Saturday, October 17, 2009

Still-Ness: Without Prejudice

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5.46-48)

The Doctrine of Inclusion

We end our series on “still-ness” by circling back to Christ’s core principle: love for God and others. It filters into most every discussion here and we keep it before us for two reasons. First, Jesus taught it, exemplified it, and ultimately proved it in His undying mercy for His killers and selfless sacrifice for our sins. Second, it liberates alienated gay/straight Christians—and supportive fellow believers—from the restraints of rejection. Knowing we’re free to love our Creator opens our hearts to love others without prejudice or hesitation. Though they marginalize us, fear us, condemn us, or outright hate us, still, we accept them as they are, forgiving their frailties to prove the power of God’s love.

Hebrews 4.12 explains, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” We test the scriptural legitimacy of doctrine by these criteria. Is it relevant, effective, and applicable in daily life? Does it cut both ways, convicting adherents and detractors with equal weight and precision? The doctrine of inclusion—our belief no one is excluded from God’s love and acceptance based on gender, ethnicity, or orientation—easily meets these standards. Still, if we wield it defensively without allowing it to slice through our fears and prejudices, it’s dead on arrival. We embrace inclusion because Jesus could not have been clearer about its centrality to our lives and faith. On balance, however, He taught inclusion as a responsibility more than a right. Maintaining an actively inclusive life (rather than passively waiting to be included) is how we ensure the doctrine of inclusion stays alive and active.

Before He Speaks One Word

Inclusion defines Christ’s mission and message before He speaks one word. Old Testament prophets trumpet God’s intention to revoke exclusion immediately on the Messiah’s arrival. In Isaiah 56, He declares, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (v7) Prior to this sweeping statement, He calls out two groups: eunuchs, people of same-sex orientation banished from communal worship, and foreigners, non-Jews barred from the temple as punishment for their homelands’ hostility for Israel. To eunuchs God promises, “I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” (v5) In verse 7, He pledges, “I will bring [foreigners] to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” Finally, to thwart Israel’s aptness to single out eunuchs and foreigners as His only exceptions, God opens His arms to all outcasts and refugees in verse 8: “The Sovereign LORD declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’”

Now, flash forward to the stable in Bethlehem. What do we see? Inclusion—an unwed mother, who by law deserves death by stoning; the fearless fiancé defying religious mandate to disown her; foreign pagans ignoring political pressure to disclose the Christ Child’s identity; country shepherds who rush into an overcrowded city to briefly glimpse at a newborn. In fact, no one who should attend Jesus’s arrival shows up. Not a priest, lawyer, scholar, politician, businessman, devout citizen, social insider—not even one member of Joseph’s family—can be found. Why not? There’s no room in their world to tolerate the non-conformist lifestyle of two reckless kids. Is it any wonder, then, as God Incarnate intent on leveling barriers and the Son of Man welcomed by outsiders, Jesus steers us to God by turning us from exclusionary beliefs and behaviors? From the Sermon on the Mount to Calvary’s prayer for His enemies, loving people who hate us and accepting those who reject us are the cries of Christ’s heart.

One of Those God-Things

When Jesus first lays out the doctrine of inclusion in the Sermon on the Mount, His matter-of-fact tone just stops short of asking, “Could it be more obvious?” He walks through it step-by-step, starting in Matthew 5.43 with a sharp rebuke for those who mangle “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19.18) to mean, “Hate your enemy.” Jesus insists we must love enemies and pray for persecutors to reflect our Father. Watch God closely, we’re advised in verse 45. He doesn’t exclude anyone, good or bad, from His sunshine and rain. Thus, how can discriminatory love possibly please or resemble Him? Don’t tax collectors—the scum of society—do that? Jesus asks. Don’t pagans—worshipers of false images—reserve kindness exclusively for friends? We confirm we’re children of God by loving like Him: without prejudice, condition, or expectation. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in verse 48.

