straws.

i enjoyed a wonderful hike this past weekend with some of my closest friends, and during the hike, we got to thinking and talking about stuff like free will, predestination, and whether or not the future is set. i realize how pretentious that sounds – stuff like this really does just come up, though. it’s not like we all put on our old man caps, light up our pipes and say, “let’s ask big theological questions.”

no, it just happens. it just kinda goes in that direction. i think that we wonder a whole lot. i think we should. i wonder how much we can and/or will ever know, you know? there are some big questions out there. there are some crazy concepts out there. i mean, Christianity – heck, spirituality – is a little crazy. it’s a little vast, i’d say it’s impossible to grasp.

i think we’re misguided a bit when we say we know certain things…i mean, in our talk about free will, for example, one of us was #teamfreewill, one of us was #teamimnotreallysure, and i think both of us agreed that we’re #teamhowcanwebe? free will isn’t exactly something we can prove, you know? it may turn out that this whole time, we’ve been destined to take every step that we took and we just made ourselves feel better about it by saying that we had free will, but that’s just an illusion of control because we were destined to think that we had free will. (is your head spinning yet?)

i love conversations like that. i wrote a whole post about how i’m not sure the judgement of God is what we think it is. i think that healthy speculation is a form of worship – rattling the cage just a little bit of what you’ve always thought and always believed. i guess it reminds me a little bit of what it’s like when someone doesn’t know you really well and they try to give you a compliment or explain a bit of what you’re like, and you sit there and smile and think, “i think i can understand how they’d get that.” it’s flattering a bit, because they’re at least formulating some thoughts on you.

i wonder if God does that. i wonder if God’s favorite type of people (i know He doesn’t have favorite people) are the ones who aren’t really sure…who don’t write conclusively about Him – at least not about things that aren’t sure. this we know: God created the Heavens and the earth, God created us, God loves us, God sent Jesus, Jesus lived and died in our place and for our sins, He makes forgiveness accessible to all of us (because we’re a broken race and each daggum one of us needs forgiveness and grace) and He sent the Holy Spirit to live in us and tell us more about Himself. We’re pretty dang sure He’s coming back one of these days, and we’re pretty dang sure that He’s going to establish His kingdom on earth.

we don’t know: if Christians will be “taken to heaven” pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib; we don’t know exactly what predestination means, if we have free will, or if everyone’s supposed to speak in tongues or if no one is supposed to speak in tongues, or if purgatory is a thing or not, or if people who love Jesus and are already dead are already in heaven or are waiting on Him to come back, or if we’re supposed to be submerged or sprinkled or if we won’t get into heaven if we’re not baptized (actually, i’m of the mind that we do know that one,) we don’t know if what Paul said about women in 1 Timothy was prescriptive to Timothy’s church or descriptive of how the whole church should operate. we don’t know if hell is a literal physical place with literal, actual fire where people literally burn forever or if hell doesn’t actually exist and people just stop existing altogether when they die and don’t know Jesus. there’s a lot, lot, lot that we don’t know, and i think that it’s us pretending that we do that’s hurt a lot of folks. i think it’s a false sense of certainty about things that don’t really matter that pushes people away from the church, and i think we’d do well to let go of some of those things.

 

i think we’d do well to speculate – sometimes even wildly – and think a little bit harder about what God may be really like…try to get our minds around another square inch of He Who exists outside of time and space. i’m not saying that i shun good theology – on the contrary, i think we should major in majors and minor in minors. i think we should hold tight to the good stuff: we’re all messed up but God sure isn’t and He did everything He needed to do to accept us even though we’re messed up, and it cost Him a lot. that’s it in a nutshell. the rest of it: swing away, yeah? discuss it. go back and forth a bit. have some conversations. just don’t pretend you know anything.

homebody/heartbroken.

