Vocabulary and Communication

There are two seasons in Montana: winter and road construction. It’s not winter anymore, which means it’s currently road construction season.

This year, one of the main thoroughfares right in our little residential neighborhood has been under construction for several weeks.

It’s fine, except that my habit of taking this road is so strong that I am always headed that direction before I remember it’s closed. Last week, one of the kids was in the car with me as we set off:

“Hey, mom, the road by the waterpark is closed, remember?”

“Oh, right,” I slow to turn around.

“But, we when went to the waterpark Tuesday, Sarah’s mom went this way. You can turn by the turkey trail and drive by the houses.”

“Huh?” My family calls a little walking/bike path in town “the turkey trail.” The “turkey trail” begins at a road, but then meanders through a bit of a wooded area, next to a gully where there is no driveable road. Also, our entire neighborhood is residential, meaning: all there is is houses.

“Which way did you go?”

“Drive by.the.houses. Don’t turn around! We can go if we drive by. The. Houses. The HOUSES, mom!”

“Look, around you! There are houses everywhere!”


I ignored the child and we took the detour road I knew would surely get us around the road construction. My child was unhappy that I did not act upon their suggested directions, but I couldn’t. I literally did not know which street they were talking about.

Too often, communication is like this. We know what we mean, but we don’t have the right vocabulary to actually convey that meaning to the person across from us. Worse yet, even when we know what we mean and do our best to convey it with the vocabulary we have, the words get twisted in the air and lodge themselves sideways in the recipient’s heart.

Sometimes, while we think we know what we mean, we actually don’t.

I was reading the account of Adam and Eve the other day for Bible study. Genesis 3 says, “The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” This is literal, I believe. But I’ve begun to realize that it is deeper than literal.

Adam and Eve were fully known by God.

They were also fully known by each other. I am not just talking physically. I am talking, their deepest desires, dreams and beings were plainly visible to each other and their core self was fully accepted by one another.

What must it have been like, to never experience the frustration of miscommunication? To never use a series of words and immediately know that the person has not actually received what you meant? To be able to truly understand and be understood without work, without something going awry?

After they ate the fruit, they felt fear, shame and hurt. They literally ran and hid from God. They also hid from each other, covering themselves. Then they lied and blamed one another.

We all do that now, don’t we? Our human condition makes it inevitable that we experience a variety of pains. Both physical and deeper, emotional and spiritual pains. We spend a good portion of our lives creating ways to cover up our deepest desires to protect ourselves from these hurts, navigating who we can trust with what parts of ourselves (if we are courageous enough to keep trying), telling ourselves and others falsehoods and blaming others for things we ourselves have contributed to.

God’s heart was filled with pain in the Garden. One of the crowning achievements of His loving, brilliant, good and beautiful creative work had chosen to sever their intimate relationship with Him. We turned to walk down a dark path filled with confusion, violence and hurt. He could see it all, the terrible things, the innocence injured, the way even something simple like driving to the store will highlight our inability to really communicate with each other. He saw it all, and what was His response?

Knowing the fiery judgments of God recorded later in the Bible, I expect His immediate response to be: “do you have any idea what you have done!?! Do you know what this means?!?” I respond this way, when I am hurt and the consequences for someone’s foolish decision is permanent and awful. I expect the curses and consequences to be Jesus’ immediate reaction.

But Jesus — who knows all things — walked through the Garden in the pleasant cool of the day, knowing what it all meant, and called out, “Adam, where are you?”

He still calls out. He walks through this unpleasant and sad world and calls to each one of us, “where are you?”

The lyrics of a Steffany Gretzinger song capture this poignantly:

Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me;

There’s no need to cover what I already see;

No need frightened by intimacy;

Just throw off your fear and come running to me.

We don’t have the perfect vocabulary to respond to Jesus. We don’t know ourselves well enough to come fully out of hiding. God must teach us — through His word, the Bible and in community with other Christians — but as we take our tentative steps, He moves closer. Jesus does not misunderstand us, even when we do not have the perfect words to tell Him where we think we should go around the detour.

Let’s come out of hiding, friend. We are safe here with Him.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24).

Two Part Response

In my last post, one of the verses that has gotten me thinking about doing something tangible to put feet to my faith was Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Most pastors will tell you that when you see a “therefore” in scripture, you should look back to see what it’s there for. Meaning, what preceded these verses that leads us to conclude what these verses say?

Here, the “therefore” is probably referring to the entire first 11 chapters of Romans — which, in good detail, sets out God’s plan for salvation. Boiled down (very much) these chapters say:

(1) we are all sinners and deserve, because of our choices in life, to be eternally separated from God
(2) God provided a way for us to be with him in eternity — Jesus Christ’s death on the cross
(3) by faith in Jesus we are justified before God and our sins are not counted against us
(4) our faith does not make us ‘free’ to sin, but frees us to live a Spirit-filled life, fighting against the desires of the sinful nature.

And, immediately before the ‘therefore’ in chapter 12, Paul bursts out in poetic exclamation:

Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge and glory of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36).

Therefore, in view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1).

I love it! We are not required to just up and offer ourselves to the Lord ‘because. In this respect, God is not like the parent who says to a child, “do such and such.” And when the child says, “why?” The parent says, “because I SAID SO.”

No, instead, our God has given us a glimpse into the depths of his character, we can plumb the riches of his wisdom, knowledge, and glory without ever coming up dry. It is because of his mercy — of only a part we understand — that we WANT TO offer ourselves in worship. It’s not just because he said so, it’s because he’s shown us and our natural response is to worship.

But, what is ‘offer[ing] [our] bodies as living sacrifices’? What’s spiritual worship?

