God, it’s hard to follow you!

Jesus lived hunted by enemies. Encircled by hatred, he healed the sick, delivered the oppressed and even raised the dead. Conniving, bitter jealousy churned the crowds around him and yet he spoke of love, forgiveness and gentleness.

When his betrayer, the one who had already sold him for a pile of money, sat down at the table, Jesus shared his meal – no raging condemnation.

When the small minded, self protective, blood lusting bound him, punched him, kicked him, spit on him and whipped him, he endured. And when, finally, they stripped him and nailed him to a cross, he prayed for them.

I have to stop here because I know he invites me to follow. He says; I’m showing you the way. Walk in it. Love your enemies. Pray for those who curse you. Forgive those who abuse you.

I take a deep breath.

If he were the only one who had faced evil in the world, then I could call him a hero and walk away. But he’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.

Girls in northern Nigeria. Christians in Iraq. African-American mothers in Cleveland. Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Me. You. All of us, really.

Of course I pause. I stop, breathe. I have to, because his example is so hard.

Jesus hung naked on a cross, so hideously abused. And in the midst of his suffering, he asked God the Father to forgive the conniving, the bitter, the jealous, the betrayers, the psychopaths and the hypocrites, the violent abusers – all of them. He asked God the Father to forgive them all.

I want laws, smart bombs, anything, anything that would deliver schoolgirls in Nigeria, Christians in Iraq, African-American mothers in Cleveland and Syrian children. Anything that would deliver me from the hands of psychopaths and hypocrites.

Jesus faced them, endured them and then forgave them.

God, it’s hard to follow you! Help me. Help us all.

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What’s on your communion table?

I take my seat – four pews from the front of the church. I can hear and see clearly.

At the end of the center aisle, just beneath the pulpit is a beautiful oak table. On the face of the table are carved the words “In Remembrance of Me.” On top of the table, a large, leather bound Bible sits open, flanked by candles.

Do what in remembrance of Me? Read the book? Light the candles?

Certainly, the book helps me understand who Jesus is and I need that. Perhaps the candles are meant to remind me that Jesus is the light of the world. I’m not sure though and anyway, they aren’t lit.

I’m sure something’s missing. I know the table should hold a full cup and a plate with a loaf of bread. It’s Sunday morning, and I realize I want these things.

It’s not that I don’t love the Bible, I do. It’s just that I’m sure that at the center of our faith is a table. Such an odd item, isn’t it? A table with a cup and a loaf of bread.

A table that says; we are one people, joined together in communion with one incarnate, crucified and resurrected Christ. A table that welcomes; the old, the young, the white, the black, the Asian, the man, the woman – all who would come, eat and drink. A table that says to the orphan, the outcast, the spiritual stepchild; you are Mine now. You belong to Me.

Ah, the essence of restoration!

Instead, there’s an open Bible.

I do love the Bible. I find in the Scriptures, the Jesus who I love. I also find myself and my neighbor. I am challenged, encouraged, informed, and sometimes transformed.

Still, my heart yearns for the cup and the bread. For the purpose of all that was recorded in that open Bible.

What’s on your communion table?

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Letting Go

Sometimes, we get a chance to choose – this is what I want to let go of – this is what I want to embrace. The last semester of college is coming to an end. A ring is offered. Our youngest child is leaving home.

We see these changes coming and over the course of months and sometimes years, we grieve, dream and plan.

Other changes come with a shock. A job suddenly disappears. A beloved companioned is taken from us. Our home is swept away.

These changes hit us like a comet from outer space.

This is the story of all refugees; those fleeing ISIS rockets, lynch mobs or the silent loss of a visa or work permit.

I’ve walked both journeys; the planned and the unexpected. Each transition journey has been unique, some easier than others, but all are transitions, no matter how joyful or difficult.

Today, I’m thinking about the season of letting go. It’s not a once and done. In many ways, I’m still letting go of the people, things and intangibles that I lost in Afghanistan. This weekend, I let go of some of the things I left behind before I even moved to Afghanistan. Things I thought I would want when I returned but have since discovered are no longer part of my life.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about letting go; it’s best done with gratitude.

Several years ago, I stood in a friend’s walled in compound in Afghanistan and sorted my property. Some went to Afghans. Some went to foreigners, and other items went into the burn barrel.

I remember watching as the material pieces of my Afghan life leapt into flames or scattered into the hands of people I loved. That afternoon, I celebrated. It’s not that I didn’t cry, I certainly did. I grieved deeply and continued to do so for some time. It’s that I also celebrated.

I held each collection of items in my hands and thanked God for the gifts that they had been to me. I released them and prayed that they would be gifts to others. In the process, I recalled the rich blessings I’d experienced over my years in country.

That day, in that place of heart wrenching loss, I also found joy.

What have you found in loss?

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What kind of Christian are you?

When I was a kid, my favorite Bible verse was “God helps those who help themselves.” Actually, it was my mother’s and I just adopted it.

When I grew up and read the Bible for myself, I discovered that verse doesn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I read; God helps those who can’t help themselves. That was a shock.

A relief, too, because although I tried, I wasn’t all that good at helping myself. I made some pretty boneheaded decisions. Perhaps you can relate.

Still, I was confused as to how God could have helped me in some of those situations where what I really needed was tangible; a safe place to live, a job, a reliable vehicle.

Then I read that God means for us, his followers, to help those who can’t help themselves.

‘Oh’, I thought. It never occurred to me in my late teens or young adulthood to look to Christians for help. I wasn’t one of them and the Christians around me seemed more interested in telling people what they were doing wrong. I was doing a lot wrong so I felt the sting.

