God’s Will: When You’re Straining to Hear His Voice

It’s in those moments when you need answers – real answers. Not the prayers that we toss out in gratitude and thankfulness, or the ones that sail on a breeze as we converse with Jesus over the every day issues of life. Not the chatting. Not even the pleading when life is dark and we can’t hear, see, or feel a glimpse of God.

blue flowers

It’s when your waiting to hear his voice about the decisions in life that matter, but you’ve settled into into living in the now and not yet so every moment is a moment for God. And yet it’s there. Haunting your thoughts. What do I do Lord? Where do I go? How? When? Is it you Lord? Is it you?

Here I am Lord send me. 

Here I am Lord. I’m listening. 

The decisions – the big ones. The moves, the missions, the jobs, the ones that change your life as God changes your heart to pursue his will.

The will decisions.

What is your will for my life, right now, in this moment of time that will affect many, many, future moments, and an equal amount of relationships and some of their moments.

We were away for a few weeks attending to some business, visiting some family, witnessing our son graduate from basic training. We had made all the decisions before we went… where to stay so as to make a completely non-affordable trip affordable, how to travel… drive to there…fly to here…fly back there…more driving. Almost every carefully thought out plan was upended as we arrived. 

Did you pray about it?

(Gosh, I hate when people ask that. First, it can sound really self-righteous, second most of the time you are asking someone that would have prayed, third, “delight yourself in the Lord and he’ll give you the desires of your heart…” When we are in daily communion with the Holy Spirit his presence in always seeking, always listening, always intervening, but we live in a fallen world. Things happen. Last but not least, if someone hasn’t prayed, you are insinuating that is why bad things are happening!  Living in communion is prayer. But I digress.)

Life is about choices and many if not most of the choices we make, we listen to the spirit’s guidance and hope we are interpreting what we think we are hearing correctly. Communication between two humans can be difficult enough – communication with God has a certain amount of guess work combined with a large dose of faith.

I’ve had those moments of almost audible prophecy (that came to pass) and absolute assurance, but most of the time it is that gut feeling. An inner knowing that He is with me in the decisions, even if I am still not sure my decision has heavenly origins.

Our relationship with God is not based upon being in His will, but in being in him.

Being in Him is being in His will.

It is being sold out to follow Jesus despite the costs, despite the pain, despite the struggles. It is living in the place where He is the first thing we think of when we wake up in the morning and the last One we think of when we lie down at night. It is when our life is so intertwined in His that “we live and move and have our being” is more than a religious platitude, but the savor of His divine breath mingled with our own.

It is when we cease to look to God to fulfill our every need, purpose, and desire, but allow ourselves to be fully seen and known in naked vulnerability and brokenness.

It’s when we understand that just like a baby, newly birthed, smelling of life and love, nestled safely in the arms of her mother – His delight is right there – in that moment, in that vulnerability, in that helplessness, in that inner cry of innocence.

baby

We are fully His, and His delight is in loving us. 

That is His will for us, and in us. Pure innocent love. Pure innocent trust. Not straining to hear His voice. Not striving to do His will.

Not asking for anything, but trusting in everything. Not striving for results, but resting in relationship. Not anxious in seeking, but content in being.

His voice is the voice of Love. His will is the will of being.

His grace is sufficient. 

 

 

When Life Seems Just Too – Hard.

 

4.13.

It’s cold out there. Not so much the weather, (though here in the northern United States it has been brisk lately) – no, out there. In the real world.

In this place we call home. In this place we travel through to our final destination. This place that gives us glimpses of incredible light all mixed up…

In the suffering. 

In the silence. 

This has been a week of manys, after months of nones. Many deaths, many life threatening illnesses, many end of life concerns, many disappointments. Babies have died, children are struggling for life, women are having past traumas rise up to haunt them, men are living the fears of not enough for their families – and disasters… Lots of natural and man-made disasters. Another earthquake just today.

Mothers are tired. Fathers are weary. Children are scared.

I listen to them. They tell me.  I hear it. The voice of pain.

And I weep. And wish for a time of nones. No pain, no suffering. Not for me but for them.

It’s megaphone time waiting for God to shout into the pain and obliterate it. He spoke the world into being …

He spoke. 

It is not always God’s plan to heal. If it was, it would happen. Simple.

Some would say he’s not involved in the day by day. Others say He wills who lives or dies. To others it is about faith. Some say it’s always Satan. Others like me say it’s a mystery – a result of the fall, of brokenness, of living in the now-but-not-yet as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. It’s none of the above and an all of the above.

We are hushed listening for the groaning creation to return as shouts of joy.

Our faith is not greater than God’s grace and mercy. Our will does not trumps His. That would be a really small God. He is not some petty human measuring our faith on a scale to see if we have enough weight to pay the bill. Or if our theology is lacking. Or maybe our frailty causes us to fear.

God is. He says a mustard seed is all we need to see the mountains move. 

