the high five test.

I love to people watch; to sit and observe how people interact. Their body language, verbal communication, how they handle the intricate details of human interaction: all of these things intrigue me. There are so many variables and unknowns when we come face-to-face with another human being, that it can be awkward, intimidating, challenging, and even terrifying for some. It’s part of why I studied sociology in college: the shared experience, the successes and failures of human contact and those relationships, is something that we all have related to each other. Regardless of the depth of our relationship, each interaction leaves an imprint, and just as a tiny drop of rain leaves no visible mark on a stone, yet millions of tiny drops will erode and change the shape and texture of the stone, our lives are forever changed by each and every interaction. You never know how big of a drop you may leave on someone else’s stone, or they may leave on yours. Human contact – relationship – is vital to our experience on Earth. Even the Biblical account of Creation acknowledges this: God says that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). We belong in relationship, in community.

And yet, so many of us struggle with this, or worse, get it completely wrong.

One of my favorite social experiments is the random high five.This (highly scientific) test requires a populated social setting, and at least one adequately functioning upper appendage (for you laymen, that would be an arm and a hand). I started off doing this in bars in college when we would go out with friends, simply enjoying each other’s company and having fun (and occasionally headbutting game hunting trophies while utilizing ill-advised routes to the rest room). The test is this: as a random stranger walks by, you simply acknowledge them with eye contact, smile, and put your hand up for a high five. The results of the test are, quite literally, in their hands.

I know that some people are already cringing at just the thought of this experience.

The high five: one of the simplest, most universal gestures of goodwill in human existence. We teach this to our children before they are out of diapers. We expect our sports teams to line up and exchange this gesture after even the most heated contests. It is not unreasonable to assume that everyone should know how to recognize and execute a simple high five. But there have been many times in which I have been left hand in the air, and only given looks of confusion, hesitation, and even scorn.

And if there are those that recoil at the thought of exchanging an international sign of friendship and peace, are we really that surprised at the state of the world today?

Many of us have withdrawn from one another. Many of us look upon our brother or sister with skepticism, fear, contempt, and even hatred. While I recognize that there are many valid causes of social anxiety and fear (and I passionately encourage you to seek counseling and help to soothe the wounds of a broken world), many of us hide behind false identities of introversion and awkwardness to avoid an act for which I believe we were created. We retreat from human interaction out of fear and brokenness, and when the moment comes in which we need help, compassion, and company from our friends and family, it does not come; and we wonder where everyone is. And out of hurt and abandonment, we retreat even more. This is the lie of isolation.

It is not good for us to be alone.

A little over a year ago, we began the process of uprooting our entire comfortable life. We believed (and very much still believe) that God was calling us to a new adventure in a new place. Amidst the entrance of a newborn baby into our world, we left behind satisfying careers, sold our home, and moved to a place with which we had no prior connection to begin a new community of Christ-believers. To say that this has been intimidating and challenging would be a huge understatement. Yet we find ourselves, at a time when loneliness and isolation are readily accessible, surrounded by community. I truly believe that God has provided for us in our need, but just as his provision increases, our responsibility to steward and to act on that provision has increased as well. I now have an obligation to reach out, to extend the hand of goodwill to my neighbor, and to share with them all that God has given me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of struggles reaching out to those around me. I get it wrong. A LOT. God is constantly challenging me and my understanding of how to best love my neighbor. But I can say this, my goal is not to conform my neighbor to my own standards, or even to my own understanding of God. I will never preach an exclusionary Gospel. All are welcome. The Lord has shown me that, many times, His ways run counter to the ways that are familiar and comfortable to me. My faith is no longer comfortable for me. He is my comfort, even when my circumstances – my life – are uncomfortable. I would claim Christ and rather live a flawed life marked by compassion and community than judgment and separation.

It is not good for you to be alone. Your community is out there, waiting for you to reach out. Maybe you can be the drop that smooths the stone. Maybe the connection you crave is relative to your commitment to relationship. Maybe God is calling you to new community and connection, and it’s stressful and terrifying and new.