[i don’t know if i’m writing this for anyone but myself. if anyone gleans from it, great, but consider this a self-indulgent disclaimer.]

i learned something about myself this past week. er…maybe i had it reaffirmed. again.

y’all – i’m a homebody. i can only say it that way. i’ve never been one for vacations, my graduation trip that i took lasted all of about six hours before i drove back home, i get antsy when i start thinking about hotels and going out for every meal and the fact that i won’t be in my own bed and won’t park in my carport and won’t wake up and brush my teeth in my bathroom, etc. i just do not travel well.

a week ago today,  i picked up a rental car and headed (with another teller from Danville) to Columbus, Ohio for training. they put you up in a hotel, pay for a couple of your meals, and let you run fake transactions all day so that when you get back to the branch, you are more comfortable with the system. it’s hands-on, non-consequential training. pretty cool.

well, start with the fact that we didn’t leave til 1pm. i’m a morning person. i’d rather get on the road sooner, because i don’t love killing half a day doing whatever. i ended up getting the rental car, having a PSL, playing video games for a bit, and just pacing antsily (weird, spell check tells me that’s not a word) until it came time to head over to pick up my fellow teller. we drove up and had a good conversation for strangers – we talked movies for about seventy miles and they told stories of their time in the Army, etc. we got up with no problems.

one of the reasons i don’t like traveling is because one, i’m frugal, and two, because i’m frugal, i feel there’s nothing to do when i travel. it doesn’t help that the majority of what i’d consider acceptable tourism is checking out coffee shops that are unique to the area, and the ones i wanted to see closed at 5 and 7, consecutively. we got out of teller training at 5 every day, so that ruled one out, and the other was a ‘twenty-minute’ drive, which i’d make after we went back to the hotel, got changed, got my stuff, and drove into downtown columbus at 5:45pm, so the drive would have been longer than twenty minutes. no cool coffee shop for me.

there were a myriad of restaurants around our hotel, but less than a mile away, there was a Chipotle Mexican Grill. people who know me know exactly where i ate every single night (esp. considering that work paid for meals.) it was actually really nice – i have always wanted a sense of routine, and i had it for these three days in Columbus: woke up, had Starbucks, drove to training, trained, had lunch (i ate pizza every day in the cafeteria, because it was familiar,) went back to the hotel, got Chipotle, watched baseball. every day was literally the same: a wonderful problem to have in my opinion, at least given the circumstances (traveling. i do not like traveling.)

we finished up on Thursday afternoon around 4pm, and drove back. we made the trip almost uninterrupted – got back into Lexington just after 8pm. one of my favorite friends picked me up from the rental car place, we went for a walk and had ice cream and great conversation, and then i went home. did a little laundry and went to bed because the next day was retreat.

retreat was in Harlan, KY, a lovely town about three hours away from here. let me go ahead and say this now: i’m gonna complain a little bit, and it’s not about retreat. really. truly. genuinely – retreat was amazing, and i realized upon coming home last night that i would have thoroughly regretted not going…so hopefully that’s clear. i loved spending the weekend with my friends.

that said, i was in a funk all weekend. thankfully, my ride and i waited until about noon to head down, so i had time to recover a bit, walk to the coffee shop, get my stuff ready for leading worship on Saturday night, finish my laundry, pack, etc. by noon, i felt as ready as i think i would. my friend that i rode down with was my myspace buddy in high school (it’s kind of a really cool story how we met and re-met ten years later, after all but disappearing from each other’s lives – but that’s another story) so we had really good talks and didn’t have a dull moment. we enjoyed the challenge of finding this little mountain road that would take us to the retreat spot.

the whole time, i was having a bit of an internal conversation – “jeff, you will engage this weekend. i don’t care if you’re tired, i don’t care if you’re a little disoriented. don’t use this traveling stuff as an excuse. be present, be with God, be with people.” so i did the best i knew how to engage. i got out of the car and immediately met four people i’d never met before, helped unload and unpack, and we toured the location once we got everything loaded up into the kitchen. i did the best i knew how.