It’s a mystery – a dichotomy of universal proportions that theologians have struggled with for centuries – millenniums really, only we didn’t call them such back in the days of Job. Job thought he had it right until he realized he had it wrong.

Job met God in the moments that he least expected to know Him. 

Job met Him when life was simply too hard. He met him in the reality of where we are and where we long to be.

There in the in-between-times of what is and what will be. There He is.  Job met him in the cold.

In the silence. 

Spring always, eventually, shows up. Flowers shoot up from fertile ground that rested after the darkness of soon? Dormant and cold through long winters, they are now restless and weary with when?

New growth always comes. 

It is the kind of growth that survives the harsh cold of winter and the blazes of forest fires.

It is strong. 

It knows how to buckle down during the tough times and wait for the raging flames to pass by. It knows that the snow will melt and the sun will indeed shine again. It knows.

We know. 

We know Who we believe in and we know what lies beneath the barren and the burnt.  The soil is fertile. Even when we can’t see below the hard packed snow of cold isolation, we know.

God always answers our prayers. He always brings new life from our mustard seeds. Maybe not in ways we can predict, or even in ways we prefer – but always in ways that are filled with His goodness.

When life seems just too hard – there is God.  He is always under our feet. His grace is lifting us up and His love will guide us into new growth. It may not feel it but it is.

He is.

Sometimes He seems veiled by all the darkness that this world throws at us. We just can’t recognize the face before us. We see it, we squint our eyes, we cock our hears, we may even feel it, but it’s just out of focus. It’s like the scene in the movie Hook where Robin Williams plays an adult Peter Pan. He has gone to rescue his kids, but the older out of shape Peter Panning just can’t believe in himself, nor can others believe in him. Until one little boy takes the time to look close – really close – and recognize Peter in the face of the one who is before him.

Sometimes we just don’t recognize Him. We don’t hear His whisper through the voices, we don’t see His face through the sea of disappointments and doubts.

I sit in the Presence of the One who loves me and I remember how much He loves them too. The one whose baby just died. The one whose child is fighting for breath. The one who struggles with nightmares of what if. They are my sisters on the journey through the now-but-not-yet of this world and we follow the One. 

We follow the One who leads us gently, cradling us in Arms of Mercy. We feel His Breath blowing gently, warming our souls. We touch His Face and feel the contours of His Love. 

There You are, God. 

And like Job, we Know

 

 

Beyond the Stained Glass Window (Power, Politics, and Pontification)

My courses at Fuller have been a tremendous blessing to me. As someone who enjoys education, self-discovery, and (hopefully) personal growth, I enjoy being challenged to become more of a reflection of the God I love. Interdenominational discussion boards not only confirm my eclectic background and international experience, but cause me to ponder “community,” specifically the American church in its cultural context.

cross-stained-glass

My grief over the “word of faith,” “seed of faith,” “prosperity gospel” or in our case “faith message,” was rooted in the pain of losing a child. My ongoing grievances stem from teachings that have a total lack of understanding the complete sufficiency of Christ, and what it means to worship God from a place of internal transformation as opposed to external “blessings.”  To love God simply because he is.

Prosperity “doctrine” stems from a culture that has embraced credit cards, self-gain, and an egocentric view of the gospel. “Invest in the Kingdom of God and God will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings.” “Sow the see and reap the benefits.” Even when the motive is a “better life” it is not witnessing to the gospel of the Kingdom “among us” as Jesus modeled, nor the power of the Holy Spirit – the very presence of God living in us. Jesus had an extreme concern for caring for the poor and only mentioned the coveting of financial gain as evil. The prosperity Jesus promoted was the will of the Father lived out in his comforting, constant, and transforming presence. 

I am also wondering if there is a link between the “give me now” Christianity and the “give me now” political climate I am seeing unfold in the church. I am disturbed by a lack of compassion, respect, and “what would Jesus do” in regards to many political issues and leaders. People seem to be tossing aside morality, acts of justice, mercy, respect, and well, common Christlike sense for what appears to be a “what are my needs” “what will serve me best.”  Candidates spend more time bashing each other than discussing topics of importance- some more than others. Some with an arrogance that surpasses any semblance of humility or decent human kindness.

Jesus went about “doing good.” He resisted the cultural norms, customs, and laws of His day despite the persecution it brought him. When God delivered Israel from Egypt the first thing He did was to teach them to recognize idols, covetousness, and the bondage Egypt had placed upon them, by instructing them to resist those things. The law of the heart is a love of  God and a love for others. He was trying to get them to accept His all encompassing sufficiency, and though they wandered in the dessert, they wandered in the constant presence of God.

I’d rather you take my money, just don’t take my God. I’d rather you take my freedom, just don’t take my God. I’d rather you take my life, just don’t take my good…

Should be the cry of every confessing Christian alive.

Throw me to lions but you can’t have my God. 

And, we should be humble enough to know that if we are faced with lions, we may chicken out like Peter did…

By grace we stand. 

