Entering the Third Dimension

If you’re a parent, you might be familiar with the phenomenon of waking up in the night in total panic about something regarding your kid’s health or education or future or whatever. That’s me tonight. I’ve spent the last two hours talking myself down.

In the process of doing this, I realized that I have always viewed most of the people in the four gospels as two-dimensional — as supporting actors in a story, or as extras who get one line in the beginning of the show so you can care about them when the plot kills them off 10 minutes later. But indeed they were not so superficial.

All the parents who asked Jesus to heal their children were just like me, except they had it much worse. Their kids were dying or chronically tortured by illnesses. By the time they met Jesus, they were hopeless. Remember the guy who said, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief”? He didn’t just say that like he was ordering a double cheeseburger. He said it with anguish.

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9

When this father cried out tearfully, it was visceral. These weren’t the small tears you can blink back as they squeeze out of your eyelids. They were the kind that pour out uncontrollably in huge sloppy drops. The kind that come when you worry about something for a long time, but you continually stuff it down in your gut, until something forces you to deal with it. The kind that come when you realize a problem is truly out of your control, and you don’t know how to proceed. The kind that come when you finally meet someone who can help you, and you see hope is possible for the first time.

This guy was desperate. He loved his son with his entire being. He couldn’t bear the thought of missing an opportunity to help his son. This father thought the only problem — at least the only problem he cared about — was his son’s condition. Jesus saw there was more to the story. Jesus frequently provoked people to acknowledge the real issues driving their beliefs and behaviors. He not only saw that the boy needed healing — He also saw that the father needed restoration of hope. Jesus considered spiritual and emotional healing every bit as essential as physical healing.

Right now, I’m realizing that prayer and Bible reading are essential to my spirit. I’m also realizing that I have anxiety issues that are not intermittent, as I’ve always thought they were, but chronic. I’ve simply become less effective at stuffing them down. I believe Jesus when He described the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Counselor. I also believe I have specific problems that need to be dealt with by working with a counselor. And that’s OK, because like Paul said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1

Many times, God does this work in us by means of other people. As Christians, we seem to be OK with giving that help. We need to be just as OK with receiving it. Considering our human need for community and relationship, I think it’s supposed to be that way.

When Kids Lie

This morning, a friend of mine asked Facebook what to do, as she’d just caught her daughter (about 4-5 years old) lying to her for the first time. One of the responses was a suggestion to get the Berenstain Bears book on lying. I have an intense dislike for that book, because it is what taught my literal, concrete 4-year-old how to lie in the first place. He understood what they did, but he did not understand that it was wrong, or why it is wrong. This made the process of dealing with lying even more difficult.

My approach had to be multifaceted, and went like this: If I caught him lying, I took away privileges. This had to happen multiple times. If this is our ONLY approach, however, it just makes kids better liars, so more is required.

We talked about how lying ruins relationships. I asked him questions to help him understand how he would feel if I lied to him. I think my example was promising to take him somewhere he liked, and then saying we weren’t going there because I was only lying. You have to be careful with what you pick, because if it’s something that can happen on accident, you’re almost guaranteed to have it happen and be left with a kid crying “you lied to me!!”

I also watched very carefully to learn his “tells.” His tell was that he stared at me *very* intently, unblinking, when lying.

I also learned that lying was habitual — it quickly became his default response to any question, even if it wasn’t an “incriminating” question. I realized I had to break that cycle. I did this by 1) pointing out a lie when I saw it and/or asking him to rethink his answer, and 2) prefacing a question with “I’m going to ask you a question; please think about the answer before you say it.” But the most important aspect of this is to remove the opportunity to lie whenever possible. Instead of “Who made this mess?” you say “There’s a mess here; please clean it up.” They’ll say “But I didn’t do it!” which is when you say “That’s fine; please clean it up.” That usually worked for us, but if they persist, you say “I clean up messes all the time that I did not make; you can too.” In this case, you’re using children’s heightened sense of fairness to your advantage. By saying, “That’s fine,” or something like it, you’re not condoning lying — you’re taking away some of its emotional power over you, the parent.