Jesus doesn’t invite us to imagine enemies would love us if they “really” knew us. Accepting them requires accepting they often hate us because they do know us. This incapacitates our decision to love anyone as a means of winning affection and inclusion. It very well may happen. But if that’s our motive, that’s also our prize. To reap love’s greatest reward, we suffer hate yet still love. We endure exclusion yet still accept. We face condemnation yet still forgive. Since God is perfect, His love is perfect. The better we get at conveying His perfect love, the more amazing its effect on us becomes. “Perfect love drives out fear,” we read in 1 John 4.18. Seeing what we fear exactly as it is and still loving exactly as we’re taught frees us from the very fear challenging our love in the first place. It’s one of those God-things only He and His children can ever understand.

Please comment and tell us what you’ve learned from loving your enemies.

Doing away with our prejudices to see enemies as they are yet still love them as we’re taught does away with our fear of prejudice and rejection.

(Tomorrow: Strength in Joy)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Still-Ness: Always

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28.20)

Still Here

A deadly heat wave hit Chicago in 1995, turning it into a crazy quilt of dark and light patches. From our high-rise apartment, Walt and I literally watched sectors of the city flicker out. We were getting through it just fine, until dusk on the third day of the five-day ordeal, when everything went quiet. We waited for the building’s generator to kick in. As darkness thickened, it seemed unlikely. So we started our 40-flight descent. The stairwell’s emergency lights weren’t working, making it an impenetrable vertical maze. (Typical of us, our flashlight’s batteries were dead.) To keep from tripping, we counted off steps between landings, causing us to lose track of where we were. Voices echoing off the walls further disoriented us. What I remember most from that night, though, was periodically reaching for Walt. Though I couldn’t see him in the darkness, he always reassured me: “I’m still here.”

For all we’ll ever fully comprehend about our walk with Christ, one of its most baffling aspects—to me, anyway—is the fact that He’s still here. I know this by faith and also by witness: any time I’ve reached for Him, I’ve sensed His presence. Though I can’t see Him, I feel Him, much like we intuitively know when those we’re close to—partners, parents, or children, for instance—enter a room before we actually see them. In hours of darkness and disorientation, I hear His inaudible yet clearly perceptible voice speaking peace and assurance to my spirit: “I’m still here.” Yet knowing and sensing His presence don’t adequately capture the real reason for His constant, unfailing companionship. It’s comforting and reassuring to know He’s always here. But why?

Priceless Legacy

The still-ness of Christ’s presence is the priceless legacy of His promise to the disciples. When He appears to them in Matthew 28, they’ve just spent three traumatic days without Him. Having their Rabbi pulled from them, watching Him die in torment, and laying His broken body in a cold tomb crushed them. Though Jesus carefully prepped them for these events, the stark sensation of suddenly being alone overwhelmed them with grief and fear. And now, He returns only to inform them He’ll soon leave again. He’s also discussed this departure with them, but exactly where He’s going and for how long are much more vague than the details about His first absence. In John 14.2 and 3, for instance, Jesus says, “I am going… to prepare a place for you. And I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Statements like that usually provoke a lot of questions and provide few answers.

How hollow the disciples must feel, as Christ commissions them to carry on while He’s away: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.19-20) How can they do this? Who’d possibly listen to a motley band without a leader? How can they make it if Jesus isn’t with them? As it was, verse 17 says some of the disciples weren’t sure this person was Jesus. (“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”) One sees anxious confusion fluttering over their faces as they fidget in distress. Jesus quells their fear with a promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It’s a vow only The Christ can keep; He alone can leave the disciples yet remain with them. Then, to offset any chance they’ll ever doubt He’s with them, He guarantees His pledge will never expire. “I’ll be here from now to the end of time.” Thus, here we are and here Christ is—still present, still honoring His promise nearly 2,000 years later. But why?

