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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Letter to the Dirty

Some days I feel like there is so much to say and not enough words to express the truth that I want everyone to know.  I start writing and nothing comes out the way I want it to as a jumble of different thoughts collide on the page, fighting for priority.  So this week I wrestled with what exactly I needed to write about.

I decided on this, a letter to the deluded who think they are disqualified from being desired.

Treasured One, 
You are not defined by your behavior.  You look at yourself, your addictions and failures and I all you see is a tangled mess of something that’s not good enough.  Not good enough to be loved by another human being.  Not good enough to achieve your dreams.  Not good enough to be a leader.  Not good enough to be a friend.  Not good enough to be a father or mother.  Most certainly, not good enough for God.  You look at yourself and that’s what you see… not enough. 

So then beautiful things come into your life and you reject them.  Moments of joy and glimpses of contentment peek into your darkness and you sabotage them as you remind yourself, “I am a disgusting mess; I don’t deserve that.”  Deeper and deeper you tread into destruction as you listen to the voice convince you that’s who you are and that’s who you will always be. 

And you believe it because that’s all you have ever known. 
I’m here to tell you… 
The wonder of grace is in its scandalous pursuit of people like you and me whose reality is more often depravity than holiness.  That’s what makes God so wonderful really, that He would chose a whore to call His bride.  

The God who chose to enter this world of vicious aggression in the most vulnerable of ways, born in the fragility of a baby.  The God who walked this earth with blistered feet and chose the misunderstood life of a rebel rabbi.  The God who reached down and washed the feet of his best friends even when they didn’t understand why.  The God who embraced the people that ruined His reputation and dirtied his robes but rebuked the “holy” heroes. 

We expect that God to look at us and expect us to clean up before He can embrace us?
He can touch diseased dead and stand confident before demons but He cowers away from us?  Do we really believe that? 
He willingly walked to His death, facing excruciating and unbearable torture, because He so desperately wanted to embrace the very men who plunged the nails into his wrists. 

That’s how much He loves us. 
Broken us. 
You look in the mirror and say, “I am a disgusting mess; I don’t deserve that.”   You think grace is cheap.  Don’t you see, the creator of this universe paid for it with the life of His son!

You have already been cleaned. 
Yes, you fight with your addiction and your brokenness while you sparkle of holiness paid for by Christ… because He wants so desperately for you to know you are loved.  He needs nothing from you and gives everything to you because He is completion and you are need.  That’s the God that He has always been, that He always will be, because He is full and we are empty.
There are no words I can write, no eloquence that I can speak with, to make you believe in the splendor of grace.  But I hope that you do because there is peace in it.  Because it’s been paid for.  Because you are clean now.  Because all He wants is to love you, right here, right now, in this moment and all that follow it.  He sees all that you are and calls you “Perfect, Pure, Mine.”  

Be broken.  Be you.  Be loved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Religion -vs- Spirituality

Last night I co-hosted my very first cyber AA meeting.  For the most part it’s like a normal AA meeting, there’s a focus on one of the 12 steps, we do a reading, say our serenity prayer, and share our struggles and breakthroughs as related to our topic.  Basically the only difference is, instead of it being a tangible in person meeting, it’s online.  I am completely a supporter of physical, get together, meetings and I think it’s tremendously important to the recovery process. However, I see the value of the extra anonymity that online interaction affords. 

I enjoyed it immensely, there is just something about being in a place where you know others can relate to your darkness that brings comfort.  Amidst the discussion of the evening was a familiar exclamation of wanting nothing to do with the spiritual aspects of the program due to the fact that “religion is pointless and depressing.”  I couldn’t help but smile at the statement that sounded so much like mine at the start of my recovery.  I pondered how to respond when another attendee beat me to it.  His answer rang true for me and stuck in my mind the rest of the evening. 
“Religious people don’t want to go to hell, spiritual people have been there and don’t want to go back.  Religion is pointless; spirituality has power.”

The more I think about that statement the more I get behind it. Religion offers you a list to be kept so as to avoid punishment.  It gives you boundaries that leave your only choice after crossing them as denial.  It drives you to ignoring your brokenness as you strive for perfection.  It calls for behavior modification without healing your unbelief.  Religion is absolutely pointless.

Spirituality, living driven by the spirit, relating to others’ spirits, is so vastly different than religion.  Spiritually is very aware of brokenness.  It feels pain and admits weakness.  It is in tune with how devastating emptiness can be and it offers you redemption while you’re in the midst of it.  Where religion offers you a way to change your actions, spirituality offers you a way to fill your need and heal your heart.  It sees the darkness you’ve walked through and says, “Look what all I give you, you don’t ever have to be that person again.”  Spirituality has power.

