Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Question in Question

"A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed." -- Dresden James
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -- George Orwell
"If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people!" -- The prophet Micah, to a group who only wanted a truth that was reflective of their own wills

The sentence that came out of her mouth had the appearance of a question, but it wasn't really. It was a proclamation. In her mind, it was more of an informing. The "question" in question was, "Daddy, can I do the slip and slide?"
To my 3-year-old, this kind of question isn't really a question. Her tone and demeanor betrayed the fact that in reality this was a warning. "Give me the right answer, dad, and you will get my joy-filled approval, gratitude, excitement, kisses and support! But give me something else, buddy, and prepare for my ritual pouting, accusations, fit-throwing, cursings, and just over-all, general uncooperativeness."
Sure enough, when I answered with, "Yes, sweety, but we are going to wait a little bit to do that," she instantly put her upper lip out and her head down in utter disapproval...usually the first event in a series that show her displeasure and serves as her effort to get things the way she wants. 
You see, in her 3-yr-old mind, there was only one right answer. And that would be, by the way, the answer that she wanted and was sincerely convinced she was right about.
I have met 70-year-olds who have not outgrown this 3-year-old mentality...and the only "growth" they've had concerning it is that they have learned to manipulate and twist words and meanings in order to sound right to themselves. I, too, find myself adhering to this. "Tell me what I want to hear, what is agreeable to my ears and my already determined beliefs, and I will reward you with my joy-filled approval, gratitude, excitement, kisses and support. But tell me something else, and prepare for my ritual pouting, accusations, fit-throwing, cursings and just over-all, general uncooperativeness."
Oh, for the capacity to see through ourselves in this! The truth is that we are sinners and subject to and entangled in deep emotions. We are easily disturbed, easily confused, easily offended, easily overcome, and easily destroyed. And so we appeal to puny, childish games that shortcut real growth, raw and real relationships, and spiritual progress. And if someone dares look for, find, and speak the objective truth, even with perfect love, the rest of us punish him with these assaults to try to get him to stop and fall in line. God help us ask the right questions, rise above ourselves, and see with Your eyes.
Look in the mirror for 10 minutes at your own face, asking yourself this question, to see if you are inadvertently behaving as my 3-year-old: "Is there anything on earth that offends me so much that I stop loving someone?"
You are stuck with your answer, if you have the courage to ask it and meditate on it. That's why many of us will not ask it. Not asking is one of our best strategies to protect ourselves.
For those of us who take a knee to the Christ, we are not being faithful and obedient to our religion when we merely survive an offense and keep on going (often called, inappropriately, the virtue of perseverance). We are only being faithful and obedient when our dedicated love for the offender is not compromised in the least when they offend us (true perseverance).
Religion, for decades, has taught that you need to be right in order to go to Heaven. This half-truth, accepted as the whole truth, has made such a mess of us.
God help us. We have a higher commitment to believing we are right than we do to actually being right...and we can't tell the difference between the two.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Not-Often-Thought-Of Need for Work

"I need rest." - The usually silent, but screaming, unspoken words of most people I know
"I need work." - The usually spoken, excited, motivated words of deeply rested people
The deeply rested people that I know are not the people who have just returned from a vacation. The deeply rested people that I know are the ones that live life constantly "rising up above themselves" and escape the trappings of their own making. It is these people that seem to love work in a way that I desire to love work.
Oh, tons of people I know love work. Just not the way I want to love work.
The ones that love work because they find their identity in it...have an identity that is too small.
The ones that love work because they have a "spot" on the planet that they can feel some sense of control...have an illusion that bears no lasting satisfaction.
The ones that love work because it is their hiding place from family relationships, Godly relationships, or just relationships...have a lonely existence.
The ones that love work because it's giving them money to do something they want to do that is other than their work...are wasting time doing something other than what they want to do, thinking it's the only way to do it.
While I have a little bit in common with all of the above people in regards to my "work", I would not put any of those reasons on my list of "why I love work."
I love work because I need it. I was made for it. Created for it. Incomplete without it. Lost without it.
The work I speak of does not stop when your "regular duties" are altered for a time due to a Sabbatical, a vacation, a resignation, a firing, or a job change.
Work, to me, is synonymous with life.
Work is synonymous with love.
Work is synonymous with truth.
It's synonymous with family.
It's synonymous with relationships.
Work, for each of us, is the only thing we are alive to do, when we understand what real work is. Jesus said that "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
A loaded statement, to say the least. And I don't think being a preacher means that I'm just one of the "lucky ones" who gets to be paid to do the work of God. This may sound strange for many, but I don't even think of myself as a "full-time minister"...never have. Maybe I just like imagining this, but I'm just striving to be a normal, God-directed, listening human being who believes that there is always a call on my life to do something for a Caller out there, and in my listening and responsiveness, it just happens to mean I'm in a pulpit right now, preaching about Jesus to a group of people I love in Amarillo, TX.
You were created for the work of God. I don't care who you are, I know that whatever your doing, your full time work is to believe in Jesus. To believe what he said, and live your life based on it. And, from personal experience I'll tell you, when I'm doing that work it changes my life daily.
And I need it to feel alive.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Silence and Solitude

