The Lion in my House

Category: Personal

Work for the Lord

Some days, working “as if for the Lord” (Col 3:23, Eph 6:7) at my day job seems impossible. The difficult truth about that is that it says only a little…

Some days, working “as if for the Lord” (Col 3:23, Eph 6:7) at my day job seems impossible. The difficult truth about that is that it says only a little about my job, but it says much about me. Worst of all, it says almost nothing about the Lord. That’s the part that stings; it is the biggest missed opportunity, both for me and for those watching me.

I used to think that I’d want to work for a church, because it would be most like working for God. I imagined that the spiritual and emotional rewards would be overwhelming. In the secular market, my job itself provides little in the way of emotional reward – though it isn’t without them, when I solve complex problems or when I talk to customers who have become friends because I’ve helped them through difficult situations, or when I lean in to coworkers who have become dear friends.

I used to think that Spiritual rewards are even more scarce. But, perhaps I’ve been looking at them the wrong way. Dallas Willard famously said of church growth metrics, “Instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them.” These last few years, I’ve tried to stop counting the spiritual blessings at work and I’ve started to try to weigh them instead. That is, to measure the blessings by their value rather than their number.

I’ve been discovering that my pride was keeping a poor record of these Spiritual rewards; a tally sheet with too few strokes and too many erasure marks. A good boss and better friend showed me generosity and grace, and allowed me to stop fighting to protect my pride and instead, listen for these differently.

I don’t want to work for a church anymore. Not because I don’t want to “work for God,” but instead, I don’t think it would change anything. Or, perhaps, it would only make things worse.

The change I was looking for – and the one that is starting to make a difference – is that I no longer read “work as if working for the Lord” as a call to impute godliness onto my employer. We work for people, not God. We shouldn’t expect them to be God. It’s a call to take the same attitude as when I try to serve Him in other aspects of my life. It’s a call to assume I don’t know everything He (or my boss) does. To assume that He (and my boss) are good; or, at least, that my boss’s intentions are good. And that I should take that submissive position.

I don’t know why God calls me to the things He’s called me to. I don’t know everything He knows and the things I do know I can’t seem to understand the way that He does. The same pride that I fight to protect smears the lens through which I see my work. Giving all my effort to work as if working for the Lord means humility, patience, kindness. Those make way for love, joy, and peace.

No matter what I’ve said about myself or my job through the frustration, wins and losses, ups and downs, I’m beginning to accept that I don’t need to speak for God.

The Spirit of God speaks for himself. I’m learning better to listen and that is making the work easier.

 

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identity

I don’t know much about sports. I never have. I was a fat, brainy, nerdy kid. Even today when I pick up a football to throw it, my guts get…

I don’t know much about sports. I never have.

I was a fat, brainy, nerdy kid. Even today when I pick up a football to throw it, my guts get a twinge. What if it just wobbles through the air? Who is going to laugh? I’m so much older now, but the uneasiness of being a sports misfit still catches me. I laugh about it most of the time, but to be honest, there are “guy” things I wish I could fit into, but that’s not in my cards. That’s ok. Life is made up of many interests and sports just isn’t mine.

The insults the girls flung at me in middle school still sting. The memories themselves, even all these years later, still hurt. It must be what post-traumatic stress disorder is about; those feelings are relived again and again. The good news is that they don’t own me anymore, even if the wounds still ache when the weather is right.

The scars from those cuts never did heal right. It wasn’t only their words that cut me, though. Most of the time, their words only confirmed my own inner dialogue. Living in that fog of self-doubt and anxiety was exhausting, but it formed a funny kind of scar tissue. It built up pride.

I became hard-hearted, dismissive, and superior. I looked down on them, because I was so smart and so clever. Inside that hard shell, I was a sick little boy, practically begging for kindness. On the outside, I was just a prideful jerk.

Life has a funny way of teaching you things. I still struggle with self-doubt and it still causes me to be prideful. I still beg for tenderness, even when its easier to find in a family that loves me for who I am (sportsball knowledge notwithstanding).

Young man, your identity does not have to be in yourself. It doesn’t have to be built on their ugly words about you, or even your own ugly words about yourself. Your identity doesn’t have to be built on how smart you are or how strong or how tough. You’ll never be smart enough, strong enough, or tough enough. You’ll never be a good enough student or a good enough friend or player or man to build an identity on those things.

