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Enlisting

I come from a decidedly military background, and it has been a significant part of my personal history.  My father spent 26 years on active duty in the Air Force, and I was raised primarily living on military reservations.  While I grew up with a healthy respect for the military, I truthfully didn’t find myself drawn to that way of life.  I wasn’t one to play with GI Joes, or toy guns.  When I left home, joining the military was nowhere in my plans; but of course neither was squandering the opportunity to get a college education, or getting involved in a totally destructive lifestyle. 

When I felt out of options, I too joined the military and spent twelve years in the Navy.  While that turned out to be one of the best choices I made in my young life, I was pleased to return to civilian life when it was over.  I think people who’ve never really lived that life can have romantic notions about it, but if you’ve walked that path you understand that there is a cost that comes with it. 

I emerged from the military with an unwavering admiration for anyone who chooses to wear the uniform, and make the sacrifice; but also with a much deeper reverence for times of peace.  Years later, when I decided to try to live my life for the Lord, I didn’t realize that I was in effect re-enlisting.

The United States is a very proud country, and many of its citizens would likely count themselves as patriots, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those folks would all be willing to enlist in the military.  There is a level of commitment that comes with that choice that most folks are not willing to make. 

Interestingly, just because someone is willing to enlist doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re willing to fight.  Many join the military to get training, or money for later education.  Some join because they want to wear the uniform, and be identified with something that they see as virtuous (or at least worthwhile). 

At the time that the Persian Gulf War broke out (i.e. autumn of 1990) I was assigned to a nuclear attack submarine, and I worked with a fellow, who like me, had been in the military about eight years (which means that like me he had re-enlisted).  When the word came down that our boat would be heading to the Red Sea, he talked to me about filing for “Conscientious Objector” status. 

I thought he was joking at first, but he was serious.  I reminded him that he had volunteered (at least twice) to be a part of the nation’s fighting force, that he’d been trained for war, and that he was assigned to a warship.  All he could say was that his Recruiter said that he’d never have to fight, and that he now wanted out. 

I wish I could say that he was the only one, but in that period the military experienced a rash of people who had these types of issues, some even went AWOL (absent without leave) to avoid deployment.  I was shocked at that kind of mindset.  Even though I never saw myself as much of a warrior, I knew that if our nation was going to be engaged in battle, it was my duty to be a part of it, and that I needed to be ready to fight.

From the time you first enlist, you’re reminded that the mission of the military is to fight against the enemies of our nation, and our national interests.  But if you enlist during a time that the nation doesn’t have troops in battle you may not take those warnings very seriously. 

A new recruit is normally consumed with things like how to wear their uniform, how to march in a straight line, and when their hair will grow back.  Though they are considered a soldier at this point, they pose little threat to the enemy.  It is not until they complete their training, and actually become part of a unit that the reality of the mission becomes apparent.  

While in most military units you’re assigned a non-combat role (e.g. in the Seabees I was a Drafter/Surveyor/Project Administrator), everyone has a combat role as well (e.g. in the Seabees I was assigned to the Mortar Canon Crew).  Though you spent most of your time in your non combat role, you always had to be ready to step into combat mode.  Though being good at your non combat assignment was good for your career, how you performed in combat could mean life or death, not only for you, but also for those around you.

Unlike the military, when you decide to become a Christian folks aren’t nearly as forthright about the mission.  Like a good Recruiter they speak a lot about the benefits, and the retirement plan, but very little about what is in between.  They don’t necessarily mention that putting on the uniform makes you a target for the enemy, and that you may want to take your training very seriously, since a combat assignment is a guarantee. 

You may hear that you’re “in the Lords army”, but it often comes across more like a parade tune than a battle cry.  We inevitably learn that “God is Love” and that He so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to pay our price; but we may not hear that Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and that the violent take it by force.  We may hear that the Holy Spirit has come to live inside of us, but we may not hear that this sets off a battle for our souls, between our flesh and spirit, that will not end until the day we die.  We may hear about David dancing before the Lord, or playing music to calm King Saul, but we may not hear his words about the Lord training his hands to war. 

If we bother to read the training manual it ought to jump out at us that being friends with the world makes us an enemy of God, which means that we’ll always be swimming against the current of what is popular, and convenient.  We might also notice how Jesus was treated by the very people He came to save, and to note that God destines us to be transformed into His image.  We might also find the little training tip which tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, and understand that maybe we ought to prepare ourselves for some of that too. 

While this may seem to be a fairly dire portrait of the Christian life, it does line up with the scripture, and these battles rage on whether we acknowledge them or not.   Unlike soldiers in the natural, we have the distinct advantage of knowing how the war will end.

It strikes me that as the warfare is becoming more apparent in these days, we’re finding a lot of troops amongst us who don’t really know how to use their weapons, or in some cases even understand that there is a battle going on.  Like my friend back in the Navy, they didn’t really think that this is what they signed up for. 

They are “believers”, who like the patriot believe in the virtue of the kingdom.  They may even be “followers”, who like the recruit have enlisted, and have put on the uniform; but because they’ve not been prepared, they don’t pose a legitimate threat to the enemy. 

