A Space for Dialogue – The Ongoing Conversation

So yeah, I started writing. But I’ve done that before. And I’ve learned that I’m okay with starting things, but ultimately it doesn’t count unless it becomes an ongoing part of my life. (More on this in a future post.)

Like I said, I’ve started writing before. But how many of you knew that? And if you did, did you also notice that it trailed off after a time?

You might say, ‘no’ and maybe you’re just being gracious.

Either way, I’ve come to realize that for me it isn’t enough to just start writing. I have to keep going. And that means I’m going to try to keep on writing.

What does that mean for this site?

It means I’m going to keep at it. And there isn’t much of a directed purpose than to be regularly recording my thoughts and perspectives on a variety of aspects of life.

You’re welcome to come along for the ride.

Listen in.

Observe.

But more than anything, interact. Without that, I’m just another unnecessary noise.

Besides, this isn’t an exercise in futility for me. I need to improve in the way I communicate–what I say and how I say it. And that involves listening and having meaningful dialogue.

This is a space for that.

I don’t have some grand vision of what it will all be. But this is really a space more about becoming than anything else.

For example, I don’t know why that last blog had such a lousy layout. I tried changing it several times, but the paragraph spacing just never resolved. I think it’s because I originally wrote it in another app and copied and pasted it here–somehow that screwed up the overall layout. (As an aside, I think there’s probably a metaphor there to explore.)

So, I’m going to work to keep writing. And if this site goes silent for too long, you have the right to ask me about that.

Some of the things I write might be really mind-blowing (wishful thinking), but most of it is just going to be a record of my own observations and introspection.

It will probably be a bit too personal at times. And awkward. I’m good with that one. Not The Office level of awkward, but just be warned that sometimes it might be more than you wanted to know.

And it might seem trivial and simple, too. But I think I’ve got a lot of that to weed through in my life in order to get to the truly significant. And, I believe much of the truly significant is found in the things that seem trivial and simple.

Hopefully in all of it, I’m honest, humble and teachable.

So, thanks for reading and extending that grace to me. After all, grace is contagious.

 

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Write On – A Conversation, of Sorts

WritingStart writing.
That has to be one of the singular most repeated phrases that resonates throughout my being. A simple encouragement often spoken by the Spirit to my innermost person.
What do I write? Where do I publish it? Online? For myself? Are you talking about a journal?
But what I always find is that in the questions I end up avoiding the real issue: I have yet to write. I think about it. I talk about it. It happens in my head, but not in my fingers. The words never make the page.
What if the authors of Scripture did this—what I am doing—what would we have then?
No, I’m not presuming that my words are Scripture—no way. Not even close. Just thoughts and opinions. Maybe sometimes they’ll be truth. But not God-breathed.
So what do I say?
I don’t think that’s ever been thee main point.
Just write.
Write on.
Write anything.
Write something.
You know you’ve been writing since almost as long as you can remember. You know how your whole being comes together when you write. How you can think its the way your mind works, processes, races . . . clicks, in ways that it doesn’t during conversation.
It’s how you unravel the knots—not just for yourself, but yes, for yourself, too.
You want to know how, where, why you fit?
Start writing.
There has been no singular thing that has resonated so deeply with you. Why? Because that’s how I wired you.
Those are the simple and recurring encouragements I hear. Not in my ears so much as in my heart. In that place where you know truth. That place where what is right resonates with your whole being and you. just. know.
So I’m writing. At least today. At least now. But it counts. It’s a start. And that’s what he said: start writing.
Okay, I’ve started. Now what?
Keep writing.
What? For how long?
Until there are no more words. Or until the tears run so strong you cannot go on.
Write on.
Write about the tears. The heartaches. The joys. The victories. The struggles. The journey.
Write. It’s what you’re built for. You will find pleasure and purpose and meaning and your place. It’s already how you’ve seen fruit. Fruit that satisfies. Fruit that isn’t your’s. But fruit that is true. You’ve already seen how it connects with people. Connects in a way that is outside of yourself. Don’t stop. Don’t neglect it.
Write.
Do the thing I have designed you to do. It’s your art. Make time for it. Find a place for it.
Consider it an offering.
I will satisfy you in it. And you will glorify me in it.
Start writing.