When I needed help, it was non-Christians who reached out a hand. I shall be forever grateful for them. Nonetheless, the question remains; where were the Christians?

I can easily look back and say; but I never asked.

Once again, God has the answer. “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness”. Oh, yeah, that was me. I was the one in darkness. I was in chaos. I needed help.

So helping the needy doesn’t depend on the wisdom of those who need help. It depends on God’s people.

God calls us to take up the plight of the weak and the fatherless. It’s our job to help and his to provide us with the resources to do so.

I see some people doing that. Families take in foster kids or throwaway teens. Young adults live in missional communities among immigrants in our forgotten cities. Families pack their bags, climb onto planes and care for refugees in squalid camps.

These are my heroes. Christians who choose to help even those whose lives are wrapped in chaos. When I see them, I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I didn’t know them when I was a young adult and needed help, but at least they were out there. I don’t know why that encourages me, but it does.

So tell me, what kind of a Christian are you?

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Raging at God

I love this quote; “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” Jeremiah cries out his complaint to God and in his bold and honest words, I take courage.

Years ago, when my home church was splitting and my family was in chaos, I went down to the beach and hurled my own complaint into the heavens. “You said this far your waves may come. Here you must stop! But these waves aren’t stopping and I’m drowning!”

It was a November day, so the beach wasn’t crowded; just a few fishermen with their long poles and folding chairs. I imagine they were amused or perhaps uncomfortable watching a crazy woman shout her complaint into the silent sky.

I told a pastor this story once, and he was appalled. “You said what to God?”

I wasn’t ashamed.

Here’s the thing; God loves an honest heart turned toward him.

Jeremiah charged God; you are a deceptive brook. He wasn’t the first and certainly not the last. The beauty is – God responded to his beloved Jeremiah.

When I yelled at God that day on the beach, I hoped he would answer me, but in the silence that followed my complaint, he said nothing. I locked my jaw and began walking away.

As I walked, I watched the small birds ducking in and out of the waves to find their morning meal. An old hymn floated into my mind. I listened and then heard a Psalm.

I knelt in the sand and continued to listen. It was there, the Lord spoke to me.

That day, hope was reborn in my heart. Yes, my church and family were still in chaos, but my heart quieted and my breath deepened.

I filled my pockets with sand, and later poured the sand into a bowl that still sits in my living room. This is my reminder of the November day I raged at God and he embraced me with love.

Have you ever raged at God? How did he respond?

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Bible Study with a Child

When I was 20 something and helped take care of my godson, I’d give him a coloring book, a pile of crayons and settle into my Bible study. You can imagine how that worked out.

I’d like to say I have no idea why I thought that was a good approach. The truth is I know exactly why did it. I was sure that I had to study my Bible every day. It didn’t matter if the little guy was in the house or not. I just had to do it.

Sound familiar?

If I had it to do over, I’d take a completely different approach. I’d gather that beautiful boy in my arms and sing “Jesus loves the little children”. I’d tell him that Jesus is with us, right here in this room and that he loves us both very much.

Maybe I’d open a pocket book of Psalms. I’d scanned the words and share them with him.

“Hey little guy, you and I are like trees. See those trees out the window?” I’d talk about leaves and branches and trunks. “I’m like a medium-size tree. You’re just a little one, but we’re both still like trees.”

I’d tell him my job is to help protect him so he can grow strong and become like a great big tree. Bigger than me.

I’d tell him about roots growing deep into the ground. “You and I, we draw our strength, our wisdom and everything we need from Jesus just like the tree draws water and food up from the ground.”

Maybe I would even tell him about sun and air and leaves the turn gold, fall off and come back in the spring.

I’d pray, with my eyes open in my arms wrapped around the boy. “Jesus. Thank you for taking care of us both and helping us grow strong and healthy.”

Personally, I think that would’ve been a much better Bible study.

What you think?

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Just for the one

Have you ever noticed that some mechanics have the most poorly maintained cars on the road? Builders never get around to fixing their own houses and pastors often spend less time praying than any member of their congregation.

It’s a wonderful thing to do good for others; to see the need and meet it. The mechanic fixes the widow’s car, the builder volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and the pastor answers every phone call. We see these selfless behaviors and celebrate. “He’s so generous.” “She’s so committed.” “I’m so glad to have a pastor I can reach out to whenever I want.”

And when we look in the mirror, and reflect on our own lives we say things like, “I’m sure God has allowed this in my life so that I can help someone else when they have the same need.”

Somehow, we’ve internalized the notion that others come first.

A missionary friend shared an analogy with me. He said, “I was always so busy bringing cups of water to people who were thirsty, that I didn’t realize how thirsty I was, myself.”

It’s true, we’re called to love others. The fascinating thing is, we’re called to love others as we love ourselves. We can get so busy loving others that we forget that we matter, too.

Sometimes, we think God wants to find, save or transform us solely for the sake of others – for the sake of the ninety-nine. But the reality is, he leaves the ninety-nine for the sake of us.

Can you imagine, Christ leaving the 99; the members of your church, your children or partner, your friends or that family in the neighborhood that’s dealing with crisis, just to find, reach and love you?

“Oh, but I’m doing fine, really.” Christ knows better. He knows every shadow, bondage, addiction, fear, dark corner of shame, heartache and unconfessed guilt that each one of us carries.

Salvation is so much more than a check-box and a job. It’s a living, breathing journey with the God of the universe.

If we’re not on that journey, then we are like the mechanic whose car barely runs, the builder whose house is falling down and the pastor who hasn’t heard the voice of God in years.

So here’s my question; how are you seeking Christ for yourself?

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