 Americans tend to look down on the poor, those who live simply, are content with little, and small churches with bi-vocational pastors, but uphold the rich as the epitome of success. Case in point – look at our leading Republican nominee hopeful and the demographics of those who support him. The poor and marginalized are worried. The middle class are worried. 

 (I know there will be those who argue we’re “Kings Kids” or espouse that making more money means we have more to give away, but we don’t wealthy preachers living among the poor, or keeping less than they give away. They do not model to those who look up to them that we are to resist the culture of now, but instead model excessive lifestyles of unnecessary wealth, instilling in those who follow them they should covet material wealth as well.  As a King’s Kid, I  want to resemble the King in His love for humanity and care for what he did.)

But I digress- 

It has been an encouragement to be on course forums with individuals congregating in one place, where I can witness many deeper thinkers, philosophers, contemplatives and movers and shakers who understand that social justice and mercy are conjoined at the hip, and like Job, we learn empathy and caring the most from our places of pain and lack, in our small churches, and in involvement in all aspects of community, both here and abroad. 

They challenge me further to think beyond my cultural barriers and “folk religion.”

Sadly, much of America emphasis external obedience and external desires, as the Good News,  as opposed to internal transformation, dying to self, and  contemplative spirituality  within much of American evangelicalism. (I get it – that used to be me. I thought dying to self was self-abasing legalism and never getting it right.) The voices of great leaders like Dallas Willard who mirrored the inner presence of God are needed now more than ever.

Mature Discipleship is not about what we can get from God, but what we bring to God in partnering  in his creative and redemptive process. It begins in Christology and ends in Christology with a lot of praxis sandwiched in between.

Instead of resisting the culture of now, we demand that God conform to our golden image of “gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need” (A line from the movie What About Bob?  A favorite of ours.)

 It begins in Christ, evolves in Christ, lives in Christ, plays out in Christ -all in obedience to the Father and enabled by the Holy Spirit; a trinitarian community of One who eternally models for us a “new creature” world view. 

We simply have forgotten what God means when he says “Be still and know that I am God.” Movies on demand, pain medications, debit machines, credit, fast food, cell phones, ipods, instant access to almost everything, have created a society with endless chatter running through our minds. Sexist reality TV shows like the Bachelor have people idealizing shallow relationships driven by self motivation instead of a reverence for humanity and concern for the other.

How often do we sit in absolute stillness and just be? 

How often do those who are vocalizing maintaining our own personal freedom, finances, and safety stop to think about the enslaved, poor, persecuted, and fleeing, and cry out to God to do what is best for them?

Enter in the God of creation who created beauty our of nothing – order out of chaos and and on the 7th day said,

“Trust me.  Then go and love me and your neighbor above and beyond every things else. That is what I require. Nothing you do or give me means a thing unless you:

Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)

That is what you must esteem to be like Me.”

May we all aspire to be like Jesus, and look to model his ways in ourselves, our community, and our country.

As we face the culture of now in lifestyle, politics, and religion, may we resist it – in exchange for a culture of eternity. 

True freedom lies in Christ alone. 

On Babies, Dogs, and God’s Little Rabbit Trails

I have officially become her. My mother. The one who talked to strangers in the grocery store line about things that were way too intimate and transparent for the general public. She used to talk about herself and others would open up to her. Random strangers would share their woes.

gods rabbit 6“Who are you?” I would think. “Must you talk to every tomato bearing elder, or toddler slinging mum you meet?” I tapped my foot impatiently as if just by her conversing with another human, the grocery lines would come to to a stop like some endless slow moving film.  I rolled my eyes at the need to share her story, or the safe portions of her story, while we stood waiting to hear “May I help who’s next?”

gods little 7Now I stand in grocery lines and look at the person waiting in front of me. The art of sharing my story was birthed by a women who was trapped inside the painful memories of a childhood that formed stories built upon cynicism. Though I could share in the same cynicism from my own childhood (*yawn* who doesn’t have wounds –  my childhood was far better than hers), now I gaze at the person in front of me because I am genuinely interested in her story.  

My story can wait. There may be a divine narrative needing to be encouraged in the stress lines of the face peering back at me. Some much needed mama encouragement as we walk together, image bearers trying to find the place that fills empty, aching, arms.

gods rabbit.jpg 5The reflection I see in the mirror, though it is different from my mums, stems from the same place of origin. Not just familial, but humanity’s. She has passed on to eternity and I have replaced her. I am now her.  Yet, fully me. A snowflake with a similar line here or there. I look like her. Sometimes I act like her. I still occasionally roll my ‘R’s with a remnant of Irish brogue. I am surprised to hear her laughter and realize it’s me. I remember details about her when she was my age. Details that seemed so old to a teenager with a lifetime to be lived. Now I look in shock at myself. I am at her place in life. I am her age. This can’t be me. I didn’t even see it coming. 