In many cases they don’t feel connected to a unit (i.e. the Body of Christ), and they still cling to the hope that somehow they can avoid this conflict.  With that mindset, they will be nothing more than target practice for the enemy. 

The great commission didn’t mandate that we make believers of all men, or even followers; it says to make “disciples” of all men.  While that certainly encompasses seeing souls reached for the Lord, it also means preparing them for battle, and seeing them take up their post within the body.  Paul said that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in civilian matters, and it seems that too many soldiers in the Lords Army aren’t following that guidance. 

We have been supplied with weapons of mass destruction, but we don’t seem to know how to deploy them.  Indeed the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, and it is time for the Body of Christ to become engaged in this battle.  Like the United States in World War II, we’ve waited so long that the battle has come to us.  All of creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

Magnify the Lord

In what has been called, the “Song of Mary” we hear the virgin mother declare that “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke1:46), and I can’t help but believe that there is something of value in those words for all believers. 

To magnify something, we must first focus on it, and when we do, there is a natural tendency to notice details we may have missed.  We might even call that, taking a closer look.  If we don’t lose or shift our focus, the magnitude of our revelation generally grows. 

We certainly see this principle when we focus on our problems.  As we gaze at our unpaid bills, broken relationships, illness’, conflicts… we can quickly lose perspective, feeling as though our whole life hinges on these particular issues.  Discouragement and depression often follow. 

If it is so with the darkness, should it not be so with the light as well.  We need to see God as bigger than our problems, bigger than our hurts, bigger than our enemy…  While we must face difficult situations in our life, and continually battle our own flesh, there is a perspective that we cannot afford to lose.  The scripture says that we should not fix our eyes (i.e. focus) on what is seen, which is perishing, but on what is unseen, which is eternal (2Cor.4:18). 

This reminds me of a scene from the “Passion of the Christ”, where Mary and Jesus come face to face on the way to Calvary.  Jesus has been ruthlessly beaten, and will soon hang on the cross to die, yet He says, “Look, I make all things new”. 

Everything in that circumstance seemed to be out of control and dire, yet Jesus hadn’t lost the heavenly perspective.  Similarly, as Stephen was being stoned, he was able to look directly into heaven, and to pray for the forgiveness of His oppressors.  Though his body was being destroyed, his soul was magnifying the Lord. 

As we go through our day to day lives, there are undoubtedly times when situations seem overwhelming, and our perspective gets out of balance.  In those moments, it is important to recognize what is happening, and to regain an eternal outlook. 

In order to do this I believe it is essential that we get alone with God.  Throughout the gospels we often see Jesus walk away from His disciples, and other followers to be alone with the Father.  Though He was a man of perfect faith, who knew no sin, He still had the need to spend time with the Father.  I would submit that, at least in part, this is what allowed Jesus to maintain His heavenly perspective, despite the consistent conflict and rejection he faced during His ministry years. 

Someone who has tried to “pray” their way out of discouragement may say that this doesn’t always work, but I believe that this is where the phrase “magnify the Lord” becomes most significant. 

Prayer can take on many forms, and not all forms are necessarily effective in the midst of despair.  I believe that there is a natural tendency in the midst of difficult circumstances to ask God for answers, or to pray for the outcome that we desire.  But God does not owe us answers, nor has He promised us our desired outcomes. 

Even if we’re just asking for divine direction, it can be difficult to hear His voice above the other voices at work within us.  The problem with these types of prayers is that they allow us to remain focused on the situation, which often distorts our perspective and inhibits us from receiving truth. 

I sense that before we pray through some of these situations, we must first recognize that we’ve lost our perspective, and acknowledge our need to simply “magnify the Lord”.  If we can lay aside our grievances and petitions, quiet ourselves before Him, focus on who He is, consider His goodness, remember what He’s already accomplished in our lives, and think upon what His word says, His stature as the sovereign God of the universe begins to grow.  

Whatever amount of time is necessary to regain this eternal perspective is well worth it.  When this happens, the ministry of the Comforter avails itself, and our ability to hear from the Lord is restored.  Even if we don’t get specific direction, that abiding peace carries us through. 

I used to associate peace with a lack of conflict and/or adversity, but I now understand that true peace only comes from God, and that it is His response to conflict and adversity.  Our minds struggle with that, but that’s why God offers a “peace that surpasses understanding”. 

The concept of magnifying the Lord is beautifully captured in the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”.  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”.

Perhaps as important as regaining our perspective, is learning how to maintain it in the midst of our daily struggles.  While we’ve grown up with the idea of Sunday being the Lord’s Day, I believe that the scripture would point us to a constant awareness of Him, and who we are relative to Him. 

It admonishes us to focus on the eternal things (2Cor.4:18), to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt.6:33), to live by the Spirit (Rom.7:6, Rom.8:13-14, 2Cor.3:3, Gal.5:18), to be content (Heb.13:5), to pray continually (1Thes.5:17), to give thanks in all circumstances (1Thes.5:18), to speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (Eph.5:19). 

