Theologian Karl Barth once said to his student, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that he sometimes wished he could give up lecturing and just sit across the table from people, one at a time, and ask, "How goes it with your soul?"
My friend Matt started a biker gang. Except he doesn’t have a motorcycle and neither do most of the guys in his gang. They just meet once a week at a bar in downtown Round Rock and ask one another "How goes it with your soul?" They talk to everyone in the bar and everyone talks to them and the things they talk about change lives.
I like this question. It’s the question our small groups try to ask every week. It’s the question, authentically answered, that leads to deep connection and all manner of holy transformation.
It’s a question I ask my girls. I ask, “How’s your heart?” Or “What are you talking to God about these days?”
It’s a question I ask my husband, or the question I mean anyway, when I say, as I do almost every day, “Are you doing okay?”
And it’s a question I ask myself on quiet nights when the girls are asleep and the computer screen glows and I wonder what you and I need to hear from the Lord.
It’s my question for you tonight, a question with the potential to make everything better, a question a little like a flood-gate released and a little like balm…
How goes it with your soul?
Last night my daughter Eve had the great opportunity to share her toys with her younger cousin Scarlett. Of course she didn’t see it that way. She hated sharing. Convinced Scarlett would destroy her precious stuff, Eve followed Scarlett’s every step, overseeing. Eve’s constant tattling and low frequency whining served as auditory wallpaper.
This morning I opened the Bible to Matthew 19 for the day’s reading. The girls and I cuddled on the couch as we talked about Jesus and the rich young ruler. I read the story straight out of Matthew. I read Jesus’ words: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” And then I read, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
Eve—moved, confused, earnest—wanted to know, “Why was he sad?”
I said, “He loved his stuff.”
And tears trickled down Eve’s round cheeks.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again. With my kids. With adults. In small group studies or over coffee. I’ve certainly seen it happen to me.
When the Word of God creeps into our actual, flesh-and-blood, messy lives. When it speaks directly to our hearts and our habits. When we look on the page and see ourselves.
This morning, Eve read the Bible and the words she heard broke her heart. She was the rich young ruler. She said—remember, she’s five—she said, “Mom, I love my stuff.”
To be clear, I did not remind Eve of the night before. I didn’t say a single word beyond what I’d read. And still…
She said, through tears, “I’m so sorry I didn’t share with Scarlett. I’m sorry I love my stuff.”
THAT is what the Word of God does.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
I read my Bible because it’s alive. Because it reaches down inside me and stirs me to righteousness, to holiness, to life. I write Bible verses in graduation cards and wedding cards and baby shower cards, because the Word speaks more perfectly and particularly than I ever could. I post Bible verses all over my house, because I want it inside me, shaping me. And I read the Bible to my kids because, well, isn’t it obvious?
After Eve said “I’m sorry”—as she was saying it really—I scooped her up into my lap and held her close. “It’s okay, baby,” I said. “You’re learning. God is helping you learn.”
I asked, “Do you want me to pray?” She nodded. We prayed God would help us not love our stuff, that He would make us who He told us He wanted us to be.
I sat down today planning to write about my scooter accident on Saturday. I wanted to write about it two seconds after it happened. For whatever reason, I felt compelled…
Justin and I were in Chicago. We rented scooters. I wasn’t very good at riding the scooter. I was nervous and slow to catch on. We tooled around in a neighborhood for a few minutes, and then prepared to turn into two-lane traffic. I got anxious, didn’t lean into my turn, missed the lane, and hopped a curb onto the sidewalk in the direction of a brick wall. Simultaneously, I tried to slow my vehicle by pulling back on the throttle. Turns out, that’s how you give it gas. I ran into a wall at something like 20 miles per hour.
By the grace of God (I like to give God credit for all the good things) I’m fine—bruised and sore—but fine. The scooter’s okay, too. A couple hundred bucks in damage, but not totaled.
I’ve been thinking all morning about why I wanted to share that story so much. It’s not particularly interesting, surprising or beautiful.
Maybe it’s because I could have died, and almost-died moments re-frame the way we see. Because I want you to remember death is a thief, hiding where we least expect.
Maybe I want to share this story because I really should have listened to my gut when it very loudly proclaimed, “You are not going to be good at this.” Because I want you to listen to your often-wise intuition.
And maybe I’m writing about this because I can see now I really should have practiced for longer when the instructor suggested I might. Jumping into hard things without preparing often ends poorly.
All of those are good lessons for living.
But I think the real reason I wanted to tell you I hit a wall going way too fast on a scooter is this: I’m alive. Because I lived to tell the story, I feel compelled to tell it—to celebrate life and living and the delight that is cheating death.
In a way, cheating death is the gospel. You should have died, but you didn’t. You should die, but you won’t. It’s touching your arms and legs with open palms, surprised to find them still attached and working—knowing you’ve been spared something that, just seconds earlier, seemed terribly inevitable.
It’s the best feeling. Good, good news.
It’s a marriage that seemed like prison that now, praise God, sustains and challenges and fills.
It’s an addiction you thought would drive you to the grave, broken, defeated, conquered.
It’s a tragedy that tied you to your bed in tears, now redeemed, overcome, and shaping.
And it’s lying in a hospital bed knowing, whatever happens, you’ll live.
Jesus said to the frustrated Jews, leaders who would take His life in a matter of days, “My sheep listen to my voice… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” I love that they killed Jesus to disprove Him, and in killing Him, enabled, even ushered in, the eternal life He promised.
No one can take your God-given life. Not even death.
When it tries (and inevitably fails), stand up, brush yourself off, and proclaim the gospel of death cheated. Proclaim it here to a death-ruled people seeking life. Or proclaim it there, before the throne of death’s Defeater.