Defending vs Displaying

I used to get so caught up in knowing things like scientific and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  I used to worry that I didn’t have all the answers.  I used to practice what I would say to someone who didn’t believe in God, in an effort to sound coherent and logical and philosophical.  Because, after all, It has to make sense, right? It’s up to me to convince people this Christianity thing is legit, right?

In seminary we are taught all of these things and are tested on these things.  I am glad we were.  Anselm is a good guy to read, no doubt. These philosophical and scientific reasons for God are important to know and engage with. I am for apologetics — in an appropriate context.

However, I am convinced of one thing, apologetics should not be the main approach to showing God to others. Lived-out-love must come first.

This morning I read this passage: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. -Colssians 3:12-14

The Scriptures never tells us to argue, defend, convince. The Scriptures never tell us to know the reasons for God, they tell us to be the reason. They just tell us to love people out of the abundance of Love God has shown us. “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” –John 15:12

What if, instead of concentrating on defending our faith, we first focus on just displaying it?

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Photo © Mary Lawson

I’ve never heard of anyone who was argued or convinced into the faith, but there are lots of people who were loved into the faith.

You can argue that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is beautiful, but if someone does not experience it, they just don’t get it.  You cannot convince someone something is beautiful and true until they really experience it themselves.

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When we forgive people who wrong us and don’t deserve to be forgiven, when we love the unlovable – that’s when people see the Father. Let’s let our compassion and humility and kindness point to God rather than how we argue philosophically about God’s existence.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes,  “The saint is the apology for the Christian religion.”

It’s not about what we say, it’s about how we live our lives, clothed in God’s grace and love. That’s when people can truly experience the beauty of the Kingdom of God and be ushered into the love and grace found there. And this beauty goes beyond comprehension, it surpasses understanding.

13 Lessons from Nehemiah

I’m a part of a really fantastic young adult group at my church. This Fall we studied the Book of Nehemiah. It’s really such a great story.  As we read it we see that, ultimately, it is a metaphor of life in general.

Many of us can relate to this story – We have a project/job/cause God puts on our heart.  We step out and do it.  We run in to a lot of opposition in the process.  We learn we can’t do it alone – we have to work together.  Things don’t go as planned.  We trust God along the way.