Maybe it all starts with something simple.

Like a high five.

Dear woman

Dear woman,

Today, on a day that oozes consumerism and shallow words, I want you to hear one thing:

You are beautiful.

You are beautiful, not because you dress a certain way or possess any particular features that our society ascribes to beauty.

You are beautiful, not because you can serve a purpose to me, but because you have purpose and value regardless of any other person on Earth.

You are beautiful because you are human, and the heart and character of the Father is revealed in you.

Dear woman, you are beautiful because you possess a passion and a fire and a voice that was meant to be heard, never silenced.

You are beautiful because for far too long, people have pushed you to the side and still you stand, full of grace and power and dignity.

You are beautiful even though too many men like me have manipulated, coerced, and abused you; and while I repent and promise to be a better man than I ever was before, I know that many times the words, “I’m sorry,” ring hollow, and too many will not follow those words with action.

You are beautiful because you rise in spite of generations of abuse and mistreatment, and still carry within you the capacity to love, and the strength to do so in a still-broken world.

Dear woman, you are beautiful because you deserve far better than this world has given you. Your worth is not found in how you dress, the shape of your body, the color or texture of your skin or hair, the person you love, the job that you hold, the children that you have (or don’t), or any other measure of value that the world would try to place upon you.

You are beautiful because you are a revelation of the Glory of God each and every day, regardless of what you do or say.

Dear woman, you are beautiful.

And you deserve to know it.

#47days (Or, learning to love myself in new ways).

I’ve struggled with writing recently. There have been days of too many thoughts, days of seemingly no thoughts, and plenty of in between. Posts have been written and deleted, other thoughts too jumbled to even begin to put into words.

The last seven or eight months been an “interesting” season of life. Changes at work necessitated more-than-normal hands-on time and attention for a while, the holiday season at the end of 2016, and, definitely the biggest challenge, dealing with the illness and eventual passing of my wife’s father.  In the midst of being physically exhausted, maintaining the aspects of our life that we agreed were too important to push to the side, and attempting to be as available and best care for her as she cared for her parents, it’s not hard think about all the things that I may have neglected, including myself.

Since my father-in-law’s passing at the end of March, I believe I’ve entered into a new season. Yes, to some degree our family is still grieving, and we make no pretense that our grief should just, “go away.” Even so, a new season of grace and excitement is upon us, and me.  We’re looking toward new adventures.  I am committing to investing more into and taking more time for my family and myself.

For anyone connected to me on social media platforms, I imagine it’s been difficult to miss my indundation of posts about my most recent undertaking. For anyone who has somehow missed the memo, allow me to fill you in: on April 3 I registered to run the Sunset Beach Half-Marathon. On May 20.

47 days. Approximately a month and a half to go from having not exercised regularly in 9 years to completing a half-marathon. Couch (or recliner in my case) to 13.1.  My wife questioned my sanity.

She was probably right.

But I started anyway. I began running in the evenings after work, rebuilding my body’s endurance and strength, learning the ways my body responds now that it did not almost a decade ago. Some days felt great. Some sucked. I counted successes and failures and miles. I pushed myself as hard as I felt I could, and then pushed myself harder. And the day came.

I ran the first two miles without stopping to walk. The first six miles were in the bright morning sun and I knew that I needed to pace myself and not wear myself down early. I feel like I did a really good job of pacing and was right about on track where I wanted to be. Somewhere around mile 10.5, I started feeling a twinge in my right calf. Nearing mile 12, the pain of every running step felt like a nail being driven into the back of my leg.

Every runner wants to cross the finish line triumphant, running as hard as you can to the very end. And here I am, having to walk the last almost two miles of the course. I wanted to cry.

I ended up running about the last 150 yards of the race (yes, it hurt like hell): gotta have a good finish line pic, right?

More importantly, I finished.

I set my mind to something, pushed my body harder than it has ever been pushed before, and came out on the other side. I am master of my own body.

