Unforced Rhythms

A Life in Grace

This One’s for the Right Hands

The easiest thing to be is a critic.

I have been pondering today a quote from my favorite teacher, because it answers this rampant criticism we are daily inundated with:

When you give to the needy,

do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

so that your giving may be in secret.”

So to all the right hands out there: *Stands.  Slow clap.*

To those of you who have met the boats on Grecian shores.  To those who have gathered blankets and shoes and bras and sleeping mats.  To those who did your damnedest to get around international shipping laws because this ridiculous bureaucracy was keeping tangible help from those who need it.  To those of you who wrote to your Senators, Representatives, Governors, Presidents – demanding that your borders be opened to people fleeing massacre…

To those who were near the victims on those terrible nights, and were able to hold the ones who were attacked.  To those who rushed in to stop the slaughter, consequences be damned.  To those still daily trying to stem this flow of evil…

To those of you who faithfully and persistently give from your own pockets so that people in a different part of the world can have a better life.  To all who have expended time or resource or prayer on behalf of someone other than yourself and haven’t said a thing to anyone else about it…

Thank you.

Because, dear ones, some people who don’t know us will lump us together with a #RedCup pseudo-controversy.  You remember, those fifteen minutes where one whack-job got to present himself as our international spokesperson, and all we wanted to do was tell him to sit down and shut up.  Because his words painted us as loveless fools – in direct opposition of the One we are meant to represent.

You see, we live in a culture that sincerely believes putting a blue, white, & red filter over a profile photo is a legitimately impactful statement; that this will somehow make a difference in the world.  We live in a society in which our country’s solidarity with her allies is expressed by changing some light bulbs on our national monuments.

This is the myopic view of our culture.  We the Motel 6 of nations: we’ll turn the lights on for you; but we’re sure as heck not gonna do anything else.  Because action is uncomfortable.  It requires us to get up from our screens and engage a messy, wounded world full of broken and unpredictable people.  People who may actually hurt us, even as we try to help them.

Just like what happened to the One we follow.

So while others are Tweeting rebukes, Insta-ing insults, and Google +-ing historically inaccurate, quasi-intellectual tripe, Right Hands, keep giving.  Don’t announce it to the left hands.  Turn your cheek as they sit behind their screens and tell you what a poor human being you are.  Do not ask them what they have done.  For they will have no answer.  Except, perhaps, that they changed their profile pictures for a day.

This hurting world needs so much more than criticism.  It needs a people of The Way who are called to act.

Right Hands, keep giving from the endless fount of Grace which you have received.

 

 

It Is Well

I recently watched a movie that focused on prayer.  I had hoped in this time of weariness, of sadness and tragedy, of refugees and martyrs, of sickness and pain, of broken families and bent people, that this sentiment would rouse my flagging spirits.  It was a movie, I grant, so the main characters didn’t experience the repercussions of their actions.  God was quick to act and each individual will was immediately subdued.  And of course, the answer to all was: let the man lead.

Far be it from me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see

I left burdened for those I hold dear who’ve been praying, some for decades.  For miracles, for change, for joy, for salvation, for hope.  I left wondering how it must feel to have every popular Christian outlet telling them if they’d just believe enough, just have enough faith, just pray harder or longer or better.  If they’d just submit more, then their circumstances would change for the better.  I left questioning how brothers and sisters who are fleeing for their lives – with only the clothes on their backs – would feel if shown that movie.  I wonder if they would start praying in earnest for the American churches.  We who are so myopic that we think the answer to every little problem is to get the man of the house back to Jesus so the rest of us can get on with our 2,000-square-foot, marble counter topped-kitchen lives.

I left wondering what I would think of God, if that was the only picture I was given.

I left praying that we know, regardless of our circumstances – God is sovereign, God is near, God loves and heals and comforts, even through our darkest times.  I left begging that we know He hears every word and catches every tear; that He is good in spite of what we experience, that it is not the size and fervor of our faith or our deeds that moves Him.  I left praying that we all know that God is God.  And we cannot, with any formula or ritual, manipulate Him.

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You.  It is well. 

Because, you see, sometimes the answer is: no.  Sometimes the answer is: run.  Sometimes is the miracle is: we will see each other again, in the New Heavens and New Earth, because Jesus made the way possible.  Sometimes, after decades of prayer the loved for whom you spent so much time interceding rejects the cross for a final time.  Sometimes joy is only: God is near the brokenhearted.  Sometimes the only hope is: God will wipe every tear from their eyes and they will be in a place with no more pain or sickness or death.

So let go, my soul, and trust in Him.

For if you follow a God who is measured by the manner in which He answers prayers – the sick He heals, the loved ones who come to faith, the friends spared death for a time, the mountains He moves, the seas He parts – you follow a god of circumstance.

And while I know that God does heal the sick and raise the dead and move mountains and part seas, I also have to remind myself that Jesus was betrayed by one He loved dearly.  That He lost friends to death.  That even those He miraculously healed and called again to life, even these eventually succumbed to death.  That He was rejected, that He was abandoned, that those He loved ran away and denied even knowing Him – in the hours of His deepest need.

