This past month has been a crazy mess! I traveled home for my sister’s wedding which was lovely! I was home for a total of 4 days and rarely had a quiet moment. Everything came together and the wedding was a hit! It was great seeing family and catching up with friends (both old and new). I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed dancing and making a fool of myself as much as I did at her wedding! From the dance floor to the photo booth, I had a blast goofing around with family and friends.
There were a ton of “what if” moments during all the planning and preparations, but God is good and works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). The day was perfect and beautiful from start to finish!
I returned, worn out, but full of joy. I came back on Monday and now am leaving once more! Over the past two months I’ve been scrambling to get everything in order for a trip overseas. Vaccinations, prayer letters, packing, shopping and planning for the next two weeks, during which I will be off in a distant land!
I got my Yellow Fever vaccination and it made me reminisce back to elementary school when we had first learned about Yellow Fever. My friends and I decided to smear dandelion pollen all over ourselves in mock affliction of the disease. We were sorely rebuked and sent to spend the rest of recess washing up.
What once was child’s play, has now become reality. I’m headed to a place common with disease and sickness. There will be no washing it all off or an end of recess bell signaling the end of fevers.
We travel forward seeking God’s wisdom and will. Knowing that He is bigger than any disease, but that He also works through the sickness and pain of this world. He is not a safe God, but He is secure. He leads us through both the fertile fields and the barren wastelands. I pray to believe He is good when I find myself in both places.
I stumbled upon this song that sums our journey of following God:
It is by Jon Guerra and is called “I will follow”
When the sea is calm and all is right
When I feel Your favor flood my life
Even in the good, I’ll follow You
Even in the good, I’ll follow You
When the boat is tossed upon the waves
When I wonder if You’ll keep me safe
Even in the storms, I’ll follow You
Even in the storms, I’ll follow You
I believe everything that You say You are
I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart
In the good things and in the hardest part
I believe and I will follow You
I believe and I will follow You
When I see the wicked prospering
When I feel I have no voice to sing
Even in the want, I’ll follow You
Even in the want, I’ll follow You
When I find myself so far from home
And You lead me somewhere I don’t wanna go
Even in my death, I’ll follow You
Even in my death, I’ll follow You
When I come to end this race I’ve run
And I receive the prize that Christ has won
I will be with You in Paradise
I will be with You in Paradise
May we all follow in the good, in the bad, in the confusion and in the clarity.
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” Sean O’Conner, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Oh the beautiful things that don’t ask for attention. Isn’t that life?
Very rarely do the beautiful things arrive with a fanfare.
Most often I find they are beautiful because they do not need to seek attention.
Some of the most beautiful moments of my life were not planned, they just snuck up on me.
I stumbled upon their beauty by simply taking notice.
The first two quotes are from a movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and it has become my new favorite. It captures the beautiful awkwardness of this thing called Life. The story is about a man who has hidden himself away into obscurity and by a series of comical events steps out into life and finally participates. The story is awkward at times, but beautiful all the same. Walter starts out day dreaming about all of the fantastical things he wishes he was brave enough to do. His imagination is ridiculous and absurd, but then aren’t all imaginations? He works for Life magazine with a made up motto of:
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
This motto is then fleshed out in Walter’s life throughout the movie. It is a beautiful piece, in both story and image, of film.
It is what I would love life to be, but life is so much more than a movie. And oh those beautiful moments, they aren’t defined by me. Thankfully, there is an Author of this awkward dance we call “life” and he both directs and brings forth the beautiful things. They come in ways and in places we least expect. They come from the ashes of our mistakes and failures. God, the definer and creator of all things beautiful is constantly at work and we get to participate in his masterpieces.
We don’t get to choose how the beautiful things come or when they come. Part of the beauty is that they take you by surprise. They don’t ask for attention, they just are. They aren’t beautiful because they are noticed, they are beautiful because they exist. They don’t conform to social norms and they don’t abide by our rules and guidelines for what defines beauty.
This it was how I found Detroit, a beautiful thing. We headed up to that lost city once again this summer for mission work with Detroit Love Inc. There were 50 or so people living in a worn out Polish building. We had no lice infestation or plumbing problems this year and so many of us waited and waited for the proverbial boot to drop. Community formed and blossomed through adversity, miscommunications, mistakes and clashing personalities. God continued to move and we got to be a part of it all. The “boot” came in the form of tragedies and heartache happening at home and in the lives of our families. Spiritual warfare happened, but God defended and sustained. He continues to do so, even though we have left that mission field and have returned to another.
