Why It’s Good to Cry

Can I be honest? I’ve never understood how some people can always have a sunny disposition. I’m not sure what to make of folks who always seem to be upbeat.

Now, to be sure, I could learn from such folks. And I hope I do. But I think it’s also true what the 4th century Christian leader, Gregory of Nyssa, said: “It is impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are.”

Life isn’t easy. Challenges come our way, and, truthfully, I don’t always feel like smiling.

I think what I’m referring to is the ache that I believe is in every human heart. It’s a longing for more; it’s the ability to see what is, and what should be — and to recognize the two are so often so far apart.

Maybe this has something to do with getting older — because it’s not just my wife who’s piling on the years. And maybe, the older we get, the more we recognize how this life, this world, this this is not all it should be. It’s not all God wants it to be.

At this point, as I’m typing these words, I clicked over to my music app, which I had paused. When I looked at the next song, it’s by one of my favorite groups. The song’s title? Jesus wept. Lyrics include these lines:

Another bad guy wins
More good friends die
They mounted up like eagles
Now they’re dropping like flies
I cry “Let me out”
You’re saying “No, not yet”
Before he danced Jesus wept

Sure, it’s the shortest verse in the English New Testament. And yes, it’s a classic for kids to memorize who are looking for a simple verse to get points at VBS or camp. But what a powerful punch are contained in these two simple words: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept. My Jesus wept. The God-become-human Jesus wept. The One who knows how things ought to be — and came to make them that way — wept at all the ways they aren’t.

It may sound strange, but I take great comfort in the weeping of Jesus. For it shows me that I’m in good company when I weep at all the ways the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways the Church isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways those I love aren’t what they are meant to be; and at all the ways I am not what I am called to be. All my grief at these realities find their meaning in the reality that Jesus knows what I’m experiencing. For he ached for the very same things.

Now, to be clear, nothing I’m saying minimizes the reality of joy and peace. In fact, if anything, I think what I’m saying amplifies the need for the fruit of the Spirit. For, knowing what we know about this world and all its brokenness, we ache for more. And because of the presence of the Spirit, we get a taste of God’s grace in the midst of all this mess. The presence of joy isn’t the absence of ache and longing; it’s the hope and promise that our longing points to a Reality that is deeper than our hurt. Likewise, peace isn’t the lack of all longing; it’s the clinging to the promise that our longing is pointing somewhere.

And that somewhere is the kingdom that Jesus is building. It IS a kingdom of peace in the midst of war, suffering, divorce, depression, wayward children, and uncertain tomorrows. It IS a kingdom of love in a world of hate, apathy, racial tension, class warfare, and political bickering. It IS a kingdom of faithfulness in a world of faithlessness — faithlessness that I see on my TV set, and in my own heart.

So, that’s why I think it’s okay — even necessary — to put aside the smile sometimes, and even weep. For we long for what is not, but what Jesus came to bring — and what will one day Fully be. Til that day, I’m going to let the longing and ache I feel be a reminder, and a prompting, and a challenge to pray for, ache for, work for, listen for, and love toward the Kingdom of Hope.

It’s coming. I know it is. Because Jesus wept for it.

Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?

Looking for Hope on Google

Today, I was searching on Google News for hope. That sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it?

Well, I wasn’t searching for hope on Google; I was searching for the way hope appears in the news. And I found these headlines:

What do all of these 3 uses of ‘hope’ have in common? They all express a desire, a wish, a heartfelt longing for something to happen. A war to end. A casino to fix what ails an economically-deprived community. A deep yearning that underneath the crush of snow, there’s still the possibility of life. All 3 point to a desire that, frankly and even tragically, may not be fulfilled.

So often, the hope we express is rooted in nothing more than our deepest desires. And reality, and tragedy, often keep hope from turning into something more.

In the midst of such desires for hope, we read in 1 Peter 1.3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (RSV).

Through Jesus, we have a hope. Not simply a wish, or a desire. Not a dream, or an unfulfilled longing. Through the resurrection of Jesus, our hope is alive. It’s a living, breathing, count-on-it kind of hope. And if it’s living, then it not only lives IN us, it also lives THROUGH us.

This is not to say that life is easy. Hope isn’t some childish fantasy that pretends as if the world isn’t a difficult place. It is. But a living hope is alive not in spite of the brokenness, but in the middle of it.