You don’t have what it takes. Your pride says otherwise, but you’re lying to yourself.

If you want an identity that doesn’t waver — one that doesn’t rely on how hard you try or how well you perform — you need to look to Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Find your identity in Christ, who is the only one who is worthy of it. He bought you with a price, and it was for your own good — and to His glory.

Young man, you and I will fail if we try to do this by ourselves. There’s already too much guilt and shame and pride and anger burning up inside of us.

Turning to Christ and giving ourselves over to him isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. We’ll work our whole lives to serve him the way we would like to, and still fall short. But that’s OK. He gives of himself so that even our bumbling and mistakes somehow give him glory. He’s kind like that.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

You want to be the master of your own destiny. You want all that practice and hard work to matter; you want to build your own identity. The work does matter, but it will never make for a good enough identity. It will never satisfy you. It will never satisfy “them.”

Don’t settle for it. Give yourself over to God. He is the rock of redemption and the spring of living water. He is the merciful Father who offers salvation, and hope.

And, unlike you and I and our vain striving and prideful hearts, he cannot be shaken.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28

Take his grace. Give yourself some breathing room. Let him carry the load.

The rest will come in time. The wounds may never heal, but they’ll change. They’ll stop aching and they’ll start doing a different work. They’ll remind you of why you had to give up and they’ll remind you of the God who takes you in spite of your wounds and gives you something better.

That’s the advice of a fat kid who always felt left out and never did feel good enough about himself. It’s the advice of a grown man, now, that’s been forgiven and who has found out that all the pride in the world won’t build a house that lasts.

Only Jesus does that.

 

 

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The Spirit of Fatherhood

As a happenstance of circumstances, I had the fine opportunity to lead the discussion in our weekly Bible study this week. The study group is composed of the parents of…

As a happenstance of circumstances, I had the fine opportunity to lead the discussion in our weekly Bible study this week.

The study group is composed of the parents of high schoolers. We’re a team of stumblers, looking to build one another up around the scriptures, with eyes to better handle being the parents of teens; that is to say we are learning together to lean on Him in whose image our teens were created, so we can have any hope of succeeding as parents.

We are approaching the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. After talking through the countercultural implications of activating the wills of wives and children in previous weeks, we settled in to discuss Paul’s directive to fathers for the sake of their children in 6:4.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

So much to parse in this little (seeming) aside from Paul. So much to be said for the cultural perspective of the will of children, the image of leadership this paints for fathers, and the singling out of the men themselves.

If I’m being honest, I need this direction. I need to be told. It isn’t to say that I am the only exasperater of my children. Not at all. But, the consequences of the kind of exasperation I can inflict are altogether different from those provoked by my wife; my kind are the kind that leads to grieving and separation.

And more, there is an alternative to exasperation: to raise them, led by the Spirit of God, to be the same kind of men who lead their future wives as Christ leads (through sacrificial love) the church and to be fathers who involve themselves in their children long before they are even conceived.

 

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Christian Superheroes

I am tired of Christian Superheroes. Not the heroes; the feeling they leave. Tired.  Exhausted. Worn out. I’m not sure when or where it all started. I suspect from the…

I am tired of Christian Superheroes.

Not the heroes; the feeling they leave.

Tired.  Exhausted. Worn out.

I’m not sure when or where it all started. I suspect from the beginning of the church. Paul seems to allude to this in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you…so that no one can say you were baptized in my name.” We do love our Christian Superheroes, though. Th ones that make it look easy. The ones whose books and blogs and Facebook pages show the rest of us just how it’s done.

You know them: the radicals that pray fervently, sacrifice everything with joy, plant churches in inner city ghettos, lead prayer breakfasts for missionary heart surgeons, and raise their sons to love Jesus. They’re the ladies who are #blessed, with the sweetest ‘sisters’ instead of mere friends, who mentor new mothers and blog about their non-GMO, organic, low-fat superfood cookies.

They’re Christian Superheroes and they destroy the truth of your salvation (and often, their own). As Paul feared, it strikes me that the “Cross of Christ [is being] emptied of its effect” by this.

For all the beautiful work of sanctification that is worked in us, it is the work of Christ on the Cross that has primacy.