Now all that might sound a little unrealistic in the context of our daily lives, but it may also be necessary to clarify what we mean by “reality”.  Several years ago, I had one of those mountain-top God experiences that went on well into the night.  As I fell asleep in the wee small hours, I felt so close to Him, and full of faith. 

But when I woke up the next morning for work, I grumbled to myself “back to reality”.  As soon as the words escaped my mouth, a wave of conviction washed over me.  I felt like the Lord challenged, “How do you know the difference between reality, and a dream?”  And as I considered a couple of very realistic dreams I’d had, the only answer I could come up with was, “you wake up from a dream”.  

I immediately sensed the Lord retort, “That’s correct, and one day you will wake up from the dream of this life, to the reality of eternity!” 

Often times, we Christians point to the struggles of this life as reality, but if we believe the scripture, there is only one avenue to truth.  If God hasn’t become that reality for us yet, I’d suggest that we might need to spend some time magnifying the Lord, and allow His reality to consume whatever reality we’ve been living. 

Some might suggest that we risk becoming “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good”, but I would submit that there is far greater danger in being too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.

Fire and Rain

In the midst of the rising waters, I cried out to You.  But instead of evicting the storm You declared, “Behold, I am changing the landscape.  I am washing away the deadwood, and debris of the past.  I am peeling back the top layer of depleted soil.  I am softening the hard ground.  I Am the living water, and my grace is sufficient for you.”

As I looked for a means of escape, I found the main road had been washed away, and once again I cried out to You.  But instead of placing my feet on dry ground You declared, “Behold, I am cutting off the old routes.  I am leading you in a new direction.  I Am the way, and my grace is sufficient for you.

As I began to ascend the mountain side, I found the forests ablaze with fire, and for a third time I cried out to You.  But instead of extinguishing the flames, You declared, “Behold, I am burning away the brush that chokes off new growth.  I am replenishing the soil with life giving minerals.  I Am the holy fire, and my grace is sufficient for you.  

And slowly my heart began to see that what I had been viewing as calamity, was actually the change I had been praying for.  And little by little, I learned to step upon the rock amidst the rushing waters.  To listen for Your voice instead of looking for a marked trail.  And to allow the rain of Your presence to sustain me in the middle of the smoke and flames.

Only You can make a way where there seems to be no way. 

You are I Am, and Your grace is sufficient for me!    

This morning I awoke to the sound of gunfire.  I could hear the bullets whistling by my ears, and exploding into the wall just above my head; or maybe it was just my alarm clock going off.  Either way, I was in a daze, and knew that I had to get moving. 

Every morning the enemy waits beside my bed, fighting to make sure that he gets my first thought of the day.  He understands what a prize that first one is, because if he can get it, he knows that he’ll probably get a fist full of others in the bargain.  It’s even better for him if he can infiltrate a dream, because it almost assures that he’ll get that first catch of the day. 

Stumbling around in a dark and quiet house, in a half conscious state, makes me a great target too.  He can get miles out of a stubbed toe, or a step onto one of the little landmines that the kids may have left in the hallway. 

How I choose to handle these first moments of the day can set the tone for the whole rest of it.  God’s direction is clear, this is the day that the Lord has made, so I should be rejoicing in it (Psalm 118:24), and I need to choose this day who I will serve (Josh.24:15). 

Some might see this as a little dramatic, but this is the battle that we face every day.  I don’t wake up every morning “feeling” like jumping out of bed, or looking forward to what I’ll face during the day; but I know that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov.23:7).  How I think about my life, about myself, about others, about my situation, about God… will dictate what will be reaped over the course of a day. 

If I dread the day, I will likely have a dreadful day.  It is the self-fulfilling prophecy.  To engage in this battle I must remember that though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons that we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2Cor.10:3-6).

When it says the knowledge of God, it doesn’t mean our knowledge of Him, but what He knows, which means that every thought that doesn’t line up with what God says gets cast out; especially when it comes to what God says about us; who He made us to be, and His plan for our lives. 

We need to pick up the sword (i.e. the Word of God), and start using it to shut up our enemy.  We need to be as ruthless with him as he is with us.  Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom.3:4).  Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world (1John 4:4).  If we believe this is the truth, we must move on to living by it.

I recently saw a quote which I believe beautifully encapsulates the prevailing spirit that hangs over the western religious landscape.  The words were attributed to Bishop John Shelby Spong, and though I was not able to confirm that they were his, they did seem to be indicative of what I know of his particular worldview.

Ostensibly, he said, “I do not think of God theistically, that is, as a being, supernatural in power, who dwells beyond the limits of my world.  I rather experience God as a source of life willing me to live fully, the source of love calling me to love wastefully, and to borrow a phrase from the theologian, Paul Tillich, as the Ground of being, calling me to be all that I can be.”

I believe that many who would heartily endorse these concepts would also count themselves as “Christians”.  Still others might not find these ideas particularly troublesome, despite their distinctly anti-Christ nature.  The author embraces a nameless, faceless, person-less power, who will not contradict his sense of what is right, or hold him accountable in any way.  Indeed, he’s found a god who will empower his sense of “self” instead of demanding that he die to it.  This would seem to go well with much of what passes for “Christianity” in the west.

