7 Thing Keeping Me Awake Tonight

pexels-photo-260607.jpegI worked a twelve and half hour day on the acute rehab unit today. Made chili dogs for my sons when I got home and a bowl of sautéed veggies, brown rice and quinoa for myself with a glass of pinot grigo.  Worked in my powerpoint presentation for my community health class.  And listened to my two teenage sons decend into a legit fight downstairs when they were supposed to be going to bed.  After the fight was broken up and they were all sleeping soundly from the let down of their pubescent male adrenaline rush, I sat here with another glass of pinot grigo to try and finish my powerpoint.  I didn’t finish. I ended up squeaking out a wimpy prayer for help in raising these teenage sons of mine.  I turned to my Bible.  And then, I confess, got distracted by a notification from Twitter and started perusing tweets.  I saw people’s posts about Rachel Denhollander’s victim impact statement at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing and the interview she gave to Morgan Lee at Christianity Today and sighed more moaning prayers of longing for Jesus to make things right.  And then my mind flooded with concerns. Concerns for sons growing up in this culture.  In this house. Concerns for the church in the U.S. Concerns for my marriage.  And then I went back to scripture.  Like coming up for air after a dive in the deep end of the pool.  And I read this:

Genesis 22:1–2

[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [2] He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (ESV)

And then my tired brain punched out these seven thoughts like take-a-number tickets at the deli.

  1. I get that God is teaching us something about trusting him through the story of Abraham and Isaac.  And I even get that it foreshadows Christ, the only begotten Son of God, sacrificed for us.  But I’ve always struggled with why God would have Abraham offer his son as a burnt offering.
  2. I need wisdom to raise these sons.  I’m tired and I just don’t know what to do most of the time.
  3. God will take what he has given me, that I lay in obedience to him, even if it seems like I may loose the very thing he’s given me, and he will use it for his glory.  Applies to my marriage.  My sons.  My life…
  4. Eating vegan for the last month has been surprisingly pleasant.  No fancy vegan frozen imitations of real meat dishes.  Just lots and lots of fresh or sautéed veggies, quinoa, brown rice, oats, nuts and more veggies.  It’s been good.  I might just keep doing this.
  5. There is a real confusion in the church about what mercy and forgiveness is and how it’s different than enabling and not dealing with or exposing sin and wickedness.  I’ve seen this in my own life and marriage.  I see it in the Rachel Denhollander’s story.
  6. I’m going to feel so good when I don’t have a headache, jaw pain, sinus pain and a bunch of knots in my neck and back.  After having injections in some of my facial muscles yesterday and metal rods jammed up my nose I see more injections and a root-rooter job on my sinuses in my near future.  Ugh.
  7. I have a job interview tomorrow… home health.

Make Us Peacemakers In a Violent Land

On Sunday morning, while I was singing with hot tears streaming down my face, moved by the conviction that I don’t trust God’s no and longing for Him to help my unbelief, some of my brothers and sisters in this faith were violently plunged into the presence of Jesus amidst the terror of bullets, blood and screams. While they worshipped the goodness of our God a man given over to the schemes of the devil filled the room with death.  My heart can hardly take it.

This shooting brought my fears to light.  I’m afraid I’ll grow numb.  I’m afraid for my white male sons who statistically are more likely to commit such an atrocity.  I’m sickened by the violent culture in my country and I’m afraid I don’t know what to do! I want things to change!  
I’ve been casting those anxieties on God all day.  As I’ve cried and groaned and listened I see how violent, divided and dark the time we live in as American Christians is.  And these dark times are in the hands of the One who suffered for us.  He has us in this time, and in this nation to be peacemakers and truth-sayers, by reconciling and resisting.  Reconciling in laying down our lives to bring the peace of God to relationships.  And resisting evil, even unto suffering.
Jesus said, “

