Monthly Archives: December 2013

Only Do Not Force Us Free

Restore to us, Preacher, the comfort of merit and demerit. Prove for us that there is at least something we can do, that we are still, at whatever dim recess of our nature, the masters of our relationships. Tell us, Prophet, that in spite of all our nights of losing, there will yet be one redeeming card of our very own to fill the inside straight we have so long and so earnestly tried to draw to. But do not preach us grace. It will not do to split the pot evenly at 4 a.m. and break out the Chivas Regal. We insist on being reckoned with. Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.

Lord, let your servants depart in the peace of their responsibility. If it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with some few shreds of self-respect to congratulate ourselves upon. But if that is too hard, leave us at least the consolation of our self-loathing. Only do not force us free. What have we ever done but try as best we could? How have we so hurt you, even by failing, that you should now turn on us and say that none of it makes any difference, not even our sacred guilt? We have played this game of yours, and it has cost us.

Where do you get off suggesting a drink at a time like this?

Robert Farrar Capon, from Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

I Can Quit

“Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.”

Tullian Tchividjian, from One Way Love

Death, Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleepe as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

- John Donne

You Wouldn’t Love Me If You Knew Me

I’m afraid of being known and so are you.

I talk a really big talk about vulnerability and transparency much of the time. I believe that a commitment to really knowing and being known by the people God has put in my life is critical to loving well. I genuinely believe all of that, but down deep … I’m terrified.

I know that if I had a speaker attached to the back of my head that blurted out the things I think as I go through my day, or if there was a TV screen on my back that displayed the things that play through my head on a daily basis … that I would have no friends. None. People would recoil in disgust. No one would want to mess with that level of “broken.”

We all “manage” how well we are known, even with those closest to us. There is no friend that you have with whom you are completely transparent. We pretend and pose as naturally as we breathe. It is what we do.

Why? Because we have come to believe a lie. We have bought the lie that we can either be fully known or fully loved, but we cannot be both.

I believe it for very good reasons. I know very well just how much of a failure I am. I know that I make a total mess of the most simple of demands to do good. I know that my heart is full of self-protecting, me-worshiping devotion to Rick. I know that I think, say, and do things hundreds of times a day that need forgiving. I know that my life is a vivid demonstration of man’s desperate need for the Cross. I know this. Even when I’m trying very hard to deny that it’s true, I know. The really terrifying reality is that I am also known. I’m found out, stripped naked, and laid bare. I have nowhere to hide. He knows me.

Psalm 139 says it gorgeously this way:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

He knows it all. All of it. Everything. Every secret thought. Everything I embarrass myself by letting slip before I’m able to take it captive. Every thing I’ve said behind another’s back. Every gesture and muttered word in traffic. Every image I’ve ever placed before my eyes. All of it. I am fully known.

And here is where the tragedy happens. I let the lie inform my thoughts about God, rather than allowing His revealed truth to speak to the lie. I carry the knowledge that it’s impossible to be both fully loved and fully known into my relationship with God. I know that He knows me. Thus, I assume that He cannot really love me. He must be angry. He must be distant and aloof. He must be sitting somewhere in a comfortable room, perhaps even unaware and unconcerned that I’ve been away. No way possible that He’s been sitting on the front porch every day, watching for my return. No way that could possibly be Him running down the road toward me all undignified-like.

The Cross shatters the lie. Jesus breaks it in pieces.

He says to me “I know all your ways and your thoughts. I know every word before it is on your tongue. Your frame was not hidden from me when I was making you in secret. I saw your unformed substance and have known every day I have ordained for you before the first one every happened.”

He also says to me “I have written your name on my hand, you are my beloved, and I have loved you with an everlasting love. Nothing can ever separate us. I will be with you and you will be with me forever.”

I’m slowly starting to believe Him. It’s changing everything.

 

I’m Not Pretending, I’m Practicing

I was talking to a friend of mine online last night and he was asking me how I was doing. I told him that things were hard but that I believed God was faithful and that the battle for me was in fighting to be satisfied in Christ for all the areas where the pain makes me want to give up.

He said something about that showing who I was and that I was an example to him. I realized I was being super “Jesusy”, and I tried to set him straight.

I told him that this was desperation for me. I told him I was at the bottom of things, that my life hurt. That the degree of rejection and agony I was feeling frequently made me really mad at God. I told him that I yell at God. I cry. I sob. I scream. But that at the end of the day I find that all I’ve done is walk a giant circle around Him, sometimes beating my fists in anger against His chest, sometimes holding onto Him like a terrified child, but always … always in a circle with Him in the middle. Because there’s no one else worth it. Because there’s nothing else that can take that level of abuse and desperate need. I run to God because that’s the only thing that works.

I believe that He allows us to fall into these times of discipline, where He lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. I know that’s where I am right now. I’m beginning to get to this place where I can see this as a mercy, Him saying “I won’t let you go farther down that road because I love you, because I’m putting limits on what access your enemy has to you.” This burden I carry is heavy, but it could be heavier. His mercy is new every morning, even when He is allowing me to go through excruciating pain. It is for a purpose, and that purpose has at its heart His eventual glory and my eventual good.

This is a gift, if I allow it to be.

A friend of mine last week posted a FB status that said “I’m not pretending, I’m practicing.” I’m still not 100% certain what it meant to her, but it means tons to me. In the past week, I’ve been accused of falseness, of hypocrisy and pretense. There are a couple of folk who thought I was posting about pain in my life in order to curry favor, to make people think more highly of me. I’m not sure what to say to that, except to use the words of my friend: “I’m not pretending, I’m practicing.”

When I talk about the beauty of the gospel in the middle of a divorce, when I write about truth and glory in the middle of my soul’s darkest night, when I quote scripture when everything in me wants to scream in pain … I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. I’m not pretending to have it together. I’m not pretending that I’m a “good Christian”. I’m not pretending that I don’t struggle everyday to believe, to hope, to trust.

I’m practicing. I’m practicing mercy instead of hoping for justice. I’m practicing grace instead of trusting the law. I’m practicing giving what I want to be given, saying what I want to hear, and doing what I want done to me. I’m practicing surrender instead of attempting control. I’m practicing being satisfied in Christ instead of trying to manage and provide for the wounds in my heart on my own. I’m practicing to be the man I hope God is turning me into. I keep hoping that enough practice will develop patterns. So far, the results are meager.

I’m in training. I don’t have this figured out. If you thought that’s what I was saying, I’m sorry. I don’t.

I am guilty and broken and prideful and sinful and lost.

Originally posted to my Facebook page, April 22, 2013.

Vulgar Grace

“Some have labeled my message one of “cheap grace.” In my younger days, their accusations were a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge. But I’m an old man now and I don’t care. My friend Michael Yaconelli used the phrase unfair grace, and I like that, but I have come across another I would like to leave you with. I believe Mike would like it; I know I do. I found it in the writings of an Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon He calls it vulgar grace.

“In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it- to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single exertion.: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed- no nothing… The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ- even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And, yes, it’s wild and outrageous and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News- the only permanently good news there is- and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.”

“My life is a witness to vulgar grace – a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten til five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck towards the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request- “Please, remember me”- and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”

Brennan Manning, from his memoirs