God's little 3When did I fall in this hole? When did I become my mother, and my daughter become me? When were my eight toddling wee babes replaced by twelve toddling to teen grandchildren? A family was my lifelong dream. It was all I ever wanted. Farm life. Animals. Family. Homebirth. Babies at my breast. The smell of freshly baked cookies and bread rising. I lived it to the fullest all the while finding the sacred in the mundane.

I have lived my dreams. 

 Now, like Beth in Little Women I wonder why “everyone has to go away.”

gods little 10

 

But… “I can be brave like you.” 

We all age. We all gain wisdom (hopefully). We learn that other people have stories, and if we are careful, if we have developed empathy, if we have learned to let go of controlling conversations, outcomes, or our own agenda’s – we can hear the divine narrative written on the pages of other image bearers.

My story is completely unique from anyone else’s. Everyone else’s is completely unique from mine. We run into trouble when we try to jump in with the, “I understand what that is like, I…” comments. No, you don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like for you either. We are all snowflakes, and snowflakes can’t be imitated. One of a kind.

gods little 12We aren’t comfortable in the silences. We feel threatened by stories. If I tell my story and rip open the flesh, separate the ribs, and expose my heart, it makes you feel insecure in the divine narrative woven throughout your own story. You don’t like the blood and guts. You want tidy, non-offensive, unchanging, and fully clothed. Beautiful. Serene. 

gods little 8My whole life was centered around raising my babies. I home-schooled, they married and lived nearby so that even the grand-kids became part of my day. Friends lived with us, stragglers came on weekends. It was a full house. 

One day, all of that changed. I thought I would be the old lady who had tea with my daughters while I helped them to can the abundance from their gardens. They would borrow books from my extensive home-school library and pick from my home-school career brain. The library has been mostly given away to the parents now carrying on the home-school legacy. Only one has a garden.

The rabbit hole is full of twists and bends. I was blinded to what was ahead. 

They had a divine narrative being spoken into their lives too and we can’t always predict the story line. It is their story line. It’s God narrative for them. 

gods little 9

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Yet, I find a space to cuddle in white fur. I have always loved dogs, but they made space for nursing babies and became “Nana” to my wee ones. Now I find myself developing the kind of companionship I had with fur before I knew the love of a child at my breast.  I have become one of those people. I have more pictures of my dog on my phone than my grand-kids. I text them to Dave and we laugh over becoming “those people.”

Dog’s love is as reckless as God’s in a creation not creator form. Our new little doggie girl was abused before she came to us via a rescue group as a “foster.” Slated to be euthanized, Big Fluffy rescued her and she landed with us. She would cringe if we reached too quickly towards her. She blinked her eyes waiting to be hit anytime our hand came near. My heart melted as her tail continued to wag, despite the obvious past inhumane treatment.  We “fostered” her with no intent of adopting her, but the day someone was interested, Dave closed the deal and she became ours.

I imagine Jesus must feel like that as he reaches for us at times. We wince and back away from Him, told the lies about a God who is more interested in our mistakes than our redemption.

daisy

Anyone who has experienced abuse and neglect will tell you that they remember forever when they were delivered from it. Maybe it was a day, maybe it was a season – the timing is different for everyone. There is a then and now. In Christ – there is a then and now narrative that plays out in all of our lives. Our little Daisy (who we call Piggy) is living out a then and now narrative in her little life. We see it as our little while love ball blossoms into our protector, keeping us from all harm. She shows her gratitude for being saved in how she loves. 

IMG_1509 (2)

She has her own redemption story – from the brokenness of man’s irresponsible and unkind folly, into redemptive life. We are the caretakers of God’s creation. Dominion means care, not abuse.

My Masters of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, has a concentration in “children at risk.” One big rabbit trail in my living intentionally dreams. It’s one big rabbit trail that I travel completely alone. No kids, no husband, no partners. Just me on the road down the Divine Academia Lane. Piggy sits faithfully next to me as I write papers and read endless amounts of books. I am completely engrossed and completely alive.

My prayer is that the knowledge I gain will better the lives of little image bearers and their moms – that I can make a difference. But I really hope to expand my own depth so I will see more of Christ and less of my mother when I look in the mirror. Less of me. I witness a broken world and a church that often is more concerned with self-preservation than laying down their lives.

gods rabbitI have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. It’s more like Jesus. 

From babies, to strangers – maternal healthcare, children, infants, orphans, refugees, broken, bleeding… The world needs the love of God. They need to see the Jesus that lived. The Jesus that went about doing good and healing (and rescuing) all that were oppressed of the devil. Not the one that promises cars, money, mansions, and a perfect life if you have enough faith and “declare it.”  Not the one who turns a blind eye of fear to the plight of refugees, orphans, widows, the marginalized, or people from other religions. 

The Jesus who rescues them and who died that they may live. That’s the Jesus I wanna live like.

Jesus declares he is the way the truth and the life. He declares only Himself. He declares the Kingdom of God is at hand in Emmanuel.

