How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?

A friend just asked me the age old question, “How can a good God allow suffering?”  She asked it in slightly different words, but it was the same question it’s always been.  I have heard it asked a million times over.  Now, this friend has a right to wrestle through this, and although I may have an answer for her, I feel ill-equipped to give it, because she has suffered tremendously in her lifetime, and it’s a hard thing to speak to someone whose grief is so much greater than my own.  The right answer may feel like a pat answer.  Yet, it still must be given.  God, give me grace!  

In contemplating the root cause of why we ask this question so often, it occurred to me that, in order to ask this question, we must have a wrong understanding of one (or more) of three things: 1) God’s righteousness in His justice, or 2) our own sin, or 3) suffering and the blessing that it is to God’s people.  

1. God’s righteousness as it pertains to His judgments.  This is closely linked with the second thing we are prone to getting wrong… our sin.  

We cannot fathom tender, compassionate Jesus also being a wrathful God, nor do we want to.  We have never seen anger as pure and holy as His’, and we do not particularly want to believe it exists.  Hebrews says “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  Terror is not an emotion I enjoy experiencing.  Repeatedly in Scripture it tells us both not to fear, and simultaneously to fear God.  The Scripture uses metaphors such as “the shadow of His wings”.  I once had a vision of a giant bird that was spewing fire out of it’s mouth.  It was a terrifying sight, but I was sheltered in the shadow of it’s wing.  I was protected by the wrath of the bird in my vision.  His fire-spewing was intended to protect me from His enemies and mine.  

There is something so enlightening about flipping the script and realizing that His judgments are intended to protect His people and that it is His holiness that causes Him to destroy His enemies, which leads to point #2.

2.  Our sin.  Our sinfulness is buried deep, so deeply that it is not something we do, but it is the core of who we are, apart from Christ.  This is the necessity of accepting the cross!  We, who are the beloved children of God, are of the same fibers as the world, in our beginning.  We range from really good at performing well enough to appear as though God might accept us based on merit, to  continuously making gigantic messes out of the life we have been given until we just give up trying.  But the thing about our sin is that the perfectionist and the destructionist are both just as foul-stenched as the other, when compared with God’s holiness.  There is not a person on earth that even remotely deserves His mercy.  

When we lay that, as the foundational understanding, we begin to realize that we deserve suffering, and that we desperately need the cross.  

From the moment history began, mankind had a glorious, tender-hearted, loving Heavenly Father, and we immediately rejected Him.  It’s easy enough to blame Adam and Eve… until we realize this is every single person on earth’s story.  Every person that ever lived, other than Jesus.  

We are so proud we try to fix ourselves independently from Him, and this is why the remedy is the cross.  The cross is God’s sacrifice, where holiness and mercy meet.  He pours out His just wrath, yet He pours it on Himself rather than us, the deserving ones.  The cross requires that we humble ourselves and acknowledge our need, and it invites the one who knows they are needy and doesn’t know how to fix themselves.  The cross is both a means of crushing our pride and repairing our brokenness.  The cross is where we find God’s goodness displayed in the impeccable, ironical combination of His mercy and justice.  

And finally, the third thing we tend to get wrong, that causes us to doubt God’s goodness in the face of suffering…

3. Suffering.  If we are to make honest assessment of humanity, we are fully deserving of suffering.  Our rebellion against God is the root cause of it.  Every bit of suffering that exists is the consequence of our sin, someone else’s sin, or the result of a fallen world that has been rejecting God since it’s conception.  We want to blame God for all this hardship, when it is honestly our own fault.  When we look around at the suffering in the world, much of it is because God has given us over to our own will and ways.  

Yet, the irony and bliss of it is that, for those who love Jesus, suffering transforms into a gift.  If you look up “suffering” in the Bible, the perspective of it is completely counter-intuitive.  The Bible says some incredible things, like “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11).  And “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have it’s perfect result so that you can be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3).  Romans 8:28 promises us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  ALL THINGS.  There is no stone left unturned, when it pertains to Him working things out for good for us.  Earlier in Romans 8, He promises that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”  (vs. 18).  There are countless other Scriptures that directly say such things, and even more that simply exemplify the principle of redemption.  

1 Corinthians 15:19 says that “if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”  We look to an unseen Kingdom, and we who have walked with God know that there is nothing this earth could offer us that would compare with the blessing of His nearness.  

One of my favorite books, outside of the Bible, is a small, pocket-sized book called “The Loveliness of Christ”.  It is full of quotes from an old puritan named Samuel Rutherford.  In it, he says things like “Among many marks that we are on the journey, and under sail towards heaven , this is one, when the love of God so filleth our hearts that we forget to love and care too much for the having or wanting of other things; As one extreme heat burneth out another.”  In other words, for the Christian that adores Christ, He becomes so lovely to us that our suffering or lack becomes dim in the light of His goodness and glory.  

He also said, “What God layeth on us, let us suffer, for some have one cross, some seven, some ten, some half a cross – yet all the saints have whole and full joy, and seven crosses have seven joys.”  That means that where suffering abounds in the lives of God’s people, joy is even more potent.  

He also says, “Glorify the Lord in your sufferings and take His banner of love, and spread it over you.  Others will follow you, if they see you strong in the Lord; their courage shall take life from your Christian carriage.”  

One of those whose courage gives me life is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother and the Lord’s apostle.  He was sentenced to death by crucifixion.  Through His courage and joy, every generation since has been better equipped to suffer with joy!  Upon threat of death, he replied, “I would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross if I feared the death of the cross.”  As he walked to the place of execution, he walked boldly towards his own cross and said these words, “O cross, most welcomed and longed for!  With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearned to embrace you.”  It is nearly impossible to imagine singing a love song to one’s own crucifixion, yet Andrew did! 