Don’t let Christian Superheroes steal that. Don’t be sold the idea that the work done on the cross wasn’t enough for you and that it can’t be enough for all the lost that are right there in your midst.

Don’t let Christian Superheroes tell you that the cross is out of reach for you.

“Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world  — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus…”

 

 

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everything

Somebody told me once that, “Mothers want their children to be happy and Fathers want their children to be something.” With my own kids, this seems to be true, but…

Somebody told me once that, “Mothers want their children to be happy and Fathers want their children to be something.”

With my own kids, this seems to be true, but it’s a bit misleading. I can’t imagine being happy without being something.

I guess it is the primacy of that something that seems to govern the way we interact. It’s a driver for our communication. I’m not sure it should be; but it has been. When we talk, I’m listening for drive. I’m constantly listening for drive. I want to know that something is being considered; being sought; being attained. Candidly, when I don’t hear it, it irritates me. It makes me scared for the boys, and I wonder what will happen to them if they are not being intentional.

And I have no idea how this squares with the Gospel. And it worries me.

There is a shadow; an unconsidered venture in the futures of my children that I do not know how to square with my faith. There is a tension between wanting them to be successful and wanting them to give their all for the Gospel. Somehow I want both.

God help me to give them over to you and trust that you will handle them with care.

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The Wedge

I thought God had plans to prosper me, but things haven’t seemed to work out the way I thought they would. The fact that I see this, in retrospect, as…

I thought God had plans to prosper me, but things haven’t seemed to work out the way I thought they would. The fact that I see this, in retrospect, as more truly in the character of God than if my expectations were met is not evidence of God to a unbeliever, but if you do know God, then you know what I am talking about. This seems to be one of those inside clues telling me that He is at work; the still, small voice of God that defies expectations and carries the weight of Glory.

This is, perhaps, what the Taoist means when he says, “The Tao that can be written is not the real Tao.” The God that has allowed Himself to be captured in the written Word is, in fact, the real God, but if the Word alone were enough we wouldn’t have needed the Word made flesh.

I am an investor in a few small ventures. I work a full-time day job and I moonlight as some kind of entrepreneur, trying to make a stamp of my own. What attracted me to entrepreneurship was the opportunity to grow; to flex those underdeveloped muscles that make life interesting. I wanted to create, to influence, and to innovate.

The earliest days of business development had much of this. Every decision was new, and the novelty of otherwise mundane work was exciting. This excitement had a strange effect on my day job; the brightness of the new work made the old work seem that much more dull and tired. My perspective changed and I felt like my calling was now in the new work.

Looking back now, I can tell you that it wasn’t. The ventures continue with some failure and some success. But, I have an altogether new perspective on both the new and old enterprises: neither of them are my calling.

My calling, if it can be called “mine” at all, is in the people with whom I work in my sometimes tired and dull day job; I am called to the people in my sometimes novel and exciting ventures. The people, not the novelty or innovation or even the money, are all that go on past this nonsensical, unpredictable, unfair life. They are the only thing that is not a thing; the only consumer in a world of consumption.

That seems like an easy thing to say and a lesson I should have known, but it isn’t and it wasn’t. Sure, I could’ve told you that before this all started years ago and I would’ve been sincere about it, but I have learned that I don’t really often know what I mean when I say things and even when I do I only think I believe them.

The Gospel plants a wedge between the kingdom I seem to be made to pursue, and the kingdom God wants me to pursue. The brutality of the wedge gives way to the tenderness and gratitude of looking over my shoulder at the pain and discouragement and loss and knowing that God was right all along. That rarely seems to mean that He’s shaking His head and sighing, “Oh what a mistake that was, boy.” The work is good, in spite of my wrong-headedness.

So, now, on to today’s work.

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Aionion

“If I were hungry, do you really think I would ask you to provide my meal? If I wanted music – if I were conducting research into the more recondite…

“If I were hungry, do you really think I would ask you to provide my meal? If I wanted music – if I were conducting research into the more recondite details of the history of the Western Rite – do you really think you are the source I would rely on?”

Yet, for some reason, He does.

We’re like little children mixing ketchup and honey and crackers and salt and beaming at our parents’ to eat.

And maybe that’s the point.