friday night, as people started showing up and the dynamics multiplied, i started feeling a little better – i figured if i couldn’t go home, then maybe home would come to me. maybe i’d start to engage because it’s all about the people. a bunch of us talked late into the night, sat by a fire, played ping-pong, etc – had a good time. i went to bed around 1:45am, and had resolved to wake up at 5. i woke up at 5.

i woke up distracted and in a fog. i still didn’t feel right. i felt distracted, felt my head turned, felt disoriented. i didn’t understand. i guess maybe i still don’t. i went to the lodge, brewed the coffee (i fancied myself the Keeper of the Morning, Guardian of the Coffee For Those Who Awaken at the Wee Hours of the Day) and had time with God in the Bible and in my journal. i prayed/begged God that i’d be able to focus, be a little more attentive, that i wouldn’t make excuses for myself not to check out. i’d hoped that it was something spiritual, something i could pray for God to break, something i could fix with either prayer or cognitive-behavioural therapy.

i wrote a letter to my little brother, because he’s a worship leader, too – i wrote him (knowing i wouldn’t send it until i got back, because i couldn’t) about how i believe that God would be faithful to use me in my weird state and that sometimes the only songs we can bring are heart-broken ones, sometimes our hearts are malfunctional and let us down, but God doesn’t, and God cares about us showing up. i prayed at the end of the letter that it would encourage him one day when he’s leading worship and not feeling right.

i poured cup after cup of coffee, wrote a few more lines in my journal, stared listlessly ahead of me, waiting on God to talk, to say something that would make everything feel better.

skip ahead: He didn’t.

i spent Saturday in this half-funky state, thrilled to be around my friends, excited to lead worship, but, quite frankly, longing to be home. i like home.

Saturday was a fun day, we had a morning session with a great breakout group discussion, fun free time, played more ping-pong, we did a lot of good stuff that day. Saturday night rolled around, and i had the immense honor of leading worship, which was powerful and good, and i was more excited for that night than literally any time i’d led worship so far in my life, and God showed up and moved and spoke a lot to a lot of people, and man, my friends love Jesus and are good at singing, and it was unreal. i sweat more than any other time i’d led worship (perhaps there is a direct correlation between sweat level and excitement level?) we played all the songs we’d planned and then my good friend and co-leader Hannah popped a few more choruses and bridges out of her head and led us very well in even more worship. it was great.

but, guess what: i didn’t feel amazing yet. i got a lot of really kind compliments and i appreciated them a lot, but i still felt this funk, this half-hearted something-or-another, i couldn’t pin-point it, couldn’t identify it, didn’t want to admit that i just wanted to be at home.

see, i’ve always wanted to be the type of person who can jump from thing to thing. i’m not. i’m convinced of it now – i like buffer time, i like to be able to sit on my couch and breathe for a bit, i like for the schedule to be clear for a little bit so i can get my bearings.

saturday night, after worship, i grabbed my good friend Ben, a friend i consider a brick (see: bricks.) and i asked him to pray with me. i couldn’t shake this funk, and i wanted to. i told him i didn’t feel attentive or present. he told me i didn’t come off that way, that he thought i was doing a good job of engaging with people, and i thanked him, but then i realized something perhaps even worse than the reality of being in a funk: you can be in a funk and it doesn’t always look like that. on one hand, that’s a really good thing, because then you can still be yourself and engage with people, but on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like you’re being yourself, which is kind of the absolute worst. it means you’re not enjoying it as you go, it leaves you with this feeling that it could be so much better if you’d just get rid of the funk part.

i’ll skip ahead some more: this continued, uninterrupted, until i got home last night. really. i prayed and prayed and prayed some more and on Sunday morning (i slept in until 5:30 and dodged the bullet of anyone being up between 5-5:30, which, let’s be honest, was no one – because everyone was in bed at like 1am.) and at one point, i sensed God saying, “stop trying to talk. let your words be few.” you know, like that verse in Ecclesiastes? so i tried that. i tried being silent, i tried waiting for the word that God would say that would crush my funk and make me SuperChristian Jeff, shaking hands and laughing and being all “praise God!” but it never came. i was in a funk as i led worship Sunday morning, as we packed up, as we ate lunch, and as we drove home.

