Hiding From God

Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. — Romans 13:14, NRSV

I have many delightful and powerfully spiritual memories associated with traditional Christianity. The Eucharist, my baptism, preaching from a gorgeous Lutheran pulpit in Kentucky, and many such qualities of what would be called “orthodox” Christian circles are firmly and fondly planted in my mind and heart. Then there are… other memories.

Having come of age “in church,” I was always struck by the obsession with “grace” that seemed to yield very little in practice. God forgives us, yet we frequently stone one another for anything and everything. We also claim to believe that humans (along with all creation) are fundamentally good, having been created with the image and breath of God on and within us (Genesis 1:27 and 2:7). But when passages like the one above from Romans came up, there always seems to be this idea that we need Jesus to act as a spiritual, bullet-proof vest of sorts.

In this passage, Paul is talking about setting aside “the works of darkness” in favor of living honorably “as in the day” (13:12-13). We are to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (13:14). In this context, we are encouraged to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which many take to mean that we cover up who we are so that God only sees Jesus, thereby granting us mercy. 

I think this is a deeply flawed interpretation.

If this is true, it means that God isn’t interested in a relationship with us so much as with a multitude of Jesus clones. The message this sends is that we must hide from God behind Jesus so that our awful, sinful selves can be overlooked. Unfortunately, this is what I was often taught, either explicitly or implicitly by well-meaning teachers and pastors throughout the years. We see this idea put forth in literature, in the pulpit, in our worship songs, and in our liturgy.

What we don’t realize is this kind of thinking reinforces every negative cycle and belief with regard to ourselves and how we perceive our connection to the Divine.

If the “Good News” is that Jesus allows us to hide ourselves from God, that’s… not good. I also don’t believe this to be what the passage is getting at. It seems that to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is to act in a particular way in this life. It’s to walk in discipleship, following the example of love and Divine connection that we have in Jesus of Nazareth.

In short, to “put on Christ” is to be who we were always meant to be!

God doesn’t intend for us to go around in fearful self-loathing masquerading as faith. To follow Jesus is not to hide behind Him, for God doesn’t want us to hide, but to be who we really are. To lead a life of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, integrity, and peace is nothing more than to embrace all of the gifts which God has given us.

The Good News is that God sees you for who you really are: a good and blessed creation that bears His image and likeness. He sees past your mistakes and sins, loving all of you in a more complete way than anyone else ever could. What remains is for us to act like this is the case, and that is what it means to “put on Christ.”

In Jesus, we see the ideal human and the ideal relationship with the Divine. Jesus fully embraced the Divine within Him, and He invites you and I to do the same as His disciples. God doesn’t want you to hide behind Jesus, but to join our Lord in openly embracing your true nature, which is fundamentally and irrevocably good. The cool thing is that doing this also means treating everyone and everything else in the same way, as all are beautiful manifestations of God’s creative power. So let’s get to it!

Peace be with you!

 

 

What Waterfowl Taught Me About Suicide

For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. — Wisdom 11:24, NRSV

When I was eleven years old, I tried to hang myself in the bathroom of my elementary school gym before basketball practice. Luckily, it didn’t work, and as I lay there, cursing myself, jacket sleeve still tied around my neck, my Dad came in looking for me. I will never get the quiver of his voice out of my head, as he cried my name and moved like lightning to my side.

I am not sharing this for shock value or pity, though I am sure some of my readers are surprised. The reason I tell this story in detail is because suicide is a major issue that many speak of and experience, yet the loudest voices seem to come from those who have never felt that depth of darkness. I am telling my story because I want you to know, dear reader, that I have looked this monster in the eye. It left its mark on me, and if there is one person out there who sees that it doesn’t have to be the end for them, then this post will have done its work.

I mentioned in my previous post that I went for a walk in a local park this past Saturday. Besides the super happy dog and lovely dandelions that I got to see, I saw some ducks and other assorted waterfowl in the pond that the park is centered upon. Watching them churn their feet and “swim for their lives” as I approached the shore, I noticed something I had never given much thought to before.

As the ducks swam, they cut through the water, leaving behind a triangular trail that expanded as they went, leaving an enduring mark that was much larger than the duck herself. I had considered writing this post for a long time, but it had retreated to the back of my mind until I noticed this seemingly minor detail. As it turns out, nature has much to say on the topic.

You see, we all leave trails behind us. Like the duck, we cannot see the trail, as we are continuing to move on through life, but it is still there, always expanding until it becomes a part of the greater body of water. In the same way, our lives (all of them) leave a trail that moves from our immediate vicinity into the greater narrative of human history. We cannot always see it, but it is there.

I often hear that “life can’t be that bad” for the suicidal person, and I get what those people are trying to say. Keep things “sunny side up” and such. But in that place of deepest darkness, there is no sun. There is no “bright side.” We cannot see the positives of our existence.

I had no idea of my parents’ love for me at that time when I was 11 years old, and many years after. There was no seeing the friends I had made and the lives I had touched in my short time. But now that I have the chance to look back and reflect, I am so glad that my plan failed that night.

