...give us this day our daily bread. *photo by Denise Helms 2011
-Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray
Sometimes it's difficult to read the gospels. We are separated from the way they were originally written by two thousand years of history, culture changes and language.
When I read the words of Christ, I try to imagine the sand in my sandals, the hot middle Eastern sun beating down on my head. I try to imagine the smells of camels and donkeys and sweating fishermen. I try to feel that same swell in my spirit that these men and women must have felt while wondering is this the one that was promised? Will He lead us to freedom?
I imagine the bravery it took to call out to this teacher, this amazing healer, "Master, teach us how to pray!"
And then he begins, his words are simple but sweet, the prayer is short but beautiful. It is poetic and intimate and practical at the same time.
There are only a few things I pray for on a daily basis, and usually it isn't bread. I like bread and everything but not everyday. But everyday I do pray for wisdom, creativity and that God be with me throughout my day.
I am not a Calvinist. I think I want to be, but I'm not. It would be great to say "oh, this was all planned out before I walked this Earth so I don't need to worry about anything, my choices don't matter because I believe in the sovereignty of God."
Please don't get me wrong, I believe that God is sovereign and wise and powerful and above all things. But if I know myself and I know that if I threw myself into Calvinism I would do nothing. Make no choices. Rather than working to make the world better I would wash my hands and say that this is God's will.
I used to pray for God's direction in my life and abandon myself to His will.
Now I pray everyday for wisdom. I believe that, like a good Father, He has taught me how to make good choices and then gives me the opportunity to make those choices. He has taught me to learn from mistakes and failures, to pick myself up when I fall down.
At the end of all things I believe I shall stand before Him and give account of my life. If I only did what He told me then I'd have nothing to be accountable for. But instead I'll tell Him "Thank you for the wisdom you gave me...I did my best."
I believe He'll smile, and like a good dad will hug me and whisper in my ear "That's all I wanted, did you have a good time?" and we will sit and tell each other stories like I did when my parents would pick me up from camp and I couldn't wait to tell them about my week.
*photo credit http://lorenaangell.com
I walked into the bookstore and breathed deeply. There's something about the mixture of smells in a bookstore that always moves me and turns the rusty cogs in my brain. The perfect mixture of coffee and paper, ink and ideas.
I made my way to the Christian Living section and ran my eyes over the numerous titles, checking off the different criteria in my head for my next read. Read it, I'll skip it, not for me, looks cheesy, looks boring, read it, cheesy, mega cheesy, for women, for teens, cheesy.
I began to notice a pattern in the subtitles and back covers. Nearly every author had claimed to have God figured out. Many had a five step plan to getting God to answer every prayer, or was a reaction to another trend with ideas that denounced other books or movements in the bloated Christian consumer culture. Many seemed to be saying "this is why so and so is wrong and I am right." Believe this, follow me, I know the TRUE Jesus.
Every author seemed so sure of the variation of truth that they were selling and every confident proclamation was leaving me further and further behind.
Personally, I often feel like I'm treading water in a sea of self doubt. I question every thought, every idea. I look to the Heavens and wonder what exactly does it mean to be human. I felt like every confident author smiling from their perfect pictures inside their dust jacket probably wouldn't like me. They had everything figured out while I search for truth in vast mystery of God.
I don't need nine steps to effectively following God. I just need to follow...as scary and fluid and messy and beautiful and ugly as that can be.
I am a man of many flaws. And I accept that. I even think God thinks I'm beautiful in my flawed flailings. I even have come to love my flaws and can see Jesus peeking through the cracks in my less than perfect surface.
If you refuse to show vulnerability, if you try to look perfect and polished and like you've got everything about life and God completely figured out then you've already lost me. If you present a perfect image and personality claiming to have cornered the market on truth, that you and your people are right and everyone else is wrong, then I'll feel manipulated and afraid of you. Afraid you'll rip open my scars and laugh because I'm not perfect like you pretend to be.
