Right now, I’m thankful for a computer with a delete key. Because if this was written on paper, you’d not be able to see the words for all the scribbles and eraser marks. I’ve given myself permission for this to be a rambling and non-eloquent thing, as I gather thoughts about what it means to gather our thoughts.
If I was to write a letter to 2021 right now, it would look something like this:
It’s been nary a week, and I’m already writing to you with apologies for all the promises broken, all the curses made, all the disappointing glares you are receiving.
Like your sister 2020, we sat you at the table and made the list of how things would be different, how we would be different. We worried about making resolutions, but we quietly made promises. We didn’t want to make public proclamations, but we still wrote out all the silent expectations. We counted on you to fix things, to change those we see as “other,” to get rid of the bad guys and set the world right.
And instead, we’ve watched it burn before our eyes. We pointed fingers and cast blame, we dug our heels in and looked in disgust at anyone who offered a different perspective. We drew enemy lines. And in doing so, we have labeled ourselves enemies too. The greatest conspiracy we’ve believed is that we are not co-conspirators in all that is happening around us.
And we cursed you, 2021, as if you held any power at all. But you are like that sister of yours, quietly reminding us that you are created by God to offer us space, but the power to fill that space rightly is ours to hold.
And how we fill that space around us begins with how we fill that space within us. What we gather in our hearts and heads will be seen in what we gather with our hands.
I’m contemplating these words right now, over and over again. And I’m remembering that I can’t cherry pick the phrases that seem more to my liking or bent. All work in harmony. Nothing is wasted. There is no “but” or “only if” to be added. These words aren’t about a country, or a philosophy, or a political leaning, or a cultural trend. They are about you and me. Our hearts. Our attitudes. Our lives.
The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One. Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. Philippians 4:5-8
Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.” When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.” Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.) He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.” Mark 7:14-23
If you find any comfort from being in the Anointed, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His tenderness and mercy fill your heart; then, brothers and sisters, here is one thing that would complete my joy—come together as one in mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love. Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere and secure your neighbors’ interests first. In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. Philippians 2:2-5
So what does it mean to gather our thoughts? I’m still pondering, to be honest. And I look forward to the day when my thoughts are not easily swayed by popular opinion or self-righteous pride or fear of not being seen as the smartest kid in the classroom.
When I look at Jesus, I see the example of holding to timeless truth, of honest conversations with God and others that are real and ever-ready, of humility and servitude as banners of grace and mercy. I am convicted that my attitudes and actions are a reflection of what I’ve invited into my heart and head. I am a mirror of my soul. So are you. And there will never be a day this side of eternity when that mirror’s reflection will be perfect. Smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers, getting rid of the vomit have nothing to do with telling the world that it’s wrong or pointing fingers at those who may have a different perspective than ours.
No, those directives have everything to do with us seeing the wrong within us.
Again, I’m still pondering. But I do think that gathering our thoughts begins with yielding all that we have already gathered to the Lord, laying them at the Cross, and saying, “I repent.” My friend and pastor Lizzie says, “Repentance opens our eyes to see Jesus.” We make room for lament, for grief, for change. We make room to be made more like Christ, for us to gather what is honorable and right and pure and lovely, for us to gather what it means to love God and love others, for us to gather a vocabulary that speaks hope.
And so, I repent. I pray we all repent. Each of us. All of us. And I pray we’ll all learn to gather our thoughts anew.
I’m memorizing these words as I walk this road of gathering. Maybe you’ll want to memorize them with me, so we can pray for and with each other as we let them sink deeply and bear fruit. This is Romans 12.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.