What Samuel Rutherford and Andrew the Apostle had in common was this:  They both had a right view of suffering, seeing it in light of the goodness of Christ!  As a result, they learned to see it as a gift.  

I hope this dissection of our natural thinking and a holy perspective helps anyone who reads it.  Honestly, I wrote this a couple of days ago and just sat to edit it, and it helped me, once again, to be reminded of these things.  Sometimes what we know needs perpetually brought to the forefront of our minds.  To God be all glory and honor!  Amen.

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The Finale

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

These words have been at the forefront of my brain for days. I read them last Friday, and shared them with Simon, because they were so mind-blowing and holy. Shared them with two young ladies outside a coffee shop on Saturday. Shared them with a friend from church on Sunday. Now, on Monday, for the forth day in a row, I am showing this treasure to you.

The book of Matthew closes out with these words, and if they weren’t Jesus’ final words on earth, they were at least some of His last. I love how He begins and ends this charge… He begins by reminding them that He, Jesus, has all authority on heaven and earth. He ends with a promise to never leave His followers alone. To me, this is like God eternal cupping our faces and saying, “Listen up! I am sending you on a mission and this is the most purposeful and significant thing you can imagine. But don’t worry, you don’t have to walk this out alone. The King Triumphant is with you!”

We can rewind history right now, and notice that Jesus is speaking to those who just watched Him get crucified, so that’s a pretty interesting twist in the story of authority. We ought also notice that these followers haven’t yet received the Holy Spirit.

This audience has the misfortune of familiarity. They are listening to one of their homies, the Guy they have been hanging with for the past few years, nonstop. And the only thing they know about God-with-us is the Emmanuel, who is just about to take off before their very eyes, after saying “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. Another bizarre twist. Hopefully, they are beginning to understand that Jesus doesn’t always answer things the way we expect.

But we can also fast-forward to our moment in history. The one where all of civilization has been divided and war is on the horizon. Cities are being burned to the ground, and folks are living in full-blown fear of every other person around. Let me remind each of us in this blazing generation, “All authority has been given to (Christ) in heaven and on earth” and to His followers, He says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Exhale.

So, what are the contents of this verbal sandwich? Christ tells His disciples to do three things: Disciple, Baptize and teach. But that is far too simplified and truncated of an explanation, so let me break it down…

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Observation #1, “all nations”. He was speaking to some Jews, who had long believed the misconception that the Messiah was only for the Jewish race. He was sending them out to all lands and all people. For this age, it’s worth noting that Jesus was the most anti-racist Person ever. He smashed the racial/religious divide, during His few decades of time-interception.

But back to the story at hand, He tells His disciples to make disciples. Disciples are already followers. They just need mentors. We all need mentors. He is, in essence saying: Don’t just gather mass followers, walk alongside them. Show them the Way.

Then, He says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. In saying this, He is introducing the concept of the Trinity. Again, these are guys who have no framework for understanding the Holy Spirit. And Jesus (the Son) just put Himself on equal status with the Father. As if telling them He had all authority on heaven and earth wasn’t enough!

Baptizing means evangelism. People get baptized as a confession of their desire to follow Christ. It is an act usually enacted by brand-new believers. So, Jesus is telling His followers to do the work of an evangelist. Tell people how amazing Christ is! And remember, this is a purposeful charge from a Sovereign God, who won’t leave us to do the work alone.

We mustn’t fear people’s responses. Our love for God and for our neighbor’s souls ought to outweigh our concern for whether or not we will be criticized or persecuted. If we remember our purpose and the urgency of things, and if we have a heart that is set on the highway to Zion (Psalm 84), this will help us be bold in the face of fear. Our lives on this planet, just like Jesus’, are very, very short compared to eternity. As Christ followers, our citizenship lies in heaven. We are just hear for a short while on an extremely important mission!

And finally, He tells them to teach them “to observe all that I commanded you.” In essence, He says, part of following Me is obeying Me. Somewhere else, it says “If you love Me, you will obey Me”. The thought of obedience puts a sour taste in our mouth. We identify as autonomous little creatures, who quickly forget that there is One who loves us, Who created us, and Who has all the authority to call the shots.

When we refuse to obey God, we are like angry toddlers, demanding the “freedom” to play in the highway, shouting that our Father doesn’t love us or He would give us our freedom! When God institutes laws and restrictions on us, it is not to diminish our freedom, but to give us greater freedom in our soul. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. I once ran with the wind, into every kind of “freedom” the world offered, and what I found was that all of my “freedom” caused incredible grief that nearly took my life. I cannot believe I survived. There was no way I would have without a Rescuer who was far kinder to me than I was to myself. I should have been dead 20 years ago. But Grace!

Again, God doesn’t leave us to our own devices, to work out our own obedience without His help. He promises to stay with us to the end of the age. And He promises to love us fully, no matter how many times we fail at obedience, so long as we put our hope in the atonement (or the substitute death) of the cross, rather than our own perfection.

The reason that all of this has meant so much to me, over the past many days, is because it is so purposeful. So missional. We are in desperate times, and all of us are looking around for some kind of hope to grab onto. Jesus lays it out, pretty clear, in this charge to His followers (even the ones on earth today), that our lives are designed for something higher than the comforts and pleasures of this world. Here is the most purposeful Man that ever was, who chose homelessness, a less than comfortable birth, the life of a seemingly bastard child (in a society that would have ostracized him for it), to live His one, short existence on planet earth spending nearly every second serving, healing and teaching others. He lived with such purpose. And He tells His followers to live with purpose.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the state of the world right now, I wonder if Jesus is about to make His second appearance. Things are looking pretty bleak and out-of-control. But then I remember how He opened up this passage “All authority has been give to Me in heaven and on earth.” My soul rests easy in these words. Even in the world seems to be spinning off it’s axis, God has not lost control. And no matter what I may personally lose on earth, I have a palace in Heaven awaiting, and all sorts of treasures that moth and rust can’t destroy, and no one can burn to the ground!

