On Loving People In Line

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

On Friday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up stuff for a BBQ. I had several things in my basket, when a guy with a case of beer got in line behind me. I offered to let him go first because I like it when people do that for me. He did and said thanks.

When the clerk rang up his Miller Lite he said, “Oh I thought it was on sale.”

“Well it is,” she replied. “But you need a Brookshires card.”

“Oh dang.”

I had my Brookshires card in my hand so I reached over and gave it to the clerk. She scanned it and the guy got four bucks off his beer. I like it when people do that for me too.

Then he said something to me that may be the point of this story.

“It’s kind of lame they make you have a card for something they’ve already put on sale anyway.”

“But it’s cool they give you points towards your gas though,” I said. “I saved like 50 cents a gallon last week.”

“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” he said, thanking me and grabbing his beer.

I’m not telling this story to impress you with my goodness in grocery store lines, because I am often hurried and cranky and I don’t let people go ahead of me. But after he left I realized, I used to be that guy and I’m not anymore.

Countless times I have ignored the obvious goodness in front of me to talk about something dumb – like The Man, who could easily have put the beer on sale for everybody, but what a silly thing to talk about. Especially since, the Bible says the power of life and death are in the tongue and what we speak, we’ll eat. Yikes, I don’t want to eat that. This, I think, is a small but good example of the broad destructive path Jesus talked about. Unfortunately, it’s a factory default for many of us.

The narrow path Jesus commends, is patient and generous and speaks life even, and perhaps especially, in the grocery store line when nobody sees it coming.

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

We forget our lives are like rocks tossed into a pond, and there are ripples all around us. More on that later, but consider for a second what sort of ripples your life is making. In your grocery store, your office, your community.

This is what I think it looks like to operate in the Kingdom of God. It is, in part, to be kind and generous with strangers and reframe meaningless small talk into something that sends good ripples through the water.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Can you imagine yourself in Walmart being patient, kind and self-controlled without white-knuckling it or being smug about it later? That’s high level. I’m not there yet, I’m still practicing at Brookshires. And I certainly hope you don’t hear smug in this post, but rather excitement and the joy of possibility.

See, I am different now in the grocery store because Jesus has reset my defaults. I operated in the fruit of the spirit Friday without really trying and only noticed it in hindsight. Because of Jesus, I found myself walking the narrow path as though I’ve been there all along.

How cool is that?

Happy Sunday.

On Snowbanks and Wells.

This is Sam. Not Ed Sheeran.

This is Sam in Colorado. Not Ed Sheeran.

I was watching Ed Sheeran play a live show on Palladia the other night. I love Ed Sheeran because he’s a great songwriter and musician for sure, but it’s more than that.

Ed Sheeran is not a kook or a phony.

He is clearly a man doing what he was born to do, and while his talent is deep and native, you can tell he’s done the work too: Digging in the garden where his talents lie until something authentic and pure grows.

That’s why, when he plays, there’s no construct, just a guy on stage with his hands in his pockets saying: “Yah, I got something you’ve never heard, so I’m going to turn it up.”

I love people like that. I follow them around because I don’t care if you’re playing music or preaching the word, I want to see it stripped down. I want to know what you got, you got straight from the well.

At this exact time last year, I was a week out from the arrival of a big new school, and just plowing through piles at work. It felt like the day after a blizzard when even the bulldozer struggles to keep up. I was tired and discouraged, but as I do, I just pushed harder. Maybe you know this feeling. Here’s how it looks:

Tired of Snow

Later that day, I opened my bible looking for the scripture about youths not growing weary and rising up like eagles, but as often happens, I arrived at the “wrong” place in Isaiah. I went to Isaiah 41, not 40. Here, the Prophet is speaking for God to Israel, the children of Abraham:

You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Just as I was ready to say, “OK, cool thanks God,” I very clearly heard him say, “Wait. Read it again. Now again, slower.” As I did I pictured the words in my head. The scripture goes on to say:

For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

Wait. If you’re holding right hands with somebody, you’re basically shaking hello right? How else do you do it? If suddenly they fell down, could you hold them up? Not really. So if I’m a child of Abraham because I’ve been grafted in and God and I are holding right hands, like the scripture says, how is he upholding me?

And that’s when I saw it.

He’s standing behind me.

