Thursday, July 30, 2015


For a late summer morning, this one was rare and beautiful. Instead of the stagnant, oppressive blanket of heat, a delicious breeze greeted me as I stepped out this morning. The sky, swept clean by last night's storm, showed off a blue so vibrant it looked surreal.

I've been working through Solomon's life and Proverbs this week. As I read the account of Solomon asking God for wisdom, it gave me pause to realize that even wisdom isn't enough. As a bibliophile and hopeless nerd, I somehow think that maybe if I just read a little more or think about it just the right way, then understanding will make obedience easier or sweeter. But even the wisest man on Earth was led astray by the lust of his flesh. No matter how hard I beat my head against the impenetrable veil, I won't get through. That truth has pierced my soul this week with unusual acuteness. 

Then came the thousand voices of discouragement and despair that feed off this particular grief.  Whispers of worthlessness, futility, and hopelessness have been trying to crowd out the gospel in my heart, but this verse, like the morning sky, has provided unexpected relief in this desert
Be not wise in your own eyes; turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3: 7-8

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Count me in

An unexpected but much needed two hour nap this afternoon has left me bright eyed at a later hour than I am usually able to be coherent. How is it that a two hour nap can make you wide awake for four or five hours later than usual? The math does not make sense. The one upside is that a late night cup of tea feels like a chance to steal a slice of my sanity back while everything else in the house is quiet. 

Perhaps it is just me, but this summer seems more filled than usual with news and political drama. I am somewhat exhausted by trying to keep up with what society considers socially acceptable. It is considered humane to kill human babies in the womb and sell their body parts but not sea turtles or eagles in their eggs.  Apparently regardless of your genetics it is socially acceptable to pick the gender with which you would like identify but socially inappropriate to pick the race. And killing someone is illegal on your own but perfectly acceptable when agreed upon by twelve people in a courtroom. Am I the only one feeling a little schizophrenic after listening to the news? The only firm conclusion that I've been able to draw these past few weeks is that society has largely lost its ability to have any kind of coherent rational discussion. Or maybe it never had that ability after the fall.

It seems appropriate to be reading about David's life right now. I'm paralleling the histories as best I can, and for the first time I was struck by the long reaching effects of David's affair with Bathsheba. Because it didn't start with Bathsheba. That whole story begins with the statement that it was springtime when the kings when out to war, but David stayed home. One small decision to stay home sets off this chain of events that becomes one of the most notorious acts of sin in the Bible. And it doesn't end with the murder of Bathsheba's husband. Absalom's rebellion is a direct consequence of David's actions. David, having lost the moral high ground in such a public and egregious act of hypocrisy, is rendered impotent and almost pathetic in his own defense. I was reminded of a quote from The Ascent of Mt Carmel:
The misplaced desires of the soul are sources of endless weariness because they allow the soul no rest since they can never be filled.  Like bugs to bright light, we are drawn to these desires, blind to all else, even our own destruction.  "He that is blinded by desires has this property that, when he is set in the midst of truth and of that which is good for him, he can no more see them than if he were in darkness."
It wasn't that David was ignorant of sin in general because he could recognize the same sin when presented to him in a story by the prophet Nathan. But a continual series of small sins drew David in deeply enough that the cost of repentance was so great that self-deception was preferable to repentance on such a subconscious level that David remained stubbornly and willfully blind to his own destruction. 

That is scary. It was like seeing exactly how hopeless our situation is without grace. I do not think I see people that way very often, and it has renewed my own sense of urgency in prayer both for myself and others. Because once I start down the path of sin, repentance becomes both more difficult and more unlikely the longer I continue down that path.

And yet God still shows up for David in a way God never did for Saul even though Saul's sins were far less publicly offensive that David's. 2 Samuel 22, which is also Psalm 18, is a victory song of David. A victory song. Saul performs one offering a little too early and he loses his life, his kingdom, and the lives of his children. After all that mess David made, David gets a victory song? The modern news media would be having a field day. David even has the nerve to say that "the Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness." Um, excuse me? Did I miss something here?

