"It's Not Fair!!"

I cannot count how many times my boys have protested something by saying that my request or command was unfair. Having to go to bed at a reasonable hour, having to leave a game boy at home or in the car rather than keeping it "in my pocket? I promise I won't take it out, or go in the sand, or get it wet!" And, of course, a million other daily items provoke the response "But Mom! It's not fair!"

And I'm glad! I hope they never lose the idea that those in authority should do what is fair, and that it benefits them to appeal to an ideal of fairness, and that there is such an ideal to appeal to!

I consider it just as much my job to cultivate those three concepts as it is to form and shape their initial understanding of fairness, and their initial understanding of authority. I cannot think of any task that impacts their relationships with God and with others more than this central task of mine in raising them. I will send them into adulthood either with a set of views that allows them to strive toward harmony with God and others out of a healthy view of reality, or will send them into adulthood with a distortion that either bows unquestioningly to authority or else flaunts authority out of a deeply ingrained lack of respect . . . and will lead them to assume whatever authority life brings to them with either a spirit that uses those "under them" or with a spirit that submits their authority to God's authority and that stewards for Him all authority that He gives them.

Our churches are full of leaders that misuse authority and our cities are full of people who won't go near a church -- or at least won't go near a church like the one they grew up in -- because they have an understanding of justice that spotlights the church as a place of control and injustice rather than as a place of grace and justice.

Justice is always based on truth . . . as best as we can know it as we all put our perceptions together. We can know truth well enough to create environments in our communities of faith that do reflect justice and grace. The Holy Spirit loves to answer our prayers for just that!

Lies and distortions of the truth to further the agenda of anyone (or to further the ideology that one or all of us believe to be true) never produce justice. They don't produce love or grace, either. One of the basic tenets in a pursuit of a just community must be a commitment to listen to each other when one of us challenges the status quo, or we do move away from truth into a world that doesn't see the perspective of the people in the margins.

So, who today am I writing off? Who has blown it so badly in how they lived their life that I don't have to listen to their perspective? Who is so uncomfortable for me to be around that I may have to tolerate them in worship but I certainly don't have to be friends with them?

Justice, grace, mercy, and the agape love that should mark my home as a Christian home and my life as a Christian life are measured in the little things just as much as in the big things. The bottom line really is "how do I treat the people in my home, and how do I allow them to treat each other?" And, beyond that, who are the people I let into my home and my life? Do I keep it closed to anyone that makes me uncomfortable because they don't fit my ideals or just because I don't really like them?

Justice, grace, mercy, and the agape love that should mark our church as a Christian church and each little social group as truly a group of Jesus' followers are also measured in the little things just as much as in the big things. The bottom line really is "how do we treat each other, and how do we respond to how everyone else treats each other?" And, beyond that, who are the people we let really move into things and be in the middle of what's going on in our church? Do we involve ourselves socially with people that don't share our preferred ways of living and relating? Do we go beyond politeness to those who make us feel uncomfortable or who lack an understanding of our concept of "basic social skills"? Do we form real relationships -- not just "ministry relationships" but real social friendships -- with people other than the ones that already saturate our lives?

Do we give lip-service to Jesus' command that we keep on forgiving forever -- "not seven times, but seventy times seven" -- but only apply it to people we choose to be in relationships with, and give fake forgiveness to others, but show reality by writing them off? "After all, I can't be friends with everyone, can I?"

If we, as Evangelical Christians, have a real commitment to justice, truth, agape love, grace, mercy -- that is, if we have a real commitment to Jesus' commitments -- we will not steward our time and friendships by the things that make those choices for unbelievers in our culture. We also won't make those choices based on comfort, or based on legalism, or based on laziness. We will actively work at real friendships -- yes, social relationships! -- with people that we wouldn't naturally choose as friends. We will let the Holy Spirit shepherd our social lives. "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" will translate to transforming friendships with people that we didn't like at first, or maybe even 10 or 20 years into the friendship.

Anything else is injustice. "It's not fair!" And we each have the same responsibilities to the CHURCH and to the world that I have to my children and to my home. It is central to being a follower of Jesus.

