Angry

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:23-25

Anyone else feeling discouraged but at the same time revived?

I listened to a sermon this morning that made me, well, angry. Not (as the pastor seemed to be directing) at those who are watering down the Gospel, or those who don’t take the Bible literally, or those who seek peace with other faiths and are willing to compromise, but more at my own faith in God. Is the Gospel message so watered down in me that I cannot stand up and love those around me, even if I disagree with them?

I feel like I am a true member of the church today – impassioned and enraged at moments, wagging a finger in judgment in other moments, retreating to my own Christian culture or to sin (often one and the same) when things get tough. Do I believe that Jesus did what Peter says, that “he entrusted him who judges justly” and that I too can turn to God for justice and guidance?

This last week the CSU system officially removed InterVarsity as a recognized campus club because they make their leaders sign a Statement of Faith. This act of signing a statement was determined to be discriminatory. The rationale is that anyone of any faith or creed or race or gender must be given equal opportunity to run any campus club, and the statement excludes rather than includes. And, though not stated, I am sure they think that if leaders are elected democratically in a club, the club will pick its leaders to match its own values. The signing of a statement doesn’t allow flexibility – it is discriminatory against anyone that doesn’t believe it. The decision seems only to affect faith-based clubs, though it is within itself not explicitly discriminatory.

I went through a whole series of emotions regarding this. How do I reconcile the ridiculousness of this decision with my faith in a way that conveys respect and steadfastness? Is it wrong to fear that this is only the first glimpse at a larger wave of changes coming faster than the changes in climate? I am left just wondering…God?

As I approach turning 35 years old next year (ah!), I have started to step back more and look at my own life. The question that keeps coming back is – why am I here? This isn’t where I want to be or where I thought I was going to be. So I decided to change that, to pursue a life more in-line with what I wanted and expected, following the movement of God in my life, using the talents I have been given, fighting the challenges I have received.

The first step to it was changing my hair style. It is ridiculous, I know, but it felt like something small, something I could change without many consequences. Then for a couple of weeks I grew out a beard, mostly because I was too busy to find the time to shave it all off. But I kept it. The beard felt like momentum, like a first step towards conquering mountains that God gave me victory over long ago. Alright, Lord, here I am and I am ready. What else?

I know, I’ll get in better shape. Yeah. I gained weight after the baby was born, so time to get healthy, to avoid the pitfalls men in my family have faced for years. I won’t get heart disease, I refuse to. So I started a routine I thought I could do, taking about twenty minutes every morning. At first I struggled with getting up early in the morning. But eventually I enjoyed doing it and felt great about the results. I started to run again. It was yet another victory in an area that I thought I had complete control.

But then there were tougher areas. Like my marriage. Like pornography. Like writing. Like purifying my mind and heart so that I am at the ready.

For the first time in years my work started to slow down to the point that I was looking for other things to do. And I fell back into one of my greatest weaknesses; the malaise of laziness. I struggled to get simple things done. I lost even more motivation outside of work. And things got messier. My worries about money started to grow, another friend struggled a lot with his life and needed support, my wife felt distant and removed, I was turning to old habits to make me feel better, my writing slowed down. How in the world could I bring this life back to life?

I again stepped back and looked at everything. Is God who He says He is – to me? How could I forget who God is if I know Him and relate with Him daily? Looking around the landscape I saw that my mind was crowded with weeds that I let grow over the years. I wanted to pull them myself. As soon as I pulled one I turned around to see another old one growing back. A yard full of weeds is discouraging especially when I know I need to step out of the gate into the world to be an ambassador for Christ. I began to fear that all of the other people in my life, including those that don’t know anything about Jesus, saw the weeds too. What if they turned away from faith because of me?

The only answer I know of is to turn to God, to cry to God. I can’t fix this.

I shouldn’t try to fix this.