This trip was beautiful because it didn’t ask for attention. Our students carried a heavy work load and pushed through long days with 100+ inner city kids at VBS. They encouraged, improved and outdid themselves. We worshiped God with our words and actions, not just through times of song and testimony. It was beautiful.
Detroit, much like us, is this damaged place. It is full of potential and willingness to change. When God moves the evidence of His plan stands out. This team reaped the benefit of years of prayer and dedication to bringing the Gospel to Detroit. Detroit reaped the benefit of years of prayer and dedication to seeing the Gospel lived out in the lives of our students. There are still several darkened and abandoned places, waiting to be reclaimed, in both the city and the lives of those on the trip. We are all a work in progress. Thankfully God is the one doing the working and thankfully he is not done with us yet.
There were several moments where I was able to sit in the stillness, in the awkward silence and see beauty. Many of those moments happened when we were all crammed up on a stage listening to a Spotify (ad filled, mind you) collection of worship songs, singing along and praising God. Some moments happened during morning devotionals when everyone is working through the devo book and trying to not fall asleep. There were also several moments of beauty in the craziness of running a vacation bible school with distracted children. Hearing our students teach a lesson, lead a group, share the Gospel, teach a goofy song, all because they love Jesus and want to tell others about him, it was beautiful.
Rarely do beautiful moments feel beautiful. So often they feel very awkward and overwhelming. As we do not create the beauty, we do not control it. Sometimes we don’t even see it until someone points it out. We confuse beauty with perfection. They are not the same. Perfection comes in a sterile, surgical package and has no longevity in the world. We confuse the two because perfection does not require those raw, awkward, all consuming moments of us. It comes and stays in its neat packaging and everything goes along seamlessly. Beauty sometimes looks like a 3 hour long VBS program turning into a 6 hour long VBS program, corralling 40 some 7-10 year olds, teaching for the first time, letting 5 girls braid your hair, running out of snacks because more kids came then were expected and working a mission team so ragged that no one complains about having to be in bed by 9:30. Beauty sometimes looks nothing like any of us were prepared for, but seeing God work all things together anyway.
Beauty sometimes looks like disciples making disciples. For example, one of the girls I have gotten to know a little over the last two years, asked me to talk with her friend’s mom about letting her kids come to VBS. I spoke with the mother and explained what we do at VBS. After I told her that we teach children about Jesus and how to be like him, she politely told me that her children would not be attending. I went back to the van I was picking up VBS kids in and told the girl that her friend’s mom had said “no”. She sat there quietly for a little while and then explained that her friend was Muslim. She didn’t bother to tell me that before, because it really didn’t matter to her. Not because she was being insensitive to the girl’s family or their beliefs, but because since coming to VBS she has been changed and wanted the same for her friend, no matter the girl’s current beliefs. It was a beautiful moment. It vividly displayed 1 Corinthians 13:13,
“And now these three remain: faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”
That is the beauty for ourselves as well as for Detroit.
While we are only in Detroit for a few weeks out of the year, these three will remain: Faith, Hope and Love.
May I never trade beauty for perfection and may my eyes always be open to the beautiful moments on display.
God is always ever showing, creating and bragging on his beauty, if only we would take more notice.
Once again I’m moving. It seems to be a habit started in college and one that keeps me from hoarding too much because when you have to pack up and move (even if it is just across town) every year or so you try to slim down your belongings. I’m not saying I’m down to 3 bins and a suitcase just yet but the moving seems to satisfy my gypsy soul and keep my belongings down to a comfortable minimum.
