Tag Archives: God

The Identified Patient

When there’s a breakdown in some families, you can sometimes find that everyone is clear that if ONE person changed, everything would be fine.  “If she just got her act together… if it wasn’t for her… if she just wasn’t here…”  What’s clearest, to anyone looking in from the outside, is that the problems, breakdowns or frustrations all stem from the presence and nature of one person.

Ever been “the identified patient?”  It’s a lousy position in which to be.  Any move you make, any breath you take, any cake you bake is evaluated from the position of the problem you are to the rest of the household.  Sort of the way a mountain creates its own weather, the identified patient creates atmospheric issues of life in a community.  It doesn’t really have to do much more than be there, just being present creates turbulence, crowdedness, disquiet.

Consider how the identified patient might feel in that setting.  They don’t have to try.  They just have to be there and they’re wrong.  If they say something, they’re wrong.  If they do something, they’re wrong.  But they don’t have to do or say anything… we just all know they’re wrong and will only, always, ever be wrong.  They’re in the way, roadblocks, hampering movement forward and so the best thing is just to ignore them or get rid of them, if possible.

But then someone comes along who wonders if anyone has ever climbed the mountain… and gives it a shot.  It’s treacherous, the air gets thin, sometimes it feels like they’re dying, but then, as they get to the top, suddenly a vista opens up, the world is clear.  They can see forever.  They’re glad they made the trip.

That’s what happens sometimes when the identified patient is not attended as a “patient” but as part of life, as a person.  It’s a hike, no question, and sometimes its more of a climb than a hike.  Mountains get driven up by a lot of ancient trauma from below.  But when someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn the mountain and can reach a spot where they see clearly and they also love the mountain.

There’s a story Jesus tells of the guy who is a problem.  Jesus tells those who follow him to go one-on-one to sort out the problem the guy has or is.  He goes on, if that doesn’t work then bring another with you and if not then, bring in some authority for help and if not then, get the community to come together to clear things up.  If that doesn’t work then “treat them like a tax collector or sinner.”  This has been used as a road-map on kicking someone out of the church… but that’s not how Jesus treated tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t kick them out.  He chose to get to know them, to climb the mountain.

Just when you figure someone is nothing more than a pain in the butt, so we should just dismiss them… Jesus comes along and says, “Nah, …get your gear!  We got a hill to climb!”  Who does this guy think he is?


There’s Always Only One Side to Every Story

Have you ever noticed that there’s only one side to every story?  I know the old adage says it differently… something about “two sides.”  But, it’s been my experience that there’s always only one.  I used to think it was mine.

I used to know when I was in an argument or when there was a misunderstanding between me and someone else that there was only one side to the story and I had it.  I was right.  They were wrong.  They just weren’t seeing clearly or their logic was off or they were just being dull or they were looking for a good excuse to be angry at me or they were jerks or choosing to be stupid or numbskulls.  I like that word… “numb-skulls.”  It’s such a tangible expression.  It’s like “no-brain.”

I remember watching an interview where an actor referred to a director as having “the brain of a pea.”  He didn’t say he had a brain “the size of a pea” (which is how I’ve always heard it).  He said he had the brain of a pea.  I liked that, too.  It is so graphic.  I spent a little while looking forward to the moment when I could copy that, use it to refer to someone who ticked me off.

That was when I used to think that there was only one side and that it was mine.

Now, I’m convinced that there’s always only one side to every story… and it’s always God’s.

When I was at the place in my life where I was open to collecting clever insulting names to use on people I came upon “Raca.”  It’s the old word for “empty-head,” a different way of saying “no-brain.”  The trouble, for me, was it was used by Jesus and it was in the middle of his saying that people who refer to others this sort of way were just as guilty of murder as the person who just fired the gun.  Paying attention to Jesus means you have to give up clever insults.  That can feel like a drag for a while because they’re so tasty.  They have such a chewy, saltiness that it makes you want to hang onto them for a while… and there’s Jesus telling you to spit it out.  Like some Mom who discovered you picked up something from the ground and in her disgust, she’s still telling you to spit it into her hand.  Jesus is acting like that.  She wants it out of you.

I had friends, next-door neighbors, when I was little, who decided to try out the taste of tar from the new coating that had just been put down on the road outside our houses.  Their mom not only made them spit it out, but she used a little Lestoil to get it off their teeth.  Talk about washing your mouth out with soap!  My Mom made a big deal of telling me NEVER to do that or she might need to use Lestoil on me.

That’s a word from God.  If you do something like that, if you put words like this in your mouth, we’re going to have to do some heavy-duty cleansing.

Jesus has this way of taking something that seems like a cool idea at the time and showing us how it impacts us really.  Which can feel like buzz-kill until you think about it with him… and then you’re getting to the one side of the story.

The one side belongs to God because God’s the only one who sees the whole story.  He knows what’s going on in everyone’s head and heart.  He knows what we have seen and what we haven’t seen, what we’ve mixed up or ignored.  He knows… and we don’t.  There’s always one side to every story and it belongs to God.  That’s why he calls us to reconciliation.  He’s telling us that we need to join him in getting back together with people, so we both admit to the story he’s revealing to us.



