Tag Archives: Faith

Spirit rain down

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I wrote this a week ago, when rain was just a whispered hope and smoke hung thick in the air.  Today it is raining heavily.  Yet my heart prayer is still the same.

 

It seems the south is on fire.

We are at nearly 50 days without a drop of rain.  This is very abnormal, especially in autumn.  At last count there were over 50,000 acres in North Carolina alone consumed by wildfires.

It’s hard not to sense spiritual forces working when you experience weather and natural events that are so bizarre, so alien for this part of the country, especially when paired with the volatile election season we have endured.  Divine judgement?  Sin run amuck?  I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to presume I understand the workings of our omniscient and omnipotent, holy and just, merciful and loving God.  And sometimes crappy things happen because we live in a fallen and broken world managed by one who seeks to destroy.

Here’s where I’ve landed.  I have been crying to God for rain, for relief from the fires.  And every, every time I pray that prayer my heart responds by reminding me we need an outpouring of God more than we need a single drop of rain. We need the Spirit to fall upon us.  Our lives, our culture, our communities, our churches are dry and parched and wasting away.  We consume each other with words intended to wound, with violence and hatred and racism and selfishness. We trample the poor and oppressed and wounded and fatherless because we are too busy to care for them.  Because serving them would put our comfortable, safe, predictable, normal lives in jeopardy.  We villainize anyone who looks or lives or believes differently than us because hating them is a lot easier than wading through the swamp of things that keep us apart to show kindness or grace.

I know of so many people in the trenches, loving their neighbors in radical and un-glamorous ways.  Men and women and families who dive into the mess, who listen to the broken and lonely, who serve and serve and serve and count it all joy.  We need more of that. More people willing to say to God: whatever.  Whatever you say, Lord, I will do.  Wherever you lead, Jesus, I will go.

But more than more people serving – we need God’s Spirit poured out on us in a radical, life-changing, life-giving way.  Oh, Jesus, we need you.  May we recognize and confess our sins, both personal and corporate.  Oh, Spirit, change how we see and what we seek.  Break our hearts for what breaks Yours.

Rain down on us.

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an unexpected gift

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As a graduate student I attended a large church where I knew only a handful of people.  My studies were so demanding that I could do little more than show up on Sunday mornings.  There were many weeks when that felt like a tremendous accomplishment as I sat mentally and emotionally exhausted and sleep deprived in my seat, desperate for something to nourish my starved soul.  God graciously met me there, giving me huge doses of encouragement and peace and spiritual nourishment.  I came and sang and learned and met with God and left, often without speaking a word to anyone else.

But.

But I knew, even in the midst of that season, that this was not the way God wanted things to be long-term.  When the preachers spoke on the importance of community, of being connected with a smaller group of people within this large church, of intimately and intentionally sharing life with them, it resonated deep within me as true.  I knew that it was easy to slip in and out of church without really being a part of the church.  That you could smile and shake hands and make friends without ever taking off the mask to reveal your broken, bleeding, messy life.  

Y’all, community is hard and I am no good at it.  It takes work and determination, grit and grace, and this introvert is often exhausted by the prospect before I even begin.  But there are true benefits that make all the sweat and tears worth it.  And when you let other people know your story, even the ugly and messy parts, it can reveal unexpected beauty.

I love to sing, and a typically Sunday morning will find me singing with abandon regardless of how on or off tune I might be.  Sometimes, though, I stop and listen to the chorus rising around me.  I hear the varied voices blending together and it is beautiful and stirs my heart in thanksgiving to God.  And then I am reminded of the stories behind the voices and I am humbled:

            a dad of two young boys who is battling a degenerative disease
 
            a teenage girl fighting Lyme disease and all the complications that come with it
 
            couples teetering on the edge of divorce
 
            parents whose grown kids have rejected the faith they hold so dear
 
            the mama who is finding wholeness and life on the other side of a crippling depression
 
            a family one bill away from financial disaster
 
            the parents who buried their young child

 

These people singing with passion and sincerity to God in the midst of their pain is a beautiful thing.  When I know their story their act of worship takes on greater meaning and power because I know what it means for them to surrender to God in the middle of their suffering.  That when they tell God He is good and loving and wise it comes from a heart that knows what it is to break into thousands of pieces.  This, this is a testimony far greater than any sermon.  And when we stay on the fringes, when we keep each other at arms length, when we hold the story God is weaving from our tattered lives close to our chest we miss out on this unexpected gift.

 

 

 

On writing my testimony

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Our pastor, Todd, is asking everyone at our church who is a Christian give him a written account of their testimony.  Simply put, your testimony is your story of how you met Jesus for the first time and how He has changed your life.  Todd isn’t asking for these stories to make some master list of “real” Christians or to grade our stories.  He knows that to write your story, to think through what Jesus has done for you and in you allows you to step back and see the threads of God’s presence in your story.  To document His love, His grace, His amazing gift of forgiveness of our messed up lives is a beautiful act of worship.  This reflection prepares you to share that story with others because, as we see over and over in the Bible, our testimony of what God has done in our life is the best evidence we can give of His real and active presence to those who don’t know Him.