I remember the final words “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Almighty is the Emmanuel, the God-with-me! He will never leave or forsake me. I am in safe territory, even when it feels as though I am in the enemy’s camp.

So, I live with purpose. My purpose is that I want to take as many folks with me as possible, when I head up into the Glory-beyond… because I deeply love my friends who are fumbling around in the dark trying to find the Hope that satisfies souls. And I love my brothers and sisters, and want to disciple those whose courage needs fortified. I want to live a life that is purposeful and not distracted by the temptations the world dangles before me. I don’t want to fall asleep beside the path, drunk with distraction, when the hour glass is running up and folks still don’t know Jesus.

Space 6/29

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Pentacost Vs. Prejudice

I am trying to read my Bible. I really am. But my brain won’t sit still. It keeps running to the violence, the irony, the anguish of a black man, who loved the Lord, was known for being kind and helpful, and whose family now has to plan an unmerited funeral. And a nation that wants vindication and justice.

A friend of mine, who happens to have skin the gorgeous hue of decadent chocolate, and a personality just as sweet, said “I have never had a time in my life that I didn’t hear these stories”.  I don’t even know what to say to that.  It’s so painful.  

When will it stop? When are we going to start seeing people for who they are, not the shade of their skin?  Are we going to stay quiet like those standby police officers, who were an accomplice to murder?  Are we going to start a debate over whether or not rioting is a proper response?  Are we going to tip-toe back into our sheltered existences? Or are we going to look right into that biting wind and wail out a lament that continues until justice becomes righteousness?

I know it’s awkward. I am a white lady. I get it. Sometimes I feel like my hands are tied, and no matter what I say, I lodge my foot in my throat, because I can’t possibly understand. It’s true. But I am sure those cops felt uncomfortable, too. The ones that just watched. And if they would have just done anything to stop it. I don’t want to be guilty of silence any longer. I have overthought it too many times. I have felt as though my ignorance nullified my voice. But I think I was wrong for being too careful.

My fears have always been saying something insensitive to my colorful friends, or speaking up about something I knew nothing about. Finally I began to realize that I needed to listen and ask questions about their suffering. Sometimes the best way to love is to listen, and if you catch a little of that acid reflux every once in awhile (because you said something stupid), remember that you are just caught in the crossfire of a life time of suffering. Hurt people hurt people. Your suffering friend might just need to let off some steam. Maybe that was the way you were able to love and support them… by letting them vent at you and not taking offense. Listen to the vent and learn from it. But don’t be scared to try again. We can’t do anything about our ignorance, but we can choose to love.

The irony is, a couple thousand years ago (and the story I keep trying to read, while my mind wanders to our national atrocities), is about a moment in history that Christians are celebrating this Sunday: Pentacost.

Pentacostals have sort-of butchered this passage of Scripture, unfortunately. They take the story to mean that you have to speak gibberish to have the Holy Spirit (which is NOT what the Bible teaches. If you want to talk about that, we can discuss it later). What gets lost in their translation is what it really DOES mean, which is so pertinent to this national crisis…

The story of Pentecost is an affront to racism.  And a reversal of Babel.  Looking back at the early chapters of Genesis, we read a story where mankind got really proud and thought they could build a tower to heaven, so God confused their language.  He divided the people with a language barrier.  We are really so small that something like that can divide us.  

On the day of Pentacost, God put languages that unified in the mouths of His people.  His disciples began speaking in the native tongues of all those who were listening.  Every tribe.  Every tongue.  Unity!  He prayed for it, in those savory chapters of John, where He is looking at His impending death, giving the final pep talk to His posse of the eleven, and praying to His Father that His people would have the kind of otherworldly unity that He and the Father experience.  

The next time we see people speaking in tongues in the Bible (and the only other time I can think of, off the top of my head), it is at Cornelius’ house.  A Gentile (non-Jew).  This was to prove the point that God was indeed building His Kingdom out of more than just the Jewish race.  He used the gift of tongues to abolish racism, in Peter’s heart, and also in the hearts of the other Apostles and disciples. Previously the Jews had thought they were the elite.  But God uses this gift of tongues to both reach out to other races, as well as validate the salvation of other races. He also speaks to this in John 3:16, when He said “For God so loved THE WORLD…”

When I was in Nepal recently, I was in awe of the beauty of the Nepalese people, their vibrant clothing and houses, their peaceful nature, their gorgeous skin tones and beautiful language.  It made me fall more in-love with humanity.  I kept feeling a sense of awe.  I wanted to visit every nation and figure out what was so glorious in every culture.  I came home loving people more, because of seeing a more colorful spectrum.  Racism is so anti-Christ and anti-Creator!  Racism refutes the beauty that God plasters over all His Image-bearers.  

We, the Church, must stand against the injustice and evil, like Noah, who lived in the darkest of days and still stood strong a righteous, God-fearing man, we must push back the darkness of division.  We must see the glorious reflection of the Most High in one another.  And we must pray against the consuming evil that threatens to destroy us.   We must stand against the injustice, like those onlooking officers failed to do.

Shame on us, as a human race, for letting things like the tone of someone’s skin, cause division. Skin has nothing to do with character, and you can’t even take it off to escape the unholy judgments.  It honestly makes me queasy, and I don’t really understand how racism can be a thing. It’s like looking at a piece of artwork and cursing the artist for using colors to paint with.

In the book of Acts, it doesn’t tell us that Peter preached a dynamic sermon.  In fact, it tells us that Peter strongly rebuked the listeners, and told them how they murdered the One who came to save their souls.  I wonder what he would say to us, America, on the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as the whole string of other atrocities done on these shores, beginning with the kidnapping and enslaving of Africans? These crimes against humanity were crimes against the God who handcrafted them, loves them, and placed His Image upon them. These are not just temporary stains. There is blood on our hands, and we are guilty before the Maker. We need His blood to wash the stain of it.

