God’s Full Refund Offer

It seems like such a stretch…no…an impossibility, for us to accept what God really desires from us and for us: Not a list of commands we can tick off like the rich guy in Matthew (19:16), not a quick rote prayer on our way to more important things, not a list of complaints we keep bringing to him until they are heard and remedied.

And so, here we are, stuck in our miserable small lives, blaming our unhappiness on God or some inept human and demanding the universe be reordered in our favor! All the while, we seem to be oblivious to life’s special moments with friends and loved ones, majestic sunsets, breathtaking rainbows, the pure pleasure of chocolate, and most of all, a magnificent life full of richness and purpose. All planned out for us by a God who doesn’t do ordinary and never did.

Do you ever think about why we stay stuck there? I believe we are afraid of intimacy. Deny it, poo-poo it, thumb your nose at it. But think about it. Keeping ourselves at arm’s length from our relationship with God and others requires nothing from us. Intimacy is too scary. But surprisingly, it too makes no demands. By its nature, it cannot demand.

Intimacy is the love relationship modeled for us by the Father and his beloved Son through the work of the Spirit. It is self-emptying and gratuitous. It seeks the best for others over our own wants and needs. It is life-giving and what God longs for with each of us. He beacons us into a relationship with him, and he will court and swoon and get all mushy over us until we let go of our fears. But intimacy requires trust and vulnerability, and we’re terrified of being vulnerable and exposing our weaknesses. Yeah, I tried that once and got smacked silly. No thanks. If we could just realize that vulnerability is not a character flaw to be conquered. It is integral to our relationship with God and is meant to be transforming. It means accepting and loving who we truly are, sins and all. It is birthed in the grace of God, not shame.

We continually believe that we’re not good, perfect, or “holy” enough.  Who told us that? I can think of several people in my life, beginning with my parents, especially my mother. Countless more people have been eager to reinforce that lie over the years. It’s incredible when you think about it, that we allow other broken people to define us and determine our worth. Then point to them when we try to prove to God that we are not worthy of love.

Truth be told, it’s the ego that holds us back, which is a paradox, actually. The ego is our sacred cow. And yet, we live this meager, paltry, desolate life tethered to our fears while pumping up our false selves for display to anyone who threatens our fragile sense of self. I wasted so many years trying to defend myself against the lies and blamed God for all my misery. In my lowest moments, I accused him of not caring, “If you loved me, where were you when I needed you?! What was I supposed to think when you were silent while my mother abused me?”  More silence. “Yeah, I thought so.” Proving my point, I could go off and do what I damn well pleased. You’re on your own, Linda. I’m pretty sure God was silent in those moments because he knew I was a hot mess, that my heart was too closed off to hear him. I wasn’t interested in healing; I just wanted him to bring down fire and brimstone on everyone else.

Fear makes no sense. It denies us a loving, generous, merciful, forgiving, extraordinary relationship with God, and in turn, with others. Instead, we settle for crumbs. We live in defiance of our truth because it seems impossible to believe that God would really “desire” our broken, self-centered, imperfect selves. What Glennon Doyle calls “this crappy version of ourselves.”  Instead of embracing it, we give up trying because it’s just too hard to be the flawless human we’ve been led to believe God requires. We’re sure that we are a disappointment to him. That he’s tallying up all our transgressions. That nothing gets past him. It’s really annoying.

Fear has a source that God continually warns us about. I love this quote from John Eldridge:

When we don’t believe in our blessedness, we begin to doubt and fear, just as Peter did when Jesus invited him to walk on the water (Matt 14:29), and that’s just where Satan wants us. So, how do we get beyond that? How do we learn to embrace; to love what God sees in us? Perhaps we should start with this truth: Even if your parents failed to love you well, it’s okay. It really is okay. You are okay because you already possessed an innate capacity to love and be loved before God formed you in your mother’s womb. Our mothers, no matter if they love us well or totally suck at nurturing, are not the creators of our essence. That distinction is God’s alone. Got that? Let that soak in.

I was able to begin my long journey of change when I came face-to-face with this God who seems to forget our offenses even when we can’t. Not a change that signifies accomplishment but a change that allows me to embrace my messiness, brokenness, and imperfections.