So, this week, what is God calling you to remove from your calendar and task list so that you make room for Him? And which person that you don't really like but that wants some of your time -- social time, not "ministry time" -- is He asking you to go to lunch with, or invite over to your house, or accept the invitation to go to his or her house?

Or were you really serious about being a follower of Jesus after all, if He's going to mess around there, with your social life? After all, "it's not fair!" that your faith should interfere with your choices about who to spend time with and about who to allow into your home and into your intimate circles of friends. That's personal, isn't it?

Or is it?


"Unconditional High Regard"

I have also been thinking a lot about trust recently. In our relationships, we want to be able to trust that we are heard, as I wrote in my last post. We also want to trust that we won't have intimate parts of who we are exposed to anyone other than the people we confide in. (We need to be able to trust that our privacy will be fully respected and the relationship will be confidential if there is to be any degree of emotional intimacy.) Thirdly, we want to trust that we will not be harmed or betrayed or rejected by those to whom we open ourselves emotionally. Finally -- and perhaps most significantly -- we want to trust that we will not be judged.

This last point of trust is something that I understood from therapeutic relationships -- that a healing relationship would build trust that the client could confide anything and expose anything and still be met with "unconditional high regard" -- but it has taken me a lot longer to translate that to a basic requirement for my other relationships. This has been one of the ways that I have most violated my friends and family, I am afraid!

My analytical nature judges everything! I judge what we think, what we believe, and what we do against my understanding of truth, usefulness, effectiveness, kindness, etc . . . and I don't think that analysis is wrong. In some ways, I think it is what God made me to be and do!

However, my friends and family don't deserve to be cut into pieces by my analytical mental knife, with my primary value whatever "truth" I can derive, and with no regard shown in my words or actions for their comfort . . . . let alone for their ability to trust in my "unconditional high regard" of them as people who are just as effective as disciples of Jesus as am I!

So this is a post of public repentance . . .

I will seek to respond to each one that I love and to each relationship with which I am entrusted with this refection of God's love: I will have a greater concern for kindness and connection than for analysis and a deeper understanding of truth.

I am so glad that God is like that! While I was totally lost in sin He valued me -- maintained unconditional high regard for me -- enough to die for me.

That example and the power of His Spirit ought to change my callousness here. Meanwhile, feel free to point out the ways I fail so that I can treat you more kindly!

And, please forgive me!

Listening and Being Heard

As a "P.S." on my post on ethics and spiritual formation . . .

I have been thinking about dialogue, and about how some people act annoyed with dialogue when they would rather shut the other person out of a discussion . . . and just maintain the status quo, or maintain their own power.

I have also been thinking a lot about "relationship", and about people on the one hand bemoaning how hard it is to have authentic and honest and engaged relationships and people on the other hand bemoaning their need for a world where they get some privacy and rest from the demands of others upon them, and how impossible that is for them to find.

And a simple dynamic of conversation occurs to me: One speaks. The other reflects back what he or she heard until the first speaker affirms that he or she thinks the second actually understood what was being said. And then they switch, and the listener becomes the speaker, and the first speaker becomes the listener, and the speaker has the satisfaction himself or herself of speaking the truth as he or she sees it, and hearing the listener paraphrase it back until the speaker is satisfied that the listener got the point.

Relationship takes the time and opportunity and practice of just that, and exactly that. If I am angry at the speaker and don't let her know (in some way that she can actually hear) that I have actually understood what she was saying, she will follow me around repeating herself, or else she will disengage and go elsewhere for relationship, or perhaps alternate the two -- depending upon, most likely, her perception of my power to offer some sort of solution to whatever she was saying. And if I hear her and make her feel heard, but then refuse to share anything of myself in return, the best that will result is a dependent sick relationship that will exhaust us both eventually, and the worst is that she will go elsewhere for relationship that is mutual.

So if I want real relationships, I will invest time, attention, good communication skills, and a degree of transparency. If I am unable or unwilling to do all those things, I will either acquire the skills and willingness to do all those things, or I need to give up on the rhetoric that I actually want engaged relationships.

