That’s how this grace thing works

There is this debilitating thought that has upended many of my attempts at recovery in the past that goes something like this:

I’ve felt willing to be sober like this in the past, made promises to myself and others, threw out everything that was harmful to me and believed I’d never go back only to find myself right back where I was, if not worse.  Why should this time be different?

My experience tells me I’m not alone.  Have you ever thought this?  If so, you are not alone.   Nearly everyone I know who has long sobriety tells me they struggled with the same negative self talk.

What helps me (in addition to calling my sponsor) is remembering that not every thought that I have is true.   In fact, most of them are not.  I have to remember that there is an enemy waging war on my soul – call it my addict, Satan, the boogeyman, whatever – and he is a liar.   Scripture calls him the Accuser, and his full time job is to condemn me and remind me of all the ways I don’t live up to God’s – or anyone’s – standard.

Every time I entertain thoughts that condemn me or my desire to run towards wholeness I am entertaining the father of lies rather than the Father of Life.    Rather than give way to death I am learning to give thanks for the God-given desire to want life.   Each and every time that desire springs up in my heart and yours we ought to rejoice!   It’s a gift!   It is often presented to us at the least expected times, such as when we are in the midst of our greatest defeat.

The voice calling you out of darkness is not ashamed of your past mistakes nor cares to remind you of them.   He only wishes to let you know, again, that He hasn’t given up on you.

In Roll Away Your Stone, Mumford sings:

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say ‘That’s exactly how this grace thing works’
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Read that again.  All of us in recovery have burned more bridges than we can count.  This funny thing called grace though keeps building one more.

My sponsor reminds me that so long as I am willing to pick up the key of willingness, there is door to walk through.   There is always a welcome to be received with each and every new start.

 

 

 

 

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Trump, Online Pulpits and Serenity

In 2013 I wrote a post that Ministry Matters published called “Dear Pastors, Guard Your Online Pulpit.” I had a great idea (so I thought) to rework that and turn it into a fantastically witty post about how President Trump ought to do the same from his Twitter Pulpit.
But two things happened today that made me think that was a bad idea, and I’m now grateful for it. The first was reading what I wrote 3 years ago and being convicted by it (don’t you hate when that happens?) The second was a short text from a dear friend who has been following my recent political Facebook posts. Though she agrees with my point of view, she lovingly shared this with me:

I just believe that what you have to offer as a Christian man/leader with knowledge and special gifts you have to reach people is hands down of much greater importance than all the political propaganda. and you know all that you share is taken into consideration by people when they decide if you are a credible witness for Christ.

Suddenly a post telling Trump to guard his online pulpit seemed silly when my own pulpit needed examined. It can be so easy to point out the specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the plank in my own. My friend was right. While I may not have a traditional pulpit anymore, my duty as a Christian is to always be a witness reflecting Christ. When I examine my online behavior towards those with whom I disagree I feel rather embarrassed and if I’m honest, all of this wrecks havoc on my serenity.   It’s poison to my ongoing recovery.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words, where he said that for those under the law he became as they were, or for those who were weak he became weak, all that he might win some. And all things – all things – that he did were done for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:21-23). Paul understood that the secret to winning someone over to his way of living required that he be willing to get into their skin and become as they are. As the adage goes, nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
When I hold my online activity under that sort of scrutiny I’m struck by this truth: Many of my words, perhaps most, are not for the sake of the gospel. Rather, they are more often than not me blowing off steam or wanting those who already agree with me to applaud my wit and devotion to the cause.  I secretly love the “amen” I receive with each click of the “like” button, and when I’m in that zone I easily convince myself that what I am sharing absolutely must be shared!   The message trumps all else, even the tone and spirit with which it’s given. But when I am brought to my senses I remember that even that which is true and good, if not spoken in love, comes across as a clanging gong and helps no one (1 Cor. 13:1).
While I may not have a pulpit in the traditional sense any more, I remember teaching once from such a pulpit that all of us who follow Jesus are ministers. All of us have a responsibility to carry out the work of the gospel and represent our Lord in ways that would not grieve him or shame others. How we as Christians conduct ourselves from our online platforms and in our personal reactions will be the benchmark by which we are judged, both by those with whom we disagree and by our Father in Heaven. Perhaps the hardest part about loving my neighbor, even my enemy (as I am commanded to do), is realizing that my interactions with those online whom I have deep disagreements with are included in the word “neighbor.”
Thus, what was going to be a blog post warning our President to behave on Twitter in such a way that will help me trust him, please read this instead as my sincere apology for using my words in ways that seek to tear down rather than build up and encourage. Forgive me for using my online platform, however small it may be, to win the applause of those who already agree with me or rain scorn on those who don’t. Neither of those ways can be said to be in service of the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor do they contribute to my serenity.
I promise that I will rededicate my efforts to guard my tongue – and my fingers – in the future. My friend who texted me suggested that it might be a good idea to pray before posting anything surrounding a contentious issue. I think that’s great advice.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Grace and peace, Chad