His Purpose in Being Here

Having Christ with us always is a benefit of discipleship. We’re essentially grandfathered into His contract with the first disciples. As ephemeral and elusive as following Jesus sometimes seems, the constancy of His presence remains sure. Whether we ever “feel” or “hear” Him neither limits nor enhances our ability to know He’s there. His promise is all the proof we need to be convinced He’s with us. The reality of His presence isn’t contingent on our sense, recognition, or understanding. Once we answer His call, He’s here. From that point on, short of us abandoning Him, He never parts company with us. But oh how hard it can be to anchor knowledge of Christ’s presence with faith in His promise, particularly when life floods us with emotions (good and bad) that challenge what we need to know with what we want to feel.

A clearer comprehension of why He’s here will bolster our confidence in His presence. Benefits we receive from having Him with us are really secondary to His purpose in being here. Consider what leads up to His promise—His call to service: “Go.” We are His instruments. He’s here because He needs to be here, always keeping us steady through life’s dramas, not merely to help us but, more importantly, to strengthen and steer us to help others. When we grasp this is His main reason for remaining with us, trusting the still-ness of His presence becomes vital, despite how vividly we may or may not feel Him at any moment. Christ is still with us simply because we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

As He promised, Christ is always with us. The main reason He’s still here is because there’s still work that needs to be done.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Without Prejudice)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stillness: Standing Back

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” (Exodus 14.13)

The Obvious Option

Anyone who’s seen The Ten Commandments and then reads this verse can’t help but flash on Charlton Heston’s clenched jaw and fierce glare while delivering the line. He throws his arms into the air with the pomposity of a conductor—which is all too perfect, as an orchestra surges and the Red Sea parts behind him. The instruction and gesture appear premeditated, as though Moses had waited for the perfect moment to use them. But, God bless Cecil B. de Mille’s efforts to mold Moses into an epic hero, nothing could be further from the truth. If we could talk to Moses, he’d tell us he had no idea what he was saying or what to anticipate.

Moses has uncannily managed to sneak tens of thousands of slaves out of Egypt while their owners grieve the sudden loss of their eldest sons. By the time the Jews reach the Red Sea, news of their flight reaches Pharaoh’s attention. He heads into the desert to stop them and when they see his army barreling toward them, the Israelites lose it. There’s nowhere to go. If they turn back, they’ll be massacred. The sea’s too wide to swim. “Did you bring us out here because there weren’t enough plots in Egypt to bury all of us? We were better off where we were!” they shout at Moses. Their panic is piffle next to his, though. He’s lost control of his people. He doesn’t know what to say. Then his mind fixes on the obvious option. Moses orders the people to get a grip. “Stand firm and see the deliverance of the LORD!” What that is he can’t say. But his faith prompts him to add, “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14.13-14)

Now Isn’t the Time

The King James Version translates Moses’s command as “Stand still,” which gets closer to what he means. If he were speaking to a modern crowd, he’d probably say, “Stand back”—or in military parlance, “Stand down.” The message is emphatically clear: not knowing what they can do at this point means now isn’t the time to do anything. The Israelites need to stop worrying and arguing and moving and thinking. They need to stand back and watch God work everything out as He sees fit. What other choice do they have, anyway? There are no Plans B, C, and D. He’s the only hope they have, and they need to calm down, stand back, and trust Him to work wonders on their behalf. He hasn’t brought them all this way to abandon them to Pharaoh’s army. He’ll fight for them; that’s His job. Their job is only to be still.

One of the hardest skills for us to master is standing back—practicing complete stillness when trouble bears down on us. Our human instincts offer two choices, flight or fight. With neither a viable option, knowing there’s nowhere to run and our adversaries can overpower us, we lose it. We start asking crazy questions and wishing we’d never ventured from the life we knew, forgetting it cost our freedom and self-respect. The moment we realize there’s nothing we can do is the moment we ascertain now isn’t the time to do anything. It’s time to stand back, get out of God’s way, and watch Him take our situation in hand. He’ll fight for us. We need only be still.

