Word

“What’s the word?”

In the Marine Corps, we had this thing called “word.” Basically, word was pertinent information. It was what you needed to know to move forward with your day and with your government-owned life.

It was a coveted thing because word was not typically made available to everyone first-hand from our Commander, by whom it was issued. Rather, word had to be passed from one echelon to the next, from top to bottom.

“What’s the word,” was a common question in the barracks where Marines might spend hours standing by (waiting) to receive it. For reasons I still don’t understand, it often took a long time to obtain word and pass it to everyone. Bureaucracy, I suppose. There was word of the day, weekend word, etc. Word was what you needed to start your week or be freed on a Friday afternoon.

This concept still exists in communities and circles I am a part of now, except that as a Christian we believe God has not only given us word, but THE word. Made flesh. And it is abundantly available to all.

Unfortunately, unlike new believers in China and Rwanda, American believers like myself largely take the word for granted. Our Bibles are dusty and our Commander is, at best, a counselor, whose orders have been misunderstood as advice to be considered rather than unquestionably obeyed.

In the Corps we heeded word because we feared the consequences of deviating from it. In Christ, deviation from the word is not without consequences, in this life and the next, but unlike in the Corps, the word of God exists not merely to control us. It exists to give us life, that we may share it. Pass it along. Not because we have to, but because we get to.

How to Stay in the Suck

Dealing with stuff you don’t want to deal with

Sometimes life sucks

In these moments, or months, or years, we run to that which we trust most.  We run to that which we believe will give us comfort.  We run to that which we believe will help us to cope with the pain, frustration, anger, and suckiness of our situation.

These things that we trust can take on a few different forms.  Maybe you look for solace in a bottle.  Maybe you look for peace in a paycheck.  Maybe you trade your life for attention because you think you’d rather be dead than unnoticed.

Whatever it is, the shitty reality is that none of these things–none of these worldly coping mechanisms is enough.  Eventually, they all fall apart and leave us still wanting.  Still insecure and unsure.  Still desperate for comfort.

But knowing that isn’t enough.  You can read these words, and maybe even believe them to be true in your mind, but until your false savior fails you so hard that you stop giving it your trust, your hope, and your life, you’ll keep doing it.  You’ll keep placing the tremendous weight of your broken identity onto the weak shoulders of a woman, a man, a substance, an employer or a kid until it hurts enough that you stop.

My encouragement to you

If you still find yourself trusting in anything other than Christ, pray that it fails you.  Pray  that it fails you sooner than later so that you can start trusting in He who can and has carried the weight of your iniquity.  Pray that your false savior disappoints you so profoundly that you forever remember why it is unworthy of your trust.

And, if you have already experienced this pain and disappointment and know not where to go with your burdens, frustration, anger, questions, grief, stress and aggravation–pray.  Pray to God your Father and our Creator that he remind you who he is what he has done.  Remember that this life is temporary, and that ultimately, all will be made right.  Everything will be okay.

I don’t like to dwell on shitty situations.  I like to get through messiness quickly.  If I could be on the phone with a tow truck driver before the air bag finished deploying, I would be.  But sometimes, and only sometimes, it’s better to stay in the suck for a while.  I’m not advocating for victim-mentality or woe-is-me moments, and I’m not saying you should make an award-winning pity post every time you have a bad day. #cantkeepmedown

I am saying that sometimes it’s wise to stay in the suck, especially if you had some responsibility in causing it, and if staying in it helps you to see your responsibility well enough to keep you from causing a similar kind of suck in the future.

Know this: you are not alone.  You are not uncared for, and you are not the sum of your failures.  It will get better, and it will be okay.  Trust Him and Him alone.

Romans 8:18

He Did That We Might Do

We strive unending to emulate perfection

Consider that everything he has commanded we do he has already perfectly demonstrated.

He lived as we ought live.
He gave us that we might give.
He forgave us of much that we might forgive others of relatively little.
He sought and saved us so that we too might seek and save the lost.
He spoke words that we may now speak with confidence,
and he responded to the cries of the downtrodden so that we might continue.
He served that we might serve.
He loved the we may love.
He suffered righteously that we might suffer for righteousness sake.
He submitted so that we might submit,
and he welcomed that we might welcome.

He died that we might live, but that’s why he is the Christ and we are not.

How I beg and plead He hear my prayer,
“Are you even listening!”
And how my soul shakes when given His response:
“Are you even listening?”

“Beat it, doofus!”

Lester

A Goofy Movie, Disney (1995)
A Goofy Movie, Disney (1995)

There is a scene in one of my favorite Disney films, A Goofy Movie, in which teenager Max is taken much to his chagrin by his father, Goofy, to a rundown roadside attraction park known as “Lester’s ‘Possom Park.”  After enduring a very cringe-worthy animatronic performance in which the audience is encouraged to yodel along with Lester, Max is left alone while his father explores the souvenir station.