Engaged relationships cost a lot. They not only cost all that I listed in my last paragraph, but they do cost me myself ultimately. Because, in a truly engaged and honest relationship, I will change. I will die to who I was yesterday, and become who I will be tomorrow . . . as I deal today with the truth of your perceptions and needs and my perceptions and needs and the new vision of reality that can only come to me through real relationship. What a cost!

But then, what is the cost of hiding from that pain and cost?

Spiritual Formation

I wrote in an earlier post this spring that I have been reading books on ethics. I have, and still am. It's been interesting! I started out with a contempt for the "liberals", and most especially for "feminist theology", and loved what I read from evangelicals -- especially those most interested in an ethic of service. (I still retain a bit of that . . . for instance, I think the virgin birth of Christ is just a fact about how God did things in becoming a man Who was God Incarnate, and am alternately annoyed and horrified by anyone who articulates a position that that is an outmoded belief that reflects our misclassification of intercourse as an innately sinful act. I think they are revealing a lot more about their "issues" than about TRUTH that we are all supposedly pursuing. And I am still thrilled with an understanding of ethics that is focused on all the Jesus articulated as "Kingdom Values.") But I no longer feel contempt for the thoughtful reflections of any of those who cared enough to write a book on Christian ethics -- nor do I feel unadulterated awe and respect. I have arrived at a position that values respectful listening to all sides about "the way things work", and then a turning to Jesus for the two things I need to actually act on: 1) "what choices will I make today?" and 2) "how will I respond to the choices that others make?"

The second question is one that the liberal voices have gifted me with new insight. Jesus was clear about judging others, and clear about forgiving others. The ethical dilemmas are complex enough -- and the cultural and social and psychological frameworks behind them are complex enough -- that I no longer have much respect for Evangelicals who put more energy into condemning the behavior of others and trying to restrict it when it is not a clear case of cruelty or injustice than they do into condemning and confronting and intervening in all the places where there is clearly injustice and cruelty. We only have so much in terms of resources and energy, and commit sin of our own when we ignore the obvious calls to service and protection and intervention to be busy about things that are much more ambiguous.

The first question is one on which all the speakers cast fresh light. It is very interesting to me that, although they word it differently, even the liberal writers view all our choices and actions each day as choices and actions of spiritual formation. I do not only form myself by the ways I listen to God and follow after Him in the spiritual disciplines, but I also am formed by each choice of laziness or selfishness or even deliberate blindness to the TRUTH. And all camps acknowledge that our function as salt to the rest of the world is only as effective as the sum of these choices.

So each day for each individual is a day of significance! My salvation (my "ticket to heaven"?) is based on what Christ did and what the Holy Spirit does each day, but real salvation ("discipleship"?) is something that is lived in freedom each day but with freedom steeped in the understanding of the reality of who I am, who you are, and Who He is. I have spent enough time reading theologians on the far right to distance myself from their focus on "being right" and condemning others without even really listening to them before they write them off. I have spent enough time reading theologians on the far left to affirm once again that my whole faith rests on the belief that Jesus really came as the scriptures claim He did and lived and died and was resurrected as they claim He did, and that any other philosophy or ethic has no power to motivate me or to change me. A liberal ethic can't make me "better" or satisfy my hungers any more than can the self-righteousness of the conservative theologians who think they'll go to heaven by being the ones who are right and exposing the error of the rest of us.

We are all so hungry for spiritual reality! That is why the book The Secret has the appeal it has! It points us to a world where human beings are not the gnostic "souls housed in a body they will soon shed" that some of us believe and also not the "just a body coursing with chemicals" that modern materialistic philosophy suggests. It points us to a world where human beings are embodied spiritual powers, and intuitively that rings true for many of us. See my earlier post on this book to see my criticism of it, but my praise of it is that it hits upon the truth we all really know: there is a spiritual reality that our choices and thoughts affect.

The best things I have read on ethics point back to knowing Jesus and following Him each day. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster remain my favorites here. But others point to that same set of kingdom values, and there is value in reading about them from different points of view and in different voices. We find a new ability to see Jesus clearly when we cease to deify our own evangelical culture or our own personal comfort zones and are willing to listen to a view of life and a set of experiences that challenges our beliefs about how things work.

