The Awe of Heaven is Mercy

Any chance I have to write or have a conversation to talk about mercy, I take. Mercy is an astounding quality in God. The All Powerful restrains his judgment because of His goodness. God patiently withholds the full measure of punishment in favor of a loyal love for His creation, His friends, His Son’s Bride. God, who always catches us in the act of our sin, who knows every anxious and sinful thought, chooses compassion.

What got me thinking about all this is the mercy seat in the Old Testament and how this mercy seat is flanked by two cherubim facing one another while there wings hover over the mercy seat as a covering. And they there stand simultaneously in awe and in protection of the covering to the Ark of the Covenant.

Mercy seat - Wikipedia

I don’t want to get into a full blown theology lesson; we don’t have time for that. Nor do we really have time for information unless it leads to some type of encounter with God. Jesus himself says, ‘Go and find out what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (In other words I want the experience of loyalty in relationship over your constantly giving up things just to appease me).

So I will massively summarize any historical/metaphorical significance to say that the mercy seat is best understood as the covering to the covenant. It is the place of provision for those who would inevitably break the Old Covenant. Thus the mercy of God is the only provision for His people to avoid judgment.

Mary Magdelene sees her own glimpse of this in the tomb where 2 angels are sitting facing each other at the head and feet of where Jesus’ body had been lain. And all they ask is “Woman, why are you weeeping?” Likely because they are not sad but in awe.

I believe it is confounding for the angels to understand that God has made a provision through atonement for humans when there appears to be none made for angels. I believe they stand or sit in awe and in silence and reverence as they see a God who allows Himself to be wounded to make a way for His beloved.

I think they probably for a moment felt: “What is even the point of the covenant or the commands if You had a covering? Did You always intend to offer forgiveness through the shedding of the blood of Your Son? Was this always the plan, to cover them? Was this your ploy, to show them unmatched loyalty, love and kindness? Your wrath melted way by Your desire for mercy? How?”

I don’t think they can figure it out. I know we cannot figure out how it operates. Why does God desire to relieve us so, from the sin we choose? Why does he offer to place the blame elsewhere and give us an out by drawing us in to trade sin for Spirit?

All, so he can dwell in us, with us, close enough to breathe on us and through us. God has a seat of mercy so we will be seated with Him at His table, enjoying His presence and one another as we are forever enamored by the fact that He made, for us, a way.

Mercy is always making a way.

I Don’t Like What God Says

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”- Jesus Luke 6:27-28

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Jesus Luke 17:33

“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” -Jesus Luke 17:4

These are some things that I don’t like that Jesus tells me. To say nothing of the assurance of suffering. Comingled with there are promises of joy(one of the many likebale things Jesus also says).

I don’t like when God asks His people to wait an unknown amount of time. I don’t love trying to interpret the voice of the Spirit when God seems content to leave me in His mystery.

But I do like God’s nearness, God’s presence and God’s faithfulness when I am not faithful, which is why I think it wise to hear what He says and trust it and cherish it, even if it is cutting.

Because it is cutting. God does not coddle our sensibilities and push us to harm ourselves into further disobedience. He is willing to remove the poison, the sin, the plank through pain if it must be so. Usually, it must be so. We covet our sin under our scars and try to keep them there.

I, in my subconbscious imagine saying, “I have healed sufficiently, and this frequent painful blemish of sin is under the skin, and it would be too risky to remove it completely. So I will tolerate it longer.”

But God with a sword from his mouth is prepared to cut. He bypasses our itching ears which desire the next piece of positive affirmation or self-help advice for something a bit more raw and real and lasting. Thus Luke 17:33 paraphrased. “You’re comfort is less of my interest than your surrender because when you surrender, holy comfort will come.” A comfort where we become contented rather than left striving for more.