One of my most powerful growth moments came when I realized that my mother, my mean, abusive mother, was loved by God. But, sadly, she was never able to grasp her truth. When I was younger, I hated her and told her so. She lived and died, never having known the person God longed for her to accept and embrace as His beloved daughter. What I wouldn’t give to have her back. What I wouldn’t give to offer her the forgiveness and love that I now know. But when she was alive, I was too lost and broken myself. God knows that and has been relentless in his pursuit of my heart so that I could forgive myself and offer his love to others. I honestly feel that the moment I could forgive my mom, even though it was long after she died, our spirits connected and that mysterious, mystical love of God transcended all our barriers and healed our hearts. I could deeply sense it even though I couldn’t explain it. Of course, as soon as you try to “explain” mystery, it is no longer mystery.

When we allow ourselves to open our hearts to God, the magic begins. Suddenly, our worldly longings don’t seem so significant. We stop demanding anything from anyone, ourselves included. If we can get just a tiny taste of the peace and indescribable joy God will bring to our lives when just sitting in his presence becomes everything, it is tantamount to heaven because it is heaven.

Jesus said to all with ears to hear, which has never been many, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (my emphasis). Luke 17:21. You don’t have to strive for it or wait till you die.

Saint Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.  Conversely, the joy of Satan is man sound asleep. Are we even aware that there is a battle raging in the very depth of our hearts that is continuous and unrelenting? Jesus warned about it, but we’re not listening because we don’t think it applies to us. Why is that? How much of scripture do you believe is meant for us today; is intended to be a guidepost for how we should live and move and have our being? And how much do we toss away as irrelevant? That, my friends, is Satan at his most cunning. Like that pesky snake in the garden, “Oh, come on, you don’t really believe all that stuff do you?! God wants you to have a fun-filled life with no worries! Party on, munchkins”.

Jesus warned his followers then and warns us now, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you and me included) may have life and have it to the full.” John10:10. Do you feel like you’re living your fullest life possible, that you are the best version of yourself? Or does it feel like one hurdle after another to overcome, barriers and heartaches and detours that wear you down?

I believe God has a challenge for you if you’re willing to give him a chance. Ready?

“Try me out for thirty days. When you arise in the morning, come talk to me first. Read some scripture, tell me what’s on your mind, what breaks your heart. You may already be doing that, but, I would ask you to go deeper because this is where it gets real. Give me ten or fifteen quiet minutes of your time without expecting anything. Then, if you don’t feel something stirring within you (by the way, that would be Me), I will give you your miserable life back! What do you say?” – God

I see you there, thinking, “Yeah, been there, done that, and got lost in a maze of “rules and regulations” from days gone by. I’m busy, and this is complicated. Can you just give me the bullet points?” I think we have the notion that God doesn’t understand our obsession with bullet points in this hurried life we live. Look how we are drawn to articles that provide 5 Easy Steps to _________ (fill in the blank). Actually, four would be better. Just get to the point! For example:

4 Easy Steps to permanent weight loss (I could offer this in 1 Easy Step):

  • Stop eating crap. BAM! See how easy that is?

And reading scripture? Really?! How many attempts have you made to read the Old Testament before your eyes glazed over? Exactly.  If God could just make this easier. Actually, he did. Perhaps he made it too easy, and we can’t wrap our minds around something so simple. Ready?

1 Easy Step to permanent peace and joy:

  • “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 – Any questions?

 And this, dear ones, is what I hope and pray for you:

You are NOT Going to Heaven

Oops. Did you just spit your coffee on that new white shirt? Sorry. My bad.

While you’re cleaning up there and before I go any further, I think a disclaimer may be in order. Everything I say about God, aside from my own personal experience, is my humble opinion and has no basis in fact. What did you pay for that opinion? Nothing. So, what is it worth? That’s right. Nothing.

So let’s continue.

There are many different beliefs and opinions concerning heaven and hell. But, there is only one fact: no matter what someone tells you or what “proof” they provide, no one knows. No different than a recent conversation I had with a friend who collects clowns. She thinks they’re delightful and enchanting. However, I actually believe some satanic force created them to kill us in our sleep. So, who’s right? (I’m pretty sure I am, but I have no proof of that either.)