But far more valuable have been the “side effects” of all this:

I have more energy than I have had in a long time.

I am able to use that energy to engage my family and friends in ways that have been lacking.

I feel the best I have about myself in a long time.

It has been an adventure, a journey, and along the way I’ve learned to love myself a little more.

1 John 4:19 teaches that we love because God first loved us. Understanding God’s love for me, rooted in my creation and regardless of my own righteousness or sin, is crucial in understanding how to effectively love others.  John 13:34 “Love others as I have loved you,” also stresses this point.  In addition, it’s in Jesus’s summation of the Law, “Love others as much as you love yourself,” that reveals the flow of God’s love for the world as He intended believers to reveal it.

We love others because we love ourselves. We love ourselves because God loves us. We love others because God loves us.  We love others AS MUCH as God loves us. We love others AS MUCH as we love ourselves.

We MUST love ourselves as much as God loves us.

Without this, we will never be completely effective at loving others, and thus, never completely able to deliver the full Gospel.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I have been trapped in self-loathing and am suddenly free.  No, it’s been more of the revelation of loving myself more and more, little by little, and the realization that loving others more effectively necessitates a better understanding of my own worth.

I would encourage you or anyone, to pursue health. That means in any and all realms of the matter: physical, emotional/mental, and spiritual. Find something that builds you up and affirms who God created you to be, whether that be exercise, counseling, or prayer and study.  If you ever want to take care of others, take care of yourself.  Not borne out of vanity or selfishness, but out of a desire to be the person God sees you as, the person He designed you to be.

I plan to continue what I’ve started. I will keep running and going after a healthier me. For myself, for my family, for everyone. I plan to run the OBX Half-Marathon in November, and just today added a fun 5K in August. I won’t document these as thoroughly as I have this first race, but I’ll share any major moments or life and attitude changing revelations.

I challenge any reader to this: take 47 days and commit to learning to love yourself a little more, every day, and learning more about how God sees, loves, and values you. See how special you are, how strong you are, and how much you can make a difference to others.

You may be surprised what 47 days can do.

life like the morning fog.

This may be the closest to a political post that I ever write. Whether or not I agree with another person’s political views, I will never tell them which way to lean or to vote, only encourage them to pursue Truth in making their decision.
It’s election day, and this may have been the ugliest political season of my memory, if not of a lifetime. The rhetoric has been escalated (or perhaps it has de-escalated as it seems to have taken quite the trip into the lowest parts of our collective psyche) to new levels of anger, fear, and even hatred. On both sides.

I have witnessed brothers and sisters in Christ trade in love for “righteous” indignation. We have given up words of affirmation and encouragement for schoolyard taunts and insults.  We are sacrificing our witness for the opportunity to be “right.”

Eight years ago, I watched as now-President Obama made history. I was optimistic, even though I hadn’t voted for him. I remember sitting in my living room thinking about so many things: how far through the muck and mire of our country has come, how much more work we still had to do, and how blessed I was to be witnessing such a moment. I was ready to support him, our leader. It has hurt my heart to see, especially among fellow Christ-believers, the disrespect that so many have had for him. To hear many question, not his policies or positions, but his worth as a human being (including to the extent of some I know giving consideration to the idea that Pres. Obama could quite possibly be the Anti-Christ), has grieved my heart for these eight years.

Christians, we are better than this.

Our nation needs us to be better than this.

So we stand here now, and some would have us believe that this is a make or break moment; that if Mrs. Clinton wins, or if Mr. Trump wins, then our balance upon the precipice of eternity will be tipped unchangeably toward our demise.

The truth is that we (not just our elected leaders) are called to move forward and out into the world, bringing the love, Spirit, and power of Christ with us. Regardless of the outcome of our elections, we are free to love, honor, and exhort one another. (1 Corinthians 12, Galatians 5)

The truth is that no matter who wins, scripture reminds us that their authority is given by God (Romans 13) and we are called to honor them (1 Peter 2) without condition.