I enjoy the chance to reminisce as I pack up things and remember past moves and stages of growth in my life. Sometimes it is a matter of “out with the old and in with the new”, but sometimes it is an act of preservation. Packing up my books and photo albums or other sentimental things is always a mixed bag of emotions. Cleaning out stuff I’ve held onto needlessly is so cleansing and refreshing. Sometimes I’ve preserved things I should have cleared out a long time ago and sometimes I’ve gotten rid of things I wish I’d kept. The best thing is noticing the changes and stages of growth. The things I keep and the things I toss are not limited to my physical belongings. Packing is a mental game as well. As I box and bag and throw out things I review ideals and opinions I’ve kept, altered or removed. I left High School wide eyed and certain of the fact that my strong opinions on the world were right and would always be so. Moving to a new town has a way of dropping you and your opinions on your head. College was fantastic for that as well as the many jobs I worked after High School. I’ve learned it is better to claim to know nothing and look to be taught by what God is doing than to claim to know where He is headed and start down a road He isn’t on. It stinks for planning because when you don’t know where you are headed how can you be prepared? It does teach you to learn from every moment and to open your eyes to the bigger story. I graduated in ’07 with a plan to save and change the world, to leave my mark. I graduated in ’11 with no real plan but to follow where God leads and an understanding that no one really knows what they are going to do or make of themselves. Ministry has graciously robbed me of my ideal plans in which I am the hero. At times it is hard to be satisfied with knowing I am not the star of my very own Truman Show, but then so often it is shockingly refreshing.
A month or so ago I stumbled upon this beautifully accurate description of what we are to be about, not just those who work in a defined and organized ministry, but as followers of Christ. Archbishop Oscar Romero brought some of the realizations and floating thoughts in my head to come in clearer. I’m not sure it could be said any better:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
It is my prayer that this clarity of purpose becomes the soil in which all my efforts are grown.
“We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
There are some crazy uncouth stories in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.
One of my favorites is found in the account of Judges chapter 4.
Because it tells of two beastly awesome women who feared God and did not conform to cultural ideas of how women ought to behave.
Now, please hear me: I do not condone violence and the violence in this passage is brutal, so beware.
You have been warned!
Deborah and Jael are two fierce women who feared God and followed Him. Both have crazy stories, but I want to focus on Deborah.
Chapter four opens with the familiar story of Israel doing evil in the eyes of the Lord, who then allows them to be taken captive by another king. Israel realizes that they have gotten themselves into a fix (to put it lightly) calls out to God and He answers.
It is how and through whom He answers Israel’s cry for help that makes this my favorite story!
He chooses Deborah!
In verse 4 we learn that Deborah is “a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth,” and was “leading Israel at that time”.
Just so we are clear:
Deborah was a judge and leader of Israel;
She was the chosen mouthpiece of God to the nation;
She leads Israel into battle; and
She was married.
This may just be my opinion, but she had to have been in right relationship with her husband in order to be so blessed by God as to be His voice to the Israelite people. Feel free to correct me but, I see no evidence or biblical support to deny that she was living rightly before her husband and God. God would not have spoken through a women who was living in sin and He would not have allowed her to judge and lead Israel if she was living in rebellion to the authority in her life (God and her husband).
Why am I making such a big deal about this?
Because we do not seem to support Deborah like behavior in our churches.
Now, I do not believe a woman should be the head of a church as I see no such support in scripture.
I agree that men and women have different roles and strengths.
However as a woman in ministry, I feel that the statement “men and woman just have different roles” is greatly misused. So often I see it being used as a reason to dismiss women seeking to serve in any are other than the kitchen or the nursery.
This is dangerous.
It is dangerous because we risk limiting God’s work through women in the church all because of the way we think God should work, denying the way He chooses to work.
Whenever I think of biblical examples of women in ministry I think of Deborah. Deborah was a woman of God and a fantastic example of how women in the church ought to live.
She was wise and recognized God’s authority.
She boldly followed God and proclaimed His words to His people.
She sought no personal recognition and refused to steal God’s glory.
She did not conform to the cultural understanding of how a wife should behave and yet I truly believe she lived justly in the eyes of God.
I want to be more like Deborah and I want to serve God the way she did.
May we, as the Church, continue to train up and encourage our women to be just like Deborah.
May we not be mislead by either side of the feminist argument.
May we seek Truth and not opinion.
May we only make one name known, God’s.
May we neither steal nor cover His glory.
May He lead us as He will.
May we boldly follow.
I’ve come to realize that we don’t naturally want accountability.
What started in the Garden of Eden as a shameful game of hide and seek with God has become one of our defining factors as humanity. We continue to hide in the shadows, letting no one get close enough to see our flaws.
We hide from the very ones who have walked through these same messes and who can help us heal.
We then label relationships as “mentoring” or “counseling” to keep things just distant and vague enough. What we really need is accountability. What we really need is to be the Church with each part assisting and supporting the other. All interconnected through faults, flaws, wins and victories.
Relationships are messy and we all know this.
That’s why so many of us aren’t in them.