So, if your bubble just burst or your halo deflated, I apologize. But this is kind of important stuff to consider because if heaven and hell aren’t an actual piece of real estate, then maybe your reason for being nice, or not, to the jerk next door needs to be reevaluated. And, spoiler alert, this will not be easy or fun.

Heaven 

This is not heaven!

And this is not hell!

Diana Butler Bass speaks of this idea of heaven and hell as “vertical faith”. She says, “Sacred traditions replete with metaphors of God in the elements were replaced by modern theological arguments – about facts and religious texts, correct doctrine, creation versus science, the need to prove God’s existence, how to be saved, and which church offers the right way to heaven. These are the questions of vertical faith.”

So, when it is said that we make our own heaven and hell right here, where we live and move and have our being, what exactly does that mean? This is the tough part I referred to earlier because our Western brains can’t seem to grasp anything mysterious or inexplicable. Therefore, everything in existence has to be named and categorized or it gets cast aside as irrelevant.

We are very good at compartmentalizing everything in our lives. Nice people who are low-maintenance get to be a part of our club. Unpredictable, moody, or disagreeable people don’t get to join. We only converse with those who agree with us and avoid or argue with those who don’t. We even compartmentalize life and death. We separate the two with the certainty that there is no connection (Mufasa would not approve!).

circle of life

You may be too young to recall the days when wakes were held at home in a family parlor where life and death were celebrated as a continuum. That all changed with the advent of the funeral parlor. Funeral parlors sprung up so “professionals” could manage the uncomfortable aspects of death and turn bodies into pasty replicas of loved ones. Frankly, I think funeral parlors came into existence when some guy got tired of his mother-in-law hanging around in a box in his living room for a week (before the invention of formaldehyde!). But I can’t prove that either.

We keep everything in our lives separated into neat, tidy piles that we can easily manage, like peas and applesauce on our dinner plate (yuck, don’t want those to touch each other). So it’s no surprise that we stick God in heaven, so he’s separated from us by time and space.

The thought of God being right here in our midst, looking for any soft entry into our walled-up hearts is just too much to fathom. But, let’s stop for one minute, let down our guard, and imagine how different, how rich, and full our lives would be if we could comprehend that reality.

How about this uplifting thought about hell: Gian Carlo Menotti tells us, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”  

Wait, if hell is here now, and we begin to understand our true purpose, then we have a chance to correct our pathetic, despicable, pitiful selves before we drop dead. That is Good News, right?!

oh-crap-was-that-today

So, what does all this mean? Again, I can only speak from my own experience. For most of my life, I ignored God and when I did acknowledge him it was usually in a display of anger directed at him. I too believed he was distant and could care less about me – a heathen.  

If God is known as “Father” then it would stand to reason that I would view him just as I viewed my own father. In which case, he would be distant and aloof. He would be sitting on his sofa eating ice cream and mindlessly watching TV, while the world fell in around him. Or if my mother was any indication of who God was: a controlling, punishing, and unforgiving “parent”, it’s no wonder I ran like hell in the other direction. Who needs that? Either way, he would not get a “Father of the Year” award from me and there would be no Hallmark card created for him.

We seem to like the notion that God is way up there while we’re way down here We might be relieved to think he’s not watching while we try to run our own lives. “Don’t need you, God. I’ve got this!” We’re probably hoping he’s much too busy with other more important things to pay any attention to us and our antics.

In many traditional faiths, God sits in his heaven and doles out rewards and punishments to each of us according to our merits or sinfulness. Think of Job in his most distressing time and how his friends wagged their accusing fingers at him, certain that he had sinned in some terrible way to have been the recipient of God’s wrath. “It’s pretty obvious Buddy. You screwed up big time! Now, you need to fess up before God gets his second wind!”

So, what changed for me? It certainly wasn’t that God changed his ways after he read a book annominously sent to him, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. No, I had changed. I opened myself to a relationship with him that allowed me to experience who God really was, not who I imagined him to be. Knowing about God and experiencing him is the critical difference necessary to live as fully as we are called to live, and to trust what lies ahead.

God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the“plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We can choose to believe what we have long been told about a God whose wrath is to be feared, or we can choose to experience the God of immeasurable love and compassion.

Oh, if we could just grasp the reality of heaven and hell perhaps we would live our lives differently so that Menotti’s words would not be the end of our story.

