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The Christian Mind: Irrational

If anything has led to the loss of religious faith in the modern world, it is the idea that “science” has proven that God does not exist. Much of the disdain in our society toward religious faith I spoke about in our last post can be traced back to this idea.

Which may not be obvious. But to the extent society believes that God is an irrational concept, those who believe in God will be seen not only as violators of human freedom but also violators of compassion and justice. Continue reading “The Christian Mind: Irrational”

Good Grief

I had the opportunity last weekend to take a road trip with my daughter. Our destination was Bethel Church in Redding, California — our former church for several years. But the trip gave us the opportunity to detour ever-so-slightly to a hidden gem of a place called Lake Almanor.

Nestled in the California Sierras, Lake Almanor is a quiet vacationing spot just south of Mount Lassen National Park. Besides being absolutely picturesque, it also carries sentimental value for us: We lived there for two years, enjoying about 140 inches of snow each winter. Days before Christmas one year, two feet of snow fell, transforming the landscape into everything you would imagine a white Christmas to be.

Our visit to this mountain community last weekend was brief but memorable. While I cooped myself up in a book store in town finishing up work, my daughter journeyed around the lake, visiting some favorite spots to take in the scenery. In her words, she had one of the best times of her life.

I suppose I mention all this because lately I have been thinking about mystery in the Christian life: That dimension of our experience that defies explanation. Most of my readers know, for example, that my wife and closest friend of twenty-five years passed away unexpectedly less than three months ago. That would qualify as one of those mysteries.

But what is also mysterious is that my daughter and I would retrace the steps of our past, clearly embedded with memories of now-departed mother and wife, and not be overcome with grief. Instead, we had the best time of our lives. That, too, is a mystery.

There is such a thing, I am discovering, as good grief. Good grief is a grief that processes the loss of a close loved one but does not succumb to despair. Now in saying this, I must make two disclaimers. The first is that everyone processes grief differently. And based on what I have observed on the grief support groups I joined on Facebook, some are downright distraught after the death of their loved one, even years later. So if that is you, I mean no disrespect and am deeply sorry for your loss.

The other disclaimer is that by good grief I do not mean grief without tears. I have had my share of tears. I have made it a point to shed them. In fact, I have made it my goal to allow myself to feel all I am feeling, and to think all that I am thinking and express it, good or bad, to God. So the grief process, whether good or bad, comes with tears — and must, as far as I can figure, in order for the loss to be processed.

But I have been witnessing some strange things during this season. For example, my daughter was feeling very sad one day over the loss of her mom and asked God for strength. God spoke to her and said, “You are sad not because you miss your mom but because you are believing the lie that your mom is gone and your relationship with her has ended. She is not gone, and it has not ended; you still have a relationship with her, and you will see her again.” Immediately her sadness lifted.

Or the time I was feeling distraught, but something did not feel right about it. And I know enough by now to know that when I am feeling that “this does not feel right” feeling, God is wanting to say something to me. So I asked Him, and pretty clearly He said, “This is not the type of grief I have for you. You will grieve, but your season of grief will be characterized by hope and joy.” Immediately any feelings of being distraught lifted, and they were replaced with joy for my wife for where she was now, and hope not only of seeing her again but also the future that lay ahead of me.

Experiences like this have, needless to say, dramatically changed the grieving process.  It has given us the ability to leave the house and go on a road trip retracing our past and have the best time of our lives. Yes, my wife’s absence has left so much empty space in our lives. But I am absolutely confident God intends to more than make it up to us. He knows how to bind the brokenhearted; He knows how to empower those who sow in tears to reap in joy.

We are all affected by grief at some level. It may not be the loss of a loved one, but we have all lost something. We all are familiar that dimension of life we could not explain called mystery. To this I would like to suggest that whatever your loss, God is more than able to sustain you through it, and is also able to more than make it up to you. That area of your life shrouded in mystery is not over: No, it is just beginning.


Photo by Levi Bare on Unsplash

Faith is not a Statistic

In the past several days God the Father has been taking me to a place past the point of words — or at least my ability to freely express them. I have regularly and literally been pinned to my chair (or bed, or floor) by the tangible presence of God in utter silence and  tears. It has made penning a new blog post difficult. Continue reading “Faith is not a Statistic”

The Women of Bethel Music

In the past several weeks I have found myself listening to a myriad of worship songs. In the process, those that have been most meaningful (life-changing actually) have come from Bethel Music.

And of those, interestingly enough, nearly all were songs with —as the movie industry likes to say — strong female roles. That is, the lead vocalist and worship leader was a woman.

Now I am in many ways rather orthodox in my view of men and women compared to what passes as modern views on gender roles. Put simply, I believe men and women are different, and they are created different. And that difference is, for lack of better words, by design and beautiful.

But I also believe women were created to lead. They simply lead differently. That is, when they enter the world of society (be it corporate America, church or otherwise), they do not lose their uniqueness.