the first session on Saturday morning was about one part of a reflexive equation: that, according to Jesus, Love God = love yourself = love others, and you can interchange any parts of those because they are all important to being a functional, impactful, kingdom-bringing human. we can’t love one of two of those three options, they all matter. so, in the morning, he talked about loving ourselves. i’d heard about this idea a bit in the past, and knew that there was some weird stuff out there about self-love so i tread carefully, but listened and took in a lot of what he said. a big thing was self-care, which i appreciated. we went on about the day and it was around the time i got back to my house on Sunday night that i started to recall some more of what he’d said.

i felt so bad, so guilty, that i’d been in a funk. most people didn’t notice, but i confessed it to a close few, including one friend that i felt i’d treated especially differently than usual, and i really worried that i’d hurt them. i hated the thought that i could come home and suddenly be fine.

so, i took a walk and digested everything that had happened in the last week. i walked myself through the big parts of it, through what may have triggered this and that, and realized that i had had quite a week. i still don’t know if it needs to be an excuse or an explanation. because here’s the thing – i tried literally everything i knew to shake it off. i did what i felt the Lord prompted me to do, which is to ask for help, and had Ben pray for me on Saturday night. i felt better, but not entirely, not the way i’d hoped (i was hoping for a Spirit-filled crying session, cathartic and clarifying.)

maybe, just maybe, we’re human, i’m human. we have our comfort zones and nobody asked us to feel comfortable outside of our comfort zone, just to go. and i guess i did, and according to people, i did okay, and maybe that’s enough. maybe i can/should tell my ENFJ self that the F doesn’t always have to line up perfectly for life to be going in a good direction. maybe it’s not about emotional perfection – maybe it’s about obedience.

maybe i want to remove that maybe. maybe i’m attached to the word, though. here’s what i know: in this weekend, in this state i felt so bad about, i had multiple folks come up to me after worship and say thanks for a particular song choice, or for something the Holy Spirit had prompted me to say in/between a song; i had people write or say unbelievably encouraging things that i believe will steel and solidify my spirit in days to come; i was able to write notes to other men and invite them into further, deeper, better friendship, and i’m learning the reality of the line of one of the songs we sang this weekend:

i throw my weakness into Your greatness, this broken heart is all You want.

consequence.

“rules were made to be broken.” ever heard that? i’ve always had a hard time with that concept. not because i’m a holy-rolling guy who’s never broken a rule before in his life – trust me, i’ve broken plenty. no, i’m just really bad in the aftermath of having broken a rule. i don’t like what happens next. i don’t like being caught in a lie – i feel really gross. i don’t like being caught period. i feel terribly embarrassed, i feel ashamed and scared and small.

i guess there’s some verity to that sentiment though, yeah? i mean, you never really know why a rule’s in place until you’ve broken it.

which is exactly why rules are there, because you find out real quick what happens when you don’t follow it.

you following me?

i’ll try again, just in case i need to.

rules, in and of themselves, usually leave out their reasoning. at least, i think that’s accurate. the reasoning is either implied or trusted a lot of the times.

“NO PARKING” usually means: “normally you could park here, but if you park here, it’s gonna block traffic, or we’re gonna close off the road for a parade and you’re not going to be able to leave and you’ll hate us and we’ll hate you so why don’t you just not park there?” (but, of course, that doesn’t fit on a sign.)

“DO NOT WALK ON GRASS” usually means: “hey, we just planted fresh seeds or treated the grass (or whatever reason you’d put up a do not walk sign, i don’t really know) so we’d appreciate if you didn’t undo what we just did by walking on it. give us just a few days, ok?”

“DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS” usually (probably) means: “hey, see these cool animals we’ve got in a zoo? (please, for the sake of argument, do not take into account the morality/immorality of zoos.) they’re cool, right? welllllll, we’ve got a really specific diet we feed them. and i know it sounds crazy, but if you feed them that bag of peanuts you just bought, then there’s gonna be all kinds of stuff in their system that we’re trying to avoid them having, and they may not respond well to it, so enjoy your peanuts and trust us to feed them, ok? ok. thanks.”

the reason that we have stop signs and stop lights and yellow lights and other traffic signals is because if we didn’t have any, then a bunch of maniacal folks in one-ton death machines would be zooming around anywhere between 25 and 55 miles an hour and there’s no telling who would hit who, sooooo, just stop when you see red, cool? thanks.

point is, rules are usually there for a good reason. i’m convinced that, despite the craziness of the world we live in, the vast majority of rules have the good of someone or something at heart and while we may not think they apply to us (i’ve got a big maverick streak in me, so i get it) if everyone thought that way, then nobody would follow any rules and our world would be chaos.

you and i live in a world that regularly rejects the rules God gave us. and, i get it. there is a way that seems right to a man. that’s so true that Solomon wrote it twice (see: Proverbs 14:12; 16:25.) but also twice, he wrote that that way leads to destruction or death. in other words, Solomon is saying, “yeah, i know that you don’t think that rule that God gave you is a good rule. go ahead, try it: but it probably won’t end well for you.”

you know, some people may think that sounds harsh. maybe sounds, i don’t know – confrontational, or condescending, or inciting, or whatever you want to call it. kinda sounds like Solomon is inviting us to try stuff out, and it sounds a little threatening. and a lot of us, like a kid in a movie, decide that we’re gonna go in the basement anyway, because we’re not scared of the boogeyman – we’ve got something to prove. we’re our own masters. we don’t conform to the rules, right?

for me, this was: “yeah, i know, God – i know You said that it’s a good idea to save sex until marriage, but, You see, i love this girl.” (i didn’t love her.) so, that’s (more or less) what i did. and it didn’t go well for me. i got insecure, got jealous, got scared, got a chip on my shoulder, got mad at the church, and was convinced that if it weren’t for all this church-talk about how you shouldn’t be sexually involved with someone before marriage, then i wouldn’t feel so bad. so, my guilt was all the church’s fault, or so i said.

or, “yeah, God – i know You said that we should take care of our money and be good stewards, but one day i’ll have such a good job that i’ll be able to pay for this, and i’ll pay it off then.” aaaaaand i racked up a few thousand bucks in credit card bills. and i’m still fighting to pay ’em down. and it’s holding me back from a few things i’d like to do with my life (get a car, save to make a down payment on a house, stuff responsible adults should be able to do) because that’s the consequence. that’s what happens when i don’t treat money wisely.

have you got any stories like that? i’ll bet you do – and i encourage you to get real honest with yourself about it.

the reason i’m writing is this: God has an order for the world. He’s got a way that He envisions the world working, and get this: it’s perfect. it’s actual perfect. if we followed the design that God set up for the world, then it’d be pretty dandy, and things would go pretty well for us. in fact, God uses this sort of language with one specific commandment when He’s giving out the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. He says, “honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

i’m not sure if i’m enough of a Bible scholar to tell you why God included that qualifier with that particular commandment, but i’m beginning to wonder if i need to be. i’m beginning to wonder if this is one of those times when – just like we do (so maybe we got it from God) – God is getting a little ahead of Himself with some of the rules and then remembers, “oh, yeah, and before I go any further this is why i’m giving you these rules – so that it’ll be well with you. that your days may be long.” (if you think that God doesn’t ever get His thoughts mixed up and get ahead of/behind Himself, see Genesis 3:22)

a lot of people think that God is terribly judgmental and vindictive and vengeful – maybe that has something to do with all of the language of judgment, vindication, and vengeance He uses in the Bible – but i’m gonna submit a bit of a theory to you.

