Go and do

There are days when I’m very critical. I get mad at the world, angry at political commentators, frustrated with the general state of our country and other countries. I sit around and fuss about the government and about people and I come up with a list a mile long of all the things everyone is doing incorrectly.

The government shouldn’t have to be the one we turn to in order to help the poor, people should.

Controversial words slapped on pictures hold way too much sway on the current generation.

No one fact checks.

Everyone hyperbolizes.

The rich don’t give enough.

The poor don’t do enough.

See? I could go at this all day, pointing out everything that other people are doing poorly. I could probably create an entire game plan on how to fix everything and submit it to the President if I wanted to. There’s a problem though: sitting on my rear end being critical doesn’t do a single thing. Nothing is going to change because I sit around complaining all day.

It comes down to a phrase that the Christian writer, activist, and hugger Bob Goff uses and I always come back to:

Love does.

The love I have for this world isn’t going to be expressed through a detailed critique of everything other people are doing incorrectly. The love I have for people isn’t going to come through the more I sit around yelling at the government or yelling at the wealthy to help people. My love isn’t even truly expressed through writing these words and posting them on a blog. The love I have for this world and all of the people in it can only be expressed in doing.

Maybe I write well, maybe I’m good at pushing through logical fallacies and calling people out on their bull, maybe I’m really clever and smart and can humiliate those who disagree with me. Ultimately none of these things matter because I’m not actually doing what I’m called to do. See, I’m not doing and that is the key.

So instead of lobbying for a certain political position or piece of legislation, maybe I should put that money and time toward helping families. Instead of complaining about the failing education system in this country, I could jump into it and reach into the lives of kids who are struggling. Maybe instead of condemning young women who have had sex and are pregnant and looking for an escape, I can come alongside them and walk them through the process and whatever process they choose let them know that they are loved through it all.

Why do all of this? Because Jesus has walked with me through my hardest times, through my darkest patches, and continues to pick me up when I fall.  He does. His love manifests itself through the people that step into my life with encouraging words, who come alongside me and tell me that it is okay to not have a job and that God has a plan, who tell me I will kill it in graduate school, and who insist that I can be a powerful force in the world if I just let myself be.  

I don’t think my life has ever been genuinely impacted by anything less than the people around me doing something. Actions speak louder than words and I believe actions carry the message a lot further. 

Patience in the Moment (Matthew 6:31-34)

One day at a time, one moment at a time is one line from the serenity prayer that has always stuck with me.

I am not particularly adept at living one day at a time. Usually I find myself running from the moment in order to have plans three weeks from now. I will run myself ragged trying to anticipate every possible outcome instead of focusing in on what is happening today, right now. I ignore the blessings of the present in favor of maintaining a false sense of control. I don’t have time to be in this moment, I have to be prepared for what might happen tomorrow!

In Matthew 6:31-34 Jesus speaks directly to the heart of every worrier:

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Lately that last line, “each day has enough trouble of its own,” has been keeping me in the present. Between a father recovering from a stroke, a mother recovering from a badly sprained ankle, our hallway getting flooded, our kitchen having asbestos under the vinyl we’ve currently got down (meaning our kitchen will be getting ripped up), and a niece to help take care of, there has not been a lot of time to look ahead. Instead, I find myself being taught patience.

I think patience is the key to living in the moment. If we’re impatient then odds are we’re rushing to the next thing, trying to figure out what tomorrow will look like, or what next week will bring. We do not want to take time to be in the moment because the future is far more alluring. Our impatience propels us forward while patience stops us in our tracks and allows us to soak up the moment.

Even when that moment is chasing a stir crazy toddler around the mall, or unpacking two years of Southern California living and integrating it into my old room, or packing up the cabinets in the kitchen so they can be moved and our floor ripped out. Fun moments, crappy moments, all of them deserve to be lived. All of them deserve to have patient consideration for all of the blessings and lessons they contain.

