Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rock and Roll Worship

I realize that the last few posts before the grand site makeover were kind of downers.  I’ve mentioned before my struggle with depression.  It makes certain stretches along the road of life feel like treks through Gloppy’s Molasses Swamp and makes me more aware of the darkness that tries to hide so carefully in the shadows of my heart. 

What makes those times really tough is when the places where I normally find escape from the darkness seem only to snuff out more light.  In those times I feel like I’m outside the moment, watching life play out around me, numb to it and distant from it though I’m in the middle of it.

My week of depression was finally coming to an end as Saturday quickly approached and I held hopefully to the knowledge that soon I would be at Encounter with people that I love, hearing a message of hope.  Saturday came not soon enough but my expectations were unmet and I walked away that night sorely disappointed, cursing at God, “I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY!” 

Still all I felt was worn.

I sat in my car, clutching the steering wheel tightly and resting my forehead on it.  My shoulders slumped forward heavy from faking confidence, I reached over to turn up the music.  92.5 is the best Classic Rock station in the Dallas area and a frequent favorite of mine when I’m upset or feel especially rock star like, that night was the former. 

My chest tightened as anger and emptiness tightened their grips on my heart.  At the same time, my head spun with the knowledge that I had to go be strong again in just a few short minutes.  I choked back the tears that I was tired of crying.

Then beautiful words hit my ears.

They didn’t come from a sermon or a worship song or even someone all that spiritual; they came from a rock and roll band. 

Carry on my wayward son 
There'll be peace when you are done 
Lay your weary head to rest 
Don't you cry no more

I’ve heard Carry on my Wayward Son by Kansas about a thousand times because, let’s be honest, it’s a great song!  That night it was different.  That night it wasn’t just an awesome rock and roll song with some badass guitar solos; that night, it was worship.

I didn’t find what I was looking for in church that evening.  The message seemed heavy on my already burdened heart and I fled for fear of having to deal with why I hated it so much.  My church family, while always loving and warm, I felt distant from that night.  Everyone wore smiles and I just felt alone in my gloom. 

One of the truly beautiful things about God is that He is not limited by our expectations, the walls of the church, or places of spirituality.  God is weaved into every stitch of the fabric of our lives.  That means, for people like me, sometimes He uses rock and roll songs to get his message across. 

We are so quick to see Satan corrupting things once meant for good, stealing innocence, and defiling purity.  Why is it we don’t think God can make something glorious out of the secular? 

I am continually surprised by how frequently God speaks to me through unexpected venues.  It makes the truth of who He is so much more real to me the more limitless He proves Himself to be. 

I awoke the next morning with a smile on my face and a light heart, happily at rest once again.  I realized that embracing grace and following after Christ doesn’t mean you always have the answers, or even that you will always find them when you go looking.  It means that God never stops pursuing you even when you feel stuck and distant.  His peace and rest are always there for you even when you feel weary and in turmoil.  Even though it may take us a while to hear that, He never stops telling it to us, even if that means he has to use the music that your mom says is too loud.

I am increasingly thankful for every day that passes knowing the God of grace I have so passionately fallen in love with.  It is because of Him that my days of darkness, though still present, are fewer. 

So, my challenge to you is this; be aware of the God of rock and roll worship.  Find Him in the unexpected places.   See His limitlessness.  Who knows, He might just make you fall in love with Him all over again. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jesus Wept.

Last night, for the first time in a very long time, I sat in a room with people that I love dearly and felt out of place.  The room overflowed with warmth and rang with laughter but I couldn’t stop feeling cold inside.  I tried to put my struggle into words but fumbled and stuttered out only a scratch on the surface of what I was feeling.  I’m much better on paper.

So many answers, floods of opinions, solutions to my problems filled my mind and I couldn’t help but feel a little more weighed down by good intentioned words of wisdom.  Sometimes I just want to be held and reassured that someone else doesn’t have the answers either.  The evening ended with exclamations of feeling God’s presence in the room and all I could think was, “Well, He sure as hell didn’t show up for me!”

I feel like darkness is my reality as of late.  I find no satisfaction in places with the answers.  So many answers.  Do we really have all the answers?  There are days when I feel like I should just shut up and go away, when there is so much happiness and I just hurt.  Does everyone have those days?

We talk about needing balance and it makes me feel more estranged as my adventures with God seem to be awkwardly imbalanced as I chase Him down winding roads of extremes.  It’s hard for me to see balance in a God whose Son walked this earth saying things like, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” and, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”  Which translates to black and white thinkers like me who genuinely desire peace that, that desire will never be met. 

