I want to find huge shark teeth when I go shark tooth hunting. I’m not out there searching for teeth so small I could fit ten of them on top of a Quarter. I want to find a Mako or a Great White that fills up the palm of my hand and has weight to it. People who say finding tiny little shark teeth is just as satisfying as finding big ones may not be lying, but I don’t think they’re saying the whole truth. If they walked up on a Megalodon you’d hear them singing a different song. But they (we) do get satisfaction from finding tiny shark teeth. It is a different feeling. When I comb the beach walking at my normal pace and letting my eyes search almost on autopilot, finding shark teeth that are teeny tiny makes me feel like I am the master of this beach. It makes me feel like if there is any shark tooth on this beach it can’t elude me. I will find it. How can I doubt this when I walked along at full stride and picked a shark tooth barely bigger than 20 grains of sand out of moving water? It is magical. I’m not even sure how I do it. It must be Spidey-sense. Spidey shark tooth sense. Whatever it is, picking that tooth out of the surf is satisfying because I’m sure I haven’t missed anything big. If my methods work to find this tooth then I’m not missing other things.
Usually the tiny teeth end up at the bottom of a jar, not in a display case, but there’s no doubt in my mind there are plenty of days I would have quit hunting before finding a display case tooth if I hadn’t found one of these little things and renewed my belief that I could find another tooth. It’s the little things that matter. It’s the little things we do that accumulate in our hearts that add up to confidence to go on when nothing significant seems to be happening. The tiny hints of the presence of the Holy are just as full in their ways as the monumental Red Sea splitting displays of power. I want to walk my life pathway with the expectation of finding Jesus in the moving water.
I decided to get rid of a program on my computer. I went to the Add/Remove programs section, found the program I wanted to delete and clicked on a tab saying “remove.” A message came up on the screen: You do not have sufficient access to delete this file, see the system administrator. I tried it again and got the same result. This was a program I had installed myself. After puzzling over it for a while I decided to call the company from which I downloaded the file. The helpful people there walked me through all the steps I tried already. They couldn’t delete the program. Insufficient access. Finally they gave up.
This was pretty frustrating. I didn’t know it at the time but when I downloaded the program, I was receiving something I couldn’t get rid of later. My computer didn’t seem to be my computer anymore. Every time I logged on the icon for the program would remind me I wasn’t in control. It was one thing to consciously download a program and then be stuck with it, but what if you never asked for it? Spyware are programs which come as files attached to something on the internet like an advertisement. You click on it to see what it’s about and a little dialogue box comes up saying you have to download this file in order to go further. Click. Next thing you know you’ve got a program pouring popups into your screen every five minutes for Viagra. You may have been looking for info on trips to the Bahamas but now you are being inundated with info you never asked for and don’t want. These programs get intertwined with your hard drive like an electronic boa constrictor. Often, when trying to delete them you will get the same message: Insufficient access.
What if there was something inside of you you didn’t want but constantly had to face? You try every trick you know to erase it. Reboot, run away, read up on it, buy another program which will supposedly get at it, ask an expert to help free you, but in the end you find no way to rid yourself of it. Fearful? Angry? Suicidal? Suicidal people are really on to something. They have come to the conclusion there is something so broken they can’t fix it. They know they don’t have sufficient access to get at the thing making their lives miserable. The problem is killing the outer man doesn’t get at the inner man. Suicide is like taking a sledge hammer to the computer monitor; the light may go out and you don’t have to look at the image anymore, but the hard drive is still running and still messed up. Sin is the human spyware none of us asked for, but all of us live with. It has wrapped around each of us in ways we can’t even understand. No one has the access to rid themselves of it’s effects on their own, even though some obviously cope much better with their fallen state than others. No matter how well you deal with sin here and now you are left with one final effect of sin you must face: death. Insufficient access. Somehow, somewhere we all come up against this statement about our own lives. We can’t sustain them. We can’t fix what’s broken. We have to have someone with the ability to reach places we can’t reach. Jesus can reach anywhere. He holds the keys to hell and death. There is no door He cannot open, there is nothing overcoming us that He hasn’t already overcome. You may think you have done things to your life that cannot be undone and you are probably right if you look at your access or the access of men or the tools of men. Invite a God into your life and He won’t start on the exterior. God begins to work where men are unable to reach. Just admit you personally have insufficient access and let Jesus initiate the true work in you.
“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” – Jesus (Rev 1:18)
“Therefore (Jesus) is able also to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)
“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8)
What would it take for you to convince someone you were God? Not a god; not one of many minor gods, but THE God? Do you think you could convince one person? How about 10 or 12? 70? What kind of people could you convince you were God? If you had them convinced, how far would they go along with your story? Would they be inconvenienced over it? Would they lose their families? Would they suffer torture? Would they die rather than give up on you being God? Ask yourself what happened to the people Jesus met. It was significant whatever it was. And we either have to believe they were just some poor gullible idiots duped by a master manipulator, or they were pressed up against God and couldn’t account for what happened to them any other way.