When I heard about the decision of the CSU Chancellor to de-recognize InterVarsity I became immediately angry. How could a school system that I attended boot a campus ministry over discrimination like this? This is InterVarsity, whose leaders opened my eyes to racism, prejudice, and injustice in our community and around the world. What? All that I ever saw come from the chapter at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was help to the campus, to the church, and to the community. When strife broke out it was returned with love and reconciliation. We volunteered and served all over the place.

Against my nature I thought of all of things I could do to stand up against this, to say it wasn’t okay, that I felt it was a stupid decision based off of irrational reasoning. I wanted to start a letter campaign. I wanted to start a boycott of giving to the school system. I wanted to march in protest. I wanted to go to the Chancellor and tell him that the students of the California State University System need Jesus now more than ever. That there is no hope in the world without Jesus because there is no possibility of lasting change for the good apart from Him.

But I realized I was still trapped in the weeds of my own life and they stop me from doing anything. They render me impotent, distracted, hurting and hungry. I can’t stand because people will spot my blemishes and use them as a smear campaign against Jesus. And why shouldn’t they – those things don’t represent Him but they justify what they believe.

So I don’t do anything.

I am the church in the United States today. We are trapped in the weeds we have let grow. We are addicted to pornography. We are lying and cheating. We are proud of ourselves for being right and knowing the right way, but we don’t really follow it ourselves. We are afraid that the world around us will crumble. We are afraid that we will be rejected and made irrelevant – like we try make other people that we want to silence. We lie to ourselves that our world is safe and okay and happy. We lie to ourselves that by being certain the end is coming soon we can retreat and let it happen.

I’m going to be 35 in 4 months and I’m tired of me. It’s time to re-enter the battle. I have to put myself out there and allow the arrows to fly at me. I have to trust God really, to admit that I failed and let the weeds grow but that God is the only one that can clean up this mess. God must be my only protection. I have to take these talents and invest them where they will yield a return for God’s purposes.

I’m done being right.

No, I’m not right. I’m redeemed, my life exchanged.

Church – perhaps we are put here for such a time as this? What are we going to do about it?

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Mockery

There is something about wit that charms me. When someone comes back with a sharp reply, especially if it is clever and unexpected, I smile broadly. I almost can’t help but savor the moment. And to me no people group seems to be more proficient at this skill than the players in British fiction, from Shakespeare to Masterpiece Theater to Monty Python. They know how to turn and twist words and use body language to suggest meanings that might never have been there before. Brilliant!

I’ll admit it: I laugh out loud when I read books that have this clever wit. Ask my wife,who finds my responses to books humorous (though that could be a whole separate post). JK Rowling had a fantastic time of it in Harry Potter; Charles Dickens delighted in turns of the phrase. Jane Austen gets me every time – the words she chooses are so biting and yet so kind, disguised in Victorian propriety, covered by the layers of class structure, social mores, and the status of women. Brilliant!

There are two ways that this kind of wit can be used as a form of communication. One way is to put another person in their place. The other way is for sheer, unadulterated entertainment. Sometimes a person/character blends both styles (which isn’t surprising since humiliation can be made entertaining). Now our morality sensitive minds read this and think – Oh, how cruel! or how horrible! and what a selfish thing to do! Using wit as a device seems unnecessary, filled with pride and self-gratification, the complete opposite of the humble Christian way filled with grace and encouragement. But admit it to yourself now that there are moments a well placed barb leaves you cheering the underdog, proud of her/him for standing up to an overwhelming structure and standing for justice with exceptional flair.

I confess now that I am very guilty of enjoying a verbal spar every now and again. In my (somewhat complicated) mind, dialogue can be a bit of a game, a challenge to actively think through communication carefully and come out on top. Perhaps it comes from boredom? I know I am far happier when someone else joins in the repartee. It really isn’t even a matter of winning or losing, now that I come to think about it. But how I feel about it really doesn’t matter as much as do the consequences of my behavior. And if other people love to join, where is the harm in that?