If you invite me to search and stumble and try and maybe fail and maybe succeed. If you invite me to search the heart of a loving and mysterious creator with you then I will go with you to the ends of the Earth. Arm in arm, we will go together.
In my dreams I am a writer. In the blessed "someday" of an unknown future I've written a book. But in an honest question to myself I ask "does the world need another Christian book?"
I don't have the answer yet, but I say to all listening: let's go together, let's search the surface of this thing called belief, let's find the seams of our faith and push beyond to deeper more frightening and beautiful truth. Do I have it all figured out? Not by a long shot, but I know the Father's heart is real and burns with a fiery passion that is both terrifying and awe-inspiring.
Let's build each other up. Let's unite over what we have in common rather than what separates us. Because what a hurting and desperate world needs more than anything else is love. What a hurting and desperate person needs more than anything else is love.
photo credit http://blastr.com
To those of you that run in similar circles as me, you might know that this past week was San Diego Comic con. One of the biggest sci-fi, fantasy and comic book conventions in America. Pretty much a celebration of all things that I got made fun of for liking when I was in high school.
As I followed the events and the posts online I started to notice a trend that broke my heart. Christian protestors. The creators of comics and performers that I admired were posting pictures of and mocking the Christians who had come to protest the "evils" of...I don't even know. Let's just assume idolatry.
Christians in the past years have gotten really good at protest and boycotts. If someone says something we don't like like then break out the signs.
Oh my dear Lord...the signs.
I honestly don't blame them for mocking...but I am sad.
This really and truly breaks my heart because I honestly don't see anything of the heart and character of Christ in the reactionary and frankly mean spirited behavior.
To be clear I'm sure some really do have their hearts in the right place, but without relationship and without context no one is going to take you or your (our) message with the gravity it deserves.
But the my biggest issue with this is that it does no good whatsoever. People don't change their lives because they read a glibly worded judgmental sign.
It's His kindness that leads us to repentance.
That is what saved me. His Kindness. His mercy. His grace.
I'm not angry, it just really hurts to see someone I love so dearly represented in a manner so different to what He has shown me.
When I am a wreck, He is solid. When I am a spoiled brat demanding He do things my way in my time, then He is patient. When I am mean spirited and miss it by a mile, then He is kind and gracious with me.
And His kindness leads me to repentance...to want to be a better man.
If we want to leave the world a better place than how we found it then we should be better people, kinder, more gracious...not louder. We should strive to be more like Him.
"Be looking for a package coming in the mail soon." My wife said to me one morning as we were getting ready for work.
"Oh, okay what did you order?" I asked because I'm a curious sort.
"Broken watches" she answered, with a smile lighting up her face.
When the package arrived she ripped into it like a kid on Christmas morning.
"Aren't they beautiful?" she asked me while showing off her prize.
I looked into the box but all I saw were old broken pocket watches.
She was clearly seeing something that I wasn't.
Over the next few days I heard music blasting from our office/creative space and the sounds of hammering. Finally she called me into the office to look at what she had made.
She had taken old, broken and dirty pocket watches and had made beautiful pieces of custom jewelry. She had created wearable art.
She had scrubbed years of rust and dirt off of the metal cogs and balances and had repurposed them into something beautiful.
She had seen art inside of the broken and transformed the useless into something different, something new.
When we first come to God it is so painfully obvious that we are broken. Humble and pitiful before a great and mighty God. He is Holy and just and we are...broken.But something amazing happens...He sees beauty in the broken. He looks past all of the dirt and rust and decay and sees art. He sees the art inside of us that we cannot see anymore.So He redeems us, repurposes us. He makes us into something new, something different. He repurposes us. A wise man once told me that it is important to be broken before God, but there is a word for something that stays broken: useless.Let God see the art inside of you. Things will change, not look like they did before, but that's okay. The watches no longer tell time, that has passed. Now they are something so new and so beautiful.And so as you and I are repurposed, made new, I say to you: See the beauty in the broken. See the art down deep inside of another's soul. See with the hyperopic eyes of Heaven. The world is full of beauty and beautiful people that can't see the art in themselves. Help them to see it, as God sees it in you.By the way, if you want you to own any of these one of a kind pieces, then check out my wife's shop. I might be biased, but I think she's amazing.http://www.etsy.com/shop/Etherealmovements
*I'm not calling anyone a jerk. I just think this is funny.