I love how Craig Barnes describes this hope we have:

Hope arises out of the hard truth of how things are. Christians will always live carrying in one hand the promises of how it will be and in the other the hard reality of how it is. To deny either is to hold only half the truth of the gospel.

We who follow Jesus are hopeful people. No matter which way the winds of culture, or politics, or even religion may blow, the hope of Jesus is unchanging. No matter how difficult life gets, or how challenging it is to live for Jesus, the hope he gives is unchanging. And with this as our foundation, we don’t have to sit in our church buildings waiting for that hope to be revealed – we get to go live it, and give it. For if hope is alive, then shouldn’t WE be alive? Shouldn’t it overflow from our lives, to those who are hoping there’s more to life than the daily grind, or the grinding discouragement that fills the days and lives of so many people?

For we have a living hope. Is it living in you?

What the DMV can teach the Church

On December 29, I had to make not one, but two visits to the DMV. On the last business day of the year, I had to stop in at two different Departments of Motor Vehicles.

Now, truth be told, I’m not sure either uses that title: DMV. But when I say that, you know exactly what I mean, right?

The first was the County Clerk, and I was there on their final day because, just that morning, I had received my settlement letter for our van that had been in a wreck. (To be clear, it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t driving. Kim was. Ok, to be fair, it wasn’t her fault, either.) Anyway, to make sure I didn’t pay taxes on a van I no longer owned, I had to get it off the books by December 31. And it just so happened that on the last possible day, my settlement letter was available, so I ran by my insurance agent’s office, picked up the letter, and promptly took it with me to the County Clerk.

I walked in, pulled the little tab-number-thing, and noticed it said: 90. I looked up at the board showing what number they were serving. It read: 44. Thankfully, I was less than a mile from my house, so I went home, grabbed some lunch, and came back. And when I arrived back at the clerk’s office, the number on the board was 82. Sweet! Absolutely perfect timing. Before long, they called my number, I gave the woman my paperwork, and I was off.

Off to my next DMV visit. Or, more specifically, to the Kentucky Court of Justice, Division of Driver’s License – for my daughter’s driver’s test. As she took her test, I hung out in the waiting room. (Like the County Clerk, my wait wasn’t very long. Unfortunately, it was because she failed her test. Stupid parallel parking. But that’s another blog post.)

Anyway, as I visited two waiting rooms, I couldn’t help but think about how everybody has to go and spend time at the DMV. If you are going to drive a car, you will go to the DMV. Rich and poor. Black, white, and brown. Young and old. No exceptions. If you want to enjoy the freedom that driving affords, you will do your time at the DMV.

So, I couldn’t help but notice the other nervous teenager taking her driving test. As well as the immigrant navigating the DMV, perhaps for the first time. My attention was also drawn to the older white woman talking with the middle-age African-American lady.

And it occurs to me: the DMV is what the Church should be. A cross-section of the beautiful diversity that is people – those made in the image of God. Just as the DMV forces me to rub shoulders with people who are similar to me, and those who seem to be nothing like me – shouldn’t the Church be like that, too? Not to be PC, or to meet some political agenda – but because this is exactly what God has always had in mind for His Church.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Mary & Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple for his dedication, it brought them into contact with a guy named Simeon. And this old guy grabs the baby, and says these amazing words: This baby has been prepared by God in the presence of all people to be a light of revelation for Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel (see Luke 2.25-35).

Luke says that Mary and Joseph are amazed – not sure what to do with these words. But what Simeon is saying is pretty straightforward, and a lot easier to understand in hindsight: Jesus came to bring hope to ALL people. To bring reconciliation among Jews and Gentiles – two groups at least at much at odds in Jesus’ day as any two groups you might want to mention from today’s world.

In other words, from the beginning, before Jesus spoke his first word, it is made clear: He has come that the Church might look more like the DMV. A place for all backgrounds, all colors, all nations, all languages.

And the reason the Church should look like that? Not, ultimately, because of the DMV. But because of Heaven. A place where, we are told, an uncountable multitude from every ethnic group, every tribe, every people, and every language will stand before Jesus and cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7.9-10)

And so, it all comes down to this: Jesus is for everyone. Even those who can’t parallel park.