Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

God is Not “Either Or.” God is “Both And.”

Hammer your plowshares into swords
    and your pruning hooks into spears.
    Train even your weaklings to be warriors.
Joel 3:10 (NLT)

I know a small host of people I love for whom the “warrior God” metaphors such as we find in Joel’s prophecy today an uncomfortable pill to swallow. I totally get it, but it’s an on-going reminder to me that God is so much more than any one of us can possibly comprehend. God’s nature, as described throughout God’s Message, is so vast that it encompasses incredible contradictory elements. God is Lion and Lamb. God is Alpha and Omega. God is Artist and Warrior. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not “either or.” God is “yes and.”

I’m reminded this morning of Meredith Brooks‘ song, B*tch. I believe God totally relates to Brooks’ very true, very raw sentiments. They’re inspired. Just as Brooks so eloquently describes the complexities and contradictions of being a woman, God is so much more than the box we try to put Him in. He is solely confined by boundaries of His own choosing, and that can be confusing for our finite understandings.

Brooks sings:

I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a b*tch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

Today I’m thinking about the oft forgotten reality that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Like all good stories, the Great Story that God is authoring throughout history is about light versus darkness, death versus life, good versus evil. It is not about what is seen, but what is unseen. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t real. When the climactic confrontation arrives in that spiritual conflict, I personally want a warrior God leading the charge of the forces of Light.

*i  😉

The Monk & the Pilgrim

psalm 84:2
psalm 84:2 (Photo credit: joopvandijk)

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
Psalm 84:4-5 (NIV)

People are complex. I’ve discovered this in my own journey of self-discovery. I’ve discovered it in character studies I’ve carried out as an actor. I’ve discovered this in relationships with family and friends. People are rarely one-dimension. Humanity is not a simple equation. In these two adjacent lines from Psalm 84 I found two sides of myself.

Something you probably don’t know is that most mornings in the quiet of my home office as I write my daily post I’m listening to Gregorian Chant. I was probably one of the few people who got really excited about an article in the Wall Street Journal last week about a group of cloistered Missouri nuns whose CD of chants and sacred ancient music have made it to the top of the classical music charts. Meet Brother Tom, the monastic wannabe. There is part of me that feels called to the quiet and the simple. I long to dwell in the House of the Lord in quiet isolation to read, pray, and write.

A few years ago Wendy, the girls and I all did personality profiles and talked about our differences. I was amazed when Madison said she always thought of me as an introvert. She woke every morning across the hall from my office seeing me isolated in my pseudo-monastic quiet.

But there is the other part of me that people are more familiar with. Tom, the extrovert. Tom, the guy up front. Tom, the performer. Tom, the is called to the outside. My heart is set on pilgrimage in this life. I’m a pilgrim journeying through the arts, through corporate America, and through community.

The monk and the wayfaring pilgrim. We are all multi-dimensional people. We are not stamped out on an assembly line. God hand-crafted each of us with incredible complexity. Life is a process of understanding, accepting, embracing and celebrating the multiple layers of the unique person we are each created to be.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Psalm 40:1-3 (NLT)

Those who traverse the faith journey have a story to tell. The journey is a story in progress. It is a Pilgrim’s Progress. I started here. I followed Jesus. Now I am here. I have changed. I have progressed. That was old. This is new. That is now dead to me, while this is now alive in me.

While stuck in the Dallas Fort Worth airport this past Saturday I struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to me. He was from Nigeria and was studying for his master’s degree at North Texas University. He was a poet and a filmmaker. When I asked him about his filmmaking he said unashamedly that he decided to make films because it is the best vehicle to share the good news about Jesus. “When people asked Jesus a question,” he said, “Jesus did not respond with a chapter and verse or a sermon. He told a story.”

I thought of my friend this morning as I read the opening lines of psalm 40 and as I heard U2’s song going through my head. Everyone on the journey of faith has a story to tell.

So, what’s your story?

