December 2012

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For Christmas, this post is a day early.) I think human hearts are like stables. They can be dark, chaotic, and filthy, but can also be well-swept and rich in ordinary earthiness.

There’s an unexpected treasure to be had, camouflaged and swaddled right in the midst of life’s dung.

I used to miss out simply because there was no room in my spirit for Christ-like love of self and neighbor. Even among Christians, it’s often inadvertently sent to the barn.

It’s so easy to be sucked into a life-style of insistent, angry arguments or a need to crush opponents. It’s easy to believe that it’s necessary to forcefully defend ideas, feelings, or whatever feels threatened. A quickly-offended, anxious spirit that sees only the cold, hard facts of life can take control and color everything with in-your-face disgust or dark shame.

But that spirit is vanquished once we realize we can make room for a personal sense of gracious, gentle power and intelligent strength of character able to love even people we don’t like (including ourselves).

It’s a king of an idea disguised as an infant that grows within a virgin-like humanity ignorant of what God’s been doing—and is still doing—in the world. When it grows up, fully mature and practiced, mankind will be sound of heart, mind, and body. We’ll finally be free of sorrow and frustration.

What a treasure! This is the glory of God and the tremendous hope we have in Christ in ordinary, everyday living on this planet—today and in ages to come.

It took me long enough, but I finally understand. There really are glad tidings of great joy, for unto us is born this day a child. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!

Merry Christmas wherever you live!


In memory of Sandy Hook ElementaryIn the wake of the horror and grief in Newtown, CT, last week, many of us (including me) ask where God is. Even those with a strong relationship with Him wonder why He allows such tragedy.

In the words of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab. 1:3)

First, I think it’s a good sign to wonder. It means we’re still capable of caring, that we retain some vestige of God’s image and character in us. The day that something like this doesn’t upset our collective human spirit and bring cries of protest (think Job or David) would be an alarming day indeed.

Second, no one has all the answers, least of all me. However, I believe the answer has to do, oddly enough, with the fact that God’s love is far stronger than ours. We usually think of this as a good thing until tragedy strikes. Then we don’t like God’s love so much. It doesn’t make sense.

You see, our kind of love seeks to protect at any cost the objects of our love. Safety, rather than freedom or experience or understanding, tends to take precedence. And the priority is not just safety for the loved one, but to protect ourselves from pain and grief. This kind of love is a bit selfish and thus weaker than God’s.

I don’t say this critically. It’s just how it is with finite beings who don’t have full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life, death, and everything in between. We aren’t God; and part of not being God means being vulnerable to a certain amount of fear.

By contrast, God’s love isn’t selfish or weak. Our freedom and understanding, rather than physical safety or protection, takes precedence because from His vantage point, all is well in hand even when He doesn’t like what’s going on. His posture is more relaxed because He has full knowledge and control over the entire spectrum of life and death. (more…)

Goonies Treasure Map

Goonies Treasure Map (Photo credit: MontyAustin)

Once you begin to see value in yourself, you’ll also need to see value in transformation. Then you’re enabled to make a choice that makes sense to you. You can intend transformation to live new life in God’s kingdom.

I find it unsettling that after forty years as a Christian, I never really had a complete or practical image of the kingdom of heaven, probably because I marginalized the bulk of what Jesus said. I didn’t see it myself when I read the Gospels, nor did church leaders present it to me.

I had a stronger relationship with my church and bible than with Jesus. Like many, I believed that forgiveness alone would save me. And the cross he hung on, not he, would change my life. Effectively, for most Christians I know, Jesus is worth more dead than alive because his primary value was in his crucifixion, not his life.

The Lord’s life-style didn’t make sense to me. Therefore, I didn’t plan and organize my own life-style around his. I never formed the intent to live the kind of life from above that he did in God’s kingdom. And after forty years, it showed.

For one thing, I saw the kingdom of heaven and salvation strictly as an afterlife issue. The kingdom was far away and far future, having little bearing on the challenges in my current life. Eternity started after I physically die, and passage from death to life occurred only then. For another thing, any necessary changes in this life would happen to me once I espoused the right doctrines, especially those pertaining to atonement for sin.

For me, this constituted trust, faith, and belief. It was the definition and extent of obedience to Christ. My delayed reward would be that I’d one day wake up in a wispy realm with God, engaged in an eternal church service complete with choirs, harps, and lots of Amens and Hallelujahs.

Becoming the sort of person who can stand life with God never occurred to me. I wondered instead how God can stand me. (more…)


Juggler (Photo credit: anadelmann)

Continuing from last week, transformation from death to life starts with the realization that we’re jumbled, broken souls, but not worthless souls.

You and I can humbly acknowledge our ruined condition without self-contempt, for that’s a seed that lays deep roots and grows into a spirit of contempt for others.

It creates double-mindedness and a divided heart instead of an undivided one. How can you love neighbors consistently or be spontaneously kind to enemies when you’re not even prepared to love yourself?

The person you are inside is the person you are when your guard is down—like after you’ve had too much wine. Everyone knows the happy drunk or the belligerent drunk, and it’s common to hear, “That was the alcohol talking last night.” But it was really the true person sneaking out when alcohol put the guard to sleep.

A member of my family was married years ago to a charming guy who became verbally and physically abusive when he drank. When he was sober, he was always deeply, genuinely, terribly sorry. He tearfully pleaded for (and received) forgiveness. But he never changed.

The fact is regret alone has no transformative power. Forgiveness alone won’t move you into the promised land of wellness. While these are necessary components of Christian repentance, the driving force behind transformation is a clear vision of who you can become, the willing choice to change, a sensible, knowledgeable way to do it, and then following it. God supplies everything but the willingness and the following. (more…)