I have (rarely) heard it said that the Bible is against making fun of people. In the first Psalm, the writer warns not to sit in the seat of mockers. I always pictured that as a guy who sits in a courtroom , then stands, points and laughs at anyone who is convicted. That couldn’t be the same thing as wit, right? I mean, it is so, unintelligent.

My eyes were opened if ever so slightly yesterday night at church. Jason Poznaks, who does a fantastic donkey impression, was describing the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He described this image of a man on a young donkey, swaying about a street lined with people who were throwing their cloaks and palm branches before him. In Jason’s words this was a king’s homecoming, er, except it really wasn’t a king’s homecoming. He talked about what the return of a conquering hero King would look like in those days. The king would enter a city gallant on his best horse, coming before a vast army whose size and prowess promised further victory and the opulent spoils of war. When the King arrived it would mean the war was over and that victory belonged to the people of the kingdom. It was probably the biggest party the people could muster. In comparison, Jesus came on a clunky pinto with a small crew of Occupy San Diegans, each confused about their purpose in being there.  Jason also pointed out that this king Jesus, really the King of Kings, was not the ruler or political power that the people wanted, and therefore could never be the expected victor. He was not going to conquer Rome, per se.  In a way that we might not understand, Jesus’ entry to the city was kind of a joke, almost unworthy of any fanfare. I am sure that there were people standing by laughing to themselves, or at least slightly poking fun at Jesus to the person standing next to them.

Now this was meant to be the grandest affair, an important step to fulfill the promises Gad had made hundreds of years before. And it did fulfill the prophecy, to the letter. But why did Jesus have to ride in on a donkey? Why couldn’t he have blown everyone away? Because God has a sense of humor, a grand wit about him. Its purpose; to put people into their place by revealing who He is. How funny that God would send a king on a donkey!

When Jesus received a complaint from the Pharisees about his disciples’ celebration, he claimed that even the rocks would cry out in worship if the people stayed silent. Why? Because the rocks get the obvious truth that the Pharisees were missing. Call it hyperbole if you will, but here we are again with a sharp wit that demonstrates the vast chasm between the thoughts of men and God. Did God want to make a show of this? I don’t think that is God’s style, at least most of the time. But he certainly made a scene either way.

So I come back to this whole thing of mockery or wit or linguistic olympics….can that side of me peaceably coexist with this transformed world view? Being honest with myself, if I had to fast from being witty for entertainment’s sake it would probably really get to me. And knowing that it would get to me means I probably need to do it.

As for whether it is right or wrong, does it matter? Perhaps, like the Pharisees, I would be getting upset about something that isn’t even the point. My God is creative with how He relates with people so therefore shouldn’t I be? One day it might be through fire in the sky and the next day a talking donkey, but God has a keen sense for reaching the human condition. Why shouldn’t I approach other people in a human way, in a way that relates to them, and relates me to them like a well-made bridge?  Like a Pharisee I could fall on the side of fear and pocket the dangerous possibility that I may do or say something wrong. But would that be living? Talking about all of this makes me realize that I don’t know God in this way. I don’t approach Him with a smile and clever words because I know He is always going to be greater than I am. And yet He is overjoyed to teach me in unexpected ways, to lead me down paths that draw me in closer. Why can’t we flirt with one another, or at least dance or wrestle? Perhaps a fast would give me an opportunity that I have never taken before – to get to know God better in his sense of humor and irony, to approach the Almighty knowing well that it could be abrasive to my pride but delightful to my soul.

This Year – On Conviction, Confession, and Thanksgiving

I had a terrible New Year’s Eve this year. It was so bad, I completely forgot about the holiday until after it was over (perhaps I’ll celebrate Chinese New Year to make up for it?). That evening is a shining example of God’s faithfulness to me and my impatience in return.

