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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It starts with a prayer

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout joyfully to the God of Jacob”. A song of celebration – thanksgiving to God who delivered His people from bitter bondage.

There are times when we celebrate because God has delivered us. Because God has walked through the land of our lives and scattered the enemies who oppressed us.

He saw our bitter bondage and our ache for freedom. He heard the deep sighs we couldn’t articulate into well reasoned words.

Today, so many groan; Iraqi Christians and Yazidi’s fleeing their homes, hiding in caves, young Tajik women carried across foreign borders, robbed of their passports and sold to filthy buyers, mothers whose hungry children weep in their arms.

Someday, all such bondage will cease. Someday even the most brutalized will “Sing for joy to God our strength.”

Father, please allow me to hear the deep sighs of souls oppressed and aching for you.

Because when I was oppressed, weak and helpless, I fought, but had no strength to rise. Then, you lifted the oppression from me. You took the basket of affliction from my hands and the snap of the whip from my back.

Father, please give me ears to hear the cries of my neighbors. Take my hands and give me strength to lift their burdens, to free their hands from the baskets and their backs from the whips of affliction.

Open my heart to love. Stir my will to act. Receive my body to move and guide my mind to know the way.

Can you pray this with me?

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Strength in the Darkness

Here’s my metaphors;

  • Dark, dense woods, full of shadows, snapping twigs, screeching owls and brambles twisted around my feet.
  • Drowning in a torrent of water so confusing I can’t find the surface.
  • Searching through the fog, gasping for air, sulfuric smoke burning my eyes.

We’ve all been there; the Valley of Baca – the season of tears. What are your metaphors?

Perhaps you shudder at the very question. I don’t blame you. There are roads so dark and terrifying, no sane person wants to travel them.

And yet, such is part of the human experience.

Jesus knew that when he stood still and allowed the soldiers to arrest him and drag him through the streets on a journey that ended in the grave.

I would push this part of the story away or call it some hideous redemption that completely transcends anything that could ever happen to a normal human’s life. And yet, every one of us has or will pass through the Valley of Baca.

And so I search for meaning, for hope.

I stumble across a psalm; “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. Passing through the Valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength.”

I stop reading. A thousand questions ricochet through my mind, scattering coherent thoughts as they go. How does this dense dark wood become a spring? How do I drink when I’m drowning? How do I see when the smoke is burning my eyes?

This is a place where faith, trust, hope and love are purified. It’s the place where beyond reason, I choose to believe – that someday, I’ll look back on this journey and realize the sweetness of the waters I drank in this bitterest of places.

Are you in a valley of tears today? Hold on. You may not be able to see it right now, but the journey you walk today is full of precious gifts.

Are you in a clean, cool place, today? Don’t be afraid of the road ahead. Even if it leads into the darkness, know that Christ is in the darkness, too. Hold that truth in your heart and in your hands. Someday, you may need it.

Posted in Intimacy with God | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Sharing a meal

I read the story of a South African denominational church, I think it was Dutch Reformed, but I’m not sure. Apparently, some time in their distant past they decided that separate but equal celebration of communion was the most God and people honoring approach. In other words, blacks and whites could not drink from the same cup or eat from the same bread.

How’s that for an incarnation of the gospel?

But the story goes on. At some point in time, during apartheid, this same denomination or some group within it decided that the ministry of reconciliation belonged to them. They didn’t break the communion segregation rule, but instead offered a different kind of communion.

Over the course of the next several years, black and white South African churches invited one another to fellowship meals. Whites came to black churches, sat at their tables and shared their salt. Blacks came to white churches and did the same.

They didn’t offer a program, or a keynote speaker or structure or set of exercises. They simply shared a meal.

Now that seems beautiful to me.

Of course, the image led me to dream…

What if our most theologically conservative, FOXNews loving, Republican packed neighborhood congregation hosted a fellowship meal and invited our most liberal, gay marriage loving, Obama defending congregation? What if reds and blues sat across the table from one another, and one another’s salt and just got to know one another? What if they showed pictures of their children and grandchildren? What if they talked about their hopes for peace, their concern for the poor, their grief over disease and suffering?

What if?

I would go. Would you? Would you host it?

Ah, to embrace the ministry of reconciliation!

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Enjoy the transformation

I got a little frustrated. Summer’s almost over and I haven’t finished nearly as much as I wanted to. Me and Jesus had a talk.

His message was simple; enjoy the transformation.

Hah. Now there’s an idea.

I walked out to the garden with new eyes. Yep, that projects not finished, but look at those flowers I transplanted a couple of months ago. They’re doing so well. And what about that bush? It’s growing like crazy.

The perspective changed my whole experience. Instead of seeing what wasn’t done, I was enjoying what was.

That led me to look at other areas of my life; work, relationships, my home, everything, really. I spent some time just celebrating the good stuff. What fun.

It’s not that there isn’t more I want. There always is, of course. More I want for myself and for the people I love. But if I only look at what I don’t have, then how can I enjoy what’s here and now?

My garden reminded me of this simple lesson. Perhaps it’ll remind you, too.

Take a look around. What do you see? What can you celebrate? And when you do, how does that feel?

It’s nice, isn’t it?

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Union with Christ – a poem

Oh sweet rain, cool, insistent
insist upon me
soak into me
melt the outer shell of my heart
bring forth the fruit you know has been buried within, silent, dead for so long
Oh, sweet, sweet rain, be insistent upon me

Oh tiny spring rising up through broken rocks
rise up in me
rise up in me
find the path
wash away the filth
rise up,
rise up in me
oh sweet, sweet cool spring

Oh winding brook
flow from me
flow from me
now hidden
now revealed
a gathering place for timid deer
tiny birds
children drawn to the laughter of water on rock
clearing away autumn leaves to cup into their tiny hands
sweet, sweet cool water
flowing from me

And oh when we gather
my brook
your stream
the river slides gently, lazy into the sea
the rocking, singing ocean
you and me

oh, sweet rain,
soak into my soul
rise through my brokenness
wash away the filth
cascade my heart into the world
let me satisfy the thirsty, the timid, the tiny
gather me into your body
let me rest forever in the peace of your arms

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Posted in Random Reflections | 4 Comments