Come At Me, Brethren

4933411158_d307f2590e_zIn a world that seems to be all about pulling out the red carpet for one’s ego, I say this: I need criticism.

I wouldn’t say I love it. But I’ll tell you this: the worst feeling in the world is not criticism. The worst feeling in the world is fearing that people have criticisms of you but won’t tell you.

Sure, I’m a sensitive soul. Perhaps folks want to protect my feelings.

But I’m not going to grow that way. The saying is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. The saying is not “as silence sharpens iron”. Silence doesn’t sharpen anything, except perhaps the cut of my mistakes.

Then I stumbled upon this passage and went yes, yes…this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing
or perform wicked acts
with men who commit sin.
Do not let me feast on their delicacies.
Let the righteous one strike me—
it is an act of faithful love;
let him rebuke me—
it is oil for my head;
let me not refuse it.
Even now my prayer is against
the evil acts of the wicked. (Psalm 141:4-5)

Amazing. David would rather be rebuked by a brother than sin against God. How many of us have those two priorities reversed?

My mission teammates once sat me down and informed me that I was behind on my lesson-building preparations. A prominent woman and friend pulled me aside to tell me that a facial expression I’d used while speaking about her husband could be taken the wrong way. And just last year, a looongtime friend sat me down to explain to me how one careless comment of mine had thrown my loyalty into question.

None of these people were wrong.

And I need this stuff. It’s hard to hear, but it’s better than having no idea where I really am, how I’m really doing. It’s better than not growing.

And if I’m ever going to be raised into higher levels of life – ministry, marriage, parenthood – I’m going to need it even more. Every one of those arenas features heavier fire. Even blogging has required stronger discernment and the occasional gentle correction of others.

So I would say to those who call me a friend – if I need refinement, let me know. I welcome it. I need it. We cannot be sharpened if we have thin skin.

And let us all seek out friends, mentors, and spouses who can challenge us kindly and tactfully, but powerfully. It is one of the greatest gifts of Christian community.

*ducks and braces for the firestorm*

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:6)

In Which I Nerd Out Astronomically and Theologically

orionThe constellation Orion has returned to us.

Enough of a familiar sight to basically be the herald of winter to Northern Hemisphere dwellers, the Hunter, as Orion is often called, is known for its two brightest stars: Rigel at the lower right, Betelgeuse at the upper left. They’re the sixth and eighth brightest stars in the sky respectively, with absolute magnitudes of -7.84 and -5.85 (lower is brighter on that scale).

Next time you look at Orion, do so with this fact: the brighter star, Rigel, is over 200 light-years further from Earth and not even 10% the size.

Since learning those facts, I have never looked at Orion the same way. Rigel is an object of unbelievable luminosity.

Then consider that no created light can outstrip that of its creator.

And Orion is such a small sample of his work. Earth’s atmosphere, while a blessing, also does us a disservice towards understanding the breadth of his work, because it hides most of it. The stars of Orion appear to be relatively isolated objects floating in a sea of blackness, like chips of ice on a perfect sea. They are not isolated.

Shortly after moving to a rural town several years ago to teach math, I looked up one chilly but crystal clear December evening trying to pick out Orion and…could not locate it. That’s a different kind of chill. It took several seconds of confused scanning before I spotted it – it was right there, where it should be.

But it was now surrounded by so many stars that I had never seen before, only just now appearing in the absence of city glare, that the entire constellation of Orion had initially blended into the cosmos. No longer was the night sky a sparse collection of points; it more resembled a black canvas covered with fine dust, so numerous were the stars. Even the three collinear stars of Orion’s iconic belt had been able to hide at first amongst the galaxy’s sprawling glory.

Then consider that the stars visible from Earth are only an infinitesimal fraction of God’s work.

We are so alone among the stars…yet not alone at all.

This man is only one small step towards grasping the immensity of God.

 

His Peace Must Be Chosen

jordanEver heard psalmists and David Crowder sing unabashedly of God being “everything they need” and wondered, What on earth are they talking about?

Me, too.

One of the chief comforts of Scripture when we are disappointed, discouraged, or heartbroken, is that the Christian’s highest goal is not that dream or achievement or milepost you’ve fallen short of, but knowing God. Making him your peace, your joy, your contentment, your soul’s richest food and water. He, the Bible tells us repeatedly, is the only thing that will truly ever satisfy.

But you might have noticed it doesn’t just drop in with the mail.

Where is it then, God? Where are you?

Or as a friend put it recently, “Why can’t I appropriate for myself what God has promised me?”

We know God is faithful. His side of the deal is inerrant and unfailing; there is no lie or failure with him.

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Is God Opposed to Your Dreams?

soldierAs I was wrapping up Air Force basic training (never have seven weeks passed so swiftly and so slowly), one of the final bureaucratic details was the chance to tell the Air Force our preference of first posting, for them to promptly ignore.

We were given a “dream sheet” on which to list eight desired destinations. We could select a base, state, region, or country.

Some of us got an insider tip: wait until tech school to file your sheet. For whatever reason, sheets filed there tended to be actually seen by someone, whereas those filed at basic vanished into the same black hole that has probably consumed all my socks.

So I waited until tech school, filed my sheet, and waited with bated breath for my posting. The sergeant announced them weekly from the podium outside the dorms, usually triggering jeers of fake sympathy for anyone getting “Why Not Minot?”

Finally, my turn came. I got a posting in the…half of the country I’d requested.

Wrong border, though. 1,500 miles away.

Did the Air Force just not care?

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When You Dislike Being Needy for God

mistLong ago, I listened to a remarkably holy man, a cancer patient, sharing a conversation with God.

It was a naked, piercing, and heavy testimony of the “when you’ve finally just had it” variety. During a morning quiet time in his big easy chair, he is praying and listening for God and suddenly (for are not these things rather sudden?) just explodes into venting about the story God is writing for him. It’s not just the disease. It’s the ongoing changes and the endless appointments and the constant vigilance and the social misunderstandings and the lack of closure and the shame and fear that attend. All his anger and helplessness and isolation explodes before the throne in frustration. He lets God know.

And the man described hearing God reply, “I understand you don’t like the story. How do you feel about the Author?”

Ugh.

It cut me to the quick – one of two things he said that did so. Not a pleasant reveal, but an unmistakably holy one. A divine refocusing.

For though I dared not compare my life’s difficulties to cancer, the question was stil one that I had not wanted to face. For I could tell you exactly how my journey (e.g. my family history, my weird and glitchy personality) has made me feel about God.

The other thing he said was:

“I could just hear the clarity coming to myself, and I finally said it: ‘What I really don’t like is, I’m now living a life where I need you, God, on a day-to-day basis, just to get through it. And I don’t like being desperately needy for you, God.'”

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The Best Responses for Christians After the Election – Win or Lose

afterThere’s just no two ways around it – we can’t all get what we want on election week. After months of tiresome campaign ads that test all of our adherence to Matthew 6:34, we’re about to see which direction the government – most importantly, the Senate – swings.

We can’t control what happens, beyond our duty to vote (by the way, VOTE). But we can see to our reaction.

I’m no sage, but here’s what I have a conviction about come Tuesday – win or lose.

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Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty simple.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, but all of it falling into place in our early twenties without all that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away.

“If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

It wasn’t quite that blase. We still love him…kinda. We certainly believe. We know he exists. We get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise.

I don’t mean this as a guilt trip. Please hear me out.

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