Flexibility

Can I just say how great it’s been to be (relatively) media-free for a day and a half?  My brain feels so much calmer than normal.  It’s actually possible to just sit quietly and not stare at my phone.  Who knew?

Yesterday (because I wasn’t sitting in front of the computer all day), I read the book of Mark.  I’ve also been reading Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross, which goes through the book of Mark.  I’m no theologian or expositor on Scripture, so take this with a grain of salt.  

I was struck by the plight of the Pharisees. We know they’re the “bad guys.”  We look at them and scoff at how they were so wrong.  Jesus was constantly rebuking them.  They just. didn’t. get. it.  I was feeling sad about it – I think because I can so often relate.  Here I am in my ivory tower of wisdom, riches, and understanding.  I’ve read the Bible times over, I’ve listened to 100s of sermons, I’ve read 100s more books about the Bible and Jesus.  I meet with friends to discuss the Word.  I can recite the prayers, the hymns, the feast days.  I know the “rules.”  I try to live a moral life.  For all intents and purposes, my life looks a lot more like a Pharisee’s life than it does John the Baptist’s or Jesus.’ 

After all that, I still so often don’t get it.  I still want this Christian life to be predictable.  I want to work hard and get blessings.  I want to follow the rules and get the reward.  I want things to work in a predictable way.  I want God to do what I think he should do.

The Pharisees knew the Scriptures that predicted the coming Messiah by heart.  They were seeking him.  They knew with clarity that they were part of a chosen race and followed the teachings of Scripture better than anyone.  The problem was that they were unflinchingly rigid in what they believed the Messiah to look like, and Jesus didn’t fit that.  There was no flexibility built into their religion.  They had determined a set of characteristics that the Messiah would possess, and they had a limited understanding of the character of God.

Don’t I do that to?  I have my list of things that God could never ask of me because it wouldn’t be fair.  I have my own understanding of right and wrong, and surely God must follow that.  When things are good, it’s God’s blessing, when they are bad, I must have missed the mark.  In my mind, it has to work this way.  There’s no room for flexibility.

God can’t be limited to my rules and my reading of the Bible.  God does not act in ways that are predictable.  As my pastor said today, 10 steps in a straight line with God tells us nothing about the 11th step.  Of course, God always acts consistent with his Word and his character, but my pea brain doesn’t always put that together.

I’m looking for a King on a throne, but he’s a baby in a manger.  I’m cheering for a knight on a white horse, but instead, he’s a lamb led to slaughter.  I’m trusting in my knowledge, but Jesus tells me to be like a child.  I want riches and fame, but God offers me a heavy wooden cross to carry on my back.

Lord, grant me eyes and see and ears to hear.

The Evil in My Heart

I’ve had about 10 different types of blog posts in my head since last week’s shooting tragedy.  The internet has been on fire with everyone’s thoughts that part of me wants to stay out of it because so many beautiful and thought-provoking things have already been said.  What can I possibly add?  But on the other had, this is where I process, and since I can’t stop thinking about it.  I need to process. 

I have particular selfish reasons for hating when these things happen.  Immediately, my brain thinks about the horrible person who committed the crime, which then triggers in me a righteousness.  Who would do such a thing?  What kind of messed up person has such disregard for human life?

It only takes moments for the Holy Spirit to softly whisper (sometimes not so softly) the answer.  You. 

No, I don’t have any propensity to shoot up a school.  I don’t harbor murderous thoughts about innocent people.  But in my heart lies the same utter disregard for human life that lay in the killer’s heart.  I need look no further than my own apartment to see someone who couldn’t care less about dying children.

You see, I don’t pull the trigger, but I make the choices and turn my eye.  I cozily slink into my warm bed at night, stressing about what gourmet meal to make for dinner tomorrow night with nary a thought for the 25,000 people who will die of starvation today.  I step over a homeless veteran on my way to buy a $5 latte because it’s delicious.  I agonize over which designer diaper bag would go best with my wardrobe instead of spending $10 on a bed net that would actually save one of the children who will die every 60 seconds from malaria – a preventable and treatable disease.

It’s not guilt.  It’s conviction.  Guilt is worthless.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It’s not my fault that evil exists in the world, but if I can do something to stop it, shouldn’t I?  Conviction moves us to action.  Knowing that my actions are wrong, repenting and trusting in the Holy Spirit to reform my ways makes real change.

You will say, cut yourself a break.  God wants you to enjoy life and have fun.  We can’t spend all our energy on serving others.  I’m not so sure.  Yes, there’s a time for celebrating, but haven’t I celebrated enough?  Haven’t I had 30 years of feasting? Didn’t my Year of Jubilee end many years ago? When is the time that I start to say no?  When will I truly begin to change my ways and live for Christ instead of myself?  What will it take?  How many more people will die while waiting?