The truth is that there may be leaders who persecute us, or others, and we may be called to stand up for our convictions, which may also mean stepping into the fire (Daniel 3). And even amidst persecution, we are still called to love our enemies (Matthew 5) and bless those who persecute us (Romans 12).

The truth is this: neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump will really determine the success or failure of our country. I put my hope in neither of them, nor in the government of our nation, regardless of the current political leanings of our elected officials. I personally find the concept of a “Christian nation” to be oxymoronic, as Christ did not come to deal in worldly power or establish an earthly governance. I DO believe, however, that we, as Christians, can make a huge difference in our nation and world by becoming the points at which the Kingdom of Heaven intersects with the kingdoms of this world:

Clothe and feed the poor. Stand up for the marginalized and neglected, not just the causes that best suit you (James 2). If you want to lead, first learn to serve (Matthew 20).

Most importantly (I believe), live without fear: fear of our neighbor, fear of the future, fear of losing everything we have on this Earth. Live lives of love with each other (Romans 8, 1 John 4). Unity does not mean conformity, but instead coming together to bless and serve one another. Even in disagreement we can strengthen our relationships and grow closer together.

I believe that Christ-believers (on both sides of the aisle) have some reconciliation to begin. We have called each other names, vilified others, and put forward a pitiful witness to the Spirit of Christ within us. We owe many apologies. In our “rightness,” we have been wrong, and reconciliation and restoration starts with us, with YOU.

I look forward to tomorrow with a hopeful heart: I am hopeful that we can put all this ugliness behind us. I am hopeful that together we can move forward in a direction that blesses not only Christians, but all others (including our “enemies” *gasp!), here and around the world. I am hopeful that we are following the leading of Christ to fight for justice and peace for all, and not with the weapons or methods of this world.

And I am honored to pray for and to serve President Clinton, or President Trump, or anyone else to whom God grants such authority. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide them, protect them, and bless them and their families in ways they and we have never imagined.

You see, they are both human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, just as you and I are. Neither of them is our enemy. You and I are not enemies. The enemy of our souls is, however, working in all of this to divide us, to spread fear, and to steal, kill, and destroy.

The time has come, kingdom citizens, to put our politics aside and see each other and the world as God sees us.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (James 4:14‭-‬17 NLT)

Now let’s get started…

first and last.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard . . . And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.  Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house,  saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’  So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:1-16 ESV)

Why does it often seem as though so many Christians have built “ministries” centered around disqualifying others? We want our reward, but THAT GUY? Surely not him.

What does this say about our faith?

It simply says this: “I am not confident of my status in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Do you see yourself as a child of God, loved and cared for, recipient of a Heavenly inheritance? Or do you see yourself as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, trying to keep His wrath off your head? Do you see His grace, mercy, and favor as freely poured out on you, or are you still trying to earn it?

Once you’ve answered those questions, now how do you see others? Do they still have something yet unaccomplished to earn God’s love? Is there something that makes you better than them?

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. (Philippians 2:3b-‬7 NLT)

If the one man who ever lived with the right to consider himself “better” didn’t, then what right do we have?

When we see others as “less than” ourselves, we are wasting our inheritance in Heaven. When we marginalize the life or experience of another human being, we are telling our Creator that He made something “not as good.”

Within the Church, I have personally witnessed this in numerous areas: the treatment of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, along with numerous others. What we fail to recognize is that these things are a testimony about the condition of our own hearts rather than theirs. We have become the Pharisees, assured of our own holiness but failing to see God in others.

We want Heaven, but we don’t want to see “them” there.

Our identity as co-heirs of grace sets us apart. But we have failed to realize — in all our selfish, worldly thinking — that our inheritance is magnified the more we share it! We’re so afraid of “losing what’s ours” that we have minimized the glory of God to worldly, limited standards. The more we give away, the more we have left! The more it’s spread out, the thicker it gets! This is what the fishes and loaves were about: the Kingdom of Heaven works counter to the way the world operates. We are so focused on keeping what we “have,” that we draw back and attempt to keep it from others in fear.

