Confessions of a Broken Tool

Come Away: An Invitation

Few artists are as easy on the ears as Norah Jones. She’s just so smooth.

Her simple, gentle song, “Come Away With Me,” is a great example of her handiwork. It drips with a longing to simply be together.

You should give it a listen.

Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song

There is a rich dimension of marriage that resonates in me as I listen to this song. It is that realization that my beloved is indeed my safe place, my shelter from the chaos and strife of life. This relationship is my retreat.

When I listen to Ms. Jones sing these words, it’s the heart of my beloved that I hear whisper, “Come away with me…”

If you’re married, I hope you have that sense in your marriage as well. If you’re not married, don’t worry, there is a provision of this kind of retreat for you as well. But it’s different, even deeper, and longer-lasting.

This gentle call of Ms. Jones’ crafting speaks to many of us. But, even as it stirs my heart’s bond with my love, it echos of the words of Jesus to his closest followers as they returned from a ministry outing. They had been so buy that many of them had not even had time to eat. His call to them:

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6.31)

There is a deep compassion in his words as he invites them, fresh off of a journey of pouring out from their spiritual buckets, to come sit under the fountain and be refilled to overflowing. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are sent into the world day after day to love and serve and share His great grace with others. And we need, just as they, that retreat for our own souls to refill.

This passage is a more particular invitation but it is in the same spirit of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11.28:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That invite is open to all of us who are beat down by life and struggling to keep on keeping on. It is the One who loves you so much that He willfully lay down His life for you offering you the one thing you most need—soul-deep, peaceful rest.

That’s not exactly what Norah Jones was singing about. But she was describing the retreat of love that we can find in an intimate marriage relationship. And Paul taught us that this marriage thing has always been a picture of a much greater reality—the love of Jesus for His people (which Paul said comprises Jesus’ bride). So, in a way, she really was talking about this invitation.

She sings, “Come away with me.”

Jesus calls, “Come to me.”

So I want to encourage you to give a prayerful listen to this beautiful song and give thanks for the place of refuge you’ve been given—in oneness with Christ for sure, but also in intimacy with your spouse. They are connected.

Maybe it’s a good time to “come away” with the one in whom your soul finds rest.

Perfect Imperfections?

It’s hard to explain the depth of my desire to be as smooth as John Legend. Hopeless though it may be, it remains a longing in my soul.

But this is not really about John Legend… I just felt like I had to lay that on the table to own it. It’s a strange compulsion that I have sometimes.

Legend’s masterpiece of a love song, “All of Me,” brings an open-eyed integrity to a genre of music that is inherently blind. Love songs, as a general rule, are full of idealized, fairy-tale descriptions that so often betray the substance of what they express and show the shallow infatuation for what it really is.

If you’re not familiar or just need a refresher, give it a listen here.

I have a particular soft spot for artists that resist the sugarcoating and acknowledge the humanness of love.

Legend owns the confusion and mystery of a committed love and asks, “What’s going on in that beautiful mind?” He acknowledges her craziness and being out of his own mind. It’s the back and forth that paint one of the most powerful and realistic pictures of a marriage between two deeply committed but utterly broken people.

Consider this carefully woven lyric:

All of me loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm wining
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

That’s a bold promise – to love all of someone. It’s not the infatuation-blinded drivel of a guy that can’t believe he managed to marry a supermodel. It’s the honest recognition that she has issues and he has issues and that, despite his own issues, he is committed to love her despite her issues. That’s really what it means to love someone well—not to ignore their issues but to embrace them.

That phrase though… “All your perfect imperfections.”

It rings deeply within me because it’s a description of the way I am loved, not just by my amazing wife, but much more by my Savior. He doesn’t just love the gifts and obedience in me. He loves the parts of me that give His power an opportunity to be displayed.

To be clear, I’m not saying that God loves my sin. I am saying that God loves the weaknesses in me that so often result in sin because it is in these areas that I find my greatest dependence upon Him.

But this goes deeper. He knew those weaknesses and chose to lay down His life for me anyway. He gave all for me. And He challenges me to give myself wholly to Him.