Recently, the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University published findings from their survey of over 1,000 “Senior Pastors”.  According to their results, one third of the pastors believe that “good people” can earn their way to heaven, that the Holy Spirit isn’t a person (just a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity), and that having faith matters more than which faith you have. 

Perhaps more alarming, is that almost 40% of the evangelical pastors surveyed believe that there is no absolute truth, and that individuals “determine their own truth”.  It’s impossible to reconcile that paradigm with a Jesus who claimed to be the truth (John 14:6), and who declared that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb.13:8).  The overarching conclusion of this survey was that only about 37% of US based pastors hold a worldview that might be considered “biblical”.

Within this off-brand of “Christianity” (i.e. Humanism dressed in religious garb), which doesn’t include the fundamental principle of taking up our cross and following (i.e. dying to self), Christ becomes little more than a tool for our endless pursuit of happiness.

Show Me Your Glory

In Charismatic/Pentecostal circles there is much attention given to God’s “Glory”, and for the most part it seems to be centered on the story of Moses asking God to, “Show me Your glory?” (Ex.33:18)  Within that account, the Lord informs Moses that no man can look into His face and live (Ex.33:20), and so He has to hide him in the cleft of the rock in order to pass by. 

In many ways this appears to be a failed attempt to experience God’s glory, and yet this story seems to be revered amongst modern worshippers.  I suspect that the epic nature of the mystical glory cloud stirs our imaginations, and appeals to our desire for the spectacular, but I sense that the Lord is seeking something more profound and personal.

Recently, I felt like the Lord pointed out that this scene was eventually played out again, in a new covenant context that dramatically altered the narrative.  The most significant change being that because of Christ, we can now look into the face of God, and live.  Indeed, the Hebrew writer said that Jesus is the perfect representation of God’s glory (Heb.1:3), and Christ told His followers that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:9). 

There are multiple gospel accounts (Matt.17, Mark 9) of the transfigured Christ (along with Moses and Elijah) appearing to a select group of disciples (Peter, James & John), allowing them to witness the Son in a glorified form.  And like many worshippers today, these followers had a strong desire to camp atop the mountain, basking in the midst of heaven’s glory.  But when the moment passed, Jesus led them back down to the valley, back into the sea of a lost and struggling humanity.

It is this picture that the Lord used to speak about His glory in our current context.  In light of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and given the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, Paul told the Colossians that it is “Christ in you” that is now the hope of His glory (Col.1:27).  In other words, the manifestation of God’s glory on the earth isn’t a mystical cloud descending from heaven, it is Christ emerging from within those who claim to belong to Him.

After years of gathering with folks beseeching God to reveal His glory, I now sense the Lord Himself challenging us to do the same.

We don’t fix our eyes on Jesus, or seek first the Kingdom of God, or stay focused on what is eternal.

We are easily offended, quick to express our opinions, and we struggle to be good listeners.

We don’t often consider others before ourselves, or cheerfully give, and we’re frequently trying to gain our lives.

His words are not written on our hearts, we don’t accurately reflect His character, and the work He’s called us to remains largely undone.

And yet, somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re waiting on Him to move.

Blind Date

He wasn’t fond of spending time on the computer, but it was the only way he was able to work from home.  To keep business from infiltrating his day to day life, he kept his computer in the office, and his phone notifications turned off. 

He normally checked his e-mail at the beginning and end of every work day, and didn’t worry about it any other time.  Frequently, his Inbox would get clogged with SPAM, and he’d have to do a purge.  Her e-mail was very nearly a casualty of one of those dumps.

The subject line included the name of the online dating service that brokered the contact, and he knew that he’d never have any interest in that sort of thing; but just as he was about to hit the delete button, he remembered a conversation he’d had with his sister (Candace). 

She’d voiced her concern about how much time he spent alone, and his apparent disinterest in the dating process.  He reasoned that if it was meant to be, he shouldn’t need to do anything to make it happen, while she argued that his solitary lifestyle wasn’t likely to create an opportunity to make a genuine connection with anyone. 

She finished the conversation by threatening to set him up with a profile on one of the popular dating sites.  He didn’t think that she was serious, but apparently she had been.

The message provided a brief explanation, which indicated that this girl didn’t really care for the whole on-line dating scene, but that the demands of her career kept her from having a lot of free time for socializing.  It further expressed her interest in making a connection, which included a link to her profile.

He found himself reluctant to click on the link, as though it might be opening Pandora’s Box.  He loved the simplicity of his life, though he could not deny that he yearned for someone to share it with.  Even so, he couldn’t shake the sense that this wasn’t the way to go about it.  After several moments of hesitation, he finally steered his mouse to the file, and took the plunge.

She loved on-line dating apps.  It was a great way to avoid the most awkward elements of traditional dating.  No walking up to a stranger, asking for a dance, or trying to make some sort of meaningful conversation.  This system allowed her to do some research, and to plan a strategy.  Though people often exaggerated, or flat out lied on their profiles, she had developed a pretty intricate system for checking prospects out. 