By saying this of course I have touched upon the primal fear of our modern culture. We are really afraid if we recognize any differences between men and women, it will be used by men as basis for oppressing women. And so what we find is a desperation to claim, and portray, women to be just like men, and men just like women.

But uniqueness does not mean oppression. I hope we can slow down our modern brains long enough to recognize this. That is to say, women were not uniquely created by God to be oppressed, nor were they created to be men; they were uniquely created by God to be the full and complete expression of who they are.

I mention all this because in the modern climate of debate over women leadership, what has arisen within the revival church culture especially in the area of worship is a strong presence of women leading with the full expression of who they are. And to be honest, I am not sure any man could lead as they have led. And their contribution in this area has had a tremendous impact upon me personally in this season, so this is my tribute.

The Women of Bethel Music

I think of Gretzinger
Carrying the presence more than anyone can handle
Lit up like a Roman candle
Reckless as the love of God
Tearing God knows what darkened worlds apart
to take us deep into the Father’s heart

Or Helser, declaring a child of God
Am I: No longer slaves,
With an audacity — like Cooke — with David to go
Out beyond the shores into the tossing waves

Or Dimarco, who can tell
us there is a love hidden deep inside waiting
to be set free, a hope realized
And through it all to trust and let go
for they still know His name: The wind and waves
And no matter what my present situation: It is well.

And then there is Walker-Smith who reminds
Me how jealous God is for me:
His love like a hurricane, and all my regrets a tree
Which loomed so large but suddenly finds
No more root, cast into a drowning sea.

And McMillan — who among this lineup should
be included — who says You are good, good, good
Like a steady battering ram unending
Reminding us that when the night is holding on,
God is holding on harder still: All my fears rescinding

And Jobe, and Heiligenthal, and so, so many more,
Not least of which Johnson, who from the beginning
Her voice piercing the darkness like a punch to the gut
and for at least ten thousand reasons more —

I thank you. For through it all,
With uncompromising violent voice and song,
You have led us, led us, led us all:
Led us all along.


Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash

 

Reunion

 

I had the privilege of attending a family reunion last week. It was over-the-top good, which is not always easy to say about family reunions.

Below is a poem I crafted to commemorate the event. A few words about it: Since this was Catherine’s side of the family, I believe it is safe to say the backdrop of the event for everyone was the processing of sorrow for her absence and our loss. Continue reading “Reunion”

Separation

Can anything separate us from the love of God poured out for us through Christ Jesus?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

It does not appear to be so. It is interesting in the above passage that the Apostle Paul finds it necessary to mention that not even life can separate us. Perhaps he has in mind life as in the opposite of death, but I like to think he has in mind “life” as in the daily grind of life, that place where we experience it. Not even what we experience in life, both good and bad, can separate us from God’s love.

Which is an astounding thought. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in many ways I have felt my life to be a complete failure. I have accomplished much, but I also feel I have failed at life in the most significant way possible, according to the only perspective that really matters: I have failed to live a life pleasing to God.

And I have come to this realization in the daily grind of life, where it is experienced. There, I have learned what stuff I am made of. And I have discovered it isn’t pretty. Like the Apostle Paul, I discovered with no small degree of anxiety that “in me, there is no good thing.” But unlike Paul, it has been hard for me to be okay with that. How can anyone be okay with that?

Growing up, I was always told that as long as I did my best, that was good enough. That is a good personal philosophy that produces a great work ethic. But somehow it does not work so well when we turn to the spiritual life. There is something that happens when we compare our lives to Jesus, knowing He is our example, that makes the wheels fall off “at least I am doing my best.” When God opens our heart and we see our motivations for what they really are, doing my best seems to lose all meaning. Doing my best actually becomes part of the problem.

But this I feel is part of the process, and in fact the beginning of the solution. The journey with God — unlike any other task we face — is not one where we work for God but rather God works in us. He is repairing us. And that process is not so much Him quickly fixing whatever keeps us from doing the things that please Him as it is understanding — despite whatever real failure in our lives we encounter, whether in plain sight or hidden from view —we are just as pleasing to Him.

Processing failure, I feel, is a critical part of my journey with God. For there is one thing that can separate me from the love of God, and it is myself: Particularly how I perceive my own failures. Does my failure, in the particular or general sense, change how I feel about myself? Am I still deserving of the very best God has to offer? Is He still extravagantly generous toward me if I feel I have failed to keep up my end of the bargain?

This is where an overactive work ethic, with all its good, can get us into trouble. Excelling in life is good, and God desires us to live fully-functioning lives where we accomplish great things. Because this is how He has made us to function. But if our ability to function becomes the criteria for our right to be accepted and loved, things begin to break down. The way it works in God’s kingdom is that first we are loved and accepted, then we function. In fact, we only function as we were truly designed to function to the extent we know we are loved.

I begin then to realize what God is really working on is not my ability to achieve but my capacity to be loved, even (and especially) in my failure. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. And I suppose in the final analysis, not even myself. For God simply loves me too much to keep me on the shores of failure when, in truth, an entire ocean of His extravagant love awaits me.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash