Christ and the Ordinary

Here’s something I wrote a while back. I wish I could read more scripture this way.

In John 2, we have the account of Jesus turning water into wine. Every time I’ve read this, all my life, it’s always been about the wine. “This was Jesus’ first miracle” – etc. Except it wasn’t supposed to be His first miracle. He didn’t want to do it, but He did it anyway, because His mother asked, and then didn’t listen when He politely refused.

Mary is probably about 46 years old at this time, I’m guessing, and clearly used to getting her way. She reminds me of the lady who played Ray’s mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” This is a far cry from the Mary who sings the Magnificat in Luke 1 out of sheer awe of God.

So what happened? I think ordinary life happened. I think the whole family was just accustomed to Him doing miracles on a daily basis. “Hey Jesus, your brother has a nasty infection. Take care of it, will you? And don’t forget to feed the sheep.” They had become quite accustomed to having the Lord at their disposal.

And don’t we do the same? I realized the other day that I totally take Jesus for granted. I’ve become accustomed to Him working in my life. But He was only “ordinary” for about 33 years out of all eternity. The rest of the time, this is Who He is:

When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” – from Revelation 1

This is the stuff they make movies out of, you know? Even a small Christmas light bulb, if you put your eye up to it, is blazing white. It’s so small, but you can still hardly look at it. If Christ is “like the sun in all its brilliance,” then no wonder John fell down as though dead.

So what is the solution? I think it might be found in Revelation 2:

“I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

Remember, and repent. That is all.

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.

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

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.


“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.


Dealing With Anxiety

We recently tried to have a four-day weekend in the woods, but I didn’t decompress until the last day we were at our campsite. I realized that I use busy-ness to keep my brain occupied, thereby warding off anxiety. My brain was so hyperactive that I didn’t even sleep the 2nd night we were there. I tried to ignore it, but couldn’t. From Ebola to my future job prospects and everything in between, my brain was in overdrive with no brakes and no downshifting.

I managed to talk and pray myself back into normalcy (or close it) with the following thoughts.

Ignorance is bliss, but if you can’t stay ignorant, knowledge is power. When I know just a little information about something troublesome, that’s when I’m most subject to an out-of-control, anxiety-driven imagination. Since we can’t return to ignorance once we know something, the only way to go is forward. Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn what you can about the issue plaguing you, and two things should happen: 1) you’ll eventually get sick of reading about it and move on to something else, and 2) you’ll be better positioned to place news and social media updates in perspective. If you can, talk to someone with a lot of experience in that field – they’re usually great at providing perspective.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I think He was speaking of Himself, primarily – He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – but I also think He was saying that generally, knowing the truth protects us from succumbing to lies.

Control is an illusion. I think we suffer more anxiety when we believe we can control “life.” But life is like driving: I have a lot of control over how I drive, but zero control over anyone else’s driving. I’m subject to whatever other people do, just by being present in the world. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Because the world is a difficult place. Bad things happen to bad people, too.

There is no Tree of Life. It disappears in Genesis 3 and doesn’t reappear until Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible. Whether you take Genesis and Revelation literally, metaphorically, or somewhere in between, the point is that we won’t have access to life in every sense of the word until the restoration of all things, until God’s kingdom finishes coming to us on earth.

Jesus brought us God’s kingdom during His 33 years on earth, and with His presence came healing, and we still long for that today. Do I believe miraculous healings happen? Yes, but rarely. Why? I don’t know. But I come back to this scripture from Job:

25 But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: 26 And after my skin, even this body , is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God… (Job 19)

and this:

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)

I love their defiant attitude in the face of a terrifying situation. I want to be this way in the face of fear, saying “Even if God doesn’t save me from this particular situation, I still won’t bow down to you.

Be the bird, be the grass.

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. (Luke 12)

I’ve heard and read that verse countless times, but it didn’t make sense to me until this weekend, as I was standing on a riverbank catching no fish. It dawned on me that everything in nature is operating on instinct, living in the present. The birds and grass don’t worry because they weren’t created to worry. It isn’t in their programming. As animals, we were created, like the rest of creation, to respond to present threats with fight or flight, receiving adrenaline appropriately. But when we’re in that state constantly, suffering from anxiety, the prolonged presence of adrenaline damages our bodies. We weren’t made for it.