I have a co-worker who loves theology. Like, he really loves theology. He uses words like systematic theology and transubstantiation. Typically when he goes off on a tangent about the perfect gospel and how "we need to totally trust in the full work of the cross alone"I smile and nod and say "uh-huh" But truth be told I get lost. I'm more interested in having a relationship with God than understanding how it all works. I embrace the beautiful mystery of this Christ life inside of my chest. I love the poetry of peering through a glass darkly. But these definitions and expressions help my friend to love and depend on God in a way that's real to him, so I love that, but it leads to interesting conversations.Two of my favorite books written in the past ten years are Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller and Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. When discussing them with my friend He immediately made a face of disgust telling me "I don't care for those books because they reduce the Gospel to what you do."
This is something that has gone wrong with modern spirituality. We have divorced faith and what we do and when we dare to combine them we are accused of "reducing the gospel" or "trying to earn salvation." This is ridiculous.
I have a bigger problem when people reduce our vast and multifaceted faith into things we DON'T do. When the question "what is a Christian?" is answered with "someone who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't sleep around, doesn't this, doesn't that."We can't be defined by the negatives. That leaves a person empty and, to put it frankly, bored. Bored and boring.So the question comes: what do we do when we are given this amazing and undeserved grace? How are we supposed to respond when we are accepted by the
divine, called sons and daughters of the living God? We ARE called to DO something. We are called to bring Heaven to earth. To grab hold of paradise and pull it here. What does Heaven look like? It's a place with no lack. None hungry. No one on the outside looking in. Everyone is accepted, welcomed, loved, family. God is worshipped.That is what we are supposed to do. Work to make this side of Heaven look like the other. We are not saved by what we do. But it is how we respond.
I honestly believe that God loves to co-labor with His people. He loves to use our passion and imagination even though He does all the heavy lifting. What can you do with God today? Right now? I bet it's good!
What are you building?
It's a strange question, I know. But every one of us is building something with our lives.
Paul used this allegory in his first letter to the church in Corinth. He says we all must be careful to build on the foundation that is Christ. He also says one day our work will be tested as though with fire. If we use cheap building materials or if our work is shoddy it will be lost in the fire. We will be saved but as one that escaped through the flames.
I'm not a fire and brimstone guy, really I'm not, but you have to think about what you are building with these precious few years we have to walk the earth.
Are we trying to build a comfortable life for ourselves? Are we working jobs we hate in order to buy more stuff that we don't need in order to make our lives more comfortable? More secure?
Are we building our own kingdoms? Proudly waving the flag of our religion but trying to build ourselves up. Trying to make ourselves look great, talented, in control. The ones to turn to. As a creative this is a terribly dangerous trap. The trap of building our own kingdoms. The buzzword around the blogging community is "build your own platform" so people will listen to what you have to say. There is nothing wrong with that, but you have to check your motives. Check to see if your building your own kingdom...if you are it will not last.
Instead we should be building up the kingdom of God. Not just ourselves, not just our own churches but the entirety of the kingdom.
I have a friend who holds a very important position at a local ministry. The ministry is very far reaching and does great things for the poor in the local communities. I had lunch with him last week and he poured out frustrations and joys of working in such a field. We joked with each other and listened to each other's aggravations of the past few weeks when he said something remarkable to me.
"I just...I don't want this ministry to be be huge and important and well respected, y'know?"
"I really don't." I confided.
