Tasting the wine

“I know my job as a Christ follower is to give him from everything he’s given me. So here’s what I do; I sing in the praise band, help out with the youth group, attend a small group every week and of course, tithe. Every time I get a chance, I look for ways to serve people. I know this pleases God.”

I would celebrate, but I know that my friend is exhausted. The word she uses is “dry”. Despite her busyness, her spiritual life lacks a heart level vitality. She looks great on the outside and she knows it, but inside? Like I said, her word is “dry”.

Another friend of mine in a similar situation laid his calendar down before the Lord. “What belongs, what do I cut?” He was appalled at the response. His church community was as well.

“Wait? You’re not going to teach Bible study this fall? What’s going on? Are you all right?”

My friend smiled. “Never better.”

In truth, he grieved deeply the loss of so many wonderful activities. But here was the truly amazing thing; in the gaps, in the seemingly dead space of unscheduled evenings, my friend found Christ.

His story reminded me of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The most committed of us are nothing like the tenants who refused to give the master his due. We harvest the grapes, pack them into baskets and joyfully, dare I say, pridefully, hand them over to the master.

We miss the other part of the story. These tenants are not just laborers, they are co-laborers. They are meant to share in the harvest, to carry grapes home to their families and friends. They’re meant to make wine.

“Oh no, I don’t really need anything. I’m doing fine, thanks. That person, those people, the widow, the teenager, the new mom, they all need so much more than me. Here, take the harvest. I don’t need any wine. Thanks.

Ours is a false guilt that keeps us from receiving the gifts Christ has for us personally. And he does have gifts for us. Astonishingly, he has more for each one of us than we could possibly imagine.

Perhaps we would do well to take our hands out of our pockets, step forward and humbly receive.

Have you tasted the wine Christ has for you lately?

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Mold Masks and the Gospel

I remember once hearing a story from the aftermath of Katrina. A group of well-intentioned Christians went to one of the harder hit areas and set about distributing mold protection masks.

As you can imagine, the heat and humidity in the air created the perfect conditions for mold to flourish in the water saturated walls and ceilings of storm damaged homes. Homeowners and their helpers faced significant health dangers as they tried to recover what had been so violently ripped from their lives.

This group of Christians went door-to-door, masks one hand and the gospel in the other. Their action sounds, on the surface, like a perfect good deed.

But here’s what I heard on the radio; the Christians required the homeowners to listen to a presentation of the gospel before they could receive a mask.

Can you imagine the anger and frustration of these exhausted homeowners?

There is certainly a place for proclamation. There’s also a place for meeting the immediate need. Our job is to love our neighbors and that means starting with who they are and what they need.

Those Katrina ravaged neighbors were in crisis. Their lives had been ripped into chaos. They needed a hundred different kinds of help – not only material help like mold masks, but emotional help as well, like encouragement.

In a crisis, we’re called to help others with all the love, skill and resources Christ is given us.

Let’s imagine the story differently; a group of well-intentioned Christians went out to one of the harder hit areas and set about distributing mold protection masks. Maybe they wore T-shirts that said the name of their church or group. Maybe they didn’t.

They knocked on a door. “Hi. We’re so and so from such and such a group. We’re so sorry about your house. Don’t really know what to say, but we have some mold masks if you think you need him. They’re free. How many do you need?”

Let’s imagine they give the homeowner 2 or 3 masks. Then maybe they say something like, “We’re so sorry for your loss. If you’d like to take a moment, we’d be privileged to pray for you. If not, we’re happy to pray as we go to the next house. Somehow, God’s going to help you make it through.”

Does that sound any better?

Posted in Loving the Stranger | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

We’ve forgotten

The early Christian Gnostics and Muslim Sufis say that original sin is really original forgetfulness. That we have forgotten who we are, where we are from and to whom we belong.

I’m convinced, amnesia as part of our story. We are born in a state of forgetfulness. We labor under illusions.

You, my friend are a precious child of the living God. You are priceless, magnificently created, intricately formed and astoundingly beautiful. You are mystery, grace, vitality and majesty.