Listen to these prophetic words of Father Richard Rohr: “When hell became falsely read as a geographical place, it stopped its decisive and descriptive function, and instead became the largely useless threats of exasperated church parents. We made (heaven and hell) into physical places instead of descriptions of states of mind and heart and calls to decisions in this world (emphasis mine). We pushed the whole thing off into the future, and took it out of the now.  Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as Brian McLaren calls it, “an evacuation plan for the next world.” Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals.”

I love the Gospel of Thomas. Yes, there really was one, but he didn’t make the cut. Neither did Mary Magdalene but don’t get me started on that one! Thomas writes, “Jesus said, “Seekers shall not stop until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. After being disturbed, they will be astonished” (my emphasis).”Now, hold that thought a minute.

The scripture verse we are most familiar with is similar but clearly less challenging, it is Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Our shallow, non-threatening translation? Just ask and you’ll get whatever your little heart desires. This reads like a Christmas wish list: Apple AirPods? Done. Captain Marvel Legacy Hero Smartwatch? It’s yours. Chanel’s Quilted Tote bag? Because Lindsay Lohan!? Whatever. Here you go.

Okay back to Thomas. I’m guessing that his gospel was rejected by the “editors” of scripture because they were afraid they could not control us if we discovered who God really is and the power that truth gives us. Of course, I wasn’t there, so I’ll admit I’m really just pushing hot air, but I think the verse is useful for making my assertions.

Thomas tells us that we are to be seeking God and when we find him in our very hearts, it’s all over. What being “disturbed” and “astonished” means to me is that this only happens when we are in relationship with God.

Micah (6:6-9) tells us what God wants from us. In verses 6-7, these two stupid rich guys were trying to gather up all the best they had to appease God and buy their way into heaven. Somebody even threw in a firstborn child for good measure. But God rejects their attempts to buy his favor.

God: “Nope, I don’t want your stuff, I want you.” Micha lays it out succinctly, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

That last verse is the very core of who we are called to be as children of God: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Does that sound like the demanding, controlling, cruel, never to be pleased God you learned about in Sunday School when you were six and then couldn’t sleep for weeks because you had nightmares about him finding out that it was you who dunked your sister’s doll in the toilet?!

I fully believe that we are living our heaven and hell right here on earth, in our day-in and day-out lives. Each time we make choices to love and serve others, or conversely, serve ourselves. Each time we seek out those God calls us to bring his love to, or we take care of number one. Each time our hearts break over the pain and suffering that permeates our world and then do something about it or turn our backs and cling to our fear of what it might require of us. With every choice we make to love or hate we choose our own heaven or hell right here.

Now, how does that translate to what eternity looks like for us when we take our last breath?

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

I have no idea.

But I will tell you this: I live daily as a sinner/saint. Don’t laugh, my mother-in-law thought I was a saint once for about five minutes (I screwed that up the first time I opened my mouth!). In my seventy-four years, I have known anger, pain, and bitterness. I have been hurt and I have hurt others. At one point I attempted suicide because the idea of living another moment was too unbearable (clearly I sucked at that too – thank God).

I have come to realize that I have been blessed to live the indescribable joy of a rich and full life, even in the messy parts, especially then. A life that encourages giving, serving, forgiveness, and caring for others. That calls us to be in relationship with God and everyone around us – to be Christ to a broken world.

We humans are complicated but it’s okay. I now know that I can show up for life unkempt, messy, disordered, and at times unpleasant because I am a beloved sinner. I know I serve a God of mercy and unconditional love so I am not afraid to humble myself before him and I am not afraid of what lies beyond this life.

And as for you, my friend, if you’re reading this you are still breathing, and if you’re still breathing it’s not too late. Even if you feel like your life is empty and you’re a total failure – you’re wrong! How do I know that without even meeting you? Because you were created in God’s image and he said as much when he first laid eyes on you as a tiny thought in his imagination, “Yep, I did good, real good! You’re a work of art, even if I do say so myself!”

(I have to throw this in because I’m still laughing) My all-time favorite book is “Holy Rascals”, by Rami Shapiro. I have read it so many times it’s falling apart. It is ridiculously poignant and hysterically funny! He says that we are all children of God. Every last one of us. That includes Saint Mother Theresa right alongside Jeffrey Dahmer. The only difference, he says, is “if Jeffrey Dahmer invites you to dinner, you should decline!”