In some moments I feel so intensely close to God and in others He feels painfully distant.  That is the struggle of being a broken human with a holy spirit, I guess.  I drove home, tears of anger streaking my cheeks, red from the cool fall air.  I screamed at God. 

He was silent.

Sleeplessness plagued me and words of brokenness inked the tattered pages of my journal as I tried desperately to draw near to Him.  Dual personalities waged war for control within my soul, cries of injustice screamed for resolution and whispers of forgiveness sighed for rest.  Two opposing truths tore me apart from inside myself.  The clock passed from PM to AM effortlessly and exhaustion forced me into sleep. 

This morning I awoke early.  As I sat on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands, rubbing away the dark circles under my eyes, a fleeting thought tip-toed through my mind; Jesus wept. 

Jesus wept.

That was all.  Just two little words.  Jesus wept. 

He did, you know.  In fact, He did more than once.  He wept bitterly and irrationally for the loss of His friend even though He knew moments later that He would raise him from the dead.  He threw himself on the ground in brokenness the night before His death and cried out in desperation to His Father for escape from His appointed future.  He wrestled with it.  He wanted to run away.  He wanted support from His friends.  He wept.

I guess if the God who created this world, who slipped into skin and walked it with calloused feet, is allowed to weep then I am too.  I take comfort in that. 

I will end with hope, though it is a small flickering flame for me this week, because the smallest of lights shines brightest in the darkest of places.  The happiest of ever afters came at the end of the story that began with “Jesus Wept”:  That God might be near to us even on the nights when He feels painfully distant.  I will take comfort in knowing that the most beautiful endings come after tears.

Jess wept.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Embracing Arrows

As I sit here and stare at this blank screen, my cursor rhythmically taunting me to write down all the things I really want to say but definitely shouldn’t because, you know, grace and all that, I find myself conflicted.  Sometimes I feel like positivity either stands just out of reach or sits on my head and threatens to fart, normal people call that writer’s block. 

There are days when I find negativity so much easier, so much more tangible, and thoughts of butterflies and warm fuzzies really just make we want to hurl or flip someone off.  I guess maybe that makes me a bad Christian?

I don’t talk about my pain very much.  Sure I talk about my past and struggles with religion but I don’t even really talk about what tears my heart apart right now and I guess I never really paid attention to that until recently. 

Have you ever heard those people give their “testimonies” that go something like this, “Years ago I USED to struggle with porn addiction but NOW I am leading 4 Bible studies, training to be a missionary, and only wear Jesus T-shirts!”  Those always translated to me as “I used to have problems but not anymore!” which for people like me, whose reality is often depravity more than holiness, seemed completely unattainable.  It made me so mad that no one would ever talk about their pain.  Then, this week, I realized I don’t really talk about mine either.

I play tough on a regular basis, dawning my metaphorical tights and cape before stepping out of my phone booth into the world of relationships.  It keeps the tattered heart of a vulnerable girl locked away and protected.  Still, as much as I’d like to convince myself otherwise, I’m not bulletproof. 

I really hate Christians sometimes.  They are so harsh and unrelenting.  At the first sight of something different, outside of their system, they swiftly jump into attack mode using the Bible as their weapon of choice to cut down those at all different from who they are.  The world, they call their enemies, as to justify the unyielding battering of the broken with their religion.  I find myself on the other side of the line they’ve drawn being beat down with words of condemnation, named a heretic for daring to stand opposed to them. 

I feel so conflicted by the need to protect the abused and the desire to show grace to the abusers, though they don’t see their need for it.  There I run, up and down on the wrong side of that line they have drawn, trying to comfort the wounded while being a pin cushion for the arrows of anger and arrogance aimed at my back under the accusation of treason to the God that I do it in the name of. 

I am so conflicted.

Do I speak out or remain silent?

How can I show grace to two opposing sides?

I don’t know.  Sometimes it keeps me awake at night. As I toss and turn, my craving for justice and the gentle whisper of grace tear me apart.  I remember those arrows in my back and I cry because they hurt; I’m not bulletproof.  And I wonder if my craving is for me or for the broken ones that I claim it is. 

I find some solace in knowing that I'm not alone on this side of the line. Tattooed Lutheran pastors, curly haired single moms, worn out passionate coaches, and punny pastors with ugly pocketed shirts, stand on this side, taking care of the broken and embracing their arrows with me.   God reassures me that it will all make sense one day.  I honestly don’t know if that’s true but I hope that it is.At the end of the day that hope is really all we have, isn’t it?  People can stand up and say that they used to have problems and don’t anymore but when the darkness of this wretched world claws at that Sunday School skin they hide behind the nasty truth of their brokenness will ooze out.  We are all the same underneath it all, that skin we hide behind.  We are all terribly broken. 