For those of you that haven’t heard my story (how many of you are left?), I was on a flight bound for San Diego on New Year’s Eve, coming from Las Vegas. In a freak natural phenomenon, the San Diego Airport was fogged in, and though we tried a couple of times our plane could not land there. After a quick flight up to Ontario (about 114 miles away), a couple more hours “trapped” on Ontario’s tarmac, we were released into an airport that was closed for the New Year’s Eve holiday (at least the restaurants were). Eventually our flight was cancelled, and we waited for our airline to find a bus to drive us to San Diego. No problem, right? It was only 7:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

My parents, who live about ten minutes away, were out of town, as were my closest relatives. The rental car companies had no “one-way” cars left to rent (at least not without an exorbitant fee). I became tired and cranky and hungry and impatient and angry. All I could think about was being home. And the dollar signs it would take to get me there.

My lovely wife did her best to prevent a Derek meltdown, and talking to my family on the phone helped. Then the little miracles started arriving. My parents had an extra car at home available for us to drive, if we could get there and get in. I thankfully had a key to their house with me. My mom called a friend who was also willing to pick us up at the airport and drive us to my parent’s house. We were finally at home in bed by 11pm. Perhaps the most unexpected blessing; the airline sent vouchers to apologize for the situation (a situation they did not create, I might add. Props to Southwest Airlines).

It has been a few days since, and I am coming back to my senses. Time to think through the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. What did I resolve to do last year? Oh yeah – this blog! This year brought many unexpected twists and turns, most notably my wife’s long job search, my sudden immersion in novel writing, and the progressive dissatisfaction with where I am at. What could this New Year bring?

Let’s begin with conviction. I guess I can’t resolve to be more convicted, but I find this basic of element of my Christian life wanting. Instead I  listen to the voice stoking my own ego. No where is it more clear than in marriage, where my every move affects another person. While a pithy “pray more” or “read the Bible more” suffices for many on this category, they don’t work for me. Within this man is a battle of wills; the will of God versus the will of Derek. And the will of Derek likes to keep Derek distracted – dangling carrots like acceptance, success, and self-indulgence with a hint of immediacy so that I have no desire to do anything that does not suit me. When a plane flight re-routing is needed to wake me up again, I realize I need to look in the mirror more often. Then I can see the ugly stuff; I use food to make me feel better, I crave approval any way I can get it, I drive myself mad with perfectionism, and I make myself feel like a failure for not being successful enough. The Holy Spirit opens my eyes to the people and places around me in funny ways, reminding me that I need to be dependant on God for all things, and that in God I have nothing to worry about. I thank God for conviction, though I equally hate it. I feel like a little kid that tries too hard, only to realize that I don’t get it, and then to further realize that not getting it is a good and beautiful thing.

How about confession? I suck at confession. Sometimes I wish I were Catholic so that I would have a “safe” person to tell everything to. I know that is ridiculous. I also know that I can say anything to God. But I suck at confession because I fight repentance. I don’t want to do the hard things. And my community often does not want to do the hard things, either. They would rather hear me out and try to make me feel better. Perhaps the only way to resolve this issue is to choose to serve those most in need – to do hard things empowered and emboldened by God – and to let the confessions flow out of humility rather than pride. I bet drug addicts would have a thing or two to tell me about pornography and my thought-life. I bet foster kids wouldn’t hesitate to highlight my innate selfishness. And (thankfully) my wife helps me to see when I am too into me. Can I resolve to put my confessions into actions?

I was recently challenged to “fall back in love” with God. When I heard those words, I recalled the afternoons I would spend on a park bench next to a pond, watching the sunlight filter through the leaves overhead while sketching praises to God. Or whole days I would take to climb a mountain alone and talk to Jesus as if he were there with me, walking alongside me. Or those mornings I would run off with a journal and would ask questions – hard questions – because I was hungry to know. How incredibly thankful I am to have those memories. But why are they memories?