Power Addict

It’s been interesting, in a frightening sort of way, to watch the rise of Donald Trump.  One interesting moment came in the numerous responses to the support Trump is receiving from evangelicals.  I guess I’m surprised at the surprise expressed in many of these articles or blogs.  Evangelicals (with a capital “E”… I consider myself an evangelical) are addicted to power and that’s what they are aching for.  The Donald delivers the fix.

Like all addictions, power is subtle.

It seeks to take us, body and soul, completely by undermining our relational guidelines.  Relationship keeps us out of addiction.  As we depend on others, give to others and are grateful for others, we desire life and living.  We are satisfied in many deep and abiding ways.  An addiction grows as it replaces this satisfaction with want and it does that sometimes in the very cells of our bodies.  Very gently, addiction replaces our relationships with separation so that, over time, we ache for no one and nothing except the feeling we receive from the drug of choice.

This can happen with power.  We feel like we can “make things happen.”  We love when people give in and do as we want.  Evangelicalism, in its worst forms, has focused on bending people to its will through conversion.  Unfortunately, it moved away from conversion to Jesus and following him to conversion to a culture.  The culture was what it created around Jesus… “Jesus stuff.”  Jesus stuffConferences, trinkets, study Bibles in all colors, studies, videos, radio stations, clothes, pundits, separation from other culture… all to build a sense of protection and worth that didn’t rely on God’s grace.  It sought to make people believe its culture and to fall into line with behavioral patterns.  The trouble is that these patterns are focused on perfection and purity and not on relationship with people or God.  The aim is to be good, not to be real.  The dominance with its pressure to submit individually, in groups, through teachings, music and books, reveals the greater importance of power and authority over other people.

When the Moral Majority came into a period of national attention, the movement became focused on wielding political power.  Candidates fed this need by wooing the leaders.  Those following the leaders began to feed on the trickle-down obsession.  Even though the national attention shifted away because the hollow core was revealed through cascading scandals, the need and the need to feed remains.  Trump is simply giving them a free ride and they’re basking in the high.  When they realize that they have gained no ground but actually fallen into a deeper expression of loss, they’re going to get angry, but it won’t matter.

The example of humility, abiding in trusting God’s power, seeking others’ significance provided by Jesus has nothing to do with this community any more.  As has been the case for over 2000 years, the future of faith will be led by those who pray and assist their children to discover the One who is the heart of that conversation, the One who guides them deeply into relationship with other human beings, rather than those who anguish over it not being forced in schools anymore.



I was just reminded of an incident that happened a while back and that speaks to the difference between God’s action and coincidence.  It feels like that’s a good thing to consider as we walk into Christmas celebration.  Faith is believing in something unseen.  And at Christmas it feels good to consider in what we put our faith.
The incident took place at the closing of the church I founded in a shopping center.  Nine years after it began we were shutting it down.  It was sad, but it seemed clear that it was the only choice.  We held our last worship service, got our books in order, hauled off all personal items and were left with all the standard “non-interesting” pieces of church- tables, chairs, shelves, small rugs, music stands, desks, platforms… those kinds of things.  We sent out word to area churches that if they needed any of these items they were welcome to come on this particular day and time and take anything they wanted for free.  We set up a small crew to help carry, take down names for those things that were too big to fit into some vehicle and went about the clearing.
I went off for lunch at one point and when I came walking back into our space people were immediately calling me to the phone.  Mark, a pastor friend, was calling to ask about a particular item.  He said, “Geoff, you know that podium you use for preaching, I was wondering where you got that.  I want to get one like it.”
He was speaking of a conductor’s stand I bought from which I preached.  It looked like a music stand but it was plexi-glass and very wide.  directors-standI would have my notes and a book or two and even some other papers on it when I spoke.  I had chosen it specifically for preaching and that’s how it was used through the life of our church.  Now it sat in the midst of all the music stands, just waiting to be carried off in the bunch.

I said, “Mark… do you know what’s happening here today?”

He said he didn’t and that began my story of our situation.  He was stunned, disappointed and left wondering.  I concluded by saying, “So, if you want it, it’s yours.”  We made arrangements to meet because he lived and worked some miles away.  He was starting his own church at that time and had been thinking through what to use as a pulpit when he remembered mine.
It occurred to me, as I pulled it out of the crowd of black music stands that something had happened.  On this random day, at this random time Mark called for this particular stand.  The stand, which was designed for a totally different purpose, had been specifically chosen by me for the preaching and teaching of God’s word.  It was a dedicated instrument.  No one in our place ever allowed it to be used for anything else.  People always asked if it could be moved.  It had become sacred by its use… special.  That day, when everything was sailing out the door, this one item was called for particularly.
What occurred to me was that God laid claim to it.  When I hung up the phone I thought, “God’s saying, ‘You can let all the rest of this stuff go, but this piece… this is mine.’”  It continued and continues now, as far as I know, in that singular purpose – the preaching and teaching of God’s word.
Just a bit of wonder there and it makes me wonder… coincidence or God?  Why would you put more faith in coincidence than God?  Like the Higgs Boson… a thousand scientists stood outside, all night, to get the chance to see the Hadron Collider try to demonstrate this particle was real.  Up to that time they couldn’t see it and couldn’t measure it.  They could only see an effect, a “bump,” they interpreted as evidence.  That’s what we call faith.