Maybe that’s the point.

That we are all terribly broken and God is wonderfully gracious. 

That He sees our brokenness as beauty and offers to give us completion.

That we don’t have to understand it all.

That we can cry about the arrows in our backs.

That He won’t be angry at us when we choose our cravings over our whispers.

Maybe that’s the point.

I don’t really know.  I don’t have the answer or a way to eloquently end this with something warm and fuzzy to be inspired by. I am just going to cling white knuckled to that hope and believe that’s that point.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Name Tags and Tattoos

I made a recent discovery this week about a passage that I have heard quite a few times but never really listened to before.  You know what I mean, one of those verses that we quote and get quoted to us that, with the first word, trigger our ADD and we suddenly become distracted selective hearers that forgot to take their Ritalin.  This verse is one of those verses.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:1-3 (NET) 
I’m sure most of you have heard that verse before.  Probably 9 out of 10 of the sermons I have heard on it use this verse as the starting point to “reassure” us that Jesus was tempted and did not give in so the same is expected of us. 

That’s great.  Jesus was tempted, He felt what we feel, we aren’t alone, He understands, blah blah blah.  Yeah, I get that and yes it’s wonderful that we have a Savior who can relate to our struggles but I always heard those things and thought to myself… buuuuuut He’s Jesus so, I mean really it wasn’t that big of a temptation!

It was not until this week that I realized what verse immediately precedes this one. 

After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NET)

Do you see the beautiful picture here?!

The Spirit of God came and called Jesus His Son.  God named Him enough, loved, pleasing, and pretty freaking delightful!  God gives Christ His Spirit and with it His identity.

Then Satan does what he always does using the same lie he always uses.  He says to Jesus, “I know you were just told that you are a loved son, but if you REALLY are the Son of God you better prove it!”

Isn’t that a familiar lie?

“I know you’ve been told you are loved even when you fail, but you need to do some things to prove it!”

“I know you’ve been called enough but if that’s really true you should get up at 6 am and read your Bible.”

“I know you’ve been told He is one with you but if that’s really true you should be cleaning up your act.”

The oldest war that rages between God and Satan: God’s gift of identity and Satan’s questioning of it.  God’s gift of freedom and Satan’s addition of requirements.  God’s completed contract and Satan’s insertion of fine print.  It is Satan, not God, that is in the details. 

This is not a new story.

Just this week, Satan tried to stick a new nametag on my chest.  He tried to convince me that my love for the broken and my pursuit of freedom made me unfit to hang out with Jesus.

I began to believe him and that made me angry.

Who the hell is Satan, or the church, or any one of us to say who Jesus gets to hang out with?  He doesn’t play by our rules anyway.  He called a boy to fight a giant, a fisherman to start his church, a prostitute to find his empty tomb, a murderer to spread his message, and a thief to write his gospel.  He is in the business of new identity.

He tears away that flimsy name tag that Satan foolishly thinks will stick to reveal “enough” tattooed across our hearts.  As if Satan even stood a chance.

I guess it comes down to which identity we choose to live by.  The tattoo will never go away or rub off but it is our choice whether we show it off or cover it with the crumpled name tags that have been delivered to us by those around us. 

Luke’s telling of this story begins with these words, “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”  Jesus walked away that day secure in His identity not because He was God, but because He was full of the Holy Spirit.  That same spirit that is fused with us, moving and working within us, that’s what made Jesus secure enough to tell Satan, “Shut up, dude!”

What a beautiful picture of how truly powerful we have been made.  How glorious it is that our identity can never be stripped from us even when we don’t believe it.  Our gracious Father looks down on us and says, “This is my dear one; in her I take GREAT delight.”

So then, let us delight in being delighted in.  Let us rest in His being at rest.  Let us find peace in knowing He is pleased.  Let us embrace our identity and show off our tattoos.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sinner Saint

I am always on the lookout for new authors, pastors, and teachers of the radical message of grace that I love so much.  My most recent discovery (thanks to a fantastic friend) is of a wonderful woman named Nadia Bolz-Webber.  She is a self-proclaimed “snarky” female pastor covered in tattoos and completely uncensored.  Upon a friend of mine sharing an article about her with me, I immediately hunted down her blog (Click Here for the link) and read everything she has written over the past four months as well as bought her most recent memoir “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of aSinner & Saint.” (Which I am halfway through after only two days). 