Would I like to know what I will be doing in three months? Sure. Heck, I would like to know what Wednesday is going to look like when the asbestos team comes to rip out our kitchen. Right now, though, I am going to enjoy pondering the scripture, drinking my coffee, and eating my scone.

Why?

Because right now this moment is all I have and there is something to learn from being in it. 

This Christmas (is not what I expected it to be)

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The other day I was attempting to finish up my Christmas shopping. I had just returned home from a long drive back from college and wanted to try and avoid the day-before-Christmas crowds. Frazzled, tired, and going through a transition I set out to find a hooded sweatshirt since it was on my mother’s Christmas list. It had to be a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood that was in a lighter color than black. Should have been simple enough, right? Wrong.

After four stores, three parking lots, and a lot of sorting through jackets I was unable to find what I was looking for. Wandering aimlessly through the jackets at Sports Authority I was almost in tears because I could not find this impossible gift. A few hopeless minutes later I found myself in a store that sold calendars and purchased an NCIS calendar instead of a sweatshirt.

As I was buying the calendar I thought of something: the tighter I held on to my narrow set of expectations, the more frustrated I became. I was so caught up searching for something within such narrow, impossible parameters that I missed out on the bigger picture. I nearly walked past the calendar store because it was not in the plan. I let my unwillingness and, frankly, inability to think out of the box drag me down to a frustrated, sad place.

I feel like this series of events describes my holiday season. My dad had a stroke on Thanksgiving which threw everything off. To make matters worse, my mom managed to sprain her ankle pretty badly not long before he was supposed to be released from the rehab facility. I moved from Southern California back to Oregon which was an ordeal in and of itself as it left me home merely two days before Christmas Eve. Needless to say, I was not feeling the holiday cheer. Everything seemed to be falling apart around me. A state of frustration became my default as I found myself overwhelmed and disappointed. Nothing was turning out right.

Really, my definition of “right” was what was throwing everything off. My expectations of what Christmas was all about were wrapped up in the state of my family’s health, my own stress level, the presents I could purchase, and all of the things that I could do. Christmas became about me. Christmas was not what I wanted it to be and was therefore wrong.

Yet as I stood at the shopping counter buying that calendar I realized that I was missing the entire point of the holiday season. Somehow in the midst of all of the insanity I forgot the real point of Christmas. Christmas is not about me, or my family, or what I can possible do to make it a shiny, perfect holiday.

 It is about living in the light of a Messiah who came to earth as a baby and conquered through sacrifice.

When that becomes the center of the holiday suddenly everything else seems to work. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how my sister managed to find a hoody the morning of Christmas Eve for a good price. I don’t know exactly how all the food got made or how my parents managed to be well behaved and cooperate with all of the family around. It all worked out.

The holiday wasn’t about everyone being in perfect health, or the food being gourmet, or all of the decorations being up, or even all of the gifts wrapped. It was about being together as a family to rest, if even for a moment, in the peace of Jesus Christ who came and died so that we could live.

Find peace in the love of Christ and let that be the center of your holiday, because when we do everything finds a way to fall into place. 

The Lion and the Lamb

I am bothered.

I’m currently taking a class on Revelation and there is one image that has stuck out to me. In the midst of all of the symbolism, the Old Testament references, and all of the insane imagery that Revelation uses there is one moment that I think sums up everything about this life I’ve chosen in Christ.

Revelation 5:1-7 (ESV):

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. As I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”

John is weeping because no one is able to open the scroll, which scholars believe is a symbol of God’s plan of redemption. Yet in the midst of his sorrow one of the elders around the throne calls out and declares that all is well, the Lion of the tribe of Judah can open the scroll! The Lion, the powerful kingly and conquering Messiah had arrived. All would be well because the Lion of Judah would decimate the enemies of His people and end suffering.

Excited at this prospect, John probably swung his head around sharply in order to catch a glimpse of this magnificent defender and conqueror.

Instead of a lion, however, he saw a slaughtered lamb.

The slaughtered Lamb is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of the house of David, the Messiah, and the conquering King.

