Saturday, December 25, 2010


"And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'" Matthew 27:46

     Christian. The word in Greek, transliterated, is Christianos, and according to Thayer's Greek Definitions means, ". . . a follower of Christ." Merriam-Webster is a little more lenient, defining the word as "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ."  So what is a Christian, truly? A follower, or one who merely professes belief? Either way, what does it mean, exactly?

     The word, "Christian," did not even exist at the time Mary gave birth to the baby that would be the focus of such tumultuous events in just a few decades. Mary simply knew that she had never been with a man, yet she was pregnant. She had been told that it would be a boy and she was to call him Jesus. She knew that he would "reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there would be no end." She knew that, shortly after His birth, some shepherds came to worship Him and went away telling everyone that the Savior had been born. In the first week or so of the Child's life she was also told many other things, including that "a sword will pierce through your own soul, also."  All these bits of seemingly conflicting information must have been confusing for a young mother. Is it any wonder she pondered them in her heart?

     On this day when we look back to Jesus' birth and the joyful announcement of the angels to the shepherds in the fields, I cannot help but think about the whole span of His earthly ministry. Jesus--God incarnate--gave up the power and glory that was rightfully His, and willingly took on the flesh of a man with all its weaknesses and limitations. No, not a man, an infant! He chose to endure birth, chose to learn to use His hands, to learn to talk and walk. He, the One through Whom all things were created, chose to live in His creation, even to live as His creation. He chose to feel the pull of temptation--and by living a life in abject surrender to the will of God, to overcome it and never sin. He chose to be betrayed, criticized, beaten, and mocked by the very people He came to save. He chose to live out a human life in perfect obedience and surrender and to give His utterly pure life as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for human sin. He chose to die on a tree that He had crafted Himself.

     He did not give gifts that would be consumed or break in a few weeks; He gave Himself. In doing so, He set an example of humility that cannot be matched by human effort. He, the King of kings, knelt in the mud and muck of human existence and made Himself a stepping stone to allow mankind to reach God. It has been said that "religion is man's attempt at reaching God, but Christianity is God reaching down to man to restore a relationship we severed through our sin." This  is true, but may I point out that in Jesus, God did not only reach toward us, He made Himself the bridge for us to walk across! It only remains that we choose Him.
     When I think of the sacrifice that was made on my behalf, my mind shuts down. It is just too much to wrap my head around, too unbelievably perfect an act of selflessness, too incredible a feat of love. I think of living a sinless life, and it is beyond my imagination. I cannot even live a sinless 60-second minute! My very thoughts are drenched in transgression. When I examine my most generous moments, I find some kernel of self-serving or hope of glory within them that sullies the deed. My highest virtue is revealed to be rotten at its core. Christ lived without this, and rather than claiming His right, He instead washed the very feet of the man who sent Him to a prolonged and excruciating death. He did this because He loved him--loved all of us--even though we do not deserve it. He loved without the taint of selfishness we persist in, but truly and wholly, not considering the status or the social acceptability of the people He loved.

     So what does it mean to be a Christian? It is more than professing, I can tell you that. To follow Christ is not to attend church, nor is it to spend our days examining the specks in the eyes of others, as Christ put it in Matthew chapter 7.  To be a follower of Christ means that we should be willing to devote our all to Him, just as He gave up everything that was rightfully His for us. We must not think we can have Christ and our favorite hobby, or Christ and the perfect job. He, in his mercy, may allow that, but we should be, in the very depths of our hearts honestly and completely willing to  let go the job, the hobby, or what have you and have Christ alone. We must live in surrender to the Holy Spirit, which He sent to guide us, so that in His power we can love others as selflessly as He loved us. To be a follower of Christ means that we should show the world that we are His disciples by the love we have for each other. It means laying down our life for our friends. It means that our lives should reflect Immanuel--God with us. It means so much more than I can even find the time or the words for, and yet it is really so very simple. Being a Christian means, in Paul's words, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." It means that Christ, in making Himself next to nothing, has become to us everything.