You were created in love and delight. You are uniquely jeweled. You are daughter and son of the Father of all the lights of the galaxy.

You are created to be eternal. You belong in a magnificent garden. You are meant to love and be loved, to dance and laugh, to shape and create.

Remember and dream. Remember and hope.

Turn away from the illusions, shake yourself awake and come home.

We haven’t just forgotten. We have both forgotten and wandered far, far away from our home. There, our beloved parents, the eternal ‘us’ who created us wait like the prodigal father, watching the road for his lost child.

Here’s the glory of the gospel; that God isn’t just waiting for us, he’s come to bring us home.

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Listening to the Scriptures

I love to study Scripture. When I first committed my life to Christ, I bought a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, a Haley’s Bible Dictionary and a Naves Topical Bible to go along with my wide margin New King James Study Bible. I did book studies and word studies, topical studies and thematic studies. I compared Scripture with Scripture and made charts and outlines. I borrowed commentaries, read them and added to my knowledge.

And let me tell you, my knowledge is good.

I also excelled at application. I developed a strong understanding of good and evil, of right and wrong, and of the behaviors and attitudes that please God most.

In time, my thoughts, attitudes and actions conformed well to the faith I embraced. And yet, something within me still felt a little like a stepchild in the Mosaic family of God.

‘Felt’. That’s a pernicious word. After all, we don’t walk by feelings, but by faith. So how could my feelings matter so much?

Eventually I figured it out. We may not walk by feelings, but we certainly live from our hearts or, perhaps, in my case, the pit of my stomach.

What a relief, when I learned to listen to the Holy Spirit within me, speaking to me – from the heart of God’s love to the heart of my stepchild sense of identity. I learned that when I hear the voice of God speaking His love soaked truth into my world wounded heart, I am transformed. I begin to breathe and dance and laugh and live.

Yes, I do still occasionally dip into my concordance, but my mornings with Scripture no longer qualify as Bible study. Instead, I quiet my thoughts, welcome the presence of Christ and listen to what he would reveal to me as I meditate on the words he’s given us.

Lately, I’ve been sitting in the upper room listening to Jesus. I can’t tell you how much I love him – all the way down to the pit of my stomach. His words wash over me bittersweet and strong. I look at my companions; my friends and family, I feel the warmth of deep love for each.

I know what comes next, but for now, I linger here in the comfort and beauty of his presence.

How do you listen?

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Going through the motions

There are times when we go through the motions, when the motions are all we have. These are the dark days, when joy is a distant memory and God seems utterly absent.

Sometimes, these days are accompanied by loss; a job taken away, a child in self-destruction, a partner pursuing intimacy in the arms of another. Every fiber of our being screams in protest and yet, we put one foot in front of the other and somehow, keep walking.

Sometimes, these dark days are infused with the dank smoke of disappointment; of hopes and dreams that lie rotting in the inner recesses of our hearts.

Sometimes, we shiver alone in a winter darkness that has descended without reason, without justification and without the possibility of correction.

And so, in this darkness we go through the motions because the motions are all we have. We force ourselves to get up on Sunday morning, dress and take our place among a smiling, laughing community of believers whose very delight assaults our senses. We sing tune-filled songs from our throats alone. We swallow the bread and wine aware that it’s tasteless in our mouths.

We groan and promise ourselves that we’ll never come back and yet we do.

Through the week, we read our Bibles. We articulate prayers. We tape Scripture promises all over our houses – promises we don’t believe, but think perhaps we might someday realize.

Maybe you’ve been here. Maybe you know someone who’s here, now. Maybe you see the darkness that cloaks them or perhaps, you see the hypocrisy of their motions, their practiced obedience, their hollow disciplines.

Watch your mouth. Watch your eyes and your attitudes. This is spiritual warfare and the warrior is a hero.

If we give up, abstain from church, reject the bread and wine, discard our Bibles and swallow our inarticulate prayers, we will still wake up. But when we do, we’ll meet a sunrise void of real warmth.