The Love of God is Folly

“L’amour de Dieu est folie!” The love of God is folly.  If you celebrate Easter in France, that is the greeting you’ll hear chanted again and again.

Brennan Manning, in his wonderful book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, has helped to reawaken in me a desire to be loved by this God who is foolish enough to risk it all on a ragamuffin like me.  No one else has ever gone to the lengths that God has gone to show me the concreteness of their love.  Not for me, or for you.  The body of Jesus nailed to a cross, dying for me while still in my sin, is pure folly.   And if we allow ourselves to be embraced by this truth, I’m convinced everything changes.

But what if we aren’t there yet?  What if we are in a pit and can’t see our way out of it?  Manning calls us the “bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.”  If that sounds like you, you are not alone.  When our own personal resources appear used up and drained out, we feel as though we can’t even want to want to get well.   I understand this because I’ve been there.  It’s a scary place to be.

But perhaps it’s the best place to be.  Jesus said this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

If you are bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out, Jesus says you are closer to entering the fullness of God than you realize.

So how do we get there?  How do we enter the kingdom that Jesus says is ours to have? First, we accept where we are.  We acknowledge our own powerlessness to awaken ourselves and trust the God we only half believe in to give us a touch of folly.  Do not force it, don’t try to feel anything, think anything or do anything.   Relax in the presence of God for a moment right now and listen.  Manning shares a poem from the Indian poet, Tagore:

No: it is not yours to open buds into blossoms.

Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.

Your touch soils it, you tear its petals to pieces and strew them in the dust.

But no colours appear, and no perfume.

Ah! it is not for you to open the bud into a blossom.

He who can open the bud does it so simply.

He gives it a glance, and the life-sap stirs through its veins.

At his breath the flower spreads its wings and flutters in the wind.

Colours flush out like heart-longings, the perfume betrays a sweet secret.

He who can open the bud does it so simply.

Next, Manning writes, try this simple exercise in faith:  For the next 10 minutes, pray over this passage from Hosea and wherever you see the word Israel/Ephraim, replace it with your own name.

When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.

Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in My arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love,
And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws;
And I bent down and fed them

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.
I will not execute My fierce anger;
I will not destroy Ephraim again.
For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.

And finally, Manning adds, read aloud slowly these three texts:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will [k]sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15)

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.  (Isaiah 49: 1, 15-16)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who isagainst us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  (Romans 8:31-32).

I pray that as these words of God wash over you, you might experience rejuvenation.   May you be opened to the extraordinary love of God which is utter folly to us.  May it fill you with a new-found sense of wonder and awe, or at the very least, awaken your soul to the truth and hope that God’s kingdom is yours. All of it.   Jesus gives it to you freely, not because of who you might one day be, but because of who you are right now – bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.

I’ll add one more step to Manning’s exercise.   Listen to this song.