May the Church of the Almighty become unified to speak up for the oppressed. True religion is this (James 1:27): To bear the sufferings the widow and orphan (the oppressed and forsaken) and to keep oneself unstained by the world! This world is divided.

Pentecost was not a feel-good sermon with snacks and coffee in the lobby.  It was not a pastor who dressed classy, but casual.  It was not a 5-piece band with all the right acoustics in the building.  Pentacost was a day of the Holy Spirit showing up on the scene.  This is my prayer for this Sunday.  I am praying for the whole, wide world… that God would show up and we would behold His glory, and it would cast us face down in awe and wonder that such a great God would save souls, and He would build His Kingdom upon unity and grace.  

                                                                       Space 5/29/2

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The Quarantine Diaries: Warfare

If you are not a Christian, don’t bother reading this. It won’t make any sense to you. If you are a Christian, I pray it makes more sense than anything you’ve seen on the news.

We are walking out some extremely dark times in our history, and I am not just talking about a virus. Yes, the virus is rough. Tragically people are dying from it (although no where near as many as those whose death certificates say they died of it). I am speaking to those whose spiritual eyes are attuned to seeing the battlefield we are standing on. It is though the enemy has been unleashed (although those of us who see the war, will also hopefully remember that the enemy is never fully unleashed, and God still reigns supremely over all). Still, it appears that way. Just as it did with Job.

First, it was a virus running rampant over the globe. And somehow in a few short months, we are having people kidnapped from their own homes and taken to who-knows-where, indoctrinating others to snitch on each other so they can “contact trace” people to know who needs kidnapped. Oh, and the “freedom of the press” is being narrowed down into the mass media as our only source of “truth”. Meanwhile, they hail a vaccine as the “savior”, despite the fact that the person who is pushing it is not a medical professional, has a track record about as stained as any man I know, and has publicly acclaimed his agenda to depopulate the world, citing vaccines, health care, and reproductive health as viable options for doing so. Don’t believe me? Watch his 2010 Ted Talk.

I’m not making this up. 2 days ago, we watched a video of a sweet couple being bullied and removed from their home, against their will, by about 5 armed and vested Police Officers. They were told they were being taken to the hospital for testing. They were told that they must leave their phone at home, or give it over, because they were not allowed to video tape their time in the cop car. We watched it 2 days ago. Maybe 3, at the most. Last night, my husband couldn’t find the video. It was gone. He typed the exact same words into the search engine, and voila… magic, it had disappeared!

There is a real enemy, and he is on the prowl. There are some ugly, wretched, nasty, foul, despicable things going on around here. But bringing it back to Job, remember that the remedy for his suffering was not to get out of his circumstances, but to get an enlarged glimpse of the Holy One!

Now, I have fought warfare. I have chased demons out of my own house. Don’t believe me? Ask my family. Or ask someone else who has the battle scar markings of a spiritual warrior. Pay attention and you will find us. There’s a fire in our eyes, and purpose in our steps. We know our time here is short and significant. We are bound for a different Country. Our hearts are set on the highway to Zion, but along the way, they burn that others may catch a glimpse of His Majesty and join us on the journey.

It’s hard for those of us who have seen the war, to be complacent in a time like this. It’s hard for us to just ride out the wave, because we know that people are dying without Jesus, without hope, and are being indoctrinated into the belief that they can evade death if they just stay locked up in their homes, isolate themselves, wear a mask, and spray themselves down with hand-sanitizer ever 3 minutes. They are being told that a vaccine will save them from this horrible thing we call mortality. People are being crippled with fear.

The truth is, mortality is mercy for the Christian. It means we aren’t stuck in bodies that fight against us, in a world that suffocates us with it’s vices, and we will soon get to see the most lovely Face that’s ever been.

When I look around and see this invisible war, I remember King Jehoshaphat, sending the musicians out on the battlefield ahead of the army, when he was fighting against Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir… 3 nations who had set themselves in Ambush against Judah (2 Chronicles 20:20-22). This is exactly what I felt led to do, when I became aware of the demonic presences in my house… to cleanse the space with praise to the Most High.

I say this, because I think this is exactly what we ought to be doing right now. For as much evil as it rooting itself in the world around us, the way to eradicate evil is to exalt the name of Christ! When I walked through my house, night after night, saying how magnificent Jesus is, out loud, the demons fled. They couldn’t handle it. When Jehoshaphat sought victory over 3 nations, “he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, ‘Give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’ When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so they were routed.” And then those 3 nations turned on each other.

It is easy for those of us who know the King’s victory, to still be swept up into all this mayhem, and forget that it is the Lord who wins battles. What we need is the same thing Job needed, and every other person and nation since the beginning of time… a loftier view of God. How better to acquire one than by praising His name?

So, folks? I’d love to hear it. Comment, if you will. Tell me something you admire about the Lord. Tell me how you see His kindness in these trials. Tell me what His word teaches about His power and might. Here is mine…

The Lord is mighty in battle! He is a warrior and the King who sits enthroned forever on the praises of His people! Out of His throne come rivers of living water, that quench the thirst of anyone who drinks from them! He delights in His creation, as wayward as we are! He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble! He is a fortress, a shield about us! He delivers us from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence! He is worthy of all praise! He is so holy and magnificent that the angels and saints in heaven never get tired of singing it! He is gracious and merciful, compassionate and kind… yet He defends the weak and oppressed with a mighty force! He is our rescue! He is our Champion! There is no one like our God, whose beauty is so incomprehensible that to see His face in our temporal bodies would send us straight to the grave… yet, He promises heaven to those who trust in Him, that we may behold Him in His full glory! He gives His Spirit to us as a guide and companion! His creativity is broadcast in every leaf and snowflake, and cascades down every mountain! He is near! He honestly does cause all things, ALL THINGS to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose! He is all glory and goodness! Amen!