Jesus and the writers of the Epistles were all clear that the highest value for our ethic is Agape Love. How much of that love penetrates my response to those who make choices that I think violate good ethics? And how much of that love informs my own choices today in my relationships and activities?

I think we are miserably deficient in any evidence of real Agape in most of what we articulate and in most of what we spend our time and energy upon. And, of course, we are told clearly the remedy to this! It is not to muster up more Agape out of our insides someplace and "do better". It is in abiding with Jesus daily and letting Him "love on us" -- even as screwed up as we each are -- and learning from Him what real Agape looks like, and then doing the same in our relationships with others.

It takes strength and power to extend real Agape, and none of us has that intrinsically. But the power that flows through any of us can be remarkable.

So let's give up wasting energy on "being good" and "teaching others to be good", as if that was what the abundant life was! Let's refuse to put energy there, and instead put energy into extending ourselves as His hands of healing and grace.

And that takes letting Him be the brain and the heart.


Manna For Today

Exodus 16:4-36 "Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?" And Moses said, "When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him, what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord." Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, "Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.' " And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, "At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.' "
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: "Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.' " The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, "Let no one leave any of it over until morning." But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, "This is what the Lord has commanded: "Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.' " So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none." On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day." So the people rested on the seventh day. The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, "This is what the Lord has commanded: "Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.' " And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations." As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 An omer is a tenth of an ephah."

Deuteronomy 8:1-9 "This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper."

Matthew 6:11 "Give us this day our daily bread."

"Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." This is the quote that Jesus quoted Satan when he was tempted to provide for His own needs by His own power. I had never really paid attention to where He got the quote, though. I find it interesting to find that it was from the passage in Deuteronomy where Moses is exhorting Israel to remember their God and their story, and to follow Him. He reminds them that they do not need to provide for their own needs, but rather follow God, and He will provide for their needs, as He did with manna in the wilderness.

Jesus tells us to pray for God to provide for our needs -- our daily needs. And we are to be thankful for what is provided, and not take it for granted. We are to enjoy it fully. But we are not to hoard it -- either for tomorrow out of a desire to provide for tomorrow, or by keeping more than our share out of a desire to make sure we have an abundance. Each Israelite had enough for today, and enough for himself and his family . . . and if he kept more than his family needed, it was just enough, and if he kept it for the next day, it was no good that next day. And God made clear how much this was a supernatural act on His part and not just a natural property by preserving the food so that it was good the next day so that they could honor the Sabbath, and by not providing new manna on the ground to gather on the Sabbath.

This is a story of our Real God working in the lives of real people, and He is the same today. We are given what we need for today. If we keep more than we can use, we get no blessing or enjoyment from it. If we try to provide for tomorrow, we find out Who is God, and that we cannot provide for our own tomorrows. He has no interest in creating self-sufficient individuals and communities that He has taught how to live an "abundant life" without His daily intervention.

Now, this is not to negate our responsibility to obey and serve, including a responsibility to exercise wisdom and good stewardship of our resources. We also have the parable of the talents, and are called to invest our Master's talents for His increase according to His command. That is a far cry from figuring out how to take what He has given us and provide for our own needs and our own future apart from daily relationship with Him.

So, today I will ask God to give me everything I need this day to enjoy Him and life, and everything I need to be the person He is calling me to be today and to become the person He is growing me into. Today I will ask God for everything I need to do what He is calling me to do and to serve Him and others as He desires to use me.

Today I will seek to use and enjoy all that He gives me. And I will remember that it comes from Him, and that it is given to me for His purposes. I will remember not to slide into a worship of any of the good things He gives me, and to hold them lightly, as given just for today.

Thank you, Triune God, for Your provision for this day! And thank you most of all for your provision for me of Your Holy Spirit indwelling and healing and empowering me, of your Son Who offers me the best view of the Father that I am capable of understanding and Who intercedes for me with the Father, and for the Father Who loves me enough to have given me everything needed to know Him and enjoy Him forever!


Squirming out of His Embrace?

John 15:1-17 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. "

"Abide in my love". Wow! And "ouch!"

I have yet to learn how to simply feel and be, because I am so wired to see all emotions as the fuel to action:

Anger: figure out the problem and what it would take to fix it, and pray and communicate to that end.

