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Saturday, May 25, 2013

The idea of sleep...

God created us to sleep.

Other than sex this might have been the second oddest and greatest idea of God.

The sheer idea that we sleep almost 1/3 of our lives is shocking to take in.  It seems like such a waste of time, and yet I find myself looking forward to sleep intermittently throughout the day as my body and mind tires under the taxation of toil.  I imagine my head hitting the pillow and drifting off into a cozy coma.  The crazy thing about sleep is that when I do it well, I don't remember anything about it and it goes really fast.  The nights when I'm more aware of how long I've slept/dozed are the nights when my sleep is disturbed.  It is then I realize how much time I'm dead to the world, alone and doing nothing.

But I don't want to talk about sleeping, because I typically don't find myself sleeping deeply and soundly these days.  I never thought it would happen to me.  I remember by dad saying occasionally that he had trouble sleeping when I was a child and I recollect thinking to myself: "How is that possible?" To me, it was as simple as putting my head on a pillow and I was a goner.  And once I was out, neither height nor depth, nor angels or principalities, nor things present or things to come could separate me from the love of sleep.  I was overtaken, lost in the liminal language of dreams twitching in R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) which meant I was buried under layers of lucid loveliness.  I didn't realize the gift that deep sleep was until it slowly slipped away and I became much like my father, a "light sleeper".

Now I dream of being able to dream, being taken under so deeply that I lose track of time experiencing the fright of an alarm clock.  These days, I wake so many times before my alarm clock that it is a fixture of yesteryear placed by my bed next to my head in hopes that I'll need it.  It is hope.  Hope to experience sleep of the ilk I once enjoyed.  Occasionally I will truly be awoken by my alarm clock and those are blessed mornings.

Insomnia is the weapon of devils.  The foul voices that bounce about in the echo chamber of the sleepless soul can't be described.  They play off of a mix of fear, failure, fact and fiction braiding them together into a tapestry of terror.  Time creeps by so slowly that you feel the night will never end.  If you just knew that you wouldn't be able to sleep, you might just get up and watch television or head off to work early, but you don't know, so you try to sleep.  You think: "Maybe, just maybe, my fatigue will overcome my freakish feelings in the coming moments."  And you wait.  You count sheep.  You think happy thoughts.  You sing worship songs.  You pray centered prayers.  You quote Philippians think upon these things.  You take thoughts captive making them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10).  Anything you can think of doing to find the serenity needed to "fall" asleep.

When these centering tactics don't work, you begin to wage war.  You decide to rise up and go on the offensive.  You start saying things in your mind like: "In the name of Jesus and by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony,  I command you to leave my presence."  You storm the gates of Hell with a water pistol.  You confess sins and renounce anything you can think of that might be giving the Enemy access to your bedroom.  You begin swinging your sword in hopes of landing some sort of blow, but you can't help but feeling like you're just flailing about like a drunk swashbuckler fighting pirates on a slippery deck.  You're about to go overboard, but you're not going over without a fight.  But the soul tires like the taut muscles of a wrestler spent after 6 minutes of unrelenting exertion.  That modus operandi doesn't last for long.

Anyway...I just wanted to talk about sleep.  Sleeping patterns.  Sleeplessness.  Basically, I want to recognize how vital sleep is to life and living.  I also wanted to appreciate the battle of insomniacs who wrestle with the darkness expending inordinate amounts of energy on things that by and large don't exist when the morning light breaks through the drawn curtains.

So there you have it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How do I know I'm a Christian?

I am beginning to believe that the truest visible mark of a follower of Christ is a love for people.

I don't think you can witness the lifestyle of Jesus found in the Gospels, claim to walk in His steps and remain indifferent to people.  If the Spirit of Christ dwells in a person, He immediately begins to work on the way in which a person interacts (mentally & actually) with others.  He asks, "What do you believe about people?" Because what you believe is directly connected to what you perceive.  You see who you are, so God changes who you are and consequently how you see.

People become the priority in life. (family, friends, co-workers, strangers, etc.) You think about their well-being, their backstory and their goings on.  You want to get to know them below the surface.  You want to--then--surface the buried treasure of their hearts.  You want to see Jesus fill them with his life, laughter and love.

You listen more intently when people are talking.  Your eyes gaze into their pupils with curiosity.  You soak up the stories they are telling like a dog lapping rain water out of a puddle.  People are glorious creatures who deserve undivided attention, and so you treat them as such.  You approach people to listen and learn.  You ask questions to see where they're coming from.

Above all, you want to know the "why behind the what".

It's not enough for them to tell you they enjoy sailing, ask them why.
It's not enough to know that they don't like to cry in front of people, ask them why.
It's not enough to hear the facts of their day and their feelings about those facts, ask them why they feel as they do about those facts.  (sounds over the top...but it's really not's just a simple second question..."So why do you feel this about that?")

Most people are engaged on such a surface level.  They rarely get to share the "why behind and beyond the what", and when they do, people often don't stay tuned in until they are finished telling their story.  I believe Jesus' skill to ask good questions and be an active listener was the key to his popularity with people.  He really cared.

But it was more than just caring, he was--for lack of better words--present.  I heard someone say one time that "you can't fake presence".  You either are or aren't.  There isn't a greater "put off" than when someone is trying to "put on".  Presence isn't put on.  It just is.  I was reading in the Bible that when God showed up to Elijah in his moment of depression the text says he came "all at once".  To me, this is presence.  All of you is there in the fullness of that moment of time.

Being fully present with people is a fruit of the Spirit, in my opinion.  I don't think you can do this with skill power or will power...that is conjured and manipulated presence.  I think this is something that God's Spirit produces in a person as they surrender themselves to his dense presence.