Space 5/21/20

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The Quarantine Diaries: Town

I went into town yesterday. I delivered my fanciful handmade soaps to Seaman’s Market, drove through the drive-through at the bank, and then pulled over into an empty parking spot uptown, to choke back tears and call an understanding friend.

I looked at the stretch of Court St. that I have loved and lingered on since 1997, when we were first dropped off by our hitch-hiking ride, who promised us that we would “love this town”. They were right. Immediately, it felt like home… at least as much as any town on this earth could. For 23 years, we have LOVED this town.

This year, this historic 2020, I want to weep. This town that has felt like home, feels like I am walking into a place I used to live, but strangers now sleep in our bed and eat at our table. It has been redecorated with masks and fear. It used to be decorated with random hugs, brilliant smiles, and high-fives to strangers. It used to be the type of place where you couldn’t tell strangers from friend, because everyone treated everyone else like family. Now, we treat dear companions as enemies, because they don’t respond to the fear like we do, or our fears differ from their’s.

At this moment in time, when I ought to be preparing for the Nelsonville Music Festival, I am wondering if we will ever dance together again. I am wondering if we will ever overcome the crippling fear, the judgments against one another for responding differently, and if we will ever hug each other again.

So, I swing on my back porch, which feels like one of the only safe places on earth right now, and I pray… because my fear of communism and division, of masks and the slaughter of the Constitution, is just as unholy as everyone else’s fear of a virus.

All our fears have one good resting place, and that is at the feet of Jesus. Unholy fear can only be conquered with Holy Fear. It cannot be eradicated from the soul by human strength, but must be replaced with the knowledge that God is far greater than all the threats looming against us. So I swing. And I pray. And I remember. My God, who shut the mouths of lions and conquered kings with the help of a few brave men, can easily restore what is beautiful about this free land… and can easily keep it free. Amen and Hallelujah!

Space 5/15/20 a.d.

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The Quarantine Diaries: Normal

There are two terms I am learning to despise.  “The new normal” and “back to normal”.  Personally, I’d love to see these eradicated from our global vocabulary.  I’d love to see us redefine “normal” with what is glorious.

The “new normal” insinuates that this isolation is going to persist.  That we will continue to wear masks in public, avoid human interaction, go to church online and reserve hugging to only those in our immediate households.  This isn’t healthy.  This is fear-driven, and fear is a terrible taskmaster.  They have done scientific studies of orphanages in third world countries and discovered that babies that weren’t held had a significant decrease in survival rates.  Yet, we are programming ourselves not to have human touch.  Ask a friend who is spending this isolation alone, how they feel about the lack of human contact and specifically touch.  What will this do to future generations?    And you don’t have to do any scientific studies to know how healing a smile can be.  But we’ve masked the part of our faces designed for smiling.

Folks, church gatherings are where the soul gets nourished, and made whole.  Church isn’t just a sermon and some music.  Church is the gathering of God’s people, in order that we can “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today'” (Hebrews 3:13).  I am grateful for the expansion of those listening in, but I am concerned that we will forget how holy and good it is to simply be with other Christians.  That we will become content in “going” to church in our pajamas and tuning in to whoever suits our fancy, when there are those in persecuted countries, who know so well the preciousness of gathering with the saints, that they risk their lives in order to do so.  Yet we have freely surrendered what is even a Constitutional Right, in order to make the world not look cross-wise at us, forgetting that the only safe place to be is seeking Christ together in community.  There is only One who is strong enough to defeat all the evil in the world, and even this virus.  Let’s cry out to the Mercy-Giver with our collective voice.

And the term “get back to normal” insinuates that we haven’t learned immense lessons we hope to carry with us into future years.  Many have been forced to slow down, savor the creases on their children and spouse’s faces, eat dinner around a table together, and maybe pick up a couple of new hobbies.  If we get back to normal, we will go back to our rushing, American Dream pursuing folly.  We are not machines (although before this virus many of us were living as such).  We are human beings, crafted for community with our Maker and our fellow humans, beginning with our nebulous family, then neighbors, community and other planetary inhabitants.

If I could just encourage us all, let’s not get back to normal and lets not settle for this being our future definition of normal.  We must wrestle against the complacency that seeks to devour what is precious and satiate us with what is harmful!  As we move into the future, let’s create a new normal where we are more connected with one another, where our smiles are brighter, and where we never forget how healing a hug can be for the soul.

Space 5/5/20

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The Quarantine Diaries: Acts and Revival

For as weighty and voluptuous of a moment in history as this is, it seems like an appropriate time to be reading the book of Acts.

When the book begins, the disciples had just seen the glory of God manifest in a once-and-for-all, sin-obliterating sacrifice, a prophesied, impossible resurrection, and had bare-eye-watched the Son of Man taken up into the clouds to sit on the Ancient Throne and rule over eternity.  Pretty monumental stuff!  We still talk about it today.  I doubt if anyone is going to be talking about my or your life in a couple thousand years!

But, if the world’s still spinning in the 41st century (and at this point, I’m not so gullible to imagine it will be), they might be talking about all that is taking place on the planet during this time.  Though, it still won’t be a bizillionth as significant as the life story of Jesus.

Part of why this moment feels so weighty, is because things seem to be shifting in the cosmos.  What the early Church was about to experience in the book of Acts was severe persecution and intense revival.  They often go hand-in-hand.  The Church was about to transform from a handful of devoted believers to many thousands, overnight.  The Emperor Nero was about to begin impaling Christians, setting them on stakes and lighting them on fire, to light the way to the Colosseum, where he would have “entertainment” which involved sending more Christians into the arena to be devoured by lions, while folks watched and cheered.  (No, that story isn’t recorded in the Bible, but it’s a well-known and heavily recorded part of history).

