A Good Mystery

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No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  –1 Corinthians 2:7

My favorite detective show?  Scooby Doo. A gang of squirrely teens riding around in the Mystery Machine fighting crime.  Still love that show.  (Except, of course, for Scrappy).

Collecting clues.  Acting on hunches.  Dramatically unveiling the bad guys.  This is not just Hanna-Barbera material, there are dozens — maybe hundreds of different tv detective shows that have been on our TV screens over the last half-century.

What’s your favorite?  Dragnet?  Cagney & Lacey?  Twin Peaks?  CHIPS?  Murder, She Wrote?  Cop Rock?

I could fill this page with examples.  From Blue’s Clues to Sherlock, it’s a persuasive genre and people watch hundreds of hours of it.

People love a good mystery.

Which does not include, for many of us, the faith kind.  When it comes to faith, it seems we want certainty, instead of mystery.  Here, I think, is why:

Many detective shows follow a mystery – to- certainty formula like this:

  1. A mystery presents itself.
  2. Clues are discovered.
  3. False leads are followed.
  4. The main character has a hunch.
  5. A chase of some sort ensues.
  6. The bad guy is captured.
  7. All is explained
  8. Life is good.

Nothing better than that, right?  A satisfying sense of certainty, wrapped up in an hour.  It makes us feel that all is well with the world.  That problems are solvable.  That a good mystery is nothing that a couple Scooby snacks can’t conquer.

The problem is, faith doesn’t always feel like a good mystery because we tend to not get past #5.

  1.  We encounter a mystery (i.e. Is Heaven a real place?
  2.  We gather clues (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience)
  3. We follow false leads (bad teaching, cultural influences, our own unhealthy desires)
  4.  We get back on track, and have a hunch (Maybe Heaven is both a place and a way of life?)
  5. We chase down our hunch until…we get lost, or confused, or doubtful.  When no perfect answer appears, we give up, or take an easy way out.   We reject mystery.

And so, we turn to easy answers that only a literal, law-based Christianity can provide.  Or we convince ourselves we have too much to do on a Sunday morning and stop doing the work of faith-learning.  Or we substitute the satisfaction of the 1 hour cop drama for the ongoing reward that comes from a lifetime of investigating.

No, it’s not easy.  One question can lead to three more.  There is little room for “Just the facts, ma’am”.  Investigating faith stuff can feel unsettling and never-ending and elusive.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s the best.  The best kind of mystery of all.  For one thing, it’s not always so uncertain.  There are insights and A-HA moments and the kind of knowing that only comes from years of seeking.  There is measurable growth and maturity.  There are an infinite number of clues to find along the way.

But for all that, the Christian Life is still a life of mystery.  A life of wonder, and questions, and seeking, never fully completed.  Always more to know.  Always a deeper relationship with a never-fully knowable God, who knows us insight and out.

So keep searching! The very best of mystery awaits.  Remember, faith means being a detective on the longest, most rewarding case of your life…

even when things get Scrappy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You Need A Makeover

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Take a good long look at yourself.

If nobody else is going to say it, I will.

You, my friend, need a makeover.

Oh wait.  When I look in the mirror I don’t see you.  I see ME.  Maybe I’m the one that needs a makeover.  Maybe we both do.

Wouldn’t that be fun?  A day on the town?  Makeover Day! We could get new fancy haircuts, maybe some highlights?  We get our nails and toes done.  Then it’s off to the mall.

New outfits!  You get what you want, but I’m thinking about a couple new tailored suits.  This is just a daydream, so money is no object!  Makeover Day, from our head to our feet!

Our feet!  We need shoes.  Really nice ones, with brand names people drool over.  Maybe new jackets for fall.   Some jewelry?  Maybe I’ll get my nose pierced.

And then comes the makeup.  You can’t have a Makeover Day without the makeup!  Now I don’t typically wear makeup, but if you do, I’m more than willing to sit next to you in one of those department stores as somebody dolls you up perfectly. (I might check out some cologne).

And when we’re all done and shiny, we can take a selfie, so we’ll always remember this day when, on a scale from 1 to 10, we jumped from a 6 to an 8.5!

Wow, that was a whirlwind.

Was it worth it?  You and I hopping from store to store, spending hypothetical money on hypothetical self improvements?  Well, I had a good time.  It was kind of nice to pamper ourselves a bit, wasn’t it?