That’s why so many of us pick and choose which ones we take part in. Relationships are not defined by what we want them to be, but rather by what we put into them. They aren’t built on wishes and dreams. They are crafted and constructed on the awkward get to know you moments, the “oh my goodness” days, and the tearful conversations. They are sloppy, un-containable and un-controlable. We can not keep them compartmentalized for long. They affect us greatly and more than sometimes we would care to admit. They leak out into our other relationships. The memories, both good and bad, take a toll on all our future friendships and social interactions.
So let us be careful with the relationships we have.
Let us navigate those murky bits of fellowship with grace and wisdom.
Let us seek God’s will and plan in all that we do.
Let us appreciate fellowship for what it is and be a part of making it better.
Let us build up community and build up each other.
Let us challenge and strengthen each other :”As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpen another.”
And let us not forget that fellowship, friendship and community are always worth it no matter the form they take or the duration of their stay as long as Christ is at the center.
I was blessed with being a part of such fellowship tonight. It centered around the celebration of a vivacious life of a godly woman I have being getting to know. I have only been able to take part in this community every once in a blue moon because of life and the chaos that ensues.
Even so it has been worth it.
It is a longer drive than I’d like and I’ve wanted to just stay home on more than one occasion, but when I follow God’s leading and do finally get myself out the door, I am always greatful.
It is not the same community I once had, but it is almost even better because it is part of the ever expanding community I now have. This small group of fellowship is an addition to every group of fellowship I have had. While they are all seemingly isolated incidents they are all connected because of the faith in Christ that we all share.
It is the Body of Christ at work.
I am strengthened and encouraged when I am with them and I aim to do the same for each of them. I am blessed and I am greatful for these murky bits of fellowship. For while they are not always what I think I need or what I think they should look like, they are the community in which God has placed me and in which I am growing in relationship to Him.
So here’s to moving forward into the ever growing murky bits of fellowship.
Just keep swimming.
Remember that saying about “Be careful what you ask for” or “Don’t ask for patience.” Because you will get it, but not in the way you expect.
I believe those statements are true, but more importantly I think we need to be careful even with our simplest questions. We might just get an answer we weren’t expecting.
If you ask me a question I will answer it (or attempt to) as truthfully and as transparently as I can.
This was not always the case. When I was younger I tried to be cryptic and mysterious with my responses.
Now I’m too tired for that so I usually just say what I am thinking.
But, be warned because most often you will get a full description of what I am thinking, why I am thinking it and how I got to thinking that.
I like to be open and honest.
I just want to be understood.
Sometimes I worry myself sick trying to make sure you understand what I mean and why I mean it.
God has had to start breaking me of this.
I worry too much about being misunderstood. When someone asks a question and my response puzzles them, I trip over myself trying to explain what I mean. I’ll defend my answer and become frustrated when it’s not understood.
On the outside I play it cool so it doesn’t seem to affect me, but on the inside I am tied up in knots.
One day as I was wrestling through this struggle it was as if God was Bob Newhart in the “Just Stop It” counseling skit. I was reading Exodus 14:14 which says:
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still”
We all want someone to rise to our defense, especially when it seems like no one around us is on our side.
I was having one of those days.
I was semi new, I was isolated, frustrated and every bit of my life was seemingly under the microscope for evaluation by the people around me.
It was not malicious in any way.
It was friendly teasing and joking around, but you know those days when you feel like the butt of everyone’s joke?
It seemed to be one of those months.
My reserves were low and I was in a funk.
I read this passage and it was like God telling me,
“Just stop it! Stop defending yourself. Stop feeling like you have no one on your side.
Stop feeling like you are alone. I will fight for you, you need only to be still. Just stop.”
That is the hardest thing for me to do.
I am a do-er. I do things. It is what I do!
My name means helper. I am independent. I wait for nothing when I set my mind on something. I like to jump right in to things, with or without a plan. Not always the best. Not always smart, but just how it is.
How does that even happen? What does that look like?
I still haven’t figured it out. I still put up my fists in an attempt to defend myself and be understood.
Here’s the thing though:
I asked for help.
I asked the Lord to lead me and come to my defense.
The problem is I didn’t like the answer I’ve gotten.
I wanted God to rally to my side. I wanted Him to join me in this struggle. To fight along side of me. And yet, He says to stop?
I shouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want an answer.
The Lord holds nothing back when we ask. He answers us and always as we never expect Him to answer.
