The Best Life

The Great Invitation – Being vs. Doing

19 November 2014

“When I was focused on doing God’s work, I was fast-paced and exasperated, accomplishing much. When I focused on being God’s man, I became peacefully and refreshingly busy.” – Yours Truly

We in Christian circles are familiar with what we call the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28 that exhorts us to go and make disciples of Jesus. We are equally familiar with what we call the Great Commandment of Christ in Matthew 22, which exalts love for God and neighbor above all else.

These are defining words out of the mouth of Jesus for anyone who would claim to follow Him. At least they should be. And they should become noticeably defining characteristics in those same people, or it would be right to question their stated association to the name of Christ.

Okay, so there is that.

But there are some other words, recorded in another verse, that I believe are equally worthy of our attention. Worthy of our lives. Vital, even, should we desire to live anywhere close to the Great Commission and Great Commandment lifestyle. As a matter of fact, it is the ignorance of these words that may explain how it is that many professed Christ followers fail to the live a life that is marked by a Great Commandment loving demeanor or a Great Commission disciple-making fruitfulness.

I realize I may not be the first to do so, but I don’t know anyone who has, so I’d like to call it the Great Invitation. And it is found in Matthew 11, and like the Commandment and the Commission, is spoken by Jesus himself.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Notice that just as there are two commands in the Great Commandment, there are two (maybe even three) invitations in the Great Invitation, both of which promise rest. It is Andrew Murray who pointed out to me that the first invitation is to come to Jesus, and that by doing so, there is an immediate gift of rest for the weary. There is an initial burden lifted. It could be argued that the very meaning of “coming to Jesus” in an initial way is to receive his offer to unburden yourself of responsibility for the heavy weight of sin and put it on his shoulders (The relief I feel just by typing it is palpable!).

Invitation #2, Murray taught me, is to take the “yoke” of Jesus, and to learn from him. Jesus is inviting us to become his students, his scholars. He is inviting us to apply our attention to who he is, how he is, and what he says, and not merely for education’s sake. He is literally promising a transformation into a life of even deeper rest (“for your souls,” he says this time). But only if we become master students of his. And just in case someone wants to disqualify themselves as not good “mastery” material, Jesus ends the invitation by saying that his “yoke” is easy, and his burden is something that the most feeble of people can carry.

The order of these Great Things matters. The Great Invitation is listed by Matthew long before the Great Commandment, which is likewise listed long before the the Great Commission. Don’t think it matters? Well, just try to go and make disciples of Jesus without first developing a deep heart of love for God and others and see how long you last. Or just try to develop that deep heart of love without giving the burden of your sins to Jesus, or without becoming his pupil, and see how long you last. Yes, the order matters. Way too much damage has been done to the name of Jesus by churches that try to make disciples from something other than a heart of love. And way too much weariness, discouragement, and despair has come to individuals who try to maintain authentic love for God and people when they have not yoked themselves up with Jesus, abiding with and in him, and (most importantly) he in them.

The order matters, but the order of these “Greats” is not the headline for me in this post, it is the number of them. The proclamation I’m making today, is that I have been guilty of promoting the Great Commission/Great Commandment lifestyle without properly elevating the enabler of them both – the Great Invitation. Not consciously, of course, and perhaps many of my hearers have assumed the Invitation when I’ve spoken of the Commandment and the Commission. But no more will I fail to elevate Matthew 11 to the status of Matthew 22 and 28.

Why? I don’t want to “make” a bunch of exasperated “doers.” I want to co-create with Christ the making of disciples. When someone is focused on “being” a disciple, they will “do” plenty, but without the burden of feeling like they are the savior, and it all rides on them.

May we who follow Christ life the Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission life. And may those of us who play any part in leading church families lead them into being Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission churches.

God help us.

Wounds and God’s Glory, Love and God’s Face

30 May 2014

“To genuinely love another person is to see the face of God.” – Victor Hugo

“In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.” – Augustine of Hippo

If the above quotes are true, then I saw God’s face, and His glory, last week.

A priceless part of my annual sabbatical has been the practice of going to Houston and moving in with my friend and mentor for a few days of going with him where he goes, joining him in what he does.

Jim is one of the few people I know, perhaps the only one, who has a life where something like this is possible.