Yet we fear. I fear losing the things I’ve built which at this point is…. *looks around, reminding self of the things left behind, multiple times, recalling how I usually end up asking why and worrying until the next thing inevitably comes*… a wonderful library of books in garages and storage units all over New Jersey, amassed a collection of wrestling memorabilia in similar places and what of the stocks, and the places I’ve been and the experiences that no one can take from me. Ultimately though, who cares, they are vapors and God will test it all in the fire.

When all or most of it burns and we are left with some ashes, Jesus walks up to ledge of Flat Earth Heaven, looks down on us and shouts, “I will trade you those for beauty.”

He trades dead ends for pastures and narrow paths. He bottles the tears we sow, and somehow some day reap joy. He expands our capacity to fall fully into reciprical give and take forgivness. And he acknowledges and has endured human suffering so we can be assured we are not alone in our experience. And He doesn’t rush to deliver us from the temporal if it doesn’t keep us fixed on the eternal.

Does Donald Trump have a God problem? - BBC News

Which is why I think about other things I don’t like, empty promises, exploiting individual hopes for plastic prosperous amalgams of something that sound Christian or Christlike but is actually shallow self-aggrandizement, the willingness to change the service/servant and friendship language in Scripture for leadership because it sounds more important. I don’t like the way we exalt the already proud and promising individuals instead of looking at the heart of the humbled.

But it doesn’t really matter what I like. Unlucky for me, it’s not what I like (to quote the opposite of a song lyric). God likes uncomfortable things. He likes things we overlook. He likes things that have been counted out and invites them to banquets. He also likes faithfulness in spite of reasons to give up. He likes people who take steps in faith and He rewards those who share in his suffering.

I don’t always like what God says, but I do love who He is because He is undeniably good.

No is Rejection, Now What?

You ever tell someone how you are feeling, and then they try to reinterpret what your feeling or what you’ve experienced? Let me reassure you, when people do that they are usually wrong for doing it. The past month I have had a handful of conversations where people have been frustrated by my description of rejection and have tried to say something along the lines of, “you shouldn’t take this as a rejection.”

They are basically saying, “just lie to yourself until you feel better,” instead of what would be helpful. What is helpful when someone is rejected is to say, “how can you move past this with hopeful expectation so that this rejection need not be destructive to your identity or living well?” Granted that is a lot more to say but much more helpful than minimizing someone’s experience.

When one tries to reinterpret someone elses rejection as something other than what it actually is, it can leave the rejected person stuck. In hope for some immediate relief, we deprive someone of dealing with grief sufficiently even in the smallest disappointments. We can muddy things that are clear.

And honestly, I don’t blame them. Most people are not trained to deal with loss, disappointment, or rejection. Popular psychology and some churches proclaim a message where we ignore the reality of rejection or loss in favor of some kind of fantasy faith in which we are asked to pretend that if we are positive enough, and work hard enough, then wealth, health, and happiness will pile up. They manage to hold this position whilst ignoring other contributing factors or the exploitation of the unseen other in favor of keeping a plastic divinity.

That’s enough of that soap box. Suffice is to say rejection is a part of Christianity.

Luke 10:16 Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.

The word reject here is the Greek Word atheteo. And it means a lot of things, many of which are more gently phrased then you’d expect. It means: to un-place, to properly do away with, reject what is already laid down, to set aside, nullify, make void, to break faith, refuse to respect, to cancel, to disannul, to disregard, to pass over or to refuse to acknowledge.

Hopefuly in the extensiveness of the definition, you don’t lose sight of the point. It’s simply saying no to someone or to a circumstance that is put before you. It is laying aside what’s before you, asking it to move out of the way. It becomes harmful when we try to couch rejection as something partial, for instance, I want parts of a person but don’t want to deal with all of them. Or when we say, I want the icing and not the cake. One does not get the luxury of rejecting the part without rejecting the whole.