But He answers and it is always for the best. For our best.
So I’ve taken faulty footsteps forward in this area. When you ask me a question I still try to answer it as best as I can, as transparently as I can. When you laugh or scoff at my answer I just try to roll with it. When the devil brings it up again and tries to rub my face in the fact that once again I have been misunderstood and I have become absurd, I try to let it go. I try to be at peace with the fact that we will never be able to (this side of heaven) communicate fully and truly our meanings and intentions.
Most days this doesn’t work out as I want it to.
Most days I still wrestle with being understood.
I still struggle with just stopping.
But then there are days and moments where I answer questions with a bluntness that isn’t expected. I stop defending or explaining. I just say it how it is and move on.
Just recently I was asked if I think I was really saved when I was little because of growing up in a Christian home. The question was unexpected because it came from a new acquaintance (I had only known the person for 3 minutes max). A little perturbed I answered the question like this, “Yes but I did not have a crisis of Salvation until I was in High School and then my dad passed away and so I was forced to really live out my faith.” I went on explain that God’s perfect timing was in place. If my dad had passed away before I decided to really commit my life to Christ, I’m quite certain I would have turned to anger and depression. Even still I dealt with that loss in a series of degrees over the next few years. A traumatic event pushed me closer to the God I had aligned myself with and He showed up mightily in my life.
The new acquaintance who asked the question was visibly stunned by my response. But if you are going to ask a deep question you are going to get a deep answer. My pride took part in this, but I wasn’t trying to play the “I’m spiritually wounded” or the “I’m going to one up you and make you feel bad” game. My indignation was found more in the fact that we need to be careful when asking questions. We need to tread carefully when investigating other people’s lives. We don’t know the burdens they carry or the wounds they hold. We need to make sure we are helping to heal and challenge, to help each other grow, not just poke holes. We can ask and inquire, but we must make sure we are ready for the answers, wounds and burdens that may be revealed because of our probing questions.
In the same way that we need to be careful in our questions and requests to God, we need to remember to move forward in humility, truth and love when interacting with others.
Don’t make rash judgement.
Seek the truth and seek it graciously.
Ask, but brace yourselves because this passage is as much a promise as it is a threat. Tread carefully.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9)
Oh life, please calm down sometime soon!
We are right in the middle of one of our busiest months in Student Ministries:
We took 46 people to Student Life Tour,
Our Youth Pastor leaves tomorrow for California,
Our Ministry Assistant is soon going to be giving birth to twins,
We will be in Detroit MI with 6 students the 13th-18th,
We have a week of catch up,
Then we take goodness knows how many Middle School students on a Believe retreat,
And suddenly we are in the month of March.
February did you really happen? It feels as if you are already over!
Despite the mad dash feel of February I feel rested and refreshed.
Christmas break did wonders for my soul and spirit.
Many thanks to the friends and family who asked, “Are you getting rest?”
You helped me remember that I am loved and cared for, that I do not walk alone.
Since then my feet have rarely had a moment to be still.
Even so, I feel rested.
Steady progress is being made.
I am rested but can still do with a boat load of sleep!
Until that ship arrives I am thankful for the community God has blessed me with and placed me in.
Here’s to a quick update and steady steps in the chaos of life.
It has been a long while since I have sat down to collect my thoughts and here is the remedy:
I’ve been trying to draw water from a dry well.
I’ve been wrestling for some time with a withered heart.
It needs hydration before it turns to dust.
At least that is how it feels.
It feels as if it is a raisin in my rib cage.
Something is wrong.
My heart doesn’t beat as it should.
See I’ve been draining it out, but forgetting to get it refilled. Thinking there will always be time for that later, I put off the refueling for another day that never comes.
That day never comes because the more my heart is withered the more I become o.k. with it.
A withered heart is an apathetic heart and apathy immobilizes even the best of the dreamers, movers and shakers of this world.
A withered heart forgets the feeling of a full heart and so continues on. Apathy tells me that I don’t need to rest, to refuel, to recharge.
My heart is heavy laden and withered.
As core as the heart is to all that we do it is surprising how unaware of its condition we can become.
Yet that is what has happened here in this heart.
It does not beat as it should.
It does not hope as it should.
It bears a weariness that I cannot lift.
There is occasional relief, but much like the tide it ebbs and flows. The source of the relief does not waver, no it is myself who is doing the wavering.