Gods 14Jesus says, “Hey, follow me.” I have something really perfect written just for you. You are part and parcel of this divine narrative. You may not always like where I have to go. Sometimes it may even hurt a bit. There will be rabbit trails and sometime you may get lost. But don’t worry, I will never, ever lose sight of you, even if you fall down the rabbit hole. The only drink that will make you smaller is the one that makes me increase. It’s my magic potion of living water. Drink it with joy and it will reveal the divine narrative that I have written just for you.

God's Rabbit trails 2I have to the drink the potion. It’s time to grow up and leave home.

 

Advent Hope, Ways to Honor Infant Death

I visited the cemetery yesterday.  I spent the two-hour drive, listening to the angelic voices of the Vienna Boys Choir singing  Ave Maria, and other Advent Hymns and picturing all the children who have left us too soon, circled around the feet of God, faces uplifted in glorious song.

Vienna Boys Choir Singing Ave Maria

I decided that today, I would throw it out there and honor Micaiah by doing two things. First, by asking the people who read and are blessed by this blog to make a donation in his name, to feed the malnourished children in the Philippines. These are the kids who have been served as a result of his death –the reason I became a trauma chaplain. So far, I have gotten less than $300 in donations – not enough to provide Advent Hope for a thousand plus kids. So please share this blog, and help me spread the word. Tax deductible donations can be made at:

Compassionate Reach (100% goes to the kids)

Holy 4

For some last-minute Christmas shopping without the lines, you can also purchase Yankee Candles. 40% of the price of the candle is donated back to us, and as you know, 100% of what we get goes directly to the kids. The candle funds will purchase chickens and garden seeds for sustainable food for families.  

You can order through December 13th for Christmas delivery and in time for Advent Feeding. 

Yankee Candle Fundraising Store

I said “two things” so here is how number TWO plays out:

There are few things I would like to tell you about moms who have lost infants. There is never a one size fits all in grief – ever – but these are few things common to many moms who have lost any baby preterm, at birth, or shortly thereafter.

As in all deaths, many of the same do’s and don’ts apply. I won’t list them here, they are written elsewhere and on my website.

  1. Our babies (usually) have a name.(Sometimes for cultural or personal reasons the baby isn’t named.) My son’s name is Micaiah. I love his name, and I never get to hear it in reference to him. Don’t be afraid to ask if our baby had a name and use it.  (NOTE: As in all grief, never say “at least.” I have had people say to me, “At least he wasn’t like four of something.” “At least he didn’t suffer.” I’m not sure he didn’t suffer in the moments leading up to his death, but even if he didn’t, that really isn’t of any comfort.) 
  2. About being “four”… Mothers of infants who have never had a chance to hold, or see our children living outside the womb don’t have many, if any, positive memories. I never saw my son open his eyes, or held him full of life in my arms. I never heard him cry. I never gave him a bath, or held him nursing at my breast.  I never saw a first smile, heard a laugh, or the myriad of other moments that we take for granted. I have nothing positive to remember him by. Our memories are formed as we move into the future without them. Our memories are the ceremonies of remembrance, hearing their names spoken, and by having others remember them. That gives us positive memories to take with us. 
  3. The day of birth is difficult for anyone to remember, but just like you may say to someone with a living child, “How old is your baby now?” you can also ask, “how old would your son be now?” If a Mom doesn’t want to talk about them, you will be able to tell, but most moms like to know our babies have been remembered. 
  4. If you don’t remember the exact day, but you do remember the month or time of the year, you can also say, “It must be difficult for you this time of year remembering your son.” Most of us are thrilled that anyone remembers that we are missing an extra place setting at our table.
  5. You can purchase a small token gift in honor of the child. Today, there are Christmas ornaments for the deceased (I just ordered three.) My daughter started me a collection of Willow Tree figurines that have been a blessings. I think of Micaiah every time I gaze upon the little crafted angels.
  6. You can make a donation to a favorite charity in their name, beyond the day of the funeral as an act of remembrance for a birthday, or Christmas, or just because.

Christmas is a wonderful time to remember a loved one who is missing from this life. Be all things to all people, and maybe you’ll win some.

May the promise and peace of the Christ child move you to love in ways beyond your wildest dreams. 

Jamie

 

Lazarus, Not Raising the Dead, and the Glory of God

lenten losses 2To me, the story of Lazarus is one of the most profound messages of love in the scriptures. For years, I read it over and over again in awe of the God who raised a four days dead, stinking, maggoty, corpse to life. Songs proclaiming that “it’s the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me” were sung with confidence and naivety. We were young, completely in love, and indestructible. If something did go wrong, we had the dead raising spirit of God in us. No worries. We lived in a safe, rural area in central Vermont, where David held a job that was adequate enough to provide for the basic needs of our large, single income, family. We were happy, healthy, and full of faith.Though I had been to Europe as a child, neither of us had ventured outside the U.S.A, to countries where provision and safety have a very different meaning, and “faith” stares back from the face of a starving child, or a mother whose entire family perished in a typhoon while she prayed for mercy.