". . . 'For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.' . . .  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.' "  Luke 2:11, 13-14

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' ... When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him..." Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

Joseph is, to me, the unsung hero of the Nativity story. If not for his absolute obedience, those events would have taken quite a different direction. It was Joseph, after all, who complied with the Lord's command to go through with the wedding to Mary despite what appeared to be indisputable evidence that she was not the chaste young woman he expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in and cared for her and for the Child. I often wonder what the consequences of his decision meant for him... Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Whatever his lot, he took it willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was again visited by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was not an easy task with such a young child, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family right away and left by night. Imagine, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by--if even that! Again, the command did not make much sense, but in this act of prompt obedience, he spared his family the horror of witnessing the presumably paranoid Herod's desperate act of infanticide.

The Bible records two other brief messages to Joseph: One telling him it was safe to go back to Israel, and the second was an unknown warning that caused him to settle in the region of Galilee in Nazareth. In all instances of contact with a heavenly messenger, Joseph was quietly and simply obedient. The ramifications of his amenable behavior were tremendous--in all cases providing for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in his childhood--and yet it is rare that his name is mentioned except as the husband of Mary. Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by what appears to be a very humble and submissive man. In the few passages in which he is mentioned, we see nothing more than calm and immediate compliance to the will of God. I cannot help but remember that even Abraham laughed when he was told the impossible: that he would have a son in his old age. But Joseph, when told that Mary was pregnant, not through the normal means, but by an act of the Holy Spirit, accepted this without documented complaint or dispute and took her and cared for her as his wife.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began as I reflected on my own heart this past year. I find that I was not compliant to God's will for my life as Joseph was. Rather, I spent the year in discouragement and allowed myself to wander away from the will of my Lord. Rather than forsaking my preferences, as I am sure Joseph would have preferred an uncomplicated marriage or to stay in bed that night in Bethlehem, I found myself instead indulging them. As the year draws to a close, I find myself humbled and repentant. It is my prayer that the new year will see a different me. I pray that I will truly live my life in humility and service to others, living in a place of complete submissiveness to the will of God so that I may understand in each instance what is His will. I pray that I will no longer strive to "do good" without first checking with my Father to see if this is the good He would have me do. I would love for it to be said about me when I am gone from this earth: "We don't know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord."

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


"And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Luke 1:41-42

During my most recent reading of the events leading up to the birth of the Christ, this passage lingered in my thoughts. I could not help but wonder wonder, did Mary always feel blessed? Did these words of Elizabeth's echo in her memory on the day when she had to reveal her pregnancy to her betrothed, who without a doubt believed that his Mary had been unfaithful, since he considered putting her aside? It was certainly a blessing that he did not divorce her, sparing her the shame and hardship of raising the baby alone at a time when there was no daycare and no part-time job for single mothers. But during the journey to Bethlehem, far into the least comfortable part of pregnancy, did she once again turn the word, "blessed" over and over in her mind as she trudged the weary miles? I even wonder what her thoughts were as she gave birth in a dank and musty stable, very likely without the help of a midwife or even any experienced woman. Did the words of Gabriel, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" come to haunt her in those moments? I often think that, of all people on the earth, Mary must have some of the greatest reasons to wonder what it truly means to be blessed or favored of the Lord.

As I think of Mary's story in this light, I cannot help but recall the words of God as spoken through Isaiah: " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways,' " It is easy for us to think of "blessings" in terms of wealth, health, ease, and material gain. However, this simply is not always the case. Mary was blessed among women, highly favored, and yet her life was marked with difficulty and hardship. There is no indication that she was a wealthy woman, nor was her Son's ministry one that lead to financial gain or elevation of status. Indeed, He even was quoted as saying He had no place to lay His head! However, she was in fact very blessed, as there is probably none on earth who had a bond to the King of Kings quite like hers. I have no doubts that all the trials and troubles of her life, all the sorrows that chased her as she watched her Son ridiculed and hated, and later beaten and brutally murdered, drew her ever closer to God. She began as a young woman saying, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word." It is worthy of note that she began her journey in humility and surrender.

