Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Unafraid


(from the archives)

This life stirs deep, doesn’t it?

And there is no way for that stirring to swing easy.

It agitates.
Whips.
Mingles.

We are affected.

It takes courage to let something be what it is.

We can tend to busy-up around an issue. 

We beautify.
And organize.
And store.
And straighten.
We fix.

We almost cannot get our values away from this.

We, the fixers, have problems with the unruly stuff like:

Grief
Sadness
Anger
Trauma
Pain

Those things that will not be contained and stored. 
Or hidden away.

Those things that will not be stifled.

Today.
In this moment.

It quietly whispers…

What is making you afraid?

Because…

Jesus is already there. 

Already in it. 
Already making a way.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
 Heb 11:1

“By faith Moses…left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” 
Heb 11:24&27

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
 2Cor 4:18

Sometimes we only need to have our eyes opened.

Especially when any antagonizing force stands persistently against us.

When our enemy has us surrounded and we feel like they (any ‘they’) have won.

Elisha has been teaching me this over the last weeks. 

Kneading hope into my days. 

A story amidst all the Kings.

“Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel…”
 2 Kings 6:8

And Elisha, the Man of God, repeatedly warned the king of Israel of the Arameans plans with accuracy and miraculous foresight so that the Aramean strategies were completely thwarted. 

“Go find out where [Elisha] is,” the king [of Aram] ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back, “He is in Dothan.”
 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there.
 They went by night and surrounded the city. 

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.
 “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.”
 Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
2 Kings 6:13-17

The story stays amazing.

The enemy advances and Elisha prays for the enemy army to be struck blind. 

Elisha then leads the whole blind army straight into the hands and land of the Israel king, who inquires of Elisha, “What now? Do we kill them?”

Elisha says, “Feed them. Then send them home.”

Feed them?

The whole entire army of enemies armed to destroy?

Israel obeys. 

They feed the army and then send them away.

The story ends with this:

“So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.” 
2 Kings 6:23

Indeed.

My takeaway…

*What happens in this great big world is never outside God’s awareness.
*His support and activity may require spiritual eyes to see.
*Faith and belief and relationship with Him clarify our vision.
*Those that are with us are MORE than those that are with them, whether I recognize it or not.

One very important clarification…
‘Us’ and ‘them’ are words that awaken wise caution in such a polarizing world.
So let’s lean into that caution for a bit.

In this particular passage I read ‘us’ as God’s chosen ones (Elisha and his servant specifically) and ‘them’ as God’s not-chosen nation (Aram). This us /them terminology is woven all throughout the stories we find in Old Testament history.
The nation of Israel (God’s chosen) was set apart in many dramatic ways.

And while I learn so much from Old Testament stories I also rejoice that we don’t live in the times of 2 Kings anymore. 

Because, Jesus.
Our definitive Word (John 1).

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter2:9-10

This choosing, this Nation that we are in Christ was established while we were all still really messed up.
Really vile.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 
Romans 5:6-8

Some kind of weird Nation, isn’t it?

While we were still outrageously wicked—Christ died for us.

All of us.

We are ALL chosen now. 

Blundering mistake-makers most graciously included into the ‘us’ of God through Jesus as fulfillment (not abolishment) of the Old Testament way. (Matt 5:17)

So. 

Whatever enemy surrounds you and stirs.

Stay loved. 
(remembering gingerly, with grace, that because of Jesus every ‘they’ is loved so much too)

We just have to remember it.

Anchor to it. 

To Him. 

No one is forgotten.

God is near.
He hears.
He is acting on behalf of His Beloved.
(before we even know that we are so loved!)

He delights in us. 

He is good.

Open our eyes, LORD!
Let us see how you are with us!

Let us advance into the day ahead—

Adored and Unafraid.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Psalm 18:16-19



Monday, November 07, 2016

How Can I Know?

(reposted from the archives)

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’
 ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ 
So Abram left, as the Lord had told him;” 
Genesis 12: 1-4

“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

“Then the word of the Lord came to him… ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars---if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”
Genesis 15:2-6;8

I was sitting in an empty space when these words trumpeted, echoing into my fears. 

My expectations were not being met and in the vacancy of disappointment I heard Abram’s cry in my own:

“O Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”

Abram received a calling buoyed by big promises. He followed with obedience and belief. 

The results were years of hollow silence and endless waiting.

In the stillness of my own unanswered hopes, I hear Abram and Sarai chuckle into my ear…

“Obedience can look and feel barren.” 

Called away from their home community and promised God’s faithfulness, with absolutely nothing to show for it for many, many bloody months, Sarai and Abram walked to the consistent cadence of “no,” and “not yet.”  They lived with a barrenness that was regular and routine. A barrenness that constantly whispered the threat of ‘never’, leaving residue of abandonment and loss. 

Obedience and grief so often go hand in hand. 

Reading this truth in the hallowed story of Abraham relieves me (I'm not weird!). 