And I have seriously been dragging my feet.  I have no dramatic story of meeting Jesus, no amazing transformation that occurred when He forgave my sins.  My testimony so often feels “less than” because I have been a follower of Jesus since I was seven and have pretty much stuck with Him ever since.  We have journeyed together – arduous uphill climbs, breathtaking mountaintop vistas, and slogs through the darkest of valleys – and I am slowly, slowly being transformed to be more like Him.  It seems such a boring story.  Why on earth would anyone be interested in it?  How could it possibly change anyone’s life?

Ah, there’s the catch.  I am relying on crafting a clever narrative to capture my audience.  I see it as my story and so all of the weight for it’s power and purpose lies squarely on my shoulders.  And that is entirely wrong.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
              “Blessed Assurance“, Fanny Crosby 1873

These words, penned by Fanny Crosby over 100 years ago, remind me of what – of Who – my testimony is about.  That I or anyone else can call themselves Christian is a stunning miracle.  I have been purchased by God at a very costly price.  My sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  In His grace and mercy He chose me to be His daughter, a fact that should astound me every day.  Why me?  Why did I get to grow up in a God-honoring home filled with love and safety?  Why has He protected me time and time again from my own bad choices and desires and the wickedness of others?  I do not know – but this should bring praise to my lips, not shame or dejection.  All who are Christians have a dramatic rescue story.  It is unequivocally not about me.  How arrogant of me to think that God can’t use me because of how I met Him!

And so I am writing my testimony.  It is a slice, a small glimpse into the numerous and amazing things God has done in me and for me.  And it is getting quite long – but when you start recounting God’s grace and goodness and power and holiness it’s hard to stop (my family will not be surprised that this writing assignment has turned into a small novel – ha!).  Stay tuned…

The thing that unites us

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A beautiful gathering of women began last weekend.  We crossed denominational, cultural, geographical and political divides to join hands and wrestle with the question, “If God is real, then what?”   I say “began” because, while this event was a catalyst, it was intentionally not a singular event.  The leaders are providing numerous ways for us to continue to connect with each other and challenging us to pour our lives out for the hurting, the marginalized, the oppressed, the broken in our world.  It is the closest thing to the early church, as described in Acts 2:42-47 , that I have ever experienced.   And it left me hungry for more of this kind of radical unity.

Why is IF: Gathering an anomaly? Why does it take a deliberate effort to engage in this kind of community?  Shouldn’t it be the norm for a group that calls itself ‘The Body of Christ?’  I mean, it’s not as if my hands or legs or ears can decide to do their own thing and ignore the rest of my parts.  And I think God picked this analogy on purpose so that we can’t escape each other.  Because that is our natural tendency: to collect in little groups who look the same, think the same, believe the same and ignore all others.  We don’t just ignore each other, though, do we?  As soon as the teams are chosen, we start chucking stones at each other like some twisted game of dodgeball.  

I am not naive about why we have denominations, or why the church is the most racially divided institution in America.  I know the history.  I know how we got here.  But I don’t want to use the weight of that history as a reason to keep dividing when the Bible clearly and unequivocally says that we are to be of one mind and purpose.   If we’re going to look into the past to define us, let’s look all the way back.  The very first people to align themselves with Jesus were largely Jewish.  In their religious and political context, there were Jews (good guys) and everyone else (bad guys).  They did not associate with any non-Jews, and they saw no need to change.  Then Jesus showed up and began healing the servants of Roman centurions and chatting with Samaritans and loving on prostitutes.  His contemporaries had no context for this, no frame of reference in which this made sense.  And even after Jesus  was resurrected from the dead and His disciples touched those wounds in His hands and side, they still didn’t get the beautiful magnitude of Jesus gift of salvation.  God had to show up in Peter’s dream and then send a Roman to his door before he really understands that this good news was indeed for everyone, just like Isaiah prophesied.  The forgiveness and grace Jesus offered crossed religious and cultural bounds and united them all in Him.

But aren’t those theological and cultural differences important, you ask?  Of course!  But those things that make us Baptists or Presbyterians or non-denominationals or contemporary worshippers or liturgical are secondary to the one thing that should unite and drive us all: the gospel.  This good news of God-made-man, of sins forgiven, of hope and joy and eternal life found in Jesus – this is what we should be about.  It is the heartbeat of our Body, what gives life to each limb and organ.  And on this we can agree.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages them to unity and humility as they serve God together.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,  he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.    Philippians 2:1-11 (NLT)

There is so much we can learn from these few lines.  The Holy Spirit unites us.  Work together with one mind and purpose (which should be sharing this good news, by the way, not the myriad of other things we make church and religion about).  Don’t be selfish.  Be humble.  Support and celebrate the things other people are championing, not just your own calling.  Be like Christ.