Then our son died. 

Being part of a hyper-faith cult didn’t help our theological perspectives, nor did the people who wanted to know where we had “missed it.”  Within the false doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity according to your “faith,” reasons have to be found when the unthinkable happens and we don’t receive the “promises” of God.

“Lazarus come forth.” 

The three word focus of this passage that reveals the power of God, are the most often emphasized, while bypassing the most human part of the story.

In John 11:5 we read that Jesus “loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus,”  and Christian love is a verb – it’s an action word. When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany and sees those who loved Lazarus mourning, verse 33 says He was deeply moved and troubled.  Love hurts. Yet to reduce this just to pain filled emotion is to rob the scriptures of their intent – the original language implies that He was emotionally outraged or angered.

God hates death. 

The purpose of the cross, the reason for Jesus’ anger, was that He fully understood what was required to conquer death.

His own.

He was troubled by the pain that death causes, and angered at what sin had brought into a previously perfect world. In verse 34 Jesus is taken to where they have lain Lazarus, and the emotions of a fallen world are strikingly revealed in verse 34,

“Jesus wept.” 

Those two words are all that needed to be written to exemplify death. Even the One who would bring life to the dead, remove the sting of death, and grant eternal life to those who call upon His name, was so emotionally overcome by the site of death, he was reduced to weeping. He knew within moments that Lazarus was to be called forth, and restored to His family and loved ones, and still He wept

We know the rest of the story – Lazarus was miraculously raised from the dead to the glory of God, and we see the third reason we should pay attention to the story of Lazarus. The miraculous, creative miracle of the raising the dead brought glory to God.

We too should be angry at death. After returning from a natural disaster like the tornadoes of 2011, the Philippines typhoon, or the recent earthquake in Nepal – shootings, accidents, or a local funeral, my usual comment is, “I hate death.”  

Death is ugly, messy, and beyond human words or comprehension.

The loss of a child in particular defies everything we know to be good and right in the world. Death should stir within us a deep troubling of the fallen nature of this world and provoke us to fight death through acts of social justice, compassionate care, and agape love, revealing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Second, we should be moved with compassion at the suffering of others. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is “time to weep and a time to laugh,” and Rom 12:15 as well states “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” There is no shame or lack of faith in tears.

Grief is not evidence of a lack of faith, but the presence of love. 

Compassion is often revealed in tears. It is impossible for me to work with people who have experienced loss and not be moved with compassion. My own losses have enabled me to have a deep sense of empathy, and sometimes what I consider a healthy counter-transference. Though some would argue there is such a thing, I believe that is exactly what is revealed through the emotions of Christ in this passage of scripture.

Third – The Glory of God. Most individuals will live their life without witnessing the raising of the dead. Stories abound – some believable, some not. Healthy reasoning should cause a certain amount of skepticism at the miraculous. Yet, God is glorified in and through us every day, all over the planet. How we react to  suffering, how we react to the poor, needy, ill, mourning, or forsaken, is how we glorify God. The ridicule thrown at the church today does not revolved around our lack of miracles, but our lack of love. When we witness suffering, we need to heed the words of I John 3:17

“This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.”   (The Message)

We need to reveal the power of God in our daily lives – not just in the miraculous raising of the dead, miracles of healing and deliverance, but in the love we have for a suffering humanity.

Yes, it is the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead that dwells in us, and that Spirit IS Love.

Restless

restless 2

Supreme Court decisions, over 1,000 people have died of heat stroke in Pakistan, one convicted killer is shot in upstate NY as another one is pursued, nine people murdered in a church shooting, innumerable natural disasters, religious persecutions, pandemics, failing economies, terrorists attacks…

All must answer to a Higher power.

Personal difficulties surround all of us – death, loneliness, physical illness, depression, job losses, relocation’s, difficult relationships, the loss of love, the loss of dreams…

The worst loss is the loss of dreams, which encapsulates all other losses – fear encompassing all other emotions. The future looks dim…

The future is God. 

Augustine is one of the most important theologians in the church, to both Protestants and Catholics. His “Confessions”  reveal our deepest longings, his words the cry of our hearts,

“You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in you.”

For the majority of my “Christian” life, all of the turmoil of this world captured me with worry for the future of our children and grandchildren. It prodded me with the need to do more, say more, and help more – always striving to play a part in turning what was wrong in the world into what was right.

I was restless to the depths of my soul with concern for this world. Psalm 139:7

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

The earth is the Lords. Everything that was created was created by Him. There is no where we can go, nowhere we can hide that His presence is not with us.

Always.

At all times. 

As disciples of Christ we also have the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within in us.

The Spirit dwelling in us. 

God present everywhere outside us.

Jesus interceding for us. Walking with us.

God is not taken by surprise when distressing things happen around us, or to us. His light shines most brightly in the darkness, but we fear the darkness.