And while many people I know have lives that are worthwhile, none but Jim have one with whom I would do this.

Why?

Because every single moment spent with Jim is spent with people. Further, these people are with Jim in order to discover how to “take the mask off,” discard it, and excavate Christ who resides within them.

And I get invited to join.

Join what, you may ask? The experience of truth community, inexhaustible grace, and rock bottom introspection. The experience of hope in life after death, and just as powerful, in life after wounds (emphasis on the word experience).

I get to parachute in and engage with folks who I have parachuted in on before and reunite around our shared desire for life, and I get to meet some brand new folks who have joined in on the journey. And here is the kicker – even though I am a stranger or infrequent visitor to them – I am welcomed in.

All the way in. I am welcomed in to the messiness and woundedness of their lives, and at a level that demands the messiness and woundedness of mine. I am loved, outrageously, and I am called to love, outrageously.

And right there… in that space… I see the face of God in them, and the glory of God in me.

You can probably tell that I’m struggling to find words to describe this experience. I can do no better than the ones I list below. These words describe what I saw, what I experienced, and what I appreciated most, from the moment I stepped off the plane to the one where I stepped back on:

Dad, Anne, Jake & Heather, Jim, Kate, Jeff & Stacy & Jace, Bruce, Teresa, Chad & Liz, John, Jason, Kathy, Pam, George, Taffy, Michelle, Renay, Laura, Mary, Karuna, Carly, Sue, Wayne, Braveheart, Taylor, Jeffrey, Don, Joe, Jason, Kevin & Amanda, Loren, Sarai, Ryan, Kathy, Aaron, Jennifer, Blake, and JT. And then bonus! More time with Dad, followed by a day of bliss with Ashley, Drew, Jackson, Grayson, and Andy. And then bonus of bonuses, it was all capped off by Kacy.

I saw the face of God. I saw His glory.

It was an experience of life and it required nothing and everything of me. Just as Jesus told me it would when he said that to find my life, I must lose it.

As I sit here closing this out, thinking of who and what Jim is to me, desiring to replicate the same kind of life, community, and fruit that he does, I received this blessing from a friend who really works hard to “see me” – and I finish this piece with it to honor who Jim is to me, and as a proclamation of love for the world that this is what I want to be in it and towards it. (And thank you, GM. You fuel my spirit)…

“’The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.’ Therefore, Brian, you sir are a hero and a saint.”

 

 

“Taking” My 10th Sabbatical

29 May 2014

“You dare not give up the stability of your life that is ‘hid with Christ in God’ for anything – no matter how great and worthy the purpose – for it would be the death of you.” – a still, small voice inside of me

”For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:3

I’m smack dab in the middle of a 3-week “sabbatical,” or break, from my normal duties, my tenth since being with the Southwest church family in Amarillo, TX.

When I was leaving the West Houston church family after 14 years of loving a city through a student ministry to love another city through a church ministry, the team that had been discerning with me about this most unlikely move sent me “an offer.”

Included in it was an annual 3-week long “sabbatical.” This was on top of vacation.

I received it as an awesome gesture of the leadership’s heart, but had no intentions of ever planning on “taking it.” It seemed luxurious, extravagant, unfair, unproductive, inefficient, burdensome on others, and wrong. But I was surrounded by voices that spoke positively and encouraging about it, and by a leadership that without my permission planned it into my calendar.

There I was, in 2005, with three full weeks of not being able to hide my lack of connection to God with the excuse, “I don’t have time.”

I wish the dilemma on everyone.

Ten years and many such experiences later, these 3-weeks now seem necessary, death-defying, communally beneficial, ministry quality improving, equipping of others, and right.

What I wouldn’t have done if it was left up to me ten years ago, I wouldn’t do without if it is left up to me now.

It is interesting watching the reactions of those around me who hear of this annual blessing that must be simultaneously “given” and “received” to be had.

It triggers satisfaction in some, ranging from declarations like “That is beautiful,” to “That is so good.” On the extreme, it has triggered tears of gratitude and disbelief, tapping into some deep wounding that has come from the burnout that they or someone they love had experienced.

In others it triggers bitterness, ranging from comments like “Must be nice,” to silent head turns of envy. On the extreme, it has triggered anger towards me, with overt invitations to give it up so as to not make those who do not have such a blessing not feel slighted.