“But I’ve worked harder!”

Have you? Have you really? You give me a list of everything you’ve done that qualifies you for grace, and I’ll give you the list of what God has done. We’ll compare and see which holds more Heavenly merit. 

When you begin to see yourself in your Kingdom identity and not justified by our selves, it changes the very fabric of our being. In our new creation, we are given new eyes through which to see ALL of God’s creation as worth loving, worth helping, worth redeeming, regardless of their position in this world. Sure, we can still choose to look through our old-self eyes to see them as the world does, but we have died to that self!

I challenge each of us to examine how we see others, how we minister to others, and how we love others, especially those whom the world has pushed to the side.

There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom.
*To all those who feel pushed down, uncared for, or abused, especially by the Church: I do not and cannot understand how you feel. Know that my heart is for you to know your worth in the eyes of God. You are loved and are worth loving. While I may never understand your pain, frustration, or doubt, I am here for you.

bricks in the wall.

The knuckles on my right hand sit slightly out of place from where they should be. This is a result of a choice I made in college: to punch a brick wall rather than a friend and brother for whom I have much love and respect. I was angry, and my anger needed direction. It would have only exacerbated an already tense situation to direct it at my brother, so I chose the wall instead.

Part of my personal journey has been the challenge of learning to express my emotions, not just in a healthy fashion, but even to express any emotion at all at times. As a child I had a pretty short fuse (my mom patched more than one hole in the wall put there by yours truly out of anger, as early as approximately age 6). I never learned to control and release any emotions, only to bottle them up.  It was not until the past few years that, with counseling, support from friends and family, and well-nurtured growth of the fruit of the Spirit that I have been able to gain a better grasp on healthy emotional management. As I began to face these emotional challenges, I was easily reminded of the hot-headed kid putting his foot through a wall, or of the rage-fueled college student wanting so badly to hurt someone else. Clearly put, I was afraid to address the anger that I could still feel deep inside, just waiting for the right opportunity to explode.
Even today, there are depths of hurt and pain that I still am sometimes tempted to cause. This frightens me: that is not my heart nor the heart of God inside me.

Anger is ALWAYS my last choice.

I write all as a preface to say this: I am sad.
But I am also very, VERY angry.

The flood of recent current events have challenged my emotions and my control of those emotions.
I have watched from the safety of my middle-class white bubble as the black community wrestles with the reality of instances of police brutality and systemic racism.
While I hope and pray for better in those communities, I do not understand their pain.
I have seen the pain of families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty by criminals with no regard for life.
While my own family exposed me to the law enforcement community, I do not understand their pain.
I have found myself pouring over the details of the Stanford rape verdict and sentencing.
I am aware of several sexual assault victims whom are now a part of my life, but I do not understand the victim’s pain.
And now this latest pain on my heart: the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I have many friends in the LGBTQ community, many of whom have helped raise me, have encouraged me, and have inspired me to the pursuit of who I am today, but today, I do not understand their pain.

Yet while I can never understand the magnitudes of hurt and pain,every day, for each of these and more, I am angry.

Around the world, countless acts of violence and hatred are occurring at a seemingly exponential rate, attempting to drown any and all voices of hope and courage.  Shouldn’t this make us angry?

Terrorism is violence.
Rape is violence.
Murder is violence.
Poverty is violence.
The simplest view that anyone on Earth is less than desired to be loved by God, is violence.

I look at all these instances and see a common thread: people acting out of a belief that someone’s life, someone’s dignity, is not worth as much as their own. And this, my friends, is what makes me angry.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

My heart hurts for all these things, just as I believe God’s heart hurts for a world full of people that He desperately wants to know that He loves them, He values them, and they were fearfully and wonderfully made.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV

I have to believe that God is working in these things, but let me clearly say these:
God does not want poverty, nor oppression, nor any other kind of violence.
There is NOTHING a woman does to deserve to be seen as anything less than a marvelous creation of God, let alone to be degraded or insulted, and ESPECIALLY never to be sexually assaulted or raped.
And to my LGBTQ friends: God does not want you dead. I personally don’t have a crystal clear answer to reconcile scripture to your life, but I do know this: God wants to love you.
I don’t understand how He is working in all these things, but I believe that He is.