So many people walk this earth believing that God is concerned with their religious affiliation and they miss the point of who He is.  We think God is so focused on our behavior that we are completely blind to the reality of Him pouring love on our hearts, embracing our brokenness, and wooing our spirits.  We picture God as a demanding religious figure with a list of people who have been good enough, behaved well enough, and done enough things to earn his favor.  This is how we see God, and it makes it hard for us to embrace Jesus.

See, because Jesus was different than what we think God is.  Jesus didn’t hang out in temples with the white robes of the priests or demand sacrifices before offering forgiveness.  Jesus walked this earth with dusty feet in tattered sandals.  He bent down and embraced people in their sin and offered love to those religion had rejected.  Jesus brought wine to the party and accepted dinner invitations from thieves.  Jesus had worn hands and sunburnt skin and he loved while our nails pierced through them and our whip tore it from his body.  How can we reconcile that Jesus with a God who we believe is like the ones who murdered him?

We can’t.  Because that’s not who God is.

That’s why He sent His Son, because we thought that’s who He was.  We live lives entrenched in sin because we think that’s who He is.  We run from Him because we think that’s who He is.  We live bound to addiction, suffering, depression, and unrest because we think that’s who He is. 

That is not who He is.

Jesus is who He is.

He offers us His full favor even when we abuse it.  He pours affection on us even when we are abrasive.  He pursues our hearts even when we run far from him.  He fills the emptiness even when it seems like a black hole.  That is who God is.   That is what He sent Christ for, so that we could know Him and we could have Him. 

What a fantastically abnormal God we have, that He would want to be one with a weary spirit like me!  Be encouraged this week knowing that His love for you is not dependent on your behavior.  Find freedom in the truth that His fullness is yours when you are at your most empty.  Know Him; have Him. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What is Love? (Baby, Don't Hurt Me...)

Valentine’s Day, or as I like to call it, “Single’s Awareness Day” is soon upon us.  Red and pink deck the halls of retail stores everywhere.  Florists work late into the night creating the perfect flower arrangement for that special someone.  The smell of chocolate wafts through our homes.  It’s the day set aside to celebrate love… our form of love.

What we as humans believe about love becomes quite evident by how we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We get gifts for our lovers out of obligation; we buy cards for our crushes hoping the feeling is returned; we flirt with romance hoping to give depth to our marriages.  This is how the world loves:  I give to you and you give to me.

Two way love.

We see this in Scripture even simply in the language that is used.  In the Hebrew (Old Covenant) there are 7 words that mean love, 3 are used most often in the Bible.

  1. RAYA: Friendship Raya love is about your friend, your everyday companion, and, in return, you know that you are loved just the same.  This can be deep friendship or it can lead to AHAVA.
  2. AHAVA: Commitment  Ahava is about a ferocious love.  The “I’m not going anywhere” kind of love.  An “I know that I’ll screw up and you’ll still be there for me” kind of love.  The Bible describes Ahava love as “long suffering”.  Ahava is also a deep human love for God.
  3. DOD: Intimacy  Dod is intimate pleasure.  The word literally means “to rock, to cuddle, to hold close.”  This is about physical intimacy, sexual connection, or as my friend Kari likes to say, “getting’ your groove on!”

All three of these words for “love” require reciprocation, they reflect a shadow of how God loves us but still fail to show the clarity of how limitless His love for us is.  These words strain to explain a love that we just can’t quite fathom the vastness of, and they still make love out to be two way.

When we think about God and how He loves, so often this is what we think.  We use our humanity to try and understand God:  I give to Him and He gives to me.   We think He needs something from us before He can love us.  We bring Him withered flowers and say, “Here, please love me?” 

Before Christ, we had no comprehension of one way love; we didn’t even have a word for it!  Jesus comes into the picture and completely turns our understanding of what love is upside down.  While we were still sinners He offered us righteousness.  While we crucified Him, He forgave us.  While we spit in His face He embraced us.  Then He says, “This is the way I love.”

In the Greek (New Covenant) the word that is used for this love is “Agape.”  It means “unconditional, no-strings-attached, and without reservations love.”  This is the kind of love that follows Christ

God needs nothing from us.  His love is not limited by us.  He is the giver, we are the receivers, and the only way He loves is 100% one way.