I would never have met my little brother, who I now can’t imagine life without. I would not have the amazing wife I have now, nor would my relationship with my parents have had the chance to heal so that I could enjoy the closeness and mutual love we now share. Mission trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, and all across the U.S. would not have happened for me, and that would be one less positive relationship for me and for many people. I never would have preached the Gospel and worked with an amazing group of youth for over four years, never would have had the chance to be there for my dearest friends, and never would have come to the understanding of God’s transformative grace that I have now.

I also wouldn’t be writing this message that I feel many of us need to hear.

If you are reading this and struggling with suicidal thoughts, whether they are ideational or actually being planned, please talk to someone. Say it to somebody, because right now you do not know the impact your life (and death) has had and will have on the world around you. You are not broken. You are not worthless. There is a point and a purpose for you.

I have often quoted the verse that started this post, that God loves “all things that exist,” and He detests “none of the things” He has made. But the passage continues to say that God’s “immortal spirit is in all things” (12:1). God’s immortal Spirit rests in you. It rests in all of us, and that means that none of us are here on accident. We are here because God desired us to exist. God wanted you here because He loves and believes in you and your ability to make a difference.

Now I am not promising you that everything will always be good. This is not an appeal to “keep on the sunny side of life.” I still struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. These things are a part of me. However, they are now tools with which I can empathize and love others as I feel I have been called to do. No matter what darkness you face in your life, the power of God can turn it into a blessing that will ultimately serve Him and help to heal you and others.

But that cannot happen if you are not here. If your life ends, your story ends at its darkest moment, and nothing can ever be made better. That is something worth remembering.

My prayer for you is that you remember that we all leave trails behind us. Our stories are a part of the greater “pond” that is human history, whether we know it or not. There are people who are a part of our story we have yet to meet. There are people (and a God) who love and care for us, who would notice our empty seat or cold side of the bed.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or ideations, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are planning to go through with it, call 911. Your story does not have to end. You matter to us all, and this world would not be the same without you.

Even if you do not struggle in this way, remember your trail. What are we leaving behind? Are we leaving examples of love, compassion, and just action in our wake, or are we leaving… something else? Let us go forward remembering that God’s purposes for us are to live life fully and for the glory of His name, and let us leave our mark on this world, following in the example of Christ, who has won the victory over death and darkness, and who passes that victory on to us.

Peace be with you!

The Art of Watching One’s Mouth

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. — James 3:10, NRSV

This will by no means come as a shock to anyone that knows me, but one of my biggest problems is my mouth. I am sarcastic by nature, and a childhood of being soft-spoken and easily flustered led to a seemingly necessary development of quick, cutting remarks offered up at the drop of a hat. But while my sharp humor has been the source of many laughs and good times over the years, it’s also gotten me into trouble. I’ve hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and completely disrespected the God I claim to love and worship.

I’m not saying you can’t have your quick comments here and there, and God loves a sense of humor, but there is a serious problem with the overlap between “faithful” people and those who fail to mind their words and the effects they can have. We live in a world that emphasizes shock value, and it has become fashionable to actually TRY to insult people and hurt feelings because we are technically free to do so. After all, look at how many people voted for the current president because he “tells it like it is.” What they mean is they like that he doesn’t care how his words might affect others, and that’s how they prefer to operate. Not to be outdone, even those who scream on behalf of political correctness do so in a manner that serves to demonize their fellow human beings. It’s a true testimony to the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)!

For the Christian, political correctness is no reason to guard the tongue. There may be overlap, but we can’t base our speech and actions based off of what the world finds acceptable. What has changed my approach in recent days is understanding my words as a form of worship.

I know when we think of worship, we think of set aside times and spaces, separate from the rest of our lives, but the life of faith is not that way. Living out The Way of Jesus is a ’round-the-clock effort, and our treatment of others, whether they are around us or not, is a testimony to how highly our relationship with God is ranked. This is why James issues his correction in 3:8-12 saying, “but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” All people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), whether or not we like or approve of them. As such, our treatment of one another is an act of worship… or blasphemy.

It’s hard to tame the tongue. We are surrounded by bad examples being exalted as funny or bold, and sometimes the people in our own lives just suck.. It is vitally important, however, that we learn to honor God by taking a different road in order that our worship may be complete. Perhaps it’s changing what we decide to share on social media. Maybe it’s diverting or not engaging at the dinner table when the conversation takes a turn for the worse. What if we meditated, prayed, and took time to journal, processing our feelings in a way that won’t inject more negativity into a world already choking on its own malice? I think these are options worth exploring, and I hope you will join me on this new, challenging, and transformative road.

Peace be with you!

“You’re Worth Everything to Me”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. — John 3:16, NRSV

I don’t know about you, but there are many times that I don’t feel like I am worth much. Whether I’m struggling to feel deserving of love or the inability to forgive myself, there are just times when I can’t seem to see much good in who I am. This is a common affliction for many people, especially those of us who deal with depression, and that’s why I thought this story needed to be told.