Phrasing things this way reduces the practice of lying, and also lets them know that things will get done either way, which makes lying pointless. Your goal is to take the power of out lying. As people with little power over their lives, children need choices, but lying must become an unattractive option for getting those choices. Using the mess example I gave above, you could say, “Would you like to clean this mess up before lunch, or after lunch?” You’re circumventing the thought processes that lead to lying, and, you are replacing it with a healthy form of power.

Essentially, as a parent, you have to work the problem from multiple angles, and you have to give them internal ownership of the problem. Your role as a policeman (external ownership) has to be temporary. You have to acknowledge what they already know, which is that sometimes, they will get away with lying. Some Christian parents will say “God doesn’t want us to lie,” but that’s not any more effective than telling them not to lie to you. So you have to break it down — why doesn’t He want us to lie? Because it ruins relationships, and relationships are very important to children. Right now, lying is not at all connected to your child’s relationship with you. If you can talk about it in a way that helps him or her empathize with your hurt and disappointment, s/he can begin to internalize it and own it.

Bitter Tears

36 Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil 38 and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil. — Luke 7

Have you ever tried to wipe up a spill with your hair? Me neither. I usually opt for something more effective in sopping up the mess. Maybe that’s why I never identified much with the woman who wept on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair. Until last night, when I found myself crying bitter tears in the bathroom at Applebee’s.

We’d come in for dinner, land the place was packed. As we waded through the mess of people to get to our table, I passed by my former boss. I barely noticed him; I don’t think he saw me. This is the second time I’ve seen him since I resigned last spring. We sat down to look at menus, and I told my husband that I felt really disturbed and I didn’t know why. Then it struck me: The last time this man saw me, I was at my worst.

On my last day, I came to his office to turn in keys. He said, “Because you sent your resignation letter by email, I still need you to sign it in ink.” I had emailed the letter from home because I was seriously sick.

I took the pen from him, set it to paper, and began to sign. My hand was like molasses. Huge, ploppy tears suddenly fell all over the paper, bleeding my signature. I was shocked by the size and number of them. The realization that I was leaving, not with a bang but a whimper, was striking me hard. All the work I’d done seemed like a waste, since I wouldn’t be able to see it through. It was like my purpose in life was miscarrying.

I handed him that paper. We made small talk for a few minutes. I left. I discovered on entering my car that my mascara, which I hardly ever wear, and which was supposed to be waterproof, had streaked down my cheeks, like makeup on a clown from one of those horror movies. The smallness and defeat I felt inside was quite visible.

As I stared at the Applebee’s menu, I realized that it was a moment of great shame for me. It’s one thing to be vulnerable with your spouse or parent or good friend, because they’ve shared their vulnerability with you as well. But with this man, there was no such reciprocation, no cathartic moment to cleanse the shame and restore the self.

A moment later found me in the bathroom, leaning against a cold tile wall, crying the same bitter year-old tears into a scratchy brown paper towel. Suddenly I understood, at least a little, why that woman cried as she did on Jesus’ feet. Scripture tells us she was a harlot, which was not only disgraceful, but stonable.

If you were anything but a married woman with children, you weren’t worth anything. How great was the shame and vulnerability of having only your vagina to sell? I don’t know, but I know what’s it like to have a moment in time feel like it seals shame, and there’s nothing you can do to redeem it. In Jesus, she saw redemption. He wasn’t there to be another man reminding her of her shame and vulnerability and emptiness. He was there to share that pain, not to reflect it back to her.

I used to think, “Why didn’t that woman bring a rag with her, if she knew she was going to cry all over Jesus and pour some oil on him?” But now I get it, I think. We don’t control shame — it controls us. Like me, sobbing in the Applebee’s bathroom. It just came over me, which is probably what happened to her as well, standing in the presence of Jesus. And she didn’t have to stuff it down, hide it, any longer. Somehow, she knew that He would take that pain from her and give her that which she needed, but was powerless to give herself.