But But But But But

“But but but but but,” we say, considering how impossible the situation seems and how simple this sounds. Yet if we pause to think it through, we see how utterly sensible it is. Since there’s nothing we can do, we really have no alternative except placing our entire trust in God and what He can do. At best, all Moses knows is the Israelites have to get across the Red Sea. And frankly, that was going to pose an impossible problem even if Pharaoh’s army hadn’t pursued them. Left on their own, they very well could have died of starvation trying to find enough materials in the desert to construct seaworthy vessels. What’s more, since not one of them has any boatbuilding expertise or sailing experience, it’s probable they’d drown in spite of themselves.

Generally, when standing still becomes our sole option, it’s because strategies we’d devise in less dire circumstances would end in certain disaster. So often we don’t learn how little we know and how incapable we are until we go too far. And even then, that lesson doesn’t prevent us from trying a similar maneuver the next time we’re in trouble. If what we’re challenged with seems too hard to handle on our own, odds are it is too hard for us. By saving the Israelites from Pharaoh, God also saved them from themselves. He made a way where there was no way. Reaching a place where we have to stand still can be terrifying—until we see what’s actually taking place. God brings us to stillness to draw our attention away from our self-reliance so we can stand back and watch Him do what only He can.

Please comment: Has God proven His power in your life in a situation(s) where your only option was standing still and allowing Him to work?

When we feel trapped with no way of escape, we need only be still.

(Tomorrow: Stillness: Always)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Still-Ness: Persistence

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” … Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9.1, 3)

Gone But Not Forgotten

Before David gains national attention for slaying Goliath, before he and Jonathan—Saul’s son and Israel’s heir apparent—forge their legendary friendship, before Saul’s paranoia ruins all hope of establishing a dynastic line, Israel’s prophet, Samuel, seeks out David and anoints him as the next king. This monumental, highly irregular event transpires soon after Samuel anoints Saul as Israel’s first monarch. Almost immediately, power goes to Saul’s head. In 1 Samuel 15.10, God admits to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” The very next chapter finds God sending Samuel to the village of Bethlehem, where he finds David and pronounces him Saul’s rightful successor.

After Samuel anoints him, 1 Samuel 16.13 says, “The Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward,” adding in the next verse, “But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” In a moment’s time, a seismic shift occurs in Israel’s power structure that affects its destiny forever after. The spirit vexing Saul ensures his downfall. God floods Jonathan’s heart with love to shield David from Saul’s jealous attempts to kill him. But, sadly, Jonathan’s loyalty and obedience can’t spare him. He dies with the rest of his brothers when Saul’s house falls to the Philistines, clearing David’s ascension to the throne. Once David’s monarchy is in place, however, he wants to show his gratitude in a manner that confirms Jonathan is gone but not forgotten. He inquires, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9.1)

Forgotten But Not Gone

Saul’s survivors have vanished in a cloud of disgrace. When none of David’s advisors can identify who or where they are, they call for a royal servant, Ziba, to see if he’s aware of anyone left. Ziba informs David, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.” (v3) This explains why Jonathan’s son has dropped from sight. He’s an outcast twice over, shoved to society’s margins as Saul’s descendent and a physically disabled person deemed unworthy to mix with the general population. The son—saddled with a most unfortunate name, Mephibosheth—is forgotten but not gone. As a consequence of his grandfather’s insecurities and sins, he’s been catapulted from the comfort and safety of the palace to depend on the kindness of a provincial family that takes him in.

David summons Mephibosheth back to the palace, no doubt stirring trepidation in the young man’s heart. Being forgot has been a blessing in disguise. He lives with people who accept him, despite his persona non grata status as a social pariah. Now, he’s called to meet a king who may well intend to destroy him as the last of his kind—to hobble into the midst of people who despise him for nothing he’s done to earn their hatred and reproach. The first thing David says to him is, “Don’t be afraid.” (v7) Then he does something unprecedented. Because of Jonathan’s kindness, Davaid restores all of Saul’s property to Mephibosheth, securing his status among Israel’s landed gentry, and—as a royal peer—a permanent place at David’s table. Mephibosheth bows before David and says, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” One outstanding issue remains. Mephibosheth’s physical impairment prevents him from farming the land. So David charges Ziba with responsibility to see the land provides for Mephibosheth. With everything resolved, verse 11 informs us: “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.”