And it frustrates me (I want obedience and ABUNDANCE to walk right beside each other!). 

“Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know…”

It is easy to celebrate success and accumulation. Accumulation of material goods, or esteem or degrees or dollars…this we can feel blessing in and see with our eyes. 

The picture of what we have can be posted into the world around us as proof of our value. As proof that God is involved.

Abraham and Sarah’s story teaches that God is involved in other scenarios too.

Scenarios that hurt. 

In scenarios that appear empty.

When desolate circumstances linger, it can be tempting to meddle and stew toward my own solutions. 

To look for a Hagar to solve the problem.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” 
Genesis 16:1-2

Sarai (with Abram’s willing participation) jumps ahead of God's perfectly designed plan. They usher Hagar into an equation where she wasn't supposed to be. Consequence does follow, much of it negative and hurtful, but God stayed in all of it. 

And He revealed Himself (The God Who Sees) in a whole new way. 

There is a VERY wide zone in the story of Abraham and his family. There is trust and belief, yes, (especially on the part of Abraham). But there is also disbelief, and mockery, and doubt and lack of patience. Good decisions, bad decisions. Good behavior, bad behavior. God saw it all. He stayed with it all. He promised. He purposed. He blessed. And He never strayed from the plan He had chosen already. 

Into the messy entanglements they brought on themselves, God continued to love. 

Into the pounding ache of prolonged frustration, God continued to love. 

He made himself known. 

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” 
Romans 4:18a


In betrayals and heartbreaks. In the waiting seasons we writhe underneath, I can hear our very consistent God say:

I am not surprised or confused by your current circumstance.
“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:17

And the barren days you endure, are not what they seem.
“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
Romans 4:17b

They are Me alongside you, in such a way that nobody can miss it.
Presence is my Promise.
I have always and I will continue to be With.
“…be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5

Know me. Acknowledge me by Name.
“Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”
Psalm 91:14

El Roi.
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me…” 
Genesis 16:13

Yahweh Shammah. 
‘The Lord is There.’
“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them…”
Isaiah 63:9a

Immanuel.
“...which means, ‘God with us.”
Matt 1:23b


When silence echoes around me and my eyes grow tired of the strain of watchful waiting; when my heart feels burdened with the weight of emptiness, the laughter of an aging and wrinkled mother fills my soul. 

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.” 
Genesis 21:1

“In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them…”
Isaiah 63:9b

Saturday, August 27, 2016

ALSO


Also: in addition to

At the very beginning of the book of John, we meet an adult Jesus stepping into service.  His official ministry is beginning and he heads to the capital-c Church (the Temple in Jerusalem) for the Passover celebration. But when he reaches the Temple, he does not like what He sees. In fact, he creates a very big ruckus with a whip and some very pointed words. (Jn2:13-17)
He was extremely incensed by what those religious people were selling.
John tells us Jesus taught and performed signs anyway and then he offers this chilling summation of Jesus time with the religious elite:
 “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” John 2:24-25
“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them…”

John 4
His throat was parched as he sat to rest in the blinding heat of the full force of the noon day sun.

His eyes squinted to the overwhelming light force that hid nothing.

The woman approached alone and he reached out with a simple request,
“Will you give me a drink?”

The woman startled at this request and smartly required more information. The man was a Jew and she was a Samaritan and this interaction was ridiculous. A pious Jew would never, NEVER share a cup with a Samaritan Woman.

The man returns some nonsense about a thing he calls ‘living water’ and how he has it in his possession to give to her. Her derisive disbelief is unmasked.

So is her soul.

“Go, call your husband and come back,” the man speaks.

She replies simply, “I have no husband.”

The Jewish man then goes on to fully disclose her life story—one of the most painful parts. The five divorces that left her marked and scorned. The insecure and dishonored way she lived currently: “…and the man you now have is not your husband.”

How, exactly did he know that?

The woman’s face is turned. The derision altered.

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.”

She follows with a curious comment.

Since the moment she approached the well where this confounding Jewish traveler rested she had moved within clearly delineated facts:

You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. (Jn4:9)
You are not greater than ‘our father Jacob’. (Jn4:12)
Living water is impossible and thirst can never really be fully quenched. (Jn4:15)

And then, in the light of her own painful and sordid reality that the Jewish man somehow simply knew she repeats one further discriminating separation.
A statement with an ‘us vs them’ quandary of sorts interjected into this odd conversation at an intriguing time.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Was she changing the subject?
Was she asking a question?
Was she hiding from the embarrassment of her current circumstance?
 Was she scared? Amused? Arrogant? Humiliated?

I’m not sure.

But I DO clearly know what that Jewish man returned to her.

“Woman,’ [he] replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when YOU will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”

“YOU?!”

Every difference and the most derogatory life circumstances clearly illuminated all out between them and the man leans in to say clearly,

“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet, a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The man acknowledges the divisions and even offers a reason why…but he adds one very redeeming ALSO.