While we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember that the blessings of God are not always designed for our comfort and delight. They are often designed to hone our faith, to sharpen our desire for Him, to remove self-righteousness and other useless baggage, and to bring about a state of complete and total reliance on the Almighty. Blessings are not meant for here and now, but to bring about the refining of our character in preparation for Eternity with the Lord.

Another of Mary's sons, James, tells us many years later, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." It is likely that he had grown up hearing stories of faith tested by anxiety and affliction that produced a steadfastness beyond what many of us can imagine! So let us resolve to celebrate not only the ups, but the downs. Let us celebrate the trials that show our mighty God's power blazing through our frailty. Let us be willing to embrace whatever blessings God sends our way, even if they do not look like blessings at the time, and rejoice that He can turn our sorrow into joy. May we each have a truly blessed Christmas!

"I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relationships in the Void

There have been several thoughts dogging my heels lately, and I cannot shake them. I know I am severely delinquent in my writing; perhaps this is the goad to get me back on track. And so, forgive my rustiness as I struggle to organize my thoughts....

It struck me several days ago during a casual conversation that it is quite impossible to live on this earth without having an impact on anyone else. In order to avoid having any effect on any other person, even a slight effect such as causing them to wonder briefly if you are in a bad mood, one would have to live in a relational void with absolutely no contact with another human being. To put it very bluntly, this simply means that it is impossible to hurt oneself without hurting others. There are no crimes perpetrated against self only; they all have repercussions to others.

For example, a drunk or a drug addict does not merely poison his body--he poisons his relationships. If he is married, he puts the bottle between himself and his wife. If a father, he adds an element of embarrassment and confusion to his children's view of him at best, if he is a placid drunk. If he is a more typical angry drunk, he brings in fear, suffering, and often condemns them to live and grow within the abuse cycle, either becoming abusers themselves or accepting abuse as normal. If he drives under the influence, he risks--and sometimes robs--the lives of others. No matter how self-contained he may seem, if he does not get help and kick the habit, he destroys himself and brings heartache to those who love him. He does not merely harm himself, he is an indiscriminate inflictor of harm.

Another common view I have heard is that any sexual act that happens between consenting adults is completely harmless. This is also bunk, unless the consenting adults in question happen to be permanently committed to one another. Otherwise, they inflict any emotional baggage from said act on any future partners without regard for that partner's feelings in the matter. If, by some flight of complete idiocy, one or both of the consenting adults is already married, they by their self-serving act bring an emotional wrecking ball into the marital relationship and, if children are present, ruthlessly batter them in the process. Sex, then, is also not merely a personal, private act unless it is, in fact, kept between two people. Otherwise, it is somewhat clownishly public.

I will confess that I have been either party to or vicitm of both of these points of view, and therefore I have no qualms in railing against them, for in doing so I rail against my own past and my own foolishness. I am the clown; I am the idiot of this story. There were many other ways in which I sought to destroy myself and ended up damaging others, but I shall not go into those at this time. However, I am delighted to say that this interconnectedness works in more pleasant ways, as well. Love, too, can trickle out from others and heal the destruction left behind. There may be scars, but the healing beneath can be complete.

I found this love in no other but the one the Jews called the Messiah, for I was far too damaged at the time I met Him to even see it in others. It was the stunning realization of His love and humility that caused me to see past my own pain to the harm I caused others by continuing to nurse it. Once enough healing had taken place that I could limp along a bit on my own, He began to show me the messy, imperfect, and glorious love found in the community of true believers. Now I find it is my duty to love others rather than to loathe myself. It is at this time my fervent prayer that love will be my whole motive, that selflessness will replace selfishness, and that those who were wounded by shrapnel in my battle with myself will find the same healing, the same peace... and the same shock of cold water waking them fully to the Absolute Truth.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

MP2 Moments

I will have to admit it: I was not looking forward to Mission: Possible 2 this year. For 2 weeks before, I was fighting a crushing fatigue and my attitude was poor at best. I found myself actually dreading the week that I had looked forward to since the previous year. I did not feel capable of loving children or even tolerating them. Over the weekend I began to plead with my heavenly Father to change my heart and to renew my physical strength, not for myself but for the sake of GP and for the sake of the kiddos who would be stuck with me for a week. As always, He rewards those who earnestly seek Him, and I found myself waking at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning with a brand-new outlook. And so began the second annual Mission: Possible.