I used to receive the former folks eagerly as affirmation that I’m doing the right thing “taking it”  each year. And I used to take the latter defensively, either making plans in my head to “not take it” to prove my sensitivity to others, or making lists in my head defending why I should or had the right to.

I say I “used to” do those things, but I still do both, just not with quite the intensity that I used to (perhaps this post is actually me doing it once again unwittingly. God knows, I must let it go).

But I am learning that any attempt to live the life of Christ always be in holy rebellion against, and in stark contrast to, thousands of societal rules, even among Christians, so that when something like an annual sabbatical, even when offered, will always get the occasional response of “how dare you take that.”

But at this point in my life, I dare not give it up. Without often withdrawing to solitary places to pray, to be still and know that God is God, to learn that His Kingdom runs and advances without me running and without me intentionally advancing it, and that He loves me, not because of my work, but simply because He is love, I would not last a minute. I must be conquered by God’s love, not by God’s work, in a world that values, rewards, respects, and justifies those who die busy.

I’ve already died that death. Busyness killed me once. That was quite enough.

Now my life is hidden with Christ in God.

If the peaceful, joyful, righteous, relational life He promises is merely an idea that I speak of in the midst of a frantic, stressful, fast-paced life of busyness, I’m offering the world nothing of value at best, a false gospel at worst.

Writing Down a More Beautiful Life

14 April 2014

“Write down the revelation.” – Habakkuk 2:2

“Everything in life is writable about if you have the crazy outgoing guts to do it, and the vivid imagination to improvise as you go.  The worst enemy to creativity and excellence is ‘stuck-ness’ caused by self-consciousness and self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I have not taken the time to write much as of late. And the quote above from Sylvia confronts me in this. I have just not had the “crazy outgoing guts to do it,” having allowed myself to settle into a “stuck-ness” caused by an unhealthy self-consciousness (cleverly disguised as a healthy self-awareness) and an debilitating self-doubt (cleverly disguised as humility).

I have some very good excuses for not writing much, all of which are unarguable and easily defendable, but I will spare you them, because, if you go but one thin layer underneath, this is not about that.

If my writing is about a selfless sharing of my life, and about the raw need to keep it real, and about my desire to improve on the truth that I have found in order to adopt what is truer, then there is no excuse that can satisfy my own spirit.

No one can “hold me accountable” to writing. There is no moral imperative they can appeal to, no literal life and death that they can point towards, nothing so detrimental about “not writing” that they can show me, no “job description” that I was hired to do that can be threatened. Not to mention that any effort at offering accountability for anything is more than easily dismissed by the one being “held.”

You can’t make an elephant move by saying it must, or should. The elephant must want to move.

And we are all elephants.

So I must do the work of wanting to write. I must be about the journey of attributing it some sort of value, if there is indeed any to be had. Any use that it has for others is nice, and sometimes encouraging. But that is not enough. Having a witness or two to my life interested just enough to read about it is important to most. But it’s not enough to keep writing either.

Ultimately, I have some lonely work to do that can only be done by myself and God.

He and I alone must wrestle about meaning. About life. About ease and suffering, and when each is called for. About potential vs. kinetic energy within me. He and I alone must wrestle. He against me, and me against me. I’m grateful that He and I are on the same side, because it will take both to subdue the part of me that is growing old enough to not care anymore. To not try anymore.

I don’t want to not care. And I don’t want to not try. But the gravity toward it is so strong. And I’m scared to mess something up, at this point, by acting too boldly.

You all get that this is not about writing, yes? I do. I totally get it.

But for me, today, it is the useful prop that God is using as a heart-excavating probe. You have one, too, if you’ll just have the guts to see it.

So I cannot speak for tomorrow… but today, when I didn’t feel like writing, I wrote. This is God and I warring against the part of me that would just as soon go about life doing the bare minimum, or just hurriedly meet the many demands coming my way so that I can justify myself from any sort of higher calling, or just do the house chores while watching TV and call it being a good husband while getting others to agree with me, and then calling it a day.

This is personal. It always is. I can write about it, but there is a part of it that cannot be shared. It can only be known, and explored, and exploited by me and God. It is our work to do. It is our battle against not caring. Against not trying. Against not dying before I actually die.

It is a battle against not loving.

May God help us.