The empty motions; the obedient church attendance, the deadened participation, the hopeless Bible reading is the most intense spiritual warfare in which we will ever engage. The faithful are heroes. They drag one heavy foot after another. And someday, when the sun finally rises, they step again into the warm light of God’s presence.

How do you walk in the darkness?

Posted in Facing the Enemy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

When did celibate become a bad word?

I was talking to an ever-single friend of mine recently. The two of us, both evangelicals, were discussing the messages we receive from our community in response to our marital status. Here’s some snipits:

  1. Awkward silence – and we asked; are they guessing that we’re secretly sleeping with our boyfriends, want boyfriends to sleep with, or are actually gay?
  2. Awkward encouragement; “I’m sure God has a spouse for you. Just be open, but if it doesn’t happen, know that he’s with you.” – And we asked; why does she assume that God has a spouse for me or that I’m hoping he gives me one? And does he or she really imagine that I’m sad about not being married?
  3. Awkward condescension; “We grow in Christ through marriage and parenthood. [Backpedaling] oh, of course, I’m sure, perhaps, yes. I realize you’re not married. I’m sure you have a fine life.” And we asked; do you really think your experience of Christ in the context of your lifestyle is more valid than ours?
  4. Awkward assumption; [Usually silent] “Yeah, she’s kind of weird, too strong, too independent, too capable, too shy, too private – shaped a little toooooo much! And we asked; Really, have you looked at the diversity of wives lately?

These days, people are open about a wide range relationship statuses; this is my wife, I’m divorced, she’s my partner, he and I live together, I’m gay and hoping to get married…the gamut, really.

Except, we never hear, “I’ve chosen celibacy.”

Celibacy, quite simply is; “the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations.”

Celibacy isn’t just singleness. It implies a lifestyle choice.

I chose not to marry. Why? Well, none of your business, really. But if you must know; I wanted to live as fully devoted to Christ as I could with my time, attention, energy and focus.

My marital status isn’t just single. Single has the potential of being temporary. I’m single right now, but hoping to marry. I’m single right now, but if the right person comes along, I’ll marry.

For some, that’s true, but not for me. My marital status is celibate.

Can you hear that and respect it? Can you give others the freedom to say it?

Posted in Walking in Community | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Expectations and frustration

I wake up expecting to shower, make a cup of coffee and sit down for a few quiet moments with my Jesus. Instead, I find a broken pipe has saturated a mud-brick wall and the tank on the roof is still leaking. The leak must be stopped or the house will be destroyed. My quiet morning is shattered.

Here’s the thing about expectations; we often don’t know we have them until they are frustrated.

I have only one choice; with what attitude, I will react.

“But”, I complain, “I’m robbed of my time with you!” I spin through my day. Surely, this leaking pipe and melting wall can’t be anything more than a distraction. After all, it requires my attention and takes me away from the good works I had scheduled for the morning.

I call my helper. I demand immediate reaction. In truth, it’s necessary. This really is an emergency and responsibility requires response.

Should I bristle? Curse? Pitch a small fit?

Or do I take a deep breath? Rearrange my day and settle into the task before me?

I know that the only way for me to enjoy my morning is to release my expectations for a different morning and so I do. I stand in the middle of my melting house, recognize the things I won’t do, release them and embrace the things I will do.

In the prayer, I find peace. In the peace, I find joy. In the joy, I find community.

After the pause, the breath, and the prayer, I move quickly. I smile at my helper. We share our dismay and work the correction. The leak is stopped and we enjoyed the accomplishment. The mud is cleaned and we celebrate the still standing wall. The house will take days to dry, but it will dry and our lives will go on.

In the end, my disappointment and distraction has become a context for grace. I note the experience and pray that the next time I’m frustrated, I will remember to breathe, release my expectations and welcome reality.

I remind myself of the grace, the peace and the joy of living in the moment I have. I know there’s something good, something true and beautiful in each moment and hope against hope that I remember to stop, breathe, release and receive.

How do you find your way through frustration?

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