Sacrifices in the Old Testament were dead things: dead doves, oxen, lambs — harvested grain … etc. And sacrifice is giving up something. Right? So, what’s a living sacrifice? A spiritual act of worship? Does this mean I have to go up to every altar call at every church service I attend? Does this mean I have to attend every worship service I can in my spare time? I have to listen to praise and worship music in the car and really mean the words to every song?

I’m coming to understand, I think, that part of what a living sacrifice is, is our actions. Our faith lived out. In the every day.

But, how does one live out their faith? This is one of those areas where the answer will be different for every person, from day to day–but, where the answer starts is the same for every person: Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2).

First of all, we have to ground ourselves in God’s word. We have to allow our minds to be transformed by reading the Bible, meditating upon it and praying. Then, as we are transformed we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2b).

In the American Church we think of God’s will as some great, mysterious thing for our lives. We have to pray upon his will and seek it out. We chase our tails trying to figure out God’s will for this or that big decision in our lives. We put out our golden fleeces, we set tests, we look for open doors or windows … I think we get it wrong here in America a lot, this concept of what God’s will is and how it’s up to us to ‘find’ it and (implicit in the whole attitude of the search) make it happen.

Right here Romans says that the way we know God’s will is by transforming our minds. Dwelling on Him. And, I think, out of this transformation, we will offer our bodies – our actions – as living sacrifices. God’s will in not only the extraordinary events and once-in-a-lifetime choices, but also the ordinary things every day. Maybe more so the ordinary everyday things.

So, our two-part response to God’s character revealed through His salvation of humanity? ONE worship with our lives by … at least, among other things, our everyday actions and what God reveals to us. TWO, to get to know God by reading His word, dwelling on it, praying about it, letting it transform us so we know how to worship with our lives and maybe also what big things He’s planning.

So, I feel like I have a lot of head-knowledge. Not that I’ve been completely ‘transformed by the renewing of my mind’ … but, I’ve got a lot of head knowledge. My primary focus right now needs to be on response number one – worshiping with my actions.

It’ll be interesting to see what this looks like … I’ll try to remember to update on this as things happen … But, I wonder, have you glimpsed God’s will recently – through the ordinary or the extraordinary?

The Message of the Cross

When I was a teenager and really involved in a charismatic church, I was always looking for some miraculous sign from God about this or that. Should I go to this college? Should I date this boy? Should I befriend this person?

I’ve since concluded that God does work through miraculous signs–but mostly when I’m headed down a path I have no business setting my feet to. Now, instead, I see a bit of miraculous in the way circumstances work themselves out.

Let me explain. Since I’ve been on bed rest the last three weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy novels. I always like a good story with a good plot. You know, the kind where the author has thought out the end from the beginning and put little clues throughout the book, shaping the plot, chance meetings and key ideas at crucial times. Then it all comes together at the ending and everything is wrapped up, you step back and can see the entire thing, like a tapestry.

I’m beginning to see themes and plot in my life like this, with God as the author and me a character. This kind of well-thought out road — the way several things will all work together in my life to point to one main thing all at the same time — I’ve begun to see as miraculous. Sure, it’s not the dramatic affair of the healing of blind or lame man, but it’s astonishing when I sit back and think about how this had to lead to that for this other thing to occur.

Not that I’ve seen the tapestry of my life, but I’m beginning to see some patterns here and there.

I say all this because the sermon this Sunday tied into my own devotional time again, and I think God is too big for coincidences, there’s something here for me to learn.

In my devotions, I’m continuing through Acts, seeing Peter and John and Stephen give messages that just shake people up and I’m thinking to myself, like some of the more educated persons who heard the disciples message: these men are ‘simple’ uneducated fishermen. Wow.

Then there’s the opposition. The rulers of the Jewish people wanting to quash the message by imprisoning or killing the disciples — these same disciples who, a year before, had not even the courage to stay and be arrested with Jesus — and the disciples saying, ‘we must obey God rather than men’ and preaching in the streets despite the threat of imprisonment or death. (Acts 5:29).

What was it that inspired these men? What was it that had them running for cover? What was it that powerfully moved the people?

Not clever preaching, not persuasive words, but the message of Jesus Christ crucified. That’s what this week’s sermon was about. When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

The basics. That’s what was moving people and shaking the Jewish leadership. That’s what was changing people’s hearts and making miracles. That’s what caused cowardly men to continue preaching publicly when they knew they would get in trouble.

And, this is the basics: Jesus Christ was God, yet he was born as a little baby in a borrowed barn, to a young family with no prestige. This child grew into a man and never once sinned. When he reached an age, he began his ministry — proclaiming that he was God, that all men are sundered from God the Father by our sins and the only way to heaven, the only way to know God is by accepting that Jesus is the way to God. Because of his message, Jesus was crucified on a cross. He died. Three days later, Jesus was raised to life. He then visited with his friends, preached and taught some more and then, before his disciples’ eyes, he ascended into heaven. And he is coming back again to receive those who believe in him, who claim him as their Lord and to judge those who reject him.

This is the message: Jesus Christ crucified to save humanity from itself. Jesus Christ crucified to save any person from the ultimate outcome of their choices. Jesus Christ crucified to set us free.

And, this message is the powerful thing. Not the way a person tells it. Not the clever arguments or rhetoric a person uses. Not the big, fancy words or short, simple phrases someone may employ. It’s the message itself, the fact that these things happened. So that a believer’s faith does not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

That’s what I’m thinking about of late. That’s another reason why God uses the seemingly foolish to proclaim his message. And I wonder, what application this has in my life today.

I wonder what you’re thinking about today? I would love to hear about it!