The Not So Small Things

It was one of those super frigid Indiana nights in mid-February. I hopped out of my toasty car and walked briskly into the homeless shelter for my nightly volunteer shift. Still warming up in the lobby, a young lady, who was staying at the shelter for the night, looked me up and down and whispered, “You’re fly.”

If you are not familiar with urban vernacular, it basically means, “You’re hot.”

Of course I was taken aback and somewhat embarrassed that she was so forward with me, especially since I was wearing a wedding ring and I had never met her before. But I smiled, stared at the ground to find my equilibrium, and then looked up to sheepishly whisper back, “Thank you, I guess.”

Despite my apparent awkwardness in that moment, she came back at me again, still whispering, but this time a bit more audibly, “You’re fly.”

My face, veiled behind a graying beard, turned red. Whatever chill followed me from the outside was immediately eviscerated by a growing, sweat inducing, warmth. Did someone raise the temperature in this place, I thought. Even more uncomfortably this time, I replied, “Um. Okay. Hey. Thanks.”

My eyes locked in on the floor once again. I became a child hiding behind my blanket hoping no one could see me. The floor was my blanket. If I just kept looking at it, no one would see me, right? Maybe she wouldn’t still be looking at me.

But she was. And she had one more thing to say.

It’s at this point I should tell you that it is impossible, when someone is speaking to you, to discern the difference between the words “you’re” and “your.”

I looked up one last time, and in slow motion, I saw her arm extending and her finger zeroing in on my midsection.

“Your fly.”

And this time it wasn’t a whisper.

An Arctic chill blew passed the gaping hole.

Oh no.

My fly.

I thought I was going to die.

To be honest, it was an appropriate way to end the day. Mid-afternoon I had called my work partner and asked how the day was going. She said that she had slept in and was just running some errands. She had not previously told me she was taking the day off, so I was confused by her response.

After a few silent moments, I hesitantly muttered, “What?”

To which she, a bit too eagerly responded, “I’m just enjoying our company holiday today.”

Yup. I was the only person in the entire company working on President’s Day.

Classic.

It’s amazing to me how the most insignificant, throwaway moments have the potential to become our greatest teachers and catalysts for profound life transformation.

I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now. And rather than discarding that day as a series of unfortunate, embarrassing events, what if these moments are gifts that can teach us and help us grow?

For me, it was the momentary realization that I had been too proud in my abilities and my self-sufficiency. I was in need of humility. And there it was, in the most unlikely places, greeting me, ready to teach me, ready to guide me into greater depths.

You may have never thought of it this way, but these small moments are gifts, if we will receive them and let them teach us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes that, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”

He is exactly right.

We pray that the world will become more peaceful. We pray that our country will become more just, equitable, and virtuous. We pray that our culture will become one that honors all life, that looks to the interest of another, and that treats all people with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. We may even pray that God will use us to change the world.

Yet, while we pray for the big things, we forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not small) gifts. We neglect the hidden treasures throughout our day that greet us, moment by moment, and that are always there to teach us, and guide us at the soul level.

You are likely familiar with this quote from Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Or, this quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, this quote from Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”

The truth is that the small things are the key to the big things.

In fact, that is the wisdom of Jesus, as well. He says that the Kingdom of God, or God’s in-breaking presence within our lives, is that which has the power to change the big things. It is the small seed that grows into an invasive shrub that takes over everything in its path. It is again the small seed that has the potential to move the biggest mountain. It is the small measure of yeast that causes the large batch of dough to grow and expand. When God’s loving presence is sown, it begins to take root. It grows and expands invasively through our lives and then into our relationships, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, and our world.

For Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus- to change the big things, one must first be changed.

And that has been my prayer each morning when I first open my eyes while still lying in bed and then my prayer each night as I turn off the light, “Let me be your love. Let me be your peace. Let me be your joy.”

(Even if it takes me learning how to become those things through unzipped pants)

For if my relationships are ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my family is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my country is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If the world is ever going to change, it begins in me.

And it begins in you, too.

Peace…

Brandon

When Hope is Lost (A Lesson from Birds)

I have begun the process of changing my mind about birds.

Sure, you may not find a stranger first sentence than that, but those closest to me know that I have this unreasonable phobia of the feathered friend. It has something to do with a mother bird dive-bombing my head to protect her nest when I was five. And no, to answer your question, I was not bothering her nest. I was simply going next door to a friend’s house. But, there is no reasoning with a mother bird. Anyway, my neurosis aside, I am slowly taking steps to rediscovering the beauty (or some redeeming quality) in birds.

An Indiana winter can be brutal and bone-chilling. And it is not made any more bearable by the local meteorologists who giddily, and a bit too affectionately, begin referring to it as a Polar Vortex. The tragedy is they don’t realize that by calling it a “Polar Vortex,” it psychologically becomes twenty degrees colder in our heads. Let’s just be honest here, we do not need “Polar” anything in Indiana, especially when it is already pitch black at 4pm in the middle of December.