"When I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased." - King David
I am in the heart of my first, 3-week-long Sabbatical (rest) from the regular duties of my preaching position at the Southwest church. I call it the heart, not because I'm smack dab in the middle of it (which I am), but because I am on the last of a 3-day-long retreat of silence and solitude. I have not seen nor spoken to another human being for 2 days now, and will spend one more night here and then reunite with my family and my world tomorrow. If you asked me right now about it, I'd tell you that I wish it were longer. But the pause I'm now taking to write this email suggests to me that I am longing for human contact more than I might admit.
I had elevated this 3 days "with God" as the pinnacle of this "productive rest", everything I've done previously building up to it, everything that I will do starting tomorrow coming out of it.
My friend Andy, on the Sunday of this Sabbatical's beginning, wishing me well articulated my hearts desire for this time (something like) these words: "We all wish, and probably should, do what you are about to do, but either don't or won't. As you do it, do it for all of us." 
While standing under the shade of a tree, listening to the deafening silence, asking God to break it with His voice...I was compelled to open my Bible to a random Psalm, which ended up being the 39th one. The comment of David above comes from there, and probably best describes my time here.
I have immersed myself these last two days in the Gospels of John and Luke, the teachings of historians Thomas Cahill and Ray Vander Laan concerning the times and peoples surrounding Jesus' appearing, and the memoirs of George Muller (who's courageous and literal dependence on prayer is what my heart both longs for and is unwilling to try). When I have been sleepy, I have slept. When I have been hungry, I have eaten. I have gotten to see some cool wildlife in action (it doesn't take much of this to impress me), was interrupted by an awesome lightening storm that I watched travel from the distance and pass right over me (admittedly scary, but awesome to stand with in).
A I have paused many times in order to, unsuccessfully, be still and know that God is God.
Each time, my anguish increased. I felt I must do something. Read something. Study something. Serve someone. Be interruptible. Plan a sermon series. Go to the bathroom. Listen to a tape.
So, what I have learned? Many things.
1. I need to take extended time with God much more than I do now.
2. My prayer life stinks. Extended time with God is only beneficial for those who know how to be with God.
3. God wants me to be dependant on Him day by day for things like sermons, and more dedicated time spent on them will not earn me a better sermon (no, I'm NOT saying I don't need to study...he who has an ear, let him hear).
4. Having people in need around me to serve is a gift from God, so that I can do here on earth what is done in Heaven.
5. That earthly luxury and security gets in the way of knowing what it is to have God's luxury and security.
I am going to go out again and be still and know that Yahweh is God. I've mastered the "be active and know that Yahweh is God" thing, and I've flirted with the "be still" thing, but I've got a long way to go. King David continued in that Psalm to say "My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned, then I spoke with my tongue." That may be what just happened to me with this email, although in an atypical tamed sort of way for me.
David went on to ask God to show Him exactly when he was going to die so that he could understand how puny his life really is in the big scheme of things. How fleeting his efforts on earth are considering the hugeness of God and His efforts.
That's what I need before I go home, too. It just occurred to me that I have not yet cried while being here alone. That is not like me, and it is a sure sign that I am not connected to the overwhelming heart of God. I go out into my lonely "wilderness" one last time tonight, looking not for tears, but for the God that I always find when they come. As in David's last words in this Psalm:
"Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more."