Want to Grow?

For the past 20 years I have consumed 3-5 cups of coffee every day. For the past 11 days, I have consumed none. I’m fasting it for Lent. I gave up something I love, in preparation for something I love more.

Does that mean I love Jesus more than coffee? What a weird way to think of it. Usually those two things are kept in separate containers and allowed to mingle only on Sundays.

Three years ago, I decided that separation wasn’t working for me anymore. I wandered as far as I reasonably could before admitting I was lost and should turn back to find another way. I spent years saying and doing whatever I wanted and inventing theology to rationalize my behavior. My life wasn’t bad but my soul was sick. I had fun. Not joy.

There were two reasons Jesus wasn’t part of my life.

1. I didn’t like how many Christians behaved.

2. I wanted to do as I pleased.

IMG_5055Sam and I spent last weekend at our ranch in West Texas. It is the place I surrendered my smart-mouthed wisdom and picked up The Bible. It’s where I learned about discipline and how much better my life works when it’s about Jesus and not me. It’s where I wrote 2/3 of my book with a never-empty cup of steaming, heavily cream and sugared coffee at my right hand.

So, West Texas without coffee, is like baseball without hot dogs, but there’s no way I can cave on this one. I never thought much about fasting or why somebody would bother. But now I get it.

Every morning when I walk by that coffee pot, I experience actual physical longing. So I whine and count the days until Easter when I can have it back.

But every time the longing hits, I imagine the fully divine Jesus, stuck here for 33 years trying to teach limited, harassed, confused, arrogant, stubborn humans like me how to live. How he must have counted the days until Easter.

The fabulous Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan explains what Jesus gave up in The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus:

The Trinity is utterly different. Instead of self-centeredness, the Father, The Son and the Spirit are characterized in their very essence by mutually self-giving love. No person in the Trinity insists that the others revolve around him; rather each of them voluntarily circles and orbits around the others….If this is ultimate reality, if this is what the God who made the universe is like, then this truth bristles and explodes with life-shaping, glorious implications for us.

My life is not easier now than it was three years ago, it’s harder. But I’m climbing onto new plateaus all the time, taking in views I would have killed for three years ago. They are delightful and surprising because I didn’t engineer them, God did. I just set my crappy, old baggage down and started climbing.

I have many pitches left. Fasting coffee is just one of them.


There is No Magic Wand – Only Fire.

Galata Tower – Istanbul

The other night, while surveying my life and repeating my new favorite mantra “WTF am I doing,” my sister called. She was en route to JFK to catch the redeye back to her home in Istanbul. When she asked what I was doing, I said I was thinking of getting in the bathtub with my toaster.

When I started following Jesus like I meant it, I wasn’t banging my head and squirming under existential pressure all the time. In fact, several of my ducks fell into a quick and tidy row and I saw some inexplicably graceful things happen.

  • My cash + needy people = Demonstration of God’s provision.
  • My prayers + rival = A surprise easing of tensions.
  • My mouth + God’s word = Encouragement and joy.

Little victories like that were the C to my A+B. So naturally, I expected them to continue and grow in volume – especially as my obedience and faith grew. I’ll just keep working my righteousness and God will give me what I want. A+B=C.

Sorry baby doll, it doesn’t work like that. And BTW…your righteousness is like filthy rags, Isaiah says.

I think one of two things is happening:

a. I’m in a refining phase, growing up a little. God is burning off the old rags and rubbish that are cluttering up my yard, while increasing the difficulty of my math with equations like this, that are so far over my head I have no choice but to cling to him for solutions.

b. I’m just blowing a gasket.

Ugh, maybe I’ll cut and run. But where?

Just before Jesus was crucified some of his followers deserted him. Jesus remarked about it to Peter. Are you going to run too? He asked. Peter replied:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have learned to believe and trust and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God, The Christ, the Son of the Living God. John 6:63

Later that weekend, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus.

So even Apostles are unequal to the task. There is no magic wand. Following Jesus requires equal parts grit and stamina, humility and surrender – an unusual combination in humans. I want my life to leak love and demonstrate the grace of Jesus to people who don’t believe in him, but at the moment, I’ve got a raging grease fire in my kitchen.

Ironically, the only place I can find to cool off, is deep in the book that started the fire in the first place. Peter, who was later crucified upside down, says I should be happy about that:

Be exceedingly glad, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1Peter 1:7

I know it won’t last forever, it just feels like it.