I’ve been thinking about clothes recently.  This will surprise a lot of people because I don’t usually.  One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau who once wrote, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”  Thoreau was also the source of the quote by my picture in my yearbook – “I sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this; – who could wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee?”  My niece just posted a picture of me with my son and her father and brother from like 15 years ago and I was wearing the same jacket I just had re-stitched at the dry cleaners.

Clothes are not usually a big deal to me, but they’ve been on my mind recently.

I’ve been thinking about clothes my wife and I buy for our grandchildren.  I’ve been thinking about tops I might buy for my daughters.  And my wife just told me that I should NOT buy her clothes this Christmas just because I think she’d look good in them (pretty clear hint on that one).

The reason I’ve been thinking about clothes, actually over the last couple of months this fall, is because I realized I have never bought my family clothes so that they wouldn’t be killed.

Do you think about that?  Do you look at something on the rack and think through whether or not that would cause someone to kill the person wearing it?  Do you live with that level of inherent fear?  I don’t.  I never have.

Not once have I spent a second considering whether this color, style, look would incite violence or encourage someone to take the life of my child or grandchild if they were wearing it.  I am now.  I’ve been thinking seriously about it for weeks.

That’s been the outcome of my considering the stories of black lives being taken that are penetrating our news in a horrifyingly consistent manner this fall.  Imagine (and obviously, some of you don’t have to imagine) that because your child is wearing a certain color or a hood or a particular hat they may be gunned down.

Right now, there’s no escaping the invitation.  And the thing we (the greater majority) are being invited into is not anger, regardless of how angry the people protesting and cursing and shouting may appear.  We’re being invited into fear, a very appropriate sentiment for a season that celebrates the One with greatest power who invested themselves in coming alongside us in our fears.

The next time you handle those new clothes in a store cause yourself to consider whether this would get the one you love or even yourself killed just because you are wearing it.  Enter fear as you watch the news and think, should anyone have to live that way?


Most Important

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of this…
In no particular order, at some point in time it was decided that the most important thing to God was…

  • sacrifice
  • rules
  • baptism
  • communion
  • going to church
  • Bible study
  • proving the Bible is true
  • being pure
  • love
  • ritual
  • order

None of these things… really truly not one of these things is the most important thing to God.  The most important thing to God is us.  Just us.

And the most difficult thing about that is that as soon as we learn it, God wants us to participate in telling, showing, living that into the lives of others.

The last distressing and revealing thing we discover is that the most important thing to God is not ME… it’s us.  And it is us being with him.  It’s when God is included in us being us.  That’s the most important thing to God.  All of us being us with him.

God’s love is perfected in us… 1 John 4:12



You may not know this but I never tell people how I vote on things… not even my wife.  So, it’s a big deal for me to write out that I voted against the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s change in their Book of Order that changed the definition of marriage.   Some people may say they’re not surprised, but maybe, just maybe they would be surprised by the reasons.
Along with the definition, here’s what got changed…

  • a pastor is allowed to perform weddings for marriages that are legal in their state
  • the requirement that at least one person in the couple be a professing Christian was removed
  • the pastor was made a “witness” of the wedding instead of consecrating it
  • the couple makes “promises” instead of vow

Here’s what these changes can mean…
When a pastor is told they can perform marriages that are legal in the state in which they live, that makes the authority of the church stand under the government or “the state.”  Back in the 1930’s a group of German Christians got together in the town of Barmen and they wrote out a document that made it vividly clear that the state never leads the church.  They did that because the Nazi party had announced that the state is the “head of the church.”  These folks wrote a declaration or confession that Jesus is the head of the church and not the state, ever.  In that time and place, they created their own death warrants by signing that document.
But, if the state is the one leading then there’s no need for at least one person in a couple to be a professing Christian.  But, then why have a pastor?  Why do this ceremony in a church?  Traditionally, weddings are worship services in which a marriage is consecrated (set apart as dedicated to God) with a community of believers.  The pastor acts as the representative of the gathered community to bring the two people together.  If neither person needs to be a Christian then shouldn’t the two people just go to a justice of the peace or a judge?  I mean, a “Church Wedding” is not about having a fancy day in the pretty building, right?
But if it is then a pastor is just a “witness” like everyone else.  They don’t actually perform a role in a worship experience or act with God’s participation.  They just agree with the uniting procedure these people are doing in front of other people who are there to see these folks do it.  God is not a necessary part of the experience.
This seems to allow the participants of the ceremony now described to shift from the solemnity or high standard of making vows to each other to that of simply making a promise.  It’s been my practice in weddings to point out that vows are different.  Like, a promise can be, “I’ll see you next Thursday.”  That’s different from the particular bond or covenant inherent in a vow.

So, yeah, I voted against this change.  I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that those who crafted the words didn’t realize what the implications were.  But I do realize the words were crafted and I do feel the implications are impactful.