When she came upon his profile, it seemed oddly understated.  It was almost as if it were put together as an afterthought.  It had the standard nonsense about loving animals, kids, the outdoors, long walks, holding hands, meaningful conversation…, and she very nearly clicked off it.  But as she scanned through the pictures, she noticed a few details that intrigued her. 

He was definitely a good looking guy, and about the same age, though the latter wasn’t necessarily a requirement for her.  He had a lot of horse pictures, which included some nice shots of a picturesque barn and pasture, along with a deluxe hauling rig (i.e. matching F350 pickup & fifth wheel horse trailer).  Given the area he was from, she guessed that this must be his place, and combined with his claim of being an Architect, she felt certain that he must have some serious money.

After years of dating guys from the city, she felt like finding someone from outside her circle might be a nice change of pace.  She liked that this guy didn’t seem to be going for the hard sell, though she worried that he might be some kind of Boy Scout.  She was able to cross reference his name to a LinkedIn account, and through that she was able to verify that he was both educated, and highly successful.  That was all she needed to know.  She copied and pasted her spiel from the last introduction e-mail she’d sent, and waited for a reply.

He wasn’t sure what to expect, but his screen seemed to explode with colorful banners, pictures, and text.  It appeared to be a pretty intricate web design for a dating site.  It certainly gave him the sense of looking at a magazine spread. 

He discovered that “Linda” was a Regional Sales Manager for a high end department store chain, which was headquartered in the city.  It said that she loved animals, the outdoors, long walks, holding hands, meaningful conversations…, but he noticed that in all of her pictures she was formally dressed, in heels, with full makeup, up-do hair styles, and that she often had a drink in her hand.

Despite the wide array of information contained on her page, he found nothing that would indicate why this girl would have any interest in him.  That made him curious about what his sister had put in his profile.  After navigating through the webpage for a few minutes, he finally found his profile, and clicked on it. 

It was decidedly less spectacular than Linda’s; almost embarrassingly so.  He was glad that Candace hadn’t claimed anything that he would have to deny, but he wondered what this woman could possibly have seen in it.  Again, he hesitated, and again, he could hear his sister’s voice in his head.  Reluctantly, he began to compose his response.

She only scanned through the first paragraph of his response, which explained his sister’s involvement in signing him up for the website, and the confession that he didn’t really get into town much.  Rolling her eyes, she mouthed the words, “Boy Scout” under her breath.  She sensed he was about to respectfully decline, when he mentioned her expressed love of animals, and offered an afternoon of horseback riding at his ranch.  That was all she needed to confirm that he was as loaded as she’d guessed, and she quickly formulated her response.

Though he didn’t see her e-mail until the following morning, he was surprised to note how quickly she had responded.  Upon reading her reply, he was embarrassed to realize that he’d already made a significant social misstep, as she explained her reluctance for their initial meeting to be in such a private and remote setting. 

Though he didn’t really have a desire to make a trip into the city, he was now self-conscious about turning down her offer to meet at a more public place; afraid that it would appear as though he had indeed been trying to lure her into some sort of compromising situation.  It was probably his eagerness to demonstrate that this wasn’t the case that caused him to respond, “Pick whatever restaurant you’d like, and I’ll make a reservation”.

She smiled when she got his message, sensing that her plan to shame him into an expensive dinner had worked.  This was also a chance to see how well connected he was, as reservations for “Au Clair De Lune” weren’t easy to come by.  Being seen there, with a good looking guy that no one really knows could only do good things for her social stature.  She typed in the place and the desired date, then punched the send button.

Her response confirmed to him that the pictures he’d seen on her profile page were probably a better representation of who she was than the words she’d used to describe herself.  It wasn’t really the expense of the place she’d picked that bothered him, but he had a special dislike for French Nouvelle cuisine.  He tried to restrain his skepticism, but it was hard not to feel as though he’d walked into a setup.  The one upside to her choice of restaurants was that he had done some work for the owners of the high-rise it was in, so getting a reservation wasn’t too difficult.  After messaging her with the information, he added it to his calendar, and tried not to dread it.

His apparent ease at getting a reservation for a Friday night only served to raise the stakes for her.  “Good looking, loaded, and connected,” she thought to herself.  Smiling, she began to formulate her strategy for the evening, and to think of the social media posts she might do. 

In the days leading up to the date, she coyly spoke of the “new man in her life” to friends and co-workers, giving no hint that they’d never actually met.  On the day of their dinner, she picked an outfit that she felt sure would attract his eye without coming off as overly provocative.  She was still convinced that he was a Boy Scout, but she wore some lacey undergarments, just in case she might be wrong.

He left for the city right after getting the horses fed that morning, figuring that he could do some work from his office there, so as to avoid driving in during the evening traffic.  Since both of their offices were fairly close to the restaurant, he briefly considered suggesting that they walk over, but he felt sure that she wouldn’t be in walking type shoes, and decided against it.  As he pulled into the circular drive in front of her office building, he smiled as he noticed her large spikey heels.  Rolling up to the curb, he quickly put the car in park, and jumped out to greet her.