Love: figure out how to show my emotions in real ways that will communicate that love to the object of my love.

Passion for something good: plan and act toward the goals the passion points toward.

Frustration: see the response to anger above.

Jealousy: confess it to God and seek to identify the needs in me it represents and to refocus my energy toward the best ways to meet those needs.

Covetousness: see above.

Sexual lust: if it is toward my husband, you can finish the sentence yourself . . . and if it isn't, confess it and ask God to heal it and redirect it.

Depression: see my post on July 4, 2007.

Grief and despair: cry out to God in complaint and let Him help me walk through it to acceptance.

Boredom: hmmm . . . . that's actually one I'm not sure I've ever experienced.

Competitiveness and ambition: refocus myself on our Triune God and His purposes through His people and in His time.

And I am old enough to have an action plan for all the other emotions you can think of as well . . .

But what if I am called to simply feel an emotion or set of emotions, and not respond with some action designed to "work through it" or dissipate it or just make it go away? Like feeling God's love for me? And living in that feeling?

I am reminded of Moses being hid from the full glory of God in the crevice of the mountain as God's glory passed by him . . .

How much of God can I stand?

How much of the abundant life can I stand?

More and more it seems to me that the addictions and sins of those who don't claim to be following Jesus are not really any worse than all the rules and actions of those of us who do claim to be Christ Followers. Am I -- are you -- doing my best to get God out of my face so that I can live life the way I feel most comfortable? A little quiet time, a little worship, a little service, a little discipleship . . . "now will you leave me alone a little and just let me enjoy life, please?" And all the actions I outlined above in response to the full range of emotions that life brings . . . they are designed to dumb it all down -- to let me live in control of my own experience, not at the mercy of God's attempt to love me.

So, how much of the abundant life can I stand? Can I stand to actually abide in His love continually? Or do I need to squirm out of it to recover from the intensity because I experience it as painful rather than as what life is supposed to be?

More and more, I am learning to surrender to that love. I am learning to live this moment in that full intensity, and be "out of control" without being too scared . . .

Maybe I'll even be able to stand an eternal life in a new heaven and new earth, in my resurrected body, with all of you who are there too, and eternally living in His presence . . .

And maybe hell is where I'd flee if I couldn't, and is a place of relief for those who never could stand to abide in His love.



I have a friend that is a delight to me consistently, and a friendship with her that is basically "maintenance-free". She makes me laugh more than anyone in my life other than my own sister, and she just "happens to call" when I am angry or when I am crying over something. She lets me talk for years (literally years) about whatever inner mess I am trying to untangle, but she also maintains silence and respect for my privacy over some messes that I am sure she sees -- at least intuitively -- but that I do not wish to discuss with her. We disagree sharply on some parts of life, and agree on others . . . but we love and respect each other, and we need each other. It is mutual.

There are times where we talk daily, and times where we forget each other for a week or two. There are times when one of us has to chase the other down for days in order to connect. There are times when each of us have other people in our lives that we prefer to spend time with, and there is never a time when our friendship with each other would be enough to satisfy all of the different needs and interests we each have. She is the only friend I have that consistently challenges me intellectually. She is also the only friend I have that doesn't read my blog because she has better things to do! (She figures she'd rather hear it from me, I think . . . and for the most part, she already did, before I wrote it down.)

I cannot imagine life without her! But when I met her I had no idea of the connection we'd develop. There was no initial intuitive connection or attraction that I was aware of, nor was there any sense of premonition. It took us several years of being acquaintances and attending some of the same functions before we bridged the wall of social distance and nice "chit-chat" to move into a beginning friendship. That is strange to me, because all of my other close friends are people to whom I was initially attracted, and had the strong sense that I would end up being close to them.

Then she chased a friendship with me! (That is also strange, because I am usually the one who chooses my friends and pursues them, or else there is a mutual choice and pursuit.) My perception of those first few months of deepening friendship was that I just had to keep being nice enough so she didn't feel turned away, and she was back after contact and time with me. I was actually not all that interested at first, but just decided to be nice instead of rude . . .

And here we are, some years later, and I cannot imagine life without her!