You always have another chance to get life right, to erase regrets, heal broken relationships, seek forgiveness, serve others, and be all you were created and gifted to be! God is your biggest cheerleader (don’t try to visualize that!). And, dear ones, this is not something you want to put off till Monday, like that diet!

I will leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace.

Love,

Linda

Passion, Purpose and Poopyheads

Life sometimes seems like a “Comedy of Errors” from our first breath. You probably expected something very different while you were being formed in that cozy little B&B. You’re all comfy in there, aren’t you? Floating around getting all your needs met. It’s pretty sweet.

Except for those damn hiccups and people poking at you and trying to converse with you right in the middle of your nap. But then the party’s over. Without any warning, whoosh outcha’ go there little feller. You get flipped on your head and slapped silly by a stranger with a mask (that’s not scary!). All the while, you’re thinking this is not what the brochures promised!

I have fourteen grandkids and, at last count, fifteen great-grandkids. I am always awe-struck at the sight of babies. They show up all fresh and new, a clean slate. Well, they do have all that slimy stuff all over them, true, but it washes off.

And then life happens.

Good grief, life can be a shitstorm some days, can’t it? It really wasn’t meant to be that way, you know. Long before we set one teeny foot into this world, God had our life all figured out. He gave us a big hug and a heart bursting with love. Our purpose was to use the gifts he gave each of us to share that love. Then, finally, after all the work of creating us in his image (remember that for later), he kicked back, patted himself on the back, and proclaimed to himself, “Nice work!”.

Then, it all went sideways.

Maybe a parent failed us, or a friend betrayed us. A cheating spouse or a devastating illness caught us off guard. Then, throw in our own missteps and sinfulness. All of which helped to build a wall around our fragile hearts that God can’t even penetrate. That wall is fortified by a culture that worships independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. As a result, we lose our way and move further from God. The world does not offer us choices that are meant to fulfill our lives. We simply learn how to climb into the least leaky boat.

If we dare step back, take a deep breath, and pay attention, the emptiness is almost palatable. But how did we end up here if it wasn’t meant to be that way? Well, somewhere along the way, we forgot who and Whose we were.

Being indoctrinated into “religion” only made it worse. Jesus’ whole purpose was to remind us of God’s love, the desire of God for relationship with us, and the longing of God for us to share that love with a broken world. But, we got lost in the “rules” and fell asleep. 

Oh sure, sometimes we get some crazy notion that we are here for a reason. So, we start beating our chest, determined to face our fears, stand down the bullies in our lives, and our own shadow. But it doesn’t seem to last long. We fizzle out for many reasons: Confusion, fear, lack of trust in ourselves, that stupid poopyhead that keeps showing up uninvited to the party, or that zombie apocalypse in our heads (you know that’s not real, right?)!

Well, crap!

But hey, if it’s any consolation, think about the hand-picked bunch of misfits Jesus had to deal with! Allow me to paint a picture for you. Better still, stick yourself in this moment. You’re Simon Peter at the Last Supper. Now don’t get all gender-specific about it; just indulge me, okay?

Anyway, everyone’s enjoying fellowship and a great meal. You start to take an extra helping of mashed potatoes with a big slab of butter. Yum. Then,  just as you’re about to dig in, Jesus turns to you and asks a question that seems to come out of nowhere, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You: “What?! Seriously? Of course I love you,” you say as you go back to stuffing your face (by the way, you should cut back on those carbs).

Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”

You nod.

But you barely get that spoonful of lusciousness to your mouth when Jesus asks again, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You’re flabbergasted, and your potatoes are getting cold. “Yes, Lord, I do. I swear (oops)!”

“Where is this coming from?” you mumble under your breath.

Jesus, unrelenting, “Feed my lambs.”

You scratch your head but get lost in – drum roll please – dessert. OMG! Your favorite, apple pie ala mode! You grab the server before she gets away and ask for an extra scoop of ice cream. You start to dig in, and….yep…

There he goes again, “Simon Peter, tell me again. Are you sure you love me?” Now, in all fairness, it’s understandable why Jesus keeps asking you that since you did run and hide when it all got too scary for you. But you’re about to lose it anyway, “Why do you keep asking me that same question? Yes, yes, yes, I love you.”