Walking up to her, he said, “You must be Linda”.

Somewhat startled, she answered, “Oh, and you must be Paul”.

Reaching toward her, he extended his hand awkwardly.  She hesitated for a brief instant, and then grasped his hand and shook it.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you” he said.

She still looked a little bewildered, so he asked, “This is where you wanted me to pick you up, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes,” she stammered.  “I guess I was looking for a pickup truck, and not a Lexus”.

Opening the car door for her, he responded, “Yeah, it’s a little tough trying to maneuver a truck around these streets, so I figured this might work a little better for us.” 

As she slid into the passenger seat, she smiled to herself.  He was sharper and more attractive than she’d imagined, and the Lexus was a nice surprise.  She half expected him to show up in cowboy boots and a bolo tie, so she was relieved to see that he knew how to dress, and carry himself.  Of course, the clumsy handshake was pure Mr. Rogers.  Even so, she felt confident that he was going to be a fine accessory for her evening.

As he made his way around the car, he tried to shake off the awkwardness of the moment.  He’d never been on a blind date, and he was at a loss as to what to talk about.  As they pulled onto the street he made a comment about the downtown traffic, and she shared that she never drove in the city, opting for Uber’s or cabs instead.  She chuckled at his confession that he’d never been in either one of those before.  Though the restaurant was only a few blocks away, it took several minutes, and a lot of forced small talk, to get there.  Thankfully, the restaurant had a Valet, so he didn’t have to find parking.

As the Valet opened her door, she slowly stepped onto the busy sidewalk. Paul quickly came alongside her, and she hooked her arm to his.  Absorbing the envious stares of onlookers, she made her way into the cordoned entryway. She felt like a celebrity as she passed through the velvet ropes toward the doorway, and imperceptibly looked for familiar faces amongst the crowd.  Stopping, she handed the doorman her phone and asked him to take a picture of them.  Though it seemed a bit uncouth, she knew that she’d need the shot for a social media post.  Once inside, the noise of the street gave way to the low murmur of a busy eatery, with a cool jazz soundtrack.  It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the lowlight.

Paul was surprised by the way Linda had grabbed hold of him, and pulled him close to her.  When he saw their reflection in the door, they looked very much like a couple, which seemed odd given their brief and bumbling introduction.  He didn’t sense any warmth or affection in it, so he wondered if she wasn’t just nervous.  He briefly considered that she may have been doing it for effect, but he quickly dismissed that idea as overly cynical.

As they waited to be seated, she quickly scanned the room, trying to take in every bit of the ambiance, and hoping to see someone she knew.  As they made their way to the table, she recognized an older gentleman, who was an executive at the corporate office, and she stopped to greet him.  He introduced his wife, and she introduced Paul, before they continued on.

Paul was caught off guard by her unannounced stop, and he sensed that this man’s wife wasn’t exactly thrilled to have their meal interrupted.  He also felt as though Linda was speaking rather loudly, as people from other tables seemed to be looking at them.  Again, he had to push away the suspicion that this was intentional, and excused it as nerves.

As they reached the table, he pulled out the chair for Linda, and she smiled brightly as she slipped into it.  She seemed to be sending decidedly mixed signals, at times giddy, and at other moments, aloof.  When the Maître D asked if they would be needing wine service, she looked to Paul wistfully.  Though he wasn’t much of a drinker, and he knew that he had a long drive home at the end of the evening, he didn’t want to make their shaky start any less stable, so he nodded that they would, and offered that she pick the wine.  This seemed to please her.

When the Wine Steward listed the various vintages that were available, it was clear to Paul that Linda had no idea what to order, but before he could step in, she asked the Steward what he recommended.  Given that the server didn’t inquire about what they planned to eat, Paul was confident that this bottle of wine would be pricey.  Again, he chose to say nothing, and to allow things to play out.

Linda watched Paul carefully as she selected the wine, looking for any hint that he might be concerned about the cost.  His lack of visible reaction only spurred her sense that she’d hit the jackpot.  Though she wasn’t particularly hungry, she ordered a full five courses to enhance the experience of being “wined and dined”.  Paul tried to make small talk, but she was more interested in soaking in the ambiance. 

A few times he seemed to hit on a topic of interest to her, but she inevitably turned the conversation back to the restaurant, and how great everything was.  She continued to scan the room for familiar faces, and at one point, she took a picture of Paul, for a “Check-In” post on social media.  She was delighted to hear her phone buzzing with reactions throughout the rest of the meal.

As the meal went on, Paul became fatigued by his attempts to sustain a conversation.  He found that Linda was willing to briefly talk about work, sports, and entertainment, but that she had little interest in discussing anything personal, or that had any sort of depth or meaning.  The only question she asked of him was about his work, and as he tried to answer, she looked both distracted and disinterested. 

She did appear to be enjoying both the food, and the wine, even though she only seemed to sample each course instead of actually eating it.  With most of her dinner still on the plate, she ordered dessert, coffee, and aperitifs.  Paul welcomed the coffee, while passing on the liqueur.  Though he found himself ready for this meal to end, she seemed to be doing her best to keep it going.

