Back In Action!

But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders. — Numbers 7:9, NRSV

We just got back from an awesome trip to Colorado. My grandmother turned 90 this week, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and dancing the week away. Believe it or not, that little elderly woman hung in there for 3 hours of Oktoberfest themed dances!

Anyway, this trip also gave me some spiritual insights that I would like to share over the next few days, beginning with this story of the Kohathites from Numbers 7. The other Levite groups receive offerings from the leaders of Israel, which consisted of covered wagons and oxen. The Gershonites and Merarites receive the goods, but the Kohathites, “because they were charged with the care of the holy things,” receive nothing.

One way of looking at this is obvious and practical. Because they were all busy carrying the holy items of the tabernacle, the Kohathites simply didn’t have the capability of taking on even more stuff. For me, though, there is a spiritual teaching here for those of us who try to lead holy lives.

If there is one thing I learned on this trip, it is that we can only carry so much before something has to give. Hauling a backpack, two full suitcases, and four jackets made for quite the waddle to our room in the basement of a lovely rental in Breckenridge. It wasn’t long before the point came when I eventually had to let it all hit the floor.

The same “breaking point” applies to our spiritual lives. There are many things we try to carry all at once, and the burden often causes a disastrous overload. We try to be better people, but we also harbor bitterness, hatred, and a lack of forgiveness. In the pursuit of holiness and “the good life,” we also refuse to let go of our greed, selfishness, and prejudices.

Coming back from this vacation, I’ve realized that I have to be choosy about the things I carry. As with the Kohathites, I cannot expect to bear the love of Jesus in my body if I am also loaded down with a bunch of other distractions. For them, it was the choice to hang on to the holy items rather than receiving oxen and wagons. For me, I must decide to pursue forgiveness, compassion, and loving justice in my life as opposed to clinging to my wounds, anger, and selfish desires.

As we see in Leviticus/Numbers, unholiness cannot remain in the presence of holiness. It is either transformed or renewed. My encouragement for today is for all of us to intentionally decide what we will allow into our finite spiritual space. May we all sift through our wounds and fears to uncover the precious gems of love, healing, and transformation.

Peace be with you!

For the Days I Don’t Believe

No, you didn’t misread the title. There are days when the idea of believing¬† in and connecting with the Source of all Being in the universe makes no sense to me. Usually, these days are spawned by my rebellious nature. Someone tells me what I should believe or what people of my faith believe, and my instant response is to resist when the subject appears to be arbitrary or unknowable.

Do you ever have those days? I bet you do. I have found that people are reluctant to admit it because, as I covered in a previous post, doubt is not considered acceptable by many in the Christian world. It is often seen as a weakness, and people like me are often blamed for our unbelief and the inability to “feel connected” to God.

This is consistent with current worldly trends. Faith is seen as a matter of feeling, so we seek worship environments with plenty of good music and lighting. When we don’t get what we want, we move on until we do, never thinking that our dependence on how we feel is getting in the way of our worship.

Our world also promotes tribalism. Whether it’s politics, social causes, or our faith, it is considered weakness to question the groups to which belong. After all, there is no security in admitting we might be wrong.

Yesterday was one of those days when I didn’t feel like a believer. My connection to God just wasn’t there, and my mind was deconstructing everything to which I normally devote myself. It was a rough day, but like all such days, an important lesson was close at hand.

Today, I stand as a believer, a person of the Way of Christ, not because I feel fuzzy when I think about it, and not because there was an open, front-row parking spot at Target this morning.  I believe by choice. I believe because I have an entire life story to look back upon wherein I see the power of my faith at work in my life.

My faith has made me a better man. It has sustained me in some of the darkest and most painful moments in my life. Days may come when my feelings and thoughts betray me, but in the end, I have to make a choice. We all do.

I don’t know if this is a struggle you have, but if so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Instead of relying solely on how you feel or how well you’re able to rationalize your faith, I encourage you to remember the powerful transformation brought about by belief in Jesus. If you don’t have that experience, I pray that you will decide to strive for it. In any case, don’t judge yourself for questioning. It can actually be a healthy practice for your faith!