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:9-12

In a heated discussion with my husband about guns and laws and what needs to be done I yelled, “Someone is going to have to give up some of their rights!”  
People want the right to bear arms.  OK.  Well, if we do anything to change the way guns are legally “born” in this country, someone is going to cry foul and feel like their rights have been violated.  If we restrict based on mental-illness someone will cry foul about discriminating against people with a disability or violating the rights to privacy.  If we restrict based on kind or amount of weapon someone will cry foul about the second amendment.  But if we do nothing this will only be one of a string of massacres with guns in the United States.  
As I passionately voiced my opinion, concerned for my sons and for my neighbors,  I realized none of my rights would be violated if gun laws were imposed in a different or more stringent way than they are now.  I’m not a gun owner.  I’m not a gun person.  It’s not a hobby for me and I don’t feel the need to carry a weapon for protection.  I know many people who do and I know them to be kind, moral people who I trust.  I know they would feel some sense of their rights being infringed on if gun laws changed.  I know this is not a black and white issue.  But my thought is, as Christians in America, we should be the last people crying rights when it comes to guns.  
I wonder what it would be like if Americans who love and trust the Jesus who bore violence to save them laid down their guns and said, “We will be a people of peace even if we have to suffer the loss of our American right to bear arms.” But since I’m not one of the people who would have to say that I thought about Christ’s call on me to humble myself because I know who I am in Christ.  And my prayer was, “How would you have me lay down my ‘rights’ Lord?” 
The Governor of Texas in updating the public about the massacre at the church in Sutherland Springs said, “Every mom and dad… put your arm around your kid and given them a big hug and let them know you love them…”  And he went on to say we should go to our neighbors and find ways to help them.  It struck me as subtle but powerful.  As a Christian, Jesus beckons me to get off my phone, my computer… my agenda and sit with my teenage sons and listen and give them a back rub and look them in the eyes and plant the gospel in their hearts.   Jesus also beckons me to leave my comfortable four walls and go outside and be a good neighbor, on my street and in my city.  It’s messy out there.  People have messed-up lives.  But I will not be a peacemaker, as Christ compels me to be, by hiding in my home in the most violent, wealthy nation on earth.  Trying to hold onto my controllable, clean and tidy life (as if I had one) won’t keep my sons from evil.  The Governor pointed to a profound truth: hugging our children and helping our neighbors is one of the most powerful things we can do in such a violent culture.  
I am a Christian.  I live in the U.S., a nation where rights are valued and defended.  And I enjoy the benefit of those rights being defended.  But rights shouldn’t be an issue for me as a Christian.  I know I have no rights and yet have been given the right to be called a child of God and therefore have nothing to loose.  I don’t have any guns to lay down.  But I do have a life and resources.  I can plant my life in Jesus’ name in the lives of those around me with good news that brings lasting peace. I can pray for healing in my nation and a restraining of violence and evil, and trust my good God’s no. And I can be willing to suffer, even the loss of rights, for what is right.  
Oh Lord God.  You who raise up nations and bring others to nothing.  You are the source of all that is good and right.  You give authority and take it away.  You hear the cries of your children and you sometimes say no when we cry.  You speak and nature gives way.   And you’re silent and we ache and reel and wonder if you’re hearing, all the while you’re working your wonderful plans for our good and you’re glory.  Help Lord!  Help me and us weak, wimpy American Christians who don’t know how to suffer well.  Help us to lay down our phones and hug our kids.  Help us to leave our homes and help our neighbors.  Help us to resist evil and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.  Help us to rejoice if we suffer because Jesus is living in us!  Make us shine here Lord.  Make us peacemakers in such a violent place.    

A slow-to-believe believer’s thoughts on Good Friday

It’s Good Friday.

There’s a tsunami of meaning in those three words.

Maybe for you it’s just TGIF.

I get it.  Honestly, I grew up hearing the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but for years it made no connection with my soul.  If I’m honest the celebration (if you can call it that) of Good Friday has been odd to me at best and often it’s been an offense.  Tim Keller said something I heard the other day to the effect of, “The cross of Christ is offensive in all sorts of ways, and if you haven’t felt it, if you haven’t ever struggled with it, I don’t think you get it...”  That has been the case with me.  Until recent years, I haven’t really stopped to face the ugliness and offense at the center of the Christian message: that Christ was crucified for our sins.

Years of questioning from dear loved ones who don’t believe has caused me to look that horrific, bloody, crucified, historic Jesus I love in the face and wrestle with the offense of the Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ dying in our place for our sins).

I am a believer.  But I understand unbelief.  Unbelievers I love have caused me to examine what it is I say I believe on holidays like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday.  And I’m very glad they have.  I’m a slow-to-believe believer in Christ.  The wonder and horror of what Christ endured and did for me, specifically, and for all who would believe in him, is palpably meaningful to me now more than ever.  But I’m thick-headed and slow to get it.  I’m sure the meaning of Christ’s substitutionary death will increasingly become more real for me since it is infinitely full of truth and life.  Increasingly, substitutionary atonement is no longer two big, seminary-graduate words only to be heard from a pulpit.  Substitutionary atonement is the bloody door through which I enter an eternity of grace upon undeserved grace!

But I digress.

I want to try to explain at least a cupful of my thoughts regarding Good Friday as I stand under the Niagra Falls of Christ’s substitutionary death for those who believe in him.