If I run into my boss a third time, what will happen? I’m not sure, but it will be different. I suppose that’s appropriate, since the number 3 was frequently symbolic in the Bible at times where wholeness, redemption, resurrection were required. Sometimes it’s gaining an understanding of the forces which drive us that bring healing.

Jesus taught nearly everything in illustrations and parables. Leaning against that tile wall last night, I prayed, “Lord, why is this affecting me so much??” He did not give me a scientific answer. Instead, He showed me a story of a woman in shame — a story that has become part of my own story.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. — John 14:26

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. — John 16:13a

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. — John 8:32

Homeschooling Manifesto

Dear Younger Self,

Time is a one-way street, and hindsight is 20-20. If I could do it over again, I’d have pulled our kid for homeschooling two and a half years ago, after the Christmas of third grade. This would have saved both of us a ridiculous amount of unnecessary pain.

His third grade teacher told him, “Don’t be lazy.” His fourth grade teacher told me not to help. His fifth grade teacher said, “I’ll understand if you feel his needs are better met elsewhere.” As a teacher who created a new and successful music class for “ADHD” kids, and who researched and implemented methods of magnification for a nearly blind student, I have zero tolerance for refusal to serve “low end” learners.

“The only real ill-doing is the deprivation of knowledge.” – Plato

Why did it take me three years to see things weren’t working for him? I’m lucky his love for learning hasn’t been extinguished. He’s stumbling blindly through his education, just trying to survive, instead of seeing and knowing and understanding. It’s not his fault – it’s ours.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

My decision to homeschool is not about protecting him from “atheist ideologies,” as it is for some, which is a shoddy reason, in my opinion. It is, however, about protecting him from the belief that he’s somehow less than others. It’s saying, “Screw Accelerated Reader.” It’s saying, why do a second year of recorder when you can learn marimba? It’s teaching skills by modeling and guiding instead of sinking-or-swimming. It’s teaching writing strategy instead of assuming it’s a gift you either have, or don’t. It’s about seeing error as opportunity instead of failure.

“We must create the conditions in which discoveries are made.” – John Holt

It’s educating on purpose, instead of waiting passively for it to magically happen on its own. It’s giving our son Honors-quality concepts to chew on without requiring a 4.00 GPA to get in the class. It’s rescuing theology from its current treatment as just another subject to be tested, and restoring it to a dialogue about humanity. It’s giving our son things to which we had access, but his father was denied.

It’s about real equal opportunity. It’s about reclaiming the inspiration he deserves. It’s about redemption.

And now, Younger Self, I leave you a final quote to remind you of the cost of poor education, a quote that makes ignoring the current situation no longer excusable:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29

“I Am” is Enough

Near my house, there is a grassy area. Not lawn grass or golf course grass, but that kind of longer, crazy, wild grass that looks like someone should come along and bail it for livestock feed. Mixed into the grass are some shrubs of various kinds, here and there, to give it that particularly undeveloped look.

Out of the middle of this grassy place grows a tree. It is taller than people’s ornamental trees, but shorter than many of the other evergreens in the area. It has a very conical and symmetrical shape, with no crazy branches sticking out or branchless areas. It is very straight, and it stands alone, which gives it this stately, reliable quality.

The deer like this tree very much. They eat under it and sit under it, bedding down in the crazy grass. I’ve learned to look for them there every time I pass, because frequently I see them there. The tree does not change when the deer come to it. As some kind of evergreen, it does not even drop apples for them. It’s just… there, regardless of whether they are or not. But the deer gravitate to it. They enjoy the benefits of its presence. Just its very act of being is meaningful and beneficial to the deer. The very nature of what the tree is attracts the deer.

I have driven by that tree countless times, but last week was the first time I felt I wanted to sit under the tree, too. It dawned on me that this is what God meant when He called Himself “I AM.” He meant that the very nature of Who He is — apart from anything He does — is enough. Just being in His presence is enough. His very nature, as God, is sufficient, and it is attractive to us.