If it’s real, then what do I have to lose?  If I worship a God who came as a man to save the world from sin, who raised people from the dead and calmed the sea, and it’s all true, what am I so afraid of?  If paradise waits for me, then why do I care so much about making this life paradise?  Kay Arthur tells a story of a Christian man in prison.  The prison was cold, but he had a blanket.  Another man, badly beaten, was placed in his cell, but he didn’t have a blanket.  The Christian man knew that without the blanket, the man would die (just as he would die if he gave it up).  The Holy Spirit spoke to him, saying that if he died, he would be with Jesus, while if the other man died, he would go to hell since he did not yet know Christ.  The Christian man gave up his blanket and died.  The other man survived and lived to tell the tale of his sacrifice. 

I am holding onto my blankets while people are dying because I want to live another day.  Not only do I just want to live, but I want to live in all the comfort that I possibly can.  Once I have it all, once I have everything I could possibly need, then maybe I will spare a blanket, but only if it’s easy.

I want to be Esther, saying If I perish, I perish. 

The truth is that I my heart is so much closer to Hitler’s, Bin Laden’s and Adam Lanza’s than it is to Christ’s.  It’s not even a contest. 

This is Christmas.  This is why Christ came as a baby in a manger.  To save me from my sin.  He knows my heart and knows that without him, I am doomed to death.  He came that I might have life and have it more abundantly.  He came to set me free from sin so that I can love others freely.  Through his birth, death and resurrection, I can have a new life that’s not marked by this evil.  Thank you Jesus for coming and saving me from myself. 

 

 

Advent

For Advent this year, I want to reflect on the Old Testament verses that prophesied the coming of Jesus.  

Today, we’ll start in the beginning – Genesis 3:15.  This is God’s proclamation to the serpent after Adam and Eve sinned.  It’s the very first reference to Jesus.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

I never really thought much about this verse before, but when since we learned it’s significance when we studied Genesis, I feel like it comes up all the time.  Not only does it prophesy that Jesus will come as a man, but it addresses Jesus’ ultimate defeat of Satan.  It also references the fact that Satan will get a good shot in and bruise Jesus (Jesus will suffer and die), but of course, Satan will be crushed.

 

Be Like Him

I went to the dentist today, and there’s just no way that labor is worse.  The hygienist kept asking me if it was too much.  Here’s a hint, when you have to suction the pooling blood from my mouth over five times, it’s too much.  You shouldn’t need a blood transfusion after a teeth cleaning.

I digress.

This year the Holy Spirit has been teaching me about what it really means to be like Jesus.  As a Christian, we often talk about how God is forming us into Christ’s image, but as I look at my life, it doesn’t look much like Jesus’ life.  When we were in Congo and everything was falling apart, we took comfort in knowing that our sorrows were familiar to our Savior.  We reminded ourselves that we worship a homeless man who was betrayed by his friends and murdered.  We should expect no less if we want to be like him.

Right after I posted last week about struggling to find contentment, the Holy Spirit brought me Isaiah 53:3, which describes Jesus as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.  I had to laugh at myself.  Here I was wallowing in self-pity about my discontent.  If I love Jesus and want to be like him, should I not expect to be a woman of sorrows and acquainted with grief?  In fact, I should be rejoicing in the honor of sharing sorrow with my brothers and sisters.  I should be so blessed as to feel a slight bit of the pain that Jesus felt when he walked the earth.

I don’t want to forget the world is broken.  I don’t want to be isolated from its brokenness.  As a wealthy American, my default is to flee – ignore the homeless, move to the suburbs, don’t watch the news, stay at a fancy resort in a developing country.  Pretend like it’s not there.  It’s easier to sleep at night.  It’s easier to rationalize my own existence.

On Friday night I was blessed to join with some sisters to go out on the street to meet and pray with women who were selling their bodies to men.   Each time I go out with this group, I am amazed and changed.  Just miles from where I sleep and in the late night/early morning hours while I am sleeping, there’s so much activity.  This particular night we were near Midway airport, a familiar drive that feels like a different place at midnight.  You turn down a street and see the women scattered around, getting into cars with these strange men.  It’s utterly heartbreaking, and it is absolutely where Jesus is.

Before we go out, I usually pray that I will see Jesus in the faces of the women, the pimps and even the Johns.  I can’t say I’ve gotten there with the men, but when I see these women, I do see Jesus.  While my whole body is telling me to flee, my Spirit knows that it is exactly where I am supposed to be.  These are the beautiful unique children of God caught up in a world full of darkness.

Then on Saturday morning, we cooked breakfast at a cafe for the homeless.  Another opportunity to meet with Jesus.  An opportunity to praise God that this world is temporary and falling away.  The brokenness is real, but so is God.

I don’t have any answers, but I do have hope.  I have hope in a Savior who comes to save the lost.  A Savior who has defeated death already.  One over whom the powers of darkness have no power but that which he gives.  I have hope that he will come again and wipe away every tear.  I am sorrowful, but so is he.

