When I was a teenager, my best friend’s older sister told the story of attending a Catholic charismatic service. It was her first time. And during the service, her arm started killing her. The pain came on more suddenly than made sense. Out of nowhere, she had (as I recall it) a terrible burning sensation around her elbow. So she stood up and shared it with the other members of the group. One of the other women responded and said her arm had been in pain with exactly the same symptoms for months. The group prayed for this woman, and she was healed. Continue reading “Faith is a World”
I love road trips. This past week, I made a trip up to my old church in Redding, California, which is a good ten-hour drive. It has been my habit recently to put on a good audio book and just rest and enjoy the drive. On this particular trip, I put on Birthing the Miraculous by Heidi Baker, which tells her story of serving the orphans as a missionary in Mozambique and beyond. It is an amazing book. Continue reading “The Kingdom of God is Impossible”
I have had a really interesting year. I am talking about last year. I suppose I am still stuck in last year — just a bit — because this year has involved a protracted cold where I spend most of my time laying on the couch reading a book or catching up on movies. This year has not really started yet. I digress.
This year — that is, last year — I embarked upon a season with the Lord so unusual and yet so absolutely beautiful, so harrowing and difficult and yet so profoundly sacred, it left me spinning. I mean, I felt like I simultaneously touched Heaven and found myself in a place where all hell was breaking loose. Really strange.
I suppose the strangest part was while all hell was breaking loose, and I did what I always do when all hell breaks loose — namely, beg God to do something — God would just encourage me to keep going. I mean, I would be like, “Clearly I took a left turn somewhere. Please deliver me from this mess I have created.” And He would be like, “You are doing great! I am SO proud of you. Life is good! Oh, and you are right on track!”
Then after several months and several moments of me begging God to deliver me from the mess I thought I created and God just encouraging me to keep going, I finally realized what was happening: The Kingdom of God had come upon me.
Sometimes we speak as though the Kingdom of God is more of a concept than a reality. We think our relationship to God is one in which He is out there, and we are right here, and one might say the only thing that connects us to Him is the Book he left behind. But if we can trust what that Book says, then that is not the situation at all. The reality is that from the moment we said yes to Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come upon us.
The tricky thing in this life is that the Kingdom of God is another world entirely. I mean, really. It operates by an entirely different set of principles. And in a great sense, it is a Kingdom at war with the kingdom of this world — that is: life as we know it. When the Kingdom of God comes, it often does not come quietly. It will often come as a declaration of war. And the result of all this is a season of incredible conflict, where what God is telling you seems to be in direct contradiction to the very circumstances you find yourself in.
The real difficulty in the Christian life is to fail to recognize the war we may find ourselves in because we do not recognize the Kingdom we now belong to — or who we are in it. (Mel Wild wrote a great piece about this recently.) When this happens, we tend to sacrifice our new identity and birthright at the altar of what is reasonable or safe or sensible or practical or even responsible. We think ordinary. Peter made this mistake with Jesus by rebuking Him. I mean, think about it: Your best friend just tells you He is going to Jerusalem to let himself be killed. Ordinarily this is not a good idea. Ordinarily you would be responsible by talking some sense into your friend. But by doing so, Peter found himself on the wrong side of history.
I also think of Abraham and Sarah. God had given them an extravagant promise. But it seemed reasonable and even perhaps responsible for them to give birth to a son through Hagar. After all, the main avenue was blocked and seemed impossible to resolve. And time was running out. But they failed to recognize they were partnering with a Kingdom that did not know such a thing as the impossible. They sacrificed the promise at the altar of the ordinary: What they themselves could achieve.
Sometimes the hardest thing we have to do in the Kingdom is to wait and be patient as God lets His plan unfold. And in the meantime, simply believe. I think of the father who summoned Jesus to pray for His daughter who was dying. As they made their way to his home, his servants met him and said, “I am sorry: Your daughter is dead. There is nothing more that can be done.” But Jesus turned to Him and said, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” It takes courage to believe. It takes courage to quietly look beyond what we see with our own eyes and trust what we see in God’s eyes.