But this scripture kind of makes me wonder:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. –1 Peter 3:3-4

“The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  I really like that.  When I look at myself in the mirror, that’s what I want to see.  More than the smoothness of my skin or how trimmed my beard is.  The makeover that matters most is predominantly of the spiritual kind. It’s easy to lose sight of that.

When I look in the mirror I want to see a spark of hope in my eye, and the confidence of a believer in my smile.  I want to be a reflection of the beauty God created in me.  It’s the kind of inner beauty that sees wrinkles as laugh lines, and grants an assurance that every hair on my head has been counted by God, freshly cut or not.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to want to look your best, even though I’m typically a bit of a slob.  I just think the spiritual makeover should take precedent over the physical kind.

So, thank you God for making what I see when I look in the mirror.  Good job.  I’ll try to see what YOU see when you look at me.

Thanks for loving me just as I am.

(But I’m keeping the suits)

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

 

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Unlike-Minded

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There used to be like-minded people in the world, but now there are only unlike-minded people.  I used to pray for harmony, for unity, for getting along.  Now, I pray nobody gets hurt.

This is terrible, the state of things.  It’s a plague.  This is the kind of polarized thinking that tears down nations, and friendships, and churches.  Is there anything we can do to fix this?

A world filled with unlike-minded people will surely rip itself apart at the seams.  Surely this is not what our children want to inherit.  Surely this is not what Jesus taught us.  If you keep standing over there, and I keep standing over here, the chasm between us could swallow us whole.

What is to be done?

One answer is simple but a challenge:  We have to learn to like each other again. We have to try.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2

When I relearn how I like your funny stories, your excellent skills as a chef, your passion for Fleetwood Mac, and your dedication to discipleship—then I remember your humanity, and that you are a person of worth.

And if you relearn how you like my doodles, and how I treat my kids, my ability to fix anything, and my willingness to step out in faith—then you remember my humanity, and that I am a person of worth.

We will still have some heated discussions about the issues, and sometimes we’ll be loud and proud about it, but our capacity to listen will be vastly multiplied.  We may never agree with each other on all the issues out there, but we will remember how to value each other as children of God.  Doesn’t that sound nice? Healthy even?

I’m tired of being unlike-minded.  I’m going to start liking again.  People.  Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  People I disagree with.  Would you like to try, too?

Well, look at that.

Something we have in common.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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Runaway Empathy at the Village Inn.

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Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  –Romans 12:15

There’s a guy two tables over.  He’s eating by himself.

His wife died last year, and this is the one fun thing he does each week.  He goes out to Village Inn on Friday nights, and orders the catfish dinner.  And as he eats each bite he tries to be happy.  He jokes with the waitress, but I can tell it’s an act.

This lonely man, by the way, is a figment of my imagination.

I mean, yes, there’s a guy eating dinner over there, but I can’t tell from here if he’s happy or sad.  I can’t tell if he got the fish or a stack of pancakes.

I can’t tell squat!  But that doesn’t stop me from soaking up all kinds of sad vibes that probably don’t even exist.

It’s a little game I play called “runaway empathy”.  Ever play it?  It’s where you turn your receptors on soo high that you feel the feelings of everyone around you. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes, like tonight, I’m mildly out of control.

I mean, I really am quite empathetic.  It’s one of my gifts.  I couldn’t tell you what color shoes you’re wearing, but I bet 8 times out of 10 I could guess how you’re feeling today.

What can I say? Some people are good at noticing details–I can read auras.

There are plenty of folks who are like this.  Maybe you.  Somehow in our development we just learned to hone that skill.  Or maybe we were born to be sensitive like that.

I don’t really know where it comes from, but as a pastor, it’s a skill I can use.  Teaching a group, counseling a troubled soul, running a staff—empathy serves me well, except when I overuse it at Village Inn.  Or take people’s emotions too personally.  Or even feel someone else’s feelings instead of my own.  These are things I have to watch out for all the time.

This is one of those standard examples of having a gift from God, and then using it poorly.  Can you relate?

Maybe you command air-tight reason, usually to your benefit–but when it comes time to be intimate with a loved one, you just can’t shut your brain off.  Runaway logic.

Maybe you’ve got the quickest, sharpest tongue, which is good for a lot of laughs, but when it’s time to be serious, you’re just plain tone deaf. Runaway sarcasm.

Maybe you’re an expert at free-living, at the detriment of order.   Runaway chaos.