Underneath My New Mask

10 April 2014

“To the doubting and afraid, there is no vision.” – Your Truly

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Old Proverb

There are certain things that can stop me. Vulnerabilities of mine have never stopped surfacing and re-surfacing all my life, although they come in new disguises, sneaking in through new circumstances. In the past, they have been obvious and large, and therefore pretty easy to spot, and through practice I have learned to steel myself against them. I am at a place now where they are subtle, unnoticeable to anyone, oftentimes to myself. These new-old enemies are hidden not behind a good and productive life, but within it.

Doubt and fear are their names.

In my life, doubt disguises itself as humility, and fear as wisdom. Since I have a strong desire to be both humble and wise, I’m very vulnerable to doubt and fear stealing my life for long periods of time without me noticing.

My dad was a US Marine. He also has a limited version of color blindness that had him always asking me and my brothers whether two dress socks matched or not. This color blindness, somehow, gave him the ability to spot a shooter out in the brush who was wearing camouflage. He said his commanding officer, when scanning the horizon would say, “Mashburn! Front and center!” My dad would look where everyone else had and seen nothing, and then point and say, “Right there.” Identified and exposed, of course, this meant doom for the enemy.

I want that ability with my new versions of fear and doubt.

I remember a student in my youth ministry that was dating a guy who was bad to her, proving himself incapable of loving her, to the point of physical abuse. But even with this unquestionable and inexcusable behavior to clearly point at, my young friend suffered from doubt and fear. She doubted whether the boy’s behavior was her own fault, and she feared losing him for a variety of (false) reasons.

Her doubt and fear blinded her. She could not see the simple truth. And she was perishing.

One day, she found enough courage to speak the truth meekly to me, who got to play the role of “trustworthy, truth-telling friend” (Side note: my desire to have these makes this role one of my favorites). It was just enough for truth to come rushing in, which brought with it sight, filling within her a brand new reservoir of bravery.

Sight and bravery! I pause here as I write, moving to a place of worship. The thought is breathtaking to me, for whenever I’ve seen (or been) a person with these, the Kingdom comes. Goodness falls with a earthshaking crash. Evil is confronted, fear no longer strong enough to stop it. Ahhh…sight and bravery.

I went with her to his house, and though I offered to do it, she wanted to ring the doorbell and face her fear herself (wisdom), though she promised to not step inside the house out of my sight (humility). The return on facing her doubt and fear? Nothing short of a brand new life.

We all need people playing the role of “trustworthy, truth-telling friend” on occasion, especially when we are first learning these secrets to life, but as we make a habit of overcoming doubt and fear, and we become more addicted to sight and bravery, we have a ever-growing need to become our own trustworthy, truth-telling friend. 

Of course, we will still need others. But I am learning that I am in ever-increasing measure needing the integrity to do it myself, because with experience in overcoming, come new skills in hiding. Hiding becomes easier, and we become adept at doing it in plain sight of everyone, appearing to not be hiding at all. And as always, there are plenty of people around to conspire with us, agreeing with us, joining us in our delusion that we are doing and being and becoming all that we are supposed to be.

Are you doing and being and becoming all that you are supposed to be?

Others can tell you whether they think you are or not, but for someone to do that proactively and effectively is rare. It is a bit more possible when you take it upon yourself to invite others to tell you, but even then it is rare to find someone who will, because few are skilled at it, let alone willing, and the request is so uncommon.

We swim in a whole culture where fear and doubt are disguised as humility and wisdom.

So… here is to my continuing adventure at becoming someone who is able to look at the landscape of my “good life” and spot the “camouflaged shooters” of doubt and fear.

I welcome any and all who want to join me.

The Do-Gooder’s Battlefield

31 July 2013

“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – Sophocles

“For we are God’s workmanship , created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – St. Paul 

The first battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self.

From the moment we are born, we are concerned with, consumed by, and communicating what we perceive to be our needs and wants. Sometime between birth and the successful arrival of a person as good, he or she has come to grips with this truth and overcome it.

The second battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over pride.

Ironically, this is a second battle over self. Doing good has this incredible tendency of making you feel good, and on top of that, it gets you a lot of praise from others, which also feels good. As a result, it is difficult to not end up finding your value from these things. This makes the doing of good a means of feeling good about yourself, making it prideful. Some get stuck here, becoming masters at doing just enough good to feel good and/or impress others. But many realize their doing of good has ceased to be for good, and they overcome pride.