This picture is exactly what I’m called to live out in my marriage – to pour myself out for my bride as she does for me. But even that was created from the beginning to demonstrate this incredible reality of how Jesus the Son of God lay down His own life to pardon every imperfection in me and how I am called to lean into that love without reservation.

John Legend’s work of art is not about Jesus and His love for me… but it is about the open-eyed wonder of marriage—and it turns out that’s the same thing.

I’d challenge you to go and read Paul’s discourse on this in Ephesians 5 and see if this song doesn’t mean so much more when you do so.

And, if you have a perfectly imperfect spouse to share this life with, take them in your arms, maybe even dance a little, and remember the much greater picture that God brought you together to show to you. Then worship Him by celebrating His gifts with a deeply grateful heart.

Adobe or Stucco

If you asked for terms to describe me, it’s a long-shot to come across the word “builder.” It’s not who I am (at least not in the most literal sense). I’m not especially knowledgeable in such things.

I was recently out in Arizona at a beautiful spot (on the way to the Grand Canyon) where I thought I was taking pictures of this elegant adobe building.

Again, I’m no expert. I just assumed when I saw something like this that I was looking at a solid example of a classic adobe construction. It is a cool building. We weren’t able to go inside, but it looked cool.

It has all of the outward appearance of a traditional adobe building. It’s a time-honored tradition that is a painstaking and deliberate process with very few real shortcuts (as I understand it). It’s something that one might expect to see in a desert.

However… as we were walking around the place we noticed a small hole in one of the walls. Through this small hole we could see the wire mesh that is necessary to coat a building with stucco. Stucco is a different thing entirely. It’s a coating that is often applied in order to provide a relatively durable and unique texture to a building. It’s also pretty common, in these days of convenience, to build structures that look an awful lot like adobe but are much more simply and easily constructed.

That’s fine. But it’s not adobe.

Now, to be clear, there were no signs that indicated to us that this structure was a genuine adobe building. There was no representation of anything different than what we observed. It’s just not what I expected.

As I walked away from this (still very cool-looking) building, it dawned on me that I’ve observed a great number of folks over the years that claimed to be followers of Jesus, but when they began to be cracked by the circumstances of life, the shallow stucco-like veneer of their faith seemed to crumble and fall away. The emptiness underneath seemed to betray the substance of their profession.

I’ve learned a little more since then about the traditional adobe building practices. The sun-baked bricks do, over time, begin to break down and have to be maintained and eventually replaced just as our faith is intended to grow and renew and transform along our journey. But, even when the coating begins to crack and crumble, the solid substance beneath is real.

I wonder what people see of our faith when the inevitable bumps and cracks of life come along. Do they see a veneer that crumbles away or a solid though vulnerable substance beneath?

The apostle Peter wrote of his hope that the believers he was addressing would even rejoice in those cracking and crumbling blows of life “so that the tested genuineness of your faith” would give praise and glory to God on that day when Christ is fully revealed. He said that this genuine faith was “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.” (1 Peter 1.6-7)

So… the question is this: is your Christianity a stucco veneer or an enduring adobe work in progress?

If you’d like to talk about how to know the difference, send me an email (mike@calvaryduncan.com) and let’s talk.

The Words I Don’t Have

I have been told on more than one occasion that I’m the guy that always knows what to say. Though I know better, it does encourage me to use the gifts I’ve been given. But today I have far more questions than answers. How do I say (or write) the words I just don’t have.

Yet another horrific occurrence has taken place this week as a man’s life was snuffed out for fear he would continue to resist. Fear is a dangerous thing on every side of situations like that. Fear makes one man cower and another man bow up. Fear makes the pulse race and the options fade. Fear makes the person that is different from me seem dangerous to me.

Fear lies.

And while it lies to me, it keeps me from hearing the truth that I know in my calm, thoughtful, clear moments.

But it keeps happening. And it keeps happening to the same unique population within our country. Brothers and sisters, made in the image of God, whose lives are cut short due to fear, keep dying in bad situations poorly handled.