As in any group of children, it seems there is one who is the designated good kid and one who is the class clown, lacking in self-control and stirring up other kids to follow their less-than-desirable example. This group was no different. There was one child who tried my patience, required constant reminders to "keep your hands to yourself," needed prompting and prodding to do any actual work, and generally made it difficult to find anything--anything at all--to be encouraging about. That background being painted, here follows a list of my favorite moments:

  • Finding not one, but three moments to encourage the laziest kid on Thursday.
  • Taking prayer requests from some of the kids in my group during a food canvassing walk through a neighborhood, then praying for them right then and there, out loud for the kids to hear.
  • Interspersed with the prayers, discussing with the kids how awesome it is that we can come to God anywhere, anytime, with any requests or concerns thanks to the work Christ did on the cross for us.
  • Talking with one boy about the nature of God, who is called both a consuming fire and the Living Water, and how Jesus is known as the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. Praying that these seeds planted will grow into a fascination with and hunger to really know the Lord.
  • Getting a hug on Friday night from the one kid who tested my patience the most during the week.
  • Expressing delight and welcoming one young lady who would like to come back and be a youth volunteer when she is too old to attend MP and encouraging her in her hard work and positive attitude.
  • Seeing the whine level decrease dramatically as the week went on.
  • Watching the faces of the patients at the nursing home as the kids sang and played ball with them.
  • Hearing the excitement in my own kids' voices as they related their missions each day and looked forward to the next.
  • Linking arms and twirling with the kids during the dance break.
  • Listening to one kid sing this year's theme song with gusto on Friday night and hearing another's excitement that they would get an MP3 of it to keep.
There were more, but those are the ones that stand out. It was a great week, and I found that, once again, God comes through when I am at the end of myself. He gave me the strength, the compassion, the energy and the creativity I needed to honor Him during it all.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Submission, Circles, and Judo

Today, I took a rather fitful nap and had a waking dream in which certain things became compellingly clear. I don’t know how this will sound on paper, but in my slight fever dream, here is what came to me:

I have been grappling with the concept of absolute submission to authority, specifically God’s authority, for some time. While I know what it means, there is still a maniacal part of me who simply must have a tangible, experiential, relational way to feel and communicate it. Knowing this, my Father chose to honor me with many opportunities to explore the idea of submission on varying levels, in varying amounts, and in a number of ways. My initial reaction to this amazing honor was that I complained.



Nearly incessantly.

I was not pleased and did not like it. I do not want to submit, so I rebel in my heart and stick my stubborn chin out like the sulky child I am. Truly there is no greater picture of my relationship to God than the wise, patient, loving Father firmly guiding the infinitely mulish and ignorant toddler out of harm’s way. That, however, is a tangent to this circle that I will not explore at the moment. . .

The second reaction to this Fatherly trust was that I began to mull over the whole of submission; meditating on it, examining its surface, dissecting it to see what was inside, and trying to piece it back together again. During this process, a misconception that I did not even realize I carried became clear to me. As it turns out, I have always thought that bringing myself into submission to God’s authority in my life was, in essence, making His will my will.

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Submission to His will means that I have a will of my own apart from what His is and yet I do not act on it. I act on His will, leaving my will very much alive and pulsing. The difference is that I ignore mine. I do His will anyway, quite despite my own. I let my will remain but I do not touch it. I fully embrace His even when the core of my being screams in protest at what it does not want to do. I submit, not because it blesses me to submit, but because the love of Christ compels me beyond myself. I do not submit because it ultimately brings me pleasure. I am not in the pleasure-seeking business although I frankly admit that would love to be. I submit because I must.

This brings me to judo.

