Beyond the Catch-Phrase
Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.
At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.
Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.
In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”
Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.
This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.
What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?
A Thing of Beauty
After a drawn-out year I’m finally settling into a home where I can put down some roots, and stay a while. A few treasures had bumped and crunched in this move or that one, and so I found myself with a few repair projects, first a teapot whose handle was now in four pieces. Mr. Hardware was quite helpful and recommended a fancy new cement. I snagged it, and a tube of super glue just in case things didn’t go quite as I’d planned.
This teapot has never been the sturdiest of souls, always the first to burst into tears when something unjust happens. Clearly, this last move had injured it nearly beyond repair. The first product wasn’t adhering quickly enough before the weight of the broken piece would fall out of it’s position. Finally with the super glue I was able to glue all four pieces at the same time rather than one at a time.
I couldn’t help but notice that the restoration process for this teapot was unique just as our own healing journey requires a unique combination of restorative ingredients. I realized my turquoise bit of pottery would never host a tea party again. I’m pretty sure the potter put a rather slinky handle on this chubby and adorable pot, but even with an entire ounce of super glue plotzed in every crack and crevice, it would never be the same.
And so it is with us. Some have been decimated by life’s harsh circumstances. Others are running from the rod which measured them as a child, and found them lacking. So severe were it’s judgments that they mete out penalties against their bodies, or crush others needlessly. With others, an unfulfilled dream or failure to become the man or woman they’d hoped, a yawning ache remains.
The Bible, in Jeremiah 18, contains a beautiful story about the prophet being prompted by the Lord to visit the potter’s house for an object lesson quite like mine. As Jeremiah observes the potter at the wheel, the Lord asks a poignant question of Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you as the potter does the clay?” The more intimate and beautiful friendships with Him come with yieldedness to God, as the Potter.
Lent is a beautiful season for reflection. My question is this, have you come to the place where you’ve reached the end of yourself? The way in which we become unstuck in this life is to yield. Obviously my teapot doesn’t have a will. But submitting to the process of becoming reconciled to our Maker requires a choice. When we get to the place where we stop yelling about our rights, and yelling about how life should have gone, then we will find intimacy with God. It’s when we listen and release our fist into an opened hand that we find Him if we invite Him to speak, and to heal. In the process we may find that – healed – we’ll never become the person of our dreams. Yet, I do promise this, we’ll discover the dreams that our Maker had for us. After all, maybe you were meant to be a thing of Beauty rather than Function.
Tea can be such a plebeian pursuit when you’re a fancy teapot sporting a wickedly cracked handle.
Go in Love.
The Creative Process – Extracting Beauty From the Void
Your deadline is now. Actually it’s tomorrow morning but your project or presentation is a mess. Something has got to happen or you’re toast.
Feel that panic? I do.
What is it that causes us to pull it together and deliver the goods in the 11th hour?
The creative process is perhaps my favorite topic to write about. I’m reminded of some great principles extracted from Genesis 1, that help me manage my creative endeavors, whether for work or personal.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void; and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2
In the beginning of a creative effort, we find it formless and void. We are shocked and even panicked at its lack of form. The vacuum can be overwhelming.
“…Darkness was over the surface of the deep… ” The lack of light – even life – is everywhere. This reminds me of when, too early on in a project, we are looking for life, a spark, and it is off-putting when we don’t find it. God, in His most notable creative work, creation itself, indicates that darkness was everywhere.
We are invited to emulate God in His creative method, to brood over our creative works until they become transformed, bearing Light and Life.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:3-4
Creative endeavors come in all sizes shapes and colors. Regardless of what it is, it is necessary to say what it’s going to be.
A teacher creates a lesson plan against a curriculum. An architect works against a blueprint. With my line of work I have a functional design and deliverables. A writer produces an outline of what he or she will write. Every line of work has its own commitment of what the creative effort will be, or not be. In doing so we emulate God’s method when He says, “Let there be Light.”