I want to soak in these verses.  I want to make my life about Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and not about all the other junk to which I cling so tightly.  I want to humbly serve my fellow Christians, to encourage them to pursue God and cheer them on when they do.  I want to make the community of believers around me rich and diverse and messy so that we may shine like stars in the darkness as we hold out this word of life.  Will you join me?

Five Minute Friday

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There is a group of brave writers who take five minutes each Friday (or in my case Monday, or Tuesday, or…) to write together on the same prompt.  We set the timer and let our fingers fly for 300 seconds and see where we end up.   Today’s prompt is:

 

HERO

Oh, how we all crave a hero!  We make heroes out of men, women – flesh and blood celebrities that we exalt until they inevitably crash at out feet.  So then we create imaginary ones.  Long lines of superheroes who rescue us from evil villains.  And this is not a phenomenon that started with comic books or Iron Man movies.  Ancient literature is filled with heroes, people who do the impossible, take on giants, monsters, gods in search of love, peace or fame.  What is it in us that craves a hero?

There is evil in this world.  You don’t have to look much beyond the first few minutes of your local news show to know this.  We are wounded by evil.  Scarred by the claws that seek to rip our hearts and lives to shreds.  We are desperate for a way out, for hope.  And so we imagine men and women who can defeat the monsters in our world.  They become caricatures of our better selves.  And this is not a bad thing.  Unless.  Unless we miss the Hero that stands in the wings of our lives, ready to rush into the chaos and destruction and bring order and hope.  He won’t fight His way in uninvited.  But He wants – so much! – to rescue you from the pain, the weight that threatens to suffocate your heart.  He wants to do more than give you a safe, pleasant, comfortable life here.  He wants you to join Him on His quest.  He wants you to fight back the darkness with Him, to whisper words of the coming revolution into the hearts of the captives.  And then, with your arms heavy from battle, your body scarred with the wounds of the enemy, He will take you to His kingdom and there you will find the peace and joy and love that your heart longed for and believed in.

Five Minute Friday

Ordinary Adventure

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Adventure.

What comes to mind when you hear that word?  Do you recall a specific experience of heart-thudding wonder?  Are you filled with a longing for something more, something bigger than your current life?

by Noclador via Wikimedia Commons

Webster defines adventure as “the encountering of danger; a daring, hazardous undertaking; an unusual, stirring experience, often of a romantic nature.” Immediately I picture isolated climbers on snow-capped peaks.  Yet the chances of me being one of those fearless climbers?  Slim to none.  I admire their vision and devour stories of their accent, but I have no desire to put in the time, training and money to follow their footsteps.  I am quite happy exploring the endless trails that don’t involve crampons and bivouacs.  But my heart is still filled with anticipation and excitement when I hear the word adventure.  I want to be part of a grand and meaningful story.  I long for daring undertakings and stirring experiences.

My days, however, are filled with bills and laundry and baby drool.  Have I put adventure on hold while I stay at home with my son?  Is this the boring comma between the Interesting Things that fill my life before and after raising a family?  I easily believe that.  I hear Big Stories of women moving their families to Africa to serve the poor, or traveling around the world with their husband and kids for a year and I think – this is what I must do!  To have adventure I must follow in their footsteps.  And this is nonsense.

I am learning instead to see the adventure in the everyday, the ordinary life that surrounds me.  The wonder of watching my son explore and learn about his tiny world.  The challenge of deep and meaningful relationships with the people placed in my life right now.  The hard, beautiful work of forging a marriage with someone so similar yet so different from me.  My unique role within the larger Story in which we all play a part.

“Wedding in the Village,” The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis via Wikimedia Commons

This Story includes all of humanity and it unfolds like an intricate tapestry.  The Hero of this Story is not me.  My ego desperately wants to be the center of my story – and, if I’m honest, a lot of other people’s stories as well.  But the starring role of this Story belongs to Jesus.  After all, He wrote it!  He has been around since the Story began and He is the End after the final chapter.  There is freedom (and a great deal of relief!) when I accept that I am not the Hero.  I no longer have to write an epic tale for myself, but I can join Him in His adventure.  This might mean He leads me somewhere grand and daring and I won’t hesitate with fear and uncertainty because He goes with me.  But He might leave me right where I am and challenge me to be daring and adventurous in the ordinary and anonymous.  God is just as magnificent and wild and bold and dynamic here as He is in a small village in Africa.  He is not tame, but He is good and loving and so desperately wants you to see your true role in His crazy Story!

Perhaps you love to rock climb or kayak churning rivers.  Or you get excited when you travel to countries and cultures far from where you call home, immersing yourself in new places.  Maybe an adventure for you is walking across the street to meet that neighbor you only wave at in passing.  Search out what stirs your heart.  Food, painting, woodworking, sewing, relationships, teaching – any of these can be part of your adventure.  Talk to God.  Ask Him to show you the ordinary adventures around you.  Don’t spend your days longing for the life you don’t have, but uncover those daring undertakings around you.  Join Him in His adventure story and your life will be anything but tame and boring!