So here are 13 Lessons we learned from the Life of Nehemiah…

  1. Fear of the unknown didn’t hold Nehemiah back from doing what was on his heart to do.
    Now I had been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”  Then I was very much afraid. Neh 2:2
    Even though Nehemiah was afraid to approach the King about his desire to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, he did it anyway.  But before he asked the King, the Scripture says he “Prayed to the God of heaven” (2:4.)  We don’t have to be afraid because we know God is with us.
  2. Nehemiah knew the good and faithful character of God.
    “I beseech You, O Lord God of Heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant.”  Neh 1:5-6
    Nehemiah always came back to the good and loving nature of God.  It’s                  what kept him anchored.
  3. People mattered more than things.
    As the cupbearer to the King, Nehemiah had everything – prestiege,                   comfort, money.  He gave all this up for people that he didn’t know.  He                gave up everything, and risked his life to restore the dignity of a city he had          never been to.
  4. Nehemiah took sin and repentance very seriously.
    In chapter 1, Nehemiah acknowledges the sin of his people.  He goes in to              great detail as to what that sin was and, on behalf of the people he’s leading,          repents.  Nehemiah knew that if God were to bless this task, their sin must be acknowledged, and offered to God so he may forgive. When we confess our sins, and repent, we are again made whole by the mercy of God.
  5. He constantly went to God in prayer, first. And always honestly.
    We see Nehemiah do this throughout the whole book. Prayer was vital in his life.  So must it be for us.  He prays to God in…
    Ch 1, 2:4, 4:4-5, 5:19, 6:9, 6:14, 9:5-38, 13:14,22,29,30
  6. He was patient. He waited on God’s timing.  He waited for the right moment to approach King Artaxerxes.
    It says in chapter 2 that he waited 3 months to approach the King with his              request to go to Jerusalem.  He waited for God to open the door.  He                        waited for God’s timing.
  7. Worship was made a priority by beginning with repairing the Gate by the Temple.
    In chapter 3, it says that Eliashib the High Priest arose and built the Sheep Gate.  This gate was the closest to the temple.  They started here first because they knew the most important thing they could do was worship God in community there at the temple.  Worshiping together was made #1 priority.
  8. Nothing can be accomplished without unity.  Humility is required for unity.
    In chapter 3, the text lists all those who were working on the wall.  The text makes a point of describing how they all were working next to each other – from the High Priest, to goldsmiths, regular priests, to governors, to daughters. They all swallowed their pride and worked together.
  9. When opposition comes, don’t conspire to get them back. Let God handle it. God fights for us.
    In chapter 4, Nehemiah comes under some opposition.  They are mocked             and threatened.  He doesn’t take matters into his own hands, he takes it to          God.
    At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.  Neh 4:20
  10. When we are afraid, remember who our God is.  Go to him for Grace.
    In chapter 6, Nehemiah’s enemies send him a messenger, trying to scare                 him into hiding and sinning (it was a sin to use the temple for anything but           worship.)  He didn’t fall for it. Don’t be scared into doing something you              know is wrong.
    But now, O God, strengthen my hand.  Neh 6:10
  11. Don’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Know and remember how God loves you.
    In chapter 6, the enemies of Nehemiah lie to him, saying they have heard              that Nehemiah is plotting to rule.  This was in an effort to discourage them and cause them to abandon their work.  Nehemiah didn’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Neither should we.  As Nehemiah did, we must trust that God truly is Great and Awesome and that He fights on our behalf (Neh 4:20.)
  12. Joy comes when we remember we have been given salvation.
    The people there found themselves in a depressing, desperate situation.  They were being ridiculed, under threat of attack, and living in disgrace.  Yet, they are encouraged to take joy.  They were able to realize this joy because the day of Atonement was coming soon.  They knew they had forgiveness.  Joy comes when we realized we’ve been forgiven, saved, and are loved by God. No matter what or where we find ourselves, it never changes the fact that we are redeemed and forgiven.
    Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Neh 8:10
  13. Joy comes when we are in community with others.  When we are serving others.
    In chapter 8, the Festival of the Booths takes place.  This is a holiday where everyone camps out in tents and re-tells the story of their Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  We were meant to live out our faith together, in community. It’s in community where we find our true identity.

 

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On Autumn, Beauty, Grace, and a Dash of Keats

We had to wait for Fall a little longer than usual here in Kentucky.  Autumn made a late entrance, but now it’s here and the fiery Fall colors were here for a time. The trees were full of sunburst leaves and rained them down like papers thrown out of a building.

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photo: © gabe lawson

This season has me thinking about the miracle of beauty coming from ashes. This is the season where the trees lose their coats and are left barren.  Yet in a short time they have life spring anew, and the leaves grow and bloom and tell a whole new story.  Perhaps it’s my studying of Nehemiah this season as well, but I’ve been thinking about how something amazing, holy even, can come from a barren, ruinous state.

In Isaiah chapter 30 the Lord speaks to the Israelites about how they are seeking the protection of Egypt rather than resting in the protection of the Lord. They got caught up in what they could see.  They got swept up by the tangible riches of Egypt.  They forgot what their God had already delivered them from.

Their reliance on the “worthless and empty” (Isa 30.7) help of Egypt had consequences. It left the Israelites in ruins.

Often times, we too trust more in what everyone else does than what God does and has done for us, don’t we?

The Israelites. turned their backs on the God who rescued them from captivity in order to go back to that same captor. We do this so much too, don’t we?  We continue to go back to the chains.  But we don’t have to.  

Even still, God tells them and tells us, “The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isa 30.18).

This God we serve is a God full of grace.  Let’s leave those chains worthless and empty. 

If we wait for him, he will make blooms spring from barren branches and beauty come from ashes (Isa 61:3.)

I love this poem from John Keats,

After dark vapors have oppress’d our plains    

For a long dreary season, comes a day    

Born of the gentle South, and clears away

From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.

The anxious month, relieved of its pains,    

Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;    

The eyelids with the passing coolness play

Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.

The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves    

Budding—fruit ripening in stillness—Autumn suns

Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves—

Sweet Sappho’s cheek—a smiling infant’s breath—    

The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs—

A woodland rivulet—a Poet’s death. 