Linda thoroughly enjoyed the food, as she took pictures of everything before trying it.  She wanted to make sure to have plenty of photos for her posts, documenting her evening at “Au Clair De Lune”.  As the meal wound down, she was tempted to order a second dessert, but she had to admit that she was completely stuffed, and didn’t want to seem greedy. 

Because they were having such a good time, she wondered if Paul might be willing to take her to a club, or bar to meet some friends.  It also occurred to her that he might want to go back to her place.  Though he didn’t seem the type, she wondered if he wouldn’t expect a little quid pro quo for all money he’d just laid out for dinner.  Though she didn’t find herself exceptionally motivated in that direction, she did believe that it was probably fair, and was willing to entertain the idea.

Paul nearly choked on his coffee when Linda chirped, “So what’s next?”  He was more than ready to call it a night, and take her back to her car.  Though he tried to be careful of her feelings, he was absolutely resolved that he wasn’t going to extend the evening.  Politely, he mentioned the early start to his day, and his long drive home, before indicating that he probably just needed to get her back to her car.

He was relieved that she didn’t seem offended by that, but was a little disappointed when she reminded him that she didn’t drive into the city, and that she would need a ride home.  Going 40 minutes in the wrong direction wasn’t good news, but knowing that this date could be over within the hour provided a needed boost of energy.

Linda tried to sneak a peek when the waiter laid the bill on the table, but Paul picked it up before she could get a good look.  Again, she noticed that he didn’t seem to flinch at the amount, which made her smile.  She excused herself to go to the ladies room, in order to “freshen up” just in case things escalated at her place, and his noticeably more upbeat countenance as they left the restaurant made her feel as though that was a real possibility.  Though she wasn’t wildly attracted to him, she liked the idea that he might feel that way about her.

The conversation seemed to flow more easily as Paul took Linda home.  This was probably because he gave up on learning more about her, and simply talked about traffic, the rapid transit system, the length of her commute, the neighborhood she lived in…  Without the distraction of the restaurant, Linda seemed more engaged, and strangely warmer than she’d been.  The noticeable change in her countenance caused Paul to suspect that she was beginning to feel all the wine and liqueur she’d had with dinner.  As they pulled onto her street, he wrestled with the best way to handle his, “Good-night”.

As the ride home went on, Linda found herself even more receptive to the idea that Paul might come in, and stay for a while.  Though it had been a long day, the idea of being cuddled was appealing, and she was getting the vibe that he wanted her.  He clearly wasn’t her type, but with him not being local, it might turn into a nice little side benefit when he was in town.  When they pulled into the driveway, Paul jumped out to open her door, and she wrestled with the best way to let him know that he was “invited”.

When Paul pulled the door open, he expected that Linda would simply get out, but instead, she extended her hand to him.  When he grasped it, she pulled herself to her feet, and then toward him. 

With her face uncomfortably close to his, she looked into his eyes and seductively said, “You’re welcome to come in if you’d like.” 

Not wanting to offend her by pulling away, he lowered his eyes, and softly replied, “I think it’s best that I head home.” 

Seemingly undeterred, she said, “I guess that means we’ll have to say goodnight out here.”  With that, she pressed in to him, and kissed him passionately on the lips.

Paul was not at all expecting that, as he stared at her in stunned silence.

Linda could see that she’d rocked his world, and she could feel his temptation to give into her.  She smiled at him knowingly, and said, “We’ll have to do this again sometime.” 

Slowly, she pulled away from him, and made her way towards the front door.  She could feel his longing eyes on her, and wondered if he might change his mind.  But when she got to the stoop, she turned to see him backing out of the driveway, and she gave him a little wave. 

Entering the house, she decided that she wasn’t really disappointed.  She didn’t really want him, she just wanted to feel desired, and she’d gotten that from him.  This gave her time to draw a bath, relax, and to work on her social media posts. 

As she did those things it occurred to her that this had been the perfect date.  A good looking, well-connected, well-financed man; a Lexus; a table at an exclusive restaurant; wined, dined, and delivered to her front door.  No messy complications; no drama, nobody’s clothes to pick up in the morning…  What more could a girl ask for.

Paul found himself shaking his head as he drove down the interstate, wondering how he’d let himself fall into such a convoluted mess.  If this is what dating had become, he was amazed that anyone ever really got together.  Linda’s actions completely baffled him, as she was distracted and disinterested all night, only to passionately kiss him and invite him to consummate their relationship at the end.  When he got home, he immediately went to his computer, and deleted the profile his sister had made for him.

When I first got this story, I understood that it was meant to demonstrate a relational dynamic, where two peoples contrasting motivations and perceptions caused them to interpret the same situation differently.  Though that seemed very practical, and non-spiritual, I sensed that it was somehow associated with our relationship to God. 

In writing in out, switching back and forth between the perspectives was necessary to demonstrate the disparity in these two characters perceptions.  By the end, one had concluded that it was a smashing success, while the other felt as though it had been a complete disaster.