Last week, there was just one deer there, sitting under this tree. Both tree and deer were very still. Both were simply being what they were created to be while in the presence of the other. The deer was probably ruminating, which makes the whole scene even more metaphorical for what our lives could and should be like. We should be sitting in God’s presence, ruminating on that which we find there. And too, my simple act of being is enough. The nature of who “i am” is enough.

For what purpose were humans created? Judging by the first two chapters of Genesis, we were created to live in harmony with nature, leading the animals and eating plants and fruits. We were also created for relationship, with each other and with God. That’s it. The deer and the tree know this. The birds and lilies of the field know this, as Jesus pointed out. Mary at the feet of Jesus knew this. And Saul knew it after Jesus interrupted his zealous busyness with the blinding revelation of His presence.

Be attracted to the nature of God. Stop expecting things from Him. Stop expecting things from yourself. Ruminate in His presence. There is no 3-point sermon here. Just a simple admonition to stop investing being in doing, and to let the deer and the tree lead us in how we’ve all forgotten to be.

A Good Man

“Why do men like boobs?”

This of course is one of those trick questions that women ask men, and a step up from the infamous does-this-make-me-look-fat question. The man being questioned is a wise man, however, and after pausing to think, said, “Well, I suppose it’s because it’s something women have that we don’t.”

That got me to thinking about the old adage, “Opposites attract.” Generally speaking, I think women are attracted to strength in men. It could be physical strength, yes, but it could also be strength of emotion, or intellect, or of a particular skill. Again, I’m speaking generally.

Maybe this isn’t such good news for men if you’ve read any of Brene Brown’s research on this issue. Essentially, she observes that women have many roles in which we might fail – employee, mother, wife, daughter, friend, volunteer, supermodel – and we make ourselves batty trying to fulfill all those expectations. Men have just one area in which to succeed or fail, however, and that is strength. Even with their spouse, they never feel permitted to fall off that white horse.

What does this say about a typical marriage? It says that men never feel completely safe because they are never permitted (by society, not just their spouse) to show weakness, and this is compounded by the fact that most women are attracted to strength (in whatever form) in men.

I want to suggest a solution for that by discussing strength just a bit more. Here is something I’ve casually observed in the great stories we tell, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction:

A great man affirms the women in his life.

I once got a job where my hourly salary was quite a bit more than I expected it to be. I saw my parents later that week and said, “I’m getting paid an exorbitant amount to do what I love!” My father looked at me with disbelief and said, “But you’re worth it.” He couldn’t understand why I thought any amount would be too much.

He made a connection where I did not. He saw me more completely than I saw myself. A great man – in any type of relationship – affirms the women in his life as complete individuals, and stops them when they try to define themselves against other people or other standards.

That’s a different kind of strength than we normally imagine when we think of strength. It’s a lasting strength. I might be attracted to physical, emotional, and/or intellectual strength, but those things fail at some point. Bodies get sick. Emotions change depending on many factors. People make bad decisions. But an unceasing propensity for affirmation, regardless of other conditions, is a powerful gift men can give to the women in their lives.

Now I’ll come full circle: Women, you can do this, too. If a man can’t be vulnerable or intimate with his wife, he probably won’t find it from anyone else (at least, in a healthy sense). You are joined with your spouse, yes – but you are still an individual, and so is he. Strengthening each other by affirming the completeness of the other as an individual is a primary source of strength in a marriage — maybe the source of strength in a marriage.

People will always fail you, no matter how hard they try. Women, we will never experience true intimacy until the men in our lives know we are not dependent on them for our identities. Please note, I’m talking about personal identity, and not comfort, or joy, or any of the other experiences we long to share with another in our lives. I’m talking instead about men knowing if they fail, our fundamental valuing of them does not change.

Use strength to affirm each other. That means declaring the worth of the other as a human being, not as an employee, or spouse, or parent, or whatever, even though those things are important. And men, affirmation means something special coming from you versus coming from our mothers/girlfriends/sisters, although those people are important. When you affirm the women in your life, you share with them your strength in a lasting way, and you create a relationship where vulnerability is safe.