It’s actually a very good and healthy thing to emphasize your strengths.  They will take you far in life.  But stress, anxiety, negligence and arrogance can take you past your natural limits, into something quite unhealthy.

Whatever runaway gifts you have to keep ahold of, remember that regaining your focus on God will quickly reframe things.  Remember, Jesus used his gifts carefully and responsibly, and he made time daily for recharging.

My dinner at Village Inn was a wake up call to dial it back, and that was good for me.

I took a deep breath, and watched the guy as he left…

It looked like he was smiling.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Jesus Texting

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For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it. –Job 33:14

Luv4all:  Hey!

You:  Hey!  What’s up Jesus?

Luv4all:  Happy Birthday!

You:  Hehe, not my bday, dude!

Luv4all:  Yes it is.  I would know. 😉

You:  My birthday isn’t for 5 months.  You feeling okay?

Luv4all:  It’s all good.  You don’t get it.

You:  Get what?

Luv4all:  My present.  I send you one every day.

You:  Okay… what?

Luv4all: Life!  You get Life from me everyday.  So everyday is your birthday.

You:  Oh…like REbirth.  I get you.

Luv4all:  No.  Rebirth is important.  You get that too.  But every day is a NEW BIRTH.  A new chance.  A new opportunity.  A new lease on Life.

You: This is deep, JC.

Luv4all:  I KNOW it’s deep.  Remember this: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind”?  I want you to embrace my light, like it’s the candle on your birthday cake, every single day.

You: How come I’m just hearing about this?

Luv4all: *groans* I tried scripture–you’re too busy.  I tried talking to you in your prayers–you have trouble listening.  I tried speaking through other people–you always have somewhere else to be.

You:  Sorry.

Luv4all:  It’s alright.  I’m just pointing out that the only way you seem to be able to communicate these days is through texting.  Not exactly the easiest mode for transmitting Grace and Truth, you feeling me?

You:  I feel you.  Sorry.

Luv4all:  Don’t hassle it.  Short and sweet is better than nothing.

You:  So, it’s my birthday.  New Life.

Luv4all:  That’s right.  Celebrate by living the freedom that comes with it.

You:  Okay.  I will.

Luv4all:  Okay.  Gotta go.  Thumbs getting tired.

You:  LOL.  Thanks, Jesus.

Luv4all:  No prob.  But remember, a little prayer never hurt anyone.  And my data plan?

It’s unlimited.

 

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Unattached

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They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
–Colossians 2:19

I wrote a strange story, years ago, about a land called Umbillica.  In this world, umbilical cords were permanent.  Children remained attached to their mothers by very long strands of veins and arteries, connecting one generation to the next.

In this way, as many as five generations would travel and live together.  Families were literally bound to each other.  When a woman decided to marry, her new husband would disconnect from his clan, and tie on to his wife’s family.

This kind of connection was the only way the citizens of Umbillica knew how to live.  And in this world, there was really only one thing to fear:  Being unattached.

Being unattached? It only happened in the rare instances when a calamity wiped out the rest of one’s family, leaving a poor figure to walk the world alone.  Or, far more scandalously, it happened when an occasional clan member deliberately untethered themselves from their family, and scampered off into the night, never to be seen again.

There was nothing more taboo than to be unattached.

As the creator of this peculiar world, even I’m not sure why I set it up that way.  But can you imagine such a world?  Where familial attachments reign supreme, and untethered people feel ostracized?

Yeah, I can, too.  Sounds familiar.

Our society can project a subtler form of response to the unattached.  Sometimes we will pity people who are on their own, as if their lives must be sad and incomplete. Sometimes I suppose that’s true, but unattached people frequently find their own new clans to be a part of. New people to connect with.  And unattached people can find joy in their independence, adventure on the horizon, peace in solitude.

It’s important to remember that God’s grace is not just delivered in family-sized doses.   It comes to every person in every circumstance.  Maybe your family is healthy, or in shambles.  Maybe you’ve cut yourself off from your family because of conflict or abuse or dysfunction.  Maybe you can feel the tug of that umbilical cord…it’s just a very long one.   Whatever your attachment (or unattachment) issues are, know this:

God longs to connect with you.  Through other people, out in the world, through scripture, through your family, through the Holy Spirit, and a million other ways.

That’s the way the creator of this peculiar world set it up.

Don’t worry.  God is not stalking you, or trying to smother you.  God’s grace is not dependent on the number or strength of any of your connections, either.

And it comes (you’ll be happy to learn),

with no strings attached.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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