I forget who God is when I am no longer thankful; when I don’t acknowledge his presence in my daily activities. When I realize who God is, I am drawn in – and I fall more in love. Can I therefore resolve to run away with God – to be alone with Him and see what happens, even when I am surrounded with people?.

I want to be entangled with God. Isn’t that what love looks like?

I fell in love with my wife, and we are married and practically inseparable. I love having her around, knowing that I am called to serve and honor her far more than myself, and yet redeemed and valued through our relationship. I want to be like that with Jesus. It isn’t that I want to wear a big Jesus t-shirt or to make my faith a talking point with everyone I meet, but I want to be united to God in a more indelible way. Can I acknowledge that Jesus is there with me always and be madly in love with him? The fear of becoming completely irrelevant, or worse yet, self-righteous, translates into a life of compartments with so little romance. I want God in the now, even in those moments I am convicted and confessing, when I feel guilty or impatient or hungry, when I am doing completely “ungodly” things. To heck with the formalities. I want each step to be a fragrant praise.

I know, my resolutions are impossible.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

What are you thinking about for this New Year? What resolutions have you made?

Walking Dead

I forget things pretty often. The filing system of my brain has a few leaks. That or the limited amount of space leads to overwriting the existing memory. On occasion it has led my wife to laugh at me. She will look at me, bewildered, and say something like, “You don’t remember….?” Absolutely nothing. Blank.

Now I am going to be honest- I forget my identity. No, not my driver’s license. I forget who I am all the time. There are so many other things going on in my life, and in the life around me, that I am caught up with them. A scan of my thoughts at any given moment would show I constantly compare (by instinct), desire, or entertain (myself and others). On occasion I will imagine, then run with my imaginings. Sometimes I write them out, other times I happily live in fantasy land. Of course I think of work at work, and my wife whenever I can, and family and friends and finances and the future. But I forget my identity.

I am a child. I am a blind man. I am a fisher of men. I am a sheep, lost without a shepherd. I am a living rock, part of a giant temple. I am a friend. I am an ambassador. I am a branch. I am a body part. I am a leader. I am alive, but I am dead.

I signed up for all of those nametags.

But I live by different labels. I am a consumer. I deserve to be entertained. I am smart. I get to live my dreams. I make money.

There is a huge chasm between the identity of me, everyday American, and that of follower of Jesus Christ. And my day cannot afford the space and time to realize the difference between the two. At least that is how it feels. Why should it? There are so many other important things to do!

Where I live there is no value for resting in God, though there is a value for leisure and laziness (if it is earned with plenty of work). Where I live, there is no value for silence. Where I live there is a constant longing for attaining happiness, but no value for being joyful and satisfied right now.

Over the past couple of weeks I have heard negative predictions about the economy, and I have been afraid. Last weekend I realized the limits of my patience with food deprivation and a lack of alone time. I have been walking with my wife through a season of mourning for jobs that never are . My whole being has been longing within me – I want more. I need more. And I go to God and tell Him everything that I want that will make my life so much better.

Funny, I have more than everything I need right here and right now. I can’t see it because it looks like less than everyone else has.

Am I still carrying that cross, the one I said I would carry when I sought Jesus to take care of me? With all that I do for myself, I forget I am carrying that cross. I died to myself. Past tense. I am part of the walking dead. It is time that I remembered who I am.

The Sovereign LORD Says….

Since the beginning of the year I have joined with my church in an effort to read through the entire Bible over two years. I typically do my reading in the dark hours of the morning before I leave for work. I don’t know what came over me yesterday morning, but I felt like reading the passages aloud. Me alone in a room with Ezekiel 36. And though it was my voice, God was speaking.

To review, at this point in Ezekiel we have covered the sin of Israel and Judah and their subsequent removal from power (think killing, capturing, and destruction), followed by many chapters highlighting the sins of the nations that surround Israel. Now we are back to God’s chosen people. At this point in the scope of the entire book I expected God’s promised restoration – He loves his people and is going to rescue them and bring it all back. Of course He will – Israel has learned her lesson and God is ultimately good.