The third battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over effectiveness.

For statisticians or capitalists who require a good return for their labor, becoming an unstoppable force for good is not possible. The doing of good is the do-gooder’s reward, not the results. By definition, if you require a good return, then you will be stoppable in your doing of good if there is not a good return.

The fourth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over judgmentalism.

Nothing stops a do-gooder quicker than his or her own judgment of the worthiness of a recipient. Do-gooders do not judge the worthiness of recipients, they assume the worthiness of a recipient. This allows him or her to never waste energy discerning whether to do good or not, and directs it towards what is the good that needs to be done.

The fifth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self-martyrdom.

Even though a do-gooder knows he or she cannot do all the good that needs to be done in the world, they do want to feel like they are doing all that they can do, so each one seems to go through a season (if they trust a guide, it is shorter, but for most, it is horribly long) where they say yes to just a bit more than they can or should or are called to handle. Do-gooders are paradoxically strong and fragile, able to maintain a decent performance at “too much” for long periods of time, the cost being their inward peace, their emotional steadfastness, their physical health, and their energy for God and loved ones. The payoff of this self-inflicted, just-over-the-edge-but-sustainable schedule is the ability to say with (delusional) confidence, “I am doing all I can,” pointing to their self-martyrdom as their proof. Burnout and bitterness is the inevitable result of this, and it must be conquered if one wants to be a life-long doer of good.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over diminishment.

Many do-gooders feel under-qualified, or dis-qualified, to do good. What’s more, there is usually at least one “foe” who will be glad to validate and even try to prove that this is true. Doing good, however, is never a matter of qualification, but willingness. There may be certain good things that a person needs that you can’t do, but there is never nothing good for you to do for them (even if it is sometimes the doing of “nothing” – which it often is). There is a fine line between humility and diminishment, and do-gooders become masters at separating them.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over demand.

Life long, unstoppable do-gooders naturally become very good at doing good. At some point, a tipping point is reached, and opportunities for doing good, that he or she used to search for eagerly, not come knocking, calling, and emailing, most all of them legitimate and worthy. Add to that, the ideas of brand new ways to do good start rushing into the do-gooders imagination, each one possible needing a lifetime of investment to pursue, develop, and leave behind as a legacy. Many do-gooders shrink back at this point, drowning in opportunity, paralyzed in inability to prioritize one above another. The strategies for doing so are almost as numerous as there are do-gooders, but if they are to be unstoppable, they win this battle somehow, someway.

I’m certain there are many other battles ahead that I have yet to experience, and some current that I have yet to identify. Anyone have some?

Hello, World

4 April 2013

“When awaking from a deep slumber, forces conspire in opposition.

It takes courage to wake up, fortitude to get out of the proverbial bed.

The bliss of the moments between sleep and awareness are seductive,

We want them to last, and when they must end, we want them to end with more sleep.

Those eager to wake up are motivated by one of two things: driven-ness, or life.

The former wake one up from a place of resigned, robotic desperation…

…desperate to succeed.

…desperate to not disappoint.

…desperate to maintain.

…desperate to impress.

But the latter, those who awake for life, full life, those are the pure in heart.

They see God.

…in all circumstances.

…in all people.

…in creation.

…in themselves.

May I see God? May I be pure in heart? Oh, how superior this sounds.

You have tasted life from the dead place of sleep walking. And you have tasted life from the living place of purity.

It was when you were young. You woke to each day saying hello to it, welcoming it, and offering yourself shamelessly, creatively, moment-by-moment, with eyes twinkling and wide open. I did not need to look or feel grand, it just was, and you knew it and embraced it as a child.

The Kingdom of Heaven can not be enjoyed, will not be yours to enjoy, unless you change and become like children.

- from the pen of Yours Truly, effortlessly, with wonder about what it means

 

I took my daughter to breakfast this morning, and we shared both roaring laughter and tender tears. She is the real deal, engaging in life, dealing with her surroundings, learning about her emotions and the hearts and wounds of others. And God.