The words we use to define a project are often packed with meaning. My teacher friend often cites how a curriculum she has compiled meets the requirements of ‘Common Core’. Among teachers and parents that phrase is packed with meaning. God’s reference to Light is packed with meaning too, in His first words He is creating a way for the Son to be made manifest in the natural realm, His Son who is already present with Him at Creation. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all present there in that moment.
The creative process is multi-dimensional but we break it down by realizing that every endeavor is, at first, formless and void. It only begins to become when we declare what it will be and what it will not be.
Enough for now. Go create!
The seminar came about at the start of the year, when everyone tends to cast a vision for their life, dream dreams, create a bucket list, etc. The speaker referenced the brain’s left and right-sided processing. However, she clearly believed and purported that God only speaks to us through the right side of the brain because the left side is “intellectual” and therefore “fleshly thinking”, in other words the left side of the brain was only good for merely logical processing and not spiritual.
Ridiculous. Please humor me a moment while I fuss and fume, and proceed to correct this very bad teaching.
First, our whole person is created in God’s image, and there are not parts of us that are pleasing to Him while other parts are degraded. Psalm 139 is loaded with insight about the ways the God has created us and knows intimately the man or woman He has created us to be.
“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth…”
Not only does He know what He has created, He is immensely pleased with who you are, and how you are wired. Why would God, as a King and Father, send His Son if He didn’t think you were worth His sacrifice?
I love Jeremy Riddle’s song, This is Amazing Grace. Give that a whistle sometime. https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Bethel-Music-Jeremy-Riddle/This-Is-Amazing-Grace
Anyway, I digress but this speaker suggested we should abandon logical thinking because only the creative thoughts were Spirit-led. Can you imagine?
Scripture shows us God is pretty good at conveying His thoughts to us, and putting plans in motion. He uses all manner of ways to communicate with us. You see a raspberry sunset and you cannot help but think, “Wow, God sure know how to use His crayons!” Okay, I’m kidding. But truthfully it’s difficult to see a sunset and not have a sense there’s a higher being outside ourselves, one who is wildly creative Himself.
Second, we should ponder the nature of God Himself.
This is God Omnipotent, the God who knows all things. Translated, He’s really smart and He’s designed His people to use their noggin. Especially when understanding His plans for our lives, He fully expects us to take advantage of the amazing intellect He has given us just as He has. Do you suppose that God who has created all things did so without engaging His intellect? Doubt it.
For the unaware, logical processing that occurs on the left side of the brain produces some of the most artistic and beautiful creations ever created. Systems that run, your iPhone and your car, are absolute works of art. Of course they are based in science and technology but you don’t think Michaleangelo might have used mathematics when He sculpted The David or painted the Sistene Chapel? Google Golden Ratio and Michaleangelo or Fibonacci, and you tell me. When spaceships beautifully and exquisitely orbit planets, let’s broadly assume it takes a bit more than crayons or a paintbrush.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some brilliant men and women over the years. While I have skills and brains, and I can hold my own in a crowd, these are the folks in whose presence you are humbled. From them I have learned this: One of the most astounding thresholds to cross is when science ceases to be science, and becomes art. That is to say that when the most intelligent people cannot explain why something works but they’ve tapped into the repeatable patterns that reveal truth and prove hypotheses. It’s then they just have to stand back and honor the pattern, honor the proven theory. It gives a deeper meaning to truth as well. Repeatable code. Finding the art in science. Those are moment of pure beauty.
This year? Dream big. Use your noggin … agree with God that His creation of you is amazing, and fling open the windows of possibility! What will you do? Who will you become? I can’t wait to see!
Buying the Field
I’ve a journal in which I record dreams, visions, ideas. Sometimes people will share words or reflect the way my life has influenced them, and I’ll jot those things down and ponder them. I saw an entry that I wanted to share with you.
In July of 2010 I’d had a picture of concentric circles with my heart in the center. The circles around my heart represented things that I owned which were of value to me: my house with a big grassy yard, my Jeep because it reflected the sassiness of my personality; my cat whom I utterly adored; and other luxuries that I was able to afford at the time, like manicures and pedicures, et al. My life as I knew it then felt hollow. I was working insanely hard to maintain a house whose value was in the toilet because of the housing market crash.
