November 20, 2016

In Which I Take a Selfie and Bare my Soul

Every morning when I walk to the sink to brush my teeth, I am greeted in the mirror by the reflection of Abraham Lincoln.

Honest Abe wasn’t much of a looker. Too bad I take after him. I’m kidding, of course, but they say all stories have a seed of truth.

The selfie culture of our day is interesting, is it not? It feels weird to take a selfie---at least it is for me. I can never get it “right” the first time. My gaze or my smile always needs tweaked. After several takes, an acceptable image will present itself. Then there are photo editors and filters at my disposal if I want to spiff myself up. With some effort, it’s possible to turn my Lincoln-look into an acceptable representation of me.

I think it would be fair to say that a selfie rarely rings true. The image offers little about the person in the photo.

We live in a culture of mask-wearers----online and in real life. What most of us don’t realize is we don’t keep our masks firmly in place. Our masks dissolve and our real countenances surface without our notice. It takes too much intention to keep our masked faces in place for long periods of time. If someone shares a surprise, a list of instructions, or a piece of gossip, our faces will show our reaction to the subject at hand. Even when there is no big revelation, we still lose the masks. Our faces mirror our emotions and our souls. 

People read our faces all the time. What many of us don’t realize is our faces are likely not being read in the way we think they are.

In a world of faces, we are strangers to others and even to ourselves. 
Keeping it real!
That’s painful news. It is painful for me because I’m aware of a couple of different occasions of late where I was told others didn’t feel liked by me. Granted, these were people who didn’t know me well or not at all. If you are wondering why I care? It’s because I love people. One of my core values is to make sure people I encounter don’t feel invisible (people I know and strangers). Maybe these people who read me as not liking them should have asked me what was up or taken more time before making a judgment? The truth is something about my countenance made them question my acceptance of them. I own it.

Psalm 42 is a song of despair that many have taken solace in (including me). The song raises a question to the soul that reveals the deep pain of having tears as “food day and night.”  From the depths, the questions are repeated twice in the eleven verses:
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? (v. 5a, v.11a)
Like most of the songs of lament, the language of despair turns to a statement of hope at the end:
“Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”(v. 11b)
The writer of Psalm 42 knew it is the face that reveals despair. Only when the soul is healed can the face be helped, and only God can mend the soul.

It is important to me to have a countenance that reflects my inside. Sometimes that will mean I look sad or anxious. I risk being read wrong by others when I go maskless out in the world. Sometimes others will read my face as a judgment on them. It has happened and it will happen again. 

I can’t do anything about what others think, but I can ask God to help my countenance realizing that what I need is help with my soul. He alone can search our hearts, but he needs us to participate once He reveals to us our heart condition.

We are all in process. God is not a genie god. He is a shaper of souls. This happens as he gives us His life and we begin the process of dying to ourselves and living in Him. We begin the process of transformation as we learn, on the way, how to walk according to the Spirit. This is an intentional process that takes time.  As our lives in Christ grow, as we mature in our faith, we are changed from the inside out and it shows on our faces.

This should be true for us when circumstances beg for celebration as much as in times of despair. Unfortunately, in our cynical culture we are so numb and disconnected from our inner life, it is rare even for Christians to have joy written on their faces----and I confess this would include me.

Sometimes those little moments of celebration come and oh, how sweet they are. I shared with a friend at church some beautiful things the Lord was doing in my life. Her face lit up and her eyes welled with tears of joy. Her love and happiness for me showed all over her face. It was a beautiful gift. 

One challenge I’m giving myself (again) is to see people as God sees them even if their faces reveal some kind of hard truth. I want to laugh and I want to cry. I don't want to hide. When others look at me, I want them to see my soul.

I won't wallow when I fail to love people well. I will grieve for a bit, ask forgiveness if it seems right, and move on. I will go easy on those who judge me harshly and I will go easy on myself. I will ask the Lord to help my countenance, to shape my inside so my outside looks like Him...

and not so much like Abraham Lincoln.

How is your soul? What would I see right now if read your face?