Little children express more of an appetite for their parents than a love of cooking. The psalmists seem to have an appetite for God. They have an appetite for Him and His presence that seems to only come only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments.

C.S. Lewis describes them this way:

“These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord’ (Ps. 27:4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and ‘appear before the presence of God’ is like a physical thirst (Ps. 42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out ‘in perfect beauty’ (Ps. 50:2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (Ps. 63:2). They crave to be ‘satisfied with the pleasures’ of His house (Ps. 65:4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (Ps. 84:3). One day of those ‘pleasures’ is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (Ps. 84:10).”

Excerpted from “Reflections on the Psalms,” by C.S. Lewis

They seem to have it all together. I don’t mean that the psalmists were without problems. Their own lyrics state emphatically otherwise. But they have the things that need to be together, together. That is, there is a real connection between what they believe and the natural operation of their bodies. It isn’t spoiled with our notion of ‘spirituality’ or even our notions of ‘love.’ It’s a hunger; an appetite.

(Something of an aside: I am not much of a fan of the psalms in that I do not look to them for comfort. I find them repetitive and I struggle to stay interested. I know I’m not supposed to confess that in my circles, but it is true and sometimes it bothers me when others speak of the psalms as a source for their joy. I suppose it should be for me. I am not ignorant of fancy verse and I’ve read [and metered and dissected] plenty of it. Yet, I struggle to connect to the psalms. Perhaps it is the prevalence of pastoral imagery. Maybe it’s just me. I am, though, a fan of the psalmists and they point us to God in ways beyond their words. As long as they aren’t boring me, of course.)

The hunger must stay. It is a new hunger, but a familiar one. We talk a lot of “God-shaped holes in our hearts,” and that is an interesting picture for the hunger of most men. We speak of God’s mercies as “new every day.” And surely they must be. My crimes are rather prolific, but so is the guileless hunger that wakes me up in the morning.

This week we celebrate His entering into mortality. The coming together of Word and Deed in a supernatural way that, for its strangeness and incomprehensible scope, is not less but incredibly more personal. We celebrate His pain, for us, that caused the full display of His mortality; but we celebrate that His mortality becomes a picture not of finality, but instead of the passing from one venue to another; the passing from time to eternity — “aionion.” Not forever; not and endless number of days. Not time at all.

At the threshold of timelessness and time He abides. Every day is present. Every pain and joy and intervention and friendship and love and creative breath is now.  And He did it — and does it — for us.  He does it for our food and our music.  And for our sins.  He does it for our selves.

And so we say He is Risen. He is risen indeed.

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A Journey of Meyers

“Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived. It became patently absurd to go on thinking of ‘Spirit’ as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches….

“Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived. It became patently absurd to go on thinking of ‘Spirit’ as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches. Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing. Perhaps, even now, my Absolute Spirit still differed in some way from the God of religion. The real issue was not, or not yet, there. The real terror was that if you seriously believed in even such a ‘God’ or ‘Spirit’ as I admitted, a wholly new situation developed. As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel’s, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its gravecloths, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my ‘Spirit’ differed in some way from ‘the God of popular religion’. My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, ‘I am the Lord’; ‘I am that I am’; ‘I am.”

Excerpted from, “Surprised by Joy,” by C.S. Lewis

It is the work of the Lion. It seems to be sinking in now, after all this time. I suppose it was always there; a little worm in my brain whispering that this would come, but now here it is, and I find myself wondering if this is the place of the rich young man of Matthew 19, Luke 18, and Mark 10.

Jesus loved him and said, “…*then* come and follow me.”

The “God of popular religion” has given me a lot. He’s given me a schedule and he’s given me a plan and he’s given me much to think about and talk about. He’s given me direction. A lot of that came with a cost. It came with the cost of some relationships, some time, some money. It came with the cost of self-denial. It came with some guilt. It came with some joy, too. And it came with hope.

But now he asks of me something different. Something bigger.

That shabby old cat that wandered through my house, sniffing through my things and pawing at my closet door looks different now. The vim of youth has wiped the grey from his mane and tightened the muscles in his now-broadened shoulders. His tail whips and curls. His belly rumbles a new and captivating and frightening song.

Something is changing and my playmate who gave me so much and asked so little of me has grown into a King who calls me to a different field. It is settling uneasy.