After three incredibly long years of waiting for my house to sell, I rented it out, quit my job, and up-ended all my roots and headed for LA. I had a good job here in LA, and an apartment so it wasn’t a complete debacle. On the one hand I knew and understood the cost of my decision and yet, on the other hand, I don’t think I had a clue. How truly that reflects nearly every choice we make!
Through a convoluted twist of circumstances I lost the house through foreclosure. I sold my Jeep and leased a Mini Cooper. My cat died. And a radical cut in salary from Nebraska, plus a sharp increase in the cost of living in LA leaves me at a place where I can honestly say those concentric circles don’t exist anymore.
What does that really mean though?
I can only speak for myself but my journey was about faith, and letting my heart take on something bigger than myself. For most of my life I’ve struggled in my ability to dream. What do I want my life to be about? I can give you some spiritual sounding answers but I can feel God piercing that lack of sincerity in my heart until I begin to own an idea, and let it become my own.
Here’s what the journal entry said:
Concentric circles around my heart. Things I treasure form walls which block the presence of God in my life. I lean on them instead of Him. In order to hear God more fully I lean on the walls to see if there is a door. I step into the creative process and press the story out from within the circles nearest my heart. The Pearl of a great price. Selling everything that I have in order to gain Christ.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” — Matthew 13:44
So often we think of the man in that parable as Christ, and that we are the treasure. And indeed we are His treasure. But we enter into His same joy when we emulate his decision and consider Him to be our treasure. Our dream.
I would never joke about the price I’ve paid to pursue Christ. I would have moved to London, New York or Sydney but He led me here. A seasoned dreamer learns that when Christ is at the center of the dream no cost is too steep.
Dreamer, I encourage you to buy the field.
Ditch the Plates
Recently I was reminded of wisdom from my friend Julie, “When things are not working in one area of your life just humble yourself with God and let Him sift your heart. Let Him call the shots about where things are out of whack.” Such a relief I felt. I can do that. I can’t fix all the things I’ve broken, but I can repent for the places He shows me, and I can rejoice where He shows me successes.
Lately things are messed up enough that I’ve been content to just look at the messes with Him for a moment. To see things as He sees them.
Others see the outside of us. They perceive that we have our lives together, that we are impenetrable. “What could she possibly need?” The truth is we’re all re-assembling our lives in view of the empty tomb at Calvary. I feel like I’ve been trying (Read: trryyyingg) so hard to keep all the plates spinning. I decided to stop trying. So let the flippin’ plates go. It’s just too much, too confusing. I don’t understand and the pieces seem like they belong to someone else’s puzzle, not mine. Seriously that sky blue piece can’t possibly fit in my puzzle that’s all clouds and stormy weather.
Anyway it turns out when you stop trying there’s some exposure. It resembles the Hoover Dam a bit, unleashed. You didn’t get the job done. You are suddenly not the ideal girlfriend, the most physically fit with the cleanest apartment, the most accomplished. In fact your failures scream at you. Meh. Let it go. Just look for the scarlet cord and take hold of that. The One that matters.
To ask for help does.not.smell.like.failure. It has the fragrance of a rainy day after the sun has come out.
Another friend told me, “Your success at pursuit of the Kingdom is not what is measured. Everything you do, prayerfully intending to obey God will be accounted to you as missional obedience, as righteousness.” — Shun Lee
That statement has changed my life. It’s changed what I do, what I will pursue, and how much of myself I will risk to see Kingdom accomplished.
On Loving Los Angeles and Listening
I look around. I find myself in the land of Canaan, this Los Angeles-land that the Lord told me to confidently enter and occupy. So many words and promises led me here. It all looks so different now.
When I first got the word to occupy the land, to dwell in it, and cultivate faithfulness, I did not see all the ways that I would fall flat on my face. I couldn’t perceive the way my nose would drill into the ground like some kind of woodpecker because my hands and arms would not once break my fall. Somehow the promise that I would not be hurled headlong remains true. Yet the reality of having taken more than a few social, emotional and financial face plants is no less true.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. — Psalm 37:23-24
From the outer periphery of the vision and His calling me to LA, I peered in saw nothing but fruit. Promises fulfilled. I was called. I believed I would make a difference. Is Los Angeles more beautiful now that I’ve been here? Does her face seem more washed, her edges a bit more soft and loved? Each of us, called to live here and pour out love, takes a hit for our efforts.