If you find yourself in a place where what God is saying to you seems to be in direct contradiction to everything you are walking through, almost to the point that it seems life itself has declared war on the absolutely beautiful and profoundly sacred things God has shared with you in secret, then do not be afraid: Only believe. And be of good cheer: The Kingdom of God has come upon you.
Last year, I found myself sitting in a counseling office. The counselor was explaining to me that children of dysfunctional families tend to gravitate to different roles for various reasons: The rebel, the clown, the hidden one, the hero, etc.. As he described each one, I suddenly realized, “My God! I think I am the hero!”
Now I do have to issue a disclaimer here. I have a rather ambivalent relationship with counselors and counseling in general. I think they can be of tremendous help. I mean that. The problem I have found is that they tend to take the place of the Holy Spirit. That is the best way I can describe it in ten words or less. I mean, in my case, I had suffered an emotional crash larger than I ever had in my life, and in my oldest daughter’s words, I needed to know “I was not crazy and everything was going to be okay.” And my counselor did an amazing job with that. But when it came to me understanding where God was in my crisis and what He was saying — which I just assumed was the goal in every season, especially a season like this — I was greeted with silence.
Nonetheless, the idea of me being a hero rang through my ears. I was what you might call a conscientious child. I was the child who always wanted to do the right thing. I was very sensitive to make sure that I did. We tend to like conscientious children. They are extremely well-behaved and never cause problems. They make parents and teachers proud. They give everyone hope that perhaps there is good in the world after all.
The problem with the conscientious child is that on the inside, they are a nervous wreck. They do not do what they do because of inherent goodness. They certainly do not do what they do because of love. They do what they do out of fear. They believe the world rests on their shoulders — or at least their self-worth does. Their whole point of existing seems to them to be to make the rest of the world happy. Otherwise, they are nothing. That is a lot of pressure, my dear reader. And working from this place of fear has become a way of life for them.
It does not take a counselor of course to realize this is no different from any other form of brokenness we find in the world. And one, of course, Jesus has an answer for.
A little over a year ago, I was about to cross the street outside the office where I work, when the Lord said to me, “You have spent your whole life trying to prove to me how much you love me. But what if the whole point of life is for Me to prove to you how much I love you?” That was a new thought for me. “Love is this: Not that we love God but that He first loved us.” What if the whole point of life was not to love, but to be loved?
Huh. Such a life would not be a life where I was the hero. But such a life would not be a life where I needed to be, either. For the first time in my life, I caught a glimpse of freedom. And it came with a good dose of fear and trembling.
There is a place for heroes. We need them. But heroes do what they do out of love, not fear. In this sense, there is perhaps only one Hero, and those whose lives He has touched.
I will admit to you: I still want to be a hero. I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it. I want to fulfill my purpose; I want this life to matter. But not out of fear I am nothing, but from that perfect place of assurance that in the eyes of God, before whom I am nothing, in truth I am everything. Because He is the hero.
In the meantime I will take up my Cross and with a good dose of fear and trembling do what seems to be the hardest thing on earth for us to do: Allow myself to be loved.
I have this terrible tendency of discussing a thing and exploring why it is true without always explaining why it is important. I may be guilty of doing that recently in our discussion with God’s sovereignty.
For those just tuning in, we have been discussing the idea that God is in control of every detail of our lives: The good, the bad and everything in between. But it may not be obvious why this even matters. I mean: If we embrace this, do we get an award for perfect theology? Let us hope that is not the reason. Considering the at-times heaviness of the topic, that would hardly be the pay-off. Besides, as important as theology is, the world actually does not need one more person with perfect theology. I mean, that cannot be the goal. Theology, which is just fancy name for truth, has to have an end.
So let’s discuss the benefits of control — that is, God being in control. The first benefit is that if God is in control, we do not have to be. Continue reading “The Benefits of Control”