Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One Word 2011.5 - Temptation I Land

NOTE: I'm taking my One Word through the year, journaling at the end of each month what I discovered. You can read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four (admittedly my favorite so far), or Part Five at their respective links.

Admit it: we all have something that tempts us. 

Be it that pint of ice cream you know you shouldn't have bought but did anyway to that website it clearly wouldn't hurt to look at just one more time...again...before you vow to never look at it again...again. There is that one item/person/thing that is your struggle, your albatross, your constant fight to not live the life of Romans 7:15 ("I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.") that comes back to haunt you time after time.

For those who don't have this addictive struggle - and yes, there are some who don't - your struggle may be a bit different. I don't envy you your spiritual maturity or your physical and emotional willpower. You may have to fight pride, arrogance or judgmental attitudes against those of us who do have these struggles. Your struggle may be more against powers and principles more directly than what I fight against. I know that these spiritual forces are at the root of my own struggles, and ultimately they're who (to paraphrase Psalm 23) lead me down my own path of self-righteousness for my own sake. However, my struggle is also against myself and my own nature.

The difference between me and Daniel in terms of our respective lion's dens is that he was SENT into the lion's den, and he TRUSTED God to deliver him. I know that sometimes I CHOOSE to willingly walk into mine, smothered in A-1 sauce, and EXPECT that God will protect me and keep me safe. One is faith, the other is arrogance.

I don't so much have a thorn in my flesh as I have a whole bramble garden embedded in my side. There are one or two that jab deeper and with greater pain into my soul. It's not like they're new to me; in fact, one in particular I can trace back to it first taking root in me while my biological age was still in single digits. This isn't to say that, for example, I took up gambling while in kindergarten. It simply means that looking back over the course of my life, I've been able to trace this one recurring sin, this one constant struggle back to an event (actually, "events" in the plural) in the 70's. Yes, I am that old, and no, I'm not talking about disco.

I know what to will take to help rid myself of this sin; or at the very least get some aid in battling it. It's kind of like how back in 1999/2000 when I went to a dermatologist because I had a wart on my hand (contracted from using an unsanitary computer keyboard in a college library). In order to not just take care of the problem on the surface of my hand, they had to cut down through me, exposing layers of skin in the palm of my hand, and burn it out. Because the roots were that deep. Oh yeah, it hurt. Oh yeah, it stunk. And oh yeah, it was embarrassing to have to talk about the wound I was carrying, bandages exposed for the world to see.

But today, I see that scar - much like I see my other physical and spiritual scars - not as a sign of where I've been hurt, but where I've been healed.

The first step is to take I Corinthians 10:13 as a promise to hold to, and not just something to quote to those who are hurting: "The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure." It's the last part of the verse that is key: "When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure." So that you can endure.

The reason you keep seeing blog entries about others who share in your struggle? The reason you keep finding Tweets that are relative to you? The reason why, after you dust the cobwebs off your Bible, you find passages in Scripture that relate to your battle? That's God. Showing you a way out. Not lightning bolt level forcing, but showing. Guiding. In Isaiah 11:2, the Holy Spirit is referred to as both the Spirit of Counsel and Might. Guidance. With the strength to endure.

I remain, as always on this journey, seeking shalam. The deeper I dig into myself and what it means to be complete, the more of what has kept me from it gets exposed. This scares the hell out of me (pun intended). It also wears me out, wears me down, and makes me feel fractured.

Makes me want to just go crank up Steve Taylor's "The Finish Line" that much more.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Facing the Truth

So, I shaved my face this past week.

Not my usual set-the-trimmer-to-its-lowest-setting-and-still-retain-some-scruff shave, but a full-on "lather the face, grab the razor, and go to town" style shave. I figured that what with the change of the season, it might be time. Besides, it's always good for your skin to be able to breathe a little bit.

This was the first time since moving to South Carolina that I have fully shaved my face clean. Every other time, I opt to just go for that scruffy look so popular with the kids these days. It's been my style of choice for the last four years or so, and the look works on me (the lack of hair on my head helps).

But once I was done, once the shaving cream was washed off, and once the mirror unfogged...I was so not ready for what I saw.

Whose face was this staring back at me? When did my cheeks start to sag like that? When did I develop lines on my face? Are those wrinkles under my eyes? Are those bags? When did I get so...old...?

It's amazing once we clear away the old growth what stands revealed...

Maybe I was shocked because I was expecting my reflection to look a little different. For the longest time, my unshaven face looked very young - boyish, or childlike even - and one of the reasons I started keeping a perpetual 5:00 shadow was that I wanted to look a little more like my biological age. Once I shaved off the stubble, I was expecting the me of just a few years ago to still be waiting there under the scruff.

But the naked, true me staring back from the mirror wasn't the person I remembered. He had aged. He showed signs of the battles. The tears, the laughs, the days and nights of struggles...there they all were, etched into my flesh. I had accepted the increasing number of hairs that showed up in my beard that made me think I should invest in a bottle of Just For Men, but these...permanent...signs of my age...they rocked me. And not in the good way.

I could not face myself and deny that I was - I am - getting older. I could no longer literally face myself with a facade imprinted in my mind of how I was supposed to look. The real decimated the fake.

What was both astonishing comforting was that Kai, who has rarely if ever seen me shaved completely, didn't even blink. There was never a moment where he couldn't figure out why I might have looked strange to him. He knew the real me.

He recognized his father and knew his voice. No matter what I looked like.

Oh, to have that faith...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oops, I Did It (What Feels Like) Again

This is a subject which has come up time and again in my writings and in my conversations with trusted friends: the idea that so many people I know are (what feels like) handed their own Golden Ticket to their dreams. You want to be a speaker? Boom. People flock to hear you and they pay you for it. You want to work in a church? Boom. Here y'go. And so on and so forth.

God knows I get frustrated at Him for keeping me in (what feels like) and endless cycle on repeat. Always getting just close enough to, but still always far enough away from, seeing something manifest itself in my life. I watch as others who have (what feels like) less experience, less knowledge, less passion, and less ability or talent just provided for, all the while as my little lilly of the field is going, "Dude - for real? That whole providing for me thing You said You'd do? Hello!"

Because what it feels like is I am not being cared for, like He said He would.

Because what it feels like is I'm never going to get in the cornfield (and yes, that was a Field of Dreams reference).

Because I apparently have never read Numbers 16:10 before ("Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites. Are you now demanding the priesthood as well?").

And then, I felt God speak.

And what He told me was that maybe - just maybe - instead of Him keeping a blessing from me, He was protecting me.

Because He knows I'm not ready.

Because He knows His time and my time are in two RADICALLY different zones.

Because He knows I'm not strong enough.

Because He knows my heart still needs work.

Because He loves me too much to give me something I think I'm prepared for.

Because He is protecting me.

Which is what feels like love, although I wasn't recognizing it as such.

Which is what feels like me learning to be mature for once.

Which is what feels like me having to let go.

Which is what feels like me learning to trust.

And repent.


Which is what feels like faith.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Deep Will I Dig, I (Part II): The Wrath of Khancrete

(Oh, shush. It's a good pun. For the prequel to this story, click here.)

My mind has been at war with my heart lately. Actually, my everything has been at war with my everything else lately. Heart. Soul. Thoughts. Emotions. I've been feeling distant from God, and this feeling has begun to manifest itself in my actions, or lack thereof, of prayer, reading the Bible, and intentional, positive fellowship with...well, anyone. I know that it seems like at times I go on and on about the doubts of faith I experience. However, I feel like if I just get them out, articulate them, and express them (poorly) through this blog, then it helps me to understand what I'm wrestling with. And it keeps me from getting myself up on some kind of silly pedestal.

So, since the weather has turned Springish again, I decided to go outside and once again get my hands dusty and dirty. Work through the dirt so that I might work though things in my mind, if you will. Ashley and I cleared out the azalea beds, getting them ready for Year Two here in SC. This meant raking out all the existing pine needles, clearing out the dead undergrowth, and yes...weeding.

Now, keep in mind that the weather's been nice for a few weeks by this point. This means that for the past few weeks, I've been taking my handy li'l spade, going up and down the flower beds and throughout the yard, digging out the various and sundry green things which try to get in the way of my Southern-male-well-manicured-lawn.

And all was great...until Paul showed up. Paul. Paul is the name I have given my pain, this particular weed which JUST. WON'T. GO. AWAY. My weed in my flesh. My perceived horticultural stumbling block which I have physically removed time and again.

Funny enough, Paul's a flower. Not a weed.

Regardless of his herbal classification, Paul keeps growing back in a very annoying location: dead freaking center (and yes, I have measured it) of the base of the stairs which lead to the sidewalk in front of our house. So picture this, if you will: nice green grass, a freshly-swept sidewalk, and then this frigging thing just jutting out for all the world to see.

One day while I was outside pondering the practicality of a tactical nuclear strike on my sidewalk to get rid of Paul once and for all, I felt God speak.

This flower - life - is a symbol of God breaking through me. He continually breaks through - quietly, persistently, and sometimes slowly - what I think is best. I'm the sidewalk. God is the flower (God is life; go figure).

Is it an annoyance? Yep. It's supposed to be. Life is messy, unruly, and unordered...to my eyes and how I think things are supposed to be laid out. I don't stop to try and see the order behind what I perceive as chaos - namely, Paul growing where I don't think he's supposed to.

I don't stop to see or even consider God growing because I'm too preoccupied with what else I think should be growing where. At least, not until I begin to see a bloom showing through in an area where I wasn't planning on there being one.

God has other plans. And if I'm honest with myself, sometimes I get as annoyed at His plans as I do at poor Paul at the base of my sidewalk.

And taking this metaphor a step further, if I try to use a sidewalk (my efforts) to cover my past or my sins? God breaks through. Life will exist where and when I feel I am at my most barren and devoid of the ability to live again. Because of what I have laid down (the concrete), I can't get to the root of the flower. My plans, my sins, my everything: nothing I do can or will overshadow and keep God from breaking through.

So, paraphrasing what Keith Green and Randy Stonehill before me have sung, I should feel like a barefoot child dancing in the sun, unafraid, facing each day, because Your love broke through and continues to break through.

I'll just do my best to not trample Paul. Literally and metaphorically.

Friday, May 06, 2011

UNITY: It's Not a Four-Letter Word

Today's blog post is a little different. If you've not heard of Rachel Held Evans' Rally to Restore Unity, make with the clicking on the link there. Part tongue in cheek, part cheeky reaction to some of the disunity happening over a book (like we don't fight enough over THE Book), part heart-felt sincerity to work on a simple, doable project like providing clean water through a fundraiser with Charity: Water...

Unity. Here we go.

Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. I Timothy 4:7 (NLT).

One translation of the Bible (New American Standard Bible) uses the word "fables" in place of the phrase "godless ideas." Both of these words and phrases stem from the Greek term "muthos," meaning "a false account, yet posing to be the truth;" or "a fabrication (fable) which subverts (replaces) what is actually true."

Muthos. Compare that against the term "Logos," oftentimes commonly translated as "Word."

As in John 1:1. "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God." (NLT)

Muthos. Fable. Subverting the truth. Logos. The Word. God. Truth.

As is referred to in Ephesians 4:1-6. "Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all." (NLT)

One Truth, with a capital "T." Weigh that against the many truths, with a lower-case "t," which we at times debate, hold in high(er) esteem, or sadly allow to supplant the capital-"T" Truth which should hold us together.

There are a number if leaders (for want of a better term) in Christian ministry whom I -quite honestly - don't care for. They represent the Gospel in a way which, to me, augments hatred, intolerance, and self-importance in their interpretation of how we as believers are called to be in this world. Yet they're still family. Kind of like those strange cousins you know you have but just don't talk about all that often.

Because they're family (through blood - get it?), we often joke that we might not have to like 'em, but we do have to love 'em. However, ultimately it's a choice. We choose to love them. We choose to show them the mercy and grace they might not show others, because we choose let Christ's example guide us. It's never easy, and they may never understand or reciprocate it. But that's what love ultimately embodies.

Love may win, but in the meantime, let's at least try to act like we can tolerate each other.