In John 1 it says that "The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us."  This is presence.  The idea of dwelling is deep.  To dwell with someone is to live near them, with them, among them.  To linger longer in the conversation.  To stay in the midst of people.  To mingle and tangle yourself with the people, taking on their form and meeting them where they're at.  This is incarnational living.

So you can't be a Christian without becoming overwhelmingly awakened to the humans living all around you.  You can't be awakened to God's love without wanting that for others.  You can't be forgiven without wanting that for others.  As Jesus clearly said, "Freely you have received, now freely give."  This is the simplest transmission of mission I see next to his other empowering statement: "As the Father has sent me, so send I you."  We--you and me--must be change-agents.  We are ambassadors of this "presence" that has deeply affected and infected us.  We have to take that to others.  This is the impulse of a true convert.  This is the instinct of a Christ-follower.

Do you love people?  Does your heart ache for the lost and hurting?  Is your soul restless to "seek and save those who are lost" in solidarity with our Lord's passion?  Are people more important than things to you?  More important than animals?  More important than money?  More important than success?  Are people filling your mind throughout the day and are you sensing the inklings of God in how to engage those people with redemptive love?

"They will know that you are my disciples by the love you have one for another." - Jesus

Thursday, May 16, 2013

So what if you "know better"...

I'm intrigued by phrases that I hear and say wondering why they're said and where they came from in the first place.

One of those is "I know better than that."

It's usually employed to express the terrible feeling of knowing something is wrong but doing it anyway.  Or knowing something is right and not doing the right that you know.  It's embarrassing to be talking to someone and to come to a place in the conversation where you divulge something that makes you look like a moron because it's blatantly obvious what should be happening, but isn't....or shouldn't have happened, but did.  So...there is a stammer in the sentence...and then someone mutters out the phrase "I know better than that and yet..." to try and give voice to the painful realization that just because "you know better" doesn't mean "you'll do the better that you know".

You think education will help you make more informed decisions...that's what it's supposed to do and sometimes does.  But often times it just shows you how much more you don't actually know and how hard it is to conduct your life in such a way that you execute the new knowledge that you've learned.  Like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1, "The more learning, the more sorrow".  He was trying to say that sometimes the more you know the higher you're chances are of saying with a sigh..."I knew better than that!"

I also find myself saying, "I should have know better".  Same phrase, but coming from a place of beating myself up for what I don't know that I've had every opportunity to know yet for some reason don't because "I'm not applying myself" or "digging deep enough" or whatever.  I fight this all the time.  I want to know everything, so when something happens that exposes my incompetence, I feel stupid that I didn't think hard enough or long enough to come up with the solution, thus failing.  If only I had known better.

You see what I'm getting at?

I'm learning to release myself from the death grip of "knowing better" and it's various forms of attack on my soul.  I'm becoming more and more ok with not knowing everything.  I'm becoming more patient with myself when I make a mistake, fail, or outright sin even though I may have "known better".  I can strap myself to a whipping pole and flog myself for not choosing the "better" that I "knew"...or I can embrace the fact that I can never live up to the letter of the law and its every jot and tittle.  I can't do everything I know, and I can't know everything.  Sounds simple, but it's easy to allow these inner dialogues and diatribes to be the diabolic voices that govern my quality of life.

So "I knew better" what?  Knowing intellectually is much different than knowing experientially and I think God sometimes wants us to fail so that our knowledge goes beyond the cerebral to the visceral.  Knowing stuff is so overrated.  And when you grow up in a culture that is "know the right thing, do the right thing", you get suffocated with the expectations of "knowing more than you could ever live out" or "not knowing as much as you wish you did".  Over-knowing or under-knowing lead to the same sad sighs of "I know better." or "I should have known better".  Who cares?  What are you going to do with the failure and how are you going to let it shape you into a more authentic, humble, caring, relatable influence in the future?  That's what I wonder about.

Well, those are my ramblings.  If I "knew any better" I would have stayed away from this subject, but thankfully I don't.  And I might be barking up the wrong tree, but I think you should join me "if you knew what was good for ya'"...hehe.


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Flip the Pillow...

I've been trying something.  I guess you could call it somewhat of an experiment.

Let's call it the pillow flip experiment.

I have always been a pillow flipper since I can remember.  I have a feeling I'm not the only one.  There are few refreshments more immediate in their gratification than the cool side of a pillow.

As I'm laying on my pillow and I start feeling the stagnant warm air emanating from underneath my heavy head, I have this instinctual need to flip the pillow taking advantage of the cool and fresh fabric found on the other/dark side.  This happens countless times even before I drift off at night, subconsciously whilst sleeping in the watches of the night, and numerous times in the morning as I fight waking up for that extra few minutes of shut eye.  This "pillow flip" is nothing short of an obsession.

I got to thinking that life is like that.  I will "get used" to something and the stagnant air of familiarity will take over.  But just on the other side of each moment like that, there is a pillow flip moment when I can
bring a refreshing side to a moment and look at the good side of a situation.  Even as people are concentrating on the negative side of life, I feel the need to flip the pillow and share something good that is concurrently occurring to remind myself, if no one else, of the refreshing side of life.  So many good things happen and are happening in the middle of bad things.  I have a choice of focus in those moments.  Do I dwell on the badness or the goodness?  The sins or the wins?

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to flip the pillow throughout the day feeling its fresh and refreshing perspective seep into your spirit.  It takes only moments for it to start warming and blending into the atmospheric conditions of its surrounding.  So you have to flip it in the next minute...and the next.

"In everything give thanks for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning you." - I Thess.

Yeah...that pretty much says it all.  Concerning me.