12 ways to practise self-acceptance - Increase your happiness with personal  growth - happiness.com

Wanting to say no to a person or opportunity and still wanting the good parts at one’s disposal is selfish. Saying no is agreeing to relinquish any hold. It would be like saying to Jesus, I want the benefits but not the bloody death. I want salvation or the person of Christ to be an invincible Superhero not a vulnerable God. When we project that onto others or opportunities which are always imperfect, we essentially rip a person apart when we are asking only for their best parts.

Don’t get me wrong, it is completely fine to reject or pass over on a person or opportunity. That is not as much the issue as the lack of self-reflection in being able to recognize why or even who you are rejecting. I don’t think most people think about this. I think most people think through the lens of will this hinder me from something or someone better. We are trapped by faith fantasies and avoid being careful or loving toward the person in front of us.

When we are presented with what’s in front of us, instead of taking the other into consideration we treat them like a mirror and immediately evaluate what we get out of this situation. And instead of giving them vulnerability or honesty, we condescendingly applaud their attempts, recount what led us to a particular juncture and secretly hope that everyone moves on or worse that things stay exactly the same. And usually we do one of the two. Humanity has proven resilient in the face of rejection. People recover.

With that being said, I’d like to offer advice when it comes to receiving and giving rejection. This blog is usually never practical but today it is.

1. Offer a why. Do the work of knowing why to the degree that you can honestly say you treated that person with dignity. Whether you’re an employer or a single person, treat people like you care for them without treating them like a child that went on the potty for the first time. If you know why someone is not what you’re looking for, maybe tell them (let it be known there is a scale, if a rando is asking you out or if the job is flipping burgers or there hasn’t been a human interview/interaction, I get it.

2. Be as honest as possible. Don’t leave anything on the table for a later conversation if it is within your power to finish what you’ve set in motion by rejection. If you are uncertain, also say why. Allow the person to speak to your reservations

3. Care for the person in front of you. Don’t pander to their manipulation if they are manipulating or trying to get you to feel guilty, but also don’t pander to what makes you most comfortable. Caring for someone else is a labor of love that does not go unnoticed.

4. If possible and within reason, point people to other opportunities. Honestly, if I was trying to hire someone for a job and knew someone had skills and interests in other things or knew someone who was looking for someone like this person, I wouldn’t want to deprive them from other opportunities especially if they are good. Now apply that same reasoning to relationships. Also, keep care in mind, don’t pass someone off to a trainwreck of a situation. Maybe you know someone who would be perfect for that person. And if you wouldn’t set up the person your rejecting up with their worst enemy then you probably don’t need to say that, but in some cases it might not hurt to insinuate that.

5. Don’t just have a generic email of “you were an extraordinary candidate but we went with someone else” because that is not helpful. A good metric to know what to say ususally corresponds with how long the interview process was. What did you put the person through prior to your rejection? The “I see you as just a friend” line is good for protecting you but not very helfpul if you have no reason for giving someone time to get to know them. Don’t feed someone a tried and true line that has worked for someone you met once. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but none of those exceptions excuse you from in humility considering others better than yourselves according to the method of imitating Jesus laid out in Philippians 2:3-4, if one calls themselves apart of the family of faith.

I say all this to suggest there are bad reasons to reject people and opportunities. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to not think about the other people involved, and while I know grace covers it, we miss out on an opportunity to be conduits of grace when we are flippant about our rejection. I also say all this to suggest that rejection from humans is not the worst thing in the world but rejecting Jesus is.

If you’re rejected, Jesus invites you into good company. Accepting rejection and moving foward can free you to find new opportunity and new people who will perhaps treat who you are with tender love and care. I pray for your strength on the journey friends.

Assiduous and the Open Doors

I don’t know what your philosophy is on coming up with a word for the year, but I like them more than resolutions because my self-discipline is poor. For example I just had a glass bottle coke, burger and fries, 5 days into a health and fitness challenge. It was my cheat meal for the 20 seconds of High Intensity exercise I did 3 days ago. Resolutions can be manipulated, given up on, become burdensome. Words or what I historically have believed about them have meaning, are somewhat fixed except for the few that can mean multiple things. Words we learn, and typically, don’t lose them, although I can’t remember the word I picked 3 or 4 years ago. No wait, I just did as I wrote that last sentence. The word was Emprise.

