Monday, December 01, 2008

Spiritual Citrus

You're holding an orange peel in your hand. Let me clarify: you're holding an orange peel in your right hand. In your left hand you have orange seeds, in front of you is a glass of orange juice (extremely pulpy) and a pile of those offwhite veiny things.

Your assignment: make an orange.

You've got everything it takes to make an orange, and yet you find yourself staring blankly at your two hands (or glaringly at me) and thinking to yourself, "yeah right."

Well if you can't make an orange, then where do oranges come from? Yes, yes, I know - they grow. I can't make an orange either, but I can till some ground, plant an orange seed, water it, prune it, dig up the weeds, and eventually I could have the orangiest orange tree this side of the Mississippi...and the Rockies, I suppose. That's not the point.

The point is: oranges aren't made, they grow.

It's a simple concept. So simple, in fact, that many people have started skimming through these sentences looking for me to get to my point. My point is exactly that: it's simple...but we miss it every single day of our lives. Let me explain.

When I was in college I felt convicted by Galatians 5. You've read it, "but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." You didn't have to look hard at my life (or at my interactions with my roommates) to see that I needed some fruit on my tree. I decided to take one "fruit" a week and work on it, not moving on to the next until I had mastered it, at least for the most part.

It took longer than you'd think, but eventually I began to realize my plan wasn't working. I'd be working on kindness, but eventually I realized I couldn't be kind to my roommates because I had no patience for them, so I had to backtrack. Then patience didn't work without love. And so on. Eventually it hit me - you don't make fruit. Fruit has to grow.

Finally I looked at the context of the passage and my thoughts were confirmed. The fruit really wasn't my job at all. My job was to live, to walk, to keep in step with the Spirit and He would produce the fruit.

Scot McKnight says it this way:
"In general, we see something fundamentally important here as to how Paul depicts the Christian life. It is life in the Spirit, the life of a person who is surrendered to letting the Spirit have complete control. But we see here also that one does not gain this life by discipline or by mustering up the energy. One does not huddle with oneself in the morning, gather together his or her forces, and charge on the battlefield of life full of self-determined direction. Rather, the Christian life is a life of complete surrender to the Spirit."


Do you ever look at your life and say, "Where's all the love?" or "Who stole my joy?!" or (let's be real for a second) "Why did I just talk to him like that?" Do you ever look at yourself and say, "Why are my branches so daggum light?"

The weird thing is the fruit isn't your responsibility, but if it's not growing in your life, it's your fault.

We are responsible for the soil. We're responsible for planting ourselves by streams of water, and for digging our roots deep, and for keeping the weeds in check, and for reading His Word, and for prayer, and for fellowship, and for keeping in step with the Spirit. We are responsible for the environment, He is responsible for the life.

The best part is, when we're doing our part, it's spring all year 'round!

I can't make an orange, but I know what it takes to grow one. And with diligent care and the Lifejuice of the Spirit, my life will be the tree where people get their cool refreshment, their tangy nourishment, their sweet delight.

Will you join me in this celestial orchard?

But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought,
and never fails to bear fruit.
~Jeremiah 17:7-8

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seated on a donkey’s colt

Jesus made his big debut riding on the haunches of a lowly beast of burden. This man, professing to be the King of kings and the Lord of Lords and Israel’s savior came to them sauntering through the crowd to the sound of clippity-clop clippity-clop clippity clop. I have already written about the surprising carpet that was rolled out before this guest of highest honor, but now it’s time to direct our mental eyes up and focus on his chosen mode of transportation.

Donkeys are slow and stubborn creatures. They are not sure-footed like a gazelle. They are not graceful like a deer. They are not powerful like an ox. They are not reliable like a camel and they are sure not regal like a stallion. They are everyday and mundane. Donkeys are common. They are useful, but common.

However, it was not showmanship Christ was seeking. He wasn’t looking for shock value, he wasn’t dressing to impress. Christ picked a humble, common creature that He knew would carry Him capably and faithfully. When people saw Him riding into town they remembered what had already been written about Him:

See, to the Daughter of Zion. See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Christ came gently, riding on the humblest of creatures. It kept in line with everything His earthly life had been about, reaching all the way back to His humble beginning in a 1/12 star motel. Christ is for the lowly. Christ is for the common. Christ is what it’s all about.

So there is a commonplace donkey trotting through the city of Zion with the eternal Lord on its back carrying Him to His and glory. That humble, common beast of burden faithfully carried our Savior and our Life into that world that desperately needed Him.

The glory of that donkey was not in the donkey itself, but in the precious weight that he bore and the way in which he bore it. The donkey delivered Christ, and now it's our turn.

"...We theologians, and church musicians, we pastoral counselors and biblical scholars, we educators and activists . . . we are all donkeys, a guild of donkeys who happen to be on the spot, and who are called in the providence of God to carry for a while that most special and precious of all burdens. Our job is to carry it—carry him—faithfully, steadily, humbly, proudly, unashamedly, joyfully—along that treacherous path which leads finally to Calvary."
~Timothy George

See, we Christians have nothing glorious in and of ourselves. We have no beauty or gallantry to offer the Lord. What we have is our faithful, steady, humble, proud, unashamed, joyful service and our backs on which to bear the King.

That day Christ proclaimed his presence riding on the back of the commonest of creatures. Today, he continues to ride into the world seated on a donkey's colt.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Love AND Respect

There's a very popular book floating around out there entitled "Love and Respect". The main premise centers around male/female relationships, especially within the context of marriage, and each genders deepest longing or need. In short, women deeply desire to be loved while men's deepest desire is to feel that they are respected.

On it's most basic level, I'm not going to disagree with the intentions, or even the conclusions, of the author. However, I think the book conveys a dangerous mindset: that it is an either/or dilemma.