We pay a steep price for love … this beautiful City of Angels.
From the yawning city streets that are still lined with trash, I look upward and wonder. The price I’ve paid for this vision cannot be measured. It has cost me everything. I could decorate my walls with the costly parking tickets I’ve paid.
Here I will dwell.
When God chooses Zion as His dwelling place, He selects the choicest of places. We know that He indeed chooses Israel as a nation and a people group, but specifically He chooses Zion… a place within a place. He also chooses to dwell in the hearts of mankind. Our hearts. The choicest place within our hearts. Not the outer edges. Not the crunchy parts of our hearts but the hidden, lush places … here I will dwell.
I have had the privilege of watching specific third world countries change over the course of time; becoming more civilized, cleaner, healthier, all because people choose to invest in the people and in the land. Love beautifies a heart. Love beautifies nations. Love beautifies Los Angeles.
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His habitation.
“This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” — Psalm 132.13-14
He has called me here to shout Love! to Los Angeles. And I have. Her streets have received His love, as I’ve poured it out. There have been days and stretches when I have forgotten to tell her that Father loves her. But simply because I am fully and completely loved, I carry love. I carry transformation and reconciliation on my shoulders just as the priests of old carried the ark of the Covenant on their shoulders.
It is our privilege to partner with God to love specific people, cities, nations, knowing full-well that we are not alone. Others walk beside us pouring out their love, investing their talents and and letting their laughter ring in the streets. We don’t always get to see the full transformation of a land. With the new year I open myself quietly to hear His voice, reiterating the words He has spoken or to hear a new direction. Each of us has long since released our control over the how, why, and where of His calling. We have already paid the price … love always costs us everything.
And so it is with the the Zion of our hearts we listen. Where to dwell? Whom shall we love?
The results are not up to us and I’m not measured by my results.
I’m measured by the intentions of my heart.
Places Through Portals
Each of us has the capacity to lead others to places in the Spirit of God where others have never been. Just as our fingerprints are unique so our experiences of the Spirit-realm bear a likeness of our personal journey with the Godhead.
Reader, listen to the notes and the chords and then slip down in between. I’ll take you to the places where I’ve broken fallow ground. The prunings from previous seasons were planted here. Irrigated with disciplines I’ve cultivated and tears I’ve shed … a vineyard has come of it. First along the edges of our experiences, and then further in. The Glory pierces through us as we plumb the depths of the place where God has made Himself at home.
With the Glory of God covering me as with a garment, I step into the unknown place. I slip through the crease, the weight of Your Presence pulls me into another realm, an atmosphere heavy with Your gaze. Underneath the Everlasting Arms. At once I’m with You, alone with You. You who sees my heart. You that are acquainted with all my ways. There is nothing hidden.
Unwinding, unravelling twisted places. Setting down straight places. Pulling captives from the briars. Pillars of unbelief bend toward the Light. Portals open wider. Glory floods through. Encompassing, engulfing, surrounded by Presence that floods my being with Light. And in Thy Light we see Light. I am laid low. I rest. He’s carved out a place for me. A place that is safe. A deep breath. Rest. Sing to me, Father. Your songs that refresh my soul. I am alive in You. And there is no place that is covered. In all my being I find my safety in You.
Partnering with God for creative miracles. Lining broken places with the Glory of God in such a way that they are recreated. Their design and function are not replaced with something that works, they are completely recreated in accordance with the blueprint of Heaven. Glory is smeared like oil in all the ravaged and torn places. The breath of God finds its way through every crevice.
Hebrews 4:12-13 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
A Grace Trajectory
Monkey bars. Do you remember them? They sort of beg you to hang upside down and look at the world from a different viewpoint, don’t they? It’s a structure so you’re either on the monkey bars or you’re not. You are either willing to climb and stretch and twirl. Or you’re not. And it’s okay, really. There’s always the teeter totter that will knock your chin into next week, if you like that sort of thing.
