Holy, holy, holy

“Holy” is not a word we use in conventional English…but I think the concept of holiness is one that we use all the time. The closest categories we articulate are: “worth” or “beauty,” maybe even “glory.” So some people who really like a particular brand of computer attribute great worth and beauty to it…. J.J. Abrams said in a TED Talk that his particular laptop inspired him, ‘what will you write that is worthy of me?’ I like computers too, and I think there are computer geeks who can relate. But what he’s really articulating is not about “beauty” or “worth” of the laptop, but a sense of what was to him, its holiness…

I happen to have that same brand of computer, and I like it, and it cost a lot of money (more for me than for him because it’s a greater portion of my income), and I too think it is well designed, etc etc…. BUT, to my middle-aged self, right now, it’s just a computer. Mine has crumbs on it, buggars (not mine), cat schmoo, the works; my screen has finger prints on it. I have a stack of old laptops gathering dust in the closet. I see it’s worth and “beauty” but it’s just a thing… What Abrams’ computer had meant for him at that time was something more…. I’m not saying this to criticize him, I’m a LOST fan too; but to point out that the concept here is not really about appreciating “beauty” or “worth” but holiness.

Check out the picture.. You may not know what this is… It’s is an aluminum valve stem for a motorcycle…it’s the part of the wheel where you put in the air… A regular valve stem costs a few cents, but a nice aluminum valve stem can cost around $20 depending on the make (this one cost maybe $4). But for people for whom a motorcycle is not JUST a motorcycle, but something… holy, and special – then a regular $0.50 valve stem just won’t do. Of course if you ask someone who spent $20 on a valve stem, they’d tell you it is precision machined and superior to the $0.50 valve stem found on virtually every other vehicle. But the real reason doesn’t have to do with logic or performance, the real reason has to do with a sense of the thing’s (in this case, the motorcycle’s) holiness. It is set apart, it’s not like the others, it is…holy.

Now because we are spiritual creatures we always hold something(s) holy in our hearts: I hear the way people pronounce the name of certain companies they would love to work for, or schools they’d love to attend, or things they’d like to own…. It’s the sound of our tongues pronouncing holy names… there’s often a pause right before you say it… Harvard. I went to [pause] Princeton. I have an interview at [pause] Google. I had to get gas for my [pause] Audi. If you are indoctrinated into the religion of this world, you cannot help but hold certain things holy, you’ve been trained in these religions all your life.

What happens in the life of a Christian is, we start to see God as Holy, Holy, Holy. In Hebrew that is literally Holy x 3; the word repetition intensifies its meaning. It’s not that I don’t care about your month in Paris or your Louboutin shoes – I still see the aura of what the world thinks is holy, but God becomes even more so. You wouldn’t go to an interview at Harvard or Google without being well rested and prepared – even if it was just a casual meeting with some higher ups, most people feeling the holiness of those names would go and put forward their best effort. In the same way, people who see God as holy holy holy treat the things of God with utmost importance: like they’re meeting their favorite celebrity, like they’re meeting a recruiter for their favorite company, like they’re meeting the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with, like they’re going to pick up their new car, like they’re going to meet the one who is their dream come true. The crazy thing in this backwards upside down world of ours is that we value things of no value and lust after them – meanwhile God is free for the taking.

The Sins of the Fathers (and mothers too)

Your parents were sinful. Both of them. They were flawed, broken, not just imperfect, but actually capable of wickedness and wrong…that is what the Bible tells us. Many people who had good loving parents have a problem with that. “My mom was a saint, everyone knew it!” “My dad is my hero!” Oftentimes people over-revere one parent and blame the other. Yes, God also tells us to honor our parents and to care for them when they are old. But if you cannot accept that they are sinful then you can’t really grow. Many of the people I know who are smart and clearly committed to “Christianity” yet do not grow, or distort some aspects of Jesus while rejecting others, seem to have this in common: they can’t see their parents as sinners. As a result they can’t grow.