My Advice for Christian Kids Going to College

I have probably been through 3 crises of faith. Every time I came out on the other side changed for the better, I believe. My take is this: If something is true, and God is also true, yet the two seem contradictory, then there must be something that is unknown or in revealed. I found that I had to be willing to hold those ideas in limbo for a time.

Many Christians aren’t willing to do that. They want to decide TODAY what is true on every aspect of the sciences and philosophy. That makes us come across as haughty, which is basically like saying we’re smarter than everyone else. That’s how others read it, anyway. But when you are willing to consider others’ perspectives, it shows you value them as human beings. In one of my classes once, a kid was asked why he had a particular belief. He said “because the Bible tells me so.” That argument doesn’t fly in college.

Christians are too quick to write off “disbelievers” as egotistical etc, but when we do that, we ignore legitimate questions about our faith, and no thinking person has respect for that. So this is a chance to understand those questions and objections, not because you necessarily think they are right, but because you respect other people. Jesus did that and he was criticised for it. He did it because he wanted to start conversations and develop relationships. Ask a lot of questions – not to prove a point, but to understand where people are coming from.

One reason people hate religion is because religious people have a tendency not to think for themselves and to believe at face value whatever a trusted leader represents us with. On the news, this looks like Westboro Baptist, or ISIS, both of which are abominable organizations. If the process feels rocky, don’t worry. If God is truth, then you have nothing to fear.

I have a lot of atheist friends. Some of them are very intelligent. You don’t win them over by arguing. You do it by developing relationship that starts with respect for their conviction. They have life experiences that lead them to one conclusion or another, same as us. My friends know if I ask them why they don’t believe in God, it’s because I actually want to know, not because Im trying to start and win and argument. And then one of them the other day asked me about death, because a friend of hers lost a baby. The classroom is not a place to win, really – it’s a place to understand. Only when you understand, and you have reflected on the validity of your own beliefs, can you give a meaningful answer to questions like “why did my friend’s baby die.”

Those are the moments where Jesus can reach people. They don’t even always want a rational explanation, either. When people come to the end of themselves, that is when they can hear Jesus speaking.

Something good to remember is “respond, don’t react.” If someone speaks angrily about God, we feel defensive – that’s our reaction, but that will not help them. It’s better to set aside our knee jerk reaction and seek to respond to what is driving their actions. That usually starts with asking questions, where you listen. Sometimes just listening, not trying to give an answer in return, is a huge testimony. It surprises people, because they view Christians as defensive and attacking. Giving no answer, but considering what they say instead, leaves the door open instead of shutting it.

One of my friends told me the other day that I’m a different kind of Christian. She invited us to a party where as far as i can tell, we were the only religious people present. I didn’t see the other guests as potential converts – I saw them as interesting people worth knowing, people with different perspectives that I could learn from. Jesus did that with people. He wanted to develop relationships. He was/is intensely interested in people. 

#Peace2015 ?

That hashtag was tossed around Twitter in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. If you search for it now, however, you’ll see it being abused quite a bit, and also attached to some hateful commentary.

People seem to think that if religion disappeared, the world would be peaceful. I hate to break it to them, but you don’t have to be religious to be a jerk. And there’s plenty of people who claim religion out of cultural pride, or other reasons, but frankly do nothing otherwise to practice the religion they claim.

…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Matthew 5:45

As Americans, when something like Charlie Hebdo occurs, we get hopping mad and want to declare revenge. We look at it like we did in the days of WW2, when we were part of the good guys, reluctantly drawn into a war that wasn’t ours until it was, and then we went all out fighting the evils of the Axis powers. We romanticize it a bit, and we want to be heroes again.

But maybe it’s not time for physical retaliation. The reason people commit evil acts isn’t because of this or that religion; it’s because we’re evil at heart. All of us. I might offend people who say they’d never, ever commit the crimes seen in Paris earlier this month. But we’re all capable of it. I want to believe that I’d never think such a thing, let alone act on it. What if I was a different person in a different life in different circumstances, the circumstances that helped shape those killers into killers?

