Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

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Independence and self-sufficiency are nifty catch phrases people use with varying motivation to describe a person who can handle life on their own. Most often, these terms are used with a positive connotation: praising someone (usually oneself) for being able to supply their own needs, provide for anyone they hold responsibility, or embrace their freedom from a situation they are leaving behind. When did we become convinced that being alone in life was such an honorable position?

We are not created to do life alone. None of us.

The world Jesus is building in His model on earth is not one of compartmentalization or segregation. Jesus brought us together. He shared meals with the outcasts and spent time with the deplorables. The design of the church body is to replicate and expand this unity to embrace everyone in our communities, our nations, and to the ends of the earth. This should be easy, right? Just be nice to each other! Train each other, encourage and support each other. Simply be a good friend! Ha…..what a royal mess we’ve made of that one. Pride takes over and we let ourselves be convinced that to life is to be in competition (one of my favorite strategies implemented by Uncle Screwtape through Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’). We separate ourselves from each other because we are ashamed to admit we struggle with any aspect of life. Those of us who have mastered this ability puff our chest and fly in like a superhero coming to save the day by telling people how to fix their problems. Many of those experts are church leaders.

The church is not an organization and it’s not a hospital. It’s not a business or a social club. The church is designed to be a home, and your home is where your family lives. Your family, coming together with open arms, celebrating each other’s victories, dealing with its conflict, growing despite the times of dysfunction. The church is your safety. Leaning on each other’s shoulders and standing firm to have each other’s back, the church is designed to be a unified force to lead people home.

Share your load, take another’s hand and offer your own. Come home.

You are not meant to be alone.

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Out From the Shadows

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John 8:12

What is the point of confession? Isn’t it just a twisted form of religious masochism, laying out all your mistakes to be flogged by everyone more “righteous” than you? That’s what the church really thrives on, isn’t it? Pointing out how Jesus has made them much better humans than the rest of us? Anyone who admits failure is made an example of, “SEE! You don’t want be like that guy, look how humiliating his sin is! Don’t throw your life away like that.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very thing.

Have you ever been in the dark? I mean really dark. A space where literally zero light is present. I have. Touring Linville caverns in the mountains of North Carolina, our guide led us to an area deep in the mountain where we reached the water bed which slowly carved out the space we stood. After a word of warning, the guide turned off all electric lights. This was my first experience with true blackness. Even when you hold your eyelid shut while lying in bed at night, your mind do not experience this depth of darkness. In color theory, our minds perceive color when the receptors in our eyes receive light waves. White is the translation of receiving all spectrum wavelengths (all possible colors) at once. Every color we name ‘black’ is really just a shade of another color. Stare closely and your mind will begin to decode the light waves and pull out the hint of blue, yellow or red that is present in the deep hue you are looking upon. True black is only possible where no light waves can enter. In this cave was true black.

Something else was present in this cavern. A life form that called this space home, somehow thriving in the blackness. Trout.

These trout lived in blackness for all of their existence (until humans interfered and added electric lights for tourists). Surviving in utter darkness, the biology of the trout began to change. Just as our senses will strengthen and compensate when one of the five are lost, senses which go unused dissipate from lack of use. The trout which lived in this cave were blind.

What does any of that have to do with confession? Being consumed by darkness.

Confession is less about someone hearing us as it is about us hearing ourselves. God doesn’t need us to tell Him when and how we mess up, He watches it happen. It’s no surprise to Him. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God came asking “where are you?” Do you really think God was stumped in a game of hide-and-seek and couldn’t see the couple crouching under a mass of palm leaves? Not hardly. This question was fired directly into Adam’s heart. Where did you go? What happened to the man I made you? How did you lose your identity? Genesis 3:8-10

Darkness is heavy. There is a weight to it we feel in our emotions and through our spirit. The longer we spend under that weight, the more it effects our physical body as well. Heads hang, shoulders slump and backs become arched. Setting does this weight and escaping the dark frees us to stand with our head raised again.

Jesus is the light of the world. Confession is an invitation to bring that light into your life and illuminate every part of you; the good, the bad, and the repulsive. God isn’t interested in a clean and polished fabrication of the best parts of ourselves. He wants every piece of us.

Law reveals guilt, love reveals grace. The smallest source of light can chase away darkness. No amount of darkness can be added to conceal light.

 

New Heart, New Life – Week 3 of Advent

New Heart, New Life

Take hold of your courage; preferring to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5

In this week of Advent, we focus on our responsibility in changing our own lives. Our heart is the singular director of our motives, our decisions, our lives. In order to change your life, you must first address your heart. These words slide easily off the tongue or over a keyboard, but enforcing them within yourself is exponentially more difficult.

We are colorful creations, broken under the weight of our own obstinacy and insecurity. We enter this world as pristine glass sculptures. Physically imperfect, but entirely transparent and pure creatures. Every interaction, from encounters with other frail creations to inanimate obstacles either polish our sheen or leave cracks in our carapace. As life progresses, the spider-like feelers continue to fracture from the epicenter of every crack. Before long, our cracks become breaks and we lose shards of our innocent encasement. Society teaches us to concentrate the core of our energy on piecing these shards back together in a pristine cloak, a never-ending endeavor that leaves us frustrated and filled with regret. God has a different plan.

Today’s piece is designed to be read from background to foreground the recess into a mid-ground layer. The background is dark and chaotic, a seeming explosion of blacks and blues. The torso stretches itself from bottom to top, gaining every bit of height its muscles can maintain. The base of this torso is orange, the opposite color of the blue background. The soul of this torso rejects the dark influences around them.

It is through the jaggedness of our fragile and shattered selves that the light of Gospel endeavors to shine. Each crack, every pointed shard, refracts the light further and breaks the love we show the world into a full spectrum of the Gospel like a prism. Open your heart to loving the world and all the shattered sculptures moving around us. Let them see your courage to live boldly open in spite of your imperfections.

With a strenuous, sustained pull in both directions, the torso opens itself to bear its soul to the world in all its imperfections. This act of complete exposure leaves this individual vulnerable to conjecture from the rest of us while simultaneously raising itself above all others. The heart-shaped hole being ripped through this chest exposes a beautiful mosaic of color as a single light illuminates every plane of shattered glass once moulded in this unified body.  The irony being, exposing this shrapnel of wrong turns reunites every scrap like a jigsaw puzzle, reassembling itself into a being more beautiful than the original. An act that refuses to go unnoticed and inspires others to open themselves in a beautiful butterfly effect of self discovery.

If you will change your heart, demoting yourself to a servant of all, you will change your life to become the hero for many.