Life Beyond Ourselves (Part II)

Peter-on-waterIn my last post, I noted a connection between Peter’s walking on the water and a great typing groove.

At the moment that his feet felt his weight supported by the sea’s surface, Peter entered a supernatural experience. And for all of a few moments, he lived comfortably in a realm beyond himself. But it all ended as quickly as it began, and the unraveling began with something perfectly innocent and natural: some logical questions.


As I commented last time, typing at its finest involves fingers flying faster than brain waves. In that moment, the act of analyzing my movements is the wrecking ball that destroys the speed and ease. There’s nothing implicitly wrong with thinking – it’s just that there are realms beyond understanding, where mental clutching and grabbing snuffs out the beauty and power to which we’ve gained access.

In his later years, Peter wrote (perhaps even typed at break-neck speed 😉 ) that in Christ, we are invited to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1). He speaks explicitly of being freed from the corruption that saturates the fallen order. But I can’t help but wonder if his mind didn’t wander back to his brief taste of water-walking. Certainly, those were some participating-in-the-divine-nature moments! And surely he recalled the ease with which he lived in those moments.

Until he began to think.

And it was his very logical thoughts forming very reasonable questions that ended what he might have later labeled as the very normal expectation of Christ’s people: Participation in the divine nature — life beyond ourselves.


By grace, God invites us into a life far too big for ourselves. As children, our mothers bought us too-big clothing, assuring us that it was really just too-big-for-now clothing. The mom-mantra was spoken over us: “You’ll grow into it.”  And we came to know that, quite naturally, we would.

But grace is hardly natural.

To be sure, God calls us into a life too large for who we are. But unlike childhood clothing, there is no natural guarantee that we will grow into what He is giving.  In fact, left to our own soundest thoughts and stablest tendencies, we will wiggle ourselves out of it.  Our doubts will be well-founded, and our concerns will seem wisely-conservative — and they will do exactly what Peter came to learn: They will lead us from the supernatural to the natural. They will do away with “beyond ourselves”, in exchange for “within ourselves” — and we will feel the loss immediately.

We live in the afterglow of the Resurrection, the age in which the Spirit responsible for the original Creation hovers over the depths once again, eager to bring order and form to every life where faith awakens.  And within my spiritual schizophrenia , my gets-it self offers my frightfully-slow self a few words of counsel:

TRUST. And direct that trust toward God’s power before you direct it toward your ability to comprehend. Getting this backward creates a bottleneck in one’s spiritual life.

GRACE. God gives it freely, but be active in pleading for receptivity to this logic-defying gift. Any efforts to create formulas or square equations will be decimated by divine grace, so let them go.  Or you can do it after God breaks your calculator.

GRIP. Loosen it. None of us are big enough to be main characters in the grand Story. There is only One of those, and we find our wondrously appropriate identities solely in relation to Him. So breathe. And listen. And respond. God is good, and you are His.

YOUR TURN: How does Peter’s sea-standing experience speak to your life of faith? What have you learned about living, by grace, beyond yourself?

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Life Beyond Ourselves

In Matthew 14, Peter does the unthinkable. Faced with a potential phantom on the sea, Peter tests the apparent Jesus by daring, “If it’s really you, then call me out there with you.”


The reasoning behind Peter’s request has long been lost on me. How much easier to test the “ghost” by quizzing him on last week’s accommodations are inviting him to do a secret handshake. However, such thoughts betray my ignorance of discipleship.

Within the relationship between Rabbi and disciple, there is always an aura of confidence. The Rabbi deeply believes that his disciples can become like him – they can do what he can do; they can be what he can be. Apparently, Peter has absorbed this sense of confidence, and it is worth noting that for all the criticism “doubting Peter” receives, there are eleven (or perhaps millions of) “believers” who are comfortably (and sadly) dry in their critiques.


One fascinating twist on this story was recently revealed to me. It revolves around some simple questions: What exactly took place in those Peter-was-walking-but-now-he-isn’t moments? What actually happened out there?

Hints toward our answers lie in Jesus’ closing question to Peter: “Why did you doubt?”  We laugh at the apparently obvious answers: “How about we start with the wind and the waves, and we’ll go from there?” But weather reports are dwarfed by a basic recognition that we easily lose in the winds. Here it is.

Peter didn’t doubt Jesus.

Jesus’ feet were secure. He wasn’t sinking. He wasn’t even shaking. In fact, Peter’s cry for help is an easy indicator of his confidence in Jesus. On the verge of being sea-swallowed, there was only one name on Peter’s lips.  So, the just-below-the-surface realization here is that Peter was actually doubting himself. In the midst of a supernatural-saturated experience, some very natural thoughts arose — many of them seen clearly as one slides the emphasis through five small words:

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

How am I doing this?

Uncertainty crystallized into fear: “Oh man, I don’t think I can do this. There is no way I can do what my Rabbi does.”