Possibly squatting, holding me like a child, with my right hand outstretched in his. He speaks softly, because his lips are right next to my ear. He literally has my back, with his left arm around me, holding me with the strength of his whole body. In this posture, I can be a sharp, threshing instrument, and a fearless crusher of mountains. Read the whole thing, it’s amazing.

See friends, this is what happens at the well.

Nobody gave me that image, I didn’t read it in somebody’s book. It was an unexpected but very precise disclosure that came when I sat at the well and waited for it. And I trust it, because in the past year, I’ve shared it at least a dozen times. Every time, somebody says: “Yes! I get it,” in the same way you can listen to Ed Sheeran play and say, “Yes, I get that, it’s authentic, it’s true.”

To me, it also proves what my pastor friend Daniel has been saying for months.

The degree to which you abide in Jesus, is the degree of authority you will have in him.

That, my friends, means time at the well. Talking. Listening. Rereading his words, slowly, with focus and intention –  even when you want to jump up and push snow.

Love in the Time of ISIS

Something snapped in me this week. It’s hard to describe what the phrase “systemic sexual violence against women and children” does to me, but I think it looks like this. 

I’m kicking trash cans and smashing mailboxes because Boko Haram militants pray for conception as they rape little girls, hoping to create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria. ISIS sells naked little girls in slave markets in Iraq with such impunity there’s a pamphlet with an FAQ explaining how rape and enslavement are cool with Allah. 

Now, before we set off an argument about which religions have, throughout history, used sacred texts to defend the buying, selling and abuse of other humans (ahem), or before we dismiss all of it saying the poor and marginalized have been abused forever, I want us to travel in our minds to a market in Ramadi and take an unflinching look at naked girl children being sold like calves. You can purchase a little girl there for $172. An orphan calf in Texas costs twice that. Now, consider those people, in the course of history, who’ve stood up, often at great personal cost, and said:

This is wrong and I’m going to fight it.

lovefirst-campaign-form-header-3

You can think what you want, but I believe I will stand before God and give an account of my life. I will answer for how I spent my abundant freedom and my deep American privilege. I’m not afraid of that day, but I really want to give a good answer – especially when it comes to desperate women and children.

If you’re not a Bible reader, here is just one of its admonitions on the topic –  words spoken by a woman, to her son, King Lemuel. 

Speak for those who cannot speak. Seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction. Speak up, judge righteously, & defend the rights of the afflicted and oppressed. Prov. 31:8-9

This week author Ann Voskamp spoke up, issuing a serious call to the North American church. Abandoning her normally gentle, quiet tone, she basically yelled: Wake up Church! Quit repaving your parking lots. This abomination requires an immediate and loud response from people who still have loud voices. – Us!

She implored her followers to “Wage Love” and defy ISIS by raising $150,000 for The Preemptive Love Coalition – a small NGO in Iraq doing pediatric heart surgeries, paying tuition for kids and granting micro finance loans to Iraqi women.

By Thursday, they raised half a million dollars, I think because many people are saying, I can’t keep kicking trash cans over ISIS. I will help, but what do I do?Empower

I often take questions like that to God, because in my experience, he gives me reliable, though often difficult, counsel. Here’s what I got:

“Give a sum large enough that you and Sam will argue about it.”

Ooooh see now, that costs me something because I don’t want to argue with Sam. But we did, then we agreed, then we gave. Yah! Go us! 

And now Sam and I are a small part of that half million dollars. I’m defiant by nature, and it feels awesome to shoot ISIS the finger in a practical way. The irony is, on their homepage, PLC reminds us to “Love First” not shoot people the bird. OK. I’m a work in progress.

Here’s the thing. We we can ignore this and the myriad other issues that have us smashing trash cans, or we can do something. But if you’re stuck knowing what to do and how. Here’s my best tip:

matchGo into your room. Close the door. Get on your knees and pray, even if you don’t really know how. Just ask. “God, I want to help, what would you have me do?” Then sit and listen. Pay attention for the next few days. Look for mysterious little invitations popping up around issues you care about. Slavery. Addiction. Bullying. Whatever. Then take a step over that threshold. Then another. Then another.

See those curious little beckonings are open doors into work that matters to you and to God. They are invitations to a big life in God’s big army. If that concept makes you queasy because of all the armies out there violating people in the name of God, here’s something to ease your mind.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Just look for the light, and that’s how you judge the army.