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 5

from imuttoo via Flickr

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.     
     Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3 (NLT)

When I was a kid, I often made outrageous requests of my parents at Christmas time. I’d leaf through the catalog and put some crazy expensive toy on my list. I knew there was no way that toy would be under the tree, but I threw it on there anyway. What’s funny is, I still have a lot of that kid in me. When Wendy asked me for a wish list for my birthday, I gave her a complete list that included both the practical and affordable as well as outgrageous (she loved seeing a motorcycle on the list). There’s no expectation that the outrageous would happen, but it’s out there.

I thought about prayer this morning in relationship to what happens after we pray. Do we sincerely present God with meaningful requests and then wait consciously, expectantly, knowing that God has both the power and desire to answer our prayers? Or, do we treat prayer a bit like an outrageous wish list? We throw it out there, but quickly walk away and forget about it because in our hearts we doubt God would ever answer.

Today, I’m not just mindful of my on-going conversation with God and the sincerity of my requests, but also my own response to my prayers. I don’t want to be like the farmer who throws seed up into the wind and then walks away. I want to plant my seeds carefully, then wait expectently for things to emerge.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 21

via Flickr & gawwdkristen

God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron, None of your descendants, in any generation to come, who has a defect of any kind may present as an offering the food of his God.” Leviticus 21:16 (MSG)

One of the tasks of my job is helping companies establish a standard for quality when it comes to serving customers on the phone. My experience is that most companies establish a low standard because they want to make sure that all of their employees can meet the standard with very little effort. Some companies establish a very high standard so that their employees must work very hard to improve their performance and reach their goal. I have never watched a company set such a high standard that a perfect score always meant an exceptionally great service experience. Even with the toughest quality scales, you can listen to calls that received the highest possible score and find opportunities for improvement.

As I read today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but see a parallel. I read the list of rules and expectations for the priests and I felt like I was reading a list of performance management expectations from God’s HR department. And, the scale was unbelievably tough. The smallest defect in person or performance rendered the priest unfit to serve on God’s team.

Once again, I find myself left with a clear picture of a holy God demanding holy perfection. The result is a quality assessment scale which sets the bar so high that no one ever reaches 100. And, that is the point of the scale. When we finally realize that we can never reach the demands of moral and spiritual perfection from holy God, we will be ready to understand God’s priceless gift and sacrifice God made on our behalf.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 20

via Flickr and modashell

“Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy.” Leviticus 20:7-8 (MSG)

When I was a child, the rules of the house were strict and the punishment for infraction were (at least to my child’s mind) severe. Childhood was when the folks “laid down the law” and taught life lessons in black and white terms. As I grew into an adult, I watched the authoritarian parental regime wane. I was given free rein to live on my own, make my own choices, and learn from the consequences of my own foolishness.

As a parent, I gained an even greater perspective. Parenting is about preparing children for life. It starts with helping them understand basic black and white rules for their safety and propriety. It progresses to teaching them principles for successful living and eventually becomes an advisory role as you assist them in grappling with the mysteries of this life journey as they walk it for themselves.

I find it helpful to view the authoritarian rules of Leviticus and their stiff penalties in view of the big picture. It’s easy to get mired in the minutiae and lose sight of the whole. On the surface, the purpose of the law was to protect the people by keeping them spiritually, morally and physically safe and healthy. But on a larger scale, in the linear life cycle of God’s relationship with humanity on Earth, the long list of black and white rules would teach us it is impossible to attain holiness and spiritual wholeness by simply keeping the rules. Keeping the rules cannot, and will never, address the fundamental issue of our sinful condition. It is not the symptomatic behaviors that are the problem, but the underlying sinful nature of our hearts. Like the common cold, you can treat the symptoms and dry up a runny nose, but the virus remains inside affecting the whole body. To address the root problem will require healing that can’t be found within ourselves.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 8

Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum (Matthew ...
Image via Wikipedia

“Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” Matthew 8:12 (MSG)

After reading through the chapter today, I took a step back from the text and mentally outlined the events that are described. There are several brief exchanges between Jesus and various people:

  • A leper: (social outcast, diseased, unwanted) Jesus touches and heals him.
  • A Roman Officer: (oppressor, enemy, invader, outsider) Jesus compliment him on his faith and heals his servant.
  • A religious scholar & follower: Jesus offers a “curt” rebuke and questions the man’s motivation.
  • A “follower”: Jesus reprimands him for his excuses
  • Disciples: Jesus reprimands them for their lack of faith
  • Demons: (enemy, dark, evil) Jesus graciously grants them their request to embody the pigs, to the ire (and expense) of the locals

What struck me as I went through the list is that Jesus’ exchanges were the exact opposite of what I must honestly say I see myself doing. Jesus was gracious and kind to the people I would have avoided or to whom I would have been harsh. He was gracious even with demons. The people to whom I would have catered and tread lightly so as to not hurt their feelings or create a stir were the very people he was tough with. He got in the face of “his” people, the people that were following Him.

Ouch. As I think about it, my life seems to exemplify the exact opposite of Jesus’ example. Today, I’m thinking hard about how I relate and respond to those around me. I say I want to be like Jesus, but I have a long way to go. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 17

Crossing a crevasse on the Easton Glacier, Mou...
Image via Wikipedia

God’s Message:

   “Cursed is the strong one
   who depends on mere humans,
Who thinks he can make it on muscle alone
   and sets God aside as dead weight. Jeremiah 17:5 (MSG)

It is easy, when you are young, to set God aside. God does seem like dead weight when we are in the youthful delusion of our immortality. Our days are full of life and energy. An entire life is ahead of us (and it seems like an eternity). The whole world, it seems, is at our doorstep. God would only slow us down and hold us back.

As the journey continues, however, we all eventually find the limits of our human strength. My experience is that it often happens suddenly. Who knew that a crevasse could open so unexpectedly, that the very road on which my feet felt so sure could fall away into such dark places?

When our eyes are opened to the realities of our predicament,  our hearts are open to the realities of God.

You might find that the thing we cast aside as dead weight when our arms were full of everything our heart desired, can be remarkably light when everything else has been stripped away from us. 

It’s never too late to turn to God.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 16

Uri at the sea of galilee
Image by yanivba via Flickr

“Now, watch for what comes next: I’m going to assemble a bunch of fishermen.” God’s Decree! “They’ll go fishing for my people and pull them in for judgment.” Jeremiah 16:16 (MSG)

For centuries, those who follow Jesus have followed a yearly calendar that, across the seasons, celebrates Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. The traditional calendar marks this coming Sunday as remembering Jesus calling his first followers. In a little synchronicity with today’s prophetic chapter in Jeremiah, they happened to be fishermen:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-19 (NIV)

I grew up fishing, and I know a lot of passionate, amateur anglers. The thing about true fishermen is that they are both patient and tenacious about going after their catch. Isn’t it cool that when Jesus could have chosen academics and students of religion to be his followers, he instead went after rough and hardened blue collar fishermen? He could inspire them with the knowledge they needed, what Jesus was really looking for were followers with the heart and soul required for the tasks that lay ahead.

“Jesus would never want me,” people have told me as they weigh the emotional, relational and spiritual baggage of their own wayward journies.

Yes, actually. Yes, he would.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 15

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...
Image via Wikipedia

Unlucky mother—that you had me as a son,
   given the unhappy job of indicting the whole country!
I’ve never hurt or harmed a soul,
   and yet everyone is out to get me. Jeremiah 15:10 (MSG)

It isn’t easy swimming upstream. Jeremiah discovered that. Going against the grain of a community or a culture has all sorts of ripple effects. I doubt that, in many ways, there is much difference between Jeremiah’s community and ours. People are people. We tend to like others who go with the flow and don’t make waves.

Follow Jesus, however, and you’ll find that the path will often lead you against the stream of popular culture. When that happens, we may find ourselves identifying with Jeremiah’s self-pitied lament.

But, without contrast, how will people see any difference?

Enhanced by Zemanta