There is much to capture in thinking on what it means that Christ died in my place and satisfied the just requirement of God for me so that I will never experience rejection from the God who made me to know him as Father and friend.   As I say, It’s like trying to stand under Niagra Falls with a tiny tea cup to grab a drink of water.  But here I go.

It’s Offensive Because We’re Evil

Good Friday is about how we have perverted the glory of God and how he makes his glory known rightly again.

The thought that people are basically good and if we just modify “bad” behaviors we would all be happy and the world would be a better place is lost on me.  I’ve had a 2 year old.  I’ve lied so I could look good to another liar.  I’ve been abandoned and objectified as a woman.  And I’ve watched the news and cared for people broken by the evil in others.

We modify “bad” behaviors not because we’re basically good, but because like Imagine Dragons said, “No matter what we breed, we still are made of greed.”  If we’re honest, we know inside us is a drive to make ourselves the center of life at the expense of others.  It’s an insidious evil that seems to lie dormant, but peeks out it’s ugly head and beats its little brother so it can have the ball, or abandons it’s family so it can have a better life… or a thousand other birthed-evils that come out of our hearts.  We have laws, and behavior modification techniques and self-help books, and therapists and jails and multiple forms of restraint and training in our lives because we are trying to tame the beast.  Not because we’re all angels at heart that trip up every now and then.

And all the horror that comes out of us is not just horrible because of what we do to each other.  It’s horrible because we were not random, chance products of evolutionary process. If that’s all we are then there would be no reason to call anything we do right or wrong.  It would be simply part of the process of evolution: survival of the fittest.  But we know we do evil things and we recognize evil in others because we are made to do good.  To be good.  To be godly. To reflect the glory of God in our lives like living testimonies to the universe and each other.  Our human lives are to be like works of art that display the beauty and wonder of the One who made us.  The evil in us is so evil because is a perversion of the image of God in us.

When I look at the cross of Christ and the horrors of his crucifixion and think about the why behind it- Why would God do that to save us?  I realize, at least in part, that the reason the cross of Christ is so offensive and horrific is because billions of people (including me) have perverted the glory of God with our lives and made God out to be a liar and a murderer and a self-centered leech with a message that says, “Your life for mine!”   The cross of Christ is justice.  It’s a making right the message that has been wrongly proclaimed from sinful humanity.  The cross of Christ says God is worth my life.  God is truth.  God is just.  God is life.  God gives life.  God’s message is, “My life for yours!”  The cross of Christ is a historical entrance of God into humanity saying, “This is what you all have done to me.  This is the bloody truth about the evil that is in you that perverts the truth about who I am and who you are.  I am bloodied and broken and bruised by your evils.  You were made to glorify me, but you have defamed me.  And I bear it because I am God and I give my life for you!

On the cross Christ is taking the truth that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in his own body.  His bloody, broken flesh on that cross is the embodiment of our perversion of God’s glory.  He became our sin.

I know that’s not all the cross of Christ says.  But it’s a few drops.  It’s enough to cause me to hate my sin and love my sin-bearing Savior.

All Real Love Is Substitutionary Sacrifice

Good Friday is about what love really is and what only God can do.

In that same talk, where I heard Tim Keller say that if we haven’t really struggled with the offense of the cross of Christ we probably don’t really get what it means, I also heard him say something that captured a few more drops of the cascades of truth pouring from the side of my pierced and broken Lord.  He said, “All love. All real love is a substitutionary sacrifice. ‘My life for yours’. Heart of the universe...”  It’s true.  It’s a truth we can all recognize.  We all know it when we see substitutionary sacrifice.  When a parent gives up their agenda for the day to tend to a child in need.  When a soldier dies to keep an enemy from taking freedom and life from another.  When a firefighter rushes into a burning building to rescue a trapped man.  All of these and so many other examples speak of the universal truth that real love is “My life for yours. I’ll die, I’ll sacrifice, I’ll serve to make your life better, easier, richer.”  Evil is, “Your life for mine.  How can you die, how can you sacrifice, how can you serve to make my life better, easier, richer?”

But even though we see this truth in our lives, none of our little displays of the true message substitutionary sacrificial love can save our fellow man from the righteous judgement of God on the evil we all carry around inside.

There’s a line in an ancient Hebrew Psalm in the Bible that says, “Truly no man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

It’s the truth.  We all display little imperfect examples of the universal truth of substitutionary sacrifice, but none of us can be an atoning substitute for another human being.  The only person who could ever pay the costly ransom required to love an evil human being and give them a life that lives forever in friendship and intimate relationship with God is God.  I might die a little so that my son can live more.  But only the God-Man Christ Jesus can die so that my son can live forever!