Not to be too detailed about the circumstances, but I was in the bathroom at a church (which was also home to a Christian school), when I looked up to see this:
“Stupid kids,” I said to myself. And just for a second I thought about getting out my own pen and adding an arrow and the words “or this either.” As I started to leave the truth really hit me. Walking away from the stain on the bathroom door wasn’t what Jesus would do. Nor would he just criticize the two misguided authors. I went to the paper towel dispenser, grabbed a handful of towels, wet them down and scrubbed the door clean. What would Jesus do? He’d fix something that wasn’t His fault. He’d do it quietly. He’d leave the door better than it was before He came.
We know the divorce rate stats. Marriage is a 50/50 proposition. As a caterer and a preacher I probably attend more weddings in a year than anyone attends in a lifetime. I can tell you this: no one looks worried about the divorce rate at a wedding. No one. Worried about the cake falling over, yes. Worried about a wrinkle on a tablecloth, yes. Worried about whether or not the mash potatoes on the buffet are good enough, yes. But no one is worried about divorce. I’ve never seen a bride huddled with her girls stressing over whether or not the groom is the right one. I’ve never seen the groom with his boys wistfully looking over the women in the room and wishing one of them was in the white dress instead of his bride. But I sure have heard a lot of people saying they married the wrong person a year or two or ten down the road. This is supposed to make everything better. It is a magic formula pronounced over a struggling marriage. It absolves the speaker of guilt. It is the equivalent of saying “I’m not really broken. I’m marriageable. I can do marriage. I just needed the right partner and this one isn’t it.” This seems to overlook at least one crucial fact: even if you did get the wrong partner for marriage, it was you who chose them – it was your judgment call. What makes you think your judgment is good enough to go out and find the right partner? And, more immediately, if you have such poor judgment about one of the most critical decisions of life, what makes you think you are qualified to judge the true state of your marriage? No matter how bad the marriage looks at the moment (and no marriage looks good all the time), it is wise to remember that your discernment got you here, and the worse the marriage looks, the less you should trust your own ability to see it clearly. You got fooled. Maybe you should take time to figure out how that happened.
Ask yourself if it is possible that the problem is not who you married, but that you don’t understand what marriage is. What if marriage doesn’t create your problems but reveals them. What if the purpose of marriage is to create a situation where the real fatal flaws in us are exposed so the opportunity exists to get them repaired?
If these things are deep enough there may be no way to get them to the surface other than a committed relationship with another human being who never goes away. We all wear a success suit for the world and we hop around in it all the time like rabbits. It covers up the things inside we don’t want to show others, the pain, the scars, the shortcomings, the fear. Hop, hop, hop. But marriage is there all the time, and sooner or later we can’t keep hopping. We unzip the suit and let it all out. It was always there underneath. We didn’t show it to anyone especially not someone we were hoping would marry us. Most of us don’t do this on purpose. We don’t set out to deceive anyone. We may not even realize where those flaws are, their roots and their fruits.
If the Christian story of the world is true, and if the Christian concept of marriage is real, this is precisely how the gospel works its way into us and helps us. Marriage is a means through which grace is pushed deeper into our lives than we would on our own. Marriage is a means to get at the deep deceptions that dwell in us because of our God-loss. And a key component of this view of marriage is that this grace comes to us in any kind of marriage. Bad or good. Fulfilling or unfulfilling. This grace is the realization that Jesus Christ is a spouse that marries the wrong person on purpose. He marries people who are not lovely, but he loves them into loveliness. Finding out you married the wrong person may be the only way you can figure out how much you need to accept Christ’s marriage proposal to you.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven”” (Matthew 6:9)
I’m old enough that when I played high school sports our team would actually pray together before games. All of us, agnostics, atheists, Jews and Gentiles and who-knows-what-else in a huddle reciting the words together in a huddle. Psalm 23 was popular. It usually started slow and low, got loud and fast by the “shadow of death” part and then worked into a disjointed war cry by the end. We also did the “Lord’s Prayer” or model prayer. This felt more like a magic incantation mumbled by pimply priests ready to enter the basketball, football, or baseball sanctuary. We knew the words. Someone said “our father” and everyone jumped in, marching in rhythm to the never ending end: “forever and ever amen.”
I don’t know when I learned the words, but I know it was long before I knew them. I still don’t know them. I still fall into one word and swim until I admit I can’t find the bottom of it. So I guess my title is more than a little presumptuous. I don’t really know how to pray the Lord’s prayer, I just know more than I used to know, and I know that what I know is wonderful. And I’m not a guy who uses “wonderful” to describe much. It is wonderful. It is wonderful. It is wonderful. It is so wonderful that I’m going to have to write just a little at a time. Do this with me; pray the Lord’s prayer every day out loud and let it be whatever it is to you. Out loud is important. Form the words with your mouth not just your heart or mind. Lesson one is that Christianity is not spiritual or supernatural. Christianity is Jesus; a real man with a real body and a real mouth making real words. The earth is his and everything in it. All things belong to him. Christians or those who want to know the real God do not need to retreat from the physical in order to find him. Everything is spiritual and supernatural. Either God made your mouth or he didn’t. If he did, it is a miracle and every word miraculous. Speech itself. Rhythm. Resonance. Feel it. Try to explain it without God if you’d like, but as for me, I’m going to let the sound itself declare the glory of God.