Why do you need to believe this to grow? The most difficult sins are the ones that you did not consciously choose. The ones that have been passed down from your parents and grandparents and their parents before them. Racism, classism, selfishness, emotional immaturity, disrespecting personal boundaries…these are some of the things that get passed down. When your parents, who love you, and whom you love, do these things, it does not seem wrong. Certain sinful things can actually seem loving to you: abused children equate punishment with devotion. People who remain in abusive relationships often feel that the abuse is evidence of how much the abuser cares for them. In a way it’s true. If your parents beat you, it was because you were theirs and not someone else’s child. But it does not mean that the beatings were right, or good. In the same way if your parents had certain attitudes about people of certain ethnicities you probably feel the same way. Whether we are shaped by nature or nurture, our parents are both. As a result they pass on the sins we don’t even see as sins.

Growing in Jesus means you will have problems with your parents sin. It will hurt you and shame you and frustrate you. Growing in Jesus also means you will honor and care for your parents just the same even though their sins pain you. Treating them, not as their sins deserve, but as Jesus deserves. Their sins won’t be an abstract idea, but a painful reality of the truth of God’s Word, and the depth of His compassion.

Our amazing secret ability…

Random graphic novel Grace used to love – that I have to remember to give to David before Momo starts reading them.

In the Matrix, people find out that their world is an illusion, that there is another world and another reality. They have a literal awakening… Then they go into the real world knowing that everything in their old life was basically an illusion, a dream designed to keep them enslaved. Along similar lines, there’s a cheesy Korean drama from a couple of years ago called W, where a comic book character comes to life in the graphic novel world and starts making his own decisions in the story (against the will of the writer). When he finds out that he’s a character in a comic book, time stops and he is able to walk out of a portal to the “real” world. The story then gets all convoluted because the real world stuff becomes part of the graphic novel… but he winds up back in the comic world along with an evil antagonist who also becomes aware of the real world and starts causing all sorts of trouble.

When the protagonist of W finds out he’s a comic book character, he realizes that his money and wealth in the story mean nothing. Later he’s framed for the murder of his family and sits on death row. Everybody thinks he’s an awful person. But even then he realizes that what people think of him doesn’t matter in the way we normally think it does – because he knows this is all just part of a story, and these things can be easily corrected later on. He finds he can sometimes travel to the real world – and so he makes plans to escape the novel and live in the real world when the story ends. He leaves all his money and his foundation to his best friend, because on the one hand he doesn’t care about the money, but at the same time he knows that it can be used for good in that world. He intervenes in the life of another friend so that she doesn’t disappear from the novel world, but go on to live another story of her own. It’s not that the comic world doesn’t matter – it still matters, but in different ways. The “rewards” of that world no longer matter, because he knows they are not real, they are just pieces of a story that will disappear when the story ends.

Anyway… so what’s your amazing secret power? It’s amazing, but it’s not uncommon – in fact most of the people in the world have this ability — they just don’t know they have it. They use it, but don’t see anything amazing about it. But it IS amazing… but not in a good way.

Your amazing power is: you have the mind boggling ability to find out that this world is fake, that there is another world, that money doesn’t matter here in the way people think it does — that everything here is coming to an end very very soon (one way or another)… and you can even sometimes get up close experienced of the other world – or get heavenly messages – and someone from the real world can come into your world and show you things, tell you things — and all these things can make perfect sense to you…

AND YET, unlike the characters in the movies, you will be able to go on living just the way you were normally living…

You will go back to your old comic book life. Every now and then you’ll feel discouraged in your story and think “yeah this is all BS” but as soon as things get better you’ll be back at it, living your BS life. I don’t mean “you” personally, I mean “you” in general. We all have this amazing ability. Unlike these characters who get awakened in these stories, we are not as rational.

My favorite mind bending picture book.

Most of the people who read the Bible and get it who hear great sermons and are moved – who feel something and know that it’s real – who get a glimpse of what love and heaven is – and realize it’s not how this world works — most people will wake up, then close their eyes and go back to their old lives. But God knows those who are His. Most people can hear great sermons for years and years and then go back to living for things like “the desire to be better than others” to get: more money, better degrees, better life, better resume, better Instagram, better experiences.

But God knows those who are His. And there are some people who hear just a tiny little bit – who never hear the really cool preaching – just get a little bit of some country bumpkin preaching, and yet figure out that there’s something there – and they seek and they search and they find Him and never let go. Their lives change from the inside out – and they live here completely differently, on a mission, to get ready for heaven and wake other people up too. So which kind of person are you? Are you going to wake up or go back to the fake life that imprisons your soul? Am I being too dramatic?  Maybe a little 🙂 Or maybe not enough?

