Zechariah (9:12)“Prisoners of hope.”

I hope…SO!

*******

A prayer for you who struggle today: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Beneath The Surface

waterBGIt’s our new routine…and our happy place. Sitting on the back porch watching the sun rise across the small lake on which we live.

Absolutely calm and still, absent of the afternoon breeze, our lake is a polished mirror with perfect reflections of the large oaks, beautiful houses and thick summer clouds that create its frame.

My favorite thing about these mornings is to watch the lake wake up. As the sun elbows morning to crawl out of bed, life surfaces from the lake’s deeper places.

  • Hungry bass burst from the brackish depths to pursue their prey
  • Timid bluegill pop the still water snapping up their buggy breakfast
  • Fat carp roll in the warm shallows as if emerging from hibernation
  • Lazy turtles surface and submerge creating little whirlpools in their wake

And because it’s Florida, a small gator or two stealthily slip to the waterline like submarines surfacing for a look around.

Our little lake literally comes to life.

But we can only see that life when there is stillness at the surface. Once the cooling ocean breeze dances across the lake, the roiled surface disguises what is beneath.

There is a kind of sadness for me in that rippling of the lake. With the stirring of the surface I lose awareness of the abundant living that goes on below.

Now I know, life thrives on top and along the banks of the water. But what truly defines the lake–what makes it what it is–is not what is nourished on the surface. Its true identity lies in the hidden biosphere of its depths.

Every time I watch this waking lake I hear a faint call in my own inner space.

It may well be what the Old Testament song writer felt when he wrote,

“Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.”  (Psalm 42:7)

The surface of my life gets the most attention these days. It is the constantly squeaking wheel gobbling up all the oil. I am so busy making a living in the ordinary monotony of the daily that I miss creating life from the extraordinary flashes of eternity.

What demands my attention and too often gets my affection is the stuff of life that goes on at the surface. All the people and things that draw part of their existence from what I produce get the greater (and better) parts of me.

Like my lake, I am good at supporting what is around me. That, of course, is not a bad thing.

But what creates the life I offer to all that thrives around me is the secret life perpetually growing within me. Because of the energy swirling below there is something to give away above.

The life I have to offer to the world around me is utterly dependent on the life I have germinating inside me.

Without that life beneath the surface I am no more than our still lake when it is reflecting its surroundings. I can quickly become a mirror of the culture. A mere reflection of what is around me.

It may look nice, but that is not why the lake exists.

It is not my purpose either. The numbing busy-ness and inane activity of the surface can easily make me inattentive to what lies beneath.

The real stuff that defines who I actually am is not found in the wakes or the waves but in the dark stillness of the depths. The life that matters most is below the churning surface.

Where God is.

God “desires truth (reality, authenticity, transparency) in the inner parts” (Psalm 51:6) because that is where He is busy working. He lives in the underbelly of my existence–the subterranean Spirit “in whom (I) live, move and have (my) being.” (Acts 17:28)

But because He is hidden He is also easily ignored.

This is the very tactic the enemy of my soul exploits. His one purpose to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) is accomplished when he roils the daily stuff of living so my focus becomes success or survival.

Getting by. Getting through. Getting more. Getting ahead.

But in all this “getting” what am I giving up?

Too often, it is who I am. There is little that robs me of meaning as quickly as letting my “self” be defined by the stuff at the surface.

Whether accomplishment or failure, possessions or position, acclaim or abandonment, popularity or isolation, when I am defined by what is seen I lose the profound beauty of what is unseen. The stuff called “me” that God knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

These real, gut-level, God-reflecting idiosyncrasies make me uniquely individual. They keep me from dissolving into the mindless blob of indistinguishable “humanity”.

They are the reason I am.

This is what lies beneath the surface. So why don’t I dive deeply in to find and release this stuff?

Honestly, I refuse to be still enough to see what lies inside mainly because I’m scared.

Guilt from unremedied failures, pain from unhealed hurts, anger from unresolved griefs from the past…these lurk beneath the surface too.

In the inner space of who I really am, there be dragons.

I don’t swim in my backyard pond because there are unfriendly critters in its murky depths.

I don’t submerge to explore the depths of my soul not because I fear what I don’t know but because I am terrified of what I do know lies beneath.

But this fear of the known is most certainly not worth missing the experience and adventure of what I have not yet discovered about who I am as God defines me. Sometimes I have to risk the potential pain of delving into this space in order to uncover its living beauty.

“What is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Most of my faith as a Jesus-follower is like that. I live sacramentally.

  • It isn’t about bread and wine…but the body and blood of Jesus that lay behind them.
  • It isn’t water at baptism that counts…but immersion into Christ.
  • It isn’t human hands laid on the sick…but divine life flowing through them.

It is what lies beneath that matters.