Poem of the Day – The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite poets.  One of the best artists and writers Kentucky has ever produced.  I’m loving this poem of his this morning…

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come in to the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

                          -The Peace of Wild Things

It reminds me of the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus talks about how God feeds even the sparrows, and clothes even the flowers of the field.  The birds to not worry about what they will eat, and the flowers don’t worry about their clothing situation.  So why should we, being God’s treasure, worry?

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “If I can take care of all the wild things, I will take care of you.”  It’s a simple truth, but oh so hard to grasp sometimes.

Sometimes we need a lesson from the wild things to put things in perspective. Sometimes we need to rest in the grace of the world to help us understand our own place in life.

We never know what day-blind stars are out there, waiting with their light for us to see them.

SpringBuds

photo copyright: gabe lawson

A Heart That Breaks

“I have seen so much in my life, I didn’t think my heart could break.  I didn’t think I could be touched by anything.  But my heart is broken now, and I don’t know what to do.”

This was what an Airman told me during my recent Air Force Reserve duty as a chaplain.

After we finished talking I thought about what he said – about how his once impenetrable heart had been suddenly broken and he was left wondering what’s next. Despite his defenses his heart had been breached.

I thought about how all of us, from time to time, surround ourselves with walls and barriers and claim that no one can touch us, or break us.  I thought about how lonely this makes us in the end.

I’m reminded of that C.S. Lewis quote from The Four Loves, 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give our heart to no one, not even to an animal…lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

The conversation with the Airman had me thinking – Have I made my heart like a sort of casket – impenetrable, or am I vulnerable?

I mean, sure, I love my family, and my friends.  Certainly I love God.

But do I really love others?  Does my heart break for people I don’t know? Does my heart break at all?

As Christians, have we surrounded our hearts with bubblewrap and packing peanuts, not to be exposed to that which we are unfamiliar with?

As Christians, what breaks our hearts?

This Fall, The Mix (our college & young adult group) will be studying the life of Nehemiah on Sunday Mornings at 9:15am (We start on Aug 25th – we’d love for you to join us). Nehemiah has a remarkable story, and it starts with the fact that had a heart that broke.

When Nehemiah, from the comforts of the King’s court in Persia, heard that the wall of Jerusalem had been destroyed and his people were in trouble the Bible says that he “sat down and wept, and mourned for days” (Neh 1.4).

He opened himself up to the struggles of others in a distant land – and their struggles broke his heart.

It’s hard to make ourselves vulnerable.  It’s not fun to be susceptible to pain.  However, we can’t underestimate the power that comes from a broken heart.  If we let Him, God can turn the pain that comes from what was meant for harm into action that helps, that heals, that does great things in the kingdom of God. Nehemiah is a prime example of this.

In our lives as Christians, the worldly view of strength is turned on its head.  Strength doesn’t mean strong walls and towers in our lives. Strength means having the courage to let our walls down, letting our hearts break for and with others, and then doing something about it. After all, isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?

This line from the poet John Donne has turned into a prayer for me. Maybe it could be for you too…

O might those sighs and tears return again,

Into my breast and eyes, which I have spent,

That I might in this holy discontent

Mourn with some fruit… 

 Maybe your heart is already broken from something in your own life.  That’s okay.  Thankfully, God is a God who believes in building things that have been broken and creating beauty from ashes.

So may we mourn, but may we do it with fruit – with action – like Nehemiah did.  Like God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit did for us once and does with us for all time.

So for those of us who need to have the strength to let our guard down, here are some questions to consider:

What breaks your heart?

Where could you be more tender?

Where is the first place you turn when your heart breaks?

 

Fresh Music Thursday – Beatles Edition

It’s Fresh Music Thursday! This was formerly on the Honey Heart Photography blog, but now it has a new home.

This is a weekly/semi-weekly series highlighting music that is sometimes new, old, popular, unheard of – whatever it is, it’s gotta be cool – it’s gotta bring a fresh breeze into my life. Hopefully it does for you too.

So I’m feeling a Beatles theme this week – and there’s plenty to choose from.

The following is a great version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” – originally written and performed by Paul McCartney. This is a really beautiful arrangement by Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) & Norah Jones.