None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3

Peter, and possibly Judas, wanted Jesus to be a political savior. They were tired of being the underdogs. They wanted revenge and authority over their enemies. Some believe that when Judas betrayed Jesus, he was trying to force Jesus’ hand – trying to corner Him, to force Him to use His divine power to prevent His own arrest and death. Peter wasn’t about to have any of that either, but where Judas was calculating, Peter was more impulsive:

Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword.” – Matthew 26

The gospels record Jesus’ response to Peter’s action differently. My favorite is in Luke:

51 But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, He healed him. – Luke 22

No more of this. Why? Because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword.

Jesus’ path was not at all what Peter thought victory would look like. He followed Jesus for 3 years, waiting for the wrong kind of victory.

What, then, did Jesus ask of Peter? If He didn’t want Peter’s defense, what did He want?

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane,[i] and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow[j] —to the point of death.[k] Remain here and stay awake with Me.” 39 Going a little farther,[l] He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you[m] stay awake with Me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26

Two things He asked of Peter: 1) Stay with Me. 2) Pray with Me. Why? For their own sake, because:

12  …our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. – Ephesians 6

I believe Jesus is still asking these two things of us today for all the same reasons.

Anger

“James?? NO. James kicks my butt.” Our Bible study group was discussing which book of the Bible to study next, and this was my neighbor’s response to someone’s suggestion. He’s right, too — James pulls no punches. People who value “telling it like it is” ought to have some respect for James.

Every verse of this book kicks my own proverbial butt. I could read this short book for the rest of my life and still be admonished. Today’s butt kicking?

19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. – James 1

Why do we get angry? Many reasons, for sure, but in my own life, I don’t feel sorry when I’m angry. Why? Because I feel justified in my anger. I saw someone else get angry today in this way. I know he felt completely justified in his torrent of explosive words. The sad thing is that he’ll never feel sorry for it – and therefore never feel inclined to change – until he sees objectively the ugliness of his anger.

Please understand, I’m not proud about this, because I was the same way until I saw the ugliness of the effects of my anger on other people. Fortunately I learned my lessons cheap. In my last post, I spoke of the people in my life acting as mirrors, showing me realities (good and bad) about myself. The only reason I was able to learn lessons about the damaging effects of anger is because of the graciousness of the people in my life, and consistent exposure to the Word of God (the Bible), for:

…the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

So what’s James saying in the first scripture? He’s saying that only God has the rights to righteous anger. Feeling angry at injustice is normal, and I think it points to our intense desire for all wrongs to be righted. But when we grab the wheel and express that anger to the people in our lives, we’re trying to do God’s job for Him, and if history teaches us anything, it’s that we’re pretty terrible at doing God’s job for Him.

Old habits die hard, and slow. I’m still on this road to change, but the alternative is mighty unattractive. It’s not just about controlling our actions. That’s important, but it’s a bandage. Addressing the cause of the behavior means changing my heart.

How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. – Matthew 12:34b

Now we come to a primary tenant of Christianity: at some point, every one of us has a part of ourselves that is out of control. We can certainly do a lot to improve ourselves and make good choices in life. But if we look, there’s always something that nags at each of us that we feel powerless to overcome.

When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. 22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23 But I see a different law in the parts of my body,[i] waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans 7

What if I still feel justified? Well, so did the terrorists in Paris this week. The same heart that makes someone stomp around, ranting and raving about some wrong that needs to be righted, is the same heart that made these shooters murder 12 people. So then, the only way to affect change in my heart, and therefore my words and actions, is this:

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. – John 15

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God…

19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But

If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.

21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. – Romans 12

As I see it, giving up my right to retribution (and therefore my right to anger) is a result of a constant abiding with Jesus, accomplished through continual immersion in His words and thoughts.

Remain in Him. Be transformed by mind renewal. Be empowered to conquer evil with good.

 

Coal and Mirrors

Speak life

This week, I’ve spent time with great friends, new and old. What I learned is that we are mirrors to each other. I reflect others back to themselves. They reflect me back to myself. Sometimes I’m happy with the progress I see. Sometimes I am ashamed.