Over the past year or so, I have been more or less stuck in a constant state of low self-worth. The loss of my career, calling, and spirituality all in one fell swoop left me reeling, and while the resulting personal growth has been tremendous, it’s come at the cost of my sense of identity. About two weeks ago, things had been particularly rough in that regard… But then I went to Mass at our Episcopal Church.

Now this isn’t a story about church or prayer fixing everything. I know things aren’t typically that simple, so don’t check out just yet. But as I was sitting in prayerful reflection before service, kneeling in the pew, my crucifix in my hands, I had an experience that I’ve never had before.

In the midst of pouring my heart out, pleading for guidance and consolation, words came into my mind. I didn’t hear a voice, but they were just… there. As I knelt there agonizing over my life and whether or not I was doing or being anything worthwhile, the words, “You’re worth everything to me” came to mind. The thought was so out-of-place, and it caused me to look down at my beloved talisman with new eyes.

Paul teaches us in Romans 5 that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” In that moment, I realized the truth that before I even existed, before I ever did anything considered good or bad, God, in Christ, gave His very life that I may know the extent of His love. He did this not just for me, but for you as well. Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are to serve as reminders that God’s love for all of us is powerful enough to overcome every doubt and fear.

Since that moment, I have known far more peace than I ever remember having. I still have my depression and self-doubts, but I also have this experience from which to draw strength, and I wanted to share it with you in the hopes that it might remind you how loved you really are. The symbol of faith that I have always loved, the crucifix, used to be a reminder to me that sin costs life. Now, it is a reminder that the love of God is limitless, and that God saw us as worth dying for before we ever set foot on this planet.

I’ve become painfully aware in recent days that we are more and more obsessed with measuring each other’s worth in terms of whose side we are on. What do we accomplish? Did they get the right education? Did he vote for the right candidate? Does she agree with me? All of these questions and more seem to be the new standard by which we determine whether or not someone is deserving of our love and respect. It seems to me that such harsh judgment is an indication of how hard we actually are on ourselves, projected onto others.

Your worth does not consist of what you do or don’t do. Your value is not based on how you look, what you possess, or what mistakes you do or don’t make. God decided long before we were here that we are to be called “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and that we are to bear His divine image for the benefit of the world.

It is my prayer that this brief testimony serves you in whatever way you need. I hope you come away reminded of the insurmountable love God has for you, and that you always remember that you, as you are, are more than enough.

Peace be with you!

 

On Living “The Good Life”

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. — 1 John 2:24-25, NRSV

Life is hard.

What? You already knew that?

Of course you did. We all do. The majority of our time on this (sometimes) pleasant little planet is figuring out how in the world we can make this difficult life somewhat enjoyable and worthwhile. We pursue what some would call “the good life.”

So how do we do that? The “good life” could be determined by one’s career, perhaps their family. Maybe it’s how well-off you are in life or how much one accomplishes in their brief existence. According to the world, these are the kinds of things we need to focus on to achieve a meaningful life.

Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you that your career, family, comfort, and achievements don’t matter. Of course they do, silly goose. However, when it comes to truly living life in a manner that is complete, I am going to argue that all of these things are means through which “the good life” can be lived, but they do not produce it.

In Christian language and tradition, “the good life” is known as eternal life, and it’s important to note that eternal life is not just a reference to post-death existence with God. Of course, this is included, but as indicated in this text from the First Letter of John, eternal life is life that is lived as soon as one begins walking with God. Life lived from that point onward no longer consists of simple survival and checklists, and it no longer relies on worldly favor to feel valuable.

Ponder this for a second.

For the world, living “the good life” is about what we accomplish and the relationships that define us. Our value fluctuates based on fickle standards that change day-to-day. What I am telling you is that this is all nonsense, and when we realize that and live accordingly, not only will we be changed for the better, but all of those other important things (our work, families, relationships, etc.) will also be powerfully transformed. Further, we don’t have to wait for this to happen! As soon as we realize that our value is God-given (inherent), and as soon as we decide to “be” in a way that honors that value in ourselves and in others, “the good life” is already being lived!

As we see in Jesus, God is already with us (Matthew 1:23). God is in our corner, earnestly desiring to bless our lives. His mark rests upon us all, as we are all made in the Divine image (Genesis 1:26-27), and His breath is what gives us life (Genesis 2:7). In short, what makes us valuable and beloved is already walking with us every day, and all we have to do is recognize it. If we acknowledge it in ourselves and in the rest of our brothers and sisters, shunning the fragile and empty values of this world, life becomes complete.

Now, is this a cheap inspirational trick that promises to make life easier? Absolutely not. Life becomes even harder when we try to live “outside the lines.” But I guarantee you that this added difficulty pales in comparison to “the good life” that we will all be living should we see ourselves and each other as was always intended.

Peace be with you!