All of the blog posts have a "soundtrack" listed. I firmly believe we feel things more deeply when we associate a thought or experience to a song. I pray the Spirit will use my words and these songs to draw you in deeper into the love and grace of the Triune God!

Some posts have a "backpack" item. Simply, these are books that I would suggest for further reading on a given topic.


Surprised by Something

I love C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy more than any other book in all the world, and I am presently reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright.  (Side Bar, maybe I should start signing my name as J.E. Sims.) I like that somehow pressing in to understand God more deeply often leads to surprise.  Our God is certainly inclined to behave differently than we expect.  Superficially, I also consider it serendipitous that one of my favorite contemporary thinkers paid homage to one of my favorite thinkers of all time.

Surprise is something God does well.  It makes logical sense - he does have a few things up on us, being infinite, all knowing and what not.  I also think that surprise is something that we need in our lives... not just for birthdays and significant life events, but definitely in the mundane and even maybe in a shifting world view.  Unexpectedness can catch us off guard and occasionally provide more valuable or substantive experiences than the ones we plan for ourselves.  For instance, Mom was called on stage recently to participate in a skit while we were on a cruise.  She was not expecting this, and I think you see in her face genuine shock.  But I hope what you can also see is a sense of thrill and exhilaration.

Not long ago a drawer of mine was cleaned out for me, and I found papers from years past.  It's always interesting to look at the things for which you once found great value, but somehow lost track of them.  In that drawer I discovered this little piece of paper that I had typed out:
I am like you.  I have seen plenty done in the name of God that I'm sure God doesn't want anything to do with.  I have lots of reasons for bailing on the whole thing.  I am also like you because I have a choice.  To become bitter, cynical, jaded and hard.  Anybody can do that.  A lot have.  Hatred is a powerful, unifying force.  And there is a lot to be repulsed by.  Or, like you, I can choose to reclaim my innocence.  We can choose to reclaim our innocence together.  We can insist that hope is real and that  a group of people who love God and others really can change the world.  We can reclaim our idealism and our beliefs and our confidence in the big ideas that stir us deep in our bones.  We can commit all the more to being the kinds of people who are learning how to do what Jesus teaches us.  ~ Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis.  
I feel compelled to acknowledge two arenas of surprise that this quote brings to mind.  The first is the potential bitterness causing "stuff" that Rob addresses.  I have been shocked by the dark and disappointing things that people do, think, say, believe, and create in the name of God.  The type of greed, pride, hatred, and selfishness I've met in people preparing to serve the Lord and/or declaring their faith simply astonishes me.  I have heard several people who formerly worked in churches say (in varying capacity and denomination) that the meanest people they ever met were people in that church.  I believe that the Lord used the level of disbelief I experienced to emphasize how significant and devastating this truly is.  God uses our emotions to help us better understand greater Truth.  Here, surprise led to somber lament. 

This persistent grief first struck me years ago and I am surprisingly, but only partially, glad to say that it remains. It is much easier to be jaded because in choosing to do so you quite literally build up a barrier around yourself to insulate yourself from the quite difficult feelings of pain and loss.

And yet, the steady peace that God shares in this grief gives me warrant to both acknowledge the injustice and endure past it.  Because God is bigger.  I believe he works tirelessly to restore those victimized by the church, her agents, the church herself, and the perpetrators that harm people in her name.

One of my favorite movie moments is in Robin Hood - the Kevin Costner one. (Prince of Thieves)  Christian Slater as Will Scarlett cries out to his newly revealed brother Robin of Locksley, "It's not a lie! You ruined my life! I have more reason to hate you than anyone. Yet I found myself daring to believe in you. And what I want to know, brother, is will you stay with us and finish what you started?"

There is something analogous about that scene with my feelings about the church.  Somehow, despite my understanding of what happens (sometimes and in some places) behind the scenes, I can't help but remain "all in."  That is how powerful the love of Christ can be.

And here it is.  The real surprise.  The divine surprise.  I am... surprised by resolve.  Tenacity.  Love.  Authentic Freedom.  And not my own, but instead that which is constant in the Spirit that stirs within me.  Something more.  I don't know what the word is, and I am ok leaving it nameless.  In a world where men and women change their feelings at a whim.  Our Heavenly Father remains constantly eager to heal our brokenness. 

The Holy Spirit forces me to confront, acknowledge and even embrace Hope.  When something is true in an way that deserves a capital "T," there is no mistaking the source.

May you be reminded that the good God who governs the Church in grace and justice is in the business of surprise and restoration.  Do not let the sinfulness of man keep you from the joy of salvation! 

Soundtrack:  Today, Enter the Worship Circle.

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