What is commonly called a “submission” in judo is a bit of a different thing, but not entirely. The art of judo lies in the dual concepts of “mutual welfare and benefit” and “maximum efficient use of force.” I have heard the term ‘submission’ frequently applied to such techniques as chokes and armbars. Both of these techniques are applied during a grappling phase of the contest in which neither opponent was able to achieve a decisively winning throw and now must attempt to overcome the other competitor with a 25-second pin or one of the previously mentioned submissions. In either a choke or armbar, the person to whom the technique is applied is left with two choices: tap out and end the match or take a gamble and try to escape, thus risking losing either consciousness or a functional joint (depending on the technique applied). To the bystander, the wise choice seems obvious. Not so to the judoka who may feel that there is some wiggle room or some chance of still winning the match.

This brings me to circles.

I find it interesting to see that, just as a nicely-applied armbar or choke may seem, to the spectator, to leave the compromised judoka no wise choice other than to submit, it similarly seems to me that, given a broader perspective, my own decisions not to submit to the will of God would be equally obvious and I would look quite the fool for choosing to continue to fight.

You see, for whatever reason it surfaces—be it a drive to succeed, machismo, or desire not to let his sensei or his club down--it is often the judoka’s pride whispering, “I can do this! He can’t beat me,” that may cause him to leave the mat in a rather less comfortable state then when he bowed on, very often with a stunning realization that perhaps he should have submitted to superior skill and tapped out.

The spectator, however, sees the match from a less emotionally garbled perspective and so the decision is broken down into more easily manageable terms: pain or submit. In the former choice, the contestant loses the match with some discomfort; in the latter he loses a match and perhaps loses a bit of face, but he gains the comfort of a correctly-fitted elbow and possibly a valuable learning experience. After all, the sole purpose of a submission technique is to end the match and, in the spirit of judo, grants one player the opportunity to end the match with elbow or consciousness intact to the mutual welfare and benefit of both players. Sure, one person loses the match, but no one is damaged and life can continue as usual, practice and all.

This is applicable when I think of times my will is opposed to God’s will. To the angelic host, who are possible spectators to my silly little match with my own flesh, the choice to submit is probably equally obvious. Submitting to God’s will effectively ends the match. I may not like what He has told me to do, but when I honestly submit, the match is over. When I struggle against Him, however, it is as senseless as willingly taking a dislocation. I gain nothing, the match still ends, and I find I am less capable of doing the task that I still must do. When I continue to struggle when I clearly should submit, it is a near-equivalent of losing and continuing to fight with a dislocated elbow. It is much less efficient and far less pleasant than if I simply submit. In submission, I retain consciousness and joint function and am able to perform the task I’m given, figuratively speaking. When I submit, there is no longer a battle between the new man and the old man. The match is over and God has won. I lose my will (or submit it), but I am able to get up and go on.

And so, in my odd little dreamstate, I saw match after match where I was, for reasons unknown, expected to fight with every ounce of strength, skill, and energy that I have. I found myself first up against C. My throw is missed, we grapple, and I find that I am in a place where I must choose to submit. Next on the mat is J. Unsurprisingly, I am put into another submission and struggle a bit but eventually tap out. Panting and ready for a break, I find that M. takes his place and I find myself again going all out on what seems a losing battle. It is, and a lesson is learned but now D., lower rank but with youth and fierce strength, is facing me and bowing. Again, after fighting with all I have, I am brought to submission and another lesson learned. Exhausted, I am ready to leave the mat… but now it is Sensei. I find myself embarrassingly quickly in another uncomfortable position and perhaps submitting is a little easier this time. Perhaps not. Hopefully, I am learning how quickly it behooves me to submit. For now, I cannot quite make out the face but an enormous shape looms… it couldn’t be that they expect me to fight D. M.?!?

Or is it my Goliath?

These are not real matches, of course, but they symbolize the increasingly large and difficult areas in which I am asked to submit in life. Each time, I am expected to submit more fully. Each time the task before me seems more monumental and difficult, and yet I am, again and again, compelled by Christ to submit to His will and give it my all. Each time, I feel a little more weary and a little less able. And yet, I am still compelled. Somehow, in some way, I must learn that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“… apart from Me, you can do nothing,” comes His whispered reminder.

And so I stand and fight again. . .

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.