I am not what I have made myself–good or bad. I am what God is making me. I am His vision under construction. His dream coming true.

Oh yes, I am often clay on the wheel that has to be squished and re-formed. But the truth is, I am becoming. And what I am becoming–the shape I am taking–is ultimately an expression of what is within. The “what-God-is-up-to” stuff.

The potential is always in the seed. The life is ultimately in the womb.

What matters most and most defines me is what goes on beneath the surface.

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The Intellectual Laziness Of The Easy Answer

EasyAnswerSloganA political season for me is on par with buying a used car or getting a root canal.

They are all necessary but unavoidable evils.

And each is a genuine pain in the…well, you know.

In politics, the way extremes emerge, agendas are touted and leaders are lampooned grates on my nerves like a classroom of first graders simultaneously scraping their nails on blackboards.

It appears that ignorance of every stripe puts on disguises of every style to promote idiocy of every sort.

Some seasons are worse than others. Few have ever matched the current one. The onslaught of insults to my intelligence from all points on the political spectrum is the stuff of Guinness world records.

What irks me most is the oversimplification of complex issues. The utter absence of thoughtfully-formed answers and the polarization of our collective community is absurd at best and potentially catastrophic at worst.

What stuns me even more is the irrational exuberance with which we as a people accept this unpalatable Pablum.

Of course, the political parties are like dogs marking territory when it comes to their ideas. If the thought doesn’t rise out of their ranks it simply cannot be embraced no matter how much sense it makes.

We’d rather be stupid with our own ideas than right with someone else’s.

Weary as we are of a do-nothing political system and a drifting moral consensus, it’s just too easy to blindly and blithely swallow the easiest answers that requires the least intellectual energy or imagination.

Give me a slogan to hang onto, a catch-phrase to chant or an enemy to demonize and I will be lulled into the insanity of believing that simply by repeating the mantra I am actually part of the solution.

Honestly, when is the last time you heard a sane, substantive, intelligent give-and-take debate on the issues that weigh on contemporary culture? Have we reached a point that we can no longer explore the difficult issues of our day with civility and respect? Are we beyond the point of humble compromise for greater good?

Easy answers are never based on a realistic assessment or contemplative consideration of the facts. They are mostly cheap cop-outs. Great for media sound bites or political sucker punches, but inconsequential in solving any real dilemmas.

Just because something is a popular opinion does not make it an informed one.

There are no easy solutions or pat answers to the:

  • Personal and economic debris left in the wake of a natural disaster
  • Political dissension left from the collision of polemically disparate world-views
  • Ethical dilemma posed by competing belief systems or conflicting moral codes
  • The gray areas left along the fault lines of church/state or public/private

When we adopt the stance of opposing teams over the divisive issues of our day, we have lost hold of the reality that we live in the paradox of a fallen world. When we accept paradox we understand…

  1. The problems are far more complex than we’d like to admit. They involve people–real people. So they are as diverse and complex as are the various parties involved.
  2. The answers are far more involved than we’re willing to face. We seem to want some sort of magic wand waved over the ideological canyons separating us that will fix the problem and make everyone happy.
  3. The solutions are far more demanding than we’re willing to accept. Real solutions require real involvement. The fix requires getting our own hands dirty. Such answers place demands on the “us” part of the “us-and-them” dichotomy we are so fond of drawing.

As believers in Jesus especially, we must see things from a very different perspective than that of the world around us. We belong to the right-side-up kingdom in the middle of this upside-down culture.

We have to begin and end with Jesus.

His seemingly lopsided value placed on the disenfranchised and marginalized challenges our protective notions of rights and rules. His commitment to an invisible Kingdom runs counter to our nationalistic leanings. His passion for redemption and healing cut across the grain of our fondness for exclusion and isolation.

It is time for a more considered approach. One based on humility, justice, and mercy as Jesus defines them. It is OK to admit we don’t have all the answers, we all have a part to play and there is no silver bullet.

Imagine the answers Jesus could reveal for the calamities of our societies if we simply tried these three things:

  • Identify–authentically connect with people who are ACTUALLY facing the problems we are THEORETICALLY discussing. In this approach we say, “I want to understand.”
  • Be humble–Face the truth that none of us is infallible, all of us are valuable and together we can find credible ways forward. We hold firmly to our convictions, but with this mindset we say, “I could be wrong.”
  • Embrace community–understand that the highest goal is not to be right but to be redemptive. Experiencing and embracing community that unites instead of dogmatically clinging to ideologies that divide. This is where we simply admit, “I don’t have all the answers.”

You see, the “clear” answer–especially when it is the easy one–may or may not be true. It often is a thin veneer covering our unwillingness to wrestle with the inescapable uncertainty, perplexing duplicity and constant inequity of life together as a people.

Easy answers are most often easy because they are lazy.

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