As I finished the story, I sensed that on some level it was representative of the Lord’s relationship with His Bride.  While He seeks a deeply personal, and committed relationship, He often encounters “followers” who are distracted, disinterested, and simply pursuing comfort, affirmation, and blessing.  That reduces Him to being a means to an end, instead of the end that is being pursued.  While I do believe that is addressed within this tale, I feel like the Lord eventually provided an even more specific context.

In the midst of praying about this writing, and what to do with it, I felt as though the Lord said that it speaks of the modern worship movement, and why it isn’t having more of an impact.  Certainly, if someone had told me years ago that arenas across America would be filled with “worshippers”, that worship groups would be doing international tours like rock stars, and that worship music would permeate the airwaves of every major radio market in the country, I would have thought that our culture, or at least “the church” would have been significantly impacted in some tangible way.  Yet, it’s hard to claim that it has been.

Though I do not sense that this is an indictment of the entire movement, I do believe that He is saying that many of those attracted to worship gatherings are like Linda in the story.  They are not really interested in a long-term, deep, meaningful, committed relationship; opting instead for something to make them feel special in the moment. 

Indeed, we generally gauge the value of a worship experience by the degree to which we are moved (emotionally, and spiritually) by it.  While in truth, it is only the object of the worship who can really judge whether or not the worship was “good”. 

There is little doubt that the Lord means for His people to be profoundly touched within moments of worship, but if our motivation to come is rooted in how it makes us feel, He can become incidental in the process (i.e. a tool to get what we really want).  In such cases, it becomes difficult to characterize the activity as worship; or at least not worship of Him.

Imposter?

It felt like a dream, and it began with the low murmur of conversation.  The light was dim at first, as I strained to hear what was being said.  Though the voices were all around me, I didn’t sense that anyone was speaking directly to me.  As my eyes, or maybe it was my mind, came into greater focus, I could see that I was in the midst of a crowded room.  I noticed that the floors were made of rough wooden planks, and that the people were dressed in ancient garments, that almost looked like togas.

A wave of foreboding swept over me, as I immediately felt out of place.  These were not my people, this was not my time, and this was not my home.  I was afraid to make eye contact; afraid that if someone looked into my soul, they would discern my trespass.  So, I kept my head down, and slowly shuffled in the vain hope of finding an exit before I was recognized.

I noticed that all of the feet were dusty and sandaled, including my own: but the robes were an impossibly bright white that almost gleamed against the backdrop of the wood grains.  As I considered the brilliance of my own garment, a fresh wave of anxiety swirled in me, knowing that this robe could not possibly belong to me.  Alas, they were sure to see that I was both an imposter, and a thief. 

My heart pounded against my temples, as I tried to pick up my pace, but without raising my head, I clumsily ran into a long table, filled with food.  I cringed, both in pain, and at the knowledge that I may have just drawn attention to myself.  I held my breath in anticipation of being found out; but when the moment passed, I resumed my plodding escape.

As I considered the bountiful table, I sensed that this feast was a celebration, and somehow I understood that it was a wedding banquet.  This made my sense of intrusion grow more profound.  Finding a seam between the people, and the tables, I worked my way to what I hoped would be the periphery of the room.  But my wisp of optimism evaporated suddenly, when a set of feet appeared directly in front of me, and I shuddered to a stop.

Though they didn’t look any different than all the others I’d been gazing at, they were squarely in front of me, and I could feel the eyes of their owner upon me.  Again, there was a knowing that these weren’t just anyone’s feet, they were His feet.  I began to tremble, and felt as though I ought to fall to my knees, but not wanting to draw any more attention, I simply stood there, shaking.  I tried to lift my eyes to Him, but felt certain that if I did, I might well burst into flames.  Like a fox caught in a snare, I stood paralyzed.

After a painfully long moment, He said, “You don’t feel as though you belong, do you,” in a voice that was softer and warmer than I expected.

Shaking my head silently, I affirmed Him.

“Do you think you ought to leave?” He asked gently.

Again, I nodded in agreement.

Reaching His arm toward me, I took the cuff of His robe, as He led me to what I assumed was an exit.  But as He opened the door, I realized that it was coat room (i.e. a place where guests could hang their cloaks or other outer garments).  A renewed sense of shame rolled through me, as this was an acknowledgement that these clothes I was wearing were not my own.

Stepping across the dimly lit threshold, I immediately sensed the vastness of what had appeared to be a closet from the outside.  As I raised my eyes, they strained from the brightness, and as they adjusted, I could see row upon row of clothes hangers, suspended from rods that ran along the towering walls, which extended as far as I could see.  And upon each hanger there was a set of filthy, tattered rags, that barely had enough form to cling to it.

He gave me several moments to take this scene in, and then tenderly asked, “Do you know which ones are yours?”

Turning my face toward Him, I tearfully whispered, “No Lord, I do not”.

Reaching His hand out, He lifted my chin, and as our eyes met He compassionately said, “Neither do I”.

The Lord does not prize our righteousness (Isaiah 64:6), He seeks hearts that are truly His (2Chron.16:9).

The danger in a systematic approach to theology is that we risk reducing the God who can do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask for, or imagine, into a god that fits within the confines of our understanding.