I typically try to land on a word I previously did not know the definition of, which is why this year I discovered the word Assiduous while google searching “extreme patience”. Though that is not the definiton of assiduous.

Assiduous means: showing great care and perseverance, marked by careful unremitting attention or persistent application.

I’m not sure I could pick a word that describes me equally more and less. When I am focussed or desire something enough, I usually show some measure of perseverance and care. But equally as much, when I am uncertain and confused I can let things fall by the wayside.

For example I’m not sure I will finish this blog post. Not because I don’t want to write, rather because I feel internal angst as I write it. I want the uncertain pit in my stomach to go away. I want to have an answer to the question of open doors.

I ran into a minister I interviewed with for a chuch position here in Charleston last week. I withdrew my name from consideration right before Christmas, and shortly after, they decided to make a hire. I debate whether I should have stuck it out and waited for an answer, but if there is one thing I have learned from people as of late, it’s that answers change, and they change quickly. Perhaps, it is a symptom of our world and its current state. Perhaps we are overexposed. Or perhaps we just don’t want to know.

I talked to a friend this past weekend for over 2 hours over the course of 2 days about a seeming indecision he was having. I thought through our conversation we made progress regarding his decision, yet he essentially did nothing about it (one could say he did the opposite).

So much of life or arguably all of it is actually not determined by solely our decisions. However, it does not excuse our decisions. We decide if we will show great care and perseverance. We decide if we will give our unremitting attention and persistent application to something or someone. And we also decide not to, which brings me to thinking about “open doors.”

Open door Painting by Linda Karslake | Saatchi Art

You know how your supposed to knock on a bathroom door or stall just in case someone on the other side didn’t lock it. I hardly ever knock, not because I’m consciously wanting to walk in on someone pooping, but because I always lock the door. There are times when I lock the door and am about to go the bathroom, and then go back and check the nob just in case. I expect an open door until someone locks or closes it. There are also some doors I don’t open, some doors in some instances I never open. Like the door to a strip club, I would never walk through that, a vape shop, 99% likely not to open that door. Any store involving hunting. At this stage of a life, unfortunately, I still have no reason to open a door to a jewelry store.

And then there are some doors, I do knock on because I am unsure. I am not sure it will open or if am welcome or expected. Usually, those doors I am more aware of the uncertainty within myself. I fear some level of consequence if the door does not open or want to avoid some level of sadness. But those doors, the ones with the most risk of being disappointed by, usually have the most potential for joy. So I knock on them, and I hope.

And then I imagine those looking on, watching me approach some doors and the ones I walk through and the ones that are locked and wonder what they might be thinking watching all this. I wonder how often they say, that is the door you should be knocking on or walking through. Or even, that is the door to the room or space you should stay in for a while. Maybe, you should be assiduous in that space, in that place, with that person. And maybe you should rest and work and find rhythm right here in this green pasture, besides those still waters.

And maybe, if we do that, our patience will just might feel like delight.

Is Our Fire Grace or Compulsion?

The things that we say and the things that we do when stripped of there cover should probably bear greater consideration. From a motives stand point, I think it is important to be clear what we hope to get out of our requests. From a statement standpoint, I don’t think complaining or accusing are enduring ways to get both what we want and to be satisfied with what we have. Additionally, listening feels like it has become like art, optional, unless perceived as a utility for “good”.