But there was a moment a few years ago in late winter, when darkness still owned the morning and the cold refused to let go of everything in it’s grip, that I heard the sweetest song.

Through the shroud of night, before the sun’s first rays, amid the polar chill, a melody of hopeful anticipation pierced the dark veil of winter and announced that spring would soon be arriving.

It was glorious and profound.

The processional of spring, a time of life, new beginnings, and spectacular beauty was coming! And it was being ushered in through song by feathered vocalists announcing it’s arrival.

I, a crusty-eyed morning zombie of multi-layered, nighttime attire (pre-coffee), could not miss this staggering metaphor. When a season of darkness surrounds us and seems as if it will last forever, we may very well begin to believe that this is the way life will always be. But even in the darkness that may surround us, if we are still enough to hear it and patient enough to trust it, there is always the sweet song of the Spirit, leading us in hopeful anticipation, surprising us with beauty in the present, and giving us a glimpse of the life that’s yet to come.

I know it is terribly difficult to discuss how we can learn to see beauty amidst the wreckage when we are in the throes of a painful life situation, whether it be temporary or permanent. But, it is in this place where we must always begin- in the place of our pain, in the place of our suffering. For it is in that place where we can, mostly easily, lose heart, feel lost and defeated, grow wildly cynical, and begin to blame God for our condition or circumstance.

Even more, our pain can become the place from where we begin to live our lives.

The crushing weight of our suffering will always try to convince us that the pain we are experiencing is our only reality and that there is nothing redeemable there, ever. And as a result, the pain we are experiencing can begin to manifest outwardly in our lives into our words and actions, ultimately affecting how we see the world and how we relate to others.

That is what suffering can do. It can cause us to reside in our pain, no matter how great or small that pain is, and then become the lens through which we begin to see people, situations, and the world as a whole. And over time, our pain through suffering can very easily spiral downward and lead to questions and then the destruction of our identity, our worth, and our purpose in life.

Living constantly in the burden and pain of our suffering can either become an end destination or a passageway for each of us.

As an end destination, the pain of our suffering can become a place where we stay in bitterness, sadness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness.

As a passageway, our pain through suffering can become the pathway to profound life transformation and new ways of seeing the world.

Suffering breaks us down into insufferable little parts where we can either self-destruct or cry out helplessly to God, because we are in a place where we have seemingly lost control. Our sense of self has been shattered. Our identity has been obliterated. And it is in our place of pain through suffering where we can choose whether we make it our final destination or a transformative passageway.

That is the profound mystery of suffering. Suffering strips away any and all control we believed we had over people and situations. And it is in this place, our place of suffering, the place where we have lost all control, where our hearts and minds can either be closed off or open to the healing and transformative love of God.

And no matter who you are or what you have been through, or are currently going through, you can choose what you want to do with your pain, and how you receive suffering. You can let it dominate and control how you see the world and relate to others, or you can use it as a means to be taught and guided into a new and more beautiful way of living.

In hope,

Brandon

Spiritual Transformation

Words on pages are not enough to transform you.

Inspirational and motivational words are energizing, but they are not enough to sustain your fleeting emotions and not powerful enough to completely change you at the core of your being. Sure they may lift you up and get you excited for a bit, but those feelings will soon fade and you will remain untransformed in your life.

We, as Christians, too many times have this belief that our lives will necessarily begin changing when “we say the right words” or “take on a new label” or “hang with a different group” or “read the Bible more.”

Transformation is not that simple. It is not a flipping of the light switch or “getting dunked” and then becoming magically new.

In fact, there are those who have verbally professed to give Christ their lives…but yet remain untransformed, and likely even painfully empty, in their lives- day by day, week by week, or year by year.

Spiritual transformation… being made new… is a process. It is a daily walk of letting go and receiving, of dying and coming to life, of the edges being knocked off and refined into something new… something glorious. It is not for those seeking quick fixes, instant gratification, or a new life without sacrifice.

It is only in a life centered on Jesus Christ and the moment by moment sacrifice of your will and your way to the Spirit of God that you begin to change inwardly. When this happens, the Kingdom begins to break out through your life in power. It is only through your continual and perpetual worship that the Kingdom begins to reign inwardly then outwardly in your life.

The Kingdom seed is planted. It takes root. It grows wildly. It bears fruit.

We must understand from the beginning that it is not about what you can do in your own power, but rather what the power of God can do to transform you. It is not about what you can do outwardly to be a better Christian; rather it is coming face to face with Jesus Christ and His in-breaking Kingdom that begins to change you inwardly. It is allowing Christ to come so close that your heart, your mind, your desires, and your feelings begin to change. It is the easiest (and hardest thing) you will ever do, but it is essential to understand that you do not have the capacity to live a righteous and holy life in your own power, rather it is only when you are reborn from the inside that God’s ways become your own.