And that, more than anything this world could ever offer, brings me happiness and joy.

I am Peter, I am Judas

In reflecting on my relationship with Christ, especially during this Easter season, I am continually drawn toward two key disciples in the crucifixion story: Peter and Judas. Both men had been by Jesus’s side throughout His three years of ministry. Both had borne witness to the miraculous collision of Heaven and Earth: they had picked up baskets of fish and bread, they had sat at the Master’s feet struggling to understand His metaphors, they had seen Lazarus come out of his tomb. Not only had they seen miracles, they had been sent out to do the same!

And when the time came, these two committed followers of Christ — these men who should have known and understood more of the Heart of God than any men in prior history — both collapsed morally in ways that present-day Christians would like to believe they are immune to, even though most of us would probably be even quicker to falter.

We always hear of how Judas betrayed Jesus, but in many ways, didn’t Peter do much the same? Judas led the Temple Guard to Jesus and pointed Him out. Peter was there in the crowd and could have spoken up in Jesus’s defense. Judas, filled with guilt and shame for betraying his friend, ran away to hide. Peter did the same.

So what’s the difference between them? Where did one become one of the greatest leaders the Church has ever known, and the other become a Bible story bad-guy?

Peter made one simple choice:

He gave God a chance.

Both men were consumed with guilt about abandoning Jesus. They both turned their backs in the midst of temptation and turmoil.
But Peter went back. He heard the rumor that the tomb was empty and had to see for himself. He answered three times what must have seemed like the hardest question ever: “Do you love me?”
Judas let his shame and guilt overtake his identity. He could no longer see who he really was. He believed that there was no hope left for him, and he took his own life. He forgot that (even when He knew his intentions prior) Jesus still called him, “friend.”

I have no doubt in my heart or mind that Jesus would have forgiven Judas, had Judas given him the chance. How often do we run away from God thinking that what we have done has somehow made us unforgivable? How often do we rob Christ of the chance to call us friend once more? You see, Jesus didn’t ask Peter three times if he loved Him to reassure himself that Peter was a good guy. Jesus knew the work that God was planning, and the role to which He was calling Peter. No, Peter needed reminding that he did indeed love Christ, regardless of his moral failure.

I am Peter. I am Judas.

I see myself reflected in both these men. I have seen the reality of the work of Jesus, and I have epically failed Him (many times). Some days I feel more like one than the other. I really don’t think Judas was a bad guy, but somewhere he lost his way, and forgot who he was: a man who had witnessed first-hand the reality of Christ.

Sometimes we need to remember the heart of Christ instead of condemning ourselves. When we separate ourselves out of guilt and shame, we miss out on Christ’s redeeming opportunities in our life.

We just need to give God a chance.

What’s so good about Good Friday?

A friend asked me that question many years ago, and while I’m sure he asked it out of the cynicism of a tired college student, the question still resonates in my mind almost fifteen years later.

In the midst of our busy lives, Good Friday stands as a stark reminder of the cost of our humanity. The day of Christ’s crucifixion and death; the day God said, “Here, let me do this for you.” All debts: paid in full.
When I think if the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice that day — the embarrassment, the torture, the weight of the cross, the pain of a slow, agonizing death — my heart breaks.
The thought that human beings could subject another to such brutality is frightening, but is at the same time an all-to-present reality. Throughout history we see it repeated again and again, and we think, “But we’re better than that now.”

But are we? My Facebook feed is filled with reports of violence, outrage, discrimination, vitriolic statements on every side, and everyone that apparently knows more than everyone else. Oh yeah, and it’s an election year too.
It is all too clear that we are a world still in need of a savior. We shout from the soapboxes of our own righteousness, “I’m right! You’re wrong!” We have at best marginalized, and at worst vilified our neighbor. Our obsession with being Right and Righteous has overtaken our desire to be loving and grace-filled. We want Heaven, but we don’t want to see ________ there.