But, really. We’re all grown-ups here. And this is still the playground. And you can either see London, France and Stinky’s underpants, or not.
The big decisions come as little ones. Actually. They masquerade as, “So whaddya think?” And your answer to “Whaddya think?” sets the whole trajectory of your life. Or, at the very least, it exposes what is in your heart.
As a Christian I have at my fingertips the concept of Grace. And Christians are wildly prone to apply grace to themselves but be really super stingy when it comes to other people. We just do this. I don’t know where we learned it. And I’m really grossed out by that, and apologize. Yeah.
Grace, we’ll happily recite to you is unmerited favor. Awesome. Let’s throw a few Christianese jargon-y words in there so you can’t be on the team, once again. We’re still in Junior High apparently and picking teams, and if you know the words and how to use them then you’ll be picked to be on the team. Good grief. What a recollection. I hated Junior High and being the last one to be picked. Late bloomer. Whatever. I’ll need counseling after this.
Using other words I’d say that grace is about open-heartedness. It’s about giving the benefit of the doubt without requiring a person to change, without requiring that they give me, or anyone, all the precise details about how.you.got.here. In the first place.
That’s God’s nature. Actually. If we want to connect with Him in authentic relationship, that’s really how He rolls. Is it because He’s really artistic and does the broad stroke and misses detail? No. It’s because of His Son. And love. You know, love makes us all do really crazy things. And that’s what God is like. It doesn’t really matter where you’ve been or what this is all about. It’s about relationship.
Copeland produced a song called Brightest, and the lyrics are like this:
If you find yourself here on my side of town
I’d pray that you’d come to my door
Talk to me like you don’t know what we ever fought about …
To me, that’s what love looks like. Love just can’t figure out a reason to fight anymore. Like a surfer yields to the next wave, you lean into the equity of what you have together and just drop it. You let it all go, and yield to the covenants that you share with one another, whether its a lifelong commitment between best friends, or it’s a couple, or even siblings. It’s the best picture that I have for the way Father God is with us. Instead of looking at the mess, He just nods quietly and looks over at His Son. He sent His Son for our messes. Christ died the most gruesome death. But there was a purpose, so that Father could gaze at us, eye to eye. So that we could connect with Him. Father and Son. Father and Daughter.
Watch for real Love. Wait for it. Don’t accept the counterfeit. Because real love lets you be you.
The Courage to Feel
Have you ever thought about how love feels so much like grief?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because the symptoms are so similar … emotions careening outside the fabulous yellow lines and leading swiftly toward the guard rails. The truth is the two ends of the spectrum demand a lot from us emotionally, and we feel. We’re not permitted to leave the moment without admitting that we feel something.
And feeling something is a poignant part of life.
Different people have different impacts on us. When we find ourselves attracted to a man or a woman, it completely jams our sensors. Bright lights go off and bells sound. Of course it triggers, silly. But its more than that…
I remember ten years ago or so, I was attracted to one of the pastors of our church. A worship leader. Just a guy with a lot of charisma, and charm. Everybody adored Van. There was something about him, perhaps it was his transparency or wonderful personality but it caused the women to drop their guard and FEEL. They felt loved. They felt cared for. They learned about themselves and were drawn into a deeper relationship with the Lord. I didn’t know a single woman who, at one point wasn’t positive she was going to marry Van.
As women we often tether ourselves to one man because he has caused us to feel. When a woman doesn’t know herself very well, or if she has some past wounds that she’s not dealt with, she suddenly feels safe as she discovers who she is, and her own inner beauty. She finds the courage to deal with her past pain and makes tremendous progress in her personal journey. But somehow that deep well of thanksgiving translates romantically to the man who helped her along that journey.
It’s wholesome and yet a tiny bit fractured.
Feeling is not optional. A full life demands that let people into our lives, to thaw, and forgive. True freedom comes when we set those men free, when we release them and move into our own emotional freedom, whether love, grief or something in between.
Be truly free to feel.