For all the confidence that disciple-Peter might have earlier absorbed from his Master, more than Peter’s knees were shaking now.


The whole story makes me think of typing.

learn-how-to-type-fastI grew up on the border of technology, in that I actually had a typing class in high school. I remember it vividly because if you were quick enough to class, you found a seat at the luxurious electric typewriters. Pokier people got to build finger muscles by pounding the keys deep into the depths of their typewriters. Next door was the computer lab, whose machines held the reward for all of our digit-dancing devotion. All this to say: For all the skills my hands do not possess, they do type relatively well.

But here’s what amazes me about typing.

My hands can move significantly faster than my mind. To hit one’s keyboarding stride is a thing of beauty to the word-lover. It is a dance, in which ten small partners beat thoughts into text to a catchy clickety-clack rhythm.

Sometimes, in the midst of a great groove, I will catch myself thinking. “Wow, this is a great groove. My fingers are really flying!” And at about that moment, I slow down. I respond, in an attempt regain my footing in said groove, by consciously pushing harder and faster.  And the mistakes begin. Now I’m backspacing and grinding forward at a pace nothing like the earlier groove.  I was functioning on a level beyond thought, so much so that the act of thinking — typically a helpful act — actually serves as an anchor sinking me back down to a more average experience.

There is something profound here.

And I’ll tell you what it is… tomorrow.

When Worship Keeps You From God

I have deceived myself into believing that I love to worship.

Man-Driving-AloneThis epiphany has arrived (and re-arrived) in my car. Given the choice to drive somewhere with friends or alone, I will often reveal my introverted portions by selecting solo. One of my simple pleasures is to sing along with a worship album, transforming my little Pontiac into a 21st-century Tabernacle on wheels.

When Worship Isn’t

On one particular drive, it dawned on me that the song I was singing was authentically and deeply prayerful. However, a second dawning followed: Minus the music of that moment, I found it very difficult to pray.  This is coming from a guy who thinks driving alone is one of the best available prayer times. This is also coming from a guy who believes that deep and personal interaction with God is essential to spiritual transformation. This is even coming from a guy who, on a significant level, enjoys that level of interaction with the One I call Father and Master.

hard-to-pray1But on that evening, silence made me squirm. I realized that I was wielding worship as a wand to make me–the real me–disappear.  The music was my mask, and the harmonies were my hiding place.

What do you do when worship is keeping you from God?

You strip.

Strip down the worship–it’s got too many layers.

large_19_agent_orangeTraveling Vietnam in 2008, we were amazed to see the lingering impact of Agent Orange. Most notably, the human toll of this wartime herbicide is seen in lingering birth defects and health damage, now five decades down the road. Geographically, it is observable by the obvious lines in the forests where all previous growth was killed off in the deforesting attempts at flushing fighters from their lush cover.

Beneath the ugliness of chemical warfare, there is a sound strategy here: Strip off the layers, and hiding becomes hard.

If your worship–whatever its form–has created enough nooks and crannies that vulnerability and honesty can be easily avoided, it’s time to strip down your worship. It has become a stumbling block.

And that’s the easy step. Step two…

Strip down the worshiper–he’s got too many layers.

Even more key than your habits is your heart, though be aware that you may need to hit your outer expressions in order to target your inner essence.

Somehow unguarded openness needs to be fostered. For many, this is where journaling becomes a powerful habit. Some will even say, “I wasn’t actually sure what I felt until I started moving my pen.” That’s a writer’s way of saying, “I know a way to strip myself down.”

Writer or not, do you have a way of unveiling yourself?

It might involve visiting with a mentor or trusted friend–somewhere where hard questions are asked and honest statements are made. It might be through music or solitude or exercise or gardening. I see few limits on method, but a means is mandatory. ChangeMinus some thought here, the average person will merely move with the worship currents of assemblies or masses. While important, these frequently fail to strip us down to a place where life-altering intimacy with our Maker unfolds.

And if worship isn’t changing you, it’s time to change your worship.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever felt the limitations of your worship to connect you with God? What do you do to create or foster authentic interaction with God? How do you combat the inclination to hide or limit vulnerability?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!


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God of the Sucker Punch

libraryI was recently studying at a local library, situated in a leisure center with a gym and pool. My concentration was cracked by a voice, unclear, almost animal-like.  Curiosity craned my neck and I saw a family (I presume) of three exiting the building. Between the parents was the owner of the voice. Barely a teenager, living with some form of handicap, he was visibly worked up. His distressed moans were expressing as much to the whole facility. I watched his parents hold of his arms in a gentle attempt to guide him from the building, but he was having none of it. Then he began to get violent, firing unpredictable kicks at his parents’ legs and digging in his heels against their guiding efforts.

I Had to Watch.