November 16, 2016

A Better Country

I have a bent toward independence, but I'm not proud of it. It has limited me in many ways and kept me at an arm's length from most people. When I was young, I had a fierce desire to be right. I used words as weapons in ways that I’m sure offended and pierced others. I say I did this, but the truth is I’ve done it when I was older. Someone talks out of two sides of their mouth and I’m on it. 

I’ve felt a deep regret and conviction about the need to change, measure my words and grow in relationships. I am not good alone. I need others to help me see my blind spots.  I could use the Holy Spirit as my excuse for limiting the influence of others in my life, telling myself I only need his help and direction, but that would not be biblical. “It is not good for man to be alone.”

As I watch, listen to, and read the media of the day (both traditional and social), it’s made me feel alone on the earth. Of course, I am not alone but I do feel loneliness. I feel other than, peculiar, alien. I fight a human need (at least, that’s where I think it originates) to find someone in which I can align myself and I’ve found myself thinking about a question I’ve pondered over the years.

In times of sadness or uncertainty, I've wondered why God doesn’t just whisk us away to heaven when He saves us. Why does He promise us a better country and leave us to walk the sin-stained dirt of this earth? 

I am sure there may be many theological answers to my question, but something I’m seeing in the Scriptures is telling me the question may not be valid.  

Colossians 1:13 says I was rescued “from the domain of darkness, and transferred… to the kingdom of His beloved Son…” God did this for me in mercy and grace as I believed in Him and placed my faith in his provision for me through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Before the election, I was teaching a passage out Ephesians when I asked those listening to consider what a mistake it was for the church to "hitch it’s wagon" to the government because when the government fails people, the people it fails blame the God the church proclaims---guilt by association.

When preachers took to the Internet telling people how to vote, by implication and overtly, it made me cringe. Why did they want to get tangled up in politics? They have a bigger race to run. Where were their eyes? By being endorsers, they joined the media in the clamor in the world. (Eph. 4:17-32)

I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t vote prayerfully and live as good citizens. What I am saying is that we need to realize what we are signing up for when we align ourselves with a tribe. Inevitably, on the earth, tribes set themselves up against other tribes---they feel the need to defend their tribal identity with words, actions, or both.

God doesn’t intend for followers of Christ to be passive in the culture, but I do believe that those in Christ will spread the fragrance of Christ in the midst of the culture. How this is lived out is nuanced in the lives of each Christian based on their gifting and the place in the world where they live and have influence. The fragrance of Christ never has the stench of death. If it does, then it isn’t Jesus that is being spread. (2 Cor. 2:15-17)

Even as we live our lives in Christ in the different contexts around the world, the truth is our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God.  

God’s kingdom never gets wonky like the governments in this world. When we see people doing what sinful people do, the people whose citizenship is in the kingdom of God remember the better country. They recognize the promises of God are eternal, some of them to be fulfilled in the future. They live for, and in light of the promises of God. They live with true vision.
“Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” (Paraphrase of Hebrews 11:13-16, Eugene Peterson, The Message)

Why am I hopeful on this day? 

I’m hopeful because I see the “better country.” I see not because I’m special or intelligent or super-spiritual. I see because of the grace of God given to me and because of the Spirit of God alive in me. It’s the only explanation I have. 

I admit I have blind spots. There is no way that I can pull together all the factors that are in play in the political and cultural landscape of the country where I live. That truth makes it that much easier to fix my eyes on Jesus who is the Truth. I live in an unshakable kingdom. (Heb. 12:2; 26-28)

This afternoon, I walked the streets of the neighborhood, prayed for my neighbors, cooked a pot of soup, did the laundry and I looked with the eyes of my soul toward the better country. I was at peace. I won’t be joining a tribe. I will love people right where I am because the kingdom of God is here; it is now. (Luke 17:20-21)

November 6, 2016

A November Confession about My One Word for 2016

Back in January, my pastor asked our congregation if anyone had chosen their One Word for the year. He suggested a  move away from making New Year’s resolutions toward choosing one word as a focus for the year. A few shared their words as the mike passed around the room. I had my word, but I didn’t share it. 