"No, it'll be great, but what I mean is that I want to build the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this ministry. My dream is that the local churches pour so much into the poor communities and we just help, we just teach and equip."
What's beautiful about my friend's dream is that he wants to reach across the denominational divides. He dreams of reaching across our theological differences and build the kingdom of God. And that is what will last. That is what will stand long after we are gone. That is what will withstand the fire and tower long into eternity.
What are you building with your life? Where do your dreams lead you? What is the legacy left behind? It's never too late. I promise you.
*photo Credit http://superstock.com
My wife have this recurring joke about relationships. We call it "picking a car fight."
A car fight happens when a couple is at a party or some public gathering and one half of the couple embarasses the other, or snaps at them. The couple goes through the rest of the public gathering with a tension building between them. Once the couple gets into their car and once they are on their way the tension erupts where neither can escape. This is universal. Every couple I know has experienced a car fights. Part of the game my wife and I play at parties is "spot the upcoming car fight". A man telling an embarrassing story about his wife. Check, that's going to be a car fight. Someone snaps at their spouse over an imagined slight. Check, that's going to be a car fight.
There's something about a long drive somewhere, when you don't have media blasting to distract you, or other people to put on a happy show for that leaves nothing but the raw emotion. Everything that has been simmering comes boiling over.
What about your relationship with God? What about when you're disappointed with Him? I know a "good Christian" isn't supposed talk about these things. But this is life. When He decides to remain silent for a season to teach you patience when you desperately need an answer. When He says "no" to something you feel like you need. When friends and family seem to turn their backs and you feel like God is silent too. What then?
About a month ago I had what can only be a car fight with God. So far 2013 had been a terrifically difficult year for my wife and I, financially, spiritually, with work, losing loved ones. You name it, it had been a struggle. And then the capper: my house flooded when we were on vacation. That morning I had met with a contractor before work to get an estimate on the first thing I needed to do before rebuilding walls, laying carpet. I need to waterproof the basement. I had prayed and hoped and begged for something reasonable. The estimate came in on a couple of thousand more than what the insurance had paid. Before doing anything else I was in the negative.
I thanked the contractor for his time. Told him I couldn't afford it at the moment and began my drive to work. While there in the car, I finally let all of the building frustrations of the past year out towards God. The straw had broken the camel's back. I told Him I felt let down, I felt abandoned. Like I had put my trust in Him and been put to shame. My tone became accusatory and angry. Frustrated tears streamed down my face and for the first time in a lifetime of belief I emptied my heart of every frustration, every disappointment, every time I had felt like He had let me down. I was no longer sweeping it under the rug and saying "Your will be done" and swallowing my disappointment.
I talked and talked until I had run out of words. His gentle response still floors me to this day. That quiet, still small voice said to me...
"Son, now I know that you truly love me."
I didn't just pack up and walk about away, I didn't ignore my hurts. But like one in a relationship with someone I truly love I had a car fight. I expressed every ugly and honest part of me. And God loved me anyway...and knew that I loved Him.
The man that the Bible calls "the man after God's own heart" was so brutally honest with his disappointments with God when he wrote the Psalms. That is what that moment was for me. A Psalm. A brutally ugly moment of honesty followed with "still you are my God and I will follow you."
I encourage you, have a real and honest relationship with God. Not just giving Him your best, but giving Him your worst as well. Because He wants all of you, honest and true. Write a psalm, give Him what you have been hiding from both Him and yourself. That moment was so healing for me and I'm betting it would be healing for you too.
*photo credit http://livebyquotes.com
There is a balancing act to every Christian's life. It's the balance of being called to "clothe yourself in humility" and the call to greatness.
The Bible says (in a couple of places) that God draws near to the humble but resists the proud.
And who could blame Him really? A truly humble person is so much better to hang out with. They are more interested in what the other person has to say. A humble person is comfortable in their own skin. In fact, they're not thinking about themselves at all, much less worrying about themselves.