Which do you do first?

Feed the cat, if you have one. Please. Then there are things you do regularly, brush teeth, go to the gym maybe. When it comes to my millennial friends, then the order seems to be: love, then KonMari, then school then job… what else is left? Oh, right, let’s figure out what life is about.

You might never notice a problem with that order…as long as you never find your life’s purpose. But if you do one day find that you are uniquely suited to actually DO something of value for people, for the world, that your experience and gifts are perfect for something that people need, and that only you can do… then you might wish you figured it out sooner.

If you knew why you were here, then that might shape what kinds of jobs and careers you would be good in. If you knew your purpose you’re more likely to find relationships with people who have complementary paths in life, and could help you instead of hindering you. It would be harder love someone if one day you felt like they were the thing holding you back form achieving your life’s purpose; if that happens, your job is to love your spouse anyway and still put their care first. You really can’t do ANYTHING until you figure out what your purpose here is… You can feed the cat, but even KonMari night be a problem.

This is Albert Einstein’s desk. This is what it looked like when he was productive. Not just him, lots of people’s work spaces look like this when they’re getting stuff done.

Here’s the famously minimalist Steve Jobs in his minimalist black turtleneck. His home was sparse and organized but his work area had a little more…um, character. Do you know why? He really wasn’t home that often. He didn’t raise his kids, he wasn’t a very good family man by his own admission. But when he worked it looked like this.

Just one more. Tony Hsieh, who conveniently has his name taped above his head – in his natural work habitat. This is what life looks like. This is why kids make everything so messy. You might want your living room to look like show room, but they actually live there, and they’re doing serious R&D, learning and creating.

Now I like a neat room and desk as much as anyone, and I’m a fan of the KonMari method, it’s really the only new system for organizing a home that has come up in my lifetime. But…before you have Einstein throw out all those pieces of paper that did not give him joy, he should probably figure out what his life is about. A clean house is not a sign of success…unless you are a housecleaner, in which case it is. If you’re a theoretical physicist or an entrepreneur, chances are where you spend your time is going to look like it does for these guys.

“Does quantum mechanics give me joy? Nein! God does not play dice!”

So which should you do first? You aren’t actually capable of determining whether you’ll find something – or how long you will search – not entirely. But you can make it your first priority to look for this. God loves you and wants you to know Him; He’s also given you gifts and abilities and connections and perspective that, all together, make you completely unique unlike any other person who has lived up until today. And He’s placed you in this broken world to face it, along with your own brokenness, so that you can partner with God in being part of the solution. God freed the Israelites, but He did it through Moses, and Aaron. In the same way, what are you here to partner with God to do? Some of you have a lot to work out with God first, but Jesus has already done all the impossible stuff, so all that’s left is to repent and ask and go forth. Peace.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

God already knows what you want, God already knows what you need, anyone who loved you and could see you would probably know these things so it’s not hard for God to know. And when a blind beggar named Bartimaeus yelled in the street and came up to Jesus it wasn’t hard for anyone to guess what he might want, yet Jesus asked him, and I think he’s asking you too:

Jesus’ question for Bartimaeus

Here’s your life, this is what you got, here’s where you are. There’s no use being miserable about it, or being proud of it, everything here is in a state of constant change. The real question is where do you want to go from here? What do you want God to do here?

The enemy in the Bible is pride. Not only is it unsightly to see and annoying to experience in someone else, it keeps us from doing the one thing that we actually need to do in order to walk with Jesus and see. Asking God means admitting we can’t do something. That we have inabilities. That we lack things that people talk about as basic skills: We can’t make friends. We can’t find people who love us. We can’t come through with simple promises. We can’t control our emotions. We can’t control our finances. We are not good at things we are supposed to be good at. Worse than that, we sometimes do the very things we condemn in other people and betray the love and trust of those who love us (see previous post about self-awareness).

God is not surprised. This is who you are. You’re a work in progress. But where do you want to go from there? Instead of ignoring the past or covering it up or blaming others for it, you need to know where you stand, then tell him what you want Him to do next.

The radical thing that happens when you start to do this… you stop complaining. You stop complaining about your neighbors, about your co-workers, about the people that let you down, about your parents, about your past, about the government, about everything. Just the way a professional tennis player doesn’t think:

“O crap why did the ball have to come that way? I was all ready over here, and then you have to go and hit the ball over there, what’s your problem Serena?”