I am reminded that even Christ Himself called out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  {My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?}  Because there was a time when for Him, it was all too much.

I am reminded of the Psalms in which the author begs God to leave him alone, for the pain is too much and there is no hope in sight.

We are not promised an easy time on this rock.  We will not be spared grief or struggle.  We will know sickness and pain and death.  We will witness tragedy, become intimately acquainted with suffering, and stand helplessly aside as those we love suffer, too.  We will do this because God did not consider Himself to be above these things – God came in flesh to experience these alongside humanity.  And He experiences them right along with us to this day; and so until the end of the age.

The waves & wind still know His Name.

Yes, dear reader, we pray.  We pray against evil.  We pray for miracles.  We pray for justice.  We pray to be made ever more like Christ.  And yes, dear reader, we pray to a God who answers prayers.

Yes, God is sovereign.  And in His sovereignty He gave Himself so fully and completely that this gift renewed creation and lifted the curse and completes the judgment handed down for our sins.  If we only accept.  And yes, dear one, it is up to each one to accept.

Pray, dear friend.  Pray in faith and with fervor.  Pray without ceasing and with thankfulness for all things.  Pray in boldness and knowing that the God of the cosmos hears every single word, even those you hold silent in your heart.  Pray with assurance that when you don’t know what to pray for, or even how to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf.  Pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

Pray knowing that God is God, and all things are subject to His will in His time.  But don’t let anyone tell you to do more or try harder or be different.  Pray with full certainty that the God who wrought the cosmos loves you.

On Skipping Church

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.   Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.   ~John 11:17-20

Mary, who loved Jesus so much that she broke all the rules just to sit at His feet, couldn’t muster after her brother died.  She didn’t go out to meet Jesus; she couldn’t face Him in the midst of her pain.  Mary, whether she was angry or felt betrayed or just hurt too much, stayed home.

SOMETIMES IT’S OKAY TO DITCH CHURCH.

See, church comes with expectations.  Expectations of presence, of involvement, of relationship, of community – and a whole host of buzz words that, when reduced, mean that you’ll be an active participant in the lives of others within the Body of Christ.  And that you’ll allow others to participate in your life as well.  This is a good thing.  Mostly.  Granted, there are certain congregations, because of size or practice, where someone’s very absence causes ripples.  And those ripples turn into phone calls and home visits and all manner of introvert-shaming behaviors, by people who are just trying their level best to love and care for you well.

But it needs to be said that sometimes it’s okay to skip church.  Maybe you’re sick or you just want one leisurely morning with family, maybe you’ve got company or you’re on vacation, maybe the dog puked all over the carpet and your kid had an exploding diaper all over your outfit and the other kid poured their whole bowl of cereal all over the table and your spouse can’t find a single left shoe – while you’re trying to just make it out the door, or maybe you just can’t deal with people today.

Or perhaps, you’ve gotten some news – the kind that you know will send you running to the bathroom to stave off the tears that will flow as soon as worship starts – and you don’t want to have to answer a million different questions about what’s wrong and if there’s anything anybody can do and if they can pray for you, right here, right now.  Maybe, like Mary, you’re not even ready to talk to Jesus about it.

It’s okay.

Because, just as in Mary’s situation, Jesus already has the answer.  And He’s ready to comfort you when you’re ready to go to Him.  But He’s not going to force His way into your house and make you talk to Him.  And He’s not going to require that you put on your best face and get to church.  Because God knows that there are times when we can’t be strong or brave or even social.  And it’s okay.

Mary didn’t miss out on the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection because she stayed home.  Jesus didn’t wait for her or Martha to go with Him to Lazarus’ tomb.  No.  Jesus knew these two beloved friends were hurting and He didn’t require anything of them.  He didn’t force His way into the house to see if Mary was alright.  He didn’t give a sermon on the importance of relationship and community and presence and corporate prayer.  No.  Jesus let Mary stay home, without shame and without condemnation.

So, dear reader, in case you’ve heard otherwise:

IT’S OKAY TO DITCH CHURCH.

But don’t forget that Jesus is just outside, waiting for you to be ready, to show you the hope He can offer in the midst of your pain.

Another Series on “Biblical Man-hood”?

A Response.

Most days I’m okay.

Most days I can go along, sit quiet, and take good theology out from the bad.  I can listen to the bass voices and reason through to what they’re trying to say and identify from which framework they are taking their views and understand to whom they are speaking.  I can be graceful.  I can discipline myself to tame the swallowing hurt that opens up in my chest and the quaking in my spirit that says, “This isn’t entirely right.”

Most days.

Then there are the days when my daughter is listening; and I am praying with all my strength that she doesn’t internalize that message.  The one that says she needs a man to make the decisions about her life, her spirit, her gifting, her relationship with Jesus – for her.  I am praying that the Holy Spirit is whispering to her heart that in Christ, she is enough.  She is beloved.  She is strong.  She can breathe God-fire in her words as they spill from the Spirit in her heart; and she can change the world with her very own following-after-Jesus.

I am fervently praying that she knows in the very core of her person:

The only man she need follow is Jesus Christ.