Then, without responding, Jesus stands up, walks to the window, and pulls back the curtain. “Simon Peter, come here.”

“Oh man,” you groan. Great, now your ice cream is going to melt. Everyone else is finished, and the server comes to clear the table, “Don’t take this,” you say, “I’ll be right back”! You walk to the window.

Jesus, “Simon Peter, look outside. What do you see?”

At this point, you get a little snarky: “I see trees of green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Jesus, “Oh, for heaven’s sake! You don’t see that mother crying as she holds her starving child? Don’t you see the beggar everyone is ignoring? You don’t see the broken humanity right outside this window?”

You swallow hard because you sense your moment of reckoning is here.

Jesus, “Three times I called you to feed my sheep, and three times you chose to feed yourself instead. You give lip service to my call to care for those who hunger and, in the same breath, claim to love me.”

Hopefully, this is where you pass on the dessert and get your sorry self out there doing what really matters like you were supposed to all along. But how do you do that? That, my friend, is a  good question. It was supposed to have been answered by your Kindergarten teacher when you were learning “This little light of mine”. Unless, of course, you were a public school kid like me. Okay, then, maybe you began to learn it in Sunday school – unless you were a heathen like me. Then, there’s the possibility your dear granny sat you on her knee (before knee surgery) and taught you all about Jesus’ love – unless your granny was a heathen too.

I think we were set up too when the Church decided to take control by creating lots of rules to keep us in line. It worked for a while, actually a very long while. But then, people tired of “rules” that couldn’t fill the void. Years of studies by Pew Research can attest to that fact, even if the Churches have decided to ignore it. The studies show the number of people fleeing from churches, particularly millennials, is growing.

Even older folks are just showing up to get their cards punched. They shake the Pastor’s hand and lie about how good his sermon was (if they stay that long), then grab a bulletin to prove they were there. Done for another week or two, or maybe till Easter. 

Then, as if that isn’t enough, we have the “stories” in the Bible. I know we could debate all day long about whether or not the “stories” are factual or myths. I know how I see them. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Let’s look at just two I have a real problem with: Adam and his accomplice wife, Eve. We’re told that Adam and Eve set us up for failure. No sense in trying to be good. That’s a lesson in futility because, well, we can’t be “good”. It’s called “Original Sin”. It’s like a hereditary disease. We all have it, and there’s no cure for it. (Believe me, if the pharmaceutical companies could come up with a pill for it, they would have long ago!)

“I’ve got you now, you wretched little creature!” (Not sure how the Scripture verse that says we were made in God’s image reconciles with that, but there it is.) Like the Elf-on-the-Shelf, he watches our every move, just waiting for us to screw up. I mean, really. He was lurking around in the garden while they tried to hide, but he caught em’.

adam-and-eve-hiding-1

GOD: “I can see you, Adam.”

ADAM: “No, you can’t.”

GOD: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can.”

Then, there’s that whole burning bush thing. Do you think for one minute that wasn’t a setup for Moses? “Come on out God. We know you’re hiding there, waiting to pounce on our slightest indiscretion. That’s sneaky.” Sorry, I just can’t believe in that kind of god.

Somewhere along life’s journey, we are supposed to grow into the person we were created to be. But, we got snookered by the lies. Unfortunately, change isn’t going to happen on its own.

And don’t think for a moment that it’s just you. People who seem to have everything are hungry for that something “more”. Deep within every one of us is a longing for purpose. But, we can spend a lifetime whacking away at it in our foolish efforts to figure it out.

I think our world today has successfully sucked the life out of anyone who believes for one minute that we are here for more than accumulating fake friends on FB, making lots of money, having the newest iPhone, or investing in the latest miracle weight loss cure. And for what?

Get up. Do life. Go to bed. Repeat.

The fact remains, we have all been given a purpose in this life, the passion to fulfill it, and lots of poopyheads along the way intent on screwing it all up! The truth of our essence has been stifled, stuffed away, and rendered irrelevant, along with God and all that matters for humankind.