That leaves us with loud shouting about things we want to change which is met with a total lack of patience to hear what the other actually needs. The effect is division, which outside of Christ should come as no surprise at all. Jesus’ statement that he came to bring division among households should not leave us surprised when there are divisions over politics. Jesus, mind you also gave a stern warning to his disciples about politics. After performing wonderful miracles of feeding the hungry, Jesus in a boat tells the disciples, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees (Legalism with love) and the leaven of Herod (impure political power)”

In other words don’t rely on your perfect performance to be a vehicle for provision, also don’t rely on the imperfect promises of false power to supply you what you need. Putting faith in either leaves you empty, enraged and unsteady.

But, what of those with even the purest motives? Like you.

What if your everyday decisions and best efforts are to be zealous for the Lord? Well, I have a story.

In my Bro’s Bible Study we are reading 1 Kings, specifically the stories of Elijah, the prophet who is taken up to heaven in a chariot tornado, who before that, has a seemingly unprovoked showdown at Mount Carmel. I say unprovoked, but Elijah is angered by being accused that he is one who is ruining Israel. (Who do you think is ruining your nation? a question worth asking of yourself) Instead, Elijah responds with an accusation (Who do you want to accuse?) “No it was you and your father’s family. Now get everybody together and let’s have a good ol fashioned God-off.”

Photo: Fire in the sky - Need to Know | PBS

He organizes a gathering, and then after his rivals fail, he prays an interesting prayer. He asks for fire to fall on his sacrifice (What are we willing to sacrfice or allow to burn to prove a point? And should we?), “Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” God seems to answer the prayer, fire falls and then some people worship God (I think?), and Elijah commands the people to kill (Are you also willing to kill to get what you want? See James 4:2-3) a bunch of prophets of a false god.

I read that story and then read what follows, and wonder what did God actually want from Elijah or anyone at this time in history? Because in the next chapter, the nation is unchanged, Jezebel, the queen calls for the death of Elijah, Ahab, the King is fine with it, and Elijah seemingly throws in the towel and asks to die. Why? I think it is because he does not get what he expects.

In asking for the spectacle, which he did get, the result was not the immediate change of heart for the nation or its leadership. Quite frankly, I don’t know that God gave any indication to what Elijah’s expectation should have been. (Maybe the expectation should be, the nation is fallen and broken. It sucks, it’s not as a great a place to live as you hoped it would become. You’re expecting far too much of your leaders and the kingodms of this world and far too little of your God and His Kingdom to come and is in part here).

How, on a personal level might one apply this if one has completely ignored my parentheticals thus far, you might ask? I’ve wanted the spectacle, the fire, the moment that changes everything. I’ve wanted to have at least a clear answer. I want people to name my feelings for me rather than denying them or muddling the waters with indecision or deferment. Yet, God wants faith and friendship.

In 1 Kings 19 God isn’t in wind, fire, or earthquakes, He comes in whispers. Just prior to that he comes with a meal and an offer of rest. (Maybe God doesn’t get mad at us for not working a steady job for 3 months. Maybe He’s not evaluating whether that makes us worthy of love, worth getting to know, evaluating whether we’re lazy or indecisive or stubborn or bitter. Maybe He just was dying to love us and enjoy ys and hope that we’d enjoy Him and His people).

Then God gives instruction on how to finish well because all the zeal and effort has not led to the desired outcome or output. Elijah complains that it has all been so inefficient, yet God sees the future and sees what this was meant to set up. Just as Moses only led the Israelites during the wilderness leg of the journey just to transfer Promise Land leadership to Joshua, Elijah transfers a double portion to Elisha, anoints new kings and receives the promise that 7,000 prophets were being raised up while Jezebel had her eyes fixed on trying to kill one (Elijah) whom God protected.

Sometimes, or honestly, all the time, God is far less concerned in what you can accomplish then if you are willing to stay in step with Him and release the sense of accomplishment in favor of obedience and friendship.

I think at times Elijah and we put God in a position where we are trying to compel him to act. We potentially back ourselves into a corner and ask God to perform when in reality He has left room for us to take steps of faith and spend time in communion with Him without fear of or desire for death (something to end).

But things do end and usually, there is grace in that too.