No More Masks

IMG_3570Yesterday was, of course, Halloween. A day filled with costumes and candy, carving pumpkins and classroom parades, tricks and treats. But in some circles (you should see my Twitter feed) it was also filled with theological discussions and debates. You see, it was also Reformation Day, a day marking the anniversary of Martin Luther standing up to the Catholic Church. (For more on that, go here.)

But that isn’t the only debate happening on Halloween.

For as long as I can remember, Christians have been wondering, debating, and arguing over whether it is right for followers of Jesus to observe/celebrate Halloween and to what extent. At times, and in certain circles, that debate regularly becomes heated.

But this post isn’t actually about any of those things. It isn’t about whether it is right or wrong to wear a costume today or whether your church should hold a Trunk-or-Treat event or whether we ought to be promoting “Harvest Parties.”

Halloween costumes aside, there are far more dangerous masks being worn within the walls where the church gathers that have nothing to do with Halloween. They are widely accepted and even encouraged. Halloween becomes a time when we merely trade one mask for another.

We pretend to be something we are not.

We pretend to have everything together. We dress up on Sundays and get the family there (nearly) on time. But underneath we hide great brokenness. We pretend to be the picture perfect image of what we perceive people believe a Christ-follower is supposed to look like.

And why? Because we are ultimately afraid. What kind of irony is that?

Yesterday, my kids encountered masks that were scary and had the potential of causing nightmares, but the masks we often put on are just the opposite. They are safe and calm and reassuring. We don’t wear them to cause fear, but because of fear. The only similarity is that we are hiding our true selves in both cases. This is hardly a new revelation. Each one of us can quickly realize that we are prone to do this ourselves.

A while back I tweeted the following thought:

Fake smiles help sell plastic lies. The truth can be hard to find when these are the masks we hide behind.

We all want to be known and to be loved. But we wear these masks because we are afraid of being found out to be incomplete and imperfect. And so in hope of preserving ourselves, we have cultivated a culture filled with falsehood. And there is nothing that threatens to undo us as giving ourselves over to fears and falsehoods.

We talk about the need for authenticity, but I think most of us are waiting from someone else to be that first. But genuine authenticity (redundancy, anyone?) demands courage and vulnerability. It means someone is going to have to take their mask off first and risk being known for who we really are. Can this actually happen?

I believe it can. But that kind of courage isn’t something we just muster up, it’s a recognition and reliance on the truth that God has already spoken to us: that we are known intimately and loved completely . . . by Him. His presence is to give us strength. Think Joshua 1:9–“Be strong and courageous . . . the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It is time for the Church to finally be a place of no more masks. We must speak grace and truth to each other and foster deep relationships that drive us deeper into trust and love of the God who rescues us from these fears.

When we finally begin to rest in He who made us, knows us fully, and loves us endlessly, we are able to removed the masks, drop the charade, and be ourselves. We are no longer dependent upon other’s validation and perceptions, but on the eternal value of the One who is sufficient for all these things.

What kind of masks have you worn? What kind of fears were you trying to hide?

The Sky Stands Still

It was an unusual morning because we were woken up by a phone call from a friend. He called to tell us our flight the next day might be delayed. Little did we know how true that was.

It was a Tuesday morning– much like this morning. We were living in Tacoma, Washington at the time and were due back in Michigan the next day for my brother-in-law’s wedding that weekend. It would be the last summer weekend before I started classes the next week.

But the phone call was confusing–something about a plane crashing in New York. We roused ourselves out of bed and immediately turned on the news where we, like the rest of the world, watched as the rest of the horrific events of that day unraveled. And we knew it wasn’t something about a plane crashing, but everything.