I had lunch with 2 new acquaintances who declared themselves non-religious and then asked if I was religious. “You would probably classify me as religious, yes,” was my answer. We mostly discussed other topics, but when discussing religion, I was surprised to find that I can now discuss it from my own perspective and experience, with true respect for them as people with legitimate, if differing, opinions. I was truly listening to them, and truly interested in learning more about their opinions and experiences.

Authenticity is everything. I’m glad to have found these 2 new friends. I like them for who they are, not because I feel compelled to convert them. I think Jesus’ conversations with people were organic. They happened because He actually liked spending time with people who were authentic. No pretending. I hope they understood that not all Christians are the awful people my new friends think they are. I hope I was a mirror, reflecting their assumptions back to them. They were mirrors to me as well, showing me how people are damaged when Christians bludgeon people in God’s name.

That same day, I also visited a friend I’ve known for several years. She is the embodiment of Colossians 4:6, which says:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

She is a mirror to me. I spend time with her and I think, “I want to be like her,” where every word that leaves my lips is somehow edifying to those around me. She isn’t pretending. She does this authentically, because she spends time with Jesus. She’s grafted into the Vine, and the fruit of the Spirit comes out of her life simply because of that, and not because she’s trying to make it happen.

We also spent time with some other friends we’ve known for a few years. In the effort to be funny and entertaining, a few things were said that shouldn’t have been said. Nothing earth-shattering, for sure, but things I’m not proud of, even if they didn’t bother anyone else. (Have you ever apologized for saying something the other person didn’t even notice? Yeah, that’s me. But I digress.)

These friends were mirrors to me, showing me a part of myself that needs to be changed. If my pastor had been there, those things would not have been said. That makes me a hypocrite. I don’t want to be that way, living different lives depending on who I’m with.

Toby Mac’s catchphrase “speak life” was on my mind all New Year’s Day. It took me the whole day to commit to it as a long-term resolution for my life, because I don’t see how I can do this without failing. But that’s the point: I can’t do it. Only the Spirit unchained in my heart and mind can accomplish this.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” – Isaiah 6:5

That pretty much says it all. Isaiah recognized the gaping canyon between who he was and who he should be, and he recognized that those two things couldn’t co-exist. The very next verse has the cure:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Only something from the throne room of the King can fix this problem. In the stories we read in the gospels, people were changed simply because they spent time with Jesus. He was a mirror to them, showing them who they were, and who they could become in His presence.

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” – John 4:29

Those words were said by a woman who had a lot to be ashamed of in her life. She spoke to others about her experience, not because she had it all together, but because she couldn’t keep quiet about her encounter with Jesus. I feel like that’s me right now. We have expectations of people who speak to a group. We assume they’re holding the mic because they’re knowledgeable or qualified or they’ve got everything under control.

I just finished my first term of communications classes and will be taking more classes this year. What’s funny is that while I’m getting good grades, I feel that God is showing me all the ways in which I’m a terrible communicator in my personal life. By the end of New Year’s Day, after reflecting on all these things, I found myself literally afraid of what my mouth is capable of doing. But I think that’s good, because:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. – Proverbs 9:10

If I wake up every morning with that same fear, I’ll be grateful. In fact, I’m praying for it. Assuming I’ll live through another year on this crazy planet, by the end of 2015, I hope to be a very different person than I am today. Usually I’ve got some kind of plan for self-improvement, but this time, I have no idea what to expect. I think that’s a good thing. I think it leaves room for Jesus to work His magic in my hypocritical heart and mind.

If you’re reading this and you know me, please know each of you are a mirror to me, and for that, I am humbly grateful. As far as the world is concerned, I’m a really good person. But like Isaiah, when the mirror of the King is held up to my life, I fall so short that I’m ashamed. But so many of you speak life to me, like the angel as he cleansed Isaiah’s lips with the coal. Each of you is a mirror to me, sometimes because of the words you say, but mostly because of the people you are. He turns each of us as mirrors in His hand, revealing His truth in each others’ lives, piece by piece, as we cross each others’ paths in this life.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

SPEAK LIFE.

(Thanks to CORE Youth Ministry and Toby Mac for the image)