I need joy

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7–11 ESV)

So many things are going on. So many of them are good. Actually, biblically speaking, all of them are good (because I think that’s how all things work out in the end). I’m blessed to be able to do ministry at the local community college, to be working at an interesting (albeit stressful) job that provides a good, regular paycheck, to be married to a wonderful (and getting younger-looking and fitter every year, somehow) woman, to have four children, five grandchildren. I belong to a great church, have great friends, I get to teach at church, I am attending seminary, and I have so many etceteras to add to all that.

But I need joy. This need has become acute.

I need joy. This is not a circumstantial problem: there is so much in my life that offers joy. I have no excuse. This is a me-problem. I find it hard to receive joy, to give up anxiety, to live in the moment. A thought hit me the other day: failure dogs my steps. I think about failing all the time. Failing at my job, failing in ministry – and by that I don’t mean disqualifying myself somehow, but just flat failing. Not being good enough. I fear failure in providing for my family, Failing socially. Failing spiritually. Failing physically (because this old body is starting to break down a bit). I ran-walked a half marathon a week ago and I still feel this way.

So, it’s been established. I’m kind of a mess. None of what I wrote above makes rational sense. On paper, I’m doing very well. My internal landscape is darker, though.

Failure dogs my steps.

Yet Jesus writes “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” I think that ultimately what’s going on in me stems from a seeming inability to really believe Jesus loves me. Yet he writes here that He loves me in the same way God loves Him. How does God love Jesus, the sinless Son with whom He is well pleased? Beyond my comprehension.

Jesus loves me.

There’s great joy in believing that. May I learn to believe it without effort.

The result of believing it, I think, is deeper obedience to Jesus. There is a beautiful feedback loop here: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

As I obey, I abide, which leads to more obedience and more abiding. Which leads to joy. Fullness of joy!

Weight

I tend towards depression and anxiety, naturally. Not clinical levels of it, but enough to keep me awake at night sometimes. I’m not proud of this – I know with surety that it is a time-waster and a joy-stealer. And it doesn’t do a thing to help a person resolve the issue that is causing the depression and anxiety.

I’ve recently been hit with multiple circumstances that involve me waiting on other people to do what they need to do. This has stretched me and I’ve failed those tests of kindness multiple times.

So many people deal with so much more than I do in my relatively easy, comfortable life. But this is weighing on me today.

I don’t know how to end this post.

One-lane bridge

“At the one-lane bridge I leave the giants stranded at the riverside. Race back to the farm . . .” – Rush, Red Barchetta

I’ve loved that song since the first time I heard it. Heck, my tagline is a lyric from that song.

I love it because it tracks very well with a constant struggle in me; the quest for simplicity and for the solidity of tangible, non-digital life. Odd and ironic that I’m blogging about this, no?

I feel like God has put that longing in me; a longing for single mindedness and focus, to understand priorities from His point of view. It’s a  longing to work toward what’s truly important. That way lies joy.

I’m miles away. “I spin around with screeching tires…”

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:31‭-‬33 ESV

Heading in to work

Heading in to work. Had a good weekend.

In particular, I immensely enjoyed another Moot with the Thinklings. It was a great night with those guys. I do fear that I spent too much time during it bemoaning the state of our politics and also bashing away at neo-Calvinism.

I have been wondering how much emotions are tied into my stances. I’ve been, in a way, granting myself more license to be angry at what is going on. In other words – and perhaps this is a function of age – I have shortened my approach to the “this has gone on long enough and needs to end now” phase of discourse.

Approaching decisions and stances driven by emotions is not the best way to go. It produces too much heat, not enough light. But emotions have their God-given role. I’m working out the balance.

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32 ESV

“Slow to anger” doesn’t mean you never get angry. But the runway is long, and the transition between the “on the ground” phase and “wheels up” on your anger should not be abrupt and catastrophic but smooth and controlled.

It seems we live in such an angry culture. I don’t know if it’s just that social media amplifies the angriest voices; I hope it’s not as bad as it seems.

I certainly don’t want to be a part of perpetuating destructive anger. There is too much good and necessary and gracious work to be done.

As I said, I’m heading in to work. In more ways than one.

Two steps back

I lost it yesterday.

Two things set me off. One was Donald Trump’s moral equivalence and open admiration for Kim Jong Un. The other was the SBC allowing Mike Pence to turn the convention into a Trump rally.

Unfortunately, I allowed these two newsbits to turn me into a person I don’t want to be. I said some things I shouldn’t have to people who deserve better.

I’ve done my best to make amends.

I’ll be glad when the painful work of sanctification is complete.

Wait

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalms 27:14 ESV

Waiting is hard. I’m dealing with some things at work that have really taken their toll on me. It shouldn’t be that way, but seems I always find myself here, awaiting strength, courage and rescue.

This exhortation and promise is repeated lots of places in Scripture. Be strong, be courageous, and wait. It is hard to know how to do all three at once. In this formula you have two traits that only exhibit themselves, seemingly, in action: strength and courage. Then there’s “wait”.

I’m not particularly good at waiting, though most of the time I don’t have a choice.

