Monday, May 24, 2021

I Can't Lose You

I came across this phrase recently—I can't lose you—written about someone's relationship with God, and instantly found myself wondering about its multiplicity of meaning. 

My mind works in strange ways. I love rhyme and alliteration. I love puns and cleverly constructed language. I see words, phrases, or ideas and often find myself toying with them, stretching them, and massaging them to squeeze out significance.
And I find this specific phrase—I can't lose you—interesting because it can be read multiple ways and have (seemingly) opposite meanings. On the one hand, it conjures thoughts of desperately longing to hold on to God; to not have Him slip from our grasp or our life. And that's a beautiful sentiment, where someone feels their faith slipping from their grasp but remains committed to keeping it as a foundational part of their life. But the phrase “I can't lose you” could also be read as trying to get away from God, but being unable to do so. It could mean trying to get Him out of our lives—trying to run—and just not being able to get away.
Now, of course, at first glance the former understanding of the phrase seems more apparently faithful than the latter. What person of faith would want to run away God, desperate to lose Him but unable to do so?
But what if those two meanings of this simple phrase are really just two sides of the same coin? What if our faith is a pretty even mixture of desperately longing for God AND simultaneously running from God, ducking and dodging his presence, hoping he never finds us?
Because, as I further ponder the dual-meaning of the phrase, that’s actually a more honest description of my life of faith—equal parts saint and sinner; full of both wonder and doubt; faithful one minute and faithless the next. I tend to be a pretty even amalgamation of desperately longing for deeper relationship with God while also resisting God and His presence in my life.
But what if naming that reality is actually the path forward in discipleship? What if the refusal to play perfect and hide our doubts and pretend all is well is actually an essential part of our growth? What if honesty and vulnerability are actually vital pieces in our formation?
Pretending all is flawless doesn’t pave the way for it to be so. Hiding our imperfections doesn’t perfect them. But owning our struggles, admitting our failures, and illuminating the dark places of our that makes space for real growth.
Am I proud that I’m equal parts desperately trying to maintain relationship with God and desperately trying to lose Him? Well, no. But I’m also not filled with shame over this fact, because knowing and owning this reality is what makes space for growth, spiritual formation, and a more faithful walk with Jesus.
So, God, I admit it...I can’t lose You.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

You Can’t Do Everything for Everyone

I just recently finished a short sermon series call “Life After New Life,” exploring the things Jesus does and doesn’t do after his resurrection and what they have to tell us about living as resurrection people. But there were enough ideas to explore that they didn't all fit within the timeframe of this series, so I thought I would tackle one of my thoughts in this format.

One thing Jesus doesn’t do after he rises from the dead…is everything. He doesn’t walk out of the tomb with a massive to-do list. He doesn’t embark on a 40-day campaign to heal every sick person he can. He’s not hurried or harried, frantically trying to get as much done as possible. Simply put, he doesn’t try to accomplish everything for everyone.

He didn’t behave that way before the crucifixion. And he doesn’t behave that way after the resurrection.

Which again, like all the ideas we explored in this series, is surprising and alarming. Anytime I take a few days off from work (like Jesus’ three days in the grave), upon my return I feel anxious and eager to get caught up. Or anytime I have an impending deadline (like Jesus’ 40 days left on earth), I desperately and hectically rush from task to task, trying to get as much accomplished as I possibly can.

I felt this anxiety just a few weeks ago, as I wrestled with whether to attend my uncle’s funeral. There had been miscommunication about whether the memorial would just be for the siblings or for extended family and friends, so I hadn’t received a verbal invitation until just a few days prior to the service. Which also meant I hadn’t adequately prepared to be gone for a few days that week. So, to attend the funeral would have meant neglecting some necessary parts of my job, putting my family in a bind, preaching a lousy sermon that coming Sunday, and doing all of that in a perpetual state of stress. But to stay home and not attend would have meant not seeing my family, not being able to properly grieve the loss of my uncle, and not being able to comfort my dad in the midst of his grief.

I wanted to do everything. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. But there was no way around it: I was going to let someone down. I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t make everyone happy. I couldn’t help but disappoint. And at one point in that decision making process, I literally found myself laying on the steps in our home, tears welling from my eyes, groaning with paralysis and indecision.

But Jesus doesn’t appear to feel this same level of anxiety, shame, and desperation. He doesn’t fret over unfulfilled expectations or unsatisfied people. He’s not frantically ticking things off his to-do list. Instead, he moves slowly and deliberately—living in peace, sharing meals with friends, offering reconciliation to the guilty and ashamed, and intentionally encouraging and mentoring his disciples.

Living a resurrection life involves learning to live with a shame-and-anxiety-free posture, cutting ourselves slack and not feeling the need to be all things to all people. We don’t have to save the world. It’s okay to not meet people’s expectations. We literally cannot do everything for everyone. Resurrected people don’t live with a savior’s complex, because apparently, neither did our Savior. 

Finding God on the Trail

For those who don’t know, my family spent our spring break this year in St. George, Utah. We spent two days in the car, going and returning, but the six days in between were loaded with activities like hiking, rock climbing, and swimming. But the thing I was most excited for on this trip was the mountain biking. St. George is surrounded with incredible trails, and some of the best we encountered were about 3 blocks from our condo.

Mountain biking has become, over the last decade, one of my favorite activities in the world. I love the thrill of the descent, the speed of each turn, the wind rushing past my face, and my heart stopping for just a moment as I launch from a jump and await my return to earth. It’s always a time of physical exhaustion, yet emotional rejuvenation. I find peace and joy, community and friendship, and relief from the burdens of life.

But as I rode the trails in St. George—and especially the Zen Trail—I also found God. I found myself in a spiritual experience, sensing God’s presence and giving Him praise. And it happened in a number of ways.

First, God was most-certainly apparent in the beautiful, grandiose setting in which I was riding. The trail flanked the cliff of a giant mesa, with stunning views of the desert below and the mountains on the horizon. With the sun beginning to set and the sky as blue and cloudless as possible, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the Creator. I was utterly amazed that God had created all this magnificence. I was caught up in God’s power and goodness and was nearly brought to tears with each pedal stroke through the beauty of creation.

But I also found myself engrossed in worship through contemplation of the minutia of God’s handiwork. As I quickly careened down the trail, narrowly avoiding a myriad of potential pitfalls in the form of rocks and dirt, drops and jumps, rollers and climbs, I found myself thinking about the wonder of the human body. How in the world were my eyes and brain able to absorb the countless bits of information that was necessary to dodge and turn, slow down and speed up, narrowly avoiding disaster a thousand times over?! I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic or inaccurate in calling it a miracle. 

God has designed our bodies to function in ways that vastly surpass my understanding. He doesn’t just create the mountains and deserts, rocks and dirt, sunsets and blue skies. His creative work is also intricate and delicate, down to the tiniest detail of the human body. So, once again, I found myself worshiping our great God. I was grateful for both his monstrous power and the intricate detail of his interaction with our world.

So, while perched atop my carbon steed, meandering through the Utah desert, I was reminded of the ability to worship God everywhere and for everything. And I’m committed to doing that very thing in all the normal moments of my day, and not just while on vacation from reality.