I was reading last November when the Holy Spirit pricked my heart. A word lifted off the page and caught my attention. Over the next few weeks, I saw this word pass in front of my eyes several more times before I began to understand it would be my new "one word." I hoped I had misunderstood. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t completely sure what it meant and it had too many syllables. I wanted a word rich with biblical meaning with lots of references that I could look up in the Psalms. My word wasn’t even in the Bible.

The word was incandescent. 

If I had spoken it aloud in that church service, I wonder how many people would have rolled their eyes back into their head? I wouldn’t have blamed them. Who picks a word like incandescent to be their One Word? What did it even mean except that it described a type of light bulb? Those people, on the cusp of a new year, would have thought, “That poor lady needs to get a life.”

I kept my mouth shut and didn’t give anyone the opportunity to think any of those things. Others said their words---trust, hope, and grace---while I said a silent prayer for the Lord to give me the strength to trust Him with my weird word. 

Besides my one word, the other secret I was keeping was the doleful truth that my prayer was feeble; my faith was weak.

In the days before Christmas, I had awakened in the night and was overcome with doubt. It came out of nowhere and made my stomach ache. I considered in the darkness if everything I had ever believed, all that I had built my life around, my faith, was a figment of my imagination. Three years of waiting, of being sidelined by God from a place in leadership in ministry had me questioning purpose and significance. I came into the middle of my life thinking life would expand. Instead, it had narrowed as my kids winged away into the world and my parents dealt with health issues. I had tried to make some sort of writing life when a writer’s block fell around me surrounding me like a fortress.

I hate doubt. It tastes like eating soap. I told myself to get my act together. I tried to remember all the times the Lord had come for me, times when I was in sin or was sick, in times of loss and betrayal, when I was absolutely broken. I knew I couldn’t fix my doubt. I had already lived the story of trying to fix myself. No, this heart-sickness was too much for me. I didn’t give God a dare, but He would have to prove himself real. I wouldn’t walk away. Instead of freaking out, I would wait.

I did have my word simmering on the back burner, the crazy word that I had not yet looked up on “the Google.”  The dregs of Christmas lay about the living room when I opened up the laptop and typed the word incandescent into the search engine.
incandescent (s = adj.all) candent - emitting light as a result of being heated; "an incandescent bulb" Derived form noun incandescence1 incandescent (s = adj.all) - characterized by ardent emotion or intensity or brilliance; "an incandescent performance" (

My heart began to flicker with a little flame of hope.

I heard a preacher say one time that doubt is evidence of faith. I remembered the chill of last winter and I was comforted. You cannot doubt what you do not believe. Those without faith cannot doubt.

It’s been the warmest autumn I ever remember and the flame in my heart is burning hot. The Wind of the Spirit has passed my way again. 

“a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;  
(Jesus in Matt 12:20, quoting from Isaiah 43 )

This is one of the many things I love about Jesus. He is not alarmed by the “smoldering wick” of our faith. When He sees our flame losing its heat, He is not disappointed or angry at us. He will not throw a bucket of water over our uncertainty and walk away.

Jesus is committed to his children. He always has been. He comes to our little smoldering coal of a heart and blows his love over us like whisper. 

He fanned my smoldering wick to flame because I was willing to sit in the discomfort of my emotional pain. I didn’t run from it. I didn’t try to make it better with food or exercise, shopping, or media binging. I put one foot in front of the other and lived in the rhythms of faith I had built over a lifetime. 

To my surprise and joy 2016 has been a year of great spiritual growth for me. The fire of faith within me is burning hot. I am more in love with Jesus, and more awake to his work in my life. I’m living with more trust that God is working sovereignly in all things whether I see it or not.

It’s November again and I’m paying attention, anticipating a new word to be revealed for next year.  I admit it won’t be easy to leave the word incandescent behind. Maybe I won’t... 

Are you anticipating your word? Do you have a One Word story?   
I would love to hear about it. What was your One Word for 2016?