With eyes glued to the news, we began talking how we were going to get back to Michigan in time for the Saturday wedding. We still weren’t convinced that we wouldn’t be able to fly, but after a couple of hours of discussion made the decision to make the 2,000 mile trip in our car.

We packed and were on the road after lunch. A lot had already happened that day, but there was too many miles to put in before we could stop, and the drive gave us time to process. We kept the radio on in the car, continuing to listen to the reports of what was happening, of what had happened, of what would happen. There was a lot of conjecture. Nobody really knew.

When we got to Spokane to refill the gas tank, I made a couple of phone calls to see whether planes were flying again and whether we could reschedule our flights. We had no idea that it’d be a while before there was public air traffic. We still had no idea of the broad sweeping effects of that morning.

It wasn’t long before we were in Montana–big sky country, where you can see for miles and miles and the sky is bigger than you could ever imagine. And it was there that the devastation of that day was finally made so apparent to us: there were no planes. Not one. For the hundreds of miles that we had driven, we had seen no movement in the sky. It was eerie. The stillness was sobering.

It was as though the sky itself was mourning the loss.

We’d grown up so accustomed to the noise and the sight of air traffic. Never in my life had there been a day without the sight of multiple passenger jets carrying people across the country or a private plane gracing the local scenery.

Those days were filled with uncertainty. Would we make home in time for the wedding? When would air travel begin again? Would New York City recover from this tragedy? Would the nation? Were we safe? When would things be normal again?

And for that entire 2,000 mile trip, we never saw any sign that things would ever be the same again. No planes. No movement. Just stillness.

But it was in the stillness that we found of all things, peace.

In the days when we face incredible uncertainty, it’s natural to be filled with fear. Sometimes it’s little things that cause us to fear the very worst. But sometimes it’s the monstrosities. When towers tumble and fall, it seems the world itself is caving in. And like Chicken Little, I think I thought the sky would follow suit.

Four planes had been hijacked. The twin towers had fallen from the sky. Thousands of people had lost their lives. And a nation was on it’s knees, crippled from the weight of it all.

The sky stood still. The lack of movement was odd, but also reassuring. Though there were no planes, no vapor trails, no movement, the sky itself wasn’t collapsing. The insidious attack had not upset the constant and faithful supervision of a God who held creation together.

Of course that tragic day still brings many questions about the goodness and presence of God, a God who was seemingly absent . . . and silent.

But the sky stands still. It has not buckled under the weight of it all. There has been grace. There has been healing. We have seen life and growth.

It was the absence of one thing that brought the recognition of another. Loss is incredibly difficult and uncertainty can be paralyzing, but God continued to prove Himself faithful in that the universe itself did not collapse in on itself.

Though the sky stood still, it was comforting that it was still standing. There was so much uncertainty that day–of what was, of what would be–and what we did know was pain. But the pain itself was a reminder that we were still here. And so was the sky. And so was the God who had made it all.

In the midst of the unknowable, we chose to trust the One who could sift and work through the rubble to bring life and restoration.

Rainbows, A Place To Hang Our Faith

My family and I had a cool experience the other morning. There, outside the slider door, was a beautiful rainbow just off our deck. Well, it wasn’t exactly just off our deck, but it did seem close enough to touch.

It was incredible. And it actually developed into a double-rainbow. I don’t care who you are, a rainbow is always amazing. The mere sight of one turns us all into kids again. We holler for everyone to take a look and we quickly grab our cameras–even though we’ve seen hundreds before.

Why is that? It’s because we don’t see them every day. And they’re beautiful. And they remind us of God’s promise to Noah. It isn’t that most of us have actually ever feared God judging the world again through a world-wide flood, but it is a kind of sentimental reminder of God’s faithfulness. We take the rainbow as a reminder for all of God’s promises. And that’s just reassuring.

But the rainbow thing got me thinking . . . and looking at that passage in Genesis again. And I saw something there that I hadn’t seen before.

We all see the ark. We all see the animals. We all see the rain, and the dove, and the olive branch. We all see the rainbow. But there was a connection that I didn’t see before.