She no longer has to chase me, as I said at the beginning of this musing . . . we take turns. (And if there is any imbalance in interest, I would guess right now that I'm more invested in the friendship than she is, and not the other way around.) And she is actually the most compelling of my friends to me these days, because I know her well enough to know how amazing she really is on every level -- both in how she thinks and in how she lives it out.

I cannot imagine that we would ever not be friends, no matter what happened. I cannot think of anything she could do that would make me walk away, and have the same sense of her commitment to me, no matter what. I also do not feel engulfed by her or possessed by her, and I believe she feels the same freedom with me. We don't need to cling or to run away . . . we don't need to pay attention to each other when we don't feel like it, or hide the need for each other when one of us feels the need to connect. We love in freedom, trusting the other's love, but not being controlled or possessed by it . . .

So this is phileo -- that form of love between friends that has none of the overlay of sexuality found in romantic relationships and none of the underpinning of forced commitment found in family relationships. C.S. Lewis wrote very eloquently on it in The Four Loves, and it is one of the sweetest things I know in this life. We are companions and partners and confidantes and sisters. We are true friends.

God has given many good things to the people He has created! Our Savior, the Holy Spirit in us and among us, the Church, the majesty and beauty and abundance of the world we inhabit, our sexuality, romantic love, our parents, our children, our personal characteristics and gifts . . .

But today I am grateful for the mystery of simple friendship! Simple, uncomplicated, undramatic friendship . . . sweet joy and sweet refuge and sweet relief!


Coping With Anything

I got up early to organize and plan . . . and ended up skipping my quiet time until late because I was so very into my planning mode. The reason I spend so much time here talking about learning to live intuitively and living by clinging to Jesus rather than by following a set of rules is that my wonderful parents are such disciplined and orderly people and their plans and disciplines have given them an awful lot of what I want out of life. I would do well to do most of it just as they did and do. And so I haven't given up on any of what they do, but rather am trying to integrate what they do into a life centered around Jesus. Often that works. Sometimes it doesn't. But it is my natural way of coping: analyzing and planning and then mustering up the discipline to work that plan.

I finished my planning with some quiet time, and then a nap, and then more quiet time (I had gotten up very early, so this was all prior to my family stirring for the day), and concluded my personal time with the decision to approach this day as it comes, without even a tentative plan in mind. That's pretty radical for me . . . even scary.

I think the primary problem with my natural way of coping is that it isn't just a way to be obedient and control what God gives me to control. It has been a way of trying to control God, and of trying to control parts of my world that He is in control of, but that I am not meant to control. (People, for instance!)

There is a big difference between either being quiet before my Maker and allowing Him to teach me and direct me or my natural approach of trying to analyze my choices myself and decide what will give me the best results -- however I define "best results", even if I define it as "what will most honor God". What most honors God, and what will most satisfy, is indeed KNOWING HIM, and I get there best by listening, not by analyzing.

We have grown up in an age that deifies the rational mind, and glorifies our ability to make our own choices and take the consequences of those choices. We may not be able to "have our cake and eat it too", but as long as we're willing to deal with reality, we can do what we choose to do and enjoy the fruit of our own choices. Or so we think.

I think the two roots of our cultural and personal depressions are here: 1) we ignore the reality of how much is out of our control, even if we are perfect in our analysis of reality and choose the right things and execute our plans with discipline and talent -- and so are thrown into depression by the places that reality intrudes into our distorted world-view of self-sufficient individuality, and/or 2) we ignore that lasting contentment and satisfaction is found in our healthy relationships -- first with God and then with others -- and are thrown into depression when we begin to understand the relational cost of the choices we have made without considering the primacy of relationships over achievement or possessions or even identity.

As Evangelicals we haven't really avoided either of these sources of depression, but just spun them to fit our religious sensibilities. It is much easier to market an idea of the Kingdom that requires me to bring about God's purposes, and not me rooted in relationship to God and to others as part of the BODY that is His Church in the world, but rather me in all my glory as a 21st-century-responsible-and-energetic individual . . . and so we run smack into that depression as we come to understand that "apart from Me you can do nothing" is not just flowery religious language. And then all our efforts to be obedient and useful have been so consuming and taken so much out of us that we cannot help but be depressed as we find ourselves alone and not even knowing God well enough to understand how to access all the riches of that abundant life that we didn't live in because we were too busy trying to accomplish it.