At times I stand apart from the tide, thinking to move on my own and carry my burdens in solitary.
Other times I draw closer to the tide and every time it splashes over my toes I am surprised at the relief and release I feel.
But the tide is messy.
It cannot be confined.
Its splashes where it will and when it will.
I either need to resign myself to getting wet or withdraw altogether. There is no partial place. It is either all or nothing. And yet I try to toe the line, and thus the weary heart.
Still even in this in-between place, One calls out saying “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:18)
Ah the word! Rest. For the weary and heavy laden there is no sweeter word spoken than “rest” especially when the One who utters it is the provider of such a rest that truly restores and revives.
Buchner in Urban Simplicity puts far better words to the weary withered murky heart feeling I have been recently experiencing. Frederick says it like this,
“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead, we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”
One of the glorious miracles of God’s love is that He refuses to let us stay dormant, stagnant, apathetic, withered, worn down or checked out. He moves and we either move with Him or get left behind. He does not stumble over our refusal to move though His heart breaks to see us stay in ruin.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” Isaiah 43:19
He welcomes us to take part in His redemptive plan. He is always there ready and waiting, but He does not stop working when we stop engaging Him in relationship.
For this I am ever grateful.
He may take drastic steps (i.e. making streams in the wasteland, calling us to follow Him out into the wilderness), but He is worth following. Bad things will happen (loss of loved ones, loss of possessions, loss of safety) but He always brings good out of it.
And so it has been in my life, so it will always be.
Entering into my second year of the “great Florida transplant and new job” I am waging a different kind of battle. Year one was all about being new, figuring out what this next step really is, finding my feet as a church leader and leaving the comforts of familiarity behind. It isn’t like I went to Africa, Russia or some far off land, but Satan has a gift for making it feel like that sometimes. His gift is isolation and it is a gift I all too readily receive. I am battling the consequences of that gift this second year.
And so the withered heart, the hopeless heart.
And then God.
Just that. God. God who is still good and still in control, still present and at work in this withered, dried out heart. He enters, He speaks, He moves. He is.
He speaks the same message over and over. The same promises, words and truths are repeated. Like seasons they are faithful and yet somehow always I am surprised at their arrival.
He spoke recently through a women’s ministry breakfast known as Bagels and Blessings (or Muffins for Jesus as the male staff like to call it). The topic was joy. Something I have not been feeling or choosing to live out lately.
My mother (Thank God for Mothers!) recently commented on my loss of joy and that fact that I allow Satan to steal my joy away. So the message of the women’s breakfast was very well received: Choose Joy despite circumstances.
What better answer for a withered heart than Joy?!
God spoke again through a video blog. The president of the C&MA has been sending out monthly a 12 min long video message to church leaders. They are exactly what we need. They remind us of the bigger picture. They get our focus off of parking lot problems, volunteer issues and bulletin announcements. Every month President John Stumbo speaks honestly and openly about what God has laid on His heart. He reminds us that we are about God and about making Him known to those who are lost.
His message this month was about taking time to receive instead of just giving. Taking our focus off of what we must do and noticing what has been done for us and how God is blessing us.
What better action for a withered heart than to be filled instead of drained?!
So as we enter the darkest part of the year let us be light.
As we are surrounded by friends and family let us bring joy, hope, peace, love, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, patience, kindness and self-control (maybe just self-control with christmas cookies?) into those relationships.
May the darkest time of the year be filled with the best.
May we come out of the dark not drained, but revived.
Not hopeless, but hopeful.
For the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
As an early New Year Resolution I will paraphrase a friend’s recent fundraising motto:
May we enter this new year painting the darkness white with Light. (http://paintitwhitewithlight.com/)
As for the weary heart I will rest, I will choose hope and joy,
I will wade deep into the waves,
I will move with the One who is doing a new thing,
I will follow Him into the dark places and paint it white with Light.
A few weeks ago at a training meeting for our Small Group Leaders we had a time of prayer.
I joined up with two of our leaders who were headed to the parking lot to pray and it hit me:
The parking lots of our churches and ministry sites are part of the battle ground in our spiritual warfare.
This might just be another crazy theory I have, but I’m biased and would beg to differ, obviously.
Think about it.
Think about all the times you have come to church rushed, angry, upset, frazzled, tired, worn out, distracted or distraught.
Some of us come into the parking lot with all of those emotions rumbling around in us at once.
We get out of our cars and put on a facade that we have it all together.