“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.” (Luke 5:17-18)
Notice who is getting in the way of people with an urgent need to see Jesus…
“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” (Luke 8:44)
Immediately. Jesus did not choose to heal this woman. He did not even know who she was, yet power went out from him. There must be a way to touch God which elicits an outpouring of His power not because of the one who touches, but because of the nature of God. (e.g. if you touch me with the sharp edge of a razor blood flows because of my nature) Many people touched Jesus as he walked. It was a throng – it was like a Beijing subway (or Shanghai -that’s for you my Nicole) – but only one drew blood. Only one held the razor.
Why did the woman tremble when she couldn’t remain anonymous? Picture the whole scene: A raucous crowd pressing and moving along with the Prophet. It is noisy. There is laughter and loud speculation about what this man will do next. He himself is silent. He walks in his way; eyes neither aloof nor downcast. Some in the crowd feel touched by those eyes others wonder what he sees. All is motion and sound and anticipation. Then he stops. A quiet descends. What is going on? He speaks, “Who touched my clothes?” A deeper silence. Many who have been near him are thinking ‘is it me? I was so close…did I touch him?’ No one wants to admit it. They shrug their shoulders and murmur one to another. The quiet grows pregnant. It is getting awkward. Peter senses it. He steps forward and says what others are thinking, “There is quite a crowd around you…How can you say one touched you?” You can almost see Peter whispering this to Jesus. He’s saying – you are embarrassing yourself here. Let’s keep moving. Jesus doesn’t seem to hear Peter at all. He raises his voice, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
And he stands in the quiet crowd looking at their faces. Now the woman is stuck. No one is moving. She can’t retreat without drawing attention to herself. He will see her. No way to go now but forward. She tried to steal Jesus’ power. She wanted healing, not a face to face meeting with the Prophet. And she knows the truth. She knows there really was and is power in this man. Touching him has done something she can’t account for. It took all she had just to get close enough to touch him – all her courage. He has called her out. What will he do? Will he take back his power? Will he humiliate her? In a voice barely above a whisper she tells her story. She speaks to the ground. Tears of fear and joy join as one streak down her face and into the dirt. She cannot look up. Her words end. No one moves. They collectively hold their breath. An unclean person; a woman, has touched a Rabbi. Jesus sees her. He sees the tears. He sees everything. No one has seen her like he sees. “Take heart daughter,” he says, and she does. She breaths for everyone. He continues, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
The Prophet moves away to his appointment with the elder’s daughter. The woman sits while the crowd regains it’s momentum. She has touched God. She has stolen power from God like Prometheus stole fire from the gods – and instead of punishment she has been rewarded with healing and a benediction of peace. She trembles again. What kind of God is this?
If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
For the record: I am very glad for the folks who get up early in the morning to instruct my spinning classes and boot camp classes and tabata classes at the Y. It takes a lot of energy to get up and be in front of people; mostly half-awake grumpy people at that. And I appreciate that there is no one brand of work out music that suits everyone. Some like it hot and some like it light and pop and some like a little hair band action.
Personally, I have eclectic tastes in music. At 9, 10 or 11am or at 1, 2, or 3pm you could find me twanging or rocking or rapping, or even head bangin’. But at 5am…at 5am I’m not ready for some things. For instance, I can sit down to watch Zombieland in the evening and totally rock out to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” during the opening sequence, but it makes me want to break things and say bad things when its playing during boot camp warm up the next morning. Really.
Words are not always appropriate. True words. Blessing words. Lyrical words. There are words and then there is context and they go together. The apostle Paul wrote that we are to “speak the truth in love” to each other and that would help us to grow up. We get that right? Someone who tells us our haircut looks stupid with a huge sneer on their face is like Metallica at 5am; not helpful or welcome. But someone who says the exact same thing with genuine concern for the way we look, is like music to our ears. Its in rhythm. It helps us get better; to grow up. I admit I am not always saying my words to help someone find the beat. Often I am just dishing out a beating. I don’t want to be that way, though. I want to get the right words in the right context. This is why I try to say this prayer every day: Jesus you are welcome here. In all my life you are welcome. In my going and in my thinking and in my feeling and in my saying. You are welcome here. To me, when I do this I am inviting the right context into my life. I am inviting Love himself into my life. His presence is love and loving words can find their proper place in me through him.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
People don’t want lines drawn around their lives, they want life. If you think the gospel is a set of rules to keep you in line you’ve missed it altogether. The gospel is a Life drawing you into itself in order to turn you loose into more freedom than you can imagine.