Part of the roaring laughter (and somehow the catalyst for the above piece), was this video she spontaneously made yesterday. I still can’t stop laughing, watching the combination of her using her creative, story-telling mind and her mom’s creative, visual-altering software:

 

“Nikki” complaining about “Chlorine” stealing her boyfriend

Have a fully alive day.

My Plan for 2013

3 January 2013

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life ? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” – James, the brother of Jesus

My plan for ending 2012 and launching 2013 is pretty comical in light of how I actually spent them.

December 30 and 31 I spent with a 17 year old girl and her 21 year old brother. These two lost their dad to cancer on Christmas Day, and they “needed a preacher” to do his funeral on New Years Eve day.

January 1 and 2 I spent in my bed. I was coughing, and sneezing, and blowing, and aching, pouring all kinds of fluids and pills into my body to try to stop it all.

It’s not my plan was bad. My plan was to spend the last two days very intentionally with my family (some of which I still got to do), and the first two days planning my year (none of which I got to do). It was good and God-centered plan, I thought. With good and God-centered intentions.

But it wasn’t God’s plan. And there is a difference.

Now I’m not knocking God-centered planning. This was just my crystal-clear reminder that I shouldn’t ever get so committed to my God-centered plans that they take the place of my commitment to God’s plans.

I woke up this morning, the 3rd day of the New Year, already completely behind is my plans are the benchmarks. But if I’m dying daily, listening for God daily, hearing Him and simply obeying, I’m right on time.

I ended up on the phone with a friend over my lunch hour, sharing my deepest thoughts and heart, and from within this trusted friendship, this space-making listening, and Christ-centered brotherhood – I heard God’s plan for me for this year quite clearly.

He said, “Spend more time with Me. More time listening. Then do what I say.”

What a beautiful way to end 2012, loving on and serving two newly orphaned “kids” who don’t have a “minister”. And what a beautiful way to begin 2013, flat on back helpless to do anything but submit to the healing that my body was so desperately dependent on God for.

May my whole year go so well. And yours, too.

The Bible before the Bible

19 December 2012

“Our diligent study of the Bible comes from our belief that it was delivered and orchestrated by God to tell us about God. By that reasoning, creation should be diligently studied first, because God saw best to deliver and orchestrate it first.” – Yours Truly

“The ‘Bible’ of nature and creation reveals God and who God is.” – Richard Rohr

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” – Paul, in Romans 1:20

“Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made.” – John, in John 1:3

It’s too late for most of us.

Most of us who call ourselves Christians are too late to take in and study the revelations of God in the order he revealed them.

Creation first. Bible second.

So we can’t know what the experience would have been like.

What would it have been like to look around at creation and “read it” for what it tells us about God? What would we have learned from the elements, the weather, the different landscapes, the different seasons, the different life forms, the interplay of darkness and light, and the consistent rhythm that the Sun provides? What would we have “read” in our own bodies about God when we found ourselves bursting with energy in one moment, and then helplessly lost in a state of unconsciousness in the next, only to awake with a new burst of energy, only to fall out of consciousness once again?

And once we learned all that we could from creation (the chief lesson being that we will never exhaust the lessons), what would it have been like to then crack open scripture?

We may never know, because most of us were born into, and continue to live in, an environment designed specifically to keep us untouched by nature. Goodness, if nature has lessons on “God’s invisible qualities” that can be “clearly seen”, then I have no chance to see them from where I sit right now. I’m in a nice, quiet, contained area that doesn’t even have a window out to God’s creation. I’m staring at at window, of sorts, called a computer screen, but it is a window created by man looking “out” at a bunch more creations of man. Just last week, a powerful storm that blew down trees and made the day look like night hit my homeland that lasted about 20 minutes, and I would have never known had I not had to move for the bathroom. Even then, nature only got a momentary pause out of me before I went about my business. And that business was in a room that man designed inside this fortress I work in to keep me from having to experience nature even when nature calls!

From within this fabricated, man-orchestrated, climate-controlled mansion, a big box that keeps the first revelation of God at bay, you know what I spend my time doing? Reading and studying God’s second revelation – scripture.

It is great, and I am blessed. But I wonder how much I get wrong in my interpretation of it because of this?

After all, a baby is born incapable of experiencing the study of the Bible, and only capable of experiencing the things around her. As that baby grows, it doesn’t jump right to the ability to read or study or imagine ideas, but instead moves slowly through a process of observing, experiencing, and “reading” the environment she is in. It seems to me that the order of our naturally developed abilities observed in our growth as human beings supports this idea that we should study God first in nature, and then in scripture.

