When the plow blade snaps

Every missionary knows there are times when the ground is too hard. The blade snaps against centuries old rock and the shoulder that pushes the plow screams in pain. We shut our eyes against the sweat from our brow, ignore the mosquito at our neck and collapse onto the barren earth.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the essence of foolishness, but giving up is just cowardice.

I’m not talking about the times when Christ calls us to a different field. I’m talking about those brutally hard days when we know that we are exactly where we belong with the people we absolutely belong with; our children, our coworkers, our partners and friends.

When wisdom tells us; this is our field, then courage and perseverance must drive us back to our feet.

These are the days we walk by faith.

We look across the rocky barrenness and dream of green.

Maybe we give up plowing and focus on picking up rocks. Maybe we dig irrigation trenches. Maybe we abandon our field for a few hours, find some helpers and return. The point isn’t to go back to the same plow; to do things in the same old ways and expect different results.

The point is to find the courage and perseverance to keep working our field – to walk by faith in the rocky barrenness.

The prophet, Jeremiah tumbled over his plow. For that matter, so did Jesus. Each got up again.

Are you living in a rocky, barren place? God bless you, my brother, my sister. Don’t give up. Please. Don’t turn around. I can’t tell you I know how you feel. I can’t tell you I’ve tasted your sweat or felt the rough weight of your rocks.

All I can tell you is this; there’s glory in getting up. There’s deep honor in faithfulness. There’s celebration in perseverance. And it doesn’t matter if your field ever grows. It only matters how you live in it.

Posted in Facing the Enemy | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Who are you ‘here’ with?

A friend of mine, in her season of emotional darkness said to me, “I just feel so alone. No one cares about me at all.”

It’s true that I wasn’t inside her struggle. I couldn’t share her darkness, but I could walk beside her as she made her way through that darkness. I could pray for her, encourage her and gently cheer her on. More than anything else, I could be present.

I remember a particularly dark season in my own life; a season of deep grieving. I cried every day for months. There were times when I thought I was going genuinely insane. Times when I was sure I’d never emerge.

I read the promises; “Joy comes in the morning.” I wrote them on scraps of paper and taped them all over my house and my car. In a way, they helped me. But still, I slogged through the darkness of my own personal grief.

In those days, a friend tied a shoestring sized cord to my belt loop. It wasn’t much. Not in-patient care or an hour of counseling a day. Just a voice on the telephone, a card in the mail and a warm hug.

She had no advice, no pat answers. Only a simple promise, “I’m here.” And that was enough.

I hope that I have loved others is gently and firmly as my friend loved me. Have you?

Believe me, I know it’s difficult to be present in someone else’s grief or anger or confusion. We want desperately to fix their situation, to shake them out of their darkness, to force them to get over it.

Often, the struggles of others evoke our own fears or nightmares. The wife dealing with her husband’s infidelity reminds us of how fragile our own marriages are. The man finally facing the ravages of childhood sexual abuse calls forth our own locked away memories.

Of course we want to withdraw. Leave it to the professionals. Protect our own tender selves.

But Christ calls us into the world. He calls us to a love that is costly, painful and sometimes humiliating. He called me to my friend.

Eventually, she’ll stop crying. The verses she’s posted all over her house will begin to make sense and the sun will rise again. In the meantime, I’m here.

Who are you ‘here’ with?

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Tasting the wine

“I know my job as a Christ follower is to give him from everything he’s given me. So here’s what I do; I sing in the praise band, help out with the youth group, attend a small group every week and of course, tithe. Every time I get a chance, I look for ways to serve people. I know this pleases God.”

I would celebrate, but I know that my friend is exhausted. The word she uses is “dry”. Despite her busyness, her spiritual life lacks a heart level vitality. She looks great on the outside and she knows it, but inside? Like I said, her word is “dry”.

Another friend of mine in a similar situation laid his calendar down before the Lord. “What belongs, what do I cut?” He was appalled at the response. His church community was as well.