You know how sometimes you don’t notice the obvious thing right in front of you? I believe it is a by-product of a hardened heart – that ubiquitous state where, by your condition, you are blind. And I would continue to be blind if it were not for God’s intervention.

As I read this passage I heard over and over – the Sovereign LORD says. The first couple of times I thought it was quaint, even slightly poetic and rhythmic. The next time I just read right through it. Blah, blahg, blah, the Sovereign LORD says. Blah, blah, blah, the Sovereign LORD says. Okay, I get it. You are sovereign. Sure. King. Yep. Totally understand this one. Check. When do we get back to the story?

“20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ 21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.  22 “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.”

They profaned His holy name.

What?

The reading voice became louder. Israel, I am going to bless you. But not not for your sake, nope. For my name’s sake. Repeat. For my name’s sake. For my name’s sake. For my name’s sake.

I didn’t care much about ‘the Sovereign LORD says” until it hit me – this is all about the name of God.

So what? Names don’t really mean that much to us here in contemporary America, unless they are bad names. They are more like labels you see in the grocery store, a technique to categorize the mass amounts of information into digestible bits. And isn’t that what the various names of God are for – to help us gain insight into the infinite with terms we understand? I get it – sovereign and Lord, like a king or a ruler. Like in the fairy tales.

But the Holy Spirit wanted to have a fight. I was being thick-headed, hard hearted, blind, and deaf.

So the double edged sword came out – “Derek, you have it wrong.”

“What do I have wrong? I get the Bible, and this is clear. Israel was in sin, that led to their punishment, and now God is saying that He will restore them.”

At that point I was lucky God is gracious, because I probably deserved a resounding “Idiot!”

Instead I heard this:

“Blessings flow for the glory of God.”

The richness of these words took a few moments to seep through the cracks in my hard heart. I thought that blessings flowed because of me, because God loves me, because I am so wonderful in His eyes. Right? And when I sin I just repent and it is all better and it is back to the overflow of God’s abundant blessings. For me!

There is some truth to that. No doubt, God is loving. But God is making a far greater point, and it has to do with that little ugly word we Americans like to hide away, but always feel; entitlement. The nation of Israel had received its licks; the punishment was horrible and well deserved. God made it clear that they had done abominable things, from worshiping idols and making unholy sacrifices to committing adultery and despising the poor. When God’s prophecy turns to the even more wicked nations used to humble Israel, there was a period of relief for Israel. In fact, they could turn to those same nations and agree with God – yes they are wicked – so punish them! This soon turned to self-justification; they are wicked, but we are chosen, and that leads to self-righteousness; God will bless us because He loves us – we are his people!

And God indeed turned back to blessing Israel. He promises to heal the land and erase its sins. He will restore their wealth, their kingdom, he will bring them justice and stability. I can hear the listeners cheering on this news.

But God says the nation should be ashamed. He makes His point clear – the only reason He will bless is for the glory of His name, that the testimony of His name in the nations would shine.

So what does this matter to me? It is Biblical history.

No, it is modern history; it is my history. We contemporary Christians do it all the time. Once we receive the abundance and restoration brought about by Jesus, we also feel entitled to it. That is why we often expect that nothing bad will happen to a faithful Christian. We (though we don’t always say it out loud) know that we are better than the heathen in the world immediately around us. Our ways are the right ways, and we will show them all. And God will bless us because we are amazing. Nary an American Christian would confess this – but we often all think and live it.

What if God were to get in our face and say, “No, it is not because of you, American church, that I bless you. It is for my name!” Would it humble us? Would it shame us? I wonder. I actually don’t think we would get it. For so long we haven’t been bearers of his name as often as we are bearers of our own self-images.

I encourage everyone to take a moment out of your day and read this passage out loud. Let the words yell out at you. And praise God for the majesty of who He is, for His name’s sake.

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.