Willing But So Weak

I had one of those deathbed Jesus moments last week. I was with a patient while they died whom was reconciled to God the week before. I did not save the man, all I did was remind him that God was willing to forgive him because of the work of Jesus Christ.

All I could write, after the patient expired just prior to 3:00 AM was, “I watched a man live.” Dying and living and dying and living again. This is what we profess as Christians. We reincarnate twice as new versions of ourselves. The first time we likely look no different(spiritual new birth). The last time we are promised a glorified body to house an eternal spirit.

In between we die a thousand little deaths, with a thousand degrees of heartbreak, with a thousand more disappointments, mingled with hundreds of thousands of things to be grateful for. Our life becomes challenged by what we are willing to focus on. Do we choose to focus on that which brings us life and light or the things that remind us of our dark and weakness?

H7AwHxA

What we focus on dictates how we live out our salvation. Will I barely make it through each day or will I function in faith and confidence in the power of the Spirit?

My first learning goal in chaplaincy formation was to become comfortable with death/loss. I’m changing it to become more acquainted with resurrection life after death and loss. Little joy is to be found in the losing and the dying, perhaps none. The hope of the resurrection is what our lives need when we are consumed by our own weakness. The alternative is to fixate on our dying disappointments that intrude on our endeavor to live and love.

I Am So Weak

Admittedly, amid this endeavor, I am so weak. I am increasingly more aware of my sin-f-illness, accruing the debt of its deadly wages.

When will I stop paying what I cannot afford to give?

Are there any riches I have saved in an eternal account toward the wealth of knowing Christ?

If I have any wealth from heaven, I would like to invest it in service to the Bridegroom Christ who is both my Creditor and Debt Payer, in the prospect of marriage and family, in service to the Bride, the Church. Treading on bankruptcy in Spirit does not seem to offer the generous hand I hope to give.

Yet here I am, a chaplain, who prays daily with people teetering between their first life and final breath, some trying to make restitution for their next inhale, hoping to love better or love more or love longer. I try to assist them in their desire as I forget my own failure to also love better, love more and love longer. Only to become more self-aware of ineptitude in the torment of my own ego.

I am willing to experience more freedom and wholeness at any cost. But does it ever cease to feel like I grasp at ethereal concepts? I want reality, but I am weak. I want love and to give it, but I am weak. I want to let go, but I am weak. I need help because I am weak. But I am willing for the Spirit of Christ to intervene. Maranatha

Wealthy Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy…”

I believe you can tell how rich and deep someone’s faith is by how generous they are with mercy. I believe this because according to God’s sense of justice, people deserve harsh consequences for their wrongs, yet God is slow to deal judgment. In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul lays out what God’s rich mercy has meant for us. Destined for death as subjects of God’s wrath, we obtain a wealth of mercy, so we would experience the glory of relationship with God the Father.

Mercy pays a debt.

Mercy endures your wrong and the pain it caused, and instead of delegating the punishment we deserve to us, it says, “I’m withholding what you deserve in this moment because I desire to keep what we had prior to your wrong.”

1909736_507810336929_8035_n

I also believe for me and for many, mercy is harder to understand than grace. We associate grace as a gift for the helpless. With grace we are given something we have not earned. With mercy we exercise supreme self-control to not give someone what they have earned. A person has earned my anger even my extrication, yet I choose to process my pain, surrender it to Jesus, and offer consistent love in return.

While mercy is a gift, it is not a given or a guarantee, but Jesus compels us to store up a treasure of mercy guarded by thick skin while maintaining tenderness of heart. Mercy while giving the appearance of being trampled on is displayed by the one who has not been conquered or consumed by someone else’s hurt. It requires a resolve of strength and transparency that is soaked in a peace that can only come from the Word and breath of God.

Mercy is costly.

And often we don’t know the price tag the person who delegates it has paid. And sometimes we take for granted how much it is worth when we fail to see the value in the one offering it. Humanity does this in abundance with the common mercy that God maintains in patience with a fallen world.

Mercy absorbs rejection.

Yet mercy also abhors rejection because to reject mercy is to choose suffering. I am presented with an option in relation to God the Father and the other. I choose to receive a freely given mercy or I choose to stew in the suffering of my own sin. This second option is not viable, it is not reliable.

Mercy is my only hope.

I don’t know if you can say mercy is your only hope, but I am willing to bet it is whether you are aware or not. My only view of survival let alone thriving or revival is through mercy. I need a mercy that triumphs over judgment because my pronouncement over my actions is to abandon self. But God so rich in mercy…

Mercy is free for the one willing to receive it

The only way to be liberal with mercy is for either God or you or someone else to pay the cost.

Who will you let pay that cost?

What if you could run and not grow weary?

I heard that voice of the Holy Spirit that is so familiar, so tenderhearted, so full of hope, this past Sunday.

It got me good.  The question I heard asked of me was: “What if you could run and not grow weary?”