“Wait? You’re not going to teach Bible study this fall? What’s going on? Are you all right?”

My friend smiled. “Never better.”

In truth, he grieved deeply the loss of so many wonderful activities. But here was the truly amazing thing; in the gaps, in the seemingly dead space of unscheduled evenings, my friend found Christ.

His story reminded me of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The most committed of us are nothing like the tenants who refused to give the master his due. We harvest the grapes, pack them into baskets and joyfully, dare I say, pridefully, hand them over to the master.

We miss the other part of the story. These tenants are not just laborers, they are co-laborers. They are meant to share in the harvest, to carry grapes home to their families and friends. They’re meant to make wine.

“Oh no, I don’t really need anything. I’m doing fine, thanks. That person, those people, the widow, the teenager, the new mom, they all need so much more than me. Here, take the harvest. I don’t need any wine. Thanks.

Ours is a false guilt that keeps us from receiving the gifts Christ has for us personally. And he does have gifts for us. Astonishingly, he has more for each one of us than we could possibly imagine.

Perhaps we would do well to take our hands out of our pockets, step forward and humbly receive.

Have you tasted the wine Christ has for you lately?

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Mold Masks and the Gospel

I remember once hearing a story from the aftermath of Katrina. A group of well-intentioned Christians went to one of the harder hit areas and set about distributing mold protection masks.

As you can imagine, the heat and humidity in the air created the perfect conditions for mold to flourish in the water saturated walls and ceilings of storm damaged homes. Homeowners and their helpers faced significant health dangers as they tried to recover what had been so violently ripped from their lives.

This group of Christians went door-to-door, masks one hand and the gospel in the other. Their action sounds, on the surface, like a perfect good deed.

But here’s what I heard on the radio; the Christians required the homeowners to listen to a presentation of the gospel before they could receive a mask.

Can you imagine the anger and frustration of these exhausted homeowners?

There is certainly a place for proclamation. There’s also a place for meeting the immediate need. Our job is to love our neighbors and that means starting with who they are and what they need.

Those Katrina ravaged neighbors were in crisis. Their lives had been ripped into chaos. They needed a hundred different kinds of help – not only material help like mold masks, but emotional help as well, like encouragement.

In a crisis, we’re called to help others with all the love, skill and resources Christ is given us.

Let’s imagine the story differently; a group of well-intentioned Christians went out to one of the harder hit areas and set about distributing mold protection masks. Maybe they wore T-shirts that said the name of their church or group. Maybe they didn’t.

They knocked on a door. “Hi. We’re so and so from such and such a group. We’re so sorry about your house. Don’t really know what to say, but we have some mold masks if you think you need him. They’re free. How many do you need?”

Let’s imagine they give the homeowner 2 or 3 masks. Then maybe they say something like, “We’re so sorry for your loss. If you’d like to take a moment, we’d be privileged to pray for you. If not, we’re happy to pray as we go to the next house. Somehow, God’s going to help you make it through.”

Does that sound any better?

Posted in Loving the Stranger | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

We’ve forgotten

The early Christian Gnostics and Muslim Sufis say that original sin is really original forgetfulness. That we have forgotten who we are, where we are from and to whom we belong.

I’m convinced, amnesia as part of our story. We are born in a state of forgetfulness. We labor under illusions.

You, my friend are a precious child of the living God. You are priceless, magnificently created, intricately formed and astoundingly beautiful. You are mystery, grace, vitality and majesty.

You were created in love and delight. You are uniquely jeweled. You are daughter and son of the Father of all the lights of the galaxy.

You are created to be eternal. You belong in a magnificent garden. You are meant to love and be loved, to dance and laugh, to shape and create.

Remember and dream. Remember and hope.

Turn away from the illusions, shake yourself awake and come home.

