Finding our way there

I remember, shortly after turning 16, driving to Indianapolis for the first time on my own. I’d been there a thousand times with my mom — granted, I’d always trusted my parents to navigate while I sat in the passenger seat with my nose buried in a book — but how hard could it be? You get in the car, head in that general direction, and in about 45 minutes, voilá! We’d be there. Easy.

Well, on my first solo trip, I managed to find my favorite mall easily enough, but getting back home was another story. It didn’t make sense to me that I’d have to take a road marked “Peoria, IL” to get to Ladoga, IN. I drove for a while, and I knew I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t know where the right place was. This was before cell phones and GPS. We couldn’t count on someone else to guide us. We had to find the way on our own. (Or, like I did, stop at a pay phone and call for help.)

Sometimes I find myself along for the ride at church. Yeah, of course I can find that sweet spot in worship when I’m in a roomful of people who are all headed to the same place. I can do my own thing, look up every once in a while and notice the landmarks, and coast along until we arrive at the throne. But what happens when I’m on my own? Can I get there myself? Do I know how to find God when I’m the one doing the driving? Can I find Him using my own directions, or do I prefer to ride in the passenger seat, trusting that our pastors or worship leaders will get us to our destination? It’s easy to believe that we can do it ourselves…until we try it. And then we discover that it’s harder than it looks. So worth it, so worth the effort and time and focus and concentration it takes — absolutely. But harder than we thought. The good news? Once we’ve been there once, the next time is easier, and before long, getting there is second nature.

Ready to play

There is a boy on my son’s basketball team who, you can tell, has played for years, even though he’s just nine. He’s tall and fast and has great control. His dad coaches the team, and what struck me the most during the last game was the way Cameron listened to his dad as he played. The coach would say slow down, and Cameron instantly, with absolute control, slowed down. His dad would tell him to pass and he would look for the open guy. When his father told him to take the ball to the basket, Cam looked for his opportunity and wove through the opponents to make a perfect lay-up. His dad wasn’t screaming or criticizing. He was calmly, encouragingly helping his son see what was happening — pointing out opportunities and teaching him the thought process so that later, when his dad isn’t there, he’ll know what to do on his own.

I’m sure, like all of us, Cameron has his times of not wanting to listen. But you wouldn’t know it to watch him play. Here’s the thing: in order for Cameron to be so good, he had to practice. A lot. He may have been given certain inherent abilities, but he hasn’t neglected them. He works at it. You can see it in the control he shows. He can dribble right-handed or left-handed. He can run with the ball or pass or shoot. But, when he’s on the court, at least, he trusts his dad. He knows he’ll lead him in the right direction, so he uses his abilities as he is told. He has an obedient spirit.

I thought, oh, if we could listen to our Heavenly Father like that. To trust that He can see the big picture. To remember that He wrote the playbook and He knows all about our opponents. He gave us talents, and we need to spend time honing our skills, but then, when it’s time, we have to be ready to go. We have to tune in to His voice and block out all the others who are screaming suggestions or criticism or simply trying to distract us. We need to walk proudly onto the court and say, OK, Daddy, I’m ready to play.

Glorious, glorious fall

I’ve always loved fall. Maybe it’s because, as a redhead, those rich ambers and rusts and oranges and browns and greens are the colors I like to wear (and the accompanying cool air means it’s time to break out my jean jacket). Maybe it’s the way the light changes color this time of year, washing the world in its golden glow, shining through the patterns of colorful leaves, breathtaking in its beauty. Or maybe it’s because the colors are so vivid that they make my very soul ache.

My soul rejoices in the overwhelming coloration and the subtle variations of hue all around me. Do you realize that our Creator made this just for us? The endless splashes of color cloaking the trees, the grains, the ground as far as the eye can see. The almost unbearable richness of the saturation of color. The way the color seems almost alive as it shimmies in the wind and the landscape transforms almost before our eyes. The exuberance and extravagance of it leaves me breathless.

The leaves outside show what happens on the inside when God finds us. What once seemed pretty to us — the lush, uniform greenery of summer, the whiteness of the light — pales next to this transformation. When we are in the process of dying out to our old selves, of dying out to what the world would offer, we’ve never before been so beautiful to the Lord. The exquisite radiance of the leaves isn’t seen until they start to die. Do you know why it’s so beautiful? Because, instead of the end, it signals a renewal. This death must take place to allow for hope and expectancy and the ripeness of a new life — a life full of potential and joy. The leaves remind us that He is faithful in His promises. That He will change us, that we will be transformed into the beautiful things he meant us to be. That even in death we are not forsaken. That we are on this earth to bring beauty into the lives of others. That we can only be at our richest, most vivid, most joyful selves when we stop clinging to what used to sustain us. When we embrace the changes that are happening. When we let go of the security to which we cling and float on the very breath of God.

Pure worship

No words to describe how deeply this song moves me, just lots and lots of tears.
Watch video - Kari Jobe, The More I Seek You

Membership in that exclusive club

Wanted: someone to join this exclusive club I’m in. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to pretend you are. You must attend at least one weekly meeting, usually on Sunday morning, and buy a new wardrobe so you look the part. You don’t have to change your life, just be good during the meetings. You can talk about other people (use the code phrase “I think we should pray for so-and-so because she’s ____”). You can be closed-minded and judgmental, because of course you must be better than they are because you’re in the club and they’re not. It’s a great club because it comes with its own music and terminology and guidebook, which you don’t have to follow but you do have to tell others to follow. And we can divert attention from our own failings by quoting “well-meaning” pieces of wisdom from this really great book we have to help “others”. Warning, though: if you mess up, we’ll throw you out on your hiney.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of a club like this, a club in which people are insincere, in which they are hypocritical, in which they exclude others not just like them.

So how do I say this without coming across like a member of the aforementioned club: Many Christians are like this. They’d be horrified to hear you suggest such a thing, and the ones who need to hear it will deny that they’re part of that group, but their lives tell a different story. I’ve run into so many people who have told me stories of appalling, stupid, and hurtful things people have done to them and then said, “If that’s Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.” That’s the thing, though: it’s NOT Christianity, or at least not what it’s supposed to be. How many people are turned off by what they think are “club” rules and requirements? How many people won’t show up at events because we’ve said to them, directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong? And how many don’t want to learn more because they’ve seen the way we live and treat people and they don’t want to be like us? Ouch.

Have I done every one of these things at some point during my “membership”? I’m sure of it. But when I do, nobody wants to come with me to the meetings and nobody is inspired to change. Help me, Lord. I want to live authentically. I want to follow the rules, not just tell others what to do. I want to belong, yes, but I also want to be the one who brought in the most new members. I don’t want to just carry a membership card. I want to be transformed. I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble, or turn anyone away. I want to be on the inside what I am on the surface. I want people to look at me and see not just a follower, but through me, see the One who started it all. I want to help and pray and take care of people, not condemn them for their actions or values or the situations that brought them to my attention. I want to accept them, even if they have different beliefs and morals. I want to love them. I want to be everything Christians are called to be. Authentically, sincerely, eternally.

NOTE TO MY READERS (all three of you): This is an issue that has been troubling me for some time. I would love your responses to these questions. Not that this is an easy task, but is living authentically enough? Without being judgmental ourselves, what can we as Christians do to change the perceptions non-Christians have about our religion? How do we show people what Christianity is supposed to be about? How do we convince them that many of those who shout the loudest that they are Christians really do not live by the true principles of their faith (especially since we all mess up and none of us are perfect)?