We are blind in the dark, but God is Light. He is present in the darkness to break the fear and cast off the shadows. As Augustine said, God created us for Himself. We cannot flee from His presence because of His great love.

The only place of rest is in Him.

One of my top five favorite songs – powerful in its theology, moving in its simplicity, and reflecting the heart of the devoted believer, is Audrey Assad’s Restless. She wrote it based on the above writing of Augustine. I listen to this song almost daily now, as I remind myself not to allow the things happening in the world, or in my life to make me restless. My restlessness has become the unsettled feeling I have when I am not knowing God’s presence of God experientially, as much as theoretically.

Every moment of every day. 

Only when I stay in His presence –  in me, around me, and sustaining me, that I feel peace and my restless soul finds rest.

This video may very well be the best five minutes you could ever spend, as Audrey sings about the Restless cry of our hearts. 

My heart longs for God in ways that are beyond words. It took me twenty-eight years of “Pentecostal/ Charismata” much speaking to realize I would rather listen to Him speak, than to speak before Him. I bask in fearful wonder as He embraces the cries of my heart and consumes my prayers.

Close your eyes and listen to the voice of angels sing.

The Heartbeat of God

Listening. Yearning. Longing. We strain to hear the heartbeat of God.

Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump…

It’s a vibrant sound that reminds us we are alive; a movement in our souls that goes far beyond “we are okay”, to we are thriving.

Played in harmony, the melody reaches to the places where only One can hear it. 

clouds

There are so many distractions in our lives today to keep us from hearing, let alone moving. Though we may discern the vibrations at times, truly listening seems beyond our grasp. Just out of reach

The distractions of the young vary from electronic devices that ping notices of instant messages to the adrenalin of gaming. Distractions that keep adrenalin pumping, and hearts racing. Distractions that keep the heartbeat of God hidden beneath the loud pumping of their own.

Pain is the greatest distraction as our heart beats with the deafening sounds of “what if?” Every year we grow older gives us the “what if’s” of life.

Some are by choice and some are by circumstance, but none are a surprise to God. Though our hearts may race with the fears of future problems, God’s heart beats with the peace of His will.

Regrets drown out the quiet whispers of God calling us into His rest

Fear prevents us from climbing into Abba’s lap where we can hear the beat, and feel the pulse.

Twenty -Four 1

Thump-thump… thump-thump…thump-thump…”You are mine.”  Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump… “I adore you.”  Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump,thump...Trust me.”

The steady beat of God’s heart reassures us of who we are.

The steady beat reassures us of who He is. 

It is only when we stop moving that we can learn to listen; we hear the sound of Holy beating and move in the direction of Perfect love. We learn to listen in the silent places between our own longings and His grace.

Listening takes practice. It takes humility. We learn to read HIs Holy words with the innocence of a child. We draw each picture written fresh with new colors, asking the Abba, Daddy, to tell us what the picture looks like.

We learn to listen to the voices of others, not handing out thoughts and preconceived notions or ideologies, but actively seeking to understand their views, their opinions, and their stories; and in doing so we hear the beat of humanity in the lives of God’s creation.

Thump-thump… thump-thump…thump-thump… “I love them.” Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump…”They are mine.”  Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump… “Love them for me.”

River

The heart beat of God always moves in a rhythm of love. It never moves in the direction of personal gains, church gains, business gains, ministry gains, or financial gains. It never moves in a way that is controlling or abusive, but tender and full of kindness. It never moves in mandates or mantras, but in questions and freedom. 

Listening frees us to understand that’s it’s alright not to have all of the answers, but the journey lies in the questions. Listening frees us to live quietly in places of suffering, knowing that God’s presence in the dark places defies explanation. Listening frees us to breath in the essence of the moment, sweet with the fragrance of now. Now is safe. The past is gone, the future will come soon enough, but the heartbeat of God is moment by moment, and breath by breath. 

The heartbeat of God is a dance of love between the Creator, and His creation. It is the dance of heaven and earth, conjoined in a perfect harmony that flows with waves of grace. 

Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump… “I Am here.”  Thump-thump…thump-thump…thump-thump...

He is whispering. Are you trusting?

He is leading. Are you listening?

Lent as Unifying

When I saw them standing upfront in their robes, placing the sign of the cross with ashes upon the foreheads of those kneeling before them, I was transported back thirty-five years to my last Ash Wednesday service as a practicing Catholic. Evangelicals aren’t known for celebrating the season of Lent, yet in recent years there has been an increase in Lenten practices. There seems to be a few reasons for this, but many people attest to finding the need for some tradition in a country that is global, instant, and quickly losing touch with the past.

lent-purpleLent is meant to mirror the season of Passover and the 40 days are representative of the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, and Moses in the desert. It expands 46 days with Sundays padded in as feast days, when individuals can rest from their weekly fast.

At this past Wednesday’s service I was accompanied by Dave, who having been raised in a Baptist home had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service.  The service we attended was a uniting of the local Ecumenical clergy, as well as my own faith tradition and some other “evangelicals” all part of this pastors group I have embraced.