You must pray for the Spirit to come into your heart and your life, for that is the only place where transformation can begin and the only place where the Kingdom can take root and reign. It is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution and it can only be cured by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes close and begins to work intimately in your life, you begin changing. You are able to see the world as God sees the world. You hunger for those things which God hungers. You pursue those things which God pursues. You desire those things which God desires. You cannot get enough of Jesus and His way and His Kingdom. You change so radically from the inside that the power of the Spirit cannot help but work its way out into your life in everything you do. But sacrifice and surrender to God the Holy Spirit is essential.

The way of Jesus always means sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in which you become so hidden in the fullness of Christ that it is no longer you, only Him. It is never what you can do; it is only what can be done through you when you get out of the way. It is essential for each of us to pray and plead to God for a transformation from the inside and for a deep hunger for His Kingdom to come into our lives and work through each of us.

Seven years ago I did not know much about the Bible. I did not have any passion or excitement to read it. My guess is that I was a lot like many Christians today; the thought of reading my Bible seemed more like a chore than anything life-giving. One day I began to pray that God would change my heart and that I would have a passion and a hunger for Him and His Word. In ways that I can only explain as miraculous, my heart and my life began to change. I began to have a hunger for anything and everything of God.

I wanted to pray without ceasing. I wanted to give up my own pursuits and desires. I wanted to read and understand more about God. I wanted to know what God was doing in and through my life for others. The changes in my life didn’t come from guilting myself to death. It didn’t come from arm-twisting or beating myself into submission. My inner passion, desire, and hunger came from God emptying me of me and filling me with His Spirit. That is when I began to find Life and began to understand the words of Jesus, “I came that [you] might have Life and have it abundantly.” I wholly believe that for any one of us to change, it has to begin in humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice of our own ways coupled with an insatiable hunger and desire for God to come close and change our hearts and minds. It is then that the Spirit is invited to begin the transformative work of raising you to new Life.

But how deeply inside our lives do we allow the Spirit to work? How much of ourselves do we really fully sacrifice? Are there certain places within you that are off limits? Are there certain areas that have been purposefully blocked off? Are there areas of darkness that you keep hidden because it is just too difficult or too embarrassing to go there? You have to admit, we rarely ask questions like these in our churches. It is as if we are all completely cool with a superficial scrub of the house, but we are reluctant to open up all of the windows and doors to the house and even more reluctant to open the closets inside. The truth is that the entire house needs cleaning, but we have to be willing to open all the windows and doors and every single closet for the work to begin.

For me, words like humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice had always been these abstract words that really didn’t mean anything for my life. I knew that a Christian ought to exhibit those qualities, but it was just a mental thing, not a real way of living. In essence, I was comfortable opening a couple of windows and doors for the Spirit to come into, but I kept the shades drawn and other doors securely locked deep inside. Not only was there no possibility of cleaning the restricted areas, I would not even allow the Light to break in.

One evening I gathered with a handful of my Christian brothers from my church. I told them how important it is that we come together as sinners at the foot of the cross to confess our sins to God and to each other in repentance. The truth is that it was my way of finally opening up every window, door, and closet that had remained closed and off limits. It was my way of finally exposing every bit of darkness within me to the Light of Christ.

In the presence of God and my Christian brothers, I began to verbally confess every sin I could remember in my life. All of the windows were opening and every door to the house invited in my dear Friend. Humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice became a real part of my life as I began carrying the cross of Christ. I went through every room, kicked down every closet door, and asked my Friend to do the work I was completely incapable of doing. The pockets of darkness that had been hidden deep in my life and that kept the Light of Christ from penetrating my heart had now been opened up. The cleaning of the entire house could now begin. There was no longer a place for the darkness to hide. The Light of Christ broke into my heart and began to transform me into a new man.

The man who had been the cheater, the liar, the adulterer, the perverse, the foul-mouthed, the self-centered, and the verbal abuser had been exposed, put to death, and forgiven by Christ and my brothers. It was evident that there was absolutely nothing spectacular about me, only Christ in me. I had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for Christ and His love for me. I also had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for the Spirit that began to do the work in my life that I could never do and to teach me new and higher ways. Life completely changed for me that night.

Are you willing to open not just the windows and doors, but also the closets that you have kept hidden deep within your life? Are you willing to let the Light break into those hidden places so that the Light of Christ will begin to shine through you? Are you willing to let the “old man” be exposed so that the new man might come to life? Are you willing to lead by example the way of humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice by being confessional with your other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may see you not as someone who is perfect, but as a sinner who is forgiven and who is being made new? For the Spirit to begin the deepest cleaning, you must be willing to walk the sacrificial pathway of Christ for transformation to begin. It is only on this pathway where Christ and His Kingdom together are glorified in and through your entire life.

peace…

brandon