It was from Isaiah 40:31 “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Depending on the translation you read that word trust is interchanged with hope or wait, and really, all 3 are pretty good words to convey a posture of having strength renewed by God by stopping business or bustling.

Most of us don’t mind walking and many of us dream of flying, but only some people actually like running. My theory as to why is 1) it’s kind of boring, 2) it’s definitely tiring  3) it kind of hurts your legs and 4) to be good at it you really have to build up a lot of endurance and do it regularly.

Someone reading that disagrees with most of what I just wrote and loves running and I’m cool with that, but at least admit you’re a bit of a weirdo.

I digress, God spoke to me! God asked me a question that took me to the mountain for a day until I encountered my own sin the next day and felt bad, only to consistently remind me of the question playing on repeat in my head:

“What if you could run and not grow weary?”

In 2 Thessalonians 3:13 and Galatians 6:9, the apostle Paul exhorts his readers to not grow weary in doing good because in due season we will reap if we do not give up. Hebrews 12:3 exhorts us to consider the hostility Jesus endured in order to continue to wage war against sin so we won’t grow weary. Just prior to verse 3 the writer of Hebrews talks about running laying aside sin and weights that entangle us to endure through the race looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.

God doesn’t want us to be a weary people. In fact he wants me to find energy in walking in the good works that God prepared beforehand for me to walk in (Eph. 2:10). There is rest to be found in obedience. Sure there is suffering, but in suffering for the gospel there is also a promise of joy.

But there are also some pretty amazing implications of being able to run and not grow weary.

Quit Nice

I’m continuing with a theme of pulling back a curtain of pretension. Perhaps my recent posts have provided some insight into an unintentional social experiment that is now becoming more intentional. I’ve chosen to cut back significantly on being nice.web_logo_large

In part, this might be a reaction to the smiley, often pretentious culture that the south gets billed for. But also because niceness defined as agreeable, pleasant and satisfactory is not enough. If you swim in this territory, I find you relinquish identity, vulnerability and the ability to tell people “no” or let them go.

Kindness however which Scripture admonishes us towards is to be generous and considerate of the other but also for ourselves.

When was the last time you were generous or considerate to yourself in order to better serve another?

Sometimes being generous and mindful of your own being requires confronting or outright rejecting the behavior of someone else. I’m confident that Jesus did this and continues to do this with relationships. Reject destructive behavior in order to restore relationship. I bold-faced the important part in case you don’t like the rejection of the destructive behaviors piece.

I did not come up with this advice. I had to be told this by my friend Hannah. Hannah is awesome. She’s a straight-forward woman who has her Masters in Theology, watches pro-wrestling, likes the Yankees, Super-Heroes, Harry Potter, Disney, cats and dogs and doesn’t tolerate BS and will let you know if you are trying to feed it to her. She’s engaged and if I don’t go to her wedding she would murder me mentally.

I don’t want Hannah to do that, in part because I am mildly fearful of her but also because Hannah is both honest and cares. I wouldn’t call her nice honestly, she also  wouldn’t want to be called nice. But she does take ownership of what’s hers and recognizes misuse and selfishness.

She isn’t afraid to tell you to cut people out, which I have now had to do twice in the last month. She isn’t afraid to tell you to stop doing something and don’t do that again because when you do it you suck. Those things don’t feel nice but they might be right.

It’s something we are empowered to do without changing our internal identity. You can still be an extremely loving and loyal Jesus follower without being overly nice. In fact you do this better when you refuse to subject yourself to the unchecked mistreatment from another human, especially a Christian.

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

Feargiveness

Sorry for cursing in my last entry. I’m not much of a verbal curser. I probably curse 10 times a year. I had a swear jar at work when I worked in construction where I put a quarter in every time I cursed or every time someone thought they heard me curse. There were six quarters in it over the course of close to two years, two of those quarters because I accidentally said curse words in Portuguese. I don’t curse because I love words too much. I don’t want to waste them. When I do curse, I am confident God will forgive me and hope I don’t take forgiveness for granted.

With that said, let me tell you about the hell of a night I had.

Chaplaincy can be utterly terrifying. After working a normal 8-hour day of visiting patients and family, I responded to two calls that occupied my time from 6:45pm-midnight.dvinfernohomerclassicpoets_m

The first call, a patient was dying, 20-25 family members gathered in the ICU.  I prayed with the patient and most of the family before they removed his breathing tube, then after he passed away I prayed for the family. The two minutes I walked away from the room was when he died. I walked up moments after feeling goose bumps from the changed air of one less person present. Death is still surreal to me.

There was a part of me that wanted to be in the room when it happened, but someone dying also feels kind of like an intimate moment. Afterwards I stood around, got ice waters for family, tried to remain available and then 45 minutes later, I left.

I got a call from the switch board operators to visit another patient who was not dying but wanted to see a chaplain at the other hospital (the one I sleep at). I drove back, stopped at Taco Bell (where else? I had a coupon I had to use). And arrived on the patient’s floor at 10 pm.