The tennis player isn’t focused on what just happened, she is focused on “what can I do now?” For Jesus people, the question is “What can God do now?” Here we are, what do I want God to do?

This is Jesus, so he might say no, or come back with another question. But then your job is to get back to the main question this servant Jesus is asking you. God has a plan for your life, yes, but He’s not going to do it without you. His grand plan is to bring you along so that you’re a part of everything He does, so that you’re really a part of the family business.

How to grow…2019 edition: Part 1

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago: Self awareness is really important but it’s also very difficult. Why is it so difficult? In a preaching class in seminary I was required to preach a sermon in front of an audience. video tape it, watch the tape and make comments. I didn’t enjoy that. I didn’t want to hear my voice, I didn’t want to see my face, every cell in my body cringed just at the thought of it. You can probably understand or relate to how I felt, but let’s think about why: why wouldn’t I want to hear myself or see myself when that is what everyone else is hearing and seeing? I think what this meant was: I was fine with the stupid things I said and the stupid things I did…as long as I was unaware of them. It was like a conspiracy between my id and ego, “I’ll let you do your thing and look the other way, just make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt me.”

You might not do much public speaking, but if you can relate I think it’s because this is a part of our shared broken/fallen human condition. In James 1:23, the writer says God’s Word is like a mirror that shows us who we are, what we really look like, but the problem is we tend to look at the mirror and then promptly walk away and forget what we looked like. How come, what does the mirror show us?

Here’s the reason why self-awareness is so difficult:

When you truly see yourself, according to the Bible, you will see that you are not a good person.

We go through life with the polite fiction that we are all good and decent people, but the truth is that we are not… The puritan preacher in me makes me want to expand on that, but I won’t… the point is not to make you feel guilty.  More on that in a moment. …And so we take one look at ourselves in the mirror, cringe, and put the video away, shut it out of our minds…make a deal with our ego “I won’t bring this up so let’s pretend like this didn’t happen.” If some comes up to us with a camera or a mirror we yell at them to put it down; we hate those who remind us of our ugliness and flaws.

But God’s purpose is not to make us feel bad. The purpose of seeing ourselves is so that we can fix things, wash the bbq sauce off my cheek, the schmoo out of my eye, comb my hair. We use mirrors to show our flaws, not because we like our flaws, but because we dislike walking around with food in our hair enough that we are willing to look in the mirror and tidy up before we leave home. What this means is, as cringe as it may be to truly see ourselves, we have to hate sin more than we hate being humbled. We need to hate pride and how that looks on us more than we hate being caught in it. We need to hate faking, the feeling of faking, the smell of faking more than the embarrassment of catching ourselves faking.

The Gospel (lit. “good news”) is that we are broken and dirty, but God loves us; and as we admit we are broken and dirty he fixes and washes us clean.

The Christian understanding is that all of God’s life creating, world forming, sick person healing, power… the power with which Jesus died for Sins and came back to life – this power is now available to you to clean anything and to change anything to make it better. No, not just better, but GLORY-ous. But the only thing that could prevent that great loving power of God from helping you is…if you didn’t think you needed it. Because you were too caught up in the polite fiction that you are a decent person who just needs a little break now and then. The Bible says you are not a decent person, you are a sinner, and a traitor, and a fake, wander from God habitually… But God loves you, and just the way shepherds did in the old days, He brings you back and gives you what you need. If you’ve read this far, what you need now is to become self aware.

By the way it’s not all bad. After you get over the shock and embarrassment of seeing you as you are, and as you process things like Jesus’ forgiveness, God’s love, you will start to see things through His eyes. What’s that? Like a proud daddy looking at his beautiful baby, standing, taking a step, falling, getting cracky, spitting up food, knocking things over, mispronouncing the simplest words… He adores you. And that poo on your face and on the wall that made him gasp with disgust will be something to laugh about once you’re cleaned off. Because past all the dirty bits and broken parts of you, there is YOU. And you are unique. There is literally no one else in all of time who has the same combination of perspectives and abilities and experiences as you. So as God wipes you off, He’s looking at that. Then…it feels good to see yourself. So wipe off the dirt, fix the stupid stuff, and let’s get on with the business of growing.