And here in my comfortable office in my comfortable community far, far away from those cold big-city streets, fear works on me. It tells me I don’t have anything to say. It tells me I can’t speak about the injustice because I shouldn’t offend my friends and neighbors in law enforcement. It tells me I can’t speak because I don’t spend time with people who look different from me. It tells me I can’t speak because I am the textbook middle aged white man.

But… fear lies.

There are a significant number of young men in this world that call me dad or for whom I have a father-like role. Three of those young men in particular look very different from me. They look a lot more like the man being held down by his neck than the officer kneeling thereon.

These young men are people I have not only an opportunity but a God-given responsibility to speak to about the hard realities of life. These are the ones to whom I must speak… wisely, carefully, deliberately.

These are the ones who so need the words I don’t have. I can’t say why someone who looks like me could hate someone that looks like them. I can’t explain why I will probably always whisper a prayer without words for their protection when they leave my presence just because they will face stuff  that their brothers who were born to me never will.

At least for this moment, I’m the dad in their lives. And no amount of wise words or good teaching or careful warning will prevent someone from fearing them because they look different.

God help me! I want to say something—to them, to you, to anyone who might read these words… I want to express my outrage and my fear and my embarrassment that stuff like this still happens in this place we still somehow call the land of the free.

How do I say the words I don’t have?

Prudence, Please

The hullabaloo over the pandemic of COVID-19 is, as most things in the world of public interactions, one of extremes.

On one side of things the broad distrust of the media industry and suspicion of anything that could be seen as a political ploy results in apathy toward what is surely no more of a concern than the common flu. I can see that to some degree.

On the other side, there is the panic at the thought of this virus decimating our country and bringing our health care system and entire economy to ruin. The outrage toward those who don’t see this as a serious matter is, in some sense, understandable.

But, despite the many voices in the world telling us that theirs is the only reasonable perspective, there is a great deal of ground in between the extremes.

I’m not a scientist and I don’t pretend to know the medical ins and outs of this situation. What I do know is that this is not beyond the scope and application of biblical wisdom.

Twice in the book of Proverbs we read these words (prompted by the Spirit of God but delivered through one of the most wealthy men that ever lived):

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.

Proverbs 22.3; 27.12

SO… let’s get straight to it. It is FOOLISH to go on as if it’s nothing. But it is also FOOLISH to move into a bubble and forsake the rest of the world. It is PRUDENT to pay attention and take reasonable precautions.

The problem, as a follower of Jesus, for either of these extremes is one of self-centeredness.

On the one hand, those who are hoarding toilet paper (which NO ONE has been able to explain to me) and sealing themselves inside their own homes and pulling their kids out of school or anything else that might bring them in potential conflict with the unwashed masses are reacting entirely out of fear. Fear almost never leads to wise decisions.

On the other hand, those who insist that this is just all a campaign of media hype and there is no cause for concern and thus will not so much as take advice on how long and thoroughly to wash their hands are reacting entirely out of arrogance. This also almost never leads to wise decisions.

But the bigger issue here is that the vast majority of us are NOT going to be the ones to be killed by this virus. It’s those precious folks whose bodies are already worn down by age or disease or other compromising condition that will fall to this illness.

It’s my hope-filled and rambunctious nephews that have had more heart surgery in the first few years of life than most of us could endure in a lifetime…

It’s the very dear folks that I know and love who, now into their nineties, have a depth of experience-informed praying for us that I can hardly bear to part with…

The reasonable precautions of prudence are not for me and probably not for you. They are to protect those who can’t fight this thing. Our panic will not help them. Our apathy won’t either. Our prudence may keep them from having to fight this particular battle.

I have to ask: If we can’t be counted on to be diligent to wash our hands for the sake of “the least of these,” what hope do we have of ever learning to wash their feet?

So please, my brothers and sisters, don’t panic.

Please, my brothers and sisters, don’t act like it’s not there.

Let’s be more concerned about protecting the weak among us than we are about our convenience or preference or comfort.

Surely when we’ve done such for the least of these, we have done so unto Jesus himself.