The act of worship is accessible to YOU ALSO. And, woman, the place, the locale and any past claim to land and heritage isn’t going to matter anymore!

The time HAS NOW COME when true worshipers will meet with God in a NEW WAY.
In Spirit and in truth.

What do you suppose the word ‘truth’ meant to the woman who had just had her whole shattered history spoken out loud between her and this stranger?

No more hiding? No more differences?

United by Spirit.
Freed in truth.
The truth of all of us.

Water forgotten, she persists with the quenching conversation carefully.

“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes he will explain everything to us.”

I can almost see his smile here, as he stands with the full weight of sunlight bearing down and proclaims,

“I the one speaking to you-- I am he!”

“I am He!”

With resounding declaration, right in the unlovely truth of this woman’s life and pain, the darkness of exclusion and rejection floods brilliant with thirst quenching light and Jesus reveals himself as Messiah.

He entrusts himself.

Not at the Temple.
But to a Woman from among ‘those others’ who had lost far more than she had gained.
Until that day.
It is well.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
John 3:19-21

God sees and knows the truth of all of us.
But many fear the light because they will be exposed first.

Characteristics that differentiate and segregate stand as waypoints—
Moments of awareness that cause us to stop and consider.
Moments that cause us to choose.

We can step into the intrigue and value of difference.
We can seek for deeper understanding.
We can hear and respect.
Or.
We can ridicule and disdain.
We can turn our backs.
We can deny.

We are daily offered vast opportunity to choose well.

All the Different Things command the spotlight in many arenas while we witness and participate and observe as foundational values are vastly spoken, challenged, debated and considered.

For my part, I pray deeply for the courage of Jesus

To work the ALSO.

Jesus made space for ‘in addition to’. He allowed the ‘the others’ in.

He actually went to find them.
(Jn 4:4 ‘Now he had to go through Samaria…’)

His whole ministry was fraught with this most daring grace.

“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:30-31


“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is as sinner.”
Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair…. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--as her great love has shown.”
 Luke 7:36-39, 44,47

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you pray for those who mistreat you.”
Luke 6:27-28

“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals---one on his right, the other on his left…. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 Luke 23: 33 &39-43

“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
Acts 8:3 & Acts 9:3-6

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right….
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.”
Acts 10:34-35 &44-45

It takes courage to awaken my sensitivity to every ALSO…

No one can choose this for me. I must rehearse it diligently.

My story matters.
But it is not the only one.

My experience matters.
But it is not the only one.

My choices are important.
But they are not the only ones.

My interpretation may offer strengthening diversity to the whole conversation.
But my interpretation is not the only one.

As a proclaimer of God’s truths, as a chosen witness of His work I must tell my personal stories in such a way that allows you to also tell yours.

Jesus was the master of this.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world...” John 3:17

To gain the empathy and wisdom that is a very solid way through all heartbreak, we can create spaces to make this possible.

Work the also…

I should never tell my own story so that it shuts off or confines yours.

I can choose to readily accept that my experience exists in addition to yours.

This can make a dynamic difference in a million barely ways.

I see you.
I hear you.
Mercy.

Work the also…

Honoring grief is imperative to this process.

We must recognize that grief compounds.

(And every single act of isolation or marginalization across all of time begats grief into communities and identities and nations and souls.)

It is wise to honor this.

We do not ever sorrow over one thing at a time.

Our psyche sorrows en masse.

Whole body. Whole soul. Whole witness. Whole history.

En masse.

Likewise, forgiveness is forever ongoing and much like grief will never accept the boundaries of experience or completion established by any other person.

In fact, I believe the process of forgiveness and grief to be far too important to be defined to a beginning and end; there may never be a cut off.

The working through of forgiveness and grief offer much to our development in too many imperative ways.

We absolutely NEED the empathic expanse of acceptance that the processes of forgiveness and grief implore and defend.

Work the also…

This is my story
In addition to
Yours

Paul has some things to say about this:

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat…” 1 Cor 11:17-20

Those things that distinguish us can also divide.
(Jewish/Samaritan, male/female, religious leader/scorned woman, rich/poor)

And so often we divide to claim “better than”.

This competitive distribution of favor is not the way of Christ.

Instead.

Communion (coming together) which fills, sustains, and proclaims is offered to all equally.

Jesus offered bread even to his betrayer.
(Jn13:21-30)

Why would he allow anyone else to be left out?

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
1 Cor 11:23-26

Betrayers and women still neck deep in rejection.
 Jews and Samaritans.
Oppressors and mockers.
Disciples and leaders still afraid of the light.
The Gentiles!

The feast of His Table is a communion of every ‘ALSO’.

“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”
1 Cor 11:28-29

“Discern the body of Christ.”
 His physical body.
 And His church.
Discern it.
Perceive and recognize it.

Around His table, set for every beloved one we discover:

Forgiveness which frees
Fellowship which comforts
Friendship that comes alongside and stays

Truth that shelters us into Himself

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world...” John 3:17

He is for you.
All of you.


Go be like Him.