In an unguarded moment, Max is greeted by Lester, the tall costumed opossum (think Chuck E. Cheese meets Barney the Dinosaur), who enthusiastically asks Max:

“Who’s your favorite ‘possum?”

Max plainly tells him:

“Don’t . . . touch me.”

This of course inspires Lester to give Max a huge hug in hopes of cheering him up.  The scene climaxes with Max slapping the opossum caricature hard enough to make his costume head spin 180 degrees to the rear.

“Beat it, doofus!”

Unable to see, the child entertainer staggers off into the background where he is taken down and dragged away by a gang of enthralled children.

It’s my favorite scene, and one I think of often in the church because I assume many men think of the pastor, and maybe even Christ himself as a Lester-like figure who is desperate for our attention and eager to give us a big, unwanted hug.  Anything to get us to smile and play along.

I am grateful my pastors are not Lesters, but it saddens me to think of the men who mistake Christ, as I once did, for something like Lester the ‘Possum instead of rightly understanding him for the final authority that He is.

Christ is most certainly compassionate and hospitable, and I have no doubt that he gives the best hugs.  But he is not merely an entertainer in search of our shallow affection.  He is the eternal authority, and his return will not include playful yodeling.

Birthdays in Light of Eternity

When you’re forever

Today, I turn 30 years old.

I don’t have any big plans.  I will be meeting with a counselor.  It wasn’t something I’d planned to do on my birthday, but when I emailed him earlier this week, this was the day he said he was free.  I chuckled, and then smile-sighed, much like my father does when moments of life seem too ridiculous to do anything other than laugh, smile and shake your head.

It’s probably a good way to start the next decade of life; discussing some of the things in my first three decades, and how they’ve formed my identity, whether for better or worse.  I’m not excited about it, but I know it will be good for me and for others.

I was not born only once, though.  I am, by God’s grace, “born again.”  I don’t usually say so because I typically assume that phrase to belong to short, roundish, gregarious black women who attend Southern churches and wear sun hats, but it was the phrase that Christ used, so perhaps I should take a liking to it.

I don’t know exactly when I was born again, or saved from one eternal life into another.  I sometimes feel as though I am re-saved on a continual basis, much like one might be if after having been pulled from the ocean waves, they jumped back in time and time again and were re-saved time and time again by the same patient and determined lifesaver.  Such seems to be my relationship with the Christ.

Theologically speaking, I know that’s not the case.  I know that salvation occurs once, and that life thereafter is a process of sanctification, or Christ-likening.  But I don’t know the day I was saved, and I don’t know that I care all that much so long as I am indeed saved.

Of course, all of us are eternal beings.  It’s easy to ignore this or fail to acknowledge it, even if we do call ourselves Christians because we have not seen the other side of death, and we cannot fathom what it means for anything to be eternal, let alone ourselves.  We may say we’ll love someone forever, but the reality is that none of has the slightest clue what it means to do anything, let alone love, forever.

So what are birthdays to the eternal?  They mean something in this life because things change as we get older.  Our bodies.  Our perspectives.  Our abilities and our rights.  Our freedoms and responsibilities.  Our expectations, both of ourselves and of the world around us.  Time changes these things, hopefully for the better, but not always.

I imagine things will change in Heaven, but I doubt we’ll worry much about time.  Why would we?  What would life be like if we did not age and we had no need to worry about time?

I realize this may sound morbid, but a part of me is delighted that I am a bit older today because it means I am a bit closer to my death, and thus closer to an eternal community with Christ.  I am not entirely without him now, as I am, but I am not nearly with him as I will be when I die to this vehicle and awaken in the next.

I understand why this day is significant in this life and in this world, but I cannot help but to wonder how significant it really is if I will live forever.  Will I look back on this day in 200 billion years?  Will I remember it?

_____

The other day I was listening to Ed Sheeran’s song, Shape of You.  It’s catchy and I like to dance, so I was dancing in my living room and pretending to be much cooler than I am when I paused for a moment to apply some ChapStick.  Feeling cool, I capped it and then decided to return it to it’s small wicker basket by tossing it from my right hand, tucked under my left arm, up and over my head, eyes fixed on the basket.

It landed, and in that moment I was Michael Jordan sinking the game winner.  No one saw it besides me, and maybe my dog, Homie.  And God.  Maybe some bored angels.

I hope that moment is recorded.  I hope I can replay moments of my life, and the lives of others, in God’s eternal living room.  And I hope you will be there, too.

Integrity

As defined by the Corps; as refined by the Christ.

In the Marine Corps, I was taught that being a good Marine included being a man of integrity.  Integrity, as defined by the Corps, meant “doing the right thing when no one is looking.”  For the four years that I was enlisted I largely thought of myself as an integrity-based man and thus, among other reasons, a good Marine.

Since then I have struggled to maintain as strong a sense of integrity, not because its definition has changed very much, and not because I have changed all that much (unfortunately), but because the definition of “the right thing” has taken on a much deeper meaning.