I’m not saying that everyone does this, but I am saying a lot of us can fake it really well.
We fake it because church is the place where we are supposed to be at our “christian best”, where our faith is all spit polished and ready for inspection.
Parking lots then become our dumping ground. A place to check our sins and bad habits, leaving them in our glove boxes and trunks.
Walking in with only our gold star achievements of the Christian life.
When I worked at the boarding school I was blessed with the opportunity to take the boys to church.
Nothing opens your eyes to the idiosyncrasies in a church like when you bring a guest, let alone a whole crew of them.
One idiosyncrasy in particular that came up was appropriate language one should use when inside a church.
Now we all know there are things you just don’t do at church, just like we all know that there are
things that ladies don’t say or do especially when you are in a dress, like spitting.
I have to give the kids credit because their reply was something along the lines of “Why is church any different? We shouldn’t cuss no matter where we are, not just in church.”
They understood that they needed to be authentic all the time and that character is not defined by mere location.
Deep for middle school kids, right?
There are certain behaviors that we modify when we are in church, because we think that the church building is a sacred and hollowed place.
And part of that is good.
It is good that Church is a place where we enter into corporate worship, where two or three are gathered in God’s name and He is there also.
Church should be respected and held in reverence, but not the building.
It isn’t about the location, it is about the Body of Christ coming together.
We often forget this and compartmentalize our faith to being at its best inside the four walls of our local place of worship.
Once we are outside those doors though, everything is fair game.
When we head back to our cars those same struggles, worries, distractions, frustrations, temptations, hurts and wounds are still there, sitting and waiting ever so patiently for us to pick them back up.
And we do!
We put them back on as a burden that we alone have to carry.
We take off the mask that tells people everything is o.k.
We continue the argument we had on the way to church.
We sometimes act as if we never walked in the building at all.
We let our guard down because what could happen in the parking lot?
It is a place of no significance.
We unwisely remove any and all spiritual armor.
After all it is just the parking lot.
It isn’t sacred.
God isn’t present.
The parking lot is key.
It is here that we enter into the spiritual battlefield.
It is the place where we first face the world and all its woes after leaving a place of fellowship, communion and encouragement.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that God isn’t present in the parking lot.
If He was present in the manger, why not here?
Frederick Buechner tells us that we are never safe from God:
Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully. (Buechner, The Hungering Dark p.13-14)
I know I quote this particular passage of Buechner’s work quite often, but there is just something I can’t shake in this depiction of God. It is something so wonderfully awful and so shockingly real about a God I all too often tend to compartmentalize in the mystic, vaporish section of the world. The thought that I will never, can never be safe from His presence and His love is overwhelmingly redemptive and shames me to my core when I get the strange notion that I am unknown and looked over. The truth that God Almighty not only knows me but never, ever is far from me and that I can never escape Him is powerful. It is on this that the foundation of my faith is built. It is on this fact of His love and in Him that I move and breath and have my being (Acts 17:28) . There is no place too unholy, too undignified, too insignificant, too far from His presence where we can be rescued.
He showed up in the desert, in a bush of no significance and His presence burned, but did not consume the bush.
He makes the mundane significant.
He makes the ugly and unimpressive, fantastically fascinating.
He shows up in bathrooms, parking lots, whale bellies, back alleyways, shanties and drug houses.
He comes into undignified places and makes them sacred.
He has no limits and no place is out of his reach.
So why on earth do I not expect Him to be present in the parking lot?
It is time to be authentic.
Time to walk into fellowship as we are, but not content to stay that way.
Fellowship needs to be real but it cannot be static.
We need to grow and be challenged.
This requires vulnerability, not complacency.
So empty out the glove boxes and by all means relieve your emotional car trunks of all that junk (yep, I went there).
Walk into your churches as you are and demand true community, real accountability.
Then brace yourselves because once those flood gates are open there is no telling what God will unearth in your life.
You will never be safe from Him again, but the good thing is you will never want to be safe from Him again.
It is time to take an inventory of the places I have seemingly closed off from God.
Time to bulldoze those walls and silos I have sectioned off from Him.
Everything is laid bare and nothing will be overlooked.
The very best Seeker is far from done with seeking me out and saving me in the midst of my disgrace.
When all is lost, He isn’t.
So now is the day when defenses fall and parking lots become centers for worshipping the God who is present especially in the hopelessness of this weary world.