Staying True

Mephibosheth is an intriguing, truly inspiring character. Were any of us handed his fate, we might handle things much differently and, as a result, never know the full restoration he experiences. We might deny our past to escape bigotry and retribution. We might flee to a new place as he did, but once there, fabricate a new identity that severs any ties to our family history and personal background. We might adopt society’s views of us as unwholesome and unwelcome. We might sink into despair with other outcasts eking out an alternate life beneath our dignity. Mephibosheth’s triumph comes by staying true to who he is, persisting in spite of the hardships his self-integrity brings. “Is there anyone still left?” David asks. “There is still a son of Jonathan,” Ziba answers.

How many times, one wonders, does Mephibosheth ask why God chose him to be born into an angry, fearful environment—and, on top of that, burden him with a condition that marks him for prejudice and rejection? How many times have we asked, “Why am I here? Why am I as I am?” But Mephibosheth teaches us the crucial importance of still-ness. We’re still who we were created to be. We’re still confident God’s plan will lead to what’s best for us. As Romans 8.28 assures us, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can’t falter in our faith God has a purpose for us. We can’t fail in our persistence to stay true to ourselves. To realize the fullness of what He intends for our lives, it’s our duty to see we’re still who we are, we’re still where we can be found. Although we may feel forgotten, we’re still far from gone.

Please comment: How has persistence worked in your favor?

We may feel isolated and forgotten because of circumstances we can’t control, but staying true through faith in God’s purpose will lead us to triumph.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Standing Back)

Today's Post is Late...

... because a break in my schedule afforded a gift of time for stillness. Will return with something by early evening. (Thanks.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stillness: Peace

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4.39)

Leaving the Crowd Behind

It’s an unusually arduous day for Jesus. His sits for hours beside the Sea of Galilee explaining profound concepts to common folk. As always, He brings elusive ideas within reach by telling stories. Over the course of several hours, he talks about farmers, growing crops, lamplight, mustard seeds, and many similar parables (Mark 4.33) Day fades into twilight and two matters press Him. First, He needs time alone with the disciples to explain His teaching fully, without the metaphorical layers. Second, He needs to rest. But the crowd isn’t budging, and if He tries to end the discussion by walking away, they’ll no doubt follow Him. Jesus suggests He and the disciples sail across the lake. Verse 36 reads, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.” Yet apparently that’s not enough to shake the crowd, because Mark adds, “There were also other boats with him.”

We like the image of an indefatigable, celebrity Jesus, surrounded by admirers, always poised, always generous with His time and attention, always sensitive to the needs of those around Him. When we look closely at the Gospels, however, we discover these pictures are less than accurate. (Basically, they’re well-intentioned Sunday-school p.r.) The Gospels present Jesus as an astutely self-possessed teacher Who balances public demands with personal responsibility. He never indulges the crowd at the expense of time for Himself and His disciples. He knows His physical limits. In this case, teaching into the night would likely produce diminished returns. Jesus is tired. He’s got a few hours of private instruction ahead of Him while what He’s just taught remains fresh in the disciples’ minds. It’s time to move on. Mark’s inclusion of the phrase “just as He was” smacks of urgency. The disciples don’t pause to hold sidebar conversations or pick up supplies for the trip. They don’t wait for Jesus to change clothes. They hustle Him onto the boat and push off, leaving the crowd behind.