So maybe we are all late, but it’s not too late. Maybe we have done it out of order, but there is still an order to be had and known and experienced in the first revelation, even if it is the second one we are studying.

Get outside. If you can burst out of the physical matrix we’ve all been conditioned to breath in with a revolutionary charge and zealous yell of “freedom!!!” then do it. But start small if you need to.

Just get outside.

And not just when it is comfortable (comfort is why we created the boxes we live in), and not just when it is convenient (convenience keeps us in the boxes, it does not move us out of them, ever).

You are missing out on getting to know God through His first revelation.

 

That is Not True

29 November 2012

I was visiting a friend who is in the hospital this week, and ran into another friend who is one of my true allies in the mission of love that I am on in my life.

With a mixture of horror, gratitude, and awe, she briefly recounted an experience from the day before. She was by the bedside of a young boy around 14 years old who was dying. This boy’s older sister was sitting in the room next to the wall, the mother was standing over the bed of her son, howling with uncontrollable tears and sobs, desperately pleading with him to “not leave her.”

Pause. Let’s acknowledge the fact that most people in the world do not experience these kinds of moments. By “these kinds of moments”, I’m speaking of moments that are unescapably raw and real. Moments that are so unconsciously intense and gripping, that a necessary, uncontrollable, and un-censorable emotional honesty, that does not care  how it is comes across to those around them. Can not care. So do not judge. Just witness.

The mom, in the actual, real-time face of losing her beloved son, was wailing and desperately appealing to everyone with reasons why this must not happen, using as many different sentences as her urgently distraught mind could come up with. My friend is standing by the bed, facing her, with the woman’s daughter in her view just over the shoulder of the mom. My friend was doing her best to “be with it all” – witnessing this desperate pain, undone with the magnitude of her task to give care, coming up empty when searching for words to accompany the sorrow and tears that she was sharing with this family.

Then it happened.

Something completely understandable, and entirely false, came out of mom’s mouth. She looked up, drowning in her pain, right at my friend and said, “He can’t die! He is the only joy that I have in my life!”

My sister-at-arms found herself glancing quickly back and forth between the piercing eyes of the mom and those of the daughter (who’s head jerked up to meet hers at this latest pronouncement). And with a surprisingly authoritative voice, equaled only by a loving compassion in her tone and eyes, she looked right at the daughter and said, “That is not true,” and then looked right into the eyes of the mom, and said it again, “That is not true.”

The mom looked over her shoulder and saw her precious daughter, instantly realized what she was saying, and ran to her, hugging her, instantly letting her girl know that she knew that what she had just said, sure enough, was not true. And she embraced her daughter, allowing the untruth of what she just said be washed away by their shared suffering and tears. Mom, who was losing her son, realized that she was not losing her daughter, and that her daughter was losing a brother. And with this, the potential wound that could have been inflicted on her daughter’s heart based on an understandable, but completely false statement innocently spoken while drowning in emotions…didn’t happen.

Because someone was there to speak the truth out loud. Someone was there to expose it as a lie.

As far as I’m concerned, my friend is nothing short of a peace-bringing hero. A relationship saving, heart-protecting, love-advancing, healing-inducing hero of epic proportions.

She didn’t plan this. She couldn’t have. She just had to be willing to be there to let it happen. She had to be willing to walk into the uncomfortable place of human suffering and pain. She just had to be there and not run. She had to be there and not find and use a reasonable excuse to leave the room. She just had to go and stand in that space with people in their most vulnerable and intense experiences.

And she did. And she does. It costs her. It costs her some tears. It costs her some time. It costs her some comfort. It might even cost her some sleep.

But…

She saved people. And saving people, in my book, is worth any cost.  I don’t do it perfectly, this walking into things, and neither do all my allies, like this sister. But it’s what our friend and teacher, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ did. And we want to be like him. We want to do what he did. We want to do what he does.

We want to save people. Like we’ve been saved. Like we are being saved.

All she had to be was willing. The words came to her when she needed them, precisely when they were needed, and – boom – a miracle.

Dear reader, would you please join her?

Dear God, would you please help us?

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