Then there are the days when my son is listening; and I am praying so hard that he doesn’t hear the degradation of women in those power-full, intoxicating words.  That he listens to the Spirit in his heart whispering that women are created in the image of God, too; that a woman’s place is with her Jesus, not under his flawed leading.  Because we’re all broken and stumbling towards more grace and greater restoration after the fall that broke us all apart and bent the universe to its crooked and lilting state.  I am praying that he never tastes the power that being the man-god-leader will afford him; because this spiritual heroine is the stuff from which there is almost no escape.

Then there are the days when I’m the only one hearing these words.  And my image of Jesus, of God, of the Spirit start to twist.  And I ask the old questions: Is this the truth?  Is this man-above-all what You set into creation?  Is this hierarchy a judgement, a curse, a purposeful design? 

Jesus, is this the man You were?

So that I have to wrestle my way back to the hard-won truth found in God’s Word, in the arms of my Savior, and in the small and beautiful voice of the Spirit in my heart.  I have to repeat their names and tell their stories over to myself again; because the Goliath-lion roaring from the pulpit to thousands of applause is ripping apart my fragile heart.  The ear-tickling power-ballad on podcast after podcast is crushing my delicate hope.  I have to recall the wide-open space in my heart where the Spirit planted His Truth after blowing wide the doors of my prison.

  • Mary, mother of God: the first person in creation to know that the Messiah was come.
  • The woman at Jacob’s well: the first person to hear, “I am God,” from Jesus’ own lips.
  • Mary, follower of Messiah: the first person to declare Christ is risen from the grave!

Halleluiah!  Halleluiah!

I am learning to be patient.  I have had to ask for forgiveness for expecting too much too soon from my brethren who just aren’t there yet.  I am still hopeful that we can come to the text, prayerfully, and see what God has  restored: the co-laboring of men and women created in His image, for His purposes.  For the judgement is reversed – Christ is risen!

Yet, the more walls you build around us, for our alleged protection and provision, the more barriers you erect to Christ’s redemptive work in creation.  The more you tout this as the only way to worship our wild and rebellious Savior, the more you make Him in your image.  Not call us to look more like Him.

This is not a secondary issue, one in which we can agree to disagree.

This, dear soul, is a gospel issue of identity.

We are God-created women.  We are Jesus-restored ministers of His Gospel.  We will not be quiet.   We will not be dismissed.  We will not be held captive anymore; for we are more than conquerors.  We will be warrior women of the Word and the Way – armed to the teeth with the sword of the Spirit to rightly divide truth. We will not be shouted down with misconstrued interpretations of single words when the whole of the text, and the life of the ultimate Revelation – Jesus Himself – tell us otherwise.  We will claim the truth of who we are in Christ.

For we are the restoration of the cosmos because Christ is alive in us.

And so are you.

I pray, with all the strength I have, that we may all, finally, be able to co-labor together as was designed in the beginning, in the name of Christ through the gifting of the Spirit for the glory of the Father.

This One’s for Judas

| John 13 |

Judas, friend of Jesus.  Judas, miracle-viewer, God-hearer, cup-dipper.  Judas, betrayer of eternity.

Judas, who is just like me.

Was it all too much?  To watch as the King you’d been promised – the Hope, the world-righting restoration you knew was coming on His heels – as He wandered seemingly aimless through the masses?  Not culling an army, but sucking in His wake the hopeless and helpless, the friendless and godless.  When you knew He could change it all – right here, right now – if only He would.

Judas, there are eons between us, yet so little is different.  Aren’t we today trying to manipulate God’s work?  Are we not, ash-smudged faces, still trying to light fires under people with our back-room deals, double talk, and hidden agendas?  Isn’t it still easier to cajole, prompt, challenge, belabor our comrades-in-arms until they genuflection at the altar of our plans?  Because we know best.

Judas, we are the same, you and I.  But I wonder, if you know how much He loved you.  In spite of it all.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

Jesus already knew the churning in your heart.  He already knew where you would go after you took the bread from His cup.  He already knew the price for which you would betray Him.  He already knew how it would all end for you – in that field, tormented and bloodied.

Jesus already knew you, Judas.  But He washed your feet anyway.

Eons apart, yet so little is different.

Jesus already knows the cracks in my heart, where second-place always seeps out and striving – oh! the striving – rushes in to rot my bones.  He already knows the “not-good-enough” opus looping ‘round and ‘round in my head so my heart can’t but sing it, too.  Jesus already knows the bitter roots twisting into my spirit, the desperate fall-spawned desires, and the faith that is too little, too late.

Jesus already knows me.  But He loves me anyway.

And more than just feet, Jesus takes all my failures, my faults, and my sins.  He cups them in His hands and carries them up to Golgatha.  He crucifies them, washes my life in His blood, and throws open the doors of my self-wrought cage.  Thus being the Hope, the Restoration, the King I so desperately need.

So it is for each of us.  Whether we barter backroom deals, foster good ole boys clubs, ply guilt into the spirits of good-hearted servants, or try to manipulate the plans of God to suit our own: Jesus already knows.

And He loves us anyway.

 

 

 

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