And I walked into darkness. You’d think being in a situation where there is death is dark, but what’s darker than bodily death is walking into a room that smells of cigarette smoke body odor from someone who is somewhere between alcohol withdrawals and dehydration. main-qimg-d00c0f2057a768e32f242967ccfed9a8-c.jpg

He also took an hour and a half to tell me his life story in third person, which consisted of getting saved, going to prison, solitary confinement, being a bouncer for a strip club, getting married five times, having 7 sons from different wives, persistent substance abuse, witnessing a church bus driver molest a 9 year-old girl, paying for his son to have a failed threesome on his birthday, 18 consecutive seizures, renouncing Jesus and probably something else I missed. (He gave me permission to share his story, but part of me wishes I never heard it)

We prayed, he worshipped Jesus for 6 minutes or so while I sat and thought about how nice it would be to go to sleep in a world where shit like this didn’t exist (also I literally just wanted to go to sleep). Instead of sleeping I wrote about it at 1 am trying to find God in it.

Instead, or perhaps in showing Himself to me I have this Scripture from Psalm 130:3-4 making rounds in my head:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I’ll be honest, after hearing the guys story I kind of felt like this guy doesn’t deserve salvation. I then reflected on my own life and realized I also don’t deserve salvation.

But one terrifying attribute of God is the depth and length of forgiveness Jesus Christ offers us. Most of us aren’t even fully aware of the depths of our sin. For some us, the surface sins are enough to overwhelm us.

Forgiveness terrifies me because if God is real and is as holy and good as He says He is, the psalmist of #130 is right, if God kept a tally of how much mine and your actions suck, we wouldn’t be able to stand. If I kept a tally of how much the actions of some people I would like to call friends suck, I would cut them off completely.

Instead of fearing the implications of forgiveness, we are tempted become users. I let myself be so used by some people. But, so does God in ever greater quantity and in darker depths of quality. God ascribes purpose to the blood of his Son. That costly blood cleanses our guilt, our conscience only for us to likely use again, to accidentally attempt to re-crucify.

Okay maybe you don’t, but I do. And yet I have tried to make it my job to minister forgiveness to people in the midst of their filthy, shit-stained, sulfur-scented dump heap of a life as they drain oxygen from this fallen world.

Yet in that darkness, in that pit Jesus promises to reach in and love us with a light that is simultaneously as bright as the day and as subtle as the flicker of a single firefly in a field at night.

During the minutes in which this patient of mine uttered the words, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you for your presence again,” on repeat; I sat there tired, numb, wondering what I am also most afraid of.

Foolish Loyalists And Prophets

Now is as good a time as any to question which of your loyalties are hindering you. It’s also a good time to question the messages you’re listening to. I’m not talking about becoming a paranoid cynical skeptic because those kinds of people tend to lean into the most uncomfortable, unhelpful assumptions of their paranoia.

51TG6QOO1CL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_

What I am calling into question is what we are quick to believe and who we are quick to defend. Our current American climate I think supplies some evidence to the danger of our foolishness. It’s too easy to take a side of what we feel are our only options. And we become staunch about our side glossing over its potential or obvious evil.

It’s amazing confounding how quick we are willing to discard accountability if it will delay our desire, whether we’ve questioned the validity of our desire or not. It’s amazing confounding how quick we are to demand justice from an institution that consistently proves to us is broken and flawed. It’s disheartening to see how we (me included) so often subject our faith in Jesus to the performance of people.

We only have one perfect savior, and it wasn’t someone in your family or the subject of your romantic affection, or your political or judicial candidate. This doesn’t mean we cease our loyalties or our prophecies.

It does mean, however, that every one of our loyalties and prophecies are foolish.

See the Apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of the Gospel and the foolishness of preaching as the sole way we receive our deliverance and salvation. The thought that God would have his son murdered as the way we come out of this thing eternally alive is a foolish yet an astounding reality.

The command to faithfully pursue the unity of faith within the Body, the Church despite our persistent division and struggle to love seems foolish especially in light of familiar and frequent accusation. But we need the exposing and expelling of darkness as we acknowledge our need for one another’s light. This is the eternal benefit of confession, another foolish invention of God.

images

How does admitting my sins contain with it the potential for healing and restoration?

How does being immersed in water bear any evidence on our faith?

How does our love for one another provoke the love of the unfaithful?

 

I don’t have a succinct answer to any of these, but I also know from what I watch and what I read outside of Scripture is individuals we elect don’t know either. They are bound by constituencies, lobbyists and emotions probably more-so than most of us. And the worldly wisdom each of us espouse is flawed.

But Jesus, that sweet loyalty to Him and the foolish prophecy that He is busy reconciling the world to Himself patient for our devotion is audacious. It is real and raw, foolish but completely freeing. When I subtly perceive this kind of loyalty in others that forsakes every other affection, I am left convinced of the goodness and genuine love of God.

Our willingness to look foolish for the Gospel (knowing the true gospel required) contains a great reward. The reward is receiving and revelating love in greater ways.

You become rich in love.