Even more, though, creation doesn’t operate in the future. It lives in the present. If you’re a squirrel, gathering nuts is preparation for the future, yes – but something particular about one particular day prompted the squirrel to start gathering. Before that, it wasn’t on his radar. And that’s what Jesus is telling us: live in the present. See today for what today is, and do and be whatever you’re supposed to do and be today, with whatever you’re given to do it. To be blunt, the future doesn’t exist in the minds of animals, and it technically, it doesn’t for us either.

Prepare, if it seems appropriate and fitting. If you’re worried about a power outage leaving you with no water, heat, or food for a week, get some kits and supplies to store. Do it, and move on with life. In the same passage I quoted above about worry, Jesus goes right on to talk about preparation:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. (Luke 12)

Jesus was talking about spiritual preparation, which is always what He was most concerned with (vs. the state of the physical body). But I think the principle – to be prepared – applies generally as well. Being reasonably prepared helps calm the mind.

Final thoughts…

The first 3 chapters of Genesis intrigue me. In what looks like just another ancient creation account are packed so many insights that cut to the heart of the human condition. I look at Eve taking the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and after eating, she hides because she was afraid. Rightfully so? Sure. Why? Two reasons: 1) She suddenly recognized that things were now out of her control, and experienced anxiety (fear of future possibilities) because of it. 2) She felt separated from God, hiding from Him, and as Sarah Young says in Jesus Calling, “Anxiety is a result of envisioning the future without [God].”

I’m glad to live on the A.D. side of things, where Jesus says this:

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16)

and Paul says this:

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1)

Jesus died so I could have that peace. He suffered the worst the world could offer Him, and He suffered separation from His family, friends, and God, questioning God with “Why??” Read the account of Him sweating blood in Gethsemane – He knows what it is to fear the future. He also knows what it is to overcome.

Like any other addict, I’ll struggle with this the rest of my life, I think. I’ll probably come back to this very page in the future to reset myself. I hope you’ll feel welcome to leave your own comments about what helps you cope with anxiety.

Christianity’s Assumed Value Propositions

As citizens of Western countries, we interpret most things through the lens of capitalism, including things that shouldn’t be quantified. It’s not completely our fault; it’s simply the culture we’re raised in. Like anything else, it has its merits and drawbacks, but we’re so accustomed to marketing that we become consumers of everything, even church, Christianity, and Christ.

Value proposition is a business and marketing concept that is 1) the provider’s promise of deliverable value, combined with 2) the customer’s belief that s/he will experience that value. When we jokingly say that people are “church shopping,” that’s actually the truth. People visit churches waiting to experience something that will make them a repeat customer. It’s like buying a plugin air freshener: You stick it in the wall and think, “I did my part; now this product better deliver sweet pumpkin spice scents, or I’m taking it back.”

Should we approach church this way? Maybe, but only if the church is correctly representing Christ’s value propositions. The problem Christians have today is not with Christianity, or Christ – it’s with the value propositions presented by churches, which are largely incorrect.

Every church has its own issues, but as a Pentecostal, I can tell you our number one misrepresented value proposition is physical healing. Without realizing it, we mistakenly present this value as, “Have enough faith, and you’ll be healed.” Like good customers, people buy it, and they believe church/God/Jesus/Holy Spirit will deliver.

I’m not saying healings never happen, because they do. I know people (skeptics, even) who struggled with ailments for years, and were healed of them at church services. I also know people who had great faith, even after their loved one flat lined, that never saw the healing they were promised by the church.

The theology of healing is another topic. What I want to point out here is that when we desire to blame God for not delivering some outcome we were promised, we need to step back and look at the original value proposition and determine whether it was valid to begin with. Personally, when I do this, I find my expectations of Him are 1) based on assumptions, not scripture, and 2) highly self-centered. As churches and church members, we need to quit boxing God in with incorrect value propositions.

Psalm 13 for Iraq

Lately my thoughts are ruled by Iraq and the Christians there. The religion of the persecuted doesn’t really matter – no human being should suffer as these people are suffering. I am in humble admiration of the Muslim people taking a stand against the marking and brutalities being measured out against Iraqi Christians. Would I do that? Would I take a stand for people who don’t share my religion? I hope that if that day ever comes to me, the Holy Spirit will make me able.

