My Debt is Paid

I have been singing this lyric for years in church, and it didn’t mean anything to me. I mean, in a Sunday-school- Jesus-is-the-answer- “it sounds great” kind of way I understood the line, but it carried little weight. That was until this week.

We live in a world right now flooded with the word “debt.” The United States is in debt. Americans are in debt. Social Security is going to go into debt. Greece is defaulting on their debt. China is holding our debt. Somehow we have found ourselves in an entire would where someone owes someone else a lot. And despite the dire sentiments and political wrangling, large scale debt still means little to so many of us.

The U.S. was one of the first countries in the world not to have a “debtor’s prison.” That means in this country you cannot go to jail because you owe someone else money. If things get really bad, you can simply pull the plug on your debt with this thing called bankruptcy. At least that is what the radio advertisements make it sound like. No responsibility. Maybe these have helped alleviate the burden that should be associated with the word “debt.”

I didn’t realize my lack of understanding until praying and worshiping last night. I started to tear up as I prayed for my wife and her search for employment, realizing that there is an unsaid burden we carry, and she has been taking on a huge share of it. Suddenly God gave me insight into this world of pain – one that says “we do not have enough” and “cut some more,” “give that up,” and, worst of all, “things will never change.” I was insulated from the debt world by my parents, who always seemed to have and provide more than enough (for which I am grateful). But my wife had lived through hard times and great sacrifice. And here she was carrying that same burden, feeling powerless in our own world to make a difference with what we had. We simply owed too much to be free from it for a long while. Things grew worse when we realized other people around us, close family and friends, were all in need – and we were once again powerless to help. There it was. Debt.

I cried. I agonized. I begged God to provide, for justice, for wholeness during the week. When I made it public in prayer last night, the feelings crashed upon me, the burden spilled over.

And then we went to worship God.

“My debt, is paid, there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love.”

It was a different kind of worship for me. I didn’t just hear and sing the words- I felt them. I know what debt is, now. It is a burden, a burden of powerlessness, of obligation to forces that seem outside of your control. Debt is and always has been the reality of the entire world. Whether through injustice or ignorance, humanity has come under bondage to our own wants and wills. We owe the world the fullness of what we were endowed with; of knowledge, of wisdom, of responsibility, of justice, of mercy, of grace. God made us to be caretakers. But we ignore our obligation and continue to owe.

Thankfully God is far greater and intervened. When humanity came to him, overwhelmed with the burdens of this world, his heart broke. He cancelled all the debts. Even more, he started to make deposits, investments of love and faith and peace and kindness and gentleness and self-control.

I prayed this morning – ‘Lord, please provide my wife a job, or give me a raise, or give us more money somehow.’ And I felt God asking, “why?”

Why God? Because then my wife would be happier and we could pay our debts and be free of the burden and go back to being happy just like we always have been …. I broke off. The real answer – I selfishly want my life to be easier and careless. So what if I don’t need to be dependent on God when I have everything? I’ll be comfortable and that is what is important. That is what a loving God would do.

Lies. It was like seeing myself in the mirror for the first time and realizing I am not as handsome as I think I am. In fact, I am really quite ugly. Oh Lord, forgive me.

Debt is hard.

God is ALWAYS good.

I have made obligations and I must pay for them.

But I am also free. Free to trust the great God of the universe and to let Jesus take on my burden. Free to receive an abundance of things more valuable than money.

May God richly bless all of us for the glory of His praise, for the testimony of His greatness alone.

And if debt is what it takes for me to lay my heart out before God, then so be it.

Power Outage People

So some of you may have heard – this last Thursday afternoon the power went out in San Diego. Actually all of San Diego County and south Orange County, Riverside County, the deserts, and southern Arizona. Yep, a lot of people without power. And it went on from about four in the afternoon through three in the morning, depending on where you lived.

I arrived home to find that the power outage had led to a spontaneous “Hurrican party.” At least that is what our neighbor from Texas called it. She said that in south Texas, it was common to have a party about the time a hurricane was going to hit because the power would go out. People would gather, share food and BBQ, and wait. And you know what? Though out of character for Southern California, we all had a great time. There was dancing and talking and kids and dogs and eating in the dark recesses lit by Led lanterns and roaming flashlights and candles. Amy and I were asked about our faith and why we are “good people.” I was challenged to like football. I shared my (perhaps too) coveted homemade Chocolate Mousse. And we came home so…happy and fulfilled.

What a breath of fresh air – community!!! I have heard some very conservative Christians rue television as the bane of American culture…and for once, I kind of see why. Missions die at the foot of the screen when we can’t leave it for the people that live within a fifty foot radius. But, alas, it also connects us in a strange way – a shared experience and a cultural good that informs our current mythologies, desires, and ways of thinking.

So I say we have more power outages, even if things in this little community get messy. In fact, maybe we should have one during church and lock all of the doors except for one. Then, perhaps, I might get to know and love the person sitting five feet away.

Messy Intimacy

Last Sunday night was just like any other night at church. The worship was leading us into prayer, Mark Foreman was both funny and incredibly insightful, and things were great. Like the recliner that you have sat in so often it holds your shape, church was expected and comfortable. As usual, I loved the sermon. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and God will work in you the will to do so. After Mark finished he pleasantly walked off the stage to the beginning worship music, and we all smiled and sighed in delight.

Not too long after, a different pastor came out on the stage mid-song. It was pastor Bear (nickname), and, well, how can I describe him? He is a large Italian-looking guy in a shorter body. And his voice carries. Whenever Bear comes out to say anything my skin gets goosebumps. You never know what is going to happen. Seriously. So the worship leader quiets down a little, and he starts yelling. “God is telling me that there are a lot of people hurting here tonight. It is like the Hurt Locker! God is here to meet you.” Then he stepped back.

What happened next was the greatest expression of church I have seen in a very long time. People started walking up to the stage from all sides of the room. There was prayer happening one on one and in groups. Others raised their hands in the music and yelled “more, give us more!” Others were crying. All of a sudden Bear appeared with oil and began to anoint people. The music continued in an organic way. As in, it was irregular, long, beautiful. For my pre-programmed church-going mind, it was a jump in the deep end of the pool without any sort of boundaries. It was messy. And it was good.

How in the world did the body crack open like that, exposing needs and showing hunger, pain, joy, and desire? I have no idea. It wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t even an altar call. You know what I think? I think it was God.

Tonight I am honored to be able to talk to the young adult guys at church on the subject of intimacy. As I have studied John 10 in preparation, my heart has gone over and over it. Jesus is the gate. Jesus is the good shepherd. The sheep know his voice. It seems so stoic and church-like to say. We are sheep, right! But we are sophisticated and educated Americans, smart enough to know how to make everything better, including church! Sheep? Bah!

But Sunday night confirmed it for me. We are so dumb that we forget that we are dumb. But when Jesus calls, the flock answers, they surround him, bleating, hungering for more wanting to be closer, wanting to know and be known, to find that good pasture and rest in knowing the Good Shepherd laid down his life…and will do it again. So lets be free to want, church. Let’s be free to hear Jesus voice and just come, setting aside all we think we know and understand, and follow him. It’s going to get very close. And very messy.