Lord, make me a good waiter.

 

Bigger fish to fry

I’ve been thinking recently about past controversies in the theological circles I run in. The worship wars, the Calvinist vs Arminian debates, “emerging” vs “emergent” (remember that one?), and so on.

Many of these are still going on, and others are being cooked up all the time. If you’re incensed because someone used the phrase “reckless love” in a worship song, for example, you’re still in these battles.

I’ve been in them too. Case in point, over the past fifteen years or so I inched closer to Calvinism though I never fully embraced it. For various reasons I’m now crab-walking away from that brink as fast as I can, but that’s a post for another time (and, no, my pigeonholing friends, I’m not an “arminian” either).

Things have changed. The few topics I raised above, and many others, are important and deserve to be worked out fearfully and respectfully. But they seem, to me at least, to be mainly side shows these days.

Bigger questions are looming now. For example, what is the future of the evangelical church in America? Have we learned from our unholy alliances or are we going to double down? Will the church become a leading force for good and needed change? Will we continue to automatically dismiss certain concepts, such as “justice”, as being aligned with theological liberalism? Will it continue to be impossible to blame ourselves for anything because we are GOOD PEOPLE?

A few days after the resurrection Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing. It’s unclear why; they may have been hungry, they might have needed some money, or maybe it’s because that’s what they always used to do. When in doubt, catch a trout.

You know the story. They didn’t catch a thing until the Lord showed up on the shore and told them to cast their nets on the other side. Then the catch came.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” John 21:9‭-‬10 ESV

They had gone back to what they always did. Jesus showed up to, among other things, remind them that there were now bigger fish to fry. The old pursuits weren’t the main thing anymore.

I think we’re in a moment like this, and have been for a long while. In John 21 Jesus connects love for him with love for the sheep that he has entrusted to us. This echoes the greatest commandment, doesn’t it? Love God and love your neighbors.

“Feed my sheep” surely does mean to feed the people in our care (our neighbors) with the truth. But what’s needed is the whole truth, not just those truths and semi-truths that are comforting and convenient (such as “We’re GOOD PEOPLE”).

“Feed my sheep” is not an other-worldly command. It often means literal feeding. It means valuing and advocating for justice,  turning the other cheek, giving of ourselves, going the extra mile, giving up our treasures.

I wonder if, while we claim to be rich and whole, we’re sick and broken and poor.

We’ve wasted a lot of time on small distractions. There are bigger fish to fry.

All out of juicy fruit

I’m in a season of frustration. Have you ever been there?

Nothing is all that bad, really. I’m not suffering, I’m not destitute, I am, actually, blessed beyond measure. I know this.

I’m just in a phase where I desperately need a win. Spiritually and physically and vocationally.

The poison is this: I’ve chosen the bad path of allowing my mind to marinate in the resentments I feel toward those I perceive as either standing in my way, not pulling their own weight, or not focused on the goal.

That’s an ugly place to be, mentally and spiritually.

I’m not sure how to pull out of this dive. So instead I think I’ll heap hot coals on my head.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬8a ESV

I’ve been to a number of weddings where that passage has been read. I’ve even been the one reading it. I think that’s great. A wedding is a  very appropriate place to talk about love. But I also wonder why we so often read this passage where it’s so easy to hear. It’s easy to love at a wedding.

My bitter soul is raising all kinds of objections to this passage right now. I don’t want to love. I want to strike. I want to fire. I want to rant. I want to chew gum and kick behonkus and I’m all out of juicy fruit at the moment.

Love is not irritable or resentful. I’m doomed.

I need grace and mercy more than I need my circumstances to change. I need repentance more than I need rest. I need a heart full of love more than I need the people “causing my problems” to shape up or ship out.

I’ll leave this here. I’m in turmoil, though few would see it. I’m spoiled as well, as anyone familiar with my life circumstances knows. I’m tempted daily toward fight or flight without precisely knowing who to fight or what I should flee from.

Why so downcast, O my soul? Best to keep soldiering on.

Love is patient.

Heartbreaking implications

A friend of mine posted on facebook: “Our President is new…the Great Commission is not. As our President begins his new work, it’s time for Christians to get back to their work.”

Here was my original response. The only part I left in the comment is the part in bold below but I’m posting my full thought below.

I fear for many of our American Christian brothers and sisters, the “work” they think they’re supposed to be doing is furthering political agendas, garnished with Jesus-talk to give the facade of spirituality. I came of age in the 80s and the early days of the religious right and was an enthusiastic partaker for many years. In this election the mask was finally taken off. Principles that they swore were unshakable (and that they used to bludgeon past Presidents) suddenly were discarded. So I really appreciate the sentiment, Mark. But I don’t believe it anymore. Lord, we need a generation of Kingdom-minded, not Nationalistic, Christians who will have their focus on God’s kingdom and not on political idolatry.

The Republican party is not now and never has been the answer. I repent for ever thinking it was.

Implied in your post is a heartbreaking truth – so many devoted so much time in service of a political idol while the great commission calling on their life languished,and the witness of the American church suffered greatly. Unpopular opinion, I know.