I believe “religion” has become something God never intended. For so long, if we stuck with it, we learned to stay within our comfortable unquestioned faith because to do otherwise was just too daunting. So religion became empty and void of meaning. And when young people came along who were not afraid to ask the hard questions and were not content with the canned answers the Church offered, they left in droves, and they’re still leaving.

“So what is my purpose?” – you ask. Why am I here? Good question. Our struggle is embedded in worldly pursuits that ultimately bring us to a dead-end. We want life on our terms. We don’t want to struggle, we don’t want to suffer, and we damn sure don’t want to encounter anyone else’s suffering. We have enough to deal with trying to stand out in this dog-eat-dog world. The point is that none of it offers fulfillment that lasts. Striving for more, paradoxically, leaves us emptier and hungrier.

Consider this: What would you be willing to die for if someone approached you and demanded everything you have accumulated and cling to, or they will kill you right where you stand? Any of it? Or would you quickly, without hesitating, hand over all the “things” you value? I’m guessing you would. I would!

Martin Luther King said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” Ouch! So, the question then becomes, what is worth dying for? I have a one-word answer. Ready? Love.

There it is.

I don’t know about you, but my most profound moments of clarity are when I do a life review at funerals. If funerals don’t cause us to evaluate our existence, I don’t know what will. We may still be standing at the grave site when the questions surface: Do I matter? Have I value? What is my legacy? Will anyone care when I’m gone? Do I really have a purpose? What have I done to make the world a better place? Will I have to eat that crappy potato salad at the luncheon again? (Oh, sorry, I digress)

We too want absolute certitude that what we are after is real. Faith is a calculated risk, but we don’t like risk even if there is a high degree of probability. It’s too iffy. No thanks.

A shaky questioning faith might be less cut and dry than mindlessly following a set of rules. It may be more uncontrollable and mysterious than you have ever experienced, but that will bring you into the presence of Love and your true worth as his beloved.

You may not have been told this, but you’re allowed to wrestle with God, to question the reason for the suffering and heartache in the world. You can tackle the very struggles and heartache within yourself that you have never thought you could bring to him—God’s tough. Trust me. He can take it.

I got so angry with him during a very difficult time in my life I cried and shook my finger at him, “God, if you love me so much, where were you when my mother was abusing me?!” I ranted on and on about all the suffering he allowed in my life. And what I got back from him was not a lightning strike which I was prepared for, but a gentle, loving response that unsettled the core of my being. “Linda, I did not abandon you during that time. I suffered along with you. My heart ached for you. I have lovingly, sorrowfully held your tears. But the choices people make are beyond my control. I’m truly sorry. But, you, my dearest daughter, have also sinned and fallen short. Even then, never have I stopped loving you. I’m just waiting for you to trust me and start loving me. Then, your healing will start, and you will be able to forgive those who hurt you.”

No church “rules” or dogmas will ever bring us into that deep-abiding relationship with him. It is what we call “experiencing” God. Until we can let go of our need to “know” that God is real, we will never allow ourselves to open our hearts to experience him.  It’s that simple and that critical.

That is Good News!

William O’Malley nailed it when he said, “Genuine religion begins – not as it did for most of us, with indoctrination and imposing worship but with a personally captivating experience, a “sense” of the numinous, a presence larger than the capacities of this world to produce.”

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

YOU MATTER!

That is what John Eldredge tells us, “If we could believe that about our lives, and come to know that is true, everything would change. We would be much more able to interpret the events unfolding around us. We would discover the task that is ours alone to fulfill. We would find our courage. The hour is late, and you are needed. So much hangs in the balance. Where is your heart?”

Alrighty then, I’m done, and if I didn’t lose you long ago, I would like to offer you one last thing to contemplate: Which of these two scenarios would most likely bring you right to the heart of this very critical moment of truth, the most profound question of our existence?

(1) All your years growing up, you were drug to “church”. Parents started it: “Get up, clean up, sit quietly, don’t touch your brother, and act like this isn’t the most boring thing in your life! Then you’ll get donuts.” Then teachers of “religion” stepped in: “Memorize all the sins that will send you straight to hell: Miss one Mass – straight to hell. Think those dirty thoughts – straight to hell.” In short order “that little light of yours” has been snuffed out!

Or….