You see, Jesus did not come to conquer with violence. He did not come to bring glory to himself and his people through blood and death. He conquers through suffering. He conquered through dying.

The implications of this are heavy and hard because our idea of glory in this life is not what the Bible makes glory out to be in the Kingdom of God. We conquer through suffering. We begin to model the Kingdom of God when we sacrifice ourselves humbly.

While evil still exists and Christ is still to come again, our call is to not glorify ourselves and our actions. We’re not called to prideful boasting in our own holiness. We also do not get a free pass from the suffering of the world just because we believe what we believe. We are called to pick up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and engage with the world from a place of humility because that is the model our savior laid out for us.

So now I’m bothered because this is both a beautiful revelation and a hard truth to swallow. There is no gospel of prosperity, Deuteronomistic theology holds no ground. We will not achieve glory, fame, and riches in this life. Rather, we will have to pour ourselves out like Jesus did and realize that we are here to serve even in our suffering.

Ouch. 

Worth, Humility, and Pride (Where we’ve got it all wrong)

I was in church on Sunday and during worship a familiar song came up. It is called “Canons” by Phil Wickham and I’ve sung it many times before. This particular Sunday, however, I found myself caught off guard by the chorus.

Singing, You are holy, great and mighty
The moon and the stars declare who You are
I’m so unworthy, but still You love me
Forever my heart will sing of how great You are

It doesn’t seem too bad, right? I was singing along, contemplating each of the lines until I got to the third one:

I’m so unworthy, but still You love me

I’ve sung this line so many times, I’ve put my heart and soul into it, but on Sunday I realized something: This line is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but it perpetuates a sense of worthlessness amongst Christians that I’m beginning to realize shouldn’t exist. Phil Wickham’s song isn’t the only one out there that encourages Christians to sing about how unworthy they are. It is a concept that isn’t restricted to singers, either. There are preachers, pastors, and teachers out there who all agree with a single concept: Christians have no worth in the eyes of God.

Do you realize what that says about God?

If we are so unworthy, why does God love us? He is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being that could crush us like ants if he wanted to (and has a history of, if you take a gander at the Old Testament). If we are nothing but worthless, wretched creatures, then why would God desire a relationship with us? He probably wouldn’t.

Sin is an issue, I do not deny that, but why do we so often tie “sin” and “worth” together? Obviously God doesn’t. Show me where in the Bible is says, “and because humans sinned they became worthless,” and I will write a follow-up about how wrong my observations are. I don’t think that is going to happen, though.

If sin made us worthless (which is the same word as unworthy, but when we use the word unworthy we pretty it up and make it sound like we’re not referring to ourselves as worthless), why would God continue to pursue us? If human beings did not have inherent worth (instilled there by their creator), why would the creator of the universe send Jesus to earth to die a miserable death? That seems to be an unnecessary step to take to try and redeem a worthless creation.

From God’s actions I think one thing can be surmised: He believes his human creation to be worthy of love and pursuit. There is something inside of us that He tries to reach and show us.

Yet we continue to call ourselves worthless and tremble at the feet of God begging Him not to stomp us out because we’re such wretched, horrible creatures that deserve nothing but death, torment, misery, and pain. We put on this veil of false humility where we claim we’re worthless so that we will appear to be humble, because it seems prideful to believe we have worth. I had a friend at my old church who once told me this: Humility isn’t about degrading yourself, it is about realizing it isn’t about you and there is more to the world than yourself.

Humility is being willing to accept and pursue what God thinks of me, even if I’m not willing to believe those things about myself quite yet. Honestly? Degrading myself and believing I am worthless in the eyes of God is easy. Opening myself up to the fact that God believes I am worthy and taking His opinion (someone else’s opinion) as my own conclusion, on the other hand, is a lot harder because it means I’m no longer in control of how I think about myself.

Suddenly there is more to my world than my own opinion of myself, and that just doesn’t fly.

That’s pride, and it is one hell of a beast to battle.