Revival and persecution are often siamesed together.  I kind-of forgot about that, when I (and many others I know) had been begging God for revival over these past many years.  Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, because my ignorance empowered me to pray for revival anyway.  And I’d far rather see His majesty displayed and folks given a chance to face their own mortality before it’s too late, than to continue in our apathy-invoking American comforts.  Our easy, busy, full-bellied sedation.

There is a bit of revival happening in my own soul.  I find that, in this time of immense social unrest, I have to face my own idols.  For me, that looks like becoming keenly aware of what is temptation and what is holy… then (hopefully) choosing the holy.  My knees knock a little more when I don’t, because it feels like heaven is closing in and the days are few.  That the time is urgent and not to be wasted!  It also looks like using my voice with greater wisdom, conviction and fearlessness.  I have been known to speak useless chatter, and no one but me and Jesus would know all the things I haven’t said because I cared too much about people’s responses.

Two idols I have had a show-down with lately, are fear and comfort.  The invisible realm feels nearly tangible.  I close my eyes and see a war where a raspy, emaciated, wanna-be lion is roaring in my ear almost as loud as the Holy Spirit is whispering His comfort.  Yet, His comfort is not the same comfort the world provides.  It is not a promise that I will come out of this alive, and be able to fly to Alaska to see my kid, or grocery shop whenever I want.  When Jesus was bringing comfort to His disciples, He warned them He was going to die.  That they would also die.  That His bodily torture would spill into their bodily torture. Yet, He did so, in order that when it took place, they wouldn’t be taken by surprise.  They would have already laid hold of the promises of future glory which far outweigh the world itself.  They would have released their affections for temporal comfort, and gripped hard onto the promise that soon enough they would see His face again, and from that day forth live in everlasting bliss.

Fear is unholy (unless it pertains to trembling before a holy, holy, holy God, and it fills us with awe!).  We are not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.  Yet, in this time of personal revival, the Lord is stirring up what lay dormant in me: the undercurrent of fear and attachment to a predictable, comfortable future, with a lapful of grandkids and as much freedom as I now experience (or rather, did until about a month ago).  He only stirs these things up, in order to expel them.  I could have gone on living with my control issues, ignorant of how much I wanted the future to accommodate my desires.  I would have told you before that I lived for eternity’s joys, rather than earth’s pleasures.  And I really believed it.  And it was somewhat true.  It’s still only somewhat true.  But the Lord wants to revive the deadened nerves of my soul.  He wants to burn the dross and bring me deeper into communion with Him, and let me just tell you, this is better!  The intimacy far outweighs the comfort!

He never shuns us for running to Him with our needs, folly or brokenness!  In fact, in Hebrews 4:16, He uses all of that as an invitation into His hallowed Throne room!

Before all this revival and persecution took place in Acts, the scene opens up with this “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14a).

I just want to inhale, and let it out slow.  They were of one mind.  And they were having a prayer meeting.  The entire church, at this point, basically fit in one upper room.  In the next chapter, the church explodes in number.  But let’s sit right here for a moment., in the bathing light of this gathering.

One mind.  How does this happen?  I know there’s plenty of division over what we should pray.  Do we pray for Kingdom come?  Do we pray against this virus and against evil dictators?  Do we pray for courage and surrender?  Do we pray what we think is the will of God, or do we just try to listen to the Spirit within, guiding?   As I pray with others, it would seem that our prayers are transforming from the demands of impatient toddlers, telling God exactly what we want for our personal futures, into a fragrant aroma.

How does this happen, this transformation into one mind?  There are two things these early followers knew, that we can also know, and pray in accord with.  And it wasn’t the future.  We don’t really know God’s will for the future, we only know that He is still in control.  The future was unpredictable for the early church, as well.  What we can know and be unified on are these two things: WHO God is, and WHAT He says.

Church, we can be of one mind if we just read our Bibles!  The Bible isn’t just “an instruction manual” (Don’t even get me started!), it’s the writings of God Himself, displaying His character, His affection, His justice, His mercy, His warnings, His triumphs, His Majesty, for about a thousand pages (give or take, depending).  These early disciples didn’t even have all of the writings that we are gifted with.  And many, across the globe, are warring through this unrest without a single page of this holy Scripture to sustain and fortify them.  But we with this American privilege, have every opportunity to spread the pages of ancient Script and look into the face of holy God for wisdom and glory!

The other thing I want to marinate in, is the fact that these early saints were praying together!  A few years ago, a few friends and I would weekly, walk the perimeter of our town, praying.  What were we praying for?  Revival.  Over and over and over again, this was our battle cry.  Lord, bring revival!  Let the lost see!  Let the deadened ones rise!  Let the Church become one!  Lord, make Your glory touch earth!

Months later, maybe a year, I was talking with another friend, who happened to tell me that, during the same time, she and some other friends had been doing the exact same thing.  Walking around Athens, praying for revival!  I have heard whispers of this and seen it’s effects swirling across the globe, long before we ever heard of this virus or watched the entire planet go into hiding.  I believe there were many more of us, across continents, praying in unity, for revival… because I see the effects.

I cannot help but know that God had inclined His ear.  He was listening.  He was bringing our hearts into unity.  You know what we had in common, other than a burning desire to see the Kingdom come?  That we all love the Scriptures!  We fully believe that Jesus walks with us, within us!  That He never leaves or forsakes us.  His Word is a shield about us.  We know that He is the same God who allowed His disciples to be burned at the stake (knowing full well that, in doing so, they were both testifying of Christ’s worth, and inheriting something far more glorious than a comfortable time on earth!).