But it was not your fault but mine

Christians who love Mumford & Sons and hear in their lyrics spiritual psalms will sometimes argue over, or edit,  the chorus of Little Lion Man.   It goes like this:

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?
Didn’t I, my…

If it’s the first you’ve heard or read it, you might see why.   I’m glad M&S has never edited themselves, and I’ve chosen not to do so here because if you believe the use (or non-use) of that word in some way alters one’s position with yourself or with God, than we have deeper issues to resolve.   Hopefully what follows will help with some of that.

A pastor and mentor of mine once said that he expects people in recovery to relapse.  This is  not to say it’s encouraged or hoped for, but only that any real growth is going to be accompanied by set backs and false starts and do overs.   When relapse is not seen as an anomaly to recovery but a potential asset, space is created to be transparent and honest without fear of abandonment.   For the addict, abandonment is a double death.

The prodigal son assumed banishment as his fate when he began his pitiful voyage home. He didn’t expect anything but what he felt he deserved – to be bunked with the house servants and treated as dirt.  The strung-out and wrung-out hedonist was convinced that his birthright was forfeited, and rightfully so.   Brennan Manning reminds me that the prodigal didn’t even have right motives for returning home.  He just wanted a place to sleep and maybe get some food.   His was a desire simply to not die in the pit.  Bringing pleasure to his father, or glory, wasn’t even on his mind.

And so he trudges home, with a confession ready to offer, “I really fucked it up this time.  Can I sleep with the house servants?”

Such is the reckless and lavish grace of the Father that he will not even let his son sing his sad tune.  Rather, he interrupts him with a joyous embrace, dons him with royal garb and orders the party of all parties to commence.

Never does the Father utter a word of fault. He’s just glad His son is home.

This sort of grace scandalizes us.  It stands against all the ways we “bite our own neck,” as Mumford sings, to our own demise.  We believe deep down that if I do good, I will be good, and I will be accepted by God because I’ve done good.    I have thought this for so much of my life that it is, admittedly, so very hard to unlearn.   I fight against the furious and scandalous love of the Father because the broken parts of me wants to believe I have in some way earned it when I feel it, or spurned it when I don’t.

Isn’t this how we have been trained?  The world we live in and the relationships we keep are held together in large part by this unwritten rule that so long as you are good, you can belong.  Our churches are bastions of this sort of thinking.   And yet time and time again Jesus reminds us that his Father is not like us.    When he asks who among us would not leave the 99 sheep to go chase after the one that is lost, the answer is obvious:  None of us!   No one in their right mind would risk losing 99 sheep just to rescue the one who screwed up and got itself lost.  But our Father in Heaven is a risk-taking, love-thirsty hound who will not be satisfied until the banquet hall is jam packed with every misfit, stupid sheep like me.

King David, long before Jesus came to teach us this, knew through revelation that God was like this in some way. Psalm 51 is the ancient Little Lion Man.   His cry to God is one of complete trust and surrender to a God who doesn’t require his sacrifice – his dutiful sorrow or penance – but simply this:  a cry for help.

Mercifully, our Father never tires of hearing our cries for help.   We will never hear Him say, not again!  We will never see His face shadow over in disgust.  We will never witness Him turn and abandon us for the 99.

Pray with me: Father, help me to trust your unfailing, furious love for me.  Enable me to run to You when I have fallen down, knowing fully that You will never abandon me.   Lead me into fellowship with others who model Your amazing grace.  Humble me, that I might love others as You have loved me.  Amen.

 

 

There will be time

As a recovering addict one of my major challenges is dealing with time.

  • How many days have I been sober?
  • When will I feel better about myself?
  • Why am I not further along in my recovery?
  • Where would I be today if I had not relapsed?
  • Why have I wasted so much time doing that?

If I am not careful I easily fall into the trap of judging myself based on the moment of time I just left.  If it was productive and sober, I congratulate myself. If it was slothful and selfish, I am disgusted with myself.   I’m a victim of the feelings produced by my use of time.