Some noted theologians are against the idea of evangelicals embracing aspects of Catholicism, stating that it is a smorgasbord of pick and choose  liberality, i.e. celebrate Lent, throw out infant baptism, celebrate Ash Wednesday, throw out transubstantiation. With a critical eye, I can understand this kind of thinking and yet, I believe this is more as a point of commonality rather than opposition. I believe this can enhance the evangelicals thinking about what they are picking and choosing and open up the possibilities of different doctrines as just that – doctrines – not the identifying basis for a fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

For David, his first Ash Wednesday was both “educational” and put him in touch with “church history.” He felt connected to the Universal Church in knowing that roughly a minimum of 1.5 billion worldwide would also take the sign of the cross on their foreheads to be reminded that it is from dust we have come, and to dust we will return. As for me, I was put back in touch with the God of my youth, who was not so different from the God I now worship – except now I have a richness of history and a deeper relationship based on knowledge and understanding that was lacking in my past.

I for one am very glad that I am being reunited with a theological, liturgical, and historical depth to my Christian faith in unity with others who are revering Jesus as Lord of Lord and King of Kings.

This seems like another opportunity to remember the words of Christ in Mark 9:39-41,

“But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”

They will know us by our love. David and I are both looking forward to this Wednesday’s Lenten service with anticipation.
 

Between the Spaces

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” I John 4:17-18

Advent is over, New Years is now a memory, and resolutions abound. The twelve days of Christmas begin December 25th and ended yesterday, January 6th, with the Epiphany.  Today my tree is coming down. A week later than usual this year due to many time commitments.

It is now a time between the spaces – a time between times.

between 3The decorations have been boxed and the unwanted presents returned. The children have all gone back to school and for those who were fortunate to take off time during the holidays, they also are back to the routines of daily life. We are caught between the spaces of warm, fuzzy, feelings with cookies baking in the oven, and the plans and hopes of an unfolding new year. I have said good-bye to some of my children – again – without any plans or knowledge of when we will be together next. I am caught between the times of family togetherness and family absence. It has been many years since all of my children have been under the same roof – the family photo is very outdated, missing the addition of grandchildren.  I long for the time when we will “all be together again” as stated by “Jo” in our traditional Christmas movie, Little Women. 

History has been caught in the time between the spaces as well, when a perfect world fell to the effects of an imperfect creation, leaving us groaning and waiting for the restoration of all things at the end of the age.

DSCN5427 (3)God painted a picture of purity. It was full of beauty, unconditional love and acceptance. Humans and animals lived together without fear, every need given to them by the hand of their loving creator. “Subdue the earth,” they were told. No shame, no work, no rejection, no pain, and no fear.

The clouds kissed the ground in a harmony of sights and sounds, colors and fragrances. God looked upon Adam and Eve and they gazed back at His beaming smile, just as a Father beholds his toddling child; full of joy unspeakable and breathing in contentment.

He did it all for the sake of companionship –  the God who loved them – who loves us –  immeasurably.

Then came an impenetrable darkness, and with it entered shame, regret, pain, death, and fear – a myriad of ugly effects that would haunt the creation forever.

The between times.

DSCN5430 (3)But God is love. He didn’t leave us alone in the between times, He knew we couldn’t survive with the shame.  He knew we would be paralyzed by the fear. And the rejection. And the pain.

He knew we needed the Love.

So He gave us the Perfect. He restored us to Himself.  He reunited us as children, to walk again safely with Daddy.

The effects of darkness remain.  They will stay with us until He establishes his Kingdom once and for all, but the Father child relationship has been restored, fully, totally and irrevocably.  Just like it was before darkness made its ugly mark. The Light shines in the darkness and children have no need to fear when the light is shining.

between 4The pile of trash that caused a stench too strong for God has been tossed out by Jesus. He carried it out away for us. He wasn’t afraid of what was in it, how bad it smelled, or whether or not He would be contaminated by it. He still isn’t. Now, with every mess we make, he smiles and says, “No problem, remember we are in the between times. I’ve got your back in this place. It’s my job. No need to feel dirty, I made you clean. No need to struggle to hold it, it’s already gone. Once and for all.

Game over man. You are mine.”

God smiles at us with each faltering step we take. He beams with pride when we fall down and hop right back up again, “Atta girl. You’re OK.” He is watching us with adoration. Just as a father delights with each new phase of the journey, with awe.

He delights in us. He is pleased with us. He loves us.

We run to Him in total abandonment, grasping tightly to the knowledge that Love has made us brand new.

Love changes us. Love completes us. Love takes away all fear between the times.

IMG_8009 (4)The darkness is still around us. It comes and goes. There is pain, suffering, sickness, wars, poverty, and calamities in the between times. But Jesus has conquered them all.

He is the life and breathe between the times, “…when we take up permanent residence in a life of love…”

Here’s to living in His love during 2015.