Yet, He is also the God who brought great deliverance for His people, throughout history.  Deliverance that could not be acquired in any sort of logical way, and was nothing short of a miracle.  I could spend hours typing out stories of His deliverance, but I think it would serve all of us well, if I simply pointed you to the Scripture.  If you want some courage, read Exodus, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, Acts.  Heck, just read the whole Book!  It’s holy and nourishing and strengthening and good!

And church, even world, now is the time for repentance.  The idols that we have clung to are a false sense of hope.  They are weighing us down from richer intimacy.  Let me just tell you that intimacy with Christ is the greatest gift of all.  I have known many a suffering saint who had more joy than the wealthiest, most comfortable of men… because in the secret places of their soul, they had Christ, and they’d sell the whole world for a moment with Him!  I would, too!

Space 4/23/20

 

 

 

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The Quarantine Diaries: Why I Show My Face

I put my ear to the earth and hear an undercurrent of grumbling spreading like gangrene across my town.  Maybe the globe, I don’t know.  And, personally, I have had quite enough, for one lifetime and even one day, of folks judging motives without asking.  I have been guilty enough in my lifetime, as well.  It’s our sinful, heinous nature that convinces us to judge others without even realizing that’s what we’ve done.

In this time of facebook gossip and tweeted complaints, where folks can justify blanket-judgments, rather than the holy act of addressing frustrations head-on with the source of their frustration, I feel the need to explain why exactly it is that I cannot, in good conscience, cover my face when I go out in public.  Please, hold your interruptions and rebuttals.  I am sure I just made some blood boil.  That was not my intent.

Personally, I am fairly convinced that we are being led like sheep to slaughter, and the noose hung around our neck is fear.  I am far more concerned about a society who has been programmed to stay isolated and live in dread of one another than I am of death or disease (and that’s not to say I don’t believe there’s a very real and sometimes deadly virus that we all need to be aware of and do our best to avoid).

When I see my dear friends and community members forging invisible boundaries between one another and covering half of their face, I am alarmed.  When I see folks looking at those they would ordinary embrace, with terror filling their eyes, replacing the usual love, I am deeply concerned.  I am fearful that Bill Gates (who by the way, predicted this very pandemic in a 2015 Ted Talk- look it up.  It’s not a conspiracy if it’s built upon fact) may very well get his evil way, and turn our beloved world into a society of slaves, microchipped to be controlled, manipulated and “make everyone else feel safe” (just like the masks and 6 foot personal space bubble is supposed to be doing).

I do not judge those who wear a mask, because I understand there is a virus and they are only trying to be safe.  When I go out in public, which is seldom these days, I dance around others, trying to allow for that personal bubble, so as not to heighten anyone’s fear, discomfort or danger.

Still, I would wholeheartedly appreciate the same honor.  Please allow me the privilege of standing by my own convictions without being judged.  I will not do anything intentionally to place another person in danger, yet to me, feeding the cycle of fear feels more endangering than not wearing a mask.  So I have chosen what I deem safer of the two choices I am given.

Please know that my choice (and I would assume the choice of many others who also keep their faces showing), is not made in ignorance, or a lack of concern.  I care more deeply than you can imagine.  This is just my best attempt at doing so.  Because I love this whole doggone world and I want us to be free!

Space 4/20/20

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The Quarantine Diaries: Reversing Eden

Keeping company with the book of Matthew, I read through Jesus’ string of parables (in chapter 13).  I landed on the last one, the one about the dragnet bringing in good and bad fish, at the end of the age, and sorting out the bad fish (the ones that represent the unrighteous of mankind) to cast them into a furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I sat with the thought of how I come to confidence that I am of the good lot, the ones spared from hell and given to God in heaven.

Months ago, my tenderhearted son asked us if we ever wrestled with thoughts of whether or not we were really saved.  I think any honest Christian would say that they periodically have to work through the temptation to doubt we are truly His.  It says somewhere to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you- unless indeed you fail the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  I suppose wrestling through all that is a holy thing.

Smiles and I both told Simon how we work through those periodic doubts.  Though the process was a little different for both of us, we landed at the same, exact place… We know we are saved because we trust in Jesus’ accomplishment at the cross!  It’s as simple as that.  Our wrestling brings us, time and again, to the foot of an ancient, sacred cross!  We are free because of it.    And bound for glory!

Yesterday, the hubs and I were talking to someone who grew up Amish, and “got saved” at 36 years old.  He isn’t the first I’ve heard talk like this, but I always wondered why, if the Amish are known for professing faith in Christ, are they considered by so many who were once a part of that religion, to be unsaved?  We asked our new friend.

He spoke of the old and new covenant, but using the two trees in Eden’s garden to exemplify.  He spoke of Jesus as the tree of life and pointed out that the matriarch and patriarch of humanity were banished, because it was not yet the time when they could feast on Jesus… but now is.  Yet, the Amish tend to be very attached to the knowledge of good and evil.  They know about God, about His Law, without knowing Him as a companion.

For the past year-ish, I have also been thinking much about the Garden of Eden.  The very first thing to die, after partaking of the fruit they were forbidden, was their innocence and their communion with the Almighty.  Every day, God would come to earth, to take a garden stroll with His creation.  How lovely!  I mean, serious, think about how amazing that would be to just walk around a lush, impeccable garden with God Himself… every, single day!  As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they were found hiding from God, hiding behind fig leaves.  Their innocence stolen by their disobedience.

When I ponder the cross, I see that curse reversed.  Jesus died to forgive us.  Yes!  Absolutely and Amen!  That was the reverse of the shame that entered at Eden’s betrayal!  But He also died for communion!  So that we could get back to knowing and enjoying our Maker.