In the new M&S song, There Will Be Time, I am reminded that it is progress, not perfection, that I seek.   Progress only comes by going through time, one day at a time.  This isn’t a truth that comes naturally to us, but is one of revelation.  Mumford sings:

So open up my eyes to a new light
I wandered ’round your darkened land all night
But I lift up my eyes to a new high
And indeed there would be time

That “darkened land,” for me, is one where I am beating myself up for time lost, rather than being grateful for time given.  I need to be reminded to look up to a new high, and trust that there will be time.

There is a time, a time to love
A time to sing, a time to shine
A time to leave, a time to stay
There is a time, a time to cry
A time to love, a time to live
There is a time, a time to sing
A time to love

All of time is God’s time.  And all of time is in God.   This leads the Psalmist to shout,

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5)!

If you get nothing else out of this let that promise dig deep roots.  No matter what time, good or bad, you’ve just left, your Father in heaven has determined to love you through all the times of your life, the weeping and the dancing.

Since God is not bound by time, I am not held captive, nor am I defined, by the moments of time when I fall.  When Mumford cries out, in the midst of his desire to love and adore that which is right and light, “Why do I keep falling? Why do I keep falling?”  he captures my own struggle with time.  But what a difference it makes to know that even my falling is wrapped up in God’s time, and no fall can reach further than the nail-pierced, stretched-out arms of Jesus!    There will be time, God whispers.  There will be time.

I don’t wish to be a victim of my good and bad times, but long to be held captive by the One who has absorbed all of my times, my highs and my lows, and yet still declares, “I love you.”

Only Love will win in the end

I wrote the post below a few days ago and am editing it here in light of this billboard that went up today just 10 miles from where I live.

white again

The You can listen to Rick Tyler in a new interview argue why America would be better off if we didn’t have “people of color” around.    The sentiment behind this billboard is found everywhere in America.   The picture you see below, for example, which made it’s way around social media, served to stir up even more animosity towards “non white people.”    As I try to make clear in the words that follow, if you cheer on pictures like these and get angry because she’s sitting during the National Anthem, you might be more like Rick Tyler than you’d care to admit.   The nationalistic zeal and xenophobia exhibited below is the natural breeding ground for the sort of political and cultural atmosphere that gives traction to the Rick Tyler’s among us.

 

Have you seen this picture of a woman, possibly a Muslim, allegedly sitting during the National Anthem?

muslim

I’ve seen it making the rounds on social media.  The comments that follow, from Americans no less, and from people who I would bet self identify as Christians, are a text book example of how things like the Holocaust gain traction.  Here’s just one sample:

Julie Rice CooleyBut of course… I expect nothing else from them!
Lisa Margitan
Lisa MargitanDisrespectful bitch
Erich Granite
Erich GraniteI’d a smacked her. Yes; right in front of her kid.
Craig Van Aken
Craig Van AkenTake a baseball bat too her head
Mary Hamilton
Mary HamiltonBoth drag the last damn nickol out of you n disrespect your customs n demand more. Screw them n the horse they road in on.
Laying these comments aside for the moment, let’s consider some of the reasons this woman may have been sitting.   First, the more charitable possibilities:
  • This isn’t the National Anthem being played. Could be the last lap in a race.  We can’t tell from just a picture.
  • She is trying to appease/console her child, and chose being an attentive mother over appeasing protocol police around her.
  • She just got off the phone as the anthem began and stood up one second after this picture was taken.
  • She’s not feeling well, or it hurts to stand, and is waiting for her husband to return to assist her.

None or all of these could be true. We don’t know.  What I do know is this:  There are a thousand moments in a day where someone could snap my picture and post it online with a caption judging the motives of my heart.  And they might be wrong most of the time.  But they might also be right some of the time.  Let’s consider some of those reasons as well:

  • She’s unhappy here.  She was told that America was a land of freedom, where people could worship freely in the religion of their choice, and speak freely about whatever they choose.   She is learning, perhaps faster than she’d like, that many of the  people standing around her singing about the land of the free are hypocrites, denying her and her people the very things the song they sing promises to deliver.
  • She hates America.   She has listened to the ways in which we Americans talk about being a “Christian nation” and how Jesus loves all the children of the world.  And yet, as she sits during this Christian nation’s anthem, she is called a “bitch” and threatened to be beaten with a bat to the head if she doesn’t conform.  As if standing up proves your allegiance to and practice of our shared values.   Maybe she has seen our values, weighed them, and found them wanting.