 

Rejoicing in Trials

There’s no easy way to say it.  This adoption process has come to an end.  I will post the details soon because they are important, but for now, just the emotions.

If you’ve been following along, you know that we’ve had some ups and downs over the past 4-5 months so it wasn’t altogether surprising when we learned that we could not complete the adoption.  Not surprising, but heartbreaking.  While the sobbing has ceased, the pain remains.  The dull achy reminder that those faces are not ours to hold.  We will never kiss those beautiful feet that we stared at for months.  We will never hear those sweet voices calling for “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Ah, but we have been so mightily blessed.  What a privilege to love!  What a joy to know that your heart can love someone you’ve never met.  Our hearts have been broken for what breaks the Father’s heart, which has been a daily prayer of mine for so long.  The Father loves the little children, and we got to taste his sweet love for us and them.  We were able to feel the Father’s passion to fight against injustice and for truth.  We prayed for a mission, for a calling, for a life-changing experience, and we got one.  It wasn’t the one we thought we were getting, but it was the one He had prepared for us.

What does James mean when he says to count it all joy when we face trials?  I thought it meant that we were to buck up and be happy because even when life is hard, God still loves us.  No, it now means that we sing through the weeping, and we smile through the tears.  It’s not about ignoring the pain or looking at the bright side.  It’s seeing the beauty in the ashes.  It’s seeing Him on a bloody tree.  It’s ugly and heart-wrenching, but it’s so beautiful and full of hope and joy.  

Week 4 – Repentance

I can say with assurance that sin has been revealed in my life over the last four weeks – from the obvious to the not so obvious (at least to me, probably obvious to everyone else).  Initially, it was perfectly obvious that I idolize food and pleasure much more than Jesus.  It only took about 2 hours for that to be revealed.  I ended day 1 literally on the floor crying because I could not imagine eating rice cereal for a whole month.  

About halfway through the month, I became extremely convicted about the excesses of my life.  I began to see how many of the choices I make to satisfy myself at the expense of another.  Quite literally, I have too much.  I have been given more than I need.  God has a purpose for giving me more than I need.  News flash – it’s not so I can buy myself more stuff!!  This seems obvious, but it’s so hard.  I am addicted to my life.  I truly believe that I cannot live without the comforts on which I rely.  I do not trust that God will provide.  There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that it’s ok for me to live a comfortable rich life while people have unmet needs right outside my door (please tell me if there is because I would love the justification!).  If I lived the life I do in a third world country while starving children knocked on my door unanswered, there is no doubt that everyone I know would think I was the most heartless, evil, cruel being that ever lived.  How is that not exactly what I am doing right now?

If that revelation wasn’t enough, the repentance really got personal.  In the last week of this month’s fast, I’ve been aware of my seriously negative spirit.  DH challenged me on my complaining, and while it hurt to hear.  He was not wrong.  I do complain often and he usually gets the brunt of it.  When I am stressed out (which is a lot these days), I take it out on him, and I do it self-righteously, expecting him to be compassionate and listem to the latest litany of complaints (which he usually does with a gentle spirit).  It’s certainly a burden that he need not carry.

While I could go on and on with the list of the sins revealed, that may be depressing, and no one would want to continue reading my blog.  

As difficult as these revelations have been, I am so encouraged and grateful.  Encouraged because I know that I serve a God who can handle my sin.  Grateful because his grace abounds.  

So excited for Month 2 (and to celebrate the end of month 1 with a cookie!).

Week 3 – Prayer

Throughout this month, I have been brought to my knees more than usual.  Most times that I start craving something or feel that temptation coming, I immediately repeat Scripture, a phrase from a praise song or some other mantra to keep my eyes on the Lord.  Some of my favorites – “man cannot live on bread alone but on every Word from God,” “I need thee, oh I need thee,” “Your grace is enough,” and “Jesus will satisfy.”  These mini prayer moments were so helpful and joy-filled.  I need these throughout my life.  

I’ve been reading through some Spurgeon sermons on prayer, and it’s been challenging me to boldly pray.  I’ve been challenged to pray such that I actually trust that God will answer me.  Imagine that? I need to move prayer from the task list to the needs list.  I want God to move in me such that I can’t get through a moment without turning to Him. 

Tomorrow we depart for vacation.  Heading to Tennessee and Alabama to visit sites from the Civil Rights movement.  We have been reading so much about race in America, and we wanted to really dive into this area of history about which we know so little.  Unfortunately and appallingly, as a white American, this part of history has never seemed relevant to me.  I’ve been walking through life thinking that race didn’t matter (easy to say when you are in the majority).  I’ve been learning how wrong I have been!  It’s so hard to learn what really has gone on (and continues to go on) in our country, a place of which I’ve always been proud.  I still believe in the greatness America, and I’m proud to be an American, but those feelings have definitely tempered over the past few months.  Even though I will never truly understand what it means to be Black in America, I owe it my children to learn as much as I can.