(2) You encounter Someone (guess who) doing things that draw you to him: Feeding the hungry, comforting the dying, kissing the leper, dining with prostitutes and beggars. He is so sincere and passionate about what he is doing that something incredible reaches deep down into the core of your being, and you can’t shake it. You are awe-struck, probably for the first time in your life, and you want to emulate him. You want to follow him. You want to sit at his feet and learn from him.

Surely You Were in This Place

In 2007, Joshua Bell, a world-renowned violinist, dressed in ordinary street clothes and played his 3.5 million dollar violin at the metro station in Washington D.C.

Watch the reaction…

That’s right. There was no reaction.

Then, he went back. This time announced.

Every time I watch these videos I wonder how often we think of God and how we miss him in our very midst; how often we expect Jesus to just drop down from heaven and announce himself:

I'll be back

Just to be disappointed.

Do we realize he has been here all along?

John Phillip Newell tells us that “at the heart of the physical is the spiritual. Hidden within the mundane is the Divine.”

It is in the ordinary that God reveals himself most profoundly: In our ordinary-everyday-get-up-go-to-work-feed-the-kids-walk-the-dog-clean-the-toilets-go-to-bed life.

We can miss the magnificence of God in a beautiful sunrise – blocked by a computer screen. We miss the profound in the lonely widow sitting next to us in church, or the tears of a neighbor estranged from his family.

We miss it because we are either waiting for more or hoping for less. Less would be easier because the thought of an “almighty, glorious, brilliant, magnificent” God – right here where “we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)” is just too much for us to believe.

But why?

It’s not like Jesus made some kind of grand entrance the first time. Right? I mean – come on – he showed up in a diaper and smelled a bit like a stable.

It's a Bird It's a plane
(I could not locate the source of this image)

If we are even willing to consider an encounter with God we’re certain it must be in a beyond super-human, out-of-body event. I actually think we prefer to believe that is the only time he exists. We want God to be predictable and keep his distance.

We want to dress up in our finest attitudes and go somewhere else, far away from our messiness, to experience him: Church, Wednesday night prayer meetings from 7:00 – 8:15, annual retreats in the mountains, revivals, and far away mission trips.

But, please God, don’t be snooping around my house when my husband comes home drunk at 1:00 am.

Don’t “show up” right in the middle of my nastiness; my jealous rants against my neighbor, or arguments with my teenage son. Also, you really shouldn’t sneak up on me when I’m watching my R-rated T.V. show!

So, we move through our ordinary life – constantly on guard – expending all our time and energy to keep God at a comfortable distance. And what do we get in return? An ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

I’ll just hang out here, thanks, waiting to die and get to heaven after barely surviving my ordinary, mundane, routine, humdrum, tedious life.

Delightful.

STOP IT!

We can spend a great deal of energy doing “things” in an effort to “get to” heaven where we will finally find happiness; finally, meet that ever-elusive God. And in the meantime? What about the ‘meantime” that we are wasting; time we will never get back, a time we could, as Martin Buber so beautifully said, “be stringing pearls for heaven”?

What do you think about when you read this scripture verse? Genesis 28:16-17, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

Bidden or not

And how about Luke 17:20-21, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” (My emphasis)

Ewwww…that’s terrifying, huh?

But, when you refuse to open your heart to that reality, you have no idea what you are missing! For example, I volunteer for a charitable organization. We have a hotline and people call in with many needs: some are homeless, some are so desperate that when you talk to them it’s like looking at a 1,000-piece puzzle with 800 pieces missing. Which is what happened to me last week.

For obvious reasons I can’t give you any details, but I can tell you this, his situation was that 1,000-piece puzzle. When I gathered all the information I could from him and stepped back to review it, I was literally overwhelmed with what he was dealing with, and, of course, he was too. But, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide us and bring the people into his life who could help him.

Within three days, all – got that? – ALL the necessary resources he needed were in place! When I told him – we both cried. We were both overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty and tender care of a mighty God who is right in our midst, right in our messiness, right in our suffering, and yes, in the ordinary.

Later that night I sat in prayer and felt God telling me, like Moses, “Remove your sandals, Sister, you are standing on Holy ground!” How often do you think you have stood on Holy ground and didn’t realize it because you were too busy looking up or looking away?