I've been reading this psalm and the penitential psalms recently, Sometimes I forget that repentance is not turning away from an action, it's turning away from the lies and self-deception I'm buying into each day. Saul's repentance was so characteristic of my own, a shallow way of placating my conscience while I continue down my path of sin. David's repentance, though, was a complete and glorious turning away from himself towards God. 

But it means I have to change. Aye, there's the rub because change is costly. But the result? Oh man, the result of true repentance is that God shows up. Just read the part of 2 Samuel 22 I've copied below. It gives me chills. Because I want God to show up with smoke and devouring fire and a canopy of darkness while the earth trembles, for I know that somewhere in all that chaos is my salvation. I can only pray that no matter how costly the repentance, I will always choose to throw myself on the mercy of God rather than trust in the logic of this schizophrenic world. Though the Lord may destroy me, he delights in me. Unfathomable. Completely incomprehensible. Count me in.

“In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry came to his ears.

“Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations of the heavens trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.

He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he was seen on the wings of the wind.

He made darkness around him his canopy,
    thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.

The Lord thundered from heaven,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
    lightning, and routed them.

Then the channels of the sea were seen;
    the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.

 “He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.

He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Though I am now safe at home, yesterday morning I was standing in the Atlantic Ocean one last time before leaving my brother's house. The longshore current was incredibly strong, and the boys would dive into a wave and come up 15 feet down the beach. I spent most of the morning standing sentry to make sure they didn't get pulled down shore into the fishing lines. The water pulled the sand out from under my feet, slowly burying my toes in the ocean floor as even I struggled to stay parallel with our towels on the shore. It's an apt metaphor for my walk with Christ, the struggle to keep my eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. In a world with such changing currents and coastlines, it's no wonder I get pulled down shore with every wave. 

I love my counselor because we always end up talking nerdy. I walked into her office a while back and we started on social anxiety and ended with a discussion about authenticity, also covering several great books we've read recently. It was fantastic. Somewhere in the midst of asking me questions about why I'd rather hide under my bed than say, have a conversation at church, she asked me something like, "do you struggle to be authentic?" I paused for a moment until it hit me. I completely despise the modern notion of authenticity. Consider this really great quote from an article in the Harvard Business Journal by Herminia Ibarra on the paradox of authenticity in leadership:
Because going against our natural inclinations can make us feel like impostors, we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable. But few jobs allow us to do that for long. That’s doubly true when we advance in our careers or when demands or expectations change, as Cynthia, George, and countless other executives have discovered. In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviors and styles. But my research also demonstrates that the moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs. That takes courage, because learning, by definition, starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors that can make us feel calculating instead of genuine and spontaneous. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.
The idea of authenticity as the genuine and spontaneous overflow of me into a conversation terrifies me because an overflow of me is not pretty. Neither of us want this sinful mess oozing into our discussion. Trust me. And it's not anxiety or fear of rejection or shame that freezes me in social situations. It's stupidity. I don't want to bring myself to the conversation. I want to bring Christ. I want to bring holiness, but that is so not authentic or genuine or easy or even comprehensible. So instead sometimes I just stare at people and think, "Lord have mercy, I have no idea what to do or say right now, can I please just run away?" Which, of course, is also not holy. 

I love Ibarra's line, "we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable." How many times have I given in to self-indulgence or sloth or gossip or complaining under the noble guise of being authentic? How many times have I led others into sin because being holy felt inauthentic? I shudder to think of those answers. Ibarra goes on to describe authenticity in leadership as an evolving process. Her words felt so similar to sanctification that I thought it necessary to roll my eyes at the Holy Spirit. Clearly he knows how dense I am. Speak slowly and use small words and maybe she'll get it this time.

I'm out of the ocean and back on my couch tonight, but I still feel harassed by the longshore current ready to carry me off every time I lose my footing. After that lovely little bit in Hebrews 12 about fixing our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith comes a much longer passage about the Lord's discipline. There's the rub. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (vs 11) I'm still waiting for that harvest. I'm digging in my toes and bracing for the waves, but in the meantime there's wonderful beauty all around me and a certain invigorating joy to the fight.