Because God is complete, full, lacking nothing that means that no amount of good (or bad) can affect who He is.  The very creation of man was birthed in God’s desire to pour out his limitless love.  Then we screwed that up by trying to do something to gain more from Him, not because He demanded it but because Satan did.  We weave in and out of a world that is founded on that belief, the belief that one way love just isn’t possible. 

That’s the beauty of God, really, that He is so wildly different than this world.  That He doesn’t play by our rules.  Even now in this moment when we’re:


While we live contrary to everything that He is; He loves us.  He embraces us.  We argue that we are undeserving (because we are) and He says, “My perfect child, you are mine, I love you, you are enough.”  

The most intimate desire of God’s heart is this:  That we would know how loved we are by Him and then show others that kind of love.  Not because He needs it, but because we do.  We need to be free from our worth being dependent on whether or not others love us back.  We need to be able to relate to others without fear of rejection.  We need others to be able to relate to us without worry or doubt about our intentions.  

So then, the call is this, stop trying to love God enough and enjoy being loved by Him.  Take in the waterfall of intimate, undeserved, limitless, unstoppable love of Christ.   Let him wrap you up in an embrace, lay your head on His chest and listen to His heart beat to the rhythms of His delight in you.  Rest in His pleasure, get caught up in his glory, and let who He is become one with who you are.  Let Him complete you.

Then throw a party! Go love the broken.  Go give to those who only take from you.  Offer forgiveness to your attackers.  Give grace to the coworker who does nothing but create drama for you.  Pour love on your spouse that nags you or undervalues you.  Serve your parents even when they don’t tell you thank you.  Point this world of shattered people to the God who needs nothing from them and gives them everything.  Do it not because God needs it, but because we do.  

*Shout out to Brad Hays for help with the Hebrew! 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Potato Salad People

A few fun facts about me:  I am passion driven; I am entirely too honest; I sometimes have no filter at all when it comes to being sensitive to people’s feelings; and I read people extremely quickly.  Some of those things are wonderful assets that make me the beautiful mess that I am, but they also create difficulties when it comes to relating to other people. 

Relating to some people comes extremely easy to me, I love the rebels, the broken, the dark horses, and the outcasts.  I share a kindred spirit with them; I understand their struggles.   I am quick to offer forgiveness and grace to them even when they hurt me. Other people… I struggle understanding.  These “others” I like to call my Potato Salad People.

I live in the south, so potato salad is an appropriate side dish for any and all occasions.  It’s really popular, southern people love potato salad.  I, however, do not.  It makes no sense!  Potato salad has all the makings of something wonderful: potatoes, mayo (or mustard), way too many calories, and even sometimes pickles! I should love potato salad, and so, any time I am somewhere where it is served, I try it.  Every single time, and every time it’s just as disgusting as I remember it to be. 

I desire whole heartedly to love and give grace to those who frustrate me.  I want to love those who are most unlovable.  I really want to like potato salad!

I love grace when I’m on the receiving end of it.  I love to take advantage of it, to bask in its glory, and am quick to lean on it when I fail (which is quite often).  I’m not always so great at grace when it comes to relating to potato salad people, though.  I admittedly have a shorter temper, I am quick to see faults in them and overlook my own, I sometimes find joy in seeing those who have hurt me get “justice.”  It’s only human of me, I suppose.  At least, that’s what I tell myself, to justify my hoarding of grace.

I blatantly overlook the truth that really I am just putting limits on what grace can do, on what one way love can do, on what God can do.  I build up walls in my heart to section off what parts I allow God to touch, dams that hold back the fullness of the river God wants to overtake me with.  I think, well, I just can’t give grace to that person, I’ve tried 100 times and I just can’t.  So I write them off.  I write them off, just like so many people have done to me, as a lost cause.  Maybe we really aren’t so different. 

I’m beginning to realize that beauty of God’ banquet is the variety in it.  See, because God is never limited by our expectations of him.  His river doesn’t stop flowing just because we put up dams.  His table is filled with meat, cheese, chocolate, milk, mac and cheese, and yes, even potato salad.  His grace is scandalously inclusive that way. 

When I sat down to write this I didn’t really have a plan in mind for it, I like to have a plan.  When I began I didn’t really know how to end it because I feel quite unresolved on this subject. 

I am torn between my desire to let the river flow and my craving for control of the dam.
I am torn between my want to like potato salad and the way it turn my stomach.
I am torn between grace and justice.
I am torn.
And I am burdened by the tearing.

I have been feeling recently, like a failure.  Like I’ve been a piss poor example of the grace I preach so fervently, and I have.  I am thankful that my worth is not defined by that failure.  I am relieved that grace is not withheld from me even when I fail to show it. 