There could certainly be more reasons, and they could all be true. Or none of them.   The point is we don’t know.  She could just be having a bad day.  I’ve had bad days.   I would hate to carry the weight on my shoulders that every action or inaction on my part is going to be photographed and captioned in an attempt to judge the hearts and desires of all white Christian men in America.   If you stop and think for a moment, I bet you’d hate that, too.

But let’s assume she hates America.  So what?  Living in America does not require one to love it, or even like it more than your native home. That’s why this is America.  Plenty died to make and keep this a land that is free from the kind of tyranny that makes conformity to the State or to a religion a rule of law.   Ironically, and tragically, if you are the type of person who is angry at this woman or her religion or her people, perhaps even hating her for her supposed disrespect, you are of the same seed that gives rise to the sort of terrorism and ethnic cleansing you see in other parts of the world – parts of the world from which this woman possibly fled, only to find the same evil here, too.  

And if this doesn’t rattle us, perhaps the words of Jesus will.  He said that if any of us has anger towards another we are guilty of murder.  Murder!  If you find yourself boiling over with anger and resentment towards a woman because she won’t stand up during your country’s anthem, then in God’s Kingdom, there is no distinction between you and the Omar Mateens or Timothy McVeighs of the world.  

What is the rule of love for us as Christians?   Let’s assume that to love requires a desire to share Jesus with someone at the very least.   Can we agree on that?  It also requires that we treat others as our neighbor, and love them as we love ourselves, yes?

So if this is love, how are we doing on that score?  If it’s in your heart to share this picture in order to disparage this woman and her race and/or religion, do you really think she or anyone like her will want to hear about your Jesus?   And do you really think that is how you would wish to be treated?  Is that how we love our neighbors?

sidebar: If there is still any confusion about who your neighbor is, according to Jesus it includes the person or group of persons that in your head and gut you can’t bring yourself to like, much less love. Your neighbor is the person or group of persons with whom you have the greatest disagreements racially, theologically, emotionally, physically and/or sexually.   Your neighbor is that person or group of persons to whom your sinful heart wants to scream “Bitch!” but the Holy Spirit screams, “Beloved!”

When I saw this picture I heard in my head a line from Mumford & Sons song, Only Love.  It goes like this:

And you saw me low
Alone again
Didn’t they say that only love will win in the end

Only love will win in the end.  As a follower of Jesus I am inclined to believe this is true.  But as a fellow pilgrim with the same people who spread pictures like this, and whose sinful heart often screams louder in my ears than the Holy Spirit, I confess I have my doubts at times.  Only love will win only if those of us who follow the One who is Love stand against hate and bigotry and racism and actively seek out ways to serve our neighbor rather than degrade and judge them.  When we gloat in the low moments of others, regardless of our self-justifying reasons, we break the rule of love, and grieve the God who died for every person without regard to their posture during any nation’s anthem.  

If you see me low, or I see you low, let us remember that only love will win in the end.

After the Storm

When I first heard of the mass killing in Orlando today my thoughts went to this song.   I had in my head that I would write something about this song, and what it means to me, but as I poured over the words I realized the words of this modern psalm say enough.   There’s nothing more to add.   So here they are.   Read them. Pray them. Share them.  May you and I remember that whatever storm we face, there is always an after.

I have taken the liberty to highlight the lines that speak loudest to me today.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
On my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won’t rot, I won’t rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won’t rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That’s why I hold,
That’s why I hold with all I have.
That’s why I hold.

I won’t die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I’ll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

man is a giddy thing

On the title track of their debut album, Sigh No More,  Marcus Mumford employs his classical literature training (as he does in most if not all his songs) singing lines spoken by Balthasar in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
    Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never;

But Mumford longs to be something more.    There is an angst that cries out again and again, I’m sorry!  along with a confession that his heart was never pure.  You know me, he cries.  You know me.