It’s when the rainbow appeared. Think about it for a minute. As I’m writing this, it’s a relatively sunny day and I’m sitting in my backyard enjoying the sun, a slight breeze, and even the shady break that the clouds give when they pass by the sun. But there aren’t any rainbows. Why not? Because rainbows don’t happen on clear, sunny days.

Rainbows happen when it’s raining.

Well, duh. That might seem really obvious to you. But it wasn’t obvious to me every other time I’ve read that passage in Genesis. God used a rainbow to promise Noah (and the rest of us) that He would never destroy the earth again through a flood. That meant that He promised while it was raining.

The rain had stopped when Noah and his family finally and safely exited the ark, built an altar to God and offered a sacrifice on it. It was then that God spoke to him and gave the sign of His promise: the first rainbow.

I don’t usually have that kind of faith. It had rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The earth didn’t need any more watering. If I were Noah, once the rain had stopped I would’ve been more than happy to not see another drop of rain for the rest of my life. I would’ve been thrilled for God to take me to an arid place and say:

“Here’s the Gobi desert, Noah. It exists as a sign to you that I won’t ever destroy the earth through a flood again.”

That kind of sign makes sense to me. But that isn’t the kind of sign that God chose to give.

God’s promises come with a place to hang our faith.

Noah’s sandals were still wet and the sound of pouring rain was likely still in his ears. But his faith was sure. It would have to be. That’s the way God often works–He doesn’t just deliver us and set us in a place that is ‘safe’ without any risk. No, He calls us to a place where our faith is liable to get wet and our doubts are as real as the mud between our toes.

Noah, if you are truly willing to trust what I’m about to show you, you’re going to get wet . . . again.

God doesn’t call us to safety. He calls us to Himself and asks us to trust Him through the storm for true safety. It’s a theme we see throughout the Bible: Israel at the Red Sea, and again at the Jordan; Jesus with His disciples in the boat in the storm, and again at the cross.

Rainbows remind us that we can trust God not to destroy us with a flood while it is still raining . . . but the sun is shining, too.

Where is God prompting you to step into the rain and trust Him?

A Lent Confession

The season of Lent began just ten days ago, but already I have struggled to keep pace this season. I have been “off the grid” in several ways over the last ten days and it seems Lent has fallen victim along with several other disciplines.

Obviously, this isn’t one of those posts that will demonstrate how I’ve got it all together. Because I don’t.

The problem for me with Lent this year hasn’t been a matter of the difficulty of giving up as much as it has been the intentional aspect of meditating on the life, humility, and sacrifice of Jesus. No, the giving up has been fairly easy—perhaps I aimed too low and gave up something that had little effect in my life to begin with. Perhaps I gave off the top instead of giving sacrificially. I’m still sorting this aspect through.

What I do know is that my giving up has been little more than a dietary decision at this point. And that isn’t the purpose of observing Lent. Jesus didn’t leave his father’s throne because he just needed a little space. He gave up his rightful place at the Father’s side in order to make it possible for us to gather there as well. While that space was his right, it is ours’ only by grace.

Lent then, is a season that ought to be entered intentionally to consider that exchange and the grace that has been poured out on us. It isn’t that we don’t contemplate these things through the rest of the year, but now we do it collectively, recognizing that his sacrifice was not solely for me as an individual, but for the sins of the whole world.

So as one representative of those sins, I reenter this season confessing I have made too much of myself and too little of Jesus. And this has not only been during Lent.

Can we journey together?

Ash Wednesday

Today marks the beginning of Lent. I began observing this season just a few years ago and have found much encouragement through a dedicated time of reflection. Regardless of what we “give up” during this time, the discipline of meditating on Jesus’ own sacrifice and the celebration of his subsequent resurrection and exaltation can become powerful moments in our lives.

I plan to share various thoughts and resources along the way during this season, from today until Easter. I invite you to come along, to investigate and to participate yourself. My hope is that along the way we will each be drawn into a greater intimacy with Jesus and be able to echo what Paul writes in Philippians 3:10-11:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.