Despite Your Best Efforts

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Not your best week.

You walked 10,000 steps a day, and ate salads at lunch, and stepped on the scale.
You gained 2 lbs.

You spoke your mind, and wrote your senators, and finally did something.
The other side won.

You practiced patience.  You listened, and tried to comfort.  You nurtured, even.
But your teenager is locked in their bedroom, pouting.

You went to 2 meetings.  You met with your sponsor.  You prayed.
Yet here you are, sitting at the bar, a drink in your hand.
At what point in time do you just throw in the towel?  There’s nothing more demoralizing than working really hard for something, only to be greeted by failure.  We’re conditioned to believe that our best efforts will always be rewarded, that success comes to those who earn it.  When that doesn’t happen, it’s as if the world has stopped functioning properly.  We begin to question God’s plans.

11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. –Jeremiah 9:11

After all, why wouldn’t God want us to be successful?  Why wouldn’t God reward our hard work?  Why wouldn’t God’s plans match up perfectly with the responsible, healthy plans we make for ourselves? Actually…

When I think of God’s plans for us, I don’t think of God charting out our weight loss or even our alcohol consumption.  God’s plans, to me, are played out at more of a cosmic level.  Plans for our souls to flourish, plans for us to be adopted as children of God.  Plans to prosper us with long-term benefits like hope and a future that spreads into eternity.

And so, while God is always present and gently nudging us with Grace, I see the work of our daily lives as our work.  God provides a space for that to happen, called free will.

That means, some days our best efforts will yield us a bounty, and somedays we’ll fall flat on our face.  This is more of a gift than we realize, because the uncertain nature of our lives is what helps us grow.  Think on this:  We cannot always count on life to be fair.  Instead, God offers a lifeline– a future, with hope.

A tomorrow that allows today to be what it will be.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

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Petrichor

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We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.  –Psalm 74:9

How long has it been since your last experience of Petrichor?

Petrichor is, essentially, the smell of rain.  It’s a combination of bacteria being released from dry ground, and the smell of ozone, and the oil from certain dry plants.(Wikipedia)

It’s a wonderful, fresh scent.  The scent of new beginnings.  Starting over.  Purity.

The scent of God-presence.

I love that scent, and I’m happy to say that we’ve had so much water this spring, here in South Central Kansas, that I’ve smelled Petrichor on a number of occasions.

But I’ve had my dry spells.  Long, spiritually barren spans when hope wasn’t to be found, and emptiness was punctuated by parched coughing spells. I’ve had moistureless nights when it seemed everyone around me was lost, too.   No signs.  No prophets.  No scents.

I’ve tried seeding clouds with my tears, to no avail.  I’ve tried dancing and chanting and praying, and still the dry spell continued.  And then…

Petrichor.  Named after combining the Greek words for “rock”, and the “fluid” that runs through the veins of the Gods. (Wikipedia)  It reminds me of God in the dessert, saying…

I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”  –Exodus 17:6a

None of the Israelites mention any fragrance that accompanied that miracle.  Perhaps they were too thirsty to pay attention. I wonder, did the water God sent smell like Petrichor?  I like to think so.  I think God sends Petrichor in remarkable and commonplace settings, in great floods and bare sprinkles.

And sometimes, yes, God even sends the agonizing dry spell. Why? Is it to test us and torture us with dust and heat?  Or is this all part of the natural rhythms of God’s created systems?  Water follows dust, wet follows dry.  I tend to think of Petrichor as no more possible to predict than any of God’s other rhythms.

We’re moving into the dry months, I know.  I will try to find God in the wilderness, in the dust.  But somedays, as an act of hope, I plan to raise my head towards the sky, and sniff, and declare the thrill of my createdness:

Hallelujah, it smells like rain.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Going Freestyle

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So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Exodus 15:24

Let me tell you. Olive Garden will refill your iced tea quicker than you can drink it.  Carlos O’Kelly’s has gigantic 32oz tumblers that they’re more than happy to fill with Diet Mountain Dew.  A Route 44 Arnold Palmer from Sonic never fails to hit the spot.

Good stuff, one and all, but these can’t compare to Freestyle.  It’s been around for about a decade, I’d guess, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen it.

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It is, as I like to call it, an amusement park for thirsty people.   And I am a thirsty person.

Freestyle boasts 100+ drink options, and I’ve likely tried them all. The possibilities are only limited by the room my internal organs can set aside for liquid.  Let’s see…

I’ll start with something fruity and exotic, maybe Dasani sparkling cherry&Minute Maid lemonade&Fuze unsweet tea.  Ahhh.  Then something a little more traditional:  Coke Zero&Barq’s crème soda.  Nice. And then, something in the flavored ginger ale oeuvre.  Freestyle is a marvel of the modern world.

I should mention, however, that there is no Living Water button on the Freestyle.  So if you’re looking to meet a spiritual thirst, you may be out of luck.

Where today can somebody get their hands on Living Water?  The Hebrews complained about it enough so Moses gushed some out of a rock.  Jesus offered some to the woman at the well.  And whoever wrote the 23rd Psalm sounds like they got good and quenched.

What about us?  It’s funny, but when I think about Living Water, a spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit, Freestyle seems just too….Freestyle to me.  Too much flexibility, and sugar and aspartame and caffeine and weird stuff I can’t pronounce.