We haven’t just forgotten. We have both forgotten and wandered far, far away from our home. There, our beloved parents, the eternal ‘us’ who created us wait like the prodigal father, watching the road for his lost child.

Here’s the glory of the gospel; that God isn’t just waiting for us, he’s come to bring us home.

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Listening to the Scriptures

I love to study Scripture. When I first committed my life to Christ, I bought a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, a Haley’s Bible Dictionary and a Naves Topical Bible to go along with my wide margin New King James Study Bible. I did book studies and word studies, topical studies and thematic studies. I compared Scripture with Scripture and made charts and outlines. I borrowed commentaries, read them and added to my knowledge.

And let me tell you, my knowledge is good.

I also excelled at application. I developed a strong understanding of good and evil, of right and wrong, and of the behaviors and attitudes that please God most.

In time, my thoughts, attitudes and actions conformed well to the faith I embraced. And yet, something within me still felt a little like a stepchild in the Mosaic family of God.

‘Felt’. That’s a pernicious word. After all, we don’t walk by feelings, but by faith. So how could my feelings matter so much?

Eventually I figured it out. We may not walk by feelings, but we certainly live from our hearts or, perhaps, in my case, the pit of my stomach.

What a relief, when I learned to listen to the Holy Spirit within me, speaking to me – from the heart of God’s love to the heart of my stepchild sense of identity. I learned that when I hear the voice of God speaking His love soaked truth into my world wounded heart, I am transformed. I begin to breathe and dance and laugh and live.

Yes, I do still occasionally dip into my concordance, but my mornings with Scripture no longer qualify as Bible study. Instead, I quiet my thoughts, welcome the presence of Christ and listen to what he would reveal to me as I meditate on the words he’s given us.

Lately, I’ve been sitting in the upper room listening to Jesus. I can’t tell you how much I love him – all the way down to the pit of my stomach. His words wash over me bittersweet and strong. I look at my companions; my friends and family, I feel the warmth of deep love for each.

I know what comes next, but for now, I linger here in the comfort and beauty of his presence.

How do you listen?

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Going through the motions

There are times when we go through the motions, when the motions are all we have. These are the dark days, when joy is a distant memory and God seems utterly absent.

Sometimes, these days are accompanied by loss; a job taken away, a child in self-destruction, a partner pursuing intimacy in the arms of another. Every fiber of our being screams in protest and yet, we put one foot in front of the other and somehow, keep walking.

Sometimes, these dark days are infused with the dank smoke of disappointment; of hopes and dreams that lie rotting in the inner recesses of our hearts.

Sometimes, we shiver alone in a winter darkness that has descended without reason, without justification and without the possibility of correction.

And so, in this darkness we go through the motions because the motions are all we have. We force ourselves to get up on Sunday morning, dress and take our place among a smiling, laughing community of believers whose very delight assaults our senses. We sing tune-filled songs from our throats alone. We swallow the bread and wine aware that it’s tasteless in our mouths.

We groan and promise ourselves that we’ll never come back and yet we do.

Through the week, we read our Bibles. We articulate prayers. We tape Scripture promises all over our houses – promises we don’t believe, but think perhaps we might someday realize.

Maybe you’ve been here. Maybe you know someone who’s here, now. Maybe you see the darkness that cloaks them or perhaps, you see the hypocrisy of their motions, their practiced obedience, their hollow disciplines.

Watch your mouth. Watch your eyes and your attitudes. This is spiritual warfare and the warrior is a hero.

If we give up, abstain from church, reject the bread and wine, discard our Bibles and swallow our inarticulate prayers, we will still wake up. But when we do, we’ll meet a sunrise void of real warmth.

The empty motions; the obedient church attendance, the deadened participation, the hopeless Bible reading is the most intense spiritual warfare in which we will ever engage. The faithful are heroes. They drag one heavy foot after another. And someday, when the sun finally rises, they step again into the warm light of God’s presence.

How do you walk in the darkness?

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