We. Are. Pharisees.

Truth is, at my best moment, I would have been like Peter that day, denying Christ and running away to hide in my shame. The reality is, the crowds would be calling for his execution even today, and as much as the thought frightens me, I know the words, “Crucify Him!” would likely echo from my lips as well. The corruption of my heart would far outweigh any righteousness I may be able to claim. Glad is my heart that He died for the hypocrites too.

When He died, it was enough. How often we forget this simplest of foundations for our faith. We torture ourselves “earning” His forgiveness. Perhaps even worse, we demand righteousness from others before they’re “eligible” to receive it, knowing full well the sins we have buried in our own back yard.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I am so thankful: His death paid the price for my pride, my greed, my refusal to see things from another’s perspective. That was my cross He shouldered, and it was yours.

Easter is my favorite holiday. The event that it symbolizes is the cornerstone of my faith. Jesus’s death on Good Friday wasn’t the beginning of God’s plan, nor was it the end. But it was the linchpin to freedom: payment for the sins of the world, and EVERYONE in it. Without that payment, we would never have access to the abundance of life that God has for us all.

“It is finished.” Paid. In. Full.

What’s so good about Good Friday?

It’s the day that God showed me He is a better man than I am.

worship in a minor key.

“How long, Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2 NIV)

What is the most honest you have ever been with God? Sure, when things are going great, we can be so quick to spit out a hollow, “I’m blessed,” but what about when we don’t feel so blessed? How quick are those praises off our tongue then?

(I am aware that this could very quickly turn into a commentary regarding a subconscious — or even conscious — neglect of the evidence of God’s blessing in our lives. True, many of us really are blessed in so many ways that we fail to recognize, but it is not my intent to address that at this moment.)

What about when we are feel hurt, alone, or even are quite possibly experiencing real suffering and/or persecution?

For myself, I faced a test of this sort at a time in my life when, as a result of numerous actions of my own, I felt isolated from my family, my friends, and my church. This loneliness was only augmented by various thoughts of self-harm, and even suicide. Thankfully, I am as far away from that place as I could ever imagine now, but the pain I was feeling was very real, and very confusing. That I had none to blame but myself only amplified the situation: I was my own enemy in my mind, tormenting myself with guilt and shame, constantly reminding myself of the various costs of my decisions. No matter where I was, I saw judgment and condemnation in every eye. (The truth is that, while there may have been some, most — if not all — of the people I interacted with hadn’t the slightest inclination of what was actually going on in my life.) Nowhere did the weight of my shame crush my spirit more than at church.
I felt alone in a sea of faces. It was the one place I knew I needed to be, and it was the last place I wanted to.
My soul hurt, and the most distant action of all, was worship.
I didn’t feel like God was great and merciful and worthy. The church could save its cheap platitudes. I wanted — I deserved — the God of wrath and fire and retribution.  I didn’t want to praise Him: I wanted to fight Him.
So I would sit, stone hearted and alone, while everyone around me sang and worshipped and enjoyed the favor of God’s blessing.

Have you ever reached a point with someone, where they know you’re mad, but you still want to tell them just how mad you are? Would you dare do that with God?

I did.

I cussed at Him. I insulted Him. I began to unload all my rage and pain and confusion and frustration and fear and shame and loneliness on Him. Maybe I could make Him mad enough to do something about it. I didn’t really know what to expect.

I never expected Him to just take it.

That’s when I discovered a new understanding of God’s grace. He can handle EVERYTHING I can think to throw at Him. And He answers, not with wrath, but with a gentleness, patience, and kindness that leaves me in awe. God isn’t some insecure, fickle (false) friend, waiting for just the right excuse to leave you behind.
It was out if this new understanding that I began to truly understand worship like I believe David understood worship. God can handle my honesty, and I don’t have to be afraid to bring it to Him.

This revelation set my heart free.