When the Crowd Won’t Leave

Jesus boards the vessel, finds a pillow, curls up, and goes to sleep. On a physical level, He’s probably unaware the crowd ignores His need for privacy and forms a flotilla. On the other hand, His divine nature seems alert to this. A furious squall erupts and—as Mark makes no further mention of them—it evidently causes the other boats to head back to shore. But, ever so subtly, Mark hints when the disciples, many of them seasoned sailors, get caught unawares by the storm, they suspect Jesus has something to do with it. In verse 38, they wake Jesus up and ask Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”—not, “Wake up and save us, Jesus!” but, “Don’t You care?” They don't realize the storm proves He does care.

That’s the fascinating wrinkle in this story. When the crowd won’t leave Jesus and the disciples in peace, divine providence raises a storm. Most people presume the tempest is a meteorological anomaly, a freak of nature. Yet it’s more apt, I think, to assume it’s a legitimate act of God, a definitive move on His part to stir up untimely chaos in order to create time for stillness. While the storm rocks the boat and fills it with water, Jesus sleeps. After the disciples awaken Him, He stands up, rebukes the wind, and tells the waves, “Be still!” It is not far-fetched to believe the power He exhibits to quiet the storm also reveals His power to cause it. The sudden peace Jesus brings to the situation stuns the disciples. In verse 41, Mark says this is a side of Him they’ve never seen: “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Master of the Sea

There’s something else wound into their terror, though. Once Jesus rebukes the storm, He issues them a stinging rebuke also. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He asks. (v40) First, they should know not to fear anything since Jesus is with them. In John 16.33, He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The disciples should have no doubt their peace and safety is assured. Second, their alarm belies lack of confidence in Christ’s authority over all circumstances. They’ve no reason to fear the storm. They’ve certainly no reason to fear His power. As all of what’s transpired congeals in their minds, surely their mindless fear frightens them most of all.

Putting all of this together, what do we get? Times come to leave the crowd behind and attend to more urgent matters. We are human. We grow weary. We need rest. We need privacy to listen to what more Christ has to teach us. We need stillnesspeace. Yet the more closely we follow Jesus, the more like Him we become, and the more others want to be near us. Leaving the crowd to find stillness becomes a problem when the crowd won’t leave. So it is when our need for peace reaches critical levels, unexpected storms often enter our lives to free us of people asking more than we can give. But we’re far from alone. The Master of the Sea rests nearby. Our safety is secure. Whether we cry for help or He arises on His own, He will speak peace to our storm. The rest and time we seek with Him will come. Stillness will happen.

Please comment: How do we know our need for peace has reached a critical point?

Unexpected storms often enter our lives to create stillness we need.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Persistence)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Still-Ness: And Yet

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (Job 13.15-16)

Here We Are

On occasion, I check Straight-Friendly’s traffic and note a one-time visitor who reaches us by Googling a familiar Scriptural phrase—“Good Shepherd” or “loaves and fishes,” say. He/she spends quite a while here, viewing several pages and examining the posts’ comments. I pray he/she is an earnest seeker who finds our discussions helpful. But sometimes the gleeful side of my imagination takes over. I envision a diehard legalist or cynic mousing through the content, utterly befuddled by what he/she finds: alienated gay and straight believers embracing Christ’s law of love for their neighbors; straight ones encouraging their gay sisters and brothers in the faith; incest survivors attesting the power of forgiveness; feminists patiently serving in communions that deny women equal opportunity; parents fervently raising children, straight and gay, to live in integrity—in short, people of all sorts (including “none of the above”) sharing their joyful confidence in God’s unconditional love and acceptance.

In my little fantasy, the dogmatic Christian or crusty skeptic scans page after page, looking for the “real agenda.” Where are the anger and resentment? Where’s the victim mentality? Where’s the “gay angle?” Why is much of this no different than other “traditional” Christian blogs? And, particularly for the cynic, how can such obviously intelligent people—many wounded and cast aside by religion—invest hope in their faith? When unenlightened visitors here, as well as many of our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even fellow believers, observe our witness, we make not one bit of sense to them. And yet here we are. We’ve been told we have no right or reason to believe God loves everyone equally. Still, we do. We’ve been told we can’t follow Jesus. Still, we do. We’ve been told we’re insane to think returning love for hate, tolerance for intolerance, and kindness for cruelty will change anything. Still, we do. Still. And yet.