As my ex-Amish friend spoke, I thought of all the Christians I know who seemed enslaved to the same mindset.  One of cumbersome obedience to reading the Word of God, because they have yet to discover the richness of His voice through eternity’s pages.  Prayer seems like a responsibility rather than a privilege.  God listens to us!?!  Seriously, what an honor!  And He listens because we, who are the true Church, have trusted in His shame-abolishing work at the cross.  Once the shame is destroyed, the freedom to enjoy His presence is restored.

My friend said something else worth noting.  He said that it’s all about identity.  Do we believe we are servants or beloved sons and daughters?  Jesus said He made us co-heirs.  He said that He made those who do the will of His Father to be His family (Matt. 12:50) and what is the will of His Father?   That we believe in the Son (Matt. 7:21, John 6:29 and John 6:40).  Our belief in Jesus and His sacrifice on Calvary makes us family to God!

For about 13 years of my life, I believed that God loved good boys and girls.  Meaning, if I performed well enough and never lied, I’d be in heaven.  For the next 6 or so years, I flipped God the bird and ran into all sorts of paralyzing sin.  Sin is a cruel slave master.  I discovered why He said not to eat that fruit.  For the 7.5 years to follow, I wrestled with intense guilt and shame.  The lingering effects of a life of debauchery.  Yet, at 25 years old, I discovered grace, and you couldn’t pay me all the riches in the world to turn back!  Through grace, I discovered that God didn’t just pay off the bounty on our heads, when He died at the cross.  He purchased restoration for us.  Communion with us.  Intimacy for us.  We don’t have to hide in shame, because He has already seen all the wrinkle-folds of our ugliness, and He washed us clean of them at the cross.  Now, we can run, naked and free, like they did in the Garden (spiritually speaking, I don’t want you to get arrested!).  And we can have savory walks with Him, in the cool of the day, through the Holy Book, prayer, community with others who love and adore Him!  He invites us to His table to dine with Him.  The greatest benefit of a feast is not the food, but the company around the table.  And His table is just the sweetest!

Space 4/16/20

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The Quarantine Diaries: Easter and the Broken Bread

I took communion today.  In a graveyard.  Looking out across stone monuments commemorating people who have left the dirt of earth behind in their wake.  I knelt there, in the moist dirt, feeling the spongy softness under my knees and pondering.  I flipped pages to a story of long ago.  Of a lady with an alabaster vial, and I prayed “Oh God, let me be like Mary!  Let me break the vials in my life as though nothing else matters but you!”

I kept flipping pages, looking for a story I never found, because I found instead what He wanted me to see.  I saw Jesus, in preparation for His own crucifixion, begging God to make His Church one… unified.  And I saw Jesus, in the same preparations, forewarning His disciples that they must suffer, but promising that in suffering they would receive glory.

I closed the book, as droplets of rain were falling upon pages I wished to protect, and I picked up my sliver of bread.  I broke it and gave thanks.  Because that’s what Jesus did.  “The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'” (1 Corinthians 11:23b-24).  On the night of His betrayal.  On the cusp of looking Judas square in the eye and telling him, “What you do, do quickly.” (John 13:27), then watching him rush out to go sell his soul for a few pieces of silver.  Oh, the ache!

Jesus, lifting bread to heaven, gives thanks.  He knows the agony of what is about to take place.  But He also knows the glory that will follow.  He knows that soon He will sit in His rightful place, at the right hand of the Father, with heaven for a throne and the earth for a footstool.  He knows all things will soon be in subjection under His feet, that His followers will soon have unbroken communion with His Spirit.  He knows that when He says “It is finished”, all will be set right in the cosmos.

Yet He still has to face the cross.  So He breaks bread and gives thanks, because thankfulness is the weapon of our warfare!

In 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat set out to battle, He sent the worship leaders out at the helm of his military fleet.  He knew that praise paves the path to victory!  Jesus knew that, too.

Lifting my eyes to the sky and my hands to heaven, I suddenly feel complete peace about what lies ahead.  About the unknowns we are all experiencing right now.  Because right now, everything ahead is an unknown.  I guess it is always that way, but it all feels especially vulnerable right now.  Like the earth is spinning off it’s axis and all we can do is watch.  That’s what I accidentally believe when I forget He holds the whole world in His hand!

A hundred times a day I have to wrestle my heart back into remembering that my God is sovereign.  Yet this sovereign God surrendered to the suffering of the cross.  I remember, as I give thanks for this broken bread, that Jesus’ suffering was the passageway to His resurrection.  That there would be no empty tomb without a blood-stained cross.  And that whatever I may have to suffer in this life will be the path to my own glory.

I once read and memorized a part of Psalm 66, because life felt like a crushing weight.  It says “Bless our God, o peoples, and sound His praise abroad, Who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip.  For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.  You brought us into the net.  You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins.  You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and we went through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66:8-12).  I saw it crystal clear and have never been able to stop seeing it, that the place of abundance is beyond the trials and the trials are nothing more than the pathway to the place of abundance.

Kneeling in the graveyard, with eyes, arms and heart lifted up to an eternal throne, I remembered that no matter the path’s briars, Jesus is leading me to a place of abundance.  It may be that we should suffer in these days.  It may be that He provides a ram with it’s horns caught in a thicket.  It may be that He should allow us the honor of following Him to the cross, or it may be that He would take our offering back off the altar and return it to us, like He did for Abraham with his beloved son.

Either way, when my focus is on the suffering, I lose focus.  The lens of my soul gets blurry.  Yet, when I lift up my hands and give thanks, it re-calibrates my spirit and reminds me that this life is so short and insignificant compared with the glories that await, and that my suffering (and your’s, if you are a Christian) is absolutely, completely, magnificently purposeful!

Standing resolute before His own assassination, Jesus lifted up the bread representing His own broken body and gave thanks!  Because He knew!  And on this Resurrection Sunday, I do, too.  It’s all for His glory and my good!  And I will rise!

Space 4/12/20

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