So there’s my little tea cup of truth.  It’s just a drop from a fountain that flows abundantly with truth and life.  Christ died bearing the evil I have lived out which has perverted the truth about God.  And Christ did this for me because only he can give God’s life for mine so that I might live forever!

Maybe this Good Friday you can sip and taste with me and see that the Jesus who died so horrifically for our sins this day in history about 2000 years ago, he is good.

Let Down by God?

This past Sunday I stood in a high school theatre with dozens of people I don’t know looking up at the screen where the band was projecting the words to the songs we were singing to God:

You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down

When I get to church, the words of every song we sing confront me.  And I hang on every word preached.  I can’t mindlessly sing the songs.  I can’t snooze through the sermon.  I’m too desperate.  I’m too thirsty.

So when the words to King of My Heart were on the screen Sunday, and I was singing with hot tears, “You are good.”  I really meant it.  I really believe Jesus is God and He is good!  But when the words “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down,” came on the screen I stopped singing.  I stood there with heart exposed to the Holy Spirit’s searching work and I knew I could not sing those words with honesty.  Instead I uttered a prayer, “Father you know me.  You know I can’t sing that.  I confess I feel like you have let me down. But I know you are good. Help me to know you for who you really are.”

I think I have a pretty good understanding of the God of the Bible.   I say that with much hesitation.  What I know is a glimpse, a taste of an infinity of truth.  I’ll spend eternity never exhausting knowing God.  But I have been very blessed to have been taught by some great Bible teachers and mentors in the faith.  I’ve spent many hours chewing on the Bible.  I believe the Jesus I have never seen but love as revealed in the scriptures is the one and only God-Man, the Christ.  My creed is the creed Christ’s historic and worldwide church has believed and proclaimed for thousands of years.  So when I read words like the words written in the song we sang on Sunday I realize something is amiss.  Either something’s wrong with me and my understanding of the God of the Bible or something’s wrong with those words cause I can think of 23 years of prayers unanswered that have left me feeling like God has let me down.

I’m not alone in my honest conflict with the words, “You’re never gonna let me down.”

Throughout the Bible God’s people have had to come face to face with the incongruence of the Sovereign God they believe in and the circumstances in their life.

Job had to reconcile the horror he was living through with the God he proclaimed.  He felt the sovereignty of God in his boils and said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” Job 13:15

Moses questioned God when he had obediently confronted Pharaoh and was mocked and blamed for making the people he was sent by God to free work harder.  “Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:22

Noemi said it was God who had emptied her.  “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21

Even John the Baptist, who had looked at Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” found himself in prison and sent messengers to Jesus to ask if was really the Messiah they were all waiting for.

And there are many, many more examples.

Blessed are the un-offended

When John questioned Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ response was to point out all that he was doing.  And then he added, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”


Was I offended at Jesus in the words, “You’re never gonna let me down?”  Was I offended that Jesus had let me down by not answering my prayer the way I wanted?

The word offended sounds like scandalized in the language Jesus spoke it. skandalizō.

Blessed is the one who isn’t scandalized by me.

It means to be caused to stumble.  To be caused to distrust the person you should trust.

Jesus is not a soft, yes man, who makes you feel good with positive affirmations.  Jesus is the rock that many stumble over and are offended by.  I stumbled over him on Sunday.  And like Job, Moses, Noemi, David and John the Baptist I have a choice: leave him offended or let the mountain of truth that he is be to me a shadow in which to hide, a rock of refuge to which I flee.

Who Else Is There?

Peter and the other ragamuffin disciples of Christ tripped over him too.  When Christ offered the saving truth that he had come to suffer and die broken, like bread, people were offended.  Those who had thought Jesus was there to feed their appetites in the form of miraculous power couldn’t accept the idea that he had come to give life to their perishing souls in the form of a wrath-bearing substitutionary atoning sacrifice.  When Jesus saw the offended folks leave he asked his chosen ones, “Are you going to leave too?”  Peter- I love Peter, quick to speak and quick to trip and quick to fall Peter- opened his mouth and said words I say to Jesus not infrequently, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of life. And we believe and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God”

Coming face to face with the reality of who Christ really is, is something we all must and will do.  What we do with who he is is the test of who we really are.