Steven Tyler does a great rendition of a medley of side 2 of Abbey Road. Check it out.

No Doubt does an incredible cover of “Hello, Goodbye”

“Yesterday” on the Ed Sullivan Show – classic.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – an amazing lyric, an amazing song.

 

May you all have a great Thursday!

 

Looking Out For Wounded Warriors

This is an article I wrote for the First Alliance Church weekly newsletter.  I thought I’d share it here as well.  

 

“Spiritual Care for the Wounded Warrior.”  That’s the conference I went to last week.  As a chaplain in the Air Force, they send us to these types of conferences from time to time to help us in our ministries.

This conference was strictly for chaplains and chaplain assistants – and it was geared toward caring for people with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

The class covered quite a lot, including the symptoms and issues related to PTSD, and some of the therapy that is available through psychiatry so we know how to refer people forward.

The class also covered how we can help, from a pastoral approach, those “wounded warriors” who are suffering .

It boils down to two main ways to help that go hand in hand:

  • Being aware.
  • Being there.

That’s it. It’s simple, really.

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As I was sitting in this class, I found myself thinking how this applies to regular civilian life.  How, in fact, this applies to all of us.

As Christians, shouldn’t we use the love of God to help heal those fractures we all suffer in the battle of life? Even though someone may not be in the military, he or she could still be a wounded warrior.  We all know that life can sometimes be a fight.

As Air Force Chaplains, our goal is to make sure our Airmen know that we are a safe place to come for help.  We need them to know that we care for them and their soul – and that they aren’t alone in this struggle with PTSD or whatever issue they have.

Shouldn’t this be the goal for all of us as Christians?  Shouldn’t we strive to make sure people know we are a safe place?  That we care for their soul?

Jesus tells us, rather bluntly, 1) to love God and 2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39).  He said that the whole Law hangs on this commandment.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4.2).  This means that we are still to love people especially when they show weakness or hardship in their lives.  We are to enter the suffering with them.  Just like Jesus did for us.  Just like Jesus till does.

So look out for those wounded warriors you may come across in your day-to-day routine.  Maybe they are your kids, or your parents, or neighbors, or friends – they could be anyone.

Be aware.  See people with active eyes.  Look at their body language.  Really ask them how they are doing. When their words fail to match up with how they are acting, ask them about it. Chances are, they need someone to ask them directly what is going on.  Just being there with someone means so much.

The poet WB Yeats once wrote,

 He Who hath made the night of stars

For souls who tire and bleed,

Sent one of His great angels down

To help me in my need.

 Let’s be those angels for others.  Be aware.  Be there. 

 And maybe you are a wounded warrior yourself.  That’s okay.  You’re definitely not alone.  Find someone to talk to – someone in your life group, a Christian friend, go for prayer one Sunday after service, or call the church office any time.  We are here for you.

Our Vinyl Lives

Right now I’m listening to a great album –  The Beatles’ ‘Abby Road’ (ranked the 14th greatest album of all time according to Rolling Stone, fyi).  And yes, it’s the actual vinyl album I’m listening to, thanks to the gift of my good friend Ben.

The music we make is imperfect. And like a vinyl record, that’s what makes it great.

Every album will develop flaws, scratches, scars.  Every person who walks this flawed earth will get scratches and broken from time to time as well.

Thankfully there is a God who uses people despite their stratches and scars. We don’t have to be perfect to accept redemption. We don’t have to be spotless to make a difference. We can come to God with our flaws, and our creator wants to listen. 

Thankfully there is a God who sees us and heals us and longs to enable us to make beautiful music with our lives.

So let’s not run away from the scars and scratches in our lives. Let’s not bury them under the mask of perfection.

Let’s give them to God, let him heal, and reach people with the music of our lives – scracthes and all. 

Only in our Creator can we make the music we were created to make. 

Only in our Creator are our scratches turned from a bad thing into a good thing.  

It’s through our scars we can empathize. It’s through our scratches we can love – if we let ourselves.

Thankfully there is a kind God who loves the imperfect analog music of our vinyl lives.

 

Spring…

If I am to find the will of God I must have the right attitude toward life. ??-Thomas Merton