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Vacation

I bristle at the evangelical culture that is self-congratulatory and serves to shame. I am not sure what is behind it. Are we trying to project a position of authority?…

I bristle at the evangelical culture that is self-congratulatory and serves to shame.

I am not sure what is behind it. Are we trying to project a position of authority? Do we want others to feel bad? That they aren’t trying hard enough? That they aren’t close enough to God? That God isn’t really first in their lives?

Maybe we’re covering up our own issues. Maybe this is the condition of the heart of man on full display.

Then I remember:

“Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1 HCSB)

The Spirit of God testifies on your behalf, even in spite of the power of our often self-congratulatory and shaming culture.

But, if I am being honest, this is not where I seem to live. Rather, I live in the world where I think about “the things of the flesh,” and those shaming words from popular preachers and not-so-popular pew neighbors hit home when my mind is hostile to God because surrender and submission to the things of God come second.

Why do I feel like I am doing this all wrong? 

The “easy yoke” of Christ is more often a retreat than a home; it is a vacation spot, where I go when I find the time and need the rest. I always seem to return to the other place, where work is hard, anger and resentment come easily, and I find myself pressed against an unforgiving wall, clenching teeth and gulping for air.

I want to live in the place where the Spirit leads and not merely run away there when things get difficult.

It is a strange place. It does not look like a vacation resort; instead it looks like a slum. It is not a place to be served.

Maybe that is why it is so hard to take it seriously and so easy to forget.

It is the only place where the futility of creation (8:19-22) is both on full display and yet least oppressive.

God is saying something to me.

There is work to be done that is not like the work I have been doing. There is service to be done that is not like the service I have been doing.

God seems to be doing a new thing with me. Spirit of God, lead me.

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A Return to Writing

I’m not sure why I ever stopped. There was a season when it came through me – perhaps more like bile than magic – and then the season passed. I…

I’m not sure why I ever stopped. There was a season when it came through me – perhaps more like bile than magic – and then the season passed. I still wrote for a while during the Winter that followed such a healthy Spring and Summer, until I just stopped.

The long pause does not feel like I have inhaled and have been holding my breath all this time, ready to release some overcooked and overdue series of thoughts. Instead, it feels a bit like I have not been breathing at all. Nothing has been worked out. Nothing has been sorted. I am picking up an old set of tools, a little worse for wear than when I set them down, and they have been waiting to be put back to task. My hands remember but they are out of shape.

So, if this begins with a sputter, forgive me.

When I wrote “The Solomon Assembly,” I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. In retrospect, I am pleased with the words and the work that went into it. The process of writing daily for so long about Jesus was an effort at intentional reflecting on the growing role of my God in my life. It is a strange to look back at my thoughts on yielding to him and how those times played out in my days. It is strange, too, that I thought as much about the yielding as I did to the man and Spirit and God that, through divine mystery, waited for me to get out of the way. And I see the times I did not yield, and he waited for me then, too.

There is a lion in my house. He waited at the door, patiently waiting for me to invite him inside, and now here he is. He groans, as any lion might, and the deep rumble in his belly is enough to set my nerves on edge and start my heart racing. But, I confess, he has been here for a while now and though his golden hairs are casually woven into every fabric and his tooth and claw marks have scuffed many of the hard surfaces, he is sometimes as easily forgotten as he is frightening.

But he sings a soft song that sounds like the sunrise, or the patter of cold snow falling, and the feeling of a new and unopened present, or a hot bath at bedtime. He is a strong fragrance that lingers in my fingers that moves me when I am absentminded. He sings and he paces the floor and he buries his face in me when I need him and, in turn, I smell his mane and I hold him so tightly that my nerves settle and my decisions are made.

But sometimes, my stomach still turns when I don’t want to look at him. He surprises me like that. After all, he is a lion living in my house.

There are days when he doesn’t look like a lion at all. No golden hair; no sunburnt mop of mane around his heavy shoulders. I see sadness in his eyes; there is no regret, but there is sadness. And wildness.

So, something tells me to write again. Maybe it is the lion; maybe it isn’t. I’m not sure what he has to say or what I could say about him, but he seems to always be there singing and rumbling and pacing and snooping in our dark corners.

This, then, is not how it begins; it is how it continues.

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