Unconditional Faith

Any time religiously oriented people observe individuals who don’t fit their image of what Christians “look like” or how they “behave,” their first inclination is to discredit those who break the mold. While this is lamentable—and has often resulted in grave harm to others—it’s nonetheless understandable, because unconventional believers inherently challenge constructs of conformity and tradition. They threaten other believers, many of whom feel rightly compelled to defend their faith. It’s essential all Christians grasp this, as disputing the credibility of one another’s faith is the primary cause of disunity in the Body of Christ. These tensions are most keenly felt when those we differ with encounter serious trials. Instead of rallying in support, we rally to show them the error of their ways. They need our love. We pronounce judgment. This is the central conflict in Job’s story.

Job’s losses and suffering occur because he’s a righteous man—not because he’s gone wrong. But his friends don’t understand this. They plead with him to identify how he angered God, and beg His mercy. Although he insists he’s done nothing wrong, they won’t accept it. They go around and around until Job tells them to let him speak. He’s convinced what God’s doing involves him, but it’s bigger than him. And rather than take things in his own hands, Job’s prepared to trust God. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him,” he says. “I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!” (Job 13.15-16) Yet will I hope in Him. This is one of Scripture’s most stirring depictions of still-ness—unconditional faith in the face of intimidating logic, beliefs, and evidence that seemingly contradict it. Job knows who he is. He knows Who God is. And that’s all he needs to know, regardless how much his friends think they know or what they think he doesn’t know.

Not Ashamed

Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Timothy. The letter appears to be written from the Roman prison cell where Paul awaits execution. He advises Timothy not to be ashamed (intimidated) of his faith or ashamed (embarrassed) of Paul’s status as a condemned prisoner. Having been called as an apostle, he writes in chapter 1, being called to die for Christ doesn’t surprise him. “That is why I am suffering as I am,” he says in verse 12. “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Yet I am not ashamed. Still-ness.

Faced with condemnation and questions of his faith, Job practices still-ness. “It looks like there’s no hope, and yet I hope.” Staring down death’s corridor, Paul rejects shame and fear. “It looks like my suffering is deserved and my life is over, and yet I know.” Every believer who encounters hostility for his/her faith—whether from non-believers or misguided fellow Christians—must store up a ready reserve of still-ness. People will scoff at our commitment to Christ. They’ll contest its validity with every imaginable reason why confidence in God’s love and following Christ are futile. On many levels, what they say will make sense. And yet we must persist in believing what we can’t prove, trusting what we can’t see. As Scripture instructs us repeatedly, we live by faith and not by sight. What God’s doing involves us, but it’s bigger than us. Despite every reason to doubt this, still we have hope. Despite what others think of us, where we presently are, or where God ultimately leads, we’re not ashamed. Still we know. “Yes,” we say to others, “and yet.” Still-ness.

Please comment: What challenges do you face that require still-ness?

Others will question our faith—sometimes convincingly. Still-ness enables us to deflect their questions with confidence.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Peace)

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46.10)

A New Series

Today we start a new series on stillness, exploring numerous ways of being “still,” a word with a wide variety of connotations dependent on its usage. I pray when we’re through, we’ll have a sharper awareness of how important stillness—or “still-ness”—is to our faith and daily lives.

Being convinced all forms of stillness affect each of us in unique ways, I’m doing something I’ve never done: pressing for dialogue here, as well as contributions from Straight-Friendly’s email subscribers and Facebook readers. I’ll take responsibility for combining and distributing your comments via the three channels so we all can benefit from them. We have much to teach and learn from each other, and our shared understanding will be of great help to us all.

Where Did Time Go?