When I think about whetting my whistle with Living Water, interesting places spring up in my mind:  1)  Drinking from a Garden Hose, as a kid.  2) That 1-in-a-thousand drinking fountain with the perfect combination of temperature, pressure, and arc.  3) Cool water from a mountain stream, drunk right from my cupped hands. None of those places were labeled “Living Water”…but I just knew.

What about you?  Where have you found Living Water?  I suppose it doesn’t have to be water, we’re really talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but my thirstiness ties the two notions together for me much like the scriptures do.  So where you do you drink of the Spirit?

I realize that what my life needs is to be Structured, more than Freestyled.  That doesn’t mean I’ll give up the occasional Lemonade&Raspberry PowerAde&Mello Yellow concoction.  It just means that, deep down, I’ll pay attention to my thirst for the singular, elemental, spiritual guidance of God most of all.

It comes in just one flavor:

Holy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You suck.

you-suck

 

Anyone who eats blood must be cut off from their people.’”  Leviticus 7:27

For the past several weeks Jan and I have been watching the 90s/00s cult favorite show “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.”

It’s our third time.

The show may or may not be your cup of comedy/horror/drama, but we tend to rank it as some of the most clever writing ever on TV.  I’m not recruiting new fans, so don’t go snooping on my account.  I just wanted to explain why I’ve got vampires on the brain.  (on the neck?)

In the show, vampires are evil.  Mostly.  They are undead creatures that literally suck the life out of their victims.  I am convinced that you and I have some vampire in us.  I’ve never met someone who doesn’t.  In our most unhealthy moments we can leech other people’s energy and power. We’re needy like that.

I can recall a dating relationship from my high school and college days.  I could never figure out why we stayed together so long.  We always fought, we weren’t compatible.  We didn’t even much like each other.  She’d hurt me, and I’d hurt her. It wasn’t healthy, but for some reason we just kept feeding off each other. It was a bloody mess.

In my later life, there were times when I felt weak, helpless, and powerless.  Instead of asking for help or reaching out, I found myself manipulating people to my own ends,  unhealthily trying to steal their trust and energy.  I’ve scared a few people away that way.

Think about the energy flow between you and others.  Who gets fed from the relationship, and who leaves feeling a quart low? When a healthy balance of give and take doesn’t exist, who is feeding on you, or who do you find yourself stealing life from?

In Leviticus, we learn about ancient Israel’s system of sacrifice, in this case, a pigeon:

 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. –Leviticus 1:15

This was how people dealt with their sins and deficiencies, by splashing the blood of an animal against the altar, and barbecuing the meat as an offering to God.  All the way up through the time of Jesus, this was the practice.  We look at this as an archaic and perhaps misguided practice, but instead of stealing an animal’s blood and energy, today we tend to steal each others.

Do you think this pleases God?  Not at all.  No more than killing animals as an empty sacrifice did.  Blood, more than anything, must be associated with life.  God given, precious life.  To misuse another’s life is to deny God’s purpose and power.

The next time you feel that unholy thirst to take what isn’t yours, look at the cross.  It repels vampires, after all.  And as for blood?

Jesus is offering his for free.

Have a great week,

Mitch

BuffyReligion

 

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Lucky 13

 

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I did a funeral today.  Can you guess what psalm I used?

That’s right.  Good ole Psalm 23.  The psalm people who don’t even know scripture probably know.

It’s so well constructed.  So heartfelt.  What could beat images like the gentle shepherd, and the valley of the shadow of death, and dwelling in the house of the lord forever?  I don’t know for sure who wrote Psalm 23, but it’s earned its place as Top-10Bests.com’s 2nd most famous scripture, right under the reigning champion  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But just once, I’d love someone to suggest something different.  Maybe accidentally ask for Psalm 13 instead of Psalm 23.

Have you read Psalm 13 recently?

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

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?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

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 has a lot going for it.  It’s about the same handy size as Psalm 23, has a nice ending, but most importantly, it SOUNDS like me.  Like the frenzy of thoughts and emotions that can race through my head in a tough time.

Psalm 23, for all it’s glamour, sounds like a perfect vision.  Psalm 13 sounds like a perfect mess.  And when I’m in a serious time of need, that’s what I closely resemble.

Here’s some of the ways Psalm 13 resonates with me:

“Will you forget me forever?”  A flat out accusation of God.  An irrational declaration of abandonment.  CHECK.

“How long must I wrestle with my thought/have sorrow in my heart”.  Yes!  When I’m in a bad way I can’t seem to control my thoughts or feelings.  I’m just stewing in my fragmented juices. CHECK.

“How long will my enemy triumph over me?”  Defeated.  Lost.  Weak and Helpless.  CHECK, CHECK, CHECK and CHECK.

“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death”.  Overdramatic much?  Yeah, been there too.  CHECK.

And then, right when it seems I’m throwing in the towel, like I’ve dug myself a hole darker than any shadow of death, then I come to my senses.

“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he’s has been good to me.”  CHECK. Yep.  Wallah! Like a deathbed conversion, I realign myself with God. (Could you say ‘Grace’?)

So that’s it.  For your consideration.  Psalm 13, although far less poetic, and lacking the compelling narrative of other Psalms that end with “3” , really speaks to the crazy messy faith journey I find myself on time and again.

As I understand it, that’s what many of the Psalms are designed to do — hold themselves up like a mirror to our own irrationalities and uncertainties.

Okay… reading Psalm 13 at your funeral?  Maybe not the best choice.  Better to pick something flowery and King Jamesy.

But to help steer you out of the jumbled mess that is your rocky faith life?

You could do worse than Lucky 13. (CHECK!)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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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

scrappy

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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