There's a lie that tells us that humility is having a low opinion of oneself. That humble people hate themselves. The lie screams that to be humble you have to tell yourself "I'm no good. I'm worthless. I've failed again. Why would God ever love a sinner like me?"
I know this because I've believed the lie for more years than I care to admit. I thought to be a good Christian I had to crucify myself. Tell myself how terrible I was, how much of a failure I was, how much I hated myself.
These are lies that I believed and this is NOT humility.
We have a tendency to overcomplicate things here on this side of the paper sky. We hold ourselves to a perfect standard and destroy ourselves when we fail, but Jesus has already borne our sins on the cross. To try to force perfection within ourselves is like telling Christ "thanks for dying and everything, but I don't need it. I got this." Accept yourself, warts and all because Christ already has.
I know I have faults, I know I mess up, but God loves me as I am. Not some perfect future version of myself. Not my potential. But He loves and died for who I am. Right now.
If God can accept me as I am, then so can I. When I fail, I pick myself up and try to do better next time. No more laying face first to the earth, wallowing in my own self hatred.
That being said, I say a person can be humble and believe that they have greatness inside of them. No one ever achieved greatness until they believed it first.
In Donald Miller's Storyline he shares a story that resonates this fact.
"Years ago I read a book by Dwight Eisenhower in which he talked about his mother's belief that every child should be raised to understand if they didn't exist their family would fall apart. Imagine that for a second. Imagine a world in which every person understood they were needed in the world, that they could be the solution to a problem. Eisenhower is best known for being President, but before he was President he led troops in World War II, uniting the allies in the fight against Hitler. And why? It's likely because he was raised to believe the world needed him and even expected something from him."
I believe there is greatness inside of me, that I am meant for great things. But more importantly there is greatness inside of YOU! I believe YOU are meant for great things. The world needs you.
An "awe shucks" attitude and self hatred won't get us there. Is there a story burning inside of you? A business? An idea for ministry that you are afraid to try because you think it's too big only for others? Do it! Seriously! There is a huge possibility that only you can.
Don't believe the lies. Humility is simply caring more about others, not caring less about yourself. Mine the gold from your soul. Go and be great. Please. The world needs you...really. I'll go with you.
Creative thinking...don't be afraid.
I have a friend that is a filmmaker. He isn't famous. He hasn't made anything for a studio, but once every year or so he pours himself into a script. Imagining every detail, every shot, every lighting cue...and then...he makes it.
He is a filmmaker.
Once a week or so we get together in one our favorite coffee shops in the city to discuss stories, ideas, unknot tricky plot points and dream.
He is convinced that the world is split into two different kinds of people. Creatives and non-creatives. He says that creative people create because they have to. They aren't given a choice. They are just being who they are.
I think everyone is creative. I just think people that are considered "non-creative" simply haven't found their creative outlet. Or they are afraid to try.I think everyone is creative because we were formed in the image of God. God is the most creative force in all of existence. He CREATED existence. Everything you see, feel, hear, taste and touch is something He dreamed up. He designed chords note by note, He created melody and harmony. He paints with every color. His
palette is endless. He sculpted the complex curves of the mountains, He painted the breathtaking nebulas that we can only now photograph.And we were created in His image.
So, if we are all creative then why does it seem like only a chosen few are creating? It's because it IS scary to try. It's so much safer to stay put not move. If I never try I'll never fail.
Here's the thing about Dreaming. When me and my filmmaker friend dream, we never dream about the results. We don't hope that one day he'll be a famous director, or that'll I'll have a book that's a bestseller.
We dream about the work. We imagine the movies, the stories, the books. We hope for the best but don't get bogged down worrying whether others will like it or get it. Just the creative expression.
What have you wanted to do? Try it! Make the work the reward. The freeing feeling of unabashed creativity. That's when I feel the most like myself. After I've written. After my Art has washed from my soul the dust of everyday life.
You are a creative. Now go and do.
**photo credit http://thinkjarcollective.com