If you don’t struggle with your faith and tend to… admonish (judge) those who do, please stop. Compassion is part of the Christian witness, and when we fail to show it to everyone, we fail to walk in the Way. It is scary when people we know and love express doubt in something so dear to us, but it’s important to remember that love, support, and camaraderie stand a much better chance of promoting faith and peace than judgment and fear tactics.

Jesus let’s us know that faith is costly, and it won’t bring us all the peace, security, and prosperity we crave in life. Rather, we will be met with persecutions. We are told, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name” (Luke 21:16-17, NRSV). There are going to be days when the Way of Jesus doesn’t seem appealing. So what then?

We have to make a choice. Faith is a decision to walk in the Way, even when it doesn’t appear to do anything for us. When we make the choice to worship and act in faith in spite of our feelings and doubts, we are actually closer to the heart and mind of Christ.

I pray that you will join me in making this choice. It is a Way of adversity and self-sacrifice. Days will come when it makes perfect sense for us to want to abandon it. However, we must remember that it is also the Way of God’s transforming love, which makes the risks well worth it.

Peace be with you!

Getcha Some Spiritual Wisdom

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. — 1 Corinthians 2:2, NRSV

A lot of people praise what’s known as “common sense.” It’s a slippery concept that is popularly described as the cure for many of today’s issues. For too many people, there is a particular way the world works, and the best we can do is resign ourselves to it.

Now don’t get me wrong. You shouldn’t stick a fork into an electrical outlet. Trying to capture a rattlesnake by hand is also a horrible idea. I’m not saying we should live in ignorance of particular facts of life. Electricity and rattlesnakes can kill you. Just imagine if there were electric rattlesnakes…

Anyway.

What I do have a problem with is our all too common practice of merely accepting the world as it is and propping up its unhealthy practices because we don’t believe there to be an alternative. War is just what happens. Politics are dirty. Violence is a necessary evil. You get the idea.

What Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 2 is an alternative way of thinking… assuming we decide to embrace the idea of spiritual truth. You see, in Paul’s time, the Romans and Jewish authorities each believed the world worked in one particular way. Romans saw things in terms of logical arguments, and Jewish authorities wanted to see miraculous signs of power (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). In this world, Caesar is king and the empire is true power… unless you’re Paul and the Christian community.

For those of the faith, a crucified carpenter was considered King above all, and it is in the flesh of this person that the power of God is revealed. This meant the emperor and his minions didn’t have the final word, and for all their killing, torture, and conquest, they would eventually have to pay the piper. There was an alternative to the way the world seemed to work, and this alternative was full of hope and peace for those who were able to embrace it.

Turning to our own time, this alternative still exists. Sure, it’s been buried under thousands of years of violence, oppression, abuse, and scandal. Whenever humans are involved with anything, sin lies close at hand. Underneath all of those layers, though, the truth that began a powerful, transformative movement still remains.

Our world accepts poverty, hatred, and wanton violence as unchangeable aspects of life. You either have to get on board or get out of the way. Even those who claim to be people of faith filter their religious practice through the lens of “realism.” We follow the faith insofar as it doesn’t become inconvenient for us, our loved ones, or our bank account.

To accept the alternative God gives us in Christ, though, we have to start seeing things differently. While worldly wisdom is concerned about the way things are, spiritual wisdom is concerned with the way the world should be. It doesn’t mean ignoring reality, but it does mean looking beyond what is in order to live for what could be. The truth of the Spirit is one we must fight for, and that is a battle that requires us to place our hope and trust in a different place.

Earthly wisdom would have us trust in ourselves, our weapons, and our fear. Spiritual wisdom asks us to trust in God, a reality that is beyond us, the Source of all being.

Earthly wisdom encourages us to look after our own interests. Spiritual wisdom has us look to the cross, where self-sacrifice is the key to meaningful relationships with God and each other.

Earthly wisdom sees victory in conquest and destruction of the enemy. Spiritual wisdom sees victory in love, even for those we don’t believe deserve it.

Earthly wisdom fears death above all else. Spiritual wisdom sees that love and forgiveness are things worth dying for.

Ultimately, the choice lies before each of us. Every decision and every interaction present us with an opportunity to embrace the truth of the Spirit. Day by day, we decide whether we will support the way things are or search out a better alternative. It is my prayer that you will join me in striving to think spiritually. Life in this world can be painful, but that doesn’t have to determine how we choose to live.

Peace be with you!