One of the reasons I have loved this song over the years is because it’s so gut-wrenchingly real.   It comes from a place of rigorous self-honesty, recognizing along with both Shakespeare and Scripture that men are deceivers ever, and that our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.  Who can know it? (Jer. 17:9).

This is not the path my flesh naturally travels, however.  I am a master at self deception, convincing myself that I’m really not all that bad.  I would much rather focus on the impure hearts of others than my own.

But when I look at myself with rigorous honesty, when I acknowledge that my heart is not always pure, when I admit that many times my motives are self-serving, when I take note that most if not all of my fears come from a place of self-protection, or that my anger is born from not getting my way, it is then that I am most likely to experience the blessedness Jesus promised those who are poor in spirit.  Here’s how.

First, I am less inclined to be shocked or surprised when my neighbor fails or disappoints me.  Because I know my own imperfections well, I am not surprised to find them in others.  I am able to extend grace to those who hurt me because I choose to imagine they are doing the best they can with the resources they have, just as I am doing the best I can with the resources I have.

Recent events have taught me this lesson all over again (because I am a slow learner, God in his mercy brings many opportunities to teach me).  This particular event had all the ingredients to knock me out completely, sending me spiraling into a pit of self-pity, self-loathing, anger, and bitterness.   And for awhile, it did.   I am learning that I can either choose to cling to those emotions, only hurting myself, or I can release them, forgiving them and myself, and live.   It’s amazing the weight that comes off my shoulders and the new vitality that surges through my life when I choose to extend mercy over judgment.

Second, I am better able to revel in the outlandish and glorious good news of the gospel words found in Psalm 139 which speak of God having knitted me together in my mother’s womb, that he knows my every thought and desire, that he is acquainted with all my ways.  This God knows me.  He knows me.    And even still,

How precious are your thoughts towards me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!

Not only does God love me, he likes me!  And you!  Even while knowing everything I have done, left undone, thought or spoken or dreamed.   He knows me.  And yet loves me with an unchanging, immovable, furious love.

We fail to worship rightly when we believe God doesn’t know us very well or that our hearts are already pure.  The God revealed to us in our song and psalm today does not love us because we are good people.  He loves us because he is good.   And for that, we ought to be giddy.

When Mumford sings “Oh man is a giddy thing” he is no doubt intending the usage from Shakespeare’s day, when it meant madly possessed by God in Old English.

When I am giddy, I don’t have time nor the inclination to be undone by the faults and disappointments I find in myself or others because I am already loved extravagantly and possessed eternally by a God who knows me fully.   When I am giddy, I am happy to lay my heart out before God and say with the Psalmist,

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (139:23-24)

I think it’s for this reason – that God loves us right where we are but is willing and able to take us to new and better heights – that Mumford has more hope than Balthasar.  Sigh No More concludes with these words, repeated three times, which I like to think is an intentional nod to the God who in three Persons possesses us:

Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

Let those words sink in today and cause your heart to sing in worship.  God’s love is a love that will not betray you, dismay you, or enslave you.  It will set you free.  It will form you into the person you were made to be.

May all your days be giddy.

 

 

 

 

 

How Souls Wake

Have you ever felt like you were surrounded by lions, that at every turn you might bump into an enemy, someone eager to devour you, or laugh as they watch you fall into yet another trap?

Has despair or distress or depression so shrouded your days and clouded your sight that you couldn’t imagine ever feeling alive again?   The days happen as though they are happening to someone else.  We go through the motions, asleep to the world.

The Psalmist describes his plight like this:

I am in the midst of lions;
    I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
    whose tongues are sharp swords.

They spread a net for my feet—
    I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
    but they have fallen into it themselves.

Psalm 57

Mumford’s song Awake My Soul begins in a similar vein:

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies

Both the Psalmist and Mumford, and myself and I’m sure most of you reading this, know a thing or two about life in the trenches where staying numb feels like the only play.