I am comforted and unsettled by how unfair grace makes life; it’s a beautiful vulgarity.

I guess my final point will be this; don’t be disheartened by the times you fail to like potato salad.  Instead, remember the beauty of the banquet and the fullness of the table, let that be your focus.  Take down your dams and just let the river flow, you might be amazed at what new life it brings with it.  Enjoy the journey that taking in Christ leads you on.  Embrace the struggle.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

3 Reasons the Church Loves Liars

I used to be really good at lying.  I mean, I was REALLY good at it, to the point where I became a different person depending on who I was with at the time.  I could easily dodge specific questions so that no one really knew anything deep about me.  I was a master of manipulating situations to facilitate my needs.  I was a chameleon, ever changing with my surroundings in an attempt to survive the jungle that is high school.

On my journey of recovery I was challenged to embrace a radical honesty, of sorts.  It required the quitting cold turkey of my conman ways, which was way more difficult than I thought it would be!  I learned very quickly that the world loves liars.  Even more than the world loves liars, the church does.   

We do, you know?  We love being lied to.  Of course, if we really examined this, we would never admit to the truth of it; but it is true.  We walk into our well maintained buildings, with a smile on our face and a pleasant answer to every question of, “How are you?”  All the while our families are falling apart and our boss is beating us down. We are burnt out, exhausted, and addicted with no hope of recovery.  So we lie.  Every Sunday, we put our mask on and grasp at holiness, shattered silhouettes dreaming of completion.  And we are praised for how well we fool one another. We love the liars.

Why? Why do we love the liars?  Here are 3 reasons why I think we do:

<1> Authenticity creates vulnerability.

There is never a possibility for pain if you never take off your armor.  If you spend your life hiding behind a plastic version of yourself then the real you never really gets any wear and tear.  We fear a broken heart so we lie.  We lie to ourselves and say we don’t really care.  We lie to others and tell them that we’re OK.  We lie to God and tell Him we believe that He loves us.  We lie because the truth is just too painful.  The rest of the world is content with our lies because no one wants to be vulnerable.  No one wants to face that hurt.  We just push it into the darkest corner of our hearts and push a plastic plant in front of it, hoping no one will see how broken we really are. 

<2> Authentic people always expose the dishonest.

This fact has become quite real to me over the past few years.  In a world of masks the person who dares to take hers off will become an immediate threat to those who have grown so attached to their own.  It becomes really easy to spot a counterfeit when it’s right next to something genuine.  When someone stands up and shares their hurts and their struggles it becomes dangerous for those who so tightly clutch their fabricated righteousness, and their false perfection is exposed for the impossibility that it is.  This is why our conversations in the church scratch the surface of our behavior while our lives fall apart behind the scenes.

<3> Authenticity is hard to control.

I loved being a conman because it gave me control.  It allowed me to think I had some kind of say in how my life would be.  I was made to believe for so long that God was angry with me, that he demanded impossible things from me without ever giving me the ability to even begin to accomplish those things.  I decided if I couldn’t control how God saw me I could definitely control how other people saw me.  And I was right, lying, manipulation, psychoanalyzing people, it all gave me some sort of control over how others saw me.  None of those things changed the fact that I was still a broken soul in bondage to my own beliefs.  No one could help me because I made everyone believe I was fine.  We do that a lot, especially in church, pretend we are fine.  Honesty is harder to reign in.  It doesn’t sit quietly in a pew and take notes.  It jumps up and says, “Hell, yeah!” at a great truth and dances to a powerful worship song.  Honesty isn’t afraid to disagree with the pastor.  Honesty is real, radical, raw, and in your face.  Honesty doesn’t stay within the boundaries.   That’s what makes honesty so hard to embrace, really, we fear being out of control. 

It’s interesting to me how authenticity always accompanies Christ.  I mean, have you read some of Jesus’s interactions with people, He was pretty direct!  What about Paul?  He definitely is not one to pull punches or sugar coat truth!  More than that even, Christ attracted the broken, the hurt, the incomplete and didn’t ask them to be anything but what they were.  He didn’t demand that they fix themselves; that’s what He was there for.  Should our churches not be a place that breed authenticity?  Should they not create spaces where it’s ok to be honest about struggles?  Shouldn’t our goal be to help the hurting find healing? 

It all begins with honesty.  We must dare to be genuine, venture to authenticity, and risk taking off our masks.  Be confident in who Christ has made you.  Open your eyes to the truth of God’s pleasure in you and let that ignite the desire to be honest with those around you.

Dare to be out of control.