Her beautifully messy way of relating to God and speaking of Him in a way that is so intensely personal hits a chord with me.  I watch videos of her speaking and am drawn to the obvious authenticity with which she claims his relentless grace.  One thing jumped out at me that she wrote in her book, “We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.”

That statement greased the wheels in my mind as I began to dissect how true it rang for me. 

I have spoken before of the three parts that make up as humans; the body, soul, and spirit.  Still I struggle with a constant desire to be a saint but the reality that I am still a sinner.  This is the divine war; a Holy Spirit living inside a broken body with a selfish soul.  Thus giving us an amazing capacity to destroy but also an equally great, and often greater, capacity to love. 

The choice then becomes ours; who wins?

Our sinner’s soul will attempted to convince us we must work harder to get better while our saintly spirit defines us as enough. We will screw up, give in to temptation, break promises, and think to ourselves that we can’t possibly be loved by a holy God.  Our spirit whispers to us, “You have already been forgiven for that.” 

We assume that we must be either a sinner or a saint when in reality we are both because we have not yet escaped this wretched world. 

The scandalous thing about God is that He only relates to us as saints, spirit to spirit.

How delightfully rule-breaking it is for the Holiest of Holies to choose the broken heart of a sinner to call His temple.  Yet, He picked me and you and all those like us, the under-qualified, undeserving, and unexpected. 

Now we walk this earth as sinner saints, the imperfection of our souls revealing the truly divine perfection of our spirits that cry out to those in need, “Let me give you rest.”  How glorious it is that our actions of a sinner never make us any less of a saint before Him! 

I am excited by my new found hero of the faith and comforted by the things I have already learned through her sermons.  I am so glad God has no limits on who He can use to wave His flag of revolution.  Embrace who you truly are, my friends, and join the revolution!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Grace: The Beautiful Mess

So often we see grace as being the solution to a better life, to a incessant smile, because that’s what we all crave.  We want to be able to arrive at a place and finally be able to sit down and rest after fighting and clawing our way to get there.  When that doesn’t happen we doubt that grace, freedom, living without law, is really worth all the trouble.  We question if it is really even true. 

In so many ways choosing to live a life driven by grace has made things easier.  It has freed me from having to worry about what others think of me.  It has given me confidence to know that God is not disappointed, angry, or saddened with me.  It has filled me with a desire to shower love on those that I care about.  It has even given me the ability to reach the outcasts, broken, and forgotten. 

Grace makes other things harder.

If I choose to live by grace that means I actually have to show grace to other people (I know, shocker, right?)  It means that when I am attacked I choose the path of peace.  It means that when on the receiving end of words of aggression I must respond with gentleness.  Choosing to live that life sometimes makes me a victim, soft, and silent. 

You might ask why I would choose that life.

The answer is really something quite beautiful.

I choose that life because the wonderful thing about grace is that even when I fail to show it, as I so often do, I am not disqualified from receiving it.  There is no cut off, no point of being not enough, and no time of unforgiveness.  Even when I betray grace I am not betrayed by it for at my weakest it is at its strongest and that is what makes it such beautiful mess, really. 

So many times I am a complete failure at practicing what I preach and still God refuses to stop using me as his messenger.  He looks at me and says, “Peter, who denied me in my need, feed my sheep.”  How can I not follow a God who offers me such redemption and puts the glory of a holy message in the fumbling hands of a ragamuffin saint? 

That is what is so difficult about grace.

It wraps me in a state of simultaneously loving and hating it.  My desire to be devoted to it is sabotaged by my inability to be consistent in it, thus tearing me apart and holding me together in the same moment.  It is beautifully messy and awkwardly perfect as it scandalizes my perception of justice with its constant unfairness. 

And I choose it.

Because it chose me.

In my addiction it beckoned me.  In my failure it exalted me.  In my dirtiness it embraced me.  In my emptiness it satisfied me.  I am forever ruined by grace.  It has made a mess of my life and how beautiful a mess it is!

For that reason, I will strive to be for others what it has been to me.  Though I will fail often, I trust that Christ in me will be seen for His power is made perfect in my weakness.  Let struggles come and attacks rise up against me for I will cling tightly to the grace that is set before me, not as a destination to reach one day but as a state of being in this midst of it all. 

His grace is more than enough.

Take heart, my friends, in knowing that even when you feel as if you are not enough for Him; He will always be enough for you.  Rest in the knowledge that even when you feel dissatisfied in Him; He is satisfied with you.  Be brave enough to see the beauty in the mess and the glory in the failure. 

Choose grace.
It has already chosen you.