There are still times now when, for various reasons, I don’t “feel” like worshipping. Exhaustion, stress, pain (both physical and emotional): I bring them all to the table now. I lay them at His feet alongside my joys, my thanksgivings, and my blessings. And there I find that I can praise a God who is big enough to not be shaken by my hurt, my fears, or my sins.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord ’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

love in a hurricane.

I was almost thirty years old when I received this message:

“Hi, you don’t know me but I believe that I am your half sister.  If your older brother is John Rutter and your fathers name was John Paul Rutter, than we share a father.  I would love to talk if you are ok with that, let me know.  Thanks.”

Life comes to a screeching halt.

I could write about my sister and the other half-brother I learned about that day. I haven’t built much of a relationship with either of them other than some minimal contact on Facebook. (If either of you are reading this, please know it’s nothing personal: I’m just as bad about keeping in contact with the family I’ve known about for thirty years longer.)
I could write about the confusion of hearing my father had passed away after a fight with cancer.
I could write about the tinges of jealousy I felt toward two people I had never met — through no fault of theirs — that whatever their relationships with him, they got to meet and know our father in some way.
I could write about so many things that I felt that day, but I don’t want to, and the one person that I truly wish could read this, never will.

A while back there was a letter making the Facebook rounds to “the man I never knew,” or something of that sort.  The author wrote about forgiving his/her father for not being there, even though he missed this/that/the other. It felt honest and raw, but it felt somewhat snarky as well. I couldn’t help but wonder, has the author REALLY forgiven him, or have they mistaken forgiveness for acceptance and moving on?

This is not that post.

Because I want to thank him.

I want to thank my father for partnering with my mother to create myself and my brother. Make no mistake, his relationship with my mother was not a healthy one, but I thankfully acknowledge that I would not be here without him. One half of my genetic code is his: I wouldn’t be ME without him.
I want to thank him for leaving: not because my life is better off without him, but because so many things could be so different if he hadn’t. I have two half-siblings to be thankful for. Regardless of my relationships with them, there are at least two people on this earth that might not exist had he stayed. My mother is now remarried, and while my parents’ relationship may not be perfect, they are growing daily and I am blessed with an abundance of family to love (and still not keep in touch with).
I want to thank him for making me stronger: for giving me the opportunity to pursue wholeness out of a broken place, to prove myself better than I ever should have been, and to recognize even more the grace of God that sustains me daily. I learned to fight for the things I want, and while the methods with which I fight are (mostly) no longer of this world, I am a fighter nonetheless. He helped make me fierce.
I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of love and forgiveness. It would be easy to be angry, to express my hurt and frustration with an absent father. But those are far outweighed by the peace of being able to forgive the person who has perhaps hurt you most, to “love your enemies” so to speak. The truth is, he was never my enemy. He was just a man as broken and in need of forgiveness as I am.

I don’t know my father’s position in regard to his faith. Honestly, I don’t know that I need to know. Does it make a difference to my own? Would it validate or void any call to forgiveness that I have been given? I don’t remember Jesus teaching us to forgive seventy-times-seven times, except “that guy.”

I am not going to pretend to speak for my brother, my half-sister, or my half-brother (whom I was also surprised to learn about that day). I have no right to invalidate their feelings toward myself or my father. These thoughts are my heart and mine alone. I hope that they are not misunderstood. I very much recognize that my father hurt me emotionally in a way that it would take thirty years to recognize, and God only knows how many more it will take to unpack it all. He abandoned me.

But from the deepest wells of my heart, I am grateful for him. I hope that he eventually found the happiness, joy, and peace I believe God wanted for him. Unfortunately, he never got to hear it from me, but I would want him to know he was forgiven. I hope he knew it.

I hope to see him in Heaven one day, perfect, healthy and whole as he was created to be. I don’t believe that the memories of this life will have faded, but instead, the glory and magnitude of God’s forgiveness in the face of the hurt, pain, and sin will be shown all the greater. I really do hope he’s there.

I really want to tell him I love him, and that I’m glad to meet him.