The right thing used to mean being the type of Marine who picked up trash when no one was requiring it to be done.  It meant going for a run on Saturday morning in order to improve my three-mile run time even though it wasn’t required or expected.  Doing the right thing meant going beyond the minimum requirements, learning more than the essentials, and being prepared for more than what was anticipated.  And these things I did, quite pridefully.

But then I met Jesus.  And if you’re not a believer–look, I get it.  I can hear your eyes rolling.  Mine would be if I were you.  But that’s the truth.  I began reading the Bible and through it found a redefinition of integrity that allowed me to see just how far out of alignment I was.

Doing the right thing still included going beyond life’s minimum expectations, but in light of the Lord’s living example, it also included loving the seemingly unlovable, showing compassion for the most heinous of criminals, and–what might be the most difficult of standards, personally–maintaining a sense of intentional sexual purity.

Integrity suddenly included not taking the second, third or fourth lustful glance, but instead acknowledging the beauty of a woman for the wonderful and respectable creation of God’s that it is.  Integrity, as defined by Christ, meant not using pornography to satisfy the sinful appetite of my flesh, but instead trusting the God who reminds me that sexual pleasure is best experienced exclusively in the context of marriage.  Integrity meant doing the right thing not that I might impress God or earn his favor, but as an obedient demonstration of my trust in him as my Lord and the one who I believe knows what is best for me.

I want to walk my talk, and I want to live free from hypocrisy.  I want to realize the insufficient joy found in sinful pleasure, and be absolutely convinced that the greatest joy is found in obedience to him.

Lord, give me the ability and desire to walk according to your word with integrity and joy.

Animals

How we’re not that different from the OT peeps.

Whenever I read about animal worship in the Old Testament, I feel a sense of superiority over first-century Egyptians.  Pridefully, I think of myself and my society as better than those who would worship birds and goats and golden calves.  It just sounds so primitive.

And then I look around.

I live in Colorado, where to say that people worship the Denver Broncos is undoubtedly an understatement.  I don’t think it’s possible to find someone in this state who wears orange accidentally, or merely because they enjoy its luminescent quality.  And while taking a knee in reverence to the spoken Word of God seems bold, even in a church, no one bats an eye if you tell them that you’re devoting and entire day and driving a long way to watch men throw a pigskin around in the name of victory for a horse-labeled organization.

It is, of course, at this moment that I realize I am wearing a Chicago Bears shirt.

Sports is an easy example, though.  Cubs, cardinals, hawks, lions–there’s a long list of animal mascots with whom we can rally alongside.

But the parking lot is no exception.  Mustangs, beetles, rams and impalas all have their place in our hearts, garages and payments.

How or why silly looking horse heads came to be a popular accessory for young partygoers and YouTube personalities to wear, I don’t know.  I just know that it’s a thing, and that it creeps me out.

The latest trend is the “dog face” picture.  Snapchat has created new filters that allow selfie-senders to depict themselves with the ears and snout of a dog.  I think there’s a cat version, too.

I do not understand why this is a thing.  Maybe I’m getting old.  Maybe it’s just stupid and I am one of few in whom this valuable truth has been entrusted.  But whatever the case, it is quite commonplace for smartphone owners to snap & share pictures of themselves with animal features.  Which makes me wonder whether or not bunny ears is still an effective means of mockery, or if it will not become a favor.

My hope is not that you will feel guilty rooting for your team, but that we would see through the pride that allows us to think ourselves so much better than our predecessors.  We’re not that different.

Grace & Repentance

The Book of Romans is a good book.  I’d like to memorize it.  I was very moved when, via podcast, I listened to David Platt recite chapters 1 – 8 to his congregation in a sermon he gave while preaching at the Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL.

In an attempt to begin familiarizing myself with the text, I was reading Romans aloud the other day.  And whether for the sake of memorizing or not, I think I like this method of experiencing Scripture.  Speaking Paul’s exaltations and exhortations made me feel the emotions I imagine he felt while writing those words in a way that I don’t usually appreciate when I’m skimming verses in order to satisfy a daily reading plan.

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve studied Romans.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever personally studied Romans, but I’m sure I’ve read through most of it in the past.  Consequently, it only took until Chapter 2 before I had to stop and breathe, not because I was preaching too exhaustively, but because I’d been spiritually doubled over by Romans 2:4 (ESV):

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Kindness is not weakness.  I fear I may have forgotten this.

Grace is not meant to enable me to linger in my sin.  Grace is the escape route from my sin.  Grace is not meant to be an umbrella under which I can avoid the downpour of God’s righteous judgment while I go on living ignorantly of his presence and guidance.  Grace is meant to lead me to repentance.  Grace is meant to help me see the truth about who God is, and who I am.

I have often taken His love as a source of comfort while ignoring it as a source of correction.  This needs to change.

 

Please help me, Father, to see that obedience to your word isn’t an opportunity for me to impress you, but an opportunity to live more fully satisfied than I’ve ever known.  Help me find joy in obedience.