Now in full-blown “snoopy mode”, I was unable to stop watching this odd interaction, which now escalated significantly. Father and mother proceeded to tackle their son, placing him on the ground and restraining him under their own body weight. I hoped anxiously that an onlooker would not accuse them of attacking the boy. I also wondered how many times they had been forced into these roles before. What first-day parents dream of playing bouncer as they raise that little baby? What did it feel like to tackle one’s child in a public place? In the midst of their wrestling, were they self-conscious of onlookers’ gazes, or had such thoughts been beaten out of them years earlier in the parenting of this child?

For several minutes, the three of them remained on the floor. Occasionally, the teen struggled and then surrendered into whimpering and whining once again. His parents patiently held their positions, presumably whispering negotiations for peace in that boardroom, inches from the floor.

Eventually, the three of them arose and made progress toward the exit. At this point, I saw dad run into the parking lot to locate their vehicle and bring it toward the curb. The teen noted the now-one-on-one coverage and upped the attack against his mother. Parking lot onlookers now formed an uncomfortable audience. The teen’s kicks and shoves, while still lacking full coordination and force, were intensifying, as were the feelings within this observer.

Anger was Stirring.

Ali-Liston KnockoutI knew nothing about the medical history or the family dynamics, but I was mad to watch such blatant rebellion. With father nowhere to be seen, my mind debated whether I should join the fracas as a reinforcement. Part of me wanted to swing my first “haymaker” and see what Ali felt like when he stood over Sonny Liston.

Here Comes the Boom.

And then I got sucker-punched.

A sucker punch is a punch made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. (So says Wikipedia.)

Chess_piece_-_White_queenI was neither prepared, nor defended. In a vulnerable position, I was a wide receiver stretching to expose his ribs to the defender. I was the chess player so blindly bent on creating checkmate that I lost my queen. More accurately, I was King David so engrossed in a tale that I was deaf to the Jaws theme music rising to deafening volume.

“You are that man.”  That’s what David heard.

“You are that aggravating adolescent who needs an adjustment,” was more like my message.

Crystal Clear.

I have come to learn that the Spirit of God is the perfect communicator. He is as nuanced and feather-fingered or as forceful and non-negotiable as need be. His fingers can apply pressure with deadly precision to adjust exactly what is out of line.

His tone in the library did not match the anger that I had been feeling toward the parking lot punk. There was no frustration, not even impatience in the sucker punch. Rather, it struck like a sigh-filled inquiry:

“Jason, why do you battle me? Why do you fear that I might lead you astray? Why do your heels dig in? Why do you hesitate? Since the day of your birth, have I done anything to make you question My motives, as if I were out to harm you? I am capable of putting you on the ground if need be, but I would rather just walk with you in peace, with me as Parent and you as child.”

Muhammad Ali could never match the force of that gentle rebuke.

I had no answer worth speaking. I continue without one.

But I am trying to pick up my heels. The One leading me is loving and kind, and I would rather hold His hand than lie beneath His weight.

Calling Out to Jesus Takes Guts

Calling out to Jesus takes guts.

Matthew tells a story (20:29-34) about two blind men.  They were sitting by the roadside, when they heard that Jesus was passing by.  Sensing a tight window of opportunity, they cried out forcefully, “Lord, have mercy on us, son of David!”

The listening crowd rebuked the two, telling them to be silent. The beggars’ response?  They cried out even louder!

And Jesus stopped.

He inquired, and they responded:

“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

 Jesus touched their eyes and lost vision was recovered.

 Calling out to Jesus takes guts.

In a recent worship service, we were singing “Faithful One”, a longtime favorite of mine. During this instance, the worship leader had us repeatedly sing the line, “I call out to You again and again,” physically driving home the time-after-time nature of our dependence upon God.  Fascinatingly, yet frustratingly at times, God is the Creator and Re-Creator in perpetuity.  Yet the frustration appears to be ours.  His eagerness to bring healing and wholeness appears unfathomably deep to folks of flesh.  So hesitate not to “call out again and again and again and again”.

 Calling out to Jesus takes guts.

It takes guts because outside voices will chime in with words of deterrence:

“You really think He’s listening?”
“I’m sure God has bigger things to worry about.”
“Why do YOU deserve attention from HIM?

And if you can effectively plug your ears against the outer voices, then you must deal with the deadlier, often nastier, tones from within yourself:

“He’s tired of extending grace to you.”
“You’re not worth His efforts.”
“He doesn’t even love you—how could He?”

The path of faith contains many turns that appear counter-intuitive.  Dominant portions of our beings see the logic and safety of THIS move, while sometimes-slivers feel led down another avenue.  It seems silly.  It feels foolish.  But some small seed planted beneath our layers spurs us to cry out, to declare need, and to trust—to outrageously trust—that the goodness and graciousness of God are indeed insane enough to extend into our lives.

When we so call, Jesus stops.  Vision is restored, hope is granted, and home is found.

But make no mistake: It takes guts to call out to Jesus.

Go for it, my friends.


What have you found makes it hard for you to call out to Jesus?
What barriers are prevalent at silencing your voice in this way?

Your comments below will likely speak into the life of another reader.