Depression, burn-out, or that vague sense that something is wrong and there must be more . . . they are God's gifts to turn us around on the spot to face Him! While there are certainly appropriate times to address depressions with physical sources with appropriate medication, or to use appropriate medication as a band-aid to allow enough healing to make the life changes we need to make in our depression, we can't afford to let anything blind us to the fact that most depression points us to the way life just isn't what God intended it to be for us. The reason we can't afford that blindness is that the abundant life He offers is not just a figure of speech or a promise for after the grave and resurrection. We have been promised the freedom to know Him and know each other and know -- here and now -- what we have been created to know and feel and do. Much of psychology is dedicated to dumbing down that reality and teaching people to cope with something less -- something "not so idealistic".

The spiritual disciplines are dedicated to just the opposite! They are dedicated to a pursuit of Him and to a love for each other, both of which point us to the fullness of life that He promised us. They acknowledge the proper role of choice and the proper role of dependency and the proper roles of waiting and acting. They move me past my analysis and planning and make me forgetful of myself and mindful of our Triune God and of the people in my life. They convert the nice ideas about good theology into a real walk that shows His power as much as it shows my continued frailty.

Jim Birchfield translated Philippians 4:13 in context as "I can cope with anything through Him Who strengthens me", and I think that shows remarkable insight into both that passage and into that whole powerful letter. I have been reading Paul and Peter and John differently this year, finally. We are part of the same BODY, following after the same Lord -- "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on" -- and their words and examples nourish me in new ways.

I am learning to drop the pretense of having it "all together" (yes, I made that a bit easier for me to do than for most of you, didn't I?) and also shake the delusion that I can figure it out and get it "all together" somehow, and am learning the joy of letting God be God and me be a forgiven sinner that will only be tranformed by His grace, not by my effort. I am learning the daily relief of practicing the disciplines -- not to be transformed, although that will be a relief too -- but to encounter Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit in the ways that nourish the deepest parts of me and in the ways that wipe away all depression.

None of that is to say that depression and grief are not healthy parts of this life He gives us! And there are many pieces that we will carry with us to the grave, and will not be resolved until God Himself wipes away every tear. But most of our depression is truly resolved in knowing Him and in letting Him fulfill His purposes in us and through us!

May today -- the 4th of July, 2007 -- be a day of enjoying His creation and His gifts and His love -- right here, right now, in all our private moments and family and community parties! I love the image of Jesus at the wedding in Cana turning water into wine, and am quite sure that He is just as comfortable today at a pool party with wine and beer and brats as He is in our church services. May you feel His presence!


Making the Kingdom the Center

The language we use betrays the way we really see reality. Even when we want to believe or think we believe one thing, the things we actually believe show up in the things we hear ourselves and each other say regularly.

One thing I keep hearing is about "making the Kingdom first" and "pursuing the Kingdom", and then I keep going back to the passages in the gospels that speak of the Kingdom, and realize that our reality needs to be a simple relationship with the Triune God -- simple not because He is simple, but simple because the relationship is as simple as the relationship between a toddler and parent. I simply keep showing up willing to love and learn and be open and honest. He does pretty much everything else.

The language Jesus used betrayed His reality too . . . and as we immerse ourselves in His language -- both in scripture and in the places He speaks it into our daily reality -- we discover that "making the kingdom the center of our lives" and "pursuing the Kingdom" really boil down to a conscious abandonment of our own kingdom -- our own agendas and purposes -- over and over to more than just "an alignment of ourselves with His agendas and purposes". He isn't after a business team who will work with Him to bring in His agendas and fix up the kingdom of this world with the better kingdom of heaven.

The pursuit of the Kingdom is not primarily about "stewardship" or "alignment" or any kind of deliberate effort on our part to pick up hammer and nail and all the wood that we envision is lying in a heap that we call "His Kingdom Come" and that we imagine is waiting for us to put together in order for God to bring His Kingdom among us. The pursuit of the Kingdom acknowledges that Jesus said His Kingdom is HERE (check out that translation of "at hand") and we get to just live in it. No hammers and nails required.