Women either want to feel that they are cherished above all others or they want to feel respected. Men either want to know that they are held in high honor or feel loved.

I don't know any woman who wants her husband to make her feel loved at the expense of feeling that he respects her as a person. I have never met a man who so desperately needs to feel respected that it's of little importance to him that he know he's loved.

The reason I call it dangerous is because we start to approach God with the same mindset. I'm either going to love God or I'm going to respect Him. I'll either cherish my relationship with the Lord or I'll tremble at His feet. I will live according to Deuteronomy 6:5 ("Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength") or according to Deuteronomy 6:24-25 ("The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.")

God doesn't want our hearts without our obedience (a Christian life filled with good intentions), and He doesn't want our obedience without our hearts (a Christian life of empty rules and rituals).

God wants both/and.

A devoted Christian life will be one where the depth of the love necessitates the deepest honor, and the true respect for the King of all kings and Lord of all lords enriches even the most sincere love. God merits both our love AND respect.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I, too, will love him and show myself to him.
~John 14:21

Monday, April 07, 2008

Not a Red Dot Sale

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I'm found
was blind, but now I see!

(sing along if you know the words)

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
'Twas grace that led me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home

[key change]

When we've been there ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun
we've no less days to sing God's praise
than when we'd first begun

The song is more familiar than the national anthem, being sung by church choirs, children's choirs, Aretha, Elvis, Willie, and we could probably dig up a version by Marilyn Manson. For those of us who understand the meaning behind the words, though, something pulls on the strings in the deepest part of our souls saying that the gift of grace that we've been given is really, truly amazing.

What's even more amazing is that this "Amazing Grace" is free. Completely, entirely, no strings attached free.

I've been given a number of free things in my life. I got a free floss card at a concert once. I usually get a free pack of fireworks when I buy 5. I've gotten free drinks, free dessert, free movie tickets, and free clothes. Free things happen. But while God's grace is freely offered, it's not free like a shampoo sample is free.

Usually when people give me something for free it's because they want me to buy something else from them, or because they've already used it for all it's worth, or most likely because it's not really worth much to begin with. When I get something for free the giver has rarely lost something important in the transaction. I'm able to use and abuse my free gift because it didn't really cost anyone anything of value.

It's different with this "Amazing Grace". Free grace does not equal cheap grace.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
~Romans 3:22-25a

God's "Amazing Grace" was the most costly thing that has ever been purchased. For the first time in eternal history the Godhead was separated and the Creator became subject to the fallenness of His creation. Yet He hands us this grace as a free gift.

Not cheap -- free.

Here's that old favorite hymn one more time. Listen to the words, but this time look at the price tag.

This was the cost of grace -- free grace, amazing grace.

Yes, it is free, but let's not treat it like it came from the clearance rack.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Little Kicks and Pirouettes

Life is full of dances. Rather, life is a dance - one big musical in which we are all performers, all dancers and actors, and all contributing to the development of the plot. There are individual performances, couple's dances, and group routines - the moment determining the steps.

The events of our lives are our orchestra, filling the world with music. The air is shaking with the sounds of chaotic schedules, stressful workdays, relaxing vacations, invigorating friendships, and quiet moments watching the sun rise.

On the stage of life we flit and float and sachet to the rhythm of the moment. Whether it is a dance of exhaustion, excitement, frustration, embarassment, pleasure, hunger, desire, grief, or anxiety there is a set of box-steps and jazz hands to complement every moment of life.

There are performances we put on that make life amusing (polka would be an apt metaphor), entertaining (think 'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye" routine), awe-inspiring (break-dancers who defy gravity) and inspirational (who doesn't want to take ballroom dancing lessons after watching "Dancing with the Stars"?).

The question is what kind of dancer am I?

Do I move in reaction to the music of life?

Sadly, I think I often do. I hear something offensive, and I react. I see something annoying, and I react. I feel frustrated, and I do some "little kicks". I find something that makes me happy, and out pop the thumbs. My movements are often unrehearsed, unrefined, and unappealing, leaving everyone (except for maybe myself) embarassed for the way I conduct myself. I go through life having a long strand of what appear to be "full body dry heaves".

Instead of reacting to the music in my life, I could let that music move me.

Her movements are intentional, her posture is elegant, and her dance is nothing short of beautiful.

Both women enjoy dancing, but sometimes the apparent seizures would distract you from ever knowing that. Both hear the music, both move to the rhythm, both show their emotions, but only one leaves you wanting to see more.

As I make my way through this performance of my life I am given every opportunity to refine my steps, to practice my movements, to improve the way I tell my part of the story.

Life is a stage. I am a performer. The world is making music. Am I letting it move me, or am I merely reacting to it...little kicks and all?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sea Spray

Tumbling and swirling, I take deep breaths whenever I can.

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.

"Be still" He says.
I feel relief, truly believing that those powerful words are spoken to the waves of my life the same way he spoke them to the waves of Galilee.
"Be still" he repeats.

The sky grows darker.

I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.

"Be still."
Again I wait for the waves to heed His commands. I wait for the wind to die down. I wait, and I cry, and I struggle against the deep darkness pulling me down.

Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

...still, I know, but it's not working! The wind won't stop, the rain won't stop, this storm is not obeying you, and I can't reach the bottom anymore. I'm not strong enough for this. Won't you save me?

Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them

All that move in them. All that move in them? I move in them. I'm drowning, but I'm still moving. Praise you?

"Be still" He says again, "and know that I am God."

Once He chose to calm the storm (Mark 4:35-41).
Once He chose to calm the man (Matthew 14:25-33).
Both times He asked, "Where is your faith?"

~from Psalms 69 and 46