Our spinning planet has become a world of spinning people. Life is now one endless day, with each night’s slumber being little more than an extended nap between ongoing tasks. ‘Round-the-clock communication has made time obsolete. Not only have we lost our willingness to wait for tomorrow, our sense of tomorrow as a clean slate has vanished. Each of us arises with plans for today based on yesterday’s expectations. This blog is a fine example. Every post ends with the next day’s topic, and while most of you sleep, I—being a lifelong night owl—try my best to see the promised post is up before you’re up. I can do this since the ‘Net never closes. If you like, you’re able to read the post first thing in the morning because you don’t have to wait for the mail to receive it.

Where did time go? New conveniences are supposed to redeem time. And, yes, things once hampered by delays now happen within seconds. Yet we won’t slow down to use the added time to rest, recreate, and reflect. We’ve become a woefully agitated species burdened by tasks we won’t let wait. We no longer appreciate of what’s gained by the wait. The worst casualty of our techno-fed impatience is our reluctance to abandon “24/7 connectivity” to carve out daily time for stillness. And it's there, in the silent repose that absorbs our thoughts and cares, that we maintain our connection to God.

Living Beneath Our Privilege

“Be still, and know that I am God,” He tells us in Psalm 46.10. And He sternly reminds us His supremacy automatically ranks Him as our first priority: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” He will be exalted. His place in our lives is not contingent on our consent. He will come first, whether or not we acknowledge it, accept it, or like it. We’ll never know this without taking time to be still, however. If we devote all of our time to staying in touch, meeting expectations and deadlines, scurrying between commitments, all we’ll ever know is what we learn and experience among ourselves. As rich and marvelous as that may be, it’s not enough. It ends with what a friend calls “living beneath our privilege.” That’s what knowing God is—our privilege.

When stillness gets away from us, the privilege of knowing God goes with it. Our lives turn topsy-turvy; our priorities get screwed up. We get so busy with what we’re doing awareness of what God can do fades rapidly. We start assuming responsibility for things that stillness invites us to entrust to Him. And here’s the truth of it: He’s going to do as He wills, regardless how well we know and trust Him. Many self-propelled efforts will end favorably, inadvertently aligning with God’s work in us. Others will lead to disappointment or flat-out disaster by clashing with His will. Yet even our most successful solo efforts fall beneath our privilege because they’re conceived within our limitations. Ephesians 3.20 tells us God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us.” Knowing God's power comes through knowing God. Knowing God comes through stillness.


Shutting down gizmos and distractions creates silence. But true stillness only occurs when we shut down. We empty our minds of what matters to us and ponder what matters to God. We clear emotions and desires from our hearts to make room for His presence. We subdue responses to our environment to create a realm of infinite possibility within physically finite space. This isn’t natural. In fact, stillness very well may be the most unnatural behavior there is, because it immediately blocks fears and worries that produce anxiety. It insists on complete faith in the safety of God’s presence. It practices His presence to instill confidence we can rely on it during times of doubt and turmoil.

Because stillness requires us to override natural instincts, it entails discipline. Unless we conscientiously set aside daily time to be still, we’ll never master the skills to experience the privilege it provides. We won’t know God as fully. His supremacy won’t become as vividly real. Our confidence His power transcends anything we can ask or think won’t be as sure. Our trust in His protection won’t be as secure. Stillness anchors our knowledge that God is, He is in all, and He is over all. Instead of spending all our time on what we need to do, we’re much wiser to invest a portion of it in stillness. The most we’ll gain from ‘round-the-clock busywork will never amount to the unimaginable things we’ll do and privilege we’ll find by disciplining ourselves to be still.

Please comment: What keeps us from experiencing daily, disciplined stillness?

(Email subscribers, please forward your thoughts to Facebook readers, please post your responses as a link comment or on the Straight-Friendly page's message board. Thank you.)

Stillness removes us from a world of fear and worries to enter a safe place of infinite possibilities. It’s how we know God.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: “And Yet”)