The blessed, oh how happy ones, sorrowful yet always rejoicing, are the ones who look at his sovereignty in his willing brokenness and risen power and say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”  We feel let down, but we look up and we hope in him.  We believe and have come to know he is the only one with the words of life.  We know there is no where else to go.  We see his scars.  And we hear his risen promise to dwell in us and with us and we aren’t offended.  We love him.  We want him.  By his good grace we won’t leave him.

Advent: Christmas Day- When It Isn’t What You Were Hoping For

And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. – Luke 2:48-50

It’s Christmas Day and it’s a sunny 49 degrees outside and I’ve taken my young men to the park to ride their bike and roller blades, but mostly just to flee the thick-with-virus air that is our house right now.

Christmas day isn’t turning out to be all I was hoping for.  My husband woke with a fever and fever blisters with a vengeance lining his mouth and throat.  The boys were up at 6 am wanting to open presents and begin the festivities, but the sick man on the couch next to the Christmas tree had just barely fallen back to sleep at 4am.  So kids got their first gift today: laying aside your will for another’s good.  A hard gift to receive, says the 42 year old mom who’s still trying to accept that one with a joyful heart.

At 8 am, the too-sick-to-speak dad nodded his head yes to the question, “Can we open gifts now dad?” and the ripping of paper off packages began.  Ryland got his Rollerblades and the Frisbee and boomerang he wanted.  Connor got the all-things-survival gear and books he wanted.  And I got the joy of giving them some gifts I had been inspired to give recently:  The Gift of Time with Mom,  The Gift of Wisdom, The Gift of Responsibility and The Gift of Giving.

After listening to some messages this week on parenting with a God-centered vision, I put together these titled gifts.

The Gift of Time with Mom-  A $25 Starbucks card to be used only with one on one time with me and them individually.   I admit, this one is more of a gift for me than them, but I’m hoping it will help build bridges that’ll need to be crossed in the future and someday seen as a real gift.

The Gift of Wisdom-  A challenge with a monetary reward (and prayerfully seeds planted with much longer lasting rewards than dollar bills).

  1. Read the book of John and discuss it with mom over desert. 
  2. Read the Proverbs and write 5 proverbs you like and what you think they mean and 5 proverbs you have questions about.  Discuss it with mom over desert.
  3. Read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, write a 1 page essay and discuss it with mom over desert.
  4. Read A Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, write a 2 page essay and discuss it with mom over desert.
The Gift of Responsibility-  A $15 iTunes gift card with a contract for cell phone use to be signed.
The Gift of Giving- A savings account opened in their name with the following rule: Each month a fixed amount deposit will be automatically added to the account and each month they may withdraw 10% of the account for spending but only after withdrawing 10% for giving and selecting a charity they would like to give to.
I wasn’t expecting lauds of praise for these certificate gifts wrapped in prayer and desire for seeds of faith to be planted.  They both said, “Huh.  Cool.  Thanks mom…” which was more than I expected and then set those things aside to play with the fun stuff they got.  That was good.  
It’s the part about my husband being very ill and church starting an hour earlier than I had written on my calendar for today’s special service that had today not turning out as I had hoped.  We arrived in the church parking lot as the service was letting out and I realized I had missed it.  
Today didn’t go how I was hoping, and it got me thinking about Mary and Joseph.  I am sure, being the chosen parents of the Messiah didn’t go how they expected.  And it’s not just Mary and Joseph who had to deal with their expectations about the Christ.  The misguided expectations of the Pharisees and 12 chosen by Jesus and the crowds led to various conflicts too.   
I’m sure Mary and Joseph didn’t expect that Mary would give birth alone in an animal cave and place the newborn Son of David in a feeding trough.  I’m sure they didn’t expect him to leave them to go to the temple when he was 12 without telling them what he was doing and then when questioned about his actions say, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  I’m sure that when he started publicly showing himself to be the Messiah they didn’t expect him to get himself betrayed and crucified.  I’m sure along Jesus’ life here as the son of Mary there were many expectations Mary had to deal with and let go of and trust God for answers to.
Jesus still messes with his people’s expectations.  His birth isn’t what we would expect from the King of kings.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  And his ways are not our ways.  They are much, much higher.  And other.  And good.
This life is hard and doesn’t always make for happy holidays, but the One who’s birth I celebrate today is greater than all my troubles and expectations.  It’s him I go to with my questions and struggles and disappointments.  He exposes my expectations and causes me to lift my sights much higher. 
I hope your Christmas was flu-free and very pleasant.  But if it wasn’t, I hope you could see the totally expectation-breaking God made into flesh- at least a glimpse- and breath in the out-of-this-world peace and indescribable joy even a glimpse of him brings.