But knowing that others have experienced the same emotions does little to change or lift them.  At least that has been my experience.    When souls sleep, they can hardly acknowledge, or care, about company.

What is important, though, is hearing the company say again and again till blue in the face that there is hope.  While you may not be in a place to hear it, you need to hear it.   You need to know that while souls most certainly do fall asleep, they also wake up.   You were made to live awake.

I want to briefly examine how this happens in our psalm and song for today.

Every time I hear the song Awake My Soul, I am forced to examine to what I am investing my life.  As Mumford repeats the lines,

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life

My darkest nights of soul sleep were spent investing the bulk of my time focusing on the lions and traps around me and the shame I felt for falling prey to them.   If you are despairing today, examine the things that consume your time.  Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

The Psalmist then offers us the best course of action.  For the Psalmist, the pathway out of worry is worship.  Listen:

My heart, O God, is steadfast,
    my heart is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

 I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.

 

The lions and traps are still there.  The circumstances have not changed.   But in spite of these, the Psalmist insists on worship.  He will give thanks to God and stand in awe of creation even as he feels like creation is plotting his demise.

I am learning that the more time I spend in gratitude, with my eyes on my Creator rather than my circumstances, I am more alive.   Souls wake up when we love what, or Who, first loved us, becoming creatures of habit who worship.

Why is worship the silver bullet that wakes a soul?   Because, as the closing line of Awake My Soul declares:

You were made to meet your Maker.

that holy moment you hated God

“Maybe you are angry at God.”

During a prayer service at an Anglican church Sunday evening, those words spoken by a priest prompting us in prayer propelled my heart, and then my tears.   I hadn’t been conscious of it till that moment, but I knew in that moment that I was mad at God.

So with clenched fists and gritted teeth I let God have it.   Holding nothing back I told him all the things I held in my heart against him, all the ways in which he failed me, all the ways he let me fail.   With great urgency I made it clear to God that our relationship was on the verge of collapse.

That moment was the closest I have felt to God in a long, long time.

Tonight, as I read Psalm 88, it’s clear why.    Expressing anger towards God is one of the more holy things we humans can do.   Listen closely to just a few of the psalmist’s angry indictments towards God.

I have become like one who has no strength; lost among the dead…whom you remember no more…you have laid me in the depth of the Pit… You have put my friends far from me…I am in prison and cannot get free…

Lord, why have you rejected me?  Why have you hidden your face from me?  Your blazing anger has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

I suppose God could have chosen to leave these angry blasts out of scripture.   How convenient it would be if the bible looked more like that which parades itself as faithfulness today.  To be a good Christian, we have been taught, is to put on a good face to the world and never, ever, express our distrust, dissatisfaction or disappointment with God.  This is such a pity because it forces us to ignore emotions that are very real and raw and thereby miss out on a level of intimacy with God that only true confession of these emotions bring.

And by confession I do not mean being sorry for being angry at God.   God doesn’t need you and I to be sorry for our anger.  He desires for us to be transparent enough with him that we can simply tell him our feelings without dressing them up in our Sunday best.

What’s holy about the psalmist’s anger – even contempt – towards God is that it’s directed at God and not others.   It’s God’s fault that he feels the way he does.  And, it’s God’s help that is most urgently needed.

But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

One of the most faithful ways we can love God, I’m learning, is to direct every emotion towards him, especially our anger.  It’s in this way that Mumford’s closing line in Not With Haste made sense to me..

Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste
As it keeps my heart and soul in its place.
And I will love with urgency
But not with haste.

The Psalmist loved God with urgency, taking every raw, unfiltered, anger-riddled emotion to him without pretense or polish.  And he directed his love wisely, without  haste.   His first cry each morning was to this God who could both ruin and raise him.   It’s in this God that he, and we, find our only hope to accept us as we are, where we are, whether that be with lips of praise or clenched fists of rage.

I wonder if the psalmist felt what I felt after railing against God.   I wonder how you might feel if you took a moment to do the same.