my thought is this: God’s not like a policeman in a car, watching and waiting for someone to break a rule so He can pop on His lights, chase ’em down, and arrest them for breaking the law. no – if God were like a cop, i think He’s the type that sits in His car at a busy intersection and sees someone fly through at 55 miles an hour when there was a red light, and there’s an accident. and He mourns it. and He wishes they’d stopped at the red light, because it would have been better for them.

in other words, maybe the judgement of God is that He doesn’t always intervene when we mess up. that He waits on us to get desperate and ask Him for help. (i won’t lie – i’m a little nervous that i may have let myself down with the analogy, but hopefully i can land this plane.) like, maybe the judgement of God doesn’t look like Him getting really mad and beating people up when they screw up. maybe it just looks like things unraveling when they were supposed to stay together, because God made us – like Himself – with agency and when we don’t do the right things with that agency, then things don’t go right.

maybe – i suppose my point is – God doesn’t have to do anything to make our lives hard when we don’t obey Him. maybe a hard life is the natural consequence of not obeying Him.

consider a few references: in John 3:18, Jesus said that whoever does not believed is condemned already, as if to say, God doesn’t have to do any extra condemning when someone doesn’t believe in Jesus. because we’re already condemned. because our world already lives under a curse (thanks, sin, and again, see Genesis 3, which features a stunning example of God cutting Himself off mid-sentence) then the pre-existing condition of the world is: cursed. crap is gonna hit the fan at some point or another. it will unravel.

consider a couple of times in Hosea, when God is doling out “judgement” on Israel: “you’ve plowed iniquity, and reaped injustice…war shall arise among your people, all your fortresses will be destroyed” but sandwiched right in between those two sentences is this: because you have trusted in your own way. (see: Hosea 10:13-14) You made the calls you thought best. this is what happens as a result of those choices you made.

these are the consequences.

then, in the very next chapter, He tells them that they won’t come back to Egypt, Assyria will be their king, the sword will rage against their cities and devour them because of their own counsels (see: Hosea 11:5-6) and then God says: these people are (hell-) bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, He shall not raise them up.

He’ll sit in the car and watch the accident happen. cruel, or consistent?

consistent with a God who made us with the capacity to choose. consistent when you consider that every breath is a mercy – that we were created by God for Him and spend such a small fraction of our time glorifying Him.

it’d be cruel if we were owed anything.

but we’re not.

don’t deceive yourself.

this is the way the world works. ideas have consequences, a book once said, but actions do, too – perhaps even more so. when person X does thing A, then thing B happens. sometimes thing B happens to person Y. that’s just true. when you have sex with someone, you might have a baby. that’s just true. when you drink too much, you might do or say something dumb that could very well carry some repercussions. when you steal, you might get caught, and it might follow you forever. you might have something on your record that takes a while to get expunged. if you get angry and destroy someone’s property, you’ll probably have to pay for it. if you abuse drugs, there may be physical consequences you have to live with for the rest of your life. that’s just true.

but/so here’s what’s cool. while God may not – within the confines of His righteousness (which is preeeeeetty broad still – be able to do away with the physical consequences of the stuff you’ve done, He sure can take care of the spiritual ones. He can (and is willing and eager to) call you Son so your name isn’t orphan anymore. He can give you shelter so you’re no longer lost. He can change the things you want. He can break chains. He can break addictions. He can change your impulses and the very way you think. He can. He will! He can put a little bit (or a whole lot) of heaven in you so that you AND the world can see it, and while there may be parts of your body that are perishing (as Paul writes) your inner man can be growing, renewing, thriving, and always pointing – pointing toward a new and living way, a reality that is now and is yet to come, the reality of the world that will one day be and that we get to glimpse in the here and now: a renewed world, where the curse of sin is broken forever. where work is not cursed, where tempers are not lost, where minds are not tangled and lost in a mess of jealousy, confusion, greed, and distraction. where we live – forever – with the God who made us, without the sin that destroys.

that’s the cool part.