I find myself praying for the destruction of the persecutors. That seemed very un-Christian, so I toned it down to “confuse their camp,” but in my heart, that’s not really what I want. I’m like Jonah, seeking God’s destruction for people who really, really deserve it.

And then enters Jesus, saying things like “bless your enemies, bless and do not curse.” What’s striking to me is that I see Him saying to me what He said to Peter after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus.

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” – Matthew 26

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” – John 18

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. – Luke 22

It seems that Jesus was mainly rebuking Peter for continually trying to stop Him from going to the cross. But the passage from Luke has an extra twist, telling us that Jesus heals the man after saying “No more of this!”

No more of this. It’s like Jesus was trying to say that violence can’t really be stopped with violence. I’ve never considered myself a hard-core pacifist, and this isn’t really about that. It’s more about trying to take Jesus at His word. He said that on this earth, the wheat and chaff are mixed together, and that He is longsuffering, and that He desires for no one to spend eternity apart from His presence. I fear that this means good people will continue to suffer under evil people while we’re waiting/praying for them to get a chance to know Christ. I’m not surprised by it, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing, and praying, that it could be different.

Most days, I secretly want Jesus to hold off on returning because my life is just that great. I feel a bit guilty about it, and I try to allow those feelings to encourage generosity in my life. This past week, however, has been quite different. I find I care less about myself and my petty problems. If Jesus were to give me the choice, without hesitation, I would say “even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

I close with the admonition to us all to keep praying, keep praying, keep praying. My small offering is the following, a link to a webpage with a recording of Psalm 13 by Trent. It’s one of the most striking songs I think I’ve ever heard, and it’s my prayer for the people in Iraq.

Subversive Messiah

If you believe in Jesus, and you haven’t seen Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood, you should. It has gang violence, racial slurs, sexual references, and foul language.

It also has a messiah.

The American penchant for individualism sometimes works against two pillars of the Christian faith — the fellowship of believers, and weakness dependent on God’s grace. But in this movie, rugged American individualism becomes a backdrop for messianic allegory.

Earlier this week, I took a walk through my neighborhood and noticed that one of our stop signs has been tagged with gang-style graffiti. I found myself cursing the vandals, angry that they would bring their petty, contrived gang wars into our neighborhood, thinking they can somehow claim our quiet streets as their own, like dogs running around pissing on trees. But I can think of no earthly solution that won’t somehow escalate the situation. Even simply cleaning the sign off feels like an invitation for them to reassert counterfeit ownership and establish a stronger presence.

In Gran Torino, Eastwood’s neighbors are enmeshed in the gang problem partly because of their race, and partly because of the neighborhood they live in. The gangs target his neighbor boy for recruitment. Eastwood stands alone as this stalwart who refuses to move, to give up ground. There’s a lot of Jesus in this image — the messiah figure, identifying with the people in his humanity, but separate in culture and history.

In the end, Eastwood does what none of the rest of them could do. Through personal sacrifice, he exposes evil for what it really is. In the Korean war, he’d fought fire with fire. This time around, he recognized that something had to be different, just like Jesus:

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
    I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
    Where, O grave, is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14)

This is the world we are mired in, like Eastwood’s neighbors in Gran Torino. The Bible calls satan the devourer, and indeed, it truly feels evil is pressing in, with a gang-like “join us or die” threat. This is the world Jesus interrupted. And this is the world He left us in, with purpose:

I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission. (John 17:15-19)

Jesus didn’t show up on the world’s doorstep like Bruce Willis, guns blazing, lighting stuff on fire, yelling, “yippee ki yay!!” That’s what the Jewish people wanted Him to do, but quite honestly, all that had been done before, and history is still proving it doesn’t work. No, Jesus is much more subversive and cunning than that. He went straight for satan’s doorstep:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: … 11 about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16)

What all this means is that when I’m trying to figure out how I can show these stop sign vandals who’s the boss, I’m still a part of the problem from which Jesus desires to rescue me. Every time I participate in the problem, even if only in my mind, I’m giving birth to more evil, instead of being consecrated — set apart for something else. I don’t have to be recruited to the “gang” of evil because the Spirit, the Advocate, will lead me in a different direction I wouldn’t otherwise know.