Everything I need to live in His Kingdom and walk in obedience is in my possession, here and now. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" is a call to "walk in the Spirit", to translate Jesus' first words of invitation into Paul's later ones. Today I will choose to do that, right here and right now.


"The Clear Teaching of Scripture"

I have grown up hearing people refer to so many different things as "the clear teaching of scripture". I still hear it regularly! And yet we usually mean "the meaning of scripture that appears to me to be the obvious interpretation given the culture I am in, my understanding of the context it is in, and also the teaching I have received from different sources." We are limited in what can truly be clear to any of us, I am afraid -- because, individually and together, we still just see "through a glass darkly".

I do affirm there is objective TRUTH, and thus there is an interpretation of scripture that lines up with that TRUTH -- but that interpretation is not always the one we assume to be "the clear teaching of scripture". As I have studied scripture, read commentaries, listened to Bible teaching, and now done some teaching myself -- over 35 years now, since I first committed myself at 7 to living by the sermon on the mount -- my understanding of "the clear teaching of scripture" has many spots that are in direct opposition to what I understood at earlier points in my life.

What I can affirm, unequivocally, is that our God in Three Persons gives us each day everything we need to follow as disciples of Jesus and to live in His kingdom, here and now. We get that from scripture -- even when we are mistaken as to what God was really after in a passage, by His grace. We get that from the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts. We get clear guidance often from the circumstances we find ourselves in. We get what we need from each other as we live in community. And we get what we need for this day as we bump up against the places where "the clear teaching of scripture" as we understood it yesterday is replaced by the new insights and realities of more information about TRUTH about God's Word and the world to which it comes and through which it comes.

My obligation is to follow faithfully and obediently, trusting His grace and mercy to lead me, rather than trusting my own systematic theology or world view or ethic or even understanding of "the clear teaching of scripture." That's not really all that complicated, the way we are wired and the way the Holy Spirit guides us. I make it too complicated when I try too hard to be perfect, and have my focus on that perfection that I think God wants me to walk in by my own piety and insight, rather than just keeping my focus on the One Who will walk with me minute by minute as I learn to live John 14-16 and Matthew 5-7.

His forgiveness is just like my forgiveness for the tantrums and naughtiness and dependency of a toddler or even of a 20-something as they grow and learn and move on in a better knowledge of life. Mistakes and sins are not the point. Relationship and growth are. He is leading us to an abundant life wrapped around Himself. He has no interest in teaching me all the details of right and wrong so that I can do it myself without Him there constantly. He is fully interested in teaching me how to cope with Him there constantly, right in the middle of everything I think and feel and do.

Martin Luther's famous quote "Sin Boldly!" is so NOT about walking away from this God and into sin. It is rather about facing Him and allowing Him to constantly engage us, so that we don't even have time to obsess about which things we want to do are right and which are wrong and how we can train ourselves to do the right ones and not do the wrong ones. Paul's ending to his "flesh vs spirit" dilemma in Romans 6 and 7 -- that victory is in Jesus -- is also all about taking the focus off that battle to be righteous and embracing fully Him Who is our righteousness.

So we are not set free to do whatever awful thing we are compelled to do, free of guilt because we have a ticket to heaven in Jesus. We are set free to cling to Him and grow in Him, and quit focusing on that Romans 6 and 7 battle. We do this by living John 14-16. And part of how we do that is by also living Psalm 119, and loving God's Word.

If I truly love God's Word, I will study it over and over and keep comparing it to the world around me each day. It will be as lovely to me as it was to the psalmist. And I will hold lightly any understanding I think I have of what is "the clear teaching of Scripture", just as does a lover who has letters from her beloved. She will keep re-reading them to try to better connect with him and understand him and love him. She won't ever reach the place where she thinks she understands it all, and can put the letters away to store. She'll keep pulling them out and trying to discern some new truth that she missed or distorted earlier. Even so, we will study scripture as a way to follow and love and understand our God.

May we return to scripture and look again each day for new and better ways to love and follow the One Who loves us and offers abundant life. May we never settle for our old understandings, but allow Him to give us new insight for the new day.